Black Sesame Cupcakes with Matcha Buttercream

Black sesame cupcakes with matcha buttercream

I’ve been noticing a funny adverse effect all this snow being dumped on the state of Massachusetts is having on me: the more flights get cancelled and the T is shut down (yet again!), the more my previously non-existent wanderlust grows. The fact that a few of my labmates are flying out to the south of Spain for a research project as we speak does not make things any better.

One of my favorite trips I ever took was with my cousin to Tokyo now more than 4 years ago (!). It was an amazing, otherworldly experience (the cleanliness of the subways! the fashion! bright lights!) and above all, foodie heaven. I swear, even the freakin’ sushi from 7-11 was finer quality than most restaurants I’ve had in the states. Everything was so carefully and beautifully prepared.

Unfortunately, a grad student budget doesn’t really allow for much jetsetting. But snow days do give the opportunity for the next best thing: culinary adventures. Here’s to dreaming of warmer days and many happy travels!

Black sesame cupcakes with matcha buttercream

Black Sesame Cupcakes with Matcha Buttercream

Yield: 12 cupcakes

This is my take on a culinary journey to Tokyo. The green, grassy, slightly bitter taste of Matcha, my favorite Japanese beverage (and the only tea that’s ever held up to coffee in keeping me awake!) pairs perfectly with the nuttiness and richness of black sesame. Both flavors, because they are on the bitter end of the spectrum, make the often cloying sweetness of cupcakes balanced.

The cake recipe is adapted from molly yeh and boy it is fantastic– 10/10 would make this cake again all by itself and eat it plain, it is that good. So fluffy, so sesame-y– it would be perfect with a cup of tea. The buttercream is a classic one standard just about everywhere, with the addition of green tea, of course.

Black Sesame Cupcakes

  • 1 stick butter, softened

  • 3/4 c white sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • ¼ cup ground sesame seeds (we used a mortar and pestle, but a coffee grinder would be awesome or just buy sesame flour; this is measured after grinding!)

  • 2/3 c milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350, and line a muffin tin.

  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs; stir in vanilla.

  3. in a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients. add to the butter mixture. stir in milk.

  4. Fill cupcake tin about ¾ full.

  5. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely risen and a toothpick comes out clean.

  6. Cool completely before frosting!


Matcha Buttercream

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened

  • splash of vanilla

  • 1 tbs matcha

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar

  • milk

  1. You know the drill: basicall, in a large bowl whip the butter with a hand mixer, a fork, anything really; then beat in the vanilla and matcha and sugar a bit at a time, add some milk to make it nice and fluffy.

  2. Frost.

Lemon-Rosemary Split Pea Soup

Lemon rosemary split pea soup

Take everything you know and love (or hate!) about split pea soup and throw it out the window. Far, far, away, into that 5-foot snowbank formerly known as the sidewalk.

This split pea soup is a game changer. It’s everything that classic split pea soup is not: al-dente instead of mushy; vegetarian, instead of ham and bacon-infused; a pretty photogenic yellow instead of grey-green; lemony and bright, but still hearty enough to combat the cold. Best of all, it takes all of 30 minutes, instead of the usual hours of slow-and-low cooking. Don’t get me wrong– I love classic split pea soup: the mushiness, the heaviness, the homeliness. But sometimes, after the third snowstorm in a row, you need a little pick-me-up.

Lemon-Rosemary Split Pea Soup

Serves 4

This soup is the perfect antidote to yet another snowstorm.

Thanks to 101 Cookbooks for the al-dente inspiration!

  • 2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed and picked over

  • 1 large onion, sliced

  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 dash dry vermouth (or other dry white wine; I rarely buy white wine but always have vermouth for perfect Manhattans)

  • a pinch of salt

  • 5 cups water

  • ½ tsp dried rosemary

  • ½ fresh lemon

  • for serving: sea salt, black pepper, olive oil

  1. Rinse and clean split peas.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large, deep saucepan or pot,  sautee onion in the olive oil with a pinch of salt for 2-3 minutes, or just till nicely browned. Add a glug of vermouth, sautee a minute more.

