An Amuse-Bouche

You’ve seen it on Instagram, you’ve seen it on Buzzfeed, you’ve seen it all over the Internet – trendy, stylish foods that toe the line between disgusting and impressively creative. Yet we can’t get enough! We line up for hours to try rainbow bagels and cookie dough served in ice cream cones. We “do it for the ‘gram.” We are foodies.

I am one of these foodies. I watch Food Network, I follow more food Instagram profiles than anything else. I’ve made lists of restaurants to try. I can name exotic foods and spices, and I yell at Chopped contestants like I’m watching football.

But I also have a secret… I never actually learned how to cook.

I was a picky eater as a child. No one in my family ever seemed to be particularly excited about food. Growing up, I saw cooking as more of a chore than a hobby. Once I got into food, I found myself wanting to make the dishes I saw on Pinterest or practice the skills I saw on TV. In 2015, I started this blog on another platform. Now I’m continuing that blog here as of 2018.

The point of this blog is to document both my pre-med journey and my culinary exploration and share it with my readers. I hope to share the lessons I’ve learned, as well as my successes and many failures. I feel learning to cook is not only a great hobby, but a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle while I pursue my dream of being a physician.

“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”  -Julia Child

Secondary Scaries

My AMCAS application was verified about a week ago. The same day I got six secondary invitations in my email. At least four more have trickled in since then. For the most part, schools will automatically send secondaries (because why not have as many students give them $100 each for a chance at an interview?). The best thing you can do for yourself is to prewrite. Many schools will keep their prompts similar, so use resources like Dr. Grey’s Secondary Library.

The few common essays I had were:

  • Why our school?
  • What diversity will you bring to our school?
  • What challenges have you faced? (And what did you learn/how did you improve?)
  • What did you do for your gap year/Have you taken time off since graduation

Start with coming up with a general answer for the most common questions and tweak as needed. Some schools have essays that are completely different, so I’ve just been writing non-stop. The essays have to get back quickly (some schools track the time!) so I made a date with some friends at the local coffee shop for an “editing party.”

This was probably the best idea I’ve ever had. My friends had a variety of input. One friend wanted more passion in my writing. Another friend addressed style, flow, and grammar. Two friends pointed out how I failed to answer prompts. These edited secondaries are so much better than what I managed to write by myself.

The other important factor is to turn them in as quickly as possible. My essays are submitted, but these are not the only components of applications. I needed photos for some applications. Others required more detailed explanation of my coursework and how it met their prerequisite requirements. My last step is the CASPer test, which I’ve scheduled for early September.

Let me know if an “editing party” worked for you! Do you have other tips for tackling secondary applications?

What We Ate in Vegas

My birthday last year ended up being a trip to Vegas, courtesy of Boyfriend (now Fiancé). The Las Vegas food scene has an odd reputation. In one hotel you can find elegant Michelin starred restaurant not far from a greasy fast food joints famous for massive burgers or pizza. Famous chefs open their chains or run hotel buffets. There’s an insane number of options to choose from, but here are some of the places we tried!

#1: Black Tap

Black Tap’s mother restaurant in New York earned its fame on Instagram. Their popularity started with Crazyshakes, milkshakes with “extras” like pieces of cake and candies around the rim. For my birthday, I wanted to have one of these giant milkshakes. Out of the many choices, we picked the Cookie Shake: a vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich,’ crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle.

The milkshake lives up to its “crazy” reputation. It was huge and covered in sugar. I wasn’t able to finish it by myself or with the help of Boyfriend. Was it worth $15? I’m not so sure, but I did it for the ‘gram.

We ordered some fries with gochugang ketchup (my favorite!) to off-set the intense sweetness.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1895.jpg

Boyfriend ordered a burger, as “craft” burgers are supposed to be Black Tap’s specialty. There was nothing particularly special about the burger, though Boyfriend enjoyed it and finished the whole thing.

