Transforming Box Mix Brownies: A Quick Guide to Elevating Low Cost Desserts

food

There are a few things that people love to see when they eat food. First of all, presentation is key. They are willing to pay for the looks of it so they can seem up scale when the photo lands on their foodstagram or snapchat. How many times have you heard words among these lines: “Eh.. it wasn’t that great but I bought it for the aesthetics” ,”buy it for the insta”, “overpriced but aesthetic”…. sigh, it’s very telling. Food nowadays is all about show, especially in this generation where with the click of a button, the world of social media can see what you are currently eating right now.

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With that being said, aesthetic does not need to be expensive. I wanted to gift a nice dessert to a colleague but did not know what to make. I made a japanese fluffy cheesecake but didn’t love how it turned out, I made cream puffs and was annoyed that they weren’t the same size, I made a roll cake which I had accidentally overbaked… so my last resort was boxed brownies. I felt so defeated because I had really stooped this low, but I knew brownies, let alone boxed ones, were impossible to mess up. I had planned to make an extravagant dessert and ended up with my box of $2 Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix. At least I knew it’d be decadent and taste good. But then… I gathered up a few ingredients in my pantry while the brownies were in the oven and realized I could make these brownies look from $2 to $15. No JOKE. With sugar, butter, flour, chocolate chips, cream, and chocolate chip cookies, I elevated these brownies to the next level. “I’m on a new level” as A$AP Ferg may say.

Here are the simple tips that can elevate any dish:

  • A simple pattern or design: elegant, and shows an extra step of skill in baking.
  • Contrasting colors:  a light on dark or vice versa makes the food pop. Looks more 3D and is more enticing to the human eye.
  • Monochromatic colors: shades of a single color is very desirable as well. People love monochrome and explains why ombre is so pleasing to look at.
  • Texture: In terms of appearance and taste, people love texture. People love crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, or smooth with a crunch. Ice cream with crushed cookies or gummies are appealing because it adds texture.
  • Layers of texture: This is a difficult one because too much can be overwhelming, but the right amount is perfect. I’m talking smooth on top of crunchy, on top of sharp on top of…. you know, the list could go on.
  • Packaging: This is key because it’s the first thing that is seen. Before opening a box, packaging gives the first impression. Of course they sayings goes “paying for packaging”..
  • Mini or bite size: Ever seen a bundt cake and thought you didn’t want it? Well what about bite size bundt cake… all of a sudden you do want it. It’s because it has become finger food and no plates or utensils are required, and it’s so adorable that it’s irresistible. This is exactly why cupcakes cost so much more than cakes and why donut holes are more desirable than donuts.

And with that being said, transformation of boxed desserts is rather simple once you know how to apply the rules.

With the supplies I had, I did the following:

  1. Made the cookie crumb topping from my Full-proof puffs recipe and let it set at room temperature to form a swirl for pattern and contrasting colors. [white on black]. Cookie crumb topping was reduced to about 1/4 since I didn’t need that much.
  2. Pour 3 tbsp hot heavy cream over 4 tbsp chocolate chips to form a ganache for layers of texture. Ganache was drizzled on brownies.
  3. Crush 1 chocolate chip cookie into coarse crumbs (large and small crumbs included for texture and monochromatic colors. Cookie crumbs will partially stick onto the ganache.
  4. Cut the brownies into small 1″ x 1″ squares and fit them into a box that already had squares in them for packaging and bite size. It’s difficult to find a box with square placements in them so this definitely isn’t required.
  5. Lastly, tie a bow on the box if it is a gift and leave a cute note.

Hopefully after reading the guide, you can elevate your next box or cake, dessert, or cookies. Wow your guests when in reality you probably only spent $2 and used whatever you had at home :’) Tricky huh?

