My Lemon Tree ft. Lemon Zucchini Bread

I have been caring for a very special lemon tree for almost six months now. Before I dive into this baking episode, I would like to tell you its story. The lemon tree used to belong to my former labmate, Evan. Unfortunately, he was never able to harvest any lemons from his tree. Mainly because the squirrels in his neighborhood kept attacking the tree and eating all its fruits.

When Evan finished his Ph.D and moved to North Carolina, he passed on the tree to me. I had recently moved to a house with a small yard space and I was beyond excited to welcome and take care of the lemon tree. I was a bit concerned about my squirrel neighbors (the ones who like to roll on my roof and make their presence known at 6 a.m. every morning), but I was determined to defend the four brave lemons that had managed to grow over the summer. Luckily, I realized that my squirrel neighbors were happily eating the nutty fruits growing on the only big tree planted in my yard. The squirrels really didn’t care about my lemons! Turns out that the nutty fruits they were eating were pecans.

Four months after I adopted the lemon tree, I started seeing the first hints of yellow on my lemons. I was so relieved to finally see some signs of ripening! I was legitimally worried that my lemons were going to stay green forever. In my defense, I had no idea how long it was supposed to take. The lemon tree was looking great and all I had to do was wait for the Thanksgiving Texan warmth to do its things. The first few days of December brought freeze warning days and the temperature dropped (why, Texas, why?!). My lemons had made it this far, I had to save them! With my roommate’s permission, I brought the lemon tree inside and let it have a few sleep overs in our living room. Having averted that crisis, I harvested my first lemon on December 12.

This very special lemon was used to bake my first lemon zucchini bread. I had no idea such combination existed or could even taste good until I tried a lemon zucchini bread that my roommate Jen baked last year. So yes, it was pretty memorable and revolutionary! As a kid, I absolutely hated zucchini. I was never a picky eater and my mom did not encourage such behavior. Her compromise (strategy?) was granting us a veto right on one food item (and one only!). It was the only food we could openly refuse to eat. For me it was an easy choice: zucchini. It was the only food that I disliked so much. Well, aside from the chocolate thing, but my mom was not interested in forcing chocolate down my throat…It wasn’t until recently that I started eating zucchini again. I guess it’s also a sign that I am getting old (more on that when I talk about brussel sprouts in a future post).

I followed a recipe posted on a blog called Two Peas and Their Pod and it was absolutely fantastic! I highly recommend it. The main question I had while making the bread (and a popular question in the comments section) was: how wet does the shredded zucchini have to be? Do I get rid of all the liquid? Some? Do I use a strainer or paper towels? What I ended up doing was removing the excess moisture of the shredded zucchini with paper towels and then transferring them to the measuring cup (the recipe called for 2 cups of zucchini, which was 2 medium zucchinis in this case). Then, I transferred the two cups to a bowl as shown in the picture above. As I prepared the other elements of the recipe, the shredded zucchinis released more liquid. I discovered that one shouldn’t discard that liquid. It will bring moisture to the dough that is otherwise quite dry without the natural zucchini juice. The only wet ingredients in the recipe are one cup of olive oil and lemon juice. Mixing them with the dry ingredients results in a very thick batter, but it came together beautifully when I added the zucchini with the extra liquid. So trust me (see picture below)! By the way it’s not so easy so grate zucchini, it was quite time consuming!

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While my lemon zucchini bread was being baked in the oven, I made a cranberry lemon juice glaze replacing the lemon glaze with confectioner’s sugar. Don’t worry, my cranberries are safely frozen now, so I’m pausing my cranberry glaze craze for a bit. What?! I had extra cranberries and left over lemon juice and I couldn’t possibily let them go to waste. I was pretty happy with the result: a delicious and moist bread packed with veggies and one couldn’t even tell (zucchini never tasted so good!).

But, where is the second loaf of bread?! I took it to the office to share with the labmates. I figured it was the proper way to remember Evan and maybe send him a bit of his lemon at least in spirit/symbolically.

P.S: these lemons were so juicy and they smelled amazing. Definitely, so much more aromatic than store bought lemons. Evan, I can’t thank you enough for this magical gift 🙂

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Loaf of bread at my desk in the office!

