20 More Things I Cooked, Baked and Fried While Surviving the Pandemic, Pt. 2

20 More Things I Cooked, Baked and Fried While Surviving the Pandemic, Pt. 2

Illustration for article titled 20 More Things I Cooked, Baked and Fried While Surviving the Pandemic, Pt. 2
Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Danielle Belton/The Root, Shutterstock)

Can’t stop, won’t stop...making food!

There was literally nothing better to do and I had to feed myself! And since restaurants were often out of the question (there’s nothing sadder than ordering Postmates, Uber Eats or Grubhub, getting excited over it, then realizing you spent $50 and got back subpar offerings), it meant I needed to chef-it-up in my own, tiny NYC kitchen.

Fortunately, I know the basics of food and cooking (thanks, parents!), meaning with the right recipe (thanks, NYT Cooking!), a good mood (thanks, Wellbutrin!) and some motivation (I’m hungry!), I was able to create some culinary delights! Many of which I documented on my food insta—The Comfort Kitchen by DB—which I started after my first food slideshow.

Most of the things I cooked this time around were again for an audience of one (myself!), but there were rare appearances by my mentee and The Root’s “gal Friday,” Bella Morais and her long-time boyfriend, my loveable play nephew, Moses Williams, or Corey Townsend, The Root’s social media editor and fellow Harlem resident. Hell, even the (very) rare pandemic date with a man got some food! Will I ever have real dinner parties again though? That’s what I want to know, so everyone get vaccinated so you can get a plate!

Now, let’s look at some foods!

Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

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2 / 22

This Good-Ass, Colorful Salad

This Good-Ass, Colorful Salad

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

About once a week, I will make a salad to last me the entire week just to make sure I get my greens. My favorite type of salad consists of a lettuce mix (usually romaine, green leaf, red leaf and butter lettuces with some red cabbage thrown in), with either grated romano or blue cheese crumbles, tomatoes, red onion and lots of croutons. Fav dressings are either a balsamic vinaigrette (which I realized was super easy to make so why was I buying it??), Olive Garden’s Italian Dressing (do not judge me. I am from the Midwest!), or a Chipotle ranch.

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3 / 22

This Bomb Chicken Larb Salad

This Bomb Chicken Larb Salad

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

The only thing better than a vegetable salad is a meat salad and thank you Thai Larb Gai for existing. This made it to the previous slideshow, so this isn’t a new one to those who remember my previous post, but I loved the presentation so much of the tomatoes around the larb I felt it deserved a repeat. The recipe for the ingredients came from NYT Cooking but the instructions are nonsense and should be ignored. Go with what folks in the comments say (after you get over the hearty laughter from the instructions).

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4 / 22

This Lemon Pepper Chicken Leg Quarters With Root Veggies and Charred Broccoli

This Lemon Pepper Chicken Leg Quarters With Root Veggies and Charred Broccoli

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

I think I made this dish exactly 10 times once I figured it out. When my old co-worker Mike Ballaban asked for the recipe on Instagram, I responded: “Season like crazy while rubbing it with melted butter, put in the oven covered to bake at 375 for an hour, then uncover it and let it cook on the top rack for 20 more minutes. Don’t be afraid to over season. It’s chicken! It’ll be fine!” Another tip though, season the chicken UNDER the skin directly on the meat. You’ll get a much more flavorful dish! And go crazy with the lemon, both in seasoning it and with fresh lemon juice on the chicken after it’s done. Also, I put the root veggies and sliced up garlic and onions just below the chicken, so it cooked right underneath it, producing so good tender potatoes and tasty carrots. The broccoli, I charred it in the oven separately, using my fav spicy seasoning from Trader Joe’s—Chili Lime, tossed lightly in some Mike’s Hot Honey.

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5 / 22

My Family Thanksgiving Dinner With Roasted Chicken (Fail), Cornbread Stuffing (Success), Giblet Gravy, Collard Greens and Candied Sweet Potatoes

My Family Thanksgiving Dinner With Roasted Chicken (Fail), Cornbread Stuffing (Success), Giblet Gravy, Collard Greens and Candied Sweet Potatoes

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This was my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner solo dolo. The results were mixed, alas. I was so frustrated with my meal (where the dressing and gravy came out exactly like my parents’ versions of this dish), while the sweet potatoes weren’t sweet enough and the chicken, despite being in the oven forever, was not done completely. I made a few rookie mistakes—I didn’t let the chicken sit for 10-20 minutes after taking it out of the oven and cutting into it, I boiled the potatoes too long before adding the sugar and butter—but Moses ate it anyway. He’s such a sweetheart.

