Cherry Picking with Slow Food Beijing

We spent this past Sunday picking cherries and peas in God’s Grace Garden, a biodynamic farm in the southwest of Beijing. The event was organized by the newly founded Slow Food Beijing. The farm is 25 acres large and was established in 2001 by Therese Zhang, a very interesting Chinese woman who speaks fluent English, Spanish and French. Therese hasn’t always been a farmer. She worked for a canning company when she learned about organic agriculture. She eventually quit her job and started planting fruit trees and vegetables on her new farm to ensure a lifetime of healthful food for her family and friends. She also raises life stock and we got to feed baby chickens, ducks and even turkeys (hopefully we can reunite with one of them on our Thanksgiving table later this year). For more information on God’s Grace Garden, here is a link to a very interesting video I found on vimeo (

Therese’s daughter-in-law cooked a fabulous lunch for us with produce and meat from the farm, including duck, lamb, eggs, leafy greens, cabbage, zucchini, peas and homemade tofu. I asked her to share some of the recipes with me and hopefully in time I can share them with you.

With full and happy tummies, we headed towards the cherry trees. We tried 3 different varieties, before settling for utterly delicious Bing cherries. I found a lonely ladder and we managed to completely clear two fully loaded trees in less than 2 hours. Naturally, a good part of what we picked went straight from our hands into our mouths, but we also took several pounds home which I could not wait to turn into delicious treats.

I spent the entire next morning searching for recipes that would be a good match to our wonderful cherries. For once I decided that making up my own recipe might be too risky and settled instead on a Cherry Brown Butter tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen and a Cherry-Almond Upside-Down cake I found in a Bon Appetit magazine from June 2008. The first one is a twist on a Raspberry Brown Butter tart, which initially was published by Bon Appetit as well. Both cakes tuned out fantastic, but the brown butter really raised the tart to another level. It was heavenly and very much enjoyed by everyone.

As to the upside-down cake, I changed the cornmeal asked for in the original recipe to almond meal and used Chinese black wheat flour instead of all purpose flour. I am sure white spelt or white wholewheat pastry flour would work just as well. This cake is particularly delicious with ice-cream, Greek yogurt or a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Broccoli

Today, I’d like to share a fantastic pasta dish with you that is so quick to make. A friend made it for a girls dinner several years ago in Thailand and I have cooked it myself many times since. The original recipe asks for butter as well as olive oil, but I don’t miss the butter in my version and my LDL is too high anyway. My kids love this pasta dish and have even requested it for their birthday dinners. You can use any vegetable you like. Asparagus, zucchini or fresh peas would be great, but so would leafy greens or whatever you find in the bottom of your fridge. Good quality olive oil, lemon juice and lots of garlic are key here and give this dish the biggest flavor boost.

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Tofu Fried Rice with Kale and Mushrooms

Hi there again – as you probably noticed, I am not blogging as frequently as I used to and it is mostly due to the incredibly slow internet speed and the nonexistence of wordpress in China. I have to use a way to get around that, which makes the process even slower and uploading pictures an incredibly frustrating process. Nevertheless, I am committed to this blog and I still love it.

I have hired a new Ayi (domestic help) who has the reputation of being an excellent cook and I hope I’ll learn a lot from her. She won’t start until August, so you’ll have to wait with me until then.

We went on a week long holiday to our former home, Thailand, and I took lots of pictures at my favorite market. I’ll hold on to those until I find a place with faster internet, which might not be until our summer holiday. I also finally completed a 21-day-Clean-detox and feel great. Some of you might remember my first attempt in August 2010, which I cut short after 14 days and fell into an omnivorous food binge. Luckily that didn’t happen this time around and I feel refreshed, healthy and definitely lighter.

So what can you expect in the weeks to come? An all time favorite lentil soup recipe,  miso soup with mushrooms and soba, my wonderfully gratifying sourdough bread experience and today this fried rice recipe, which I make all the time. I am surprised it hasn’t made it onto the blog until today. Here we go…

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A Visit to San Yuan Li Market in Beijing

If you read this blog before, you already know that I have a passion for fruit and vegetable markets. Wherever I go, the local markets are the first places to visit on my list. A new friend with a common interest in food recently took me to this amazing market which offers everything from fruits and vegetables, to exotic seafood, freshly made tofu, dumplings and noodles, buffalo mozzarella and even cooking supplies.

“Anything Dried”

I suggested to our Chinese teacher to come along on a visit to teach us how to ask our questions in Chinese. Learning by doing, which in my case is the way to go. My brain was on fire, unlike usually, when I sit half comatosed in my class, which must have something to do with the subject… I now know the names for a handful of fruits and vegetables, chicken, fish and eggs, how to ask for the price and where the product comes from. I also know that youji means organic and cai ji means “green”, which occasionally gets an emphatic nod. The rest is easily found in my little book or on one of my indispensable iPhone apps.

