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!