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Toasted Coconut Muesli

10 Dec

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I can hardly believe that half of my sophomore year is already over. It seems like just yesterday that I was hopping on a plane to New York for my summer internship, and now I am already sending out applications for next summer. It’s been a while since I have contributed to this space, and for good reason. This past semester was filled with exciting new projects and responsibilities, a packed class schedule, and time spent trying to find my niche on campus. I certainly haven’t forgotten about Let’s Live La Vida, but it has taken a back seat in the past few months.

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With any creative endeavor, it is so important to expose yourself to new perspectives and ways of capturing a subject. I have wrestled with DSLR photography for years, vacillating in my approach while never being entirely satisfied with the results.

I recently spent an afternoon with my uncle Avo, an excellent photographer with a very organic style, to observe his approach towards food photography. His creative spontaneity is the perfectly foil to my fastidious and careful manner. I knew working with him would allow me to depart from my perfectionist mentality.

While I have always tried to display food in its simplest form, my uncle showed me how to let the subject speak for itself. Rather than fuss with styling minutia, vibrant color and light are all you need to create a beautiful and intriguing image.

I picked up my camera again this morning and applied some of my newfound skills. Megan Gordon, author of the lovely breakfast cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, introduced me to this recipe for toasted coconut muesli. A lighter, less oily version of granola, muesli has become a staple in my pantry. I love that it is not too sweet, with just the right amount of crunch to liven up a bowl of yogurt.

Recipe barely adapted from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon

Megan recommends stirring in the dried mango once the muesli has cooled on the baking sheet. To prevent the dried fruit from getting too hard, I like to mix it in separately for each serving. 

  • 2 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup dried mango or other dried fruit of choice (optional)

Yields about 3 cups.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss together the rolled oats, wheat bran, coconut, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.

2. Heat the coconut oil and honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warmed. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until everything is evenly coated. Spread evenly across the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on baking sheet. Stir in dried fruit, if using.

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Bill Granger’s Coconut Bread

17 May

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Certain meals occupy a special place in my heart, not simply because of delicious food, but the memories that accompany these experiences. When my family and I traveled to Australia last year, we visited a Sydney breakfast institution called Bills.

Bill Granger, the restaurant’s owner and a prominent Aussie chef and cookbook author, emphasizes a fresh and easy-going approach to cooking. For breakfast, Bills specialties include silky scrambled eggs, cloud-like ricotta pancakes topped with bananas and honeycomb butter, and organic sourdough toast smothered with fruit preserves. Other than being one of the tastiest breakfasts I’ve ever had, Bills’s bustling, light-filled atmosphere and welcoming service encapsulated my trip to Australia.

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While Bills offers a short and simple menu, every dish was masterfully executed using high-quality ingredients. My family and I each ordered the famous scrambled eggs (there’s a reason the New York Times crowned Granger the “Egg Master of Sydney”), and selected this coconut bread as a sweet complement.

Despite its humble description, this loaf boasts rich coconut flavor and a tender, sturdy crumb. While it is wonderful enjoyed plain, Bills serves it grilled, cut in thick slabs, with a dollop of butter and honey on the side. Best of all, every bite transports me to that sunny morning spent in a foreign country, enjoying vibrant, unfussy food with the people I love.

Recipe courtesy of the New York Times, via Smitten Kitchen

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 to 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 ounces sweetened flaked coconut (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 6 tblsp unsalted butter, melted or melted and browned, if desired
  • Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

3. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick spray. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Cardamom-Lemon Sticky Buns

6 May

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I have a love-hate relationship with social media. With Instagram, whenever I enjoy a delicious meal or notice something pretty on the street, I immediately reach for my iPhone camera. While I love capturing beautiful photos of special moments, I recognize the constant pressure to share that accompanies this platform. Through publishing photos, users validate the importance of their experiences, measuring positive reinforcement through ‘likes.’

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While making these buns, I stopped intermittently to snap photos. I climbed on top of chairs to achieve the perfect angle and even paraded around my house with a hot pan in order to find ideal light. Even though I am smitten with the final product, this hilariously arduous photo shoot hindered me from fully enjoying the baking process.

While I do not plan to delete my Instagram account, it is important for me to be aware of social media’s impacts. That being said, now we can talk about these sticky buns! The combination of fragrant cardamom, lemon, and warm yeast created an intoxicating smell while baking, and made for a more sophisticated flavor than the traditional cinnamon variety. While somewhat time-consuming, the techniques are relatively simple. Be patient with rising times and do not overwork the dough. You can even shape the buns then allow them to rise overnight, a standout dish for weekend breakfast or brunch.

