Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lemon, Ricotta, and Almond Flourless Cake

Internal Medicine is a huge topic and was definitely cramming for my shelf exam at the end of the rotation. Add all my extracurriculars and having a windfall of new research projects, and I definitely felt the Internal Medicine exam was rough.
In medicine, it's not only your test scores, but also your personality and teamwork. The Internal Medicine rotation, more than any other rotation so far, truly depends on team dynamics. Hearing other classmates' stories and learning how to work with all types of people was definitely a good life lesson. Overall, I've been blessed with working with great residents and faculty, and IM people tend to be very nice.
Funny how nervous you get when the stakes are raised. Knowing this was my future specialty, I endured an agonizing 4 week wait - I don't think I've ever been so scared to see my grade. Fortunately, it all worked out and I was happy with my final grade. Phew!
So, here is a gorgeous Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Flourless Cake adapted from Cakelets and Doilies. This is such an elegant dessert and reminds me of snooty high society ladies back then sipping tea and eating cakes.

Of course, these upper class women were probably evaluated and critiqued too if they wore an unfashionable dress or weren't knowledgeable enough on the latest gossip or had an almond from their cake stuck in their teeth. And their careers (ie political statuses and marriages) probably depended just as much, or not more, on their superiors' evaluations. Talk about high stakes!
Well, I wolfed down my lemon cake shamelessly. I can eat all the cake I want at home in my pajamas, judgement free.

Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Flourless Cake

1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup castor/superfine sugar (ie ground granulated sugar)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon zest
4 eggs, separated and at room temperature (easier to separate eggs when cold)
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
Packed 1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese, not fat free
Flaked almonds and confectioner's sugar, to decorate

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan.

Beat the butter, 1/2 cup caster sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest with an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Scrap down the sides of the bowl, then gradually add the egg yolks, one at a time, continuing to beat until fully combined. Add the almond meal and beat to combine. Fold ricotta through the almond meal mixture.

Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining sugar to the egg whites mixture and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gently and gradually fold the egg whites into the cake mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and top cake with almond flakes. Bake for 1 hour or until a knife just comes clean, but do not overbake. I put foil on after 30 min to prevent the edges from browning too quickly; another option is a water bath. Let cool completely in the cake tin. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Chicken Souvlaki Kebabs with Tzatziki Sauce

Well, it's no fun to post your failures, but my culinary endeavors don't always go, ah, according to plan.

Growing up, when mom served a whole roast chicken, everyone attacked the thighs, legs, and wings, leaving the the breast til the end because it was so dry. But once I got older and learned about nutrition (innocence is bliss!), I thought, "oh fine! Breast is okaaay, I guess." 
When I saw these gorgeous kebab from The Iron You using breast meat, I thought, "this chicken breast recipe looks pretty awesome." But, alas, this was a big epic fail my first time around. The recipe itself wasn't the problem. It was the fact that I was too lazy to take out my grill and grill the darn chicken. Instead I set it to broil. According to the recipe, one broils for a few minutes and ta-da, you get nice grilled chicken.
Well, I broiled and nothing happened; when I peeked in the oven, I saw raw chicken still. Thus, I broiled some more... and more... and more....but I still saw pink. Finally, after 40 minutes, I got nice looking golden chicken skewers.

Unfortunately, it's dry as heck. This means I got to eat very dry chicken for a whole week's worth of dinners. Yay. And our apartment was like a sauna.
Alright, so it wan't that bad. But it's not great. And I want great food. Which means food with fat, of course.

Anyways, I did it again with thighs this time and it turned out infinitely better. I even jazzed it up with vegetables, so I could feel good about myself. So, take heart if your recipes don't work the first time around - worst comes to worst, you just eat dry chicken for a while and try again. 

And learn from me, folks: don't broil your chicken breast for 40 minutes unless you like eating cardboard. 

