Month: August 2012

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Pretzels and the Sympathetic Nervous System

This title is a mouthful, I know. This week is proportionally crazy. We have our first anatomy practical tomorrow and our first block exam the day after Labor Day! So what am I doing? Baking stuffed pretzels. Naturally.

Starbucks sells pretzels similar to these, so I decided to make my own when I found myself in possession of some fresh spinach that was looking a little puny and some milk that was a little past its prime. Rule #2, am I right?

This recipe uses creamed spinach for the filling, so you can either make your own (like I did) or just use the frozen stuff. That will work well too.  On top of the creamed spinach is crumbled feta cheese and shredded pizza-blend cheese (mozzarella and parmesan).

Roll everything up length-wise into a delicious, spinachy, cheesy rope. Then do a quick twist into a pretzel shape, dunk in baking soda water (important step! Do not skip!) and place on a greased baking pan. I sprinkled mine with some shredded cheese because I felt like it.

Do not be turned off by the slippery mutants. They are about to experience the transformative power of heat.

Voila! Oh goodness.

Break off a piece while they’re hot. The bread is tender and flaky and the filling is rich and savory.

These may just change your life.

On that note, I’m off to fill my head with more knowledge! Woohoo! At least I have some awesome study snacks now.

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Pretzels

  • 1 1/2 C. warm water (110 degrees)
  • 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided
  • 1 Tbs. active dry yeast
  • 4 C. all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 C. baking soda
  • 4 C. hot water
  • 1 C. creamed spinach (prepared according to directions if frozen)
  • 3/4 C. crumbled feta cheese
  • 3/4 to 1 C. shredded pizza cheese (or just mozzarella)

In a small bowl combine warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes or until foamy. Put 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon table salt in a large bowl. Stir together. Add oil and yeast mixture and just mix until moistened. Knead until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour while dough is kneading and then place in a large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise till doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Thirty minutes before you plan to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or line with parchment paper. Dissolve baking soda in hot water. When dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope, roughly 1/2-inch diameter. Press the ropes flat, until about 2 inches across.  Spoon a 1/2-inch wide row of spinach mixture down the center. Sprinkle a small amount of pizza-blend and feta cheese over the spinach. Moisten the edges of the dough and roll it up around the filling and pinch the edges shut. Shape into pretzels, gently pressing ends down to attach.

Carefully dip pretzels, one at a time, into the baking soda and water, then place pretzels on baking sheet. Be gentle to avoid the filling breaking through. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

(adapted from this recipe)

Banana Oat Muffins and Base Tautomerization

 I bake when I’m overwhelmed. The whole “med school is hard” thing is finally catching up to me. Tomorrow we have four lectures in a row and I’m not even caught up on studying the lectures from today. Thank goodness it’s almost the weekend! Unbroken study time! Woohoo!
 You might be asking yourself how I decided to bake banana muffins at 2:30 in the afternoon after getting out of a biochemistry lecture. Well, I had, on my counter, a mushy brown banana; in my fridge, some expired milk; and in my brain, no function left. You all know the first two rules of med school, right?
 This recipe was inspired by one on Allrecipes, but I overhauled it to make it healthier and more interesting. The coconut on top is one of my favorite parts. I can’t wait to have these with my morning coffee tomorrow while I sit out on my balcony and read some poignant Southern literature and maybe play my guitar while the sun rises in class for hours and hours.
Banana Oat Muffins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup apple sauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 mashed banana
  • grated coconut
  1. Combine flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly. Stir in the milk, applesauce, and vanilla. Add the mashed banana, and combine thoroughly. Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper bake cups, and divide the batter among them. Sprinkle grated coconut on top of each muffin.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 18 to 20 minutes.

Curry and Cadavers

Today we had our first Gross Anatomy lab. I realize that y’all probably aren’t nearly as excited about this as I am, and you may actually be quite repulsed by the thought. That’s ok. We can still be friends. It was, for me, though, a monumental occasion. I’ve been anxiously anticipating this experience for years. Literally, years. It was awesome. My lab partners and I (there are four of us all together) got along really well and I think we’ll be a great team this year! That’s all I’m going to say about that here, because I realize this is a food blog and talking about dissection probably wouldn’t be appreciated. Moving on!

