Blog Announcement: Year of Yeh is being discontinued.

The title of the post is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve decided to discontinue my “Year of Yeh” cooking and baking project. The idea was to cook my way through Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range, and to post about my experience trying each recipe – kind of like Julie & Julia, but with a different cookbook and a less ambitious timeline. The project was fun at first, and it resulted in some awesome meals, but for a few reasons – i.e. quarantine changing the way I cook, the project limiting my creativity in the kitchen, and realizing that I didn’t enjoy blogging about the project – it just wasn’t working for me anymore.

If you followed my blog because of the Year of Yeh project, I’m sorry. I still love cooking and baking, and want that to continue to be a part of my blog, just a smaller part of it. I’m not sure what form my cooking/baking content will take in the future, but in the meantime, here are some fun things that I cooked and baked (using online recipes or my own creativity – not the Molly on the Range cookbook!) in March:

Month in review: February 2020

February is officially over and, even though it was only 29 days, it seemed to stretch on forever! I felt this way about January, as well, so now I wonder if winter months always seem to last forever in colder places? Or maybe it was because of the extra day in the leap year? I don’t know, but I hope that March won’t drag on the way the past two months did. Anyway, I read six books and cooked and baked some things during this seemingly endless month!

Books read:

Books in progress/goals for March:

I haven’t started anything new yet! The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced tomorrow, though, so my reading goal for March (and April and May) will be to read all the books on the list. I can’t wait!

Year of Yeh!

In February, I baked five more recipes from the cookbook Molly on the Range! They were: spinach-feta rugelach, pizza, cardamom cupcakes, cauliflower tacos, and a meatless version of chicken tot dish. Of these recipes, the two that I would most highly recommend are cardamom cupcakes and cauliflower tacos.

Notable blog posts:

A few of my favorite blog posts from February were:

Favorite quote of the month:

“The thing about slow learners is they do eventually learn.” – Bryan Washington, Lot.

Some February photos:

Year of Yeh #9: Cauliflower Shawarma Tacos

Whenever I’m figuring out what to cook for the week, one of my biggest considerations is what leftovers I already have in the fridge. At the beginning of this week I had a lot of leftover beans, so I decided to make something that would work with a side of beans. And so I made Molly Yeh’s cauliflower shawarma tacos, which are tacos that feature seasoned cauliflower instead of meat.

The recipe: Cauliflower shawarma tacos
Difficulty level: Easy
Time: ~1 hour

The process of making this recipe is straightforward: toss cauliflower with curry powder, cumin, and garam masala; bake the cauliflower for 30-40 minutes; then put the seasoned cauliflower (and any other toppings) into a tortilla and enjoy! Since the cauliflower bakes for a while, you can work on the other components of the recipe – like the fried onions and tahini sauce – during the roasting period.

Before making this recipe, I had been kind of skeptical about it; I wasn’t sure if mediterranean tacos would work. But they did work, and this recipe is one of my absolute favorites! The cauliflower gets really crispy in the oven, and the seasoning is…*does chef’s kiss.* Because the baked, seasoned cauliflower is so delicious on its own, it would also make a great side dish, salad component, or sandwich filling.

Technical notes:

  • This recipe calls for a lot of cauliflower! To bake it all at once, you will likely need two sheet pans.
  • If you own a lot of seasonings and spices, but NOT garam masala…you can make your own garam masala blend out of coriander, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.
  • This recipe tastes best when the cauliflower is fresh out of the oven (it doesn’t get as crispy after being refrigerated and reheated).
  • You can take the Mexican/Mediterranean fusion even further than Yeh did by adding toppings like guacamole, pickled jalapeños, and/or shredded cheese to the tacos.

Year of Yeh #7: (variations on) Pizza

Bold or surprising flavor combinations are a hallmark of Molly Yeh’s recipes. The key to many of Yeh’s recipes is trusting her flavor combinations – even when they seem odd – and then being blown away (by how good tahini is in a milkshake, or how adding what seemed like way too much ginger actually resulted in the perfect carrot salad).

