December 31, 2012

Top 10 Recipes of 2012

In the food blogging world, December 31st is my favorite day of the year. More than all the seasonal summer recipes and the festive holidays sprees, I love the last day of the year. It’s the day when my Google Reader fills to the brim with “Best of 2012” blog posts, where all of my favorite food bloggers list their most popular, most delicious recipes of the year all in one convenient post. Then my bookmarks folder subsequently doubles in size and I have a whole new batch of recipes to try in the new year. It’s like another Christmas present!

So, in the spirit of my favorite food blogging tradition, I thought I’d do my own “Best of” post for the end of 2012. Listed below are my favorite recipes and fun food ideas of the past year, from hearty Chili Enchiladas to a Napa Cabbage Salad that got featured on the Kimchi Chronicles blog to the very popular and very rich Funfetti Cake Batter Milkshakes. Just click the recipe name or the photo itself to see the corresponding blog post.

Funfetti Cake Batter Milkshakes

Funfetti Shake
Gimbap (김밥)

Napa Cabbage Salad with Oranges, Spicy Shrimp, and Rice Wine Vinaigrette

Napa Cabbage Salad

December 28, 2012

Christmas Snapshots

watermarked christmas tree
Hey guys!

I hope you all had a great Christmas and a lovely holiday season. For me, this year was actually a pretty unique one, with lots of surprisingly crafty and cooking-y bursts of activity. Thanks to a bout of a sinus infection earlier in December I really hadn’t been feeling in the Christmas spirit, which made me all the more pleasantly surprised by how nicely things turned out.

After the initial rush of helping pick out presents and wrapping ‘em all up, my real Christmas-y activities began a few days before Christmas with my cousin’s graduation. Getting to drive all over Houston and see the pretty decorations out and about really helped make the season feel special again.

christmas lights 2
christmas lights
palm trees

December 5, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving: Lessons Learned


(1) Simple is better.

As a foodie, I constantly have to restrain myself from going overboard on any major holiday, but Thanksgiving makes it an especially difficult task. There are just so many options! So many herbs, spices, and ingredients to explore! The problem is, however, that if every Thanksgiving dish on the table is unique, edgy, and unexpected they all lose their impact. Nobody knows where to focus and, as a result, all of those star ingredients and crafty new techniques get tragically overlooked. It’s a mistake that I’ve made several times and an experience with which I am familiar.

This year was different. Rather than coat the turkey with a thousand different Italian herbs, stuff the cavity with exotic tropical fruits, and pipe my name in mashed potatoes on top (note: I have thankfully never gone this far), I opted for a beautifully simple bird seasoned only with garlic butter, salt, and pepper.

You and me both know that there’s no pretty way to photograph an entire roasted turkey, so that’s the best picture we’ll be seeing.

Beyond the turkey, I stuck to traditional sides and occasional, minute variations, which we’ll talk about in my next tip…

November 21, 2012

Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie

watermarked pie
Why do you think these photos only show one side of the pie?

Here’s a hint: One of us has an incredible lack of self-control.

Here’s another hint: One of us believes in the importance of taste tests, especially for pies that one has made for the past three Thanksgivings in a row. Quality control, people.

Here’s one more hint: One of us knew that the photos would look just fine at a carefully camouflaged angle.

Can you guess??

Yes, I think we all know ‘twas I who enjoyed a nice, big forkful of pie before bothering to take photos of this yummy creation. Rather than a warning sign of impending Thanksgiving gluttony, however, I view this occurrence as a happy testament to just how delicious Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie really is. Like I said, I’ve been making it for several years now, ever since I saw the recipe in an issue of Bon Appétit and fell in love with its light, perfectly pumpkin-y flavor.

November 7, 2012

Halloween Chocolate Bark and a Video

Bark pic final
After posting that list of all the Halloween food projects I had been keeping in my bookmarks, I couldn’t resist trying one out. However, I made this decision as Halloween was fast approaching, leaving me with very little time for elaborate sugar cookies or and major confections. This, and the opportunity to fit as much candy in my mouth as possible lead me to try out Halloween Chocolate Bark. Taking inspiration from all the yummy recipe variations I’ve been seeing around the internet, I put together a version of chocolate bark absolutely filled to the brim with some of my most favorite candies as well as a few surprises (like pretzels—what were they doing on the Halloween aisle??).

