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The Thing With Buttermilk…

I almost never, ever have buttermilk lying around.  When I need it for baking, I do the cheat thing (milk + a tablespoon or two of white vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes before using).

Then I decided it was time to (wo)man up and buy some real buttermilk so I could make some legit oven-fried chicken (I promise the recipe is coming soon).  Yeah, ‘MURICA!  (Sorry, “real buttermilk” sounded very all-American-apple-pie to me)

But now I have half a quart left of buttermilk sitting in my fridge.  I don’t like pancakes, and I don’t want to make any more oven-fried chicken, so I thumbed through some cookbooks and decided to whip up some cupcakes.

While the cupcakes were baking, I realized I didn’t have any butter or cream cheese to make any sort of frosting.  Awesome.  We all know that cupcakes without frosting is just really sad, plain muffins.  I surveyed my refrigerator and saw half a pint of whipped cream.  So… that’ll have to do.  And, from experience, when working with whipping cream (I prefer a hand mixer to a stand mixer), cover your bowl with a cloth on one end, so it doesn’t look like someone sprayed white paint everywhere.

The great thing about this combination, which really was just a way for me to use up some perishable ingredients in my refrigerator, is that the flavors are very mild and not very sweet.  So basically I can eat this for breakfast.. right?


Buttermilk Cupcakes & Whipped Cream Frosting
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients for the cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) butter, softened to room temperature*
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar

Ingredients for the frosting:

1 cup whipping cream, straight from the refrigerator
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Line a cupcake tin, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract.  Alternate mixing in the dry ingredients with the buttermilk (I like to pour 1/3 in at a time) on low speed.

Use an ice cream scoop to fill the cupcake tin 2/3 of the way full.  Once it’s in the oven, turn down the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs attached.

After 10 minutes of resting in the cupcake tin, place each cupcake on a wire rack.  Let cool completely before frosting (unless your ultimate goal is for your cupcakes to look like a runny mess).

To make the frosting, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat, slowly increasing the speed to high.  Beat for 5 minutes or until soft peaks form.  I dolloped mine straight onto the cupcake and used the back of the spoon to spread it around – I love the homemade-look for cupcakes; I think they taste better, but that could just be purely psychological.



* If you are super short on time or you decided to bake on a whim, and didn’t have any time to let the butter soften to room temperature, nuke it at the lowest power for 2 minutes.


One-Pan Lunch

People often ask what it’s like to be funemployed (by choice).  Do I like it?  Do I get bored?

Are you kidding me?  I freaking love it!  It’s the only time I’ve ever had to really focus on myself, without any distractions (work, school, etc.).  As a result, I’ve been working out more (today an old German lady had a cat t-shirt that said “Hot flashes cause global warming” – I am not even joking), cooking healthier, and soaking up the surprisingly warm San Francisco sun.

I’ve tried to make some of the stuff I bookmarked, such as slow-cooker pulled pork, pork tenderloin, and oven-fried chicken (recipe to come in a later post).  But then sometimes I run out of stuff to make because I’m still retaining some of my bachelorette spirit.  Like the time I only had beer and ketchup in my fridge.  Those were dark times, but those were also incredibly fun times.

After a round of Zumba (if there is any proof that there is a God, this would be it – this higher being determined that I am not to be a dancer in this life) and spin, I decided a juice wasn’t enough to tide me over until an early dinner.  Steaming a head of cauliflower to turn into a mash seemed like too much work, and my pot of water wasn’t boiling quickly enough.

So I stared into my fridge.  I never have enough to make a complete meal, because if I have pasta, I have no sauce.  There’s cheese, but no bread.  There’s broth, but no meat or other veggies to put in.

I was able to round up a handful of cherry tomatoes, a bag of baby kale and spinach, some leftover pearl couscous, and, after rummaging through the depths of my cabinet, a small can of chunk light tuna, all of which I threw into a pan with some olive oil and salt.  Seriously.  If there’s something I would love to specialize in, it’s one-pan meals.  Not as glamorous, but less cleanup means a big win for me (or, let’s get real, for Sam).

And this was delicious.



Super Quick Easy Healthy Lunch


Half a cup of cherry or grape tomatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Small can of chunk light tuna (or any other cooked protein)
Handful of baby spinach or kale
Cooked couscous, quinoa, or rice (really any cooked grain/pasta will work)

Swirl a pan with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, and toss in the tomatoes, sprinkling them with a bit of salt.  Let cook for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes burst easily when pricked with a fork.  Add the can of tuna (do not drain), and cook for another minute. Finally, throw in the spinach (don’t worry, it will wilt quickly) and the couscous and put a lid on the pan.  Let steam for 30 seconds, or until the greens have wilted down a bit.  Stir to mix everything evenly.  Enjoy!



