Cheesecake Party

I’ve gotten behind on my blogging again :( But I’m SO excited for all of the cooking I’m going to do over Thanksgiving! Since I’m so behind, I’ll make this a double recipe post just to make it up to you. The first one is a dessert you can definitely have at your Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s pumpkin. Of course.

A couple weeks ago, we had a party at our house. I’d been wanting to use my mini cheesecake pan again, so I thought, why not make cheesecake for the party? My roommates said, “WHAT? What kind of college party has cheesecake?!!” The best ones, of course. And everyone appreciated the cheesecake, so I win.

If you don’t have a mini cheesecake pan, you can still bake this in a regular springform pan, but scale everything back to 2 packages of cream cheese.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Ingredients
for the crust
26 regular (not Double-Stuf) Oreos – 2 rows in the package
4 Tbsp butter, melted
for the cheesecake
3 8oz packages cream cheese
3 eggs
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Instructions
1.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease cheesecake pan.
2. Put Oreos in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Pour in melted butter, stir. Press about 1 1/2 Tbsp into the bottom of each well in the pan (I found a shot glass works best for this – it’s really difficult with your fingers).
3. Bake crusts for 10 min. While they are cooling, begin the cheesecake.
4. With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla until completely smooth.
5. Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg until combined.
6. Pour into each well, filling completely to the top. Bake 20-25 minutes until set.
7. Let cool about 15 minutes then remove from pans. Chill in fridge (or on your porch if it’s cold enough and your fridge is full like mine…) for at least 1 hour before serving.

So to go with all that cheesecake, I guess you might need some real food… maybe… Sometimes…

Quinoa Risotto
Serves 2-3.

Ingredients
1 C uncooked quinoa
2 C vegetable broth
1/2 C sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 C diced red onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 C white wine
1/4 C parmesan cheese
1/4 C goat cheese
3/4 C fresh spinach
salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
1.
Cook quinoa in vegetable broth, either on the stove top or in a rice cooker.
2. Saute mushrooms and onion in oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add quinoa and cook a couple more minutes.
3. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Turn off heat.
4. Add cheese and spinach and stir until cheese is melted and spinach leaves are wilted. Serve immediately.

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My Favorite Grocery Store

Trader Joe’s, hands down. At least for awesome vegetarian options. They don’t always have everything I want for baking, but they never let me down for dinner.

A little while ago I picked up a package of TJ’s Soy Chorizo to try. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with it, and then I found this amazing website, Cooking with Trader Joe’s. I’ve seen Trader Joe’s cookbooks before, but as a vegetarian I found most of the recipes useless to me. But a website, where you can search for recipes with specific TJ’s products? This is the greatest thing on the internet, my friends. Besides this gif I made of myself morphing into Beyonce for my computational photography class.

This recipe is super easy. Like, 10 min prep time, 15 min cook time, eat leftovers for days easy. And it calls for no spices. What?! WHAT?! I know. Because the soyrizo is just that delicious enough on its own.

Soyrizo Chili
Vegan. Serves 3-4. Adapted from Cook TJ.

Ingredients
half package Trader Joe’s soy chorizo
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can corn, drained
14oz canned diced tomatoes
1/4 red onion, diced
~1/3 C carrots, diced
olive oil

Instructions
1.
In a medium saucepan, saute onions and carrots in olive oil until softened.
2. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 min.
4. Serve hot, topped with cheese, cilantro, avocado, sour cream, etc.

Look at how chunky that chili is! Just how I like it. I wish I had thought ahead and bought Frito’s to make Frito Pie!

Aloha

Double recipe post hooray!

It’s almost spring break and I am unbelievably excited. I get an entire week to lay on the beach and get spoiled rotten by my grandparents. Honolulu, here I come! These next two days of classes can’t get over with fast enough.

I did quite a bit of cooking this past Sunday, hence the double recipes. Weekend Breakfast came first, of course. Now, if you know me, you know that I love coffee. As for pancakes, well, any sane human being loves pancakes. So a marriage of the two is only appropriate.

