Saturday, September 27, 2014

Muffin madness - B.A.B. gluten free muffins

I had a super bad craving for muffins. Maybe it's the weather cooling down. Or maybe it was seeing MOH eat a donut the other day - something triggered in my head that I wanted a muffin. A sweet, moist, pseudo-healthy muffin (if that even exists).

My compromise? Banana-almond-blueberry (BAB) muffins. The muffins are loaded with nutrients, such as protein and antioxidants - what more could you ask for?

These muffins are everything you can ask for in a muffin. Deliciously easy so anyone can make it. Simple and quick enough for anyone to eat it within 30 minutes of prep. 


This recipe contains the backbone of a regular muffin recipe, but relies on the brown rice flour/millet flour for an extra bite to the muffin. These muffins have some extra oomph to them.Sometimes muffins are way too soft that it's similar to eating white bread - you get the soft bread mixture stuck on the roof of your mouth and have to spend a couple minutes using your tongue to pry it off. 

Feel free to modify what you want. At the last minute, I decided to add blueberries and just sprinkled them on top. This method allows for each muffin to get a good amount of blueberries, and gave me the added bonus for seeing blue streaks inside my muffins from the exploded blueberries. 

Ingredients (makes 9 muffins in a 12-tin tray) inspired by this awesome blog:
- 1/2 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 cup millet flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup of spreadable butter
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ripened banana
- 1/4 cup of almond milk 
- 1/4 cup of almonds, chopped
- blueberries (enough for putting 3-4 blueberries on each muffin)

Protocol:
1. Preheat oven to 325 deg F
2. Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and butter
3. Add in eggs, mashed banana and vanilla. Then add in almond milk and mix thoroughly
4. Add in almonds and if desired, any berries or dried fruit
5. Grease muffin pans and evenly distribute batter across muffins (for this amount, I had enough for 9 muffins). 
6. Top off with fruit if haven't done so already
7. Bake for 18 minutes or until done
8. Take off muffin tray and enjoy!

Until next time, happy eating everyone! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Just keep it cumin!

I think there's a love hate relationship for cumin. It's this under appreciated spice that either people love to use or absolutely HATE. I think that it's the potential "feet" smell that sometimes comes about when you use too much of it. It's like perfume - just the slightest concentration brings this really nice smell. But try walking past someone in the perfume counter with three sprays of perfume, and it's overkill.

I love cumin. It's got this very earthy smell and has great sharp flavor. Put it on fajitas, falafel, curry, or burgers and you've got a hit.

One way I like to highlight cumin is with lentils.



I like to use lentils for a hearty soup or for wraps. I first tried a lentil wrap from Trader Joe's and it was so delicious. It was my first time having lentils and I couldn't figure out if it was a bean, grain, or weird soft fungus thing. Turns out, it's in the bean family. Lentils are super versatile and can be used as a staple ingredient in any dish. This time, I decided to try it as a filling for either a wrap or tacos (I used corn tortillas this time, so it's in the taco form).



After looking at different recipes online, I found that making the filling isn't that bad. Counting for one hour of solid prep, assembling the wraps or tacos themselves is less than 5 minutes. Many sites called for use of bulgur as a stiffening ingredient, but I didn't have any on hand to use (nor am I familiar with using it). Instead, I slightly modified a recipe from another website that had a really simple prep with mixing lentils with quinoa - a great idea!



You can make this over the weekend and have it ready to go throughout the week for a lunch. I found myself playing with the spices a little - I tried to up the ante with the cumin. Luckily, I didn't go too far because I think I was dancing the fine line between great spicy aroma and post-run feet aroma... No worries - this recipe is particularly easy to do, with little prep (I left my lentil/quinoa mix just simmering on the pot for past the cook time because I got caught up on some reading).

First, be sure to soak your quinoa and lentils (this cleans it up before cooking, makes the cooking time quicker, and improves gas, or so I've read). Once soaked, throw it into a pot and once you get a boil, simmer it for 20 minutes along with your spices of choice. The end result should be this creamy pseudo-mash potato looking brown mixture that's your filling!


The filling is honestly the hardest part, if you were to try to identify a part that may give you problems. And if you're not a fan of wraps or tacos, you can eat this filling with a side salad or with a tahini dipping sauce as well!

Now you can do the fun part. Most lentil wraps are eaten with a cabbage slaw mixture. I don't really like cabbage, so I had shredded romaine lettuce (MOH's favorite salad type) and mixed greens (my favorite). Depending on preference you can go for whatever taste you like, although if you consider crunch factor, romaine or cabbage is probably the better bet.

