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

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.

How I Studied for the MCAT Without a Prep Class

I took my MCAT on Saturday 05/11/19, almost 5 years to the day since I graduated from Arizona State University with my undergraduate degrees. Since I work full-time and support myself financially, an MCAT prep course was not a feasible option for me. I did all of my prep with a $300 set of Kaplan MCAT prep books, a free NextStep MCAT prep bundle, and 2 official MCAT practice tests from AMCAS. My score report came in the morning exactly a month from test day: 509!

Figure Out How to Study

Before you start doing anything, I recommend you take the VARK Assessment to figure out how you learn. You need to study the best way for you. I have a pre-med friend who tried studying by taking notes, but she’s an auditory learner so the information wasn’t sticking. She had to stop wasting her time on the “traditional” study methods and develop a method that was best for her.

Familiarize Yourself with the Test

The MCAT is a long test. You need to understand the format, the timing, and the way the test is designed before you tackle studying the content. Strategy is important too!

Develop a Study Schedule

I used NextStep MCAT prep’s free bundle to develop a daily schedule. They also had a half-length diagnostic test to better design my schedule to focus on weak areas. I didn’t stick to it as well as I should have, but it was an important tool.

STUDY, STUDY, STUDY

This is not your average standardized test. There is a ton of material to learn. You need to study smarter and harder. In addition to a serious amount of content, you’ll need to develop strategy and build stamina.

My exact study plan took several days to work through any one chapter of my prep book. I would read a chapter, highlighting as I went. The next day I would take detailed notes and go through the practice questions within the chapter. The day after that I watched and notated Khan Academy videos. On any one day I would usually be working on a portion of any two chapters under different subjects. Spreading out each chapter and switching between subjects helped keep the information in my memory.

Another important tip I learned was to track my “demon list.” A demon list should contain concepts with which you regularly struggle. For instance, I tended to confuse microtubules and microfilaments. Keep track of these concepts and review frequently.

Take Practice Tests

The best way to get a feel for the real test is to take practice exams, mimicking conditions on Test Day. Dr. Ryan Gray’s MCAT podcast suggested around 6 tests. I took a diagnostic half-test with an initial score of 489. I then took 1 full-length Next Step MCAT test (provided for free). The Kaplan books come with 3 full-length tests. I finished the final two weeks of prep with 2 official MCAT practice exams.

The MCAT is a massive test. Pre-meds tend to place a lot of emphasis on obtaining the highest score possible. Keep in mind that a bad MCAT score isn’t the rest of the world. Before you consider skipping the prep classes, take a realistic look at your schedule and your study habits. If a class is what you really need, I don’t recommend skipping it, but know that you can get a good score with the right tools and hard work. Good luck!

Kitchen Essentials

Some dear friends invited me to “supervise” during Operation Ratatouille. Basically, some friends have been trying to learn to cook and needed some help. We were dividing the tasks. I was cutting vegetables with extremely dull knives, with no sharpener or steele in sight. One friend’s plans for toasted breadcrumbs was thwarted by the lack of a food processor or blender.

When I got home, I took a look at my kitchen. I have built up a collection of appliances and tools – some more necessary than others. Then a coworker suggested that I make a list to help other people our age build up a solid kitchen. Many of my friends (myself included) have been moving out of our parents’ homes, starting with only the sparsest collection of cooking tools.

Absolutely Necessary Basics

  • Knives + Honing Steele

You need at least two knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife. These will allow you to do most chopping, mincing, slicing, etc. The honing steel should be used frequently, usually prior to using the knives. Buy a knife block with a full set of knives if you want, but these two will be used the most frequently. I own

  • Cutting board (Wooden for fruit & vegetables and plastic for raw meat)
  • Frying pan
  • Large saucepan
  • Pots, at least two (Large and small)
  • Various cooking utensils (spoons, ladles, spatulas, etc.)
  • Colander/Strainer
  • Mixing bowls

I have both glass and stainless steel. This is really up to you, but I recommend at least two or three, each a different size. My metal bowls are from Costco.

