A berry cozy morning…

I can be a creature of habit, and as J will readily confirm, rather particular when it comes to certain foods and tastes.  He hypothesizes that we get along so well because he shares a lot in common with my sister L’s tastes, so I’m used to the overlap in the venn diagram of our preferences, even if  the “circle” of foods he enjoys is much larger than mine.   I disagree – I will eat practically any vegetable or fruit!

When it comes to oatmeal, we definitely have our own preferences and tastes.  I prefer plain oatmeal that I flavor with whatever I feel like at the time – seasonal fruit, spices, nuts…I like the chewiness of rolled or steel cut oats and I don’t like it when the oatmeal is a touch on the watery side.  He is much less demanding and is happy to go with the packaged stuff, and tries to mollify me by making it less watery and using half plain quick oats so that I’m not horrified by the cloying sweetness.

That said, this baked oatmeal is versatile, delicious, healthy…and a perfect compromise!  It takes more time than instant oatmeal, but is still super easy to throw together.

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Baked Oatmeal with Mixed Berries and Almonds (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups/7 oz/200 g rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup/2 oz/60 g sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup/2 oz/60 g natural cane sugar or maple syrup, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 2 cups/475 ml milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch/1 cm pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups/6.5 oz/185 g mixed berries

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch/20cm square baking dish.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the oats, half the almonds, the sugar, if using, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, if using, the milk, egg, the butter, and the vanilla.
  4. Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple thwacks on the countertop to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the remaining berries and remaining almonds across the top.
  5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar or drizzle with maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter.
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Chasing away the Monday blues…

with Blueberry Meyer Lemon scones didn’t really work today, but at least the day started (and ended, because yes, it was one of those days) on a sweet, citrus-y and flowery note. I could go on and on about Meyer lemons, but I won’t – suffice it to say that when I spotted them all the way in NYC, it reminded me of how far I was from home and how much I missed California produce.  Now that I’m back, I have access to J’s mother’s tree, which is truly the tree that keeps on giving…Meyer lemons in abundance!  And the largest, most beautiful ones I’ve seen as well!  IMG_3391

Blueberry Meyer Lemon Scones (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 3/4 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tbl (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1-2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel

Ingredients:

  1. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425°F.
  2. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl. Using fingertips, rub in chilled butter until pieces are size of small peas.
  4. Mix 1/2 cup buttermilk, Meyer lemon juice, and finely grated Meyer lemon peel in glass measuring cup.
  5. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until dough begins to form (some of flour will not be incorporated).
  6. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and gather together. Fold in blueberries and knead dough briefly, about 5 turns.
  7. Form each dough into ball and flatten into 1-inch-thick disk. Cut each disk into 6 wedges or cut with biscuit cutter into desired shape.
  8. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart.
  9. Brush tops with remaining 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 tablespoon sugar.
  10. Bake until scones are golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.

Goodbye winter, hellooooo spring!

And what a beautiful spring it already is in sunny California!  My friends back East have been treated to another dusting of snow, but here on the West Coast the weather has been warm and the streets have been lined with flowering trees.  It is one of my favorite times of the year.

I had some lovely pears left in my refrigerator, which I accidentally let ripen too much in the midst of a hectic work schedule.  Since I like my fruit crisp and at its peak (not soft), I decided to turn the pears into this lovely Italian pear cake – it was my way of saying adieu to winter and its warm, spice-filled dishes.  This cake is surprisingly light and fluffy thanks to the corn starch, and lightly sweetened.  I added a little cinnamon for a little extra warmth.

IMG_3374 IMG_3379Italian Pear Cake (original recipe here)

Ingredients:

  • 3 ‘very’ ripe small pears (or 2 large ones) – peeled & cut into chunks
  • 1 & 1/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup corn flour (corn starch)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter (slightly melted)
  • 3 eggs
  • confectioner’s sugar (to sprinkle/ decorate on cake)

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Sift the flour, corn starch, cinnamon (if using), salt, and baking powder together.
  4. Add the flour mix and stir well, add the butter till the batter is smooth.
  5. Lightly grease and then line a 9-inch (23 cm) springform cake pan with parchment paper, and pour in the batter.
  6. Peel the the pears, cut in chunks and drop them on the cake, gently pushing down each piece of pear. It doesn’t matter if the pear sticks out of the cake it will all blend in.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean – do not overtake! Leave to cool before serving.
  8. When cool, dust with confectioner’s sugar.
  9. (Optional) Serve with whipped cream.

On sweet revenge…

It’s been a busy week, with a few more downs than ups after a fun-filled birthday weekend.  I’ve started developing a little carpal tunnel syndrome from all the chart documentation I’ve been doing since I started working.  The EMR is both a blessing and a curse.  I spend more time in from of a computer than I do with my patients, and no, that is *not* why I went into medicine.

