Monday, January 26, 2015

Burger night! Sloppy 'fus (sloppy tofus)

MOH just got over being sick and the first thing to come to mind was BURGERS. A good juicy burger with fries. We had some leftover shredded chicken breast that I was using for MOH's pasta noodle soup, so MOH creatively whipped up a mesquite mix and created a riff off "pulled chicken" to top his burger bun. It smelled so deliciously sweet and tangy (my favorite kind of BBQ flavor) that I thought about just having a little bite o' meat. Times like this channel my inner fried-chicken fatty.

But to make sure his little chef wasn't feeling left out, MOH surprised me with tofu sloppy joes (or sloppy 'fus).

These bad boys are so delicious and come with great flavoring. I usually make a quinoa burger but MOH's little creations had a great kick and smoky flavor to them - great for a casual Sunday dinner. These darlings are super easy to make - the key to cooking with Tofu is to make sure you pull out as much water as possible (my favorite tofu is firm or extra firm - I only use silken or soft for soups) and let the tofu simmer in your sauce of choice.

For these sloppy 'fus, MOH made a rub of his favorite BBQ sauce, honey, maple syrup and spices. I'm not going to showcase too much measurements because MOH just threw stuff together, so when you make your rub of choice, just follow the bare bone recipe below!

- 1 packet of tofu, drained
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- Spice rub: your favorite BBQ sauce (1 cup), 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons honey, and your favorite spices (onion powder, paprika, garlic salt, fresh ground pepper)

- Mash tofu in a bowl into little pieces (this also helps take out some water)
- Marinate tofu pieces with rub
- In a small saucepan, add tofu marinated mixture
- Let tofu and sauce simmer until thickened (be sure to mix and cook down the tofu until the tofu is firmed and has a consistency of ground beef, or close to that)
- When cooked, let cool - then put on bun of your choice with all the "burger" fixings!

This sloppy joe mixture doubles over as a great snack and is jam packed with protein (tofu contains all the essential amino acids we need). Perfect munchies to prepare me for my half-marathon, which is next weekend!

Until next time, happy eating all!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tackling mortality at the genetic level

Ever care for someone while they're sick?

MOH has been extremely sick for the past couple days (and counting) and has been putting the whole "in sickness and health" vow to good use. Aside from walking around like a zombie, coughing sporadically, and taking in tons of tea/soup, he's been moping around requesting that even if he dies, I stay unmarried.

MOH's constant death remarks got me to thinking about a question that we normally don't think about until we get much older... What determines our mortality? Is there a such thing as an elixir of life that can keep us our youthful selves, free of disease, free of aging? 

Immortality in art: "Four immortals saluting longevity" by Shang Xi
While life expectancy has gradually increased with the advent of technology and better health care, our life span has remained pretty constant (the maximum life span is currently ~120 years old). While this life span is quite long, other animals, even mammals, have been known to live longer. For instance, a large whale called the bowhead whale can live up to 200 years. In addition to a long lifespan, this whale species also has low prevalence of many diseases associated with aging. 

Bowhead whales can reach up to 20 meters in length and weigh up to 100 tons (photo courtesy of Olga Shpak)
Why so old and healthy? And is it possible that with today's technological advances, can we tap into some of those genes and maybe get clues as to why we don't live as long?

In a recent article published in Cell Reports, scientists have uncovered the genetic makeup behind why long-living mammals like the bowhead whales are able to live so long, disease free.

Scientists were able to map the genetic map (or genome) of this whale species and compared the bowhead gene map to another whale species that does not live as long (Minke whale which lives for about 50 years) and identified several genes that may be the reason for why these whales live so long. 

Not surprisingly, many age, cancer, pro-growth, and DNA repair genes were found in the bowhead whale. Some interesting genes that turned up were the gene called histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC), a gene that is important for packaging DNA, and excision repair cross-complementing rodent repair deficiency (ERCC1), which when mutated, affects the lifespan of rodents and accelerates the aging process.