But when it came to Yeh’s pizza recipes…I just wasn’t feeling her flavors. The pizza recipes in Molly on the Range are: Hawaiian-inspired pizza pockets, squah-and-arugula pizza, walnut-and-zucchini pizza, and butter-and-salami pizza. Maybe this isn’t very open-minded of me, but I am somewhat of a pizza traditionalist: I don’t really like toppings like butternut squash or walnuts on pizza. So my husband and I made three pizzas of our own, following Yeh’s recipe for pizza dough, but then using our own inspiration for the sauces and toppings. We ended up making three pizzas: (vegan) sausage, cilantro-garlic-corn, and pesto with sun-dried tomatoes.

The recipe: (variations on) pizza
Difficulty level: Moderate
Time: 1 hour (longer if you make pizza dough from scratch, but a lot of that time will be inactive)

Vegan-sausage pizza with spicy tomato sauce.

Making pizza from scratch (the recipes as they are written in the cookbook have you make your own pizza dough) was a learning process! The components and process of making pizza dough are similar to (maybe even exactly the same as) those of bread dough. But pizza dough is a bit tougher because you have to stretch and shape the dough. It took a lot longer than I expected to work the dough into a reasonably thin pizza crust. It’s also tough to transfer your uncooked pizza to a pizza-stone in the oven. My husband and I accidentally deformed a pizza doing this.

Luckily, pizza is robust to mistakes! You can deform your pizza, burn or dry out some of the toppings, and/or leave the dough too thick…but the pizza will most likely still taste good. The cilantro-garlic-corn pizza got deformed, and the corn dried out a bit in the oven…but it was still pizza with creamy cilantro-garlic sauce: it was delicious. The sun-dried tomato pizza wasn’t stretched thin enough, so it was pretty bread-y…but again…it’s pesto pizza: it was still very good. The (vegan) sausage pizza had the fewest technical mistakes, and was also very tasty – and as a bonus, our non-vegetarian friends really liked the vegan sausage too.

Maybe someday I will be more daring and non-traditional, and try Molly Yeh’s actual pizza recipes with toppings like butternut squash, zucchini, and walnuts. But regardless of what pizza toppings you like, I am a huge proponent of making your own pizza! (And side note: I think that getting store-bought/pre-made pizza dough is just as valid as making your dough from scratch)

Technical notes:

  • It’s hard to get pizza dough thin and perfectly round. The key to stretching the dough to an ideal thinness is patience; it just takes a while. As for the key to getting your dough perfectly round…I still don’t know.
  • It’s also challenging to transfer pizza from your work surface to a heated pizza stone in the oven (this was how my husband and I accidentally deformed our first pizza). The best solution that we came up with was putting our pizza on a sheet pan, and then putting the sheet pan on top of the pizza stone. If you know of a better way to get pizza onto a pizza stone, please let me know!
  • Pesto is delicious, but more challenging to work with than marinara or white sauce because it is so oily! Our pesto pizza leaked some oil in the oven.
  • Some toppings shouldn’t be put on until after your pizza has been baked and removed from the oven. Sun-dried tomatoes burn quickly at 500 degrees F, and corn dries out.
  • Pizza freezes really well! If you are making pizza and end up with extra pizza dough…just make an extra pizza and freeze it!

Year of Yeh #5: Goulash with Scallion Knodeln

Sometimes you just need a soothing soup. With colds and flus going around, below freezing temperatures, and few hours of sunlight – now is the perfect time for a warm, comforting bowl of soup. At least, it is for me. That’s why I made Molly Yeh’s “Goulash with Scallion Knodeln” earlier this week! The dish is a hearty tomato-based soup, topped with flavorful bread dumplings.

Recipe: Goulash with Scallion Knodeln
Difficulty level: Easy/moderate
Time: 1.5+ hours (it varies depending on your preparation method)

Nothing about this recipe is difficult…except having the patience/stamina to make it. It is time consuming! I prepared my goulash entirely on the stovetop (as opposed to using a slow-cooker or transferring it to the oven, as suggested in the recipe), and it still took me well over an hour to make everything. The reason why I didn’t use a slow-cooker or the oven is because I made a vegetarian version of this recipe, and the purpose of slow-cooking or oven-braising the goulash would be to tenderize the meat.