Because I was determined to right my wrongs, I baked two more chickens and made dressing twice in the days after Thanksgiving until I mastered it all. Everything here is a family recipe so hush-hush, but I will tell you the secret ingredient in the cornbread dressing—Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup. That shit makes everything amazing.

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6 / 22

My Daddy’s Buttermilk Biscuits

My Daddy’s Buttermilk Biscuits

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

My father’s biscuits are pretty simple and pretty damn perfect as they are (he uses flour, baking powder, salt, milk, butter and I can’t remember if he throws an egg in there or not, but you don’t necessarily need it), but after doing some research, I found some tips that could make them even more delicious and buttery than they already were. One was to freeze butter and cut it into tiny, pea-sized cubes or grating it like cheese, and mixing it into the flour before you turn it all into a dough, using ice-cold buttermilk and ice-cold eggs. I also add just a bit of sugar. The result is butter INFUSED, slightly sweet biscuits making them delicious all on their own without jam.

I was so proud to perfect upon my father’s perfection! Biscuit heaven!

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7 / 22

THEE ‘World Famous’ Belton Pancakes

THEE ‘World Famous’ Belton Pancakes

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

Is there anything more beautiful than a Belton pancake—so tasty, so perfectly round and golden brown—made from a recipe perfected by my father, David, created by his mother, Billie? It’s all in the family, so I ain’t tellin’ y’all shit, but if I get up on a weekend morning to make you pancakes—I love you, unabashedly. It, and fried chicken, are the two dishes I only make for people I truly, truly adore and care about. So far, the list of people who have had these pancakes and/or my fried chicken are my best friend Jada Prather; Bella and Moses; pre-pandemic my NYC-based team at The Root and my Washington, D.C.-based team at The Root; my eldest sister Denise when she came to visit me a few times; and that’s it. Will you be in the pancake club? I dunno. I honestly do not know!

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8 / 22

This Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Branzino With Sauteed Shredded Brussel Sprouts and Kale With Roma Tomatoes

This Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Branzino With Sauteed Shredded Brussel Sprouts and Kale With Roma Tomatoes

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This dish is a lie as it was the easiest thing I ever made. I bought the branzino pre-stuffed and the veggies pre-shredded from Fresh Direct. All I had to do was fry those veggies and rub olive oil, salt n’ pepper on the fish, pop it in the oven for less than 20 minutes, then drizzle lemon over everything after it was done. It was all a lie! I did nothing! But it tasted bomb and dinner was ready in less than 30 minutes, so I will never, ever complain.

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9 / 22

This Gluten-Free Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil Cake With Blackberry Compote

This Gluten-Free Rosemary Lemon Olive Oil Cake With Blackberry Compote

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton
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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This was a delicious dessert from Well+Good, but it also tasted like “fancy” cornbread. But it was also an inspirational dessert, as it inspired me to explore the world of olive oil cakes, eventually creating the perfect all-gluten olive oil cake that I made by combining the Well+Good recipe with the NYT Cooking Olive Oil cake recipe.

With the NYT Cooking recipe, I boosted the amount of lemon to the same levels as the Well+Good option. Meaning, I used tons, which meant I had to use more flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda to make the cake work. But the end results? A mile-high fluffy delight I will share in the next slide.

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10 / 22

This ‘All-Gluten’ Lemon Olive Oil Cake

This ‘All-Gluten’ Lemon Olive Oil Cake

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

So good, I made it twice, this cake was so moist, so fluffy, so decadent, I ate most of it by myself (pretty sure Corey Townsend got a slice of both versions of these cakes, but this one was BY FAR the superior in my opinion). I would also make a double-decker version that went amazing with some vanilla ice cream and a bit of that blackberry compote. I still can’t get over that I made this cake from scratch, improvising two different recipes, but man, was it good.

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

The thing is with me, as you will notice this theme, is I can’t give up on a recipe until I master it. That means there were so many cakes made based off of this successful cake, that also turned out to be horrible, overly-dense cake fails. Like the time I added blueberries and blackberries to it (a delicious, disasterpiece), or the time I tried to make it as a pound cake with softened butter instead of olive oil (also tragically dense). I eventually would find success in making this NYT Cooking Blueberry Lemon and Almond Pound Cake. But, alas, the only person who got to taste it was me and it was waaaaay too almond-y.

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11 / 22

This Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

This Shrimp and Cheesy Grits

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This was probably the second-best thing I made (the no. 1 best is the next slide). So savory. So delicious. So perfect. With this ideal recipe from NYT Cooking, I knew I had a winner on my hands from the jump, I just had to stick the landing and man, did it ever stick. Flawless, Southern, Louisiana-style perfection. The sauce was ideal. The shrimp, perfect consistency BUT definitely could have been marinated in some seasonings before being tossed into the sauce. The grits (or in this case—corn polenta), was creamy and delish. This was a dish to be made when one loves themselves. I deserved this shrimp and grits. I deserve!

