chick pea salad sandwich

If you’re a fan of “salad” sandwiches (such as egg salad or chicken salad), then give this vegetarian twist a try! You can even make it vegan by using vegan mayonnaise. Piepie and Boss brought this to school in their YumBoxes and ate it with a spoon (they aren’t sandwich fans) – so that is a great option as well.

The best bang for your buck is to buy dried chickpeas and cook them, but if you’re in a crunch then canned ones will do the trick! I have to say, ever since I got an Instant Pot for Christmas, I don’t use the canned stuff anymore because it literally only takes 30 minutes to cook.

what you need:

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1/4 small red onion
  • 2 baby dill pickles
  • 2 heaping tbsp mayonnaise (regular or vegan)
  • salt and pepper

what to do:

  1. Mix chickpeas with mayo and mash about half of it with a potato masher (or a large fork) – to give it some different textures.
  2. After washing the celery, dry on a dish towel. Dice finely. Chop the onion and pickles finely as well, trying to keep everything about the same size.
  3. Add diced veggies to chickpea mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon onto toast (spread with avocado optional!) and enjoy!

*Leftovers stored in an airtight container will last 5 days.

date brownies

deliciously guilt free

One of our go to brownie recipes is Smitten Kitchen’s “my favorite brownies” – it’s super easy and quick to make! Sometimes you want a rich sweet chocolatey bite. But sometimes – you want something to snack on, or something for your kids to grab after school, but not necessarily so heavy and decadent that it would spoil dinner! I am becoming a huge fan of dates because they add such a lovely sweetness to recipes (like in banana bread!) without being cloyingly sweet.

pureeing the dates, hi baby!

My little 8-week champ was pretty chill this morning so I had some time to play around in the kitchen, and here’s what came about – a brownie recipe that uses dates and coconut oil instead of white sugar and butter, baking up into a guilt-free brownie that I’m hoping the kiddos will love after school.

If you tend to need more sweetness, I would recommend using a different chocolate (maybe 60% or semi sweet chocolate). I’m digging these with a cup of tea, but I know my kids would enjoy it even more a touch sweeter.

*update! they loved it and want it in their lunch for tomorrow:)

what you need:

  • 3 oz dark chocolate (I used 70% but you can use 60% or even semi sweet chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted dates
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

what to do:

  1. Prepare a baking dish 8×8″ by buttering it generously or lining with parchment paper. If you’re lining it with parchment, leave the ends long so that the brownie lifts out easily once it’s cooled – and butter the sides that do not have parchment. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Place dates in a bowl and cover with hot water (I used my kettle) – let it sit while you do the next steps.
  3. Melt chocolate and coconut oil together using a double boiler method (in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan with gentle simmering water).
  4. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl.
  5. Remove water from dates (you don’t have to drain it completely dry) – then puree in a food processor until pretty smooth.
  6. In a large bowl, combine melted chocolate with dates, mixing well (stand mixer with paddle attachment or use a hand mixer).
  7. Add eggs and vanilla – beat, then scrape down the bowl and beat again, incorporating everything evenly.
  8. Add flour and mix just until incorporated, using a spatula to finish (do not over mix).
  9. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and place in your preheated oven, middle rack, for about 15-18 minutes. It is ready when a toothpick comes out clean (a little underdone is okay because it continues to bake a little when you take it out of the oven).
  10. Once it is cooled, you can remove it easily by lifting the parchment paper edges. Cut into squares and enjoy!

banana date loaf

Banana bread is a staple baked good at our house, but we were getting a little too used to sweetening with semi-sweet chocolate chips (and actually becoming a bit tired of it!).  We have recently all become big fans of dates and their natural sweetness – it works really well in this recipe and gives it good body and moisture. You won’t miss the chocolate chips in this loaf!

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prep time: 15 min    bake time: 25 min     yield: 1 regular sized loaf

what you need:

  • 1 heaping cup pitted dates
  • 3 large very ripe bananas
  • 2 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)

what to do:

  1. Roughly chop dates and soak in about 1 cup of hot water (use your kettle not tap water) in a bowl.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 F convection. If you do not have a convection oven, then you will have to bake your loaf for longer at the same temperature.
  3. In a mixer (or using hand-mixer), beat bananas with sugar until smooth and light.
  4. Add egg, melted butter and vanilla to banana mixture and incorporate well.
  5. At this point I like to use the melted butter remnants to brush my loaf pan to prevent the loaf from sticking.
  6. In a separate bowl, roughly mix together dry ingredients (just a fork will do) – the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, chia seeds and salt.
  7. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat just until mixed (do not over mix!). Use a spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl.
  8. Fold in greek yogurt.
  9. Drain dates from water and add them to the mixture (they will be softened by now), Gentle mix / fold to incorporate dates.
  10. Pour batter into buttered loaf pan (and place loaf pan on a cookie sheet if you wish for easier handling, especially if your loaf pan is silicone). Bake in centre rack for 25 minutes (45-50 minutes if you do not have a convection oven). It is ready when it is golden brown on top and toothpick comes out crumbly / almost clean.
  11. When cool enough to handle, remove loaf and cool on rack – slice warm and ENJOY!

garden fresh yellow tomato sauce

The freshest tomatoes are from your own garden! I am not good at gardening…yet! One day, I want to have a beautiful bountiful vegetable garden.  For now, I have a pretty sweet hook up with a neighbourhood Ama (grandma in Taiwanese) who just happens to have rows and rows of delicious nutritious vegetables! My sister in law was out for a walk one day and this lovely adorable Ama just happened to ask her if she was interested in buying some garden vegetables. Now we get a variety of weekly fresh veggies!

