June/July 2016: Cooking Adventures in California

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June/July 2016: Cooking Adventures in California


Every time I visit California, I cook for my family, and I bring something to the holiday potluck that invariably happens. This year was no different.

Cooking Dinner For My Family

Thursday, June 30, 2016 – Every time I discover a new food or recipe, I try to share it with everyone. Recent hits included potatoes au gratin and salmon with kimchi, so I wanted to cook that for my family.


The first time I made potatoes au gratin, I sliced the potatoes with a knife, so I ended up with thick slices. That was good for practicing knife skills, but less good for actually making a good dish. So this time, I used a mandoline (the kitchen tool, not the instrument). Except the mandolin cut the potatoes so thin, I decided to make two layers of potato for every layer of mushrooms and cheese. It still worked out in the end.

Because I sliced the potatoes super thin this time, the texture of the potatoes came out much better, and the casserole held up better. Because my family is on the sodium-lite side, I used less salt than I would have. The result was less flavor, but it still tasted like potatoes and had a nice creamy texture to it.


As I mentioned earlier, I liked the salmon with kimchi, but I felt like it didn’t need the artichokes, the cantaloupe, or the orange juice. So I cut those this time. Just pan-roasted salmon with a kimchi-mayo slaw. I thought it was good, but my parents thought the kimchi mayo was too spicy. And this was mild kimchi. But they still ate it and even ended up putting the kimchi mayo on other foods too. So… success?

Strawberry Banana Cookies

Saturday, July 2, 2016 – As I mentioned last year, I’ve been trying to make a fruit-based cookie for a long time now. The problem is, I always puree the the fruit and bake it into the cookie, and none of the flavor comes through.

Earlier in June, I decided to make a banana cookie (like banana bread), chop up some strawberries, and bake the strawberry chunks into a cookie like a blueberry muffin. Except instead of blueberry, it’s strawberry, and instead of muffin, it’s cookie. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that strawberries are 92% water. Even after baking, the moisture from the strawberries leeched into the cookie and made the whole thing weird and mushy. I ended up throwing most of them out.

Thanks to a tip from my friend Vinni, I tried drying the strawberries, based on this guide.


I think I may have over-cooked the strawberries. I went up to 250 F (because water boils at 212 F, but nothing burns until around 350 F) to make things dry faster, but I still baked them for the full 4 hours anyway. So I had 16oz of strawberries reduced to 1.9oz of strawberries. (If you do the math, that means I removed about 95% of the water in the strawberries.) And when eaten straight up, the strawberries had a bit of a “brulee” taste to them. (Brulee means burned.) Clearly next time I should bake them either at a lower temperature or for 3 hours instead of the full 4.


Despite that, the cookies still came out amazingly well! The concentrated flavor of the dried strawberries really accentuated the cookies. And one of my friends told me she could taste the banana in the cookie. (Although I dunno if she was biased because I had previously told her it was strawberry banana cookies.)

My only complaint is that I should have used more strawberry. (Or not reduced the strawberries as much, so there’d be more strawberries mass in the cookies.) I also need to make sure that the oven-dried strawberries are dry enough that the cookies will stay dry the next few days, instead of just becoming mushy again. Regardless, this is definitely a successful fruit-based cookie.