Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to recover from acute food poisoning

Sorry for the lack of posts the past two weeks, but I've been cramming for a microbiology test. I've spent the past few weeks learning about all the founding fathers of microbiology and their work with bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. Not long after I read about the advances made in health outcomes resulting from research in food spoilage, food safety, and food production, I got a bout of food poisoning. When I brought it up to some of my classmates, there were jokes all over about isolating me to pin down the bacteria that caused my downfall. Funny, except I was unable to eat anything substantial the few days leading up to my exam, which really worried me because I know I am extremely sensitive to my blood sugar levels. So, this is what happened and this is what I did...

Day 1: I woke up okay, had a few sips of cafe au lait and headed to class. I wasn't feeling too hot and thought maybe the caffeine was too strong for my stomach, so I slowly ate a banana. About twenty minutes after that, I moved briskly to the bathroom, but held down the gag reflex because I really did not feel like puking in a public bathroom on campus. I spent a good amount time considering morning sickness, but that's another story. So I went home between classes to take a nap, and I had one more banana before heading to my afternoon class. But on the train, I got so nauseous that I had to step out and look for a bathroom. I couldn't find one, but being on a non-moving platform definitely helped, and I finished class feeling pretty crappy. By night time I realized I only ate 2 small bananas the entire day, so even though I wasn't hungry, I heated up a quarter cup of pasta shells in 6oz of clear winter melon and papaya soup. Three minutes after I finished eating, I ran to my toilet and everything came up and out in liquid form. Even the bananas. It was very unpleasant to say the least. I gargled some salt water, mixed 2 tablespoons of honey in a bottle of water, and slept with that next to me in case I got thirsty in the middle of the night. 

Note: Question I kept on getting? What did I eat the night before. I went out to dinner with Michael, who shared exactly what I had from the same plates, so I have no idea. It could have been the beet salad or the medium rare burger, but I will never know. 

Day 2:

Now that I had a better idea of what was wrong with me, I knew I had to probably lay off solid and complex foods until my stomach was feeling better. Surprisingly, I was still not hungry, but I knew I couldn't just drink water because I could become dehydrated. So to stay awake and functioning, I had 16oz of water with 2-3tbs of honey during the morning, a 32oz bottle of fruit punch Gatorade (on sale at CVS, woot woot!), and 3tbs of congee* (porridge) made with 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. 

Summary: Must stay hydrated. Must maintain electrolyte balance. 

Day 3:

I woke up feeling great, but was still wary of jumping into real food immediately. I started the day off with 3 more tablespoons of congee* and headed off to the library with a 24oz of jasmine tea and a Vitamin Water. Because I did not have any sodium that morning, I added 3/4 tsp of salt to the Vitamin Water, just in case I needed the sodium for my action potentials. Keep in mind that unless you're exercising profusely, you probably do not need to add extra sodium to your sports drinks and definitely veer away from using excessive amounts of sodium in food and food preparation. 

When I got home after my test, I introduced some soft tofu into my diet, but my tummy made some grumbly noises, so I went out and got a Vita Coco and the amazing tasting Rain Berry Gatorade. I love coconut water, but unfortunately my local CVS didn't have a plain one, so I had to settle for the peach and mango. Since I've been calorie deficient anyways, the extra calories here didn't worry me as much. As a sports drink, coconut water is probably adequate, but not necessarily if you're marathon training. The low sodium just does not compensate for the amount of sweat you lose. Also, I recently discovered you can get as much potassium from coconut water as you can from a glass of Tropicana orange juice. Just saying. 

That night I had previously arranged to get dinner with Doug, but I was of course unable to really eat anything, so I watched him gobble down a giant chicken sandwich and a slice of pizza. So in addition to my Gatorade, I decided to try 3tbs of plain yogurt and a banana with 1/2tbs of peanut butter. It was so exciting eating something that was not 90% liquid! Watching Doug eat really made me miss eating normal foods and not having Vitamin Water with salt as a meal. 

Day 4:
For anyone who cares, might be TMI, but I finally had solid stools. Perhaps I have to thank Doug and his recommended yogurt for the probiotics, but I think it's finally over! Going to slowly ease back into solid foods the rest of the day. Probably expect a total intake of 300-600 calories from solid foods and 300 from liquids. Not the best time, but I have been surprisingly energetic, and I can't WAIT to start eating like a normal person again!