Chicken Souvlaki Kebabs with Tzatziki Sauce

1 lb chicken thighs, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, cut
1 green bell pepper, cut
1 red onion, cut

1 container (6 oz) plain Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped

In a small bowl stir olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt and black pepper. Add chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Make tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Soak skewers in water for 5 minutes. Remove chicken chunks from the marinade and skewer onto bamboo sticks, alternating with your red, green peppers and red onion slices

Heat a grill to medium-high or broil in oven. Grill the chicken kebabs, until cooked through and nicely browned on all sides and chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 8 minutes per side. Serve with tzatziki sauce.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whole Foods Quinoa Salad

One of my new year's resolutions was to run 10k below 9 min/mile pace. Well, I did it!

I signed up for a Halloween run because I actually have weekends and I wanted to run in costume! I persuaded/coerced my friends into running the 5k and 10k with me (in costume of course).

I wanted a non restrictive outfit so I went as a hula girl with my pink lei, flower, and tropical sports bra. I had to make my hula skirt by hand with crepe streamers since all four stores didn't have hula skirts (I mean really! It's Halloween people!). Unfortunately, by the end of the run I only had half a hula skirt left - good thing I wore shorts underneath!
Part of the perks of running is that I don't feel the urge to pig out afterwards since I'm too tired. But after running this race, I was starving and wolfed this down Whole Food's Quinoa Salad copycat recipe, adapted from Damn Delicious. I didn't burn all those calories for nothing!

Whole Foods Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup shelled edamame
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup grated baby coconut
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup craisins

Cook quinoa according to package instructions.

Whisk together balsamic vinegar and lemon juice to make the dressing.

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, mango, bell pepper, edamame, red onion, coconut flakes, almonds, and craisins. When ready to serve, pour the balsamic vinegar mixture on your salad and enjoy!
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

All American Brownies

“I ain’t stayin’!”

Mr. R scowled at us with all the ferocity of a grizzly Vietnam War veteran; he had made up his mind to go home, and we clearly weren’t cooperating. Never mind that he had arrived in the ICU today for a nasty bout of pneumonia. Never mind that he needed 5 liters of O2 to breathe, had IVs and lines stuck everywhere, and couldn't even drink water on his own. He needed to go home today to take care of his wife, who recently had a stroke.

Holding a sponge to his mouth, so he could suck some water, I told him, "Hold on sir, you first need to get well and out of the ICU yourself."

He tried sit up in protest, but was too exhausted to move more than his head. Grudgingly, he growled, "Fine, but I'm going home tomorrow then!"
Well, tomorrow came and went, and we told him he wasn't strong enough either. Trying to keep his spirits up, the team said, "Well, maybe Friday … IF you have help at home." It was highly doubtful, but that kept him going for the week, and he managed to move from the ICU to the floor unit. Friday rolled around; after calling all his family members and every social work option the VA offered, we learned there wasn't going to be anyone available to take of him 24/7, so he would have to stay the weekend. I knew Friday morning’s rounds with him was going to fun.

“What the hell do you mean I have to stay?! I need to go home to my wife now! Today is Friday!” His wrinkled hands wrung the bed sheets in frustration.

 “I’m sorry Mr. R, we want to watch you a little longer. It’s for safety reasons – you might fall, and there wouldn’t be anyone to help you. How would you be able to go to the bathroom?” The upper level said. “It’s a risk we can’t take. Don’t worry, we’ll get you taken care of after the weekend.”

That wasn’t what Mr. R wanted. He argued with us another ten minutes, then, dejectedly, he slumped in his bed, refusing to respond to any more questions or making eye contact. My heart really felt for him, and I wondered if his wife knew how much he was fighting to go home.

My kind attending tried to cheer him up, "Hey, Mr. R, do you want stat McDonald's?” He was under palliative care, so diet wasn’t an issue; happiness was. “Stat fried chicken? Stat pizza? We’ll order anything you want stat." No response. But when she offered the “amazing” brownies I baked for the team that morning, his eyes perked up just a little bit. A subtle clinical sign, but the astute attending knew “brownies” had potential. "Alright," the doctor ordered, "stat brownies and milk for Mr. R!"
Being good medical students, my partner and I knew when the attending requested stat anything (stat blood draw! Stat CT scan!) it meant absolutely right now. We jogged the 0.5 miles across the VA hallways to get back to the team room for emergency brownies and a little milk carton.

