Tag Archives: recipe

Clamming in Korea

Seagulls, the crash of waves breaking on the shore, a salty musk in the air–there are plenty of things that characterize living near the sea.  Finding myself living on the East Sea (a.k.a. Sea of Japan depending on whom you ask…) this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of holding a seaside residence.  When the summer heat proves overwhelming, it’s my greatest joy to hop in the saddle and pedal my bike down to the shore. 

On weekends, it’s the tendency of my friends and me to congregate at our favorite stretch of sand. The patch of foreigners gleams from afar, the greased-up skin standing in stark contrast to the fully clothed Koreans.  Usually in tandem with the sunbathing, a barbecue ensues.

Taking a nod from the Koreans, a few friends began to seek the edible bounty waiting out at sea.  Neck and neck with hardcore grannies, they battled it out diving for the fresh clams on the ocean floor.  In the hunt, elbow room is not respected, and it’s the swiftest that reaps the glory.  If you can hack it, you’re rewarded with plenty to share. 

After embarking on one of these expeditions, I wrote about the adventure for Groove magazine.  The article explores clamming along the northeastern shore and also captures my hunt for razor clams down south.  I’ve included a recipe to serve up your fresh catch beachside as well.  Check out the article in Groove Korea’s July issue or online here.

Happy clamming!

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Granola Girl

Editor’s Note: Before I came to Korea, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  In my mind, “kimchi” conjured images of my last pan-asian meal, and DMZ was easily confused with a website that slandered celebrities (TMZ).  Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese were categorized just the same, and I had no idea having a “small face” was an attribute.  When I was left wondering in my safe haven back home, a friend’s blog enabled me to take a quick trip to the far East.  Johanna Wooden, author of Head in the Clouds, has found a way to bridge the gap for the couch voyagers among us. 

Since moving to Korea, her blog has continued to enrich my daily life, whether with the addition of tips for wholesome living or by putting the everyday curiosities into perspective.  Also a culinary whiz, Johanna has been kind enough to share one of her recipes in a guest post.  I hope you enjoy the change of pace she provides in the kitchen!

Jay, Claire, and Johanna “Granola Girl” Wooden

Granola girl.  My new nickname after my Korean friend, Jay, tasted my first homemade batch of granola.  Little did he know how clearly the connotation rang with the description of my rather free-spirited, music-loving, festival-going former self.  Witnessing my amusement at the name, he inquired, “What is a granola exactly?” 

In its definition, Urban Dictionary (the highest authority on slang interpretation) refers to a “granola” using the popular buzz word, hippy.  I didn’t have to explain that one to my friend, as he immediately confirmed his familiarity.  “Oh yeah, I know, a homeless person who plays the guitar in the park and holds out their hands for coins.”  He was pretty close, although you couldn’t necessarily say I was anywhere near living on the streets, I couldn’t play a chord on the guitar and I usually had enough coins in my pocket to get through the rough college life.

Then, there was Woodstock.  I figured this was the most stereotypical “hippy” festival of all time and would make for a great example of where the said type of people gathered.  Quickly, I ran a Google search, and we examined the return.  Rather than gaining the clarity I intended, my friend instead viewed a sea full of naked people listening to speeches about how to beg for money.  In his mind, the gathering was a forum for the dispute of the correct way to hold your hand when accepting coins, followed by workshops about how to make the best granola. I admired his humor and enjoyed the banter, so I continued to enlighten him about the fascinating subculture.

Further explanation of the term, using Urban Dictionary as a resource, concludes that present day hippies, called “granolas,” are people who go hiking, ice climbing, and engage in outdoor activities while wearing labels such as Colombia and munching on granola bars or trail mix.  This kind of person usually eats from the earth and refrains from eating animal products. 

At this point, my friend felt he was closing the gap.  He confirmed his comprehension that such a person steals crops from the neighbors’ gardens to eat when the coin-begging income just isn’t flowing.

When we dove into the fresh granola, my friend Jay was left perplexed.   How could a homeless person eat such a delectable snack?  He was immediately hooked on the nutty, crunchy mixture.  As he chewed, he began to understand why the hippies would take along such a delight for their long days of making melodies of peace at the local park.

The finished product

As a conclusion to the evening, I was left with some hints about what my upcoming birthday present might be.  Clues were cast towards customized pants with special pockets in which I can stash my own supply of granola for easy access.  Jay also alluded that another for safely holding my extra coins would be a necessity.  I wonder how “granola” will translate to the tailor. ..

In the meantime, I will continue to provide this wholesome, healthy snack to my friend and his family until I leave Korea.  It brightens their diet with vitamins and minerals and always leaves me smiling with their praise to the “granola girl.”  I thought it was all behind me, but I guess I will never live down those days of wearing patchwork pants and tie-dye while swaying to the tune of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Here’s how to get crunchy.

