Posts tagged ‘how-to’

Date Night at Home

Fancy meals do not always have to be rich and heavy, as proven by this fantastic Friday night treat. Pasta and steak dishes always seem to corner the market on romantic meals, but I dislike the heavy “food coma” feeling that they often leave you with. My favorite choice for a date-night at home is seafood, since they often are quick to prepare and do not feel so weighty. This meal was again inspired by an appetizer I enjoyed on our honeymoon, where the chef perfectly seared tiny bay scallops and served them over a spicy and delicious eggplant salad. While this does not perfectly recreate the fantastic eggplant salad I enjoyed, it improves on the scallops with larger sea scallops that seem to melt in your mouth when cooked properly. If you are new to scallops, Alton Brown has a great basic tutorial that I love. Scallops can be a little pricy and turn rubbery very quickly if cooked for too long, but are worth the cost when prepared correctly. For your next stay-at-home date, try out this dinner!


Scallops with Roasted Red Peppers and Spicy Eggplant

6 vegetable servings, scallops vary depending on amount

For the Red Pepper and Eggplant Salad:

(loosely based on this recipe)

3 large red bell peppers

1 large or 2 small (about 1.5 lbs) eggplant

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, quartered

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp red chili flakes

2-3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

For the scallops:

1/3 to 1/2 lb scallops per person

2-4 tbsp butter (depending on lbs of scallops)

1/2 lemon

Preheat the broiler in the oven. Half the red peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Lay cut-side down in a shallow baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes, until peppers are soft and the skin is charred. Transfer immediately to a large plastic zip bag and let cool for 10 minutes. Submerge peppers in cold water one at a time while removing the skins. Peppers can be prepared one to two days ahead of time, if desired.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Roughly dice peppers and peeled eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Quarter the mushrooms. Mix all vegetables in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and red pepper flakes, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, stirring every 15-20 minutes, for 45-55 minutes, or until eggplant is at desired consistency according to your preference.

When the vegetables are roasting, rinse and pat dry scallops. Preheat a cast iron or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add butter and allow to melt. Add scallops, searing for approximately 2 minutes per side. The skillet should be hot enough to create a browned curst in a short time. Squeeze lemon half over scallops and remove to serving tray. Serve with eggplant and pepper mixture with brown rice.



April 25, 2014 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

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.



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.


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!


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?


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

Cooking Class

I guess my friends and family are beginning to think I know how to cook… silly. I merely enjoy myself in the kitchen, and usually dream up something tasty in the process. My best friend, Amanda, has always been amazed at how at ease I am while cooking, since her idea of making dinner used to be heating up a frozen pizza. Her taste buds have matured so much through the course of our friendship, and now she is even brave enough to get her hands dirty in the kitchen! She assisted me with the Baked Arancini I made for my mom’s party (which, according to my mom, were better than the Italian restaurant’s fried rice balls that she sampled today!) and got her first full cooking lesson this evening. We made Balsamic chicken with mushrooms (my college roommate’s favorite recipe!) as well as my take on the classic haystack, with none of your expected ingredients. A haystack is typically tortilla chips, shredded lettuce, beans or meat, salsa and cheese, but is layered in stereotypical fashion that is unique to the dish. My version uses none of the same ingredients, replacing the chips with polenta, the lettuce with green beans, the salsa with roasted red peppers, the protein with pine nuts, and the cheddar with goat cheese. Polenta is new to me as well, introduced to me by my mom less than a year ago. It is simply boiled cornmeal, which can be made as a porridge or shaped into a log. I am totally in love with this dish – I created it to use up some leftovers a few months back, and was even more pleased with the result the second time around! Definitely give this recipe a try, and play around with the layers to use up whatever you have on hand!

A few tips on the recipe for those of you who are new to the kitchen (I did just give a cooking lesson, so figured some advice might be appropriate in this post!)

1. Using recipes is a really good way to start learning flavor combinations, get inspiration, and get instructions of how to make dishes using certain techniques. However, don’t feel like you need to stay married to the specific recipe if you feel inspired to branch out and try something new! (The exception to this rule is in baking, where it is usually a pretty good idea to follow instructions…)

2. Don’t skimp on the seasonings. Herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper add a HUGE flavor component, with a relatively low-cost and calorie component. I season almost all of my food with at least pepper, if not also salt and dried herbs. If you are worried about your sodium intake, salt can be omitted from some dishes without being missed, but on occasion is really needed to bring the flavor out of certain foods. You can also choose to let your dinner guests let their own taste buds be their guide – check out these adorable salt and pepper shakers that my mom and I found at a local festival this afternoon. A crafty addition to my dining room table!