You can dress your wrap any way you want, but be sure to have a type of dipping sauce. It can be tahini (simple tahini paste with some water, lemon, and chopped cilantro), or a chili sauce (I used sriracha).

Either way, you can't go wrong with lentil wraps!

Until next time, happy eating everyone.

Ingredients:
For lentil mix:
- 1/2 cup lentils
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 1 3/4 cup of water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp of cumin
- 1 tbsp of garlic salt
- 1 1/2 tsp of onion powder
- 1 tsp of cayenne

For tahini sauce:
- equal ratio of tahini paste to water (try 1/2 cup first)
- 1/2 lime
- salt to taste
- 3 tsp of chopped cilantro

For greens:
- shredded lettuce of your choice

Protocol:
1. Boil soaked lentils and quinoa, simmering for 20 minutes after initial boil. Include spices when simmering.
2. Let mixture cool.
3. Prepare tahini sauce (be careful - tahini paste is extremely liquidy with the oily layer on top. When first opening your container, use a spoon to mix the tahini paste into a homogenous mixture)
4. Create your wrap or tacos and enjoy.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Things I can't get enough of...

MOH and I are engaged!

It was a beautiful evening and MOH and I went to Corona del Mar and watched the sunset. In a perfect moment, MOH popped the question and we enjoyed the sunset as a newly engaged couple.


We've come a long way. We met fresh out of high school, in a dorm hall. I was an obnoxious asian girl running my mouth about, he was into gaming (still is) and tried to brag about being a black belt and playing Thai music for the King. I thought he was full of poop (turns out he was not lying), but loved his candid personality and charm. I think what made our relationship work so well was how carefree and lighthearted we could be with each other. He's so goofy, but I can't stay away from him. Even in the most annoying hour, he still makes me smile.


Over eight years later, we're still together. Love ya, MOH.

Some things you just cannot say no to. Some foods I can't live without?

- Yogurt (I can eat this everyday. Really. I can eat it sweet (with honey, granola, fruit) or savory (on top of a baked potato with all the fixings!)

Plain yogurt with honey = DELICIOUS (photo courtesy of ProjectManhattan)

- Fish sauce. It's probably a cultural thing, but fish sauce is one of those essential pantry ingredients that can make or break a dish.

Sweet and salty nuoc mam (photo courtesy of John)

- Eggs. I think I go through egg withdrawal if a couple days go by and I haven't eaten eggs. Lately it's been egg whites - they're healthier, and they don't attribute to gas!



- Rice. More as a staple, but a big part of my diet. Some people can live off salads or bread - I need rice. Sometimes I do a triple-whammy delight by eating eggs and rice with fish sauce. I'm still working on how to incorporate all four. It's a work in progress.

Photo courtesy of Zane80

Until next time, happy eating all! The weather is ridiculously hot and humid, so hopefully by next week I'll try up new recipes for the blog.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

More bacteria please!

I think everyone is a germophobe on some scale. We're taught at a young age that bacteria is bad, deadly, blah blah. While this concern is certainly valid (like washing your hands after using the restroom, especially if you're finishing your last shift at the restaurant), bacteria can be extremely helpful, such as in potentially combating food allergies.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), more than 15 million people are affected by food allergies of some sort, with a fifty percent increase in occurrence since the late 90s.

Peanut allergies affect more than 3 million people (according to AAAI, photo courtesy of Atoz) 

A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has offered some insight into the rise of allergy ocurrences, and has shown that a gut bacteria (Clostridia-type) found in both rodents and humans is important for providing allergen protection*. Researchers induced a "peanut-like" allergic reaction in mice and found a higher immune response in bacteria-free or antibiotic-treated mice, compared to control mice. The authors show that the bacteria help prevent the uptake of allergen into the bloodstream through switching immune responses within the gut. In addition, treating mice with antibiotics caused a change in the bacterial gut environment, increasing the response to a food allergen. This finding suggests a new role for bacteria in curbing allergens and also serves to potentially explain the increase in food allergy incidences - with the advent of better medical advances such as the use of antibiotics early in development, our gut micro-environment (our whole body, actually) has drastically changed from what it used to be way, WAY back in the day.

Nonetheless, this interesting finding provides a link between bacteria and food allergens, and provides a promising way to potentially eliminate food allergies. Think of a magical pill that could alleviate your allergies. In an ideal world, you'd treat allergies like how people with lactose intolerance safely venture eating cheesy pizzas. Want to eat peanut brittle? Easy - just pop in your magic pill of bacteria, and voila, crunch down on that candy like no tomorrow.

