My Favorite Season & Pressure Cooker Pho Ga

14 October 2016
Ask me what season of the year is my fave, and you’ll get an emphatic declaration of love for the season of fall.  Everything, from the weather and the foliage, the associated holidays (both Jewish and secular), the movies, and– of course–the food.  I fall prey even to the lure of the ever-so-divisive pumpkin spice err’thang of this time of year.  Most importantly, however, it is this season when the pangs of cravings for pho start to hit me ever so fierce.  But, try as I may I could never seem to get a homemade bowl of pho to turn out quite right.  That is, however, until I tried to make it using the pressure cooker.  It turns out pressure cooker pho would be my savior for the fall season.


Taken with a crappy iPhone camera three years ago on a trip to Park City, Utah, even bad photography can’t hide the beauty of the rainfall on this beautiful fall afternoon.

The Secret to the Perfect Pressure Cooker Pho

In my search for pho spices, I found the star ingredient (no pun intended) difficult to find.  Star anise, native to Southern China and North Vietnam, and common in Chinese Five Spice powder, is a beautiful seed pod found from an evergreen.  It’s characteristic star shape gives it its name as well as a novel addition to a spice display.  It is, however, quite difficult to find especially in smaller markets such as mine.  We actually found it sold in bags among the Mexican spices. Continue Reading…

Wedding Plans and Baked Matzo Chicken Nuggets

10 October 2016
As our wedding date gets closer, we are working out the tiny details.  Today we ordered a coordinating tie and cuff links for the fiancé.  We initially had problems with finding a caterer to deliver to our small group up in the mountains, but we finally found a Thai restaurant willing to prepare kosher style food and deliver to us without a huge surcharge.  So, things are falling into place.

Wedding Themes

We chose a more casual theme for the wedding.  The fiancé is wearing a nice French cuff shirt and silk tie with dressy jeans, and I will be wearing leather booties with my just-below-knee length dress.  We are including both aspects of Judaism and of my fiancé’s Chinese heritage.


My bouquet is made of recycled materials, including real book pages by EcoFlower.  As a bibliophile with slight hippy leanings, this bouquet immediately caught my attention.  I chose the “Jane Austen” with golds, teals, and rose colors.  I love the rustic look.  They give you the option of having the flowers scented–I chose Japanese Cherry Blossom.  The scent is light and a nice subtle touch.


My booties are a pair of Steve Madden Freebirds in a wine color.  I have no idea the name of the style but chose them to tie in the autumn season.  I’m breaking them in now to soften the leather soles and give them a more worn-in look.  Our venue is very contemporary and modern/minimalist, which I think will make a beautiful contrast with our more rustic clothing.


We’ve limited our ceremony to just our closest friends and family: only 30 people.  All of the people invited have been important to us at some point in our lives, and people who we felt very strongly about inviting to our special day.  I love big, fancy weddings but they’re not for me.  I prefer that we share a moment as special as this privately and intimately with people who have seen us through our worst–and best–days.

For our centerpieces, we are going to buy some vintage cameras and old books from thrift stores to reflect our hobbies.  We may also include a small vase with a flower for each table.


The Honeymoon: Morocco

We’ve planned a honeymoon to one of my dream locations: Morocco.  We are planning camel back rides, tagine cooking classes, shopping in the souks, and a spa day.  The food has me the most excited.  Moroccan food has been one of my obsessions for a long time.  The fiancé is more enthusiastic for the architecture, another feature I’m excited about (though it comes second to food).  Together we’re excited to learn about the history of the area.


We’re so excited for the next chapter of our life together.  Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real.  I never thought that I’d find someone so well-suited for me.

Now on to the recipe!


Baked Matzo-Breaded Chicken Nuggets

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How to Apologize This Yom Kippur & Challah Rolls

6 October 2016

You tell me that you’re sorry / Didn’t think I’d turn around, and say / That it’s too late to apologize / It’s too late

One Republic

It’s now the high holidays, and observant Jews are busy reflecting on their past year and apologizing to anyone to whom they may have done wrong.  Although most of us are conditioned early on to apologize when we hurt others, it still seems to be a difficult task for most people.  Even well into adulthood.  Here are my tips for how to apologize.  All of these show sincerity and maturity to the individual you have wronged.

