1-pot Baked Beans

Baked Beans3
I still remember the first time when I tried the canned baked beans bought from the very first imported food mart in my city, it was an exciting experience. Since fresh ingredients are easy to find and pretty cheap in China, canned food is not so common in our daily life at all. Canned baked beans is popular for a reason. They are tender, juicy, sweet and smoky, same standard taste almost everywhere, cheap and can be kept for ages. This recipe is for those bean lovers who are bored with the same taste, looking for a less sweeter, more texture and fresh version of homemade baked beans.
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I didn’t bake my beans, just stew them on the stove. I started with dried beans, but they do take a long time to cook, and you’d better plan ahead to soak them overnight. If you are short on time, you can easily turn to convenient canned beans(only seasoned with salt). It’s up to you. I also used pink beans as I had it in my pantry, but cannellini beans, navy beans or any other type of beans is perfectly okay.
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This easy baked beans recipe is so versatile that you can have it as a side next to the mains, as a topping on toast, or even mix it with cooked pasta and add some cheese to make a proper dinner.
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Ingredients: (serves 2-3)
100g dried pink beans(or any other beans), soaked overnight
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 cherry tomatoes
large stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
toasted bread, roughly torn
celery leaves or other green herbs for garnishing
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1, cook beans in a pot of boiling water for 30-40 minutes until they are tender. Drain.

2, put a frying pan on medium heat, add generous amount of oil. Put in onions, sautée for 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic, celery, tomatoes, cumin and tomato paste, stir for 3 minutes until fragrant.

3, add beans, salt and a cup of water. Bring to a boil, continue simmering for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir frequently to avoid stickiness on the bottom. Season to taste, add more spices like chili flakes or pepper as you prefer.

4, top with roasted torn bread and fresh herbs.
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No-bake Peanut Butter Energy Bars

In the summer, rather than spending long time cooking with heat, I’d like to look for easier methods which are more like throw-together and assembling. The idea for this recipe came after a serious craving for sugar-free and gluten-free cookies.
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Energy bar
I still remember the excitement when I first discovered the wonder of medjool dates. These edible sweet fruits of the date palm tree make great natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives. Also its special sticky texture can match with different food varieties, such as smoothie, cake and energy bars! Despite looking somewhat complex, this recipe is actually quite easy to make. I simply mixed a batch of my peanut butter pattie dough, and melted a chunk of dark chocolate(you can omit the chocolate to make it totally sugar-free). They might look like cookies, but absolutely guilt-free. These could certainly pass as a healthier dessert, snack or pre- or post-workout bite as they have the perfect balance of carbs, protein, and natural sweet.
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Medjool dates can be found easily online, same as puffed rice and almond meal. They are all great ingredients which are worth being kept in storage and used in the diet.
Energy bar3
Energy bar4
Ingredients: (15 bars)
10 medjool dates, pitted and mashed
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw pumpkin kernels
1/5 cup roasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup puffed rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
30g dark chocolate
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Energy bar5
1, soak the dates in warm water for 15 minutes until soft. Drain the water, use a fork, mash the dates on a plate into a thick paste. Add to a large bowl with peanut butter, vanilla, and coconut oil, mix ingredients until well combined. A food processor can do this job as well.

2, add sunflower seeds, pumpkin kernels, sesame seeds, almond meal, puffed rice, cinnamon and a generous pinch of sea salt. Mix together until all the ingredients form a thick dough.

3, transfer to a square pan with parchment paper, press down until uniformly flat.

4, melt the chocolate, spoon over the prepared bars. Pop in the freezer for 30 minutes to set. Cut into 15 bars and serve. You can store these in the fridge for a week or store in the freezer for longer.
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Soba Noodles