Recipe slightly adapted from Food52.com

I found the lemon glaze from the original recipe to be quite sour. Instead, I’ve included a simple cream cheese glaze, which I think would offset the tanginess of the citrus. 

For the sticky bun dough:

  • 3/4 cups whole or 2% milk, just warm to the touch
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
  • large egg, beaten
  • cups (approximately) all purpose flour (plus more as needed)

For the filling:

I only used about half of these ingredients. Two tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup of lemon-sugar were enough to coat the dough. 

  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • tblsp fresh lemon zest (from about 3 large lemons)
  • 4 tblsp very soft butter

For the cream cheese glaze:

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tblsp milk (if you prefer a hint of lemon flavor, replace one tablespoon of milk with lemon juice)
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or enough to make a glaze consistency), sifted
  • Toasted pecan pieces, for topping (optional)

Yields about 14 buns.

1. Combine the warm milk, melted butter, and sugar in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the yeast and let it sit until the yeast is foamy, about 7-10 minutes. Then, stir in the salt, cardamom, and beaten egg.

2. Stir in 2 cups of flour. Gradually add rest of flour little by little, until the dough feels sticky to the touch but doesn’t actually stick to your fingers. You want to avoid adding too much flour as this will keep the dough from rising as well as it could (I had about 1/4 cup left over). Knead the dough in a mixer on medium-low speed with a bread hook for about 6 minutes or by hand on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and set somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Proceed with making the filling and assembling the buns.

4. While the bun dough is rising, mix together the granulated sugar and lemon zest and set aside. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans (or a 9X13 pan). After the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and on a lightly floured surface roll it into a large rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Spread the dough rectangle with the soft butter, then sprinkle it evenly with the sugar-zest mixture.

5. Roll the rectangle up lengthwise into a long jellyroll. Slice it with a sharp serrated knife into 1-inch thick pieces. Arrange the pieces in the prepared baking pans, leaving a little space around them for them to rise and grow. Cover and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about another hour. Or, put the rolls in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. Take them out in the morning. If they haven’t risen much in the fridge, let them come to room temperature and give them a few hours to rise.

6. When the rolls are almost finished rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the rolls in the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Take them out and allow them to cool to lukewarm before drizzling with the glaze. While the glaze is wet, top with pecan pieces for extra crunch and flavor contrast.

7. To make the glaze, whisk together the milk, lemon juice (if using) with powdered sugar until it reaches glaze consistency. Drizzle over the sticky buns. These buns are best eaten the day they’re made, though they rewarm relatively well. If you want to keep them longer, you can take them as soon as they’ve cooled to room temperature, wrap them well in tinfoil and stick them in the freezer. Let them defrost at room temperature and gently rewarm them in the oven before serving.

Baked Cinnamon French Toast

16 Apr

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I featured this inexpensive and fool-proof recipe in my college student’s guide to hosting Easter brunch. The article was published in today’s issue of The Daily Trojan, and you can access it online here.

As far as brunch goes, French toast is both a quintessential menu item and a source of frustration. Brunch should be relaxed and carefree, the epitome of a decadent hybrid meal between breakfast and lunch. Why spend time leaning over the stove, flipping individual pieces of bread, while your guests drink mimosas in the backyard? That sounds like no fun to me.

Baked cinnamon French toast is a delicious one-pan solution to this problem. The recipe can be assembled in less than fifteen minutes using ingredients you probably already have on-hand. 

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Even the most inexperienced cook can execute this impressive dish. Simply toast the bread, coat each slice with butter and cinnamon-sugar, arrange them in one pan, and pour the custard over.

Layering the toasts creates a caramelized, golden exterior and a moist and creamy interior. Cut into thick slabs and topped with fresh berries and maple syrup, this French toast would be an outstanding recipe to serve to family and friends on Easter Sunday.

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Recipe courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 slices (from a 1-pound or 450 gram loaf) white sandwich bread
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Yields 8-12 servings.

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish. Line two large baking sheets with foil. Place the bread slices on the baking sheets in one layer. Spread each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon of butter, then sprinkle each slice with one teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Toast the trays of bread in the oven until the bread is golden, and until the cinnamon-sugar makes a caramelized crunch on top, for about 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and let the toast cool slightly.

2. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cut two slices of the cinnamon toast in half horizontally. Arrange the baking dish so that the longer side is horizontal to you on the counter. Place the bottom half of a divided slice of cinnamon toast in the upper left-hand corner, cut side facing left. Arrange the first full slice of toast on top of it, so that the upper crust of the slice meets the left side of the pan. Arrange six more slices across the top of the pan, crusts in the same direction, overlapping each slightly. Finish with the top of a divided slice of toast. Repeat with the second row, toasts facing in the opposite direction, starting and finishing with your second divided slice of toast.

3. Whisk the milk, eggs, salt and vanilla in a medium bowl and pour evenly over the cinnamon toast in the baking dish. Let sit for 15 minutes (or overnight, if you’re preparing this ahead of time) so that the custard absorbs.

4. Before baking, sprinkle any leftover cinnamon-sugar over the French toast. Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden and until no liquid seeps out of the toasts when you nudge them in the pan. Cut into squares and serve plain, or with a dollop of yogurt and fresh berries, or maple syrup.

48 Hours in San Francisco

12 Apr

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Traveling to San Francisco feels like revisiting a childhood home. I see my favorite nooks in the house and relive wonderful memories, but I also observe details that I  overlooked before. My parents brought me to San Francisco five years ago, and from the moment I set foot on Market Street, I felt the city’s dynamic and creative energy. I immediately fell in love with the charming architecture, eclectic shops and art galleries, and the incredible culinary scene.

This past weekend, my family and I returned to our usual spots while also exploring unfamiliar areas such as Pacific Heights and North Beach. All of our meals were outstanding; I have shared a glimpse into my foodie adventures here.

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We began Friday morning with breakfast at The Mill, a bustling cafe and bakery located in a quaint neighborhood. The Mill has gained national recognition for its “hipster toast,” thick slices of freshly-baked bread, toasted until golden and crusty, then slathered with a variety of house-made spreads. Every component of this toast is outstanding, elevating a staple item into something note-worthy. I particularly enjoyed the country bread topped with butter, honey, flecks of rosemary, and a sprinkling of sea salt. With high ceilings and airy table seating, The Mill provides a comfortable environment to work or to just chat with friends.

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For lunch, we headed to The Slanted Door, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant located inside the Ferry Building. Eating here has become a treasured family tradition that I look forward to every year.

I appreciate The Slanted Door’s modern approach to classic Vietnamese cuisine, crafting fresh, boldly-flavored dishes. Think raw California yellowtail garnished with crispy shallots, thai basil, and tangy lime juice. The caramelized claypot catfish, silky fish filets surrounded by sweet sliced onions, ginger, and cilantro, all encased in a luxurious sauce, may be one of the best things I have ever eaten.

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As much as we adore The Slanted Door, we have never eaten dessert there. The Ferry Building hosts an array of artisanal vendors, including small-batch chocolate makers, ice cream shops using local dairy, and a pristine French bakery named Miette.

Even if you do not have a sweet tooth, the bakery’s impeccable display of packaged candies, cookies, and confections will grab your attention. While you cannot go wrong with any of these products, I highly recommend sampling the acclaimed French macarons. Miette uses all-natural ingredients and refined flavors for its macarons; simple vanilla will always be my favorite.

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Spring blooms and San Francisco’s distinctive townhouses.

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Clockwise from left: chocolate kouign amann, blueberry-banana scone, raspberry-almond croissant, and original kouign amann.

On Saturday morning, we treated ourselves to coffee and pastries at the beautiful B. Patisserie in Pacific Heights. Belinda Leong, pastry chef and owner, contributed a kouign amann recipe to the April issue of Bon Appétit. After reading the story, I had to taste the flaky, buttery pastries in person. The rose-shaped creation contains more than one hundred layers of caramelized dough and a gooey, custard-like center. Other notable items include the raspberry-almond croissant and passion fruit brioche. I have always admired traditional French baking, but Leong’s innovative, expertly-executed take on the classics makes B. Patisserie a true standout.

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Vibrant spring flowers at Bi-Rite Market.

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After such an indulgent breakfast, we craved a light lunch. Greens Restaurant, a San Francisco institution, serves healthful vegetarian cuisine. While many meatless restaurants can be trendy and unsatisfying, Greens offers wholesome, approachable food. I loved my warm spinach and artichoke salad, topped with parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, and a perfectly poached egg. My sister’s cauliflower and feta cheese omelette was fluffy and moist, complemented by crispy roasted potatoes. Greens is an ideal venue for a laid-back meal with family.

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