Edit: March 2019
Many things have changed since I’ve updated this introductory page! I have worked as a line cook and pastry cook at Woodberry Kitchen (a James Beard award-winning restaurant in Baltimore, MD), am graduating from medical school in a month, and will soon be starting my residency in Family Medicine! The main goals of this website still remain the same— to make cooking approachable and fun for anyone! However, I have been working on creating recipes that are especially budget-friendly while still being delicious and nutritious (check out the new tab “budget friendly!”). I wish to provide my patients with these recipes directly in my clinic and also hold regular cooking lessons! My hope is that through these efforts, my patients would incorporate modifications to their diet, pass on these recipes to their friends and families, and I could contribute to making my community healthier!
Here are some key tips I want to share with you:
[Make the recipe your own]
Most of the time, no recipe is truly "perfect"-- cooking times may vary based on your oven's age/brand, if you're using a hand mixer vs. a stand mixer, if your cut of meat is thicker than what was used in the recipe, and so forth. Hence, it's important to improvise and adapt the recipe to your own unique needs. For baking, this may mean taking out the pastry 5-10 minutes before the time in the recipe and using a thin knife to check for doneness. For meats, this may mean using the color and the texture to judge doneness rather than relying solely on the cooking time.
Often times, recipes call for obscure ingredients which they require only a .01 tsp of. I honestly think that sometimes people do this just for the heck of it and to make the recipe seem fancier. Maybe this is an ingredient that you do not have access to, or maybe you simply don't like how it tastes-- once you become familiar with the texture and taste of your ingredients, do not be afraid to experiment and get creative with substitutions. After all, this is your dish, made in your kitchen!
[Know your ingredients]
Along with the last point, do not use an ingredient you are unfamiliar with (especially if you are serving guests). Many many years ago, at the very beginning of my culinary journey, I distinctly remember having a dinner party for some of my friends. One of my favorite recipes was a delicious one-dish bake of chicken, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. I've made this dish numerous times before with a mix of boneless chicken breast & thighs-- that particular day, the grocery store was out of boneless chicken. My only choice that day was bone-in chicken thigh pieces. I was in rush, so I bought a pack, rushed home, and cooked the recipe the way I always did. The only issue was that I've never cooked with bone-in chicken thighs before (this was very very early on in my cooking career). The result was an extremely underwhelming, under-seasoned main dish. (One person's was actually slightly pink in the center). Call me paranoid, but I still have nightmares about that day... Needless to say, I learned my lesson. So I repeat: know your ingredients. If you are not familiar with something, then look up tips on how to prepare the ingredient, cook it, etc!
When I first moved to the U.S in 4th grade, I was shocked by how salty the food was here. The idea of a pretzel was especially bizarre to me: yummy bread encrusted with huge chunks of salt! All of my friends at school were so excited when we would have pretzels at lunch, but I remember cringing with each bite I took. I eventually started picking off all the salt and then eating the bread. Perhaps it was the influence from that early culture shock, but I started developing a preference for under seasoned, under-salted food. When I began cooking, this translated into my own dishes: I was so paranoid about serving salty food to my guests that I would under-season on purpose. I figured that if someone wanted more salt, he/she would add it. Even when I started baking, I was confused why all recipes called for salt. The more and more I started to learn and cook, I learned about the inherent ability of salt to enhance flavors, especially in baking.
So my tip for you? Do not be afraid of using salt or spices! After all, recipes call for spices and seasonings for a reason. They add a depth of flavor and a kick to the dish! So season wisely but liberally.
[Prep ahead of time]
Part of prepping involves reading the recipe carefully well ahead of time. How sad would it be if you left out a key ingredient or read later on that a step had to be done a day ahead? That is why it is crucial to read through the whole recipe carefully beforehand.
If you are cooking for a dinner party which requires preparing several dishes, it is extremely helpful to look for steps that can be done in advance. You could chop up the ingredients so they are ready to be cooked immediately, or you could prepare the serving sauce and store it in the refrigerator. If you are making a cake, the baking can be done a day ahead, and you can just focus on making the frosting and decorating the next day. Plan ahead to make the actual cooking day as stress-free as possible!
Lastly, while I will strive to mostly upload recipes that are nutritious and with ingredients that are in season, I follow Chef Jamie Oliver's philosophy on "healthy eating." It is okay to indulge once in a while-- while we should not consume mac & cheese and chicken tenders on a daily basis, if you are generally eating healthy and consuming a wide variety of foods, it is okay to have a hearty meal here and there. Healthy eating is about achieving that balance of light and fresh dishes with comforting, hearty dishes.
These are some essential tips to help you get started!