When I was a little kid, I always had buckwheat noodles and buckwheat pancakes at home. Some relatives of my grandparents from their old hometown were still growing buckwheat back then. Every year, when it came to the harvest time, we regularly received bags of fresh-ground buckwheat flour by post from thousand kilometers away. My lovely grandma would put her oversleeves on and start to make noodles from the buckwheat flour. She cooked them in a clear soup, seasoned simply with soy sauce, dark rice vinegar, and plenty of stir-fried leeks. They were just humble and delicious.
Nowadays their relatives are too old to do farm work, and the younger generation don’t want to do. My grandma is not as energetic as before either. I guess I’ll be the one to keep my family tradition later on, as well as the precious memory.
Despite the name, buckwheat is actually not a wheat at all. It’s a seed rather than a grain. It contains good amount of protein, B vitamins, dietary fibre and minerals. Since it’s almost summer now, I’d better keep the hearty noodle soup recipe for the colder season. Let’s try another recipe today.
In Japan, dried thin buckwheat noodles has a name as Soba. The soba noodles can be served warm or cold. Any handy veggies, raw, boiled or stir-fried will do a great job. Add some chili in the sauce to spice it up. Double the quantity of ingredients to make more portion if needed. It doesn’t really get much easier!
Ingredients: (serve 1)
80g dried soba noodles
green beans and edamame
bean sprouts
red cabbage, finely shredded
green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp sesame seeds
For the sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame seed oil
1/2 Tbsp white rice vinegar
1 tsp miso paste
2 small pieces of ginger, finely chopped
1, cook noodles following packet directions. Drain, rinse in cold water and set aside in a colander.

2, steam or stir-fry the veggies. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce.

3, put noodles, veggies, the sauce and green onions into a large bowl. Gently toss to combine. Add more salt or water to taste. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Caramelized Onions and Leeks Quiche

Onions and leeks are usually considered as ingredients for side dishes. However, they do have the power to play as main characters. After caramelization, their pungent smells are transformed to a tender, mellow and almost sweet flavor. Lock the awesomeness in a rich creamy custard, fill them in a delicate flaky crust, complete the last step in the oven. Now we can say let’s embrace the spring.
There are a few tips to make this quiche beautiful:

1, clean the leeks well, especially between leaves where there can be a lot of grit.

2, chop the leeks and onions pretty thinly. Big chunks are difficult to get caramelized in the pan.

3, when we begin to sauté them, mix them well with the oil in the pan. Try to get every pieces coated as it helps them to caramelize more evenly right from the start.

4, do not put the lid on the pan, we don’t want steamed onions and leeks.

5, low heat is the key to this method of caramelization, so go slow until we reach a lovely soft golden brown color.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
2 medium sized onions, thinly sliced
1 big stalk leek, thinly sliced
handful spinach
300g flour
50g butter
2 eggs
150g cream or milk
1, preheat oven to 185℃. Prepare the crust. In a large bowl, add flour, softened butter and salt, mix until crumbly. Add cold water to the mixture, combine until the dough forms. Roll out the dough into a disc shape, a little larger than your quiche dish. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. Overhang the pastry on the dish. Use a folk to poke into the bottom of the crust and bake for 10 minutes.

2, add a generous amount of oil in a large pan on medium heat, sauté the onions and leeks, stir occasionally, season with salt and pepper. It can last up to 20 minutes until they turn to a darker color and caramelized. In the last minute, add the spinach.

3, beat the eggs, mix with cream. Combine with the onions and leeks, add more liquid(cream or water) if it’s too thick. Pour the mixture into the crust, bake for 30-40 minutes until the filling is firm and brown. Allow to sit for 20 minutes to set before cut, serve warm.

Mushroom Risotto

While the spring is on its way, our bodies are still craving something comforting and nourishing from time to time. We wrote numbers of comfort food recipes in the past years, such as Winter Tagine, Kimchi Ramen, One Pot Curry, Pumpkin Soup… Today we’d like to add one more on this list: Mushroom Risotto.
If you’ve ever been intimidated to try risotto, don’t be! This recipe is simple, requiring 10 ingredients and about 30 minutes to make. There are a few ways of cooking a risotto. I usually stir the arborio rice often, to make it creamy and not stuck to the pan. Although the risotto turns out insanely creamy, there’s no cream involved, as the starch in the arborio rice is brought out, giving the dish the luxurious texture.
A few things to keep in mind with cooking risotto:
Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
Cook the rice at low heat so the rice can cook evenly.
Cook until just “al dente” to avoid mushy risotto.
Ingredients: (serves 3-4)
7-8 mushrooms, sliced
3 long sticks of celery, chopped
half onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
handful cherry tomatoes
3 whole sun-dried tomatoes (optional), chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
fresh parsley
parmesan cheese, grated
500ml vegetable broth
1, use all the left-over parts of onions and mushroom stems to make vegetable broth. Simply boil them in a medium sized pot with water.

