Monday, September 24, 2012

Pumpkin season: love it or hate it?

Just curious (to anyone reading my blog):

With autumn just beginning, America's food industry falls (forgive the pun) to its old food trends and starts dishing out pumpkin and apple and spiced items. With the overflow of pumpkin pie shakes, lattes, pies, muffins, scones, and casseroles, what do you think of all this?

Do you like pumpkin?

Do you enjoy the overflow or return of pumpkin-themed items?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

When you crave Panda Express, make THIS instead...

Come dine with me
Panda Express opened up in the basement lounge of the Memorial Student Center at the start of this academic year. The line at dinnertime stretches across the food court as the students come hungry for the only nearby "Chinese" food. Whenever I go by the MSC, the thick aroma of Americanized Chinese food permeates the air, and I too am lured  by the smell and thought of orange chicken and tofu eggplant in brown sauce. But I resist...on principle, I'd like to say.

First off, being of Asian heritage, I like to act all high and mighty and call Panda Express as purely Americanized Chinese food, not real, and catered to the overly sugary, fatty, and processed American palate. But I cannot deny, I like the taste of it when it comes out fresh. It is delicious because it is so sugary and fatty. Panda Express really hit something with their sauces. And, really, I am such an Americanized Asian that I can't pull off the haughty Asian disdain.

Second, I resist because of the fact that Panda Express is really unhealthy for you. The favorite, orange chicken, is purely battered and fried meat, bathed in a sweet sweet sweet salty and tangy sauce. If 5.2 oz is about half a cup, one serving of orange chicken is 420 calories, 21 g of fat, 18 g sugar. Mmm, deep fried sweet chicken...

Being in College Station, away from home-cooked Vietnamese food, I crave Asian food a lot. And the smells that permeate the air around the MSC does not all. So I decided I needed to make it at home. Last week, I searched the internet for healthy orange chicken recipes, and came upon this recipe from Cordon Pink. Instead of chicken, I used tofu to make it even healthier and served it with steamed broccoli and carrots and cilantro brown rice. I also added sauteed onion and garlic and sesame seeds for extra flavor and nutritional boost. It is a very simple yet delicious recipe that quells that unhealthy cravings and I recommend you try it sometime to judge for yourself.

Asian Orange Tofu
1 block of extra-firm tofu (prep ahead of time, see directions!)
4 Tbs cornstarch
Salt and black pepper
(optional: celery salt)
1/3 cup 100% orange juice
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
2.5 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp key lime juice
1/2 Tbs sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 to 1 Tbs sambal oelek chili paste (to taste)
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
sesame seeds (optional garnish)

1. Tofu prep: drain tofu. Slice into about 8 rectangles and place between paper towels to dry for 30 mins-1hour. Try to get nearly all the liquid out. Then slice into 1/2" cubes.
2. Combine cornstarch, salt, and black pepper in a big bowl, then toss tofu to coat. Heat a large skillet over medium. Add 1 Tbs oil and layer in tofu. Fry one side of tofu until nice and crisp (don't stir or bother much or you'll break up the tofu!). Flip each tofu block to other side and fry other side till crisp. Fry edges if you want too.
3. Dissolve 2 tsp cornstarch with orange juice. Add to tofu in pan, then add rest of sauce ingredients and cook over low till nice and thick and warm.
4. In another pan, saute yellow onion till soft, then add garlic and cook till brown. Mix in with tofu and sauce.

Cilantro Brown Rice
Combine 1 cup brown rice with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer 35-45 minutes until cooked. Fluff with fork. Chop up some cilantro and green onion and mix in. Add in some (key) lime juice if you want.

Eat up!
To serve:
Add 3/4 cup of rice to a bowl. Add some tofu, sprinkle on sesame seeds. Serve with steamed broccoli, carrots, or other vegetables.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I live! And I live now in Texas!

I'm having a great time.

So closes my second week at Texas A&M University (A&M) as a first year PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering (BMEN) program. If you remember some of my posts last year, I talked about some of the fun things I did as a summer research intern. Last December, I got contacted by the professor and grad student whose lab I shadowed in. They said they had an opening for a new grad student and were thinking I'd be great for it. At that time, I was applying just to master's programs in mechanical engineering at UCB, UCLA, and UCSD. I was kinda lost at that time, thinking I wanted to get a degree in mechanical engineering to make myself a better candidate for biomedical device companies. Once I got that notice from the lab at A&M, I decided to apply for the PhD program.

After a couple months, I got the acceptance letter and accepted the chance to join A&M as a new graduate Aggie. The months after I graduated from UC Berkeley were a fun-filled summer (which I'll have to update on sometime). Every summer builds up from the last and makes me say, "This summer is even better than last year!" I had so much fun with family and friends - and my puppy, Cody of course!
Cody, our mini toy Australian Shepherd!
Despite the delightful summer - or, actually, because the summer was so delightful, I was scared about moving to Texas. It would be an even bigger move than to Berkeley. Far away from my amazing family, my loving boyfriend, and my fun friends. Far from the spectacular food my mom and grandma cook. Far from Trader Joe's and cooler weather.

