Almond Flour Carrot Cake with Greek Yogurt Frosting

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Angela was supposed to find out about the Harvard admission decision at 2pm.  It was 2:20 when I received a distorted selfie of her with tears and snots running down her face; the caption read “I’m crying real Jesus tears.” My heart sank. Then I realized that there was another photo of her computer screen before the selfie. I could see her caption, “You can hear my sharp intake of breath,” but I couldn’t read the tiny words on the photo with the red Harvard emblem. I called her cell as I ran around the house looking for a pair of reading glasses; she didn’t pick up — probably still crying. When I finally put my reading glasses on and read the tiny words my heart skipped a beat: She got in! However, I still couldn’t believe my eyes and gave the phone to my younger daughter Audrey, “Does it say Congratulations on your admission to Harvard?” She was sick at home, but her eyes lit up when she saw the acceptance letter for Angela.

The first people I called were Peter’s parents, who were overjoyed. I told them that Angela would call them a little later. Then I waited for an hour and half to call my parents in Shanghai. My mother answered the phone and I told her that Angela got into Harvard.  My mother said, “Yes, I know. Your friend Shelley came to visit me yesterday and I told her Angela got into Harvard.” My mother suffers from dementia. I told her yesterday that Angela would hear from Harvard today, but she remembered it wrong and told my friend that Angela was already accepted. Or perhaps she is simply prescient.

After all the excitement was over, I immediately began to bake a cake for the celebration. This carrot cake is gluten free, packed with nutrients and guiltless to enjoy. it is a dessert that you can have for breakfast the next day with a cup of coffee. Almond flour contains enough fat that you may not need to add any other. I used a tablespoon of coconut oil, but could probably have omitted it.

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Almond Flour Carrot Cake with Greek Yogurt Frosting

Ingredients for Carrot Cake:

1 3/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown sugar or xylitol

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

4 eggs, beaten

4 oz apple sauce

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

1 heaping packed cup shredded carrots

Ingredients for Frosting:

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup fat free Fage or other Greek Yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar or xylitol

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8 inch cake pan with coconut oil

In a mixing bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl, mixing all the wet ingredients except for the shredded carrots. Slowly pour the wet into the dry ingredients as you stir and mix.

Fold in the shredded carrots and mix until even.

Pour batter into the greased pan. Smooth the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes before frosting. The cake tastes better after leaving in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

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The last two weeks of March is a nerve wrecking time for a lot of high school seniors. This is when college acceptance decisions are sent out to aspiring applicants. Angela has already been accepted to a number of great schools, but she won’t hear from her dream school until the last day of March. While outwardly she doesn’t appear to be too stressed, I’m sure the big unknown is not an easy place to be in. Children nowadays don’t wait for much. Everything is instant (the instagram culture.) I suppose this period of waiting is a good exercise in patience for them. But the uncertainty is turning out to be just as excruciating for Peter and me. Peter is usually a sound sleeper. He can fall back asleep pretty quickly even after being called by the hospital in the middle of the night. But he kept waking up last night; the anxiety of waiting has finally gotten to him. It’s not that we think Angela must go to her dream school to have a fulfilling life. It’s that we’d hate to see our child’s dream crushed. Sometimes, Peter and I fear that it’s risky for her to set her heart on a school that is so difficult to get into, but we also know that if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.

Instead of tossing and turning in bed, Peter and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn. We gave each other talk therapy as we pigged out. We both felt much better after our lavish and drawn out breakfast.

This banana bread is made with no added sugar, 100% whole wheat flour and coconut oil. (I used xylitol instead of sugar.)

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Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup mashed bananas

1/4 cup +1 teaspoons milk of choice (I used buttermilk) 

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

3 medium eggs, beaten

1/2 cup xylitol or brown sugar

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 350. Grease a bread baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients except for walnuts and cranberries in a mixing bowl.

Mix all wet ingredients in another mixing bowl. You can use a hand mixer on low to mix the wet ingredients or mix them by hand. I used a mixer.

Pour wet into dry as you slowly stir until well mixed.  Add walnuts and cranberries and stir to mix.

Pour the mixture into the bread pan and bake for 55 to 60 minuets, or until a toothpick inserted to the center comes out clean.

