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

Nutty Fruity Scones 2.0

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Saturday morning has been a peaceful couple’s time for Peter and me.  The girls are now at an age that they like to stay up late and and sleep until noon or for Angela afternoon on weekends.  Peter loves this scone recipe and I have made it many times for him as energy bars, snacks, and breakfast.  They are easy and quick to make and packed with nuts and fruits, so the combinations are as varied as there are nuts and fruits.

We sit here, sipping tea, reading the paper and talking about whatever that comes to mind.  Mostly we talk about the children.  I savor and cherish these simple moments.  Ever since the children were born, I feel more acutely the transient nature of all things.  Angela will be away in college in a year and half.  There is nothing we can do to stop time from fleeting; we can only stay present and pay attention to the immediacy and fullness of life.

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Nutty Fruity Scone 2.0

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup walnuts

1/3 cup pistachio nuts

1 large egg

2 tablespoons honey

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt and soda.

Stir in dried fruit and nuts.

In a small bowl, combine egg and honey.

Stir wet ingredients into dry.

Use your hands to form dough.

Shape into desired shape.

(I used a little coconut flour to prevent sticking when I handled the dough.)

Bake at 350° on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

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 I got a call today from a friend whom I haven’t heard from in a long time.  She is very much into astrology, and some years ago she had my astrological chart read by some very renowned astrologist in Shanghai unbeknownst to me.  She shared the findings with me afterwards and I remember one of the things was that I should never wear the color brown.  She meant well, but I told her I didn’t believe in astrology.  Through out the years though, what she said would pop up in my mind whenever I shopped for clothes.  And subconsciously I avoided buying anything that was brown.

Today’s call was about some dissonance between my astrological sign in the Year of Ram.  My friend had my sign read again and was calling to warn me to be extra careful.  Now what do you do with a call like this? 

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Well, the Chinese remedy everything by eating the right kind of food.  One of the lucky foods that we eat during Luna New Year is Kumquat.  As a matter of fact, any citrus fruit is considered lucky because the word “citrus” sounds like the word “auspicious.” Kumquat is the most auspicious because it sounds like “golden auspicious.”  

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cup 100% whole wheat flour

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup Kumquat jam (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

The recipe makes about 16 – 18 muffins.

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Preparation:

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add all wet ingredients in the mixed dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Leave a little lumpiness in.

Preheat oven at 375, line or grease muffin pan.  Add muffin mix to the cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Serve with Greek yogurt and kumquat jam.

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Note:

I made the kumquat jam the day before with about 1 pound kumquats, 1 cup xylitol (or sugar), 1 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.  Cut and seed the kumquats and cook with all ingredients for 30 to 40 minutes. 

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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I caught Audrey listening to Taylor Swift while practicing piano a couple of times.  I also caught her practicing with one hand while snacking with the other a couple of times.  Finally I decided that her playing piano was a futile effort for everyone involved.  Peter and I sat her down a couple of weeks ago and told her that we were letting her off the hook, that it was okay with us if she didn’t play the piano any more.  Unexpectedly, she said she didn’t want to stop.  She insisted on continuing to take lessons.  We told her that it would be her choice to either practice much more conscientiously or to stop entirely.  We told her to think it overnight and let us know her decision the next day.  The next day Audrey solemnly declared that she would practice everyday and with focus, that she wanted to continue piano. 

It’s been about two weeks since her own decision to continue playing the piano and I am hearing a marked improvement in her playing.  Life is full of surprises.

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Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Coat the spiralized or sliced yam with coconut oil and shaved coconut in a baking pan.  Spread a thin layer of yam in the baking dish. You may need two baking pans for this.  The fries will not be crispy if the layer is too thick.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then flip over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. 

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No Bake Almond Coconut Chocolate Mousse Tart

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Amongst the bills and junk mail I found two packages that made me happy:  One is the Bay Area Consumers’ CHECKBOOK and the other is a certificate of commendation plus a check for Angela. 

This month’s CHECKBOOK is featuring top doctors rated by their peers.  Practicing physicians in the Bay Area were asked which doctors they considered most desirable to care for their loved ones, and Peter received the highest number of votes in the field of cardiology in San Francisco.  I am so glad that my perpetually overworked husband has the respect and trust of his peers.

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Hubby (the one on the right) doing teaching in an animal lab with his friend

Angela won a community service grant to promote healthful eating and exercise in low-income children. When she was in Andover, she volunteered at the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club to teach kids karate.  When she came back to San Francisco she started our blog with the intention of promoting healthy home cooking, starting from this household.  This grant will encourage her to continue her efforts.

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It is time to celebrate!  In my younger days, I never allowed myself to enjoy the little victories in life.  I felt that if I became pleased with myself, I would stop improving.  But now I can feel proud and rejoice in every achievement of my loved ones.  Life is worth celebrating.  Period.  Hence this delicious tart.  It is an easy to make grain-free, sugar-free tart that you won’t feel guilty after eating a slice or two. You don’t even need to own an oven to make it.  (For another excellent no bake cake, please check out Healthy Raspberry Cheesecake.)

