Monday, December 19, 2011

Caramel Apples From Scratch

Sometimes I buy things I truly regret.  One time, I bought an inflatable raft while I lived in Boston.  One time, I bought a pair of Dolce and Gabbana boots that were so hot I was too scared to ever wear them.  One time, I bought a car and crashed it into a tree, twice.  One time, I bought miniature apples that were too cute to eat.

Unfortunately, apples are perishable, and with the clock ticking down, I made the decision to make caramel apples.  It was a gloriously delicious decision.  I know most of you are like EFF the apples, let's go back to the car in a friggin' tree.  TWO TIMES?!  REALLY?!  What kind of psycho is behind this blog?!  Come on, y'all...I mean...we all go through stages...

Buttery Delicious Peanut Brittle

Christmas is the season for tins - tins of shortbread, peanut brittle, holiday cookies, and, of course, flavored popcorn (whose terrible idea was that?).  As a tasty munchie for a hotel party I was hosting for a dear friend of mine, I thought peanut brittle would be a perfect snack.  I've never made peanut brittle, but my mom used to make Korean bobbki which is a kind of Korean snack/candy of burnt sugar and baking soda.  The burnt sugar has a wonderful caramelly taste and the baking soda gives it a nice airy crunch.  After looking up several recipes for peanut brittle, I've discovered that the two are pretty similar.

My mom is a bit of a disaster in the kitchen (as am I).  She's the Korean Julia Child except much shorter, and no one knows who she is.  My mom is a bit like me in the sense that she improvises with what she has.  She'd make hoddeuk using Pillbury biscuit dough and press out bobbki using the bottom of a heavy saucepan sprayed with PAM nonstick spray.  She had a chemistry degree that sat latent in her brain for a few years until she started making her own lotions, face washes, laundry detergent, and even some cosmetics.  I use all her stuff, and I'd like to believe it's the reason why people comment on my skin (in the good way...they aren't screaming "OH GOD!" and handing me plastic surgery business cards).  Anyway, I'm not letting my Umma steal my thunder.  I made peanut brittle.

Before I share the recipe, I have to comment on the final result.  Glorious.  It's the culmination of stripping clean all the best aspects of sweets to just BUTTER and SUGAR, and forcing the sparse marriage between the two (with some peanut babies strewn in).  I could not stop snacking on the "chips-that-are-too-small" or "uneven" or "offensively-phallic-so-I should-just-eat-it-because-no-one-wants-to-eat-penis-shaped-brittle-at-a-cocktail-party."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Graham Crackers from Scratch

Lately, it's been just the right weather to sit outside around a giant campfire and roast marshmallows.  This, of course, requires marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers.  As I was about to buy graham crackers at Lotte Department store for $10, it dawned on me that I could possibly make them myself.  A quick Google search via my phone liberated me from the expensive graham crackers, and I made my way home with visions of irresistibly delicious graham crackers and their sexy cousin, s'mores.

When I told my friends about my great idea, they all looked at me with a face that unmistakably read, "WTF are s'mores?"  Obviously, none of them are American.  S'mores is a weird word.  Apparently, it's a contraction for "some more" and was first invented by some highly uneducated and speech impaired Girl Scouts.

To go back to the graham cracker, they're fairly easy to make.  Just mix together some common household ingredients (brown sugar, honey, flour, butter, salt, vanilla extract, etc.), chill, and roll out.  The result is mind-blowing.  My sister and I couldn't stop eating them.  They have a wonderfully deep, rich molasses-like flavor and a snappy, airy texture.  Words cannot express the level of nonverbal shaming that went on when it was discovered that I had ate the last of the graham crackers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

I shared my Thanksgiving with a very un-American crowd.  My sister and I (Korean American).  Two Koreans who went to school in the states most of their lives.  One Korean Korean.  One Ukrainian New Zealander.  One French Australian from New Caledonia.  One Taiwanese American from Kuwait.  One Frenchman.  And one plain ol' white American.  If Noel hadn't been stuck in Japan, that would have been one more American to the count.

Without Noel, that left me alone in the smallest kitchen in Seoul to cook a massive thanksgiving dinner for 9 guests.  All in all, I was able to pull it off with the help of all my heat-producing appliances.  (Ever used a fan heater to keep your dishes warm?)  One of the dishes I made was pumpkin pie from Japanese Kabocha pumpkins.  I steamed the flesh and mashed it to make the puree necessary for the pie.  I ended up with 5 pumpkins pies (all consumed within two days).

I used two Kabocha pumpkins (on sale for 1,500 won, usually 3,000 won each).  Kabocha pumpkins are also known as 단호박 or dan-ho-bak, which means "sweet pumpkin."  I had about 1/2 cup of puree left.  Pumpkin pancakes!!!!  It's not just the alliteration that excites me.  These pancakes combine the buttery sweetness of the Kabocha pumpkin with the fluffy carbness of the pancake.  The result is a light and airy pumpkin pie-infused pancake.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Butter Pecan Sweet Potatoes

Candied yams is a Thanksgiving dish I've never cared for.  I love the flavor, but why does it have to be the texture of baby food?  I've grown up eating Korean sweet potatoes.  My mom would poke them with a fork and throw them in the microwave.  I looooooved them like this.  When I went away to college, I'd buy sweet potatoes and prepare them in the same way.  I was the girl walking around eating a sweet potato like it was an apple.  I remember the first time I had a candied yam casserole with the marshmallows on top.  It was mushy and sickeningly sweet.   My friends raved about the toasted marshmallows.  Toasted marshmallows are awesome (as are all slightly burnt sugary concoctions), but they're really just there to trick children into eating the gloppy mess of yams hiding under them.  For this Thanksgiving, I decided to combine my beautiful Korean sweet potatoes with the ugliness that is the candied yam casserole.

