cheese curds – where, where were you…

I thought I was exposed to most all cuisines but was I wrong!  One of my last work trip took me to The Old Fashioned, an institution in Madison, Wisconsin.

Perhaps it’s the midwest, perhaps because Wisconsin is the “cheesehead” country or maybe it’s because it gets so freakin’ cold that folks have invented fatty goodness to keep you warm through the winter but man, I’ve been missing out on these little critters called cheese curds!  Fried golden brown with dozen different dipping sauces from smoked paprika to Tiger Blue dip – they are warm, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside and oh-so-addictive as you pop them down with a flight of beer:)

But the reason why I haven’t been exposed to them is that they are a by-product of cheese making and since they must be eaten fresh with a very short shelf-life, they’re only available where there’s a lot of cheese being made~ ah!  I feel better now…

Good thing we don’t have them readily available nearby.  Otherwise – I’d be stuffing myself with cheese curds all the time and given the shape some of the folks were in (ah-hmm), I think I’ll leave it to the occasional cheese curd/beer binge.  Cheddar cheese and apple pie?  really?  not-so-much.  Must be an acquired taste… And poutine?  fries, cheese curds and gravy?  Wow – but at least once, right?

And how about those off-the-menu Animal fries from In-N-Out?  I’ll stick with just the double double and regular fries please…

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Food pix from around the world

Longing for vacation to some exotic place far far away – I was looking at some old pix – of what else, FOOD!  Below are some pix from my favs in the world~

Left to right…

Duck Fat fries from Blue Duck – DC

Apple tarte in Paris

Duck confit in Paris

Steak frite at Les Halles – NYC

Little summer refresher at the Parker – Palm Springs

Pork belly buns at (David Chang’s) Ssam Bar – NYC

Soup dumplings – Beijing

Little dumpling stall – Beijing

Peking duck place – Beijing

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catering gig at bulthaup – tofu lollipops anyone?

For this last catering gig at bulthaup for a LA-based renown architect firm, Maltzan, I had a blast putting together a cocktail/appetizer menu that was first and foremost good, but one that was also different and played up the Asian/Korean heritage and one that let people know that Korean food can be the perfect bites to have with cocktails.  For many, it was like, “what’s this sauce?, what are these leaves (perilla – aka korean basil)?  what do you call it?” and looking at all the plates wiped clean, I think it’s a good sign that people enjoyed it and that makes me happy.  (Big shout out to Michelle and Tony at bulthaup who snapped the pix!)

Caprese on a bamboo stick was a good way to start the evening, complete with fresh basil pesto, heavy on fresh garlic of course;)  Then things got a little more interesting, serving roasted tofu lollipops with korean ponzu, cherry bacon bits and toasted quinoa.  I even converted tofu haters to think twice about tofu!  The secret is in roasting it with olive oil and turmeric for ~1 hr – it gets it crispy and chewy making you almost not miss meat.

But then of course, you have to have some savory meat.  After all, it’s cocktails and apps~

After soaking chicken in buttermilk all night, I quickly tossed little chicken bites in japanese panko and flour and deep fried them until golden and crispy.  Wrapped in strips of korean perilla leaves (aka korean basil or “kkaennip” – see?  Isn’t “korean basil” easier?) and drizzled with korean red pepper sauce to give it a kick and a sweet/sour tang.  It was a crowd pleaser.  But then again – who doesn’t like fried chicken?  Isn’t it…

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Meatless Wednesday – Stuffed Tomato with Rice. Did I Say it’s Super Easy?

Super easy recipe adopted from Saveur magazine (one of my favorite magazine that I hope to get a job with one day…)

Satisfying and beautiful – looks like you slaved over a stove for HOURS!  but NOT.  Take advantage of sun-kissed juicy tomatoes now available at your local farmers market.  You can get them at a grocery store but they seem lifeless and so sterile.  No umami tomato taste and that’s what you want.

It’s great as a meal in itself or makes for a wonderful side dish.  Mine came out tasting bit like Spanish rice – so I guess you could use it instead of that too.  Certainly easier, I think…

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oh pork belly – how i love thee, braised pork belly with star anise and coffee rub

Having a rep as a conscious, healthy eater – I wanted to show that I too can cook mean, fatty porky dishes at times \ / (that’s me with an angry face;))…  Actually – I think that we all deserve to “fall off the wagon” and indulge a bit now and then.  Otherwise – the healthy stuff gets to be a chore and there’s no “reward” for being good, you know?  Life’s too short to deprive yourself – just in moderation and balance of good and bad, i think.

