Pan pizza

There have really only been two good things that have come out of quarantine for me in the last 4-plus months: more time to cook and experiment with new recipes, and more time to video edit and upload to my YouTube channel. One recipe that has long been on my to-make list is the Serious Eats pan pizza recipe: I have a cast iron pan and an oven, and once you have yeast, this attempt is a no-brainer. I started the pizza dough the day before to allow for a 24-hour proof, which would yield a tastier, more complex base, and also adjusted it to 30% whole wheat flour (in an attempt to eat more whole grains). I used slightly less olive oil on the pan (2 tsp vs. 1-2 Tbsp) to avoid any difficult oven cleanup after, and dusted my kneading station with semolina flour instead of all-purpose. I topped the pizza with homemade tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, pre-roasted king oyster mushrooms from the day before, basil, and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. After finishing it over the stove for a few minutes to crisp up… this was the perfect first-attempt of pan pizza. I can totally see myself making this more regularly than.. once ever. It was crispy, flavorful, and so, so satisfying.

Pan pizza on a Monday. That would normally never happen on a regular work week.

No-churn homemade mango ice cream

A few years ago as a birthday present, Chris’s brother gave me a single scoop ice cream maker. It is literally a bowl that you freeze, and once you add your ice cream mixture to it, you constantly rub the mixture against the frozen bowl, and that creates the “churn” that makes the cream into iced cream. Well, that wasn’t particularly efficient given I literally had to make the equivalent of one scoop a day to get to my full batch over the course in 1.5 weeks, but it was still tasty: the only homemade ice cream (strawberry) I’d ever made. Chris wasn’t satisfied with the total lack of efficiency, so I haven’t used it since.

Then, with all the nearly overripe mangoes we’ve been accumulating in the last week, I decided to figure out another mango dessert to make with the puree, and I came across a recipe on the Milk and Cardamom blog for no-churn mango ice cream. You basically whip up heavy cream and fold in mango puree into it, then freeze the mixture for a few hours, then blend it up in a blender to get nice, creamy scoops. I changed up the recipe by adding in two teaspoons of warmed milk and a half teaspoon of crushed saffron with a pinch of sugar. It’s currently freezing in the freezer right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing the end result. You can’t really go wrong with mangoes, cream, a squeeze of lime, a tablespoon of sugar, a touch of milk and some decadent saffron, right?

Small batch fudge brownies

I’ve made banana bread twice during shelter-in-place the last four months: vegan buckwheat banana bread and sourdough walnut banana bread. The problem, though, is that although we enjoyed both, it was just too much for the two of us. We cannot share with friends, neighbors, or colleagues given everyone is under lockdown, and sharing food may be questionable despite evidence showing that food is not a common way to spread the virus. So we end up having to eat everything, and everything, even the most delicious things, have diminishing marginal utility. The bites just get worse the more you eat them.

So I was intrigued when one of the food blogs I follow posted a recipe for small batch fudge brownies. While brownies are typically baked in an 8 inch-by-8-inch pan, that’s… quite a large number of brownies, and can be quite tiresome to eat between two people. This blogger created a fudge brownie using 80 grams of dark chocolate in a loaf pan, so about half the size as usual. I immediately jumped on the idea, especially after I found exactly 80 grams of 75 percent chocolate in our fridge remaining from our Colombia trip last May. This would be a delicious way to finally use the last Colombian chocolate we brought back from that delicious trip.

The brownies came together quite quickly and baked in just 15 minutes. After allowing them to cool, I admired their shiny, glossy sheen. I took a bite and WOW — this is dark fudgey chocolate brownies at their darkest and fudgiest. I had Chris try one, and he was… a bit blown away by the intensity of the chocolate. I mean, it IS 75 percent cacao from Colombia, and that is all the chocolate that is in there — no fillers, no fluff.

It seems like a cocoa-powder brownie might be better for my chocolate and brownie loving husband — a little less intense but still chocolatey.