Granola Girl’s Special Blend

3/4 cup of plain oats

1/3 cup of sunflower seeds

1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup of slivered almonds

1/3 cup of crushed walnut pieces

4-5 teaspoons of brown sugar

1/3 cup of honey

2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla

3 tablespoons of cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

salt

Optional: Raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit

Directions

1. Combine dry oats and nuts.

2. Spread on a tin foil sheet or baking sheet.

3.Spread the nut mixture in a thin layer, just enough to cover the surface.

Spread evenly

4. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, honey, oil, vanilla and cinnamon on medium to high heat.

5. Bring down the heat and simmer for 1 minute.

Heat it up

6. Drizzle the hot mixture over the dry nuts and oats.

7. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, then stir mixture and continue to bake for 10 minutes.

8.  Once the top is golden brown, take out and cool for 20 minutes.

9.  Remove from foil and break into chunks. (Some will be loose – this is good:))

10. Add a handful of dried cranberries, raisins or other chopped dried fruit.

11. Sprinkle with salt .

12. Enjoy over yogurt, with milk or as a snack to munch on at work.

Yum

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Get Spiced Or Die Chai-in’

Just the thing to make your worries fade away.

Chaiiii, chaiii, chaiii, chaiii.  The melodic tones snapped me back to Earth.  Lost somewhere between exhaustion and relative lucidity, I immediately assessed my surroundings. First, I noted the location of my backpack.  Next was to assess all points of skin contact.  Realizing before bedtime that I wasn’t alone in my rail car berth, I had tucked myself in to provide a barrier.  No roaches were trotting around on this passenger!  Finding all to my (sub)standards, I let out a sigh.  And then it sounded again passing through the corridor.  Chaiii, chaiii, chaiiiiiiii.

Despite the resentment for such an abrupt awakening, I was tempted.  For a second I reflected on the sweet and spicy nectar, and then reality sunk in.  Chai could wait until I was sure it had come to a rolling boil.  No need to entice parasites mid-way through a journey.  The chai was lukewarm and the bathrooms a little short of sanitary.

Tea time!

Throughout my time in India, I found one constant.  North, South, young, old, rich, poor — chai.

It’s no surprise this delight has caught on in the West.  It takes your basic milk tea and it kicks it up.  It literally adds some spice to your life.  Now I get what Columbus was searching for.  Spices exalt the senses.

A coffee addict at heart, I’ll never cheat, but I do like to mix it up.  With the weather heating up, I was looking for something refreshing to top off my afternoons.  Taking an ode from India, I gathered together my spice stash and made up a batch that’s perfect served over ice.  My version uses soy, and takes into account its already-added sweetness. If you’re particularly fond of porcelain, feel free to sugar it up and rot ’em out.  Next time you hear the cry of chai, you’ll be amply prepared with back-up.

Perfectly spiced harmony

Soy Chai Tea

Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup water

1 black tea bag

1 tsp crushed/coarsely chopped ginger

1 green cardamom pod

2 whole black peppercorns

1 clove

1/2 cup sweet soy milk (I like Vegemil B)

1. Coarsely pound ginger, cardamom, peppercorns and clove together.

2. Bring the water to a simmer in a small pan over high heat.  Add tea bag and spice mixture.  Allow to simmer about 15 seconds, then remove from heat.  Allow all ingredients to steep together for another 5-10 minutes, then strain.

3. Pour strained concentrate over ice.  Mix with soy milk and enjoy.

Open for business

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Teeny Weeny Tahini Bikini

Swimsuit season is upon us.  Pick your poison – what’s the diet of the year?  Is it Atkins?  Oh no, that’s right, that guy died of a heart attack.  Not a good indicator for my bacon and ranch meal plans.

The cabbage soup diet?  It seems I may have struck gold for this one.  Kimchi pots swarm beneath my window sill.  It would take nothing more than a covert night mission, a large pot, water, and I could be simmering away to abundance!  Tempting, yes, but I’ll admit I’m a little scared.  And not of getting caught by my landlord. The combination of cabbage, spice and fermentation sounds dangerous, and I’m nervous about what it might do to my intestinal tract. It can’t be good.

 They say it takes 28 days in sequence for something to actually make a lasting change.   It’s a shame we didn’t face the music 27 days ago. We may have been able to actually reduce the amount of fat on our body.  Since we didn’t, it’s all about pretending and making ourselves feel thinner.