  • Baking sheets for cookies, sheet pan dinners, etc. (2)
  • Casserole dish (square and rectangle; glass or ceramic)
  • Round or square cake pans (2 about 9 x 9 in.)
  • Pie dish (glass or ceramic)
  • Muffin tin
  • Oven mitts
  • Rubber spatulas
  • Zester (doubles as a grater)
  • Pastry brush
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Measuring Glass

Measuring solids and liquids requires different containers. Any standard glass measuring glass for liquids is fine. I bought mine at the grocery store.

Highly Recommended but Not Necessary

As I’ve learned to cook and stocked my kitchen, I have found that some items are good investments, even though they can be more expensive. These tools tend to cut down on cooking time and effort, though it is absolutely possible to survive without them.

  • Sifter
  • Slow Cooker
  • Cooling Racks
  • Food Processor

My food processor has multiple attachments. I can grate cheese, pulse to gently mix or blend, or completely blend. I use it frequently to make things easier on myself.

  • Stand mixer

Everything can be mixed by hand. It takes more effort and more time, but it can be done. I haven’t found a distinct advantage of the stand mixer over a hand mixer other than when I’m kneading bread (which can also be done by hand).

  • Dutch Oven

I love my Dutch oven. It has made cooking many items in the oven more convenient. I can cook things for long periods even at high heat. If you chose to get anything on this list, I would get a Dutch Oven. Mine is from Le Creuset, a high quality coated cast-iron that is sold in most home and kitchen stores.

Things You Do Not Need

This section should be called things I have, but don’t really need or use. These items are great for experimenting or making specialty items, but shouldn’t be considered “everyday necessities”.

  • Air Fryer
  • Specialty Pans
  • Pie Weights

One of my favorite Instabakers uses dry, uncooked beans over and over. Another uses granulated sugar because it toasts the sugar for a caramel flavor in other baked goods.

  • Spiralizer
  • Smoker Gun
  • Immersion Blender
  • Spice Grinder
  • Piping Bags/Tips

How you design and stock your kitchen is very individual. I have many specialty pans because I frequently experiment. Start with the basics and adjust as you need for yourself.

Did I leave anything off the list? What are your “must-have” kitchen tools?

Cajun Fries

I never understood the idea of buying certain spice mixes from a store. I have a perfectly good spice rack (with an extra cabinet full of other spices). A spice mix is just that – a mix of spices. The other night I made a Cajun spice mix to spice up some alfredo sauce. We’ve used the leftover spice mix on several other dishes. Boyfriend and I made French fries to go with some bratwurst. As big fans of Five Guys’ Cajun fries, we wanted to try and make our own.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

1) Mix together the spices.

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2) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

3) Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Slice thinly. Stack the slices on top of each other. Cut in half again lengthwise.

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Check out this video for a demonstration.

4) Prepare a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, or a baking pain with a cooling rack.

5) Toss the fries with olive oil.

6) Spread the fries onto the baking sheet or aluminum foil. From a height, sprinkle the Cajun spice mix over the fries.

7) Bake for 15 minutes. Flip halfway through the cooking time with a pair of tongs or a spatula.

8) Remove from the oven and let cool. Salt if desired.

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These were definitely spicy, but I’m not sure I liked baked fries as much as fried fries. The way they were cut may have contributed to a lack of crispiness, or perhaps I used too much oil. Regardless, keep the Cajun seasoning around to add a kick to any dish.

 

 

Tourist Home in Flagstaff

It’s summer vacation! That means travel, barbecues, family time, and days off. If you live in Phoenix, you’re probably dying to drive up north to get away from the heat. Flagstaff is popular in the winter, but there is plenty of hiking and other natural attractions to draw tourists in the summer. As a result, downtown Flagstaff has been developing a more trendy food scene.

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On National Doughnut Day this year, Boyfriend and I did some research while up in Flagstaff. A Yelp search brought up Tourist Home downtown. The name comes from the origin of the building – an old boarding house for tourists in Flagstaff. Located conveniently next to a city parking lot, you can use one of multiple entrances to go inside. Though the outside building design is loyal to the older, brown, cabin-style architecture you would expect to see up north, the interior is well-designed and trendy. Take a seat at the bar or head to the bakery counter to order.