Spice junkie

I am a total spice junkie. It’s a good thing in that I like to experiment and try out different spices and flavors. It’s a bad thing in that once you have so many spices, you forget about some and then they can get stale. One of the first things I did when we moved into this apartment was install spice liners for my spice drawer in our kitchen. I knew it would not be big enough to hold ALL my spices, so I also designated part of one of the fridge drawers for spices, particularly for ones that may be more likely to go off. It’s gotten quite unwieldy, and it still gets quite messy since I can’t always keep track of what I have in the drawer, so I still need to find a better way to organize it.

While digging in the pantry, though, I stumbled upon the rose bird buds I bought a while back to make a pistachio-almond-cardamom rose birthday cake for Chris’s mom when she was in town one year. I never actually used the rose buds for anything other than that cake, and after smelling them, I realized that they were still quite fragrant. So I made a rose sugar syrup out of them using 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, and then half a cup of packed rose buds. I boiled the sugar and water, added the rose buds, simmered for ten minutes, then allowed to cool. Then, I strained the rose buds out and emptied the rose syrup into a glass jar. I added about two tablespoons into a cup with two squeezed lemons, a handful of ice, and some sparkling water to make rose lemonade — floraly, refreshing, and delicious. This syrup could easily go well with coffee, tea, cocktails, and other similar beverages.

Spices have a longer shelf life than we think; we just need to implement the smell test on them before using them.

Kesar mango

While in the Curry Hill area of Murray Hill this past Saturday, we stopped by an Indian grocery store and picked up some Indian sweets. I inquired about the sign we saw outside the store advertising Indian mangoes, and the shop keeper said he did not have Alphonso mangoes, the most famous Indian mango, but he did have kesar mangoes. We already had quite a number of Ataulfo mangoes at home, so I didn’t really feel compelled to buy the kesar mangoes, which were $4 each. But after our purchase, the shop owner gave us one kesar mango as a gift. I was really excited by this and could not wait to try it out.

I actually filmed the mango tasting today, and it’s quite a peculiar mango: it’s more round in shape than the Ataulfo mango, and this particular one had a more pale yellow skin color. but once you cut it open, it reveals a more orangey color flesh. And THEN, once you cut into it and eat it, the flesh is juicier than the Ataulfo, which is more firm and velvety. The kesar mango bursts with juice, is not even the slightest bit fibrous. And when you bite into it, it’s extremely complex: citrusy, like an orange or tangerine, but then also rich and a little creamy like an Ataulfo, with hints of pineapple and and maybe even peach. Complex and juicy are the most accurate ways I can sum up the kesar mango flavor.

This taste only made me more wistful for travel to South Asia. Sadly enough, today we were originally scheduled to leave for Sri Lanka and Kerala in Southern India, and now all those plans have been cancelled because of COVID-19. This is even more depressing to eat this mango on this day.

Cooking

On our last family chat, Chris’s mom said that she’s been seeing all my Instagram posts and stories about what I’ve been tinkering around with in the kitchen, and it all looks really exciting. The sad part about that is that while I am enjoying having more time to cook and experiment on recipes I’ve long wanted to test out, I really have nothing else to do other than cook, create videos, read, and listen to podcasts now outside of work. As much as I look forward to trying out a new recipe, such as today’s spinach and avocado theplas, the more I realize that this is all I have to look forward to since we can’t travel anywhere anytime soon. Cooking and food are all I really have right now.

Arroz caldo/lugaw

Going through my bookmarks list of recipes, I found arroz caldo, which literally means “rice soup,” also considered a type of lugaw, or a Filipino-style congee that is rich with bone broth, aromatic with ginger, garlic, and onion, and oftentimes accompanied by toppings such as fried shallots and garlic, soy-cured egg yolks, scallion, and cilantro. The main difference, initially, between Filipino and Chinese style congee, is that the Filipino version has a lot more aromatics that are added in the beginning, whereas the canvas of the rice porridge is much plainer in the Chinese version. Either way, I love it all since I love, love congee/jook/rice porridge. It’s an ultimate comfort food regardless of what spin you take on it.

