mandarin orange salad

If there’s anything Annenberg desperately needs, it’s a reliable supply of mandarin oranges.  On the wonderful days that the salad/deli bar is stocked, I’ll add them to my meal as a side or in a tasty salad.  This recipe is only a small deviation from my tuna pasta salad, as the simple olive oil-white vinegar vinaigrette also happens to work amazingly well with mandarin oranges.  Who knew?

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mandarin orange salad 3

A variation of the above salad (different spinach leaves and added red onion slivers)

Mandarin Orange Salad

Ingredients: (serves 1)

2 cups spinach leaves
1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained
2 tablespoons feta cheese (can be substituted with bleu cheese)
olive oil
a dash of white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
red onion slivers

Combine spinach leaves with mandarin oranges, red onion and cheese in a deep dish platter.  Drizzle olive oil generously over the salad and toss thoroughly.  Add a dash of white vinegar and season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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challah bread

So I’m not Jewish, but this bread is kind of amazing.

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I MADE BREAD! From scratch! (cue confetti and applause)

According to Wikipedia, challah bread (egg bread) is a special braided bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays.  Specifically, the tradition states that the three Sabbath meals and two holiday meals each begin with two complete loaves of bread.  Traditionally, each single loaf is woven with six strands  — together, both loaves have twelve which represent each tribe of Israel.  Before the loaves are baked, each loaf is brushed with egg wash to give off a golden sheen.

Since I can barely braid my own hair with three strands (let alone six), I took a shortcut here.  Tasty nonetheless!

Challah Bread

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Ingredients

2 1/2 cups warm water (110 F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)

Original recipe:

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.

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cinnamon roll cookies

Yet another example of [insert delicious pastry here] + [insert another delicious pastry here] = heaven.  Cinnamon rolls and cookies, unite!

As unhealthy as this recipe likely is, I justified eating several spoonfuls of cookie dough tonight by sticking to my exercise regimen.  Currently on day 17/60 of the Insanity workout routine, and still feeling the burn.  Woo! :)

Original recipe credit to Reddit user maggiefiasco.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

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Ingredients

1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted soft butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling:

3 T. maple syrup
1/3 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

The Glaze:

1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
dash of cinnamon

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugars together in a large bowl. Add the egg white and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients by thirds, mix until just combined. Roll between two pieces of parchment paper or wax paper to form a 12-inch square. Chill for about 30 minutes. Carefully peel the bottom paper off the dough. Flip the dough and do the same with the other paper. Top the chilled dough with the maple syrup and then sprinkle with the cinnamon and brown sugar. Carefully roll the cookie dough up in a spiral and wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze until firm. Preheat your oven to 350. Slice into 1/4-inch slices and bake on a parchment lined sheet pan for 8-10 minutes. Place the sheet pan on a cooling rack and allow the cookies to cool on the sheet pan for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the sheet pan and continue cooling them on a cooling rack. Drizzle with the powdered sugar glaze.

blueberry banana sorbet

Let me begin by saying that this was one of the easiest treats I have ever made.

Total prep time took about 5 minutes, not including the time the sorbet spent in the freezer.  Recipes which are this delicious, healthy AND easy to make should be illegal. (Okay, maybe not.  But that’s like the trifecta of the perfect food!)

Blueberry Banana Sorbet

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Ingredients: (serves 2)

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 ripe bananas, sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Blend ingredients in a food processor until mixture is smooth.  Store in a plastic container in the freezer for about 2 hours, then take out to stir the half-frozen mixture thoroughly and freeze again.  Let thaw for about 5 minutes prior to serving. Enjoy!

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homemade pizza margherita

So I came to the realization that winter is probably not coming to Virginia this year.

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Or Massachusetts, for that matter.  Although there are still two weeks before I’m back on Harvard’s campus, it seems pretty safe to say that it can only get warmer from here on.

On the other hand, that gave me the perfect excuse to wake up early (i.e. 10:30 AM) this sunny, spring-like Saturday morning to prepare lunch for my family.

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When I was younger, we would often play Mahjong, Texas Hold’Em poker or Scrabble together late into the night, squabbling over pieces and laughing over hilarious betting strategies.  We seldom pull out the board games now that the four of us are so busy, especially with me living away from home, my brother in high school and my parents constantly busy and/or traveling with their work.

But if there’s anything that came close to those memories as a family bonding experience, it was making our own pizzas together this afternoon.  Across the four of us, I swear you can tell Hu’s pizza is Hu’s (ha. get it?) just by gazing upon the toppings.  It’s as if each were a culinary representation of our own diverse personalities, right down to the colors and quantities of what we chose to adorn them with.

My brother, who prides himself on being able to down a whole bottle of Tabasco sauce in one go, decided to top his pizza with an entire minced jalapeño pepper.

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It ended up tasting delicious, proving that more is always merrier, especially when it comes to spicy food.

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My dad never developed a taste for cheese, but his adaptive nature and resourcefulness always made me wonder why restaurants never served more Asian-American fusion dishes.  (You’ve got to love a dad who can cook!)  Although he originally declared himself “not hungry,” he ended up loading as many toppings onto his pizza as could possibly fit, including jalapeño pepper, Chinese linked sausage, and walnuts!

