All great meals start with great inspiration, no? This story begins back in March, when I was on Spring Break in Florida visiting my family. You all may remember my uncle, the creative force behind this incredible Lobster Cream Sauce and his famous jambalaya. We were sitting at dinner one night when he began describing an idea he had seen for a homemade smoker, knowing full well that he would never undertake the making of such a contraption. He described terra-cotta pots and a re-rigged hot plate, and immediately my boyfriend’s attention was captured. It took a few months of research and equipment procurement, but we finally set out to build our smoker on one of the first sunny Boston Saturdays.
Now, I cannot give you the steps to building this big guy, as my boyfriend was the true mastermind. I know generally that it took two unglazed terra-cotta pots so big that you could probably fit me inside one of them, one for the base and one for the lid. We also used a small round grill with charcoal as a heat source instead of messing with the electric source of a hot plate. On top of the charcoal went a tin pan of wood chips soaked in water. We stacked the whole thing on some found bricks in my parking lot to allow for some air circulation. There you have it, the bare bones recollection of our construction project.
What I can more fully detail, however, is the spice rub and the sides. While there are many great pre-mixed beef rubs on the market, we decided to make our own. I mean, if we made our own smoker, might as well make it homemade all the way, right? Pre-made mixes also usually contain a lot of salt, so making your own allows you to control the sodium levels as well as the flavor. We followed this Big Bad Beef Rub recipe, adding a little extra cayenne because we both like the kick. We rubbed that all over our 6 lb brisket and let it sit for about a half hour. Once we got the smoker to the right temperature, we put the meat on, closed the lid and prayed. (We were hungry and a little nervous that our experiment would fail!) We waited, checked the smoker, added some water to the wood chips, and waited some more. The total cooking process took 10 hours, so we did a lot of waiting! To pass the time, we cooked up some delicious southern sides: Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar corn bread and my favorite Beer Braised Collard Greens.
We finally sat down to eat around 9pm. The results were well worth the wait! The beef was tender, the smokey flavor permeated each piece, and there was so much flavor and juiciness that nothing else was needed to enjoy the brisket. The cornbread was also great, with a more savory flavor profile than traditional cornbread. The collard greens were great as always!
Of course, we had days of leftovers. To keep meals interesting, we reheated some of the smoked brisket in some BBQ sauce and filled some Portugese rolls with it to make BBQ Beef Paninis. With some asparagus “fries” these were a delicious way to repurpose the leftovers!
The homemade smoker experiment was well worth the effort. It costs way less than buying a smoker ($200 vs. $700+) and is a lot of fun to experiment with the construction process. In the end, meat cooked low and slow is the way to go! Our future experiments include smoked pork ribs and smoked salmon. We look forward to continuing this new adventure!
Question: What else should we try on our new smoker?
Everywhere I look lately, there are tacos. Really fun and interesting looking tacos. Like these and these and these. I even made my own! I would venture a guess that tacos are one of the trendy foods this season, and I am loving it! Bright colored veggies packed with flavor on a warm corn tortilla is totally my idea of fun backyard summer food! More so, I love the ideas that are breaking tacos out of the box. These recipes are certainly more creative than my memories of family taco nights, and are sure to liven up your dinner table!
These tacos are a fusion of cooking influences in my life right now. My boyfriend, who is Korean, has been teaching me some basics about Korean cooking, and I have learned how to make some simpler traditional dishes like kimchi jjigae and ssam jang. Learning this new style of cooking, and having a fridge full of new-to-me condiments, has started to spark my creativity and put ideas in my head of how to combine our food heritages. Thus, after a weekend of Korean cooking and a brief glance through the most recent Cooking Light magazine my mom lent me, the idea for these tacos were born! Korean pulled pork, a simple ginger cucumber, and a great scallion slaw, and it worked! The meat is tender and flavorful, with rich and complex notes upfront and a slow spice that follows. The cucumbers and carrots are crisp and refreshing, and the scallions nicely finish off the taco.
Some notes on the recipe: First, you might be scratching your head about the pork. Isn’t she a vegetarian? Well, recently, I have slowly started to add meat back to my diet. (My decision was made mostly for personal health reasons that I won’t fully discuss here.) I am still eating vegetarian meals 80% of the week, but am making a conscious effort to make a meal that includes meat at least once a week. After 5-ish years of vegetarian cooking, this has required a little more planning and experimentation than I expected! Also, don’t be intimidated by the super long ingredient list that follows– most of it is for the meat marinade and is pantry-based. The only “specialty items” are the Hoisin sauce, which can be found in most major supermarkets, and the gochujang. That might be a little harder to find, unless you have an Asian food market in your area. It is essentially a red pepper paste that adds a slow, sweet spice to your meat. If you can’t find it or don’t love spice, replace it with ketchup. Lastly, make sure that you take the time to toast your tortillas! A warm corn tortilla is much more pliable and tastes better, really giving the finishing touch to this dish!