My go-to is the Swimming Departure-Day(S. D-Day) method.  It’s really quite simple.  Just refuse all sustentence on day of set swimming escapade.  Around 2 pm, while lying in the hot sun, you MAY feel a little lightheaded.  No worries!  Dehydration is the perfect scapegoat for your delirium.  We also all know you weren’t actually going to walk around.  Your stomach looks a hundred times flatter kicked back. 

Alright, alright. I’m not entirely serious.  I may have embraced this method at one point, I may still draw upon it on occasion, but I’ve come of age.  After trials and tribulations, I’ve come full circle back to seventh grade health class.  The only thing effective for healthy weight loss is the combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise.  Spontaneous fat-burning ab-belt, why couldn’t you have worked!?

[May cause static cling]

Begruddgingly facing the facts, I embrace “everything in moderation.”  I consider dieting a balancing act.  I load up as much as possible on a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.  I’m not one to turn down chocolate cake, however, and this is where the balancing comes in.  If I happen to (on occasion) consume, say, three or more (ten) cookie packages intended for individual consumption, I make up for it the next day.  I’m extra strict with the calories, or I ratchet up my work out.  It’s just not practical to deprive yourself of chocolate.  BBC, you’re SO in my corner.  Check it out: Chocolate ‘may help keep people slim’

With summer impending, I figure it’s about time to get on that wagon.  Day 1 of 28, here goes nothing.  I had some chick peas from a recent trip to Suwon, and it seemed a good time for some crisp veggies and hummus (hello, protein!).  This recipe comes to me from my father, by way of The Mediterranean Cookbook by Betty Wason.  It starts with tahini, which you then combine with chickpeas to make hummus. Your biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how best to mash your chick peas.  I’ll go ahead and give you my blessing.  Use a fork, eat an extra cookie, and we’ll call it even as “cardio.”

Tahini Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup sesame oil (I substituted soybean oil)

6 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1/2 cup parsley, coarsely chopped

“The easiest way to make the sauce is with a blender.  Place the oil in the blender first; add, with blender in motion, water and lemon juice alternatively until the mixture is the consistency of thick cream.  Crush the garlic separately in a mortar or bowl and work in the salt.  Add the garlic-salt  mixture to the Tahini.  Do not overbeat.”

Or, chuck everything in the blender and give it a whirl.  That’s what I did.   Emulsion, schemulsion.

Appears smooth and creamy to me!

Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

Guilt-free

100 grams dried chick peas OR 1 large can chick peas

1/2 cup Tahini Sauce

lemon juice

salt, to taste

Since dried chick peas seem to be the most readily available to those of us in the land of kimchi, I’ll start there.  Place the chick peas in a medium-sized bowl and cover with plenty of water.  Allow to soak at room temperature overnight.  

They plump while you sleep

After soaking, transfer chick peas to a saucepan.  Cover with water and simmer, partially covered, over medium heat about 25-30 minutes, or until chick peas easily smash between the fingers. Drain and cool.

If using canned, ensure the chick peas are drained.  Now, choose method of mashing.  I happened to be equipped with a potato masher which worked just fine.  Otherwise, use food mill, blender (make sure Tahini is poured in to provide some lubrication), or a fork.  Mix Tahini Sauce with mashed chick peas, and add lemon and salt to taste.

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Cirque du Jerk

Sit back and marvel at the extravaganza. 

With summer nipping at our heels this weekend, out came the bbq’s and we bellied up to the beach.  It was a friend’s birthday, and everyone plus their nephew-once-removed came out to celebrate.  Knowing in advance the potential of the gathering to end up in a chaotic frenzy,  I did some damage control and brought along an arsenal of meat. 

I found myself a shrink-wrapped chicken that undoubtedly was the recipient of one butcher’s wrath and fury.  This baby was hacked up with no rhyme or reason.  Legs looked like wings, and breasts were indistinguishable from thighs.   The opportunity for partial bone excavation (or throat-lodged loss of breath) was also very real. Regardless, it was all there, and the lack of giblets meant I was a happy camper in the end.  You can hack all you want as long as I don’t have to venture into the deep for a slimy surprise.  The intimate quest makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. 

Moved by the sunshine, and the accompanying vibes of Mr. Marley, I was feeling some jerk chicken.  I had a spice rub in my cupboard, but that just seemed too easy.  Kicking it up a notch, I sought out this recipe for a blended marinade via Nigella Lawson.  With a little Koreanization, we were in business.

Not the same for the grill component.  At face value, we seemed well off.  A trio had been arranged on the beach, alongside ample coals.  First thing first, I staked a claim, and loaded the grill up with charcoal.  Incentive for taking initiative: control of the almighty torch.  Complete with trigger, this thing made you want to incinerate.  Next best only to a class full of bowing students. P-O-W-E-R. 

