Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Pizza

So, I nearly forgot again, but here it is, a post on time!  Since we're lucky enough to have Fridays off, we just finished our first week of work.  It's quite amazing inside the POSCO R&D offices.  There's a cafeteria on campus that serves pretty darned good food for low prices.  Unfortunately, security is actually super-tight, and we're not allowed to bring laptops or cameras inside.  Hence, no pictures of the inside or the food :(

However, one night, we decided to order pizza, a bit of an American phenomenon.  To indulge in a little Western pleasure, we chose fairly ordinary toppings, mushroom on one and ham and corn on the other.

Mushroom on the left, ham and corn on the right.
I just wanted to appreciate this Italian-turned American-turned Korean treat.  Truly global!  

Speaking of global... So I tried to do laundry today.  The machines are all in Korean, and I didn't figure out that the cycle took 4 hours and 35 minutes to finish both a wash and dry (in the same machine!).  Luckily, a kind person was able to help me get it started, but only after I realized the laundry room would be closed when it finally finished.  Later that night, I went back down and encountered another kind person.  I started out with one of the few Korean phrases I knew, 죄송하지만 (jwe song ha ji man), which is something along the lines of, "I'm sorry to bother you, but..." and quickly realized she didn't speak English.  She spoke Korean and Mandarin, which would have been helpful had my other language been Korean or Mandarin instead of Cantonese.  With these four languages, however, she managed to get across that the laundry room opened tomorrow at 6:00am.  Hurrah for globalization!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meals in South Korea - The First Weekend

안녕하세요 (Anyeounghaseyo), or Hello, from Korea!  For the next 6 weeks, I'll be an intern at POSCO Research and Development Center in Songdo, Incheon, South Korea and living at the State University of New York (SUNY) Korea dormitory nearby.  For more detailed reports, please visit here :)

Along with language and other cultural differences, of course, the food is both familiar and fantastically different.  Our first meal in Korea was dinner at the SUNY Korea cafeteria.  

Soup, rice, imitation crab meat (mostly fish), bean sprouts and kimchi.
I regret to admit that kimchi may be an acquired taste.
I have not acquired a taste for kimchi.
The dinner was alright.  The food was well-prepared, but I hadn't quite adjusted to the time and wasn't quite hungry.  The soup was a warm broth of beef and daikon (white radish).  It was quite rich to my taste, since I don't really eat meat.  The rice was ordinary white rice, comforting to me since I grew up eating it with every dinner.  The bean sprouts were nutty and lightly cooked, a mild dish.  The red item on the left is the imitation crab meat, which was cooked in a sort of ketchup sauce.  The red item on the right is the kimchi.  Suffice it to say that this national dish of Korea is very distinctive, sour and spicy.  It is typically served with every meal, sometimes along with pickled daikon, which turns a bright yellow (not pictured).

The next day, we returned to the cafeteria for breakfast.  Due to a mistake on my part, we were down about a half hour before breakfast started.  Luckily for us, the women who ran the kitchen were kind enough to allow us to buy tickets and eat anyway.  They forgave our lack of Korean and directed us to the trays and food.  Several embarrassed bows and "kamsamnida"s (thank you) later, we gratefully sat down to generous portions.

I loved this meal...
The mound of rice accompanies every meal, this time white rice mixed with black rice.  Not much of a distinguishing flavor, but there was a pleasant, hearty texture reminiscent of oatmeal.  The spicy beef broth included bean sprouts and daikon, very satisfying.  Soup also accompanies each meal.  The brown, wheel-like objects at the top were lotus root slices cooked in soy sauce, a sweet-salty vegetable with a crunch.  My favorite item were the tiny quail eggs cooked in soy sauce, however.  Hard-boiled and peeled, a thin, chewy white surrounds a rich, creamy yolk that takes up about 80% of the volume of the egg.  Artery-blocking, for sure, but absolutely delicious.  I was interested to find that in Korea, water is not served with the meal.  If you order a beverage in a restaurant, they will serve it during the food.  At the cafeteria and later, the food court, however, small steel cups are provided for the customer to sip hot or cold water after the meal.

Later that day, we passed through a food court.  I was amazed at the beautiful, realistic glass copies of food that they showcased.  I didn't order anything, but I did take some photos of the food, and a friend of mine photographed the case.  Because the models are shiny and glazed, they resemble hot soup and sauce, adding to the realism of the display.

Top left photo courtesy of Rendy.

Later that night, we visited a shopping district in Songdo, the Free Economic Zone of Incheon.  Along with electrical adapters, an alarm clock and some shirts, we got dinner at a small restaurant.  We ordered three items, none of them really Korean (except maybe the chicken wings?), but all three tasty.

My dish, the potatoes in the middle, were crisp and hot, topped with a lightly wilted, sweet and spicy peach salsa. 