Question: How do you feel about the changes on my blog? Over the past two years, this blog has been an outlet to record and share what I have been making and the things that excite me. I realize that I have many vegan/vegetarian readers, but feel that it is important for me to share how I have been eating! Like I said, most of my meals will still be largely vegetarian, but I hope to reflect the new styles of cooking I am learning to incorporate as well. I hope you will continue as I adventure in cooking and healthy living!
Korean Pulled Pork Tacos with Sesame Ginger Cucumbers, Carrots and Scallions
12 corn tortillas
2 lb pork (shoulder, butt or loin all work well)
1-inch piece ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame seed oil
3 tbsp gochujang paste (or ketchup)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp honey
2 star of anise
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Set to low and cook for 7-8 hours. Pull meat apart using two forks to create pulled pork. Mix desired amount of residual sauce into meat.
cukes and carrots:
4 medium pickling cucumbers, julienned
3 carrots, julienned
2 clove garlic, minced
2-inch piece ginger, minced
4 tbsp rice vinegar
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame seed oil
Combine the matchstick-sized cucumbers and carrots with the marinade ingredients. Shake and then refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour.
2 bunch scallions (greens only), julienned
1.5 tbsp sesame seed oil
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1.5 tbsp red chili flakes
Cut the scallion greens into 2-inch chunks, then julienne into thin strips. Combine with remaining ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Warm a corn tortilla in a skillet or griddle. Layer cucumbers, carrots, scallions and pulled pork. Fold and enjoy warm!
46F was our high today. With sprinkly rain and gloomy clouds. On April 23. That is cold, friends! Winter has not seemed to get the memo: GO AWAY. The trees are blooming, the birds are singing, the clocks have changed, and my sweaters are looking worn and tired. I have a new spring dress that is begging to be worn. The weather is just not cooperating with me here! Where is SPRING?
The only thing that can make a dreary and cold day better is soup, and this one hit the spot! This soup was inspired by a recent trip to the Asian food market. I was excited to see inexpensive Kabocha squash, so picked one up along with a bag of baby Bok choy. As I paid for my purchases, the squash rang up as “Japanese pumpkin.” And the idea for what would become of the Kabocha squash was born: miso soup! The bok choy and the squash seemed to be natural soup add-ins, and the mushrooms were a last minute thought to add texture and more body. Tofu would also be a natural addition, but I did not have any on hand and do not always love how soggy it gets in leftover soup. I used a “minute miso” paste to create this soup, which made prep minimal. I have never worked with real miso paste, so am not quite sure what modifications that would add, but most bottles come with general instructions on how to create the basic miso broth! Overall, this soup comes together in 35-40 minutes, with most of the cook time added from the roasted squash.
Is your town’s weather uncooperative as well? Then give this soup a try!
Kabocha, Mushroom and Baby Bok Choy Miso Soup
Vegan, serves 4 as main course or 6-8 as starter
1 clove garlic, minced
8-oz package white button mushrooms, sliced
6 heads baby Bok choy, stems cut off with leaves roughly quartered and separated
1 kabocha squash, sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup miso paste
4 cups hot water
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame seed oil
Half the kabocha squash, and then cut into slices. Toss lightly with half of the sesame seed oil, then lightly salt and pepper to taste. Roast in a 400F oven for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, saute sliced mushrooms in garlic and remaining sesame seed oil. Add the soy sauce, then cook until half of the liquid is absorbed. Add the bok choy, then turn off heat.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a kettle. Measure out 1/4 cup miso paste and add to a large 4-cup measure. Add boiling water to bring the total volume to 4 cups. Stir, then pour over the vegetable mixture. Stir the greens until they are well wilted.
Once the kabocha squash is finished roasting, remove from oven and gently peel back the skin with a fork. Cut into chunks and add to soup. Bring soup back to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir and serve warm.
Several minutes after the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I got a phone call from a friend, “Did you hear anything about bombs at the Marathon?” I hadn’t, and immediately hopped on Google. Luckily, I was home studying and doing laundry, happy to have an unexpected day off from my clerkship. Soon after, texts and calls started pouring in from everyone I knew– “ARE YOU OK?” Finally, I put up the obligatory Facebook post letting everyone know I was safe. I heard from friends who were running and cheering, relieved to find out that everyone was physically unharmed.
