Slow Mornings

One of the benefits of this little extended vacation before residency starts is the slow mornings. While our days seem to be filled with endless piles of paperwork (marriage license hiccups, name changes, residency paperwork, apartment applications… it never ends!), we have been starting each day slowly with really good coffee. I got Dan a Beehouse pour-over coffee dripper and burr coffee grinder for Christmas, and we have been enjoying getting good use out of it these past few months. We first got hooked on this coffee-brewing method at The Thinking Cup near the Boston Commons. Dan was intrigued by the science behind it – they used kitchen scales, electric kettles with thermometers and long spouts, and timers to brew the perfect cup of coffee. While we don’t get quite that fancy at home, we have found that pour-over coffee is worth the extra few minutes, when you have them.

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From some reading I have been doing for this blog post, I have learned that this coffee brewing method is originally from Japan and has taken off in the US because of the low cost of the associated equipment. While espresso is a much more well known international coffee style, there is a high cost of equipment for DIYers. Pour-over kits can be assembled gradually, and the parts are relatively inexpensive. A good coffee dripper will run around $15-30, and you can be as fancy or as simple with the grinders and kettles as you want.

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The magic of pour-over coffee comes from the small brew method and slow pour. As a coffee-enthusiast, you can control every step – from the bean (we prefer a light roast with more earthy flavors), the coarseness of the grind (we find that a medium grind works well), the temperature and amount of water, all the way up to the length of brew time. Each cup that you brew is unique, and somewhat maker-dependent, which can be both a good and bad thing depending on who you ask. The most important thing we have learned making this style of coffee is the slow pour, as this is what sets it apart from regular drip coffee. American coffee machines, while noteworthy for their convenience, work by pouring a single batch of boiling water over the coffee grounds and then dripping through the filter. This initial boiling water bath can create bitterness that many dislike about American drip coffee. It also does not fully utilize the flavors from the coffee beans as it creates a thick cake that prevents all of the grounds from soaking. Making pour-over coffee allows you to hand pour the hot (not quite boiling) water over the beans in a pulsatile method. (source) The resulting cup of coffee is free of the bitterness that many people dislike about American-style coffee, and is rich and flavorful with a smooth finish. Even my Dad, a dedicated milk-and-sugar kind-of guy, will happily drink pour-over coffee black.

There are plenty of great informative articles out there, from the history of pour-over coffees to comparisons of different drippers to the basic how-to instructions for how to make the perfect cup of coffee. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee or are looking for alternative ways to brew yourself a single cup of coffee, I would highly recommend making the small equipment investment! We have started with a basic dripper and coffee grinder, and currently use an electric kettle to boil the water and a spouted Pyrex measuring glass for the pour. Eventually, we may expand our gadgets but are more than happy to enjoy our simplified, homemade version for now!

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If you are not a coffee fan but are still looking for a slow morning treat, then try out these muffins! I adapted the recipe from my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine to use some dying bananas, and have been greatly enjoying the subtle chocolate flavor and how it compliments my coffee! Do not be intimidated by the name – these muffins are not overly sweet or heavy, and the cocoa comes across more in color than taste. If you are looking for a more decadent treat, try adding chocolate chips or walnuts for a more dessert-like breakfast muffin!

Question: What is the best cup of coffee you have ever had?

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Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens (April 2014)

makes 12 large muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2/3 cup milk

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 eggs

3 tbsp melted butter

2 overripe bananas, mashed

handful walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-muffin tray; set aside. In a stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine milk, yogurt, eggs and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients in the stand mixer; stir until just moistened. Add the mashed bananas and mix until combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes, then use butter knife to loosen. Store in air-tight container.

April 23, 2014 at 7:48 am Leave a comment

Learning to Eat Off the Bone

When it comes to meat and fish, my family often falls prey to what seems to plague much of White America. We only eat certain cuts of certain meats, and most definitely avoid anything on the bone. This is especially true of seafood. When my husband asked my mom if she would be willing to try a new way of eating fish, she told us, “Only as long as I don’t have to look my dinner in the eye.” I used to whole-heartedly agree with my mom, and was repulsed at the market where the fish seemed to stare back at me, daring me to eat them. Now, I have learned how delicious (and sometimes fresher and more economical) whole fish can be. I have come a long way from my first whole fish experience in Croatia!

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When it comes to this method of cooking fish, it all starts with the quality of the ingredient. I am lucky enough to have found two great local fish markets (Keyport Fishery for anyone in the central NJ region and New Deal Fish Market for anyone in the Boston area). My husband is the expert in our house when it comes to choosing fish, but he has taught me a few basic rules. First, the smell of the fish really does tell you if the fish is fresh. While there will always be a mild fishy aroma, it should not smell unpleasant or so strong you can smell the fish at a distance. You can also tell a lot about a fish (or at least the freshness) through its eyes – they should be clear and in tact. Lastly, we have found it helpful to call the fishery the night before or morning of to ask about what fish they have gotten, or are expecting to get, fresh that day. Getting there early can ensure you get the best selection from what they have.