The next day was a trip to Seoul, the bustling capital of South Korea.  I keep forgetting to take pictures of breakfast, but it's pretty normal; we bought bananas, soymilk and cereal to save money.  More interesting is the meal we had in Seoul, in a little restaurant on the second floor overlooking the street.  By good luck, one of our group met a young woman who was Korean, but had attended school in San Diego, California.  While she was waiting to meet her friend, she kindly led us on a tiny tour of Seoul.  Eventually, our little group wandered underground and through a street food vender alley, then we met her friend (left) for lunch at this restaurant.

Our motley crew, with most of our food :)
Upon hearing that I didn't eat meat, but I did eat seafood, the lovely person we met (2nd from the left) ordered for me a bowl of crisp greens on a bed of warm rice, topped with chunks of fish and bright orange fish eggs.

Despite the promising rice and vegetables, the fish was poorly cut, with giant chunks of tendon in most of the cubes.  Still, I enjoyed this meal.  It was a refreshing change from the cooked items we had had in the last few days, with flavorful lettuce and miniature bean sprouts.  The fish eggs were a treat as always, and although I had trouble eating one whole piece of fish at a time due to the tendons, the rich taste was very welcome.

The bowl is actually huge.  I managed to eat it all, but I didn't have dinner that night until around 10pm, which was soymilk and cereal.  Of course, I forgot to photograph it again...  

More reports of food when I find the time.  Even with frequent, cheerful breaks and an hour lunch period, 9:00am-6:00pm is tiring...  My roommate is knocked out as I type, and it's only 9:38pm!  Actually, as soon as I finish updating, I think I'll follow her example...

- 안녕히가세요 (Anyeoungkaseyo)! That's "peacefully go," or goodbye :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Potatoes

This week, I'd like to thank the humble potato.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our mild growing climate and rocky soil.  I would like to introduce the amazing little tubers that sprout from this hard ground.  Now, I actually don't know where these potatoes come from, and neither does my mother, who does most of the gardening at home.  They've appeared to be smooth red/pink potatoes, rough brown russet potatoes, and some mysterious other type of potato that I can't quite figure out.  
What type are those two, the bulgy one in the center and the dinky one on the left?
The reason for this post is that they thrive on little care, and gave me lunch that day, unconditionally.  If more people, heck, if I gave more unconditionally, well, that'd be a good 1 more person being kinder to the world.  I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than South Korea.  That's right!  Thanks to a lot of very kind people, from my research professor, to the Undergrad Director of our college, to the staff there to my very own incredible parents, I will be an intern in South Korea for the next two months.  If you'd like to follow my adventures (food and otherwise), please visit this tiny corner of the web.  But back to these potatoes.....
Bright skins, creamy insides...
They were good.  I washed them, boiled them and lightly fried them with some roasted garlic and a little butter, and enjoyed them.  They tasted of nourishing starch, garlic (of course!), the minerals of the soil, and the sweet California sun that went into them.  And for everything, including lunch, thank you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Raspberries

One of my favorite things about living in California, and the Bay Area in particular, is the wonderful growing weather.  The soil in the yard may be rocky and dry, but the warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters with mild spring and fall nurture any seed that falls to the ground.  I think next week I'll post about the potatoes I dug from the ground and had for lunch today, but today, it's all about the raspberries.  

They grow in a wild tangle in our backyard, planted lovingly by my mum a few years back.  My dad's coworker gave us some stalks with roots, and in just 2 years, it was fully mature.  We cut it back down to little 6-inch stalks in late fall and every spring, without fail, it blossoms into a tumbling green cage with beautiful fruit, tempting your hand.  Each bright red berry is best plucked and eaten right there and then.  They burst on your tongue in soft, velvety sweetness, then the tart raspberry flavor and the last crunch of the seeds, teasing you to reach for another amidst the prickles. 

The rare few that weren't eaten right off the bush by me or the pup!
Oh, right, we ate these right after I got this picture :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Learning Experience - Strawberry Orange Tart

I have a love-hate relationship with cornstarch.  On one hand, it can help thicken a creamy pudding, or substitute for cake flour.  On the other, it's grainy when overcooked and grainy when undercooked, and I can't quite tell the difference between the two types of grainy.  Luckily, I found out in this pastry cream that 1) grainy pastry cream is less noticeable partnered with sweet tart crust and soft strawberries and 2) the graininess actually seems to dissolve after a day in the refrigerator.  Still, cornstarch is something I will play with cautiously.  

The other components of this dessert, however, seemed to work.  I borrowed Smitten Kitchen's Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell recipe, which requires close attention to detail.  And a food processor, which I do not have.  The foil that lines the inside of the crust must be pressed a little bit into the frozen crust in order for the crust side not to collapse, but where I did manage it, the crust was perfectly browned and sturdy.  This is another point about the crust; I actually prefer the folding method from Chez Pim's One Pie Dough to Rule Them All.  Although the Unshrinkable is sweet and sturdy, it leans towards cookie territory when I make it.  Next time, I would use the Unshrinkable recipe and the Lord of Pie (I love LOTR so much...) method, which is similar to puff pastry.  I have essentially tossed both recipes in a bowl and folded until they're evenly blended, and splashed in some metaphorical vanilla, to boot.

