Green & Garlicky Rice Bowl (with a Lesson on Food & Eggs)

I reaaallllly like rice bowls. Particularly this one because it uses leftover veggies + herbs + other greens in the fridge that otherwise may have been composted. Of course, a fried egg on top never hurts either. Oh, and did I mention that the only thing you have to cook in this dish is the rice?! It’s that simple.

But first, a tangent…

Errrggg – I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. To say that life has been hectic is an understatement, but nowadays, who’s life isn’t all over the place? (If yours is going well, please send me some advice). The truth is towards the latter half of 2020, I lacked motivation to share recipes.

Buuuuut…new year, new… just kidding, haha.

It’s not that I neglected cooking or delving into new recipes – quite the opposite. I experimented more in the kitchen and discovered dishes that are now favorites. However, my relationship with food changed within the past year –

I love food. No, I don’t mean just eating food. I love everything about food. The aroma of the blended ingredients, the cultural roots of each dish, the meticulous process in cultivating key ingredients, the science behind food, etc. Food is extremely fascinating and transcends simple nourishment for our bodies and I’ve learned to appreciate its sentimental and complex nature, and the way food connects us all.

I love the conversations and relationships built during eating & cooking meals together with friends & family. I love the stories & laughter shared over the dining table (or couch) – especially the kind that makes you snort food out your nose. To me, food is intimate. Food is sacred.

But during the past year, I learned so much about the role that food plays in climate change. To love food while ignoring the negative impact of the way we currently produce and consume food harms our environment, doesn’t sit right with me.

Currently, food production counts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emmissions1. This includes producing food, transporting it, and storing wasted food2 in landfills. I won’t delve into this issue today as this blog post won’t do enough just, but there are plentiful resources3 if you’re interested in doing your own research.

Yeah, we can blame industrialization, urbanization, the government, and those large corporations who know that our food system is fucked up and still refuse to to anything about it, but I believe that it’s up to each of us, as individuals, to make a change in our consumption habits for the ‘big guys’ to follow suit.

Here’s an excerpt that I really like from a recent Forbes’ article4, which quotes Charles Michel (a chef, food educator, advisor to the World Food Programme, and whose #FoodActivism community I joined on Patreon!):

“I believe the conscious kind of food lovers should lead the charge on diet… We need to educate more intelligent consumers by making healthier foods more sexy, and generate a movement around it.”

“We need everyone to be involved—from soil to gut—consumers, farmers, activists, chefs, artists, scientists, politicians, and entrepreneurs. That means lifting up food and consumption, all across the board, as maybe the most potent acupuncture point to transform food systems to reach the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Pleasure and beauty are the key, experience is the medium.”

So what does this mean for me as an individual? What can I do to be a more conscious consumer?

Within the past year, I made a consistent effort to reduce my food waste (at home & in restaurants) and I started to compost vegetable & fruit scraps. When I order food to-go, I make a conscious effort to decline plasticware (I have utensils at home!). I bring my own grocery bags to the market and purchase certified organic foods, when I’m able to. My money started going towards more locally-sourced foods & ingredients. I also started to cook with less meat5, and if I do cook with meat, I try my best to only purchase grass-finished beef and pasture-raised chicken & eggs. I recognize that this can often get expensive and mostly only available in higher-end markets, but privilege, in regards to food sustainability, is a whole ‘nother conversation on its own.

Despite these efforts, I realize how much more I have to learn and the work that remains to be done. I am constantly refining my consumption habits. I am not vegetarian or vegan. I occasionally still waste some food that I forget is in the back of my fridge. I still purchase packaged bread. I wish I can grow my own vegetables & herbs in my apartment. But, change comes from a lot of small things done well. The commitment to the solution is the answer to the problem.

Nevertheless, I’m revitalized with a renewed purpose for this blog – to commit to educating others on food. With each post, I want to share with you things that I’ve learned that has helped (is helping) me become a more conscious food lover.

In today’s post, I’ve decided to highlight my favorite part about this rice bowl – the egg – and the animal welfare marketing terms around in attempt to make us feel better about eating it.

I’m lucky enough to be able to purchase Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs from my local grocery market.

Pasture-Raised Eggs vs. Cage-Free Eggs vs. Free-Range Eggs

Pasture-raised, cage-free, free-range – all the rah rah and the blah blah…what does it all mean?! Numerous articles have explored this topic and the research is overwhelming. I will attempt to recap my findings below.

In case you didn’t already know, let me start off by breaking your heart – “cage free” & “free-range” eggs is really just a whole bunch of bullshit. These terms have no legal definition and are purely used for marketing purposes, taking advantage of consumers who are [rightfully so] confused about these labels. Actually, even pasture-raised doesn’t mean anything either!

Yes, I guess you can say that there are certain humane standards6 that differentiate these terms e.g. # of hours of access to sunlight during the day, square footage of indoor/outdoor space where chickens are raised, etc. but again, these terms are not regulated, so anyone can slap on these words on an egg carton and call it a day.

