I’ve never been much of a cook, really. Up until college, I probably only ever fried eggs, helped my mom stir whatever was cooking in a pot, and take the chicken out of the freezer. But after I got off the dining plan in freshman year, I kind of started experimenting and I actually realized I really liked cooking for myself. I emphasize “for myself” because I’ve never cooked for more than 3 people and because I don’t like cooking what other people want me to cook, I just like cooking what I want to eat whenever I want (hahaha).
So yeah, throughout my time in college I became increasingly curious about what I could make and in senior year especially, I became so hooked on watching Martha Stewart videos on YouTube (yes, I’m one of those people) so I really got a lot of cooking ideas. I was going through my photos recently and decided to round up a bunch of my favourite cooking experiments from this past semester.
My number one favourite is probably ricotta pancakes. These were the softest, fluffiest, most indulgent pancakes I have ever had. If you know me, you know I don’t talk myself up very much but I actually think the best pancakes I’ve ever had were these ones, made by me. This was the recipe I used: you need ricotta cheese, flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt and butter.
The thing about this recipe is that I usually avoid recipes that involve separating eggs and beating the whites separately but for this one, I decided to do it and honestly… there’s no going back. Because I don’t have a mixer, my arm got so sore after beating the egg whites to get stiff peaks (I used the Kitchn’s visual guide to beating egg whites—super super helpful!) but I swear, it was worth it. I think folding in beaten egg whites separately really makes all the difference. Although, naive me thought I’d really get to taste the ricotta cheese in the pancake but it’s really more about giving the pancake a more moist and indulgent feel, which was not what I expected, but still so good. I also tossed in some lemon zest just because I like lemon zest.
After I cooked it, I ate it with butter and honey just because I wasn’t going to buy maple syrup for this one batch of pancakes. Ahhh, I genuinely can’t say enough good things about it because this was probably one of the best things I’ve ever made and I highly recommend you try to make it.
Lemon Sugar Cookies
When I first came to the US, the idea of sugar cookies were so foreign to me. But I think they’re just cookies with like… sugar on top? Anyway. My friend Petra posted a picture of lemon cookies ages ago and I loved the idea so much so I tried it myself. My sister Aida and I made it together last year once and I remember really liking it because of the lemon sugar on top so my friend Jamie and I made it again a few months ago with this recipe for the cookie and this is the recipe for the lemon sugar (basically sugar and lemon zest) which is what you roll the cookie dough in just before you bake it.
They had just the right amounts of of chewiness and crunchiness and I love both the sweetness and sourness in a cookie. In fact, I’m starting to think it’s the perfect thing for summer and maybe I’ll make it again soon.
If you’ve seen Princess Diaries a quarter as many times as I have, you’ll remember that in the state dinner scene, (where she gets a brain freeze) they serve this green soup that has a G on it. I obviously don’t know what soup that is, but I’ve always thought it was spinach soup and I’ve always wanted to have spinach soup. At home, we’ve made mushroom soup a few times before so I thought I knew the basic concept and it couldn’t be that much different (I was actually kinda wrong, I think mushroom soup is slightly easier). Plus, I love spinach—palak paneer is probably one of my all time favourite indian foods—so I really wanted to try this recipe, especially after I watched Thomas Joseph’s Kitchen Conundrums video on it.
Let’s go on a tangent for a little bit: I really don’t know how many of you ever click on any of the links I include but I cannot recommend Kitchen Conundrums highly enough when it comes to cooking videos. I just love how much I learn about the techniques behind cooking every dish they feature. Like for this one, Thomas Joseph explains the difference between using a bechamel and a veloute as a base for creamy soups and he tells us that whenever you’re cooking with flour or some sort of starch you have to bring it up to a boil and then let it simmer and those things are always very useful to know!
Ok, now back to the soup. You start with a roux, which is butter with onions and then flour. Then you add chicken stock to the mix, boil it all and let it simmer. And then it starts to get a little complicated once you start to work on the spinach. You first have to blanch the spinach, which basically means putting it in boiled salted water for a while to cook it a little and give it flavour but then you have to quickly take it out and put it into an iced bath to stop it from cooking too much.
Then, you blend the veloute and the spinach (which you should obviously dry first) in a blender. After that, you put it back in the pot for a bit and add some cream and honestly, spinach never tasted so good. Yeah, it is kind of annoying because there are quite a lot of steps but it’s not difficult, you know? And to me, it’s so worth it.
I love potatoes. Did you know that? Next to eggs and cheese, potatoes are in my upper echelon of favourite foods. Slightly below it is salmon and noodles and rice, but let’s not get into my whole food ranking right now. Last winter break, I was in London and the night before my flight back to Philadelphia, I went to Poundland to look for a microwave food cover thing and ended up getting distracted and coming out with a silicone spatula, ceramic dish and a grater. It was at that Poundland that I decided I’d make rosti with that grater when I got back to Philly.