Soon enough, the coals were glowing and it was time to get down and dirty.  On further assessment, the absence of a standard-sized grill rack was brought to our attention.  In its place were two small paddle-esque grates. Finding my first opportunity to amaze and astound, I carefully balanced the grates together.  The whole affair was contingent on a slight overlap in the center.  That, and the careful arrangement of  points of pressure (aka carnage o’ chicken).  I could say this worked like a charm, but that wouldn’t have been a circus.  I promised a spectacle.  

No big deal.

Uneven heat from the coals meant frequent chicken flipping was necessary.  This allowed me to debut my ability to calculate the ever-changing points of balance.  With each flip, the grates dipped and the bystanders gasped and squealed. It was a rollercoaster of emotion as we escaped chicken fiasco time and time again. 

For one onlooker, the thrill proved all too much.  She summoned her resourcefulness, and emerged from the woods with a perfectly sized stick.  Without so much as an utterance (imperative for the climactic build-up), she nestled the branch across the grill and under the grates for support.  Genius!  She was showered with praise. 

At this point, it seemed the show was over.  We would proceed as normal, flip to our heart’s content,  and consume the reward subsequently.  And then it happened. 

 

Watch your eyebrows!

 

Caught up in a flurry of social exchange, no one really saw it coming.  All of a sudden, a geyser of fire shot up to the sky!  There was a crack, and the stick was all but a distant memory. Here, the show became interactive.  A front-row admirer’s cat-like reflexes are to thank for saving our supper from the inferno of doom.  Crisis averted, audience AMAZED.

When the excitement died down, it was time to eat.  The chicken was delicious and enjoyed.  There were requests for an encore, but it may have been a limited run.

Jerk Chicken

Adapted from Homestyle Jerk Chicken by Nigella Lawson

Serves 3-4

1 whole chicken, hacked to bits

1  teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon dried thyme (or I used mixed herbs)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used paprika)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (stand-in for ground ginger and nutmeg)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 1″ piece ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used teriyaki sauce)

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 fresh small(spicy!) chile, whole

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

Combine all ingredients in a blender, puree until smooth.  Pour over chicken in a ziplock bag and allow to marinate.  Grill and enjoy (BYOGG: Bring Your Own Grill Grate).

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The Daily Rind

This evening, I had an upswell of shame.  I couldn’t help myself.  I really like chicken and I can do wonders in one pot.  I can’t lie to you, and who am I kidding.  I know I said I’d steer away from this trend, but I can’t handle the guilt.  I’m going to embrace it.  Consider it branding.

According to my highly credible market research (The Next Food Network Star), a cook needs to have a point of view.  Gimmicks can’t hurt either. Rachel’s got her garbage bowl, and I’ve got my aluminum wok.  Are you sick of the photos yet?  Food styling is next on the agenda.

Exactly a week before payday, I find myself upping the ante.  The challenge comes from working with only what’s already stocked.  Couple this with a narrow margin to supplement.  I’ve been sitting on a can of cannellini beans, so I figured it’s now or never.  Coincidentally, I also had a leftover rind from my last wedge of parmesan.  Hours I thought I’d lost forever to Everyday Italian seem to be making a comeback.  If it weren’t for Giada, I’d never know that salty roundness the rind adds to a nice broth. It may be shaping up springtime, but we’re putting the soup on.  I’m hoping to pull some reverse psychology on mama nature and heats things up.

Good news for 'Leave No Trace' - a use for every bit

Chicken Cannellini Bean Soup

Serves 3-4

4 cups water

3 chicken bouillon cubes

1 Tbsp mixed herbs

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 chicken breast, sliced lengthwise in half

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 stalk celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes

parmesan rind (optional)

salt, to taste

1. Put water, bouillon, spices and chicken in medium saucepan (oh!  It’s not one pot! …busted!) over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  When the mixture is boiling, turn off the heat and cover. Allow to sit about 5-10 minutes and breast pieces should be cooked through. Remove chicken, shred and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in an expensive dutch oven (or a flimsy Asian wok).  Saute onion and celery until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Next, add the garlic.  Saute another minute or so until softened, but do not allow the garlic to burn.  Add cannellini beans, tomatoes, reserved poaching liquid and rind.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes.  Return chicken to pan and simmer for another couple of minutes, then serve.  Add salt to taste if needed.

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Queso Flavored Coffee

After graduating from college, I found myself cowering in the face of responsibility. For four years, I’d complained about 8 AM seminars and whined every hour through an all-nighter. I could not wait to graduate. That is, until I caught wind of exactly what came next.

