Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Citrus Bars

I've been using tasty treats as a way to leave an impression on people for 6 or so years now. In high school, I baked when I was stressed or bored or just wanted something productive to do, which lead to my fellow yearbook staff members remembering for my cookies. My freshman year of college, I was known as the floor baker, and even made a Facebook group to notify the people on my floor whenever I made something new that I wanted to share. However, moving off campus and having my own kitchen (well, an apartment three of us shared with a kitchen) somehow meant the end of baking for me, and the oven saw more casseroles and frozen fries than scratch made treats. During my senior toast, I ran into someone I hadn't spoken to since that first year in the dorms, and he asked me if I was still baking delicious treats. I was ashamed to say it'd been a while.

However, recently, that's changed. In the past two weeks, I've baked more than I had in the previous year. Finding inspiration from Keri, I made a chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday, followed by a rosewater cheesecake while visiting my grandparents.

But then, my aunt and I came back after our visit up north and the reality of kind-of-sort-of moving to Tehran began to set in. I can count the number of people close to my age that I know without raising a single finger. Sure, I've met people the numerous times I've visited, but most of the time I'm terrible with names and only okay with faces. Plus, even if I did remember anyone, it's been seven years since I'd spent any significant amount of time in this city. Of course, the only reasonable solution to this "finding friends" thing was for my aunt to throw me a party, a small get together of sorts. With 20 people. So, while my aunt planned the menu, I asked how I could help, and then realized the only reasonable thing to do would be to make some sort of tasty treats. So I did - citrus bars and rosewater cupcakes. And then I washed up nicely, did my make-up ("You should put some blush on." "I am wearing blush."), pulled on a dress, slipped on some heels, and then did my best to not seem too awkward or shy.

Which, when bombarded with 15 new names and faces, can be a bit difficult. And, of course, everyone knows my name. And that I'm the American niece. And, by the end of it, that I'm quiet and shy. At least, I hope that's what they thought and not that I was rude and stuck up. But from their comments, what I am sure of is that they think I make awesome citrus bars. So, I'd say I'm back on track for winning people over with sweets.

Not that I can even take credit for the deliciousness, really, since the recipe for Grape Fruit Bars was delivered to my e-mail from the ever-wonderful Keri with the note "I'm giving you this because the citrus fruit can easily be switched out... my lab says this is their favourite and I got so many e-mails asking for the recipe." So, without further ado (though I suppose that's what scrolling is for), here they are.

Citrus Bars
Recipe from Keri
Makes 36 triangles

For crust:
2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
250 g butter, room temperature

4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh citrus fruit of choice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup flour  

Preheat oven to 350F/175C/Gas 4 and line a 9x13 pan with baking paper.

Combine flour,  icing sugar, and butter and mix with a fork or hands until it becomes a thick, crumbly dough. Press dough into the prepared pan so it's even across the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just golden around the edges. (If pan is dark, check sooner or bake at lower temperature.)

While the base cooks, whisk together eggs, sugar, and juice until smooth.  Then whisk in baking powder, making sure no lumps remain. Finally, whisk in flour.

Pour the egg mixture onto the base. Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or the filling no longer jiggles and is dry to the touch. 

Once cooled, remove from pan, use a sharp knife and cut into pieces of desired size. 

If you're planning on serving them the next day, the paranoid food safety person in me suggests keeping them in the fridge and letting them return to room temperature before eating.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Floral Cheesecake

My friend Keri has been chronicling her adventures in baking over at Like most websites, I don't have ready access to it, and after hearing about her rose and coconut cheesecake from her flatmate, and my grandfather teasing me to make something else after making a coconut and chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday (recipe also courtesy of Keri), I figured I'd asked her for the recipe and give it a try. 

And then couldn't find half the things necessary. However, I didn't actually look very hard for them. But I made some substitutions (visible below) and ended up with a tasty cheesecake. It definitely didn't turn out as pretty as Keri's, and may or may not have been as heavenly, but it's definitely simple enough and tasty enough to garner making again. 

I also used just a bowl, wooden spoon, and whisk to make this and found that to be fine, but I left Keri's directions for beating the cheese in place. 

Rose and Coconut Cheese Cake

Base Ingredients 
- 220 g biscuits (I used coconut ones)
- 50 g shredded coconut
- 100 g butter, melted

1) Break up biscuits somehow. Either use the double baggied and rolling pin method, or, my preferred method: a deep bowl and a meat mallet.
2) Mix  coconut and melted butter into biscuit crumbs. 
3) Press into bottom and 3 cm up sides of a greased 23 cm spring pan. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes
to set.

Filling Ingredients 
- 500 g cream cheese
- 200 ml coconut milk (from a can)
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tablespoons rosewater (adjust to taste)

1) Preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F). 
2) Beat the cream cheese with an electric
beater. Add the coconut milk in two lots of 100 ml and beat
well to get rid of any lumps. Best in the sugar, followed by the eggs one at a time. 
Stir in the rosewater. 
3) Pour filling mixture into prepared base. Bake for 45 minutes at 325F, or until it isn't jiggly. After which, turn off the oven and leave cake in for an additional hour.
4) Let cheesecake cool on the counter for 30
minutes or until it's cool enough to place in fridge. Chill 4 hour or overnight.
5) Run knife around edge before releasing from pan. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

One Week

Three Piece Dinner

I have one week left before embarking on the next phase of my life, whatever that may be. For the first time in my life, I won't be an official student, and that kind of terrifies me.