Yesterday I baked pitas and then made a big bowl of this delicious curry chicken salad to stuff inside them. I started by marinating boneless chicken thighs in pineapple juice, salt, and pepper. Why pineapple juice, you ask? Well, I had some crushed pineapple with breakfast yesterday and had some leftover in the fridge. So I drained the juice off and used it. Rule #2 of being a medical student is “Don’t let anything go to waste.” Rule #1 is “LEARN ALL THE THINGS!” But, I digress.

 I pan-fried my chicken thighs until they were well browned; I wanted the sugar in the pineapple juice to caramelize a bit. Then I diced them up into small pieces.

 Meet the chicken’s neighbors in this salad: celery, apple, green onions, and golden raisins.

 Mix everything up with the dressing and stuff it into pitas! Or put it between bread! Or eat it with crackers. Or on top of a bed of baby spinach. Or, you know, grab a big spoon and eat it straight out of the mixing bowl. Do what works for you.

Curry Chicken Salad

  • 2 boneless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped apple
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/8 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • salt to taste

Marinate chicken in pineapple juice, salt, and pepper. (I let mine sit in the fridge for about an hour and a half. Do what you like). Panfry the chicken pieces in a little olive oil or butter until cooked through and well-browned. Chop the chicken into small pieces. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, sour cream, sugar, curry powder, and salt. In a large bowl, stir together chicken, celery, apple, raisins, onions, and dressing. Mix well and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Bon appetit!



Pitas and Polymerases

 When life hands you six lectures to study, make pita bread! Hmm…my cliches could use some work. The point is, making pita bread is really simple, but it’s super fun and makes you feel like you can do anything. Because really, who makes their own pita any more?

 Mix up your dough and knead it til it’s smooth and elastic, then form six small balls and roll them out flat.

 Then let those rounds hang out on your (clean) counter and rise a little, while you go learn all about DNA replication and RNA transcription.

 Then slip those babies into a hot oven and plop yourself down on the kitchen floor to watch the magic.

 They puff up right before your eyes!

 Take them out when they’re golden brown and deliciously chewy-crusty.

 And because no pita worth its salt doesn’t have some great pocket action, cut one open and stuff it with whatever your heart desires. I made some curry chicken salad (recipe to come tomorrow), but these are good even with just a little butter. Who am I kidding? Anything is good with just a little butter! But seriously, I think you’ll be impressed.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

  • 1 packet of yeast
  • 1 ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  1. Dissolve yeast and salt in water for about 5 minutes in a large bowl. Add whole wheat flour to make a batter. Add additional flour until dough pulls together. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it is too sticky.
  2. Divide dough into six pieces.  Form dough into balls, then flatten with a rolling pin into ¼ inch thick discs. Try and keep an even thickness as this is what helps them ‘puff’.
  3. Let rest on the floured surface 30-40 minutes until slightly puffed.
  4. Preheat oven to 425F.
  5. With a large spatula, flip the rounds of dough upside down on to a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes until light golden. If you have an oven with a window, make sure you’re watching them during the first five minutes, because this is when they puff up! It’s my favorite part. 🙂
  6. These store for up to two days well wrapped or frozen for three weeks.

Inspired by this recipe.

Coconut Cookies and Carbohydrates

 I made these coconut-lemon cookies last night to bring to a friend’s house for supper, but wasn’t sure how they would turn out because it was a new recipe, and, let’s be honest, I didn’t exactly follow it anyway. You know, maybe life would be more predictable if I followed instructions, but that just isn’t the way I fly. I like surprises.

 In this case, the surprise was rather delicious! These cookies are light and fluffy, chewy, bright and lemony, and smooth and coconutty.

 They are rolled in sugar before baking, which gives them a lovely shimmer and crispiness.

 Make them. You won’t be disappointed. (Unless you don’t like coconut or lemon, in which case, I’m sorry. Or if you don’t like cookies, in which case, I don’t believe you.)