Plus, as a super duper special bonus to this already delicious pile of sugar, I decided to take my normal photographic efforts and turn them into another YouTube video! As much as I was ready to take plentiful photos of sprinkling candy and luscious ribbons of melted chocolate, something told me they would look even better in real life, rather than just a pretty picture. So, here it is! Just in time to help you use up all that leftover Halloween candy—Halloween Chocolate Bark.

We’ve got the English version…

As well as a version in Spanish!

Oh, I also forgot to mention that I managed to have a birthday a few weeks ago! With a nice, quiet day at home, I think my favorite part was actually my birthday flowers. They’ve got these amazing light and dark pink ribbons on the petals. Look how cool they are!

October 14, 2012

Fun Food Ideas for Halloween

trick or treat peanut butter cup
Each year I find myself getting a little more excited about Halloween than the last. I think it can be blamed on the blogging world. A couple of years ago, I had no clue about all the ways a person can frost, pipe, and decorate festive Halloween treats. Making my own homemade peanut butter cups last year was basically the nail on the crafty coffin. Ever since I have been quietly bookmarking projects, setting up a list of super cute, hilariously detailed ideas for this year. 
Here’s some of my Halloween favorites!

What about you? Any amazing Halloween foodie finds??

September 28, 2012

Local Foods

local foods exterior
Before I get started on this blog post and telling you about all the yummy things I found at a lovely restaurant called Local Foods here in Houston, I have to get something out of the way.


It’s officially fall!!

{source unknown}
Even if it still feels like summer outside, with plenty of humidity and highs of 90 degrees, I don’t care. The time is coming for cozy sweaters, holiday cooking, and pumpkin-flavored everything! Fall, winter, and all the holidays that come with them are definitely my favorite time of the year, so expect to see plenty of evidence thereof on this blog. Not to mention that this is my first holiday season on Pinterest, which will either result in a series of fantastically festive craft projects or a series of embittered tirades against hot glue and tinsel. Whatever happens, it will be extremely entertaining.

September 6, 2012

Veggilicious Turkey Burgers

turkey burger 1
Over the past week or so, what with my job in full swing as well as the start of my second-to-last (yay!) semester of college, I’ve noticed myself feeling a little depleted. During the beginning of August I was really getting into a groove with all of my daily to-dos, but all the new additions that came with September have made everything seem discombobulated. Just going through all my syllabi alone and putting the semester’s assignments and due dates in my calendar gets me all jumpy and twitchy. From the starting point of the semester, it all seems equal parts dizzyingly busy and incredibly repetitive.

August 20, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Cherry Tomatoes

spaghetti squash done 1
Oh, high school.

Can I just tell you guys how thrilled I am to no longer be a part of that institution? It’s a fact that I have heartily  enjoyed over the past few years of college, but most especially during the month of August. Back-to-school season is so much more fun from the sidelines, away from the traffic and tax-free weekends. There’s the stores packed with hormonal adolescents spending hours deciding which backpack is the coolest or if they should even use a backpack because that might be too kiddy or if the pink Barbie one is ironically cute or just lame. There are beleaguered parents following at a distance, speculating at how and why pencils suddenly became expensive. There’s always that Spanish class that required six different colors of highlighters for the parts of speech, all of which have already been snatched up by the world’s seemingly quadrupled population of children under the age of ten. And at the end of it all, you’re rewarded with another year of high school.

August 10, 2012

Kitchen Disaster: Healthy Chocolate Ice Cream

ice cream 1
Last week: “Oh cool, the Olympics are starting. But I need to finish up these essays for history class.”
This week: “You don’t understand, I have to stay up ‘till 5am to watch live coverage!”

Yesterday: “Yeah, I tried some yoga, but it didn’t seem very challenging. I don’t think I’ll stick with it.”
Today: “Where’s the ibuprofen?”