Faced with an ultimatum: work or die, I tapped into my creative problem solving. I came up with a clever scheme to travel, and still make some use of my degree. Under the pretense of “field work,” I booked a flight to Central America and summoned a friend to take it on with me.

We arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and headed right to the small town of Suyapa on the outskirts of town. The taxi stopped, and we found ourselves looking out-of-place and bleary-eyed in a quiet plaza central. According to our “formal instructions” we would be greeted by a friend of a friend. Just as we were beginning to grow concerned, a friendly voice hollered across the square. The gringas had landed and word traveled fast.

Our street

We were immediately swept up into a growing entourage and led through town and up the hillside. On our way, we passed women vending tortillas and children playing in the streets. The welcome we received was warm, and we were happy to have arrived.

Winding past modest houses, the scent of chorizo drifted to the street. Before we knew it, we were home. We walked into our quaint little compound and were given swift instructions not to exit without an escort after dark. The presence of gangs was strong up the hill and it just wasn’t safe.

A view of the puebla

Exhausted from the transit, we assessed our open-air apartment, clambered under a mosquito net, and drifted off to sleep. That is, until we were awoken by our neighborhood roosters. Right on schedule, at about 3 AM, and promptly every few minutes thereafter.

Over the next few weeks, the cock-a-doodle-doos morphed into lullabies and we grew accustomed to the new digs. In the evenings, when not out visiting with friends, we were face-to-face with confinement. Wanting to make the best of the situation, we got creative. We tried yoga, and successfully freaked out a repairman when surprised mid-om. Other times we visited with our neighbor to practice our Spanish. More often than not, however, we got creative with the local ingredients.

Attempt #65 to amuse ourselves

Working with not much more than rice, beans, and tortillas, we looked forward to the days when we’d find a truck in the main square. Its bed would be filled with fresh produce, and the pineapple really mixed up our salsa-of-the-day. Other days, we’d find the cheese man.

Prepping for salsa

Usually just across from the pupusa stands, he would wheel up his cart filled with blocks of soft, white cheese. Initially taking it to be some kind of farmer’s cheese, we arrived shortly at its variety. Endearingly dubbed “essence of vaca [cow]” due to the musty overtones, when sandwiched between tortillas it was the next best thing to delectable.

Gradually, we developed a taste for the funky cheese (or the boredom left us exercising hand-to-mouth technique). The kilos began to multiply. After leaving, I didn’t think I’d miss the bovine delight, but turns out I much prefer pasture to plastic. Korea’s endless supply of processed cheese is anything but enthralling.

A divine selection

With springtime taking hold in Korea, it’s bittersweet. I find myself inhaling the penetrating scent of manure, and trying hard not to pass out. I feel I am not alone in this quest. As I pass students in my rural school’s halls, their hands cover their noses, and their eyes show signs of an Armageddon. They move swiftly, and scramble into their next weather-sealed classroom. The situation being what it is, I’ve channeled the disgust and shifted my thoughts to nostalgia. An ode to the vaca, I decided to take on homemade cheese.

The modernity of Korea’s pasteurization methods seem to have eradicated the udder cowiness from locally sourced milk. This means a vaca-free cheese, but it doesn’t account for the cross-contamination of machinery. Cheesecloth seems to be a specialty item, and in my neck it just couldn’t be found. Coffee came into play with my endeavor, and I’m hoping “essence of java” isn’t all that awful.

The next best thing

I set up shop with the best I could find: a hand-drip coffee percolator and a utility-sized filter. This certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was all I could do. Due to the lack of drainage, I ditched the filter part-way through. This is good news to one disgruntled barista. It proved exhausting to coax just one filter from her industrial stash, and I wasn’t looking forward to a follow-up visit.

The contraption didn’t drain the cheese as efficiently as I had hoped. In crisis mode, I also involved a tea sieve. This allowed for some extra whey to escape, and should also round out the flavor with a nice herbal quality.

More a coffee or a tea drinker?

Rather than admit defeat, I’m going to make it work. I was planning to use my queso for enchiladas, so the liquidy goodness should mix fine with chicken and green chiles as a filling. I’ll report back post-consumption, but all in all not a complete lost cause. I could keep tweaking until the cows come home, but I’m hungry. “It’ll do, pig, it’ll do.”

Queso Blanco

Makes about 4 ounces

1 quart (1,000 mL) whole milk
2 T lemon juice
coarse salt, to taste

1. In a non-aluminim pot on the stove, heat the milk until just about to boil (85 degrees Celsius/185 degrees Fahrenheit). Mix in the lemon juice, and turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to stand for about 10 minutes. You should see curds starting to form along the surface as they separate from the whey.

