A compelling defense

by Ben on December 14, 2010 · 40 comments

in Index, Rant, Restaurant Review

It periodically surfaces that I am not a fan of brunch. You could say that I hate it. When possible, I try not to reveal this stance in sensitive situations or crowded theaters. The ensuing maelstrom and chorus of gasps may lead one to believe I have just uttered a preference for eating small children. But it’s true. In the restaurant-obsessed cities of San Francisco and New York, there is no greater repository of culinary mediocrity than the Sunday brunch.

And we are all complicit. Show me an American who pursues cutting-edge, ethnic food carts with the tenacity of a storm-chaser, and I’ll show you someone whose brunch palate does not extend beyond the parameters of an International House of Pancakes. Call me what you want. A snob. A killjoy. A Hater of America. I guarantee you, I’ve heard worse. But I have yet to encounter a compelling defense of brunch. Until now.

* * * * *

“Midwest country boy meets San Francisco China girl” is the image that closes an unassuming self-description of Potrero Hill’s newest sensation, Plow, which opened its doors in late September. Longtime residents of the Potrero, husband-and-wife team Joel Bleskacek and Maxine Siu sought to fill a conspicuous void in their neighborhood’s options of sit-down restaurants that serve breakfast. In their thoughtful preparation and handling of simple American food, Plow quietly redefines what it means to eat brunch.

Brunch is a dumping ground for old, nasty odds and ends.

In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s famous rant against brunch begins with the contention that the meal essentially comprises rebranded scraps. Nothing embodies this claim more deeply than the standard breakfast home fry, known to the rest of us as “leftover baked potatoes.” I’ve eaten countless versions of this depressing dish, many of them accompanied by assertions that the restaurant serving them is famous as a result. French fries, please, when I am on the East Coast. Hash browns everywhere else.

At Plow, potatoes are boiled until tender, smashed, then deep-fried to order. Lightly touched with rosemary and thyme and tossed with strands of caramelized onion, the restaurant’s signature crispy potatoes are the perfect french fry in potato form, and arguably reason alone to sit down for a meal.

Weekend brunch varies little from the daily menu, save for a dedicated bakery basket containing a muffin, scone, and biscuit, all made in house. Plow otherwise serves breakfast and lunch only, meaning that no week-old dinner ingredients will suddenly appear in novelty omelettes. Instead, one can expect an evolving menu of mostly classic dishes made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

Brunch is punishment block for the ‘B’-team cooks.

Another volley from Bourdain’s diatribe is rendered silent here. Bleskacek and Siu declare their aspirations for Plow to be an extension of their own home. Indeed, the restaurant caps Potrero Hill’s sleepy commercial drag, one foot seemingly planted in the residential thick of the neighborhood. To further blur the conceptual distinction between work and home, Chef Siu herself is stationed across the bar, calmly preparing meals for a clientele that includes neighbors, friends and family.

Windows occupy the upper three-quarters of the north-facing facade, permitting the dining room to be filled with consistent, pleasantly indirect light. 13-foot ceilings oversee an understated interior, anchored by diagonal stripes of salvaged wood and accented with American, early twentieth-century detail. As is the food, the materials, design and labor used to build out this space are exclusively local.

Brunch at Plow manages to maintain an air of civility. The open vertical space and galley-style arrangement of tables allow seating that never feels crowded, despite the restaurant operating at essentially full capacity from about 9:30 a.m. on. The owners’ children can sometimes be seen ambling about during the quiet early hours, with knowledge that they will be reunited with their parents not long after the 2 p.m. close. If the brunch shift here is a punishment for industry veterans Bleskacek and Siu, it seems, from their warm smiles, to be a welcome one.

Brunch menus don’t vary.

