New Pages

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I have to apologize for all the time that has passed since I last posted anything new here.

This summer I have been able to spend a couple of months in another city down in the Fujian province of southeast China.

From the scenery, to the climate, the food, the people, and the dialect, it has definitely been a change from northwest China.

I continue to be amazed at the incredible diversity that China has to offer.

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I guess you could say this summer has been a new page in the story of my China life and am so thankful for the experiences I have had here.

Although I have been away from my camera and my kitchen for a while, I have been able to pull together a new page for the blog on grains and legumes here in China, so feel free to check it out!

Whether you are spending this summer in China, your home country, or adventuring to new places, I hope you are able to find time to relax and enjoy the people around you.

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Fresh Cucumber Salad

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It is springtime here in Qinghai!

The weather is warming up, there are tulips in the park, and the trees are sporting a fresh coat of paint! This is the first time, since moving here last August, that I have seen this much sunshine and vibrant colors all around town. After months and months of nothing but cold and brown here, I have a new appreciation for how beautiful this city is this time of year.

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This is also a time of year that I especially crave food that is light and fresh.

I mean, I can still enjoy a great dinner of 川 菜 (Sichuan dishes) with friends but this cucumber salad is a great recipe when you are in need of some good clean eating.

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Just grab a few tomatoes, a couple cucumbers, an onion, and you are ready to go.

Drizzle with a light vinaigrette to give a bit of a zing, and you have an easy side dish or topping for your salad or meat.

Enjoy!

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Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups cucumber, diced

2 cups tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup onion, diced

1/4 cup vinegar (any vinegar will do but white, red wine or balsamic work great!)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

seasonings: black pepper, dill, parsley, garlic powder

Directions

1) Dice cucumber, tomato and onion and mix together.

2) Whisk together vinegar, oil, and seasonings.

3) Pour vinegar mixture over veggies and combine together.

4) Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.

Nutrition Facts per serving

55 calories, 4 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber

Good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

Help in the Spice Aisle

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In any grocery store in the U.S., the spice aisle is about as fool proof as it comes. Everything is clearly labelled and there is no question as to what you are buying. There are also endless combinations of herbs and spices to create just about any seasoning blend you could ever ask for.

Now in China…it is quite a different story. Sifting through bins of strange looking Chinese peppers, spices, and herbs is anything but fool proof.

Check out my new “Spice Aisle” page, as I am compiling somewhat of a directory of spices to help navigate through the confusion of what-is-what and how to use it to use them as you tackle cooking at home.

Keep stopping back in as I continue to add to the list.

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Apple Pour Over Cake

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Baking in China. Now, that is a tough one. With a long list of variables and potential pitfalls, there is no neutral ground when it comes to undertaking any sort of baking endeavor here in this country.

You open the oven and hold your breath, bracing for the moment of truth…

Will you find yourself face-to-face with the reality that your precious ingredients and hard spent time have only resulted in the epic disappointment of a failed attempt at recreating a taste of home OR will you be met by the sweet, sweet taste of a victoriously successful China baked good?

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There are a few reasons why I am a fan of this recipe.

-Best of both worlds

This cake ends up being a hybrid of a cake and an apple pie. Can’t go wrong with that.

-Simple ingredients

A short list of ingredients that are easy to come by makes this a very China-friendly recipe.

-Healthified spin

Substituting yogurt in place of a portion of the oil originally called for skims off a few calories.

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So give this recipe a try and see what you think.

Here is to wishing you many more successful baking ventures in China!

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Ingredients

5-6 apples, peeled and sliced

1 ½ tablespoon cinnamon-sugar (1 ¼ tablespoon + ¼ teaspoon cinnamon)

3 eggs

1 cup fine sugar (tip: called “baking sugar” or “caster sugar” but, if like me, you do not have either of these, give your granulated sugar a few pulses in your food processor or coffee grinder)

3/4  cups oil

1 cup yogurt

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ cups flour  (I substituted 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour 全麦Quán mài–I have found this in several bulk sections of the grocery store or market)

More cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle on top

Directions

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 175 degrees C.

