Sunday, April 27, 2014

Stella Says .....

We are very excited to welcome Stella Chan Marinaro to the STARAfood family. Many of you already know Stella as she is one busy Tai Tai.  Between her popular spin classes, her career keeping all of us healthy at International SOS, or at a bar or restaurant she shares our philosophy of healthy eating and living.  She will be a contributor to our blog, classes and recipes - starting with our May 14 Spring Fling class.  A few places are still available so rsvp early to save your seat.  Read on to learn why we like her so much!

Hi Everyone,

I few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Stacey and Sara at a Champagne and Caviar Club luncheon. I had heard about their very popular cooking classes in Shunyi, and enjoyed discussing with them their approach to food, cooking, and living in Beijing. We soon realized that we have many similar passions -- good food, wine, and travel. We also share similar goals -- eating healthy, quality family time, the importance of surrounding ourselves with good friends, and always making time to have fun. I applaud what they are doing, and I am delighted to join STARAfood as an occasional contributor on nutrition related topics.

What do I do in Beijing?

I am a busy Nutritionist & Exercise Physiologist, Spinlates instructor (Spinning and Pilates), mother, wife, runner, health advocate, and volunteer. Achieving Balance is my vision, my dream, and my goal for everyone.

As the nutritionist at International SOS, I teach people how to make healthier choices, create customized meal plans for healthy weight loss, and provide people with balanced diets to prevent, reduce or reverse disease progression. I also work with preteens and teens promoting greater self-esteem, healthy body image, and the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, through workshops, seminars, individual, and group counseling.

As the nutritionist at Culinary Capers Beijing, my role is to ensure that well-balanced school lunch and snacks are provided to the students at the schools we serve, so that they receive the proper nutrients and energy required for optimal learning and good health. I am the editor of their newsletter, and promote healthy eating through articles, seminars, and nutrition lessons to students.

With a background in exercise physiology, I am also a sports nutritionist, working with athletes and exercise enthusiasts to help them properly fuel their bodies during training and endurance events. At the Human in Motion Fitness Center in Cathay View Plaza, Shunyi, I offer unique, challenging, and fun spin and Pilates classes for all fitness levels, provide personalized meal plans for those seeking to trim down and build more muscle, and give nutrition seminars to endurance runners training for the Great Wall Marathon.

On May 14, Stacey and Sara have invited me to their Spring Fling – Light and Healthy Everyday Meals cooking class. I am looking forward to the class, and to meeting some you there.

If you have any questions for me about what I do, please feel free to contact me.


Eat. Exercise. Enjoy!

Stella Chan Marinaro
M.S. B.Ed, B.Sc

Nutritionist & Exercise Physiologist


Mobile: 18601274767

MS (APN), Master of Science in Applied Physiology and Nutrition, Columbia University, New York City, U.S., 2012.
B.Ed, Bachelor of Education, Teacher Certification, Elementary Education, K-6,
Teachers College, York University, Toronto, Canada.
B.Sc, Bachelor of Science, Psychology, University of Toronto,
Toronto, Canada.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

HongQiao's Red Door - Another New Discovery!!

We almost left!

First an update on the Hongqiao situation; the restaurant we were talking about earlier in the post “Not a brown door in sight” has made some changes. The fried chicken with cumin that we raved about has been taken off the menu. After much deliberation and discussions with the waitress, she managed to dig out an old menu and finally understood what we wanted to order. Sadly though, it was not the same. Though the flavor was good, the chicken pieces were not boneless and there was simply too much work eating it. There is hope though; you can still ask for it but do remember to ask for the chicken to be without “gu” – bone.

When we went to Hongqiao for a second time in a week we felt like trying something new and went to a small eatery right next to the cumin chicken place; a restaurant with a red door (there seems to be a thing about colorful doors in the Hongqiao area). This place was void of foreigners, understandably so since the menu was all in Chinese and no pictures except for a few selected photographs on the wall (their most popular dishes we were told later).  We had heard good things about it so decided to venture inside.

The first waitress to help us was one of those who are so intimidated by the idea of not being understood that she didn’t even try. Nothing worked. Pointing, grunting – nothing. At this point we got up to leave, frustrated and hungry.