July 26, 2012

Chili Enchiladas

enchilada 2
These enchiladas are evidence of my struggle to reconcile myself to reality. While August is fast approaching and there’s still plenty of hot and humid days to come, I cannot help but fantasize about winter. Beautiful, chilly, winter with its chunky knit scarves and bracing, Arctic winds. Velvety hot chocolate that smoothly slides down your throat with its—key word: welcome—warmth. Twinkling Christmas lights strewn across porches, making every neighborhood look like a charming movie set. Steaming bowls of hearty chili that make you feel all snuggly and cozy inside. All of it. I want all of it!

July 17, 2012

Summer Strawberry Salad

salad 2
I am so excited to share this salad with you guys! Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been really working on planning my meals better and eating a bit healthier (emphasis on “a bit,” since there’s still ice cream in the equation). As I’ve geeked out and created weekly menus, complete with Excel spreadsheets, it’s lead me to a lot of great, healthy recipes to add in the mix. Out of all the yummy new dishes I’ve tried, this one has been my absolute favorite. Simple ingredients, fresh flavors, and—best of all—super quick to prepare. Here’s how to do it:

July 5, 2012

Calling all Smarty-pants

This is an S.O.S. to all of you tech-savvy, crafty, and all-around smarty-pants people who read this blog. I am in need of some major advice on about half a dozen predicaments, so even those of you who wouldn’t consider yourselves masters of some technical, computery mumbo-jumbo, please heed my cry and help me find some clarity of mind.

Ever since the spring I’ve been working towards putting together some more YouTube cooking videos, much like the one I had uploaded as a contest entry last fall. From that first experience, I was able to garner a lot of tips and tricks, plus plenty of things that I wanted to improve and change. I’ve watched oodles of other cooking videos on YouTube, admiring people’s lighting, sound, cameras, and not to mention delicious dishes, trying to get a feel for how I wanted mine to look. So far, I’ve purchased a surprisingly cheap lighting system, as well as a beautifully economical baby-level audio device to record external sound, all in an effort to produce some videos that would be full of bright, colorful, happy food and information.

The thing is, I’m a bit stuck. As anybody who has ever begun any project knows, there are so many little ways that things can go wrong and so many tiny hiccups that can leave you puzzled for weeks on end, hence why I’m sending out the Bat signal. Are you ready?? Cause here we go…

(1) My last video was filmed outside, which made for some gorgeous, bright light for close-up shots, etc. The problem is, that was outside in November-ish, a very very very different thing from outside in the middle of July. Cue the the umbrella-y contraption below. It provides light, albeit a frighteningly florescent shade of blue (claiming to be “daylight”). Combined with the oddly warm fluorescence that usually lights my kitchen, the white balance is a little bit better, but still nowhere near the beauty of natural light. Any ideas of how I could improve the lighting? I’ve considered perhaps forsaking the traditional front-facing cooking video format and filming it in a more impromptu manner next to the window in the kitchen where I normally shoot my photos. What do you think? Pleasant and casual? Or jarring and unprofessional?

umbrella light
(2) Sound. I know enough to know that when it comes to DSLRs, it’s better to record externally, due to their okay-quality built-in mics, but I’m really no expert with audio. Have any of you done any audio recording? I’d love any sort of tips or places to find more information on how to go about this properly.

hand recorder
(3) Finally—this is a more aesthetic question—what do you guys have as far as organization tips? I have a great island in my kitchen, perfect for plenty of cooking space, but half of it’s covered with junk mail, etc. And it’s sky blue laminate, but that can’t be helped. The main problem is the mess. How do you keep things tidy in your kitchen? Or are you in the same boat as me? Do tell!

So as you can see, as it happens with big projects, I’ve got an idea of what I want to do, but it’s the execution of it that’s a pain in the booty. Ideally, I’d love to have a video or two to show you guys by maybe…August? September? Maybe even the end of July, who knows? I spent several months in the spring coming up with plenty of yummy, brand new recipes especially for some YouTube videos, so I really can’t wait to share them with you. And I can’t wait to hear your answers to my questions! Again, even if you don’t consider yourself a huge video aficionado, leave me a comment about anything—I love ‘em! Ideas, suggestions, and all that jazz are the best!

