Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous Salad

So after my slight binge on pumpkin pancakes, I decided to make something a tad healthier, so my body does not go into shock. (Kidding).

I’m a big texture eater, so I find myself more fond of the chewiness of Israeli couscous more than regular kind. Like pasta, it’s pretty hard to mess up cooking couscous..unless you’re like me and didn’t realize the importance of covering the pot while boiling the little pearls. (Leaving the pot uncovered takes twice as long to cook, especially since it’s whole wheat).

Of course, you can probably make any type of salad out of couscous. This particular one has no central elaborate theme, but sometimes simple tastes best :)

No Name Couscous Salad:

1 cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
Vegetable or chicken broth
1 can garbanzo beans
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, in oil
1 cup mushrooms, washed and roughly chopped
feta cheese (optional)

1. Cook couscous according to package directions (sub the broth for water)
2. Drain about 1 Tablespoon of the oil from the sundried tomatoes, and heat in a pan on medium high heat.
3.Saute mushrooms, until brown
4. Add beans, couscous, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms
5. Top with feta cheese (optional)

I would love to hear other ideas on how to make couscous!

Posted in Healthy, recipes, savory, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Mini Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes … seriously.

One of the most important things I’ve learned as a Nutrition major is that everything fits into a healthy diet. Dietitians are always looked at as the “food police” – but they are actually the complete opposite! If you think about it, society dictates the “ideal” body image for men and women. In return, crazy diets are created to help people achieve this image, telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat.

If I ever wrote a ‘diet’ book, it would consist of one page that says:

“If you are an average human being, meaning you are free of allergies or diseases, you can eat every single food that exists in this world. Just not too much of it.

And this is true even for the healthiest of foods; if you eat too much of one thing, it means your body is not getting enough of something else. So I felt perfectly happy when I created this pancake recipe. It was inspired by two things:

1) My awesome friend (the same one who gave me the vegan scone recipe) baked me this delicious vegan pumpkin bread, which instantly put me in the mood for something pumpkin-y.
2) Another friend sent me this recipe which resulted in major droolage all over my keyboard. (Ok that was gross. I’m sorry.) So putting the two inspirations together created this really, really delicious masterpiece. Really. And yes, it contains real sugar and real butter, because I’m a real person.

*Note: I halved all the ingredients listed below to make smaller portions and it turned out just fine.

Mini Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Um. Yum?

Adapted slightly from here.

Pumpkin pancakes:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
1 cup milk (I had skim in my fridge, feel free to substitute with dairy-free/other alternatives)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 egg

Cinnamon roll swirl:
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4th cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

..And if you’re feeling adventurous:

Cream Cheese “syrup”:
1 tablespoon butter
2 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar


1. Make the cinnamon filling first by melting the butter in the microwave, then combining it with the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside to let it thicken.
2. For the pancakes, combine all the dry ingredients, then incorporate wet.
3. Spray and heat a nonstick pan. Add pancake batter ~ 1/4th cup at a time. Using a spoon or a squeeze bottle, drizzle the cinnamon roll filling on top.
4. When batter begins bubble, flip over. Pancakes should be done after 1 minute.
5. Repeat.

For the cream cheese glaze:
Melt butter and cream cheese and combine with the powdered sugar.

*I skipped the cream cheese syrup part, and instead drizzled it with maple syrup flavored agave and powdered sugar. I don’t think I’m missing out on much :)

Posted in desserts, recipes, Sweets | 3 Comments

Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce

I’m an Autumn girl. Once the weather dips below 70 degrees, I get excited and rationalize that it’s ok to start drinking soup and sipping hot beverages again. While summer isn’t quite over yet (evidenced by the 80-something degree weather we had today), I was still in the mood to make something related to the Fall season. Once I walked into the grocery store, I noticed that berries were no longer the center of attention in the produce section. Rather, barrels of apples took its place (one of the perks to living upstate!).

So there I stood, blocking the path of the nice customers trying to pick their produce, Googling applesauce recipes with my iPhone (I realize this has become a bad habit of mine). I was so happy to find that making applesauce requires very little ingredients and work.

Cinnamon Applesauce

Cinnamon Applesauce
(Slightly adapted from allrecipes.com)

2 lbs of apples of your choice
1.25 cups of water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 lemon

1. Core and roughly chop apples (I left skin intact for a boost of nutrition)
2. In a medium pot, add apples, water, juice of 1/2 lemon, and cinnamon stick.
3. Cover and bring to a boil.
4. When boiling, turn down to a simmer and partially cover. Let simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until apples are soft and begin to break apart.
5. Remove from heat completely, and allow to cool.
6. Remove cinnamon stick. In a blender or food processor, blend apple mixture.
7. Top with additional cinnamon (optional)

Makes about 4 cups.

If you prefer a sweeter applesauce, add 1/4th cup of sugar in step 2.

Other than learning how easy it is to make applesauce, I also learned that cinnamon sticks make a great substitute for air fresheners! My apartment smells so delicious.

Posted in desserts, Dips & sauces, Healthy, Sweets, vegan, Vegetarian | 3 Comments

Antioxidant Pasta

Everyone safe from Hurricane Irene? Yes? Ok good. My location was fortunate enough to only get rain showers and some wind. My poor parents (and puppy) back home had power outages and (minor) damages to our house. Feeling rather lucky to still have power, I decided to forgo my original “sandwiches for the first week of the semester” idea, and cook instead.

Now assuming you have your power back on (or else you wouldn’t be reading this), here is a light, simple yet flavorful dish to help power you through your post-hurricane clean-up chores.

This dish was inspired by a local vegan/vegetarian cafe located around my campus called Sparky Town. While I admit that I creatively borrowed the name “Antioxidant Pasta” from them, once you see what goes into this meal, I’m sure you will be inclined to call it the same.

Antioxidant Pasta


1/2 box of penne (any other shape works too)
1 med. head of broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
1 can (10 oz) garbanzo beans

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to box directions
3. While pasta is cooking, toss broccoli, walnuts, garlic and olive oil together. Add pinch of kosher salt. Roast in oven for 10-15 minutes.
4. Drain pasta and remove broccoli from oven.
5. Heat a saute pan on med/high heat, and add pasta, garbanzo beans and sundried tomatoes. When heated through, take off heat, add broccoli/walnut mixture and toss. Drizzle with more olive oil and salt to taste.

I find this recipe to be so versatile – you can add/remove anything you would like to it. If you are more of a meat eater, you can certainly add grilled chicken, although it may take away some of the “antioxidant” aspect…but hey I won’t judge.

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Serrano Hot Sauce…(not for the weak)

For children who grew up in normal families, their favorite condiment on the dinner table was ketchup or mustard. For us Li kids, it was hot sauce. And not just one type of hot sauce, we had at least 4 different bottles on the table, ready to dress up the dish it best paired with.

Hot Sauce 101:

Sriracha: tastes great on just about anything. We used it as a dipping sauce for dumplings, “cherng fun” (chinese rice paper rolls), and in stir fried noodles.

‘Lee Kum Kee’ Chili Oil: Used in soup noodles & braised beef dishes (see my brother’s blog for his recipe!)

Tobasco: Went on basically every American dish. Not kidding.

Homemade hot sauce: Not really sure about this one, Daddy Li apparently made it so spicy that he wouldn’t let me taste it. Bummer.

Other honorable mentions: Chili garlic sauce, Korean Gochujang.

So as you can see, hot sauce is a pretty big deal in my house. I decided to see if I could whip up my own batch of the stuff using Serrano Peppers and a few Thai Chili Peppers. Don’t be fooled by the green color; the end flavors are anything but mild.

Peppers waiting to be pulverized


1 lb Serrano peppers (use red if you can find them, already green works too)
4-5 Thai chili peppers
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4th cup water (or more as needed)

1. chop the stems off the peppers, leaving the crowns. Roughly chop up peppers, discarding seeds if you don’t want the sauce to be as spicy
2. In a saucepan, add peppers, garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Take off heat, and let cool.
4. Transfer to a food processor, and process until desired texture.

*Important: keep tasting as you go, if you feel it is too spicy, add more sugar or water, although this may change the consistency.

I would suggest labeling the bottle before storing it in the fridge…kinda resembles pickle relish doesn’t it? :)

Posted in Childhood memories, Dips & sauces, recipes, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Delicious Omega-3 Filled Pesto

Ahh..gone are the days when we viewed fats as evil. While saturated and trans fat (partially hydrogenated blah blah) do have the ability to harm our bodies, oils are a much needed part of our diets. Probably one of the healthiest type of oil is olive oil.

Some tips on purchasing higher quality (and healthier) olive oils:

  • Look for olive oils stored in dark bottles. Light and heat exposure can make the oil go rancid quickly, depleting it of its natural nutrients.
  • Look for the words “first press” on the label – anything labeled “light” does not mean it has less calories or fat; it simply means the oil has been filtered numerous times, giving it a lighter flavor and thus lighter nutrients as well.
  • If you’re looking to be real fancy schmancy, look for a seal that says “Indicazione Geografica Protetta”. This indicates that the olive oil was produced exclusively in Italy, and was shipped to the US.