#2: Sprinkles + Margaritaville

Wandering around the strip, you’ll walk by plenty of shops with snacks and drinks. Las Vegas allows for open containers, so I grabbed a delicious mango margarita from Margaritaville. They were generous with the alcohol, but the flavors covered up any harshness.

While sipping from my souvenir cup, we came across Sprinkle Cupcakes. Sprinkles has a Phoenix location and is owned by one of the judges from Cupcake Wars. As a rewards member, I get a free cupcake on my birthday. I probably should have considered a flavor better matched to my drink, but I loved this Cuban Coffee Chocolate cupcake.

Sprinkles cupcakes are rich and flavorful. The menu changes frequently (even offering special edition cupcakes for holidays and events).

#3: Hash House A-Go-Go

It’s no surprise that Vegas is home to some intense hangover food. I heard about this place from Guy Fieri’s Triple D show, and it just so happened to be in our hotel. This restaurant describes their fare as “twisted farm food.” They make country breakfast on a Vegas scale.

I ordered a single apple pancake. The entire pancake was even bigger than my normal dinner plate. I probably would have appreciated more cinnamon and spices, but I was happy to recover from the night before with this carb monstrosity.

I think Boyfriend should have won a T-shirt for finishing his tower of chicken and waffles. He might have preferred fewer fried green onions, but the chicken was moist and flavorful. I thought the waffles were a bit dry, but that was easily remedied with maple syrup.

#4: Bardot Brassiere

Birthdays usually mean fancy dinners, at least for me. I reserved a table at this lovely restaurant inside the Aria, run by famous chef Michael Mina. As a high class restaurant, the menu changes often so what we ate may not be available if you visit.

We started our meal with a spin on chicken wings, duck wings a l’orange. For the entreé, I enjoyed my favorite protein – lamb – with crisp veggies and smooth potatoes (underneath). Though I probably should have had red wine, I tried Chablis for the first time and loved it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1901.jpg

I wish I could find more pictures of this meal because it was truly lovely. I’m glad we booked early, because later in the evening the place was packed! The ambience is like a Parisian café set in the post-WWII era, stunningly beautiful. The food was fantastic and the service was great. This a great

I’ve been to other restaurants in Las Vegas (including my favorite: Sage in the Aria), but I always love to try new places! What’s your favorite restaurant in Vegas?

How to Save Money on Groceries

A student (or a family) on a budget has to find way to earn more money and cut costs. I’ve been focused on paying off my undergraduate loans before I attend medical school (where I’ll end up with thousands of dollars of debt). I am lucky that my fiance and brother-in-law/roommate handle a great majority of the bills. I pay for our horrendously expensive homeowner’s association fee, as well as weekly groceries. To feed my fiance and myself (and occasionally my brother-in-law), I budget $100 per week in groceries. That’s not a lot of money when you think about it, but it is much easier to feed two people on that budget than eating meals out daily for $8 or more per meal. Here’s what $100 of groceries looks like for me.

Note: I live in Arizona, where cost of living may be lower than some cities.

Tip #1: Make a Grocery List

Planning for meals is what really makes this work. I buy my usual groceries (staples we eat on a regular basis) and account for meals I’m planning to cook that week. If I can buy some things in bulk (like the $5 spinach pictured above) I will try to pick multiple recipes that utilize that ingredient.

Tip #2: Only Buy Extras on Sale

Stick to the list as best as you can. I do, however, recognize that sometimes asparagus is on sale for $1 per bundle. Or that you’d really like to try those new chips. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the aisles and go “oh bread flour! I was going to make those cookies!” and grab it. It’s best to give in to this urge rarely and only if the item is on sale.

The bacon was a manager’s special, so I added it to my cart!

Tip #3: Use the Store’s Coupon Apps

I am in love with my Safeway app. If you’re not super freaked out about privacy, download it and digitally coupon before every trip. In the Safeway app there are 2 sections, weekly coupon and “just for you” based on what you regularly purchase (see- privacy). I’m pretty good at remembering the brands with coupons, so I’ll buy, for example, one brand of butter with a coupon over another.