I can’t remember what recipe I followed to make my rosti because the thing is, what I usually do is read like 5 different recipes, watch a couple of YouTube videos on it and then set off to just do it myself once I feel like I got the basic concept down. I can’t even remember exactly what I did, which isn’t helpful to you, I know, but I think there was some parboiling and an iced bath involved as well. But I think you don’t have to do all of that, you can probably get away with just peeling the potatoes, boiling them, grating them (this unsurprisingly turned out to be the most tedious part) and then mixing them with whatever you want to cook it with. I put salt, pepper, some paprika and scallions.
I think some people cook it all at once in a large pan but I wasn’t really a fan of that and I just think making lots of smaller ones just made more sense to me for whatever reason. So what you do is just take a bit of this mix at a time and fry it! It’s pretty simple. Like the spinach soup, it’s totally not difficult but probably more tedious than you’d like. The payoff though, was so worth it.
I ate it with smoked salmon, sour cream and dill and it was probably the best savoury breakfast I’ve made for myself this entire year.
I first made spaghetti squash with Cristina last fall, and I really just marvelled at the fact that spaghetti squash is a thing in this world that exists. I don’t remember feeling as awestruck about produce like that ever before and I don’t think I have since. But basically, it’s squash which turns into these spaghetti-like strings if you carik them after you bake it. I don’t know how to say carik in English—pull apart into bits?!
So yeah, we made it once last fall and it was so delicious. I wanted to make it again but I think it was out of season so I could never find it. Then, one miraculous day, I was at Frogro with Jamie just accompanying her when I saw one lonely spaghetti squash just sitting there in the produce section. I couldn’t believe it, there was only one!!! So I took no chances and bought it immediately. I’m so glad I did because I don’t recall seeing it there again.
First, you have to poke a few holes along the line in the centre where you’ll cut it, and then microwave it for like 20 seconds. We tried cutting it without microwaving it that one time and my god was it difficult to cut. After microwaving it, it was so easy even I could do it (I’m not very strong, lol). Then you remove the seeds, put some olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it skin up at 400 deg F/200 deg C for 30 minutes ish? Until the squash is done, basically.
While it’s baking, cut up some vegetables to put inside. Once it’s done, use a fork to like “tear” the flesh into shreds (i.e. the simple Malay word, carik) and then put in the vegetables you want, put some cheese on top and bake it for another, I don’t know, 10-15 minutes, until the cheese melts.
This recipe is really easy but truth be told, I think I mostly like it because it’s still so new to me and so it’s just so much fun to rip the squash into spaghettis, haha.
Pecan Pie Muffins
I really had a huge baking obsession this past semester. I must say though, that the pecan muffins I made were probably tied with the gooey butter cake for Best Thing I’ve Ever Baked. I don’t know how to describe to you how perfect the texture of these muffins were but imagine this nice crunchy top and once you bite through that crisp, the inside is soft and chewy and nutty and just brilliant. Sigh. Thank you, Martha Stewart for this gem.
It’s a pretty basic recipe: flour, salt, baking powder in one bowl. Brown sugar, eggs, melted butter, milk in another bowl. Then, combine them and fold into it some toasted chopped pecans and that’s pretty much it, you’re ready to scoop it into the tray!
You could really really really just eat them like this and I promise you they’ll already be really good, but I’m extra, so I added cream cheese frosting because I miss those walnut cakes with cream cheese frosting we used to get from Marks & Spencer. I borrowed a mixer from Ken’s house just to make this frosting and (I’ve been saying this a lot in this post, but) it was so worth it.
Gooey Butter Cake
I’ve actually written about these before, but if I’m going to write about the best recipes I’ve tried this past year, it would just be flat out wrong not to include gooey butter cake. Apparently this is a St Louis thing? Again, I found out about it from a Karlie Kloss video and decided to make it because the recipe is incredibly easy. It’s like her aunt’s recipe, it has only 6 core ingredients and it’s so easy you don’t even have to try to memorise it.
First, you need a melted stick of butter, a box of cake mix and an egg. Mix all of that together. It becomes this like cakey mixture which will be the base crust thing, and you press it onti the bottom of your tray (9 x 11″-ish). Then you’ll mix 8 oz cream cheese (which is like one box I think), 3 eggs and about 3-4 cups of baking sugar. This becomes the thing that’s really nice and gooey. Once it’s mixed, just pour this second mix on top of the base. I just added blueberries on top and let them sink into the gooey mixture at this point but I think the classic recipe doesn’t have any fruit in it and I can imagine it’d be really good like that too. Then just bake it at 350 deg F for 30-40 minutes, you really have to wait and see. Once it’s done, let it cool for a bit so that the top will form this crust-like thing. Then, sprinkle some icing sugar on top and you’re done!
So yeah, those were probably my most noteworthy cooking endeavours this past year. It literally makes me so happy to even just look back on all of these pictures and remember how much fun I had making them and how elated I was when I got the first taste of each one of these things. I hope you’ll make some of these!! The last time I posted some recipes, a few people actually sent me pictures of their attempts at baked eggs and pancakes and some other stuff and it just made me really happy so if you do make any of these, please send me pictures and tell me if you figure out any improvements or whatever. Also, if you think there’s a recipe I’d like, please send it to me, I absolutely love it when people send me recipe recommendations 🙂