 

Grocery Sampling in Austria

travel

As our plane flew through a dusky violet sky and touched down at the Vienna Airport , I quickly sauntered to the baggage carousel to retrieve my luggage so that I could check-in to the hotel, grab dinner, and rest in preparation for nightlife festivities. Besides having booked a room at the Moxy Hotel which was within walking distance of the airport, all activities for the night were going to be improv’d. Within minutes of exiting the airport, I arrived at the Moxy Hotel Vienna which is extremely affordable for the quality. The eccentric, quirky, yet aesthetic hotel provides a surfeit of amenities such as printing, web surfing, hot drinks, board games, a gym, and much more. Keep in mind that Europe, unlike America, charges for almost everything, including public restrooms, napkins, and extra McDonalds sauce so the amenities provided in the hotel are quite rare. Thus, I recommend taking advantage of what is provided and enjoy your time at the relaxing hotel. I paid 95 Euros that night for 2 people, and it included breakfast. I got a good deal through Expedia, so a little bit of planning and the use of booking websites can save tourists plenty of money. Of course, if money is not an issue, then lucky you :). Below are some pics of the Moxy lobby that I absolutely adored. All through the late night, chill music played as friends and families drank, laughed, played card games, or worked on their laptops. The environment was very cordial.

 

 

 

Little was near the airport, mostly rental car stations, banks, and a few high rises. But off into the distance, a bright red and yellow sign caught my attention among  a sea of not so colorful signs. Something about it’s appearance just lead me to the conclusion that it was a grocery store and when I arrived, I took my time and went on a 25 Euro shopping spree to purchase some delectables. I certainly splurged and bought far more than necessary, but some interesting items caught my eyes and the inner food in me was eager to try some European goods. I did a taste test on the products and graded them:

  1. Head cheese– a nondairy cheese (not actually cheese) that combines meat pieces from the head of land animals and stuffs it into a gel that is then brined in a vinegar solution. The slab of head cheese was really cheap, approx. 2 Euros for the pack, and it looked a somewhat delicious pile of meat trimmings so I was very excited to give it a try. I cut a hearty portion onto a slice of pretzel bread and took a large bite… Bleghh, YIKES. I mean, it wasn’t terrible really… but the vinegar/mint/spice-like flavor was so offputting I really wanted to toss the whole pack away. I love vinegar, but something about this was horrid. I suppose that’s why head cheese was peasant food back in the days…

Appearance: 2/10        Flavor: 2.5/10

Image result for head cheese

2. Muscatel Grapes: These grapes were crazy expensive. At 7 Euros per pound, they better have curing properties. The small orbs were tinted light green and pink, and they smelled very sweet so I was pretty stoked to try these. And after all, how bad could grapes taste?

These grapes were hands down the best grapes I have ever tasted! They don’t sell these in the states so I’ve never heard them before but I later realized that Muscat wine is made from these, but the wine doesn’t taste that great… The grapes tasted like lychee Hi-Chew candies. So Sweet, I could’ve sworn I was eating candy!

Appearance: 9/10          Taste: 10/10

Image result for muscatel grapes

3. Paprika chips: Never heard of such a flavor before, but I was eager to give it a try. In general, paprika doesn’t have much flavor so I was wondering if the chips would be bland, but they really just tasted like barbeque chips. Nothing special and no surprises so I was a tad disappointed.

Appearance: 7/10             Taste: 7.5/10

Image result for german paprika chips

4. German Apple cider: I was certainly expecting a drink similar to apple juice, but I instead got a very alcoholic drink that tasted nothing like apples. I was basically drinking warm beer and as a “hater” of alcohol, I spat it out and gave the rest away to my brother. bleghhh I was fooled…

Appearance: 8/10         Taste: 3/10 (because I don’t like alcohol)

5. Currywurst: Who knew such a fusion food existed? I love curry and sausages are a German staple so I knew this was something I needed to taste. The wurst was pretty long and cost 3 Euros.

WOWWW!! I’m not a huge fan of sausages but this wurst was juicy, yet not too fatty, and the curry-ketchup sauce was so good. I wish I had gotten more sauce but the flavor was so potent that it was enough. Really a big fan of currywurst and I must emulate this sauce recipe at home.

Appearance: 7/10          Taste: 9.5/10

Image result for currywurst in bun

This concluded my taste test. I also ate pretzel bun sandwiches and tuna salads, but nothing special there so I did not feel it was necessary to grade them!

For the rest of the night, I spent 4 euros and bought a round trip train ticket to the Vienna City Centre. Night life was bustling as people sat at outdoor cafes under sun umbrellas as live music played out loud. I guided myself through the winding cobblestone roads for the city was constructed like a maze with marble and stone buildings in all directions. Even late at night, hordes of people were visiting St. Stephens Cathedral and buying gelato cones and wursts from food stands.

3 Ingredient Vegan Chinese Turnip Cake

food

The Chinese turnip cake or Chinese LuoBuoGao, is a staple found in dim sum restaurants all over the world. The savory cake is a starchy, rectangular cake commonly filled with shiitake mushrooms and sausage. At about $3 a plate when eating out, it is actually a very affordable dish to make and acts as an excellent alternative for rice and noodles. The next time you become tired or rice, I highly recommend attempting to make turnip cakes!! Almost all variations aren’t vegan because they will toss sausage into the mix, but this recipe is one of the simplest turnip cake recipes ever and requires only 4 main ingredients. Chances are, you probably have salt, white pepper, and water at home so the base of the turnip cake is very simple to make.


Vegan Turnip Cake (3 Ingredients)

yield: 9 x 3 in cake-size

Ingredients:

  • approx. 2 ft. long worth of daikon root (measurement does not have to be exact. The more daikon, the better)
  • 1 bag rice flour (CLICK HERE to see what brand and size used)
  • 9 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 5 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch (optional)
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil OR any flavorless oil

Special equipment needed: Springform pan (I used 9 x 3 in), steam-safe plastic wrap, cheesecloth, large steamer

Instructions:

daikons

Main ingredients

  1. Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes, or until fully soft. Once hydrated, chop the mushrooms into small square pieces.
shrooms

chopped mushrooms

2. Peel the daikon root and slice into thin strips.

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thinly sliced daikon

3. In a large wok, heat up 5 tbsp. oil and toss in the mushrooms to saute over high heat until lightly golden brown.

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saute mushrooms

4. Toss in the daikon strips and saute for approx. 5 min. After 5 min, add in 3 c. of water , salt, white pepper, sugar, and corn starch (if using), stir, and let the mixture simmer for 20-25 min. over medium heat until daikon becomes translucent (check image below). Stir the mixture every 5 min.

chopped

translucent daikon

5. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of water with 1 entire bag of rice flour. Mix until combined. Then slowly pour the mixture into the daikon and stir until a thick paste is formed. The paste will form quickly and will require arm strength to mix. Make sure all contents are evenly incorporated.

mix

pour rice flour mixture into daikon

mess

mix until paste forms

6. Set the mixture aside. Take the springform pan and remove the bottom. Take the circular portion of the pan and lay a cheesecloth on top of it. Then lay one sheet of steam-free plastic on top. Pat the cheese cloth and plastic down so that they line the rim of the pan. Place in the steamer and then scoop in the daikon mixture.

dop

scoop mixture into springform pan

7. Steam the daikon cake over medium heat for 1 hour. Take the cake out and allow it to cool and firm for about 30 min.

cake

steamed daikon cake

8. Cut the cake into rectangular pieces and enjoy steamed or pan-fried. I personally enjoy it pan fried since it creates a crispy exterior. Dip in flavored soy sauce or hot sauce.

radish

pan-fried cakes

 

Green Goddess Salad (Vegan)

food, Healthy Lunch Idea

Kale is a difficult vegetable to enjoy due to its rough texture and odd flavor that resembles the dollar weeds thriving in my back yard. Sauteeing or transforming them into kale chips are great alternatives, but nutrients for kale are at its peak when eaten raw, but the problem lies there… I’ve eaten kale salads but the plethora of toppings and dressing to mask the weed-like flavor defeat the purpose of eating kale in the first place. However, healthy fats, vegetables, and dressings can can easily turn the high fiber vegetable into a decadent, protein-packed meal that’ll have you wanting for more. I experimented with ingredients I had at home and whipped up a delicious kale salad that is definitely one for the books. Topped with avocado, pumpkin seeds, roasted brussels sprouts, soy protein, and an almond butter dressing, I seriously think even non-salad lovers would enjoy the flavors and health benefits of this magnificent bowl.


Green Goddess Salad (Vegan)

yield: 2 servings/bowls

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 1/2 stalk kale, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 small avocado
  • 3 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
  • 8 large brussels sprouts, each one vertically cut into threes
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper to taste
  • 1 oz. soy protein like tempeh or tofu, I used a homemade soy product

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 c. almond butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened warm almond milk OR warm water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with oil, salt, and pepper and bake in the oven for 30 min, turning the sprouts every 5-7 min.
  3. Pan fry the soy protein with salt or soy sauce.
  4. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour on top of the kale in a large bowl. Use bare hands to massage the kale for approx. 2 minutes to soften the kale and infuse the flavors.
  5. Toss the pumpkin seeds into the salad and combine.
  6. After the brussels sprouts have been baked, top them onto the salad or toss them in, along with avocado and soy protein.
green bowl

Green Goddess bowl

brussel sprouts

raw brussels sprouts

kale

dressed kale

On my journey to consuming less meat, this salad makes it difficult to not consume meat. While I know that I will never become full vegetarian since my parents do not permit it, it has been 2 weeks since I have eaten meat and it feels great. Additionally, kale is packed with fiber, iron, and has anti-inflammatory agents, so am definitely now a promoter of kale!

Broke College Student #2: The Ultimate 2 Ingredient Snack

Broke College Student, food, healthy

img_8075-1.jpgThere are many variations of a no-bake protein ball on the web, but I’ve never seen a 2 ingredient variation. Many of the recipes call for pricey ingredients such as medjool dates, vanilla extract, or flax seeds that college students would not typically buy, so I have tested a two ingredient peanut butter protein ball recipe. The great thing about this snack is that it is extremely filling because of the dense peanut butter packed with heart-healthy monosaturated fats, potassium, and protein mixed with rolled oats. For a snack, I would snack on one or two balls maximum (depending on how hungry I feel). Doing so prevented me from snacking on low-nutrient snacks such as potato chips or cookies, which I would eat about 3 servings of.

Ingredients:

Disclaimer: keep in mind that college students in dorms probably don’t have measuring tools, so I am approximating. Approximation is not a big deal for this recipe because you just keep adding the amount of oats to the peanut butter gradually until it fits your preferred consistency.

  1. 1/2 c. peanut butter or any nut butter
  2.  1 c. rolled oats
  3.  1 tbsp honey (not necessary, I used to add flavor:)

Instructions:

  1. put peanut butter in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for 25 seconds
  2. The peanut butter is easy to mix now, so add handfuls of rolled oats, mixing after each batch of oats.
  3. Add oats until you cannot see the whites of the oats. The oats should be brown (peanut butter). If the oats are not brown, the mixture will be too dry and the balls will not stick together.
  4. Refrigerate mixture for minimum 30 minutes. Roll into 1 tbsp. balls and place in an airtight bag or container.

-Jamie

Healthy Lunch Idea #12: Shrimp Mango Spring Rolls

food, Healthy Lunch Idea

IMG_2983

A fresh recipe is very enjoyable on a hot summer day in the South. A recipe that fit within the lines of easy and healthy are Vietnamese spring rolls that are traditionally wrapped with Thai basil and vermicelli noodles. I took out the vermicelli noodles and just added more vegetable because the vegetables fill me up anyways. I made spring rolls with shrimp and a vegetarian version using sliced fried eggs for my grandparents. Both with great flavor and a lot of protein.

FullSizeRender

Ingredients:

  • 6 spring roll wrappers
  • 1 c shredded lettuce
  • 1/2 c thinly sliced cucumbers
  • 1/2 c. thinly sliced mangoes
  • 12 shrimp, cut each in half from head to tail ( 2 per roll)
  • 1 avocado(thinly sliced)
  1. soak spring roll wrapper in water for about 3 seconds
  2. layer all ingredients on the wrapper with lettuce first and shrimp on top
  3. Folding a spring roll is like folding a burrito. Fold both sides in and roll until the end of the roll sticks to the rest of the wrapper.

For the dipping sauce:

  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp water (add more if a lighter consistency is desired)
  • splash of lemon juice

combine all ingredients

Because the spring rolls are low in fat and carbs, you can surely eat more than 1. Go for 3 if you are really wanting those vegetables!

-Jamie

Macaron Recipe and Tips

food

IMG_2950

These colorful desserts are so stubborn and are known to be one of the most challenging foods to make. I have been a part of the frustrated group of people who have failed several times, but now on my 6th try, I have finally mastered the art of macaron-making and will provide insight on my previous mistakes and the tips you need to succeed.

For the macarons, I used this recipe from allrecipes.com :http://allrecipes.com/recipe/223234/macaron-french-macaroon/

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Macaron baking tips:

  1. COOL TEMPERATURE: the temperature in your home is very important. It must be cool, a minimum of 78 degrees or else the shells will not form while the macarons are sitting.
  2. USE METAL BOWLS: do not use plastic bowls because plastic bowls trap moisture and oil and we do not want added moisture to the batter
  3. BAKING SHEET OVER PARCHMENT PAPER: This one is based on opinion, but I find that the baking sheet results in less browning on the bottom and the bottom of the macaron cooks evenly
  4. CREAM OF TARTAR: I believe that the use of cream of tartar when beating egg whites is important. When I didn’t use cream of tartar, my macaron shells would never form feet. I use about 1/8 tsp.
  5. BEATING THE TRAYS: Once you pipe the macaron shells, drop the trays straight down on the counter 3 times to get rid of air bubbles
  6. SITTING TIME: Some recipes don’t call for the macaron sitting time, but I say it is so necessary. Feet, which is unique to a macaron, is the little ruffled skirt on the bottom of a macaron shell. Let the macarons sit out for 1 hour before baking so the the shells harden, but the gooey insides cook and bubble out to form the feet.
  7. GEL FOOD COLORING: Use gel food coloring instead of liquid food coloring so you don’t add extra moisture into the batter.

Take these tips into account the next time you make macarons, and you wont be spending $2 per macaron anymore!

-Jamie

Healthy Lunch Idea #11: Taiwanese Style Vegetarian Egg Sandwich

food, Healthy Lunch Idea

IMG_2958

Recently, I have been eating a lot less meat, and although I savor turkey and beef and other flavorful meats in my sandwich, it is simple to create a vegetarian sandwich while still getting a ton of flavor and saltiness in each bite. This healthy Taiwanese style sandwich uses avocado as a replacement for cheese or mayo and the egg as a protein. I also used a cranberry, nut bread to create a contrast between the sweet and salty.

On a side note: Taiwan is one of the best places to eat cheap, delicious food. I have not gone back in 6 years but luckily, this Summer I will visit Taiwan, and I know I will put on at least 5 pounds. Sandwiches like this one can be found everywhere in Taiwan and are popular in gas stations such as 7/11. A gas station in Taiwan differs from a gas station in the US in that it’s more like a food stop and there are fresh foods made daily.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bread ( I used a fancier bread: cranberry, nut)
  • 12 cucumber slices
  • 1/4 mashed avocado (I seasoned with a bit of salt, pepper, and lemon juice)
  • 1 fried egg
  1. Assemble the sandwich and enjoy!

Cashew Basil Pesto and How I used it

food

IMG_2970Cashews are my favorite nut because they taste the best for its price; like macadamias are delicious, but a lot pricier than cashews. A typical pesto is made with pine nuts, but cashews are a great replacement and it’s more likely that you have cashews on hand than pine nuts. Make this cashew pesto and save quite a few grams of fat as well as money because pine nuts are extremely high in fat and price.

Ingredients:

  • 50 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 c. roasted cashews
  • 1/3 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/3 c/ olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Throw the basil, cashews, cheese, and garlic into a food processor and chop until mixture is mostly green and coarsely chopped
  2. pour olive oil down the chute slowly and lemon juice
  3. put salt and pepper little by little, tasting gradually because a little salt goes a long way.

IMG_2967

With the fresh pesto, I made a pesto cream sauce to pair with cheese tortellini. I used frozen cheese tortellini and combined the pesto with heavy cream, flour, and butter as a bechamel/alfredo sauce. If you don’t have heavy cream, use milk and the bechamel sauce should taste just as great.

Healthy Lunch Idea #10: Basil Spaghetti

food, Healthy Lunch Idea

IMG_2528Planting your own herbs is extremely worth it because the most work you do is plant them, then let nature do the rest of the work. Because I live in the South, the weather is optimal as it rains often and there is plenty of sun. As basil is my favorite herb, I scattered plenty of seeds in my backyard and within a week or two, I was harvesting basil leaves and utilizing them in anyway possible. Today’s recipe is a simple spaghetti recipe with basil and parmesan cheese. Few ingredients, but plenty of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1/3 c. tomato sauce
  • plenty of chopped basil, about 3 tbsp.
  • shaved pieces of parmesan cheese
  1. Combine all ingredients.
  2. garnish the top with parmesan shaves, using a fruit peeler to shave thick strips of parmesan cheese.