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12 / 22

This Seafood (!!!) and Cheesy Grits

This Seafood (!!!) and Cheesy Grits

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton
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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

Can one perfect on perfection? Yes. Yes, they can. I took that shrimp n’ grits recipe and kicked it up several notches by steaming some mussels in garlic and wine in a pot and sauteeing some scallops, then adding both to the broth, which now featured andouille sausage.

Now, this is probably my first and last time cooking mussels. While SUPER EASY to cook, they are a pain to clean off, and also, they are ALIVE when you cook them and I’m someone who is a wuss about these things. Once the mussels started opening and closing on me as I was trying to clean them I was thoroughly freaked out. I cleaned only about 12 or 15 of them before saying “screw this” and abandoning the rest to the outdoor garbage pail of bad decisions. What a waste.

But that aside, the food was banging.

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13 / 22

These Cod Fillets in Brown Butter Sauce With Campari Tomatoes With Sauteed Kale

These Cod Fillets in Brown Butter Sauce With Campari Tomatoes With Sauteed Kale

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This cod looks better than it tasted, mostly because I didn’t cook the cod long enough to make it the consistency I like but I hate, hate, HATE to overcook fish. Nothing is worse than rubbery fish or fishy mush. Next time I’ll take my time (or instead of sauteeing it, I will just bake it in the oven, which is often more fool-proof with fish).

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14 / 22

This Shrimp Scampi With Orzo

This Shrimp Scampi With Orzo

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This was another delicious recipe courtesy of NYT Cooking. And while it was simple and I was able to throw it together in one skillet in under 30 minutes, I couldn’t help but wish the rice-shaped orzo pasta was actual rice. Something about the garlicky butter and the lemon zest made me want to scream “white rice!” yet, I had orzo. Not bad. But not rice. Next time? Rice.

Also, this was the first dish I cooked with white wine, but not the last, as now I use that in almost everything, including a braised cabbage dish that I subbed wine instead of water that was heavenly.

Also, if I ate bread with any consistency, this dish would be bomb with some crusty bread.

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15 / 22

This Supposably ‘One Pan’ Pasta Dish That Took One Pot, One Skillet and One Baking Dish

This Supposably ‘One Pan’ Pasta Dish That Took One Pot, One Skillet and One Baking Dish

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

In theory, I can see how one would make this ‘Cheesy Baked Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta’ in one, deep dish, cast iron skillet, but I do not own such a thing, so this took several dishes, pots n’ pans. The end result—made with sweet Italian sausage, red chili flakes and lots of tomatoes n’ cheese—was beyond ideal and yummy, fitting for my pasta cravings. So nice, I made it twice using pasta shaped like calamari rings. This photo is of the first successful batch that I made despite the lack of fennel seed as required. Didn’t notice or miss them, to be honest, as the oregano, salt and garlic really did the trick.

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16 / 22

This Delicious Slow Roasted Citrus Salmon With Herb Salad

This Delicious Slow Roasted Citrus Salmon With Herb Salad

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

Yet another great recipe from NYT Cooking that was as easy as it was beautiful.

As you can probably tell, I love some seafood and fish. Shrimp, mussels (RIP), salmon, cod, scallops, crawfish, catfish, lobster, crab, etc. you name it, I eat it. I’m clearly my mother’s daughter as she too loved a good piece of fish, only I took a lot further. My father, who hates most fish with a fiery hot passion, joked that I’d clearly spent too much time amongst the east coast elites (i.e. “white people”) to start eating raw oysters and other such things that he found abhorrent.

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

When I explained to him that I had been introduced to all these decadent foods by fellow negroes while living in Washington, D.C., he scoffed because SURELY SOME WHITE PERSON WAS INVOLVED SOMEWHERE because “black people don’t eat that shit.” Well, THIS BLACK PERSON DOES! Yummy, yummy! Get in my tummy.

Regardless, this dish was divine, especially the lime-flavored herb salad made with cilantro and dill. I served it alongside some coconut rice (my fav) and a mango-pineapple habanero sauce. Probably going to make this one again soon because it was too easy and too delicious NOT to make again. But I won’t make it for my Texas born-and-raised “I eat red meat” dad when he comes to visit. I’m sure I have some steaks in the freezer somewhere...

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17 / 22

This Tomato, Red Onion and Blue Cheese Salad

This Tomato, Red Onion and Blue Cheese Salad

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

This salad only made the slideshow because of the presentation. It is simply a less busy version of the first salad pictured, only made with green leaf and red leaf lettuce, roma (plum) tomatoes and red onions. Topped with blue cheese, I tossed it in a homemade vinaigrette and called it a day.