Coconut-Lemon Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • extra sugar for rolling cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Stir/sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. (If you’re a poor med student like me and don’t have a mixer, just cut your butter into Tbs-size chunks and smoosh it with a fork, mixing it with the sugar until it’s all well-combined).
  4. Add egg, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest and mix well. (If you’re lacking a grater/zester, as I am, hold the lemon over the mixing bowl and scrape the heck out of it with a serrated knife. Be careful not to zest your thumb. I speak from experience).
  5. Add coconut and mix well.
  6. Mix in dry ingredients.
  7.  Pinch off ping-pong ball sized pieces of dough and roll them in sugar. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, about two inches apart.
  8. Bake for about 12 minutes, until set and just starting to brown on the edges.

Now, while you’re off baking delightful things, I’m going to go practice drawing carbohydrate structures. Beta-D-glucose, anyone?

Apple Bran Muffins and 𝛼1-antitrypsin Deficiency

Wait, say what? I just finished my second whole week of med school? Man, oh man, I’ve completely lost track of time.

Our disease-of-the-week this week was 𝛼1-antitrypsin deficiency. It’s a genetic disorder that causes serious lung and liver disease. In a healthy person, 𝛼1-antitrypsin prevents one of the enzymes secreted by white blood cells from digesting lung tissue once it’s eaten up all the inhaled pathogens. In a person with alpha-1, though, the antitrypsin gets lodged in the liver and can’t get to the lungs (even if it does get there, it’s deformed, so it can’t work properly). This means that those normally helpful enzymes begin to break down lung tissue and the patient can develop emphysema, shortness of breath, and cirrhosis of the liver. There’s no cure, only methods of minimizing complications. Studying this disorder made me really think about how many things we so often take for granted, like breathing easily. Such a simple thing, but it’s truly an every moment blessing.

Speaking of blessings, Friday afternoons are a beautiful thing. A gift from God, really. After getting out of lecture at noon, I ate my lunch on campus and worked through a chunk of enzyme kinetics problems. Then I came home and treated myself to a run and some baking! My favorite. 🙂

My dad has been making these apple muffins since I was a little kid. I love them! They’re dense and hearty and full of good-for-you stuff. The original recipe doesn’t call for a streusel topping, but I have the hardest time following a recipe exactly (my inner DIYer gets all cranky).  A streusel topping can only make a good thing great, right? (Hopefully my dad won’t be upset that I’m taking liberties with his recipe. 🙂 )

Apple Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix or sift together in a small to medium bowl:

  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. sugar

Mix in a large bowl:

  • 1 c. bran flakes or raisin bran
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (oatmeal)
  • 1 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 egg (beaten)

While the cereal mixture soaks and softens, peel and shred/grate 2 (regular) or 3 (small) apples into the bowl with the cereal mixture. *If you’re a poor med student, like me, and don’t own a grater, just finely dice your apples.* Mix the shredded apples into the cereal mixture well. Add the flour mixture to the cereal/apple mixture and mix just until combined. Spoon into 12 greased muffin-pan cups.

Rebellious Streusel Topping:

  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

(Note: all of those measurements I just made up, so take them with a grain of salt) Crumble ingredients together and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes.

Watching the latest episode of NY Med while the muffins are baking is completely optional.

 Breaking one of these beauties open and slathering it with butter while it’s fresh out of the oven, however, is not.

Red Beans and Real Patients

I slipped my arms into my new, short white coat, looked at myself in the hospital bathroom mirror, and felt absolutely ridiculous. That coat implied that I knew something, that I was supposed to be there, that I could be trusted with the great responsibility of being a physician. Didn’t that white coat know I was just me? That I just graduated college a few months ago and still get lost in the winding halls of the medical school? Apparently not. It was thrusting upon me all of its starchy white weight.

I stepped out of the bathroom, feigning ten times more confidence than I actually felt, and asked the charge nurse if there was a talkative patient that I could interview for my social history project.  She replied that I might want to talk to Ms. B. Ms. B, great, let’s do this. I mentally rehearsed my script in my head, like I do every time I’m about to make a phone call: “Hello, I’m a first year med student. I’m doing this project, mind if I ask you some questions….” I walked into Ms. B’s room and stood against the wall while her surgeon, resident, and a third-year med student changed the dressing on her incision. I felt like my short white coat was proclaiming my naiveté among these seasoned healthcare professionals.

