An Amuse-Bouche

You’ve seen it on Instagram, you’ve seen it on Buzzfeed, you’ve seen it all over the Internet – trendy, stylish foods that toe the line between disgusting and impressively creative. Yet we can’t get enough! We line up for hours to try rainbow bagels and cookie dough served in ice cream cones. We “do it for the ‘gram.” We are foodies.

I am one of these foodies. I watch Food Network, I follow more food Instagram profiles than anything else. I’ve made lists of restaurants to try. I can name exotic foods and spices, and I yell at Chopped contestants like I’m watching football.

But I also have a secret… I never actually learned how to cook.

I was a picky eater as a child. No one in my family ever seemed to be particularly excited about food. Growing up, I saw cooking as more of a chore than a hobby. Once I got into food, I found myself wanting to make the dishes I saw on Pinterest or practice the skills I saw on TV. In 2015, I started this blog on another platform. Now I’m continuing that blog here as of 2018.

The point of this blog is to document both my pre-med journey and my culinary exploration and share it with my readers. I hope to share the lessons I’ve learned, as well as my successes and many failures. I feel learning to cook is not only a great hobby, but a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle while I pursue my dream of being a physician.

“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”  -Julia Child

Week 5 Showstopper: 3-Tiered Pies

In true showstopper fashion, the final challenge was to build a three-tiered self-supporting structure of three pies all with a central theme. Luis picked the four seasons. Nancy made three pies with some variation of apple. Some bakers chose watercrust pastry for savory pies and then stacked them all on top of each other. Some used a type of display which depended on the pie for structure.

I’ve decided to skip the “tiered” aspect. Instead, I’ll be baking three pie under a common theme. This is a lot of food and I don’t want to waste it by making all three pies at once. I doubt my small family would be able to eat enough to make it worth it.

The Plan

The first job is to pick the theme and number of pies. I’m sticking with three. That’s already SO many pies!! As for the theme, I tried to come up with options but I kept going back to the same idea: boozy pies. I wanted to bake pies inspired by cocktails. My goal is to utilize different alcohols, so that I avoid a one-note underlying flavor in these pies.

Pie #1: Mint Julep

The mint julep is a classic cocktail made of bourbon and mint simple syrup. This pie uses a chocolate wafer crust, a mint julep filling, and whipped cream.

1. Crust

I know I cheated because I used Famous Chocolate Wafers for the crust. Everyone knows I can bake cookies already.

2. The Custard

This was my first time making a custard with gelatin. I see the bakers on GBBBO use gelatin but I was a bit nervous. I had access to the powder rather than gelatin sheets. Making this made me so nervous. Sticking my measuring cup in boiling water.

3. Whipped Cream

I made whipped cream with mint simple syrup a few days ahead. Unfortunately by the time I made the pie it tasted rotten! Tub of Cool Whip to the rescue!

4. Bake

This was a quick bake with all of the filling ingredients followed by a long freeze.

5. Final Thoughts

This tasted like a grasshopper pie, so it tasted good. I caught some of the bourbon in some of the bites, but overall it didn’t remind me of a mint julep. However, the filling is like a cross between a popsicle and ice cream. I really enjoyed the texture.

Pie #2: Rum Old-Fashioned

Featuring rum and bitters (spirits infused with fruit, spices, leaves, bark, roots, and herbs), this pie is a play on a lattice peach pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ve made pie crust a million times at this point. It came together nicely with a good moisture level. Chilled it as a disc in saran wrap. Rolled it out, pricked the base with a fork, then chilled again.

2. The Peaches

I actually bought fresh peaches, sliced them, and then froze them. Probably not the best idea because they wouldn’t thaw. They got a little ugly after defrosting but they were still good.

3. The Filling

I was fiddling with the pie crust instead of paying attention to my pan. I combined the juice and alcohol from the macerated peaches with cornstarch. It thickened while I wasn’t paying attention and nearly stuck to the pan and burned.

4. The Assembly

I had never thought of braiding the lattice before! I gave it a shot and it looked nice. I’ll have to think the rest of the lattice through next time.

5. The Bake

The edges of the crust caught a little bit. I put the crust shields on a little too late. The inside seemed baked, but it looked like some of it congealed more (possibly because I overcooked the filling?).

Final Thoughts

The crust held together and did not get soggy. When you cut into the pie the filling stayed intact. You could definitely taste the booze, but I may adjust the bitters if I ever make this again.