Cappuccino Pancakes with Mocha Syrup

We followed the recipe exactly, so instead of being redundant I’ll just send you on over to The Pastry Affair.

The mocha syrup was amazing. A little too thick to really be syrup though; I ended up spreading it over the pancakes with a knife.

I’m getting pretty good at flipping pancakes/crepes/eggs/other foods you flip. I used to be terrible – I’d always ruin it! But look at this perfectly round pancake I made. So proud.

Of course, I still needed to eat dinner! I found a recipe for enchilada cupcakes, which I thought was an awesome idea. I love cupcakes and I love enchiladas – another wonderful marriage. The original recipe uses chicken, so since I’m a vegetarian I made up a new recipe.

Warning: since I made up the recipe, I sort of eyeballed everything, so now I’m guessing on the amounts. I actually only made 10 cupcakes because that’s how many tortillas I had, and used about 2/3 and 1/2 cans of beans and corn, respectively, so I’m trying to scale everything to use whole cans.

Enchilada Cupcakes
Original recipe can be found here. Makes ~15 cupcakes.

Ingredients
15 small corn tortillas
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained
1/4 C red or white onion, chopped
1/4 C green onion, chopped
1/2 C your favorite salsa
shredded cheese

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut out a circle the size of the cupcake pans from each tortilla, then cut the remaining ring into wedges (I found 6 wedges worked best). Arrange each tortilla into a ‘crust’ into a well of the pan. (If this doesn’t make sense, check out the original post for a nice picture.)
3. In a large bowl, mix together the beans, corn, onions, and salsa.
4. Scoop filling into each cupcake and top with cheese.
5. Bake for 20-30 min.

A word of advice: wait for them to cool a little bit before you eat them. I was so eager/hungry that I immediately took them out of the pans and onto my plate, where they fell apart. They tasted delicious, but weren’t as pretty. The ones I ate as leftovers yesterday and today held up much better.

Iron Woman

I have a bunch of disjoint thoughts in this post, but it’s been a week since my last one so I felt like I had to blog. Also I’m putting off writing an essay for my Chinese film class, so this seemed like a good way to pass the time.

This weekend, instead of Weekend Breakfast, my friend and I went to the Strip District. I’ve heard about it but I’ve never been before. It actually made Pittsburgh seem kind of… I don’t know… Cool? Lots of little shops selling specialty foods. We went to a coffee and tea store where I bought about a half pound of Kahlua and Cream coffee beans, a store selling all sorts of overpriced spices (honestly, how many types of cinnamon are there?), a biscotti shop, even a pasta shop that made their own olive oil. It gets pretty crowded on Saturday mornings, and some bakeries even set up tables on the sidewalk to sell all sorts of pastries.

Do you like brussel sprouts? I’ve only ever tried them once. I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, and I didn’t like them. But how can you really know whether or not you like something if you’ve only ever tried it once, ten years ago? So I had some. And they were delicious. I didn’t make them – my friend did, and she saved some for me to try. They were two days old and microwaved and I still liked them. Who knew?

On to the main event: the recipe. I love things that are fast and delicious. If you are like me, you will love this recipe. It’s so simple, it’s not even really a recipe. Do you know what tempeh is? It’s a “meat alternative,” made from soy, but it’s nothing like tofu. It comes in a block and it’s pretty dense; the soy beans are actually kept whole. I started eating it this summer at Google – they serve it all the time in the cafes – but this was my first time cooking with it.

Ten Minute BBQ Tempeh

Ingredients
tempeh (4 oz. per person)
olive oil
barbeque sauce

Instructions
1. Heat olive oil in a pan over high heat.
2. Add tempeh and cook each side for one minute.
3. Pour barbeque sauce into the pan (the more the better, I say), making sure to coat the tempeh evenly.
4. Reduce to medium heat and cook another 2-3 minutes.