This last general criticism of brunch is most often my own. The menu choices here, to be sure, are not revolutionary. But Siu brings considerable experience (Oliveto, 42 degrees) and sophistication to her kitchen, and it shows in these humble, yet consciously precise dishes. French toast, the best I’ve had in recent memory, equally partners its egg with a porous, rustic bread that maintains structure and flavor. It’s a simple quirk and subtle departure from the more custard-like interior we’ve come to expect from this dish. Lemon ricotta pancakes are characteristically fluffy and light, with a mere suggestion of citrus perfume.

Savory eaters also benefit from decisions that pull the menu slightly astray from familiar. An exceptional sweet potato duck hash topped with perfectly cooked eggs, a special on my first visit, has graduated to the regular menu on an enthusiastic customer’s suggestion. The bread pudding is also a local favorite, replete with chanterelles, yellow candy onions, treviso radicchio, and cheddar. Most menus have included at least one eyebrow-raising selection: hard potato dumplings fried in bacon fat, crispy pig’s ears with lime and green onion vinaigrette, a roasted lamb sandwich with salsa verde. Sadly, an elegant breakfast of steamed rice, Chinese sausages and eggs did not survive the menu, but Siu has hinted that future cameo appearances are a possibility.

* * * * *

Plow delivers the quintessential American meal with food that is simple, local, and consistently well executed. I will certainly take a lot of grief for softening my stance on brunch. But with food this smart, I find it hard to imagine caring.

Plow
1299 18th Street, San Francisco; (415) 821-7569; eatatplow.com
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

* * * * *

A warm thank you to my fellow bloggers who encouraged me to write this post.

And Now for Something Completely Delicious
The Cuisinerd
Eat Live Run
Eat Live Travel Write
The Front Burner
Good Food, Good Wine, and a Bad Girl
I am a Feeder
Korean American Mommy
Le Grand Fromage
Spicy Green Mango
Z Tasty Life 

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I am a baker

by Ben on December 7, 2010 · 40 comments

in Essay, Index

I am told that my sensei was one of the original Navy SEALs. A short, wiry man with graying curls, bright eyes and an angular face. He could not have weighed more than 130 lbs. But if I were unfortunate enough to get caught in his vise-like grip, I would soon receive just enough weight applied to my ribcage to feel as if I were being choked by a giant. This time, I was determined not to let that happen. Starting on the ground, I proceeded to attack, making repeated, futile attempts to turn him over from the tuck position. One mistake, and maybe 3 seconds after that, I found myself in the familiar position of tapping out.

Sensei stood up, straightened his gi, and looked me directly in the eye.

“I remember when you were weak. It used to be easy to move you around! Now?” He smiled, raising an index finger. “Not so easy.”

I was exhausted and soundly beaten. But all the same, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had started practicing judo five months earlier. For the first 3 weeks, I could not get through the warmups without vomiting from exertion. Now I was stronger, faster, more physically intelligent, and better conditioned than I had been in my entire life.

As with many of my hobbies and obsessions, it was difficult to explain to people why I did it—why I kept going back to that dojo. I lived in New York and had a big job at a big bank, with the love of my life waiting for me at home. And yet I chose to spend 10 hours a week in a stuffy, windowless room, returning home with bruises, duct tape-wrapped toes, and a gym bag full of my own sweat.

To me, judo had nothing to do with wanting to fight, work out my aggression, or examine the state of my masculinity. What I valued about the experience was that it completely changed my perspective about what I was capable of doing.

If you are a grown man who is unathletic and cannot play basketball, you will likely not learn how to play during a pickup game in the South Bronx. You have to already know how to play. That, in a nutshell, was how I saw the world for nearly 30 years. I learned early on that I would be praised for the things I did well. Wanting approval, I pursued those things. And when I wasn’t sure whether I’d be good at something, I usually didn’t want to find out.

The revelation I experienced with judo was that, as a white belt, it did not matter whether you were a cop, wrestler, or out-of-shape equity derivatives trader. You were going to get your ass handed to you, respectfully, and effortlessly, by the black belts. There’s something liberating about everyone essentially starting from zero. And the entire dojo, from the yellow belts to the senseis, wanted us to learn.