June 14, 2012

Pecorino-Crusted Chicken with Marinated Mushroom Salad

chicken 2
Bloggers and blog readers alike, have you ever had one (or many) of those “facepalm” moments? Those times when you say or do or think something and later want to smack your palm against your forehead for your carelessness, thoughtlessness, or general delirium? I most definitely had one of those today, involving this exact blog post!

June 9, 2012

Giveaway Winner!

And we have a winner! Congratulations to Millie! I'll be sending you an e-mail soon with the details of your prize.

Thanks again to everyone who entered and helped celebrate La Kocinera's second anniversary!

June 1, 2012

Blogiversary Giveaway!

Happy 2nd Blogiversary!!

Can you believe that this blog has been around for two years now?!

Two whole years.

That’s 14 dog years.

That’s 20 celebrity marriage years.

final 3
Along the way we’ve made delicious recipes and tasty treats, ranging from ridiculously addictive and amazingly crisp Sweet Potato Oven Fries to colorful, cool Gimbap, all the way to homemade Peanut Butter Cups for Halloween.

May 30, 2012

Baked Shrimp Scampi

scampi 3
I can’t say that I describe food as “sneaky” all that often, but this Baked Shrimp Scampi is exactly that. At first glance, it’s a beautiful, delicate dish that makes you secretly wish you had some sort of fancy Sunday garden party to host. There would be dresses involved—girly and floral—as well as some outrageously large hats, perhaps even a strand or two of pearls. Despite living in Texas (a.k.a. the fiery core of the sun itself), there would be wrought iron tables set on the lawn and the weather would carry a pleasant, cool breeze. All ants, wasps, bees, and lunatic squirrels would scurry and buzz and march their ways back where they belong, leaving every morsel of herby, lemony, baked shrimp for you and your guests to enjoy.

May 18, 2012

Vanilla Spice Oatmeal

oatmeal 1
Let me ask you a question—How do we feel about oatmeal? At best, it can be a wonderful, wholesome breakfast of tender, tasty, nutty oats. At worst, it can be a flavorless bowl of slimy mush, full of artificial ingredients and completely empty on the yum factor. I myself have had a love-hate relationship with this dish for quite a while. It was great when I used to make the instant stuff with milk, piling the bowl full of butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and peanut butter. That oatmeal is amazing, especially for a late-night dinner when all nutritional concerns seem to quietly dissolve along with the setting sun.

May 11, 2012

Pesto Chicken Skewers

skewers 1
Well, this is awkward.

I haven’t updated this blog in over two weeks. It feels kind of strange to just hop back in again without acknowledging that funky absence. Like good friends who lost touch and then run into each other at the grocery store, posting another recipe is equal parts totally awesome and nail-bitingly overdue. Like old chums whose paths have not recently crossed, I also have similar excuses. For me, what was initially a demanding course load for the semester turned into some sort of kraken-esque monster of the deep when finals week reared its ugly head. All of a sudden, classes that had been easy became brain melting, requiring long afternoons at the library and late nights of term papers on medical symbolism in Frida Kahlo’s La Columna Rota, all of it in Spanish.

April 23, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cake

cake 4
I have a problem with this cake.

A serious problem.

A problem on par with my Cheeto addiction.

hershey creme bar
You would think that a simple, unassuming cake such as this would not cause much trouble. It’s got a lot of the same basic ingredients you’d find in any other cake—flour, eggs, sugar, etc. Same sort of stuff that gets mixed into countless confections all over the world, day in and day out. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Except for the Hershey’s Cookies n’ Crème bars, that is.

And the sweetened condensed milk.

And the chocolate chips.

Yes, that’s when it becomes an entirely different issue, my friends. You see, I had never thought of melting those yummy candy bars and mixing them up into a cake and simply pouring sweetened condensed milk on top of it. By that point, it would be a crime not to sprinkle the top with semisweet chocolate chips. All of them together creates such an amazing pile of sweet, gooey deliciousness that you can’t even wait to take blog photos using a proper plate.