(Other words that don’t mean anything on egg carton labels: vegetarian-fed, natural, farm fresh, fertile, omega-3 enriched, pasteurized)

Wait, so are all of these terms are bullshit?! Why have I been spending double for pasture-raised eggs when they’re all the same?! This is the right question to ask.

The answer is no, it’s not all complete bullshit. The key difference between finding out what is actually real vs. what is not is the presence of an auditing agency. These agencies (e.g. Humane Farm Animal Care, Rainforest Alliance, National Organic Program) charge a small fee to come inspect farms to see if things are up to their standards. When it comes to eggs, it means they’re looking at the chicken’s access to outdoors, sunlight, space to move, etc. If the farm passes their inspection, they’re allowed to use the agency’s emblem on their packaging.

The thing is, the Human Farm Animal Care agency’s minimum standards aren’t too hot either for “cage-free” and “pasture-raised”7. However, in order to get the “Certified Humane” emblem and be allowed to write “pasture-raised” on the egg carton, the farm must meet some pretty intense standards – more intense than organic certification. So if you do see an egg carton with both “pasture-raised” & “Certified Humane” labels, it means it’s the best option out there… besides raising your own chickens in your backyard! Personally, I have access to Vital Farms8 in my local grocery store, and it’s the only eggs I cook & bake with.

This matters to me because I care about ethically produced (& sourced) food, and in general, pasture-raised animals are better for the environment9.

I’m not saying that I never eat eggs that are not pasture-raised. Sometimes I’m in situations where it’s not accessible to me or there are no other options (e.g. eating out in restaurants and/or food that was served to me). However, I do have the ability to only bring pasture-raised eggs into my home, and I will continue to do so.

One thing I’ve learned throughout my #FoodActivism journey is that becoming a more conscious consumer doesn’t mean you need to be perfect all the time. We need more imperfect conscious consumers. It’s the small changes that make a big impact.

I think I’ve rambled enough for today. Let’s make this rice bowl.

Green & Garlicky Rice Bowl with Fried Egg

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 & 1/2 cups uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Butter or olive oil
  • 2 – 3 pasture-raised large eggs
  • Small bunch of kale
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • Small bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 2 – 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 jalapeno
  • Handful of small radishes
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic
  • Queso fresco
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Furikake seasoning*, optional but highly recommended
  • Your favorite hot sauce, optional for topping
  • (Other ingredients that you may have in your fridge that would also work: avocado, black beans, diced mango, shredded cabbage, etc.)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash your rice, add about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and cook according to instructions. I use a rice cooker. Use whatever your fool-proof method is.
  2. Meanwhile, finely chop all the veggies & herbs you are using. In my bowl, I used kale, parsley, cilantro, cilantro, jalapeno (seeded & cored), garlic. Go ahead and slice your radishes too.
  3. Heat up a non-stick skillet with a little bit butter or olive oil on medium-high heat. Crack the eggs on the skillet and cook until golden-brown around the edges, about 2 minutes. Cover loosely using a lid (or aluminum foil) and cook until the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny but starting to set. Season with salt & pepper.
  4. Once your rice is done cooking, mix in your greens: kale, parsley, basil, cilantro, jalapeno, and garlic. Add salt & pepper to taste (and Furikake seasoning, if you’re using). Make sure you are tasting the rice as you are mixing in the seasoning so that it doesn’t become too salty/garlicky.
  5. Prepare your bowl: Scoop in rice & veggie mixture first, lay the fried egg on top of the rice, add sliced radishes, and queso fresco. This would be a good time to add in other ingredients you may also have: avocado, beans, diced mangoes, shredded cabbage. Top with your favorite hot sauce, if you desire.

*Note: Furikake seasoning is a Japanese spice blend made with dried seaweed (nori), toasted sesame seeds, salt, spices, and optional bonito.

Sources:
1. Focus on What You Eat
2. Wasted Food
3. Resources to learn about food’s impact on climate change: Environmental Impacts of Food Production, Kiss the Ground – learn about regenerative farming (Netflix documentary), The True Cost of our Food Systems (YouTube)
4. Why It’s Falling To You—And Not Your Government—To Decarbonize The Food System
5. Environmental Impacts of Food Production
6. Difference between pasture-raised and free-range eggs
7. Consumer Reports on Certified Humane
8. Vital Farms
9. Raising Animals Sustainably on Pasture

Bibimbap Bowl (Mother of All Bowl Meals)

I’m so late to the game. I really only started to appreciate ‘rice bowls’ within the last year or so. They are so convenient to eat and I want to share my newfound love with you!

In case you’re not familiar, Bibimbap is a Korean dish which typically consists of warm rice, sautéed vegetables, kimchi, gochujang, soy sauce, maybe meat, and fried egg… then you stir it all together before diving in. Because of the different flavors and textures in this bowl, it’s typically considered the ‘mother of all bowl meals’ – if that makes sense.

(Anyone else feeling like this bowl lately? A mix of… well, everything? Happiness. Confusion. Anxiety. Excitement. Hope. Sadness. No? Just me? OK – I will go back to my corner now).

