Cooking My Way Through March

Sharing some of last month’s adventures in the kitchen. Recipes included!

With grad school being so busy, it can be difficult to choose how I delegate my time. For me, home cooked meals have stayed a high priority on my list. In the beginning, cooking was more about maintaining good health. However, it’s turned into quite a fun hobby for me! Every Sunday, I search Google for a good vegetarian recipe. Then, I drive to Whole Foods and fill up my cart with all the ingredients. The best part is spending several hours in the kitchen cooking and meal prepping for the week!

One of my biggest influences in the kitchen is from my adventures in China. As I see it, the philosophy of Chinese cuisine is to be as fresh and flavorful as possible! And by fresh and flavorful, I mean buying ingredients from the local market, killing the meat, and then cooking and serving the dish all within a few hours! How incredible!

While impossible to cook this fresh as a graduate student, I try as best I can to infuse the philosophy into my own cooking. I minimize buying frozen, packaged, processed foods and have made a habit of meal prepping my dinners in order to have something to eat when I get home late from class and work!

Over the month of March, I documented my adventures in the kitchen and will share what I cooked up below. Hopefully, this doesn’t make you too hungry and maybe it will even inspire you to cook something new.

Breakfast

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
What a treat this was! This also took a really long time to make, so make sure you have some time on your hands before starting. We made the rolls in the evening and refrigerated over night. Then, in the morning, we just popped them in the oven and made the icing.

We didn’t have a square, glass  baking dish, so we improvised with a pie pan and muffin tin, and they turned out great! What we didn’t eat, we froze and saved for later. You can find the recipe for the cinnamon rolls here. If you don’t like cream cheese frosting (me), here’s the frosting recipe we used as a substitute.

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Waffles
A simple and straightforward breakfast! I was so hungry this morning that I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, but I bet you can imagine how delicious they turned out! You can find the recipe we used here.

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Avocado Toast
I love this stuff! It’s hard to screw up frying an egg, toasting bread, and smearing avocado. I like to mix in lemon juice, salt, and pepper in the avocado, and sprinkle chopped green onions and Siracha on top before adding the egg!

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Yogurt and Fruit
Not exactly cooking, but I thought I’d include what I eat for breakfast on a school day. I’ll mix some granola into Greek yogurt and have a side of fresh fruit! On those mornings when I need a boost, I’ll drink some black tea too!

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Dinner

Dinners are really where all the kitchen adventures go down. Since I have a night class this semester and teach MSU tour guide orientation on Wednesday evenings, I’m exhausted by the time I get home. Therefore, I meal prep all my dinners on Sunday afternoons!

 

Here’s a few of the dishes I made last month!

Mapo Tofu
Mapo tofu is my most favorite food of all time!! It’s a classic spicy Sichuan dish that’s relatively easy to make. Typically, mapo tofu has ground pork, scallions, and green onions. To make it vegetarian, I’ll throw in an assortment of veggies. This time, I went with baby bok choy, red onion, bean sprouts, and green onion for garnish.

For the sauce, I will sometimes cheat and use a packet of pre-mixed mapo tofu sauce from the local asian market, but can honestly say that the taste is pretty authentic and full of flavor. However, making the sauce from scratch is most definitely better! What will really make or break the recipe is the Sichuan peppercorn. I will buy the whole peppercorn, then toast them in a frying pan, and hand grind in a mortar and pestle for the freshest taste. For the mapo tofu recipe I use, click here.

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Chana Masala
Chana Masala is a fragrant chick pea dish that’s better two or three days after it’s cooked- perfect for meal prepping! I was feeling ambitious the week I made this, as I’d never cooked Indian food before. My seasonings collection doubled after all was said and done! For the recipe, you can click here.

This was also the first time I cooked basmati rice. Basmati rice is longer and narrower than white rice, thus making the grain more delicate. Basmati rice also has a more nutty flavor and pairs really well with Indian and South Asian cuisine. I cook my white rice in a rice cooker, but decided to cook the basmati rice in a pot. I found this youtube video very helpful for step by step instructions on how to cook perfect, fluffy, basmati rice.

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Fried Rice
If you are looking for a fun date night or girls night in, I highly recommend cooking up something in your kitchen. Josh and I made some fried rice last weekend and made quite the mess. (Good thing it was in his kitchen, not mine! Ha!) The process was so much fun though, and the end result turned out to probably be the best fried rice I’ve ever made.

I suggest to either cook the rice the day before you plan to make fried rice, or after cooking your rice, spread it out on a plate and let the grains set out in open air to dry for 45 minutes to an hour. Doing this will ensure your fried rice isn’t soggy, and has that chewy texture you’re looking for. To check if the rice is dry enough, pick up some grains and roll them around with your finger tips. If they feel sticky and moist to the touch, the rice needs to set out a bit longer! Here’s the fried rice recipe we used.

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To conclude this post, I thought it was only fitting to show you what my sink looks like after cooking up a masterpiece…

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While the aftermath is not always pretty, cooking is a hobby that I have come to love. I’m looking forward to next Sunday,  when I get to spend some quality time with my kitchen again 🙂

-Heather Mei

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