Fresh olive oil should have a slightly nutty taste & aroma. I’m not someone who can drizzle it on salads and tolerate the taste all by itself. So armed with my new spiffy KitchenAid food processor, I decided to make some delicious, oh so fatty basil pesto.

Simple Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto


2 cups (around 2 bunches) of fresh basil
1 clove garlic
1/4th cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
1/4th cup olive oil
1/4th cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1-2 Tablespoons water
Salt to taste

1. In food processor, add everything together except for the salt
2. Pulse until smooth, scraping down sides occasionally.
3. Add salt to taste (I found I didn’t need the salt because of the cheese)
4. Enjoy in sandwiches, pastas, etc.

*Makes about 3/4th cup

Psst..it tastes awfully good in paninis.

Roasted Veggie Panini w. Fresh Pesto

Happy eating!

Posted in Dips & sauces, Healthy, savory, Vegetarian | 6 Comments

Vegan Chocolate Chip Scones

I have never purposely cooked a vegan meal or dish for anyone, myself included. And by “purposely”, I mean that I have never intentionally went into a grocery store seeking vegan ingredients to prepare for dinner that night. My excuse: I am always intimidated by the price of certain vegan foods. The truth: I am too lazy to look up vegan recipes.

So when my two good friends Brian & Kristina invited me over to their place for dinner and I promised to bring dessert, I was excited yet caught in a situation where I had no idea exactly what type of dessert to make. Kristina has been vegan for a while now, so I was certain her vegan cooking skills were quite a bit better than mine. I ended up making simple chocolate covered strawberries, which we all enjoyed after Kristina’s lovely pasta dish.

After a few hours of lounging around and consuming almost all of the chocolate strawberries, Kristina sent me home with a book, a recipe for vegan chocolate chip scones, a box of Ener-G egg substitute, and the promise that these scones were easy to make and absolutely delicious.

Two days later, I was on the mission to make the best tasting vegan scones ever. The result? I made the best tasting vegan scones ever. (Although this statement might be a bit unfair…considering they were the first vegan scones I’ve ever eaten). But you get the point.Since I don’t have permission from the book ‘The Joy of Vegan Baking’ to reprint the recipe, I will entertain you with only pictures today.

The ingredients!

Mixing the dry and wet ingredients together: key is to make sure you do not over-mix. Over mixing will develop more gluten, which won’t produce the flakiness that we want in a scone.

Crumbly mixed ingredients!

Out of the oven!

(Almost) into my mouth!

 Thanks again Kristina for the great recipe!

Posted in chocolate, desserts, Sweets, vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

3 Ingredient Creamsicles

I used to be so upset that the ice cream truck never stopped anywhere on my block, mainly due to the fact that I grew up in a house located on a busy street. I would sprint up and peek out my window whenever I heard the truck’s annoying little jingle, only to see it make a turn down the next block. Luckily for me, the same truck would always be parked at 3 PM right across the street from my elementary school. So if the parents allowed it, I would make my way up to the truck window, and order the same thing every time: an Orange Creamsicle bar. There was something so refreshing about biting into the thin layer of orange-flavored sherbet followed by creamy vanilla ice cream.

I haven’t had orange creamsicle’s since my elementary school days, so passing them in the freezer aisle at the supermarket brought back such yummy memories. Upon grabbing the box, I took a glance at the nutrition label, and although not entirely surprised, I was still dismayed to see the long list of ingredients:

                     Nonfat milk, water, liquid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, corn syrup, milk fat, orange juice concentrate, citric acid, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, polysorbate 80, locust bean gum, natural flavor, ascorbic acid, annatto (for color), lowfat ice cream: nonfat milk, liquid sugar, corn syrup, milk fat, whey, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, propylene glycol monoesters, cellulose gel, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, natural flavor, locust bean gum, polysorbate 80, guar gum, carrageenan, Vitamin A palmitate.

Something about having sugar appear 6 times on an ingredient list makes me feel queasy. Not to say sugar is a terrible thing, it’s quite a necessity in our diet. However, there are definitely ways to re-create tasty childhood treats in a healthier way.