How to apologize for your misdoings this Yom Kippur (and any other time)

  1. When telling your friend you’re sorry, try to avoid giving an excuse.  The word “but” should not even slip from your tongue.  You can offer an explanation for your bad behavior, but be sure that the other person knows that whatever the explanation is, it doesn’t excuse your bad behavior: “I was tired from staying up all night doing a test and completely blew you off–that was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
  2. When you apologize, be sure to use active voice.  It’s “I’m sorry I hurt you,” and not “I’m sorry you felt hurt when I…”  They do not own the responsibility for their hurt feelings for your bad behavior–you do.
  3. Acknowledge the magnitude of your actions.  It is okay to admit that you were a butthead if you were.  We’ve all done terrible things before; we’ve all been cowards, liars, rude, and inconsiderate at some point in our lives.
  4. If the individual you are apologizing to has trouble accepting your apology or wants to discuss the issue, avoid coming off as defensive.  You came into this with your tail rightfully tucked between your legs.  It’s entirely possible they may want to tell you just how much hurt you’ve caused.  While you don’t need to take verbal abuse, you should hear any reasoned argument out.
  5. Humor is not an excuse.  If you told a joke that offended, don’t hide behind the joke and don’t offer that as a pretext.  It doesn’t matter if you or anyone else thought a hurtful comment at the expense of your friend was funny, the important thing is that your friend does not agree.
  6. When it’s appropriate, offer retribution.  If you took credit for the work of a colleague, for example, offer to make it right by attributing credit where credit is due.
  7. You should ask for–but don’t expect–forgiveness.  Ask the person directly if they can forgive you.  You must accept it if they need time, they’re still hurt, or–worst yet–they simply can’t forgive you.  You can’t get upset at another for not forgiving your mistake.  This is where it may be helpful to refer to #6.  If the friendship or relationship is really valuable to you, tell them they are valuable to you.
  8. Finally, and this should go without saying…be sure you apologize directly to them.  You may–halakhically–apologize via a mass email, group text, or a Facebook post. However, it isn’t nearly as sincere or received as well as a heartfelt apology which enumerates exactly what you did wrong.  If you’re not sure if you hurt someone or what you did exactly that hurt someone, but feel as though you may have, then say that.  Whatever you do, cowardice is not appropriate.


Challah Rolls with Lox and Cream Cheese

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Pressure Cooker Brisket for Rosh Hashanah

4 October 2016
My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

Shanah Tova! Wishing you all a great year full of joy and delicious food.  Today we share our pressure cooker brisket we enjoyed for Rosh Hashana.

With the wedding, now a little over a month away, the rapidly approaching finals week of my accelerated college courses, increasing responsibilities at work, and involvement in my student association, finding time to reflect for Rosh Hashanah may seem difficult.  Finding time for anything has been difficult.  Luckily, we found help from our pressure cooker.  The pressure cooker brisket shared below is done in just an hour of cooking vs. the 6-8 of a traditional oven braise.

As I took the days preceding Rosh Hashanah to reflect on the past year to account for my mistakes, I also couldn’t help but feel grateful for the wonderful events of the previous year.  Notably, the joy of planning a wedding with and to a partner who helps me aspire to be a better person each day. A partner who encourages me to reach for my dreams.  A partner who takes the effort to understand my feelings, no matter where they come from.  This kind of reflection isn’t what Rosh Hashanah is about, a holiday where we are to account for our wrongdoings to others and ask for forgiveness, to ensure a favorable judgement in the book of life.  However, ignoring my good fortune wouldn’t make for a total reflection.  Also, I feel the need to repent for taking these things for granted at times.