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18 / 22

This ‘Bite of Summer in the Middle of Winter’ Peach Cobbler

This ‘Bite of Summer in the Middle of Winter’ Peach Cobbler

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

Just like my mother, I always keep the ingredients for a peach cobbler on deck, even if peaches aren’t in season. (That’s why you have frozen peaches!)

This isn’t my mom’s peach cobbler, though. Hers was somehow both much simpler (she never bothered to candy the peaches) and more complicated (she rolled out dough and made a crust instead of the self-rising crust of this version from My Recipes).

I can make a peach cobbler both ways, but clearly prefer the self-rising, pancake-batter-like dough for its ease. Still, I substitute the white sugar for brown, add vanilla extract and use lots of cinnamon or nutmeg in mine, just like my mama.

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19 / 22

This Divine Pork Chop Pho with Herbs, A Soft Boiled Egg and Ramen

This Divine Pork Chop Pho with Herbs, A Soft Boiled Egg and Ramen

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

When I lived in Midtown there was this Vietnamese pho spot I’m convinced only I ordered food from because it went out of business after two years despite being quite good and having a pork chop version of beef pho that I loved. Luckily, I figured out how to procure my own bone beef broth and discovered hand-pulled seeming, fresh-tasting frozen ramen on Fresh Direct, which I prefer to the more traditional vermicelli. I got the recipe for what actually goes into seasoning the beef broth from...you guessed it, NYT Cooking, and was surprised to see it involved a whole onion, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger. It also called for star anise, but since I ain’t leaving this house to enter a grocery store until I’m vaccinated, I’m unable to procure it, as the local Asian grocer doesn’t seem to deliver to above 110th and Instacart leaves some to be desired. I also included red chili flakes for spice, some salt, agave for a touch of sweetness and fresh lime juice after the soup was done.

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

I marinated the 1.25-inch thick pork chops in ginger, lime juice, agave, garlic, white wine and red chili flakes for several hours in the fridge before patting them dry, letting them warm up to room temperature, then pan-frying them in a skillet with olive oil, based off these instructions from What’s In the Pan.

As for the herbs, I went with my favs: cilantro, basil and mint with some chopped scallions.

And the egg, well, if you can’t boil an egg I don’t know what to tell you. Put it in a small pot with water and let it boil for like 10 minutes or something. The shorter the time boiling the softer the egg, so try not to screw it up!

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20 / 22

These Super Spicy, Hot Oven-Baked Shrimp

These Super Spicy, Hot Oven-Baked Shrimp

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

As Corey Townsend can attest, these shrimp diablo are devilishly good. Tossed in a mix of Trader Joe’s Chili Lime seasoning and good ol’ Old Bay seasoning and some red chili flakes with olive oil, you just put these bad boys on a cookie sheet spread out for 12-to-15 minutes at 400 degrees and you have spicy shrimp heaven. Douse it with lemon for funzies. Eat it with cocktail sauce like me if you’re a lame who just loves cocktail sauce (it’s just fancy ketchup with horseradish, but idc idc idc).

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21 / 22

These Party-Ready, Spicy-Sweet Gochujang Chicken Wings

These Party-Ready, Spicy-Sweet Gochujang Chicken Wings

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Photo: Danielle C. Belton

Sometimes the NYT Cooking comment section has better advice than the actual recipes. That was the case with these Korean-inspired, gochujang wings where the NYT called for a charcoal grill n’ shit when I live in a fourth-floor apartment in Harlem. Like, grill? Where? Outside space? What’s that? Fortunately, a commenter on the recipe had the low-down on how to make wings crispy if you don’t have an air fryer or (ha ha ha) grill. They advised you to coat the wings in baking powder and some salt, put them on a cookie sheet, bake them in the center rack at 250 degrees for 30 minutes, then move them to the top rack where you can roast them at 425 degrees for 50 minutes. So if you have the time, you too can have crispy, oven-baked wings like these. Ultimately, the only thing I ended up using the NYT recipe for was how to make the sweet, spicy gochujang sauce. No. 1 ingredient? Gochujang. (Which I have because my friend—local NYC legend, people’s champ and “baddest bitch”—Sophia Chang, who also happens to be Korean, hooked me up with an entire jar of the stuff off Amazon) After that, you need soy sauce (go with low sodium otherwise the wings will be too salty, as I learned the hard way), honey (not agave, doesn’t have the same tang), ginger, garlic, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Mix it all up and toss your now hot n’ crispy wings in it. The end result is a sure-to-be crowd pleaser. Or self-pleaser as I ate about six wings all by my lonesome while The Weeknd did whatever he thought he was doing during the Super Bowl halftime show.

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22 / 22

Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

DISCUSSION