2) Peel and slice apples and layer in the pan until they come about 2/3 of the way up the side. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the apples.

3) Beat together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add oil and the vanilla and beat well, then stir in the flour. Pour the batter on top of the apples, and sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon-sugar.

4) Bake for about 1 hour, or until your cake passes the toothpick test (or knife, or fork, or chopstick test).

5) Let cool. If you try to remove the cake from the pan while it is still warm, it will tend to break apart. You can refrigerate to speed up this process.

DIY Yogurt

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I remember my first morning living here in China. I was still recovering from the twilight-zone-like experience of packing up all my belongings, saying see-you-later’s (much later) to people I love, spending hours cramped on various  airplanes, and crossing over time zones to land on the other side of the world to this new place I would be calling home.

I was being escorted around town that morning, getting a lay of the land and help settling in, when two other foreigners who had been living here for a while, hopped into our van with their morning breakfast in hand. I was amused at the hilarity of seeing these two guys pop open the cap of their bottled yogurt and proceed to slurp away the contents of the container with the little accompanying straw. This was so weird to me. It took me a little while to get over the strange association I had with drinking yogurt through a straw, but it has since become the norm, and sometimes I even prefer it to eating yogurt with a spoon.

Providing the body with probiotics that help promote healthy GI bacteria, as well as packing a few grams of protein, yogurt has made its way onto many “Foods You Should Eat” lists…and for good reason. I have tried a number of different yogurts out here, and there are a few that I really like. But I have found that most are pretty heavy on the sweetness, and not really knowing exactly how much additional sugar is in some of the yogurt, I decided to look for a way to try my hand at making my own. I know several people who have found great yogurt makers on Taobao or other websites, but I stumbled across this microwave method that has worked great for me. I have heard you can also get a similar result using just a stove top, but I have yet to try it.

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Talk about a simple ingredient list. You only need two ingredients:

Milk and yogurt

So easy. You can use any type of milk and yogurt that you like. I just go with the milk and yogurt that I usually have on hand.

As far as the containers that you use, it is best if you do not ever have to transfer your yogurt, so a glass container with a lid is ideal. The ratio of your recipe will probably depend a bit on the size of your container. I use 800 mL of milk for each batch that I make but if you have a bigger or smaller container, you will want to tweak the numbers a bit.

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Place in the microwave and heat until the milk until it starts to boil for a bit, being careful not to scald it.

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Then pull your milk out and place on a towel on the counter to cool down to about 110 degrees F, skimming back the top layer that will form every few minutes as it cools. I don’t have a food thermometer, so I usually skim the milk 3-4 times and let it cool until it is still hot but warm enough to touch without burning yourself.

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Take out a bit of the heated milk and mix in a separate bowl with a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Whisk together the milk and yogurt mixture well and then stir back into the rest of the milk.

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Place a lid on your container and wrap up in a towel or blanket to help keep the heat in. Let sit for at least 6 hours. You can keep out on the counter or place somewhere that will act as a sort of “incubator” (like your microwave) while the yogurt sets up.

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After letting sit out, your yogurt is ready! Refrigerate until you are ready to eat.

I have to admit, not every batch I have made has turned out perfectly. So do not get discouraged if it does not turn out quite like you hoped. With the variables of time and temperature, not every batch will turn out exactly the same. But after a few tries, it is easy enough to settle into a good consistent yogurt with this method.

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–Enjoy your yogurt as is

–Mix with fruit and granola

–Sprinkle with cinnamon

–Blend into a smoothie

–Stir into your oatmeal

–Use as a base for salad dressing

–Substitute for sour cream in baking

Ingredients

1 L of milk

1 Tablespoon yogurt

Directions

1) Pour milk into your bowl.  Heat on high in the microwave for about 8-10 minutes.  This will vary microwave-to-microwave.  You’ll want it to be so hot that you have to skim it, but not super heated.

2) Remove it from the microwave and place it on a towel to cool to 110-115 degrees. Skim it periodically. It should be hot to the touch, but more than just lukewarm.