Dipping apples into honey for a sweet New Year

Dipping apples in honey for a sweet New Year

Pressure Cooker Brisket

I told my fiancé that I intended to use a pressure cooker for this recipe and his eyes grew large with terror. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Those things are dangerous,” he added.  Understandably, he feared the pressure cookers of our childhood and tales of explosions due to mishandling.  Pressure cookers cook using the power of pressure and steam.  They simulate the effects of a long braise in considerably less time.  Old pressure cookers did not have the safety mechanisms of modern styles, such as venting, and were known to explode due to too much pressure being built up.

Mine is considered an "old style" modern pressure cooker, with a safety valve but only one pressure setting.

Mine is considered an “old style” modern pressure cooker, with a safety valve but only one pressure setting.

They come in many different styles, including electric models and stove-top models such as mine.  I bought mine for cheap, at less than $50.  I’ve linked a similar model below:

The major selling point of using the pressure cooker for brisket is time.  Since brisket call for long braising or smoking times to yield a tender result, it can make it a difficult event to plan.  Sure, I could pop the brisket into a slow cooker or even sous vide, but that would need long-term timing.  I would need to at least get it started in the morning and, as a decidedly un-morning person, that is not ideal.  The pressure cooker had it done in just an hour with perfectly tender results.

about those results…it was incredible

Within minutes of starting my pressure cooker–an old tool I picked up at least five years ago–the pot came to pressure.  I started the timer and watched Eye in the Sky in preparation for an essay on drone warfare for my ethics in international relations class.  The condo started to smell delicious.  By the time the cooking was done and the pressure released, we were salivating.  With a smoky barbeque marinade, our house smelled like we’d been smoking the brisket for hours.  With my fiancé as a witness, this pressure cooker brisket also tastes just like it had been smoked for hours.

My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

Continue Reading…

Corned Beef from Scratch (Slow Cooker Instructions)

20 September 2016
On my food bucket list has been a want to make corned beef from scratch.  Wandering the aisles of grocery stores in the months preceding St. Patrick’s day, the pink briskets soaking quietly in their own juice hugging a small packet of pickling spices in Cyrovac pouches mystified me. I wondered how they were made, if I could do it myself, and if I could somehow improve upon their flavor. The answers: patiently, absolutely, and yes!

Corned beef : A Jewish Meat?

I begin with a little history on corned beef and why I argue it’s not strange for me to make it in September.  The corned beef that Americans typically associate with Irish cuisine is actually Jewish.  Yes, that’s right!  While “corned beef” is a dish in the UK, it is not the pink brisket marketed with green beer of St. Paddy’s day tradition.  It’s a salted beef with a gray color out there.  American-style corned beef can be found in Ireland, but it’s marketed toward tourists looking for their familiar idea of “Irish.”

How did the Jewish corned beef get associated with the Irish?    The Irish immigrants were faced with prejudice (much like many ethnic immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries).  They settled into urban areas like New York City nearby other the other immigrants faced with many of the same challenges: the Jews. Being both Jewish and of Irish descent, I love this!

Traditionally, the Irish of that time had eaten a lot of pork.  However, upon arrival in New York City and settlement near the Jews, the Irish began to buy their meats almost exclusively from kosher butchers.  Clearly their preference for pork was problematic so the Irish began to eat more beef.  The Jewish answer to ham, Corned Beef, was flavorful and made for a great treat for the Irish-American’s celebratory meal on St. Paddy’s day. Back in Ireland, the Irish feast on St. Paddy’s has a religious connotation, together with a meal of lamb or bacon.  In America, the Irish celebrate the day as an honor to their heritage.  Their feast is crowned with their new splurge, Corned Beef, together with their culinary symbol–the potato.

Now to share the process of how beef becomes “corned!”

Corned beef from scratch, sliced thinly Continue Reading…

Focus! When OCD mimics ADD…& Black Rice Sushi

30 August 2016
Focus Sushi
I zoned out in a meeting today.  It’s a common experience, I’m aware.  As was my being hopelessly unsure of what topic I was asked to opine.  However, it is one that happens more often to me than I care to admit.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get myself to focus on the topic I should focus on.  Focus isn’t the issue; it’s the object of that focus that is questionable.  Indeed, I can focus just fine.  In fact, I can concentrate for hours on a single and incredibly narrow topic.  I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (known as OCD), but doctors misdiagnosed me for years as having ADD.

