BtB (Back to Basics) in AirBnB.

Being an international  / non-resident alien (USCIS definition) / resident alien (IRS definition), I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be a wonderful celebration. I think it has something to do with the fact that it celebrates two of my favorite things in life – family and food. Given that my family is a 24 hour flight away, I usually spend Thanksgiving with friends / eating other people’s turkey. However this year, my family decided to jet all the way from across the world from multiple locations to celebrate Thanksgiving with meand take advantage of being close to 5th Avenue during Black Friday.

Of course, it would have been really convenient if they had chosen to actually be in Boston (which is where I live / keep my cooking supplies) during Thanksgiving itself. However, because 5th Avenue > Newbury Street (sorry Boston folks – you know my heart belongs to the big apple), we decided to improvise and make do with whatever utensils our AirBnb could provide us with. Of course, I considered packing a roasting tray, a couple containers of herbs and spices, (my brother actually brought his chef’s knife from Portland, OR), but eventually decided against it. I decided to use simple cooking techniques and seasoning in order to make the ingredients shine.

Basically, I had limited myself to salt, pepper, olive oil, and some paprika (there has to be heat somewhere). First, came the duck. Salt, pepper, olive oil and paprika, and rub it all around the duck. Below is a video of the duck post-marination, being carefully placed on the tray (I eventually had to swap it out for the glass container after the duck fat dripped out of the tray, started to smoke, and triggered the fire alarm in our AirBnb. This went on to happen another 10 times or so).

Besides the duck, there were of course sides. Some vegetables are easier to make than others. When you are limited to only the four ingredients above, I’d recommend asparagus and butternut squash to provide some added color (I wanted Brussels sprouts, but was veto-ed by my family).

Of course, we also had to prepare the stuffing, which had some bread, sausage, carrot, celery, chicken stock. Thank goodness the oven was big enough to hold 4 different items in it at the same time.

Finally, the dessert from Magnolia Bakery (even though I bought this, I still had to bake this in the oven so I think it counts).0aded86b-0776-4bdd-b08c-69de125b498f

Overall, given the limited amount of ingredients / utensils, I’d say we had a very delicious and bountiful Thanksgiving. Another meal well done!

Battle of the Burgers: Shake Shack vs. the Jucy Lucy

What do you do when you’re stuck indoors all day waiting out a seasonal Nor’easter during Halloween weekend? Some people choose to binge on Netflix and ice-cream. Some people choose to run in the storm and challenge the elements head-on.

I prefer creating my own imaginary food competition.

I present to you – Battle of the Burgers, the Northeast vs. the Midwest edition, the Shake Shack burger vs. the Jucy Lucy!

In all honesty, I probably messed up the shake shack burger when I copied it from this Youtube video here. I mean, I already removed the burger buns by accident (and screwing up the first step that was mentioned within the first 10 seconds of the video). Nevertheless, I was undeterred and decided to valiantly pursue my quest of making this burger war happen.

So first was the meat. So some of you may be thinking – what exactly is a Jucy Lucy? Some have called it America’s finest. Some have called it sacrilegious to cheese. Some have also mentioned that they don’t get the hype because it’s ultimately a burger with cheese. Well – I am determined to at least give this culinary oddity a try. So behold the patty preparation process!

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While the process looks simple (and is in fact, fairly straightforward), a number of things you needed to pay attention to. First, you had to make sure that the edges of the burger were adequately sealed. Otherwise you’ll have yourself a Juiceless Lucy when the cheese leaks out of the patty. That also means that you have to basically double the patty size.

After some quick searing, make shift “shack-sauce” making (I left out the pickle brine in the recipe – I don’t usually eat pickles and was not going to purchase a whole jar for a little bit of brine) and some careful plating….

I have to say, as bizarre as it sounds, having the cheese INSIDE the burger is a lot better than having the cheese outside. I think I’m going to be making a lot more Jucy Lucys from here on out. (Sorry Shake Shack. While your chicken sandwich will always have my heart, my vote goes to Lucy this time around).

All-in-all, a Saturday well spent I believe.

Baking Bananas

One of the first things I have ever learnt how to bake when I was a kid is the ever-glorious banana bread. Soft, moist, tasty, and having a delicate balance between savory and sweet. I still remember saving up RM0.50 in order to purchase one from my school canteen when I was 7 years old. It was quite the incredible snack!

Of course, one of the funniest mistakes I recall making when making banana bread was using bananas that were simply not ripe enough. It’s insufficient to have just yellow bananas – they need to be turning brown / getting soft because that’s when the sugar starts forming. So imagine my facial expression when on banana bread day, I realized that banana looked like this.

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Sure, they were ripe enough to eat. But were they ripe enough to be banana bread? That was the question. So I sat staring at the bananas and I realized that I had an economic dilemma in front of me. Do I wait another day or so for the banana to ripen up further, or do I risk it and chuck it into my batter? Is the disutility suffered from eating a less-delicious banana bread greater or smaller than the disutility suffered from having to wait a day or two to eat a better banana bread?

Of course, after pondering this question for about 30 seconds, I immediately whipped out my phone and googled “ways to quickly ripen bananas.” And that’s when I found the cooking technique that long eluded me – how to play god and speed up the banana aging process.

After 300F and 20 minutes, we had the following images in quick successions: img_5271img_5272img_5296

It turns out – baking it slightly will turn the banana skin black, but the banana fruit ripe.

And there you have it! How to bake a banana in order to bake banana bread.

*PS: The last image was taken less than 24 hours after it was done. I really should remember to take photos immediately when I’m done with my food, or risk the belly wrath of house guests / roommates.