*Congee is a great way to get carbohydrates into your body. At first, I didn't even have the actual grains that were boiled down in the water. I just had the starchy water. Because congee is simmered for so long, the sugars start to break down. It has a sweet starchy taste and usually pairs well with pickled vegetables, which I had to omit during this time period.

白粥 White Congee (plain rice porridge)
(makes 8oz)
1/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
2 cups of water

1. Let the rice simmer in the water for two hours or until desired consistency. Make sure it does not boil over by checking every 15-30 minutes.
2. Serve plain or feel free to add pickled vegetables or any leftover into it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lady M Confections & Cake Boutique

For some reason, Valentine's Day is a holiday for sweets. That's not something I'm about to argue with, but I do have my standards, and no one sets standards for desserts like Lady M does. At $75 a mille crepe cake, Lady M does not play around. But no worries, you can always drop by their two cafes around the city and pick up a slice or two. Better yet, I usually head to their upper east side location for tea time and enjoy their delectable cakes in their intimate and limited seating area. 

Checker on top, original mille crepe on bottom

My favorite is their famous original mille crepe, a twenty or so layered crepe cake with cream custard filling between each crepe. It is an instant classic, and I promise you it will be love at first bite. My brother prefers the green tea mille crepe, which is a winner at any Asian-related dining party. Trust me, I attend many and have been served Lady M's green tea mille crepe at many. It is always a crowd pleaser.

Other desserts that I have tried include the banana mille feuille and the strawberry mille feuille. The banana one is quite a complex structure, but unfortunately it has too little banana and too much feuille. However, the strawberry mille feuille is something that I would have again because it has a great balance of flaky pastry, cream, cake, and fruit. 

If you're looking for something more cake-like, there's definitely something for you. The checkers is a great chocolate and vanilla gridded cake, layered with cream and covered in a chocolate coating. It still blows my mind every time I think about how they actually bake/assemble it. I also enjoy their strawberry short cake, but that might just be because it's a childhood favorite. Even so, their cream in any of their cakes are all rich yet not overwhelming, and that's always a plus in book. 

Whenever you're in the area, stop by Lady M and get a slice of something wonderful with a glass of iced Lady Grey! 

Green tea mille crepe on top, strawberry short cake on bottom
Green tea mille crepe on top, strawberry mille feuille on bottom

Lady M Cake Boutique
41 E 78th Street
New York, NY 10021

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Semi-Homemade Valentine: Red wine braised short ribs and Kickass Cupcakes

It's that highly anticipated and highly dreaded time of year again... Valentine's Day. It's pretty much impossible to make a reservation for tomorrow night anywhere at this point, so I suggest you stop trying and try this instead: red wine braised short ribs. All you need is to buy a pack of short ribs, a bottle of wine, and give it 2-4 hours. That's it. It's probably the easiest yet impressive meal you can make under the constraint of the holiday and a budget.

I bought my beef short ribs at McKinnon's in Davis Square yesterday, which I must say has the cheapest quality meat around. I spent the night cooking, and today I decided that a dessert is necessary, but it doesn't necessarily have to be made by me. So today, I was in Davis Square again and stopped by Kickass Cupcakes, the overpriced yet arguably worth it cupcakes that are dense and topped with rich frosting. (For the record, my meat cost twelve cents more than my cupcakes.)

The menu for the night:
Romaine lettuce and cucumber salad with homemade Caesar dressing
Red wine braised short ribs
Sauteed balsamic portabella mushrooms
Baked garlicky broccoli with Swiss cheese
Fresh strawberries
Kickass cupcakes
Cucumber infused water
Total cost: $28.46 (excluding the leftover wine I used to make the ribs)

Here are the photos, followed by the short rib recipe. If you're interested in how to make any of the other dishes, feel free to ask!

Look. At. That. Meat. Dayum.

Lucky lemon, chai cinnamon pecan, and chocolate with buttercream cupcakes!

Salad on the left, heart shaped dessert platter on the right.