  3. Add the peas, rosemary, and 4-5 cups of water (add more if too much evaporates while cooking).

  4. Bring to a boil and continue on a boil for 20-30 mins, lid propped but half covered so not too much broth evaporates, until peas are al dente. Add a pinch more of salt to taste if needed.

  5. Squeeze lemon into soup and throw it in.

  6. Serve warm bowls of soup, drizzled with olive oil and a crack of fresh pepper and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.

New Year, New Egg

I love eggs. I love them as much as about the length of this song, put on a continuous loop for 10 hours:

To me, eggs are an example of perfect design: they are modular, portable, self-contained, cute, plentiful, cheap, and above all, delicious. Eggs also have this magic culinary quality of playing extremely well with others. You can put an egg on just about anything for an instant level-up: cheese sandwich = meh, egg + cheese sandwich = perfection; pizza = standard, pizza topped with egg = heavenly; ramen = good, ramen + perfect soft boiled egg = everything I ever wanted.

It is this last type of egg that I love the most. You know, perfectly coddled, soft boiled perfection that breaks easily with a spoon to reveal molten centers.

Unfortunately, boiling eggs is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s an extremely delicate art: boil them for too long, and you’ll have revolting green-tinged yolks, dry as sawdust; undercook them and the eggs collapse when cracked. Worst of all, it’s almost always impossible to peel. You end up with either bits of shell sticking to the egg or pock-marked whites.

That’s why I avoid boiling altogether, saving the risk of headache and wasting a bucket of water (along with precious eggs). The trick to mastering the art of perfect boiled eggs is not to boil them at all. Steaming eggs is fool-proof: quick, consistent, and efficient. It’s also convenient: I just put a half dozen in the steamer basket of my rice cooker, for some delicious multi-tasking. Here’s how:

Soft boiled egg

Perfect Soft (not) Boiled Eggs

makes 6 eggs, or half a dozen (large or extra large)

poached (hehe) from Serious Eats

This is it, folks. You never have to boil an egg again or pick away shell pieces. Soft boiled eggs are great to store in the fridge for busy weekdays. Add one or two to just about anything for an instant meal: toast, spinach, soup, sauteed greens, mashed potatoes, ramen: sky’s the limit!

Pour 1 inch of water into a pot with steamer insert; bring water to a boil.

When water is boiling, put eggs in steamer basket. Cover lid.

For soft centers steam exactly 6 minutes (remember: 6 minutes, 6 eggs!) or 10 minutes for hard boiled eggs.
Let eggs come to room temperature before peeling. Don’t run them under cold water or in ice or anything like that.

Enjoy warm eggs as a snack, in your ramen, salad, soup, or just about anything else. If not eating immediately, store in a sealed container in the fridge.

Update: Some Notes on Egg Specifics

I used extra large eggs, but the original cook times are for large eggs so both should be OK.

I made varying number of eggs 2 <= n <= 6 and used the same time regardless of egg number (unlike boiling, object increase does not lower temp., at least I don’t think as much).

** A moment of applause for the fact that I made zero egg puns in the above. **


Dark Chocolate Dipped Rosemary Shortbread with Sea Salt

I love everything about the holidays (minus religion, eradication of native americans, children sitting on the laps of old men, and shopping malls). I love giving gifts and I love eating turkey and I love staying up on New Year’s Eve. But what I love most of all (aside from family and being incredibly thankful) is the opportunity to bake as many cookies as possible in the name of goodwill unto all.

Slice-and-bake cookies are the best of all, because in addition to being adorably retro, if you plan carefully, you’ll have enough cookie dough stashed in the freezer to keep the kitchen continuously perfumed from now till Christmas eve. This, ladies and gents, is what I call true holiday spirit.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Rosemary Shortbread with Sea Salt
Makes about 2 dozen small (1”, bite-size) shortbread cookies

Slice and bake cookies

Shortbread cookies are cookies in their purest and most basic form: butter, sugar, flour, salt. As such, they are heavenly, the platonic ideal of cookies. In this version, I add a little rosemary for a sophisticated, savory layer of depth and dip them in dark chocolate for elegant gift giving. You can omit the extra step and the herbs for a wonderful basic shortbread, or add chocolate chips, walnuts, or even funfetti sprinkles. Enjoy!