Pie #3: Margarita Pie

Margaritas (not the frozen kind) are made with lime, tequila, and an orange liquer called triple sec. I switched out triple sec for Cointreau in this baked then chilled pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ll admit I cheated a bit. I did not want to bake my own graham crackers for this crust. This crust is made of crushed graham cracker crumbs with salt and butter, then baked for a short time before filled and baked again.

2. The Filling

There’s is soooo much lime juice in this. I now need to buy a juicer to prevent my poor husband from struggling against them ever again.

3. Bake & Chill

I use a pizza stone for my pies (as per the pie queen herself- Erin McDowell). It helps evenly distribute heat.

4. The Decorations

I piped whipped cream onto the cooled custard then topped with salted limes – like a margarita!

5. Final Thoughts

So much lime! You get hit with lime then the bitter bite of tequila. It was set nicely and didn’t slop over or leak when sliced. It was also quite pretty. I only worried that perhaps I didn’t mix it enough because I could see swirls of egg yolk in places.

The End Result

I think i would have been disqualified after this round. Pre-made biscuits and a tub of Cool-Whip weren’t exactly in the rules… However, this challenge has been the bottleneck for this whole bake-through. I’m just glad it’s over!

This Week in the Kitchen

A lot of my inspiration, cooking, and food lately has been focused on Asia. For those of you who don’t know me I lived in China for a year. My brother currently lives in Korea. My hobbies include listening to kpop and watching anime and other Asian dramas. I started experiencing Asian food modeling off the media I was consuming (snacks from T.V shows, recipes from celebrity’s favorites). Lately I’ve been visiting Asian markets and it has been supplying ingredients and new things to try.

Recipes/Experiments

Korean Soy-Sauce Eggs: These delicious soft-boiled eggs were marinated in several aromatics. Opening the lid when they were done marinating just smelled amazing. I took out the eggs and then marinated chicken in it!

I wanted to brag about the memorial day dinner I made. I made a Korean-inspired “cook out”. We grilled up some pre-marinated meat from H-mart (bulgogi and pork belly), made some Japanese mayo-based sauces, and made them into burgers. This was served with Kimchi potato salad from NY Times and blanched asparagus with a gochujang sauce.

I learned a new burger trick! Take store-bought burger buns, brush with egg white, sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Put into the oven at 375 for 5-8 minutes.

Foodie Fails

I saw someone on TikTok make their cold brew with milk. She had coffee pouches similar to a tea bag and a large mason jar. I tried using my standard cold brew maker from Amazon.

Around the World

The trips to Asian grocery stores continue! Last week I got an intense haul from H-Mart (a Korean market chain). Examples of snacks eaten include corn ice cream (it even looked like a little corn!), Takoyaki (fried octopus ball) puffs, and instant beef bone soup.

Foodie Media

Currently watching: MasterChef (I’m on Season 6)

Currently Reading: Brew

Restaurants Tried

Palette Collective Coffee Shop (Tempe)

This Week in the Kitchen

TikTok really has been showing me all these fun recipes and tricks. I feel like half of the things I’ve made in the kitchen lately have been from some TikTok.

Recipes/Experiments

Honeycomb Crispies: Switching out Honeycomb seemed like a delicious idea but adding the honey changed the texture of the

Lebanese Hummus: Another TikTok recipe. Absolutely amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever had hummus that tasted this good. I thought adding water would make it runny but it was a perfect smooth, thick texture. I am never buying Sabra hummus again.

Foodie Fails

I tried to make an omelette (fritatta?) from of a TikTok video. It used enoki mushrooms, which I love, but mine were thicker and bigger so the texture didn’t look as nice. Then I forgot to use my non-stick pan and ended up with scrambled eggs instead…

Around the World

I tried boba milk tea from a can. The milk tea wasn’t bad but the boba were awful!

Yuanyang Tea: This is a Hong Kong style beverage made from black tea and coffee. I need to figure out the right balance.

Foodie Media

Currently Watching: Best Baker in America

Currently Reading: Brew. This is going to turn me into SUCH a coffee snob I swear.

Restaurants Tried

I drove out to H-Mart in Mesa. Husband and I ate lunch at the food court. I had black bean noodles and he ordered Korean fried chicken from Left Wing.

Would you guys like me to write a guide to their Food Court?

This Week in the Kitchen

Welcome to a new series where I document my less exciting progress in the kitchen. I don’t always have time for my Great British Bake Off challenges, or fancier recipes to show off. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying new foods, playing around with new recipes, or going to restaurants around the Valley.

