Postcard from LA – Korean Christmas Dinner

We did two Christmas meals this year, one at lunch with my grandmother and another at dinner with my dad’s family.  While lunch was more traditionally “American” (with delicious lobster tail and shrimp scampi), we had a very “Korean” dinner — which was great for me since I never feel like I can get enough of the food!  My uncle also brought over some amazing pies, a cherry pie and a buttermilk cream pie — and I’m convinced my stomach expanded that night to eat all the delicious food.

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Postcard from LA – Korean Haute Cuisine

Growing up in LA, I mostly ate Korean food and had never heard of butternut squash, for example, until college.  While my Korean speaking is still at the level of a third grader, I think my Korean eating and appreciation of Korean food is much, much more elevated.  Given this, I was extremely excited to try out a new(ish) restaurant in LA downtown that is known for a specific type of Korean food, both in the method of serving, and in the nature of what is served, called “han jung sik.”image7.JPG

When I first tried this years ago in Korea, I was struck by how close the serving style seemed to the concept I was more familiar with – “prix fixe.”  It was not so much a surprise to learn therefore that apparently the concept of prix fixe derived from folks who had traveled to Korea and Japan and first came across this method of serving, known in Korea as “han jung sik” and in Japan as “kaseki.”

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Much like prix fixe meals today, han junk sik was considered “haute cuisine” and how the aristocrats or “yang ban” ate.  The notable difference between what the yang ban ate and the average person apparently was whether or not they would eat noodles.

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My grandmother who came to lunch with us chuckled as she remembered how her father would never eat noodles because of this tradition, and how our great grandmother  wasn’t allowed to either, despite the fact that one of her favorite dishes were cold noodles in a beef broth called “naeng myun.”  I like to think that my sister and I are making up for her naeng myun deficit since it’s probably our favorite dish and I think we’ve eaten enough of it to keep the noodle companies in business.

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Strangely enough, despite this, the restaurant did offer naeng myun as a small side as a last dish – but we’re convinced that was just to keep the modern clientele happy.  (Either that or all those years my great grandmother could have had naeng myun!)

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So what exactly did they serve us?  Well the few pictures above show a sampling, which included some Korean short ribs, special Kimchi that is stuffed with pine nuts and small fish, and a broth with vegetables served on an extremely fancy dragon dish.  But the pictures don’t even do the food justice, so check it out if you’re in LA!

Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie

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Matthew and Frances are arriving today for the New Year and Matthew’s birthday! I couldn’t be more excited!! Of course I took the day off so I could be cooking and just generally getting the house ready for their visit. We have several fun things planned for the week, but tonight we will just be home catching up. The weather has been filthy and I am completely content to be inside. I am making a pork shoulder ragu with a pappardelle pasta and my sunshine kale salad. For dessert, I made Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie, a variation on a pecan pie. While I don’t often brag, I can honestly say that I make the best pecan pie. So why mess with it, you ask? I get bored and I want to try new things – or in this case, something a few hundred years old. It won’t replace my pecan pie, but it is delicious in its own right.

While I was trying to track down the recipe that my friend had made for us about 20 years ago, I came across many versions and variations on chess pie – but none were the one I wanted. My friend finally came through and found the recipe and I’m sharing it with you, with 2 small changes. The name, by the way, has several origins, but the one I like is that it is a mispronunciation of “cheese.” There is butter and cream in the recipe, which along with the eggs forms a custardy, sweet “cheese.” I am also including a pie crust recipe that has changed my baking forever. Over the years, I have tried many, many pie crust recipes. I have thrown out lots of awful dough, and suffered through patching and much hand-wringing. So I was skeptical when I read a recipe for “Foolproof Pie Crust.” It REALLY WORKS! And it is flaky and delicious. You can make it vegan if you simply substitute out the butter for Earth Balance buttery vegan sticks. I read it on what is fast becoming my favorite website Food52.

Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie – mostly

Yield: One 9 inch pie

Ingredients

1 unbaked 9 inch pastry shell (recipe below)

4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste

2 Tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon Kentucky Bourbon

1 generous cup chopped or broken pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream the butter with the sugars and salt.
  2. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla, Bourbon, flour, cream and pecans and mix well.
  4. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. I like to place my pie plate on a baking pan covered with a Silpat to keep it from sliding around and to catch any drips.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes. Start checking it after 45 minutes since ovens vary. The pie should just jiggle slightly. It will continue to set as it cools. Don’t worry if the top cracks. Turn off the oven and open the door but leave the pie in the oven for 8 more minutes.
  6. Allow to cool before cutting.

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Cook’s Illustrated Foolproof Pie Crust by Kenji Lopez-Alt

This makes enough crust for a top and bottom crust or 2 single crusts. Just halve the recipe for a single crust. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor — do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup). I didn’t find it needed quite that much, but you’ll see for yourself.

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (11/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup vodka, cold
  • 1/4 cup cold water.
Directions
  1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.
  2. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage-cheese curds, and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade.
  3. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
  4.  Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.
  5. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
  6. If you can, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes before filling and baking. Otherwise there will be some shrinkage.

Sunshine Kale Salad

 

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I know that kale has somewhat gone out of fashion, but honestly, I never pay much attention to fads. I mean they are fun to read about, but if I enjoy something, I will enjoy it even when I am told by foodies that it is so yesterday.

This kale salad is one that I came up with and it is perfect for those dreary winter days. And it is wonderful for company because it actually needs ot be made ahead. I make mine in the morning so that the kale has time to slightly soften and absorb all of the flavors. It may require a couple of things you don’t normally keep on hand, but they are really worth buying and keeping around. If you can’t easily find the vinegar or oil in your grocery store, they can be purchased online. Check out sources in our section “Our Favorite Things.”

Kale Sunshine Salad

Yield: 4-6 portions

Ingredients

1 bunch curly green kale (do not use Tuscan kale for this recipe) with the leaves torn from the stem

1 pint red grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half lengthwise

1/2 of a small onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts (you can substitute walnuts, but pine nuts are really worth getting)

3/4 to 1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

3-4 Clementines, peeled, pith removed and broken into sections (you can use navel oranges, but then you should cut the segments in half)

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Cracked Black Pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons of a fruity vinegar (I like mission fig, but you could also use a Champagne or nice white wine vinegar)

6 Tablespoons Walnut Oil

Directions

In a large bowl, place all of the ingredients. Toss, cover and allow to sit, unrefrigerated for several hours. Toss again before serving.

 

Hearty Farm Soup

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Having soup in your fridge is like having a rainy day account. Whether it is cold soup in the summer or hot soup in the winter, you always can come home to a delicious meal in a hurry when the children are tired and hungry or you are too tired to cook. When the weather really turns cold, which so far this winter it hasn’t, the soup sometimes never even makes it to the fridge. I just keep a pot on the stove and bring it to a simmer each day until it is gone. It only gets richer.

Matthew and Frances are coming for a visit in a couple of days and while I am planning lots of special meals, I also want a few things that they can grab and for which I don’t have to do a thing. So of course, that means more banana bread and ricotta rum pound cake, but it also means soup. This hearty soup is a one-pot meal and is wonderful after a long day roaming the city or just being lazy by the fire place. This soup is one where you can adjust the vegetables according to taste and what you may have in your fridge or pantry. If you have small children, you may want to cut things into a smaller dice, but since we are all adults in my house, I enjoy large chunks of vegetables. Use this as a guide – not as something written in stone.