Adopted and inspired by a recipe for Caramel-Lacquered Pork Belly with Quick-Pickled Honeydew in a Food & Wine magazine, I bought my first pork belly at Whole Foods since what seems like over a decade ago.  The trick is to season it close to 24 hours and to roast lo and slow~~  and my proud, awesome secret?  Fresh ground coffee & star anise rub – yup.  That was Me.  KICKS!  AZZ!  It was so tender and succulent that I almost cried… and so did my hubby ^ ^

Coffee & Star-Anise Rubbed Pork Belly (with Roasted Khulrabi)

Ingredients (serves 4):

Belly:

- 1 lb pork belly

- 2 tbsp sea salt, fresh ground black pepper to season

- 1 tbsp evap cane juice/sugar (tenderizes, seasons and browns the meat)

- 2 tbsp fresh ground coffee & 1 whole star anise (ground)

Sauce:

- 1/2 cup evap cane juice/sugar

- 1 tbsp tamarind paste (optional – most difficult to find even at Asian grocery stores.  Look for it in a compacted block form, sorta like whole bunch of dried plums smashed into a 6×6 cube)

- 1 tbsp asian fish sauce

- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger

- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice

- 1 small Thai chile (minced)

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blue duck tavern in DC – what’s your last meal on this earth?

discovered a couple years ago while visiting Washington, DC – Blue Duck Tavern is by far one of the best restaurants that i’ve been to.  doesn’t hurt that Obama apparently frequents here but you may not necessarily know that by the unpretentious and oh-so-foodie’s fantasy kitchen come true outfit that Blue Duck Tavern is.

in fact – the last time i was there, i got there early and asked if i could look around at the restaurant and take some pictures for my blog.  everyone was such the hostess from the GM to PR to executive chef.  i got the peeks into the kitchen, saw the team doing their tasting for some new creations to come out, all while enjoying a very original rhubarb cucumber martini.

using highest quality local ingredients, the restaurant pays homage to wholesome comfort food at its best; not the usual steak and potatoes kind of a way but at a level little higher, little more complicated that have you scratching your head going – “how did they do that?”  ”what’s in that”?

blue duck certainly is among the last meals i’d like to have before i die – here’s to the courses for the nite.  my only regret?  i didn’t even make a dint on those duck fat fries…still haunting me… Continue reading

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Jerusalem Artichoke isn’t an artichoke at all…but tastes like one

Always up for discovering new ingredients, I found little critters of jerusalem artichoke or also called sunchoke at the market the other day and was curious what it would taste like.  Think alien-like edible tuber (like potato, yam, radish), a cross between a potato and a really big ginger, it’s mild in flavor and high in water content, taste like artichoke hearts but texture of a, say,  radish?  And bonus? no peeling away thorny leaves to get to the artichoke heart!

Coming from a species of sunflower, and unlike other root vegetable, jerusalem artichokes have no starch (or the kind of starch we’re used to anyways).  Instead, they have inulin, a fructose/glucose energy thing that helps with calcium absorption and does not raise your blood sugar which is great for diabetics.  It’s known to have caused some tummy discomfort in large amounts – so ease into it and see if it affects you.

In my first attempt, I decided to make a mashed jerusalem artichoke to really enjoy the artichoke hearts flavor.  In researching, it supposedly gets too mushy if you try to boil them, but I also found a recipe for jerusalem artichoke soup from Cook Sister! so maybe it’s good to try that as well.  Lastly – they can also be enjoyed raw, sliced and tossed into salads providing a nice crunchy texture similar to jicama but with a more artichoke taste.

See here for mashed jerusalem artichoke recipe, very very easy!  Continue reading

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happy spring! yay for spring veggies – asparagus anyone?

I think there are two teams when it comes to asparagus – those who are a fan! and those who just think it’s an odd vegetable with weird after-effects;) – uh-hmmm – the strange odor in your pee caused by asparagine, a diuretic compound found in asparagus.

Either way – it’s a sure sign of spring – and seeing them on this month’s Bon Appetit made me salivate:)  The way it peeks up from the ground, some being reported to grow as much as ten inches a day!  And it’s certainly a cool vegetable to look at; vibrant green or white (those that doesn’t see the sun) and sexy.  Sexy?  Oh – come on!  You didn’t think it looked a bit phallic?  You know what’s funny?  It’s one of the oldest vegetables (think reptiles age) with distinctive male and female plants.  Get this – Sooooo – the Male asparagus spears are skinny (lol…) and the Female asparagus are plump & fleshy (yup – that’s right~;) ) Its nutritional value are that it’s an ayurvedic root for boosting female hormones, promoting fertility (so sorta like aphrodisiac) and relieving cramps, is an anticarcinogenic veggie and is even used to help with gout.  So eat up and welcome spring onto your plates~!

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Mixed paella recipe – first time for everything…

When you start to think about it, it’s pretty crazy how different cuisines across countries find commonalities, whether it’s Italian ravioli compared to Chinese dumplings or French bouillabaisse to Spanish paella.  It’s just different variations of the same kind of a thing, you know?