I cut my tempeh into little squares and ate it in pita with spinach, red onions, mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella. I bet it would be good as a burger, too.

I made this a few days ago, and then again tonight. So quick and so delicious! And it fills you up, which was definitely what I needed. I donated blood today for the first time in four years, which is a major achievement for me. I’ve tried and been turned away a couple of times because my iron levels are always too low, but today the nurse told me that for a vegetarian my iron was actually HIGH! How awesome is that? Guess I’m eating right!

“Healthy Week”

My friend decided that this week is “Healthy Week.” What does that mean exactly? Working out, no junk food. That means no peanut butter, no Nutella, no delicious Fig Newtons hiding away in my cupboard, and NO COFFEE. Coffee isn’t exactly a junk food, sure, but I’ve gotten to drinking it every morning and I really should cut back. Both of us are going coffeeless for the week.

Unfortunately this is proving to be pretty difficult for me. I try to eat healthy, sure, but if you’re going to restrict what I can eat I need some warning. We decided last minute on Sunday night that this would start Monday morning, and of course I’m almost out of spinach, so salads are out. I’m also almost out of hummus, which is another one of my go-to ingredients. Next week we’ll be back on our regular diets, and then the week after that is no junk again, so at least I’ll have time to prepare.

I don’t know if this really counts as healthy, but it’s certainly not unhealthy. I made a big pot of it Sunday night, and I’ve been eating it nonstop since. If you know me, you know that this is my #1 favorite food in the entire world. It is always at the top of my food request list when I get home after being away for a long time, and I talk about it way more often than any food really needs to be talked about. Also, until now, I had no idea how easy it is to make. Sure, I suppose some of the magic is gone, but since I get to eat it more often now, I don’t really mind. So, without further ado…

Tortilla Soup
Recipe courtesy of my mother

Ingredients
I actually made a half batch, but I’m posting the original amounts.
~6 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 corn tortillas, cut into pieces (cut tortilla in half, then cut into 1/2in strips)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves for you silly non-Americans)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
3 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable stock
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions
1.
 In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, cilantro, and onion; saute 2-3 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, vegetable stock, and return to a boil.
4. Reduce heat. Add salt and cayenne pepper.
5. Let simmer 30 minutes to thicken. (The photo above was taken pre-simmering – this stuff gets thick!)
6. Remove bay leaves. Serve with cheese, avocado, sour cream, fried tortilla strips, etc.

Magic. In a bowl.

What Month Is It?

I’ve been back in sunny Southern California for about two weeks now, loving this weather and absolutely dreading my return to Pittsburgh and the snow. It’s “cooled off” a bit here, down to about 75 everyday, but it was high 80s last week. Feels like summer. I hate snow.

I’ve got a couple recipes for you. It’s been so hot that I’ve been making smoothies almost everyday for lunch. This one has hidden veggies in it, but unlike my Tropical Green Monster it doesn’t have a scary color.

Berry Green Smoothie

Ingredients
1 C frozen mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
1/4 – 1/3 C milk, as needed (I used soy but any milk would be fine)
1 Tbsp chia seed
1 Tbsp flax meal
soy protein powder
1 large handful fresh spinach leaves
agave nectar, to taste

Instructions
Blend until smooth and serve.

Then the other day, my mom and I tried out a new recipe for vegetarian chili. It was really delicious but it took a lot of work. It wasn’t difficult but just cutting the vegetables took forever because there was so much. I must say, though, this is a pretty substantial chili. Some of my meat-eating friends seem to think there’s no such thing as vegetarian chili – I think they should try a bowl of this. It’s got some really interesting ingredients – coffee and chocolate – that give it a really unique flavor.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili
Original recipe from Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012

Ingredients
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large bell peppers (1 red, 1 green), chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 tsp adobo seasoning
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
1/2 C brewed coffee
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cauliflower, grated
1/2 C fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, onions, corn, etc. for topping

Instructions
1.
 In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, carrots, and salt, stirring frequently for 8 minutes or until carrots are soft.
2. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
3. Stir in chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle, adobo, tomato paste, and tortillas. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a splash of water if the mixture begins to stick.
4. Add coffee and let simmer 30 seconds until almost completely reduced.
5. Reduce to low heat. Add tomatoes, cocoa powder, beans, and 2 1/2 C water, and let simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Stir in cauliflower and let cook an additional 10 minutes.
7. Dig in!

