1. How I started cooking
During the Covid-19 induced quarantine, I reignited my interest in cooking that came from watching the food network constantly and adding eggs to instant ramen as a kid.
I feel like I have a better intuition about how to handle food. I think how programming languages become much easier to learn once you've learned one in and out rings true for cooking as well - my hands and eyes and nose just move differently than they did months ago and I'm much more confident taking up "hard" dishes (pasta, macarons).
Second to writing code, food is the closest thing I've found to magic. Taking something that would make you sick if you ate it as is and turning into something that really *hits the spot* sparks a sense of wonder.
Even before I started cooking, I always enjoyed eating. I think that's one of the foundational skills to being a great chef - making food that you like. My mom is a housewife/part-time medical secretary and for her, cooking was just part of the job. She never tastes her food and only pulls from a set of tried and true recipes for lunch and dinner. Any time she has to make a different quantity of the same recipe, it doesn't turn out as good (she doesn't measure anything but makes everything via muscle memory).
To cook good, somewhat original food, it's vital to have a palate that lets you recognize what's good. And, if it's not good, a palate that tells you what's missing. I used to think cooking was easy because it was just about following a recipe. Since then, I've realized it's all about using your palate to adjust and evolve your dishes. This is what Massimo Bottura (executive chef at a 3-Michelin-star restaurant in Italy) advocates in his masterclass - trusting your palate over tradition/recipies. Which is also why he makes pesto with breadcrumbs instead of pine nuts.
For lots of people, food is just for sustenance. Which totally works - a year ago I'd forget to eat because I was occupied and wished Soylent was legal in Canada so I could waste less time on meals. Now, I find cooking therapeutic and eating incredibly satisfying and I'm sure I can get good food that fulfills my dietary needs without eating out or spending hours in the kitchen. Even chicken and rice meal prep can be improved with a little extra effort.
2. Youtube channels to learn from
If you're interested in learning, my favorite teachers have been the following YouTube channels:
- Adam Ragusea - I've seen all of his videos and most of my recipies come from him. He's the epitome of a home cook and all of his recipes are versatile and approachable. I'm also way too invested in the meme culture surrounding him like how he always uses white wine in everything and seasons his cutting board, not his steak
- My fav. recipe: Chicken Pot Pie
- Binging with Babish - He recreates food from movies and TV but also has an educational series called Basics with Babish which is *chef's kiss*.
- My fav. recipe: Egg Tarts
- Internet Shaquille - He's like Adam Ragusea but weirder and less professional - still has good recipes/tricks but not every video is something you'd make at home.
- My fav. recipe: Scrambled Eggs
- Bon Appetit - All their content is about cooking but it's like a reality TV show and it's entertaining because I'm so invested in the chefs/characters and their relationships.
- My fav. recipe: Banana Bread
3. Recipes I've made
- best when your bananas are falling apart mushy
- add your baking soda before your flour (or mix them together first but why waste the extra dish?), I messed this up twice and it didn't rise properly
- hand mixer works just fine here, I switch to a spatula after creaming the butter and sugar then fold in the flour and bananas
- adding walnuts + some chopped chocolate is, I don't do sugar on top like in the video
Fresh Pasta (No-Roller)
- I added chicken to make it more filling and subbed fennel for onion
- Rolling out fresh pasta is really hard - this way just requires cutting
- Fresh pasta is really something else this 10x better than the boxed stuff but I wouldn't do this again unless I had someone to impress
- This is a great learning recipe and really fun to make with other people - there's no set quantities and requires some going off of how the dough feels
Chicken Pot Pie
- The best dish I've made - in the words of Adam Ragusea: "It tastes like a hug on a plate"
- It was a really fun time since I made it with my brother and his girlfriend - I really appreciate dishes that have you do tasks simultaneously and let you delegate to other people
- This dish is so freaking versatile - it's just pastry, chicken, veggies and béchamel sauce so 2/4 of the dish can be made from leftovers or stuff that's frozen
- I can't say anything that uses ~2 cups of butter is healthy but the veggies turn so soft it's like they're not even there