I enjoy making this dish because it’s quick, easy, and it only requires one pan! It looks like there’s a lot of steps, but mostly because there’s a bit of chopping to do in the beginning, but not too much. I also like this because you can really customize it however you want and with what you have in your fridge e.g. substituting or adding different veggies, meats, etc. I don’t prefer kimchi, so I leave it out of my recipe. However, you can add it on if you want! I’ll list alternatives below in the ‘ingredients’ section.

Last note: this makes really good leftovers or good for meal prep (except the fried egg).

Hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

xo,
Donna

Bibimbap Bowl

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups jasmine rice (or any white rice)
  • 3-4 scallions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 thumbs ginger (or 2 teaspoons minced ginger from a jar, which is what I use)
  • 4 gloves garlic
  • 5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons gojuchang (Korean Chili Paste) or sriracha
  • 1 pound grass-fed or grass-finished ground beef or ground chicken/turkey or ground pork (your choice, but I always prefer grass-finished ground beef)
  • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • olive oil, about 1-2 tablespoons total needed
  • fried egg, as needed
  • Options for other veggies to add/substitute: spinach, bok choy, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, homemade OR premade kimchi
  • Optional toppings: toasted sesame seeds, gochugaru, sriracha

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook your jasmine (or white) rice however method works for you. I use a rice cooker (it makes my life 10000x easier). Just add a large pinch of salt to your water before cooking.
  2. Thinly slice scallions, separating the ‘greens’ and the ‘whites’. Set aside the greens. Take the whites and put it in a small bowl with white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. Stir and set aside – we’re going to let this marinate (we’re “pickling” this).
  3. Peel your carrots. If you have a peeler, shave your carrots lengthwise into ribbons (which is what I did in my photo above). If you don’t have one, no worries! Just slice it thinly into rounds or use a shredder.
  4. Chop your zucchini. I sliced mine into thin rounds, but you can also slice it lengthwise so it looks like zucchini fries.
  5. Mince your garlic and ginger. If you’re adding other vegetables, this is a good time to chop them up as well.
  6. In another small bowl, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, gojuchang or sriracha, and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Heat your skillet and drizzle with oil. Add carrots, season with salt & pepper, and cook for about 4-5 minutes until lightly softened. Remove the carrots from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Add zucchini to the pan, season with salt & pepper, and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes for each side. Remove the zucchini from the pan and set aside with carrots. If you’re using other veggies, you can really just cook them until they’re soft, then set aside with all the other veggies.
  8. Drizzle the pan with a little bit more oil. Add your ground beef to the pan (or whatever meat you chose) over medium-high heat, breaking it up into little pieces as it cooks. Add minced garlic and ginger, and mix it in with the meat. It should take about 4-6 minutes to cook. Add about half of the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 1-2 minutes. Season with ground black pepper.
  9. If you’re adding a fried egg on top, you can fry it however you prefer it. I like mine a bit runny.
  10. Now it’s time to assemble! Take a bowl. Add rice to the bottom of your bowl. Arrange ground beef, carrots, zucchini (and other veggies or kimchi) on top of the rice. Top with the now-pickled scallion whites (and the liquid). Drizzle with the remainder of the soy sauce mixture. Add your fried egg on top, sprinkle with the scallion greens (and if you’re using sesame seeds or gochugaru or sriracha), and serve!

Cinnamon Swirly Bread (Dairy Free)!

Finally, a recipe post!!

OK, but please don’t yell at me because it’s a bread recipe.

I know that yeast is a hot commodity right now and it’s easier to spot Waldo nowadays than to see yeast in stock in grocery stores… but just in case you were one of the people who hoarded yeast and you’re running out of recipes to try, this one is for you.

Let me start off by saying that breads are not my forte, but this one is SO easy. My favorite part about this recipe is that it only takes about an hour for the dough to rise, unlike some breads + buns that need to rise for hours AND set overnight (cinnamon rolls). Also, my apartment smells the best when baking these (well, second to banana bread).

Alright, I’m not going to ramble any longer. Mostly because my eyes are so droopy and I need to reunite with my bed soon.

Goodnight,
Donna

Cinnamon Swirl Bread (Dairy Free)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup warm water, (105-110 F degrees)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active-dry or quick-rise yeast (I prefer Red Star brand!)
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour + extra as needed (I prefer King Arthur brand)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar with the warm water in a very large bowl in stand mixer with dough attachment. Add the yeast and stir just a little bit with your finger. Let it sit until frothy (and it kinda smells like warm beer) about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the flour, salt, and oil and knead, adding more flour if too sticky until the dough forms a large, soft ball. If you don’t have a stand mixer, no worries, you can do it by hand! You’ll have very strong (but sore) arms after.
  3. Flour a table or work surface and knead the bread with your hands for 5-10 more minutes.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and brush the top with a little extra olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour. It should be very puffy. Punch down the dough.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough into a rectangle (but let’s be honest, it’s going to look more ‘oval’). The dough should be no wider than your bread pan so that it fits after it’s been rolled up – does that make sense?). For more tight rolls in the bread, roll the dough thinner. For thicker softer rolls in the bread, roll thicker.
  6. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle over the loaf. Be generous. Roll up the loaves tightly and put in bread pan (lightly brushed with oil). Let rest for a few minutes before putting in the oven.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you tap it with a knife. This is one recipe that you may actually want to over bake if you’re in doubt. If it looks too brown on the outside, it’s okay because the inside really needs to bake all the way to get the layers filled out.
  8. Let the bread cool down all the way before cutting into it or else it may sink. If you have leftovers, cover tightly with plastic wrap and store room temperature!

