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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

[Chocolate Black Bean Cookies] Unconventionally Delicious Cookies with loads of healthy ingredients (Gluten-free)

When a friend told me about the cookies using black bean, actually I laughed it off, only because it didn't sound tasty. Don't get me wrong. I am a totally open-minded person and willing to try new stuffs. Also do I like using black beans for cooking. (See my yummy  veggie burger recipe here)    But, tell me, how could you use black beans for baking to make sweet treats? But, since I read Wheat Belly a year ago, I got really interested in wheat-free, gluten-free cooking & eating. Honestly, I can't stop eating wheat product or baking bread or cakes. But, whenever I find a good gluten-free recipe, I try it at least once, to see if I like. My friend was so convincing that I got really curious. So, let's say, I tried this recipe out of curiosity. And also, baking different ingredients is fun! 
And you know what. I loved it! It's really really good. It was so good that I baked a second batch right away. 

It's true that for most of us, if not all, who have been so used to the chewy and soft texture and taste of wheat/gluten, gluten-free food taste is an acquired taste instead of a natural one. But, this chocolate black bean cookies are amazingly delicious both by conventional and unconventional means.

If you have craving for chocolate and sweet stuff, one chocolate black bean cookie may reduce your craving for a while. Also, beans fill your stomach. It also is a great afternoon snack!
Here goes the recipe for the Chocolate Black Bean Cookies~
(adapted from My new roots)

1 ½ cups black beans, very soft (or one 15 oz. can)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/3 cup 100% cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey, agave syrup)
2 tablespoons chia seeds (or ground flax seeds)
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (80% or higher)
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries (optional, or use dried cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (or 190°C). 

2. Rinse and drain beans.
Chop dark chocolate.
2. Mix chia seeds, maple syrup, and vanilla in a bowl and set aside. 

3. Place drained and well-rinsed beans, coconut oil, cocoa, and salt in a food processor and blend until well combined. 

4. Add maple syrup and chia mixture and pulse to incorporate. The batter won't be hard or doughy, but still hold together.  

5. Remove blade from the food processor and add chopped chocolate (and cherries if you use them). Fold to incorporate. 

6. Spoon cookie batter onto baking sheet. Flatten top of cookies slightly with the back of the spoon, as they will not spread when baking. 

7. Bake for 15 minutes until the edges are browning. 

Cool and eat. Store in the fridge.

Don't they look good? :)
They taste even better than they look.

Happy baking!

Chocolate Black Bean Cookies

Thursday, January 23, 2014

[Mulled Cider] A warm treat for kids, grown-ups and family on a cold winter day

If you think about it, there wouldn't be many things better than a cup of hot mulled cider after an outing on a cold winter day. The temperature in the car started to plumping down as soon as I started the car and got out of the garage yesterday morning. And in a matter of a couple of minutes, it hit -10 degrees Fahrenheit (or -25 Celsius). The temperature didnt' go up much this morning so far, but not worse either. I wish I could spare sometime yesterday evening to make  a pot of nice spicy "vin chaud" (mulled wine), or mulled cider. (You can see my vin chaud or mulled wine recipe here)

But I didn't have a bottle of red wine of a right kind or apple cider. But, I am very determined to fill the kitchen with the aroma of simmering mulled cider before this weekend, i.e. tomorrow, to bring it to the ski slopes this weekend.

I've always loved having a glass of vin chaud when I came back from skiing in France. But, now I equally like mulled cider which is made with liquid from apple instead of that of grape :) A good thing about mulled cider is that you can share it with kids since it doesn't contain any alcohol. A bad thing about mulled cider? You can or have to share it with kids because it doesn't contain any alcohol! So here you see that the same fact can be both a good thing and bad thing. Of course I'm joking.  This is a great cold day drink for family, friends and you.

I basically use almost an identical recipe both for mulled cider and vin chaud.  I made a big pot of mulled cider and we had an afternoon snack time with mulled cider and a part of roof from the gingerbread house!