Let the bread cool on the rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Put the left-over bread in a large ziplock bag to prevent it from drying.  This banana bread is low-fat and will dry if it is not sealed.

Alternatively, you can also pour the mixture into lined muffin pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Skinny Lemon Bars

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When I called my mother in Shanghai today, she told me that my father was out buying roast peanuts in Cai-Zhi-Zhai.  I know exactly the kind of peanuts he was buying.  Cai-Zhi-Zhai is a snack store about four blocks away from where my parents live.  They sell a kind of peanuts that are first boiled with special spices and then roasted to perfection, for only 20 yuan (about a little over 3 dollars) a kilo — the best 20 yuan anyone could spend.  I have never had any peanuts that tasted better.  My father walks to the store every few days to buy snacks for TV watching.  He must snack when the TV is on.  It’s amazing how snacking while watch TV or reading is a genetic trait that passes on from generation to generation.  His father did that and now I also do that. 

Peter and I have been binge watching a TV show call Bosch this weekend, and we both indulged on three pieces of the lemon bars as we watched the series.  It’s a good thing that they are relatively guilt free.

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Skinny Lemon Bars

Ingredients for the Crust:

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1/4 cup xylitol or brown sugar (I used xylitol)

1 pack Stevia

3 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp coconut oil,

2 tbsp fat free Greek yogurt

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For the filling:

1/2 cup sugar free maple syrup or honey (I used Joseph’s sugar free maple syrup)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1 tbsp coconut flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tsp grated lemon zest

5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp powdered sugar, for dusting on top (I made the powdered sugar with xylitol by grinding it in a coffee grinder.)

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Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Generously grease an 8-inch square pan. 

I skipped the following step from the original recipe, but I include it here in italic for your reference:

Prepare an 8-inch square pan by lightly spraying the inside of the pan with baking spray before lining it with 2 long sheets of aluminum foil folded to fit inside and placed perpendicular to each other in the pan.  This is so you can get the bars out after they are cooked, so don’t skip this step.

Cut the sheets long enough to hang over the sides to use as handles to lift out the baked lemon bars before cutting into squares.  Spray the inside of the foil lined pan with baking spray.

For the crust: In a food processor combine the flours, xylitol, cornstarch, lemon zest, baking powder and salt and process until well combined.  Add the coconut oil and yogurt to the flour mixture at once and pulse at least a dozen times before turning out into the prepared pan and pressing into an even layer.  I used a piece of parchment paper to press it because the dough was very sticky.

Bake until evenly browned about 20-22 minutes.  Cool the crust on a metal rack for at least 15 – 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, sugar free maple syrup, lemon zest, coconut flour , corn starch and the salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and pour over the cooled crust.  Bake until filling is set, about 22 minutes. 

Let cool completely before cutting it into 9 squares.  ( I let mine sit in the fridge for about 10 minutes before I cut the bars.)  Dust with confectioners sugar.

If you are using the foil, cool completely before lifting the bars out of the pan with the foil.  Cut into 9 squares and dust with confectioners sugar.

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Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Lemon Almond Souffle & Vegetarian Taco by Audrey

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Audrey cooked dinner for us tonight.  She opened a package of wheat protein called Seitan and made delicious vegetarian tacos.  A dash of this and a dash of that.  She claimed that it was a secret recipe, but I think she was just improvising as she went.  She enjoys the kitchen almost as much as I do.  She is fast — turning out a meal in a matter of minutes, leaving behind a mess as if the hurricane has swept through the kitchen.  She looked so cute and sweet in her apron that I couldn’t get mad at her.

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In April, Audrey and I filmed at this lovely little cafe theater in Las Vegas called Inspire Theater.  On the magazine rack I saw a stack of Vegetarian Times Special with “5-Ingredient Recipes” on the cover and I immediately swiped one copy.  This 5-ingredient soufflé recipe is grain free, dairy free, paleo-friendly and deceptively easy to make.  It is melt-in-your-mouth light and airy.  Most importantly, it is absolutely delicious!

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Lemon-Almond Souffles

Ingredients:

2 teaspoon coconut oil

4 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoon honey, softened or Joseph’s sugar free maple syrup

3 tablespoon fresh organic Meyer lemon juice + zest from 1 lemon

3 tablespoon almond meal

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 6 4oz. ovenproof ramekins with coconut oil up to the rims.  Chill ramekins in refrigerator.