Tarte Flambée

Tarte Flambée is a specialty of the Alsace/Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz regions on the German-French border. It’s made from bread dough rolled out very thinly, then covered with fromage blanc, crème fraîche, thin-sliced onions and bacon. In short, it’s a fancy thin-crust pizza… even though I’ll probably get crucified by some people by calling it that.

I first fell in love with Tarte Flambée in New York at this restaurant called La Tarte Flambee. I made a point to eat there every time I visited NYC until I found out that they permanently closed all their locations (it was a sad day for me). Although there’s a million different kinds of delicious food in Houston, this is one of the few things we lack.

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Earlier in January, I went to a cooking class with my friends at Central Market and the theme was “French Bistro”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw “Tarte Flambée” on the menu! I was even more excited when I found out how easy it is to make. However, I’m not sure how accurate this is to traditional Tarte Flambée. I looked up some recipes and the toppings seem accurate, but I think I’m taking a shortcut by using pre-made dough.

After that class, I’ve made it several times at home, mostly adjusting the recipe & cooking times here and there. I would say that the hardest part for me is rolling out the dough super thin, but it’s nothing to stress out about… I personally prefer thin crusted pizza any day. At the end of the day, it’s your preference on how thin you want the dough to be.

If you try this simple recipe, I hope you like it as much as I do!

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 bread dough, about 9 ounces (ready to bake – I get mine from Whole Foods)*
  • 7-8 pieces of thick cut bacon, cut into cubes
  • 1 yellow onion, julienned (thinly sliced)
  • 3-4 oz fromage blanc or ricotta cheese
  • 3-4 oz crème fraîche
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 475 F.
  • Roll out the bread dough as thinly as possible. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the dough on top of it (you can also roll out the dough on top of parchment paper so you can just transfer the parchment paper easily on top of the baking sheet). Use flour if you’re having a hard time rolling out your dough.
  • Prick the dough with a fork and par bake for about 10-11 minutes and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  • Brown the cubed bacon in a skillet (no additional oil is needed since bacon produces a lot of oil anyway). Once the bacon is browned (fat has been rendered but not crisp, transfer to a paper towel-lined dish. Don’t toss out the bacon fat!
  • Still on medium/medium lowish heat, cook the onions in the bacon fat until soft and slightly browned – about 7-8 minutes. Tip: if your onions start to brown super quickly, add a splash of water to the pan!
  • While bacon/onions are cooking, make the cheese topping. Combine fromage blanc/ricotta, crème fraiche, salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and oil in a bowl. Taste it to make sure you like the balance between the cheeses/salt/pepper. Spread the cheese mixture over the par baked dough evenly.
  • Scatter the onions, then bacon over the cheese mixture.
  • Return to the oven for about 5 minutes – you’ll see that the toppings start to all melt together and the dough turns slightly light golden brown. If you want it crispier, you can leave it on there longer!
  • Let it cool for about 3 minutes before slicing and eating.

*Obviously, you can make your own dough, but the ready-to-go pizza/bread dough from Whole Foods is awesome! They usually have it on display, but if you don’t see it, you can go to the fresh pizza section and they can package it up for you. Keep it in the fridge if you’re making the same day. If not, you can stick it in the freezer and defrost when ready to make! The dough is easy to roll out, but make sure you use flour because it can get sticky.

Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce [Kinda Classic, Kinda Not]

It’s 2020.

2020 is full of big things:
– Kaykay & I travel to Nigeria (my first time going)
– Kaykay starts residency
– My brother is getting married
– My sister & her husband move back to Houston from New Jersey

I’m so excited for all the big things happening, and of course, everything else in between!!

I’m also excited because Kaykay got me a new laptop [Surface 3 Laptop] for my birthday & Christmas. It’s beautiful & I love it! I was mostly blogging from my iPad pro, but the attachment keyboard stopped working, so it was almost painful to blog. I love my iPhone, but after owning an iPad for 3+ years, I think they are completely unnecessary and would not recommend anyone to get one (just get a Macbook Air or Surface tablet). Now that I have an actual computer, I feel more inspired to write & post. I even scheduled and planned out the next 3 posts I want to share.

Today’s recipe is the last dish I cooked in 2019 – Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce. I wanted to share this recipe when I made it on New Year’s Eve but I kept debating whether or not people will actually want this recipe since the sauce is homemade and lasagna (in general) requires SO. MANY. STEPS. to make. Lo & behold, my wonderful best friend told me to share it because she wants to make it, so here it is. If just ONE person will make it, then it’s worth typing out.