2, sauté onions in a pan on medium heat for 5 minutes until almost brown. Add garlic, celery and mushrooms, keep stirring for another 5 minutes until fragrant. Put in the sun-dried tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, mix well.

3, add arborio rice and cook for 1 minute. Then add white wine and stir gently. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Add warm vegetable broth one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, giving the risotto little breaks to come back to a simmer. We want the mixture to be cooking but not boiling or it will get mushy. Continue to add vegetable broth 1 ladle at a time, stirring until the rice is “al dente”. This whole process should only take 15-20 minutes.

4, once the rice is cooked through, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Also add parmesan cheese and parsley, leave a few for serving.

5, divide between serving bowls and top with additional parmesan cheese, and a sprinkle of parsley. Best when fresh!

Cabbage Roll

Although we had lots of celebrations in the last few weeks, the festive season is not over yet. The Chinese New Year is coming on the way! I’ve been thinking what I can contribute for this big day, and this recipe came up to my mind: cabbage rolls!
It seems like any region that can grow cabbage somehow uses the leaves to wrap something. The search online shows all kinds of cabbage rolls from Europe, Middle Eastern to Asia… How interesting to realize that people from different places and backgrounds use the same ingredients, even the same methods to cook the food, which can turn out to be totally different taste! The humble cabbage is often used to make stir-fried shredded cabbage in Chinese cuisine, while it’s turned into coleslaw and sauerkraut in western cuisines. It provides the most nutrients and antioxidants for the value of your money compared to other produce. It has the potential to be so much more, and it can be pretty fancy when we roll them!
Let’s start with gently pulling off the cabbage leaves, boil them until tender, shave off the hard ribs and stuff the leaves with a combination of your preferable veggies and grains, layer them into a pan or casserole, pour a sauce over top, cover and simmer. For the filling, I combined some fresh veggies with steamed rice. For the sauce, I simply cooked the chopped tomatoes with sautéed onions and garlic. This dish is a winter delight, needs a little extra patience to make, hearty and delicious, absolutely an eye-catcher!

8 large cabbage leaves
1 medium sized onion, chopped
6 mushrooms, chopped
a handful peas
3 garlic cloves, chopped
a few sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
100g steamed rice
1 can chopped tomatoes (or 400g fresh tomatoes)
half tsp smoked cayenne pepper
salt and pepper, olive oil
fresh parsley for garnishing

1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil over high heat. Cook cabbage leaves for 10 minutes until soft. Drain and keep aside.

2. Put another small pot on medium heat. Add in oil, a spoonful onions and garlic, smoked cayenne pepper, sautéed until brown. Pour in the tomatoes, turn to low heat, simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in a blender until smooth, set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large pan, sautéed the rest of onions and garlic until fragrant. Add in the mushrooms, peas and sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the steamed rice in the pan, and 3 Tbsp tomato sauce, mix well.

4. Place the filling in the cabbage leaves and roll up to the shape you like. Assemble the cabbage rolls in a large pan or a casserole, pour in the sauce, put the lid on, let it simmer on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle some fresh herbs to give a bit garnishing. Bon Appétit and Happy Chinese New Year folks!

Good Stuffed Pumpkin

It comes to this time of the year again. We hope you all had a wonderful year in 2018, achieved your goals, and now get ready for a new one! I’m sure that before getting ready, there would be a few celebrations first.
stuffed pumpkin
Ever since I’ve changed my diet to vegetarian 4 years ago, I’ve been asked quite often with the questions like: what can you eat then? Can you get enough nutrition at all? Are you a buddhist?… My grandmother still takes pity on me every time when we have family dinner together. Sometimes even me myself feel a little jealous on those get-together occasions. Not only because most of time vegetarians can only get the side dishes, but also because even a vegetarian main dish can easily be ignored among the other “Ying dishes” (硬菜 hardcore dish, often made with meat in large portion).

