Healthy Chocolate Pecan Pie

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Baking is usually associated with childhood memories of birthdays or holidays.  I have often listened with envy when people talk about their grandmother’s great cherry strudel or their mother’s special peach cobbler.  For me, I had never seen an oven before I arrived in the US at the age of 20. The first time that I baked was when I lived with an old couple in Northridge, California while attending college. They generously hosted me for 2 years when I had no money to rent a place of my own.  Their names were Richard and Sandy Hyde. I still remember my own surprise when I bit into the warm chocolate chip cookie.  I couldn’t believe how something this delectable could be made so easily by me.  And the aroma! Even without the benefit of childhood memory or family tradition, I was easily convinced that the aroma of cookies baking in the oven was the conduit to happiness.

I have loved baking since that day, but nowadays I am more careful about what ingredients to use.  I don’t want to kill my family with excessive use of butter and sugar. I was delighted to find this healthy chocolate pecan pie recipe on chocolatecovderedkatie.com.  It is low-sugar, gluten-free, vegan, nutritious and most importantly quite delicious. 

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Healthy Chocolate Pecan Pie

Ingredients for Crust:

2 cups almond flour (200g)

1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp xylitol (optional)

2 tbsp plus 2 tsp melted coconut oil (17g)

2 tbsp water

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Either grease the bottom of an 8.5 springform pan OR line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine all ingredients and stir to form crumbles. Transfer the crumbly dough to the prepared pan, and press down evenly and firmly with your hands. Bake 14 minutes.  (For a 9-inch pan, increase all ingredients by 1.5. Baking time remains the same.)

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Ingredients for Filling:

1 cup raw pecans + more for garnish (I added 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts for extra nuttiness)

1 package 12.3 oz Mori-Nu silken-firm tofu

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot

1/2 cup agave or pure maple syrup 

2 tbsp molasses (I used blackstrap molasses, but you can also use more agave or maple syrup)

2 tbsp cocoa powder

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Preparation:

Blend all ingredients, except pecans, in a food processor until very smooth. Then add the pecans and pulse a few times until they’re chopped. Pour into a prepared pie crust, and top with additional pecans if desired. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, for 45 minutes. If you serve the pie immediately, it’ll be very gooey (not necessarily a bad thing). But if you let it chill in the fridge, it firms up quite nicely the longer it sits.

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Audrey recorded me making the pie and said she’d make a cooking show for me.

Five Minute Pineapple Fantasy Pie

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It ’s Peter’s birthday and he took the day off as a present to himself.  There is no better gift than leisure for someone who works long and stressful hours year in and year out.  I don’t remember since when but this has become an annual ritual for Peter on his birthday — a day to rest and reflect, a day free from the tyranny of schedule.  In our culture of productivity, we need to now and then take pause and remind ourselves that we are much greater than our professional identities and life is much more expansive than work.

Peter and I curled up on the sofa and read Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals together.  It is an extremely well researched and eloquently written book about the food we eat in the industrial food chain. I was so engrossed in the book that I could hardly peel myself away when it came time to make Peter’s birthday cake.  I decided to simply open a couple of cans and whip up a quick and easy no bake pie – a refreshing and delicious dessert that any lazy fool can make.

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Five Minute Pineapple Fantasy Pie:

Ingredients:

1 can (20oz) crushed pineapple in 100% juice

1 can (13.6oz) coconut milk or coconut cream

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp xylitol

Pie crust

Note: Be sure that you’re using full-fat coconut milk, not coconut milk beverage or lite coconut milk.

Preparation:

To make the pie, blend all ingredients except the crust until very smooth. Pour into a prepared pie crust. Freeze 4 hours or until firm but not yet hard, or freeze longer and thaw at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.  I churned the pineapple mixture in the ice cream maker before pouring it into the crust, but the original recipes doesn’t require an ice cream maker.

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Adapted from chocolatecoveredkatie.com

Perfect Summer Lunch

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As soon as I landed in San Francisco on Wednesday, I received an email asking me to return to Budapest on Sunday.  I was supposed to have a two week break, but an unexpected schedule change cut my stay into less than four days. Peter didn’t want me to labor too much in the kitchen and suggested for us to eat out, but I have been eating out a lot when I was in Budapest and really wanted to stay in. 

So, I made these delicious, healthy summer dishes as effortlessly as lifting a feather.  All things on such a slow lazy midsummer Saturday should be this easy and beautiful.