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This lasagna recipe is a mix of classic Italian recipe with a HINT of a Filipino twist. Let me explain.

I’ve always known lasagna in the Philippines to be a great balance between meat, tomato, creaminess, and cheese. When I moved to America, I hated lasagna because it was always so…. tomato-y? sour? acidic? Are those the right words? I mean, even to this day, I don’t prefer marinara sauce. But when I tried a classic Filipino lasagna as an adult, I didn’t like it – it was TOO meaty and sweet (it’s typical for Filipinos to use banana ketchup as an ingredient in cooking).

When I was first looking up recipes for a classic lasagna, there was a million different recipes. Ones with mushrooms, ricotta cheese, some with béchamel sauce, some without, some with eggs, mozzarella, some with meat, etc. Most of them sounded great, but I wanted to come up with something that combined the best of both worlds.

The puréed spinach/onion/bell pepper mixture make it more classic, but the addition of Nathan’s hot dogs, brown sugar, and béchamel sauce adds that Filipino flair, and in my opinion, perfect.

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When you are reading the instructions, I hope you don’t get overwhelmed. It does take a couple hours to tackle, but it’s worth it. It helps when someone is helping you wash dishes as you’re cooking so that you don’t end up with a big pile in the end. Also, I recommend (unless you are a pro cook), to cook one thing at a time e.g. make the meat sauce, then boil the noodles, then make the béchamel sauce to make sure that you don’t burn anything. The meat sauce can also be made the day before to lessen the load on a single day.

Lastly, I have a bunch of important notes at the very bottom of the recipe that may help you along the way!

Bon Appetite!

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INGREDIENTS:

Lasagna:

  • 9 regular lasagna noodles (or no-boil noodles)*
  • 8 ounces shredded Cheddar/Monterrey Jack Cheese mix

Red Sauce:

  • 1/2 pound grass-fed or grass-finished ground beef
  • 1/2 pound Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs, about 4 hot dogs*
  • 1 tablespoon oil (vegetable, olive, or sunflower seed)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 small bell pepper (red or green), seeded & cored, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 can (~15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (~6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 can (~15 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning*
  • 2 teaspoons (heaping) brown sugar, light or dark
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

Make the Red Sauce: (Can be made in advance).

  1. Heat oil in a large pot with a lid. Brown the ground beef over medium heat, breaking the meat apart into pieces. When most of it starts to brown, add the hotdogs. Cook for another 4-5 minutes.
  2. Transfer meat to a food processor (leave the grease & juices in the pot) and pulse just 3-4 times until it’s broken up into very small pieces. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Don’t clean your food processor yet.
  3. In the same pot over medium-high heat, add more oil if necessary. Add the garlic, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the onion, spinach and bell pepper. Continue cooking on medium heat until the vegetables are softened –about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and transfer them to the same food processor. Pulse several times until they’re nearly pureed. Return mixture to the pot.
  6. Add diced tomatoes to food processor and add to the pot.
  7. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. I like to stir all this up with a large whisk (make sure it’s a heat proof whisk!).
  8. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  9. Still on low heat, stir in the cooked ground beef & hot dog mixture and let it all marinate together for 10 more minutes.
  10. While the red sauce simmers boil the lasagna noodles in SALTED WATER for about 3 minutes LESS the time suggested on the box. Drain the water and sprinkle them with a tiny bit of olive oil to keep them from sticking together. (You can skip this step if you are using no-boil noodles).

For the Béchamel Sauce:

  1. Add the butter to a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour, whisking constantly to combine 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually (very slowly) add in the milk, whisking until smooth*. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Make sure you are whisking often so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Cook for about 6-7 minutes until it thickens. It should be able to slightly coat the back of a spoon*.

Assembling the Lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray (the deeper the pan, the better)
  2. Keep in mind that there will be 3 layers of lasagna, so mentally split the sauces into thirds as you layer them to make sure you have enough at the end).
  3. Add a little bit of red sauce at the bottom of the pan.
  4. Start by layering the bottom of your greased pan with 3 lasagna noodles.
  5. Spread the red sauce over the noodles, followed by the white sauce, and a little bit of the shredded cheese mixture.
  6. Top with another layer of noodles, then red sauce, white sauce, cheeses.
  7. Add the final layer of noodles, then red sauce, white sauce and cheeses.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow the lasagna to sit for 15-20 minutes before serving (DON’T SKIP THIS STEP).

*IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • I like to cook 2-3 more pieces of lasagna noodles than necessary because some noodles can break when boiling – I like to play it safe.
  • If Nathan’s Hotdogs seems too weird for you to add to a recipe – 1) wow, your world is small and 2) you can substitute Italian sausage.
  • Italian seasoning can mean different things – sometimes it’s just an herb mix, but sometimes it’s a mix of herbs and spices. I use a mix of both totaling 2 teaspoons but use whatever you have in the kitchen.
  • If you add in the milk very fast to the butter/flour mixture, you will end up with a clumpy mess. I like to add in about 2-3 ounces at a time, whisk until smooth, add more milk, and whisk again until smooth.
  • Try not to over-thicken (is that a word?) the béchamel sauce – it won’t taste bad, but it’s a little harder to spread over the lasagna when building. Note that the sauce will continue to thicken even when removed from the heat. If you over-thicken the sauce, just add more milk and whisk it good.
  • If your baking pan is on the shallow side and you find that it’s overflowing after assembling the lasagna, add a cookie/baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven below the lasagna pan to catch any spill overs when your sauce/cheese is bubbling.
  • If you happen to have leftover meat sauce, save it and turn it into regular spaghetti sauce!

Jambalaya for the Soul

One of my favorite dishes in the world is Spanish Paella. Sadly, I have not found a good Paella dish in Houston. It’s not that they taste horrible, it’s just not made the traditional way in a wide flat pan over fire, so that the edges get crispy and a little burnt. Also, I can’t justify the high price tag for the low quality.

Normally, this would prompt me to learn how to make Paella at home, but after reading several recipes (even the easy versions), I’ve decided that it’s not worth the effort to buy all the expensive ingredients and follow a million steps to get there. Thankfully, Jambalaya exists to cure my cravings.

I know Jambalaya & Paella are complete different recipes. Paella is seasoned with saffron and Jambalaya is seasoned with Cajun/Creole. Paella uses short grain Spanish rice while Jambalaya uses long grain rice. Paella is also cooked over fire and Jambalaya is cooked over the stove. Somehow, however, the final product ends up tasting very similar to each other!

Below is a recipe that I’ve taken bits and pieces from several recipes to make the ultimate, perfect balance of ingredients and seasoning – well at least to my preference.

The number of ingredients may seem a lot at first, but most of these you should already have in your pantry. If not, they are easy to find in your local grocery store and/or they’re inexpensive.

Happy Cooking!

JAMBALAYA

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided (1 tablespoon to cook sausage, 2 tablespoons to cook chicken breast)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Cajun (Slap Ya Mama) or Creole seasoning (Tony’s) or a mix of both, divided (half to season meats, half to stir in the pot)
  • 10 ounces Cajun andouille sausage, sliced into rounds (if you cannot find this, you can use Mexican chorizo sausage)
  • 1 pound chicken breast, diced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 15 oz (1 can) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Italian Herb Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne powder (omit or lessen if you’re sensitive to spice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot sauce (or any hot sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup thinly sliced okra
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked long grain white rice (I use Jasmine)
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, tail on, peel & deveined, thawed
  • Sliced green onions and finely chopped parsley, to garnish

STEPS:

  1. Before you start cooking anything, it helps to chop/dice/mince/portion most of the ingredients because you’re going to need to quickly add ingredients while cooking.
  2. First, dice your “holy trinity” – the onion, red pepper, green pepper, and celery. Put them all together in a medium sized bowl. Then, mince your garlic cloves and put in a separate, small bowl. Slice the okra and put in another separate bowl (sometimes I use measuring cups as bowls). Slicing your veggies first helps prevent cross contamination (although it may not matter at this point since everything is going to cook together).
  3. In another small bowl, mix together the Italian seasoning, salt, ground black pepper, Cayenne pepper, and half (3/4 tablespoon) of Cajun/Creole seasoning. At this point, you can open the can of crushed tomatoes too.
  4. Slice your sausages into rounds. Then dice the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Don’t mix the meats together since we’re going to cook them separately, but you can put them on the same plate/bowl. Season sausage and chicken with the other half (3/4 tablespoon) with Cajun/Creole seasoning.
  5. Finally, you can begin cooking.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot (Dutch oven works too) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, brown the sausage, about 5 minutes. Remove sausages with a slotted spoon, set aside.
  7. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the same pot and cook the chicken until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon, set aside along with the sausages.
  8. Sauté the holy trinity (onion, bell peppers, celery) until the onion is soft and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for about 30-45 seconds until you want to dip your face in the pot because it smells so good.
  9. Stir in crushed tomatoes, the salt/pepper/Italian herbs/cayenne pepper/Cajun seasoning mix, Frank’s Red Hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Then, stir in the sausage, chicken, and sliced okra. Cook for 5 minutes, while stirring occasionally.
  10. Add in the rice and chicken broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low-medium. Cover and let it simmer for 20-24 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked. Make sure you stir occasionally to avoid rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  11. Place the shrimp in the Jambalaya mixture and stir carefully, and cover with a lid. Cook for another 6-7 minutes until shrimp is cooked through (should be pink). I use a normal-sized shrimp, but if you are using smaller/bigger ones, cook less/more.
  12. Taste your Jambalaya and adjust seasoning if needed – if you don’t think it’s spicy enough, add more Cajun/Creole or Cayenne pepper.
  13. Garnish with sliced green onions and finely chopped parsley.

Enjoy!