That said, it’s been a full week, too.  March is a month full of joyful birthdays!  One of my closest childhood friends has her birthday on St. Patrick’s day, so her birthday is always doubly lucky and green ;).  I dug out the green shirt and made a vibrant green salad to celebrate the day, even though I couldn’t join her for a green beer!

IMG_3361Green Salad with Cilantro-Lemon Vinaigrette (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

For the dressing (makes extra, so save for another salad!):

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 tbl shelled salted pistachios
  • 8-10 (about 1/2 lb) spears fresh spring asparagus
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • shaved parmesan (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a blender, blend the oil, lemon juice, shallot, honey, and 1/4 cup of the cilantro. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
  2. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut off 1 inch of the asparagus tips and cut stalks into 2 inch segments.  (If using larger asparagus, cut off 1 inch of the asparagus and cut each tip in half lengthwise. Using a peeler or mandoline, shave the asparagus spears lengthwise.) Blanch the asparagus tips and segments (or strands) in the boiling water until just heated through, 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to the ice water to chill; drain well. Pat dry and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the arugula, pistachios and the remaining 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves to the asparagus.  Toss with a little dressing.  Add avocado and parmesan (if using) and drizzle with dressing as desired.  Enjoy!

And as a reward for a looooonnnnggg and tiring week, what better way to forget the week’s worries by indulging in a bowl of chocolate-y goodness?  Which, surprisingly, isn’t all that unhealthy for you, packed w/ fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3s?  Oh, sweet revenge!

Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding with Strawberries IMG_3373

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup chia seed
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 5 to 6 medjool dates, seeds removed**
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (depends on the intensity of the cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use 1 tsp if using unflavored almond milk)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (depends on how spicy you like your chocolate!)
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions:

**You need a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix**

  1. Put chia seed in bottom of blender and add almond milk and dates.  Allow chia seed to soak up milk and become gelatinous, at least 60 minutes, but you could also soak it for longer.
  2. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and blend at high speed until very, very smooth.
  3. Spoon into serving dishes/bowls and refrigerate until set.  Garnish with shaved chocolate and strawberries and enjoy!

** instead of dates, you can also simply use the sweetener of your choice – a little honey or agave syrup would work well!

How do you like your crab cakes?

Apparently, I favor my crab cakes more crab-by with little filler, while J prefers his not quite as dense with crab.  I guess it’s too filling to have less filler, and he’d rather be able to eat more crab cakes!

We have both spent a good amount of time back East, and we both remember gathering with friends to devour bushels of Maryland blue crab smothered in the ubiquitous Old Bay seasoning.  I’m pretty sure the salt content in that rub would send more than several of my patients’ blood pressure through the roof, but in moderation it is very tasty indeed!   Learning to pry open crabs with my fingers, drenching humidity, and the addictive spices in Old Bay seasoning are some of my vivid associations with summers in D.C.

I used a recipe from Cooking Light to make crab cake sliders the other night for dinner, and they were perfect with the warm weather we are having.  After a run along the beach and soaking in the sunshine, these little sliders reminded us that spring break and summer fun are not that far away.  J enjoyed his with a cool, refreshing beer.  I enjoyed mine with extra dill sauce ;).

IMG_3356

Crab Cake Sliders with Yogurt Dill Sauce (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 8 whole-wheat slider buns
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon)
  • 1/2 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
  • 6 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt, divided
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, divided
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup whole-wheat panko
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat, drained and shell pieces removed
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups baby arugula or mixed baby greens

Instructions:

1. Preheat broiler to high. Hollow out buns, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Arrange buns in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted. **

2. Place 1/4 cup vinegar and sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 45 seconds. Stir in red onion. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain.

3. Combine  1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons yogurt, and  1 tablespoon dill in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Combine remaining 3 tablespoons yogurt, 1 tablespoon dill, bell pepper, and next 5 ingredients (through yolk). Add panko and crab, stirring to combine. Working with damp hands, divide crab mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a 3/4-inch-thick patty.

5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add crab cakes to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden and thoroughly heated.

6. Spread 1 teaspoon yogurt mixture on bottom half of each bun. Top with 1 patty. Divide onions and arugula among sliders. Top with top halves of buns.

**J wanted to use fluffier bread for the crab cakes, so we used a cookie cutter to cut rounds from garlic naan bread, which we then pan-toasted until lightly crispy on the outside to use in lieu of hamburger buns.  

Let them eat…carrots!

Roasted rainbow carrots with toasted cumin and a blood orange vinaigrette, to be exact!

