Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do I have lettuce in my hair?

I am recovering from a bit of a gluttonous weekend filled with food and drink paid for by my department.  It was recruitment weekend and the building was filled with eager soon-to-be graduate students.  The air reeked of naiveté.  Many beers on Friday night, followed (all too quickly) by a lavish brunch on Saturday helped me recover.  And then I spent Sunday recovering from the recovering.  It really is a rough life I lead.

Saturday we took the recruits into the California Academy of the Sciences in Golden Gate Park, which is always lovely.
Today I woke up starving for vegetables.  That is, of course, until my body started yelling for bibimbap around 10:30 am... which was a desire I promptly succumbed to.  When dinner rolled around... after my nap (my gosh, she is lazy)... I couldn't stand the thought of eating anything but raw, unadulterated vegetables.  I threw together this salad of sorts with a bunch of fresh produce I purchased a few days ago, and it really didn't need much of anything else because all of the different vegetables (and fruits) gave this pairing everything it needed.  A friend of mine over at A Kitchen Endeavor has posted a few things recently using mangos in salads, so I knew that that was going to be the destiny of the mangos in my fridge, and boy am I glad I did it.

The other star here is the sweet potato that I cooked with some taco seasoning (by the way, if I could only have one spice mix... it would be this one).  It had some zip from the radish and garlic and was mellowed nicely by the creamy avocado.  This salad was beyond delicious and SO healthy.

Classy Mexican Salad
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and finely diced
  • olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1 bunch radishes, greens removed and diced
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • mixed greens, whatever kind you prefer

  1. Heat up the olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan.
  2. Add the sweet potato and taco seasoning.
  3. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the corn kernels and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the sweet potato is soft and slightly browned.
  5. In the meantime, combine the radishes, mango, avocado, and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, and a dash of salt and pepper.
  6. Plate the fresh mixed greens, followed by a generous helping of the warm sweet potato, and top it off with the mango/avocado/radish mixture.
  7. Enjoy!

 This was the perfect meal to have while watching the Bachelor and unwinding from a busy weekend :-).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fat Tuesday

There was a period of time in my life when every Tuesday was a fat Tuesday.  This was my fat phase.  But with some encouragement, I was able to get my weight under control with some daily practices that I still adhere to.  And I adhere to it on my own schedule and I choose when these daily practices are going to happen.  Control is key.

To celebrate Fat Tuesday, I thought I would put my twist on a Southern classic: Shrimp and Grits.  My version of it was more of a "Cajun Chick Peas and Polenta."  I am exiting an exam week plus a long weekend that I was out of town for, meaning my pantry and refrigerator are pretty bare right now, so this ended up being the perfect dish to both utilize the pantry staples that I have and use up the last of the fresh ingredients before heading to the grocery store tonight.  Not to mention it helped me put off studying for a bit longer, which is always a plus in my book.

It made for a killer dinner last night, and an even more killer lunch today, which I enjoyed outside in a tank top because it is in the 70s in Berkeley today.
Ok, this picture doesn't actually portray my lunch,  I am just showing off how I enjoyed the gorgeous weather today.  Ya, I have some tan lines.
If I had a more fully stocked fridge, I probably would have added more veggies to this dish, and most certainly would have served it with a side of braised collard greens or kale.  So that is something I highly encourage you do!  But this dish was hard hitting on every note: the acid from the tomatoes, the salt and flavor from the spice mix, the heartiness from the chick peas, and the fat from the cheesy polenta.  I have no idea if it is even close to traditional shrimp and grits, for I have never had it... all I know is that it was delicious and definitely something I will be making again, and something I think you should be making too!  

