Cooking supplies during COVID

One interesting thing about being home all the time now is that we obviously spend a lot of time eating at home, which means I end up having to cook a lot more. Before, when a bottle of soy sauce or fish sauce lasted years, now, it seems like they are getting depleted at lightning speed. I’ve already had to replace my light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil bottle this year, and the new light soy sauce bottle is only half full now.

The plus side, though, of eating more at home is that we do have more control over what we are putting in our bodies since we’re preparing all these things from scratch. We’re likely consuming a lot less salt, fat, oil, and sugar. I’m definitely light handed on the salt in general, and I rarely add as much oil as any recipe calls for since I think it’s usually unnecessary. You’d think that if I were cooking more that I must be happier, but I think this past week, I’ve fallen into a bit of a cooking slump. This week, I feel like I’ve been cooking just to use up random scraps or leftovers rather than because I’m actually enjoying the process. This pandemic could definitely be worse, but the number of COVID cases increasing by day in this wretched country is truly terrifying. I can’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hachiya persimmons – nature’s pudding

I don’t know why, but unless you are at an ethnic/Asian/Latin grocery store, you probably won’t see hachiya persimmons in the produce section. Maybe it’s because the average Westerner doesn’t have the patience to wait for hachiya persimmons to ripen before eating — who the heck knows? Because of this, for the most part, the only persimmons I’d usually buy each fall would be the fuyu persimmons; these are smaller, flatter, harder, and are eaten skinned and crunchy. These are good, and I do enjoy them, but fuyus really do not hold a candle to hachiyas.

But hachiya persimmons are truly the gem of all persimmons… or rather, the custard or pudding of all persimmons. Persimmons can be much reviled because their skins and flesh are full of tannins, so if you attempt to eat them before they are ripe enough, your mouth will be stung dry, chalky, and surly — not enjoyable or fun. Hachiyas can ONLY be eaten if they are ripe or overly ripe, pretty much mushy inside. You eat them by popping off the green top and cutting out the core in the center, then spooning out all the gooey, deep orange flesh. The flavor is extremely sweet, cinnamon-like honey. Hachiya persimmons are like nature’s (vegan) custard or pudding. It’s no wonder my grandma always loved these each fall season, as she had quite the sweet tooth. She’d buy bags and bags of these from her Chinatown trips, bring them home, and once ripe, dig in. She’d also spoon out plenty of the pudding-like flesh for me to enjoy, too, when I was young. In my mind, I always associate hachiya persimmons with her.

Steamed Cantonese-style fish

Today, I decided to use our remaining four barramundi fillets in the freezer to make a quick and easy Cantonese-style steamed fish. This fish is really the epitome of the simplicity and deliciousness of Cantonese cooking; it uses just a small handful of ingredients (fish, oil, salt/sugar, soy sauce, ginger, scallion, water), takes about 10-15 minutes to throw together, yet it yields a complex, delicious, satisfying main that the average person would most definitely enjoy. It traditionally uses a whole fish, but when you don’t have access to whole fish or are just being lazy, fish fillets work perfectly (and you don’t have to worry about bones!). Ginger and scallion together are a beautiful marriage, and with fish (or really, any seafood, since ginger-scallion crab is likely my FAVORITE crab preparation), it’s like a gift to the mouth.

A friend of mine messaged me and said that she loved this dish so much that she used to have her helper in Hong Kong make it often. I literally wrote out the full recipe and instructions in my Instagram reel and told her that yes, it actually IS this simple! She can make it anytime with limited time and effort!

Autumn “forbidden” fruit

Pomegranate is most likely THE fruit I look forward to every autumn season as September rolls around the corner. I love persimmons, particularly the gooey hachiya persimmons that my grandma loved so much every fall, but pomegranates are a really hard fruit to hate. They look beautiful when you cut into them, and those little seeds bursting with brightness and juice are like tiny little jewels. It’s no wonder that they are used so often in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking because they are just so stunning to look at. And… it should also come as no surprise that pomegranates are considered the “forbidden fruit,” as once upon a time in Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, ate just two of these pomegranate seeds after being kidnapped into the underworld by Hades, therefore locking her into the world of darkness for half the year.