In a medium bowl, cream together:

  • 1 stick (½ cup) sweet cream butter, softened
  • ¼ tsp salt (if butter is not salted)
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Stir in:

  • 1 cup AP flour (King Arthur)
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary (*dried, if using fresh, triple amount)

Just to combine.

Cut two sheets of plastic wrap, and divide dough in half. Shape each dough ball into a squared-off log of 1” diameter. Seal ends, and stick it in the freezer until firm or up to a month (!!).

When you’re ready to bake:

  • Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheets with parchment.
  • Slice logs into ½ inch rounds and space on sheet 1 inch apart
  • Bake 10-12 minutes, until very lightly browned around edges only.
  • Cool on the sheet for 5 min, and transfer to a wire rack for further cooling.

For chocolate coating:

  • Melt 1 cup dark chocolate chips over a double boiler, and dip cookies (cooled) on the diagonal.
  • Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
  • Let cool in the fridge (or vestibule) until chocolate is firm.

Slice and bake cookies

Homemade Whiskey Gingers

Whiskey gingers are one of my all-time favorite drinks, right behind a classic Manhattan. It says “I’m feeling classy, but also a little bubbly, too”. Somewhere between “let me smoke this cigar alone in the study” and swing dancing in a polka-dot dress. At least that’s how I picture it in my head.

Some people call this Jack-and-Ginger but I’m not a fan of Jack Daniels, it has too much of a distinct sickly-sweet taste for the lightness of ginger. I’m a huge fan of Knob Creek Bourbon but just about anything you like to drink is good. Bourbon lends itself perfectly to sweet things but I bet this would be nice with Rye as well. I used Maker’s Mark here.

Homemade whiskey gingers

Homemade Whiskey Gingers

adapted from a Beautiful Mess

Makes: enough for a good time

The key to this recipe lies in the homemade ginger syrup. I can’t believe I never made simple syrups before; the freshness is 100x better than Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer you get elsewhere and dirt cheap too. The leftover’s great mixed with club soda for the best ginger ale you ever had in your life.

  • 1 liter of club soda

  • ice cubes (we don’t want no stinkin’ crushed ice! bigger cubes are better)

  • good drinking bourbon (I don’t know how much you limit yourself to so I’ll leave this open ended.)

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 cups sugar (and extra if you wanna make candied ginger)

  • 1 really big gingerroot

For the ginger syrup:

  • Peel the ginger root and slice half of it super thinly, and grate the rest. Grating the ginger makes all the great (ha ha) flavor come out but also makes the syrup (and thus your drink) a bit murky-looking, which is fine by me. If this bothers you, either strain it, or slice all the ginger and cook it for longer.

  • In a pot mix sugar, water. Over medium heat stir until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

  • Cool slightly; strain syrup, reserving ginger slices and store in fridge for up to a month (it won’t last that long).

  • Coat the remaining ginger slices in sugar and lay out to dry. Now you have candied ginger! Yey!

Time to make the drinks:

  • I confess I never measure things when I make drinks. I just eyeball it. So it went something like this:

    • Pour 1 shot of Maker’s into your glass

    • Mix with 2 shots syrup

    • Put big ice cubes in it

    • Pour enough club soda to fill the glass. I always use Old Fashioned glasses because that’s all I drink. You should probably use a Highball glass.

  • The end!

  • Seriously, just make it something like 1:2:4 Whiskey: syrup: soda and you should be good.

  • Or ask your friends who bartend for their advice, but you can’t go wrong.


Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Swirly Buns

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Everyone will like you if you come bearing hot (cinnamon) buns.

There are tiny kitchen challenges, and then there are really tiny kitchen challenges.

Case in point: my gentleman caller’s lovely but miniscule shoebox in Soho. We call it the space cabin, but there’s probably more counter space in space.

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Only in New York.

