Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Orleans-style cooking class

I still have many more photos from our trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima, but first I thought I would share some pictures of cooking class that someone just emailed me. Originally they hoped I would rope my Norwegian climbing friend into cooking (no pun intended), but unfortunately he had to head back to his home country. I decided instead to attempt to make some of my all time favorite dishes from the Big Easy. Here I am setting up with the gal who organizes the events. Notice I finally broke down and bought my own pretty earth-toned apron, so no more pink frilly things.
Due to the high cost of some of my ingredients (particularly that pile of crab legs you see below), I only went with two dishes this time.
This was good because both turned out to be pretty labor intensive. First dish was chicken and sausage gumbo adapted from a recipe by Emeril. Here I tell them about that all important first step of making the roux. I guess I get pretty animated. Then we spent the next 20 minutes whisking that flour and oil. My only regret is that I wimped out and stopped before it got to be a dark chocolate color. I was so afraid of burning it that I stopped at milk chocolate.
After the Roux was done, we tossed in the "holy trinity", broth, spices and some chicken that had been browned. Here they are all showing great restraint in allowing me to do this part with the giant unwieldy chopsticks by myself. The Gumbo then went to work simmering for a good hour+.
Meanwhile, some other students removed great piles of crab meat from shells and combined this with mashed potatoes and bread crumbs, etc., to make crab cakes, which they fried to a nice golden brown.
The crab cakes were placed on a bed of lettuce and smothered with a tart and creamy Remoulade sauce. Sausage was eventually added to the Gumbo with some parsley and green onions and it was ladled over white rice like so.
Voila! And here is the final artery-clogging, indulgent meal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

one night in Nara

Last month Ryan's parents came to visit. We spent a few days showing them around Tokyo. Actually, they got the whirlwind tour of Tokyo. Since Ryan had to teach a couple of lessons, they were traveling with him all over town, from Ginza to Shinjuku and back in a single day. On another day we did Asakusa to Tsukiji to Shibuya and accidentally stumbled upon more traditional culture in one day than Ryan and I have seen in a whole year (a kids Kabuki, a tea ceremony, a live music performance, and two traditional weddings). After a few days, we boarded a bullet train for destinations south of Tokyo. 

First stop was Nara, which was the capital of Japan long long ago. It is the home of the biggest Buddha statue in Japan. The big buddha, or "Daibutsu", is housed in this big ole building - the largest wooden structure in perhaps the world. Or at least it once was. It was destroyed in 1180 and rebuilt 66% smaller in 1709 (thank you, wikipedia).
The Nara Daibutsu was originally cast in 752 and has had a few touch ups in the centuries since. He is 15 meters tall (about 50').
Nara and the Daibutsu are apparently prime spots for school field trips, so we saw many groups of kids in matching outfits and brightly colored hats on the temple grounds. We also saw a lot of deer. They roam wild in the garden around the buddha. 
You can buy little crackers to feed the deer. But they get pretty aggressive, so be prepared to feed fast and then wave your hands up to let them know you are all out or they will swarm you and attack.
And by attack, I mean the following four, well-illustrated actions:
By the way, did you know that deers make noise? Well, this suburban girl had no idea and was pretty shocked to hear the strange buzzing/squealing sound coming from bambie here.

This year Nara celebrates its 1300 year anniversary. In order to commemorate the event, folks decided to create a mascot. The winning design was this fella - a combination of buddha and a deer. His name is Sento-kun and his image was all over town promoting everything from shopping to...what is that? field hockey?
But he is a little disturbing looking with that man face and baby body, those droopy ears and those strange horns. Don't you think? Here Sento-kun lounges and makes "come hither eyes" (to quote my friend Jill).
Apparently so many of the Nara citizens were outraged by the ugliness of Sento-kun, that they protested and designed their own suitably cute mascots as alternatives. One of the forerunners was Manto-kun here. Notice his hat looks like the roof of the buddha building?  He's pretty cute. 
But I guess once Sento-kun started getting called ugly, he won the hearts of many Japanese. Everyone loves an underdog. So the horned man-baby, Sento-kun, will remain the lasting symbol of Nara.

