Family Catering

Croque-en-Bouches with Mixed Berry and Crème de Cassis Sundae

A couple months ago, my mom told me that she had offered to cater a party for my grandma as a birthday gift and that I was invited to be her catering partner. The catering “service” would include brainstorming, preparing, plating, and serving a five-course, gourmet menu to eight hungry and self-claimed foodie guests. I was 100% on board.

So as soon as I got back home from my end-of-the-spring-semester activities, my mom and I started to prepare for the event. We worked on developing a few dish ideas by looking through all of our recipes from books, Word documents, online bookmarked pages, and collaged cutouts from magazines. We discussed and debated, and about a zillion ideas later, finally put them together into a cohesive and appetizing menu. A shopping list was written and a few days before D-day we began the incredibly long (and tiring) process that was the cooking.

However much time and energy it might have taken, the final result was well worth the effort that it took to develop the menu and then make it a reality—with a few exceptions of course. The gazpacho and avocado mousse with two Parmesan crisps was a much-enjoyed appetizer, but the tomato and avocado lollipops served alongside it, for example, were more of a failed experiment in molecular gastronomy than anything else. Visually, they were perfect, but their rubbery texture and imbalance between the flavorless avocado and acidic tomato was definitely a turnoff. At least we had the delicious and popular pancetta-wrapped fig skewers (stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey) and grilled eggplant dip served with rosemary flat bread to wash it down. Not to mention the paired rosé, whites, and port that my dad served throughout the meal.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Food successes and failures aside, the best part about this catering event was, oddly enough, everything but the taste of the food. I loved watching people decipher the menus we’d printed out when we brought out the mini croque-en-bouches and mixed berry sundaes, or listen to the “oohs” and “ahs” and diplomatic “very interestings” in reaction to tasty or not-so-great dishes. It was a time- and energy-consuming endeavor, and I am so glad that everything turned out well (or almost). But more so than that, it was amazing to experience the meal coming together and to then present and share it with my grandma and her closest friends and relatives.


Superfood Sunday: The Magic of Maca

Maca root, a tuber similar in size and shape to a beet, hails from the high plateaus in the Andes of South America.  This relative of the radish has been cultivated in Peru for at least three millennia, where ancient Incan warriors ate it for energy boosts before battle.  Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, Lepidium meyenii has been used for food for both humans and livestock, and traditional Andean preparations include steeping the root in tea or eating maca whole, like a baked potato.

maca powder

Of course, Maca increases more than just energy level.  It also enhances libido.  A rumored aphrodisiac, maca has been shown to improve fertility.  Other effects include easing anxiety and depression – perhaps as a direct result of the increased energy and libido.  However, maca comes with a caveat, like most superfoods.  It turns out, your body can actually build up a resistance to maca.  Therefore, if you decide to consume it regularly, you should take a week off for every three or four weeks that you eat it.

I found a bag of maca powder online and gave it a try in my morning oatmeal.  The best way to describe its taste is malty, like eating the ground innards of a Whopper candy.  While I cannot be sure if my energy that day was from the teaspoon of powder in my breakfast or the good old placebo effect, I managed to forgo my morning tea without too much caffeine withdrawal.

If you find yourself with a bag of this pale, slightly sweet powder and are wondering what to do with it, maca would be an interesting flavoring addition for banana soft-serve or a vegan milkshake of ice, plant-based milk, and dates, and cacao.  In a fitting end to a highly experimental culinary summer, I decided to toss a tablespoon of everything I have tried this summer into a blender and watch what happened.  Honestly, I cannot recommend this course of action to anyone.

The mixture of chia, goji, hemp, wheatgrass, spirulina, and maca blended up into a superfood cocktail that looks like a dangerous brew.  It tasted heavily of spirulina and wheatgrass, and I couldn’t tempt any of my taste testers into taking more than one dubious sip.  Overall, it was a highly gag-inducing blend and an oddly perfect end to my summer foray into the world of superfoods.

superfood smoothie
My superfood macarita. Bottoms up!

The Chickpea Incident

If there’s one thing my mother taught me to be picky about, it would most definitely be cornbread. My mom uses her grandmother’s recipe, makes it on top of the stove in a cast iron skillet, and it comes out perfectly each time: mealy with some corn kernels left in. It tastes nothing like a corn muffin, nor should it. I find the notion that cornbread should be sweet to be highly offensive.



So, when I took my first bite of cornbread at The Dutch, a restaurant in Soho that my roommate Susan had been raving about since the moment we met, I knew it would be a restaurant I would like. It wasn’t my mom’s cornbread, but it certainly came in second place. It wasn’t sweet, except maybe for a little hint, almost like an aftertaste. In fact, it was kind of spicy, with chopped jalapeños cooked in. It came in a little loaf and despite my best efforts at self-restraint I ended up eating almost the entire thing.