For fish preparation, I prefer to have the fishery help me out. Most good fisheries should be able to gut, scale, and take the fins off the fish before sending you home with it. This saves a lot of prep and mess, and ensures that you don’t ruin the beautiful fish you just worked so hard to pick! When planning how much fish to buy to feed your guests, remember that a bit of fish weight is made up of the head and bones. A 1.5lb fish will generally feed one hungry person, in our experience, and generally runs $8-$12 per pound, depending on season and type of fish.

Our favorite fish to prepare whole is Bronzino, also known as European sea bass. However, we chose a beautiful Red Snapper for this dinner. We wanted to prepare a special Caribbean-inspired dinner as a thank you to my parents for watching our dog, and Snapper lends well to island flavors. The fishery had just received whole snappers that morning, so we got choice pick. The fish were HUGE, and we walked away with the baby of the bunch – a 5.5lb beauty. First, we scored the fish diagonally to help infuse flavor. We then rubbed the skin and inside of the fish with garlic, allspice, thyme, salt and pepper. While we usually pan-fry whole fish to get a nice crispy skin, there was no skillet big enough for this guy. We created a foil boat and cooked our fish in a bit of canola oil on the grill over high heat for about 25 minutes, requiring a bit more cooking time since it was so thick in the middle. At the end, we spooned a bit of the boiling canola oil over the skin to make it crispier.

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The result was spectacular. Not only was the fish beautiful, but it was also tender, moist and delicious. Since we had the whole fish, we got to enjoy the most tender and most underused parts (my favorite are the cheeks). Our dinner was rounded out with coconut rice and Brazilian style Collard greens and finished with grilled pineapple, all complimented by Antiguan style Rum punch.

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Don’t worry, this was the first of many plates!

We combined a few recipes and resources to make this meal happen, listed below if you are interested in trying this out! We have deemed Fridays to be “fresh fish Fridays” to take advantage of shore-living while we can, so hopefully some more great meals are to come!

Jamaican-Style Fried Red Snapper

Roasted Whole Red Snapper

Jamaican Fried Fish

QuestionAre you a whole fish fan? Do you have any tips to share for choosing or preparing the perfect whole fish?

April 21, 2014 at 6:27 am Leave a comment

Antiguan Rum Punch

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When we arrived in Antigua, we were immediately greeted at our hotel with the hot, island air and a nice, strong Antiguan rum punch. We knew immediately that we were in paradise. After a week of rum punches and island sun, we decided that Caribbean rum and a homemade version of our new favorite drink would be the best souvenir to commemorate our honeymoon! The recipe below replicates our island favorite almost exactly! Today, we celebrate my husband’s admission to medical school and signing the lease to our first apartment! Hope you enjoy.

Question: What do you have to celebrate today?

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Antiguan Rum Punch

makes 1 pitcher (serves 4-6)

1/2 cup lime juice (best when fresh squeezed)

1 cup simple syrup (simply boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar together until sugar is fully dissolved)

1 1/2 cups Cavalier Antiguan gold rum (or a similar light rum)

2 cups water

2-4 cups ice

Angostura bitters, key lime halves, and nutmeg (fresh grated if possible) for garnish

Prepare the simple syrup and allow to cool. Mix together lime juice, simple syrup, rum, and water. Pour over ice into a large pitcher. Add 2-3 ice cubes to an old fashioned glass with a key lime half. Fill with rum punch, then sprinkle with bitters and top with nutmeg. Swirl slightly before enjoying! (To make a single rum punch, mix 1 part (1/2 shot) lime juice, 2 parts (1 shot) simple syrup, 3 parts (1.5 shots) rum, and 4 parts (2 shots) water.)

April 17, 2014 at 8:29 am 1 comment

Change of Seasons

The weather is finally starting to warm up in the New Jersey, getting me excited for grilling season! While many people think of seasons in terms of weather, I often think in term of food seasons. The fall and winter are roasting seasons, perfect for root vegetables and hearty meals; the spring and summer are grilling ones, great for fish and grilled peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing I like better than both cooking and eating outdoors when the weather allows. However, I will miss my oven, which usually goes neglected from May through September to keep the house cool. If you are looking for a final oven meal to warm up with during cooler early spring nights, this one is a great staple!

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I found a basic roasted chicken recipe in one of my mom’s many food magazines. (Being on this extended vacation is seriously great for my cooking creativity!) I tweaked it slightly to use up what I had on hand, but have so many ideas for variations! I used red onion and thyme as called for in the original recipe, but decided to use chicken thighs and baby bella mushrooms for a bit more flavor and earthiness. I think that shallots or Vidalia onions would actually be even better than the red onions, and that a little more garlic would be welcome. I would also love to play with the herbs, switching out the thyme for rosemary or basil. If you aren’t a mushroom person, you could easily leave them out, or add some cherry tomatoes in their stead. Since I am currently cooking for 4-6 people on a regular basis, I couldn’t quite make it a one-skillet meal, but think this would be an easy task if cooking for one or two! Just throw some cubed potatoes (parboiled to make them cook at the same time), vegetables (I love asparagus and Brussels sprouts in the oven), and the chicken thighs into an oven safe skillet and bake!