Cajun Chick Peas and Grits

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk (mine was vanilla flavored, which I think added to the flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable stock concentrate
  • 1 cup corn grits/polenta (not the instant kind)
  • olive oil
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon italian blend
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 cup diced tomato (I chopped up an assortment of small heirloom tomatoes)
  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano cheese

  1. Bring the water, almond milk, and vegetable stock concentrate to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Slowly whisk in the grits and make sure they are evenly dispersed in the liquid.
  3. Turn down to a simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.
  4. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the green onions, garlic, and spices and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes and chick peas.
  7. Keep the heat at medium-high to let the juices from the tomatoes reduce.
  8. Turn down to a simmer and let all of it stew together until the grits are done (mmm, stew... my new favorite :-)).
  9. Once the grits are done, stir in the cheese until it is all creamy.
  10. Plate a healthy amount of the grits, and spoon the cajun chick peas over it.
  11. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Classed up eggplant parm... because I am fancy like that.

It has lovingly been brought to my attention recently that I am "fancy."  They followed up by saying that once you get to know me, i'm also kind of a dork?  I don't remember the exact words of their back-handed compliment.  I would be offended, but the truth is... I am a little fancy.  I like wearing pearls and I would much prefer to fly in first class.  I don't really do prepared meals, as I much prefer to make everything from scratch and packed with organic vegetables.  But, I also prefer fake maple syrup to the real stuff (gasp!  Isn't she from New England?!), love barbeque sauce (not the good stuff, either), and have been doing this weird snorting thing when I laugh sometimes lately.  Oh, and I also fell (by fell, I mean wiped out in the middle of a busy intersection) and skinned my knee recently.  Who does that?!  I'm sure those close to me could add lots of qualities to both of those lists.  In the end, I think it makes me a pretty interesting person (and this was actually confirmed by an anonymous survey recently).  But, a little dollop of fancy here and there really isn't that much work.  And this recipe is a testament to the fact that being a little fancy doesn't really take that much more effort.  

These eggplant stackers come together quickly, and the recipe allows for multiplexing (spoken like a true scientist) so you can prepare, assemble, and bake all at the same time!  Just like I introduced you to chili's more sophisticated older sister, this is eggplant parmigiano's fancy cousin.  The textures coordinate nicely (like a strand of pearls and some black stilettos) and there is a palate pleasing balance of baked gooey goodness and fresh bite.  The fried eggplant slices are surrounded by a lush pillow of cheese and it is all accessorized by a fresh and zesty tomato sauce.  I served mine with garlic sautéed swiss chard.  And most importantly, start to finish I walked into the kitchen to start dinner and then out of the dining room satiated in about 1 hour.  Ironically enough, I had to rush out the door so I could go and take that tumble I was just talking about... So while I recommend you make this, I don't recommend taking a fall for dessert!  

Eggplant Stackers
Recipe adapted from Meatless Monday at Recipe.com 

  • 1 eggplant
  • 1/2 cup all-purpous flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 vegetable oil
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
  • 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice the eggplant into pieces about 1/4" thick.
  3. Lay out the slices, sprinkle on some salt, and set aside for about 10 minutes.
  4. Rinse the eggplant slices and thoroughly pat dry.
  5. Mix together the flour, salt, and pepper and dredge the eggplant in this mix.
  6. Heat up the oil in a medium non-stick skillet over high heat.
  7. Fry the eggplant in batches of 3-4 for about 2 minutes per side. 
  8. Drain on paper towel.
  9. While the eggplant is frying, mix together the ricotta with the italian seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. 
  10. To assemble the stackers, start with an eggplant slice and smooth on about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta.  Continue with this alternating until you have 4 eggplant slices, with 3 layers of cheese in between. 
    • I was assembling the stackers as the eggplant was coming out of the oil.
    • This will make about 3 stacks.
  11. Sprinkle each stack with bread crumbs and place in the oven for 10 minutes.  
  12. While the stacks are in the oven, mix together the remainder of the ingredients for the tomato sauce. 
  13. Transfer eggplant stackers to plates, cover with tomato sauce, and enjoy!