So, here we are, contributing this perfect recipe for your festive feast. It’s large, eye-catching, rich and full of surprises. It’s stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms, almonds, cranberries and kale, spiced with exquisite saffron and cooked in white wine. Doesn’t sound gorgeous enough? Sprinkle a handful of feta cheese on the top, mix some green salad on the side. Make sure you have a small sharp knife before you start, it’s gonna be a lot of fun with carving and stuffing.
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serves 6

a whole pumpkin (I used a 2kg buttercup squash, any other variety and size would be fine, just have to adjust the amount of stuffing ingredients and the baking time)

1 cup (200g) raw quinoa
1 medium sized onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6 brown or white mushrooms (not shitaki variety), sliced
a handful dried cranberries
a handful almonds, chopped
1 cup kale (or other greens), chopped
1g saffron (optional)
50ml dry white wine
feta cheese and herbs for topping
coconut oil, salt and pepper

1. Cook the quinoa in a pot with 3 times more boiling water, for 10 minutes until half cooked, drain and set aside. Carefully use a small knife, cut a hole on top of the pumpkin, shaping a “lid”, scoop out the seeds and pulp. Preheat the oven to 185°C.

2. In another pan, on medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in oil until brown. Add mushroom and kale, keep stirring for 3 minutes. Add wine, saffron, salt and pepper. Once almost boiling, add almond, cranberries and cooked quinoa. Stir to combine well, remove from the heat.

3. Fill the pumpkin with the quinoa stuffing. Place the pumpkin “lid” back and bake in the oven for about 1 hour. Check the pumpkin flesh on the side of the “lid” with a knife from time to time. The pumpkin is ready when skin is browned and the flesh is soft. Cut into slices and garnish with feta and herbs.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi is a noodle dish, with a yellow curry soup as the base and fried noodles on the top. You’ll see a lot of small restaurants or food vendors selling Khao Soi if you travel in Northern Thailand, which is one of the specialties in that area.
As the temperature drops and the day gets shorter, soup is one of the things that I crave for. Khao Soi is perfect for this season, it’s warm, savory and comforting. Thai curry is more thinner in consistency in comparison to Indian curry, by using coconut milk. While Indian curry tends to use more dry spices, Thai curry often uses curry paste and fresh herbs instead. In this recipe, for the soup base, I used both curry paste and mixed curry powder, a big handful cilantro stems, ginger, onions and coconut milk. The flavour is well balanced with spices and slight sweetness from the coconut milk.
“Khao Soi” is translated to “golden noodle”(金面) in Chinese, because of the yellow colour of the egg noodles. If the time is allowed, you can make fresh egg noodles just like I did. But feel free to buy some at the fresh noodle vendors in the market.
We have the base and the noodles already, now just miss the top. Khao Soi is not complete without the fried noodles on the top. It’s literally just fried noodles: fry the noodles in the hot oil until it becomes crispy and golden colour. When the big three parts are done, serve with sautéed mushrooms or other vegetables as you like. Eat noodles and have fun!
Ingredients: (serves 2)
250g egg noodles (200g for boiling, 50g for frying)
1 small onion, sliced
a handful cilantro, chopped, stems and leaves separated
small chunk of ginger, chopped
4 large mushrooms, sliced
handful pak choi
300ml coconut milk
1 tsp yellow curry paste
1 tsp mixed curry powder
salt and coconut oil
1. Heat a pot over medium-high heat. Add oil, ginger, and onion. Sauté for 5 minutes, add curry paste and powder, sauté for 1 more minute, stirring frequently. Then add coconut milk, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer on low for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, let the flavour deepen and develop. Adjust seasonings as needed.

2. Heat a small pot with good amount of oil. Once heated, fry a small portion of fresh noodles, until crispy and golden brown. Put on a kitchen paper and set aside.

3. Cook the noodles, prepare your desired toppings, such as sautéed mushrooms and greens.

4. All the ingredients are cooked and ready, divide noodles into two bowls, top with curry soup. Serve with vegetables, fried noodles and cilantro leaves, or chili sauce for extra heat.

