Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Mama, Writer

Samgyeopsal: a love letter

When I first got married, I got burned.

Burned bad.

An assault of blazing red. The stinging. Eyes watering.

That was my introduction to Korean food.

I learned later that there’s a lot more to it than the painful, red recipes so often featured (and that my husband favored). After a while, husband purposefully sought out recipes that “even Steph” could handle.

Enter Samgyeopsal, or, as we call it, Korean bacon.

Slices of pork belly are fried/grilled at the table. The slices are thick enough to include one side of crispy fat that crackles, reminiscent of Western breakfast bacon, but the other side is a piece of pork meat that tastes a lot like a Sunday pot roast.

They sizzle and give off a bit of oil and juice. Vegetables on the grill absorb and fry in those juices, soaking up the flavor. Slices of potato and long “King” mushrooms become bacon potatoes and bacon mushrooms. Onion rings and whole garlic cloves are transformed.

Waiting on the table are the fixin’s.

Bowls of sticky rice.

A variety of large, fresh green leaves, ranging from romaine, to butter lettuce, to sesame leaves.

Several bowls of kimchi line up beside dishes of red pepper paste, soybean paste, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.

Husband does the cooking, and I do the organizing. Pretty soon, there’s no room left on the table.

 After the first round of bacon and veggies comes off the grill, husband reloads it, never sitting down to relax and eat. This food is meant to be eaten hot, so someone sacrifices a seat in order to cook.

While he works, I hand the chef a sesame leaf packed with a bit of rice, a slice of still-hot bacon dipped in both the sesame oil and salt and pepper, a generous smear of red pepper paste, and, finally, a steaming bunch of veggies on top (a slice of king mushroom, slice of onion, and a whole piece of grilled garlic, also dipped in salt and pepper).

As is customary, he tucks the edges of the leaf, making a bulging packet, and stuffs the entire bundle into his mouth in one go. He can barely keep his lips sealed while he chews the giant mouthful.

In the 30 seconds of chewing, I’m free to make my own, much smaller, hot-pepper-paste-free roll. I might be slower, but no less enthusiastic.

This isn’t just food “even Steph” can handle. Korean bacon is dream food. 

I’m going to request it this Valentine’s Day.

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Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Mama, Writer

Cooking- Whether They Like It or Not

I’ve always loved to cook. Since I was a little kid, family members have complimented me on my simple, but enthusiastic, kitchen skills. It was a common joke that I would easily “catch” a husband because I could cook. When I was pregnant, friends wished the babies would be boys, so I would have those legendary appetites to feed.

Reality was a complete surprise.

My husband is a Korean gentleman who has been adjusting to American food. It isn’t easy for him, and, while he always politely eats my food, and even compliments me on it, there’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

For him, roast turkey with mashed potatoes and balsamic Brussel sprouts are equivalent to hotdogs with canned baked beans. If I said we were going to quit my home cooked meals and just start eating out, he probably wouldn’t feel a thing.

Then, there’s my boy. Eating me out of house and home? Only if my home was made out of carbohydrates and/or cheese. He’s one of those super-picky eaters. He practically hyperventilates at the prospect of trying different foods.

We have a “tasting” rule that’s been in place for the last two years. He doesn’t have to eat all of any item on his plate, but he does have to taste everything and behave politely.

Two years- and he still fights the rule Every. Single. Night. He stalls. Squirms. Tries to negotiate. Begs. Pleads. Sits there for long periods of time. Eventually, finally, reluctantly takes an excruciating bite.

After all that drama, of course, he always says he hates what he just tasted (our rule requires him to say it with a polite, “No, thanks. This is not my favorite.”).

My daughter is not super-picky. She’s more of a traditionally picky preschooler. She doesn’t want vegetables and needs three or four reminders not to call new food we put in front of her “disgusting.”

Did I mention I love to cook?

I forget sometimes, too. I’ve been worn down like a crayon.

They don’t want my food.

My husband appreciates my cooking efforts. I know he does, but, overall, It’s just hard to keep presenting beautiful dishes that took planning and patience when I’m going to get the same polite thanks and a couple of “yucks.”

I’ve been wondering how I can make the situation more positive. So far, figuring out some Korean recipes is sounding pretty good. Maybe Husband and I can find some common favorites.

As for the kids, I’ve been assured this is a phase most littles grow out of- though it does sometimes take a decade or two.

Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Writer

Ramen to the Rescue

Today just slipped away. I suspect black holes.

One second, it was Saturday morning, full of potential, and the next second, we were wandering around Walmart because “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know- what do you wanna do?”

Saturdays.

We got home a little later than our usual dinnertime, which automatically nominated Husband to cook. He’s our ramen guy.

It was a little hard to wait.

 

They just had to be in the kitchen. “Is it time to eat yet?” “How about now?”

Husband got to work and whipped up Neoguri: a spicy ramen with a bright red color meant to frighten away the weak.

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It’s Husband’s and our daughter’s absolute favorite dinner.

Bonus: unlike a lot of the other foods Husband craves, this one didn’t come from the Asian market. You can buy Neoguri at most Walmarts now.

Husband started by boiling chicken broth with some water. Then, since spicy ramen is our “throw it all in” recipe, he looked through the fridge to see what we had lying around- a couple of mushrooms, some green onions, and a handful of spinach. If we’re in the mood, this is also when he would add a can of tuna, but tonight was not a tuna night. 

He added the spice and veggie packets from the ramen. After letting everything boil together for a minute, he cracked a couple of eggs into the roiling water. Another minute, then he added the noodles.

