Spaghetti squash

I’ve never been into the low-carb, anti-carb dieting (well, I’m not really into the concept of “dieting,” but that’s another story). But what I really could not stand that became trendy years ago was people who were trying to cut down on carbs in the form of pasta by replacing their spaghetti noodles with spaghetti squash “noodles.”Spaghetti squash is an interesting type of autumn squash in that when it’s roasted properly, its liquids evaporated and when you pierce through it with a fork, the squash fibers come apart like tiny little noodles that resemble very thin angel-hair pasta. One cup of spaghetti squash “noodles” contain about 7 grams of carbohydrates, whereas one cup of actual wheat-based spaghetti noodles contain about 43 grams.

None of the above is necessarily “bad,” but squash is squash, meaning that it’s mostly water. So, if you were to douse a bunch of squash “noodles” with a thick tomato-y sauce, it would immediately become soggy unless you were quick and ate it right away. That is just terrible to me. Why would you do this? Enjoy your spaghetti squash as a vegetable or grain/wheat substitute, but NOT as a replacement for noodles. Just don’t do it!

I feel the same way about “zoodles” or zucchini noodles. Just throw them in a salad. Stop using them as noodles, please.

Yvonne meets Food “launch”

After several months of studying and practicing video editing about once a week, shooting videos both in my kitchen and on the road, today, I’m finally launching my YouTube channel Yvonne meets Food, which as of today, has 10 videos fully edited and uploaded. Most of them are cooking videos which are focused on basic recipes that have just a handful of ingredients; others are more complex, like the red mole recipe. And then I have one travel video posted where I filmed in Chengdu while eating mapo doufu (tofu). Not all of this was very well planned, and there aren’t always smooth transitions or the best use of color overlays since I’m still in the process of figuring things out, but it’s coming along, and I’m enjoying the process a lot more now that I have a semi-hang of things.

In the beginning, video editing was extremely painful, but now, it’s almost like a fun, interesting creative release, a far departure from the everyday expected ups and downs of office and customer life. I can experiment with color, angles, and music. Even though I’m not much of a music person, testing out different types of music to set moods for different shots has probably been the most interesting for me. The music site I’ve been using for music has really great tutorials on how to edit videos to the beat, which I plan on using more when I shoot travel and field pieces.

In some ways, it feels like a second job, and in other ways, it feels like a creative outlet that just requires a bit more time and intense focus. But I hope something interesting will come of this. Life is short.

Dosa batter fails, take 2

The dosa batter has failed for the second time in this apartment. I even tried a second full-proof recipe, using baking soda as a “helper” to allow the batter to ferment. It’s been said that rice and dried lentils naturally have enzymes in them that allow for fermentation, so I cannot understand what exactly is going wrong. I tossed my old fenugreek seeds and thought that it might help to buy new ones, yet still, nothing. Twelve hours in the Instant Pot under “yogurt” mode, and still nothing. I tested some dry active yeast to see if it was still alive, tossed it into the dosa batter, and the batter started to bubble and rise… but the idlis once put into their little molds and steamed did not even rise the slightest. I was so deflated today. However, the taste seems pretty accurate, though.

I’m convinced that the real issue is that there is not enough natural bacteria in the air in this apartment to get the fermentation going. Maybe the old (actually, old in age) apartment was just better suited for that.

learning new software = painful

So one of the new hobbies that I’ve picked up over the last couple months, which has been extremely slow moving, is video editing. I cook a lot and also watch a lot of travel and cooking videos online, particularly on YouTube, so I thought it would be fun to do my own videos. I already get so much joy out of cooking and documenting via photo and Instagram, so how hard could it possibly be to edit videos using real video software?

The truth is… it’s pretty frustrating, difficult, and exacerbating, like with learning any new skill or software for the first time. I was thinking about the first time I had to learn all the “e,” “eu,” “eau,” “ou,” etc., sounds in French my first two weeks in freshman year of high school, and that was extremely brutal. Studying Chinese every night and doing homework was just excruciating in college, as we had daily quizzes (which in the end, truly served their purpose because somehow, all these years later, I still know most of that stuff!). Any new skill is painful and annoying in the beginning, but I hope this all pays off.