When the people who knew what they were doing left the room, it was just me and Ms. B. She was talkative and very friendly and immediately put me at ease. I heard all about her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her work, her friends, and her sisters. She asked me how school was going and if I had a boyfriend. She asked me where I went to church. As the conversation meandered along, Ms. B told me how she moved in with her mother to care for her before she died. She told me that her favorite memory of her mother was watching her drink her morning cup of coffee at the dining room table, one hand holding a newspaper and one hand petting her cat. Ms. B’s eyes welled with tears and her voice trailed off. I reached out my hand and took hers in mine. We sat in melancholy silence for a moment.  I asked Ms. B if she would like for me to pray with her. She smiled and nodded. Right there, amid the rumpled hospital sheets, my starchy, short white coat, and the droning television in the background, we prayed together.

When it was time for me to leave, I asked Ms. B if she had any advice for me. She looked me in the eyes and said “Talk to every one of your patients like you talked to me today. Never lose your sweet spirit.” She gave me a hug and held me tightly then told me that my coming to see her meant the world to her and that she would never forget me. She told me I could visit her any time I was free, day or night.

If this is what being a doctor is all about, then maybe I’m not so out of my league as I thought. The white coat still feels awkward hanging from my shoulders, but caring for people and loving them? That fits me just right.

Oh, and I had red beans and rice for supper tonight. Med students gotta eat.

Red Beans and Rice

1 lb Camellia Brand Red (Kidney) Beans
1/2 lb ham or seasoning meat
8-10 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 toe garlic, chopped
2 Tbs celery, chopped (add this if you’re not a poor med student and actually have celery hanging around in your fridge)
2 Tbs parsley, chopped (see above)
1 large bay leaf (see above)
Salt to taste

Rinse and sort beans. Cover beans with water and start to cook over low fire. Render meat in skillet, remove and set aside. In skillet, sauté onion, garlic, parsley and celery in meat drippings. Add meat, bay leaf, salt and pepper to beans. Boil gently, stirring occasionally for about 1-1/2 hours, or until tender. Add water while cooking if necessary. Serve with long grain rice.

The above method is the ideal way, but I just threw all of my ingredients into the crock-pot before I left for class this morning (turned it on low) and it still tasted great. Do whatever works for you. That’s one of my mottos.

Eggs and Enzymes

After returning home from my church’s early service, I knew I needed brunch and I needed it fast. I also needed to use up some little bits of fresh vegetables that were hiding out in my fridge. I needed something that would fill me up and get me through a long day of studying enzyme kinetics. Basically, I’m a needy person.

I decided to whip up a superb omelette. An ordinary omelette just wouldn’t do today.

A variety of fresh veggies, ham, Italian cheese…this is what separates the superb from the ordinary.

Mission accomplished. I’m an omelette-ase…what can I say? (I suppose I could say I’m a nerd, but I think that’s self-explanatory.)

A List of Ingredients I Threw in My Superb Omelette

  1. Diced green bellpepper
  2. Diced onion
  3. Diced tomato
  4. Spinach
  5. Ham
  6. Italian cheese blend
  7. Two eggs, beaten with a little milk, salt, and pepper.

Saute the crunchy vegetables in a little butter until they’re looking translucent and not so crunchy. Toss in the spinach and stir around til it wilts. Add the tomato and ham. Pour beaten eggs into the skillet. Sprinkle with cheese. Let the eggs set-up and then gently roll the whole thing up with a spatula. If you can do this without your omelette breaking, I applaud you. If you can’t, there’s no need to fret. I promise it will still taste delicious.

Boule and Bioenergetics

When everything around you is new and you’re trying to figure out where you fit and just what the heck you’re doing here, sometimes the best thing to do is get your fingers in some dough. I promise.

This boule recipe is probably the easiest, most reliable bread recipe I’ve ever found. Easy and reliable is just what I need.

Flour, salt, yeast, and water. That’s it.

Add just a little heat, and voila! A beautiful, delicious, comforting work of art.

Now, back to the bioenergetics and protein formation.

The first week of medical school…almost done.


Adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours’ resting and rising

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

3 cups of water


1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.