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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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INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

6 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder

2 tablespoon xylitol or sweetener of choice

1 cup coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoon coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

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TOPPING:

Unsweetened coconut chips

Sliced almonds

Raspberries

PREPARATION:

In a mixing bowl, mix almond meal and shredded coconut with melted coconut oil and xylitol. Line a tart pan with food safe plastic wrap.  Using a rubber spatula, spread nut mixture into the bottom of the lined tart pan.  (The plastic wrap makes it easier to lift the tart out of the pan.)

In a small saucepan, mix the cocoa powder, xylitol, coconut flour and xanthan gum.  Pour coconut milk and vanilla into the saucepan.  Mix well.  Stir over low heat.  After the mixture thickens, turn off the stove and let rest for 1 minute. Pour chocolate filling into tart (or pie) shell. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 6 hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, you can leave the tart in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes.)

When ready to serve, toast coconut chips in a small frying pan on the stove over medium heat, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Allow the coconut to cool. Sprinkle coconut chips, sliced almonds on the tart. Decorate with raspberries. Slice and serve immediately.

NOTE:

Coconut oil becomes firm in the refrigerator due to its high melting point, which helps the crust on this tart solidify. It will remain solid below temperatures of 76°F.

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Recipe Inspired by:

siftandwhisk.com

Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

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I have had the good fortune of tasting the most amazing food while traveling for work in countries like Turkey, Spain, Italy, Malaysia, United Emirates and Morocco.  But inevitably by the 2nd week, I’d be missing Chinese food.  I remember frantically looking for a pack of instant noodles on the streets of St. Petersburg.  When the craving hits, it feels as if it were life and death.  Aiya, you can’t take the China out of the girl la. 

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In St. Petersburg

I was about to eat leftovers for lunch today when I suddenly craved for Chinese food.  To satisfy the urge, I made a quick stir-fry.  It was a simple dish, but very delicious.  It really hit the spot for me.

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Everyone should own a wok and try stir-fry.  It’s one of the fastest and simplest ways to prepare any food.

Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 small onion, cut into halves

6 finger-length dried red chilies, seeded

1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts, rinsed and drained

15 oz skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into bite size

3 scallion, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in lengths

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Sauce:

3 tablespoon soy sauce (or Maggi seasoning sauce / Golden Mountain sauce)

2 tablespoon Chinese Cooking Wine +  1 tablespoon for marinating

1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

2 teaspoon xylitol or sugar, or to taste

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken pieces with 1 tablespoon of wine for 10 to 20 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towel.  Mix the cornstarch into the meat.  (You can omit this step if you want to save time, but it does make the chicken taste better.)

Heat up a wok and add the oil. When the oil is heated, add the garlic, onion, dried red chilies and stir-fry until fragrant or when you smell the spicy aroma of the chilies. Add the cashew nuts and follow with the chicken. Stir-fry the chicken until the surface turns opaque. Add all the ingredients for the Sauce into the wok and continue to stir-fry until the chicken is cooked. Stir-in the scallion, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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Recipe inspired by rasamalaysia

Chocolate Banana Souffles

I have been in and out of airports quite a lot in the past two weeks and all the flying was getting on my nerves.  It is pathetic how I’m on the top level of airlines’ frequent flyer programs year after year.  This is the one area of my life I wish could be different.  I’m adventurous only in a spiritual sense — meaning in my thinking and imagination.  My physical self is unbelievably timid and just wants to be home.  When Angela was a toddler, I took her to Shanghai to see my parents and my childhood friends.  They asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and Angela said she’d like to be a tree on Filbert St.  That homebound gene came from me.

Today, I heard that the 2nd season of Marco Polo will again shoot in three remote countries.  In the 1st season, I only had to be in one of them, but in the new season I will most likely be in all three countries.  I was stressed out just thinking about all the flying I will have to do, and the long months away from my family. 

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I had to bake some yummy treats after I heard the news.  The kitchen is my refuge, my shrink. Before I came to the US, I had never heard of shrinks.  The first time I learned of Freud’s Couch I couldn’t understand how anyone would feel better after letting their time, money, and precious life experiences spill out like vomit.

I’ve saved a lot money and breath cooking in the kitchen instead of lying on the couch.  I free associate better with a mixer in hand.

These Soufflés are light and fluffy and they were made mostly of egg whites, which is great if you are on a reduced carb, or gluten free diet.  This was the first time I ever made soufflés and I was curious how they would turn out.  I was staring at the oven almost the entire time watching them rise.  My excitement grew as the soufflés rose higher and higher in the oven, but the minute I took them out they started to deflate.  It was a good thing the kids were already home when they came out of the oven.  They should be eaten within 15 minutes before they lose the fluffiness.