Austinite Fall 2016 ft. Cranberry Baked Goods

After living in Austin for over 2 years, I have learned that traditional [East Coast beloved] Fall does not start until after Thanksgiving. And by traditional I mean in terms of weather and leaves changing color. Even if October and November are too warm to even think about Fall-themed foods, grocery stores still manage to display copious amounts of pumpkins and cranberries. So inevitably, notwithstanding the warm weather, I found myself day dreaming about cranberry everything. Interestingly, another motivation to make all-of-the-things cranberry was to get rid of last season’s frozen cranberries in Tim’s freezer and make room for the upcoming November cranberry freezing fest.

Number one on the To-Bake list were cranberry scones because I have never been impressed by the scones I buy at bakeries. They either turn out dry or a bit tasteless. The ones I have eaten at Quacks are pretty good, but they are not earth-shattering, you know? I’m by no means implying that my scones are better or perfect. My goal was to get excited about scones again. By the way, if you know of a bakery that makes life-changing scones, please let me know. I´d love to try them!

Regarding my scones endeavor, I turned to Sally’s blog for answers. Her blog features a great cranberry orange scone recipe. What I learned from the recipe is that the secret to a delicious scone, texture and moisture wise, is really cold butter and a bit of heavy cream. I have to admit that my favorite part of the process was teaching Tim how to properly whisk an egg and heavy cream…by hand. His wrist was not prepared for the challenge. He ended up sore and I think I earned a few respect points, for yes, dominating the whisker (hehe).

The final touch in Sally’s recipe is an orange glaze made with freshly squeezed orange juice and confectioner’s sugar. Personally, I am not a big fan of icings because they are too sugary and end up drying the pastry. As an alternative, I created a cranberry jam to spread on top of the scones (ok, I think I technically called it the ‘Tim Siegler-inspired Cranberry Glaze’ because he dominates the cranberry sauce business…oh nomenclature). It mostly consists of fruit because I think it softens the pastry and the more fruit the merrier, right? I love fruity pastries. Here’s my cranberry glaze/jam recipe: 1 cup of cranberry + 1/2 cup of sugar (white or brown, both work depending on my mood) + 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water. I cook the mixture on the stove until the sugar dissolves and the cranberry softens. When the mixture starts looking like a thick cranberry sauce/jam, I add the freshly squeezed juice of an orange. This is a very important ingredient, trust me! It adds an extra kick of flavor to the cranberries and helps the mixture thicken as it cools down.

We brought the scones to a cookout organized by Tim’s lab and everyone loved them! Scones were a success and I know a picture is worth more than a 1000 words, but I should say we had a blast making them 🙂

Next on the To-Bake list were Sally’s Cranberry Cardamom Spice Muffins. Yes, you read correctly: cardamom. I was beyond excited about trying these muffins because 1) CRANBERRIES and 2) I spent the last two weeks in India where cardamom is the staple of its cuisine (tea, meat sauce, paneer sauce, dal, sweets, etc). I have been thinking about the fact that it’s a shame that Western cuisine does not know how to incorporate spices. This ‘out-of-touch with spices’ feeling was intensified during my India trip. When I returned, I was determined to learn how to better incorporate cardamom, clove, coriander, nutmeg, and cumin into my cooking. My mind was pretty much blown when I saw Sally’s recipe: cardamom in a pastry, genius! The muffin batter paired cardamom, cinnamon, and orange zest. It worked very well because cardamom is a sweet spice. It was a wonderful opportunity to jump start my appreciation of spices.

I baked these muffins with my roommate Jen on a Saturday morning for brunch and it was fantastic. Again, I replaced the orange glaze with my original ‘Tim Siegler-inspired cranberry glaze’ (this time I used brown sugar). I went for the cranberry jam/glaze especially because I love to pack my cranberry muffins with fruit, but it is really hard to do without ruining the muffins’ structural integrity.