2 Liters of fresh apple cider, unfiltered and unsweetened
1 teaspoon clove,
3-4 whole allspice
1/2 orange, sliced (oops, I forgot orange for the ingredients shot!)
Peel from 1 lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup sugar


1. (Optional) I soak and cleanse lemon and oranges when I use the zest and peel.

Slice orange and peel lemon.
2. Combine apple cider,  orange slice and lemon peel in a large pot. 

3. Add cinnamon sticks, cloves, and sugar to the pot.
4. Bring the mixture to just under a simmer over the low heat. DO NOT allow it to boil. Keep the lid over the pot.

5. Simmer for 40-45 minutes.
6. (Optional) strain the spices from the mulled apple cider by pouring it through a fine-mesh sieve or a cheesecloth.

6. Laddle the mulled cider to a mug or a glass.  

Add a cinnamon stick or orange, and serve.

You can pour it in a thermos and bring it to skiing or skating!
It will definitely warm you up!


Mulled Apple Cider

Monday, January 20, 2014

[Zucchini & Sausage Lasagna] The easiest lasagna with lots of fresh vegetables

What is your favourite comfort food?
Out of all sorts of comfort food out there, mine is lasagna, especially cheesy lasagna with lots of vegetables. Probably it's not an usual pick for a comfort food. But, a big dish of bubbly mozzarella cheese on top of  rich sauce and ingredients comfort me immensely :) Melting cheese and wonderfully overcooked lasagna noodle stacked with delicious tomato sauce, seasoned pork or beef, and vegetables of my choice, satisfy both my pizza and pasta cravings at the same time! As I love pizza and pasta, for me, lasagna is a kind of all-in-one treat. And as you might have seen my lasagna recipes, my lasagnas are very easy to make, since you don't need to cook noodles. You use dry lasagna noodles right away.

I make different lasagnas with various ingredients. Most combinations taste good. But, I find pork sausage and zucchini are extraordinarily fit for each other, to bring up a great synergy of taste. Sausage's somewhat overly rich flavour is neutralized by zucchini while zucchini absorbs the flavour of sausage and tomato sauce to become some scrumptious super vegetables. If you like lasagna, I'm sure you would love this easy-to-make lasagna. Even if you are not a big fan of lasagna, you will still like this deliciously nutritious lasagna dish. :)

Here goes the recipe.


1 (or 1 + 1/2) zucchini
3 Italian sausage links, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 + 1/2 cup tomato sauce, homemade or store bought
(I always make tomato sauce using diced tomato cans. 
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups partly skimmed cottage cheese
9 dry lasagna noodles
2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil

* You don't need to use extra salt as tomato sauce, sausage,
and cheese are already salty enough.

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Remove casings from sausages.
Shred mozzarella.

3. Slice zucchini and quarter the zucchini disks.
4. Slice onion and cut into 3 parts.

5. Heat a skillet and add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil. 
6. Add zucchini and onion. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until onion becomes transparent.
 Put the cooked vegetables aside to cool down a bit. 

7. Heat the pan and add sausages, crumble with potato masher, cook until sausage is pink anymore.
Then, add 1 + 1/2 cups of tomato sauce and cook for another 4- 5 minutes so that the sauce will be thoroughly heated.

8. Meanwhile, add cooked vegetables to the cottage cheese and mix well.

Now, all the sauces are ready to be stacked.

9. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.

10. Layer 3 dry noodles.

11. Cover noodles with sausage mixtures and 1/3 of cottage cheese mixture.

12. Repeat layers two more times. (noodles -> sausage mixture -> cottage cheese mixture)

13. Add the last 3 noodles and top with the last 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and then mozzarella cheese.

14. Tent the baking dish with aluminium foil and bake about 35 minutes.

15. Then, uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes.

I switched it to broiling mode and broil the top for 1-2 minutes to brown the cheese. But, it's just an option.

Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

It's really easy, isn't it? :)


Zucchini & Sausage Lasagna

Sunday, January 12, 2014

[2014 Australian Open] Draw Analysis and Picks (Men's Singles & Women's Singles)

I'm so excited about the coming fortnight of the Australian Open. Well, technically, I do follow most of the ATP tournaments of ATP 250 and up. Sometimes I do even check the daily results of ATP Challengers if there's any young Canadian player playing . Still, any of those tournaments is not even comparable to a grand slam tournament. So, I've been snoozing for the past two months since 2013 Masters Final in last November. I follow other sports too, but tennis is "THE" sport for me. :) 

 When I first glimpsed the Men's singles draw, I found it very balance the four quarters. I looked at it more in detail, I found a few hurdles, threats and challenges in each quarter, to make it look a little more difficult than the other quarters, but honestly, those hurdles exist at each quarter. And also, there should be some surprises  here and there throughout the draw, otherwise it would be too easily predictable, and boring, as a consequence.

Okay. The basic premise of this draw is that the 2014 Australian Open's draw is well balanced between the four quarters.
First, Rafael Nadal's quarter.
In my humble opinion, I find that Rafa slowed down his pace somehow since he was re-crowned as the ATP No. 1 in October 2013. You may object my opinion since he just won his first title of the in Doha last week. Nonetheless, you can't deny that there was no real match for Rafa. David Ferrer who has never been a match for Nadal in his career, lost too early, to meet Nadal.  Andy Murray, seed # 3 of Doha, lost his second round match to Florian Mayer. So Nadal was free as a bird there. But, we all know that a grand slam is a totally different animal, and there are much less chances for big players to lose in the earlier rounds as they are steadier players, especially in best of 5 sets.
 So, Nadal should expect to meet Gael Monfils No. 25 seed, whom he defeated in three sets last week in Doha final, in the third round. Then, Nadal will probably meet Kei Nishikori, No. 16 seed, in the fourth round who will not cause much trouble. Then, the biggest challenge will come in the quarter-final against Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro became a (even) more solid player with surprising speed at his height of 6'6" frame. Here I see a chance for Del Potro who beat Nadal in straight sets in Shanghai masters at their most recent encounter.  I wouldn't be surprised whichever direction the match goes.

Second, Novak Djokovic's quarter.
If I am realistic and reasonable, I should think this is Djokovic's first tournament of the year to win. He has won three consecutive years in Melbourne, and there is no other sign of him not extending the record to the fourth year. Djokovic could have lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the round of 16 in Melbourne last year. But, the eventual champion won the fifth and deciding set by 12-10 over Wawrinka. Wawrinka landed in Djokovic's quarter once again, but as the second highest ranked player of the quarter.
I expect both Djokovic and Wawrinka to advance to the quarter-final. Hopefully we can see another epic match between the two. To reach the quarterfinal, Nole should first defeat Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round. I don't think Gulbis has a steadiness and fierceness to beat Djokovic. But he can make the match difficult for the No.2. Well, I like Gulbis very much, next to Federer. So I would be happily surprised if Gulbis sends off Djoker in Djoker's very dominant tournament.
Wawrinka won his first tournament of 2014 in Chennai last week. So he must have a strong confidence and energy to make this year great.

Third, David Ferrer's quarter.
There wouldn't be much objections to my opinion that David Ferrer is the weakest of the current top 4 players, especially on the hard surface, even though he is ranked number 3. In that sense, it's fortunate for Ferrer and unfortunate for Tomas Berdych, No. 7 seed,  that they are drawn to the same quarter. Berdych is a wonderful player on all types of surface and should be fantastic on a super fast surface like Rod Laver arena. However, Berdych is the other end of the same quarter of David Ferrer who happened to be his nemesis. Ferrer has 7-4 overall record against Berdych, and won most of their hard courts encounters.
If Ferrer can overcome one of the hottest young guns, Jerzy Janowicz, in the fourth round, he will have another chance to beat Berdych. Berdych  may meet Ivo Karlovic who just beat him last week in the first round of Qatar Exxon Mobil, will be able to advance through the first four rounds to meet his nemisis in the quarter final.

