A Nice Change of Pace

This past weekend was completely unlike the one that preceded it. For a ton of reasons. But let’s first state the obvious, most polarizing difference: this past weekend, Chris was on his way to China for a week (yes, without me – again!), and the weekend before it, we were both in the country.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on.

The other big difference is that two weekends ago, Chris and I took our first overnight backpacking trip into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, going “balls to the wall” and hiking a round-trip 23 miles of bonkers up-and-down trail, where we saw mountains, redwoods, waterfalls, pretty greenery, the ocean, and at the final point for the night, a campsite right near natural hot springs. Which means we also saw hippie naked people, our own stinking dirty clothes, and freeze-dried food that didn’t taste half-bad.

It was pretty amazing, to say the least. Amazing and really, really hard. I’m pretty proud of us for roughin’ it out there, and can’t wait to do it again. (Here’s the pics, if you’re interested. There aren’t many since we were more focused on things like not toppling over from the weight of our packs!)

This weekend, I was left to my own devices, and I definitely didn’t go backpacking. Instead, I painted my toenails and fingernails (purple!), I got a massage, I went for a run and a couple of small bikes rides, and I survived my first hot yoga class. Just barely, though.

I also managed to sit out in the sunshine and soak in some Vitamin D. Ironically enough, I watched the “new” Twilight movie and read plenty of ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I did not sleep in a coffin, in case you were wondering, but I did wake up to my second memorable earthquake since living in San Francisco, which is noteworthy.

It wasn’t the same as my usual weekends around here lately – hiking and such – but it was certainly a nice change of pace. And it kept me from sitting in a quiet house with two lazy cats staring a me.

And while I could have easily procured a few microwave dinners to get me through the week food-wise, I had some produce leftovers from last week, and I decided that I couldn’t go one more day without making one of my very favorite dishes, bibimbap. I can’t put my finger on it, but the combination of flavors in bibimbap something that I seem to crave every now and then, and the taste isn’t comparable to anything else I know of. It’s the mixture of veggies with soy sauce and sesame oil, the Korean chili paste, the textures of all the different, individual cooking of ingredients, and the runny, fried egg on top that I absolutely can’t resist. I made enough for 2 servings this time (the recipe below is still scaled to 4, but it does half easily) and I ate leftovers so quickly that I almost poked myself in the face with my fork.

I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Chris, thinking he’d be totally envious and ready to come home right away. But then I remembered he was in, well, China. There’s good food in China.

And then I licked the rest of the chili paste right outta the bowl. I mean shoot, no one’s watching, anyway. But would I care if they were? Prolly not…

Bibimbap, previously: Beef & Asparagus Bibimbap
Korean, previously: Korean tofu tacos

Vegetarian (or not) Bibimbap
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; serves 4 

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
1 c uncooked short-grain brown rice
8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained (or sirloin, chicken, or pork)
1/3 c water
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar, divided
2 t garlic, minced & divided
1 t fresh ginger, minced & divided
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1 c carrots, julienned
2 T lower-sodium soy sauce
3 T dark sesame oil, divided
1 c fresh bean sprouts
5 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
9 oz fresh baby spinach (usually a large bag)
4 large eggs
4 T gochujang*
1/4 t kosher salt

*gochujang is Korean chili paste. You can usually find it at Whole Foods (the Annie Chun brand) or other brands in Asian markets

instructions
Cook rice. Bring 2 c water and rice to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. This can be done days in advance to cut down on cooking time.

Meanwhile, cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick cubes. Place tofu in a single layer in between a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Combine 1/3 c water, vinegar, 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, 1/2 t ginger, and crushed red pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine remaining 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1/2 t ginger, soy sauce, and 1 T oil, stirring with a whisk. Remove tofu from paper towels. Place tofu in a medium bowl. Add 1 T soy sauce mixture to tofu; toss gently. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 T sesame oil; swirl to coat. Add rice to pan in a single layer; cook 1 minute (do not stir). Remove from heat.

Turn on oven just enough to warm and then turn off. Keep the following components warm by putting them on a baking sheet and keeping them in the oven until all pieces are sautéed. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 t oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture and bean sprouts to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove sprouts from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture; sauté 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan; keep warm. Add 1/2 T oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan; keep warm. Add 1 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1 t garlic and remaining 1 T soy sauce mixture; sauté 30 seconds. Add spinach to pan; sauté 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove spinach from pan; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 t oil to pan, more if desired. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Remove from heat.

Place 1/2 c rice in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving evenly with carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, and spinach. Top each serving with 1 egg and 1 T chili paste. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

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Hello, Lover

Some of us get lucky in life. Sure, we all have our ups and downs; I don’t mean to say that you are either fortunate or unfortunate on all accounts. I’m speaking strictly about love here. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that those people who find true love – those people are lucky.