Red wine braised short ribs
2-3lb beef short ribs
3 cups red wine (nothing too fancy)
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
5-7 cloves of garlic
2-3 tsp salt (to taste)
2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp herb de Provence (or fresh rosemary and thyme)
1-2 bay leaves

1. While pot is heating to high with olive oil and garlic, coat short ribs with ~1tsp of salt and pepper.
2. Once pan is heated, sautee onions and carrots with herb de Provence until slightly browned.
3. Insert beef into pot and once all side are slight seared, add red wine.
4. When the red wine begins to simmer, turn heat down to low. Add bay leaf and leave to simmer for two-three hours with lid slightly ajar.
5. Check on it every thirty minutes to and hour and mix gently. Give it a taste test and add salt and pepper if needed.
6. Take beef off heat and SKIM OFF ALL THE OIL. There should be at least a centimeter or two of clear yellowish oil. Please dispose of all of it.  Let beef cool for an hour or leave over night. Once beef cools, more oil should condense on top in a white lard mass. Get rid of that too!
7. One hour before serving, simmer pot of short ribs on low heat.

...what did my boyfriend do for me? I don't know! Valentine's Day is tomorrow!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

恭喜發財 蛇年到來! Celebrating Chinese New Years with Rice Cakes!

It's well known in my family that new year's 年糕 ("leen goh" / rice cake) is my all time favorite food. 年糕 literally translates to "year cake," though not all kinds of rice cakes are eaten on new years day. For the first day of Lunar New Year, Cantonese families will especially prepare a sweet brown rice cake for the celebration. Though it is my favorite food, I am extremely particular about it and will only eat the ones that my Chiu Chow grandmother hand makes. Every family, restaurant, and bakery have their own recipes and preparation methods, which leads to different results in texture and flavor. Fresh 年糕 should be sticky, chewy, and eaten plain, while fried ones are piping hot, crispy on the outside, and still sticky and chewy once you bite into it. This is a very special food for me because I associate it with the festivities of Chinese New Year such as lion dancing, fire crackers, and the multitude of feasts. Though by the time I was in middle school, I was requesting that my grandmother make me a sweet new years rice cake for my birthdays as well! That's just how much I love eating 年糕

For the first time ever, my grandmother taught me how to make my very own new years rice cake. In the likeness of the previous post, this recipe also only requires THREE ingredients. So if you're craving some new years rice cake like I always do, just steam one up yourself! Though it is a very lengthy process, and I can tell you it does not grant any form of instant gratification, the end result is so worth it. 

My grandmother doing work in her kitchen
(notice the circular tin pan* on the left)
Chinese brown sugar bars and glutinous rice flour

Mixing it all up

Frying the sliced rice cakes in egg

And finally, what I've been waiting for all year!

Chinese New Year Rice Cake 年糕
1 pack (16oz) glutinous rice flour
3 bars of Chinese brown sugar (片糖)
Disposable 10" tin pan

1. On a stove, melt the brown sugar in about a half cup of water. 
2. In a large bowl, pour the syrup into the glutinous rice flour. Mix and knead with a large spoon or with your hands.
3. Slowly add room temperature water into the mixture until all the flour is incorporated and it is a molasses-textured consistency. 
4. Pour into a disposable tin pan and steam on medium/high heat for about two hours or until solid. --*I recommend using a disposable tin because even after cooling, the rice cake is very sticky and is hard to remove from other types of materials. I tend to just cut/peel the tin off before slicing the rice cake. 
5. Cool with lid loosely on for ONE TO TWO DAYS. --I told you this was time consuming! But really you can't cut it without all of it sticking to your knife if you don't let it cool properly. If it really does not solidify after air drying, try leaving it covered in the refrigerator. This will make it easier to slice. 
6. Slice into thin (I go for 2x1") pieces and enjoy! OR...

Chinese New Year Fried Rice Cake 煎年糕
Sliced rice cake
1 egg for every ~20 slices
2 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Spread about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a heated pan.
2. Whisk an egg and once the oil is boiling, coat the rice cake in egg and place into the pan.
3. Pan fry until the egg layer is golden brown or until the rice cake is soft.

I hope everyone has some rice cake to enjoy this new years day. Happy year of the snake!
(If you really want some rice cake for yourself today, most dim sum places and Chinese bakeries will have them for sale. Go get some dim sum for brunch!)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Nemo Blizzard Bites: banana cookies & popping corn

Unless you've been living under the sea, you must have heard of the notorious Nemo nailing New England. Because Governor Patrick of Massachusetts instated a driving ban and all subways in Boston were shut down in the afternoon, this is the second time in the past few months I was on lock down because of extreme weather conditions (see: Sandy). 