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Jen and  I enjoyed the muffins outside in our front yard. And of course, we had to have mimosas in Jen’s hand-painted Maryland glasses. Looking forward to many more perfect outdoor brunches like this one 🙂

September Birthdays ft. Peach Cheesecake

I am back! I really did not expect to delay my next post for so long, but I did not have the energy to write while I was preparing for my candidacy exam. It was even hard to make time for cooking proper meals. Now that I have put that phase behind me, I am happy to announce that 1) I passed my candidacy exam and 2) I moved to a small house! This means: goodbye tiny kitchen, hello counter space and normal-sized oven. Upgrading to this new kitchen has been pretty life-changing and so much more conducive to cooking!

Last week, I baked a peach cheesecake to celebrate the September birthdays in the lab. Why cheesecake instead of birthday cake? Well, you can always count on cheesecake to put a smile on someone’s face. Plus, I had been day dreaming about peach cheesecake throughout the entire summer because Texas peaches are the best. It was the perfect opportunity to put the last delicious peaches of the season to a good use.

My cheesecake recipe is very simple, versatile, and absolutely delicious (it never fails me!). To be honest, I found the recipe for the cheesecake filling in a magazine approximately 10 years ago. I copied it from the magazine by hand and I have treasured it ever since. I don’t think I will ever get bored of this recipe because I can always add different fruits to the filling or change the compote that covers the cheesecake. Picture this: endless cheesecake possibilities.

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See? Really simple ingredients come together to make a rich and tasty cheesecake. I guess I forgot to take a picture of the eggs…

Over the years, I have made slight modifications to the recipe such as optimizing the butter-to-cookie ratio for the crust and the yogurt content. First, let’s discuss the crust. Mixing too much butter with the cookies results in a greasy and chewy crust. I personally like a crunchier crust at the bottom, yet moist at the cheesecake interface, allowing it to easily melt in your mouth. This can only be achieved using a specific amount of butter. However, if the butter content is too low, the cheesecake will be supported by a sad mess of cookie crumbles. The secret number I have come up with: 2 packs of Goya’s Maria Cookies + 1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons) of melted butter. One last tip to make the cookie crumbles: just put the cookies in the food processor and pulse away! Once the cookie “dust” has been mixed with the melted butter, the mixture can be spread on the pan and stored in the freezer while the filling is prepared.

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Now, let’s get serious. I am convinced that the secret to this filling (aside from the philadelphia cheese) is the yogurt. When I originally found this recipe, it called for “an individual plain yogurt from Nestlé.” While living in Chile, using this kind of metric for the filling was perfectly fine. Then I moved to the U.S. and surprise, surprise the individual yogurt portions were bigger! After a bit of trial an error, I decided to go with 1 cup of yogurt (measured in a liquid measuring cup). Do you want to know my game-changing secret for this filling? Plain greek yogurt. Forget regular plain yogurt and forget the cheesecake recipes that use sour cream. Greek yogurt is the way to go and it’s mind blowingly delicious.

fullsizerenderThe following steps are pretty straightforward. All the diary ingredients go into the blender. I guess I should also note that I wanted to make this cheesecake extra tall because we were celebrating two birthdays, so I doubled the filling recipe. I usually just mix one package of philadelphia cream cheese, 3 eggs, 1 cup of yogurt, and 1 can of condensed milk.

Finally, let me tell you about the icing on the cake. Wait no, the peach compote on the cheesecake. Sweet, flavorful, syrupy, peach heavenliness. A great and important tradition of chilean cuisine is jam and compote making. I absolutely love chilean-style jams and compote, which are more similar to french-style confiture, and I try to incorporate them into my baking endeavors as much as I can. Plus, I had an excellent teacher: my mom. So you’re probably wondering, how much sugar do I add to the peaches? I can’t tell you because I just eye-ball it. During this part of the baking process, I ask you to trust me and I give myself some creative freedom. Endless cheesecake possibilities, remember? I will never make the same batch compote even if I use the same fruit. I can tell you one secret component of my peach compote: I add orange juice. Did you notice the orange amongst the peaches in the first picture? The orange serves a purpose! Adding some citrus contrasts the brown sugar flavor and it helps turn the syrup more viscous.