April 11, 2012

Spring Break Adventures, Part 2

Are we ready for part two of spring break adventures? I’ve got to warn you, it’s going to be a very long, very food geeky post. But if you’re reading food blogs to begin with, I think we’re on the same page as far as the food geek business goes. And believe you me, this post has it in spades.
red bean bun
{Sweet Red Bean Bun}
adzuki beans
As I had hinted in my previous post, the second part of my spring break mini vacation most definitely involves food. Even more so, in fact, than my single-minded lingonberry focus towards Ikea. This outing speaks to so many levels of my food-loving soul that it’s borderline unbelievable.
The highlight of my spring break was the beautiful, the yummy, the packed-to-the-gills-with-amazingness H-Mart.

March 29, 2012

Spring Break Adventures, Part 1

As you know, I am currently a college student.
As you know, college students have spring breaks.
As you know, college spring breaks are usually full of wild parties and scandalous behavior.
As you know, this geeky food blogger's spring break was not.
Yep, rather than cruise down to the beach with a group of wild and crazy gal pals, I stuck nearby. Due to the unfortunate nature of college costing an arm and a leg, there hasn't been any extra cash around for major vacations as of late. But if you think that it cost me the fun of spring break, you would be quite mistaken. It wasn’t all Snuggies and Netflix for this girl. Even without huge vacation plans, my family and I ended up doing some rather fun activities.
The way we decided our budget-friendly plans was this--while we can't go on an international, jet-set vacation in the here and now, we can come up with some entertaining substitutions. Taking advantage of Houston's amazing cornucopia of cultures, we decided to do a mini tour, starting with Sweden.
By way of Ikea.
Don't roll your eyes at me you lucky international travelers! I am well aware that a huge warehouse of gorgeous, reasonably-priced furniture and yummy little meatballs can in no way replace the experience of actually being in the Sweden. Rather, I like to think of it as a taste of the bigger picture. And let me tell you, that future tastes pretty darn good.

March 18, 2012

Funfetti Cake Batter Milkshakes

shake 1
Whenever I think of the times that I have really had a craving for a rich, decadent dessert, they seem to coincide with a certain amount of laziness. There are the occasions when you feel proactive and want to create impressive delicacies, of course, but there are also plenty of times when you’re lounging on the couch with your laptop, lurking on people’s Facebook pages reviewing your stock portfolio and simply can’t be bothered to spend an hour in the kitchen.
In times like these, what are your options? Dive into that bowl of stale Halloween candy? Miss the next episode of 30 Rock C-Span Congress coverage? It is precisely times such as these that call for Funfetti Cake Batter Shakes—simple, delicious, and ready in three easy steps.

March 6, 2012

Ruggles Cafe Bakery

After letting these photos languish on my computer for a good two weeks, I finally decided that enough was enough. Even though I’ve got pages upon pages of funky linguistic symbols to type out and plenty of philosophy exams to yank my hair over, I cannot go any longer without telling you guys about this delicious foodie field trip on which I embarked.
Situated in Rice Village (one of my favorite areas of Houston) and nestled just beyond the neighborhood’s canopy of oak trees, Ruggles Café Bakery is a place that I have frequented many times before. The decidedly bustling street that its located on is packed to the gills with countless other shops and restaurants, with ample people watching to pass the time. The balance between everyday, healthy dishes and splurgy specialties available on their menu make for plenty of opportunities to sample new things and enjoy old favorites.

February 23, 2012

Soba Noodles in Broth with Sweet Potato, Cabbage, and Spinach

soup 2
Wholesome, comforting, and just plain lovely.
As much as I love to fiddle with recipes and fill them with interesting, new ingredients, every once and a while it feels so great to enjoy something simple.
dry noodles 2
Filled to the brim with healthy, gorgeous vegetables, this Japanese dish is as delicious as its name is long.

