At the beginning of this year, I shared my Culinary Wishlist for 2019 , basically things my boyfriend and I wanted to try together in the kitchen. We are 7 months into the year and I am happy to share that we have attempted few things from our culinary wishlist. Some things on the list were tackled together, some by myself due to our schedules and such. Out of 12 wishlist, we have finished 6 so far and here’s a brief recap. Not everything we tried came out the way we wanted to but again we only attempted some of the things only once. We will definitely revisit those wishlist items again at some point and report back. I have a story highlight section on my instagram if you interested in little behind the scene.
Fillet a Fish
The process of filleting a fish is satisfying, educational, and gives you much respect for fishmongers. The boyfriend and I (mostly the boyfriend) did research on the type of fish to filet, watched videos on different techniques, and we purchased a classic 6” boning/filet knife (this exact one). For beginners, it is suggested to go with a fish with flat spine/bone structure such as tilapia but we didn’t take that route. We are not a fan of tilapia so we picked sea bass (1st time) and milk fish (2nd time) and each experience was different.
PS. When buying a fresh fish, look for fish with firm flesh that springs back when pressed, must have red gills, their eyes should be shiny and clear and it should smell like the ocean, not fish.
There are countless videos, instructions on youtube on how to filet a fish but I highly suggest watching a specific fish filleting video for specific fish type. For example, sea bass is a broader fish with a slightly different bone structure (how to fillet a seabass) while milk fish has SO MANY thin spines (how to debone milkfish).
Helpful links + resources:
The classic French dessert, macaron is a meringue cookies with a variety of fillings sandwiched in between. Taste-wise, I am not a huge fan of macaron but aesthetically, it so pleasing to the eye and I had always wanted to try it at home, despite it’s reputation for being very finicky. Macarons are light, airy, and needs very precise measurements & temperature to work well.
Our 1st and only macaron experience at home was NOT pretty. We did a basic macaron with Vietnamese coffee filling but it cracked which could be due to high temperature (300F). There are so many helpful resources out there on macaron and honestly, you just have to try it for yourself. We will definitely give macaron a try again at some point soon and update our experience here with recipes + tricks/tips.
A Spanish rice-dish, paella is a regional specialty from Valencia with as many variations of paella as there are cooks, with everyone claiming their version to be the best and authentic. Paella has a humble story as it was originally considered farmer’s/laborers food cooked outdoors over wood-burning fire. They used whatever ingredients like tomatoes, snails, beans, rabbit were available along with rice and traditionally, paella was eaten straight out of the pan. The word ‘paella’ (a paellera) actually is the name for cooking pan itself – a wide, shallow pan although some believe it originates from the Arab word “baqiyah” meaning left-overs.
Valencian paella, made with rabbit, chicken, snails, and lima or butter beans is a classic but seafood paella and mix paella are other common variety. We made a seafood paella with a combination of shrimp, scallop, clams, and mussels and it was delicious!!!!! Some key things to note with paella :
Rice : You MUST use Bomba or other Spanish short-grained rice, or Arborio, the rice used to make risotto to make paella. Short-grained rice absorbs more liquid than long-grained rice and keep the texture firm, which is really important.
Choice of ingredients : Personally, I don’t mixing too many competing flavors so choose the best quality ingredients that is available to you. Less is more!
Paella pan, with a wide, shallow, and round shape is great to have to ensure cooking. Stainless steel or aluminum skillet is a good substitute and I’d stay away from cast-iron and nonstick pans.
Paella Perfect via NPR is a lovely story and I used the recipe as a guide for our seafood paella.
3 Tier Celebration Cake
The boyfriend and I love love love watching The Great British Bake Off and eating/baking desserts, so this challenge naturally felt like something we must do. He wanted to do an actual tiered cake with distinct different sizes but we ended up with 7 layered semi-naked cake. We used store-bought super moist yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker & Duncan Hines) and agreed that Duncan Hines was much better taste wise. Also, the cake mix instruction said it will bake 2-8” round cake but the final result was so flat, we ended up using 1 box per cake to give that thick, nice caramelized sides for naked-cake look.
For frosting, we used homemade buttercream frosting with a dash of sea salt and used this recipe as a guide. Despite the cake looking slightly lopsided, we were pretty happy with our cake + frosting job by the boyfriend and our friend Laura. We opted to do the dripping effect on the cake and that’s where things went wrong. We did white chocolate ganache with teal color and it was liquidy and didn’t set quick enough. The dripping effect made a small pool on the bottom of the cake and was aesthetically not very pretty, which is why I didn’t bother to take a picture of the whole cake.