Curds and whey

2. Pour the mixture into a straining device of your choice. If cheesecloth is available, take this route. Next best, use a fine sieve. Last resort, try the coffee dripper. Allow the whey to drain off of the curds for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle curds liberally with salt.

3. Continue to drain the cheese overnight. The next day, squeeze or press the heap of goodness to wring out any excess moisture(I’m still figuring out how to do this). Enjoy.

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Finding the Curry-age

I’ve always been super intimidated by Indian cooking.  Before visiting the country, it was hard to get a real grasp on kormas versus koftas, and dosas and dal. Something about the foreign charm of ghee and cardamom kept my kitchen rather bland and the Indian restaurant well patronized.

Hello, gorgeous.

In attempts to discover something outside of my standard tikka masala,  I’d time my visits to the lunch hour so as to sample the buffet.  The real deal clincher was the continual output of fresh naan bread, washed down with pitchers of mango lassi.  Needless to say, my lack of self-discipline quickly confirmed a ticket on the fast train to uncomfortably full. Not to mention the fast train to porcelain heaven.

Subsequently, with my mother at my side, we staged a personal intervention and put a ban on ever again going all-you-can-eat.  It was just toooo delicious.  When we found ourselves in the restaurant alongside buffet buccaneers, we simply had to breathe deeply and look the other way.  Our fate was sealed, and we calmly ordered controlled portions from the menu.

This seemed to perplex the curious Indian servers, as whatever we ordered often times was included on the buffet.  Before putting in our order, the slew of waiters standing at attention would one-by-one try their hand at defying the laws of surface tension.  They’d miraculously fit one extra drop in our water glasses and reiterate, “Madam, the buffet?” Yes sir, we’re crazy (as well as pathetic).  Can I have a “100-calorie pack” for dessert?

Since returning from my trip to India, I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to recreate the deliciousness that was each meal.  The other day, I caught a whiff of the spice blend I smuggled home while cleaning the cupboards. Okay, I lie.  While cramming things in, it fell on my head.  Either way, things were set in motion.

On our next to last eve in India, we were lucky enough to share a kitchen with Shivani. I was a little reluctant after realizing she was the wife of one particular shop owner.  This guy had sent me on a mission for small bills, then upped his price and refused to bargain as soon as I was cash in hand.  Regardless, she was the only cooking class in town and had many rave reviews. 

Cooking with Shivani

We were greeted at her home where she had a table set up and layered with ingredients.  First on the agenda was chai while we discussed our menu for the day. We learned to make many things, but most importantly, Shivani made Indian food approachable.  I took what I learned, added a subtle twist, and finally achieved masala enlightenment.  Here’s a run-down of the basics. 

Tofu Paneer/Chicken and Lentil Masala

Serves 4

Every Indian “gravy” starts with a base of browned butter and caramelized onions.

3 Tbsp butter

hot spices: 7 black peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, 1 black cardamom pod (lightly crushed), 1 tsp whole black cumin seeds

1 large onion, diced

I had always been under the impression that most Indian foods began with ghee.  This isn’t necessarily the case.  Shivani started her gravies (referring to the saucy base of any “wet” curry) with plain ol’ butter.  Basically, you just start out by melting the butter in a medium-hot pan.  Pay close attention, and when the butter begins to get the golden tone, toss in your “hot” spices.  Wait just a minute until they pop.  Next, add your onion.  Shivani liked to start with red onion, but for my dish I used yellow and it worked just fine.  Once the onion is in the pan, turn down the heat a bit and allow to gradually brown.

Golden goodness

To avoid a case of Dehli Belly, simmer until the butter separates from the curry. 

3 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (I was at a loss for equipment to make a proper paste and just used finely minced)

2 Tbsp garam masala (Indian spice blend)

1/2 tsp salt (unless included in your garam masala blend)

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 C water

When the onions have come to a nice even brown, turn the heat back up to medium-high and toss in the ginger/garlic paste.  Saute quickly.  Next, add garam masala, salt, tomatoes, water and bring to a simmer.  Allow the mixture to simmer until you can see little bubbles start to form across the surface.  Around the ring of the bubbles and at the edge of the curry, you should see a clear liquid starting to separate from the gravy base.  This is the butter.  Once this happens, your bowels are safe and you’re ready to move on.

Starting to separate

It’s gravy, baby. 

1/4 C plain yogurt

2 tsp lemon juice

1 C green lentils, cooked

1 lb. tofu or chicken (I seasoned with tandoori spices and seared)

When you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back and crank up the sitar.  You’re almost there.  All that remains is just stirring in the final ingredients and heating the dish through.  I promised to veer away from chicken, so I’m going to recommend adding in tofu as a stand-in for paneer.  While I’m not exactly sure what it is that separates the two, it worked just fine.  If your sauce seems a bit dry, feel free to add more water at this point and just allow to simmer to thicken.