“Chicken Feet, etc”

Initially, shopping at a market like this can be a bit daunting. It is not for the faint hearted or my friend with her background in food borne illness. Everything looks clean and fresh however and the vendors are keen to point this out. The lady selling the mussels kept tapping them to show us their reaction. The temperatures are cool, which hopefully keeps the bug population somewhat in control. I wouldn’t make steak tartar out of the meat sold here and my chicken will be cooked until the thermometer says 165F, even if that makes it a little tough.

The large fish stall has a very interesting selection and I wished I could have asked more questions. There was a huge octopus in the middle of the table, dozens of Norwegian salmon fillets and gigantic lobsters from Boston. I bought the salmon, which at $4/pound was cheaper than I have ever seen. In a particular brave moment, I bought mussels next door, without having a clue where they came from. The stall owner won me over with her enthusiastic demonstration of freshness and the ridiculously low prices.

The fruit vendors sell fantastic papayas, mangosteen from Thailand, longans, pomelos and passion fruit. I was thrilled.

We sampled Chinese pork sausage, tofu salad and deliciously greasy, onion laced, crispy flat bread. I bought dumplings, filled with meat and vegetables and smaller ones filled with large sugar crystals. I also bought oolong tea, goji berries, dried beans, lentils and buckwheat flour, a completely unexpected find.  This market is also the first place where I found fresh herbs, lemongrass, freshly shredded coconut, kaffir lime leaves and galangal and I have looked almost everywhere.

“Up to her head in veggies”

I went to the lady selling chicken, with a sign over the stall saying “segmented chicken” and looked at her selection. She has old soup chickens, young “green” chickens, black chickens and “factory” chickens. The contrast between the “green” and factory chickens was unbelievable. My teacher said the factory chicken looks like a turkey and she wasn’t far off. I bought two young “green chickens’ and asked the lady to take out the innards, chop off heads and feet and cut the chickens into 6 pieces. The breast pieces are as small as the wings… This weekend, I will hopefully finally figure out the best way to cook a Chinese free-range chicken and I am thinking that braising might be the best way to do it. You will surely find out next week.

“Smoked Tofu”

Another amazing find was broad (lima) beans and they weren’t even imported. Later when I got home, my children cringed at the site. They had falsely assumed that we had moved to a broad bean-free zone. Hah! The peas came already shelled and a pound cost about $2.50. How many times did we buy the unshelled ones in Australia for $15-20/kilo??? Anyway, I grabbed some fresh mint and zucchini and had all the ingredients I needed for my springtime risotto.

“Springtime Farro Risotto”

When we were finally done, our bags were almost too heavy to carry them to the car but we were happy and grateful. I had had one of the best afternoons since arriving in China. Most of my food shopping endeavors had been frustrating, and the lack of vocabulary a constant struggle. I was excited about the praise I got for trying out a few new words and for all the new connections I had build. We will see how far I get the next time, without my Chinese teacher right behind me…

If you would like the recipe for the risotto, you know where to ask…

Apple Crumble

Over a decade ago, my English mother-in-law shared her basic and delicious apple crumble recipe with me. It is one of my favorite desserts of all times and I have made it countless times over the years. Mostly with apples, sometimes rhubarb or berries. I tweaked the recipe in various directions, my favorite change being the addition of almonds and extra oats, but mostly I tried to figure out how to get that crumb texture just right every time. I also ventured into the world of vegan, gluten and sugar free crumbles, which were still good, but perhaps a little too wholesome. There is no doubt that butter is a crucial ingredient in crumble and without it, it’s just not the same. A little goes a long way however, so don’t worry.

The best part of making crumble is how quick it’s done and how satisfying it is in the end. I have to admit, I much prefer making a crumble than let’s say apple pie. Pie crusts are not my friend, they take too long and are not fool proof. This crumble recipe on the other hand is so easy, you can give it to your kids and put them in charge. No worries.

My favorite apples to use here are Fuji apples. They taste great, keep their shape and still soften nicely. If you can’t get Fujis, ask your greengrocer for a good baking apple. Sometimes I add some cranberries, to make it a bit more interesting. As you can see not everyone in my family agrees with me…

Sorry, this recipe requires a scale, but this is how I inherited it from my mother-in-law. Go out and buy one as even in the U.S., metric recipes are becoming much more popular. You can’t beat the accuracy.