And on the topic of modifications, I made quite a few. Here are all of them:

  • I didn’t slow-cook or oven-braise my goulash. I made the whole thing on the stove.
  • I used vegan meatballs (frozen, not homemade) instead of beef.
  • I didn’t have Worcestershire sauce, so I added a mixture of soy sauce, hot sauce, maple syrup, and lemon juice instead.
  • I used fennel seeds instead of caraway seeds.
  • I used breadcrumbs (instead of stale bread pieces) and one extra egg in the knodeln dumplings.
The cooked knodeln/dumplings.

So, this recipe is a bit of work. You need to chop your vegetables, make a soup, make the knodeln dough, then boil the knodeln. But here’s the thing: all of that work is so worth it for this soup! The soup is hearty and comforting and so, so flavorful. And the recipe makes at least six servings of goulash, so you will get a lot of food out of it. I definitely recommend this for a comforting winter meal!

Technical notes:

  • If you want to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, you don’t need to slow-cook or bake your goulash. You can do the whole thing on stovetop.
  • If you want to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, you don’t need to substitute the meat with anything. I subbed vegan meatballs in mine, but the goulash would have been just as delicious without them.
  • Two tablespoons of paprika seems like too much…but it’s not!
  • The cookbook version of this recipe calls for 1/2 cup of red wine in the goulash, but the online version doesn’t include this. I did use wine, and would recommend it. It deepens the flavor nicely.
  • The goulash is a bit thin at first (maybe because I made it on the stovetop), but it will thicken nicely in the fridge (if you have leftovers).

Year of Yeh #3: Scallion Pancakes (and carrot slaw)

This week I continued my “Year of Yeh” project with a versatile recipe that works as a breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizer, side, or snack: scallion pancakes! The Molly on the Range cookbook lumps the scallion pancakes with a maple syrup carrot slaw, so I did the same.

The recipe: Scallion Pancakes with Maple Syrup Slaw
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 1.5 hrs

This recipe was time-consuming, but lots of fun. The carrot slaw that accompanies the pancakes is straightforward: just shred carrots and combine them with the other slaw ingredients (vinegar, maple syrup, and ginger). The pancakes are a bit more challenging.

Fresh scallion pancakes.

First, I found it tough to get the pancake dough to the right consistency. To get the dough to a smooth and “slightly sticky” consistency, I had to add at least an extra half cup of flour to the dough. It also took me a LONG time to understand the shaping instructions (the recipe said to roll the dough like a “jelly roll” and I didn’t know what that meant) – but that is on me, not the recipe.

This recipe was the most challenging one I have tried so far, and also the most delicious! The scallion pancakes are perfect when they are hot off the pan! And the tanginess of the carrot slaw nicely complements the scallion-and-sesame-filled pancakes. I will probably remake this recipe again at some point.

Technical notes:

  • The carrot slaw recipe calls for minced fresh ginger. This was the first time that I used fresh ginger (as opposed to powdered) and it makes a world of difference!
  • The pancake dough recipe as it is listed in the recipe just doesn’t seem right – I ended up requiring at least an extra half cup of flour to get it to a “smooth and slightly sticky” consistency.
  • The pancake dough will seem too salty if you taste it before frying your pancakes. But once the pancakes are fried, they are perfect. Somehow the too-salty taste goes away once they’re in their final form.
  • It is okay if some oil/scallion filling spills out of your pancake. You can sprinkle a bit of flour over it.
  • These pancakes are best when they are fresh off the pan. If you are going to re-heat them, do so over the stove (they don’t microwave well).

Year of Yeh #1: Spaghetti & Meatless Balls

This is my first “Year of Yeh” post, wherein I document the process of making recipes from Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. A couple nights ago, I kicked off the project by making her “Spaghetti & My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls” recipe. The recipe utilizes spaghetti and marinara sauce as a vehicle for vegetarian meatballs.