- A dish worth burning your mouth for, which I did twice over
Recipe - Alex (French Guy Cooking)
- Made this with 2 friends, it's a really fun coop dish with lots of stuff to do async
- we deviated from the recipe a lot - just understand that its meat/sausage, tomato sauce with an onion and garlic base, assorted peppers with an egg on top that tastes absolutely fire
- The harissa (chili pepper sauce on the side) was way better than the sum of its parts - I'd make it with other dishes if I had peppers at home (which I often don't)
- I really advocate for leaving the dough in the fridge for a few days - it'll take better and bake up crispier + also try to shred your cheese fresh and leave it in the fridge until the last second
- Low-moisture mozz and uncooked San Marisano tomato sauce may be authentic new york style but I like a heartier pizza so I added toppings and however much sauce felt right, even using butter chicken sauce when I didnt have any canned pizza sauce left
- Pizza is the food of the ninja turtles don't let anyone gatekeep pizza making by convincing you the only way to do it one way - you don't even need a pizza stone/steel/peel - I spread the dough out on a pizza tray (without tossing! the oblong pizzas have more character!) and baked it at 400 degrees C until crispy on the bottom (for me about 20-25 mins. but your oven will be different)
- Adam is a wild chef who takes his pizza dough, lets it age in the fridge for 7 days, puts salt, pepper, and garlic powder on it and it makes the most insane bread
- It tastes like a sourdough breadstick if you do it right
- I recommend slicing and dipping in some sort of tomato/ chili pepper sauce
- Better than any Chinese bakery in Toronto - I'm a fanatic for those 5 for $2 tarts 🤩
- The outside feels like a crumbly sugar cookie and the inside is like custard but more egg-y
- Making the pastry dough in a food processor feels like a hack, like it shouldn't be this easy
- They're best right out of the oven, be sure to reheat them if you have leftovers since the filling kind of separates if you eat them cold (still tastes great)
Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Really buttery, I'd add less the next time I make them but my mom didn't use a lot of butter in our food growing up so your taste might be different
- Other than than, no complaints - they're soft and chewy/cakey rather than crispy like boxed cookies which I like
- Brown butter is definitely one of the top 5 smells in the world
Aglio e Olio (Fresh Pasta Pt. 2)
- This dish is the definition of being more than the sum of its parts - it should be illegal for something with only 6 ingredients to be this good even if you're not using fresh pasta
- The secret is probably toasting garlic and chili flakes in olive oil but even the parsley and lemon feel like they add so much, not to mention salt and pepper - I tasted it at intermediate stages and nothing really compared to the end product
- I added tomatoes because I added too much olive oil and wanted to cut the richness with sweetness and acidity
- Rolling out fresh pasta is a pain - imagine rolling something out only to have it spring back 80% of the way 🤦♂️
Spaghetti and Meatballs
- I can't especially rave about this dish because there's pretty much nothing special about spaghetti and meatballs other than that it just works - I'd make this once every week (or 2 because it's just meat and carbs) and be satisfied
- Soaking breadcrumbs in milk and adding that to the meat is a game-changer, 10x better with than without
- I subbed lamb for lean beef and the end product was more pebbly than sloppy - probably because lamb has more fat and I overcooked it a little
- Tasted great although it wasn't very gyro-like - I still admire the idea of getting gyro flavour without the same shaved meat form factor
- I subbed white wine for white vinegar and water, not sure if there's a difference
Apple Galette (Pie)
- This is apple pie but with a little less crust and easier to make
- The original recipe uses strawberries but I didn't have those - use what you have and improvise ex. I looked up an apple pie recipe and made the filling based on that while making the pastry as it was shown in the galette video
- It's apple pie what can I say - it smelled like America and tasted like freedom /s
- Honestly this is just vanilla sponge with canned pineapple juice in the layers and fruit on top - I don't know how it works so well together
- Made this for my uncle's birthday - apparently pineapple cake with whipped cream was my parents' wedding cake in Pakistan so the whole family really liked it
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions via email at [email protected] - I'd be happy to help!
And if you found this particularly useful, consider buying me a coffee ☕️.