Recipes/Experiments

I fried eggs in cream based off of a suggestion from Food52. Delicious!

Mix peanut butter, plain yogurt (I use Siggis), and a little bit of honey. Dip apples in it for a delicious snack.

I made a Food Network recipe for flank steak with cabbage and bacon. I think this is the best steak I’ve made yet.

Foodie Fails

I tried to make cookie brittle from a cookbook called Genius Desserts (by Food52). It seemed simple until I forgot to add all of the flour and poured it into the pan… and realized after it started baking. I was so frustrated I just threw it away and didn’t try to remake it.

Around the World

I’ve been venturing to different Asian grocery stores in my community. I went to one near my house that I’d never seen before and picked up some goodies.

First I tried, Filipino spaghetti made from a package of sauce.

I also bought frozen ddeukboki, a Korean bar food/street food dish made with rice cakes, fish cakes, and a spicy sauce.

I also bought my first container of Japanese mayo, which I used in a “ramen hack” I saw on TikTok.

Foodie Media

Currently watching: Chopped Sweets.

Currently Reading: Brew

Restaurants Tried

Mochi Fresh (Tempe)

Bourbon Steak (Scottsdale) – Review coming soon!

My Recipe Notebook

As many of you may have assumed from my post on Mise En Place and learning to cook, I write down all of my recipes before I try them. I remember things best when I write them down. There are probably four or five notebooks around my house with various scribbles. Though they are primarily used for recipes I may have grocery lists, to-do lists, and other lists in them as well. Recently I filled one entire notebook. I thought it would be nice to reminisce on some memories and mention some of the best recipes.

This notebook seems to have started out for To-Do lists. I can tell it started in 2018 based on the Medical school list and the calculations I did for my taxes. It goes all the way through the pandemic, including my wedding, and into early 2021. The first few recipes don’t have titles. Based on the instructions I can tell one was a strawberry shortcake recipe. I can also see that this is where I started to venture out into global cuisines. There are recipes for curries, bubble & squeak, and other recipes with origins from outside of the U.S.

Please note some recipes aren’t online so I can only share where I found them!

Recipes to Highlight:

Peach Tart: the almond extract in this is a perfect note with the sweet, sweet peaches. The crust was crumbly and light. My family devoured it.

Peanut Butter Miso Cookies: The miso in this NY Times recipe adds an umami to a class peanut butter cookie. The contrast of this umami with the demerara sugar and sweet PB was heavenly.

Asparagus Orzo with Breadcrumbs: I think I ate 3 servings of this NY Times recipe. I couldn’t stop eating it! The tang of the lemon and the crunch of the breadcrumbs made this pasta dish out of this world.

Ribs with Balsamic BBQ Sauce: Cook your ribs however you want but make sure you use this rich, savory barbeque sauce from NY Times.

Baked Ziti: Simple, easy, and delicious. Hearty enough to feed hungry men.

Pureed Sweet Potatoes in Yogurt: Game changer. Super filling, healthy, and delicious.

Filipino Spaghetti: I heard this was made with something called “banana ketchup”. I found a pre-made sauce that made the sauce easy. Love the sweetness.

Bacon Kimchi Udon: If I hadn’t oversoaked the noodles it would have been absolutely perfect. Smoky, creamy, and slightly tart from the kimchi.

Foodie Fails:

Pão de queijo: I bought cassava flour, which may have been the mistake. They ended up dense and gummy, not light and fluffy.

Cold Cream of Mint & Pea Soup: My very first recipe from Jacque Pepin’s cookbook exploded out of my food processor! What a mess!

Biscuits: My husband’s family loves biscuits and gravy. I can make gravy just fine but I’ve failed biscuit recipe after biscuit recipe.

There are some recipes here I’m definitely going to have to re-visit. Some of the other notebooks are reaching their last few pages. Stay tuned!