The media doesn’t portray OCD fairly.  Thus, there are a lot of misconceptions about the disorder.  When they hear “OCD” most people envision someone being perhaps a bit cleaner than the average person, or maybe lining up pencils just so on their desk.  Maybe they think of someone who must lock the door three times before leaving for work in the morning.  While these examples are accurate for some people with OCD, these by no means represent the whole of the population experiencing this disorder.


 How OCD can affect focus

While the “compulsive” part of this disorder gets the majority of the attention, it’s the “obsessive” part which drives this disorder.  The compulsions come about as a way to prevent something bad from happening, dictated by an obsessive thought.  It’s usually a result of some superstition or “magical thinking;” without this, it’s not OCD.  A clean person without these ideas isn’t OCD; they’re just particular.

Physical rituals are not my problem, but mental ones.  I don’t clean compulsively (although, I am neat) and I don’t complete observable rituals.  However, I have intrusive thoughts. Those obsessions don’t always come at desirable times.

The Desirable Problem

Well-meaning people like to tell me that OCD is a good mental illness to have.  Or that, “at least it isn’t something bad!”  Or that they’re “OCD” about something, too (sorry folks, OCD is a noun, not an adjective).  I let them.  I play along.  But it’s not true–OCD is debilitating and affects relationships with others.  It causes anxiety and paranoia.  I sometimes think in unusual ways.  It diverts my attention from things that are important to others as well as myself.


Black Rice Sushi

Black rice sushi was my fixation during the meeting.  Specifically, I had become curious about the origins of black rice.  This later became a fascination about the history of sushi.  The meeting had no hope of saving me from zoning out.  It was no competition.

You might remember awhile back I shared my discovery of black rice.  Recently, I wondered how it would do in sushi.  It turns out that it’s just absolutely gorgeous.  It’s easy, too: just cook it in on the stove top or in your rice cooker the same as you would brown rice.  Here we just rolled it up with some sushi-grade salmon, cucumber, and avocado.  I mixed up a little sriracha with mayo for a few of the rolls to make a spicy option as well.

You don’t need any special equipment (i.e., a sushi-rolling mat) to make sushi at home.  We just used a hand towel with a layer of plastic wrap to make a makeshift mat.  No need for extra kitchen clutter. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Reflections and Sous Vide Crème Brûlée (Final Day!)

28 August 2016
Torching and Finishing-4

This is the final post of the series!  In our last post, we shared sous vide chicken breast.  Today’s dish is an appropriate last course: Sous Vide Crème Brûlée.  Find all about cute little mason jars, using sous vide for custards, and my thoughts on my project by reading on!

I started this 10 days of Sous Vide project a little over two months ago when, passing by a meat sale in my grocery store, I thought it would be fun to try cooking meats at different temperatures and different seasonings.  There were some failures, redundancies, and a few dishes got scrapped, never making it to the series.  Later, I decided the series needed some variety to be interesting so I added some vegetables, sauces, and finally–this sous vide crème brûlée.  Crème brûlée has always been a favorite dessert of mine.  A few years back, a friend taught me how to cook it at home.  She gave me one caveat, however, before she started the lesson: I was never to reveal how easy it actually is to prepare.  However, in retrospect, I realize that I cannot ethically keep this to myself.  It’s even easier when prepared via sous vide.

Reflecting on the series

This was a challenging project.  The commitment of 10 posts on sous vide, all of which I had promised an alternative cooking instruction, meant a lot of planning and cooking.  I was certainly more ambitious than was realistic.  Thus, the written content of the posts got shorter and shorter.  In our personal lives, we suffered a loss of a family member and my work schedule blew up.  School ended up also becoming a burden.  The project kept getting delayed while we dealt with our personal responsibilities.  I finally told the fiancé that it was time to start posting and got to it.  As I mentioned before, a few of the planned posts got scrapped because I couldn’t find a good alternative cooking method, the protein was redundant, or they simply weren’t good.