Whisk together 3 egg yolks, honey, lemon juice, lemon zest and almond meal in medium bowl. (Discard or use the extra yolk another time.)

Beat 4 egg whites with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Fold meringue into egg yol mixture with spatula.

Fill Ramekins two-thirds full, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. (I baked it for 12 minutes.) Serve immediately. 

We made the first batch with honey and a second batch with Joseph’s sugar-free maple syrup.  Both came out great.

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Gluten-free Vegan Coconut Muffin with Coconut Cream Frosting

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Sleepovers are always hard on everyone the day after.  No one sleeps much at sleepovers, and it usually feels anticlimactic somehow after all the excesses from the night before.  We gave Audrey permission to do a birthday sleepover last night and the aftermath was as expected. Audrey was exhausted but had to go a karate lesson early in the morning.  A number of her friends also had to leave for their respective extracurricular activities.  Physically drained, Audrey was in a foul mood most of the day.  The inherent problem of a party is that it always has to end at some point and what goes up must come down.

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13 years ago tonight

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Happy Birthday Darling!

Attention was also taken away from her because Angela was going to her prom tonight and was understandably anxious. The first thing I did in the morning was of course to pick up her dress from the mom and pop shop down the street.  The lady was disappointed to see me instead of Peter picking up the dress.  She said that her insurance did not cover a follow up visit and she had questions for Dr. Hui.  I said maybe I would sent him over later with a pair of shoes that needed some work.  The alteration turned out quite perfectly and Angela looked fabulous in it, but she didn’t feel beautiful.  In this way she reminded me of myself when I was younger — uncomfortable in my own skin and deeply insecure of the way I looked. Though I could have easily done her hair and would have loved to do it, I sent her to a professional hair stylist.  I was hoping she’d feel more “done up” this way.  At the hair studio, there were two other girls having their hair done for the prom and one of them was Angela’s friend.  I didn’t realize that it was actually a norm to get professional hair and makeup jobs for prom night and felt relieved that I sent her to a hair salon.

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Angela in her prom dress in a friend’s selfie

Audrey has a regional karate tournament in Foster City tomorrow.  As a dojo student leader and a member of the storm team, she needs to be there before 7am to help set up the venue.  We need to leave the house at 6 am to beat the road closures because of the Bay to Breaker event.  Peter and I tried to talk her out of doing the morning volunteering.  We reasoned that getting up so early would make her too tired to focus and do well in her own competition, but she broke into tears and ran away from us.  I didn’t realize the significance of the event in her mind and was surprised by the strong emotional reaction from her.  I called her back and asked her if it’s really that important for her to go in the morning. She said with tears streaming down her face, “What does it matter?  You choose what I can or cannot do.  I do what you choose.”  I said that I would take her if she truly believes in what she was doing.  Audrey said emphatically yes.  She promised her sensei and felt bound by honor and duty to be there.  I should have known better than to dissuade her from going.  Karate has been a fun and meaningful pursuit for most of her life.  She was so proud to have earned a teaching belt recently.  Just a few days ago, she brought back her name cards from the dojo and autographed for each of us at home — signed in fancy cursive “Love, Audrey.”

I made these muffins for the birthday party girls, but they all got picked up by their parents early in the morning.  When Audrey ate them, she said the muffins might be too healthy for her friends anyway.  Should I feel insulted?

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Gluten-free Vegan Coconut Muffins with Coconut Frosting

Ingredients for the muffins:

1 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup corn meal

1/2 cup xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 can full fat coconut milk (I used Thai Kitchen organic)

4 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 eggs

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Ingredients for Frosting:

1 can full fat coconut milk

4 tablespoon xylitol

1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped mango

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together. Gently stir the wet mixture into dry ingredients.

Coconut flour is high in fiber and more absorbent than regular flour.  If the mixture seems a little too dry add a tablespoon regular coconut milk. 

Line the muffin pan with cups or grease the muffin pan with coconut oil.  Pour the batter into the cups.  Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on the rack for 20 minutes before frosting.  The batter makes 16 large muffins.

When the muffins are baking, mix all the ingredients for frosting in a food processor until smooth and thickened. 

I made popsicles with the leftover frosting.