Cooking the Internet: Feta Pasta

A Finnish recipe went viral on TikTok and supposedly caused a shortage of the Greek cheese in the country. I started following my a video on TikTok and then decided to take some things from my pantry and get creative! I’ll be sharing the results with you today. This simple pasta has a lot of potential for customizing flavors, so feel free to share your recommendations.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, 1 or 2 containers
  • Feta cheese (1 block, but a container of crumbled will work just fine)
  • Olive oil
  • Tuscan dried herbs (about 1-2 Tbsp)
  • Tri-color rotini pasta
  • Salt and pepper

*Note: There are tons of Tuscan herb mixes out there. Make your own or buy some from the store. Mine included dried oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, cayenne, and fennel.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash your tomatoes, dry, and place in a glass baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix. There should be plenty of olive oil to coat the tomatoes.
  3. Make a space in the center of the tomatoes for the feta. Drizzle the feta with more olive oil and sprinkle with pepper.
  4. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.
  5. While the tomatoes and feta bake, cook your tricolor pasta to al dente. Strain when done cooking.
  6. When the tomatoes are done, remove from the oven. Break up the cheese and stir. Be careful of the tomatoes! They might pop and spray hot tomato juice!
  7. Add Tuscan herbs to the baking pan. Mix again.
  8. Add the pasta. Stir one last time and serve!

Week 5 Technical: Mini-Pear Pies

Paul Hollywood’s pear pies posed a tough challenge for the bakers. The pears are poached then wrapped in strips of pastry. If the pastry is too thick or thin, it won’t bake all the way through. If wrapped when the pears are too hot, the pastry can slip down.

Mini Pear Pies Recipe | Pear Recipes | PBS Food

The Bake

I’m going to be a bit nit-picky. I dislike cooking with lard and shortening. Rough puff can be made with purely butter so I’ll be using Erin McDowell’s recipe instead of Paul Hollywood’s. The rest of the recipe will be his.

  1. Rough Puff

I have to admit I was pleased when I first saw some lamination before the folds. I went through four folds (like Paul Hollywood’s recipe). The lamination wasn’t as obvious after multiple folds.

2. The Pears

For the sake of social distancing I ordered my groceries online. One pear wouldn’t sit up straight, one was a little mushy on top, and one barely had a stem. I poached the pears in the syrup, turning them every so often to evenly soak. I had difficulty maintaining a good boil if I turned down the heat at all. They were still a bit firm, which I assumed was probably good since they are still going to be baked. Unfortunately this made the removal of the core a bit tricky.

3. The Syrup

After removing the pears, I kept boiling the syrup to thicken it. I realized it wasn’t really clear when to remove the cinnamon sticks, so I left them in.

4. The Wrap

Okay I will admit that I did not measure the puff pastry like the instructions said. I tried but it was just irritating. I managed roughly even strips and they wrapped nicely.

5. The Bake

The pears baked nicely. More importantly, the pastry didn’t slide down during the bake!!I was worried the puff pastry was underdone because the color was fairly light. I should have been less haphazard with my egg wash.

The Final Result

I MADE PUFF PASTRY (and it didn’t suck)!!!!!!! The pears were cooked nicely and the pastry was cooked all the way through. I was only disappointed that I could only really taste the syrup at the top of the pear (until I poured the syrup over the top of a pear- yum).

I have to say that I have a better appreciation for the challenge. It took me several hours just to make the rough puff. The bakers only had two hours! Plus, they were cooking outside. How do you keep butter cold in an outside tent?!

Week 5 Signature: Apple Rose Custard Tart

The fifth week is for pies and tarts, starting with a classic custard tart. The classic example of this is a tarte au citron (a French lemon custard tart). The edges of the tart should be neat and the custard should be completely set so it doesn’t ooze when cut.

The Plan

There are a million different options for flavors. After some digging through Pinterest, I found a recipe using apple roses (which became popular a few years back). I’ve always wanted to try it, so why not now?

The Bake

  1. Pâte Sablée

Please excuse the fancy term. This is the name of the type of pastry used to make the crust. I wasn’t sure how much to handle it or how high it should go up the sides of the pan. I feel like I beat it up a little bit trying to get an even thickness.

2. The Custard

I was really surprised with how this came together! At first I thought I had messed up because it wasn’t quite coming together and then all of a sudden it started to congeal!

3. The Bake

The crust caught at the edges despite baking it in the middle rack. I think I should have used foil or pie crust guards. However it was nicely baked otherwise – tender and crumbly.

4. The Roses

Here’s where we ran into the issue. I sliced apples thinly with a mandolin. I then soaked the apples in the juice and sugar. I realized some of the apples did not get soaked long enough. To roll, the apple slices needed to be very pliable. Some broke as I rolled. I tried to work in batches. Unfortunately, I sliced my thumb on the mandolin and had to stop after a few roses.