I think the biggest issue with pomegranates, or why people feel that these are difficult fruit, can be broken into a few reasons: 1) they are hard to cut and not make a total mess if you don’t know what you’re doing, 2) not everyone likes eating the seeds after sucking out the juices, and 3) it’s a bit hit or miss when choosing a pomegranate at the store. Sometimes, you can luck out, cut it open, and get all beautiful perfect jewels of seeds. Another time, you may inadvertently pick one where half or more of the seeds have already rotted, rendering the fruit nearly inedible.

So we’ll address points 1 and 3 since you can’t really push preferences on people. For 1, you just need to make sure you’re not cutting into it like an apple; cut a square off the top, then cut four lines at each “angle” of the fruit, and peel (more like an orange. That will allow you to segment the fruit into neat portions without squirting juice everywhere.

For 3, make sure to choose a pomegranate that feels heavy for its size. Also, pick one that IS NOT round; you want one that is a bit square-ish/angled. This indicates that the juicy seeds inside are bursting with ripeness and are good for eating. Lastly, look at the top stem. If it looks like the top is peeling downward, it will be ready to eat!

Where I Buy food series

A new vlog series I’m starting to work on is around where I buy my groceries and food items. Chris suggested to me a few days ago that he thinks that I would really enjoy shooting these videos because his general opinion is that while I do love cooking a lot, I actually love discovering, finding, and picking ingredients even more. I’m not sure how I feel about that because my love and obsession with cooking and trying to cook new foods is pretty large, but yes, I do love sourcing ingredients a lot, and I visibly get excited when I find something new for a good deal. It’s Sunday, two days after we went to Costco in Connecticut, and I am still obsessing and glowing over the wild chanterelles I found there. Usually, chanterelles are seasonal, and given how popular they are, I have never seen them for less than $24-30 per pound! I’d always contemplated splurging on them just once at these prices and just indulging, but I could never actually bring myself to do it.

Thankfully, because so many companies are either fully online or have an online presence, sourcing ingredients has become easier than ever before!

Turkish Adana kebabs and geography

Every Sunday is filming day at our apartment now with my new job, which I just completed week 4 of. I’m still in the process of working on my Tastes of Asia series, so I thought I’d choose a country that straddles two continents this week: Turkey. Turkey oftentimes is perceived as part of Europe, but it’s actually partly in Western Asia. When I visited Istanbul back in July 2011, I actually took a boat to the Asian part of Istanbul the city, as the city of Istanbul is technically half in Europe and half in Asia!

Two spices that were new to me when I started cooking Turkish food were sumac and Aleppo pepper. Sumac is a fruity, citrusy berry that is dried, ground up, and oftentimes used as a topping or garnish on everything from beans to salads to meats. Aleppo pepper originates in the Syria/Turkey region of the world, particularly known for its mild spiciness, fruitiness, and especially for its naturally oily feel when you rub it between your fingers. It’s a brilliant red color and notably has no seeds inside the actual pepper. Both spices are beautiful to look at as well as addictive. I used both of these spices to make a rendition of Turkish Adana kebabs, named after the fifth largest city in Turkey. Adana kebabs are loved not just for their interesting shape and appearance, but also their bouncy texture and delicious spice mixture. I used New Zealand lamb mince for mine. The Aleppo pepper gives these kebabs a unique deliciousness, and it’s rounded out with some parsley and a generous amount of salt for flavor.

I was really happy with how my kebabs came out, and ideally, if I can still get reasonably priced Australian or New Zealand lamb, would consider keeping this on rotation in our home when having a lamb craving. Looking forward to sharing this soon!

gluten-free spinach fettuccine

Because the world is suddenly so interested in becoming gluten free, or just gluten-free tolerant, I decided to try a gluten-free fresh spinach pasta that was on sale at Whole Foods. It’s mainly brown rice, tapioca starch with some spinach powder for the green color, but I thought I’d try it out just for the sake of it. I tossed it today with some homemade tomato sauce, ground wagyu beef, and some grated parmiggiano reggiano, and while it all tasted good together… the noodles, for me, did not have a very strong or distinctive flavor. Chris said he found the pasta overpowering, but I thought it was the opposite. It was like eating pasta for the sake of eating pasta, as opposed to enjoying the pasta.