I’m lucky enough to be one of them.

In acknowleging said good fortune, I also appreciate that most people fall in love at least once in life. And when you fall in love, that feeling of happiness, of satiety, is one that at that particular time feels so permanent. Going without, or being without that love seems somewhat otherwordly.

And so, when I celebrated 4 years of marriage last week, to me it’s just another year of a bazillion I’ll spend with him. A bazillion years of drinking bottles of wine (barrels, rather), watching hours (days) of reality tv, repeatedly checking the time during Rush concert after Rush concert (do those guys ever quit??!!), jetsetting to country after country, and waking up day after day with the person I feel in my heart was meant for me.

I know for many, “forever” is only 1 year, or 5, or maybe 20 before it’s all said and done. Some good things, unfortunately, must come to an end. [For some reason, I just started singing a Every Rose Has It’s Thorn, but I reckon it’s somewhat appropriate to the tone of the sentence, no?]

Anyway, these “endings”, abrupt or slowly unraveling, don’t just occur in love. Sometimes, our favorite mascara gets discontinued, sometimes the movie theatre behind the mall closes, and sometimes, our favorite restaurant where we used to order our favorite dish vanishes into thin air. I’ve fallen victim to all of them, at one time or another.

But the restaurant-closing is probably the one that’s most relevant here: the restaurant that introduced me to “bibimbap” was open one day in December before the Christmas holiday, and by the time I’d returned it was shuttered. And although I ate there less than (maybe equal to) 5 times during it’s existence, I may or may not have died a little on the inside when I realized that the bowl of rice, veggies, and beef topped with fried egg and doused in Korean pepper paste would never again pass my lips.

I’m not afraid of recreating restaurant dishes. But you must agree with me here – you can recreate, or attempt to recreate, all you want. Sometimes it’s just never the same. And over a year I’ve held out, though I’ve looked up recipe after recipe for bibimbap. And finally, I decided I’d give it a try. But rather than recreating the exact dish, I took inspiration from a variation I came across, and tweaked it until it sounded a little more accurate.

Is it the most authentic bibimbap I’ve ever seen? Well, no. But I’m not looking for authenticity here. I’m looking for something reminiscent of that long, lost love. Something that’s pretty good right out of the gate, but with a couple more iterations and a little nurturing, it’s bound to be a love that will last forever.

Korean Bibimbap with Steak & Asparagus
Adapted loosely from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 4

like i said, you could leave this be and it’s going to knock your socks off, if you’re wearing them. i’ve already tweaked the pepper paste sauce a little, added some ingredients, and made a few changes to the marinade for the bulgogi. i added mushrooms to the ingredient list, because i kept wishing they were there with every bite. another suggestion is to try a short grain brown rice, which i remember being far superior. oh, and some corn would be nice too.

if you’ve had bibimbap before, i’d love to know what you think of it. it truly is a favorite of mine.

printable version

ingredients
1 lb New York strip steak, trimmed
3 T toasted sesame seeds, divided
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
3 T + 2 t Asian sesame oil, divided
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 T light brown sugar, divided
1 T Chinese black rice vinegar
1 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 t Maldon sea salt
1/2 t hot smoked paprika
4 T Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 lb slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1 c carrots, sliced thinly
1 c enoki mushrooms, or other variety
2 t evoo plus additional for brushing
4 large eggs
4 cups freshly cooked medium-grain white rice
Kimchi, optional, for serving

instructions
place steak in freezer for 1/2 hour to make slicing easier. meanwhile, make marinade, paste mixture, and sesame salt.

bulgogi marinade
combine 1 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 c soy, 2 T sesame oil, green onions, 2 T brown sugar, black rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. once steak is somewhat firm, remove from freezer and slice crosswise into 1/8 thick slices. add to marinade and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. you can marinate overnight, if so remove from fridge at least 1/2 hour before cooking and let come to room temp.

paste mixture
combine 1 T sesame seeds, 2 t sesame oil, 1 T toasted sesame seeds, and 1 T brown sugar. set aside.

sesame salt
combine remaining 1 T sesame seeds, 3/4 t sea salt, and paprika in spice grinder or mortar and pestle. combine until somewhat smooth. set aside.

heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons olive oil on large rimmed baking sheet. Sauté asparagus until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Return to rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle sesame salt over; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Tent with foil to keep warm, or place in warm oven. Repeat process with carrots or any other vegetables you use, adjusting cooking time as needed. Cook each vegetable separately.

Brush grill panor skillet with vegetable oil. Working in batches, grill steak until just browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to bowl; tent with foil to keep warm.

Crack eggs onto skillet. Cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide warm rice among bowls. Divide asparagus, carrots, then beef among bowls, placing atop rice. Top with fried egg. Serve with Korean hot pepper paste mixture and kimchi.