The strawberries, although oddly huge, were delightful.  Organic, sweet, flavorful from the farmer's market, the sugar was almost unnecessary.  I liked this, though, because the maceration resulted in a lovely strawberry syrup that worked its way into a lemon-orange cream later along the way. 

The pastry cream recipe was from Dessert First's beautiful strawberry tarts.  Aside from the cornstarch fiasco (my own curse....), it was delicious, and the perfect base for a touch of orange zest, which I strained out before cooling it for the tart.  I made about ¾ the recipe, which was about perfect.  I still have issues with pastry cream, curd and generally custard-like items being runny, but I think I just have issues with sweet items cooked on the stove.  Caramel, I can do.  Ice cream custards, just fine.  Anything else... shall we say, a work in progress...

Fresh strawberries, indulgent pastry cream, crisp pastry!

Strawberry-Orange Tart adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Chez Pim and Dessert First
Makes 1 9" or 10" round tart

Tart Crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Chez Pim

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick + 1 tablespoon) cold butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
1 egg (I use large)
Egg white for glazing (optional)

1 large mixing bowl
1 butter knife
OR 1 food processor (I don't have one)
¼ teaspoon measure
¼ cup dry measure
½ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure (optional if you can count to 3)
A refrigerator and a freezer
Hard, flat surface for the dough + rolling pin (optional)
9" or 10" round tart pan + aluminum foil to wrap the inside of the crust
Butter to grease the pan and foil 
Fork to prick the crust
Pastry brush or small spoon to glaze (optional)


1. Cut the butter into small pieces and put back in the fridge.  In the large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt.  Toss in the butter pieces and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until you have large flakes of butter, about the size of beans.  Crack the egg directly into the bowl and mix quickly, until the dough is vaguely cohesive.  Wrap the stuff in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the pastry cream.

If you have a food processor, lucky you!  Toss the butter and dry ingredients and whiz until you have chunks of butter the size of beans.  Add the egg and whiz a little more, until the dough is vaguely cohesive.  Wrap and refrigerate and proceed as usual.

2. Butter the tart pan.  Take the dough out and fold it in thirds.  Roll it out or press it down with your hand, then fold it in thirds the other way.  Pim has a great set of instructions and photos here.  If the dough becomes too soft at any point in time, pop it back in the fridge for about 30 minutes or so.  Once the dough is cohesive, roll it out or gently press it into the tart pan, prick it several times with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  The dough can keep for several days (possibly weeks, actually) in the freezer if wrapped well.  

3. Just before you take out the frozen dough, butter the foil.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Press the foil on top of the frozen dough, making sure to touch every bit of the tart crust.  The foil against the crust will work its magic, keeping the crust from falling down as it bakes.  Put it back in the freezer until the oven is at 375°F.  

4. Bake at 375°F for about 15 minutes.  At this point, remove the foil and continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes, or golden brown.  If you like, when the crust is done, you can brush the hot crust with egg white to help seal it and prevent it from getting soggy when it is filled.  

The white bits are the cooked egg white, but you actually don't notice the
egg once the tart is filled.  Except that the crust is perfectly crisp :)
Orange Pastry Cream adapted from Dessert First
Makes about 1 cup or so of pastry cream (enough for a thin layer in the tart)

¾ cup whole milk (I used ½ nonfat, ½ evaporated.  We're a strange family :))
3 tablespoons sugar
Small pinch salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cornstarch 
3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla
Zest from 1 orange (more or less) 

1 small saucepan
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
½ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure
1 small mixing bowl
Plastic wrap to cover the bowl 


1. In the saucepan on medium-low heat, heat the milk until it steams, stirring most of the time.  Meanwhile, in the 2-cup liquid measure, mix together the egg yolks, sugar, salt and cornstarch.  Once the milk is steaming, pour a little into the egg yolks and mix.  Pour in a little more and mix, then pour the whole egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Yay, you have tempered eggs!

2. Take the custard off the heat.  Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix thoroughly.  Allow to steep until around room temperature.  This will take a while.  Go finish and bake the pastry crust, then mix the strawberries and do your laundry or clean the kitchen (not at the same time!) while you wait for both the pastry crust to chill and the pastry cream to cool. 

3. Strain the cooled custard into the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge until cold, around an hour or so.  

Macerated Strawberries
Makes, well, as many strawberries as you put in

15 (about 2 cups) massive strawberries, sliced (more if you have normal strawberries)
1 tablespoon sugar

1 large mixing bowl
1 tablespoon measure
1 rubber spatula


1. Toss the strawberry slices with the sugar.  Allow to sit.  Sneak one, they're tasty :)

Some Assembly Required

Flat surface for serving (I used a nice wooden cutting board)
Metal spatula or knife for spreading pastry cream

Spread the pastry cream in the tart shell.  Arrange the strawberry slices on top.  If you like, take an extra strawberry with the stem still on it, carefully slice not quite all the way through it several times, and gently fan it out to be a strawberry flower.  You can also sprinkle some white chocolate flakes on top for garnish.  Enjoy!