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Peach compote is being prepared while the cheesecake is in the oven

 After I finished baking the cheesecake and waited until it was cooled to room temperature, I added the peach compote (again, waited for the compote to cool to room temperature). If the compote is added to the cheesecake while they are both hot, the cheesecake will not be able to firm enough to support the compote’s weight and it will fall apart. Everything put together ended up looking like this:

 

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I guess I should mention that I decided to bake individual cheesecakes for my roommate and I because I figured that I wouldn’t come home on Friday with cheesecake leftovers. Therefore, I baked leftovers in advance! But wait, I ended up sharing half of my individual cheesecake with Tim. Since he did not participate in this baking event, that makes him spoiled haha. No worries, I have plenty of cheesecake ideas for the near future. Next time, he will earn that slice of cheesecake 😉

Happy Birthday Ankit + Gary!

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Survived Writing My First Funding Proposal ft. Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been hiding for the past month. Well, the answer is easy. Certainly not in the kitchen, but certainly in my office. May was an eventful, fast-paced, sleep-depriving, and busy month.

To sum up, my To-Do list sort of looked like this:

  • Finish my semester course work: in-class presentation, project report, take final exam.
  • Finish my Teaching Assistant duties: last office hours, last assignment grading, last pile of emails, proctor final exam, grade final exam.
  • Prepare and ship my samples for my experiments at Berkeley National Lab.
  • Go to Berkeley National Lab during Memorial Day Weekend to conduct experiments.
  • Draft and write the funding proposal due on June 13.

In retrospect, it was quite overwhelming, but I was determined to power through it and tackle it while making the most of it. I did manage to enjoy my trip to Berkeley even though I was nervous about running the experiments on my own for the first time and I did spend most of the days in the lab. Regardless, I don’t really feel entitled to complain because a) it comes with the territory (these kinds of experiments are pretty much a right of passage in my research group), b) I did come back with useful data, c) I started and ended my days with a breathtaking view (see below), d) I treated myself to a two-day trip to Lake Tahoe (it might take a while until my bank account recovers, but oh well…so worth it!).

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View from the Berkeley National Lab. You can spot the Sather Tower, Berkeley campus, and that San Francisco fog.
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Sunsets over the Pacific ocean are just too perfect. Well, this is the bay, but I’m still convinced this is the Pacific ocean’s doing.

Without further ado, onto the cooking! This past week I’ve been writing, writing, writing (and occasionally eating and sleeping), so I wanted to celebrate finishing the proposal by baking something special. I stumbled upon Sally’s Grapefruit Yogurt Cake recipe. It was exactly what I was craving: something simple yet flavorful, soft and light, citrusy and summery. Honestly, it sounds fancier than its actual execution. The recipe includes the standard cake ingredients plus grapefruit juice, grapefruit zest, and greek yogurt. My only real difficulty I encountered was that the grocery store was almost out of grapefruit. I managed to grab the last two. It would have been heart breaking to have to settle for an orange cake. I was ready to compromise for a peach yogurt cake, but all the peaches were underripe. There will be a peach yogurt cake experiment in the near future because I’ve had the vision and now that it’s ingrained in my brain, I must try it.

Sally also suggested replacing the vegetable oil by coconut oil if we wanted to. I had some coconut oil I needed to finish, so I decided to be brave and went for it. I say brave because I am not very skilled when it comes to coconut oil. The first time I tried substituting vegetable oil or butter for coconut oil, I essentially improvised and it was a disaster. I had no idea that I was supposed to melt the coconut oil to 1) get the proportions right and measure it in liquid form and 2) make it blend better with the mixture (cake, cookie dough, etc). Coconut oil looked like and felt like butter, so I improvised and assumed I could just use it like butter. Again, the proportions were wrong and I had huge chunks of coconut all over my loaf cake. Not a pleasant texture nor taste. After reading a few blogs (thank you internet and Google), I have come a long way! I used the same amount of coconut oil as specified for vegetable oil, successfully melted the coconut oil in the microwave without burning it (1 min and 30 sec), and measured it in a liquid measuring cup.