Voila!

Congratulations!  You’ve just made your first Indian curry.  Truly just a matter of getting your hands on the spices, once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.  Now on to perfecting the naan

Special thank you to Tak Shivani for sharing her culinary secrets.  If you’ll be in the Pushkar vicinity, I highly recommend her course.

Shivani’s Sanjha Chula Flavours

www.pushkarcookingart.com

takshivani@yahoo.com

+91-9414656185

Pushkar, Rajasthan

India

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The Green Bean Chronicles

Phases. They come and go.  The “Save the Shrews” phase.  The Jazzercise phase.  And then there was the phase when wearing parachutes on our legs really seemed like a good idea.  Whatever it is, we all go through them.

Check out those jazz hands!

When reflecting on myself, I’ve had quite a number. There was a phase when all I really wanted when I got home from school was bacon.  And chocolate milk.  Obviously this was before Weight Watchers graced us with their presence and cholesterol content was really of  no matter.  

As far as appearance, I totally rocked out with L.A. Lights.  Yes, I owned a scrunchie (or two) and I also went through one summer when I only wore white t-shirts. Let’s count our lucky stars I never encountered a sprinkler with a mind of its own in that stage. By far the most prominent phase as far as wardrobe is concerned, however, is what my family likes to dub the “green bean” stage.

In the heyday of Gap Kids, that chain manufactured one wicked sweat suit.  A nice heavy weight, cozy to the touch, they just couldn’t be beat.  Far too young to be affected by the stigma of donning a sweat suit in the middle of the day, I was taking full advantage.

At the time, the majority of my class was wearing suits of a more windproof  nature (warm-up suits, if you will). On the playground, I watched as they got picked off one by one for going the wrong way up the slide or playing too rough on the monkey bars.  Warm-up suits seemed only to be produced in a variety of intensely neon patterns, and this quality gave them quite the inability to go unnoticed. I was forging my own path, and chose to keep a low profile in earth tones.

Additionally, I had developed an intense fear of the color red.  Still coming into my own with the pale skin/fire-haired combo, all I knew was that red, and anything sitting close on the color wheel, just didn’t work.  Playing it safe, I nestled my wardrobe safely into the confines of red’s complement.  Green was the color of choice, and I lived dangerously through variations like sea-foam and teal.  I kept it comfortable for the year. I wore sweats exclusively, and in only the finest emerald tones.

Note the camouflage effect

All of this brings me to my latest creation.  Around Thanksgiving, I was set loose on a quest for green beans. It was difficult, but I managed to come up with four of the most ancient looking cans from only the most obscure location. Three were consumed in the feast, and one I stashed safely in my cupboard. Finding myself inside on a rainy evening, not wanting to make a trip to the store, I decided the time had come. I was ready to make use of the treasure.  After assessing the stocks, I also took notice of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. An idea occurred to me.

The essentials

By this time, you’ve probably noticed that, when left to my own devices, I frequently cook with chicken, and I usually prefer one pot.  We’ll attribute this last tendency to a deep-seeded hatred for dish washing, sowed carefully over the last 20 years.  I promise next time to mix it up.  In the meantime, a recipe was stewing, and I went for it.  Now, I know some of you may turn up your nose.  For a variety of reasons.  Most prominent being the likeness of my creation to a bowl of slop.  Well, I happen to like slop, and what oh-so-tasty slop it is!!

Slop-o-licious!

I’m going to take a moment to also recognize my inability to do this up properly.  I’ll reiterate…it was RAINING, and I didn’t have cheddar cheese  in the house, nor anything useful for breading and frying onions.  This all could lead to a greater gain (quite literally AND figuratively!) and I was working with what I had.  The suggestions are included with the recipe.

Here’s the deal.  If you came of age anywhere in the vicinity of the U.S. of A., or happen to have ever visited an American holiday gathering, you’ve probably come into contact with green bean casserole.  An old stand-by, you either love it or you hate it.  After living in close vicinity to a friend who joined Costco solely for the purchasing power of flats of Campbell’s soup and jumbo-sized tins of french fried onions, I developed a yearning for it.  The recipe that follows turns the casserole into somewhat of a sorry excuse for a balanced meal.  It met my criteria!

Chicken Green Bean Casserole

Serves 4

2 Tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts, diced

4 Tbsp flour

1/2 tsp paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

———————-

1 onion, diced

6 button mushrooms, sliced

2 cans green beans

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup

4 Tbsp worcestershire sauce (Ottogi pulls through with this one)

8 shakes Tabasco

cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

fried onions, to garnish (optional)

1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Dredge in a dish or put flour in a paper bag to toss with chicken until lightly coated.