February 18, 2012

Chocopalooza: Valentine’s Day 2012

I don’t know where my brain has been hiding these days.
In fact, I’m starting to think that it has burrowed down in the dirt like a groundhog for six more weeks of winter.
Walking into rooms, only to forget what I was looking for. Letting my stand mixer whip cake batter to a dry, overbeaten pulp. Forgetting to watch the weekly episode of “Four Weddings.” Honestly, I just don’t know what’s happening to me.
Although the whole forgetting to watch “Four Weddings” might be a good thing, because all the shots of yummy wedding food always send me diving for a bowl of snacks to munch along with the guests.
The point of the matter is, my brain’s decided to go on spring break waaay earlier than I had planned, which means that I completely forgot to tell you guys about the absolute chocolate downpour that was my Valentine’s Day.
To start off, my mom gave my sister and I a lovely, lovely collection of Jacques Torres chocolate goodies, from a deliciously decadent hot chocolate mix…
hot chocolate
…to gigantic chocolate chip cookies that I swear are made with layers of thin slabs of chocolate rather than simple chips…

February 5, 2012

Kiwi-Marinated Fajitas

fajitas 2
Aren’t kiwi’s just groovy?
Months and months ago I had heard that they can be used in marinades as tenderizers and I’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since. Rather than the acidic tenderizing method of citrus fruits, kiwis—along with other tropical fruits like papaya—tenderize meats via enzymes. While you do have to be careful not to let them sit in the marinade too long, for fear of irreversibly mushy steaks, kiwi concoctions such as this one do a great job at quickly breaking down a tough cut of meat.
kiwi peel
While there are countless yummy recipes for fajitas—a.k.a. deliciously addictive strips of grilled flank steak—I’m really pleased with how this one turned out. Combining plenty of sliced kiwi with a squirt of lime juice really brightens up the steak and is just enough to wake up your taste buds without actually having a strong fruity flavor. Cilantro, garlic, habaneros, and cumin also jump in the bowl to help give the fajitas a bit more of a Southwestern kick.

January 22, 2012

Kitchen Disaster: Blueberry Coffee Cake

Oh, what is that?
whole cake
I see sugar on top of it, so it must be something promising.
Let’s take it out of that bundt pan.
cake unmolded
Why, it’s a cake!
It’s a cake with blueberries inside!
Let’s grab a slice!
cake cut 1
So far so good…
cake cut 2
Well that’s odd.
cake piece
Why did all the blueberries sink to the bottom?
And cause the cake to fall apart?
cake fall apart 1
I better go back and look at the recipe.
Would you look at that. It says that if you use really fresh blueberries, you should decrease the amount of blueberries and buttermilk, so they won’t sink to the bottom.
I didn’t think that I would actually need the Critical Thinking class I’m taking this semester.
But, at least the cake still tastes good, especially with a dollop of butter.
buttered cake
What kitchen disasters have you experienced lately?

January 13, 2012

Gimbap (김밥)

Once in a long while, among the dozens of sweet treats and savory concoctions that I chat about on this blog, there comes a dish that I feel extra-super-duper excited to talk about.

Gimbap is one of those dishes.

The quickest and easiest way to explain Gimbap (pronounced “gheem-bahp”) to the uninitiated is to call it the Korean version of sushi. Note that I say that's the quickest and easiest explanation--Gimbap is another dish entirely. Dried seaweed, topped with steamed, short-grain rice, and plenty of yummy fillings are all wrapped up into a tight roll. Following these basic guidelines, you can tailor Gimbap into whatever sort of dish you want. Typically, Gimbap is filled with julienned carrot, sautéed spinach, and pickled daikon radish. After these basic cornerstones, anything goes! Add meats, cheeses, other veggies, kimchi—whatever sounds good. Gimbap falls into that glorious realm of recipes that allow you to completely clean out your fridge as well as experiment with a lot creativity.

What follows is my personal version of Gimbap, so I encourage you to use it as merely an example and a guideline as you find you own way down this yellow brick road of deliciousness.

January 3, 2012

Grilled Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette and Crisp Pancetta

asparagus 4
Happy New Year guys! I hope you had a great time celebrating it, hopefully with no major headaches or hangovers the next day. Personally, I spent it with my family drinking champagne out of a martini glass. Partaaay!
But I have to admit, it was fun see all the random, questionably legal fireworks going off in nearby neighborhoods and tease my little sister about taking it easy on that glass of Sprite she was drinking.
Even though we’re only three days into 2012, I’m sure that many of you are already well on your way to completing any number of New Year’s resolutions. In all honesty, even I have jumped on the resolutions train this time around, mapping out goals ranging from prepping for the GRE exam to not watching Korean dramas before doing my homework.
Something tells me that one of those goals will be more attainable than the other.

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