Collectively over Saturday and Sunday, I probably spent over six hours…. just trying to figure out how to create and save templates in Adobe Premiere Pro, only to find out that the method I was using was relevant in older outdated versions of the software, and that “Legacy Title” templates no longer exist in the latest version. Instead, I’d need to undo all that because they could no longer be used, and instead create new templates in what they are now calling “effects graphics.” It took several Google and Adobe forum searches to find what I was looking for. Yep, it only took six hours — no big deal.

I have to keep telling myself that this is just part of learning, that eventually, this will all get much easier, and it will become like second nature to me. It’s a small investment of time now for a bigger payoff later. Fingers crossed.

Lavender syrup

After having so much delicious coffee in Colombia, and then traveling in Michigan and having notable coffee drinks such as my cafe miel and lavender latte, I decided I would make my own special coffee drinks by creating my own lavender syrup at home. Sugar syrups are super easy to make — all you really need is some water and sugar dissolved over high heat, and it keeps for weeks, if not months. And then if you want to flavor it with a herb like lavender, rosemary, etc., you just have to add a tablespoon or two during the simmering process.

Today, I made about half a cup of lavender syrup to add to our coffee drinks, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out in our Sunday morning lattes.

10-min meals

One of the biggest game changers for me with Indian cooking was the Instant Pot. Since we purchased one last summer during a big sale on Amazon, my life has forever been changed when cooking Indian food, especially when it comes to stews, beans, and biryani dishes. Another game changer was finding this incredible Indian cooking blog called My Heart Beets, which is hands down one of my all-time favorite food blogs. One of the best recipes she has on her blog is for onion masala, which basically has key components distilled down into a masala mix of tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, and various common Indian spices, all cooked in an Instant Pot, then frozen into 1/2 or 1/4-cup portions so that you can fish them out of your freezer and use them at any time to make authentic Indian food faster and easier.

I’ve since made a batch of this onion masala and have already used it for several dishes. The most rewarding dish I’ve used it for was just this morning, when I made Indian-style shakshuka in just 10 minutes! I took out about one cup of onion masala and defrosted it overnight, then I used that as the base for my shakshuka, just adding some crumbled sausage into the tomato mix, then eggs, and topping with cilantro and salt and pepper. It was one of the simplest, fastest, and most satisfying fully-homemade meals I’ve made in a long time.

The only way to have quick homemade meals is to do a lot of meal prep beforehand and in bulk, and this onion masala is definitely a key to that. Luckily for me, we have a much bigger freezer than before, so we can store things like this.

kitchen sink cooking

I really didn’t want to buy too many groceries for this weekend given that both Chris and I would be traveling for work this week, so I tried to make dinner from mostly what was in our pantry or fridge, with the exception of fresh vegetables. I ended up cooking green lentils, the dried fusilli bucati pasta we brought back from our Northern Italy trip, and tossing it in my homemade pesto from two weeks ago, roasted zucchini and broccoli, and some red pepper flakes. Chris felt like we needed some real cheese in this pasta (I used nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute in the pesto making because I didn’t have any cheese on hand and didn’t want to buy any at that time), so he ran out to buy some grana padano for grating, which is basically like a very young and un-aged parmesan.

I realize that my “kitchen sink” cooking can be perceived as a bit uppity, because who really has homemade pesto that just happens to be sitting in one’s fridge, and who has fancy dried pasta brought back from a foreign country in their pantry? But hey, this is how we roll in our apartment.

Eleven Madison Park granola adjustments

After getting such rave reviews from Chris’s parents and Chris about the Eleven Madison Park-style granola I made a few weeks ago, I decided that since I had so much extra oats (and well, I’m not a big regular oatmeal person) that I would make a second batch today. I made the same additions by adding in flax and chia seeds, plus macadamia nuts, as last time. But this time, I increased the amount of sea salt. The original recipe calls for an entire tablespoon (that’s three teaspoons!) of sea salt. I’m pretty salt conservative/sensitive (whatever you want to call that), so for the first batch, I used only a teaspoon. Given that I could barely taste any salt in that, I decided, why not increase that to two teaspoons this time? And to me, I think this batch came out nearly perfectly with a good combination of both salty and sweet. Chris, while he enjoyed it (he never eats granola ever, but this time, he’s actually snacking on this before and after dinner!), says the first batch was better and this was a tad too salty for him.