3. Chopping is a simple step that often takes too much time for new cooks. I once cooked with two of my guy friends and was finished with cooking dinner before they even finished their one chopping assignment. True story. Save yourself from this fate by using sharp knives, learning the simple rocker technique (where you stabilize the blunt back tip of a chef’s knife with the palm of your hand and using a rocking motion to facilitate chopping), and using scoring for easy veggie chopping.


4. Minimize your clean-up by re-using sautée pans when possible. For example, tonight I sautéed green beans in one pan, then transferred them to a bowl and added my mushrooms to the same pan. I pushed the mushrooms to the side while the chicken cooked. Be careful not to let raw meat come in contact with food that will not be further cooked when using this dish-saving technique.

5. Start with something manageable and work your way up. If you start with a recipe that is way too complicated, you might get discouraged which will only further keep you out of the kitchen. But don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something that looks a little more challenging than you think you can handle. If you mess up, at least its only food – probably not an expensive mistake, and there is always pizza or a good ol’ PB&J as a stand-by dinner ;)

With that being said, go forth and experiment with a new recipe or two. Maybe even this one (recipe guidelines are at the end of the post). Just enjoy yourself and see what you can create!



June 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm 1 comment

Good to Have a Grill!

I am back in NJ, and one of the benefits is having full access to my mom’s lovely kitchen! Not only does she have better knives and kitchen tools, but she also has an enormous outdoor grill! Grilling is my favorite summertime cooking method. It doesn’t heat up the house with the stove or oven on a hot summer day, and it is a great way to cook your food with little added fat and a lot of extra flavor. I am excited to be the full-time cook for my family this summer, giving my mom a well deserved break from her 23+ year role as Chef Mom. I am hoping to introduce her and my dad to new veggies and healthy lifestyle tips and encourage them on their weight loss journey. Mom has always done a good job of being relatively healthy with food selection, but her self-admitted problem is in portions. There is always room to improve in the quest for a healthier lifestyle!


Tonight, I experimented with Greek Turkey Burgers, served with grilled zucchini and portobello mushrooms as well as Kale Chips on the side. This dinner was designed to be low-fat and cholesterol, as well as easy to control portion sizes. The calorie-dense food is served in single serve burgers, making sure that everyone is happy getting meat at dinner, but also making it a lot harder to overeat. A proper serving of meat is 3-4 oz, or the size of your palm or a deck of cards – definitely not the classic American steak dinner! I mixed herbs and a bit of feta into the burgers, inspired by some great rosemary turkey burgers I had at a friend’s BBQ this past weekend. I also topped the burgers with flavorful homemade roasted red peppers – a great alternative to store-bought peppers that are often packed in oil or filled with sodium. My uncle taught me to make these on his last visit, except we used the open flame from the burner on the stove, only to be chased out of the kitchen with a towel by my grandma. If you want a safer method, check out my new How-To page! To replace the cheese on top of the burgers, I made a loosely interpreted Tatziki sauce. To fill out the dinner (and your stomach), veggies are a great option because they are nutrient but not calorie dense, and the Kale Chips are an exciting alternative to salad and a healthier option than fries or chips. Even my veggie-fearing best friend loved every part of this dinner! Enough of my rambling thoughts… here are the recipes!



Feta Herbed Turkey Burgers

makes 6 burgers

1 1/4 lbs ground turkey

3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese

2 tsp dried tarragon (could also use dill or rosemary, but these were the only 2 spices my mom was out of!)

Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Shape into 6 patties of desired shape (I like thicker small burgers than thinner large ones.) Grill for several minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Serve on sandwich thins or whole wheat rolls topped with Roasted Red Peppers and Herbed Yogurt (recipe below).


Herbed Greek Yogurt

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt

1/2 cucumber, chopped

1 tbsp dried tarragon (again, can substitute dill)

Chop cucumbers into small pieces. Mix with herbs and yogurt. Let stand covered in fridge for several hours before serving for best flavor.

May 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm 2 comments

Monkey Bites

I have had some insane peanut butter banana cravings lately. It started when I made a quick sandwich out of necessity for lunch on Sunday (my fridge is pretty empty since I am leaving Boston for 2 months and don’t want to grocery shop), which triggered my taste buds’ memory of how much I love this combo. PB and banana sandwiches sustained me through a work trip in New Orleans (Katrina Relief Urban Plunge with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) during Spring Break of my senior year. See the picture of our group (I’m in the way bottom row on the left)… we sheeted that whole house, and even started the wrapping! The sandwich is super filling and definitely keeps you ready to do some manual labor for the rest of the afternoon!