How do you eat chili? Just in a bowl? My mom puts it over rice, or sometimes we put it on baked potatoes, but my first choice will always be the Frito Pie. How do you make a Frito Pie, you ask?

Just like that. Asian noodle bowl is optional.

Danshui? Tamsui?

I am in America! It’s kind of weird being back, especially with how much happened since my exams ended, but I’m adjusting. Since my last post, I went to Taiwan, Thailand, back to mainland China, and finally came home. I’ll put it all into separate posts so I don’t completely overwhelm you (or me).

So. Taiwan. I went alone, very much against my mother’s wishes. Just stayed within Taipei. Six days of nonstop temples, shopping, and eating. For the most part, it was absolutely awesome. Traveling alone is amazing – you get to do whatever you want! No waiting for anyone else or worrying about what they want to do. You just go. If you want to get up early, you do it. If your alarm goes off and you don’t want to get up, you don’t. If you want to spend an extra half hour somewhere, go for it. You never feel bad about taking a long time messing with your camera because you want to get the perfect shot.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like about Taipei though. For one, I was super stoked to speak Chinese. I thought it would be six days without English for me. Not the case. See, in Beijing, when people would speak to me, if I didn’t understand they would slow down and repeat themselves. In Taipei, they just switched to English. Another thing was spelling inconsistencies. Going from Chinese characters to English letters can be complicated sometimes because there are two systems for doing it, but as long as you pick one and stick with it, you’re fine. Taipei needs to make up its mind. Is it Taipei or Taibei? Danshui or Tamsui? Beitou or Peitou? The names of the subway stations aren’t even consistent on the maps! Maps suck too. At subway stations and tourist areas there are maps of the neighborhood, which can be helpful, except up is never north. Up isn’t even usually the direction you’re facing. Up is wherever the mapmaker felt like putting it.

I stayed in Ximending 西門町, a cute commercial area on the western side of town. I pretty much tore this place apart shopping. It’s never ending, block after block of cheap clothes, shoes, and accessories.

I visited so many temples. Longshan, Baoan, Xingtian, Guandu, and plenty of others I can’t remember the names of. A few I didn’t even plan to go to, I just happened to walk by. Considering I am so completely not religious at all, I really love temples. It’s the smell of incense, the beautiful architecture, and just the sense of quiet you get when you walk in.

Gardens, too. It was a little rainy when I was there, but I still went to my fair share of parks. That photo is from the gardens at the Shilin Official Residence, where Chiang Kai-shek used to live. It’s got this huge rose garden, too. I also went to the botanical gardens, 2-28 Peace Park, and attempted hiking in Yangmingshan National Park until the rain made me quit. So many historical buildings in the city, too, like the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the Grand Hotel, and, of course, Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.

I also went to the Danshui/Tamsui district, which is a fishing village north of Taipei. I got to walk along the water and visit their morning market, which was very cool. For the most part, markets in Taipei aren’t super touristy – sure, their are tourists, but not a lot of souvenir crap for sale. This market, though, was by far the most real I’ve ever been to. Stalls selling fresh produce, bread, meat, tea, plants, you name it. Almost everyone selling food gives out samples, so all you have to do is walk through it a couple of times and you’ve had your fill of dried fruit and cookies. One stall was even giving out tangyuan 湯圓, one of my favorite Chinese desserts.