Shortly after whipping myself into shape and purchasing a year-long membership to the dojo, I hyperextended my knee and never returned to the mat. I left as a white belt. But I also left knowing that I had transformed my body in ways that I had not thought possible. I entered the dojo detesting the idea of being a beginner at anything, because it meant that I could be dominated, shamed, or dismissed by others. I left embracing it.

A year later, I quit my job and went back to college. I volunteered in two labs and took undergraduate courses in math, chemistry and physics. I learned how to swim. I am now working on a PhD in biophysics. Someday, I may perhaps be convinced to sing.

As I see my daughter grow into her person, astounding as any parent imagines his child to be, I catch myself wanting to brag and outwardly gush over her achievements—exactly the behavior that I believe nurtured my fear of failure. I’m ultra-wary of raising a perfectionist, and I don’t want Esme to avoid new experiences the way I did. So I try to temper my praise and replace it with enthusiasm. But I think the best way that I can teach Esme to embrace being a beginner is to continue being one.

Over the past several months, I have put myself in the awkward position of being a beginner over and over again. I am exhausted and beaten. But I can now say that I’m a writer. Not a professional or seasoned one, but I write essays and tell stories, and I work at it every day. Similarly, I am now a relatively social person, connecting with people in ways that were inconceivable in my loneliest moments. I have also found that I am a beginning recipe developer, instructor, and producer/director of video.

And as of this past Thanksgiving weekend, I am proud to now call myself a baker. 

 


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Pumpkin Pie Redux

by Ben on November 28, 2010 · 83 comments

in Baking, Desserts, Index, Vegetarian

My extremely talented sister once told me that she had made a pumpkin pie, from scratch, with a fresh pumpkin, and that it tasted no different from a pie made with canned. I was in college at the time, when the idea of cutting open an actual pumpkin seemed tantamount to building your own television. The canned pumpkin seemed like a modern marvel that could possibly render the unprocessed version obsolete.

But times, and curiosities, change. I am now accustomed to seeing (presumably fresh) pumpkin shoehorned into every imaginable food throughout the fall and winter seasons. Pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin crème brûlée, pumpkin soup, pumpkin flan, pumpkin ale, and of course, the abomination that is the pumpkin spice latte. In each of these cases, I find myself asking the same question: What does pumpkin taste like?

The answer invariably seems to be: Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Not that I have an intrinsic problem with those flavors. But aside from the comforting, orange-brown paste we are accustomed to taking in a pie shell, what does it actually feel like to bite into a piece of pumpkin? Perhaps, as I have often suspected, there is a reason we don’t leave the pumpkin meat intact. I could imagine it being bland, slimy, possibly bitter. Perhaps, like quince, it is only palatable in paste form. I considered it a personal challenge to prove that notion wrong.

As a home cook primarily known for slow-cooking meats, I have long felt that I should learn how to make a proper dessert. Years before the genesis of Babychili, I found myself oddly drawn to the numerous pie contests I saw on television. I felt that they were different from other cooking competitions in that, despite being open to professional cooks, the contestants, generally speaking, had no formal training. They were home cooks like me, and they were surprisingly creative. I wondered whether I could win such a contest, and how long it would take to find out.

It’s become cliché for savory cooks to say that they are intimidated by baking, but that has certainly been the case with me. Eventually, work, “real life,” and various other excuses took over, and I never did try making a pie. Sometimes you need to get pushed into the pool. So I committed, this Thanksgiving, to executing my own version of pumpkin pie (actually a tart). And dammit, you were going to get pieces of pumpkin if it killed me.

* * * * *

CANDIED PUMPKIN TART WITH TOASTED PUMPKIN SEED FRANGIPANE

The crust

Regular readers of this blog have heard me say this several times now, but I’ll repeat it for the newcomers: If you are a neurotic perfectionist, or perhaps just like to have things explained to you in pedantic detail, a highly recommended way to learn any new technique in the kitchen is to consult The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. I have rarely attempted a recipe from this book that did not subsequently result in the best version of that particular dish I have ever had. So when it came time to learn how to make a pie crust, I did not turn to any number of classic tomes on baking. I went straight for the Basic Rich Tart Dough, by Rodgers.