Question: What is your favorite “food season?”

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Roasted Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and Red Onions

serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1 – 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (organic if possible)

1 red onion, sectioned

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, halved

salt, pepper and thyme to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Heat olive oil over high heat. Quickly sear the outside of each chicken thigh over high heat. Add red onion sections and mushroom halves, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and thyme. Place skillet in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until chicken thighs are cooked through. Remove and allow to cool prior to serving.

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April 14, 2014 at 7:55 pm Leave a comment

Cooking for my Husband

Since we have some time off before moving for my residency, Dan and I have been enjoying knocking some things off our cooking bucket list. One of the first things that came to Dan’s mind was chicken pot pie. His list of comfort foods is rather polarized, reflective of his multicultural upbringing: Korean stew (soon doo boo jjigae), Brazilian feijoada, and American Mac n’ Cheese or Chicken Pot Pie. Since pot pie is a little labor intensive, we knew we wanted to tackle it while we had some time to spare!

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We found this recipe on Allrecipes.com and decided to give it a try. Our results were both tasty and messy, but we were impressed by our first attempt. The only change we made was using coconut oil to cook the onions instead of butter to lighten the dairy load. We think that cooking a little more of the filling liquid off and adding a pinch more salt and pepper next time would make this recipe perfect. We also decided to make our own crust, using a double batch of this basic all-butter pie crust recipe. We replaced about half of the flour with whole-wheat, and also added a pinch of garlic powder, basil and black pepper to enhance the savory dish. The crust was perfect, with none of the artificial flavor that bugs me about store-bought pie dough. Most importantly, the Husband approved and had his comfort-food craving satisfied. 

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Will I be making chicken pot pie often? Unlikely! It is quite labor intensive, and still requires a good chunk of butter no matter how you slice it. It would, however, be an easy freezer meal to make this summer and have for a long, cold winter night ahead. Either way, this is a fun and comforting meal if you are looking to spend a little time in the kitchen this week!

Question: What is your comfort food?

April 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm Leave a comment

Life Certainly is an Adventure

To say that I have had a busy winter would be an understatement. Since August, pretty much every life changing event (in good ways) imaginable seemed to fall into one year. I got engaged in August and began planning an early spring wedding. I also started to freshen up my resume and write a personal statement in preparation for residency applications. I spent the fall traveling around the East Coast, analyzing program details and getting a “gut feeling” about where I would spend my next 3 years of training. During this time, my sister wrote a few posts to fill in the gaps. I thought things would slow down after the holidays, when I planned to go back to my normal life of medical school and wedding planning. However, in mid-January, the third floor of my house caught fire, forcing me to abruptly move out of my home of 3 1/2 years. Luckily, no one was injured and I lost few physical possessions. However, I also lost my “comfort zone,” my own kitchen. I spent the next two months living with two dear (and gracious) friends while finishing medical school and wedding planning. From January until March, it felt like all of my normal comforts had been stripped away and that God was asking me to trust solely in him.

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Relieved to know where we are moving!

Finally, in March, plans seemed to begin to fall into place. First, I finished my final rotation in medical school. Then, I matched into one of my top choice programs to begin a Family Medicine Residency in the fall.

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The husband and I at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding

On March 29, I married a man who inspires me to continue to learn and to grow.

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The view from our breakfast spot in Antigua

Yesterday, we returned from our honeymoon, relaxed and ready to start a new adventure.

From now until June, I have some time to reflect and recover from this crazy year. I plan to make up for all of the cooking and the writing that life has pushed aside, and hope to share some recipes and reflections along the way. It feels good to be back :)

Question: What is one surprise life has brought your way this year?

April 8, 2014 at 3:35 pm 3 comments

Thinking of Thanksgiving

written by Jen

Thanksgiving has to be one of my favorite holidays. Growing up in a family of fantastic home cooks has always meant some pretty spectacular feasts. As a kid, Thanksgiving was always held at my maternal Grandmother’s house. We would start with Sweet Potato soup, a pureed soup similar to butternut squash soup but slightly thicker. Turkey was, of course, a highlight, but her creamy garlic mashed potatoes stole the show. After they retired to Florida, my mom took over hosting this holiday meal. Several new traditions were born, including a flavorful Cranberry-Apricot sauce and a crowd-pleasing French Bread Stuffing with Fennel and Sausage (both adapted from a Cooking Light cookbook). This year, I have the honor of hosting Thanksgiving in my Boston home. I will be keeping some traditions, as well as finding my own signature contribution. Here is a preview of some things that have caught Chelsea and my eyes stomachs, all brought to you from fellow bloggers!

Quinoa Salad with Butternut Squash, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas by Two Peas & Their Pod

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with Rosemary and Garlic by Oh She Glows

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon by My Kitchen College

Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls by Averie Cooks

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon & Apples by Little Pink Monster

Bourbon Apple Sangria by Climbing Grier Mountain

November 25, 2013 at 6:22 pm 1 comment

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