I blame this wave of cravings on a different type of labor… Exams. Brain labor. Mental exhaustion. Well, these help make studying for the rest of the afternoon and evening seem a little more manageable. A little peanut butter protein to keep you full and chocolate for a mood booster! Plus, these will stay well in the freezer whenever you need an on-call pick me up. Look to the bottom of the post for the simple recipe, and enjoy this next time you need a study snack or a treat at the end of a stressful day!


The only thing harder than my recently completed histology exam or upcoming endocrinology exam is covering things in chocolate… Kind of not kidding here. Call me crazy, but I always struggle to get the chocolate to melt just right whenever I am making chocolate covered strawberries, pretzels or monkey bites! My sister can attest to my super delicious but not so attractive peppermint bark cookies I attempted this past Christmas… I think I have finally learned though! Here is a little how-to if you, also, struggle with chocolate.


Monkey Bites

makes about 8 bites

1 banana, sliced in 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp soy milk
1/4 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
3 oz dark chocolate
Slice banana into 1 inch pieces and put in freezer for about 1/2 hour. Melt peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl for 30-40 seconds. Mix in soy milk. Top each frozen banana slice with peanut butter mixture and return to freezer for about 1 hour. Melt chocolate over a hot water bath. Cover each peanut butter banana slice with chocolate. If you would like, roll in chopped peanuts. Return to freezer until chocolate is set. You can store monkey bites in a sealed container in the freezer for whenever that study or stress craving hits!

May 18, 2011 at 9:00 am 2 comments

“Family” Fun with Homemade Dumplings

Question: What does family mean to you? Are you from a big family or a small family? What do your family get-togethers look like?

I have a tiny family. Think I am kidding? I have one cousin – no joke. I like it that way, though, because I am really close with my extended family. The nine of us on my mom’s side of the family grew up taking vacations together, celebrating birthdays and holidays, and still get together at least every other year for “big” reunions. This year, I look forward to our Memorial Day weekend together, knowing it will be filled with food, laughter, and great memories.

With such a small extended family, however, my definition of what family means has broadened. Some of the people I am closest to are not my family at all. Take my Boston family, for example, with whom I shared a potluck Easter dinner. On Sunday, I was lucky enough to hang out with my adopted aunt and cousins for Mother’s Day. Aunt Wendy is mom’s best friend from elementary school. They grew up together, were in each other’s weddings, and kept in touch despite living in different states after college. When I came up to Boston for college, mom put me in touch with Wendy in case I ever needed anything. Throughout my first year, they took me out to Chinatown, introduced me to hidden places in Back Bay, and invited me for home-cooked meals on several occasions. Aunt Wendy made sure I always had somewhere to go for holidays, and really helped me feel comfortable in my transition into Boston. After my second or third year here and our continued dinners together, the kids got tired of explaining who I was to their friends. They started introducing me as their cousin, and it has just sort of stuck. I am honored to be a part of their family, and love every moment I get to spend with them!

After giving my cousin a brief tour of BU, we picked up some dumpling wrappers, snacks, and other random ingredients at Super 88, the Asian supermarket in Packard’s corner in Boston. We drove back out to their house to prepare a Mother’s Day feast, and on the way I managed to commission two projects from my talented cousins. Chad, who was touring BU, is a budding artist, and I may have convinced him to paint some new art for my apartment this summer. Lizzie, a costume enthusiast, is an excellent seamstress, and I discussed ideas for a homemade 50’s inspired apron with her. You can check out some of her projects here. I think Lizzie is more likely to pull through on her end of the deal, so by the end of the summer I may have a new apron to show off!

We prepared a feast of steamed crab legs and homemade dumplings, enjoyed with a glass of a great local white wine from Dartmouth, MA that Aunt Wendy picked up at the farmer’s market. The crab legs are really simple – just steam for 7 minutes or so, and then serve with melted butter and lemon juice. Crab legs are really sweet and tender, and these legs were gigantic, which made for an easier time with shell cracking. Dumplings are a little more time-consuming to make, but still come together quickly (especially with three sets of hands working!) and are well worth the effort.

To make dumplings, begin by mixing about a pound of ground meat (we used turkey, but chicken or pork are excellent also) with 2-3 cups of chopped bok choy, an egg, and a splash of soy sauce. For the chopped bok choy, I usually use mostly leaves, but do finely chop some of the white stalk for added texture. In these dumplings, I also added some sliced green onions – a new addition that turned out to be excellent!