Since it was my first time trying this recipe (although Sally has never failed me), I didn’t make any changes to it. Well, technically, I skipped the glaze because I decided I wanted to eat the leftover grapefruit instead. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of grapefruit juice, which in my case, corresponded to juicing a half large grapefruit. The amount and type of sugar used in this recipe is on point. The brown sugar pairs really well with the grapefruit and provides a ‘caramelized grapefruit’ type sensation to the cake. 1 cup of brown sugar might seem like a lot, but it’s enough to balance the grapefruit’s tartness and not give you a sugar coma at the same time. Next time I make this cake, I am tempted to add a bit more greek yogurt and reduce the amount of coconut oil just to play around with the cake’s texture. I think the main difference between using vegetable oil and coconut oil is that the latter makes a denser cake while the former would allow the cake batter to rise a bit more. I will stick with coconut oil for now because I still have some left in the fridge and I like the taste and texture of the cake with coconut oil (it’s not overpowering at all). My engineering-self is curious to see what happens if I change the yogurt to oil ratio haha 🙂

The bottom line is Sally has a wonderful blog featuring wonderful recipes and you definitely go read it. I am really happy with this cake: it’s refreshing yet rich, flavorful, and satisfying. It has been the softest and most energizing breakfast I’ve had in a while.

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Now, if I had squeezed in time for Yoga after this breakfast, my morning would have been splendid. Instead, I added the finishing touches to the proposal, which meant that I could relax this evening and write this post.

grapefruit yogurt cake June 2016

 

Cozy Night In ft. Ceviche

A few months ago, Tim turned to me and proceeded to look at me intensely before proclaiming: “You know what, Camila? I don’t even know why we go out to eat. You should always cook because the stuff you make is so much better.” I am fairly certain that was meant as a compliment, but at the time I had my doubts since Tim had made such a drastic claim while he was eating the cheesy scrambled eggs tacos I had prepared for him. I put that meal together using the few ingredients I had left in my fridge after spending 12 intense hours at the Austin City Limits music festival. I was convinced that Tim’s palate at that moment was impaired due to exhaustion and starvation. Fast forward to Spring 2016 and here we are, making more meals at home on Friday evenings after a long day in lab. Yes, we are starving by the time we manage to put dinner on the table. But you know what? It’s fun and it’s so worth it.

There is one dish that is guaranteed to liven up and literally spice up Friday evening: ceviche. Technically, the Peruvians are the master chefs of ceviche and I will never deny or take it for granted. However, I have my own recipe and I am pretty happy with it. As you can see from the featured image it involves tomatoes and avocados, of course!

We prepared a salmon-based ceviche but you can play around with other fish. For those who haven’t tried ceviche yet: 1) DO IT and 2) the lemon juice takes of cooking the fish for you! Isn’t that amazing? Oven-free, soft, and moist cooked fish. The trick is to get the amount of lemon juice and the soaking time right.

Now, what really makes a ceviche stand out is the spices and the seasoning. I always incorporate spring onion or red onion (finely chopped), chives, cilantro o parsley (depending on the mood). Finally, I season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and some of my secret spices. I hope you were not expecting me to give away my secret spices! On that note, I would also like to acknowledge my mom. My own personal master chef and cooking heroine, who taught me everything she knows about ceviche 🙂

As you can imagine, ceviche involves lots of chopping and dicing. It can be a bit labor intensive if you are flying solo. Luckily for me, I have an expert lemon squeezer (yes, he’s quite skilled!) and chopping master-in-training. He’s been learning to handle the knives pretty well until his true nature emerges and he proceeds to do this:

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That moment when you leave Tim in charge of spring onions

After patiently waiting for Tim to be done playing with the vegetables, it’s time to add the “ceviche toppings.” As I mentioned earlier, I love to add diced tomatoes (preferably cherry) and avocados, but one can make all kinds of different ceviche. The Peruvians add their special corn (large, crunchy, not sweet) and yucca (starchy tuberous root, the closest thing to a Peruvian potato). For example, you could change it up by adding cucumbers and shrimp!

Ok, so we have made this ceviche, how do we eat it now? Two words: bread and butter. Run to you favorite local bakery and buy the freshest sour dough, country fresh, or pannacotta bread. The reason why I am suggesting these is because the breads that work best for ceviche are spongy ones that can absorb the lemon juice with a strong crunchy crust for proper support (you don’t want your ceviche toast to fall apart before it can get to your mouth!). Ceviche is always served cold. Remember to always use fresh fish and if you have ceviche left overs don’t worry. You can eat those the next day within 24 hours of making the ceviche.