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Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

5 large heirloom tomatoes of different colors

2 medium to large fresh mozzarella cheese balls

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Balsamic cream or balsamic glaze to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Slice tomatoes and cheese and layer them in desired fashion.  Top with basil leaves.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic cream.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Frozen Yogurt and Fruit Bonbons

1 banana

8 strawberries

1 1/2 cup yogurt of choice

Lay parchment paper on a cutting board or other flat surface.  Mix your favorite yogurt and fruit.  Spoon the yogurt covered fruit carefully on the parchment paper.  Leave in the freezer for an hour or longer.

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Coconut Greek Yogurt Pie

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What can I say about June?  Long and lazy summer days stretch endlessly on.  The girls have no schedules to adhere to, no responsibilities to carry out, and autumn is still far in the distance.  June is the childhood of the year — expectant and full of possibilities.  Everything is done spontaneously — going for a walk, seeing a matinee, shopping for a summer dress, making a dessert and making another dessert… 

My favorite healthy dessert recipe website is chocolatecoveredkatie.com.  Many of my dessert recipes have been adapted from or inspired by it.  Today I decided to try Katie’s Coconut Greek Yogurt Pie.  The only things I changed were making 1 1/2 portion of the filling, and making my own no-bake almond coconut pie crust.  When I make it again, I will try to churn the filling in the ice-cream machine and make it into an ice-cream pie.

Audrey and I made the dessert and left it in the freezer before we went to a 3D screening of Jurassic World.  Summer blockbusters are usually not my favorite kind of films, but I had fun today because I went with Audrey, who almost jumped out of her seat every time the Indominus rex made her sudden and stealthy screen appearance.  Every time someone got eaten Audrey would wince and turn her head from the screen while I felt nothing.  For the entire film, she grabbed onto my hand.   Audrey is definitely the targeted audience of the film.

When we got home, the dessert was ready!

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Ingredients For the Filling:

2 cups plain yogurt of choice (I used non-fat Fage)

1/2 cup to 2/3 cup coconut butter , depending on desired thickness

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/8 tsp uncut stevia, OR 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/8 tsp salt

fresh berries of choice

9-inch crust of choice, optional

Ingredients for Crust:

1 1/4 cups raw almond meal or almond flour (or you can grind 1 1/2 cup of almonds)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sweetener of choice

1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

(You can add a little more coconut oil if the almond mixture feels too crumbly.)

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Preparation:

Blend all but the berries and crust until completely smooth. (This can technically be done by hand if your coconut butter is fully melted and your yogurt is not chilled, but it’s recommended to use a blender or food processor for best results.) Pour into either the pie crust or individual ramekins. Chill overnight, or until firm enough to cut. Top with fresh berries before serving. 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice-cream Pie, Healthy-fied

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It’s summer and it’s Friday.  Time to indulge a little.  Or a lot.  This chocolate peanut butter ice-cream pie is so delicious and so healthy that you will want to eat more than one slice.  And there is no need to wash your plate afterwards, I promise  it will be licked clean by you.  

If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, I really encourage you to get one soon.  You can have skinny ice-cream or fro-yo anytime you want at home all summer!

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice-cream Pie

Ingredients for the Crust:

1/2 heaping cup toasted walnuts

1/2 heaping cup prunes

1/2 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

2 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder

1 tablespoon xylitol

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Ingredients for the Filling:

1 cup + 2 tablespoon creamy peanut butter (See note)

1 cup milk (I used 2% milk)

3/4 cup greek yogurt (I used non-fat Fage)

1/4 cup xylitol

3 packs stevia

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt or more if your peanut butter is unsalted

4 tablespoon shaved dark chocolate (I used 86%)

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Preparation:

Combine all ingredients for the crust in a food processor and blend. Then transfer to an 8-in baking dish or aluminum pan. Using a piece of wax or parchment paper, smush into the pan.  Leave the crust in the freezer while you make the filling.  You can also save the crust in a ziplock bag in the freezer until you need to use it.  I used saran wrap to line the baking dish for easy transferring of the pie after it is done.

Mix all ingredients for the filling except for the shaved chocolate in a food processor.  I used Vitamix.  Pour mixture into the ice cream maker.  Pour the shaved chocolate into the ice cream maker while it is churning.

When the ice-cream is ready.  Scoop out and fill the pie crust.  Return the pie to freezer for another 30 minutes to an hour.