Final Thoughts

This is the first challenge that I was unable to complete. I think it would have looked nice if I had been able to finish, but I’m not confident in the execution either. The custard was not quite set. It didn’t run off completely when I cut into the tart but it wasn’t nice and firm. I also didn’t care for the orange juice that took over the apple flavor. Perhaps apple juice next time?

I might re-try this at some point, but for now I need to wait for my thumb to heal.

Week 4 Technical: Tiramisu

The cake week technical challenge is the classic Italian cake tiramisu, a coffee and brandy soaked sponge cake with layers of marscapone frosting and chocolate. Tiramisu may not seem like a challenge, but I think the biggest challenge for the bakers was making the appearance to Mary Berry’s standards. Mary Berry asked for even layers that were evenly soaked. I’m just hoping the cake won’t end up looking like it was beat up in a fight…

Tiramisu Cake recipe

The Bake

At first glance the recipe doesn’t seem too complicated, but there are a lot of steps. Again, I think the challenge here is going to be keeping everything neat.

  1. The Batter

This is an odd batter. It only has three ingredients. It would have a meringue base if the egg yolks weren’t included, which means I’ll be getting the most rise from mixing the eggs and sugar. The flour is sifted and I was worried I undermixed it because as I spread it in the tray, I found pockets of flour. I mixed it as best as I could while trying to keep air in the batter.

2. The Bake

This cake came out much earlier than the recipe’s bake time but it was baked until springy (with some slight crisp edges I got to trim off). I was worried I’d have to find a way to trim this cake in half but I had enough to cut four separate squares.

3. Fillings

Nothing in this cake is sweet. The mascarpone “frosting” is essentially mascarpone and cream with a little powdered sugar. The coffee and brandy weren’t reduced into a syrup, just mixed and brushed right onto the cake.

I hate grating chocolate and hope I never do it again.

4. Assembly

My cake squares were not all perfect sizes. As a result, the cake seemed lopsided as I stacked it. Looking at the photo now, I see that I did not use enough of the brandy mixture to soak the sponge and create that darker appearance.

5. Decoration

I had zero idea how to get those loop-the-loops like in the show… I tried using one of my piping bags but the tip I chose was too large and the hot chocolate just poured out.

The Final Result

As I thought the layers were not soaked enough (something I’ll know for next time). The cake actually turned out alright and once I left the cake in the fridge long enough, I was able to trim it so it didn’t look like it had been smooshed. My European coworkers enjoyed that it was not very sweet and my American coworkers liked the high-quality chocolate.

Sweet Potato Toast

Toast seems to be undergoing a makeover recently. Everyone is going crazy about avocado toast, unicorn toast, Ezekial bread toast… but one toast trend caught my eye. Instead of using bread, you can make toast with sweet potatoes! These can be made in the oven, a toaster-oven, or in a toaster. If you’re looking for oven instructions, take a look at this website. I’ll be using a toaster.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices sweet potato, cut lengthwise (For one person, you should really only need one sweet potato)
  • Toppings: nut butters, whipped butter, fruit jam, bananas, berries

The toppings are where it gets interesting! Here are some of the combos I’ve seen:

  • Peanut Butter + Banana Slices + Bacon
  • Nut Butter + Cinnamon + Blueberries
  • Fried Egg + Salt + Pepper
  • Apple Butter
  • Cream Cheese + Jam
  • Cinnamon + Syrup or Honey
  • Sliced or Mashed Avocado + Lox + Capers

Try any combination you want or make up your own! Feel free to share your combos in the comments!

Instructions:

1. Slice the sweet potato. Stand it on a cutting board so you can cut slices about 1/4 in. thick.

Please be careful! It was particularly difficult for me to cut through the thickest parts.

2. Toast slices for 10-15 min. on high. Flip every 4-5 minutes until browned and fork-tender in the center.

I don’t actually own a toaster oven, so I used a regular toast instead. Turn the heat to a high setting. You might need to toast them a few times. (If the slice falls through, retrieve with tongs when the toaster is OFF.)

3. Put on the toppings!

One I covered with plain butter and some brown sugar. Another I spread with peanut butter. Add fruit or anything you’d like for breakfast.


Final Thoughts: I didn’t particularly care for sweet potatoes eaten this plain, but maybe it’s an issue of toppings. I really enjoy the idea of a healthy breakfast that is easy to make and easy to play around with. I might also try peeling them. Do you guys have a favorite topping for your sweet potato toast?