Thursday, October 1, 2015

Help! I’ve forgotten how to cook

Well, technically I didn’t totally forget how to cook, but moving sure seems to throw me off when it comes to creating meals in the kitchen.  I have never been accused of being an excellent cook, but I have had enough practice to sufficiently feed my family.

When we first moved to China four years ago there was so much to learn about where to shop, what was considered safe to eat, what import stores carried favorites from home (or at least what would make do when no favorites were available) and begin learning how to make some things from scratch because there were no other options.  It was overwhelming and I felt as if I had forgotten how to cook.

EBean enjoying some pizza & spaghetti
when we first moved to China in 2011.
Many of our first days in Suzhou we were eating out, but I can tell you that our girls got tired of chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, and spaghetti, which seemed to be the same three things on rotation on all the kid’s menus.  Once our air shipment arrived in Suzhou, I was really looking forward to cooking something, anything from home.  Our first meal in our Suzhou apartment was…pancakes.  Not terribly fancy, but I fed my children from my own kitchen.  From then on, I had a mantra of: find a meat and add some veggies, find a meat and add some veggies…

In Suzhou I was very spoiled and had an import grocery store within our apartment compound.  It was little and I affectionately called it my 7-11 import store because it was the size of a gas station convenience store, but it really did have most of what I wanted on a regular basis.  Within our part of the city was also a bakery supply shop, a few good bread shops, and two other import stores.  What couldn’t be purchased in Suzhou could possibly be delivered from one of the other larger import grocery stores in Shanghai, which delivered to Suzhou once or twice a week.

Our move to Xi’an this summer brought back a few of my cooking insecurities.  This time though, I knew what I wanted to figure out first, where to buy meat.  I can navigate a fruit and veggie market without too much trouble now and the large import grocery store, Metro, has most of what I want, but finding quality meat was a priority.  Now that I have that all figured out (Metro or Vanguard for chicken breasts, ground beef and roast from a meat market our Ayi knows about, and still looking for good ground pork), we are getting back into a cooking routine.  There are a few things that I haven’t been able to find at Metro that I’ll want to bring back from the US or figure out how to order off of TaoBao like vanilla extract, canned black beans and unsweetened Cheerios, but for now we are doing okay.

Again, I am no Martha Stewart or Pioneer Woman in the kitchen, but if you’ve moved to China and you’re wondering what other people cook, I am happy to share our family’s meal plan from the last few weeks.

- yogurt with granola (from Metro)
- tortillas with eggs, cheese and bacon (**)
- homemade bread (bread maker from Metro, put everything in the night before-as long as the recipe doesn’t include an egg, use the delay start and wake up to fresh bread)
- cereal (Metro has some cereal, otherwise we ration out what we bring back from the US)
- muffins/coffee cake/baked yummies
- bread machine cinnamon rolls (Thank you Julie for introducing these to me!
- smoothies
- homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy (
- slow cooker applesauce (I put several peeled & diced apples in the crockpot, pour in some water, add a little cinnamon and let it cook all night.  We all wake up to fresh, warm applesauce in the morning!)

Mmm, pumpkin soup!
- pumpkin soup (ChinaBean and I love homemade pumpkin soup.  Thanks to my friend Sarah for the recommendation of putting cream cheese in your soup!  I roast the pumpkin first, add chicken broth, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, cream cheese and then puree everything.)
- veggie and ground beef soup with homemade noodles (the people of Xi’an eat noodles and it is very easy to find fresh & inexpensive noodles)

- meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes
- BBQ pork sandwiches (throw pork and BBQ sauce in a slow cooker and let it cook all day)
- Italian Beef sandwiches
- pasta bake with ground sausage (I make my own ground sausage,
- handmade pizzas (use Pioneer Woman’s pizza dough recipe,
- mac ’n cheese with bacon
- poppy seed chicken casserole ( (I found crackers very similar to Ritz crackers in a Korean store outside our apartment building.)
- chicken shawarmas & hummus (you can make your own hummus really easily and buy white sesame seeds at the market to make your own tahini sauce) (
- pasta & ground pork meatballs
- Italian chicken and rice (I make my own cream of chicken soup for this,
- baked potatoes
- breakfast for dinner (pancakes/waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs, etc.)
- tuna noodle casserole (This is a bit of a joke at our house.  Jamie hates canned tuna, so I usually only make it when he is traveling or has a business dinner. It’s become a tradition now.)
- beef stew with mashed potatoes
- Hawaiian toasted cheese sandwiches (
chicken pot pie (sorry, have to make your own pie crust here, no pre-made)
cheesy chicken, bacon, ranch pasta (

That’s pretty much what I have made so far since we’ve moved to Xi’an.  Of course, every meal is paired with one or two vegetables.  Most of the fruits and vegetables that we buy are fresh and I shop for them every few days.  We will have other family favorites that I cook in the coming months.

You will notice that many of the recipes call for cheese, sour cream and cream cheese.  Every family has their splurges and dairy products is one of ours.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are so inexpensive here that we choose to spend some of our grocery budget on delicious dairy.

Some of the websites or apps that I use for meal planning are:
- Market 2 Meal (this website is written by a woman who lives in China,
- Pioneer Woman (
- Pinterest (I use the app and you can search for me.  Just look for kbmac1.)
- All Recipes (I use the app)

At this time I try to save (or pin) recipes of things that I know I can find in China.  Why frustrate myself with delicious-sounding meals that I can’t make here?

As encouragement to anyone who has moved to China and now feels like they are a pioneer living in the olden days, here are few of the things that I have learned to make from scratch.  If I can do it, you can too!
I found sesame seeds and pinto beans here.

- yogurt (got my yogurt maker from Metro)
- freezer jam
- ricotta cheese
- sour cream
- hummus
- tahini sauce
- grenadine
- breads & biscuits
- granola bars
- cream of chicken soup
- ground sausage
- enchilada sauce
- homemade Magic Shell (for ice cream)
- refried beans (you can find pinto beans at the market)

**There is a tortilla lady in Xi’an!  She makes several kinds of homemade tortillas, whole wheat buns, coffee cake, banana bread, pitas, bagels, muffins, etc.  If you place a larger order she, or her husband, will deliver to your home.  We have really enjoyed this! Send me a message if you would like her contact information.

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