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.

Seoul Food

These days, roaming street vendors carrying various delicacies are all the rage. I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember the yellow Schwan ice cream truck, complete with that tantalizing bell, slowly cruising through my neighborhood once or twice a week when I was a kid. Those vendors were banking on the fact that we kids would be out romping around the yard and that, the second we heard that unmistakable melody, we’d sprint into the house to claim our allowance. For me, it was either fudge ripple or butter pecan, since those were the best.

In Chicago, we’ve been without these nomadic food trucks, other than those bearing ice cream and the tamale guy who isn’t in a truck, but on foot carrying a red cooler; he happened to dive into Lemmings one night after I’d stuffed my face with so much food I couldn’t stand the sight of corn husk. Just this month, Flirty Cupcakes came into town, selling ‘cakes by the neighborhood; apparently they were right near my building not long ago, but since I hadn’t yet followed them on twitter I sadly missed out…

You won’t ever catch me saying this again, but LA is where it’s at, at least when it comes to roving food trucks. The real newsworthy truck that seemed to start all the hype was Kogi BBQ, a local sensation that tweets the location of their 4 trucks (4!) chock full of Korean-Mexican fusion delights such as bbq pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and even Korean desserts. Aside from Kogi, there are dozens of these traveling trucks, and plenty of ways to find them including a site called Roaming Hunger. If it weren’t for all the things I dislike in LA, I’d move there for what sounds to be the best thing since sliced bread.

Thanks to the Flying Pig, I get to stay away from Los Angeles AND get a slice of LA’s famous treats. They’re featured in a recent Food & Wine issue, and have shared a recipe as a result. In LA, their ginormous pastel pink truck whizzes around town doling out steamed pork belly buns, tamarind duck tacos, and these crunchy Korean tacos that just happen to be made with …

… tofu. Yep, you got it. The bane of a meat lover’s existence, if truth be told. Me? I happen to adore tofu – it’s always part of any Thai dish I order; I love the way the little cubes soak up any flavor given to them, grasping for attention like a middle child or a wilting plant on my back porch. Misunderstood even, and often left aside.

But not here, folks. Swaddled in Korean pepper paste, tossed gently in cornstarch, and crisped perfectly, tofu is not your enemy here. More like the star of the show, the main attraction, the one you bring home to meet your parents knowing that this is the one that will change everything.

Korean Tofu Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine via Flying Pig, May 2010; makes 8 tacos

The Korean chili powder and red pepper paste can be purchased online, but your best bet is a Korean grocer if there’s one in your area. In Chicago, that would be Joong Boo Market, where their Asian pears are the size of a grapefruit! I didn’t get the chili powder b/c I could only find ginormous bags of it, so I used hot smoked paprika instead.

printable version

ingredients
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T Korean chile powder or hot paprika
1 T Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
1 T finely grated garlic
1 T finely grated ginger
1 T toasted-sesame oil
Kosher salt
3/4 c cornstarch
2 c canola oil, for frying
8 corn or flour tortillas
4 T Hoisin sauce
kimchi (to taste)
1 medium-sized Asian pear, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thinly

instructions
Place the tofu on a towel and drain for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 T of the chile powder with the pepper paste, garlic, ginger and sesame oil and season with salt. In another large bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chile powder and 1 tablespoon of salt.

In a medium, deep skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 365 F and preheat oven to 350 F. Add the tofu to the chile sauce and stir gently to coat. Scrape the tofu into the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to a colander to tap out the excess cornstarch. Fry the tofu in one batch, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes; maintain the heat near 360 if possible. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crunchy tofu to a paper towel–lined rack and sprinkle with salt. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in oven for about 8 minutes.

Serve tacos and tofu with Hoisin (~1/2 T per taco), scallions, pear, and kimchi.