“Rotisserie” Chicken Thighs

I blinked in May. When I opened my eyes, it was August.

I remember being a kid and complaining about how slow time passes. Now, I cannot stop complaining how time goes by too fast and how I never seem to have enough time to do everything I need/want to do.

My husband and I are celebrating our 8th year anniversary (not wedding) on September 1st. I will usually have something planned out or I would’ve thought of a really nice gift, but I have nothing. I’m getting nervous (his “love language” is “gifts”). I really hope he’s not reading my blog.

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When life is very hectic, my favorite recipes are those that require very little prep and attention when it’s cooking. This “Rotisserie” Chicken Thigh recipe is one of those.

I’m air-quoting “rotisserie” here because this recipe is not actually cooked in the traditional rotisserie way, but it tastes like it. All you literally have to do is rub the chicken with some olive oil, spices, and stick it in the oven, set your timer for 40 minutes or so, take a shower, watch an episode of The Office, and when your timer goes off, it’s time to take out these babies out the oven. No flipping in between. The best part is that there’s hardly anything to clean up afterwards!

Recipe below.

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“Rotisserie” Chicken Thighs

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 pounds chicken thighs (or legs – I just prefer thighs, about 4-6 pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoons Italian herb seasoning (if you don’t have this, use a mix of dried oregano, thyme, basil)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian herb seasoning, and paprika. Set aside.
  3. Take out your chicken thighs and place them on the baking sheet to avoid dirtying a new plate – pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels.
  4. Drizzle chicken thighs with olive oil, rubbing the oil into the chicken to coat. Then, sprinkle the mixed spices over the chicken evenly on BOTH sides, rubbing the spices into the chicken as well.
  5. Arrange the chicken thighs with skin-side up. Bake chicken in preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  6. Serve immediately.

NOTES

  • When I’m in a rush, I’ll serve the chicken with steamed rice. When I have a little bit more time, I’ll roast some vegetables on the bottom rack of the oven, same time as when the chicken is baking.
  • Around the 35-minute mark, I like to check the tops of the chicken – sometimes they can go from looking golden brown & crispy to burnt really quickly. If they’re looking a little too brown but you still have about 5+ minutes of cooking to go, take a sheet of foil and place it over the chicken to prevent burning the chicken skin.

Lemony Garlicky Buttery Atlantic Cod

My blog is officially one year old!

I was going to say, “I can’t believe time has gone by so fast!” but it’s the only thing believable nowadays. This past year, I’ve gotten to travel all over America (mix of business and pleasure), meet all kinds of people, and do all kinds of great things – it’s been surreal. It’s a reminder just how time flies, especially when you’re having fun. It also doesn’t help that time seems to keep going by faster as I get older.

Here are some of my goals for the blog in Year Two:

  • Categorize my posts for easier navigation
  • Post at least once a month
  • Actually advertise my blog more

At this point, I’m not really sure how many people actually read my blog, but I know at least my siblings ask me for recipes and that’s good enough for me to keep going.

Today’s recipe is a perfect recipe for when you are super busy like me and don’t have a lot of time (my suitcase hasn’t been unpacked from my last trip and I don’t remember the last time I washed my hair). You only need 30 minutes for prep and cook time. This is also one of my go-to meals because it has my three favorite ingredients: lemon, garlic, and butter. I mean, how can you go wrong with that?

I serve this two ways depending on my mood: over a bed of rice (white or brown) when I’m feeling like I need a carb overload or with roasted carrots and broccoli when I’m feel I’ve had TOO much carbs.

I hope you enjoy this simple recipe as much as I do!

LEMONY GARLICKY BUTTERY ATLANTIC COD FILLETS 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4-6 wild-caught Atlantic Cod fillets
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, optional for garnish

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray or butter.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, garlic, lemon juice and lemon zest; set aside.

3. Rub the fish fillets with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, salt & pepper and place onto the prepared baking dish. Pour the butter mixture over the fish.

4. Place into oven and bake for about 10 minutes. It may seem a little undone, but fish will continue to cook for a minute or two off the heat. Be sure to stop cooking when the fish is just shy of done, otherwise, it will be overcooked by the time you eat it. Contrary to popular belief,  once the fish flakes, it has lost too much moisture and will be dry and bland. As you check for doneness, see how easily the fish “gives way”. It should gently resist flaking but show signs of firming.

5. Once fish is cooked, garnish with parsley if you want and serve immediately.

Korean Beef Quesadillas/Tacos

I have no idea how Korean this recipe is. Maybe 8%. All I know is that this is a really delicious & simple recipe. If you’re Houstonian, this recipe is a copycat of the beloved & famous Oh My Gogi’s quesadillas & tacos.

I was inspired to make this because Kaykay banned me from going to their food truck at 9pm (their opening time) because he says they are too “unhealthy” for a late-night meal. He really knows how to suck the fun out of life. Fortunately, a simple Google search led me to several recipes so I can make it at home (before 9pm, of course).