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Chickpea and Brown Rice Patties

Turns out, my second organic chicken purchase here in Beijing hasn’t worked out as planned either. I butterflied and roasted it, but the meat was super tough and not worth the effort. The chicken had hardly any breast and very skinny thighs, although the cavity was very fatty and loaded with unpleasant remains, so needless to say, I decided I’d rather eat beans and tofu for the rest of my time here than try that again.

I made these chickpea and brown rice patties the next night and they were delicious and much more gratifying. I found the recipe in the latest “Whole Living” magazine and adapted is slightly. They were not as dense as some other veggie burgers I have made, and the uncooked consistency was a little like mashed potatoes, despite me adding more rice to the food processor as the original recipe called for.  The patties turned out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and held their shape very well. Nothing worse than when they fall apart in the pan and you end up turning them into one huge pancake.

I fried up one onion and carrot with a few cloves of garlic, before adding them to the food processor. You can also add them in their raw state, but I prefer the cooked flavor and texture. I added 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (2 cans, rinsed and drained), 3 cups of cooked brown rice, 1/2 cup coriander, thick stems removed, 2 eggs (you might want to start with one and add the second one if needed), salt and pepper and whizzed it all into a thick paste. Rather than forming patties with my hands, I heaped the batter in large spoonfulls into the hot frying pan and flattened and shaped them after turning them over.

The recipe in the magazine asks for mashing the ingredients together, which will give you a chunkier patti. You’ll need less brown rice, mince the coriander first, and use a bit of elbow grease.

I’ll be making those again soon, they were such a hit with the gang and go with just about everything.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

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Oatmeal Quinoa Breakfast Cookies

I found a container of cooked quinoa in the back of my new, narrow but deep fridge this morning, which was begging to be eaten. I remembered a recipe for breakfast cookies I read in the latest issue of “Bon Appetit” magazine and decided to give it a try. My kids each have to bring two snack to school per day and with our stack of cereal bars dwindling fast and replacements costing the equivalent of nearly 10 USD, I will probably be doing a lot of baking in the years to come.

Not that I mind really, as it is much more fun than cutting the head and feet of yet another organic chicken which is staring at me from my counter top. I went for a different brand, this one twice as expensive as the last one and I was hoping it would be a bit more plump in the chest and thigh, but no. I did find some organic pork; liver, tiny pieces of very fatty bacon and knuckles. Now I just need to find the “Sauerkraut” and dig up my German cookbooks…

Here is the recipe for the delicious, and very wholesome breakfast cookies, which have been my second and third breakfast today and probably will be my lunch as well. Oh no, weren’t they supposed to be for the kids’ lunch boxes?

I slightly changed the original recipe, substituting spelt flour for wheat, maple syrup for honey and walnuts for almonds. I am sure you can use whatever you have available. These cookies seem to be very forgiving.

Off to my first Mandarin lesson today. Got to find myself some coffee on the way.

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Sesame Kale Chips

Here is my first post from China, and I am sorry that it is a recipe you can come across very easily nowadays and that it is not even remotly related to Chinese food. I made it just before leaving Massachusetts and probably won’t make it until we go back for our next holiday. Kale, or at least the types of kale we’re used to, isn’t available here or perhaps I haven’t found it yet. I did however find some local organic farms, which I will visit next week. Very exciting, especially in the dead of winter.

Our luggage full of food got through customs without so much as a glance – a huge relief, as it was loaded with plenty of treasures from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Now we just need to be as lucky with our Australian biodynamic olive oil, spices and bottles of wine hidden deep inside our moving boxes in our container, still out at sea.

In the few days we have been here, we had amazing Peking Duck at the very famous “Dadong” restaurant and very mediocre noodles. The kids had a great time spotting “unusual” ingredients on the menus, such as sea cucumber intestines, bullfrog, turtle, donkey, innards of every kind, soya pigeon, etc. I am planning to take my camera along to future restaurant and market visits and let you know what I found. I started checking out grocery stores and supermarkets that sell everything from electronics, to underwear to milk all the way from Germany. I found a few very sad looking organic vegetables, which were harvested long before Chinese New Year, and organic chicken and pork. The chicken still has its head and feet attached, which will be interesting when it comes to preparing dinner tonight. I had the choice between spring chicken, hen and rooster. I went for the hen, but it felt almost a bit too real. No doubt we will be well fed during this adventure here, hopefully without too much dog or donkey meat thrown into the mix.

Go make some kale chips now! It’s so easy and quick and a delicious snack which is loved by all. I am jealous already…


1 bunch of kale (any other than cavolo nero, also known as tuscan or lacinato kale, will be good)

1/4 cup sesame seeds

3 tablespoons olive oil

sprinkle of salt


Preheat oven to 200F (100C) convection heat, or 225 regular heat.

Wash and dry kale. Take a leaf into one hand and use the other hand to tear off the leafy part, starting at the thick end of the stem and moving all the way to the top of the leaf. Tear the stemless leaves into roughly 2×2 inch size pieces and put in a large bowl. Repeat with other leaves.

Drizzle kale with olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and salt. Mix well.

Place kale in single layer on parchment lined baking tray and bake for 25 minutes, turning kale over half way through. If some of the kale hasn’t turned crispy after 25 minutes, bake for a few more minutes.

Eat straight away, or store in air tight container for a 2-3 days.


Prep Work

I was tired yesterday and the only thing I wanted to do, other than sleeping, was to cook or bake something. Sleeping wasn’t an option. All three kids were at home with me and my husband was sitting on an airplane to Beijing. The kids were tired too, and in need for entertainment, so I asked them to bake the cookies while I prepare dinner. I got a bit carried away after a long stare into the refrigerator. I had been on a bit of a food shopping binge lately and there were more vegetables in my fridge than we would ever be able to eat. I decided to prep and cook them in order to speed up and facilitate our dinner preparation this week. So out came the cauliflower, broccoli, beets, pumpkin, squash, parsnips, chard, kale and mushrooms. With the oven already on, I quickly turned the kale into sesame kale chips (recipe later this week), while I chopped and sliced the rest. The sugar pumpkin, was cut into 1 inch cubes for roasting, while the squash was halved, deseeded and roasted cut side down. I scrubbed the beets, drizzled them with oil and put them into a small roasting pan, covered with aluminium foil. I cut the parsnips into 1/2 inch x 2 inch sticks, drizzled more olive oil over them and found the last free spot for them inside the oven.

I am not sure if you ever roasted your cauliflower (it took me 10 + years of steaming, before switching over), but now I don’t want to eat it any other way anymore. I remove all leaves and the thick middle stalk from the cauliflower, place it on a cutting board, stem side down, and slice it between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. I break apart the slices to get bite size pieces and place them in a bowl, together with 1 teaspoon turmeric, salt and freshly ground pepper and yet again, olive oil. Everything gets a good mix in the bowl, before I spread it on a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roasting time is 20-30 minutes on 375 F (190C), or until the edges start to turn brown.

While my oven was going at full speed, I cut the mushrooms into quarters, minced 4 cloves of garlic, removed the thick stems of the chard and cut it into 1 inch slices. In a large pan, I sauteed the garlic first in some olive oil, added the mushrooms and a tiny bit of white wine, salt and pepper and cooked everything until tender, less than 10 minutes. I removed the mushrooms from the pan, careful to leave some of the garlic behind, and added the chard and a little more white wine. I put the lid on and cooked the greens until just wilted, less than 5 minutes. After a bit of seasoning and a good stir, I removed the chard from the pan into a bowl.

The beets were done after about one hour and I peeled the skin right off them once they had cooled down a bit. I scraped the flesh out of the acorn squash and put it into a bowl ready for a quick soup or risotto. Here is a picture of the beets and everything else.

All of this didn’t take me more than a couple of hours and with the result, we are set for a range of delicious meals in the coming days. I had cooked a pot full of chickpeas as well, so we didn’t need to go protein free.

Yesterday night we had this:

I sauteed a diced onion, added some of the roasted pumpkin pieces, half of the mushrooms and chard, a few handfuls of chickpeas, a little white wine and chicken stock. I ate mine with left over rice, while the kids had theirs with pasta and a good bit of parmesan sprinkled over it. Yum!

Today, we had pumpkin soup with ginger and coconut milk. Tomorrow it’ll be beets with goats cheese for lunch, roast vegetable pizza for dinner and frittata on Thursday. The rest of the chickpeas will either be turned into hummus with the remaining pumpkin thrown right in or I’ll make my beloved pumpkin and chickpea salad. One thing I didn’t do was caramelizing a few onions, which would have been another great addition to any of those meals. Next time!


German Christmas Cookies No. 3 – Vanille Kipferl

And here is the last Christmas cookie for this season, ‘Vanille Kipferl’. They are one of our all time favorites and always disappear quickly out of the tin.

‘Vanille Kipferl’ are one of the most traditional Christmas cookies made in Germany, Austria and parts of Eastern Europe. They are crescent shaped, usually include ground almonds in the dough and are rolled in vanilla sugar after baking. I love their fine crumb and delicate consistency.

Don’t be surprised, but I used plain flour and white sugar in this recipe because I didn’t want to mess with the texture.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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