Archive | October, 2013

Weekly Snapshots

18 Oct

While I mourn the end of summer and its ruby red strawberries and juicy tomatoes, Fall foods excite me. I love hearty soups and roasts, spice cakes that fill the kitchen with an enticing aroma, and all things pumpkin. When pumpkin puree lines the shelves at Trader Joe’s, I become giddy thinking about all the possibilities: pumpkin bread my sister and I have made every year since second grade, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin sheet cake with cream cheese frosting.

This week, I celebrated a chilly Fall night with homemade white bean soup. Beans are life-chaging when it comes to cooking in college. They are simple, versatile, and very filling. My roommate and I enjoyed this soup alongside a loaf of crusty bread and great conversation.

I would love to know, what do you cook to celebrate Fall?

The garden in my front yard feels like a magical wonderland.

I loved building these custom-made pies from Blaze Pizza.

Less-than-scorching temperatures prompted a visit to my favorite shabu-shabu house in Downtown L.A.

A casual morning drive behind a horse carriage. My suburban hometown is becoming the next NYC.

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A College Student’s Guide to Farmers’ Markets

11 Oct

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In the first edition of “Weekly Snapshots,” I expressed joy upon discovering my university’s on-campus farmers’ market. I was so excited that I bought everything that caught my eye, not planning how I would utilize all of my new ingredients. I returned to my apartment with a motley of produce and artisan products, much of which spoiled because I had overestimated how much I could consume. Since that first visit, I have learned to approach the farmers’ market with a college student’s outlook. In this comprehensive guide, I provide students with advice and essential tips for navigating farmers’ markets on a budget.

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1. Choose produce wisely. The farmers’ market should be your one-stop shop for fresh produce. As a student, you must select items that will stay fresh throughout the week and easily transform into meals. I recommend sturdy fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus, carrots, zucchini, and squash. Steer clear of produce that ripens quickly, such as stone fruits and tomatoes. As tempting as that $5, three-pack of ruby-red strawberries is, remember that it will become a mushy mess in less than two days.

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2. Sample with discretion. Everyone loves free stuff, and college students rarely turn down free food. Despite your urge to stick a toothpick into every sample, you should only taste items that you wish to purchase. You do not want to reach a state of palate overload–when all of the flavors have morphed together and you have forgotten which fruits reigned supreme.

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3. Get to know your vendors. Farmers and artisans are usually very friendly people who love to talk about their products. They care about what they sell, and will passionately answer your questions. If you develop relationships with particular vendors, many will provide “loyalty discounts” or throw in additional products for you to try. Farmers often reserve the best quality produce for their regular customers.

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4. Look for healthy snacks. Snacking defines college eating patterns (especially during exam periods). When you crave something to get through that midnight study session, nutritious snacks should always be on-hand. The farmers’ market offers a wide variety of delicious munchies that can energize students without making them crash. Some of my go-to options are fresh veggies dipped in hummus, mixed nuts, and dried fruits. Buy different snacks every week to avoid falling into a boring routine.

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5. Take advantage of prepared, ethnic foods. We all know how monotonous the cafeteria gets after just a few weeks of school. Ethnic food purveyors offer an escape from bland dining hall options, often for very low prices. Two authentic Salvadorian pupusas each the size of my hand, with a side of salsa and crema, only cost me $5. If I’m not in the mood to cook or don’t have time, I buy extra for dinner and simply reheat it in the microwave.

Weekly Snapshots

5 Oct

For eighteen years, I avoided coffee like the plague. I would crinkle my nose at its bitter flavor and lingering aftertaste. I did not realize that I had been missing out on a revolution.

In recent years, artisanal coffee shops have popped up around the country and changed the way Americans consume this ubiquitous beverage. These intimate operations have designed a social coffee experience, encouraging you to mull over a ceramic cup with friends rather than rush out the door with a watered-down brew. So when Portland-based roaster Stumptown opened a store in Downtown Los Angeles, I had to check it out. I admired my barista’s attention-to-detail and savored the creamy, nutty flavor of my almond milk latte.

On a completely different note, I’ve been on a baking streak these past few days. I haven’t yet transitioned to cozy seasonal flavors, but look forward to picking up some gorgeous apples from the farmers’ market this weekend and breaking out my Fall spices.

A custom-made espresso machine featuring oak inlays, antique brass finishes, and gold leaf detail.

These jazzed-up, browned butter blondies were a hit at my cousin’s birthday party. Side note: the corner piece is always the best piece.

Fun fact about me: I’m not a frosting fan. Why mask moist, deeply chocolatey cake with a pound of sugary buttercream? I prefer the minimalism of an orange-cream cheese or chocolate glaze, topped off with dainty fresh berries.

Simple lunches are the best lunches. Also, who doesn’t love a good cheese plate?

My mom makes the prettiest bouquets with flowers from our garden. They always put a smile to my face, but especially when I’m working in the kitchen.

Cardamom-Almond Pound Cake

2 Oct

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I have never been a picky eater. Even though I ate just about everything as a child, certain foods made more appearances than others. I enjoyed tomato sauce pasta, white rice, and grilled chicken multiple times per week. Sometimes multiple times per day, if my grandmothers were babysitting me.

This same idea applies to dessert. I cannot recall how many chocolate cakes and chocolate chip cookies I have sampled in my lifetime. Too many. Cakes spiced with cardamom? Just one–a buttery Armenian Easter bread that I look forward to every year. Despite my love of this bread, I had never thought of using cardamom in any of my own baked goods. So when I saw this recipe for cardamom-almond pound cake in the August issue of Bon Appétit, I knew I had to try it. Cardamom has an awesome nutty/spicy quality that gives this sturdy pound cake an exotic flavor. My favorite part of any loaf cake is the crunchy top, which, in this case, is studded with golden brown slivered almonds.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit 

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche (I used full-fat sour cream instead)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350° F. Butter a 9x5x3” loaf pan; line bottom and long sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving overhang.

2. Whisk baking powder, cardamom, salt, and 2 cups flour in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk milk and ½ cup crème fraîche in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat sugar and ¾ cup butter on high speed until light and fluffy–about 4 minutes. Do not rush this step as it gives the cake its light texture. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Then add vanilla and almond extracts.

4. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with crème fraîche mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients; beat just until combined. Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

5. Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 55–65 minutes. (Tent with foil if browning too quickly.) Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Using parchment overhang, gently remove cake from pan and transfer to rack; let cool completely.