California and Rosemary Fig Scones

IMG_1177Sometimes in life, you go to a place that feeds your body and soul. That’s how I feel about California.

Last week, I went to visit one of my best friends from grad school, Lyz, in Santa Barbara. Lyz is a native Californian, and she spent four years before grad school living in Santa Barbara. When we were in school together, she would describe the beaches and culture to me, and it all sounded idyllic. I’ve never been to California and I’ve always wanted to visit, and I hadn’t seen Lyz since we graduated last fall. So, I thought, what’s stopping me from going?

IMG_1204It’s hard to say that you fall in love with a place as universally hated as LAX, but that’s sort of what happened to me. From the minute I stepped off the plane, I knew that I had landed in a place that I was meant to visit. Lyz tells me that people call LA “hell-A,” and I can see how it has its downfalls. The traffic is crazy, and everything seems pretty congested. But still, I could immediately see a marked difference in culture. People were more laid back, and not afraid to be bold–two qualities I strive for in my own life.

It was dark out when Lyz drove us back to Santa Barbara, so I didn’t get to take in the city in all its glory until the next day. It would be an understatement to say that Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. From the mountains to the ocean to the woods, all you have to do is turn around and there’s something magnificent to take in. I can see why celebrities flock there, and why Lyz wanted to go back as soon as we finished school.

IMG_1168IMG_1203I ate some delicious things during my trip, including vanilla-dipped French toast, a “California Benedict” with avocado and spinach, and more guacamole than I’ve ever consumed in a 48-hour window. But one of the best thing I ate in Santa Barbara was a fig, rosemary and walnut scone from a local bakery. We went there for breakfast in the morning, and I polished it off with a cup of chocolate chai.

IMG_1184Now that I’m back in D.C., I miss Santa Barbara and Lyz, and I found myself craving the scones. So I decided to recreate them tonight. I used a baseline recipe for fig scones, and then I added a handful of chopped walnuts and a spring of rosemary leaves. I sprinkled some sugar on top, brushed the scones with cream and popped them in the oven.

IMG_1223While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say my scones matched the ones in Santa Barbara, they came pretty close. It’s a dangerous game to try to recreate a food memory, because in food, as in life, some things are better left gilded over by time and place. But as a runner-up to the “real thing,” I think my scones did their job.

I wish I could go back and visit again tomorrow, but for now, I’m trying to find little pieces of California in D.C. And apparently, I don’t have to look too far because I found a small reminder on my walk home from work yesterday.

IMG_1220Rosemary Fig Scones (adapted from Pretty. Simple. Sweet.)


2 cups (280 grams/10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams/2.6 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (115 grams/1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon (for brushing the tops)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 – 1 cup chopped figs, fresh or dried
1 sprig rosemary
handful of chopped walnuts (or more if desired)
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 400F/200C degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or your fingers. Alternately, you can pulse the ingredients in a food processor or mixer. Mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. Having uneven pieces of butter throughout is OK. Gently stir in figs, walnuts, and rosemary until coated with flour.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, 1/2 cup heavy cream, honey and vanilla extract, then add to the flour mixture. Gently toss with a rubber spatula or mix until dough begins to form. Don’t over mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead gently, about 5-6 times, until a ball forms. The dough might be slightly sticky. Pat the dough into a 9-inch (22 cm) circle, about 3/4-inch thick, and cut into 8 even wedges.

Place scones on prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

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Blueberry Halloumi Salad

IMG_0981I’ll never forget the first time I tried halloumi. I was fifteen years old and my family and I went to a Greek restaurant down the street to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I scoured the menu for options, and my eyes landed on “saganaki–flaming cheese.” The words “flaming cheese” were enough to pique my interest, so I decided to order a plate.

A waiter rolled a cart over to our table with a small frying pan on top. He began sauteeing the cheese in oil, but then he took a giant bottle of vodka and squirted some in top. The flames shot up into the air like a dart, and for a second, I thought they would burn the ceiling. But then he squeezed fresh lemon juice over the top, extinguishing the fire. He did it so matter-of-fact that I stared at him in awe; I pictured myself doing it, and the whole restaurant going down in flames.

I cut into the cheese slowly; I think I half-expected it to go up in flames again. The outside of the halloumi was fried crispy, golden brown and the interior was melted and gooey. I tried a small piece, and the flavors hit my palette all at once: the tangy, briny taste of the halloumi, the slightly sour lemon, the rich olive oil and the slightly sweet flavor of the vodka exploded like fireworks in my mouth.  I vowed to order saganaki every time we went back to the restaurant, and looking back, I stayed true to my word.