The rest of the team continued rounding while I knocked on his door and found him staring at the wall. “Hey Mr. R,” I said, “I’m, um, sorry about you having to stay the weekend. Anyways, I baked these brownies myself … and I hope you like them. They’ve got Nestle Cocoa.”

Slowly, he took a bite and muttered, "It's good. Very good." He proceeded to eat/inhale them so quickly that we had to hold them back, lest he choke (“Sir, I'm not responsible for any aspirations if these brownies are too tasty”). I cut up the rest of the brownies and saved them for him for later. He looked down at the brownie in his hand, and mumbled, “Thank you.”

I’ve baked for too many people and clients over the years to count. But somehow, this old man’s thank you remains the most poignant. I was touched, knowing these brownies were good enough for a devoted veteran and husband. And I learned a good little trick from my attending that day. Recipe adapted from Inspired Taste.

All American Brownies

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar (1 cup if you like it sweeter - I like dark chocolate personally)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Nestle)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper (if you want taller brownies, put them in a smaller pan)

Heat water in a medium saucepan (1 to 2 inches deep) until barely simmering. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa powder and the salt in a medium heat-safe bowl over simmering water. Stir mixture until the butter has melted. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside for 3 to 5 minutes to cool slightly. Mix in vanilla extract and eggs. Add the flour and stir until just incorporated with the wooden spoon or spatula (The batter will be quite thick). Spread evenly into your lined pan.

Bake ~25 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted into the center and come out almost clean (you want it to be a little moist with batter).  Cool completely then remove from pan. Enjoy!
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Negima Yakitori (Chicken and Scallion Skewers)

Although I am a huge fan of sushi and Japanese culture, I actually don't know much about non-sushi Japanese food. "Yakitori" is a Japanese type of skewered chicken, but can also refer to skewered food in general.
Negima Yakitori Chicken and Scallion Skewers Japanese green onion kabob
Yakitori first appeared in the middle of the 17th century. Due to Buddhism, the eating of chicken, beef and other meat was essentially prohibited in Japan, but overseas cultural influences led to chicken being regularly eaten. Because chicken was a high-priced commodity, offal (ie liver, heart, intestines, gizzard, skin and cartilage) made up the majority of yakitori at that time. Until the end of WWII and a stable supply of chicken was established, yakitori remained a delicacy.
Negima refers to the green onion. You have a choice of either salt or tare sauce flavor. The tare is a sweet sauce based on soy sauce, similar to teriyaki, that is basted over the yakitori while grilling or broiling (source).
Recipe adapted from Manu's Menu and Saveur. Yum, I love Asian skewers.
Negima Yakitori Chicken and Scallion Skewers Japanese green onion kabob

Negima Yakitori (Chicken and Scallion Skewers)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (don't use breast)
9 spring onions/scallions

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 inch piece ginger
pepper, to taste

Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine the mirin, soy sauce, sake, water, brown sugar and the green part of 1 spring onion. Bring it to a boil over high heat. When it starts to boil, decrease the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half. (~30 min) Let cool to room temperature before using. Reserve 1/3 of the sauce in a small bowl for the final coating.

Cut the scallions and chicken into 1 inch pieces. Alternate each chicken slice with a piece of spring onion.

Broil skewers for 6 minutes on a wire rack in the oven or grill on medium. Every few minutes, brush the sauce onto the meat on both sides and continue to broil for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through and to caramelize the sauce.