We discussed this and many other things Nara with Ryan's friend, Taka, who is currently living there. He treated us to some yummy bar foods and far too many drinks at the Izakaya owned by his brother. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Korea: food!

Okay, so final dispatch about South Korea. This one focuses on the food, that is, the food we sat down for, and, in most cases, cooked ourselves. The food in South Korea was generally far spicier than in Japan, but often served in a very practical, no-frills manner. The top stone bowls were probably the mildest dishes of the whole trip. On the left was a kind of abalone goulash and on the right was the house specialty, ginseng chicken. There were glass jars of ginseng (which looks like a skinny, hairy ginger root) all over the restaurant, and really all over Seoul. Not sure what the medicinal purpose is supposed to be, but the taste is just extremely subtle.
Every meal in Korea comes with all you can eat kimchi on the side. Somewhere in between the temples, we ducked into a tiny shop for an afternoon snack of cheesy rice. Yummy!
At dinner time, all the dishes come out. Honestly, all we did was point to the kind of meat that we wanted and all this other stuff came out to accompany it. Some of it was tastier than others.
Following the cryptic directions in our awful Fodor's guidebook, we somehow managed to find a famous potsticker joint (after failing to find our previous three choices). They only have 4 options on their menu, so we chose three of them: soba noodles in a spicy sauce, thick noodles in a broth with I think ground beef and of course the potstickers, which were pretty amazing.
And we had to do the thickcut bacon cooked at the table with all the fixins. Once it is fully cooked, the proprietor comes around with big scissors and cuts the bacon into bite size portions. Dip the bacon piece into the sauce and place it in the lettuce leaf, roll, and Voila!

Truth be told, we had the bacon thing several times. If you have never had the experience of eating kimchi soaked in bacon fat, you must run now, NOW, to Korea, or at least to your local Korean BBQ. Hopefully they too will have the grill propped up like so.

And finally I got my bibimbap. This is the perfect meal. Veggies, pickled things, kimchi, rice and an egg served in a hot stone bowl so that the bottom gets crispy like paella. 
But over a 10 day trip, we didn't ALWAYS eat the local fare. Sometimes we dipped back into the familiar. In the shopping district near Jagalchi, we found a burger joint with all of the burgers named after states. I went with the Texas burger, which had BBQ sauce and was thus the only one that had any actual connection to its namesake.
But while we were eating our burgers up on the second floor, we looked across the street at the strangest thing. This coffee shop has set up little semi-private cubicle rooms for its customers. Each room has a tv and a pile of pillows and I guess folks rent by the hour and just lounge a bit between shopping. Couples cuddled, girlfriends gossiped and displayed their shopping finds and one exhausted mom slept while her kid jumped on the couch and waved to people out the window. Fascinating.
More meats and miscellaneous sides.
And for something different, imagine throwing all those ingredients into a is kimchi and bacon stew. Awesomeness in a pot.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Korea: markets and street food

The best thing about South Korea was by far the markets. Whether it was dried fish...
(of all shapes and sizes),
two-foot long sticks of cinnamon,
 or other dried bits,
big welcoming bowls of toasted silk worm larvae,
or heaping mounds of dried peppers, you could find it out on the streets of Korea.
 There were also outdoor clothing markets to buy everything you can imagine,
street vendors selling deep fried fish paste on a stick (it is far better than it sounds)
or a kind of fried potsticker stuffed with pork and cabbage.
One vendor after another.
This one selling these amazing fried dough balls stuffed with brown sugar...
to which they add some more sugar and sesame seeds. A-maaaa-zing!
 But of course Pusan, being located right on the Sea of Japan, is mostly about the fish markets. Here a is long row of vendors selling the day's fresh catch.
 In case you question the freshness of their fish, they demonstrate with bowls of live, just skinned squirming fish. This was the scene at every other one of these stands (warning, this is a bit disturbing)

Larger fish markets have big aquariums, where you can point to, or retrieve with a net, your next meal.
Be it king crab
or shellfish, the likes of which you've surely never seen. Just point to it and someone will cook it and serve it up at these yellow tables
Some of it was downright alien-looking.