But even a recipe as informative as Zuni’s does not necessarily make for a perfect first try. The prominent eyebrow-raiser in this recipe is its inclusion of salted butter. The salt, as I understand it, plays an important role in both the flavor and texture of the dough. Rodgers recommends butter containing 90 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, which is near the high end of the range for salted butters. I neglected to remember this detail, and simply bought “salted butter,” which, in my case, happened to contain a whopping 115 milligrams per tablespoon. This was, in my opinion, too much salt for my recipe. I made three different crusts, and settled on using the European Style Lightly Salted Butter by Straus. In addition to being lower in sodium (45 milligrams per tablespoon), this butter was also significantly lower in moisture than the other two brands I tried. The lower moisture butter behaved with flour exactly as described in the book, while the other two butters (though they worked perfectly fine) were significantly stickier.

* * * * *

The filling

I imagined slices of caramelized pumpkin enveloped in a base of toasted pumpkin seed frangipane. Frangipane is a baked cream, typically made with almonds, that rises upon baking and assumes the consistency of a sticky bread. My first attempt at this was an unqualified failure. The frangipane did not rise, and the butter, all 13 tablespoons of it (which turned out to be only 9 tablespoons too many) leaked out of my poor tart and left it sitting in a pool of molten fat. I made several more versions of the frangipane before arriving at this version, found at Dessert First by Anita Chu. I made two ingredient substitutions: in place of almonds, I used pumpkin seeds (raw, unsalted, and hulled) which I pan-toasted over medium-low heat for 5 – 10 minutes until they became fragrant and slightly brown. So that my pumpkin seeds would not compete with the flavor of almonds, I used vanilla extract instead of almond extract.

One practical piece of advice I can offer in making any frangipane is to make sure that the sugar/pumpkin seed (or sugar/almond) mixture is processed or ground to the point where you cannot imagine the pieces of seeds or nuts being any smaller. Before adding wet ingredients, you should arrive at a sandy-colored sugar. There may be flecks of skin from the pumpkin seeds, but there should be no detectable grit from the meat of the seeds. This is apparently essential for allowing the seeds to incorporate into a smooth cream that will rise during baking.

* * * * *

The pumpkin

Finally, we arrive at the $64 question: Do pieces of pumpkin belong on a tart? I maintain that the answer is yes. My treatment of the pumpkin is inspired by calabaza en tacha, traditionally served during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The challenge here was to prepare slices of pumpkin that were attractive, preferably caramelized, had a distinct pumpkin flavor, and could be cut easily with a fork. But how thick can I cut the pumpkin? Should I parcook it? Marinate it? Allow it to cook completely on the tart itself? I struggled to arrive at the product I suspected (but was not certain) was possible, and experienced a key aha moment when reading this recipe for butternut squash tart by Matt Armendariz. Roast it in oil first. Then season and bake. Here is the winning method:

Candied pumpkin

1 small sugar pumpkin*
grapeseed or vegetable oil
kosher salt
1/4 C granulated sugar
zest and juice from 1/2 of a small orange
2 T maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice

*Note: The pumpkin should be small, young and heavy for its size. Its flesh should provide a fair bit of resistance when cutting with a sharp knife. If the flesh is light or spongy, then too much of the starch has been converted to sugar, and it will wind up tasting more like a radish than a sweet potato. A kabocha or butternut squash would also work nicely here.

Peel and quarter the pumpkin and thoroughly scrape out the pith and seeds. Cut into uniform slices about 1/2 cm thick. Lightly toss in neutral oil with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Roast in a preheated, 400F oven for 15 minutes or until tender, turning once to ensure even heating.