One of the coolest things I did was bathe in the hot springs up in Beitou, north of the city. There are a bunch of resort spas where you pay a ton of money for your own private tub, but I chose instead to go to the public outdoor baths. It’s less than US$1 to get in, and it’s where all the locals go. You’re not supposed to take pictures, but I was able to sneak one. Each pool is a different temperature, most of them being hot but one is ice cold. You’re supposed to go to the coolest hot one, then into the cold, then to the next hottest, back into the cold, and so on, to “balance” your body. I couldn’t handle the hottest one though – it was about 120 degrees!!

You have to wear a swimsuit, thank goodness, because I was one of only a few people there younger than 60. All the old men wear Speedos, and all the old women wear the kind of one piece swimsuits with an attached skirt that goes down to their knees. I was feeling a little uncomfortable in my bikini, especially with all of my tattoos and whatnot, but then an obvious tourist walked in and took off his shirt. His chest, arms, and shoulders had Chinese characters scattered on them, so all attention was immediately diverted to him. His tattoos did not make sense. I didn’t know all of the characters, but a lot of it was just random words.

Besides that, basically all I did was eat. Begin the food porn. In six days, I ate in restaurants only twice – street food all day, everyday. The restaurants I did go to, though, were vegetarian buffets. It’s not really a buffet because you pay by the weight of your tray, but whatever. They’re a big deal in Taipei, which made me extremely happy. So many veggies! So much tofu! Happy Alyssa!

Other than that, night markets. In five nights, I went to seven night markets. For the most part, especially in the big ones like Shilin and Shida, the shopping is just regular stores. What makes the change between regular shopping area to night market is all the food carts that come out, selling the most amazing food you’ve ever laid eyes on. Actually, right near the Shilin market is the Shilin food court. Stall after stall of noodles, seafood, these yummy egg pancake things, fresh fruit juice, milk tea, and fried chicken. Taipei loves fried chicken. Actually, out of all the stalls, only one had a line – over 50 people waiting in line for fried chicken. I decided to see what it was all about, which was a very good decision. It was just regular fried chicken until they sprinkled some sort of spice on it. Just the right amount of heat and extra flavor. Amazing.

At Shida, I saw another big crowd around a food stall. Pro tip: if you see a huge line of locals waiting in line for food, get in that line. When you get to the front of the line, they hand you a basket which you fill with noodles, fresh veggies, tofu, meatballs, whatever. You pay for whatever is in the basket, then they cook it all and you choose your sauce. I’m not sure what I chose since I didn’t understand the Chinese and ended up just pointing at one, but it was delicious. Super cheap, too.

Besides that is the night market snacks. So many carts selling fresh cut fruit; when you walk by the hand you little pieces of strawberry or mango on toothpicks hoping you’ll buy some. I ended up getting a guava one of the nights. At the Raohe market, I saw a cart selling fried crab for NT$180, or about US$6. I thought that was a little expensive for a little crab since most of my meals were around $150 max, but it looked good, so I decided to go for it. Next thing I know, the lady hands me a paper bag filled with no less than four crabs inside. I stood on the sidewalk for at least a half hour, crab all over my face and hands. That’s how you know you’re living your life right.

The desserts are great too. I had waffles with strawberry ice cream and raspberry compote one night (top left), and almost every market had these little pancake things (bottom right). Only NT$10 a piece, and they’re filled with red bean or custard. At the Jingmei market I had some fantastic shave ice. They had a huge spread of all sorts of different things: red beans, tangyuan, mochi, sweet potato, jellies, and some things I’ve never even seen before. You fill a bowl with whatever you want, and then the shave ice goes on top with some kind of syrup. I definitely recognized the flavor of the syrup, but I couldn’t think of the name at the time. I want to say it might have been tamarind, but it was awhile ago that I ate it so I’m really not sure.

That was pretty much my time in Taipei. Eating, shopping, and taking pictures. It was a great time. I would definitely recommend traveling alone, and I would love to do it again sometime.