Hearty Farm Soup

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons butter

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into circles (or diced) about 1/2 inch thick

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 leeks (white and light green part only) well washed and sliced

3 parsnips, peeled and cut like the carrots

2 potatoes (red or Yukon Gold) peeled and cut into large dice

1 smoked pork butt (about 2 pounds) cut into large chunks or 2 hamhocks or 2 smoked turkey legs

2 cans (15 oz. each) or about 4 cups of beans (Great Northern, navy or runner beans – I had Scarlet Runner and Garabanzo beans that I had cooked so I am using that)

4 cups chicken broth, preferably unsalted

2 cups water

1/2 green cabbage or 1 bunch kale (curly or Tuscan) cut into large chunks

Kosher Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Shredded cheese such as a Pecorino, Asiago or Gruyere for serving

Directions

  1. In a 7 quart heavy Dutch oven or pot with a lid, heat the oil and butter on medium heat. Add the leeks and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Saute until the leeks begin to soften – about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the other raw vegetables, except for the cabbage,  and saute them for about 3 minutes. Now add the smoked meat, the cooked beans, the stock and water. Bring to a boil.
  3. As the liquid comes to a boil, you will see some “scum” come to the surface. Using a spoon dipped in hot water, carefully remove as much of the scum as you can. It won’t hurt you or even taste particularly bad if you leave it, but your broth will not be as clear. Don’t be lazy, it’s not a big deal to do.
  4. After you have skimmed the soup and it has come to a full boil, cover the pot tightly and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour.
  5. At the end of the hour, add your cabbage and continue cooking, covered for 30 minutes more. If you need to add liquid, add some boiling water. I tend to like thick soups, but you can control the consistency.
  6. If you like, the absolute best way to serve this is to top with a thin slice of a crusty day-old country style bread, with one of the cheeses shredded over the top. Place the bowls in the oven at 375 degrees F (unless the will withstand the broiler setting) and heat until the cheese is melted. However, just simply sprinkling the cheese over the bowl of hot soup is delicious too and frankly less fuss.

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Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

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We have been having a strange El Nino winter so far with temperatures well above normal for December. Not too many people are complaining about it still being in the 50s and even 60s in Chicago, but I do find it a bit unsettling. I always wait for the cooler weather to wear my beautiful heavy kilted skirts and to bake my bread and make my rich soups and stews. The last couple of days saw a turn in the weather so I don’t need to pretend that it is a typical December and I’m making my mushroom beef barley soup. You can practically stand a spoon up in this soup – it is just that thick and rich. One bowl with some warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad will surely cure whatever winter blues or sniffles you are facing. It’s the kind of soup that I love to eat after snuggling on the couch with a good book and an even better single malt Scotch. It freezes well so make a big batch. Or do what I do and give some to a friend or sibling.

I tell you below how to substitute out the beef and beef stock if you wish to do that either for budgetary, health or moral reasons. It will not be thsame, but it will still be delicious.

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

Yield:

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons Canola or Grapeseed Oil

2-3 pounds of chuck roast, cut into large cubes (You could also use beef shank or beef stew meat or even short ribs) If beef isn’t in your budget or your diet, you can leave it out, but don’t skimp on the mushrooms! The dried mushrooms add some of that beef mouthfeel and lots of flavor.

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced medium thick

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3 stalks of celery, sliced but not too thinly, including leaves if you have them

1 large onion or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped coarsely

8 – 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms (baby bello or crimini) In case you hadn’t guessed, I REALLY like mushrooms. Be sure to NOT wash any dirt off of the mushrooms. Just wipe with a damp paper towel. Washing mushrooms makes them spongy.

1.5 cups dried mushrooms (Buy what you can afford; I am using porcini which I buy from nuts.com in bulk. I would not use a shitake or oyster mushroom here but just about any other dried mushroom will do.)

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1 cup of barley

6-8 cups of good beef stock (homemade if you have it or a good commercial brand like Kitchen Basics) If you are not cooking with beef becasue you are a vegetarian or vegan, then substitute vegetable stock. It won’t be as good, in my opinion, but it will still be a good soup.