First dinner home after graduating from UCB
Inside of a Vietnamese Banh Bao (steamed bun), made with Ba Noi (grandma)

My aunts nagged me about driving there. They said that there were sandstorms in my path and that my car was going to break down from the heat. I got scared. I felt like I was making the wrong decision. Wrong to choose A&M - I should have took a year off and applied for a real job at some biotech company in Irvine or San Diego. Wrong to decide to drive there instead of fly - I should ship my car and fly there instead.

But then the day came and I drove there with my dad. Four days from SoCal to Texas, through Arizona and New Mexico. It was really enjoyable with my dad; he is chill and doesn't nag me too much if I don't do something. The sights along the road weren't that boring. The change of land from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas was intriguing. Between El Paso and Austin, though, there isn't anything but land. Scary thing, we drove for 30 some miles with the gas tank flashing empty in that middle of nowhere. We thought we wouldn't make it to the next gas station (silly us, forgetting to gas up that morning), but my awesome little Civic Hybrid made all the way to the closest town and we filled 'er up good. Those 30, 40, 50 minutes were a tense, unsure time. But, all in all, we made it to A&M fine and dandy. I'll post some more detail on that trip later as well.

Driving down the I-10
 The first week was pretty fun. I settled in, spent a lot on groceries, Craiglisted nonstop for furniture, swam in the pool at my apartment. The first week was basically orientation with the BMEN department and the school's orientation. I met the new BMEN grad students too, who are all great and fun people. The staff and faculty in the BMEN department are easy to approach and talk to. Already, I converse with the graduate adviser regularly and even went to the gym with her! And I chat with another professor now and then, especially about biking, since he was the one who assured me it's fine biking to campus in the morning. He does it every morning, because the morning's are not too hot yet.
The morning sunrise over the BMEN building at A&M

My faculty adviser is easy to talk to as well. During the first week of school, we had "Lab Fun Day", where we went to the nearby Lake, brought food, and chilled under the pavilion. My lab mates, I, and our faculty adviser chatted like long-time friends. We heard stories about her kids, we shared our funny times with our pets, I even shared random stories from middle school. It was great.

Today is the end of the second week of school. Tomorrow afternoon is A&M's first game of the year against the Florida Gators (the first game vs Louisiana was cancelled due to Hurricane Isaac tormenting the poor people there). This is the first game since A&M has joined the SEC division. ESPN GameDay is also being broadcoasted from campus as well. Pretty big news.

Football is life in College Station. The population has swelled massively in this remote city. I bike every day, and today, I saw trucks with BBQs in the back and RVs barreling down the road. Tents are set up in parking lots advertising "50% off!" A&M gear. The maroon and white is all the color you see. Friday night, they had a big concert called "First Yell," where they had country music artists perform at Kyle Field at 8pm. Then, at 11pm, they open the gates for "Midnight Yell." I haven't yet experienced these traditions here at A&M, but I think I have enough time to dally (meh, maybe bout another 5 years till I get my PhD?).

Today was really fun though. After work (research lab), I biked home, dropped off my things, and biked back to Northgate to meet a group of bikers (bicycles, not motorcycles) heading to Downtown Bryan. The first Friday of every month, Downtown Bryan comes alive with music, outdoor movies, food trucks, horse-carriage rides, and people. It's called "First Fridays" (imagine that) and is pretty fun to chill at with friends. I met this group of people for the first time and we chatted the whole bike ride there. One guy was a mechanical engineering grad student, and the others were upper year undergrads (2 nuclear engineering, 1 industrial engineering, and 1 kinesiology). We biked there in some 20 minutes I think and then decided to grab some food. After being unable to decide for a while, we went to Murphy's Law, which is connected to Bayerische Brauhaus.

We sat down and chatted and chatted and chatted. So hilarious. It was crazy, though, because we even talked about genetics, biology, multivariable calculus, gamma spectrometry, and the Texas City Disaster (look it up, crazy chemical explosion in 1947).

I finally got my glass of Rose wine that I've been craving since, like, last week. It was so yummeh and went down smooth. (I can only drink alcohol with < 10% alcohol content; what? I'm a featherweight.) The food came out after a long while, which we didn't mind because we had drinks and were having great conversations.

Me and one of the nuke E's (as I call 'em) shared the Bayerische sampler and the Bayerische salad sampler ($8.50 and $3.50, respectively). They both came with some shredded carrot salad and potato salad. The first sampler came with some skinny meat fingers (we think it was pork), onion rings, and two mini-mini beef patties in some brown sauce. Brown sauce yummy, carrot salad yummy, pork fingers yummy, beef patties just taste like beef (I'm impartial to beef, so they were probably good to others), and POTATO SALAD. Let's just say I love the contribution Germans have given to the world in the form of potato salad. It is great great great. And this place makes it yummeh to my tummeh. The salad sampler had a simple house salad, which was good and fresh with pickled cucumbers and fresh tomatoes. We enjoyed the food. Although service was slow, it is to be expected at many of the restaurants in Downtown Bryan on First Fridays.

The bike home, though, was tiresome and my knees felt tight. I think I've biked too much around here. Time to recuperate tonight...and bike to campus tomorrow evening, lol. Gonna check up on my hydrogels, whoop!

All right, night and...