Butternut Squash Soup

It all started when I was probably 4 years old.  I distinctly remember demanding (because what 4-year-old “asks nicely”?) that everyone call me by the name of Zucchini.  Not because I particularly liked eating it, but because I thought the word sounded really cool.

After the realization dawned on my young brain that I was asking to be called a squash, I nixed the idea and decided to hate all squash.  This includes pumpkin (this is also why I do not like pumpkin pie), kabocha squash curry from Thai restaurants, and of course, zucchini.

Unfortunately, wedding planning came around, and the dreaded countdown timer app on my phone told me I had 87 days to go until “THE BIG DAY.”  And if I wanted a fighting chance to not look like an albino whale beaching itself, I needed to start eating healthier and working out.

With the warm spring weather, the working out part came first.   I used to run all the time, but the first two runs (both around 1 mile) were the worst, not to mention completely demoralizing because it made me think back to the time a 7-mile run at a sub-9 minute/mile pace was a fairly regular ordeal for me.  Still, I stuck with it, running almost daily.  My favorite is running along the beach, on the sand, with Dog sprinting alongside barking at me to stop so I could play with him.

The harder part was going to be eating healthy.  Before I became funemployed (by choice), I was working in a small town in the Peninsula, where there was a severe lack of healthy and inexpensive food options for lunch.  Since my office didn’t have a microwave either, there was no way I could have brought food to heat up for lunch the next day.  I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but nothing compared to the healthy-everything-organic mindset of San Francisco.

On my first day not working, I racked my brain for simple, healthy recipes I could whip up.  My first inspiration came from Evolution Fresh, a juice shop/restaurant up the street.  One of my favorite healthy meals is a bowl of different veggies and grains simmered in vegetable broth and spiced up with some harissa paste.  The last time I was there, I decided to suck it up and order butternut squash as one of the items, just to mix it up. I was surprised to find that I actually sort of liked it (maybe like is a stretch – it’s more like I didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would), so I tried making my own bowl.

It’s pretty embarrassing when you go to the grocery store and not have any idea which squash is which kind, because it’s never been something you’ve purchased before.  I didn’t know what butternut squash even looked like, and when I finally found one and brought it home, I had no idea how to cut it open (don’t ask me why I didn’t bother looking it up first).  Thankfully, a bit of common sense, a sharp knife, and a grapefruit spoon helped me slice it apart, scoop out the pulp, and dice everything.

photo 1

photo 2

I used about half for my veggie bowl (which ended up lasting 4 meals), but I had no idea what to do with the other half.  Can I make ice cream from this?  What about zucchini/squash bread?

Deciding those options were too complicated, not to mention I didn’t have any eggs, I threw the remaining chunks into the microwave, nuked until they were fork-tender, and stuffed them into the Vitamix along with some unsweetened coconut milk.  The results have seriously changed my mind about squash; I thought it was okay before, but I absolutely fell in love with this pureed soup.

By the way, the Vitamix is the single best thing that’s ever happened to me in the kitchen.  Mine was a birthday gift from my dad almost two years ago; he asked what I wanted, I told him nothing, but he insisted on getting me something small.  Since my $25 one from Target was on its last few spins, I told him I wanted a new blender.  He ended up seeing the Vitamix at Costco, fell in love, and bought a bunch for the family, including me.  At first I was hesitant to accept such an expensive present, but I’ve used mine almost every single day for the past year and a half, making everything from juice to smoothies to ice cream.

Long story short, I managed to overcome my hatred of squash with this awesome recipe.

Vegan chilled butternut squash soup

Ingredients (makes 1 serving if you really love soup/leftovers):

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch chunks with the pulp removed)
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk (you can probably use unsweetened almond milk as well)
Cinnamon to taste
Honey to taste

Place squash pieces in a microwaveable container and cook until fork-tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Let it cool for a few minutes, then place in a blender, along with the coconut milk, a few shakes of cinnamon and a tablespoon or two of honey (depending on how sweet you like it).  Blend until smooth, then press through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.  Enjoy!

photo 3

My Favorite Chocolate Cupcakes

And it’s fall!  My favorite season.  And with the cooler temperatures comes more time for baking.