Candied yams aren't actually yams.  What Americans know to be yams are actually orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.  If you really care, read this, and let me get back to my dish.  I used Martha Stewart's Butter Pecan Sweet Potato recipe, but adapted it by using a mix of local Korean sweet potatoes.  Pecans are insanely expensive in Korea.  I've paced back and forth whimpering in front of an itty-bitty package of 10,000 won ($10) pecans at Homeplus.  WHY?!  In Texas, they fall from the trees like manna.  Anyway, my point is, feel free to substitute a more economical nut or blend of nuts if you wish.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Green Bean Casserole

My first proper Thanksgiving meal was in the projects of San Antonio where my mother had consigned me to child slavery volunteering for the less fortunate.  It's strange to remember my perspective as a child.  I didn't quite understand how the people we were serving were "less fortunate."  Everyone seemed to be laughing, eating, and having a great time.  No one was sucking on gasoline rags or had flies crawling all over their faces.  Where were the suffering masses?  How was I to live out my Savior complex and practice my benevolent, Mother Theresa face?  As a ten or eleven year-old who wasn't seeing enough sorrow nor grateful teary eyes (god, I was completely delusional and annoying as a kid), I started "sampling" all the dishes.  Needless to say, the Thanksgiving spread wasn't cooked with the love and dedication of an All-American mom bent over her 100% organic turkey.  But, it was my first Thanksgiving dinner experience, and I came to understand the greatness of the Thanksgiving feast.  I also had a bread roll thrown in my face.

If I can get past the bread roll, I remember the green bean casserole.  It was watery and overcooked.  It wasn't until I had it fresh and delicious out of some loving Texan mother's kitchen (can't remember whose but I can assure you, it wasn't mine), that I my fondness for green bean casserole grew.  I love green bean casserole.  The original recipe is so easy - some Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup thrown together with some green beans and topped with French's Fried Onions.  In Korea, all three of these ingredients would be subject to tariffs.  Who wants to pay $5 for cream of mushroom soup?  Not me. Furthermore, French's Fried Onions aren't sold in Korea.  So, I found Alton Brown's recipe in order to make the beloved dish entirely from scratch.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Smoked Oyster and Bacon Stuffing

I chose to make a smoked oyster stuffing because I love smoked oysters.  Oysters have a distinct oyster taste that is delicious when fresh and simple.  When smoked, they take on a whole different smokey, meaty property while still maintaining a subtle lilt of oysterness.  In searching for a recipe to incorporate smoked oysters, I found Martha Stewart's Smoked Oyster and Bacon Stuffing.  I adapted the recipe to be friendlier towards ingredients I could get in Korea (i.e. switching out brown rice vinegar for sherry vinegar).  I also used the rice cooker to finish the stuffing instead of the oven because there were so many other dishes that needed to be cooked in my small convection oven.

This smoked oyster and bacon stuffing was the star of the dinner.  (Some may argue it was the turducken roll.)  The smoked oyster, with the support of some savory bacon, really revived plain ole' bread stuffing.  The result was an aromatic stuffing accented with pockets of smokey, oyster flavor and crumbles of salty bacon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: Turducken Roll

Being Korean American, my family had a lot of learning to do in the American culture department. Peeled apple on a chopstick was my lollipop.  I once heard Oprah say that moms who lovingly cut the crust off their kids' sandwiches - THAT was love.  I needed to know mom loved me so I got her on that right away. Christmas was an awkward time when we'd all sit around and stare at each other before slowly receding to our rooms to read or study.  There was one time we tried to do presents, and I got wire hangers. I don't think I've ever gotten over the trauma of that gem of an experience.  Perhaps the most successful example of how we adapted to the American way of life is Thanksgiving. Once my siblings and I left home to attend college as far away as possible from Texas (Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Chicago), we'd gather at my oldest sister's house in Philadelphia to do the thanksgiving. It was a perfect holiday. No parents and the freedom to cook amazing thanksgiving dishes we hadn't had a chance to cook yet. It's how I discovered how to roast a turkey. We made a green bean casserole that actually tasted good, and it finally made sense to me why people ate them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thai Noodle in Gyeongnidan

Thai places always catch my eye.  Just this year, I've made two trips to Thailand.  In Korea, Thai restaurants are generally overpriced, Koreanized, and lacking a great deal of authenticity.  While I don't find that Thai Noodle is a total deviation from this description, it does have some brightness to offer to the Thai dining scene.  The first thing that struck me as inviting and appealing about Thai Noodle is the environment.  It looks clean, simple, and honest.


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