It's an experiment taken right out of what seems like a mad scientist's brain, but how do you apply these genetic findings to humans? Finding natural ways that animals are able to live so long, disease free, offers us new ways to study how these same genes may be changed in humans. If we could understand how these genes work naturally (to ward off age-related disease), we can potentially figure out how to fight these same genes when they get funky and altered. Though it's a long stretch to believe that we can take a cocktail of assorted genes that are "anti-aging/anti-disease," it's definitely a possibility in the future (realistic or not, it's possible!).

Hope everyone's enjoying their weekend. In between caring for MOH, I've been making peanut butter energy bars that when frozen taste like frozen yogurt.... so good.

Until next time, happy eating all!

Keane, M et al., 2015. Insights into the evolution of longevity from the bowhead whale genome. Cell Reports. 10: 112-122.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Holiday wind-up and warm vegetarian quiche (coconut milk base!)

MOH and I just got back from visiting our family in Northern California and just had our engagement ceremony and it was so memorable.

Our families came together to celebrate our engagement and take part in some good food. We were so fortunate to have the day documented by our wonderful cousin, Sid, who was a total trooper in photographing every moment!

A traditional vietnamese engagement ceremony involves the groom's family coming over to the bride's side with an assortment of gifts - a dowry almost. Gifts include fruits, cake, liquor, and tea. Each gift has special symbolism for wishing the couple a happy, lucky marriage.

Matthew's side brought so many delicious treats including dragonfruit, sticky rice cake, durian sweetcakes and a big roast pig! Another key part of the ceremony is a tea ceremony and lighting incense, where both our father's light incense to wish us good luck in our future union.

The day was full of so many happy memories for MOH and I (even despite a slight misspelling in the desserts), but MOH and I were so overjoyed to have our families support us in this next step in our life regardless.

Unfortunately, when we got back, both of us seemed to catch a NorCal cold - we've been in bed and walking around the apartment like zombies. Such a far cry from how happy and excited we were a week ago! After four days of a "flu-like" outbreak, the skies have cleared and we're feeling slightly better.

What better way to ring in the new year than to celebrate with quiche?

I love to make quiche when there's a bunch of "roast-friendly" vegetables. I like to make quiche with mushrooms, onions, broccoli, carrots and even eggplant. Today, I decided to make a quiche that's a little on the healthier side than using the typical heavy cream or half and half. Coconut milk is often a great substitute for any dairy ingredient. I was debating on almond milk, but the one in my fridge is slightly sweetened, otherwise I'd use it.

Quiche is super simple to make - simply sautee quiche ingredients in a saucepan until slightly cooked.

Then add in cream base (dairy option of your choice or almond milk, or coconut milk), eggs (egg white can be good), and cheese. Then toss this mixture into ramekins and bake, and then eat to your heart's delight!

MOH likes to have a crust in his quiche, so I line his ramekins with croissant dough. Quiche is just as good without the crust, which is how I like to eat it.

Hope everyone is having a great start of the new year! May this year be full of lots of happy memories for everyone - happy eating all!

- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large broccoli crown, chopped
- 1 package of mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 large eggplant
- 3 garlic cloves chopped
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup cheese (mixture of cheddar and four-cheese blend)
- 2 eggs
- optional: croissant-crust (I used Pillsbury croissant mix)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Heat butter in medium saucepan
3. Sautee broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant and garlic until slightly softened
4. Turn off heat once vegetables cooked through, add milk and cheese and egg mixture - once mixed, pour into ramekins (if you want a crust, line the ramekins with the crust first, then pour mixture on top)
5. Bake quiche for 30 minutes and browned. Once cool, enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Second wind for older flies - special food source can ward off memory problems

Why do spring cleaning when it's warm and you get all sweaty cleaning dirt and grime, when you can do winter cleaning right before the holidays?

Every year MOH and I prepare for our trip up North by turning our apartment inside out and doing a thorough clean. Sure we clean up every now and then, but a real good scrub down is few and far between. Things that we accumulated over the year are either removed or packed away, depending on if it's still useful. Sometimes we forget about how much dust, dirt, and junk piles up, but when the home is clean, a fog feels like it's been lifted. You can breathe a little easier, maneuver through the rooms faster, and find things easier.

