Monthly Archives: December 2011

Browned Butter Makes It Better

Use recklessly

A bit of a mantra for me,  I  really do believe that “butter makes it better.”  Anything.  Making fried potatoes?  Move aside oil, bring on the butter.  Having a slice of toast with strawberry jam?  Spread on a healthy dose before that  jam and you’ll thank me. 

Other mantras have come from my friends at Seinfeld.  While I was less than thrilled at the comparison to George after realizing my work pants were the source of  the quiet “swish” with each step,  there are times when the comparison is appropriate.   For example, I have a tendency to over eat. On occasion, I have found myself rescuing the last piece of  pizza from the trash after I’ve had my share and disposed of the excess. In this situation,  “It was on top!” provides just the rationalization I need.  On other occasions,  I remember the frozen yogurt incident.  If anything claims to be low-fat despite groan-inducing richness, I summon Kramer’s skepticism.  Let’s admit it folks, fat-free feta just doesn’t compare. As is the case with butter.  Bring on the pudge.

Inspired by Jenna over at, I decided to try my hand at some homemade gnocchi last night.  A serial dough-seeker for quite some time now, I have always found gnocchi’s chewy al dente texture to be just divine.  Despite months of working with an Argentinian who insisted incessantly that homemade was “superrrrrrrr simple,” I had yet to give it a whirl.

A logical substitute

Since pumpkin is the closest thing to butternut squash in these parts, I decided to use her recipe and make the substitution.  The sage I could do without, but the butter would not be compromised. Surely butter trumps sage anyway, so we wouldn’t miss our absent friend.  After subbing the pumpkin and bypassing the sage, I followed the recipe exactly and the results were insane.  Subtly sweet, strikingly delicate–little pillows of love. 

At first glance, I hadn’t thought much about the browned butter.  Butter, heat…brown–right? Well, after selecting only the finest salted butter for the job (and paying the comparative price), I cut off a chunk and threw it in the pan.  I turned on the heat and moved away to continue cutting my little pumpkin pillows.  Suddenly overwhelmed by a rich scent, I turned to behold my efforts.  I wasn’t far off in my estimates – – it WAS most certainly brown.  I was not quite sure, however, if the deep brown color and gritty texture were in fact strong attributes.  After a taste test (and an excuse to dive into the freshly cooked batch) I assessed that I had indeed surpassed the “nutty” threshold.  While teetering still between brown and black, I think we wanted more of a sun-kissed glow. 

I summoned my smart phone, let the air out of my ego, and found a few tips that I’d like to share with you.  First off, it’s best if you begin by slicing the butter into uniform pats rather than chucking a whole stick in the pan.  This allows the butter to melt at a more uniform rate and cook evenly.  Second, while you may have a glass of Mint Chocolate Bailey’s waiting on the other side of the room, RESIST!! Do not walk away from that pan! The butter tends to reach its browning point rather quickly, and when it does, you need to keep whisking to avoid it burning.  When perfectly cooked, the butter has a golden brown color and a nicely ripened nutty flavor to it.   Lesson learned.

Find Jenna’s recipe for butternut squash gnocchi with browned butter and (a teaser of) fried sage here.

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A Latke Just for Me

As the lone Jew in our region, I take my responsibility to bring the Jewish holiday cheer very seriously.  Somebody has to counter the Christmas carols with a L’chiam!  I intended to host a get-together to observe Hanukkah  – – Korean style.  Following a discovery this weekend, I had just the thing to elevate our celebration.

This past Sunday was my birthday.  My day was shared with a fellow redhead, so we decided to give our joint potluck party a “ginger” theme.  For the occasion, my best friends came through by finding just the recipe – – Gingered Carrot Latkes.  Latkes, fried pancakes traditionally made from potatoes, are key to any Hanukkah celebration.  As if my personal existence was not a stellar enough example of the superb combo of  ginger and Jews, I now have a tasty counterpart to rest my case!