I made it in my Instant Pot yesterday and we had it for breakfast this morning, and I really loved the richness that the soy-cured egg yolk added to the porridge. It was even creamier and richer than it was before. The egg yolk served the same role that the whole raw cracked egg serves in soondubu jigae, or Korean soft tofu stew. Definitely want to perfect my soy-cured egg yolk method and continue using this method to make future versions of congee even richer and more tasty.

Linguine aglio e olio with shrimp

Thanks to quarantine and the last four months of working from home, I’ve had more flexibility and more time to finally get to a lot of recipes I’ve been wanting to try out and have been digging into my recipe bookmarks and Evernotes to see what has been on my list. One of the dishes was spaghetti aglio e olio with shrimp (pasta with garlic, olive oil, and shrimp). It’s a simple, less-than-30-minute meal, and it uses the shrimp shells and infuses their delicious glutamates into the olive oil to reveal an even shrimper, more sea-like flavor in the overall pasta dish. I’m trying to be all about creating less waste, and before this recipe, I’ve been using my shrimp shells as part of making stock in my Instant Pot. But this gave me yet another use for my shrimp shells rather than discarding.

The result was simple, quick, fast, and delicious, and the ingredient list was so, so short. With an extra sprinkling of red pepper flakes and grated parmigianno reggiano, this could easily become a staple in our household.

Pomegranate molasses uses

Last year while in Bay Ridge, I picked up a bottle of pomegranate molasses to use in Middle Eastern and Persian dishes. Pomegranate molasses is essentially pomegranate juice that has been cooked and reduced down into a thick, sugary syrup. Admittedly, I’ve only used it twice outside of salad dressings I’ve whisked up. In an effort to find more things to use it for, I decided to apply it to the Arctic char fillets I purchased a couple days ago. So many broiled/grilled fish recipes use maple syrup or honey as the sweetener, but pomegranate molasses, with its own unique, distinct sweet-and-tart flavor, could easily shine on its own.

I decided to mix it up with olive oil, white miso, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar, marinated the fish for a few hours in the fridge, and then broiled the fillets for 10 minutes. Fillets are always tricky to cook perfectly unless every part of the fillet is exactly the same thickness, which is oftentimes why center-cuts of fillets are in such high demand and sell out quickly, so I probably should have removed it after eight minutes, but even after 10, the center parts of the Arctic char were moist, juicy, with just the right level of sweet, tart, and savory.

This was a delicious use for pomegranate molasses and definitely one I’d keep on rotation for the future. I cannot say the same of all fish recipes/marinades I’ve previously used.

Red mole, the second time around

Over the weekend, I was looking over our pantry items and realizing what a glut we have of so many things: dried pasta, dried beans, frozen vegetables, dried chilies. Oh, and when I say “pantry,” I mean that in the sense of a small New York City apartment, which means that I store my “pantry” items literally everywhere: in the actual cupboards, under my sink, on top of the dryer, in my oven (yes, I’m Asian, and in Asian households, it’s normal to use your oven as storage. This is also the reason I never EVER turn on the oven without opening it up to empty out all the contents, which include several baking sheets, a roasting pan, a lasagna pan, a brownie pan, two cake pans, and different containers of seeds, nuts, spices, and dried chilies). We have so many dried chilies, and the most obvious thing I could think to make with a good handful of them would be mole. So I made a mole, using about 22 different ingredients, and waited for it to be ready. I thought to myself, is it actually going to be worth all this effort again? What if it ends up not tasting as good as it did the first time?

I tasted it after the mole finished simmering, and it seemed… Okay, but not great. Something seemed like it was missing. I added some additional salt, sugar, and pepper, and decided to let it cool and taste it a couple days later. I reheated it today with some chicken and served it with multigrain tortillas, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado, and pickled jalapeƱo, and it tasted so much better than it did over the weekend. I think it just needed more time to let all the flavors meld. But when I put all the ingredients together and assembled the final dish, I remembered exactly why mole is worth the extra time and effort: it’s like love in the form of a sauce, love from all the toasting, roasting, soaking, straining, blending, charring, simmering. It’s definitely a keeper recipe for when you have some extra time and want to prepare a complex and satisfying dish.