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Smart Soup and Gluten-free, Low-fat Cornbread

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We received a FedEx package from Smart Soup today.  Smart Soup is a family owned business that makes healthy flash-frozen soups that are vegan, low-sodium, low-fat and American Heart Association certified.  Our family has been invited to try the soups because we have been sharing and advocating healthy meals through our blog.

There were five different flavors of soup in the package and we tried Santa Fe Corn Chowder today together with my healthy cornbread.  They were absolutely delicious together!  The hint of sweetness from the cornbread nicely complements the slight spiciness of the soup.  As I tasted the flavorful soup, I imagined that the soup would go well with many of my recipes, such as Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Quinoa Chickpea Avocado Salad or Salmon Burger

Receiving these healthy soups gave me the idea that I should stock up the freezer with them when I am away on location.  They are made of ingredients that I can trust.  The girls can just make a salad or bread and pop a pouch of soup in the microwave.

Oh yeah, and I can stock up Angela’s freezer with the soup packages when she goes to college.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  How is this even possible — my big-headed baby is going to college in just over a year! 

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Gluten-free Low-fat Corn Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup corn meal (whole grain)

1 cup almond meal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

1/4 cup Xylitol or sugar (I used xylitol)

4 oz organic no sugar added apple sauce

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 tsp guar gum (optional)

Fresh corn kernel from 2 ears of corn

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 380.  Grease an 8×8 baking pan. 

Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly together in a mix bowl.  Add all the wet ingredients and the fresh corn kernels in and mix.  Do not over mix.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Scones & Chili

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Breakfast Scones

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Turkey Chili

There is a good reason why Peter usually does the dishes.  I just cut my finger quite badly washing the knife given to me by renowned chef and cookbook author Martin Yan.  And I’m typing in pain.  With my finger wrapped in bandages, I can now truly attest to the sharpness of his knife.

What I made today were variations of the recipes that I had posted on the blog before.

For breakfast, I made the gluten-free, dairy-free scones from my earlier recipe.  I switched the dried fruit and the nuts.  You can make endless variations on the combination of dried fruits and nuts with this scone recipe.

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For dinner, I cooked turkey Chili.  I used a can of organic diced tomato instead of fresh tomatoes and the marinara sauce and I used the whole can of kidney beans instead of 1/2 can.  I also added 1/2 a red bell pepper.  It was as delicious as I remembered it to be.

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Very Cherry Snack Cake

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Angela finished a really stressful week, during which she took 3 AP tests.  Before that she had taken 3 SAT subject tests on Saturday.   With all the important standardized tests behind her, a little celebration is called for, and what’s a celebration without a cake?  So here it is.  Simple, delicious and very healthy.  Cherries are in season and they are one of our family’s favorite fruits.  I bought two boxes today, but they are so perfect that I couldn’t bear to alter them in anyway.  So I made the cake using frozen organic cherries instead and it turned out beautifully. 

Since the cake is packed with protein, it is a perfect dessert for Audrey, a vegetarian girl who is also a picky eater.  The left-over will be great for breakfast.

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Very Cherry Snack Cake (Gluten-free, No added sugar, Low-fat, Nutrient-rich)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup almond flour

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoon oat bran

6 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (I used xylitol)

1 tablespoon additional xylitol to make powered sugar for dusting

3 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt (I used Fage)

1 1/2 heaping cups pitted cherries (I used frozen organic dark tart cherries)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 350c.  Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients well in mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs with vanilla and pour into the mixing bowl.  Add yogurt and mix all ingredients until it is smooth.  Add the cherries and stir a little, but not too much.  Pour mixture into the baking pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center no longer sticks.  Cool on rack for about 15 minutes before slicing into 16 squares. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

I made powdered “sugar” in my coffee grounder with 1 tablespoon of xylitol. 

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Grain-free “Sugar” Cookies

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With cherry frosting

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Angela took three SAT subject tests on Saturday, and will take three AP tests this week.  And when all that is done, there is still the finals week looming in the horizon.  Being a perfectionist who asks a great deal from herself, Angela is understandably stressed.  Audrey has always admired her sister’s academic strength.  And having had her first three-hour-long practice SSAT in February, she knows what kind of pressure Angela is under.  These cookies are her way to show Angela support and solidarity.