I only occasionally buy dried pasta now except for specific brands, as I’d prefer to reserve my pasta experiences for fresh pasta since I love it so much, so knowing that I got this fresh pasta and it was pretty much a disappointment felt sad. I think I’m gonna stick with the fresh wheat pasta from here on out.

Matcha #asmr

After the most recent Amazon Prime Day, I am now the proud owner yet again of some delicious matcha powder. A brand I was following had a special for Prime Day, and since matcha is quite expensive, I didn’t buy it for a while. I also didn’t want to be too much of a glutton since I’d purchased so much tea while in China last summer, and I recently started depleting all the everyday tea I bought there (except for the Zhe Ye Qing high end tea, which I’m still getting through and spacing out).

But I had almost forgotten how much I love preparing matcha. The last time I had matcha at home, my dad had bought me a bag of ceremonial grade matcha, and to properly make it, you really need to whisk it well. I even got a bamboo matcha whisk specifically for this purpose. I whisked about a teaspoon of the matcha in about 3 tablespoons of hot water, then added foamed Oatly to my cup to make a homemade hot matcha latte. It was creamy, smooth, with just a hint of bitter. There’s something about the sound and feeling of whisking matcha that I find so soothing and fun. It’s definitely a good use case for #asmr (autonomous sensory meridian response). There are ENTIRE accounts on Instagram and TikTok JUST around the #asmr from simple, everyday things such as whisking, pouring liquid into a glass, to ice cubes falling into a cup!

Sundae Service NYC

Since getting more and more immersed in the foodie community of YouTube and Instagram, one fun thing I’ve been doing is learning more about small, locally owned businesses in New York City. Most of the ones I’ve learned about are so small that they’re still operating out of their home kitchens, including two Asian-American owned ice cream businesses in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The one that I just got a delivery from was Sundae Service NYC, which delivers pints of ice cream every Sunday across Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. They are two Asian American sisters who churn out pints of ice cream in a small selection of flavors ranging from Vietnamese coffee to coconut pandan sorbet (vegan!) to earl grey strawberry cheesecake. I got all three of these flavors, along with black sesame ginger, and had been waiting to order from them for a while (I was trying to eat the rest of our ice cream and also clear out our freezer of all the stuff I’ve been over stocking up on). We tried all of them after they were delivered yesterday, and I was blown away by all four of them; all of them have very strong, assertive flavors, and the flavor combinations are just so complementary. With the earl grey strawberry cheesecake, what I loved most about it was not only the earl grey tea base, but the fact that the cheesecake chunks were small — just enough so you could taste the cheese, but not too much so that it would overpower the earl grey or the fresh strawberry chunks.

This may be dangerous knowing they exist and can so easily deliver without a delivery fee if you get at least two pints because I’m pretty obsessed with them now.

Butternut squash uses

I love autumn squash. Every year when fall rolls around, I get excited about all the butternut, buttercup, and kabocha squash I can easily get at markets everywhere here. The funny thing, though, is that I actually don’t really change up how I make it; I almost inevitably will roast it, puree it into soup, or toss it into salads. I do know that certain types of squash appear in dal recipes, even in Kerala sambar, but I’d never actually tried it myself. With the new food blogger/vlogger network I’ve been developing on YouTube and Instagram, I’ve come across way too many food inspirations to keep track of that I actually want to make (and have ingredients easily accessible to make!), and one of them is Tamil butternut squash (dal) stew. It’s so easy and simple to make, and other than cubing up the butternut squash, there’s very minimal cutting or chopping. It has just a small amount of shredded coconut that you blend into a paste before adding it into the Instant Pot, but that gives it an instant bit of sweetness that works super well with the overall stew.

The new foodie community I belong to now has really been inspiring. I have so many things I want to make and try out to increase my cooking knowledge all thanks to these new food-loving, creating friends.