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His pizza was also by far the most photogenic of ours.

My mom has been feeling sick recently, so for us I made classic pizza margherita, a rich blend of olive oil, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and juicy tomato slices. (sound familiar? I’ve recently become obsessed with the caprese combination!)

While I generally consider myself an adventurous and ambitious person, sometimes you just need to indulge in comfort food in all of its familiarity.

And when it comes down to familiarity, there is nothing more comforting than knowing that although the world has a plan for each of us this next year, for the moment, we are united at home.

At least, for now.

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Homemade Pizza Margherita

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Pizza Dough

Ingredients: (makes 4 medium-sized pizzas)

3.5 to 4 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1.5 cups water, 110 degrees F
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pizza Margherita

Ingredients: (serves 3)

9-inch thin pizza crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-4 large basil leaves, cut into strips
2 small tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
other custom toppings (I used Chinese linked sausages and jalapeño peppers)

Pizza Dough:

Combine the bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine. While the mixer is running, add the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil and beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball. If the dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.

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Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Pizza Margherita:

Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Grease up a cookie sheet and roll the pizza dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use a brush to spread olive oil around it, making sure to get the crust!  Disperse the finely chopped garlic evenly, and then spread tomato sauce and layer evenly with mozzarella cheese.

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Place the thinly sliced tomatoes and basil leaves across the entire pizza, seasoning to taste.  (Optionally, add some minced jalapeño).

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Bake the pizza in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until sufficiently crispy and melted to your liking. Add a little Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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guacamole fried egg on toast

I’ve been waiting forever for my avocados to ripen.  For the past few days, they’ve been sitting on my countertop in a brown paper bag, just chillin’.  I learned this lesson the hard way — the first time I tried to make myself this dish, the avocado was beyond rock hard and underripe.  Even microwaving and stabbing it repeatedly with a fork made no difference, and I was forced to scrap the entire fruit!  My heart broke a little inside that day.

But this morning, I made myself guacamole (recipe of which is soon to follow) and incorporated it into a light and healthy breakfast.  The best thing about this dish is that it’s not only filling, but also only 450 calories!

Guacamole Fried Egg on Toast

Guacamole Egg Benedict on Toast

Ingredients: (serves 1)

1 slice sourdough bread
1 egg
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons guacamole
1 teaspoon parmesan cheese

Spread olive oil on both sides of sourdough bread slice and heat in small pan, seasoning it accordingly with salt and pepper.  After about a minute, crack one egg beside it in the pan, season it, and continue cooking.  Once the egg is halfway done, scoop it on top of the bread with a spatula and flip the whole thing over for about 10 seconds.  Set aside on plate, top with guacamole and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

blueberry banana bread

So this is kind of delicious.

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…and strawberries. Strawberries go with everything. Almost.

It’s a wonder I still find the motivation to bake, let alone do anything anymore over winter break, given that my early mornings have disintegrated into daily battles with the alarm clock and love affairs with my pillow.  I end up getting most of my work done in the afternoon and late evening, sometimes pushing past midnight or 1 AM.  Including baking.  (Woo, college!)

Nonetheless, I found a way to milk the last of the blueberries and overripe bananas in my pantry to their most useful potential.  Combine my recent obsession with baking with my love for blueberries and voila — you get blueberry banana bread!  Mmmmm.

Looks like breakfast will be taken care of for the next week or two!

Blueberry Banana Bread

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Ingredients: (makes 3 mini-loaves)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  (If the butter isn’t cooperating, try microwaving it for 30 seconds first.)  Beat in eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt and gradually add it to the creamed mixture until just combined.  Stir in banana mush and gently fold in blueberries.

Pour into three greased 5-3/4-in. x 3-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Use discretion; depending on the size of your pan(s), it could take up to an hour!  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.  After bread is entirely cooled, slice and enjoy… preferably with strawberries on the side.

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braised balsamic chicken with bacon rotini pasta

Today I surprised my family by making a full-course dinner consisting of two dishes: braised balsamic chicken  and a variation of this penne pasta with spinach and bacon.  Having still not finished the blueberry yogurt cookies and apple pie from two days ago, I thought it would be a good idea to transition into cooking “real” food (a.k.a. attempt to cook meat without hideously charring it to bits).

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As it turns out, dinner was a success!  The chicken came out perfectly juicy and the pasta light and crunchy with bacon bits.  As I was clearing away the dishes, my mom jokingly suggested that after tonight’s dinner, she might never have to cook again.  Ha!  Good one.

Braised Balsamic Chicken with Bacon Rotini Pasta

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Braised Balsamic Chicken:

Ingredients: (serves 4)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into pieces
ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tomatoes, vine or roma, diced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Season chicken breasts with ground black pepper and garlic salt.  Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, and brown the onion and seasoned chicken breasts.  Pour tomatoes and balsamic vinegar over chicken, and season with basil and thyme. Simmer until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 15 minutes.

Rotini Pasta with Bacon:

Ingredients: (serves 4)
1 (12-oz.) package of rotini pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tomato, vine or roma, diced

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the rotini and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water (so the noodles don’t stick) and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until browned and crisp, and then add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, and cook until heated through.  Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl, and toss with the remaining olive oil, and the bacon and tomato mixture.