The city that I have loved and grown to call home over the past 7 years has had one tough week. From the tragic bombings on Monday to the epic police chase that shut down the entire metropolitan area on Friday, I think we are all ready for a return to normalcy. I am particularly grateful that this is abnormal for my city, with places like Syria and the constant threat of suicide bombs on the forefront of my mind. My heart mourns for the families who lost loved ones and for those who were injured. However, this week cannot come to a close without a time of reflection. I remember the many years I spent cheering on runners- roommates, friends and strangers alike- from various spots along Beacon Street to behind the finish line as a volunteer. I am thankful for the spirit of the event that causes every spectator to catch the running bug, even if just for a day. I am thankful for the city that has taught me so much, and for the streets that have made me a runner. I am proud to call myself a Boston girl, and a runner.
With that being said, I cannot end this reflective post without sharing my current running struggles. After taking the winter off with a knee injury (and a lot of snow and ice), I am officially back in my sneakers and on some of my favorite routes. Except now every block is a challenge, every mile is an accomplishment. My pride is crushed when I see mile splits that are whole minutes slower than last fall. THIS IS HARD. It is like I am starting over, and I am struggling. However, I will not be defeated. I am signed up for a half-marathon with friends in May. Will I be ready? Maybe, maybe not. 4 miles today was a feat. But I will try. Whether I am running 1.4 or 4 or 14 miles, at least I am out there and I am trying. #runforboston
Question: What are your reflections on the past week’s events?
Man oh man is this stuff tasty. I have had a craving for some good, healthy granola ever since returning from Florida. I have had some early mornings lately and my breakfasts have been, well… sad. An afterthought. Something to hold me over until lunch. After a day off, I decided that I couldn’t continue to neglect my favorite meal for much longer! Since oatmeal takes too much time in the morning and hot breakfasts on increasingly warmer mornings are sounding less appealing, the thoughts of granola came to my mind.
Now I may have mentioned this in other posts before, but homemade granola simply cannot be beaten… once you get it right. It is harder than you’d think to get the wet to dry ratio to give you just enough crumbles and clusters! Too far one way and the granola is dry and lifeless, and too far the other and the result is tacky and hard to store! Once that problem is solved, the combinations of granola goodness become endless. Even better, you can control the amount of sugar you add so you can avoid the cloying sweetness that plaques many store-bought varieties. This batch of granola essentially served as a spring cleaning for my pantry, using up bits of bulk good items bought for other purposes and since forgotten. I will post how I made it below, and then write out what I think is a pretty good bare-bones builder for a make-your own granola!
Question: What are your favorite fruit & nut combos for granola?
Spring Cleaning Granola
based on a friend’s favorite granola recipe
(note: makes a very large batch, recipe can easily be halved)
6 cups oats
1/2 cup lightly salted sunflower seeds (if using unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the wet ingredients)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3 cups chopped peanuts
3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup mixed in and 1/4 cup reserved
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dried fruit (I used a combo of dried blueberries and chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds)
Mix together all wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Next, mix the wet into the dry ingredients until small clumps form. Spread evenly on a lightly-greased rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the granola, and bake for 15 more minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of maple syrup over the granola, stir, and bake for 5 final minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the tray. Once room temperature, stir in desired dried fruit.
Bare-Bones Granola Builder
3 cups oats
1/2 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia)
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia, walnut)
1/4 cup oil (canola, vegetable, olive, grapeseed, coconut)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp liquid sweetener (maple syrup, honey, agave nectar)
2 tbsp brown sugar
Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves)
Pinch of salt (if nuts not salted)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or almond or anise, if you want to try something fancy!)
1/2-1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, blueberries, raisins, cherries)
Mix together all wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Next, mix the wet into the dry ingredients until small clumps form. Spread evenly on a lightly-greased rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes. Stir the granola, and bake for 15 more minutes. Add the remaining maple syrup over the granola, stir, and bake for 5 final minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the tray. Once room temperature, stir in desired dried fruit.
Nothing screams springtime like fresh ingredients and brightly colored veggies. As soon as the first warm day hits, I am craving salads, slaws, and anything on a grill. These fish tacos fit the bill perfectly! My boyfriend and I recently returned from an amazing Florida vacation, where we visited my grandparents and extended family, explored Ybor City in Tampa, and replenished our Vitamin D levels on the beach.
All of the sun kicked my veggie cravings into overdrive, and so I jumped at the opportunity to make a fun lunch for my grandparents!
Fish tacos seem to have become rather trendy these days, and come in several varieties. My requirements for a good fish taco are as follows: good grilled fish, not the fried stuff. Traditional corn tortillas, not flour. Avocado, in some form. Lots of cilantro. And a good, tangy, fresh cole slaw. Hold the mayo.