Luckily an observant server saw the dilemma and came up to our table, sincerely wanting to help. With his limited English and our limited Chinese, and the kind patience of the table next to us who seemed to enjoy their dishes, we managed to order our meal. At this point we realized that it was a dumpling restaurant.  How, we don’t know.  There were none of the typical paraphernalia around and patrons were not exclusively eating dumplings so even though dumplings are a specialty, they are not the only ones we presumed.

However, a dumpling restaurant’s dumplings deserve to be sampled so we choose one plate with mushroom filling and another with pork and vegetable filling.  And they were good. The meaty mushrooms were especially delish with just the right amount of filling in thin skins, steamed to perfection.  We also tried a cold lotus root dish in lemon sauce. It was surprisingly sweet but crisp and refreshing.  We had to have our favorite cold, vinegry, wilted spinach with peanuts, which is always good, and a huge plate of cold tofu cubes with coriander and century eggs.  The tofu could have been seasoned more but once we poured on some la jiao and vinegar, the dish improved substantially.

The best part is yet to come though – the bathrooms were clean, fresh smelling and had paper!  What a novelty!

When we were ready to leave we tried to strike up a conversation with the smiling server and offer him some friendly advice. Considering the restaurant is located in an area loaded with foreigners starved after shopping and in dire need of a clean restroom, they should at least offer a picture menu! We don’t know if the information got through but one can hope!

So, next time when out shopping in the area, try the Red Door or as it is also called - The West East Dumpling Restaurant.

You may notice a lack of pictures in this post.  We apologize and will add them the next time we are in the area – or send us yours!  We were so busy ordering and stuffing ourselves with dumplings that we simply forgot. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Cooking Oils You Should Be Using, And When To Use Them

We are often asked about why a recipe specifies olive oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil, butter or some combination.  These days, even specialty oils like walnut, avocado and pumpkin seed (they are soooo good by the way!) find their way into recipes or on the table - ready to drizzle on a salad or to use for freshly baked bread.  But what makes them special and exactly how should they be used? Here are the answers from one of our favorite websites.  We hope it clears things up!

The Cooking Oils You Should Be Using, And When To Use Them
Reprinted from The Huffington Post

As anyone who follows food news knows, butter is back (and it's not, thankfully, due to Paula Deen's reemergence on the culinary scene). Americans are eating more butter now than they have in the past 40 years. Margarine is out and butter is in. But that's not the whole story. What's really in cooking oil?

In 2010, while Americans consumed 4.9 pounds of butter a year per capita, they consumed 53.6 pounds of cooking oil. From commonly used oils like canola and olive to others like avocado and hempseed oil, there are a ton of oils out there to use for culinary purposes. With so many kinds of oils, choosing the right one for cooking can be daunting.

Health benefits aside, the key factors you need to consider are heating temperature and flavor. Oils break down at a certain temperature, which is known as their smoke point. The smoke point for oils is always a rough estimate, because the breakdown happens gradually and not at a precise moment, and also because smoke points depend on how refined the oil is. Regular olive oil is more refined than extra virgin olive oil, and there might be varying degrees of refinement for various peanut oils, for example.

Unrefined oils have lower smoke points than refined oils, which make them good for salad dressings. They also tend to have a stronger flavor. Refined oils have higher smoke points and typically a more neutral flavor, which makes them better for sautéing, frying or even deep-frying. That might all sound confusing, but we're about to break it down for you. Here are 11 common cooking oils, and how to choose the right one for your recipes. Smoke points are estimates based on What's Cooking America's numbers.

Olive Oil

What it is:  Olive oil comes from pressing whole olives. While it's used all over the world, it is the primary cooking oil used in the Mediterranean. It is high inmonounsaturated fatty acids.

Smoke point:  Smoke points vary depending on the type of olive oil: Extra Virgin is 320°F/160°C, Virgin is 420°F/215°C, Pomace is 460°F/238°C, Extra Light is 468°F/242°C

What it's good for:  Extra virgin olive oil has the richest flavor because it is made without any heat or chemicals, which makes it good for salad dressings and drizzling. Refined olive oil is good for sautéing.

What it's bad for:  Frying and deep-frying

Canola Oil

What it is:  
Canola oil is made from the seeds of the canola plant. It is low in saturated fat, with only seven percent saturated fat -- compared to sunflower oil, which has 12 percent, and olive oil, which 15 percent saturated fat. It has a neutral flavor, high smoke point and is also relatively inexpensive.