Fourth, Andy Murray's quarter.
You would agree that this is the hottest quarter, by far, which drew the 2013 Wimbledon champion, 17-time grand slam champion, and  the 2008 runner-up and Australian Open's fan favourite. Federer is seeded No. 6, lowest seed ever at Australian Open in more than a decade. :( But, as he said he would have less pressure as a lower ranked player, I hope he can play a great tennis in this fortnight. Federer will not see a real challenge until he meets Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the round of 16. Tsonga could be challenged by Marin Cilic who came back to the circuit recently after the 4-month ban. Cilic has played well at the Australian Open, but so has Tsonga. If they can meet at the third round, it would be an entertaining match.
In regards to Murray, his physical strength is questionable after the surgery he went through last October. He seemed okay in Doha, but he lost to Florian Mayer to whom he had never lost before. Maybe he just stumbled a bit after a long pause of over two months. If Murray is fully recovered and motivated, he will have no problem to advance to the quarterfinal for sure. There is no other notable match for him apart from John Isner who wouldn't be able to cause much trouble to a 100% Murray.

If you want to see the full Women's Singles draw, see here:

To make the long analysis short, I have my picks for the Men's singles draw as below:
Round of 16
Rafael Nadal d. Kei Nishikori in 3
Juan Martin Del Potro d. Milos Raonic in 4
Andy Murray d. John Isner in 5
Roger Federer d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 4
Tomas Berdych d. Tommy Haas in 4
David Ferrer d. Jerzy Janowicz in 4
Stanislas Wawrinka d. Tommy Robredo in 4
Novak Djokovic d. Ernests Gulbis in 3

Quarter finals
Juan Martin Del Potro d. Rafael Nadal in 5
Roger Federer d. Andy Murray in 4
David Ferrer d. Tomas Berdych in 5
Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka in 5

Semi finals
Roger Federer d. Juan Martin Del Potro in 4
Novak Djokovic d. David Ferrer in 3

Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic in 4

For the Women's Singles, there are not much to say since Serena Williams has been at her top for the past 365 days, only considering the past year.

She accumulated so many wins in 2013, to make an astronomical record of 78 wins - 4 losses. How can a single player win so much in one season while losing so little? She has been playing amazing in 2013, and there is no sign of her slowing down. She is just fresh out of her first title of the year in Brisbane last week.
Victoria Azarenka who is ranked number 2 with quite a distance from Williams is two time defending champion at Merblourne Park. However, Azarenka has never met Williams in an Australian Open final. Vicka won only 3 matches out of their 18 encounters. If the top two seeds advance to the final, which is likely, my bet is definitely on Serena. However, Maria Sharapova, seeded No. 3, is in the defending champion's half. Their head-to-head is more balanced at 7-6 (Azarenka - Sharapova). Oddly, they met only once in 2013, and Sharapova won the match in 3 sets at semi-final of Roland Garros. It would be another anticipated match to look forward to. If Sharapova advances to the final and finds Williams at the other side of the net, the Russian beauty will not have many chances, even only considering the last week's final at Brisbane International.
Other than these top three players, No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens and No. 30 seed Eugenie Bouchard are the youngsters to watch. I think Stephens plays her best, she will be able to match Azarenka's shots.

Here are Colleen's picks:

Round of 16
Serena Williams d. Samantha Stosur in 2
Roberta Vinci d. Eugenie Bouchard in 3
Na Li d. Sabina Lisicki in 3
Petra Kvitova d. Angela Kerber in 3
Simona Halep d. Jelena Jankovic in 3
Maria Sharapova d. Carla Suarez Navarro in 2
Agnieska Radwanska d. Caroline Wozniacki in 2
Sloane Stephens d. Victoria Azarenka in 3

Quarter finals
Serena Williams d.Roberta Vinci in 2
Na Li d. Petra Kvitova in 3
Maria Sharapova d. Simona Halep in 3
Agnieska Radwanska d. Sloane Stephens in 3

Semi finals
Serena Williams d. Na Li in 2
Maria Sharapova d. Agnieska Radwanska in 3

Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova in 2

Enjoy the first Grand Slam event of the year!

2014 Australian Open