P.S: Tim was very upset that he did not get to take any left overs home (i.e. I ate all the left overs by myself for lunch the next. I have no shame jeje).

Voilà!

Valentine’s Day ft. Chirimoya

On February 1st, I decided to give up baked goods for 2 months. I know, I know. It sounds counter productive for my blog and more importantly, it seems like a self-destructive life decision. Why am I doing this to myself? I’m calling it the “I  ate too much pie and cookies during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season cleanse.” Plus, grad school is busy and stressful and what have I been doing instead of doing more yoga and zumba? Yup, eating too many cookies.

When Valentine’s day came around, Tim was faced with the following dilemma: What do I get Camila when she has given up baked goods and she is allergic to chocolate? Ooops. Turns out that Tim was clever and sweet enough to listen to me raving about the chirimoyas I had seen at Central Market and got me some 🙂 It was a very special gift to me because chirimoyas are my favorite fruit in the world, but they are not easy to find. I was thrilled with my chirimoyas and very touched by the gesture since the last time I ate chirimoyas was when I visited Chile 3 years ago.

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Perfectly ripe chirimoya

Chirimoyas are originally from Central and South America. They used to be cultivated by the Incas! Fun fact: the name originates from the quechua “chiri” (cold) and “muya” (orchard). I recently learned that chirimoyas are also produced in Southern California, USA. The ones that Tim got were from Santa Barbara. In English, chirimoyas are technically called “custard apple” and I am not really sure why Central Market is calling them “cherimoyas” (The Incas would be so disappointed haha).

 

I still don’t really understand why the fruit is referred to as custard apple. Chirimoyas have nothing to do with apples, except for the fact that they both grow on trees. A very temperamental, delicate, and skinny tree I might add. Chirimoyas can only grow and survive in mild climates (not too cold, not too hot, and not too rainy) and in relatively dry lands. Which is why northern and central Chilean lands are perfect for growing Chirimoyas. The fruit also has a very short season (typically December and January, the remaining of the year consists of patiently waiting) and it must be harvested at the right time. Otherwise, the fruit might be already too ripe by the time it gets to the store. Not to mention that transporting the chirimoyas across the country is not a trivial feat.

So, what do chirimoyas actually taste like? When perfectly ripe, chirimoyas are smooth, sweet and juicy. According to Tim, their taste reminds him of bananas (yes, he got to try some hehehe). I think he is right, but now that I think about it, chirimoyas resemble a smart blend between ripe pears and bananas. The best way to eat a chirimoya in my humble opinion is to chill it in the fridge for a few hours and mix it with orange juice. This delicious and refreshing creation is called “Chirimoya Alegre” (Joyful Chirimoya) in Chile.

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Then, how do you eat a chirimoya? With lots of patience and dedication! What you want to eat is the white part. First, you have to peel the skin, but you have to be thorough. Otherwise, the fruit’s residual skin will make it taste more bitter and add roughness to its texture. The next step is to patiently take out all of the seed. Trust me, you don’t want to bite into one of the black seeds, they are not pleasant. The seeds are very sneaky, for they like to stick to the chirimoya’s pulp.

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Separated the chirimoya’s pulp, seeds, and skin.

The whole process is so worth it! I promise! The chirimoyas that Tim picked at Central Market were perfect (very impressive on his part since he had never touched a chirimoya before) and even though they were not Chilean, they tasted exactly like the ones I grew up eating. Chirimoyas hold a very special place in my heart and most people never hear about them, so I am really happy to feature them on my blog. Next post will feature my own personal ceviche recipe, so stay tuned!