Audrey even created her own pink frosting by squeezing drips of cherry juice from fresh cherries in the powdered “sugar” from yesterday.  With a hint of cherry flavor and fragrance, it is as delicious as it is pretty.  It will boost anyone’s morale anytime. 

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Thinking back to my own childhood, I am almost glad that I grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China, when schools stopped teaching academics almost entirely and the students just went to different factories, farms and army bases to “learn from the people.”  No exams.  Kids then wished that school would never end, for when it ended you could be sent down to the remote countryside forever.  I guess it was a different kind of stress. 

Though Angela doesn’t believe it — she never does — I know she will be fine. She has always done exceptionally well in all her academic and standardized tests in the past. It’s as if she is convinced that if she is not worried and stressed out, calamity will occur.  So, let me not jinx it by bragging.  Let me stay worried and stressed with her until it is all over and it is June.

Thank God for cookies!

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Grain-free “Sugar” Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup almond flour

A little over 1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp pure maple syrup (She used sugar free substitute)

2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp pure almond extract (optional)

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Preparation:

Combine all liquid ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir very well. Now mix wet into dry and keep stirring, breaking up clumps as you mix—it may seem dry at first, and you can add a teaspoon of milk or oil, but do not add any more liquid than the recipe calls for. It will eventually form something that can either be squished into a ball with your hands or put into a plastic bag and smushed from inside the bag (the less-messy option).

Freeze the dough for 20 minutes.  Roll the dough into a tube on a smooth and clean surface and cut into 16 pieces.  Roll them into balls and lay them out on the parchment paper lined baking pan and press flat.  Bake for 10-13 minutes (depending on desired crispiness) at 325 F on a greased cookie sheet. Let cool another 10 minutes before even attempting to remove cookies from the sheet.

Audrey baked it for 13 to 14 minutes and the cookies turned out crispy when completely cooled.

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Adapted from Chocolate-covered Katie

Gluten-free Vegan Almond Apple Breakfast Mug Cake

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Baked

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Microwaved, with crumbled pecan

Nothing is better than a leisurely breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning .  You start with your coffee or tea, then you peel some ripe fruit and contemplate what to cook while eating it.  You look at the Sunday paper or surf on your favorite food site until you feel inspired to move out of your chair and saunter into the kitchen. 

After my second cup of tea and a mango, I decided that I wanted to make something special, but not work too hard.  After all, it’s Sunday.  I found a mug cake recipe on skinnytaste.com and tweaked it.  These healthy vegan mug cakes were simple and quick to make — you can literally make them in five minutes.  And they are absolutely yummy!  

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Gluten-free Almond Apple Breakfast Mug Cake

Ingredients for the Cake:

3 tbsp almond flour

3tbsp oat bran

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

4 oz no sugar added apple sauce

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

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Ingredients for the topping:

1/2 tsp cinnamon

4 tsp brown sugar or xylitol

4 tsp apple sauce

Tiny pinch salt

4 tsp coconut oil

A pinch of corn starch

Crumbled pecans or walnuts (optional)

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Preparation:

Grease 2 small mug or 4 small ramekins and set aside. In a small bowl, combine all cake dry ingredients, then add all cake liquid ingredients and stir. Transfer the cake batter to the prepared mugs or ramekins, then spoon the streusel evenly on top.

Either bake at 350F for 14 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean OR cook in the microwave until a toothpick comes out clean. (Microwave times will vary depending on wattage.)

I nuked mine in the ramekins for 70 seconds each while Audrey baked hers in the toaster oven.  We tried each other’s cake and they taste quite the same.  If you use a small mug instead of a small ramekin, you will probably need 90 seconds to 100 seconds.  Start with a shorter time and poke a toothpick in the cake to see if it’s done.  If not, add another 10 seconds or so.

If you don’t want to eat the cake directly from the mug or dish, allow it to cool completely. Then run around the sides with a knife and it should pop right out! Eat plain or topped with sugar-free icing (see note).

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I enjoyed eating it piping hot right out of the ramekin.

Note:

I blended 1 cup of xylitol into powdered “sugar,” and used the powdered sugar with a tiny bit of milk to make the icing.  You can also use a little bit of plain yogurt to make a yogurt icing.

Store the powdered xylitol with a 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to prevent clumping.