If the pie gets too hard, thaw it for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Note:  I made 1 cup of peanut butter with PB2+2%milk , which contains 85% less fat than regular peanut butter.  I added 2 full fat peanut butter to enhance the flavor.  The pie tasted very peanut-buttery.  You can hardly notice the difference.

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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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Mango Sorbet

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It was a glorious April day and the temperature was in the 70s — warmer than many of our summer days.  How could anyone be inside and working on a day like this?  I called Peter at 5pm and asked, “ Can you play a little hooky and take a walk with me?” — meaning “I miss you,” not expecting him to actually do it. 

Ten minutes later, I heard the garage door open and there he was.  “Let’s go take a walk,” he said casually as if this was an everyday occurrence.  I was so surprised I couldn’t speak. 

Peter changed into shorts while I quickly made a mango sorbet for him.  It took me less than five minutes, but he said it really hit the spot.

We walked on Union Street holding hands.  This almost felt illicit — strolling with him in the afternoon sun on a weekday.  It was as if he was not my husband, but someone else’s husband that I had stolen just for today.  It was wonderful, better than a real vacation.

We walked by a few restaurants where people were dining al fresco style on the sunny sidewalk and we decided to do the same.  We sat down at an outside table in a restaurant call Capannina.  After we ordered, I heard the lady sitting at the next table telling her young daughter about me as if I was a painting on the wall.  She said, “Remember you said you wanted to be a Chinese princess?  This lady played a princess in a film.  She is a movie star.”  The young daughter looked at me — practically an old woman — and was dubious.  The lady probably sensed that I was a bit uncomfortable and embarrassed by her admiration and apologized.

Peter and I had a delicious three course meal, and when we asked for the bill we were told that the dinner was paid for by the lady at the next table. We thanked her and walked into the setting sun.

Our impromptu date turned out perfectly.  Everyone should play a little hooky once in a while.

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Mango Sorbet

Ingredients:

2 cups frozen mango cubes

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp fresh sweet orange juice

Blend everything in a powerful blender or food processor.  I used my Vitamix.

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Chocolate Thistle & Chicken Soup

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A crunchy chocolate dessert high in cereal fiber

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A hearty chicken soup with whole grain and vegetables

Last week, Peter bought a Costco roast chicken as he often did when I was away at work.  Tasty, tender and versatile, Costco roast chicken is the best $4.99 anyone can spend.  Peter would usually eat the drumsticks on the first day, and then breast meat for sandwiches for the next couple of days.  If I am home, I often use the breast meat to make a quick chicken curry, or use it on top of a caesar salad.  And I use what’s left to make a stock — for porridge or for soup. 

When I opened the fridge today, the roast chicken carcass was waiting there to be transformed.  I suppose this is what home cooking is often about — improvise with leftovers.  I usually make the soup with hulled barley, but I was out of it today and made the soup with farro instead.

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Chicken Farro Vegetable Soup

Ingredients for the Stock:

1 Roast Chicken Carcass

1/4 cup cooking wine

1 inch giner, sliced

12 cups water

1/4 tsp salt or to taste

Ingredients for the Soup:

1/4 farro or hulled barley

1 cup diced carrots

1 zucchini

8 to 10 oz mushroom, sliced

2 cups chicken broth (from carton or can)

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Preparation:

To make the stock, put the entire carcass in a large pot with cooking wine, ginger, water and salt.  Bring to boil and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  Turn off stove.  Pour the entire pot of soup over a colander into another large pot.  Discard the bone and the skin from the colander and save the meat.  Skim the fat off the top of the stock.

When the stock is simmering, cook the farro or hulled barley with the chicken broth in a rice cooker.

To make the soup, add the meat back into the stock with the cooked farro and carrots. Cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the zucchini and mushroom and cook for another 5 minutes.

Peter has a sweet tooth, but he is supposed to be careful with his sugar intake.  So the one thing he missed the most when I was away was healthy dessert.

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Chocolate Thistles

Ingredients:

1 1/3 3.5 oz milk or dark chocolate bar (I used dark)

1 cup All-bran cereal (I used Kellogg’s)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/4 cup dried sweet cherries

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Preparation:

Break the chocolate bar and put in a bowl.  Steam the bowl with chocolate in a steamer on low to melt.  Remove the bowl from the steamer and pour in the cereal, almonds, coconut and dried cherries.

Spoon 1 tbsp mounds of chocolate mounds onto prepared baking sheet.  Transfer to freezer to set for 10 minutes.

