Trader Joe's Almond Milk UPDATE!

Major News.  Trader Joe's offers a brand new unsweetened vanilla almond milk in the non-refrigerated section!  Mr. Joe used to carry his own non-refrigerated brand years ago but stopped (which was a good call since the prior version was a watery tasteless mess).  This new version is quite good.  It tastes very similar to Blue Diamond Almond Breeze AND it does NOT contain carrageenan!  There is some concern that carrageenan is carcinogenic so I try to avoid it (thereby freeing me up to worry about other major issues like endocrine-disrupting receipts).  

In any case, this new Trader Joe's non-refrigerated almond milk is a solid, flavorful almond milk with good thickness.  It does not taste nearly as scrumptious as the Trader Joe's refrigerated almond milk (which is one of my favorite things in life and tastes like whipped cream).  But this new version is shelf stable before opening, so I can keep it around as a back up or take it to work.  

Ingredients: almond base (filtered water, almonds), tricalcium phosphate, natural vanilla flavor with other natural flavors, sea salt, gellan gum, dipotassium phosphate, xantham gum, sunflower lecithin, vitamin A palmitate, ergocalciferol, (vitamin D2), D-alpha tocopheral (vitamain E).

Nutritional Info:

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Recipes include: 

Chocolate Cupcakes 
Vanilla Frosting Cup 
Apple Faux Pie 
Pumpkin Parfait 
Rosemary Sweet Potato Chips 
Cheesy Pasta with "Butter" 
Apple Pie Oatmeal with Peanut Butter Cream Topping 
Fit French Toast
Super Self-Righteous Oatmeal

Low Fat Oatmeal Raisin Cookies with Coconut Sugar

America's Test Kitchen  Healthy Family Cookbook does it again.  Their Low Fat Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are pretty spectacular--at least after my few modifications.  I do not know how the exact recipe comes out since I have issues with authority.  Plus, I have a fear of sugar, so I'm buying into this whole coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar and is better for you trend (without the chemicals of artificial sweeteners).  

My modifications:

I substituted coconut sugar for the regular sugar on a one to one basis, used white whole wheat flour instead of using part whole wheat and part white flour, substituted in egg beaters and doubled the salt (since I like flavor).  Then, to make the cookies worth the indulgence, I browned the butter.  I learned this trick from the America's Test Kitchen Chocolate Chip Cookies.  For some reason, they do not call for it in this recipe but they should have.  

The task:

1. Place oven rack in the middle position in your oven.  Preheat to 350 degrees.

2. Take 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter and cut into about 1 tablespoon pieces.  Place the pieces in a non-stick pan.  Heat on medium high for about 5 minutes while moving the butter around until melted and browned.  Keep a close eye and nose on it to make sure it does not burn.  As soon as it smells phenomenal pour it into a mixing bowl and allow to cool.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together:

-1 cup (3 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
-3/4 cup (4 ounces) white whole wheat flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon baking soda

4. Measure out 1 cup packed (7 ounces) coconut sugar in a separate bowl.

5. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/4 cup (1 egg) egg beaters to your butter and whisk together.

6. Add the sugar to your butter and egg mixture and whisk until fully incorporated into thick silky mixture.  Don't worry if it looks pretty thick.  

7. Mix in your dry ingredients and a generous 1/2 cup of raisins.  

8. Spoon out 1 tablespoon sized cookies on two cookie sheets that are covered with a silpat or wax paper so the cookies don't stick.

9. Bake each cookie sheet one at a time.  Bake for 5-7 minutes and then turn around and bake another 5-7 minutes.  Don't worry if they stick to the pan when you just take them out of the oven.  Just make sure they are brown along the edges.  

10. Let each cookie sheet cool for 10 minutes.  

11. Place on a cooling rack and start enjoying.

"Old Country" Cheese Danish-like Cookies (a.k.a. Cheese Deltelach)

My grandmother used to make these cookies that she called "deltelach" (with appropriate phlegm emphasis on the "ach").  They were filled with cheese and like little cheese danishes but with a fluffy almost bread-like cookie crust rather than a sticky pastry.  I've searched around the internet like mad but have been unable to find a photo or recipe.  She was from Czechoslovakia, so based on my research I think they're a version of "kolache".  Sadly, the recipes for kolache are quite varied, so I really did not know where to begin. Luckily my cousin had a recipe based on what she had learned from my grandmother, but the details were a tad sketchy.

Feeling up for a challenge (and bracing myself for failure) I made my first attempt this weekend.  And even though I was shooting in the dark, I couldn't help myself from modifying the recipe to make it healthier (using white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour, egg beaters instead of egg whites, fat free sour cream in lieu of regular, lite cream cheese in place of the full fat version, almond milk instead of regular milk and fat free ricotta cheese instead of farmers cheese basically because I couldn't find farmers cheese).

The results were decent and at least reminiscent of my grandmother's handiwork, but I'm not there yet.  They were definitely edible but not nearly fluffy enough.  If anyone has any input on a recipe for "deltelach" or something similar it would be splendid if you could leave a comment.

Dough Ingredients:
1/2 cup almond milk
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup egg beaters
4 cups white whole wheat flour

Filling Ingredients:
1/2 pound fat free ricotta cheese
1/2 package lite cream cheese
1 tablespoon fat free sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons egg product
2 pinches of salt

Egg Wash Ingredients:
3 tablespoons egg beaters
3 tablespoons sugar

The Task:

1) Put the almond milk, butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Then allow to cool.