There was also the additional challenge of being in the apartment of someone who until last week survived solely on takeout from Seamless. No icing sugar, no cake pan, no rolling pin, and definitely no yeast, only some leftover ingredients from last visit’s pancake production.

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Exhibit A: the Manhattanite’s rolling pin

One thing we did have was this amazing Mexican chocolate that I am now completely addicted to: it’s like crunchy sugar granules mixed in with dark chocolate and cinnamon– heaven. Ironically, the Mexican chocolate also did not come from the resident Mexican. (Sometimes my life doesn’t make much sense but it’s all tasty.)

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits

But I had a craving for the perfect Sunday morning: cinnamon buns, coffee; and no one could stop me. So I made do.

Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Swirly Buns
Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits

Makes 12 swirly buns

This recipe was an attempt at quick no-yeast cinnamon rolls but I didn’t have a cake pan, so I made them in a muffin tin. They didn’t turn out like soft fluffy cinnabuns at all– but rather deliciously sugary biscuits with a crunchy top and moist center. It’s likely my oven was all whack and thus the crunchy tops but I promise they’ll be tasty no matter how accurate your temperature is. Next time i’ll probably go get more supplies to attempt the real deal but these biscuits were perfect with a cup of café au lait and friendship.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup milk


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 bars Mexican chocolate (usually they have this to make hot chocolate with), roughly chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease a muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Cut in softened butter, stir in milk; knead lightly to form a soft dough.
  4. Meanwhile, mix butter, sugar and cinnamon for filling.
  5. Drop a teaspoon of filling mix at the bottom of each muffin cup (I might skip this step next time because it sort of sticks and burns).
  6. Roll out dough on a lightly floured into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.
  7. Spread the remaining filling on the rolled out dough. Sprinkle the chocolate.
  8. Roll up the rectangle, with a sharp knife slice into 12 rolls. Place each swirly-side up in a muffin cup.
  9. Bake for 20-25 min at 400°F, or till lightly browned on top.
  10. Serve warm with coffee and love. :)

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
The best part of cinnamon buns: Filling!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones

Vegan cream scones

I can’t believe I never thought about doing this– simply substitute the heavy cream in a traditional cream scone recipe with coconut cream, and voila! Vegan cream scone, 100% as fluffy and light as the original.

In fact, I think it’s even tastier– the coconut milk lends a hint of subtle sweetness and makes it creamy without being cloying. It doesn’t taste coconutt-y outright, and you wouldn’t know it’s vegan unless you asked.

To make the whole process simpler, I made them as drop scones and it was perfect. Less than 30 minutes from craving to reward, great for hungry Sunday mornings, when you’ve been dreaming of donuts and that oatmeal just looks cruel.

Vegan cream scones

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones
Makes 6 big scones
Adapted from Art of Dessert

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 ¼ cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. In a mixing boil, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
3. Pour in coconut milk; gently mix to form a dough; stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop large scoops (¼ cupfuls) onto a greased baking sheet 2 inches apart.
5. Bake 15-20 min, or until golden brown. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container after it’s completely cooled. Reheat in toaster oven.

A number of things

A number of things have occurred since we last spoke.
I’ve moved from the Greatest City in the World

to one that’s not half bad.

I’m a student again,
and also a research assistant at a pretty exciting place.

Most notably, my new home comes with the dreamiest kitchen you’ve ever met:
Good morning from my new kitchen  #ibelieveinathingcalledlove
which means, I’ll be cooking a lot…
especially since it’s my favorite way of dealing with stress.


Salted Caramel Brownies

Salted caramel brownies

Hello, old friend– long time, no see! I promise I’ll get back to writing to you more soon. But for now, a recipe– both salty & sweet, just like my feelings about leaving my Alma Mater.

Salted Caramel Brownies
Makes 1 8″ pan, cut into 16 squares (they’re very rich!)

Fudge brownies are pretty much perfect as is but the addition of salted caramel makes them heavenly. My suitemates have been clamoring for the recipe for a week now, so I caved and am back to blogging. These are especially good chilled– really like candy, almost.