One of my best recent discoveries was that Whole Foods sells halloumi, and so I can make a version of saganaki at home. Instead of lighting the cheese on fire, I fry it in olive oil and then put it on a salad. It’s a quick, easy meal and I always feel satisfied after eating it. Last week I found a recipe that paired the fried halloumi with a simple blueberry salad. The sweet, juicy blueberries are the perfect complement to the salty halloumi, the hazelnuts in the recipe add an extra element of texture, and the dressing incorporates lemon juice–one of halloumi’s tried-and-true pairings.

Blueberry Halloumi Salad (adapted slightly from Naturally Ella)


3 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces blueberries
¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (8 to 9 ounce) package halloumi, cut into 8 slices
1 tablespoons olive oil


In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and black pepper. In a separate bowl, toss blueberries with chopped hazelnuts, pepper, 1 tablespoons mint and 1 tablespoons cilantro. Pour dressing over blueberry mixture and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add halloumi and cook until golden, 2-3 minutes per side.

Place cheese on a plate, spoon blueberries over cheese slices, and finish with remaining herbs. Serve while halloumi is still warm (although the leftovers still taste just as good).

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Two Strawberry Birthday Cakes

IMG_0934On Friday, I hosted dinner on my roof for my birthday. Everyone was teasing me because technically, my birthday was last weekend…And I had already celebrated twice over pizza and brunch. But in my opinion, you can never have too many parties. And birthdays are the perfect excuse to bring everyone you care about together and enjoy delicious food.

IMG_0937For the main course, I made baked shrimp scampi and a pasta salad with oriecchette, cherry tomatoes and homemade kale/basil pesto. I also made hummus from scratch for the first time–a somewhat labor intensive process if you don’t have a food processor. I used a blender (much to my roommate’s chagrin), but I managed to achieve a nice, creamy consistency after pulsing it for about 15 minutes (and using some choice words to let off some steam). My friend Carly–whose diet consists mainly of beans–said that she wanted to eat it like ice cream from a bowl.

But the real pinnacle of the meal was dessert. My favorite kind of birthday cake is strawberry, and I found a new recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s blog called “strawberry shortcake cake” that I decided to try. Making the cake was a process; I baked it in the oven for 50 minutes and let it cool, then I sliced it in half and added layers of crushed strawberries and homemade buttercream frosting. I left it in the refrigerator overnight, which helped all the flavors meld together. The juices from the strawberries moistened the cake, and the icing added an extra touch of sweetness.

IMG_0936My friend Melissa also surprised me with a giant homemade birthday cake. She wrote “Happy Birthday” on chocolate covered strawberries. She topped it all off with whipped cream, the perfect complement to chocolate covered berries and rich dark chocolate.

I was happy I could bring everyone together for good food and conversation, and I’ll never forget my two strawberry birthday cakes–or multiple birthday celebrations.

Strawberry Shortcake Cake (from The Pioneer Woman blog)


1-1/2 cup Flour
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
9 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 whole Large Eggs
1/2 cup Sour Cream, Room Temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla

1/2 pound Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 pound Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 pound Strawberries


IMPORTANT: Be sure to use a cake pan that’s at least 2 inches deep! Before baking, the batter should not fill the pan more than halfway.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and corn starch.
Cream 9 tablespoons butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just barely combined.

Pour into greased and floured 8-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no longer jiggly like my bottom. Remove from cake pan as soon as you pull it out of the oven, and place on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.

Stem strawberries and slice them in half from bottom to top. Place into a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, mash the strawberries in two batches. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit for another 30 minutes.

Make icing: combine cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and dash of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until very light and fluffy.

Slice cake in half through the middle. Spread strawberries evenly over each half (cut side up), pouring on all the juices. Place cake halves into the freezer for five minutes, just to make icing easier.

Remove from freezer. Use a little less than 1/3 of the icing to spread over the top of the strawberries on the bottom layer. Place the second layer on top. Add half of the remaining icing to the top spreading evenly, then spread the remaining 1/3 cup around the sides.

IMPORTANT: Cake is best when served slightly cool. The butter content in the icing will cause it to soften at room temperature. For best results, store in the fridge!

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Asparagus Frittata

DSCN3899‘Tis the season for asparagus. Lately whenever I go to the grocery store, I see piles of thin green strands piled precariously on top of one another, or stalks standing proudly at attention, waiting for someone to pick them up.

