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What’s cookin’, good lookin’?

Written by Emmy on 12 June 2012

Much of my childhood was spent discussing, looking at, making or eating food. So it’s no surprise that I was fascinated with the idea of cooking long before I had any idea how to do it.

Because I spent the majority of college living in dorms with a tiny, tiny kitchen and feeding myself on meal plan, I did not do much cooking. Plus the life of a newspaper editor was not quite conducive to laborious homemade dinners. I had a brief vacation in the form of my semester abroad, where I learned that all cooking was meant to include olive oil and garlic. I picked my pots and pans back up senior spring of college, when the end of newspaper editing left a big hole in my schedule. In my own kitchen, I had the ultimate taste-tester in the form of my roommate, Jillian. She was willing to sample any of my creations — particularly those with eggplant — as long as the only thing she had to do was wash dishes. On other occasions, I co-piloted elaborate vegetarian creations in Chaz’s kitchen.

I was determined to keep progressing my culinary skills after graduation, beginning, of course, at the hands of Big Mama in Chiang Mai. Back in New York and in my brand-new kitchen, I decided it was time to take on challenges, new and familiar.

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IMG_8404In my Manhattan apartment, I enlist sous chef assistance from one of my roommates, Dana. One of the few times I cooked with Dana prior to our cohabitation, she attempted to put a metal bowl in the microwave. “Guys,” she nonchalantly called into the living room, “Fire.”

Her skills have since improved since then, and she is particularly good at cutting and aggressively pounding things, which comes in handy given our new-found career in pizza making.

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My cooking experiments were at an all-time high in the few weeks after my last travel adventure and before I had to, you know, actually start being an adult and doing work. But I’ve still made time to fit in a few cooking projects alongside friends.

Vernie and I forewent eating Asian noodles in a restaurant for making spicy Mexican chicken meatballs on a cold wintry day, a dish that conveys its deliciousness in just its appearance.

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IMG_0101The next day, I served the leftovers to my roommates and assorted other visitors during an impromptu Grammys party, along with avocado and black bean quesadillas. My trick to making quesadillas, grilled cheese or really anything that requires melting cheese between pieces of bread is to put the item into a frying pan with a plate on top of it. The pressure helps it cook more evenly and get crispier. I have a personal penchant for food that’s half a degree short of burnt, though I know that’s not always the most popular choice.

For an Oscars viewing, I constructed another kind of chicken meatball, this time with an Asian spin and served alongside steamed edamame and peanut noodles.

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Big Mama’s lessons aside, Asian food is still not something that ever tastes as good coming from my kitchen as it does out of a take-out box or in its native environs.

I continue to make and perfect interpretations of eggplant parmesan. It remains the perfect answer to balancing the equation of cooking time and delicious outcome; it’s fast, easy and really, what could be bad about eggplant, sauce and melted cheese?

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Truth be told, not all of my cooking adventures in my new grownup apartment have been such a raging success. The most illustrative example would be my attempt to create my annual springtime dessert — chocolate caramel matzah crunch, a Passover specialty. I had made some at my parents’ house on Long Island, but it was quickly devoured and Passover lasts a long time. So I decided to make another batch; the recipe is incredibly simple and involves four ingredients: butter, brown sugar, chocolate and matzah. Step one of the recipe is to make the caramel, which is easy enough — just requires melting the butter and brown sugar together.

But somehow, something went awry. I think I let the butter melt for too long before adding the sugar or maybe the ratios were accidentally off, but regardless of the cause, my caramel suddenly started turning black and smoke started rushing out of the pot, filling my entire kitchen. My apartment has fantastic cooking amenities, especially for a group of twenty-somethings, but the one thing we lack is a fan over the stove. I opened the windows, but smoke just kept streaming out of the pot. Concerned about the unending nature of this minor debacle, I came to the only logical solution: I sat on the window sill, held the pot outside the window, and released the sticky sweet smoke onto unsuspecting passersby in Union Square. It continued burning for an impressively long time and when I pulled the pot back inside, there was a smoky, sticky black gunk stuck to it.

After my roommates finally stopped laughing at me, I scrubbed the pot, melted another stuck of butter and successfully made a new batch of the matzah.

Professional I may not be, but I keep concocting – sometimes with a recipe and sometimes fully at whim – and I continue to subject whoever is dining with me to a quick iPhone photo before anyone can take a bite. If a member of the checkpoint eats something and does not document it, was it ever eaten at all?

photo (13)photo (8)photo (10)photo (16)photo (15)photo (12)photo (9)photo (17)photo (19)Row by row, starting on the top left: stovetop cheesy penne with broccoli and cauliflower; whole wheat spaghetti with chicken sausage and sundried tomato pesto; Cinco de Mayo barbecue chicken nachos; brussel sprouts, baby zucchini and white beans; reinterpreted Mexico as casserole; spicy peanut tofu with Chinese broccoli; spicy penne with chickpeas and broccoli rabe; butternut squash, brussel sprout and chicken apple sausage omelet; turkey meatballs, broccoli rabe and sundried tomatoes.

Not within reach

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2011

Much like in Thailand, our trip out west was marked by a couple phrases from pop culture that found particular resonance in our minivan.

One, from the show Portlandia, proved particularly useful when trying to unearth an item from Dorothy’s vast and often uncharted reaches. Sometimes, an item that should really be quite easy to grab is just, well, not within reach.

“Could you grab the paper bowls?” Rummage in the trunk. Spot them far away, wedged between hiking boots and a sleeping bag. “Oh… oh, no. They’re really not within reach at this time.”

And the second, perhaps a more timeless one, comes again from Friends, as Rachel and Chandler try to help Ross move a couch. I think Ross’ pronunciation of the word pivot has left a mark on our entire generation.

This one, naturally, came in handy when setting up the tent (“We need to piv-at the door around a bit”) or when moving a picnic table around our campsite (“We need to piv-at it closer to the fire”).

Guided by Miss Chanandoler Bong

Written by Chaz on 20 June 2011

When we first arrived in Bangkok, we were totally disoriented. The city’s sprawl, combined with the in-your-face commerce happening on the street and off, totally overwhelmed us. Thanks to our guidebooks, though, we found Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok, which both oriented us and gave us lots of ideas for things to do and see in the city.

Because the bookstore in which we found her Bangkok map had stocked her map for Chiang Mai right next door, we were able to arrive in the northern city with a map already in hand. Which means that, for almost two weeks now, we’ve been making jokes based our mapmaker’s last name and a scene from one of our favorite television series, Friends.

“I need to take a quick look at Chanandoler” is not an uncommon thing for us to say on the streets of Chiang Mai. “Did you remember to bring Miss Bong?”

So if it’s 11 a.m. here…

Written by Emmy on 17 June 2011

There is much confusion that results from being on the other side of the world. For one, everyone here drives on the left side of the road — something I ordinarily only associate with the Brits. The language and the foods are, as previously discussed, so foreign from anything I’ve ever known. But perhaps the most unnerving thing about being so far from home is the extremity of the time difference.

When I was abroad in Spain, I adjusted to thinking that lunch for me meant breakfast for my family. But 11 or 12 hours is a whole other ball game. I spend the whole day gallivanting around Thailand, and everyone I know is asleep the entire time. I wake up in the morning and have a full email inbox, exhibits of a day’s worth of activity. And trying to figure out the time when 16-hour airplane rides are thrown into the mix? Forget about it.

I keep thinking of this video, and hope it will help to illustrate the brainteaser I feel like I keep trying to work out: