Archive for the 'Spring' Category

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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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Asparagus Soup and Broad Bean & Pecorino Bruschetta

Spring time has finally arrived and with that my beloved broad (fava) beans. I dived into my thick hedge of broad beans the other day and found a handful of beans that were just big enough to be harvested. Of course, most of you will know that you need to harvest far more than a handful in order to make a meal for a family of five. So I went out and searched the markets and stores and finally got lucky. I bought 3 kilos (6.5 lbs) worth, which turned out exactly 700g (1.5 lbs) of beans. Almost the entire family was involved in the podding, which wasn’t so bad in the warm afternoon sun on the patio. Now, unfortunately, with broad beans the work isn’t exactly done with the podding. Unless the beans are very small and tender, it’s best to peel the tough skin of each bean after they have been cooked or steamed. I thought I could get away without, but decided half-way through cooking dinner, that I wouldn’t be so lucky. Never mind the little extra effort, the result more than made up for it.

The first dinner I cooked was ‘Tagliatelle with Broad Beans, Pecorino and Parma Ham’. It was good, but the recipe needs a bit more tweaking before I can post it.

However, the next evening, I still had 200g (7oz.) of podded beans left and decided to turn them into the enticing looking bruschetta I saw in the ‘Delicious’ magazine that same day. I got a loaf of panini, which I cut in slices brushed with oil, toasted and rubbed with garlic, before topping them with the broad bean mixture. They turned out magnificent, the flavors of the beans, mixed with garlic, pecorino, olive oil and rosemary exploding in my mouth. What a wonderful way to welcome springtime back into our lives. 

Yesterday was also the first day the organic asparagus grower returned to my local farmers market. Excited to see him, I invested in over a kilo of asparagus in various sizes and colors. Nursing yet another cold, I felt like soup and decided to use the beautiful asparagus to make it. A pot of chicken stock had been simmering on my stove for most of the day, after I had found some frozen chicken carcasses in the back of my freezer. I finally gave in and cleaned it in the morning, after coming to the conclusion that it looked like an igloo with more and more icy snow accumulating and leaving less and less space for all things frozen. Hence the decision to cook yet another batch of stock, especially now that I have the extra freezer space to fill. I used about 5 cups of it in my soup, which gave it the perfect base, but any vegetable stock would be good as well.

Broad Beans and Pecorino Bruschetta 


adapted from a recipe in the October 2010 edition of ‘delicious’ magazine

Serves 5


900 g (2 lbs.) fresh broad beans, podded (equalling 200-250g or 1/2 lb.)

1/3 cup olive oil

3 rosemary sprigs

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped, plus 1 extra clove, halved

100 g (3.5 oz.) Pecorino Romano, shaved

8-10 thick slices of ciabatta or other crusty bread

Sea salt and fresh pepper


Prepare an ice water bath.

Blanch broad beans in boiling water for 3 minutes, then plunge into ice water to prevent them from cooking any further. Drain and squeeze beans out of skins by giving them a slight pinch. Set aside.

Warm olive oil, garlic and rosemary in small pot over very low heat. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, careful not to brown the garlic. Stir occasionally. This will infuse the oil with the amazing aroma of garlic and rosemary.

Take out the thicker rosemary stems, leaving a few of the leaves behind. Add the broad beans, 1 tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon of fresh sea salt and a pinch of fresh pepper. Turn the heat to medium and cook beans for a couple of minutes until bright green.

Place a wire colander over a bowl and put bean mixture into colander. Make sure you capture all the oil, which you will need for brushing the bread.

Brush the slices of bread on both sides with the bean oil, then toast or grill for a few minutes on each side. Rub with halved garlic.

Check the seasoning of the beans, before putting about a tablespoon on each toasted bread. Top with sliced cheese and serve immediately. 

Silky Asparagus Soup


Serves 5


500g (1 lb, 2 oz.) fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed and spears cut into 3 cm (1 inch) pieces

1 large onion, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons cream

sea salt and fresh pepper

5 cups (1.2 liters) chicken stock


Sautee onion, celery and garlic on low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add asparagus, leaving a few tips for decoration, and bay leaf.

Sautee for a few more minutes before adding the chicken stock. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, steam the asparagus tips lightly in a steamer basket. Set aside.

When the asparagus in the soups is cooked, blend the soup either by using an immersion blender, or in batches in the blender. Don’t fill the blender too much, as hot liquid will expand when blended.

Return blended soup to pot over low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of cream, 1 teaspoon fresh sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a few asparagus tips.

‘Spring Cleaning’ Recipes

Now that you know all about my recent detox adventure, I am excited to share some of the truly amazing meals I have eaten during that time. They were a fantatsic success in my recent ‘Spring Cleaning’ cooking class and are totally suitable for all those of you who don’t have the slightest interest in doing a detox. The recipes below are inspired by the ones in the book ‘Clean‘. I used different ideas and combined them in the Quinoa Salad recipe, but the Stir-Fry recipe is almost identical to the one in the book.

Quinoa Salad with Ginger-Miso Dressing


serves 4


for the salad

  • 1/2 cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained or a mixture of white and black or red quinoa
  • 4 spring onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small zucchini or cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, soaked in water for 2 hours, drained
  • 2 cups of mixed greens, washed and picked

for the dressing

  • 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup white sweet miso, also called young ‘shiro’ rice miso
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon light agave nectar (optional)


Place rinsed quinoa in a small saucepan with 3/4 cup of water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer with lid on for 12-15 minutes or until germ ring is visible and quinoa has softened. Remove from stove, fluff quinoa with a fork and let cool.

To make dressing; in a food processor, blend ginger, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and miso. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too sour, add one teaspoon of light agave nectar and give it another whiz. Add 1 tablespoon of water if you prefer a runnier dressing.

Mix quinoa with chopped herbs, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Stir in dressing. Serve on top of greens on large platter.

Stir-Fried Vegetables with Chicken and Buckwheat Soba Noodles


serves 4


  • 250 g 100% Buckwheat Soba
  • 2 carrots, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup zucchini, sliced thinly
  • 1 baby bok choi, sliced length wise
  • 3 spring onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
  • olive or natural (not toasted) sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon wheat free tamari or nama shoyu
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

for the cooked chicken breasts

  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper


To make marinade, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add chicken breasts to marinade and coat evenly. Cover and put in fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Place marinated chicken breasts with marinade in oven proof dish, cover with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Let cool slightly before cutting into thin slices.

In the meantime, bring 2 quarts (2 liters) water to boil in a large pot. Add noodles, stir and cook according to package instructions.

When the noodles are done, place in colander and rinse with cold water. This will prevent them from turning into a sticky mess. Place drained noodles in a large bowl. Toss with toasted sesame oil and set aside..

For the stir-fry, heat wok or heavy pan on high heat and add 1 tablespoon of natural sesame or olive oil. Add ginger and garlic and fry for one minute, stirring constantly. Add vegetables, except for spring onions and coriander, stirring and tossing for about 5 minutes. Vegetables should retain their colour and a nice crunch.

Add tamari or nama shoyu, lime juice, spring onions, salt and pepper to wok. Stir once more and turn heat off. Sprinkle with coriander.

Toss in a bowl with soba noodles. Serve with sliced chicken breast on the side.