I usually pick up a bunch once a week–but I wasn’t always so fond of asparagus. I think the first time I tried it was at a wedding, when a few pieces showed up unceremoniously with the chicken. They were limp, slightly rubbery, and greasy–everything that good asparagus should not be. I cast them aside, and from them on, I only ate them if they were put in front of me.

All that changed the first time I had good asparagus. If you steam or cook it in the oven with a light drizzle of oil, it will still retain its signature bite. The stalks become pliable but not too wilted, and you get a nice crunch when you bite into it. The flavor is complex and difficult to describe. But to me, good asparagus tastes earthy and authentic–simply put, asparagus isn’t messing around.

This recipe for asparagus frittata comes together quickly and doesn’t call for too many extra ingredients. You saute shallots until they become translucent and slightly caramelized, add in the asparagus, and then pour in the eggs. Sprinkle with cheese, broil for a few minutes, and you’ll have a light but satisfying meal. Usually I get sick of leftovers after a couple days, but I could have eaten this dish all week.

DSCN3907Asparagus Frittata (from here)


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese


Heat butter into a 10-inch oven-proof frying pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

Pour in eggs and cook until almost set, but still runny on top, about 2 minutes. While cooking, pre-heat oven broiler.

Sprinkle cheese over eggs and put in oven to broil until cheese is melted and browned, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from oven with oven mitts and slide frittata onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges.

Serves 4

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Roasted Corn Enchiladas

DSCN3893In honor of Memorial Day–but mostly because I was craving Mexican food–I made roasted corn enchiladas for dinner tonight.

I tried this recipe for the first time a year ago when I was still in grad school in Chicago. My friend Stephanie and I were working on an end-of-quarter project, and we made the enchiladas as a study break. I still remember us chopping the tomatoes to make the sauce, and roasting the corn kernels in my tiny Easy Bake-style oven. We carefully rolled the corn tortillas around the ricotta cheese filling, and almost devoured the entire pan of enchiladas once it came out of the oven.

DSCN3895My life has changed a lot since last year: I moved to a new city, started a different job, and acquired an oven that actually works. But it’s nice to know that in the midst of change, some things remain consistently good.When I took the enchiladas out of the oven tonight, it reminded me of how good they smelled the first time I made them. The spicy, roasted tomato sauce bubbled up in the pan, the cheese was soft and melted across the surface, and the corn tortillas were crispy and brown. The ricotta was light and fluffy, and the corn kernels were slightly caramelized and crunchy. All the flavors melded together exactly the way they should.

The only caveat to this recipe is that once you taste one enchilada, you will probably have to eat the rest in one sitting. Unless, that is, you possess some superhuman strength that I do not.

DSCN3898Roasted Corn Enchiladas (slightly adapted from Naturally Ella)



2 large ears sweet corn
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro


2 large slicing tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2-1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 corn tortillas
1/2 cup queso fresco or goat cheese (I used goat cheese)


  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Carefully remove corn from cob by placing the cob perpendicular to the bottom of a large bowl. Cut downward on the cob. Toss kernels with ½ tablespoon olive oil and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until soft, 15-20 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whip together ricotta, honey, lime juice, and cilantro. Once corn is done, stir into ricotta mixture.
  4. To make sauce, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium low heat. Add in minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Roughly dice tomatoes and add into pot along with chipotle powder and salt. Cook until tomatoes are starting to break down. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Layer tortillas in between a damp paper towel and microwave for a couple minutes until soft, or place them in the oven for a couple minutes until pliable.
  6. To assemble enchiladas, use and 8×5 pan (or an 8×8 with extra space). Place ⅓ of the chipotle tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Next, scoop ⅓-1/2 cup corn filling in to the center of the tortillas, roll gently, and place seem side down in the pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas, carefully squeezing the last tortillas in. Pour remaining sauce on top and sprinkle the cheese over the top.
  7. Bake enchiladas until lightly browning and bubbly, 20-25 minutes.
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A Tale of Two Risottos

DSCN3871I’ve been on a bit of a risotto kick lately. It’s funny, because I usually associate the dish with cold winter months when I want to eat something warm and thick. But more and more recipes keep popping up on Pinterest and food blogs for a lighter, herb-filled version, and a few of them have recently caught my eye.

Last month, I made vegan lemon asparagus risotto for dinner with asparagus I bought at the market. A week ago, I tried one of the best risottos of my life at Teddy & The Bully Bar, a restaurant near my work that has a Teddy Roosevelt theme (I’m still not sure exactly what that entails, but nevertheless, their food is delicious).

