Beautiful Beet Sandwich

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

Peter called in the the middle of the day and said he had a little free time and could we have lunch together. My husband knows there is always food at home. Having been hungry when I was growing up made me anxious when the food supply is low — my two large fridges in the kitchen are always full.  We live 5 minutes from his hospital and usually it means he can easily go back to work 24/7 at a moment’s notice. But today is one of the rare occasions that living close afforded him a quick stolen lunch at home.  I had just made Angela her favorite massaged kale salad when Peter called, and there was left over beet in the fridge from yesterday.

Ten minutes later Peter was home and this tricolored lunch was already waiting at the table as if I had been expecting him to come home all along. I almost felt like a magician. This very satisfying vegetarian sandwich could definitely last him until dinner.

If I didn’t already had the kale salad, I would have used arugula or cucumber. Or I could substitute pine nuts with pistachio nuts, or walnuts.

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Ingredients:

Cooked beet, sliced

Kale salad, click here for recipe

Goat cheese

Pine nuts

Avocado, sliced

Lemon juice or balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread slices

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Preparation:

Spray goat cheese on bread and sprinkle pine nuts.  Toast in the toaster oven until the crust is crunchy and the cheese soft. Layer sliced cooked beet. kale salad and avocado slices. Drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic glaze or both.

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Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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Avocado Toast with Kale Salad & Fennel Salad

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Audrey’s soon to be alma mater, The Hamlin School, put on a lovely musical The Wizard of Oz. I went to see it last night and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially considering the fact that they only had two weeks of rehearsal. The girls looked like they were all having a lot of fun, singing and dancing their hearts out.  I have always believed that anyone can act if he or she is given the right part.  And these kids proved me right. They were all impressive in playing the characters they were assigned to do.  According to Audrey, she had the most embarrassing part in the whole show — Toto the dog. She was in a thick furry dog suit, bouncing around and sweating like crazy.  I could tell that there were moments she subconsciously wanted to hide when she was on stage. I told her afterwards that, like anything in life, the only way to enjoy something is to give it all. According to Angela who went to see her in today’s performance, Audrey was having a great time prancing around with confidence.  

I made some yummy avocado toast with massaged kale salad and lemon olive oil marinated fennel salad for lunch — a perfect light meal to enjoy two hours before curtain time. Massaged kale is one of Angela’s favorite salads, while the marinated fennel is Audrey’s favorite. The ingredients are deceptively simple, but the result is refreshing and tasty.

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Ingredients:

4 slices of bread of choice

2 avocados, separated

1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, separated

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon or more toasted pumpkin seeds

A pinch lemon zest (optional)

A couple of mint leaves (optional)

A few slices of radish (optional)

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Preparation:

Make the massaged kale salad according to instruction in this link

Make the marinated fennel according to the instruction in this link.

Mash 1 avocado with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Toast the bread slices.

Spread mashed avocado evenly on the 4 pieces of toast.

Top the toast with kale salad or marinated fennel. Add thinly sliced avocados. Top with thinly sliced radish or mint leaves and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.

The recipe makes 4 servings.

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Dan Dan Noodles

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I have written in a prior blog about my Sichuan ancestry and the spicy food that was a part of my upbringing. Dan Dan Noodles is a Sichuan street food that became well known all over China. Traditionally it is made with ground pork, but today I made it with 99% fat free ground turkey in an effort to curb our red meat consumption. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. I made it for lunch, but Peter asked me to make it again for dinner. I was watching a beautiful film called Five Days in Maine at the SF Film Festival when I received a text from Peter, “ These noodles are so fantastic that I can’t stop eating them.” 

This is a dish best made with fresh ramen, which gives it the extra chewiness and elasticity. I bought mine at a Chinese supermarket on Clement Street. It comes in a package of 2.2 pounds divided in 4 bundles.  Each bundle is about 2 servings. You can replace it with other noodles or pasta such as fettuccine if fresh ramen is not available.  