I should have celebrated 3.14.15 (Pi) day with pie, but we somehow didn’t get around to that with all of the other festivities planned for my birthday.  Nor did we have cake, which I guess is a little odd but not missed.  It was the first birthday J and I were able to celebrate together in the same place, so he took it upon himself to plan it all.  Knowing how I’ve missed my friends while in NYC, he somehow managed to gather people from all different phases of my life (college, SF/residency, NYC/fellowship) for fun and food.  As it so happens, my college roommate’s birthday is Pi day, so we were able to celebrate with her, too.  We were just missing pie!  Between dim sum, macarons, wine flights, and late – night tapas, however, there was no time (or calorie deficit) to allow for pie (or cake).

Amidst all the indulgences of the weekend, it was so nice to cleanse the palate with something a little lighter, which somehow bridges the winter-spring transition quite nicely using winter citrus and root vegetables, for perhaps the last time.  I’ve always loved having a March birthday – it’s always a month of hope regardless of where you live, as the vestiges of winter are shaken off and spring warmth slowly seeps in.  We lose some of that seasonality in CA, but even here you can feel the difference as March roars in but leaves gentle green buds in its wake.

This late winter salad, inspired by Ludo Lefebvre’s Roasted Carrot Salad, surprised J into saying “You may make me into a vegetarian yet.”  Carrots are a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin A.  Enjoy!

Roasted Rainbow Carrot Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

IMG_3352 IMG_3353

Ingredients:

For the carrots:

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-1½ pounds small rainbow carrots, approximately 5 inches in length, scrubbed clean and tops trimmed (if using larger carrots, peel and slice into sticks about 4-5 inches in length)
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 6 cloves of unpeeled garlic, smashed (use more if you like garlic)
  • 5 to 7 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the blood orange vinaigrette:

  • 2 blood oranges, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  •  cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the cumin crema:

  • 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt (Fage)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  •  Pinch kosher salt

For the salad:

  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped roasted almonds
  • 2 blood oranges, cut into supremes
  • 3-4 tablespoons of chopped herbs: parsley, tarragon, chervil, or chives
  •  Kosher salt or fleur de sel

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Toast the cumin for both the carrots and the yogurt in a small pan set over medium heat until it becomes aromatic. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  2. Mix together the carrots, bay leaf, smashed garlic, thyme and olive oil in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon cumin over the carrots, and mix again.
  3. Tip the carrot mixture onto a sheet pan, and spread evenly into one layer.  Season with salt and pepper and place in oven. Roast until the carrots are soft and beginning to caramelize, 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Remove carrots from oven, discard aromatics and set aside to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Combine blood-orange juice, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, and whisk to incorporate. Slowly add the olive oil while continuing to whisk, until the dressing is emulsified. Add the carrots to the bowl, and toss to combine.
  6. Make the cumin crema by combining the nonfat Fage greek yogurt, lemon juice and remaining toasted cumin in a mixing bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Add a pinch of salt.
  7. Assemble the salad on a large serving plate. Put the cumin crema in the center of the plate, and using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange the carrots on top of the greek yogurt. Sprinkle the onion and the nuts on top of the carrots, then add the supremes of blood orange. Sprinkle the herbs across the top of the salad, and finish with a pinch or two of salt. Make a mess when serving, so that everyone gets plenty of the cumin crema along with the vegetables.

Let it be, let it be…

Since I have no formal culinary training and learned to cook by reading cookbooks or by watching and talking to my mother and grandmother, I have had to painfully work my way through many mistakes.  And I’m still learning!  There always seems to be some new ingredient, technique, or flavor profile to learn and explore.  I love making the kitchen my lifelong science experiment.

That said, one of the earlier lessons I had to learn was how to ‘let it be’ and let a protein properly sear.  Less is more.  So here’s to less poking, prodding, and moving around, in order to allow for a proper maillard reaction and the tasty results that ensue!  The seared protein will release on its own from a well-heated pan once it’s ready to be flipped.

For a quick weeknight dinner the other night, I made Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radishes, inspired by this gorgeous recipe from Epicurious.

IMG_3214

Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radish

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 small watermelon radishes, very thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yuzu juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 sea scallops (about 1 pound), side muscles removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 avocado, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, as garnish

Instructions:

  1. Toss daikon, vinegar, and yuzu juice in a medium bowl; season with salt.  Set aside.
  2. Pat scallops dry and season scallops with salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add scallops and cook until seared and golden brown but still raw in the center, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Let cool slightly, then slice each scallop crosswise into 2 rounds.
  3. Divide avocado among plates; drizzle with lemon juice and season with salt.
  4. Set scallops on avocado and drizzle grapefruit juice and oil over.  Top with grapefruit zest and season with salt to taste. Arrange reserved and drained watermelon radishes over and among the scallops.  Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.