However, one of the things I've discovered is that I sometimes super simple meals are also super delicious. And perhaps this meal wasn't super simple, considering my dad cooked the eggplant for me, froze them, and kindly sent them with me to St. Louis after one of my visits home. But thawed eggplant, some sauteed onions, garlic curry sauce, and rice make for a tasty dinner. And a really easy one, too.

Also, as embarrassing as this is to admit, especially considering my ethnic background, I've only successfully cooked rice by myself on a handful of occasions. Usually I find myself consulting someone as I put the rice on, or not managing a nice tadig. When I made rice for this meal, not only was it actually cooked, there was a nice crunchy tadig as well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I'm one month away from being a college graduate. One month. The prospect of being a college graduate is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. At the moment though, it's mostly just terrifying.

I've been receiving a formal education for as long as I can remember, unless you discount daycare and preschool. Starting in a month when someone asks me what I do, the answer will no longer have the simple answer I've been providing since I was old enough to garner the question: I'm a student.

AS long as I'm alive, that should be an acceptable response, but that's not how people usually look at it. For the past four years, it's been the expected answer. I've been the simplest, easiest to understand dictionary definition of it. Proof? The second entry in the Oxford English Dictionary applied perfectly to me:

Student: A person who is undergoing a course of study and instruction at a university or other place of higher education or technical training.
While it's true I'll no longer be undergoing a formal course of education, I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. Because the first entry in the O.E.D. seems to describe what I aspire to be, well, forever.
Student: A person who is engaged in or addicted to study.
Study: To apply the mind to the acquisition of learning, whether by means of books, observation, or experiment

I never want to stop learning. Ever. If I'm out there existing and I'm not applying myself to learning new things on a daily basis, then I'm failing myself.

When it comes to formal education, on paper, I've been incredibly fortunate. Though I don't think college rankings tell you all that much about the quality of education an individual person receives -- you can go to a "great" school and get a terrible education if you try hard enough, or, more accurately, don't try -- my degree is from a top tier university. If I pick up my diploma, head back to Chicago, and stop learning I'm not going to get anything out of my life. I'm smart enough to know that I'll spend the rest of my life learning new things. And I look forward to that.

Now that I've said that, I present to you a list of things I've learned about the kitchen while in school. Many of these things aren't transferable to other people.
  • I was spoiled with nice, heavy knives as a child. I can't function without a chef's knife that is too light or too dull.
  • All I need to be satisfied is a skillet, a spatula, oil, and (fresh-ish) eggs. Salt and pepper are nice. Vegetables are even nicer. Salsa is easier.
  • Drying racks are incredibly useful, as are dishgloves.
  • Canned (packeted?) tuna is a wonderful thing.
  • It's really easy to lose things in a fridge shared with someone who doesn't regularly clean their stuff out.
  • Buying groceries for one can be difficult. The deli counter is a valuable resource.
  • Condiments do in fact go bad.
I feel like most of that is actually pretty obvious, except for maybe the first two, which are really just things I learned about myself. (I don't do conclusions well.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It Feels Like a Perfect Night for Breakfast at Midnight

I'm a pretty big Taylor Swift fan. I remember being fascinated by the adorable girl with the curls singing "Our Song" when my friend showed me the video and then hearing off key versions of "Love Story" far too frequently coming from the boy who sat next to me in Number Theory. Then, the first friend I made in college had a penchant for randomly bursting into "You Belong With Me," regardless of if it was a socially acceptable time.

So when Taylor Swift released Red last October, it was pretty much perfect timing. About twenty minutes into the record is the wonderfully ridiculous ode to being a "happy, free, confused, and lonely" pop star and, well, being 22.

And, well, most of my friends are slowly turning 22. And I now have an excuse to play Taylor Swift songs under the pretense than it's appropriate for the occasion.

And, while this wasn't the inspiration for at all, and definitely not my first time eating breakfast at midnight, when I realized that we were celebrating my friend's birthday with a midnight breakfast, I couldn't help but think of the song.

Bourbon Pecan Sauce
similar to version I made before adapted from Dec. 2006 Cooking Light, pg 174
makes 1 - 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon bourbon
Combine sugars and water in a small saucepan over medium high-heat, stirring constantly until sugars dissolve and it no longer looks grainy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to a medium-low and cook until mixture is bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.

It's really tasty with fluffy dollar sized pancakes, freshly whipped cream, and bananas.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Travel Thoughts

Spices at Borough Market

I've been incredibly quiet lately. 2012 marked my worst year ever (with this blog at least, it definitely was not my worst year of life.) And I know I cooked. And I know I ate food. And I know I did little in the way of creative cooking this past fall, eating a few simple staples, and the occasional "let's see what's in the kitchen that isn't my roommates that I can turn into an edible meal." And by occasional, I mean that's really all I did when it came to making food. For example, dinner tonight was eggs and salsa with toast. And then a few hours later I finally tried that microwaved brownie in a cup I've been seeing all over for years - my sweet tooth needed satisfied, and a clementine just wasn't doing it for me.

Veggie Burger at Borough Market

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. Travel. Travel is glorious, and a perfect time for trying new foods. Like unassuming Burmese food in Burlingame, California or a delicious quinoa-based veggie burger in London, England.

Meals can be memorable. Or forgettable. And, to be honest, most of them are probably more on the forgettable side. I think I remember the oysters I ate in San Francisco more because it was just a lot of fun to spend the day with my dad than because of the fact I actually ate oysters and they weren't entirely unpleasant.

Clams and Sausage

But, I think what I'm trying to say is that I like food. I like cooking. I like eating. I like trying new things. I hope I continue to have opportunities to do these things.

And I really want to find a Burmese restaurant in this part of the country. And return to London so I can try the Veggie Table's Heavenly Halloumi burger with their onion jam.