2) Place the yeast in the warm water and allow to come to life for 10 minutes.

3) Place the flour in a mixing bowl and place the yeast, the 1/2 cup of egg beaters and the butter/almond milk mixture into the center of the dough (like you're imitating someone making fresh pasta).  Mix all of the ingredients together but don't overwork it.  Place the dough into a freezer ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight.

4) The next day take the dough out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5) Mix all of the filling ingredients together.  Mix the egg wash ingredients together in a separate small bowl.

6) Roll out the dough and cut squares of about 3 inches by 3 inches.

7)  Place about a tablespoon of the filling mixture in the middle of a square and pinch all four corners of the square together in the center.  So, you will have four open corners on the side but the top will be covered.  Repeat until you've used up the filling.  I had extra dough but there were so many cookies that I called it quits though I could have made more filling to use up the dough.

8) Place the cookies on baking pans and brush the egg wash over the cookies.

9) Bake for about 16-17 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.

10) Allow to cool.

11) Let me know what you think.

Low Fat Kogi Tacos at Home

While chasing a truck around and eating in a parking lot can be a fun adventure, sometimes you just want to eat at an actual table indoors.  But yet Kogi tacos are addictive and amazing.  The solution--Kogi Korean BBQ tacos in the comfort of your very own home.  Plus, since you control the ingredients you can actually make these delicious tacos healthy.  And proving that you can have it all in life--they're actually very easy and quick to make. 

It all begins with the slaw.  Make this first or ahead of time so the flavors can meld.

Slaw Ingredients:
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 package cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage (though having some carrots mixed in is festive)

Mix all of the ingredients together and then toss over the cole slaw mix.  Let sit (ideally for at least an hour).

While the Kogi flavors are innovative and delicious, the meat quality is a touch less than inspiring.  But with your homemade Kogi tacos, you're in the driver's seat (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun).  You can get pre-cooked and chopped chicken breast at Trader Joe's or you can go all out and buy raw chicken breast (organic, free range, kosher, whatever does it for you).

BBQ Sauce Ingredients:
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste)

Mix all of the sauce ingredients together.  Then chop up your chicken and throw in a saute pan with enough sauce to cover.  Put the flame on medium/high until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened.

I adore the La Tortilla Factory corn tortillas for this dish.  White corn or yellow corn both work nicely.

The nutritional info on these tortillas are quite impressive.  Under 100 calories for one, 1 gram of fat and 14 grams of carbs.  Each one is pretty thick so no need to double up on a taco.  I cook mine straight on the stove for under a minute.  If you have an electric stove, you'll have to use a pan or I suppose a lighter and some patience would work.

To assemble, place a good amount of chicken on the tortilla and then pile on the slaw (to maximize your protein and salad to tortilla ratio, of course).  Add a touch of salt and an extra squeeze of lime if you like.


Dim Sum at Seafood Paradise in Westminster, California

Scallop Dumplings--I don't know the Chinese name

Sometimes it's nice to mix up the weekend routine and venture out for some dim sum.  I went to Seafood Paradise No. 2 in Westminster, California with some friends recently and indulged in this feast.  Seafood Paradise has pretty good variety, tasty food and decent wait times even during prime time dim sum times.  So, if you're in the area and you're craving some sesame balls, it will hit the spot.  

Har Gow--Shrimp Dumplings

The key for health purposes is to stick with the steamed items and to resist the urge to keep grabbing more and more dishes from those tempting carts as they are wheeled by.  I'm not sure why food looks so much more intriguing in motion, but they are really onto something with those carts.  For the most part, I stick with har gow--steamed shrimp dumplings.  I also mix in some steamed scallop dumplings.  

Char Siu Bao--Baked BBQ Pork Buns

My dining companions enjoyed some pork buns, but being the buzzkill that I am, I passed.

Gai-Lan--Chinese Broccoli
I also had a few bites of Chinese Broccoli to get some greenage.  The portion size is huge so beware if you hate wasting food.  

I finished it all off with half of a sesame ball.  It was slightly sweet, rich from the oil with a satisfying toasted sesame seed flavor.  After the boyfriend made fun of me for only eating half, he gladly finished it for me.  

Christmas Cookie-tainment

A great holiday (or anytime) food indulgence is to invite friends or family over to decorate cookies.  I prefer not to actually mix friends and family, but I'll leave that call up to you.  The crucial element for fitness purposes is to go so overboard with the decorations that the cookies are pretty much inedible or just so darn adorable that they're too painful to eat (see pedicured feet above).  Yes, you read that correctly—allow creativity to triumph over culinary decency.  Let your imagination, food coloring and inner-froster go wild.  No need to limit yourself with considerations about whether anyone would ever eat your creations.  Just have fun with whomever your cookie cohorts are and snack on some fruit if you actually want to eat something.  To further the goal of achieving cookies that are more of an artistic statement than items to be digested, just use a simple sugar cookie recipe (I used the Joy of Baking one for the cookies pictured) and store-bought frosting and sprinkles.  These shortcuts allow you to focus on the main event--the decorating.  And if you actually take the time to follow an intricate recipe, you might want to do something crazy and eat your baked goods.  Trust me--making cookies your canvas and letting your inner-Kandinsky sprinkles fly can be intensely fun.  Plus, it allows you to release a lot of that pent up holiday food angst you may be harboring without all of those pesky calories.