Nemo at about 12:30AM on 2/8/2013

So in light of the situation, Doug, Michael, and I were able to stay in and do some nutritious snack making! Both of the recipes below only require THREE ingredients each. Crazy, but true! But the craziest part of the entire situation is that neither Michael nor Doug has ever baked from scratch before. (Also, Doug has never seen a popcorn kernel pop before.) Therefore, as I was giving them instructions on how to lay down the cookies on the sheet, the sizing, the spacing, the timing... basically any aspect of baking, they were both pretty much in the dark. But, no worries! We ended up making a giant block instead of individual cookies, and then we sliced them into mini bars that were still quite addicting, as in we finished the entire tray once they came out of the oven and cooled. 

Chocolate chip banana oatmeal cookies
1. 3 very ripe bananas
2. 1.5 cups raw oats
3. 1/3 cup chocolate chips (or topping of your choice: pecans, walnuts, raisins, etc.)

1. Preheat the oven 350F. 
2. In a bowl, mash the bananas and fold in the oats. When even, mix in the chocolate chips. 
3. Using a greased pan, bake cookies for 15 minutes. 
3. Using a greased pan, bake chocolate chip banana oatmeal block for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. 

Verdict: They were definitely on the chewy side, but the recipe is so simple that I would do it again and alter the baking time to make them more crunchy. The best thing is that I was getting a load of fiber and not that much additional sugar (minus the chocolate chips)! And if you're too lazy to bake it, Doug enjoyed the mashed bananas and oats by itself without the baking. 


So the next thing we made together was popcorn. Popcorn is tricky because it can burn very easily. Therefore you never want to be too ambitious and wait for every kernel to pop before taking it off the stove! Again, it requires only three ingredients, but we definitely had some fun mixing spices and added some black pepper and herb de Province to literally spice things up! 

Stove-top Popcorn
1. 1/4 cup popcorn kernels
2. 1.5-2 tbsp olive oil (enough to lightly coat the kernels)
3. salt or flavoring of your choice

1. Coat kernels with a light layer of oil.
2. In a deep pan, heat the kernels on medium/high. Make sure the lid (preferably a clear one) is on, but there is enough space for the steam to escape.
3. Watch them pop! And take them out when popping rate slows or when there are only a few kernels left. 
4. Drizzle on about a teaspoon of olive oil. Toss. 
5. Season with salt* or other spices.

*For those that are really going for a healthy snack option, skip the salt and try garlic powder, black pepper, paprika, or other spice options. Keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of salt is about 2,300mg of sodium, which is the recommended maximum intake per day. 

Post-Nemo at about 1:30PM on 2/9/2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lunch in NOLA: Johnny's Po-Boys

In light of the recent Super Bowl held in New Orleans and the upcoming celebration of Mardi Gras (2/12/13), I will be writing about one of the best sandwiches ever: the muffuletta. 

Muffuletta is a large Sicilian sesame loaf made popular by Italian immigrants to New Orleans. The sandwich originated at Central Grocery in New Orleans and is a wonderful combination of said loaf plus loads of marinated olive salad, capicola, mortadella, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese, and provolone (I know, sodium overload. What are you gonna do.). Now this olive salad is the magic to this sandwich. Otherwise it's just any other Sicilian! It's an addictive mixture of olives, celery, cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, onions, capers, parsley, pepperoncini, oregano, garlic, vinegar, herbs and spices. Reading about it definitely does not justify it, so if I were you, I'd go look for a jar or even one of those bad boys myself. 

Anyways, when I was down in New Orleans, we went to the famous Johnny's Po-Boys for some po-boy sandwiches. The origin of po-boys are not clear, but when I was at New Orleans' Southern Food and Beverage Museum, there was a story that involved streetcar strikers receiving free baguette sandwiches. Because of this, they became known as poor boys, and the name eventually passed down to the meat with gravy or fried seafood sandwiches we now know of today. 

Johnny's has been around the French Quarter since 1950 and are known for their sandwiches. I ordered a fried shrimp po-boy and muffaletta to share with my mom and brother. To be honest, the po-boy was a bit dry for me (will definitely get the roast beef with gravy next time) and the sub too crispy, but I still can't stop thinking about the muffaletta. The fragrant sesame bread with the layers of Italian meats and cheeses were perfectly balanced by the flavorful tart olive salad. 

All I can say is that I will try a few places in Manhattan, but I really need to get back to New Orleans (currently wearing my previously stated purchased Hornets t-shirt). 

Inside Johnny's Po-boys Restaurant

Johnny's fried shrimp po-boy

The amazing muffaletta

On the balcony of Johnny's after enjoying some sandwiches and pralines

Johnny's Po-Boys
511 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, LA 70130