Monday, June 23, 2014

Extra-Almondy Dark Chocolate Macaroons

This quick and easy recipe takes inexpensive ingredients you probably already have on hand and transforms them into a sexy and indulgent treat that is sure to impress whoever is lucky enough to have this plate shoved under there noses until they submit to taking one. 

Extra-Almondy, Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons 
Adapted from, makes a dozen medium-sized macaroons

2.5 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
~1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
2 egg whites
12 whole almonds
a bar of good quality chocolate, whatever cocoa % you prefer!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
2. In a medium bowl, mix coconut, half of the flour, sugar and salt. 
3. Add vanilla, almond extract, and egg whites.
4. You don't want your batter to be "weepy" so mix in  more flour until there is no liquid pooling at the bottom of your bowl. You probably don't want to exceed 1/4 cup though.
5. Drop 12 piles of the mixture onto a cookie sheets and press an almond into the center of each one.
6. With wet hands to prevent the mixture from sticking to your fingers, form the piles into whatever shape you please (diamonds, pyramids, balls, flat discs, etc.) and cover the almonds. Re-wet your hands as needed. 
7. Bake 25-30 minutes of until the tops start turning golden brown. 
8. Allow to cool completely. 

Serve as is, or melt chopped up chocolate bar over a double boiler and do the dip n' drizzle to up the indulgence/sexiness factor. I think it would also be fun to explore with different flavored chocolate bars. Can you imagine how good it would taste with coffee chocolate??

Recipe Notes:

  • If your macaroons come out of the oven and seem a bit too hard/overbaked do not fear-- mine softened up after sitting on the counter for a few hours and the texture and taste were even better the next day! 
  • Parchment paper is the best for this recipe, as opposed to Pam. You can use the same sheet for both baking and the dip n' drizzle! Refrigerate to help the chocolate set. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oh Joy, Almond Joy Oatmeal!

It's a chocolate craving kind of day. Heck, who am I kidding? My life is one giant chocolate craving. Today is just one of the stronger waves.. and by that I mean I woke up practically drowning in a tidal wave of chocolate craving-ness.
The wonderful thing about chocolate is that it can be super indulgent without having to sacrifice nutrition or go overboard on fat and sugars. Dark chocolate or even straight up cocoa powder can satisfy these deep, primal urges AND add a healthy dose of antioxidants to your diet!
So today I decided to infuse my morning oats with chocolate, coconut and almond. I am a bit limited on grocery options here in Yichang, so I will list the ingredients that I used here but also the ingredients I would definitely use instead if I were in the States!

Decadent Almond Joy Oatmeal
Serves 1


1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (would be fun to experiment with rolled oats and quinoa, too!)
1 cup milk  --> if I were in the U.S. I would use almond and/or coconut milk to up the almond-coconuttiness!
1 ripe banana
dash o' almond extract
dash o' salt
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder (you can adjust this to how intense of a chocolate flavor you want)
shredded coconut
chopped almonds


1. Heat milk on medium heat until it comes to a boil (make sure you stir constantly so it doesn't burn!!)
2. Mash dat banana into the milk.
3. Add oats, almond extract, salt, cocoa powder, a bit of shredded coconut, a bit of chopped almonds (save some coconut and almonds for topping!)
4. Stir and cook until oats have absorbed the liquid and they are as tender as you like 'em.
5. Top with extra coconut, almonds, and even a few chocolate chips if you're feeling especially daring this morning ;)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Deconstructed Mexican Lettuce Wraps with Lean Ground Pork

Most lettuce wraps out there have an Asian flavor profile but since I'm in China right now and my desires lie elsewhere, I'll be satisfying my Mexican cravings with this easy and healthy recipe!

The supermarket near my home recently underwent a LOT of renovations.. as in they pretty much tore the entire thing apart and reorganized it, and now it is so much easier to navigate, more things are refrigerated, and they have a larger bakery, prepared foods section, and butchery! Up until now I've pretty much gone vegetarian during the weekdays simply because I was always a bit nervous about buying non-refrigerated meat so I would only eat it if I go out on weekends. But since this market installed all these new refrigerated sections I've had fun branching out and trying to navigate the different cuts of meats and the really delicious prepared food section of their deli. Two things I'm really into: the huge variety of pickled vegetable salads and the ground lean pork.  Yum. Although lately I've been using the deli section primarily as inspiration for my own home pickling projects -- I'll post my tutorial for quick fridge dill pickles later this week :) . 