Mark Bittman is one of my favorite chefs and his formula for brownies is my go-to-recipe: so simple it’s child-proof, fudgy and sweet with crackly tops. I also love that they don’t use cocoa powder, which I never seem to have lying around.

Nota bene: best friend’s mother, who is an amazing cook, made this huge bowl of homemade dulce de leche– pretty much the most addictive substance on earth. If you don’t have such luck in friends, and are short on time, you can buy it premade– or make it yourself.


8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

about 1 cup dulce de leche, or however much 1 12-oz can of sweetened condensed milk makes

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. These are sticky, so either line the pan with aluminium foil and grease it or nonstick parchment paper (or else serving will be a nightmare!).

2. Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and the vanilla if you’re using it.

4.Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Carefully pour caramel over the top and gently spread with a spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt, then gently pour the rest of the batter over the top. Sprinkle again with a bit of sea salt over the top.

5. Bake 35-40 min, or until center is set (these take a lot longer than regular brownies but don’t let them burn!).

This is the hard part– cool for a good long time so that they’re firm enough to cut. When brownies are cool, lift them out of the pan by the foil or parchment, place the whole thing on a cutting board, and cut into squares with a serrated knife, dipping in between cuts in hot water (they’re super sticky, no joke!).

Enjoy :)

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad


the Persimmon Tree

A few years ago, when I was a grumpy senior in High School, the beloved Magnolia tree in our backyard, source of pink blossoms, rambling branches to climb, and many childhood memories passed away. In its place, my parents went to an Asian nursery and brought back a Persimmon tree.

The tree was thin, crooked, and distinctly budget. Maybe there was some haggling involved. I didn’t like it. I wanted a cherry tree, with fluffy pink blossoms. I wanted an apple tree, something that smacked of wholesomeness and Americana. Instead, my parents got something “Oriental”, that I argued had no retail value when the time came to sell our little house and yard (a low blow, since both my parents and I are firmly attached to the idea of growing old in the same place).

The first year in our yard, the squirrels ate nearly all the blossoms. They bit off many thin twigs and branches, leaving a massacre on the grass. What was left turned into small hard fruits, and the wrist-thin trunk sloped to one side.

I went to school. I didn’t call very much, and I forgot about our tree and our backyard.

But my parents took care of the tree and it grew into a beautiful little thing. Now it bears dozens and dozens of fruit– more than a couple of empty-nesters can eat. The pretty orange persimmons hang like Christmas globes on the small but staunch tree.

By nature there are two types of persimmons– astringent types, which unless utterly ripe to the point of bursting, leave a nasty “furry” feeling on the tongue, and non-astringent types, which can be eaten at any stage of ripeness, always lovely and mild. Our little tree is non-astringent. The fruits are always sweet.

Every Thanksgiving now my parents bring a bucketful to my aunt and uncle’s house, and I take the leftovers back to school. When my mom was a child, persimmons were big and squishy and plentiful and overlooked as a poor man’s fruit. Everyone wanted red American apples and bananas that were yellow. The grocer would say, these bananas have been on a plane– now, have you been on a plane? because a little chinese girl isn’t much more than a banana. Now, I savor them, a day at a time, to make the harvest last.

Each one reminds me of my parent’s love and my roots– that I am not as american as apple pie, but that the fruit is sweeter still.

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad
Persimmon goat cheese salad

Goat cheese is (was?) trendy, but in my opinion its value is very hit-or-miss. Because of its tanginess, it goes best with sweet, fruity flavors. Here, the combination of sweet persimmon, tangy creamy cheese, and acidic balsamic is perfect. I like it even better than that restaurant favorite combo, beets-and-goat-cheese.

Serves 1

  • 2 c mixed spring greens
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 T toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 fuyu persimmon, *peeled*, sectioned, slightly soft
  • 2 T balsamic vinaigrette (or less, to taste.)

Put greens in a salad bowl, and top with segmented persimmon. Crumble on the goat cheese and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Drizzle just enough vinaigrette to cover the top leaves– you want it to be very lightly moistened, and the strong acidity will overpower the delicate fruitiness.

Enjoy, with thanks.