Simple, right? Still, many places don’t hold a candle to this homemade version. This recipe was inspired from bits and pieces of many that I have read, taking my favorite parts from all. Feel free to do the same with mine, or try out my version to let me know what you think!
16 corn tortillas
1 lb white fish fillets (use what is local to your region – I have used Cod in NE and tilapia in FL both with great results)
spices: paprika, chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, pepper
1 small head purple cabbage, finely sliced (you can also use green, but the color makes these fun)
1 bunch scallion, whites discarded
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp lime juice (I used from a bottle, but fresh is always fun!)
3 tbsp cilantro, finely minced
1 jalapeno, finely minced (use 2 if you like more heat)
for avocado cream:
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 tbsp minced cilantro
Assemble slaw first. Slice cabbage and scallions finely, then mince garlic and jalapenos. Combine with lime juice and minced cilantro. Add a pinch of salt if desired. Combine and refrigerate while preparing other components to allow flavors to combine.
Next, combine avocado, greek yogurt, and remaining cilantro in a food processor. Combine until very smooth. Cover in a small bowl and refrigerate.
Wrap corn tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while cooking fish. Alternatively, place tortillas individually on a warm griddle after cooking fish for a crispier taco.
To prepare fish, begin by washing filets and patting dry. Season both sides with aforementioned spices according to taste. (More cayenne for the spice lovers, more paprika and chili powder for a deeper and sweeter flavor.) Salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet with a cover. Add fish filets but do not crowd the pan. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes. Flip, then cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until fish is flaky and cooked through.
To assemble tacos, take warmed corn tortilla and spoon avocado cream across the bottom. Top with slaw and a small piece of fish. Fold in half and enjoy immediately!
There are a lot of things you learn during your third year of medical school that are completely unrelated to medicine. A few examples…
The traffic lights in Boston neighborhoods don’t wake up until 6am. On my bike ride or drive to the hospital, I can’t help but think, “If the traffic lights don’t have to do their job, why do I?”
Scrubs are comfortable, but likely the least flattering work uniform ever invented. However, the draw of getting to wear free (to me) pajamas to work daily is the biggest appeal of surgical specialties, in my opinion.
Being awake and alert for 24 hours straight requires a lot of food, and some planning. Too often, call nights are sustained by chips, greasy fast food options, and sugary drinks. With a little planning, though, call days can be managed with healthy food choices and some sanity by the end of it! So, here is What I Ate Wednesday on my 24-Hour Obstetrics Call.
Travel mug of coffee with my last homemade bagel, half with almond butter and half with blackberry jam. Nibbled throughout my drive to the hospital and between pre-rounding tasks.
Lunch is usually the peak of a hospital cafeteria’s day, so I have found this is the best meal to purchase. The hospital I am at now has a GREAT salad bar that is not too expensive, so this tends to be my go-to option. That way, I make sure I get my veggies for the day! This salad had mixed greens, peas, chickpeas, carrots, sliced mushrooms, olives, feta, and noodle sticks with red wine vinegar and olive oil. With my student discount, it was only $4! Can’t beat that!
I never expect salads to hold me over all day, especially if things are busy and I am running around. For that reason, I always have a granola bar in my pocket for when afternoon hunger strikes! Having a healthy food option on hand helps prevent vending machine or nurse’s station munching. This Nature’s Valley Oats n’ Honey Crunch helped get me through the rest of a busy clinic session.
When the evening hours hit and the staff downsizes into night shift proportions, things become a little more unpredictable. This is when the motto, “Eat when you can, sleep when you can” comes into play. I reheated some leftover Thai Curry with Rice and started half of my dinner. Things started to get crazy though, and 2 C-sections later, I finished my dinner around 9:30pm.
Meanwhile, I had a few snacks between surgeries. A few clementines I had brought, a Ghiradelli chocolate square, and some saltines and 8-oz diet Gingerale taken from the nurse’s station helped to tide me over through a busy early evening.
My call night ended up being not busy after the early night rush, so my last granola bar served as “breakfast” to get me through morning rounds.
Some tips for new medical students planning for their first call:
Have lots of snacks. You don’t need to eat everything you have on you, but if things are busy, then you have lots of healthy food choices.
Have a few dollar bills on you. The only purchasable food options once the cafeteria closes down are from vending machines, and buying some trail mix is better than passing out in the OR from low blood sugar.
Have gum! And bring a tooth brush and toothpaste or mouthwash. You will probably want to freshen up your breath at some point…
You can try to bring all of your meals, but this can end up being a lot of food. If you do need to buy, buy lunch!
Eat when you can. Even if it is just a small snack, then you will have some energy when things get hectic.
Question: For any medical professionals reading, how do you handle planning for long hospital shifts?