While the pumpkin is roasting, combine remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Taking care not to damage the cooked pumpkin slices, arrange them in a single layer on a large plate and coat both sides with mixture. Allow the slices to marinate for about 15 minutes.

* * * * *

Assembling the tart

Spread the frangipane evenly in a frozen tart shell and carefully arrange pumpkin slices in a fan (or other desired) pattern. Bake in a preheated, 375F oven for about 40 minutes, or until both the frangipane and crust have begun to brown. About halfway through cooking, the frangipane should rise considerably, then relax. Allow the tart to cool completely on a wire rack before ravaging.

* * * * *

Needless to say, over this past week, I became extremely adept at peeling and seeding pumpkins. The tart shell, once a terrifying prospect, quickly became manageable. The pumpkin seeds yielded a rich, nutty frangipane. And the roast pumpkin slices married with orange to offer a fragrance reminiscent of marmalade. Did I mention that my tart didn’t last long?



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17:00

by Ben on November 13, 2010 · 114 comments

in Chinese, Index, Sauces, Vegan, Video

When I first heard mention of “National Men Make Dinner Day,” I thought it was some kind of joke. What’s next? “National Women Change Light Bulb Day?” I’ve since made two key realizations:

  1. It takes place in Canada (which is perhaps all I needed to know).
  2. According to the website, I am apparently exempt from this activity:

Are you a man who makes dinner on a regular or semi-regular basis?
If the answer is ‘YES”, do not go any further!
National Men Make Dinner Day is NOT for you!

Still, the premise of a “National Men Make Dinner Day” fascinates, though I’d like clarification on a few things. For example, is the phenomenon distinct from Valentine’s Day? How does it work for gay and lesbian households? If I lived in Canada, would Matt Berninger be making me dinner? Presumably, these questions are addressed in the FAQ …

While it seems mildly condescending and more than a little sad to imply that Canadian men are so far gone that they might consider cooking one day out of 365, I do laud the intent, which is to encourage people (perhaps as many as 15 million of them) to cook their own food. I exist in a peer group where people, male or female, generally don’t cook. And I’ll admit that I myself occasionally indulge in a bit of non-cooking by way of South Asian-inspired paste that I’ve squeezed from a foil envelope. But it never hurts to remember that, in less than 17 minutes (the duration of one televised intermission in ice hockey) I can make a meal with fresh ingredients that tastes good, makes me feel good, and costs less than $2 per person.

I’ve previously posted about my love for David Chang’s ginger scallion noodles. This recipe, in addition to meeting above criteria, is one that makes you feel like a rockstar. Why bring it up again? Because I’m guessing that someone who needs coaxing to enter the kitchen may not have read my 1500+ words about ginger scallion sauce, riveting as they may be.

So let’s lower the barrier, shall we? Canadian National Man: In the time it takes for you to drink a beer, I can promise that you’ll learn how to pick and peel ginger, how to use a knife, and how to make a killer sauce that will get you dinner on the table before 17:00 have expired. You can thank me during the second intermission.

Music: One Never Says ‘Verbal’ When One Means ‘Oral’ by Good Old Neon is licensed under a Sampling Plus License.

Update: Thank you, Chef John, for featuring us on Food Wishes

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Retrospect

by Ben on October 24, 2010 · 87 comments

in Desserts, Index, Korean, Meats, Vegan

I viewed a lot of my world through the dusty window of a green, 1973 Chevy Impala. This was the first car I knew, and the one our family drove for almost ten years. I still remember those six, giant, rectangular brake lights. Parking whiskers that scraped the curb with a dull, grinding murmur. And that engine. A 350 small-block V-8. My sister and I recognized the sound of that engine from indoors. Hearing it approach, then halt, punctuated by the quick ratchet of the emergency brake, meant only one thing:

Mom and Dad home. Quick … Turn off the TV!