The cake tasted really good and we obviously had to share the gigantic 7-layer monster we created with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers so everyone could enjoy a slide or 3.
Helpful Tips + Resources:
Plan your bake ahead of time and make sure to have enough ingredients on hand. Baking is a time consuming process and depending on the oven, recipe you are using, number of cake pans you have, it could very well be a whole day process.
Read the recipe fully, including instructions for softening butter ahead, enough room in your fridge to chill the cake, required tools. I do not own a lot of baking tools but I strongly suggest getting a cooling rack and offset spatula although we frosted using a butter knife. If you are really invested in cake baking, go splurge on a cake turntable – it just looks fun 🙂
Videos we enjoyed watching :
When I say noodles, I am referring to Asian-style noodles made with flour, water, and salt. Unlike pasta dough which uses egg as a liquid ingredient, this noodle doesn’t have any egg. The type of hand-pulled noodle we made is a Chinese noodle, La Mian from the western Chinese city of Lanzhou. La Mian noodles are specially served during Lunar New Year because their long length, which can be a meter long or more is symbolic of long life.
Freshly made noodles and pasta) tastes so much better and if you’ve never attempted it, please give it a try. For hand-pulled noodles, the ingredients are super simple + you don’t need any special tool/equipment. I was intimidated by the videos on hand-pulled noodles but thankfully, I came across an easy, beginners hand-pulled noodle recipe by Omnivore’s Cookbook . Key thing to keep in mind are the ratios of flour, water, and salt – each component play an important role on the final outcome. Also, do not rush the process… allow the dough to rest as suggested and in the meantime, you can get sauces, soups meats, veggies etc ready for the noodle dish.
I served hand-pulled noodles drizzled with chili oil. Also, if you make extra hand-pulled noodles (which you totally should ), freeze the extra and use them as needed.
I was hoping to experiment with 3 types of cheese by now but it’s been a slow process. I have tried 2 cheeses so far, paneer (fresh, un-aged Indian cheese, similar to ricotta cheese) & ricotta cheese. In the near future, I will try fresh mozzarella cheese and some sort of vegan cheese.
In general, all cheese start by heating milk, then separating curds from whey. In fresh cheese (known as farmers cheese or Fromage Blanc) like paneer, ricotta or goat’s cheese, milk is heated to a specific temperature then an acidic ingredient such lemon juice or vinegar is added. Once the milk curdles, the solid proteins are then strained using a cheesecloth from the liquid whey.
Here’s a really helpful step by step in making paneer: https://healthynibblesandbits.com/how-to-make-paneer/ I used whole milk to make paneer but I have heard many people successfully make paneer with 2% milk. Here’s an ugly but super delicious picture of my saag paneer, recipe adapted from here—> https://www.101cookbooks.com/saag-paneer-recipe/ but I didn’t fry the paneer as suggested in the recipe.
Ricotta cheese, an Italian cheese literally means “recooked” in Italian is originally made from what is left over after making other cheeses. This sweet, soft cheese is made by allowing the leftover whey to ferment one or two days in lukewarm temperatures, then it becomes more acidic. After fermentation, the whey is cooked to almost boiling; afterward, the residual proteins solidify into curds, which are then filtered through a cheese cloth. All the recipes I came across on the internet didn’t follow that method and technically, the ricotta we get from supermarket isn’t ricotta – its fresh cheese.
Read this informative + interesting article on ricotta : How to Make Ricotta at Home, You Have to Know When to Hold ‘Em from Serious Eats.
The method + ingredient for ricotta is fairly simple just like making paneer although some recipe called for heavy cream while other’s didn’t. I used heavy cream + ultra-pasteurized milk (organic milk are pasteurized), which is a big NO-NO. After two failed attempts with ricotta, I realized I had been using ultra pasteurized milk (most organic ones) which are heated to a higher temperature (280F vs. 161F/145F in pasteurized milk). Since they are heated to a higher temperature, the protein structure is altered and will no longer coagulate effectively. With ricotta, milk type, acid: milk ratio, temperature, and time are very important to get a good quality ricotta, which I will report back soon.
Thank you everyone for following along. It’s been a fun experience cooking, documenting, and sharing and we hope to finish the remaining 6 things on our culinary wishlist before 2019.