Hopefully everyone's enjoying this beautiful Sunday, whether it's watching football on the TV, sun bathing at the beach, or lazily hanging at home. Whatever way you spend your day, have a great one.

Until next time, happy eating.



*
Clostridia helps to induce the innate immune response system in the gut, triggering IL-22 production, a cytokine important for reducing uptake of food antigen into the bloodstream.


References:

Stefka AT et al., 2014. Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. PNAS.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Laughing in the face of danger: Parasitic infection causes hard-wired fear to disappear in mice

I've been watching The Strain on FX, a vampire/virus show that is directed by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (based off their novel series) and the show is starting to pick up. Set in New York, an ancient vampiric disease spreads throughout New York, while an unlikely team set off to try to find the cure and save the people from becoming infected. Infected individuals have little parasitic worms that travel through their body, latch onto the brainstem and slowly take over the host. Eventually, the infected humans shed all their humanistic qualities, only to becoming vampiric monsters whose main mission is to infect those they care for most. 

What sets this show apart from the other vampiric shows out there is the parallel references with likening a viral outbreak with vampires (one of the main characters in the show is an epidemiologist who is trying to find a cure for the vampire outbreak). It's entertaining to watch, the suspense builds up well, and it's starting to pick up, thankfully (previous episodes drew too much on unnecessary drama).

Watching this show, seeing how resilient this "virus" is to infecting as much individuals as possible, as well as the smart way the virus continues to infect hosts, reminds me of the amazing strategies nature uses to survive... such as how the parasite toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, infects its host. T. gondii's host is the cat and disease is often transmitted through contact with feline feces, or contaminated by-products. Recent work has identified a unique way the parasite ensures a sure-fire way to get into its host - by creating fearless mice.

T. gondii fluorescent image (photo courtesy of AJ Cann)

In a paper published back in 2013, researchers studying T. gondii found that mice infected with different types of the parasite exhibited decreased fear levels compared to their control counterparts, even showing a slight attraction to the cat scent (think Tom and Jerry, only this time Jerry running circles around Tom, baiting Tom to eat him!). These experiments placed mice in an enclosed chamber with a petri dish of either rabbit urine (non-predatory) or cat urine (predatory), and measured the level of exploration of the mice. Infected mice lost all their fears, often found exploring the cat scented urine, laughing in the face of danger! When the infection was cleared, mice STILL showed a lack of fear when presented with predatory smells. The parasite has identified a smart strategy to infect mice and make them lose their natural fear of predators like cats. This allows cats to more readily eat the mice, making it easy as can be for the parasite to infect its host. One thing that would be interesting is to see if the parasitic infection causes mice to all around be fearless of any predator, or just felines (their host).

Either way, T. gondii has adapted such a fail-proof way to infect its host. The infected mice seem to have permanently altered brain function (not quite zombie-like, but fearless risk-takers!), despite treatment against the parasite. Scrappy and resilent!

Eye of the tiger, right? (photo courtesy of Rama)

Until next time! I don't want to say happy eating because this post isn't meant to entice anyone to eat... hopefully.



References:

Ingram WM, Goodrich LM, Robey EA, Eisen MB. Mice infected with low-virulence strains of Toxoplasma gondii lose their innate aversion to cat urine, even after extensive parasite clearace. 2013. PLoS One.







Sunday, August 24, 2014

Last summer kick-off - papaya salad

Bon Apetit recently released their new "it" restaurants for 2014, ranging from southern comfort food in DC to a buzzing food court in California.

It made me think of what my "favorites" to eat are. Or what would be my last meal on earth? Probably a hard boiled egg and rice - simple, but satisfying.

A "favorite" I can never turn down, however, is a good sweet, salty, papaya salad, Thai or Laos style (both of which are equally delicious in their own way). And what better thing to make in the wake of the waning summer days?

Thai style papaya salad (photo courtesy of Dragfyre)
Papaya salad is a perfect complement of tangy, salty goodness. Young papaya is shredded and tossed in a bed with chopped green beans, shredded carrots, and tomatoes in a lime-fish sauce mixture. While the Thai style spotlights crisp green beans and sometimes features fermented blue crab paste, the Laotian version kicks up the flavor by adding shrimp paste as the salt component. Both versions taste great and have a simple backbone recipe that's free to adjust (as you'll see below).