DSC_0054.JPGLast week we got large yellow tomatoes. They have a milder taste than the usual red tomatoes and have a subtle sweetness. It works really well in this sauce. Of course you can substitute any tomato you have. For this recipe I would stay away from the canned tomatoes though, because you won’t be simmering the sauce for long and fresh ones have a lighter taste, making this sauce bright and fresh.

what you need:

  • 4 large yellow tomatoes
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 medium red onion (or any onion)
  • 5 green olives, pitted and chopped roughly
  • 1 pinch red chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil (I use grape-seed oil)
  • 1-2 tbsp finely chopped green onion
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 basil leaves (chopped finely but save 1-2 leaves for garnish)
  • fresh parmesan cheese grated on top when serving (*optional)

what to do:

  1. Wash tomatoes and roughly chop.
  2. Dice onion (small pieces, not too big).
  3. In a sauce pan or pot, heat cooking oil for 1 minute or two. Add onions and stir occasionally, preventing them from burning (keep heat at medium or medium low) – not quite caramelizing the onions but just cooking until they are slightly translucent.
  4. Add tomatoes, stirring to mix everything. Season lightly with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.
  5. Cover and turn the heat to low, about 10 minutes is enough, stirring 2-3 times.
  6. While your sauce is simmering you can cook your desired pasta (I used bowties).
  7. Remove sauce from heat and add chopped olives.
  8. Drain pasta when it is cooked and add as much sauce as desired – toss gently with chopped basil, green onion. Garnish with basil leaves and grated parmesan over top and serve.
  9. Enjoy! *Store left over sauce in mason jar or airtight container in the fridge for meals the next day!

peanut butter noodles

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easy lunch!

This is a staple in our household, now with my own little family of 4 and when I was growing up.  It’s one of those dishes that you can turn to when you have nothing planned; easy, makes use of the pantry, and any leftovers.  The sauce is the most important part, which is mostly things you likely already have in your kitchen (peanut butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar) and some optional add ons for even more flavour.

In the recipe I’ve listed the ingredients I happened to use today, but honestly every time I make this it changes just a little bit! For example, last time I had zucchini and sugar snap peas to use up so those were the veggies that went into the noodles. You can use whatever you have in your fridge or buy your favourite veggies for it. I tend to have these flat noodles always available in my pantry (it’s called Wu-mu dry noodles, made in Taiwan – you can find it at Loblaws / Superstore in the international section or any Asian grocery store), but if you don’t have this you can most definitely use other dry noodles, such as linguine, rice noodles (think flat ones for pad thai), or even egg noodles. Just make sure you read the package for optimal cooking time for the noodles you’ve chosen.

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comfort in a bowl

Saturdays are busy for us so this is a great go-to lunch on the weekend. It is also great on a weeknight if you have leftover protein from the night before but not enough for everyone to have a solid portion (let’s say, a chicken drum and half a chicken breast) – you can slice up the protein into bite size pieces and simply add it to your noodles. We’ve done left over pork, tofu, turkey, steak, even store-bought ham works.  You can keep it super simple or jazz it up by adding in all the optional ingredients.

prep: 15 min   cook: 10 min    yield: 6-8 servings

what you need:

  • ~8 heads of bok choy (equivalent of a typical package)
  • 1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots

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    Wu-Mu Dry Noodles

  • dry noodles (about 2 handfuls)
  • 2 green onions *optional
  • 1 handful of cilantro *optional

peanut butter sauce:

  • 2 heaping tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp naturally brewed soy sauce or Tamari
  • something sweet 1 1/2 tsp (honey, sugar, maple syrup, mirin, whatever you have)
  • 1 1/2 tsp grape seed oil (or other mild tasting cooking oil)
  • zest of 1 lime and it’s juice *optional – instead you can use 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger *optional – you could use garlic in addition, instead, or omit completely
  • 1 red chilli (or something spicy like jalapeno) *optional – if you’re serving kids you can always add this only to the adult portion, or add desired hot sauce such as sriracha on top afterwards

what to do:

  1. Fill your kettle to max capacity and boil water. Get a large pot on the stove with 4″ of water on high heat.
  2. Wash bok choy thoroughly and slice thinly. Wash and peel carrots and cut into matchstick sizes.
  3. Kettle is likely boiling now – add it to your large pot on the stove.
  4. Combine sauce ingredients in a mason jar and shake really well.
  5. Cook noodles according to package in boiling water. For the last minute of noodle cooking, add your chopped carrots and bok choy to quickly blanch the veggies.
  6. Reserve 1 cup of noodle cooking liquid. Drain the rest and place cooked noodles and veggies in a large serving platter. Top with sauce and toss to combine. If it seems dry, add a little bit of the reserved liquid and toss again, until desired consistency.
  7. Sprinkle chopped green onion and cilantro over top. ENJOY!