The originally recipe called for adding cheddar cheese to the ricotta, which I didn't do because I didn't want it to get too greasy.  In retrospect, the cheddar cheese would have been a delicious and welcomed addition.  The other change I would make would be to coat the eggplant slices in bread crumbs before frying as opposed to sprinkling them on top at the end.  I hope this recipe has shown that you can put forward seemingly gourmet meals in only minutes without having to sacrifice on quality!  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spicy kimchi stew

As I was typing that title, I couldn't help but think, "wow, those are three words I never thought I would be putting together, much less have it be to describe a dish that has become one of my favorites."  I have never had much of a spice tolerance, I never thought I liked kimchi (mainly because most traditional versions contain fish), and as you heard from my last post, I was never a soup or stew fan.  Well, turns out when you put them all together... some strange nirvana is reached.  I suppose the philosophical lesson here is that if you have some fears, just face them all at once!  So it looks like sky diving into a vat of spiders while being robbed will be my next post... 

Anyways, I digress.  

I tend to get cravings a lot, but I had no idea what my cravings were capable of until I had kimchi stew.  There is a vegetarian friendly korean restaurant in Berkeley that has become my favorite restaurant, and it was there that I was introduced to kimchi stew.  It is filled with spice and crunch and umami and it is served bubbling hot.  I tried a traditional kimchi stew recipe a few weeks ago, and while it was good, it just didn't do the trick.  And then I stumbled across this recipe.  I swear there were angels singing as the kimchi bubbled away in that thick spicy stewy goodness.
Now, I do have one confession about this recipe.  It calls for Korean rice cakes (tteok)... but after 3 laps of Berkeley Bowl, there were just no tteok in site.  But, I did find some frozen Japanese rice cakes (mochi).  I am very familiar with mochi, so I knew it wouldn't be exactly the same... but the idea behind them is similar: They are both pounded glutinous rice.  Anyways, I went with it... and the mochi ended up just sort of dissolving in the stew.  Oops?  It's ok though, because I think it helped the consistency of this and made it really stewy.    

Spicy Kimchi Stew
Adapted from Herbivoracious.com
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons kochujang
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1" piece ginger (grated)
  • 16 oz kimchi
  • 1/2 lb rice cakes
  • 1 asian eggplant (cut into bite size pieces)
  • 1/2 pound shiiitake mushroom (stems removed)
  • 8 ounces extra firm tofu (cut into bite size pieces)
  • 3 green onions (sliced)

  1. Bring water to a simmer in large nonstick skillet.
  2. Add kochujang, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger and stir.
  3. Add the rice cakes and kim chi, stir, and bring back to simmer.
  4. After 5 minutes, add the eggplant, shiitakes, and tofu.
  5. Continue cooking, with occasional stirring, for 20 minutes.
  6. Serve with green onions as garnish.
  7. Enjoy with some brown rice!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Soup is delicious.

Growing up, I was never one for soups.  I didn't really see the point in them.  Why would I want to have to chase and capture my veggies through some liquid medium?  I much prefer them sitting merrily on my plate, looking up at me with their healthful smiles (she knows vegetables don't smile, right?).  Not looking like a character out of The Ring... drowning in a bowl in front of me.  But, the older I get... I find myself craving soups.  And turns out... soup is delicious!  They are so flexible, and can be so flavorful and nutrient packed... not too mention they are easy.  Plus, now I can make/write about soup instead of studying for my impending Chemical Biology Exam.  Solid phase peptide synthesis and bioorthogonal chemistry just don't compare to this Italian Wedding Soup.  Ok, I admit... I kind of like those other things, too... but this soup came out better than my current studying is, so that is what I am going to share with you today (try not to be too disappointed).

This is yet another mom-inspired dinner.  She made this for her and my father last week, spoke highly of it, and I have been craving it since.  Note, I had never actually had Italian Wedding Soup before, since it traditionally has meat in it.  But, I have this weird "gift" of craving things I have never eaten before.  I think the worst was when I was cleaning out my boyfriend's microwave after his roommate had a lasagna incident in it... and then I craved lasagna for weeks.  Who craves something after cleaning old, caked on pieces of it out of a microwave?  Anyways, this soup is wonderfully simple and even more wonderfully delicious.  I upped the health factor with some kale and barley, over the traditional pasta and escarole, and it really works!  No longer are my veggies drowning, but rather they are basking in a Parmigiano swimming pool!