For someone who loves sweets, I sure do hate cupcakes.  Every single one I’ve tried from those fancy cupcake shops (and they charge $3/cupcake?!?!  Blasphemy!) is way too sweet.  And believe me, I’ve tried them all.

So, what to do?  I came up with my own recipe.  And I must say, this is the best damn chocolate cupcake I’ve ever had, because it’s light enough to neutralize the sweetness of the frosting.  I based it off a recipe that I found in an old cookbook, jazzed it up with a few modifications, and boom, delicious.


For the cake part, you’ll need:

1 1/2 cups baking cocoa (NOT hot chocolate mix)
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
2 cups boiling water
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar, depending on how sweet you want it to be
1/2 to 1 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract*
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

*if you happen to run out of vanilla extract like I did one time, orange extract makes an excellent substitute – it seriously tastes just like one of those chocolate-orange things you’re supposed to crack open.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your cupcake pan (if desired – if not, make sure you grease the bottom and sides).  Mix the cocoa, coffee granules and boiling water in a bowl, and whisk to combine.  Let this sit.

Cream the butter and sugar, about 3-5 minutes.  ** tip: I like to whip the butter to make sure it’s soft and smooth first, before mixing in the sugar **  Beat in one egg at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one, then beat in the vanilla.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, and salt, and carefully pour 1/3 of the flour mix into the butter-eggs-sugar mixture.  Then, pour 1/3 of the cocoa mix (make sure you stir it once again to make sure nothing has settled to the bottom).  Alternate the flour and cocoa until it’s all thoroughly combined.  Stir in the melted chocolate.

Fill cupcake pan 2/3 of the way (best thing to use: ice cream scoop – it gives you the perfect portion each time), and the second you put the pan into the oven, turn it down to 325 degrees, and bake for 21 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cupcake comes out clean.

Filled! IMAG3270

After it cools, frost it!  I love basic buttercream, but since this is a simple chocolate cake, you can really use any flavor frosting.  I also like making a dark chocolate ganache and sprinkling some chopped almonds on top.

For ganache:

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

I like doing the double-boiler method for this – you need a small saucepan with about an inch of water brought to a simmer, and put a heatproof glass bowl over it, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.  Melt the chocolate chips by stirring constantly, adding a bit of heavy cream at a time.  If you don’t have patience for this method, heat up the heavy cream in a saucepan until barely boiling, and then pour over the chocolate chips and stir until all melted.  Refrigerate about 30 minutes, stir, then dip the top of the cupcake into the ganache.  Sprinkle with any kind of chopped nuts you like.

But today I made a peanut butter cream cheese frosting, which is great because the cream cheese cuts down on the cloying sweetness of the peanut butter.  But if you like sweet, then just cut out the cream cheese (I tried that once and my coworkers loved it and said it tasted like Reese’s candy).

To make the frosting:

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
5-7 tablespoons of milk
4 cups powdered sugar

Whip the peanut butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar a little at a time (warning: this will get EVERYWHERE but that’s part of the fun, right?), and add the milk a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

If you don’t have a piping bag or any frosting tips, just scoop the frosting into a ziploc bag, snip about 1/2 inch off one corner, and pipe onto the cupcake.  Or go old-fashioned and spread with a knife, because there’s something so rustic and charming about looking totally homemade.  Devour.


When we were in Alaska, we learned that they have 5 different species of salmon that hang out in their waters.  It makes zero difference to me – all of them are delicious.

I decided to make some salmon tonight when Sam told me he wanted fish for dinner.  Actually I had already been thinking of baking some, but I somehow thought he didn’t like salmon so I ignored the fish aisle until I received his text.  Later I found out that salmon is his favorite fish.  Oops.

When I was little, my grandma would often overcook non-Chinese dishes such as pork chops or salmon (thankfully her Chinese dishes were superb), and I’m pretty sure that’s why I like sashimi and steak tartare as an adult.  So whenever I cook meat, I make sure it’s super tender, flavorful and juicy, which usually involves some sort of marinade.

Fish is one of those things that was really intimidating for me to make at first.  It seems really delicate, and it’s not really something you can just chop up and fry.  But it’s actually super easy, and if you enlist the help of your oven, it practically does all the work for you.  So here’s my super simple salmon (hah!) recipe which, really, if I can make it, anyone can.