In addition to being a harbinger of parental authority, our car was a private boat in which we sailed off to exotic places through night and day. Places far beyond the sun-drenched concrete of Hawthorne, California. Hot Springs, where my mom sought relief for her arthritic joints. Sacramento, where we occasionally visited a family friend named Rena, whom I knew as “American Grandma.” And once in a long while, Oregon, where our cousins Ty and Trinda lived. It was on one of these trips that I first saw a deer and snow.

Dad was driving late into the night, and my sister and I tried to find comfortable ways to lie across the back seat without hitting our heads on the window crank. We were eating cold pieces of fried chicken fished from the darkness of a brown shopping bag, when Mom gasped. We all saw it, staring straight at us, like a ghost pausing in the middle of the road. The snowflakes outside were larger than I expected. Everything looked monochrome in our headlights. And a few seconds later, it was gone.

On all those trips, we ate the food that Mom packed. It was usually something relatively healthy, like kimbap, barley tea and fruit. It was food we were accustomed to. Comforting, perhaps, but sometimes flirting with boring. Above all, it was what we could afford. I would sometimes stare longingly at the fast food joints we passed on the road: Shakey’s Pizza, Carl’s Jr., Pioneer Chicken … These were the places my cousins and classmates would certainly stop for a meal, in their luxurious, wood-paneled station wagons.

As I grew older, the road trips got longer. Indiana. Illinois. Wisconsin. I was becoming more conscious of how modestly we lived, and understood that we regularly drove distances people would ordinarily fly. And I resented it. I grew tired of sticking out, living in our messy, half-unpacked house, being stuck for what seemed like forever in the backseat of that car, listening to my parents bicker in a language I only half-understood. I carried that with me for a long time. And when it came time to go away to school, I chose New York, the farthest away I could possibly be. My dad wanted to drive there with me. In a decision I regret to this day, I told him no. I wanted to fly. And I wanted to do it on my own.

As a parent, I can now begin to appreciate how my father must have felt. I’ve since gotten to know both of my parents as people; flawed, but human. And I’ve repeatedly wondered what it would have been like to be on the road for those few days, spending all my waking hours with my father, whom I was accustomed to seeing for maybe an hour a day. The old man’s still around, but he’s not one for long drives anymore. I wish we had taken that trip together. This is the food I would like to have made.

* * * * *

SIGUMCHI NAMUL (Seasoned spinach)

This classic banchan (side dish) is always waiting for me at my parents’ dinner table in LA.

2 lbs spinach leaves, trimmed and cleaned
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
1 T distilled white vinegar
1 thinly sliced scallion
kochukaru (Korean red pepper flakes), to taste (opt.)
1 T toasted sesame seeds

In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and blanch spinach leaves until bright green, no longer than 10 seconds. Immediately shock the leaves in icewater, and drain. Squeeze out excess water, and blot with paper towels. It’s not necessary to get it completely dry, just not dripping wet. Mix soy sauce, salt, sugar and vinegar in a large bowl and toss with wilted spinach leaves (your hands are the best tools here). Add scallion, kochukaru and sesame seeds and toss once more. Optionally, you can chop the resulting mass of spinach into roughly bite sized chunks.

Notes. 2 lbs of raw spinach looks like a frighteningly large amount. Don’t worry. It will compact to the size of a softball with this recipe. You will, however, need a very large bowl for cleaning and shocking. To get the best color, it’s important not to overcook the leaves. Do this in batches, if necessary.

* * * * *

KIMBAP

Unquestionably, kimbap is the canonical Korean picnic food. Similar in form to futomaki, kimbap is served at room temperature, eaten with the hands, and, due the acidity of the rice, keeps for at least a day. I never tried Japanese sushi rolls until college, but I must have eaten hundreds of kimbap as a child. I filled these with spinach, takuan, fried egg, and Spam. Other typical fillings include bulgogi, kamaboko, sauteed carrots, and kimchi. Ideally, one wants fillings that complement one another in color, texture, and flavor.