While you are making this mixture, start a pot of boiling water on the stove. Begin filling the dumpling wrappers (the best ones are found in Asian grocery stores – my aunt tried a supermarket dumpling wrapper after I taught her this recipe a few years ago with sub par results.) It is important not to overstuff the wrappers, or they will break or not seal well. Another trick to getting a good seal on the wrappers is to wet the edges slightly with water. This will help them bond together. To get a scalloped appearance around the edge, simply press firmly around the edges without overlapping. You can also create a folding pattern, but this has increased my exploded dumpling ratio in the past, so I tend not to get too fancy. If you have leftover filling at the end, save it and add to some rice to make a quick fried rice lunch the next day. Waste not, want not!

Put the dumplings in the boiling water and cook for about 5-7 minutes. They will float immediately, so this is not a good test of when they are done. You can cook them in batches and keep them in a covered container after they have been drained. When ready to serve, heat a small amount of peanut oil in a skillet. Add the dumplings and pan fry for about a minute or two on each side to give them a golden brown color and slight crunch. This step is optional, but really makes the dumplings much more flavorful, and also gives them a much better texture. They come out slightly crunchy and nutty instead of a little soggy. You can serve them with extra soy sauce, and would probably be great with Sriracha if you like a little kick!

Turkey and Bok Choy Dumplings

1 lb ground turkey (or pork or chicken)

1 large head of bok choy (about 2-3 cups chopped)

1 egg

splash of soy sauce (more or less to taste)

7 green onions, white parts only

package of dumpling or wonton wrappers

peanut oil

Combine the turkey, chopped bok choy, egg, soy sauce, and sliced onion in a large mixing bowl. Fill the dumplings and fold in half. Use water to form a tight seal around the edge. Boil for 5-7 minutes until cooked through. Then, pan fry the dumplings in small amount of peanut oil before serving to create a golden crust.

May 10, 2011 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my Mommy you’ll be.

– Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

The poem above is one of my favorite memories from childhood. My mom used to read me and my sister that book, and she would sing the poem, which starts out from mother to child, “As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” At the end of the book, the mother is old and the boy has become her caretaker, and he sings her the song. I rediscovered this book while I was working as a nanny, and still hear my mom’s voice reading it to me as I flip through the familiar pages. I am not an overly emotional person, but there are times when tears get the stoniest of us, and this song does it for me!

I will always be my mom’s baby – she spoils me like crazy and gets so excited when I get the chance to come home. More importantly, she will always be my mom: a great friend, a confidante, a role model, a guide. She is one of the strongest women I know. She is a breast cancer survivor. She is a great wife, sister, daughter, aunt, and mom. She is a leader at work, at home, and at church. She is brilliant, and yet she is humble. She is beautiful, and the sparkle in her eyes and smile invite you to share in her joy. She taught me (almost) everything I know about cooking, and yet is still open to sharing in new things I have learned. She encouraged me to pursue my dreams and not let anything hold me back. She believed in me, and still does. As I scribbled in my Mother’s Day card, I would be nowhere without my mom.

I always prefer homemade gifts and cards, especially for sentimental holidays like Mother’s Day. I really enjoy pulling together simple papercrafts that really remind me of the person I am making the card for. It is pretty simple to do, following a few basic principles.

1. Choose a size or shape. If you are not mailing the card, you can get all sorts of crazy. (I have made a coffee cup or a beer glass shaped card… think outside of the box rectangle.) If you are mailing the card, make sure that you match the size and/or shape of the card to a standard envelope.

2. Choose a theme. Whatever it is, it should remind you of the person you are making the card for. I stuck with flowers for this card, since they are the traditional Mother’s Day gift. Other themed cards I have made include a spin on the Flour bakery logo for my talented baker friend, and a drum set replica for my musician friend.

3. Choose a color scheme. Many papercrafts can be brilliant ideas, but are often overwhelmed by a lack of color cohesion. Pick three main colors, and try to keep them in the same family (brights, pastels, muted, naturals, etc.) This does not mean the same hue, tone or shade, unless you are going for a monochromatic look. Also, try not to choose competing patterns. Again, this does not mean you can’t mix patterns, just choose one that tends to be more dominant.

The only hard and fast rule is to be creative! Cut and lay everything out, and don’t be afraid to run with your ideas. Keep moving things around and trying new things until it looks just right. The end result will be much more meaningful than a store-bought card, and your friends and family will love it!

Question: What are you doing for your mom for Mother’s Day?

May 8, 2011 at 7:30 am 3 comments

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