This has quickly become one of my go-to meals when I know I’m going to have a busy week because you can cook the beef and eat it throughout the week in taco or quesadilla form. It’s easy prep and most ingredients are something you’d already have in your pantry. And oh how the tables have turned – this is also now Kaykay’s favorite meal too. Apparently because it’s homemade, it’s not unhealthy anymore.

The choice between making quesadillas or tacos out of the Korean beef is entirely up to you. I prefer tacos and Kaykay prefers quesadillas so I make both each time since the recipe for the beef is the same. The tacos feel a little lighter because it uses corn tortillas and less cheese and the quesadillas are heartier and heavier because of flour tortilla & more cheese. In the end, you can really customize this however you want!

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Recipe adapted from Damn Delicious.

KOREAN BEEF QUESADILLAS/TACOS

INGREDIENTS:

For the Beef:

  • 4 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 3.5 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Pinch ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound grass-fed/grass-finished ground beef
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds

For the Sriracha Mayo:

  • 1/4 cup Mayo
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha, or more to taste
  • 1/2 lime, squeezed
  • Pinch of salt

For Tacos or Quesadillas:

  • Corn and/or Flour tortillas
  • Non-stick cooking spray, canola or olive oil
  • Shredded Monterey Jack & Cheddar cheese, mixed
  • Yellow onions, diced
  • Cilantro, optional
  • Red cabbage chopped, optional for tacos
  • Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), optional but highly recommended

INSTRUCTIONS:

For the Beef: Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the beef as it cooks. Drain excess fat*. While the beef is cooking, in a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and ground ginger. Once the beef is cooked and the fat is drained, stir in the soy sauce mixture until well combined, allowing to simmer until heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in sesame seeds. Set aside.

For the Sriracha Mayo: Whisk together mayo, sriracha, lime juice, and salt. Set aside for now.

If making Tacos: Heat up two corn tortillas in a pan with a little bit of cooking oil spray for each taco (yes, double up the tortillas for each taco) over medium-low heat. Remove tortillas from heat and build as you wish. I like to add about 1-2 spoonful of Korean beef, a drizzle of Sriracha mayo, diced yellow onions, shredded red cabbage, cilantro, shredded cheese and a sprinkle of the Gochugaru Korean pepper flakes.

If making Quesadillas: Heat up both sides of a flour tortilla in a pan with a little bit of cooking oil spray over medium-low heat. Add a layer of shredded cheese all over the tortilla. Then on one half of the tortilla, add ground beef and diced onions. Fold the tortilla in half and continue to heat up for 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly crispy. Cut the quesadilla in half and drizzle with Sriracha mayo and garnish with cilantro and Gochugaru Korean pepper flakes.

If you have leftover cooked beef and want to save it for the next several days, store in an airtight container in the fridge. From my experience, this stays good for about 5 days if stored properly.

*When draining excess fat out of meat, I like to pour the fat into a heat-proof glass container and store it until it cools down then dump it in the trash. Do not drain excess fat down your sink!

Crab Fried Rice

This is so good.

This is so easy to make.

This is also smelly.

I do not mind.

I like this recipe because you will make a big batch and there’s enough leftovers for the next day. You can take it to work for lunch, like I do, and sit back and watch your coworkers pass by the microwave (after heating it up) to hear them say, “Ewwww what’s that smell?!” It’s seafood, Karen.

Or if you want to be more considerate than I am, I guess you can eat it for dinner the next day.

This recipe is adapted from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Hungry for More cookbook. By adapted, I mean that I tweaked the recipe a LITTLE a bit because I found it was a little bland (surprisingly unlike her other recipes). However, I did like her instructions – she made the process very easy to follow. The key is to measure out all the ingredients before you begin cooking.

Let’s begin.

CRAB FRIED RICE

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 cups cooked jasmine rice, preferably cooled or 1-day old
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 3-4 scallion, cut into 1-inch lengths, plus thinly sliced scallions for garnish
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and cut into wedges
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • Chili oil, optional

Important Note: Make the rice ahead of time. Everyone has different methods to cook rice, but I use a rice cooker. If I don’t make rice a day ahead, it’s fine, but you’ll still have to cool it a bit. To cool rice faster, line a baking sheet with foil and grease it with vegetable oil. Pour your freshly cooked rice into the baking sheet and spread it out. Let it cool for 20-25 minutes. If you cook with sticky, warm, freshly cooked rice, your fried rice will turn out soggy. 

INSTRUCTIONS

Measure out all the ingredients before cooking and have them at arms reach around your stove.

In a large wok or saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add onions until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the scallions and garlic and stir for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the eggs, letting them sit and cook for 20 seconds until partially set, and then add the rice. Immediately add the soy sauce and fish sauce. When mixing everything together, make sure you break up the eggs. Cook, stirring, until the rice is hot.

Add tomato wedges and lump crab and cook until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with ground white paper and salt (be careful when adding the sauce because you already added soy sauce and fish sauce). Take off the heat and stir in chopped cilantro.

Garnish with thinly sliced scallions and drizzle with chili oil if you want.