Our bodies also do "winter cleaning" regularly. Through a process called autophagy, proteins or cell parts that are non-functional, defective, or not needed anymore, are removed with the help of our disposal center part of cells called the lysosome. This process is very important for regulating efficient cellular processing and often becomes defective with age and several aging disorders like Alzheimer's. Ineffective autophagy results in a massive accumulation of junk proteins hanging around the cell, gradually piling up and impeding cellular function.

Structure of spermidine, a polyamine. Polyamines contain two or more amine groups (NH2) 

Recently, scientists have discovered a food source that has the ability to slow aging memory deficits in flies by upregulating autophagy processes. In this study, scientists wanted to look at the role between a compound called polyamines and age, since polyamines have been found to be downregulated with age. Using an olfactory memory test, flies were taught to associate a particular odor as being predictive of an electric shock. When old aged flies were given a type of polyamine (spermidine), scientists found that their learning was enhanced. In addition, the extra polyamine source enhanced production of more polyamines and was able to improve memory through increasing autophagy processes in this aged group - these flies had less junk proteins lying around as a result of efficient clean up . Weirdly enough, this boost in memory was only seen in the aged flies, as the younger flies showed no improvement in memory.*

While the verdict is still out on how effective polyamines are for warding age-related cellular problems and memory loss in humans, it certainly gives some incentive to try to incorporate more foods into our diet that are high in polyamines.  Luckily, our options for sources of polyamines are quite varied and tasty! The polyamine used in this study can be found heavily in foods such as aged cheese, mushrooms, soy, legumes, and corn.

Brown criminis stuffed with goat cheese (photo courtesy of Stacy from wikimedia)
Just my luck too - this week at the Farmer's Market, MOH and I stumbled across a goat cheese stand called Soledad Goats that doubles as an animal sanctuary and cheese farm. The cute little stand had a mix up of different goat cheese spreads and an olive oil herb mix with fresh goat cheese tossed into a cute little mason jar.

Delicious mix of cheese and herbs - my new thing to put on salads
This mix goes great on a salad (especially topped with some balsamic and black pepper), but can also be a great cooking oil source.

Hope everyone's ready for the holidays - have a great time eating and spending time with family and loved ones!

Until next time, happy eating all!

Gupta et al., 2013. Restoring polyamines protects from age-induced memory impairment in an autophagy-dependent manner. Nature Neuroscience.

* Age-related memory loss was tested using aversive olfactory memory test, where flies learned to associate a particular odor as predictive of an aversive stimulus. Aged flies that were given spermidine showed improved performance in the aversive olfactory task compared to their control counterparts. Scientists discovered that spermidine enhanced autophagy in aged flies by looking at an autophagy protein marker  Atg8a. Furthermore, the enhancement in learning was shown to be dependent on autophagy, as autophagy defective mutant flies showed no improvement in memory after spermidine administration.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Spread the cheer - eggplant tagine dip

One thing I love about the holidays is the food! Such good food within a short time span. It's great on our tummies, not so great on those pants, that dress, that suit.

I really like seeing all the variety of appetizers, entrees, and desserts that people bring. People come together for the holidays and you get to try new foods, experience wonderful flavors, and share different cultures. Oftentimes I leave an event usually asking at least recipe for me to try later at home.

Something new that I recently tried was a rendition of an eggplant tagine, a Moroccan stew. Tagine is a traditional stew named after the cooking equipment that the dish is normally prepared with.

Tagines lined up in a row (photo courtesy of K. Rogers)

Tagines can be made with a variety of different ingredients, such as different meats, vegetables, or even fruits, slow cooked and simmered with a combination of different spices like curry, cumin, and saffron. The final product culminates into this aromatic dish that can be eaten with rice, pasta, or even, as I experienced it, as a dip.

Vegetable tagine (photo courtesy of Turajski)

Festive vegetarian eggplant tagine!

My first experience having a tagine was at a potluck for an end-of-quarter celebration for a mentoring pilot program happening at my university. The flavor profile is a little bit of sweet, savory, and spicy. There's a great kick at the end that comes from a little bit of cayenne.