With our taste buds taken care of, I next had to turn my attention to the menorah.  A candelabrum of sorts, the menorah holds 8 candles representative of each night and one more prominent candle used to light the others, the shamash.  Thanks to this country’s healthy soju habit, I found disposable shot glasses readily available.  8 shot glasses paired with a regular paper cup for the shamash suited the bill perfectly.  Completed with birthday candles and Santa overseeing the whole ordeal, we had a prime example of inclusiveness.   Hoards of discrimination lawyers would be proud.  For the last piece of the puzzle, a few unsuspecting  attendees were assigned the task of fashioning a  dreidel out of a print-out template, cardboard and a pencil.  A few paper cuts later, we had a little gambling in the mix and were good to go. 

All and all, I’d say my work here is done.  While I may not have won them over with sing-a-longs of  “The Dreidel Song,” I am sure I secured an endearing place for ginger and Jews in everyone’s heart.  Now, if only I could find a way to dodge the blame for fixing a broken record in everyone’s subconscious.   Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay…

Gingered Carrot Latkes

Gourmet  December 2004

Yield: Makes about 15

6 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots

6 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

7 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger

3 large eggs, beaten to blend

Canola oil (for frying)

Place carrots in large bowl; press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another large bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and pepper to blend. Mix in carrots and ginger, then eggs.

Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to cover bottom and heat over medium heat. Working in batches and adding more oil as needed, drop carrot mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into skillet and spread to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Fry until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer latkes to rimmed baking sheet. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 350°F oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.)


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A Side Trip to Suwon

With snow mounded in the streets, I’ve been summoning my inner Betty Crocker for ways to make the  evenings a little more toasty in my abode.  An earlier mission for cooked pumpkin (sans my good friend Libby) left me with some extra and, as a by-product, I came up with this tasty stew recipe. 

If you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve heeded my suggestions and Ma and Pa have put the inaugural care package in the mail. If you missed the memo, or, for those of you who are a little hesitant about indenturing your contact list, here’s an alternative.  You can find most of the rare ingredients called for in a sketchy back alley just across from Suwon Station.  No, I’m not saying 3 hairs from a Thai ladyboy’s back are the secret garnish.  I was referring to the lentils and spice.

After winding through the maze of market streets, if you persevere like Sir Edmund Hillary, on the second floor of a dimly lit building you’ll find the Swoyambhu Restaurant. Run by a transplanted Nepalese family and serving Indian and Nepalese favorites, this place really delivers.  As if the luscious butter chicken and delicate samosas weren’t enough of a draw, next to the counter you’ll find a stash of ingredients that will have you feeling light-headed.  Curry and lentils are plentiful, and they even have dried chickpeas to boot. The packages are large enough to curb at least a couple months of cravings, and once you taste this recipe you’ll be glad you decided to ration.   

Curried Chicken and Pumpkin Lentil Stew

Serves: 3-4

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/2 Onion, diced

2 Chicken Breasts, cooked and shredded

1 Cup Lentils of any variety (I used green), rinsed

1/2 Can Diced Tomatoes

1 Tbsp. Curry Powder

1/2 tsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Ground Coriander

1/4 tsp Tumeric

2 Chicken Bouillon Cubes

3-4 Cups Hot Water

1 Small Pumpkin, cooked (I sliced the pumkin in half, scooped out the seeds, then cooked in the microwave until soft about 6-8 minutes.  Once cooked, I scooped out the cooked flesh and roughly chopped it.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and sautee until translucent.  Next, add the chicken, lentils, tomatoes, and spices.  Cook just enough for flavors to meld together and to heat through. Dissolve the chicken bouillon in hot water and add to pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes or until lentils are fully cooked.  Stir in the pumpkin to finish and season to taste.

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The Tastier Side of Smuggling

WANTED: Individuals with a yearning for adrenaline, a flexibility to adapt to a changing environment, and an ability to work well under pressure.

No, I am not seeking recruits for Human Resources.  I’m talking about mules.  Those willing to conceal in pursuit of  palatable bliss.  