vanilla cupcakes

vanilla cupcakes

vanilla cupcakes for my brother’s wedding (2015)

When I was on maternity leave for the first time 5 years ago, I started playing around with cupcake recipes and had a very small “for fun” home cupcake business.  Finding the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe took awhile (I tried a lot! Too dense, too crumbly, too dry, etc). I finally came across a recipe by Smitten Kitchen (called Mom’s Apple Cake) and thought the cake-base of the recipe might just do the trick for cupcakes.  Turns out, it is one of the easiest methods to make a moist, delicious and tasty cupcake!  I have made these cupcakes at least a dozen times – for birthdays, baby showers, family events, even for Easter one year and I filled them with lemon curd (yum!).  If you ever want a full sized cake, use her full Mom’s Apple Cake recipe because it’s also a delicious crowd pleaser.

hello kitty

vanilla cupcakes (left) for a friend’s baby shower

This is the perfect cupcake recipe if you’re new to baking or have no time for trial and error.  The steps are easy and there’s no finicky measurements. You probably also likely have most of these ingredients in your pantry and fridge already! If you don’t have orange juice, you can easily substitute apple juice or even milk.  I always top these cupcakes with some sort of homemade icing (try Basic Buttercream Icing or Heavenly Icing), but you can always get store-bought if you prefer.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe “Mom’s Apple Cake” 

prep: 20 min   bake:  15-18 min    yield: 20 cupcakes

what you need:

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (use something like grape-seed oil or canola oil – do not use olive oil, as it has a strong taste)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Buttercream Icing (click for recipe)

what to do:

  1. Line 2 muffin tins with paper cups.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Combine APF, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  4. In a larger separate bowl, whisk oil, sugar, orange juice, vanilla and eggs together. (You can use stand mixer or electric hand mixer).
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mix to combine, scraping sides of bowl to be sure everything is evenly mixed. Do not over beat the batter, as this produces dense cakes.
  6. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 – going shy is better than going over because the cakes will rise and you want to have nice even tops on your cupcakes so that you can top them with icing (pretty!!!).
  7. Bake in the middle rack for 15-18 minutes – I have a convection oven so it tends to bake a lot faster – use a toothpick to check – once it is almost clean (crumbly on toothpick but not wet) you can remove them because they continue baking in the tins a little bit once you take them out.
  8. Once they are cool enough to handle, transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. Finish with icing of choice. Enjoy!

*If you are not serving them that day, store them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving. You can also wait until the day you are serving them to ice them.

classic taiwanese meat sauce

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comfort food – asian style!

Growing up with a mom who cooks lots of traditional and delicious taiwanese foods has really influenced how I make meals for my family at home.  This is one of those dishes that we had once in awhile growing up and we never got tired of it.  The combo of shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, and shallots is pretty classic for taiwanese cuisine.  Just the aromas of the sauce simmering away brings me comfort. I would equate this meat sauce to a bolognese; slowly simmered to marry all the flavours and then it’s good to go on top of noodles, rice, or a bed of thinly chopped up raw veggies if you’re carb free. It’s super easy and it freezes well – make extra so that you can store it in your freezer and pull it out anytime for a quick meal.

This sauce does well in our house because piepie and boss don’t eat anything tomato (not even ketchup!), and my husband isn’t too keen on marinara sauce (I know…crazy). I think it goes particularly well tossed with noodles (e.g. ramen or egg noodles). You can go to your local Asian grocer and find a variety of dried noodles – my favourites are Japanese Ramen Noodles (Hime brand) or Taiwanese dry noodles (Wu-Mu brand). A lot of the ingredients for the sauce are also found in the Asian food aisle or your local Asian grocer, however you can easily substitute with what you already have in your pantry.IMG_0430.JPG

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prep time: 15 min   cook time: 30 min    yield: 4-6 servings

what you need:

  • 1 lb (~450 g) package lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup naturally brewed soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 large shallots (or 1 small cooking onion)
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • rock sugar (about 4 small pieces) or you can use 1 tbsp regular sugar
  • 2 tbsp dried fried shallots (*optional, if you can’t find this ingredient don’t worry!)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp grape seed oil (or other cooking oil)

what to do:

  1. Rehydrate shiitake mushrooms with boiling water in a small bowl (about 15 minutes). When softened and cool enough to handle, chop finely.
  2. Chop shallots finely.
  3. In a bowl, combine the liquids: water, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. In a pot over medium heat, add about 1 tsp cooking oil. Lightly brown shallots (add in dried ones if you have them as well) – then add in ground pork, breaking up loosely with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add liquids carefully to deglaze, then add in sugar and stir. Cover and bring to gentle boil, then turn the heat as low as possible but keep a slow simmer, for about 20 more minutes.
  6. Cook noodles (see package for instructions), then toss with desired amount of meat sauce. Optional to garnish with chopped green onions and cilantro. Enjoy!