Ingredients you’ll need:

3 lemons
Olive oil
Salt + pepper
Two boneless salmon filets (or any kind of fish that will hold up for baking – I also like black cod)
2-4 cloves of garlic
1 shallot
Any kind of mustard (I prefer Dijon or garlic)

To make the marinade, start by mincing and dicing the garlic and shallot.  If you like garlic (like Sam and me), use 3 or 4 cloves.  If you don’t, you are more than welcome to just use one, or completely omit.  Combine these in a bowl with the juice of one lemon (don’t worry if you get the seeds in there), a pinch of salt and pepper, two teaspoons of mustard, and about half a cup of olive oil (more if you are making more than 2 servings, or if your filets are extra huge).

Put the salmon filets in either a baking dish or gallon-sized Ziploc bag, and pour the marinade over the fish.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely cover the fish; you can flip the fish halfway through.  Marinate for about 10 minutes.

Once it’s done marinating, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a baking dish with parchment paper.  This step is completely optional, but it will basically save your life when it comes to cleanup.  Make sure you have enough paper to loosely wrap up the salmon like a package.  Slice up the other two lemons, about 1/4″ thick, and place on the bottom of the dish.


Place the marinated salmon on the slices of lemon, and if desired, pour the marinade directly on top.


Wrap up the ends of the parchment paper loosely so it can trap most of the steam inside.  It should look like a magical Christmas package, except more delicious.  Bake for about 17 minutes; if your salmon is more than 1″ thick, add on two extra minutes.

Eat.  (Sorry for the lack of a complete photo – this was too delicious to resist, plus I had to sample my cooking to make sure it tasted okay..)


A few things to note:

  • This recipe will make your salmon medium rare to medium, which results in the best, juiciest, most tender middle with a moist and flaky outside.  Mine practically looked like sashimi in the middle, and I’m still alive today, so it’s fine to eat your salmon medium rare.  But if you like your salmon really well-done, just cook it to your liking.
  • You can also substitute half a small onion for the shallot, but I think I’ve mentioned before in another post that I prefer the more mild taste of shallots, plus they’re the perfect size.
  • If you like fancy mustard, by all means, use it!  I had this wonderful garlic mustard that I found at a winery, and hello, garlic, I love you.

One-Pan Pasta

I’m pretty domestic now.

To give you an idea of how far I’ve come, I used to own one cookware item.  One.  It was a straight-sided sauté pan.  Technically if you count the lid, you could say I owned two pieces of cookware.  If you opened my refrigerator, you would find these things: bacon, beer, and ketchup.  My freezer had nothing more than frozen potatoes.  I learned that frying up the potatoes in the bacon grease in my single pan made for a bomb-diggity breakfast.

I should also add that my pan cost me $12.99 from Target (or was it TJ Maxx?), and the only reason I bought it was because I thought it was perfect for making Hamburger Helper.  And to give you an idea of exactly how un-domestic and lazy I was back then, I didn’t even have milk in my refrigerator, so I would only pick the flavors of Hamburger Helper that didn’t require some sort of cheesy sauce.

Then I met Sam, and he moved all of his kitchen stuff into my kitchen, and now I don’t have room for the gadgets that I do want now: a stand mixer, food processor/slicer, etc.  Also, my refrigerator is stocked to the point where I can probably make cupcakes on a whim.  So sometimes I do.  Today I made chocolate ice cream just because I could.. and because I didn’t want some of my fresh ingredients (eggs, cream, etc) to spoil while I’m gone over the weekend.

The point of the story is that my trusty pan has seen me through my bachelorette days with what my friends affectionately call my “lumberjack breakfasts,” and now it’s the perfect item for making one of my new favorite dishes: the one-pan pasta.

I first saw this recipe in a Martha Stewart Living magazine (which, fyi, I’m totally obsessed with her and Barefoot Contessa.  I want them to be my unofficial aunts so they can plan fabulous parties for me).  The sheer beauty and simplicity of the dish made me want to try it.  So I did, and I totally loved everything about it.

Over the past few trials, I’ve modified the recipe a bit to my liking.  But here is the original, with some of my changes:

  • 12 ounces linguine  — I actually just dump in the entire box, and I prefer fettucine
  • 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)  —  I prefer shallots, as you can use two and they have a milder flavor than onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced  — I prefer to chop them up
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes  — more if you like a stronger kick
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish  — I’m not a fan of basil, so one time I just put two or three leaves, and threw in some arugula instead
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth + 1/2 cup water
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


The great thing about this dish is that the only prep you’ll have to do is slice, chop, halve the onions, garlic and tomatoes.  Then everything else goes into the pan.



