Nothing, besides karaoke, gives me more joy than cooking for and eating with my favorite people. But you'd never know it since I spend so much time focusing instead on my number three favorite thing to do, binge-watch TV shows on Netflix. So in an effort to really fill my time with what matters most (and to spread out my remaining episodes of Gossip Girl), I emailed a handful of my best friends about a month ago with a proposition: come over for dinner and I'll cook you your favorite meal-- the catch being that I get to take pictures of you eating and put them on the Internet. The response from my small focus group was overwhelmingly positive in the "yes, please cook for me" category, but less successful in the "this is my favorite meal" category. Most everyone politely responded that I should cook whatever I like, but not Iris and that's why we're BFFs.
If I'd thought for a second, I probably could have figured out Iris's favorite meal on my own. We became friends when we were roommates in college and many-a-night we stayed up studying, procrastinating, napping sitting upright at the kitchen table, staring at our blinking cursors, and expounding on what we wanted to eat when the nightmare of finals/midterms/homework ended.
While my snacking daydreams could vary from disco fries to chocolate cupcakes, for Iris the ultimate comfort food was always Filipino breakfast. Warm, freshly baked pan de sal, garlic fried rice, eggs over-easy, and fatty, salty corned beef, fried up with onions. The dish is served at a lot of Filipino restaurants as a nostalgic treat to Fil-Ams (who might eat it for any meal of the day) and, as I learned quickly, will keep you full for hours worth of whimpering in the Fordham University library. Iris got me hooked on it and by junior year, we were pretty much always stocked up with cans of tinned corned beef for those most desperate of moments.
Note: if you want to brine your own corned beef, plan ahead by at least 5 days. I learned this the hard way and had to buy a pre-brined version from my butcher; still delicious!
We'd also occasionally head to Iris's parents' house on Long Island for a weekend with the sole intent of waking up to the smell of crackling corned beef and garlicky rice, made expertly by her dad. While we usually just stuffed ourselves silly with rice, eggs, and meat, an added treat would occasionally be pan de sal. These sweet and simple rolls remind me a lot of Pillsbury dinner rolls and are super simple to make from scratch, but as with any bread baking, make sure you plan ahead.
The meal, which was such a staple of our college career, obviously brought back stories this time around. Like the time Iris caught her beef on fire and set off the fire alarm or how very aware we were of which tinned corned beef was superior to the others. FYI, you want the stuff in the purple can from the Filipino store. The garbage from Morton Williams most certainly will not do.
Once the reminiscing was over, we then spent the remainder of the evening asking Iris's hunky boyfriend and future MD, Blase Ferraris (given name, not kidding) about our billions of perceived ailments including Iris's potential toe amputation and my obsession with my blood sugar levels. Some exemplary quotes that sum up his superb bedside manner included, "birth isn't that bad" and "you don't have diabetes."
Thank you to Iris and Blase for coming over and giving me recipe inspiration! If you want to be subjected to my amateur cooking and photography, let me know your favorite meal in the comments! The more the merrier.
Pan de Sal
2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar plus 1 tsp
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 cups all purpose flour
1. Stir yeast and 1 tsp sugar into water and let sit, approximately 10 minutes, until foamy. If not foamy, start again. Your yeast may have died. If water is too hot, you can kill the yeast. Aim for approximately 110 degrees F; will feel like warm bath water.
2. Combine the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the oil and mix until smooth. Add salt, 1 cup of flour and the yeast mixture; stir well. Affix electric mixer with dough hook and add the remaining 5 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead an additional 5-7 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
3. Grease the surface of the dough with vegetable oil (1-2 tsp) and place in a mixing bowl. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
4. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and divide into 4 equal portions. Roll each portions, with your hands, into a log until it's about 1 in in diameter. With a sharp kitchen knife, cut into portions of about 1 inch wide. Place portions onto lightly greased baking sheets, touching slightly.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover buns with damp kitchen towel and allow to double in size (approximately 30 minutes). By this point, rolls may be snug against one another-- you can break apart after baking. At this point, you may wish to dust the top of each roll with sugar or, as is done traditionally, corn meal.
6. Bake until golden brown, approximately 25 minutes. Allow to cool and then break apart.