Our first post, chicken char sui, proved to be the hardest to photograph next to our hollandaise post.  The chicken char sui just didn’t want to plate the way I envisioned, while the hollandaise proved too difficult for our camera to focus on the light-colored sauce.  These posts stretched my limited camera skills to the limit and so I ended up calling upon the fiancé to help.  I think our food photography grew from this challenge and I’m really pleased with the results.  The carrots and short ribs were by far my favorites, aesthetics-wise.

Learning how to accept mistakes

Making mistakes is natural and human.  One of the problems with passion is that there is a very fine line between passion and obsession.  I cross that line all the way to obsession.  In fact, I can’t see the line anymore from where I stand.  This kind of emphasis often causes me to get so obsessed over details that I completely fail to accept any mistakes at all.  Oftentimes, that means I fail to complete (or start) a project.  I’ve had to learn to change that lately so that I can realize my passions more fully.  I had hoped to post an incredible series, with step-by-step photos and detailed science.  I envisioned inspiring quotes and really pushing my writing skills to the limit.  I fell short of that expectation, but I did accomplish a good, healthy time management schedule.

Most importantly, I’ve learned not to aim my blowtorch too close to my chilled new crème brûlée jars or else they will burst.  All over.  With shards of glass all over my friends’ porch, causing anxiety as we try to clean it so that it’s safe for little, kid feet.  We learned a lesson.

This is way too close. The jar burst--LOUDLY--seconds later.

This is way too close. The jar burst–LOUDLY–seconds later.

Ideal distance for blowtorching

Ideal distance for blow-torching


Sous Vide Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is such a simple dessert involving few ingredients.  It begs for experimentation–add vanilla, bourbon, coffee, or chocolate–so it’s never dull.  Like all French dishes, however, it requires that you obey certain rules about technique.  Why would you cook it sous vide?  No, it’s not just to show off, but sous vide actually helps ensure that you don’t curdle your perfect crème brûlée.  It does require that you use a mason jar as your vacuum.  If you try to attempt this with a plastic bag, the crème brûlée just won’t set.  I added lavender and omitted vanilla extract in this recipe, which made for a unique flavor.  You can certainly add the extract to the recipe if you prefer.  I’ve seen some interesting crème brûlée recipes with other extracts, as well.  Orange extract infused crème brûlée, anyone?

Creme Brulee-10

Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Picking Sides & Sous Vide Chicken Breast (Day 9)

26 August 2016
Sous Vide Chicken Breast

We’re just one day away the end of the series: it’s day 9 of 10 Days of Sous Vide!  In our last post we shared a sous vide hollandaise recipe and explained why you’d want to do sauces via sous vide. As I promised in that post, today we’re sharing sous vide chicken breast.  Chicken breast sous vide is a dish that you either love or you hate.  Keep reading if you want to know where I stand.

I should start with a disclaimer: I don’t like chicken breast unless it’s fried and in either nugget or strip form.  I especially don’t care for skinless, boneless chicken breast.  However, in my household I am in the minority on this issue.  The fiancé likes chicken breast.  The black cat likes chicken breast.  They both need it be sans skin and bones.  In fact, we usually count down the seconds after I serve a hot dish with this star ingredient until we hear her running down the hallway, mewing like we haven’t fed her in weeks.  Spoiler alert: she’s already ate two full meals by dinner time.  It stands without saying that sous vide chicken breast didn’t stand a chance with me.Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Sous Vide Chicken Breast (or…poached chicken)

So, do I need to tell you that I didn’t like it?  I certainly don’t hate it, but I do wonder what its appeal is when chicken thighs are so much juicier and more flavorful.  According to a couple of friends, one appeal is that chicken breasts are lower in calories and fat than their darker counterparts.    Furthermore, the fiancé thinks I’m nuts for not liking it–he loves it!  The sous vide chicken breast recipe I will share here is similar in texture to poached chicken. In fact, the seasoning I use comes from a recipe by The Kitchn for poached chicken. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Using Sous Vide for Sauces and Condiments & Sous Vide Hollandaise (Day 8)