Have you seen anything more gorgeous?

Throw everything into the pan, then bring the water and vegetable broth to a boil over high heat, and let it bubble away for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally with tongs so the pasta doesn’t stick together.


At some point, you’re going to wonder if it’s actually going to work, because it doesn’t look very cohesive.  But fret not: the sauce doesn’t start to thicken up until literally the last minute of cooking.


Once the noodles are al dente, dish it up, grate some fresh parmesan on top, and eat.  THAT SIMPLE.


A few things to note:

– You can use any type of pasta that has a cooking time of about 12-13 minutes.  If you’re gluten-free, you may have to play around with it, as gluten-free pastas have much shorter cooking times, and the ratio of water to pasta may be too much, and the sauce won’t thicken up in time.  Plus, gluten-free pastas turn to mush when they’re overcooked.

– You can also throw in some other ingredients after it’s done cooking, like baby spinach or grilled shrimp.  Or you can just leave it as it is (it’s super vegetarian-friendly), and it’ll taste like it came from a kitchen in a rustic Italian villa.

– If you’re freaking out about the sauce not thickening up, just keep stirring, and magically at some point it will turn into a beautiful dish.  Seriously, trust me on this one.  I’ve made this dish numerous times, and I still sort of freak out at minute 11 because it’s still watery.  Then at minute 12, it’s suddenly perfect.  And I also forgot half a cup of water today, but it still turned out delicious.  Really, I don’t think there’s a way for you to mess this up.

Happy cooking!

Party in the Kitchen!

Stop and take a look.


Have you seen anything quite so awesome in recent memory?  It’s like a unicorn ate fairy dust and pooped it out, but in the most awesome way possible.

These are Funfetti Whoopie Pies, from Yammie’s Noshery.  My friend Lei turned me on to these after sort of hinting that it would be super sweet to have someone make these on their days off.  Cough.

So of course I had to make them, because 1) they ask for lots of butter, 2) they ask for imitation butter flavor, and 3) SPRINKLES.  Everywhere.  Even though I always make fun of Sam for ordering rainbow sprinkles on top of his ice cream (because let’s get real, they don’t add any special flavor), I love them on cookies.

Here’s the recipe:

Funfetti Whoopie Pies


2 sticks softened butter
1 1/4 cup sugar (I modified this by only using just under 1 cup, since I didn’t want it too sweet)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon imitation butter flavor
1 egg
2 cups cake flour
2/3 all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup colored sprinkles (I used the long kind)
More sprinkles for rolling (I used the little round kind)


Beat the butter and sugar on high speed for about 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add the vanilla, butter flavor, and egg. Beat until well combined. Sift in the flours, soda, and salt. Mix to combine. Stir in the sprinkles. Chill the dough. If you’re in a hurry, throw it in the freezer. I put it in a gallon Ziploc bag and pounded it down flat so it would get cold faster. Preheat the oven to 375º. Take a small piece of the dough, dip in the sprinkles and roll into a ball and place on the baking sheet. Repeat until the sheet is filled. Bake about 7 minutes.


Keep the remaining dough in the freezer while the others are baking. They will flatten out as they bake and puff up a little when they’re done. Sandwich cooled cookies together with filling if desired (recipe below).


Seriously, these cookies are good enough without the filling.  I’m honestly not a huge fan of the frosting, since I don’t like any type of frosting, but I’ll probably try to create my own sometime.


1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
2 sticks cold butter, chopped into small cubes
2 tablespoons sprinkles (I used the little round ones)

Beat the cream and vanilla until slightly thickened. Beat in the powdered sugar until thick and smooth. Beat in about one fourth of the cold butter cubes at a time on high speed. Beat for about 10 minutes on high speed in your stand mixer until smooth. Don’t be afraid if it looks weird at first. Just keep beating! Fold in the sprinkles. Use to fill cooled cookies.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, your arm will probably get pretty tired (and not to mention you’ll probably start to get bored after a few minutes) from using a hand mixer, but it does work just as well.  And if you don’t have any pastry/piping bags or fancy icing tips, you can just use a large Ziploc bag and snip one of the corners off.

And there you have it.  The most fun you can have with food, sans alcohol.

P.S. Make sure you don’t spill half the container of little round sprinkles.  Not that I’m telling you from experience or anything..