I’ve been to The Dutch four times, twice to celebrate the end of classes, once for my birthday, and most recently for restaurant week. They’re hailed as an American restaurant but I’d call it American with a twist; their ever-changing and eclectic menu features a wide variety of dishes. I’ve tried a steak with kimchi fried rice and had a bite of a chicken mole Susan ordered. But then I’ve also had more traditional dishes like fried chicken with honey glazed biscuits and a light and spicy coleslaw, a side of wonderfully salty French fries, and a perfectly cooked hamburger with lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and a spicy sauce. And then, of course, there are the pies. I’ve never been the biggest pie person; I’ve always been more in favor of a brownie sundae or molten chocolate cake, but suffice it to say I’ve been converted. Each slice I’ve had, chocolate, cherry, shoofly, and key lime, has been unbelievably delicious, quite unexpected and unique, and bursting with a variety of flavors and textures.

Each trip to The Dutch has left me with a different set of delicious memories. Obviously, I’m completely gaga over the food and I’ll always remember that first bite of cornbread, but I’ll also remember getting lost on the way there, accidentally tripping Susan on the way back, a long and in depth conversation about what I would do and where I would go if I could spend one month in Europe. I’ll always remember how hard my friends laughed when one of them got fluff in her hair and I stared horrified, watching as it slowly started to fall into her lap. Tongue-tied and far too panicked given the situation all I could do was shout “Catherine!” with increasing urgency as she stared at me in utter confusion until the fluff finally fell onto her leg. As she wiped it off she chuckled and said, “A simple ‘hair’ would’ve done the trick.” And then there was the time Susan picked the toasted chickpeas out of a side of spinach so fast that when she turned to me on the subway and asked, “Weren’t the chickpeas in that spinach so good? Didn’t they just make the dish?” I stared at her rather alarmed and exclaimed, “What chickpeas?!” I guess I’ll just have to go back and find out.












Superfood Sunday: A Little Kelp from my Friends

Ok, so spirulina isn’t exactly kelp. It’s technically Arthrospira platensis, a blue-green freshwater algae, but “a little cyanobacteria from my friends” didn’t have the same ring.

Up until the late 16th century, Spirulina was believed to have been harvested from Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs, who called it techuitlatl. Across the Atlantic, the Kanembu population along the shores of Lake Chad collected algae and dried it in the sun before mixing it into sauces, millet, beans, fish, or meat. European phycologists and botanists noticed its usage during expeditions in the middle of the 20th century, and in the 1970s, it gained popularity among researchers as a possible inexpensive protein source.

Spirulina PowderThis blue-green algae, which arrived on my doorstep in a cheery orange package a few weeks ago, joins the cadre of superfoods with exhaustive beneficial qualities, if its proponents are to be believed. It is a source of B vitamins, iron, and dietary protein, making it popular in both its powder and pill forms. Some experiments have shown that spirulina increases the body’s production of cytokines, which fight infections and colds.

Other studies show that it worked as an antihistamine in rats and that it killed cancerous cells in chickens. However, experts are cautious about downing algae like Jacques from Finding Nemo.

Image courtesy of Disney and Pixar

Other doctors have noted that the benefits of spirulina are negligible at best, and that one would do better to eat a piece of fruit instead. Most of the warnings, however, center around the lack of regulation.

Spirulina isn’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and because it grows on the top of water, it is highly susceptible to contamination. Sincerely hoping I wasn’t poisoning myself for the sake of a blog post, I spooned out some of my spirulina powder for a taste.

It has a similar odor to the wheatgrass I sampled before – and haven’t touched since – so I was a little wary. My powder was very finely ground and highly pigmented, like someone had crumbled up a blue-green chalk pastel. This did not help my poisoning suspicions. Despite their similar odors, however, spirulina and wheatgrass don’t share much in the way of taste. Mixed with a little bit of water, spirulina takes on a distinct seaweed flavor, unsurprising given its origins. Although I am a fan of all types of seaweed, especially when it’s wrapped around sushi, my fellow food adventurers were not so enthused. When I decided to mix up a salad dressing, I thoroughly enjoyed its tangy, briny taste, but my mother and sister were not so enthused.

I have included the recipe anyway, in case you get your hands on a big bag of algae!

Spirulina dressing
I promise it gets more visually appealing when you whisk it!

2 tbsp. hummus
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. water
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. spirulina powder
1/4 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
a few drops of liquid sweetener, if desired.