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a microwaveable bowl, soak your dried mushrooms in water to just cover. Place in themicrowave and heat on high for 1.5 minutes. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively you could soak the mushrooms in boiling water.
  2. You will need to use a heavy 7-9 quart pot for this – preferably cast iron covered with enamel like a Staub, Le Creuset or Lodge). Otherwise, you will be scraping burnt barley off of the bottom!
  3. Heat the oil in the pot on medium high heat and lightly brown your meat in batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and hold to the side.
  4. If necessary add a bit more oil, but you shouldn’t really need to. Add the onions or leeks and cook for a couple of minutes until translucent. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for 3 more minutes until they become shiny and barely begin to soften.
  5. Add all other ingredients, including the dried mushroom with their liquid but do not add the barley or fresh mushrooms yet. If you think there is any grit in the mushroom liquid, pour the liquid through a strainer. Start with 6 cups of the beef broth plus the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms. It should be enough for now.
  6. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally. This can take a bit but don’t rush it. Once it comes to a simmer, skim any of that greyish scum from the beef proteins that  comes to the surface. (I use a slotted spoon dipped in a measuring cup filled about 1/3 of the way with warm water.)
  7. Once you have removed as much of the scum as you can, cook for 30 minutes, covered and then add the barley and stir through. Now add your salt and cracked black pepper. Depending on whether your stock is already salted and on personal taste, you should proceed cautiously. You can always add salt at the end. This is a fairly good size pot of soup, so if your stock is unsalted, adding 1 Tablespoon of salt is probably not too much. Bring the pot back to a simmer, cover the pot or Dutch oven and continue to cook for 30 more minutes. Check the pot occasionally and if you must, add some additional boiling water or stock to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pot so you can still call this soup!
  8. After 30 minutes (1 hour total), add the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for 30 more minutes (Total cooking time is 1.5 hours.) Adjust your seasonings.
  9. This soup will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but when you reheat it you may need to add some liquid since the barley will continue to absorb liquid as it sits. You can also control how thick you like your soup. My family likes it thick enough to stand up a spoon but others like a thinner soup. It’s up to you.

 

 

Farmer Bread

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Okay – I’ll say it. I LOVE BREAD!! and the crustier the better. Since I had just cooked up a batch of Mushroom Barley Soup which I will post tonight after we eat it, I wanted some great bread to go along with it. This wonderfully fragrant, crusty bread comes form the Jacques Pepin’s Table cookbook and it is fun to make and even better to eat.

Farmer Bread

Yield: One large round free-form loaf

Ingredients

4 cups, unbleached all-pupose flour, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinklin on the loaves

1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup wheat bran

1 teaspoon granulated yeast (active dry)

2.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

2.33 cups cool tap water plus 1 Tablespoon to throw on the oven floor

2 Tablespoons cornmeal

Directions

  1. Place the flours, salt, yeast and 2.33 cups of water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix at low speed for 3 to 4 minutes to create a smmoth, but slightly sticky dough. If you have a large food processor you could do it in there and it should come together in about a minute.
  2. Transfer the dough to a deep glass or ceramic bowl or a plastic measuring bucket (If you make a lot of bread, these are great!). Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature overnight (12-14 hours).
  3. After the dough has risen, bring the sides of the dough into the center of the bowl, folding it in on itself. It is easier to use a dough spatula than your hands becasue it will be sticky. If you use your hands, lightly flour them first. Press down on the dough to get all of the excess air out and form it into a ball as best you can. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat and sprinkle it with the cornmeal. Place the dough seam side down in the center of the pan. Invert the bowl or bucket over the dough. It should be bigger than your dough circumferance so it won’t stick.
  4. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature for another 1.5 hours.
  5. About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the risen dough with the teaspoon of flour and using a serrated knife, cut some decorative slits across the top. Place the loaf in the hot oven and throw a Tablespoon of tap water into the bottom of the oven – NOT OVER THE DOUGH. Immediately close the oven door and bake for 15 minutes. Then lower the heat to 400 degrees F and continue baking for 1 hour more.
  7. Remove the bread from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 3 hours before cutting. Wrapped in plastic, the bread will keep for up to 4-5 days and it can be frozen.