There's a great amount of versatility with a tagine. In essence, it's just a stew of your favorite things (whether it's really well-seasoned meat, in season produce, or just an assortment of blazing spices).

Here's my rendition of the eggplant tagine (recipe from M. Diaz, who was so kind as to share with me his wonderful recipe!). You'll find that the recipe is very flexible - you can add or omit anything you don't want. I think that next time, I might add some zucchini squash and celery. Also, the dish is super festive looking and not difficult to make!

-  Olive oil for brushing
- 1 chinese eggplant (I think any eggplant would work), diced
- 1 24 oz can of stewed tomatoes (I chose the fire roasted and seasoned with garlic flavor)
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons of honey to start
- 1 lime
- Spices of your choice (cumin is a huge staple for most tagines, but I didn't have any on hand, so I used Trader Joes' 21 seasoning salute, cayenne, paprika, garlic salt, and onion powder)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degree F
2. Slightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil
3. Place eggplant and garlic cloves in baking sheet and bake until slightly cooked (should be roughly 15 minutes) - once garlic slightly roasted, cut into smaller pieces for stew
4. While waiting, make the stew - throw in stewed tomatoes (can be done from scratch, too), onions and let simmer slowly
5. After eggplant and garlic done, toss in and stir slowly
6. After simmering for about 5 minutes, slowly add in honey until it fully dissolves (if your honey is super thick, try to heat it up slowly in another bowl). Once honey dissolved, add in spices of your choice and taste every so often until you like the taste
7. Finish off with a squeeze of lime - it will enhance the flavors further
8. Once happy with the taste, let it cool and you can serve with either rice, chips, couscous, or even pasta (I used brown rice sesame crackers)
9. Tagine will taste good several days after - in fact, the flavors are deeper if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours!

You'll find that the flavors of this dish are slightly sweet and acidic - perfect for a dip... or even breakfast (I brought some to work today and ate it by 10AM....)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Quinoa "meatball" spaghetti pasta - postrun meal

Today, I rounded off my 600 miles for the year.

About a year and a half ago, I was hitting a rough patch in grad school. Experiments weren't working. Days didn't feel productive. The manuscript was nowhere near done. My overall mood and self-esteem was at an all time low. I needed an outlet, anything. Grad school can sometimes feel too abstract to feel like real accomplishments are done. There are also too few milestones to rejoice and celebrate.

So I decided to make concrete goals, just to feel more accomplished, and boost my overall mood. Goals that weren't so far away, like the idea of graduating, etc. I decided to run 300 miles less than half a year. When the new year rolled around, I met the goal and decided to up the challenge and do 600 miles in one year. Tonight, I ran the last stretch!

For 2015, I'm going to try for 700 and slowly make my way up - we'll see how far I get.

What better way to celebrate this little achievement? Gorge on pasta and yogurt.

Post-run eating should always include a good source of protein. Your body needs more protein to make up for all the hard effort your body has endured and helps boost recovery time for your body to heal itself and prep for the next activity.

One of my favorite protein loaded dishes is quinoa "meatballs." The meatballs are made with a combination of quinoa, mushrooms, garlic, onions, basil, and some parmesan. Simply bake these bad boys up in the oven and serve on top of your pasta of choice. They're a nice change from your usual meatballs, and in some ways, I prefer these "meatballs" to the original (bad episode of food poisoning, another story, another time).

The prep for these balls is super simple - you'll notice that my instructions are eye-balling, but that just means that it's open for your favorite substitutions!

I think the one thing to worry about is getting your quinoa to be just the right texture. I have found that if you give a little more water initially in the cooking, the quinoa ends up slightly mushier, which makes for a great binding agent for your meatball.

If you have just regular cooked quinoa, you can use an egg for a binding agent.

I personally like red sauce, but I like to make my sauce thick with lots of vegetables (I used eggplant, zucchini, onions, mushrooms and garlic). The end result reminds me of a red ratatouille-esque sauce that you can put on top of pasta or even a bed of greens for a low carb choice.

Perfect way to start my week off!