Italian Wedding Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 piece Parmigiano rind (I studied abroad in Parma and am a bit of a Parmigiano-Reggiano snob.  This ingredient is really critical for this dish.  Look for the real "DOP" (Denominazione di origine protetta) stuff at whole foods or Berkeley Bowl.)
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 2 ribs celery (Chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic (Minced)
  • 1/2 cup barley (rinsed)
  • 1 bunch kale (chopped)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 package veggie meatballs (look in the frozen section of your health food store)

  1. Add the broth and Parmigiano rind in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat and bring to a simmer.
  2. Add the barley to the broth and cover.
  3. Cook for about 30 minutes.
    • There are going to be some seriously wonderful smells in your kitchen at this point in time.
  4. Add olive oil to sauce pan over medium heat and add onion, celery, fennel seeds, salt and pepper.
  5. Cook until the veggies soften, about 4 minutes.
  6. Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 40 seconds.
  7. Transfer mixture into the Dutch oven with the broth.
  8. Bring broth to a simmer over medium heat.
  9. Cook for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the barley is cooked.
  10. Add the kale and veggie balls and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  11. Enjoy! 

This soup is so flavorful, I just can't get enough of it!  The earthiness of the kale and barley, plus the saltiness from the Parmigiano and the sweetness from the fennel seeds.  The veggie meatballs give it a nice heartiness so you leave your meal completely full and satisfied.  You are going to want to make large batches of this... since I promise you will crave it for days after.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My signature dish for a special lady

A few weeks ago my dad decided to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday by flying me home for the weekend.  I went through this whole charade of telling her what plans I had in San Francisco that weekend, and even threw a little fit about how sad I was that I wasn't going to be home for this milestone birthday.  That morning, the boy picked me up from my 3 hour delayed red eye flight, gave me a warm bed to take a power nap in, and then fixed me breakfast while I showered.  I called my mom post-shower and was all, "Yawnnnn, I just woke up.  The weather looks a little yucky out today (which is was, it was snowing in Boston), so maybe we won't go to Napa."  Then she shared that she had to go to the grocery store... so I said, with a smirk, "Oh, I have to go, too (to get ingredients for the homemade pizza I wanted to make her that night, as it is one of her favorites)... maybe we can go together (little did she know)!"  And we shared a laugh over that.  Now, to prove how linked our brains are, during that chat, she said, "Oh, I am really craving pizza, so I think I am going to get ingredients for that.  It won't be as good as yours, but it will have to do."  I was teeming with excitement!  Another sneaky thing I did was that that morning I texted her saying I had sent her a package, and UPS tracking said it was out for delivery.  So I arrived home, and when I rang the doorbell, apparently my mom went, "Oh, I wonder if that is my package!"  She was SO SURPRISED.  We hugged and laughed and it was wonderful!  I then spent an hour telling her all the lies I had told her the previous week (while grocery shopping and pizza making, of course).  Similarly, we let her know that we were doing a family birthday brunch the following morning at our house, and that I was making eggs benedict and bottomless mimosas.
My wonderful mama, niece, and I on Christmas <3
Eggs benedict was one of those dishes that, a few years ago, I decided I wanted to master.  And I guess the proof is in the pudding (but I thought she was making eggs benedict?  There is pudding involved?  That's weird.), as it is my most highly requested dish.  While I have had some awesome versions in restaurants, I have had some pretty lackluster ones as well.  The recipe is SO SIMPLE and it doesn't take much to make it delicious.  Since this was a special birthday brunch, I went all out.  We are talking homemade english muffins here.  This is something that the boy and I had played around with making a few times before, with a decent amount of success.  But this time I pulled out all the stops to make sure they were perfect.  Homemade english muffins, topped with a perfectly poached egg, spinach and drizzled with fresh hollandaise?  Yes, please!  I will have some right now.