Laos papaya salad (photo courtesy of Takeaway)
My first experience of a papaya salad was when I was still living in Stockton. There was a park where women would sell a Laos/Cambodian style papaya salad that was served with beansprouts and white rice noodles. The noodles were a great starch substance to an otherwise light salad. To this day, papaya salad is a menu item that I constantly look for in restaurants (not nearly as frequently appearing like pad thai, but papaya salad, if done right, is a major treat!). I think my favorite places to get papaya salad is still at a Thai temple in Fremont, CA (which no longer has a food court, boo).

Papaya salad is very simple to construct. I don't even have a strict recipe I use - everything about this recipe screams laziness and ease of execution. Considering that people like varying degrees of salty and sour, papaya salad can be done the way you like it as well! While easy to make, this salad is extremely versatile and plays well with different textures and tastes.

Ingredients:
- 1 whole papaya young shredded (must be green)
- 2 carrots shredded (optional, not a deal breaker if you don't have it)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- Handful of green beans, chopped longways (also optional)
- Lime or lemon, 1/2 lime/lemon at a time
- Fish sauce, 1/2 tbsp at a time
- Dried shrimp (optional)
- Fermented shrimp paste (if you want to do it more Lao style), 1/2 tbsp
- 1 cup grape tomatoes halved or 2 roma tomatoes sliced
- Peanuts for salad topping

Protocol:
1. Add in shredded vegetables, garlic, green beans, and tomatoes - mash lightly with a mortal and pestle
2. When softly mashed (don't pummel to a pulp), add in fish sauce, lime, and paste - I have them in increments because you shouldn't add a ton on your first try. Instead, get a feel for how you want it to taste, slowly adjusting.
3. Adjust levels of salty (fish sauce, or shrimp paste) or sour (lime/lemon) until happy - I like my ratio to be slightly more salty than sour
4. Eat papaya salad alone, with rice noodles, or on top of a bed of mixed greens/herbs/beansprouts! Top with peanuts for an extra crunch!

Until next time, happy eating all!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Costa Mesa restaurant week - olive oils, spreads, and gooey cheese

This week marked the annual Costa Mesa Restaurant Week. MOH and I decided to go crazy on cheese, spreads, and oils. This feels like a deja vu from last week - we walked around the shopping mall, glossing over all the designer stores like Gucci and Prada, only to leave the mall with chocolate truffles and chocolate-dipped strawberries (strawberries were gone by the ride home). We just love food.

But the stuff we got today was REALLY tasty.

Basil olive oil and tapenade - YUMMY

We ventured into two main stores, one a little shop that specializes in olive oil called We Olive. We Olive sells various types of olive oils, balsamics, and spreads that all taste amazing. You have oils that are zesty (Jalapeno Olive Oil), sour (Meyer Lemon Olive Oil), and herb-infused (basil olive oil). These kinds of oils would go great as finishes to salads, pasta, or for bread. They also have a well received black olive tapenade (mixture usually of olives, capers, anchovies) that you can dip with bread or top with cheese. The tapenade has this great salty kick to it that I think can even taste great with salads or as a sandwich spread.

The second shop we explored was a cute little cheese shop (called The Cheese Shop at The Mix) that had a restaurant week special: get a baguette, wildflower honey, and fromager d'affino cheese for $7. MOH and I love cheese.

Cheese galore (photo courtesy of Tomas Regner)

Cheese that's soft, hard, creamy, rich, harsh, savory and sweet. We love it all. One of our favorite food memories was sitting in a dinky hotel room after going to a wedding, cramming our faces with beef jerky and truffle cheese - classy I know. Since that memory so many years ago, one of our favorite things to do while grocery shopping is to browse through the cheese gallery.

Cheese goodies with basil olive oil and tapenade on the side

This cheese was PHENOMENAL. If you're at all partial to soft cheeses, you'll love this (though I still attest that my favorite cheese is sharp cheddar, call me a simpleton). Very similar in taste to Brie, fromager d'affino is a double cream, soft cheese that is particularly soft and tastes like butter. If you drizzle some honey atop, the sweet and creamy taste goes together so well. This cheese would taste great with bread or a hearty cracker. And the honey? So rich and delicious - the honey is so concentrated that it's like eating honey in applesauce consistency. Yummy.

If you have a restaurant week in your hometown, definitely check it out. You get the chance to sample different foods for slashed prices that you probably wouldn't think about trying in the first place.

Until next time, happy eating all!