3) Remove around 1/4 cup of the heated milk and mix with 1 heaping tablespoons of yogurt.  Then return the mixture to the milk and stir thoroughly  to mix.

4) Cover your dish again and wrap well with a towel or blanket to preserve the heat. Let sit for at least 6 hours.

5) Refrigerate.

Homemade Granola

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You know when people ask the question: “If you were stranded on an island and could only have one thing to eat, what would you choose?” Hands down, my answer would be milk and cereal (so maybe that is two things…but I say it counts). Over the course of my life, I can think of very few days that did not include a bowl of cereal.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snack in between, anytime of day is a good time to enjoy the greatness of cereal.

Cereal is not cheap or easy to come by out here, and I knew this as going to be one of my biggest challenges in moving to China. But armed with a good granola recipe, I believe it is possible for all you cereal lovers out there to brave the cereal desert of China.

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I messed around with a few granola recipes and have now settled on one that I like pretty well. A lot of granola recipes will call for some sort of oil but this recipe substitutes two egg whites in place of oil. This works in favor of your wallet, with eggs being considerably less expensive than nicer oils out here, and also a good trade out for calories while adding a bit of extra protein.

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What is also great about granola is that you can play around with your ingredients and tweak it to fit your preference. I am not crazy about raisins and I like my granola a bit nuttier, so for this batch I tossed in some dried apples along with my walnuts and almonds. You will want to keep the basic ratio of dry and wet ingredients the same, but other than that, feel free to get creative!

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Pour over nice cold milk, snack on your granola dry, or use it as a topping for yogurt.

Anyway, you can’t go wrong with this one!

Ingredients

3 cups oats

1 cup nuts, chopped (you can use any nuts you like, I combined 1/2 cup of both walnuts and almonds)

½ chopped dried apple

½ cup honey

2 egg whites

A dash of cinnamon (or any other spices you enjoy;  ex: nutmeg, anise, ginger)

1 tsp vanilla (could also use other extracts; ex: coconut, almond)

Direction

1) Heat the oven to 300°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

2) Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir all together. (*You may want to wait to add your dried fruit until after you have baked your granola for at least the first 15 minutes to help keep it from drying out and getting too burned.”)

3) Whisk together the wet ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour over the oat mixture and mix until the oats are thoroughly coated.

4) Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir granola every 5-10 minutes and continue baking until the granola is very light golden brown, about 30-45 min.

5) Take it out of the oven and let cool.

Chicken Fried Rice

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Before living in China, I was never really too crazy about fried rice. But not long after moving here, a few friends introduced me and my roommates to a wonderful hole-in-the-hall restaurant that makes incredible fried rice. Not only is it a stinking good plate of fried rice, but it is crazy cheap and the servings could easily stretch out over two or three meals…not that they ever actually do, but they could! The number of days that I now crave fried rice have definitely increased since finding this gem of a restaurant. I figured it would be worth it to find a good recipe that would allow me to get my fried rice fix in the comforts of my own home and with a little more control over the amount of salt and oil that gets added in. Do not get me wrong,  for 6元 a plate, I definitely continue to frequent THE Fried Rice Place, but I having this simple recipe on hand has been great for being able to whip up my own fried rice.

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I like to add chicken to round out the dish with some protein.

Just dice and saute up a bit of olive oil and set aside to add back in  later.

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You can throw in whatever veggies you are in the mood for. Carrots, peppers and onions are usually my go to.

Cook up the veggies first for 3-5 min and then push to the side and scramble up a couple eggs.

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Toss your chicken back in, throw in some rice (this is a great way to put leftover rice to good use), drizzle some soy sauce over it all, and mix it up real well.

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And there you go!

Look out all your salt lovers, except for the soy sauce, this recipe does not have any additional salt. I would recommend keeping the salt shaker to a minimum, but you may want to add in a little bit to taste.

Ingredients

1 pound chicken, about 2 chicken breasts, diced and cooked

3 cups cooked rice

2 Tbs sesame oil

1 small white onion, chopped

1/2 cup carrots, diced

1/2 cup pepper, diced

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 Tablespoons soy sauce (more or less to taste)

chopped green onions (optional)

Directions

1) Dice chicken and saute until cooked all the way through. Set aside to add back in later.