While some have remarked on my emerging transit ring as a bit of a farce, I see the actions I’ve taken as nothing less than crucial.  In Korea, along with ovens, tacos and the evasive cranberry, a proper selection of spices tends to be something of a former life.  In my mind,  not much transcends the explosion of flavor brought on by just the right amount of garam masala.  Give me coriander with a sprinkling of tumeric and I’m in heaven.  With my eye on the prize, I summoned my inner ingenuity. 

Armed with forgotten favors and blackmail, I have lured many into my service.  One by one, they surrender their bounty and then are free to go.  City dwellers bring the Starbucks.  Lime juice is taken on by the loving family back home.  Despite the efficiency of this system, I still yearn for the rush myself.

When the destination for my summer vacation was determined to be Bali, I was giddy at the thought of towering volcanoes and white sand beaches.  Little did I know what the true highlight would be.  While grabbing a quick bite at a cafe in Seminyak, I noticed a steady stream of patrons filtering in and out of a neighboring shop.  Like felines drawn to catnip, all who entered seemed to be blinded by the light.  I soon understood.

Using the restroom as a cover, I excused myself from the table and slipped next door to investigate.  What I found nearly took my breath away.  Garbanzo beans, couscous, Campbell’s Soup, and prosciutto covering the shelves.  In the corner, I spotted Kinder chocolate.  By the time I found the Indian section, I had lost all self-control.  Among the gems, I uncovered Tikka Masala Paste. Now, perhaps I should have considered the weight of the glass jar in my carry-on.  And perhaps I should have prioritized the curry paste, cans of soup, and satchels of dried legumes.  But, do smokers consider the pros and cons of a cigarette before stuffing each one in their mouth? I could make do.

Following a return journey complete with a few nervous bag scans, I stepped into my apartment and wiped the sweat from my brow.  I had made it.  Carefully, I put the Tikka Masala Paste to rest in my cupboard for when the curry itch surfaced once again.

The spicy booty

Now, with a trip to India quickly approaching, I have been stricken with a bit of India-fever.  Sitar music to start the day and a Bollywood classic before bed have fallen into routine.  When the suggestion of curry came up for dinner last night, I was quick  to pony up my secret stash.  The only thing outstanding was naan bread.

Through my stint as boss, I have learned that the best return comes from diversified income.   When I knowingly give multiple mules the same assignment, it is not because I am greedy,  it is only to ensure my bottom line.  In this vein, the need for naan was stratified amongst my acquaintances.  One friend took on  homemade  while another  picked up a package of Paratha  from the local Home Plus.

By the time we convened, a little pillow of dough was resting under a paper towel and the Paratha were ready to go. *After a little clarification  over what the Americans deem “broiling,” the homemade was stuck in the oven and the packaged was slipped in a stove top pan to be charred.   Realizing after the fact that the bread  perhaps should have been stretched out a bit more, the homemade end product  was a little doughy but certainly served the purpose.  The Paratha, on the other hand, was just dreamy. When unwrapped, each slab of dough generally resembled an uncooked tortilla.  When heated on both sides in a pan, the result was crispy yet chewy buttery goodness.  Not greatly distinguished from naan by Wikipedia (an Indian flat-bread that originated in the Indian subcontinent), as far as I’m concerned this discovery has become a new staple.  If only more trips to Bali were in the cards to counter.

The selection

No-yeast Naan Bread




  1. Mix together dry ingredients.
  2. Heat oil in pan.
  3. Add milk, egg and yogurt to pan and heat until just warm.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry.
  5. Mix the dough, knead just until held together.
  6. Let rest, covered up to 45 minutes.
  7. On floured surface pat out into two patty shaped surfaces, about 1/2 inch thickness.
  8. Broil under medium heat, turning once.
  9. They will bubble and go slightly brown.

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*UPDATED 3/20/2012: After taking a cooking class in India, I learned that the method we used to cook this naan was by no means the best.  The proper technique would be to make the dough into flat patties, then place on the stove top in a lightly oiled pan.  Move around constantly as browning so that it doesn’t stick.  When the initial side starts to brown, flip and proceed with other side.  Next, remove the naan from the pan, and char for just a second on each side over an open stove flame. 

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