Chinese New Year and Super Bowl 50 ft. Hot and Sour Soup

First of all, I can’t believe this is post number 3 and I have already fallen behind. Long story short is that grad school life/responsibilities are really hard to manage at the moment. The truth is I have been cooking and taking pictures for the blog, but not writing (ooops). Luckily for us, Tim is very invested in this project. Let me give you a quick example. When he asked me what I was doing today, I quickly proceeded to roll my eyes, make a puppy face (yes, guilty as charged), and grumble something along the lines of “Oh, what I do every Sunday this semester: cluelessly staring at my homework and preparing for my thermo office hours this week.” To which Tim responded with, “Aaaaaaand writing a new food blog post, right? It won’t take you that long. And yes, you should also take a Zumba break in the afternoon.” So thank you Tim, for always having my back 🙂

I must admit that some aspects about grad school life are pretty sweet (and worth mentioning here!) and my research group’s potlucks are one of them. Since Super Bowl 50 and Chinese New Years Eve were both happening on February 7, we decided to share Chinese food at our Super Bowl watch party (plus some Tex-mex because even if we are not Texans, how can we resist Tex-mex?). An unconventional Super Bowl party that does not revolve around hot wings with sticky artificial bbq sauce? Yes, sign me up please! No offense to chicken wings with bbq sauce lovers, but I’m not a fan of those. We did have amazing fried chicken, so I’m not a crazy person. But I digress because the delicious fried chicken was not my doing.

So I was on board and very excited about this Chinese food potluck idea, except for the fact that I didn’t really know how to make authentic Chinese food. I was tempted to figure out how to make sweet and sour pork or orange chicken, but when you have a Chinese postdoc and people who have lived in China and other Asian countries in your research group, it seems lame to try to replicate something on the menu of Panda Express. I will always love orange chicken and sweet sour pork for the record, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to eat the orange chicken from Panda Express again (I blame undergrad life on a budget). Turns out that Evan came to my rescue and suggested I make hot and sour soup. He said it was really tasty and not too difficult to make. I had no idea what hot and sour soup was, but Evan has impeccable taste so how could I refuse? I went online to find a recipe and stumbled upon one by Jamie Oliver. If you don’t know Jamie Oliver, he’s a British chef who has done many TV shows and Ted Talks. Fun fact: I discovered him while watching a cooking channel with my grandma. The recipe’s ingredient list was kind of long and overwhelming, but I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Jamie. Plus, the recipe was vegetarian and some hot and sour recipes had pork in them (I’m not a vegetarian but many of my friends are). I had found a recipe, I had signed up for hot and sour soup on the white board, and there was no turning back. Don’t get me wrong, I was eager to try a new recipe and excited about the challenge, but I was also nervous. I didn’t want to fail at hot and sour soup in front of my friends and labmates. For example, I had never cooked with tofu before. And what are bamboo shoots anyways?!

Nonetheless, I was optimistic because a) I had Central Market and b) I knew what Shitake mushrooms were. I enlisted Tim’s help and together we managed to find all the ingredients expect for bamboo shoots. We searched so many aisles in vain, so we finally had to ask someone who worked there to help us find them. Of course the person we asked had no idea what we were talking about and he totally judged us (only Pandas eat bamboo, right?). He called for reinforcements on his radio and further embarrassed us by saying: “I have customers looking for this thing called bamboo…bamboo what again?” I’m glad I brought Tim along so we could both make a fool of ourselves 🙂 In case you are curious, below there is a picture of what bamboo shoots look like. You can think of them as the Asian equivalent of Heart of Palm.12699

On February 7, I showed up at my friends’ house with all my ingredients because I decided it would be best to cook the soup in their kitchen rather than trying to figure out how to carry it and time the heating properly (the recipe has very specific heating steps). I mainly wanted to use their mortar and pestle because I don’t own one. Yes, I know I know, shame on me (how do I manage to make guac anyways?!) Well, my birthday is coming up so if you don’t know what to get me, I would love a mortar and pestle (No, not you Tim. You have to do way better than a mortar and pestle hahaha). I had so much fun making the soup and for my first trial, I think it was a hit. I got really good reviews! The only thing I regret is that I was so nervous while cooking that I forgot to take step by step pictures. I’m still so disappointed I don’t have those pictures. But I do have a picture of the end product before most of it was consumed.

2016-02-07 Hot and Sour Soup
My Hot and Sour Soup! You can see the shitake mushroom, tofu, chives, and green onions happily floating around.

In summary, Evan really liked the soup and his team won the Super Bowl. Tim ate a shitake mushroom and he liked it even though he hates mushrooms. I would say it was very successful evening. The year of the Monkey of Fire is really testing my willpower and patience, but at least I have heart warming hot and sour soup to keep me company.