I usually make Dan Dan Noodles with a spicy pickled mustard called 榨菜 Zha Cai, but today I used a crunchy pickled lettuce that comes in a jar from the Chinese supermarket.  It adds flavor and crunch to the minced meat.

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Pickled Wo Sun, a Chinese lettuce stem

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients:

4 oz 99% fat free ground turkey or ground pork, beef, or chicken

1/3 cup Chinese pickled lettuce, chopped (Chinese market, see photo)

1 teaspoon pickle juice from the same jar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 teaspoon, grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1/2 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

8 to 9 oz fresh ramen noodles (Asian super market)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons ground peanuts

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

sliced red chilies, sesame seeds & chopped green onion for garnish

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Sichuan peppercorn & chili

Ingredients for Chili Oil:

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves crushed garlic

4 to 5 dried red chili, chopped or 2 teaspoons chili flakes (more if you like it very spicy)

1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn 

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tahini sauce

2 teaspoons dark sweet rice vinegar (Chinese market)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 coves garlic, peeled and very finely minced

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Preparation:

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and set aside in the fridge.

Heap up the oil in a small pot on high. When the oil is piping hot, add the chili, Sichuan peppercorn and crushed garlic. Close the lid and turn off the stove. Let the oil sit on the stove for 5 minutes before filtering out the chili, peppercorn and garlic and keep only the oil in a bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce with the chili oil. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodle to el dente. Rinse in cold water and drain completely. (Fresh ramen cooks fast. Make sure you check the doneness often.)

Heap up 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Stir fry the minced meat mixture until done.

Mix the noodles, the chili oil sauce, the cooked minced meat together. Top with chopped green onion, chili flakes, sesame seeds. and serve with cucumber slices.  Mix about 3 tablespoons chili oil sauce with the noodles first and taste it before using the rest of the sauce just in case it’s too strong for you.

You can also mix the noodles with the chili oil sauce first. Separate into two serving bowls. Then top them with the cooked minced meat and the rest of the other goodies.

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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Granola Bars & Walnut Coconut Bars

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School has started again and it’s time to make snacks for the girls to either bring in their backpacks or to enjoy after school.  These delicious granola bars and walnut coconut bars are packed with healthy nutrients and energy.  They are also great for breakfast if you are in a hurry in the morning which is what happens on most days for Angela and Audrey.

I had made the walnut coconut bars with dates before, but I made today’s with prunes, which are lower in sugar and higher in vitamins compared to dates.  You can use other nuts such as macadamia, cashew, almonds or pecan, but personally I think walnuts taste the best in this recipe.  

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Granola Bars

Ingredients: 

2 1/2 cup oatmeal (not quick cook)

1/2 cup sunflower seeds dry roasted no salt  (If you cannot find them you can use raw and toast them with the walnuts)

1 cup pecans or walnuts

1/4 cup brown sugar or xylitol

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil

2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 325F.  Spread oats onto a sheet pan.  Place walnuts on a separate sheet pan.  Toast @325 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Stir oats after 10 minutes.  Take walnuts out after 10 min.

While oats and walnuts are roasting, add sugar, honey, butter, vanilla and salt to a saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Bring mixture to a boil.

Prep a clean sheet pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray

In a large mixing bowl, add dried fruit, the hot oat mixture, walnuts, and sunflower seeds and the hot syrup together.  Mix well.

Place mixture on prepared sheet pan.  Spread evenly.  Place another piece of parchment paper on top and then another sheet pan.  Press firmly.

Cool for at least 1 hour and the refrigerate for another 4 hours or overnight.

Cut into desired size and wrap each in plastic wrap.

The recipe makes approx. 12 bars.   

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Walnut Coconut Bars

Ingredients:

3/4 cup soft dried prunes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped

1 heaping cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut + more to sprinkle on

Preparation:

Knead all ingredients together like kneading a piece of dough. 

Sprinkle shredded coconut on a sheet of saran wrap on a cutting board. press and fatten the fruit and nut dough on it.  Cover with another sheet of saran wrap and flatten it further with a roll pin. 

Remove the top saran wrap and cut into desired shape and size.