My simple 3-ingredient Creamsicles:

End of the summer treat


1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or 100% juice from a carton)
3/4th cup vanilla soy milk (I used Silk Very Vanilla soy milk)
1/3 cup sugar

1. Whisk orange juice,  soymilk, and sugar until sugar is dissolved
2. Fill popsicle molds
3. Freeze

(I put a layer of soy milk for aesthetic effects. Feel free to skip this part)

*Note, you may have to adjust the sugar level depending on what kind of soymilk you use, and the sweetness of the oranges used.

Simple, refreshing and light. Enjoy!

Posted in Childhood memories, desserts, Healthy, Sweets, Vegetarian | Tagged | Leave a comment

Smells Like Grandpa’s Kitchen

Although I was young when Grandpa was still alive, I often have these random memories of him. For instance, I remember riding my tricycle in the living room when I was 4 (don’t all kids do that?) My brother was also in the room playing Nintendo, when I came extremely close to running over his hand. (Or maybe I did run it over…in that case, I’m so sorry Vin). Grandpa scolded me for a good 5 minutes, but after noticing my pathetically sad expression, he actually apologized for scolding me.

However some of the greatest memories I had of him involved his cooking. I remember that all of his dishes were fresh, simple, and comforting. Being a Hakka person, one of his signature dishes was tofu  stuffed with fish paste, known as “Yong Tau Fu”. Sounds odd, but actually tastes quite delicious. After stuffing the tofu with the paste, grandpa would pan fry it and top it off with a light oyster sauce. Alternatively, the tofu can be replaced by peppers or eggplants.

Grandpa Li's Fish Paste Stuffed Tofu - "Yong Tau Fu"


1 block soft or firm tofu (I used firm so it wouldn’t fall apart as easily)
Fish Paste (Sold in some Asian markets, or you can make your own)
3 Tablespoons Oyster sauce (or to taste)
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with water
1-2 T sugar or honey (or to taste)
Scallion to garnish

1. Slice the tofu into 8-12 cubes. Pat dry. Make sure they are not too small or else stuffing them will be difficult.
2. Spoon about 1 tablespoon’s worth of fish paste into the tofu
3. Coat a pan with olive or vegetable oil, and turn stove to high heat
4. When pan is hot, gently add tofu, making sure they are not crowded
5. Brown tofu on all sides, making sure to brown the fish paste on top as well! This is crucial because you have to make sure the fish is cooked all the way through. (With a bit of practice, your tofu flipping skills will improve, I promise.)
6. When tofu is browned and cooked through, place on plate and garnish with scallions

*note: all ingredient quantities are approximate, taste as you go

Mix the cornstarch with water and set aside
Add about 1/2 cup of water to hot pan, wait for it to gently bubble
Add 3 tablespoons oyster sauce to boiling water, mix until dissolved
Add sugar, and cornstarch mixture.
Taste and adjust as needed.

I served this with simple whole wheat noodles mixed with soy sauce, rice vinegar and a dab of sesame oil, and baby bok choy.


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Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dotted Blinis

Speckled Cornmeal Blinis topped w. Smoked Salmon, Greek Yogurt & Chives

What exactly is a “blini”?  According to wikipedia, these little guys were traditionally made with yeast, diluted with water or milk, then baked. However, it is now almost universally prepared by pan-frying it. Upon skimming various recipes for blinis, I have come to the conclusion that it is simply just a fancy word for pancakes. They would be great served as finger foods at a party, or as a side dish to a lighter meal.

You may prepare these blinis with good ol’ AP flour, whole wheat flour, or even buckwheat flour if you’re following a gluten free diet. I decided to use cornmeal (made un-gluten freed by adding a touch of AP flour), then spiced it up with some finely diced jalapeno. Many people would top it off with creme freche or sour cream, but I decided to substitute 2% greek yogurt as a healthier option.


3/4 cup cornmeal
2 Tablespoons AP flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk (I used vanilla soymilk to add a touch of sweetness)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted (don’t use margarine, please.)
1 egg
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
3/4 cup greek yogurt (I used 2% for a richer flavor, fat free may also be used)
Chives or dill (optional)
Smoked salmon

1. Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder
2. Add milk, butter, and egg. Mix well.
3. Add the diced jalapeno peppers
4. Spray cooking pan with nonstick spray, and set to medium high heat
5. Meanwhile, finely chop the chives or dill and add to greek yogurt. Set aside.
6. Drop the blini batter into the pan, 1 tablespoon at a time, and gently spread it into circles
7. When it begins to bubble (about 1-2 minutes), flip over
8. Remove after another minute.
9. Top blinis with smoked salmon, dollop of greek yogurt, and garnish with chives or dill (optional).

Makes about 15 blinis


Posted in Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 1 Comment