So I've been making those soaked whole wheat tortillas almost every week and I kind of had myself fooled for awhile that they're 100% whole wheat so it's not a problem that I'm having them so often, but I have finally faced up to the fact that it's a lot of carbs to be consuming on my own. This is why I miss living with people.. I hate small batch cooking!!  Anyway, these days I'm trying to cut back on those a bit by finding some healthier replacements. 

So for lunch today I decided to swap in romaine lettuce instead of tortillas for my Mexican pork wraps. No regrets here.. the romaine was sweet and crunchy and fresh and went perfectly with the savory and spicy corn-pork filling. I served them with fresh cherry tomatoes, quick-pickled radishes and pickled jalapenos. 
This was a super fast lunch and it's chock full of lean protein and veggies so it'll give you energy to keep you going through the second half of your work day!

Deconstructed Mexican Lettuce Wraps with Lean Ground Pork*
Serves 2 people or 1 person for lunch and leftovers
(These are all approximate measurements. You can adjust your flavorings to how garlicky, how spicy, how cumin-y you like it) 
*This can be vegetarian-ized by just subbing cooked black or pinto beans for the pork! Yummy :)

1 small radish sliced into thin coins
white vinegar
1 corn [off] the cob
1/2 of a medium red onion, small diced
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
small glug of olive oil
about 1 cup lean ground pork, or cooked black or pinto beans if going the vegetarian route. 
cumin, chili powder, crushed red pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
2/3 cup chopped garlic chives, chopped 
1 head of romaine lettuce
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
pickled jalapenos
cilantro (I didn't have any on hand, but if I did I would have definitely served this w/ cilantro

1. Before you do anything, pickle those radishes. Stick them in a dish submerged in equal parts white vinegar and water. Set aside. 
2. Throw your corn and diced onions in a pan with olive oil and saute until onions are translucent. 
3. Add the pork and garlic, season to taste with cumin and chili powder and crushed red pepper
4. Cook until pork is done, chopping it up with the edge of your spatula as you go. 
5. Stir in tomato paste and garlic chives. 

Fan out your romaine leaves on the plate. Top with your pork mixture. Line other half of plate with halved cherry tomatoes and pickled radishes. Serve with cilantro and pickled jalapenos.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dragon Boat Festival

These Zòngzi Are the Bombzi!!

It's Dragon Boat Festival here in China which means a few days of testing your willpower against these delicious calorie bombs that are called zòngzi. Made by wrapping reed leafs around glutinous rice which surrounds a variety of sweet or savory fillings, they are then boiled or steamed until the rice is fully cooked. A brilliant invention because the flavor combo possibilities really are endless! Although here in Hubei, the most popular fillings were date, roasted pork, peanut, and salted egg yolk. I personally enjoy the roast pork ones best because the pork gives an amazing savory flavor to the rest of the rice and makes the whole thing seem a bit more substantial. The plain rice ones with a date in the middle are tasty too and are typically served topped with sugar. I also sprinkled on some cinnamon, which made it a super decadent, almost rice pudding-tasting dessert. Lindsey and I were given a bunch of uncooked zòngzi by our friend Xu and given that they are about 300-400 calories a pop (man, that sticky rice will getchya!) I ended up cooking and bringing the bulk of them into my office to share with my coworkers. But I did experiment with some different toppings in my own kitchen. They were especially tasty with a stewed fruit topping I made out of cherries and almond extract and then topped with some slivered almonds. 
My first experience with zòngzi really got me thinking on all the crazy directions you could go with this traditional Chinese treat. Here are some of my ideas:
  • tropical delight: mix some shredded coconut in with the glutinous rice and the filling would be pineapple, mango and chia seeds
  • german chocolate: again, shredded coconut in the rice and filling would be chocolate chips and pecans 
  • breakfast combo: mix chives in with the sticky rice, and filling would be bacon and egg and plenty of salt and pepper!
  • fajita: filling would be grilled veggies, pickled jalapenos, black beans, and lots of cumin and chili powder
  • nutty professor: Shredded coconut in the rice and filling is a mixture of almond butter with chunks of that delicious Philippines Brand dried coconut and chopped almonds. 
  • pumpkin pie: filling would be spiced pumpkin chunks, serve zòngzi drizzled with maple syrup and more pumpkin pie spice
Here is a picture of the uncooked zòngzi... all tied up in pretty pyramid-shaped packages :)

This is a pork-filled one from my neighbor cooked and unwrapped. You can see that the seasonings and fillings flavored and colored the rice! I had it with one of the salted duck eggs that they also brought over.