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Coconut Obsessed Pie

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Whenever I was sick at home from school, my grandmother would unlock her small walk-in closet and get out an old leather suitcase full of goodies that were ordinarily off limits to anyone.  There were old pictorials, Linguaphone phono records, theater programs from London’s West End and New York’s Broadway.  She would then begin to tell me stories — recounting and recreating tragic sagas from Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Hamlet, or funny stories from The Pickwick Papers.  It was usually in the winter when I was sick with the cold or the flu.  My grandmother would close the thick drapery and crank up the phonograph to play Linguaphone records for me.  More than 40 years have passed and I can still close my eyes and hear the authoritative British male voice saying: “Lesson number one: My Family — my wife, my son, my daughter and I…  I am standing by the window, smoking a pipe, my son is kneeling on the floor, playing with a train…”

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It was brazen and defiant of her to have kept that suitcase and shared the content with me in the midst of the Cultural Revolution.  Most of what my grandparents brought back from abroad were either taken by the red guards or burned by my parents who feared the potentially dire consequences of owning anything foreign.

I think it was behind the closed doors of  her darkened room, with a sore throat and a fever that I first began to conjure up faraway lands and unfamiliar tongues.  Subconsciously I was made to believe that perhaps life was more than the monotonous indoctrination that I was fed in school and by society.  My grandmother’s stories balanced my education.  That she was a great story teller and charming conversationalist also helped us in unexpected ways.

In my late teens, I became a national darling for starring in the films Youth and Little Flower.  There were often gentleman callers who came to our old house in Shanghai with the desire to meet me.  According to my grandmother, they were all sons or grandsons of some high level cadres.  She said that they were trouble and I should not meet any of them.  As I sat in the bathroom or the kitchen with a book, my grandmother would be chatting with the visitor, over a cup of tea or a cigarette.  Scheherazade may have told one thousand and one tales to save her own life; my grandmother told one thousand and one tales to spare me the “trouble” and to have fun.  Some disappointed suitors would leave right away at hearing that I wasn’t home, but others would stay for quite a while chatting and laughing with my grandmother, genuinely enjoying her company.  She must have appeared quite an exciting and maverick old lady to them.  A number of them became her friends and forgot all about their initial intentions of meeting me.  Until her death, they often visited her, bearing gifts of oranges, tea or sweets.  She had many cross generational friends — “Wang Nian Jiao” in Chinese,meaning literally “forget age connection.”

The first coconut sweet I ever had was a piece of kaya toast. Kaya jam is made of coconut milk, egg and sugar.  One of my grandmother’s “forget age connections” once brought her a can of the golden luxury and it was the best thing that I had ever tasted. 

As I made this coconut pie, I thought of that first taste of the kaya and my grandmother who shared it with me.  She would have called me a genius to make such a delicious coconut cream pie with tofu.  I wish I could claim I invented this.

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Coconut Obsessed Pie

Ingredients:

For the coconut-graham cracker crust:

6 whole graham crackers or homemade wholewheat graham crackers (about 4 oz)

3 tablespoons whipped butter

3 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut

For the filling:

1 teaspoon gelatin

12.3 oz package organic silken tofu, firm (Mori-nu brand)

1/4 cup milk of choice for the gelatin, I used coconut milk 

1/2 cup full fat canned coconut milk

1 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

4 packs stevia, or to taste

A pinch of salt

Optional topping:  toasted coconut flakes

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place the whole graham crackers in a re-sealable plastic bag and crush with rolling pin, then measure 1 cup of crumbs and discard the rest.

In a medium-sized bowl or a food processor, combine the graham cracker crumbs, xylitol or sugar, 3 tbsp shredded coconut, whipped butter and 1/2 tablespoon of water; blend until it has a texture of coarse meal.

Press into an 8-inch pie dish making the crust about 1/8-inch thick evenly all around and up the sides, evening the crumbs up to make sure there are no gaps or holes. Note: If you refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes before you bake it, this will help prevent crumbling when you want to serve it.

Bake until the edges are golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the crust cool on a wire rack, before filling.

Meanwhile, dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 tablespoon of water in a small bowl for 5 minutes.

Lightly mash the silken tofu with a fork and place it in the blender with the canned full fat coconut milk and remaining tablespoon of shredded coconut and blend until smooth, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

Heat the 1/4 cup of coconut milk beverage in the microwave 40 to 45 seconds, and mix in with the gelatin until dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into the graham cracker crust and refrigerate until it sets, about 3 to 4 hours. Top with shaved coconut, if desire.

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Adapted from: skinnytaste.com