Deciding to make something festive and a one-pot crowd pleaser, I attempted at my first paella.  I tell myself that whatever paella I’ve had in my life will not compare to the “real thing” in Spain – so until I get there – I’ll have little to compare it to.  I started by purchasing a cast-iron skillet, an affordable Lodge one for $20 bucks at Sur la Table.  Not a real paella pan but getting a pan just for paella would be quite the commitment.  Besides, I thought I could use the skillet for frying chicken (not that I do all that much frying), baking corn bread, etc., etc.,  And it turned out to be a good thing, cuz it did just the job albeit I didn’t get the infamous socarrat, the crunchy rice layer at the bottom of the pan similar to dolsot bibimbap of Korean cuisine where rice is served on a heated stone bowl with all the fixings to get it nice and crunchy.  See what I mean about commonalities across countries?

I decided to make a mixed paella that has chicken breast, thighs, chorizo, shrimp, calamari and mussels.  To make chicken breast moist and tender, I borrowed Thomas Keller’s method of soaking the chicken in buttermilk beforehand which helped.  And per many of the recipes, arborio rice (also used for risotto) was selected although in retrospect, it probably had bit too much starch and resulting in a bit too creamy/starchy paella.  Nonetheless, the flavors were right and well-balanced, with 1/2 and 1/2 of fish stock to chicken stock, smoked paprika and saffron, of course.

Adopted from several sources online – see recipe below.

Mixed paella (serves 6-8)

Stuff:

- handful of each protein: chicken breast, chicken thighs, shrimp, calamari, mussels

- vegetables: 1 red bell pepper, handful green beans, 1/2 onion, handful baby artichokes (or canned artichokes), 1 large ripe tomato (peeled, grated), small handful of minced garlic

- spices: 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 pinch of saffron, 1 tsp oregano, lemon zest, parsley and 2 bay leaves

- starch: 1 cup arborio or spanish medium grain rice (Valenciana rice)

- stock: 1 cup fish stock, 1 cup chicken stock

Cook:

1) Warm 1/2 cup of chicken broth in a small pot, stir in saffron and let soak for 15 min to bring out saffron color/flavor.

2) You’ll cook the proteins and each set of vegetables separately and then combine all of them with the rice later.  First step – brown chicken on iron skillet with oil on med-high heat and move to a plate.  Sautee 1/2 of garlic, peppers then move to same plate.  Sautee artichokes and green beans until slightly tender and move to a plate.  Sautee onions until tender, add tomato until reduced and broken down.  Add leftover garlic and rice and roast rice until slightly toasted.

3) Add back your chicken and vegetables, submerge the ingredients in skillet with fish/chicken stock, saffron mixture and the spices (minus the parsley).

4) Key is NOT TO STIR!  Set cooktop heat to lo-medium and cook for ~20 min until the rice is chewy and 1/2 of the stock has been evaporated.  Add your shrimp, calamari and mussels, cover lid and cook for another ~10-15 min until all of the stock’s evaporated and rice is tender.  You should start getting the crunchy socarrat browning at the bottom.  Mine burned a bit but all the while – it was pretty neat-o to have it come all together.

Serve in the middle of the table with sprinkled parsley, some toasted bread and avocado slices drizzled with olive oil.  Some salad would be nice to cut some of the fat and heartiness of the paella as well.  And of course, you have to have some Spanish wine to go along with all of that;)

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Okinawa purple sweet potatoes – the perfect asian dessert

Growing up in Korea, my childhood memories include eating vegetables/fruits considered to be savory or side dishes here in the US of A to savory dishes being eaten like desserts.  In winter – sweet potatoes (Japanese, Korean, me thinks same same) steamed and peeled whole, often sold by street vendors much in the same way that chestnuts are still sold in street corners of Paris. In summer time – fresh sliced tomatoes marinated with sugar, eating crunchy cucumbers as snacks…it was very simple and natural.  No canned fruit in plastic cups, no fried potatoes in bags (although I’ve been known to finish a few…) – just unadulterated goodness.

Which is why I got all excited when my mom introduced me to the shockingly purple Japanese Okinawa(n) purple sweet potatoes.  It’s like the blood oranges of sweet potatoes.  By sheer chance, you may hit sly purple veins as you cut into it – or SURPRISE! and you are shocked with the vibrant candy-like purple color just popping out at you.

High in natural sugar and starch content than regular potatoes and as most sweet potatoes are higher in nutrition content with more antioxidants than regular mr/mrs potato heads (yay the craze of sweet potato fries!), they are simple and sometimes impressive sweets that can be served as desserts.  Sweet and nutty and more moisture than a potato, almost like a chestnut but velvety and a little sexy, a perfect bliss.

I simply 1) scrubbed them 2) baked them for 45-55 min in the oven at 350 degrees, cooled, peeled and sliced them 3) pan-fried them with some coconut oil and 4) dolloped maple syrup, greek yogurt and roasted sesame seeds for a simple dessert.  enjoy!

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