A Brief Background of the Dragon Boat Festival
According to my students, the dragon boat festival is celebrated to honor Qū Yuán, an famousChinese poet. During the Warring States Period, Qū Yuán of the Chu state was a trusted advisor to the king and gave him some advice to help avoid the fall of their state, but the king's ministers didn't agree with this advice so they slandered Qū Yuán to the king, who ended up exiling Qū Yuán. So the king didn't follow Qū's advice and guess what happened? His state's capital was captured by the state of Qin. Qū Yuán was so dismayed to hear about this that he took a rock and waded into the Miluo River, drowning himself.

So what does all this have to do with dragon boats and zòngzi? The legend goes that the people heard what Qū Yuán  did and took boats out to the river to try to save him but they were too late. To keep the evil spirits away from his body, they played drums and threw food into the water to keep the fish and spirits away from his body. 

Later that night, Qū Yuán's spirit came to his friends and told them he killed himself on purpose. Then he asked if they could wrap their rice into pyramid-shaped packages in order to scare away the dragon. 

So there you have it. A tragic story of patriotism and betrayal resulting in a fun festival with cool dragon boat races and delicious food. Thanks Qū Yuán! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Soaked Whole Wheat Tortillas

chicken tacos with homemade pico de gallo and avocado

Before I left for my year in China, I was excited to get to know authentic Chinese food and sample the country's regional cuisines, but I also knew it would be challenging going a whole year without access to western food. After living here for nine months, I feel like I can really empathize with my fellow expats in that missing home largely means missing the comfort of the foods we grew up with.  What I did not anticipate was feeling grateful for the lack of these comforts.

First off, as with all things, with scarcity comes increased value -- so that when I do decide to splurge on cheese, or get pizza, or travel to a big city to eat Tex-Mex (erm.. I mean, to see pandas), it is truly a treat, something to be savored and most definitely not taken for granted. For example, it wasn't until I lived in China that I realized that Americans put cheese on almost everything! Seriously!! Sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, chili, soup, pasta, heck, we even pile it on our salads. Now, I love myself some cheese. But after going a year recreating a lot of American food in my own kitchen sans cheese, I feel like I've come to appreciate the other flavors that cheese sometimes covers up. I've really come to love pickled vegetables and I've especially gained a new appreciation for avocados which can provide richness where cheese is absent, hehe :)

That said, my first meal when I get back to the states is going to be a reuben sandwich. Loaded high with corned beef, sauerkraut and topped with ooey-gooey melted CHEESE.

Even more, not having these food items readily available has prompted me to do some experimenting in the my lil' kitchen to recreate them. This brings me to today's recipe. A few weeks ago, my friend Ayan was over and she showed me how she's been making some impromptu tortillas in her apartment when she gets her Mexican food cravings. It turns out tortillas are the quickest and simplest things to make! Her version involved tossing flour with water and adding a bit of pepper, garlic salt and cumin, tossing it all together until it forms a dough then rolling it out and throwing it on the frying pan. These were so easy and so delicious!

The version I am showing you today is a smidgen more involved, but that is only because I am using 100% whole wheat and the extra step helps to soften up the wheat and make it tastier and easier to digest :)

 I got the recipe from one of my new favorite blogs, Weed 'Em and Reap, written by a chick who owns goats and writes about urban farming and healthy living. Her content is really interesting and she has insanely cute pictures and stories about her animals (you might die from cuteness overload when you read this story about her baby goat

Anyway.. *ahem* back to the tortillas. These are really yummy and really good for you. I don't need to tell you what you can do with them because they're tortillas..
Although I will tell you that sometimes to curb my sweet tooth I will warm one up on the frying pan and drizzle on some honey and finish with some cinnamon. And man.. those two things combined with the slight tang of the soaked whole wheat fit together like a charm. Did not expect that combo to go over so well!