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Chocolate Banana Soufflés Ingredients:

2 ripe medium bananas, mashed

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large egg whites

3 tbsp sugar (I used 2 tbsp of xylitol and it was sweet enough)

cooking spray

Preparation:

Preheat over to 400F. Coat 4, 6 oz ramekins with butter flavored cooking spray. Place on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, mash bananas and vanilla together. Sift cornstarch and cocoa powder over bananas and stir well.

In another medium bowl, beat egg whites with sugar until they form soft peaks. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into banana mixture. When incorporated, fold in the rest of the egg whites. Spoon mixture into ramekins.

Wipe the top 1/4 inch “collar” of the ramekin to remove any excess batter so that the souffle will rise straight and place ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Gina’s Weight Watcher Recipes

Vegan Blueberry Muffin Bread

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One simply feels blessed coming back from anywhere to California in wintertime.

I have been traveling between China and the US many times a year for more then 30 years and I still suffer from jet lag.  Before the children were born, I would get up in the middle of the night and begin moving heavy furniture around the house.  I would put towels under the legs of the furniture and move almost anything by myself.  When Peter woke up in the morning, he’d be surprised to see how the rooms had changed.

Nowadays, when I’m jet lagged I just get up and cook.  Peter got called to the hospital at around 3 AM this morning and when he walked downstairs to the kitchen, I already finished baking the vegan blueberry bread.  The warm toasty aroma brought a smile to his tired face. 

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As I sit here in the afternoon sun writing the blog, I hear peals of laughter from Angela who is reading George Saunders’ story “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”  I make a mental note to read the story and see if it will appear to be funny to me as well.  I usually don’t understand the newspaper comics that the girls love.  And they don’t think I have any sense of humor.  They also get exasperated when I laugh at inappropriate times when others don’t see anything funny.  I suppose humor is the hardest thing to translate.  The girls, though, believe simply that my brain doesn’t function so well anymore.

I sometime wonder if they will ever understand the cultural gulf that I have managed to cross to be who I am.

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Vegan Blueberry Bread Ingredients:

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour (250g)

1/2 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional

1/2 cup xylitol or sugar of choice (100g)

1 cup almond milk or milk of choice (240g)

1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar (15g)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (30g)

1 1/2 cups blueberries (200g)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and grease a 9×5 loaf pan. In a large measuring bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate measuring bowl, whisk together all liquid ingredients except the blueberries.

Pour wet into dry, stir until just evenly combined, then add the blueberries and VERY gently stir them in only until evenly mixed. Do not over-stir, as this would break the blueberries and you’d end up with purple bread.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 45 minutes on the middle rack. Do not open the door, but turn off the oven and let the bread sit inside the oven for another 30 minutes. Makes 10 big, fat slices.

This recipe has been adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Crispy Ginger Bread Apple Tart

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Audrey is extremely innocent and sweet by nature.  She always chooses to see the prettier side of things and is quite oblivious to the obscene or the complicated.  I often think that she lives in a more graceful world than the rest of us.  A few years ago, we were traveling in Shangri-La and I had to relieve myself in the wilderness and Peter took a picture of me as a joke.  Later he asked Audrey, “What’s Mommy doing in this picture?”  Audrey said, “Mommy is smelling flowers.”  We didn’t even see the beautiful flowers in front of my nose as I squatted until Audrey pointed that out.

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While hiking on New Year’s day we talked about two friends of mine who recently divorced.  Peter asked about the man’s Russian girlfriend and I said, “I haven’t talked to them for a while.  But the last I heard, she was still Russian.”  Audrey asked, “She changed her nationality?” 

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We had guests over today and Audrey wanted to created her own version of ginger bread apple tarts.  She was mixing, kneading, rolling the dough like she used to do with her play dough and had a wonderful time.  Audrey was pleased with the flower shaped tarts with pink fillings while Angela said, “Ewww, they remind me of bloody guts.”

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Baking is a precise science, which both Audrey and I are still learning to master, but the oven is an amazingly forgiving invention.  Most baking recipes we have tried turned out quite rewarding especially when we eat our creations fresh from the oven. 

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Tart Crust Ingredients:

1 cups 100% whole wheat flour

1 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg white

2 tablespoon molasses

Apple and Cranberry Mixture Ingredients:

5 medium Fuji apples, peeled, sliced

1 cup frozen cranberries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons 100% whole wheat flour

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 cup xylitol or sugar

Juice from 1 lemon

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Crust Preparation:

Preheat to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl; stir well to mix.  Add the coconut oil, egg white, xylitol and molasses.  Knead the dough with hands until well mixed.   Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours. Separate the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and flatten with rolling pin on a layer of dry flour. Place the thin flattened dough into muffin cups. Bake the for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Fruit Mixture Preparation:

Mix all ingredients well in a mixing bowl.  Cook the mixture in a pan on medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Fill the Tart shells with the fruit mixture and serve immediately.

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