Have a great week everyone! Until next time, happy eating!

For quinoa:
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 onion finely chopped
- 6 mushrooms finely chopped (the onion and mushroom amount is equivalent here, but you can adjust)
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1/4 cup basil chopped
- Parmesan cheese

For pasta sauce:
- Any pasta sauce of your choice (or even homemade if you're so inclined!)
- 1 onion coarsely chopped
- 1 zucchini chopped
- 1 eggplant chopped
- 3 garlic cloves chopped
- Pack of mushrooms chopped (~10 mushrooms?)
*I also like to use celery, tomatoes, or broccoli sometimes too

1. Soak quinoa with water (I like to do overnight, but a couple hours is OK)
2. Boil quinoa with water over low heat once water initially boils - should take about 20 minutes
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
4. Once quinoa cooked, add in onions, mushrooms, garlic, basil and stir to evenly mix
5. Sprinkle parmesan amount of your choice and mix
6. Line baking pan and form little meatballs from your quinoa mix (I like to use a ice cream scooper or cookie scooper to just make it go faster)
7. Bake quinoa until browned, roughly 30-40 minutes - should appear crisp
8. While waiting for quinoa, make pasta sauce (or use sauce of your choice). If you're making the sauce that I have listed, it's simply adding in vegetables as soon as the stock red sauce is boiling!
9. Stir and cook vegetables and when done, lower heat until quinoa balls ready
10. Once quinoa balls cooked, either place into red sauce, or eat separately!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving day thanks - take a deep breath!

Thanksgiving isn't the same without indulging in some great food and good company. Whether you spend it with family, old friends, new friends, or even by yourself, it's a time to reflect on the year and think about all the great things that have come your way.

Laguna Beach (Photo courtesy of MOH)
And for me, what better way to reflect than against this wonderful backdrop? Seriously, it's as if Southern California didn't get the memo that we're getting near Winter.

It's been awhile since MOH and I have gone hiking and we wanted to go all out. We ended up hiking for 4 hours, trekked 6 miles, and woke up the next day with our legs massively burning.

Laguna Beach has this beautiful park called Top of the World, which is aptly named. The scenery is beautiful, there's scattered remnants of wildlife, and lots of trails to choose from - and the top view is insane. 

We started out our trek with the Car Wreck Trail. This trail was labeled as difficult but MOH and I decided to take our chances. We ended up starting uphill and had to go steadily down a steep path. I slid three times, once officially on my butt. Towards the end of the descend, I just gave up and squatted all the way down (like how you squat to look at an ant up close, and I just slid along the sandy path). If you reach the end of the trail in one piece, you'll see this old car wedged deep into the soil.

The steepness of this hill reminded me of a trail at a Science Camp I attended younger - it was called "hamburger hill" because if you ever fell down the hill, it was said that your face would look like hamburger meat. Not a pretty sight, but you get how steep and dangerous these types of hills can be if you're not careful. 

Hills everywhere!
We got quite a bit of a workout, especially by the way I was trekking down. Since there was a mixture of rocks and sand on the path, I made sure to avoid falling as much as possible by squatting and walking down sideways to balance myself (makes for a great rear/quad workout if anyone's interested!).

One of the really pretty sights was all the trees just sprawled around the park. Groves of trees provided shade to us amid the 80 degree weather (Fall season, right?) while we hiked the Mathis Canyon Trail.

MOH and I love to hike around this time of the year - just escaping away to be closer to nature puts things in perspective and just helps clear our heads. We hiked two main trails before we eventually ran into a separate wilderness park (Top of the World is part of the Aliso and Woods Canyon Park) and ended up taking an alternate route back to the car. It ended up being a super steep hike back up that was probably a little steeper than the hill we descended initially. Our thighs were burning, sweat showered down my face (sexy, right?), and we finished the hike feeling super winded, but accomplished.

Despite the heat and the sweat on my face and pits, this hike was really fun. I enjoy hikes with lots of challenges and this hike definitely fit the bill. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving.

Thanks to everyone who comes across this blog - I really appreciate your support and hope everyone is having a great start of the holidays!