So without further ado, here is the recipe from Weed Em' and Reap. I included her recipe notes too so you can understand the whole soaking process. Yay for food knowledge!!

Homemade Soaked Tortillas (to blow your mind!)

  • By soaking the flour in water + an acidic medium (apple cider vinegar or whey) this breaks down the phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in all grains, legumes, nuts, & seeds. It also makes the gluten more digestible, so bonus there. If you have trouble digesting wheat, then trust me, you’ll feel a huge difference with this recipe.
  • Something magical happens when soaking. Instead of whole-wheat being heavy and dense, by soaking the flour for 12-24 hours, you change the design of it, and it turns into a fabulously light product.
  • Traditional societies have prepared their grains properly by either soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening. It’s true, they’ve done it literally for THOUSANDS of years. The practice has since been ignored, around the time when the industrialization of food came about and our dependence on companies to make our food for us became the norm. 
  • It makes my life easier. I know it seems arduous to soak something for 12 hours before cooking it, but seriously you guys, it makes my life easier. I simply mix it up in the morning, and by dinner time I have dough waiting for me to roll out in tortillas and cook. All it takes is to train that ‘ol brain of yours to remember to start it soaking and you’ll be set!
Now, on to the recipe!

Homemade Soaked Tortillas (to blow your mind!)

Makes 8 delicious tortillas
2 c. whole-wheat flour
1/4 c. lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, or butter
3/4 c. water + 1-2 tablespoons if it seems dry.
1 TBS. of an acidic medium (apple cider vinegar or whey works best in this recipe)
1 tsp. salt
Arrowroot powder, for rolling out your tortillas
1. Mix the flour with the fat/oil of choice by cutting it in with either a pastry cutter or a fork. You can even work it together with your hands. Mix until the fat/oil is well incorporated. and there are no large clumps.
2. Add water & acidic medium of choice. Mix together with a fork and make sure all the flour gets wet. You can use your hands and roll it around in the bowl to get all the flour.
3. Cover with saran wrap and leave on your counter for 12-24 hours. I know if you’re new to this, it could seem weird or gross. Get over it like I did! It won’t grow bacteria and make you sick, or grow legs and kill you in your sleep.
4. After 12-24 hours, add the salt and work it in the dough with your hands by kneading about 5-7 times. Don’t overwork it, just mix until the salt is incorporated. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and heat a pan over medium-high heat.
6. Dust your counter top with arrowroot starch and roll out a tortilla and then cook in an un-greased pan for about 30-40 seconds on each side. Slightly underdone is best.
7. Repeat for the remaining tortillas.
8. Eat warm or store in your fridge for up to 2 weeks. You can even freeze them for future use.

Now, making these tortillas is a weekly routine that I really look forward to. I make them every Sunday night so I can incorporate them into my meals or snacks throughout the week! My only tip would be to not stress over the rolling out portion. It's kind of difficult to get perfect circles. Or maybe I am just impatient? I get something resembling a circle maybe 30% of the time. The rest of the time they end up more square-ish or "splat-"shaped as you can see in my picture above. In my mind, if you can wrap it around some breakfast burrito fixings or fresh pico de gallo and avocados without all of it spilling out then there really is no problem.

After a few goes, this recipe takes maybe 4 minutes to throw together the night before, and then 10 minutes to roll out and cook the tortillas the next day. It's so easy and so cheap and you have complete control of the ingredients, so what are you waiting for?? If you aren't a crazy person with no soul I can bet you will start opting for homemade tortillas more often after you try these!! Let me know how it goes :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Vanilla Cherry Quinoa-Oat Pancakes