Maybe the compromise for the next batch will be 1.5 teaspoons? I’ve just never been able to find granola I really loved from the store, so in both cases of making this granola and my hemp granola two years ago, these have been my favorites. It just tastes too processed, even when most of these brands claim to be organic/non-GMO/yada yada. Homemade granola-only in this household from now on.

DiFara pizza-making class

What is arguably the best and most famous pizza in New York City has very recently decided to start pizza making classes at its old shop in Midwood, Brooklyn. The new manager of my team decided to do a team event here tonight, so I got to benefit from these classes. While it’s not a traditional cooking class in that you do not actually make the pizza dough, the tomato sauce, etc., from scratch, what you do get is to try one slice each of their signature slices, then shape your own dough into a pizza round/oblong, add your own seasoned tomato sauce (San Marzano tomatoes, no less) to the dough, then top with mozzarella, parmesan, and olive oil.

The DiFara pizza is noticeably different than other NYC pizza slices: the crust is thinner and crunchier, the tomato sauce is a bit more balanced between sweet and tangy, and the topping of parmesan and olive oil as a finish is always just right to add the last bit of savory and salty. I would not say it is my favorite pizza, as that would be a hard call to make, but it is definitely delicious and noteworthy, even without the original owner making every single pizza the way he always wanted. That just wasn’t scalable for his level of demand.

I enjoyed every bite of the pizzas, even the slice of the pizza I made where I tried a bite out of it right out of the oven. At 600 degrees F, I burned the roof of my mouth and left the place with tender and sore gums, but it was all worth it in the end. These are the moments I am so grateful to not have a gluten allergy.

And during the class, they closed DiFara’s. We noticed four guys knock on the door, and they begged and pleaded to let them buy two full pies, as they traveled all the way from London just to try this famous pizza. After some back and forth that probably lasted a few minutes, the workers relented and let them in. They freshly shaped and made the pies, stuck them in the oven, and the Brits paid and left happily with their hot and steamy fresh pies.

As I walked out, I noticed that even though DiFara’s says they are cash-only, they actually did have a credit-card machine that the Brits used to pay. And they also left the receipt on the counter… which showed that they tipped these guys over 50 percent.

Mole making

Cooking authentic mole takes time. For those uninitiated, mole is a popular sauce in Mexican cuisine. Oftentimes, each restaurant, family, grandma, and mother has their own version of mole. It varies by region and by town. But the unifying ingredients in all of them include a combination of Mexican spices, such as oregano and canela (Mexican cinnamon), aromatics such as charred onions and garlic, Mexican chocolate, and the most pungent and fun ingredients: dried Mexican chilies. The end result is a mix of chocolate, spices, chilies… a very complex tasting dish that is hard to liken to anything else I’ve ever tasted or made. Some moles have 20-30 different ingredients and can take days and days to make! And the longer it sits on the stove cooking, the more and more the flavors meld together and become even more complex and delicious.

I’ve made mole twice, both times in cooking classes in Oaxaca. The first time was in 2010 during my first trip, and the second time was this past trip in May 2018 with Chris. Today was my first time attempting mole at home, albeit a more simplified, home-friendly version.

Today, we used dried ancho and guajillo chilies that we brought back from our Mexico trip last year for a simplified red mole. I also ground up the canela I purchased whole from a market in Mexico City. I used a teaspoon of the Mexican oregano I purchased, as well; Chris noticed that the smell was far more pungent than the dried oregano we buy here. It took about 2-3 hours including the time to film the cooking, but in the end, after adding some additional shaved Mexican chocolate and a touch of sugar, it tasted rich, well-rounded, and smoky.

I knew that I’d use it as the base sauce for the chicken enchiladas I wanted to make to use up old corn and cassava tortillas in the freezer, but I didn’t realize how special it would taste when all the components were put together until I ate them today. Filled and topped with a vibrant red mole, chicken, cilantro, and cheese, these enchiladas were lick-your-plate worthy and definitely tasted authentic. I actually impressed myself with this dish.