2) Pour sesame oil in the pan and add veggies, cooking until softened a bit, about 3-5 min.

3) Push veggies to one side of the pan, and pour the beaten eggs onto the other side and scramble. Once the eggs are cooked, mix back in with the veggies.

4) Add rice and chicken back in. Pour the soy sauce on top and stir fry until heated through and combined. Add chopped green onions if you want.

Homemade “Larabars”

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I don’t know if you have ever heard of Larabar’s, but they are these great healthy snack bars made solely from unsweetened fruits and nuts and usually calling for no more than 4 or 5 ingredients. They are quite tasty and, sure enough, we have access to everything that you need to make your own homemade Larabar here in China.

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I made this batch of bars out of only 3 ingredients. Well, 差不多 chà bù duō, I tossed in a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract as well. Although Larabars only include fruit and nuts, I went ahead and added a handful of oats to this batch. These bars are fun because you can get creative with your add-ins and experiment with all different types of bars, depending on what you have on hand or what you are in the mood for.

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Start by boiling your dates anywhere from 15-20 minutes to soften them up so you can get a good consistency for making the base for your bars. Unless you find dates that are already pitted, you will have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands a bit messy here. I either run the dates under cool water or drain and let cool before taking out the pits.

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Once all the pits are out, the next step is to turn your dates into a sort of paste-like consistency. A food processor would be ideal for this step, but since I do not have one I just use my blender. This part can be a little 麻烦 má fan, and takes some patience and persistence to get the desired consistency. The quality of your blender may affect how easily you will are able to get the texture you are going for, but hang in there, it is worth it in the end to stick it out! Adding a small amount of liquid helps this process. This is also a good time to add in spices and/or extracts.

DSC_0247 - Copy (2) Your pureed dates may look a little funky but you are wanting a fairly thick pasty texture.

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Add your oats, nuts or other add-ins to the date mixture and combine together well.

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Spread out the mixture and  press down into a small baking pan or wide, flat Tupperware container.

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DSC_0236 - Copy (2)Enjoy these homemade Lara bars as a quick snack or an easy breakfast option.

Once cut into squares, I usually store in the freezer where they will keep for up to 1 or 2 months. They will also keep in the fridge for about a week..

I would suggest sticking to a total of about 2 cups of dry ingredients per batch but have fun experimenting with other add-ins, such as:

–Apples, almonds, and cinnamon

–Espresso, cashews, and vanilla

–Carrots, walnuts, and raisins

–Pistachios and cherries

–Chocolate chips, almonds and coconut

For more recipe inspiration check out the Larabar website at http://www.larabar.com

Ingredients

Makes 16-20 bars 

“bàn jīn” 半斤 of dates (half a jīn is equal to about 0.5 lb/0.25 kg or about 5 cups)

1 cup of oats

1/4 cup of water (can also use juice, espresso or other liquid for added flavor)

1 cup of peanuts; chopped

tsp cinnamon

tsp vanilla extract

Directions

 1) Boil dates for 15-20 minutes.  Rinse with cold water or let cool before removing the pits.

2) Puree dates in food processor or blender until you have reached a smooth paste-like consistency.

3) In a bowl or pan, add your additional ingredients to the date mixture and combine well.

4) Press into a shallow baking pan or Tupperware container and place in freezer for at least 4 hours.

5) Remove from freezer and cut into squares.

Overnight Oatmeal

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 I am a HUGE advocate for breakfast. It is easily my favorite meal of the day. Not only am I a big fan of breakfast foods and believe they rightfully have a place at any meal of the day, but you simply can not argue the benefits your body gets from a good, solid breakfast.

After a night of sleep, your body wakes up from hours of being in a fasting mode and is in need of energy to send all throughout your body to you muscles and your brain. This is essentially equal to the analogy of an empty gas tank in a vehicle. Your body is not going to run well or efficiently without the energy that your daily activities will demand.