On Spam. I see you non-Asians out there, raising your eyebrows at the choice of Spam. All I can say is that, in my experience, the people most vocal in their disgust for Spam have never actually tried it. Their loss. Suffice to say, Hawaiians know what they’re doing. Mark my words: Spam will be the next bacon. Whether you choose to face that reality is a decision only you can make. To address its possibly unappetizing texture or appearance, give the Spam a nice sear before deploying.

Seasoned Rice
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

2 1/2 cups high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice
4 T rice vinegar or distilled white vingear
1/2 T sugar
kosher salt
1 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil

Cook the rice, preferably in a rice cooker. The rice is easier to work with if it’s overly not soft/mushy, so limit the amount of water added to about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 times the volume of the dry rice. While the rice is cooking, combine vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Briefly simmer under low heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow the solution to cool, then add rice wine and sesame oil, mixing well.

When the rice has finished cooking, transfer to a large bowl and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Drizzle in seasoning and mix well. Keep the rice covered and work with it while slightly warm.

Egg ribbons

vegetable oil
6 large eggs
kosher salt
black pepper

Cover the bottom of a 10″ skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Beat 3 of the eggs until blended and add a pinch of salt and 1 – 2 turns of freshly cracked black pepper. When the pan is hot, add the eggs and cook, pancake-style, for about 2 minutes, moving the pan if necessary to heat evenly. Flip the pancake (you may need 2 spatulas to do this) and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and set egg pancake on a paper towel to cool and drain. Add a bit more oil and cook the other 3 eggs the same way. Cut into slices about 1/4″ wide. If they turn out too thin, you can always double them up when assembling your roll.

Kimbap

8 – 10 sheets of kim (also called nori, or laver), roughly 8 inches square
seasoned rice
8 – 10 strips of takuan, about 8″ long and 1/4″ wide
egg ribbons
1 can Spam, cut into 1/4″ wide strips and seared
sigumchi namul
sesame oil

highly recommended tool: a bamboo mat called a makisu or a pal.

There are many tutorials available online for rolling kimbap and maki rolls. I reviewed this one and this one before making mine. I also enjoyed watching this woman, a beast at the kimbap station who doesn’t even need a bamboo mat! My first kimbap always turn out a bit gnarly-looking, but as with any new technique, things gets better with practice. To fill each roll, I used one strip of takuan, two strips of egg ribbon, two strips of Spam (arranged end to end), and a small line of cut spinach.

Notes. I am often guilty of overstuffing rolled foods, so I make a conscious effort to start with less rice than I think I need, adjusting up if necessary. Keep a bowl of water handy to keep rice from sticking to your fingers. Brush the outside of the roll with sesame oil and cut into 1/2″ slices. Wipe down and wet your knife regularly.

* * * * *

JANG JORIM (soy sauce braised beef)

This side dish is a practical choice for packed lunches because it is essentially preserved, staying fresh for months in the refrigerator. The use of beef is auspicious, due to its historical scarcity. Small portions are advised due its intense flavor. A wonderful recipe can be found at my friend Amy’s website.

* * * * *

KONG NAMUL (seasoned soybean sprouts)

Soybean sprouts are ubiquitous in Korean cuisine, and this banchan is a another childhood favorite. A recipe can be found elsewhere on my website.

* * * * *

BORI CHA (roasted barley tea)
Adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen

Growing up, I was always offered my choice of beverage: water or barley tea.

1/2 C unhulled barley
1 quart water

If the barley has not already been roasted, you may pan-toast it for 3 minutes over medium-low heat, until fragrant. Add barley to water, bring to a boil (preferably in a ceramic or enamel-lined pan) and reduce to a simmer. Brew for 1 hour, and strain. Can be served hot or cold.

* * * * *

YAKBAP (sweet rice cake)

My mom likes to remind me that I was such a picky eater as a kid that I would mysteriously get a stomach ache every day at meal time. Which was miraculously cured when it was time for dessert. This homemade variation of dduk is another perennial picnic favorite. A fail-safe recipe, and by far the quickest you will find, is described in a separate post.


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