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Husband doesn’t believe in the timer dictating ramen. He watches the time, but won’t stop cooking until it tastes right.

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Progress.

The finished product.  

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Isn’t the egg pretty?

There was a surprising addition at the table; waffles. My son is too picky for spicy ramen. He was super happy with some frozen waffles instead.

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There’s one in every family.

When we first got married, I thought Husband’s ramen was SO spicy. I could hardly eat any before I had to guzzle milk.

Now, I kind of wish we had some kimchi to go with it- and Husband has started cooking an extra package, since I can finish mine without his help. 

Marriage changes a person(‘s taste buds).

Thanks, honey. 

 

Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Mama, Writer

The Magical, Kid-Proof, Sugar Cookie Cutout Recipe

My kids have always helped me bake. They stir, operate the mixer, measure, and decorate. My daughter especially loves it.

We used to try to do the traditional, Christmas-card, sugar cookie process. The kids were still really small, though, and it was always a mess.

A lot of recipes call for softening butter, so you have to plan for your cookies 3 hours in advance, or do a complicated boil-water-put-it-in-a-glass-for-a-minute-pour-it-out-and-place-it-upside-down-over-a-stick-of-butter-for-a-while-and-hope-for-the-best dance. Neither worked well for me and my kids.

The recipes also want you to chill the dough. How does this sound:

Me: let’s make cookies!

Kids: Yes!!!

(measure and mix. Dough goes into the refrigerator)

Me: Now, we just wait for two hours.

(Sad faced children)

It never worked out anyway. Since those recipes need the dough to stay cold, me and my littles were racing the clock to get everything rolled and cut. I wanted my kids to be included in the process, and little hands need time to get things done.

Then, there’s the fact that you have to flour the board. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. With kids, though, the stickiness factor quadruples, and, no matter what I do, we end up with cookies that taste like cardboard and look nothing like the cookie cutters.

Too little chilling. Too much rolling. Too much flour.

(If you’re in a similar boat, maybe because your kids are just really little, I suggest cheating. Make rice crispy treats (or buy a sheet of the things), cut with cookie cutters, and use store-bought tubes of icing. You can make memories, and stuff should still end up edible.)

Then, there came the magical recipe that made traditional sugar cookie baking and decorating possible with even my tiny children. I found it on Pinterest many moons ago, and it’s thanks to this recipe that my kids and I have made forest cookies, pumpkins, acorns, candy canes, Christmas trees, hearts, and Easter eggs.

The butter can be just a little softened. No chilling needed. Roll, cut, and add flour, flour, flour, and they still somehow taste like tender, buttery cookies and still look just like the cookie cutter.

I have had no contact with the writer before, and I’m not sure if she knows what a gift this recipe is; she doesn’t even mention baking with children throughout her whole description/instructions. I’m grateful, though.

Here’s to you, Katrina’s Kitchen, and your “Best Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever.” Because of you we have made wonderful baking memories, and, without you, we would have eaten a whole heck of a lot of rice crispy treats. I look forward to Christmas cookies soon.

Here’s the page (check out her shortening frosting recipe, too): http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/best-sugar-cookie-recipe-ever

 

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When their hands were just strong enough to start trying to use the piping bag- but they also made the cookies. And the cookies are perfect. 
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My daughter’s “sprinkle cookies”
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We substituted some flour for cocoa powder to make some Easter colors really pop.
Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Writer

Oh, Yeah… And I Can Cook

Blogging everyday requires me to return to what I know. There are plenty of thoughtful, delicate things that I wish to write- but they need a few days to research and polish. For the sake of daily writing, I need to circle back to what comes naturally: moming, cooking, writing, and teaching.

I realized, today, that I haven’t been including the cooking portion- even though it’s something I think about all the time.

All. The. Time.

I guess I didn’t want to focus too much on the “domestic” side of things. I would like to keep a balance between my spheres; if I were to reveal my cooking obsession, the balance would decidedly turn towards hearth and home. My posts about teaching and writing might start to seem like they’re coming out of left field.

Oh well.

Symmetry is a rarely achieved phenomenon, and, as such, an unreasonable goal.

So, let’s talk about popcorn in paper baggies.

A few years ago, a student wrote a particularly well-researched paper arguing that microwave popcorn packets are pretty much poison.

My students are always ruining my convenience foods, for some reason. It’s a favorite topic.

Anyway, I love popcorn, so I decided I would just make popcorn the old fashioned way.

With oil.

In a pot.

A shield-like lid held at the ready.

I got pretty good at it, but there’s no denying that the microwave has a softening effect on the actual popcorn kernels. Stove top cooking tends to leave popcorn edgy.

I looked around for a few tips and tricks, and there were plenty. One of the best was a trend towards keeping the microwave but ditching the popcorn packets.

Here’s what you do:

  • Pour a quarter cup of kernels into a regular paper bag. (paper bags at the dollar store come in 40 packs- 2.5 cents each)
  • Roll the top of the paper bag pretty tight to help seal in steam- leave plenty of room, though. Popcorn gets big. ‘Tis science.
  • Microwave for about a minute, until the popping slows.

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Ta-da.

I like flavorful popcorn, so I add stuff.

That special salt that makes it taste like movie theater popcorn is crazy expensive. You can make it instead, just by pouring regular salt into a coffee grinder/magic bullet/mortar and pestle. Grind until powdery. It coats everything so well that way (also awesome on fries and homemade chips).

To make it really like movie theater stuff, drizzle in a tiny bit of melted butter. Make sure to stir constantly while you pour.

It’s one of my kids’ favorites, and they only ask for the treatiest of treats. Popcorn a la baggie- I love it, too.