Tip #4: Supplement Store Coupons with Manufacturing Coupons

That annoying spam mail you get in your mailbox every week? Full of coupons! I stand over my recycle bin and toss out the stuff I don’t need, then clip coupons for the items I regularly buy, especially hygeine products like deodorant. As long as they aren’t expired, you can hand them to the grocery store cashier for a little more off.

Tip #5: Buy Bulk Elsewhere

There is no reason for me to buy toilet paper from the grocery store when I can get a larger package for a better price at Costco. Paper products (like paper towels, toilet paper, etc.), batteries, and cleaning supplies I buy in bulk only every once in a while. P.S. If you don’t have a Costco membership, I’ve heard you can get in with a giftcard!

BONUS: Save money on gas with your grocery store reward points.

I had 14 points the other day, mostly due to my coupon app. That’s $1.40 off of gas at the Safeway gas station or Chevron. Fry’s partners with Circle K. A little extra savings never hurt!

I hope these tips help you. Maybe you didn’t know your grocery store had an app! Maybe making a list will help curb your tendency to pile your cart with too many extras. Do you have tips to share?

Triple Chocolate Cake Donuts

Doughnuts are one of my favorite treats. I have tried doughnuts from all over the Valley and chosen a favorite based on textures, flavors, and creativity. I asked for doughnut pans last Christmas so I could try my hand at baking some. I’m still not over my fear of frying so for now baked cake doughnuts will have to do.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp espresso powder, optional
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp vinegar, white or cider
  • 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) melted butter or 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Chocolate Icing: 1 cup chocolate chips and 4 Tbsp milk or half & half.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two doughnut pans.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.

3) In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and vinegar.

4) Add the wet ingredients with the melted butter (or vegetable oil) to the dry ingredients, stirring to blend.

5) Spoon the batter into the greased pans, filling them between 3/4 and full.

6) Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes.

7) Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and after 30 seconds or so, loosen their edges and turn the pan upside down over a rack. Gently let the doughnuts fall onto a cooling rack.

8) For sugar-coated doughnuts, immediately shake the doughnuts in 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; add 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder to the sugar.

OR

For iced doughnuts let the doughnuts cool completely. To make the icing, combine the chocolate chips and milk (or half & half) in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup. Remove from the microwave, and stir until the chips have melted and the icing is smooth. Dip the top of each doughnut in the icing; or spread icing on the doughnuts.

Final Thoughts: These are chocolately, chocolately, chocolately! I highly recommend eating them with a glass of milk because they are rich. I still find I don’t particularly care for cake doughnuts over fried, yeasted doughnuts. I think I’d rather just have cake.

Try it yourself and let me know what you think!

Project Pantry: Homemade Strawberry Jam

Project Pantry is something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. If I could ever stick to a New Year’s resolution, this one would be at the top of the list. The idea is that I stop buying things like pickles, jam, bread, condiments, etc. and make them all myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to work toward that goal.

With the Independence Day holiday, I found a little time to experiment with the large amount of fresh strawberries, perfectly in season for the summer. I thought about plenty of strawberry recipes – strawberry shortcakes, muffins, pie, maybe even a galette. While purusing the recipes, I noticed that several recommended strawberry jam as an ingredient. Why not make jam to use in another recipe later on? Don’t worry you’ll see the strawberry streusel coffee cake I made with them jam too.

It is important with canning and preserving to avoid contamination with bacteria. This is why you should avoid canned foods that have expanded. Botulinum toxin causes botulism poisoning when ingested- potentially very serious. Use glass jars with no chips or cracks and tight-fitting lids. Please take the time to sterilize your materials. I’ve changed the order of the instructions to prioritize this.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups hulled and quartered strawberries*
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cold, unsalted butter

*This is about 2 containers of strawberries.

Instructions:

1) Put a small plate in the freezer.