Recipe: Spaghetti & My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls
Difficulty level: easy if you have a food processor
Total time: ~30-45 minutes (longer if you make sauce from scratch)

The cooked meatless balls.

I had a great time making this recipe! The meatless balls are pretty straightforward as long as you have a food processor. All you have to do is: measure out your ingredients, pulse them all together in a food processor, roll the mixture into balls, and then fry them. The frying was the most challenging part of the process. For one thing, hot flying oil particles are scary! But it was also challenging to get each meatball perfectly browned on every side. Many of the meatballs I cooked had a semi-burnt spot.

The meatless balls are the star of this recipe – author Molly Yeh says so herself in the book. But she recommends serving them with spaghetti and marinara sauce, as this is one of her favorite ways to enjoy the meatless balls. I mostly followed her recommendation: I served the meatless balls over spaghetti with tomato-garlic-pesto sauce (I wanted to use up leftover basil in the fridge).

So how did the meatless balls taste? Really good! The predominant flavors were parmesan cheese and toasted almond, with pleasant seasoning from the garlic, pepper, and parsley. Smothered in sauce, these meatless balls might pass as turkey balls. On their own, they don’t really taste like meat…but they don’t need to. With their savory, slightly nutty flavor, these meatless balls absolutely hold their own.

Meatless balls served over spaghetti; topped with tomato-garlic-pesto, parmesan cheese, and basil.

Technical notes:

  • The recipe calls for toasted almonds. If you can’t buy toasted almonds, it is absolutely worth your time to toast your own almonds (just bake in the oven for 3-4 minutes at 350 F). Toasting the almonds changes/improves their flavor so much!
  • If you don’t have dried parsley, dried basil or oregano will work well too.
  • I didn’t think the meatballs needed to be fried in 1/4″ oil – just enough oil to perfectly coat the pan worked pretty well for me.
  • Marinara sauce seems like the perfect sauce for these meatless balls (I served with tomato-garlic-pesto, which was good, but marinara sauce would be better).

2019 reading review & 2020 goals

Now is the time of year when everybody is posting their 2019 reading stats, and goals for 2020. So I am going to hop on that bandwagon and do the same! I’m keeping things simple, and combining my 2019 review and 2020 goals into a single post.

Booking and blogging in 2019:

I read 34 books in 2019. Compared to many of the book-bloggers that I follow, this number is laughably low. But 2019 was my first year of reading as a hobby; prior to 2019 I never read consistently throughout any calendar year. So while the number is low compared to others’, this is definitely a personal success for me.

I baked things for 30 of the 34 books I read this year. If you follow my blog, you probably know that it started off as a dual baking/reading project, where I baked something inspired by every book that I read. Toward the end of the year, I was unable to keep up with my goal to bake something for every book. Still, 30 bakes is a lot! I became a much better baker this year; and also strengthened connections with coworkers, neighbors, and friends by regularly sharing baked goods with them.

My favorite three books that I read this year were:

2020 goals:

Read at least 45 books. Last year I read 34 books (average: ~3 per month). I would love to read even more this year! With one of my New Year’s resolutions being to limit to weeknight TV time, I think I can accomplish 45.

Read every book longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. By following amazing book-bloggers on wordpress, I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and read 6 of the 16 longlisted books. Some of these books I probably wouldn’t have read had it not been for the Women’s Prize, but I really enjoyed them: four of those books were 5-star reads for me, and one of them (Lost Children Archive) ended up being my favorite book of the year. So this year I’d like to broaden my horizons even more, and read more excellent woman-authored fiction!

Read at least two classics. In 2019, all the books I read were contemporary, with the “oldest” one being published in 2008. This makes sense, because there is always so much great new material being published. But this year I would like to at least slightly diversify by reading a couple of excellent older books.