Smoke point: 400°F/204°C

What it's good for:  All-purpose, good for cooking and dressings

What it's bad for:  Drizzling where flavor is required

Vegetable Oil

What it is:  Vegetable oil refers to any plant-based oil, which may include any or a combination of the following: soybean, sunflower or safflower oil. Most vegetable oils have a high smoke point and neutral flavor, which make them great for baking.

Smoke point: Depends on the type (See Canola, Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower...)

What it's good for: All-purpose, good for cooking and dressings

What it's bad for: Drizzling where flavor is required

Peanut Oil

What it is: Peanut oil has a mild flavor and high smoke point, which makes it great for deep-frying and a range of other cooking. It's made from pressed steam-cooked peanuts and is popular in Asian cooking.

Smoke point:  450°F/232°C

What it's good for: Deep-frying, pan-frying, roasting and grilling

What it's bad for: Baking or anything that requires a neutral flavor

Grapeseed Oil

What it is:  Grapeseed oil is versatile -- it has a fairly neutral flavor and medium-high smoke point. It can be used in salad dressings, but also works for sautéing and baking. And it's a by-product of wine-making

Smoke point: 392°F/200°C

What it's good for:  Sautéing, frying and salad dressings

What it's bad for:  Deep frying
Sunflower Oil

What it is:  Sunflower oil's high smoke point and light flavor make it a favorite for frying, but it is also a good oil for baking. It is made from pressed sunflower seeds, is high in vitamin E and low in saturated fat.

Smoke point: 450°F/232°C

What it's good for:  Frying, margarine, salad dressings, baking

What it's bad for: Drizzling or low-heat cooking

Safflower Oil

What it is:  Safflower oil has a neutral flavor and the refined kind has a very high smoke point, which makes it great for searing and deep frying. It comes from the seeds of a safflower plant, which is related to the sunflower.

Smoke point: 450°F/232°C

What it's good for: Deep-frying, searing, stir-frying, margarine, mayonnaise
What it's bad for: Drizzling or low-heat cooking

Coconut Oil

What it is:  Coconut oil is having a moment right now -- it's the darling of vegan cooks, who often use it as a replacement for butter in baking. It's turning up in vegan recipes and products all over the place. Extracted from the meat or kernel of a coconut, the oil has a distinct, sweet flavor -- the natural sweetness makes it good for baking sweet treats and also for certain sautéed dishes. It is is high in saturated fat -- specifically a kind called lauric acid which some consider a healthier fat.

Smoke point: 350°F/177°C

What it's good for: Baking, frostings, sautéing

What it's bad for: Deep-frying, dressings

Sesame Oil

What it is: Sesame oil has a very distinct flavor and is popular in Asian cooking. Light sesame oil has different uses than dark sesame oil.

Smoke point: 410°F/210°C

What it's good for: Light is good for deep-frying and dark sesame oil is better for stir-frying and dipping sauces

What it's bad for: Baking

Corn Oil

What it is: Corn oil is made from corn kernels and its high smoke point makes it good for frying. It's a favorite of fast food chains -- almost 70 percent of fast food restaurants make French fries with corn oil. It's also used to make margarine. The oil is high in saturated fats and low in so-called good fats, which is why it's often considered one of the unhealthiest oils.

Smoke point: 450°F/232°C

What it's good for:  Deep-frying and also margarine

What it's bad for: Drizzling and low heat cooking

Soybean Oil 

What it is: Soybean oil has a stronger flavor and aroma and is commonly used in processed foods. In 2007, NPR reported that almost 80 percent of oil used for cooking and baking in the U.S. came from soybeans. Because it has a short shelf-life, soybean oil often gets treated with hydrogen gas, which creates trans fats. In 2005 we were consuming 15.5 billion pounds in 2005 and about half of that was partly hydrogenated, the New York Times reports. With the government's ban on trans fat, that statistic should soon change. In 2012, the use of edible soybean fell to 12.3 billion pounds.

Smoke Point:  450°F/232°C

What it's good for:  Processed foods, margarine, salad dressings

What it's bad for: Drizzling