Lack of food to start the day can lead to less energy, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, and by lunch time, you will likely be ready to eat the local noodle guy out of business.

 My attempt is to convince you that the common excuses for skipping breakfast are really not as valid as people make them out to be

–I do not have enough time to eat breakfast–

Setting a priority on breakfast may mean sacrificing a few minutes of extra sleep or planning ahead but it is definitely worth i

–I am not hungry in the morning–

Eating something is better than nothing, even if it is small. Do your best to put something in your body within 2 hours of waking up.

–I don’t like breakfast food–

If you have never been a big fan of breakfast foods, then go ahead and make a light sandwich or heat up last night’s leftovers. Your roommates or your family make think you are a little strange, but don’t feel like your options are confined to traditional breakfast foods.

–I am trying to lose weight–

Quite the opposite. Skipping breakfast as a way to cut calories and loose weight will do more harm than good to your metabolism. Your metabolism runs throughout the day to help your body process calories and burn fat. Skipping out on breakfast stalls your metabolism from running like it should and will cause it to adjust to maintaining a slower speed for the sake of preserving energy.  You will also be more likely to overeat at other meals throughout the day.

So now that I have taken what your mother annoyingly told you all your life….

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”

…and given a few reasons why I, myself, also believe so, we should move on to more interesting things.

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Like this quick, easy and tasty breakfast idea that only takes minutes to throw together and zero prep the morning  you are ready to eat it.

It does not get much simpler than throwing a few ingredients into a container, mixing it all up, and throwing it in the fridge overnight.

Not only is this a quick, easy breakfast but it has a good healthful combination of protein, complex carbohydrate, and fiber.

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Throw it in the refrigerator overnight and your breakfast will be ready and waiting for you the next morning.

I usually just eat it cold as is, but you could pop it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds if you prefer to eat it warm.

If making a bigger batch, this oatmeal can stay in the fridge for a few days.

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Get creative and feel free to mix and match different mix-ins. Try out

Apples, almonds and cinnamon (pictured)

Banana and peanut butter

Cocoa powder and coconut flakes

Pumpkin and nutmeg

Mixed berries and walnuts

Sunflower seeds and honey

Ingredients 

1 serving–Once all mixed together, your serving will be closer to 1 cup volume.

1/2 cup oats

3/4 cup yogurt or milk (or a combination of the two depending on what you have on hand and how thick/thin you prefer your oatmeal)

1/8 cup nuts, chopped

1/4 cup fruit, diced

Directions

1) Chop or dice any fruits and nuts you plan to use.

2) Add all your ingredients into a container with a lid.

3) Stir together.

4) Store overnight in the fridge.

Edamame

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Sushi, one of the things in low supply here in Qinghai and man, do I miss it. Although the closest I have come to getting my hands on legit sushi was during a short layover at Narita International Airport in Tokyo, I do have a few favorite sushi restaurants back in the States that I like to think know how to do sushi right. But any sushi eating experience just would not be complete without that ever popular edamame side dish.Although the sushi may be in short supply, I was excited to realize how easily I can come across edamame out here.

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Edamame is a soybean that is popular in many types of Asian cooking and, as far as nutrition, these beans have a lot going for them. Just 1 cup has about 17 grams of protein and 30% of your recommended daily fiber intake. In addition, edamame is a good source of a variety of other vitamins and minerals. And for you women of childbearing age–1 cup of edamame also contains over 100% of the daily amount of folate recommended to protect against neural tube defects that develop during pregnancy.

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On top of the great nutritional benefits, these beans could not be much simpler to prep. Throw your beans in a pot on the stove, cover with water, and let boil for about 10-15 minutes. Strain off the water and you are ready for an easy snack or side dish.

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You can enjoy your beans plain, sprinkle with salt, or dip in sodium soy sauce.  

Edamame beans also make great additions to leafy salads, mixed veggies, or even pasta. 

Storage

-Fresh pods should be cooked quickly but can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.

-Once cooked, you can store whole pods or shelled beans in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.

-You can freeze whole cooked pods or shelled beans. To reheat, just drop in boiling water for a 3-5 minutes.