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.

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).

 

 

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!

On iCloud Backups and Family

So I’ve finally managed to move my old laptop’s backup over to my new device, and I couldn’t resist flipping through my old photos. Oh boy – it’s been a real long time since my Photos app cooperated with me. It was like going back in a time machine, couple of days at a time. I’ve come to really appreciate the ability to store roughly 20,000 photos from over a period of 9 years. That being said, I’m also sorely reminded of my younger brother Nick, whose currently a whopping 3,000 miles away. Admittedly, it’s a little better than the 10,000 miles that separates my parents and I, but not by much…

My brother, like me, decided to get as far away from home as he possibly could, the moment he could. However, that probably sums up the similarities between our life choices and aspirations. While he enjoys the mountains and mild rains of the pacific northwest, I enjoy the distinctly northeast seasons, be it the blistering cold winters, or warm blue-skied summers. While he enjoys the certainty of proofs and solutions in mathematics, I enjoy the perspectives and uncertainty in International Relations and Economics.  There is however, one redeeming factor that connects us as brothers. Our joint passion for food and cooking. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of his culinary choices (banana wrapped bacon? seriously?!), he is one talented cook, and I really draw inspiration from his bold choices from time to time.

Ladies and Gents, I present to you, Chef Nick and his many adventures! Looking forward to many more East / West coast collaboration!

Cooking for an Army

So a couple of weeks back, I decided to do something different for my 27th birthday. Instead of a birthday celebration at the restaurant (Hibachi last year was incredible), I decided to challenge myself and see whether I had what it takes to cook for 20 people. Shortly after I sent out the Facebook event invite, the sheer size of the task ahead dawned upon me – I realized that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Nevertheless, I did what I normally do. I took a deep breath and I told myself, that it’s going to be “Great!”.

Cooking for that many people presented several logistical problems. Apart from the fact that I was going to have to make a remarkable amount of food, I also had to make sure that I accounted for dietary restrictions, the cohesiveness of a meal in terms of flavors, and the timing of the execution. The fact that I didn’t have a car didn’t help either – it would mean that I needed to make multiple trips to the grocery store. There was also the issue of fitting that many people in my apartment without it being a fire hazard – the living space would need to be rearranged in order to make people feel more comfortable. Thus, I got to work planning this dinner party whilst I was procrastinating taking a short break from the demands of my day job. I planned a menu (catering to vegetarians / non-red meat preferences), created a list of groceries that I needed to get (it was a long list, and it took 3 trips to the grocery store to get everything), and a planned itinerary of how Saturday (or, as I’d like to call it, a significantly less important D-Day, for “Dinner Day”) was going to throw down. I also took the opportunity to share my plan of action with my friend, who (see text message exchange below), had nothing but the greatest of confidence in me.

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So Saturday arrived – I put on my apron, and got cooking according to my plan. While there were minor changes to the plan that needed to be made due to unforeseen circumstances (*cough* Star Market inexplicably selling you moldy basil / bad balsamic vinegar *cough*), dinner was a resounding success, and I managed to finish everything 15 minutes late[strikeout] on time for dinner! Again, the proof is in the pudding, or in this particular case, the lasagna (see happy faces below and pictures of dishes).

 

So couple of key takeaways when planning to cook for a large crowd –

  1. Planning the menu is important – go for larger casserole based dishes that can be done in bulk. These also tend to be more forgiving.
  2. Always plan ahead of time – it really does help to have an idea of when you expect things to be completed, and when you ought to start a new dish
  3. Have a Plan B – I downloaded the Dominoes App onto my phone.
  4. Be wary of moldy basil.

Some afterthoughts on this entire experience – I found the experience to be incredibly fulfilling, and I thought that it was wonderful being able to use my kitchen skills to bring friends and colleagues under the same roof to just have a good time and create lasting memories! The night did end with a discussion of Kpop and BTS, so things definitely took an unexpected turn at some point. I also found (strangely enough), that the systematic thinking and organizational skills I have developed in my workplace was incredibly useful here (shoutout to AG for equipping me pull of this great dinner party!). No doubt this skillset is probably going to be incredibly useful, especially in the next couple of months as I’m preparing to apply to MBA programs, start on new cases, live life etc. The fun stuff.