Eggs Benedict
English Muffins
Adapted from Alton Brown
  • 1/2 cup non-fat powdered milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Corn meal
  • Non-stick vegetable spray
  • Special equipment: *3-inch metal rings* and electric griddle is helpful

  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • salt and pepper

Poached eggs
  • Eggs (however many you want to serve)
  • Dash of white vinegar

To make the english muffins:
  1. Dissolve the powdered milk, sugar, salt, and butter in 1/2 hot water, and then cool down with 1/2 cold water. 
    • Alternatively, you can use 1 cup hot water, and then wait for it to cool down... but I am impatient.
  2. Combine yeast, sugar, and warm water in a separate bowl and set aside until yeast has dissolved. 
  3. Add the yeast to the milk mixture.
  4. Add the flour and beat thoroughly.  
    • You are going to have a very goopy mixture at this point in time (should she really be using the word goopy to describe something she is trying to make sound appealing?).
  5. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat electric griddle to 300 degrees, spray metal rings, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and baking powder and beat thoroughly.
  8. Place greased metal rings on griddle.
  9. Sprinkle cornmeal on griddle in rings.
  10. Place roughly 2 #20 ice cream scoops of batter into rings.
    • Leave it to Alton Brown to give a measurement like this.  While i'm not sure of the exact volume, it looked like maybe 4-6 tablespoons.
  11. Cover with baking sheet and cook for about 6 minutes.
  12. Remove the lid and flip rings using tongs.
    • This is very important, we don't need any burns here.
  13. Re-cover and cook for an additional 6 minutes.
  14. Put finished english muffins in the oven for about 8 minutes to make sure the insides are nice and cooked.
  15. Allow to rest and cool before serving. 
  16. To fork split, go around the sides of the muffin with the tines of a fork, and then pull apart.
    • I highly recommend delegating this task to a handsome man, I think it made my muffins taste better :-).

To make the hollandaise:
  1. Whisk together egg yolks, water, and lemon juice in small sauce pot.
  2. Put over low heat on the stove and whisk constantly.
  3. Add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time and continue whisking.
  4. Whisk over low heat until the sauce has the consistency of a thin mayonnaise. 
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
To poach the eggs:
  1. Spray the bottom of a skillet with non-stick spray.
  2. Fill with about 2 inches of water and add vinegar.
  3. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a calm simmer.
  4. Crack eggs into individual little bowls first.
  5. Bring the lip of the dish into the water and carefully slide each egg into the water.
  6. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes.
  7. Remove eggs carefully with slotted spoon.
*Note: These can be made ahead of time.  As I did on this day.  Just cook them as usual and then transfer immediately to cold water.  At service, plop (again with the unattractive food lingo) them into some simmering water for about 30-45 seconds to reheat.*

Final assembly:
  1. Toast the english muffins.
  2. Top each muffin half with poached egg.
  3. Drizzle with hollandaise.
  4. Watch as guests ooh and ahh.
  5. Enjoy!
Perfect brunch dish.  Roasted potato and tomato recipe to follow.
The whole flight home, I was planning my set up for taking a picture of this dish.  And I gave myself many pep talks about how I was putting so much effort into this, I better take the time to set up a nice photo.  Well, come noon on Sunday with a dining room filled with family and empty stomaches, this was the only photo I snatched before gobbling it up.  Yes, I know my food photography needs improvement.  Or is it my will power.... hmmm.

Please don't be intimidated by the length of this process!  It isn't nearly as complex as it looks and it has a great pay off.  Also, have fun with it!  Some variations I have done are as follows:
  • Replaced the english muffin with naan and drizzled coriander chutney over the hollandaise.
  • California style with avocado and tomato.
  • Added spinach (which I did this day).
  • In a restaurant I recently had it with fried green tomatoes, which was phenomenal. 
Another delayed flight and a few hours later, I found myself back in my house in Berkeley.  I still had hollandaise sauce at the corners of my mouth and my Boston bed was still warm.  It was an absolutely wonderful, albeit whirlwind, weekend home!