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“Easy Minute” Almond Muffins

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I always get up early on Sunday mornings to read a little or to find an interesting breakfast recipe to make for Peter and the girls.  This morning, I brewed myself a tea and continued with my reading of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Yesterday I read only 18% of the book, and I was inspired to discard 8 trash bags of stuff.  I had a major shift of paradigm today when I read that it is not about deciding what to discard; it is about choosing what to keep. Keep only what “spark joy,” the author advised.  She also asks the reader to envision her ideal home and ideal lifestyle before beginning the process of this life-changing tidying up. 

I remember fantasizing about a clutter-free life whenever I check into an elegant hotel suite with my carefully packed suitcase.  Sometimes, I would stay for a few months with only what I had in that suitcase — each item meticulously considered — without missing anything.  Now I will contemplate all my possessions as if I were packing for a trip, except the hotel suite will be my home.

Peter got up when I was at 38% of the book, and I shared with him my vision for our house.  He looked a little dubious, but said, “Sounds great.”  He is the easiest person to live with.

In the mood to streamline, I made microwaved almond muffins for breakfast.  It is so simple and quick to make — literally just press the “easy minute” button.  They were fluffy, moist and yummy.

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Ingredients for microwaved Muffins:

1 1/3 cup almond flour

3 tbsp black molasses 

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp coconut oil (melted)

1/8 tsp salt

3 large eggs

1/4 cup almond milk or milk of choice

1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

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Preparation:

Add all wet ingredients into the blender, and then add all the dry ingredients on top.  Blend until smooth.  Pour batter into rinsed ramekin 3/4 full and microwave for 1 minute.  Instead of greasing the ramekins, I just rinsed them and left them wet.  The muffins came out from the ramekins very easily after microwaving.  You may need to test your microwave and decide on the time needed to make a perfect “mug pancake.” I simply pressed “easy minute” on mine.  If you use a real mug to make these, you will probably need 90 seconds.

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Almond Date Truffles

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Angela was completely vexed when she saw my previous post.  “Oh, Mother, this is disastrous.  I can’t believe you would write things like, ‘I savor and cherish these simple moments.’  It’s horrendous.”  Angela has been busy and didn’t “safe guard” the blog for the last few days from my goopy oldladyishness.  I know what I wrote was unoriginal, but that was what I was feeling.  “Does it really sound so awful?” I asked Peter and he reassured me that it was fine.  (But really, what else could he say?)

Angela’s annoyance with me reminded me of a passage from Rilke’s early journal where he lamented the “abyss” between generations, “Oh, if only our parents were born at the same moment we were, how much conflict and bitterness we would be spared.  But parents and children can only go after each other — not with each other.  And so an abyss lies between us, which, now and then, nothing but a little love can span.”

Yes, love.  That is always enough.

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We went to a friend’s’ house for dinner and I brought the almond date truffles for dessert.  They took less than 30 minutes to make and even shorter time to be all gobbled up.

Almond Date Truffles

Ingredients:

20 Medjool dates, seeded (Plump, soft and sticky ones from Sun Date, bought from Costco)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup creamy almond butter

1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. 100% unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup toasted almonds, well chopped

Preparation:

Put the dates and vanilla in a food processor and run until a chunky paste forms. Add the almond butter and pulse a few more times. Add the coconut, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon and pulse a few more times. The mixture should be a tad crumbly, but press between your fingers and stick together. If it seems too wet to hold in a ball, add more coconut, if too dry, add a touch more almond butter or a splash of water.

Roll a Tbsp. of the mixture between your palms to form a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture. Put your chopped almonds in a round bottom bowl, (I used a Chinese rice bowl.) and roll the date ball one by one by moving the bowl in a circular motion.  Or you can put the chopped almonds on a plate and roll each truffle in the almonds.

If you want your date truffles to taste more chocolaty, you can roll them in 1 tablespoon of the cocoa powder in a rice bowl. 

Place the plate in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Truffles will keep covered in the fridge for a couple weeks.

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Recipe inspired by sproutedkitchen

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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