24 August 2016

We’re near the end of the series: it’s day 8 of 10 Days of Sous Vide!  We left off on sous vide carrots, featuring some seriously gorgeous heirloom carrots.  I still swoon over them.  Our topic today is about using sous vide for sauces (think marinades and mother sauces, not pan sauces) and condiments. We also share a recipe for sous vide hollandaise, served with a salmon-stuffed portobello mushroom.

Among some of the most surprising uses for the sous vide technique, are some recipes for sauces and condiments.  When I first stumbled across recipes for using sous vide this way, I ignored them.  What could be gained from preparing a sauce/condiment via sous vide?

Take our attempt at hollandaise as an example.  The main benefit to cooking hollandaise sous vide is that you heat the eggs to a precise temperature which avoids curdling the sauce. Also, the sauce can be held at serving temperature for 2 hours without worry of your butter congealing or separating.  For a busy hostess, that means you can begin to prepare the sauce at the start of the meal and serve everything fresh and hot together.

Most sauces can be contained in a mason jar and placed directly in the water bath

Most sauces can be contained in a small mason jar and placed directly in the water bath

Sous vide can be used for many sauces and condiments, including infused oils and vinegar.  Sous vide tzatziki for your homemade gyros?  What about a truly fresh crème fraîche?  There are recipes for chutney and compotes out there, all of which I’m sure have room for experimentation.  Personally, I’ve used sous vide for infused oils and the hollandaise sauce in this post, but not for any of the others.  Perhaps, a future post is in order!


Sous Vide Hollandaise

Today’s recipe turned out to be a tough one to photograph nicely and nearly as difficult to execute correctly.  The key is to prepare the sauce in two steps, using the sous vide to heat the egg yolk mixture separately and emulsify later.  This avoids the disappointment of a broken sauce.  Serve it with your perfect sous vide egg for a delightful eggs benedict, over asparagus, or as a topping with salmon.   Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Cooking Vegetables Sous Vide & Sous Vide Carrots (Day 7)

21 August 2016
Rainbow Carrots-4

It’s now day 7 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series!  In our last post, the topic was how to get a perfect “pan” sauce from sous vide “drippings”.  Today the topic is all about cooking vegetables sous vide, including a recipe for beautiful sous vide carrots.

There are three items that come to mind when one thinks about sous vide.  Steak, salmon, and eggs.  And, indeed, those three are the best dishes to start with to see the power of precision cooking.  However, if I told you that you should add vegetables to that list, what would you think?

The benefit of precision for vegetables

While vegetables don’t necessarily excite omnivores as much as proteins, they shouldn’t be neglected.  One of the reasons they’re not as exciting is that they’re not usually executed with as much care.  In fact, most of the time we’re trying to cover them up with sauces, dressings, or by mixing them with something we consider more appetizing.  Take for example the traditional glazed carrot recipe; mixed with sugar and fats, this dish usually tastes less like carrot and more like a dessert.  The sous vide glazed carrot, however, needs no additional sugars.

Blanched vegetables–while crisp–usually lose their flavor.  Boiled vegetables suffer both from loss of flavor and they’re disgustingly mushy.  Loss of flavor also means loss of nutrients.  With sous vide, you keep the flavor, the texture, and the nutrients, not to mention a beautiful color.

Rainbow Carrots-2

Chopped carrots, before glaze

Sous Vide Carrots

We were in the market the other day when we came across a new section for locally grown produce.  There I fell in love with a bag of heirloom carrots.  They were so colorful and seemed to beg for the sous vide treatment.

This recipe is simple, beautiful, and incredibly healthy.

Rainbow Carrots-1

Locally grown heirloom carrots

sous vide carrots

I’m crazy for the way these plate. The purple sous vide carrots are almost too pretty to eat. (Pre-Glaze)

Continue Reading…