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There is a vast array of pastries, but given the “holiday,” we focused on the doughnuts available. Tourist Home is famous for their cruellers, so of course we had to get one…. followed by two other doughnuts because they were having a special, okay?

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My favorite was the ?

 

Boyfriend liked the creuller, but he enjoyed the

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I promise we ate food other than doughnuts for breakfast. I ordered a slice of the quiche of the day, expecting a small slice for a healthier contrast to the doughnuts I’d had earlier. Instead I ended up with a piece that puts Chicago-style pizza to shame. The dense, massive slice was accompanied by a very fresh, lightly dressed salad. The salad was a acidic and light contrast to the heavy and salty quiche.

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Boyfriend opted for a local favorite – huevos rancheros. Homemade tortillas were topped with black beans, an egg with a runny yolk, cotija cheese, and a smooth, spicy tomato salsa. This was served with a side of crispy home fries. This is still his favorite, despite trying huevos rancheros at other restaurants since our visit to Tourist Home.

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I’m not sure if the breakfast was the greatest I’ve ever had, especially since the price of food seemed higher than in Phoenix. I enjoyed eating outside in the cool breeze, watching people pass by walking their dogs. I was impressed by the variety of the menu. Breakfast at Tourist Home can vary from juices and protein-rich options to coffee and doughnuts or other rich pastries. After breakfast, enjoy a walk around the city, hit up an event on campus, or head over to the famous Riordan Mansion.

Price: $30-$40 for 2 people
Atmosphere: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Food: 3.5/5

Everything We Ate At Disneyland

Summer is almost here! This means family vacations, roadtrips, and maybe even trips to Disneyland! Some people may go to Disneyland for the rides, but I’ve recently come to enjoy the smaller details of the Happiest Place on Earth. Clothing, customized ears, souvenirs, and food all add to the magic. I did my research on the most highly recommended snacks. Keep in mind you can rack up quite the bill buying all of your food at the park.

#1 Pooh’s Corner: Tigger Tail

After getting soaked on the Splash Mountain log ride, I needed a sweet treat to forget about this misery of wet clothing in the cold December weather. Right next to the ride’s exit is Pooh’s Corner. Stop in for sweet treats with a Winnie the Pooh theme. Tigger has always been my favorite, so I ordered a Tigger Tail – marshmallow’s stacked in a zig-zag then dipped in orange and black chocolate with orange sprinkles.

#2 Bengal Barbeque: Chicken & Beef Satay

Across from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland is the … Keeping with the theme, they offer “exotic” foods from “far off places.” The main course is primarily meat skewers. This was a meal set called the Bengal Rice Plate, which comes with chicken skewers, a “tiger tail” breadstick, and a beef skewer. I enjoyed the flavors, but there was not much food despite the price. Boyfriend and I were still quite hungry following our little meal. If you feel like a quiet place to eat, we stole away to the deserted Aladdin pavilion nearby.

#3 Belle’s Tavern: Poutine

Our lunch from Bengal Barbeque wasn’t really enough to share, so we wandered to find another place for lunch. We stopped in at Belle’s Tavern in Fantasyland for a heartier meal. Boyfriend ordered a burger meal, pretty standard for most Disneyland restaurants. We also split an order of poutine, which is a French-Canadian dish made of meat, cheese, and gravy over French fries. The cheese curds tasted like they were probably frozen at some point, so I think I might have preferred melted cheese instead. The meat was tender and rich from the gravy.

#4 Tomorrowland: Lightsaber Churro

After we trekked through most of the park, our last few rides were located in Tomorrowland. We enjoyed a late night snack of Lightsaber churros, which is really just a churro dipped in colored sprinkles. Disneyland churros are readily available all over the park, but the lightsaber version is only available in Tomorrowland. Choose the Jedi or the Dark Side (blue or red)! I’m not sure if there’s an increase in price, but there’s not really a difference between these and their regular churros.

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Do you guys have any favorite Disney treats? I really wanted to have a Monte Cristo in “New Orleans,” but the reservations were full for the whole day! Make sure to use the Disneyland app to book early, so you’re not caught wandering around to the most deserted restaurants.