Whisk ingredients together and pour over a grain salad (perhaps one with hemp seeds).

Black Bean Burrito with Mozzarella Cheese

In this installment of Mexicali cuisine, I offer you a version of a classic; the burrito. There are so many variations in making a burrito, from breakfast (i.e. huevos rancheros style), to a lunch, snack, or a full meal accompanied with rice, and potatoes. This Black bean burrito features the classic Mexican vegetables: red bell peppers, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, beans, jicama, and of course, spices to add flavor. While the variations of the burrito can fill cook books upon cook books, the way to make them is quite simple. Whether you’re grilling the vegetables, using boiled or refried beans,  adding salsa layering or going sans salsa, the instructions are clear and simple. 1. Cook the vegetables (always, always garlic first, then onions!) 2. Season them while cooking 3. Add remaining vegetables/spices/cheese topping and mix, mix, mix.

For the fulfillment they provide, burritos are a valuable dish to master. One burrito can take a mere 15 minutes to make if you’re in a hurry, and if you’ve got time, a large mixture can last days without losing flavor. Because of their special ability to deliver a full meal-sized punch with little effort and money, they make a convenient dish. Versatility, like with nearly all Mexican and Mexicali cuisine is essential, so nearly all the ingredients listed below can be swapped out for convenience, experimentation, or taste. So while you can go the Mexicali route and stuff your burrito with peppers, jicama, corn etc, you can always go the traditional Mexican way and simply use two ingredients: beans and rice or potatoes or fish, etc. Whatever makes you and your stomach happy.




  • ½ chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 small ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 Serrano chile pepper, or any other hot chile, chopped
  • 3 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • sprinkle of salt, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp oregano


  1. Dice up the vegetables
  2. Mix together in a small bowl
  3. sprinkle pepper, salt, and vinegar in another small bowl
  4. Blend the vegetable and the vinegar mixture together and set aside to cool


Black Bean Burrito with Mozzarella cheese
Jump in with your hands, or with a fork and knife!

Black Bean Burrito

  1. ½  white onion, diced
  2. 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  3. 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  4. 1/2  (8oz of a 15oz can) can of black beans, or 1 ½ cup of boiled black beans
  5. 1 tsp black pepper
  6. 1 tsp salt
  7. 2 tsp paprika 
  8. 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes pepper
  9. ½  Serrano chili  pepper
  10. 1 can diced tomatoes
  11. ⅓ cup of diced jicama
  12. 1 tortilla
  13. ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Dice the vegetables.
  2. Fry garlic for 30 seconds on medium high heat.
  3. Add onions and spices, cook for 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to become translucent.
  4. Add red bell peppers, jicama, and Serrano pepper, mix well and cook for 3-5 more minutes. Stir frequently to reduce burning. 
  5. Add beans, tomatoes and cook on low heat for 5 minutes, let is stand, do not mix often. 
  6. Add cheese, and cook for 1 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. 
  7. Turn off heat, let the beans mixture sit for a 5-7 minutes.  Then, add about 1/3 cup of it on a heated tortilla, wrap it up, and layer 1/4 cup of salsa on the burrito.
  8. Done and Done! Enjoy the meal!

Not Another Strawberry

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits

It might be strawberry season, but I’ve already had more than my fair share of these red berries during the past couple of months, and in efforts to avoid my yearly summer habit of over-consuming a certain type of food and then not being able to ever eat it again, I’m pushing this fruit to the side until the next time they come into season. Last summer my mom went though an apricot-obsession phase, so we were eating some sort of apricot-based dessert every night. While she did get creative, too much is too much. Countless apricot tarts and cobblers later, I’m through with that fruit under its every form. I can still enjoy strawberries, but it won’t be long until I lose them to anther unfortunate case of fruit-aversion. I won’t take the risk.

In my effort to find different summer food options, I encountered Bon Appétit magazine’s buttermilk biscuit recipe (you can find it here) as well as Trader Joe’s big box of organic blueberries. Since then, a happy combination of two great things has been found: blueberry buttermilk biscuits. The combo isn’t anything new, but these little cakes are a satisfying breakfast, snack, or dessert and a versatile base for many other dishes—they can be toasted and topped with butter and jam for breakfast, served with cream, mixed berries, and chopped mint as a light dessert, or eaten by themselves. Seeing as how simple these little treats are to make, there’s no reason not to try some other variations (maybe with chocolate chips? nuts?).

Of course, the addition of strawberries would probably make for a wonderful version of this baked treat, but I’ll be waiting ’till next summer for that one. Until then, blueberries it is.