It's exam week, and that means marathons of one-on-one interviews with my students usually accompanied by a sore throat and a melty brain. So this morning I decided to fix myself a breakfast that would be indulgent but also give me enough energy to last through my first morning of testing. This pancake recipe uses whole wheat flour, quinoa, rolled oats and flax seeds and contains lots of iron and vitamin B, as well as a good serving of complex carbs and protein. I bought these cherries at my neighborhood wet market and their flavor lends just enough tartness cut through the nutty flavor of the quinoa and just enough sweetness to allow for less sugar in the batter. Enjoy and let me know if you make these / how they go! 
Recipe notes:
  • I soaked the rolled oats in a bit of water overnight but you could do this half an hour in advance if you wanted and it'd probably do the trick
  • You need to used cooked quinoa. Most of the time the recipe on the bag calls for a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water but I prefer 1:1.5 so the quinoa isn't too mushy. For this recipe, a drier quinoa works best so it doesn't weight down your pancake. 
  • It will take a bit longer to cook these because they have some heavy ingredients in the batter, but be patient and wait for those bubbles to pop before the first flip, just like you would with normal pancakes. Otherwise you might end up with doughy pancakes! Yuk. 
Calorie cutting and substitutions: 
  • I used a tablespoon of butter in the batter but you could omit this if you wanted to cut down on the fat content a bit
  • Sub two egg whites for whole egg if you want to cut the calories even more
  • I used brown sugar but I think next time I will use honey. I think the flavor would pair nicely with the almonds and cherries. Also, in my opinion, 1 tablespoon brown sugar was too much. The cherries already provided enough sweetness. You could probably cut it down to 1/2 tablespoon. 
  • If I were in the States, I would most definitely sub greek yogurt for the "buttermilk" 

Vanilla Cherry Quinoa-Oat Pancakes
Makes about 4 medium-sized pancakes

1/2 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
2/3 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Whole-Wheat Flour
1 tbsp Flax Seeds
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1 Pinch Salt
1/2 cup Cooked Quinoa
1/2 cup Milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 Egg
1 tbsp Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tbsp Brown Sugar
2/3 cup Cherries

1. Soak oats in water overnight in fridge
2. In the morning, stir 1 tbsp lemon juice into the 1/2 cup of milk. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. This will make your "buttermilk." You can also just use buttermilk instead of this lemon-milk mixture if you have that on hand!
3. While that is sitting, mix the dry ingredients (whole wheat flour, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in a large mixing bowl.
4. In a separate, medium mixing bowl, mix together your egg, butter, vanilla and brown sugar. Once combined, add your buttermilk, cooked quinoa and soaked oats.
5. Mix the wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, then fold in cherries. Don't overmix!!
6. To cook, heat your skilled on medium heat and pour a 4th a the batter in at a time. Flip it once bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes (on the side and the middle) and once they pop you can flip 'em over!
7. The pancakes should puff up a bit. Once they stop puffing up, that means all the air bubbles are formed and they are cooked through.
8. Move to a plate and top with chopped almonds and syrup, honey, PB, or any topping of your choice!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mini Pretzel Dogs

Hi, Friends! Been awhile since I posted, but I figured since it's summer again I might as well get back into the swing of things now that I have time. Aye-yooo!!

Gonna start where I left off, I suppose. I made these way long ago but never posted about them.The process is simple, and it's super fun to involve kids. Seriously, the kids totally dig working with dough, especially when they get to eat their own creations! These are also fun because you can serve them with a variety of dipping sauces, get creative! Spiced ketchup and fancy mustards, cheese sauces, etc.

Oh, and beer, of course.

...For you, not the kids.

Don't you just wanna sink your teeth right into one of these things right now??


Mini Pretzel Dogs
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package dry active yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt (or kosher salt), for topping
  • 8 hot dogs, cut in half
  1. Combine the warm water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy and begins to smell of yeast.
  2. Add the flour and butter to the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer and, on medium-low speed, combine the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and appears shiny, roughly 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray (or lightly grease with vegetable oil) and place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm area and let dough rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  5. In a large pot, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a roiling boil.
  6. Place the dough on a greased surface, and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, roughly 12 inches long. Carefully wrap each piece around a half hot dog. Pinch the ends together to seal the dough.
  7. Boil the shaped pretzels and pretzel dogs, one at a time, in the baking soda water for 30 seconds each. Using a slotted spatula, remove each pretzel dog from the water and place it on a drying rack to allow any extra baking soda mixture to drip off.
  8. Place the boiled pretzel dogs back on a parchment lined baking sheets.
  9. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with pretzel or kosher salt.
  10. Bake until golden brown, roughly 14 to 15 minutes. Transfer pretzel dogs to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving. Serve with a variety of mustards.
Recipe courtesy of

I hope you give these a try, they're pretty addictive and people will be way impressed.