2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken to pan and cook just until browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

3.  Add onions to hot skillet and saute about 4 minutes until starting to brown.  Add mushrooms, and saute another 2 minutes.  When mushrooms are softened, add green beans and mix just to heat.

4. Pour all remaining ingredients into the pan and stir to mix evenly.  Heat for 2-3 minutes over medium, then lower heat and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for another 3-5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

5. (Optional) Top each serving with shredded cheddar and garnish with fried onions.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: South by Far East(SXFE) Lineup Announced

Music.  It makes the world go round.  It’s the voice of a culture that echoes for generations.  It can encapsulate a moment in a way we could only dream of articulating.  Subtle riffs to make our worries go away, and heavy timpani to get us fired up.  For me, music is as primal as food and water.  

Like cooking, music draws from a myriad of sources for inspiration.  It is an avenue for the voices of suppression, and it is a lion rejoicing in a victory.  Anything can inspire, be it a python satchel or the writing on the wall. For me, more often than not, I find my inspiration in a bass line.  Whether the music guides me to the dish, or the dish dictates the music, the two are symbiotic.

Currently suffering through a dry spell as far as live music is concerned, I’ve had to get creative to fill the void. Whether I’m crooning to the Stones between bites of Shepard’s pie or it’s meatballs with a side of Sinatra, it helps alleviate the pain.  Nothing quite beats a session at Red Rocks under the stars, but it proves distracting.

My day gig entails hours of mandated presence in front of a dimly lit computer screen.  At times this leads to an existential crisis, and at others it leaves me to sift through the lineup of yet another musical event from which I’ll be excluded.  In recent times, this means I’ve been perusing the endless list of performers at Austin, Texas’ annual South by South West(SXSW) Festival. 

I’ve never been to Austin and I’ve never been to Texas.  For a while, I only knew Texans as a breed that would descend upon the slopes of Colorado in springtime like locusts.  Donning ten gallon hats, ski poles tucked towards the sky, and emitting a broken record of “Yips” and “Yee-haws” while careening at high speeds down the mountain, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.  

I’ve come to learn a good bit about the city of Austin, and my curiosity has been sparked.  It’s the birthplace of my one true love, Whole Foods (an amazing gourmet/organic food market), and a city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” It supposedly has a thriving music scene, and a laid-back ambiance to rival that of Boulder.   Also lying in close proximity to our neighbors to the South, I can only assume the city has a healthy presence of Tex-Mex culinary delights. 

The lineup

With all this, I was left inspired, still in Korea, and with cans of black beans and sweet corn at my disposal.  What I came up with is a taco/fajita filling of sorts.  It struck all the right chords when paired with a flour tortilla and some streaming Grace Potter. 

The dish is given a Korean flair by the addition of Korean chiles, fire roasted over a tiny apartment hot-plate.  Not to worry, the propane essence dissipates in the finished dish and they add just the right amount of kick.  If you can stand it, I think this dish was even better the next day, but either way it’s an easy one-pot meal. 

"Fire" roasted

South by Far East(SXFE) Chicken

Serves 4-6

Tex-Mex vibes

5 large green chiles, sliced lengthwise and deveined

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chile powder

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 can black beans

1/2 can sweet corn

1 chicken bouillon cube, dissolved in 1 C. water

salt and pepper, to taste

tortillas or nacho chips, to serve

1.  To roast the chiles, I like to first cut off the stem and slice down the center to devein.  I find this method easier than leaving all the cleaning to the end.  Next, over a medium-high flame on a gas range, roast the chiles skin-side down until the skins have become almost entirely black.  Remove the chile from the flame and transfer immediately to a paper or plastic bag.  Twist the bag closed to allow the steam to loosen the skins.  When the chiles have cooled, easily scrape off the charred skins with your fingers.  Dice the chiles and set aside.

Flavor bass

2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then transfer to the hot pan.  Brown the chicken and set aside. 

3.  Lower the heat and saute onion and garlic until beginning to turn golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add bell pepper and diced chiles, saute another 2-3 minutes.   

A nice golden color

4.  Add spices to onion mixture, and stir to mix.  Next, return the chicken to the pan and add all remaining ingredients.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken, shred, and return to mixture.  Simmer uncovered another 5 minutes to allow to thicken. 

5.  Serve with flour tortillas or nacho chips.  Tip: Instead of heating my tortillas in the microwave, I like to throw them on the stove over the open flame for a more authentic flavor.  Heat for a few seconds, and when the tortilla begins to bubble, flip and repeat.  Serve immediately. 

Buen provecho

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