Backpackers’ Ultimate Recipe

What do you eat while you are backpacking or traveling on a budget? Or to be more specific, what would you cook during a trip when you have only some basic kitchenware? With my experience of living in hostels, Airbnb, Couchsurfing and camping, after trying different kinds of backpackers’ dishes, I can say finally I have one unbeatable backpackers’ recipe: Instant noodle! You know I’m joking… I’m talking about something tastier and healthier: Pasta Arrabbiata! Arrabbiata in Italian means “angry”, because the sauce is made from onion, garlic, red chilli peppers and tomatoes, which presents a hot look and gives you a spicy taste.

Arrabbiata is one of the classic tomato sauces for pasta or spaghetti that takes you only about twenty minutes to prepare. This recipe is not only for backpackers, but it’s also great for home cooking as a proper meal. You can use fresh tomatoes (process: warm-peel-chop-cook), but canned ones are really better in this case because of the ripe flavor, acidity, richness and much more. One more healthier suggestion: buy the peeled tomatoes in glass bottles rather than in cans, if you can.

(serves 2)
Pasta 200g
1 medium sized chopped onion
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 peeled whole/diced tomato in glass bottle/can (about 300g)
Half chopped fresh red chilli pepper or dried chilli flakes
Fresh parsley or any other green herbs and cheese for garnish
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Cook water in a pot until it’s boiling, put pasta into the pot, add salt and olive oil, keep cooking on high heat, stir from time to time.
2. Fry the onion, chilli and garlic with olive oil in a pan on medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes into the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep stirring for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes less juicy. Turn to low heat.
3. The pasta should be cooked for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain the water and mix the pasta with sauce in the pan on low heat.
4. Serve on two plates, sprinkle some parsley and cheese for garnish. Buon appetito!

Homemade Muesli and Overnight Oats

When I was a kid, I didn’t like to eat oatmeal. There were mostly only white dry oat flakes in the package, and I was not clever enough to find another way to eat it other than boiling it in water – quite tasteless and boring. Also in China, oatmeal was mostly designed as gifts for patients and the elderly; that made me feel it was simply not my kind of food.

Fortunately, I totally changed my mind the moment I tasted muesli. Muesli is a common breakfast dish in Switzerland and Germany based on raw rolled oats and other ingredients such as dried fruits, nuts, grains and seeds and mixed with milk or yogurt. The taste is so rich that you can feel the multi-layered crunchy, juicy and creamy satisfaction in every single spoonful. There are also many nutritional benefits of muesli: overall it has less sugar and calories than most other cereals and is high in fiber and whole grains which are filling and at the same time regulate the digestive system. There are hundreds of different varieties of packaged muesli being sold in the supermarket that you could never try all of them out. But as long as you know what you prefer, the best muesli should always be made by yourself.

To make a standard muesli you can mix rolled oats with nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios…), dried fruits (raisins, apricots, banana chips…), and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds…), powder (cacao, coconut…). In this recipe, I add some goji berries and ground cinnamon which are common natural healthy food in China but maybe not yet having been considered to be put in muesli by others. Also try to buy some unordinary super healthy ingredients online or in special shops. For example, chia seeds were the food of choice of Aztec and Mayan warriors. They are high in protein, and one single tablespoon would keep them going for a whole day.

On cold days, you can warm the muesli in a small pot with milk or soy milk until it boils. Add one teaspoon of brown sugar to sweeten or one chopped banana will do the job too. On hot days, just pour the milk or yogurt over the muesli in a bowl and it’s ready to eat. Add one seasonal fruit or drizzle some honey if you want. One more clever way is to turn your muesli into overnight oats, which saves you time on weekday mornings before you run out the door.

INGREDIENTS for dry Muesli:
(serves 4-5 times)
200g oats
2 tablespoons goji berries
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons linseeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
one pinch of saffron strands
milk, jam and fresh fruits for serving

This recipe is so simple that you don’t even need instructions on how to prepare it. Just mix all the dry ingredients, store in a large glass jar and put in a cool place (room temperature). Better to finish it off in a month.

For overnight oats: Put the muesli in a bowl or a cup the night before, pour over the milk and add one teaspoon sugar or honey. Mix well (make sure the milk roughly covers the muesli) and cover it. You can put it in the fridge overnight. When the temperature is lower than 25°C, I just let it stay out. In the morning, chop a fruit into small chunks, add it to your muesli and add some more jam to give a color and flavor. Enjoy it with your regular morning drink and start your day the right way!