2) To sterilize, wash both the jars and lids thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Arrange the jars (lids open sides up), without touching, on a baking sheet and put them in a 175° F oven for 30 minutes.

3) Put metal lids, rubber seals, and additional equipment in a bowl, pour boiling water over them to cover and let them soak for a few minutes.

4) Combine the strawberries, sugar, salt and lemon juice in a medium, heavy saucepan. Set the pan over low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble.

5) Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until a bit of the jam sets on the plate you’ve been keeping in the freezer (when you tip the plate, the jam should run only very slowly).

6) Turn off the heat and stir the butter into the jam.

7) Spoon the hot jam carefully into hot sterilized jars and either process the jars or seal and keep refrigerated. If refrigerating, use the jam within a week or two.

Final Thoughts: Mostly I was worried about poisoning myself. Still, I found myself immensely satisfied enjoying toast made with my very own jam. It has a very natural sweetness, unlike store-bought jams with artificial sweeteners and flavoring. If you’re up for the challenge, all it takes is strawberries and time.

Stocking Your First Pantry & Fridge

Earlier I made a post about what you need in your kitchen to cook for yourself as an independent adult. This is the only beginning. When you get your first place, you quickly realize there were certain things you took for granted. Your mom isn’t there to buy the groceries, and isn’t it a weird concept to think of buying ketchup?

Here’s my ideal basic list to stock up a decent beginner’s kitchen. Please keep in mind that this does not account for allergies or alternative diets. Vegetarians, vegans, and those with allergies may need to alter this to reflect those dietary needs.

Meat & Dairy

  • Milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Parmesan cheese (without cellulose)
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Cream cheese
  • Chicken Stock (or vegetable stock)

Vegetables & Fruit

  • Lemons
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Onions (I like yellow)
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Grains

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Rolled oats

Spices

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano
  • Chili powder or cayenne

Baking Needs

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cocoa powder
  • Vanilla extract

Condiments:

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard (please don’t buy the bright yellow stuff)
  • Hot sauce
  • Vinegar (white or cider)
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Soy Sauce

Some extras:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • Canned chickpeas
  • Sour cream
  • Chocolate chips (semisweet)
  • Shallots
  • Fresh herbs

I think that covers everything for simple, easy meals. As you figure out what you enjoy cooking, things will change to reflect what you need and what you use most often.

Did I miss anything? What are your essential groceries?

Low Carb Philly Cheesesteak Meal Prep

Meal prep is pretty important when my attending doesn’t set aside any time for lunch. He built up the ability to skip meals for prolonged periods while working as an intern and resident. I haven’t had that experience, so I still experience human urges such as hunger. My Attending books patients during our half-hour lunch slot, so I usually need something quick and filling. Most of my meal preps follow a pattern of meat, vegetable, and grain. In this case I chose to leave out the grain. For meal prep more interested than rice, meat, and roasted veggie, I turn to mealpreponfleek.com.

Though it sounds fancy, low carb philly cheesesteak is really just all of the insides of the sandwich without the bread.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces steak, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper sliced
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 6 ounces portobello mushrooms sliced*
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 slices provolone cheese
  • salt & pepper

*I left these out because Boyfriend doesn’t like mushrooms, but I would keep them in if it was just for me.

Instructions:

1) Heat oil over medium heat. Add meat and cook for about 2 min. per side.

2) Add in onions and peppers and cook for about 3 minutes.

3) Add sliced mushroom, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 3 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

4) Add provolone on top and cover the pan until the cheese melts.

I turned off the heat and covered the pan, which melted the cheese just fine without overcooking the meat.

Final Thoughts: I think the best part about this is the cheese. You get really flavorful meat and peppers, then that bit of creaminess from the melted provolone. What’s even better is that you really don’t need to pay much mind to the cooking times in the instructions. Brown the meat, soften the veggies, and melt the cheese. If you’ve cooked before, you can do it by eye and it only takes minutes. The best meal prep is the meal prep that doesn’t make me work hard.