Changes to the blog in 2020:

I will no longer be doing a bake for every book that I read. As I mentioned above, it has become too hard to keep up with this project. My bakes (and therefore my blog posts) are now over a month behind my reading, and this gap will likely continue to widen. Instead, I will post standalone book reviews, participate in blogging events, and pursue a different cooking/baking project…

I am starting a project for 2020 called “Year of Yeh.” This project is essentially Julie & Julia, but using Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. I recently received several cookbooks as gifts, and I want to start using them! So this year, I plan to cook and bake my way through Molly on the Range. I specifically chose this cookbook for two reasons. First, I have baked a few things from Yeh’s online blog and I really enjoy her recipes (including tahini milkshakes, coffee-cardamom cake, and fresh mint cake). And second, her cookbook contains a nice mix of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts – so I will get to try and learn many new things.

Ten Things That Bring Me Joy

A few days ago, Tiana at The Book Raven posted an article by this same name. I have frequently felt drained of energy in the last week, but not sad or angry about anything in particular either. As such, I thought the idea of focusing my mind on things that I genuinely love would be a good way to find motivation and re-energize myself. So, I made my own list of 10 things that bring me joy (or fulfillment). And I (gently) challenge anybody reading this post to come up with their own list 🙂

10. Public transportation.

I recently moved to an actual CITY for the first time in my life, and I constantly find myself marveling at how much there is to do, and how accessible most places are by public transportation! Even when the trains have “technical difficulties” that result in “residual delays,” and even when the train is filled with more people than it should be able to hold, it is such a privilege to conveniently travel via mass transit.

9. Water related activities.

These include swimming, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach. There is something very calming about water to me, and I love interacting with bodies of water in different ways – even just taking a walk along a river, or reading by a pond.

8. Trees, plants, flowers, and fungi.

I love nature, and admiring the diversity of life that exists in the world. It is truly incredible that so many incredible flowers, plants, and fungi exist at all. I especially love brightly colored flowers and fungi, and plants with bold leaf patterns or surprising leaf shapes.

7. Being outside!

This includes being outside and taking in the great outdoors, but also being outside in a crowded city or even a mundane suburb. It can be enjoyable just to be outside regardless of context, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun (or cold or rain). There is also something cathartic about being “out and about” – it makes me feel more connected to the world.

6. Reading.

This is a book blog – of course reading was going to be somewhere on this list! Reading is a hobby that sometimes brings me happiness, but more frequently brings me fulfillment. I love connecting to characters, learning how to empathize with people who are unlike myself (even when they are fictional), and reading content that forces me to think deeply about topics that normally wouldn’t cross my mind. Even though the books that I read don’t necessarily always make me happy, reading is very rewarding to me.

5. Coffee.

On a chemical level, coffee physically makes me happy, because the caffeine energizes and excites me. Coffee also makes me happy on a personal level, because I’ve grown to love the taste over the years too. I love exploring new coffee shops and trying new coffee-based drinks.

4. Food.

There is so much to love about food! First of all, trying new foods and flavor combinations is literally a new way of sensing the world and exploring life. Food is also a great way to connect with other people: making a meal or treat for someone is a way of expressing care; eating a meal with someone is a form of bonding; and talking about restaurants and favorite foods is a great way to break the ice with new acquaintances or coworkers. And, of course, food can be comforting and hold sentimental power.

3. Creative pursuits.

I don’t think of myself as a naturally creative person, but I love creative activities because they allow me to express myself in interesting ways. As a teenager, I loved dance as a means of creative expression. I still dance a little bit, but now I also see blogging, cooking, baking, and even fashion as meaningful forms of self-expression.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is very high on the list because it physically makes me happier. As Reese Witherspoon famously said in Legally Blonde, “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” This is absolutely true! Even if I am doing a difficult workout that I don’t particularly enjoy, I always feel better afterwards. Most of the time, however, I do enjoy the actual process of exercising – especially yoga – not just the chemical benefits of it.

1. Spending time with people that I love and trust.

The number one thing that makes me happy is having positive and genuine interactions with others. This often takes the form of being goofy with me fiancĂ©, talking to my sisters on the phone, or hanging out with friends. But it can also instances of getting to know new people better, like having a wine night with my upstairs neighbors, or connecting and laughing with coworkers who are training me at my new job. I’m convinced that the positive effects of spending time with other people can even be physical (I have experienced this multiple times in just the past several months).