Transfer the skewers to a serving plate and brush the chicken with the reserved sauce with a clean brush (to avoid contamination).  Serve warm.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Disney's Ratatouille

When I first saw ads for Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille, I admit I thought it was going to be one weird movie. (I also thought that the same when seeing ads for Up!, Wall-e, Finding Nemo, and Cars)

Clearly, I was wrong. Ratatouille has one of the cutest and most creative story lines (realism, on the other hand, is not its strength). Paris and cooking and cute art = everything I love.
Frequent questions and comments I get are "How did you learn how to cook" or "I can't possibly ever learn to cook." Chef Gusteau's famous line from Ratatouille "Anyone can cook" is really the inspiration for OCD.
I had a ton of vegetables I needed to use up and wanted to make ratatouille adapted from Comfort of Cooking. Ratatouille (pronouned ra-tuh-TOO-ee) is a traditional French stewed vegetable dish, usually a side dish, that originated in Nice. There are several methods on how to make ratatouille. One is to simply sauté all of the vegetables together. Another is to layer the vegetables in a casserole and bake in an oven; the third is to layer it and then simmer in a pot for a stew (info from Wiki and GourmetSleuth). Although it's somewhat tedious cutting everything, the layered version was just too pretty not to try.
B thought it was going to be a super fancy dish based off of the movie and was incredibly disappointed when he realized it was just a pot of stewed veggies. Well that's works for me. Bring on the veggies!

Disney's Ratatouille

1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can tomato puree plus 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small eggplant, such as Italian or Chinese
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, one tablespoon of the olive oil, and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. Trim the top of the red pepper and remove the core.

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside.

Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone, or with some crusty French bread, atop polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain.
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Honey Mint Tea

Today we have a special guest post by my favorite (ie only) brother - this is his recipe and writing :)

Hello! I’m Hans, Chef Uy’s younger brother and often a sous chef in her kitchen (I’m sometimes mentioned in her recipes). However, I’m here with a special recipe of my own, my honey mint green tea.
I first got into honey mint green tea because of Sweet Leaf, an iced tea brand in Texas. I really like the “Mint & Honey” flavor, and I decided to recreate that recipe myself. I found my inspiration in Charleston, South Carolina at the Charleston Tea Plantation - surprisingly the only place where tea is actually grown in the United States. All the major tea companies (like Nestea) acquire tea grown in other countries like China and India. Anyways, we bought a small tin of their “Island Mint Green Tea,” and when I got home, I knew that I had the right tea leaves to make my recipe.
It took me several tries to get my recipe right since I experimented with some other ingredients like agave and mint extract. I also just estimate the amount of honey and sugar I add, and on a few occasions, I accidentally made the tea way too sweet, so the only remedy was to dilute it with more tea, leaving us with two huge pitchers of it. But the nice thing about my recipe is everything can be adjusted according to your preferences, so if you like it sweeter, or you like more honey than sugar, then you can do it easily.
Chef Uy remarked what an elaborate process it is when I make my honey mint green tea, since I’m always hovering around my teapot to make sure the tea is the right temperature before I pour it in the pitcher or carefully pouring out honey without making a mess. Pulling a quote from Toy Story 2, I proclaimed, “You can’t rush art!” This is absolutely my favorite drink to make in the summer, and I hope you all enjoy it!

Hot water
Bigelow Mint Medley tea bags or some similar mint green tea (I’ve run out of my Charleston green tea, but I’ve found that Bigelow works just as well)
Fresh mint leaves

I would use one Bigelow tea bag for every 200mL of tea you plan on making, as well as a nice bunch of mint leaves that I just soak in the hot water with the tea. I’m really picky** about not soaking the tea bags too long since that makes the tea bitter, so just soak them for about a minute, bobbing the tea bags in the water a few times to get the flavor out. Afterwards, remove the tea bags and mint leaves and let the tea sit until it is just warm, not boiling hot. Do not immediately pour the tea into the pitcher, as the sudden heat may crack the pitcher.

While you wait for the tea to cool down a bit, add the honey and sugar into the empty pitcher. Once the tea is the right temperature, carefully pour it into the pitcher. Since the tea is still warm, it shouldn’t be too hard to get the sugar and honey to mix.

Once all the tea is made, put it in the refrigerator until it is cold and ready to serve.

** Ok, Chef Uy can't help comment that "really picky" is an huge understatement. He was positively horrified when I suggest he let it sit and go to something else. Apparently, I'm terribly uncultured since I'm content drinking the "bitter dredges of mushy leaves." My apologies to the tea connoisseur of the family. 
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