Last night, I decided to make asparagus pesto risotto for dinner. The recipe comes from a food blog I recently discovered called “The Kitchn,” which features cooking tips and quick recipes that are easy to prepare at home. I tweaked the recipe a little to fit my own tastes (I substituted more basil for parsley in the pesto, and went easy on the Parmesan cheese), but otherwise I stayed true to the original concept.

DSCN3867The part of the dish that I enjoyed the most was the texture. The original recipe called for pearl barley, but as I had an overflowing supply of pearl couscous, I thought I’d make the swap. I highly recommend using the pearl couscous; it’s soft and chewy, cooks quickly, and pairs well with the cheese and herb pesto. I didn’t feel like my arm was falling off as I stirred in vegetable broth and wine, and the dish still had a creamy consistency.

I’m not sure which recipe–vegan or not–would come out the winner in a risotto battle royale, but in the end, both were satisfying. And if you find yourself in D.C. near 19th and L, stop by Teddy & The Bully Bar for an equally good version. Just don’t be alarmed by the fake taxidermy on the walls.

Asparagus Risotto Verde (adapted from The Kitchn)


1 bunch of asparagus

1/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 1/2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
Zest from 1 lemon
6 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to season
Additional grated cheese for garnish (optional)


Trim the bottom inch (or so) off the asparagus and discard. Slice off the tips of the spears and reserve. Cut the rest of the asparagus into big chunks.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus stalks. Cook for about 4 minutes, then scoop them into a strainer. Run under cold water and transfer to a blender. Add the basil leaves, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the broth. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside. Blanch the asparagus spears and peas (if using fresh peas) for no more than one minute. Transfer them to an ice water bath until the dish is finished.

In a large sauté pan or pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic slices and continue cooking for an additional two minutes, or until soft. Add the pearl couscous, and toast for about 5 minutes.

Add the white wine to the pan, and mix with a spoon until most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the wine has evaporated, add two ladles of the broth and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, season the mixture with a hefty pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep adding the broth one ladle at a time, letting the couscous absorb each addition of broth, until the couscous is completely cooked (a touch al dente) and chewy. This should take about 25 minutes.

Once the couscous is cooked, remove from the heat and fold in the grated cheese. Stir in the asparagus-herb puree, asparagus spears, and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until well combined. Serve immediately with extra grated parmesan cheese on top.

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Vegan Lemon Asparagus Risotto

DSCN3854I don’t make risotto often, mostly because of the amount of work involved. Whenever I make it, I picture a plump, old-world Italian woman with her hair wound tightly into a bun, sweating over a large, steaming pot of rice, methodically churning away until the mixture resembles something close to risotto.

Usually I reserve this sort of labor for the colder months, when staying inside is obligatory and I don’t feel like running away from the stove. But recently I stumbled across this recipe for vegan asparagus lemon risotto, and I thought I would give it a try. Asparagus is the vegetable du jour, and I was intrigued by the vegan aspect of the dish. Usually, risotto contains butter and thick soup stock–so I wondered how this version would turn out.

DSCN3841Although I’m somewhat skeptical of vegan recipes in general, I would highly recommend this one. Sometimes, I feel like vegan dishes are trying to imitate the “real thing”–i.e., the buttery goodness of rich cakes and cookies, or the creamy texture of a thick pasta sauce. But this recipe doesn’t try to be something it’s not; it just leaves out the butter. And after an hour or so of arm-turning (you might want to wind your hair into a bun), you’ll have a delicious dinner, coveted by vegans and non-vegans alike.

Vegan Lemon Asparagus Risotto (from here)


  • 1 bunch of asparagus spears (15 to 20), trimmed and chopped into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (you may not use it all, but have it handy anyway)
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves


  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add the asparagus spears and blanch for about two minutes, or until they’re tender but still have some crunch. Remove them from the pan and run under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the shallots and onions and cook for four minutes, or until the onions are getting soft. Add the garlic and cook for another three minutes.
  3. Add the rice and heat it in the saucepan, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the white wine, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and cook, stirring gently and vigilantly, till the white wine has been absorbed.
  4. Add a cup of stock to the pan and cook, stirring as needed, till the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock in 1/2- to 3/4-cup amounts, stirring each time until the stock is absorbed. You may not need all five cups of broth to make the rice creamy and soft, but you can expect to use most of it. When the rice is tender but still has some chew, stir in the nutritional yeast and thyme, along with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Stir the blanched asparagus into the rice and heat through. Serve.


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