Chilling and Grilling (Indoors)

Step 1: Take a bunch of your colleague’s old stuff because he’s moving out of Boston. Things include: a futon, a coffee table, a portable grill, a portable fan

Step 2: Buy a bunch of meat from the store. Things include: Kobe beef slices, and pre-marinated pork / beef.

Step 3: Create the following setup (make sure to include the fan – otherwise you’ll set off your fire alarm)

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Step 4: Grill and watch Jurassic World at the same time.

Figured I’d share my latest idea of what “chilling and grilling” means  when you don’t have a backyard.

When the Cookie Crumbles

So most (if not all) of my food-related posts involve my triumphs in the kitchen and a little bit of #instafilter. It can be really satisfying to see the fruits of your labor pay off in the form of wide smiles, a tasty meal, and a good gram’. Yet, sometimes, kitchen mishaps do occur. I was scrolling through some old photos the other day, and I noticed a couple of photos documenting how spectacularly far off the end result was from the desired outcome. Exhibit A and B:

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At the top, we have the supposed “Cheesy Baked Hash Brown Patties” that just did not hold it shape (I’m still convinced this was a recipe flaw), and the second was just a disastrous attempt at a pastitsio, a Greek lamb pasta bake dish that not only spectacularly fell apart when I took it out of the oven, it was borderline inedible because I was too heavy handed with the cinnamon.

Kitchen failures do happen from time to time – but amidst the trash of inedible food waste caused by a series of poor decision, comes some fairly valuable lessons about cooking, and life in general.

Cooking Lesson 1: Be very careful with cinnamon – especially if you’re not planning to put it with baked goods. Otherwise, your facial expression wouldn’t be too far off from people who attempted the cinnamon challenge.

Life Lesson 1: Sometimes less is more – focus on doing something right, rather than doing lots of things.

Cooking Lesson 2: Make sure you squeeze dry the shredded potatoes before you attempt to construct a hash brown, otherwise the water content from the potatoes will wash the cheese out, leading to a puddle of watery cheddar on the pan tray that took a lot of scrubbing to come out (the instructions / video did not include this step).

Life Lesson 2: Don’t always believe what you see – think if a statement makes sense before following it.

Guess the crumbs taste good even when the cookie crumbles (as long as they don’t fall to the floor).

 

 

Travel Logs: Greeking Out!

 

Greece – home to a remarkable ancient civilization, a majestic acropolis in the capital, beautiful islands, and incredible food. This past week has been quite the journey. We scaled the cliffs of Santorini, roamed through the monasteries of Meteora, and explored the ruins of the acropolis. I also finally understand the real color tone of a “Blue Sky” (see images below).

 

The highlight of the trip? Watching the stacked white buildings of Santorini. It’s quite remarkable when you consider that they are actually producing their own wines and produce, despite the fact that the climate of the island is mostly hot and arid. Something to be said about the ability of volcanic soil to create enough little pockets of grapes for them to have a thriving wine industry.

The second highlight of the trip? Taking a 5-hour train ride each way from Athens on the same day to visit the monasteries of Meteora. Fun fact – Game of Thrones apparently created one of the set pieces out of Meteora. The life of ascetic monks can be quite the cliffhanger (no pun intended). Some of them used to get up to the monasteries via nets that would be pulled up by a pulley!

Besides the rich tapestry of history, landscape and architecture, Greece is also home to an incredibly array of flavors – from delicious appetizers such as fried cheese and honey, to a vast array of seafood, lamb and pork dishes, moussaka, and of course, the all ubiquitous gyros. Beautiful use of spices and herbs – shoutout to the cinnamon in the moussaka and the oregano in many of the dishes.

One of the more interesting facts about the gyros that I learnt was that it became especially popular during the Greek debt crisis, because of its affordability and nutrition value. It was something that I didn’t quite realize until I was actually there, and realize that for €3, you can get a wrap that will fill you right up.

All in all, a fairly good trip I’d say. Of course, over the next few weeks I have made it my personal mission to try and replicate the Lamb Kleftiko (meatballs), and the Moussaka. Always wanted to dabble my hands in a little bit of Greek cuisine – we’ll see if that turns out well!

Class Pas(ta)

When an old friend decides to drop into town after approximately 4 years, there’s only one way to properly welcome her back to Boston – by inviting our mutual friends over and teaching them how to make pasta! I didn’t have time to cook the whole dinner myself. I wanted to take the opportunity to show my friends how to make fresh pasta from scratch. Pasta, in all honesty, is one of the most incredibly easy things to make from scratch. With nothing more than flour, eggs, salt, a dash of olive oil, and some patience, you can create some truly incredible dishes, from scratch and super tasty! A how-to video by Basics with Babish is all you need to get started! (his videos are incredible – really inspires me to be a full time professional and full time chef).

It was quite simple really – once you’ve mixed the dough and let it rest, you use the pasta machine and watch the magic happen! There’s a rather ‘zen’ element involved in making pasta (I promise those were genuinely happy faces), and the fact that the pasta was the first dish to be finished is a testament to our masterchef-abilities. My favorite part of the entire pasta making class? The fact that everyone had a great time making it! I thought it was quite inspiring that everyone found it easy (it really is) and fun! As an added bonus, I got to sip on a little bit of extra wine and catch a breather from running around the kitchen.  It’s a little bit like work – there’s an upfront cost to investing in some of your colleagues, taking the time to nurture and teach them the ropes of the job. Once they are ready however, you empower them with the appropriate opportunities, and watch wonderful things unfold!

Featured below: the whole dinner crew, and the wonderful food everyone made!