Isn’t it strange how reuniting with old faces and places brings you back to the exact age you were when you first experienced everything? I recently returned from my 5 year college reunion at Brown and am not quite ready to let go of all those warm, nostalgic feelings. Perhaps it was when I googled the difference between an IRA and a 401-k this morning that I began to ache for the comforts of college that I once took for granted. I missed my usual morning latte from Blue State Coffee. I missed the aroma of indistinguishable spices eminating from the Indian thrift shop (still not sure how they made money). But most of all I missed the dinner rush at the Ratty. 

Well, nostalgia tends to make me hungry this time it inspired me to recreate my favorite dining hall food: Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta. I can’t quite explain what made it so comforting. Was it the perfect combination of creamy and hearty? Or was it the fact that I could have 5 servings in one sitting and still crave more? Or was it because over a bowl of this, the most stressful thing I had to worry about was who I would ask to my sorority formal? I’ll never know.

Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta
Serves 4
A Brown University classic
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb rotini pasta, cooked
  2. 1 lb chicken breast, sliced into 1 inch strips
  3. 1 bell pepper, chopped
  4. 2 tbsp butter
  5. 1/4 cup cajun seasoning
  6. 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
  7. 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  8. 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  9. 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  10. 1 tbsp flour
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, saute sliced chicken and red bell pepper in butter, cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes and ground black pepper until chicken is cooked, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add in grated parmesan, heavy cream, and flour. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add in cooked pasta and let sit for 5 minutes.
Notes
  1. Feel free to add as much or as little red pepper flakes depending on your preferred spice level!
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You know how people always equate the act of unveiling an unglamorous truth about something beloved to “learning how sausage is made?” This sentiment is exactly how I feel about baking. After learning that the secret to making almost every cherished American dessert is somewhere between two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar, I made a conscious effort to refrain from baking sweets all together. However, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’m in the mood to share (the guilt).

I probably should have whipped a batch of these Chinese Almond Cookies for Lunar New Year a few weeks ago but I am more than happy to relinquish my family chef crown to my mother for family get togethers. The recipe is also insanely easy (love anything that requires one bowl and fewer than three steps) so feel free to bake a batch and share with your valentine(s) this year!

Valentine Almond Flowers
Yields 36
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 cups flour
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 cup butter, melted
  6. 1 egg
  7. 2 tsps almond extract
  8. whole almonds
  9. 40 drops red food coloring, optional
Instructions
  1. Mix together flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Add in melted butter, egg, almond extract and red food coloring.
  2. Knead dough into 1 inch balls. Flatten and place whole almond in the center.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes at 325 degrees.
Notes
  1. Dough will be dry and crumbly prior to kneading into balls.
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It happens every year. I start January off with daily cardio, sugarfree this, sugarfree that and only a month later my healthy streak comes to a screeching halt with the biggest junk food fest all year: the Superbowl. That extra dollop of ranch dressing on your salad or the second spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee pale in comparison to the smorgasbord that is the Superbowl. Eating a salad in the back corner while every other sports jersey donned guest melts their face off with buffalo wings, potato skins, and queso is not only a guarantee of becoming a social pariah, but doing so would be just plain un-American. 

So what’s a girl who loves pigging out to do? Grab that handy cast iron skillet of course! I’ve so often found that when I’m craving something crunchy and deep fried, a good crispy sear from my skillet ends up doing the trick. Additionally, chicken thighs are another great compromise for when I’ve gotten bored of ultra lean protein. Not only is dark meat itself more flavorful, it absorbs other spices and marinades more robustly than lean white meat. And to throw in another perk, chicken thighs are usually sold in bulk and much cheaper than other chicken cuts – perfect if you’re hosting a big, hungry crowd. 

For this year’s football showdown, I’ll be sauteing some chicken thighs in a sweet and sticky ginger honey glaze. The best part of this recipe? Everything goes in one pan. Now THAT’s a touchdown. 



Honey Ginger Chicken Thighs
Serves 4
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 chicken thighs
  2. 1 cup soy sauce
  3. 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  4. 1/4 cup honey
  5. 1/4 cup brown sugar
  6. 2 tbsp sesame oil
  7. 1 tsp ground black pepper
  8. 1/2 cup chopped green onions + extra for garnish
  9. 1/2 cup ginger, thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. Place chicken thighs in skillet. Mix remaining ingredients for sauce and pour into skillet. Marinade for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Saute on medium heat until sauce caramelizes, about 10 minutes. Pan fry for an additional 2-3 minutes until chicken thighs are seared.
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A new year, a new beginning. While the latter half of 2016 may have ushered in several unpleasantries, I can’t deny that I have been blessed with many wonderful opportunities this year. First and foremost, I finally moved back to New York City (and convinced a nice Midwestern boy to tag along)! As you may have surmised, I am living the foodie’s dream come true! From three star Michelin restaurants to late night dollar pizza, anything I could dream of eating can be found here. 

Unfortunately, I have distanced myself from my usual cooking adventures by spoiling myself with thousands of amazing restaurants all over the city. But fear not! Nothing like the combo of a chilly winter and depleted bank account to bring me right back into the kitchen. In my absence, I discovered that even my most treasured hobbies can accumulate dust in my mental calendar. And the longer these pastimes go unparticipated, the harder it becomes to reengage in them. And the harder things become to do, the easier the excuses come. I lost efficiency in a craft that was once second nature to me, making time a new barrier to entry, a barrier that kept multiplying the longer I went unpracticed. For me, I knew the best way for me to ease back into cooking was to reidentify what first drew me to the kitchen. Like many journeys of self-revelation, the answer starts with home. 

If I could encapsulate one aroma that embodies home for me, I would easily choose the smell of fresh steamed bánh bao. Interestingly, although it has always been one of my favorite Vietnamese treats, we didn’t have it very often growing up; these were reserved for special birthdays and occasional pit stops in Chinatown. Now, whenever I return home for the holidays, I reliably wake up to the scent of fresh buns and Vietnamese coffee for breakfast. I suppose it’s my mother’s way of signifying that my homecoming is a special occasion – and what else could feel more like home than that. 

So as we move forward in ringing in a new year, let us first take a step back to retrieve what we thought was lost and revive our passions with the hope and promise that arrives with the first stroke of midnight. 

For those of you whose New Year’s resolutions involve baos, baos, all types of baos, see instructions below. 

Vietnamese Breakfast Bao
Yields 12
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
For the dough
  1. 2 cups self rising flour
  2. 1 cup milk
  3. 1/2 cup sugar
  4. 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  5. 12 pieces of wax or parchment paper, cut into 3" x 3" squares
For the filling
  1. 1 lb ground pork
  2. 1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  3. 1 tbsp sugar
  4. 1 tbsp black pepper
  5. 2 tsp salt
  6. 3 boiled eggs, quartered
  7. 3 Chinese sausage links, thinly sliced.
Instructions
  1. Mix together self rising flour, milk, sugar, and vegetable oil. Cover with a damp cheese cloth or towel for 30 minutes until dough has risen.
  2. While dough is rising, mix together ground beef, chopped onions, sugar, black pepper, and salt. Roll into meatballs approximately 2 inches in diameter. Place a quarter of a hardboiled egg into the meatball and cover with sliced Chinese sausage.
  3. Once dough has about doubled in size, knead dough and divide into 12 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and flatten to create a circle about 4 inches. Put meat filling in the center and fold the dough over filling, gathering and twisting at the top.
  4. Place bao over parchment paper square and steam for 15-20 minutes.
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