Brenda, The Parisian Carrot Cake Monster

If you know me, you know my carrot cake. It travels with me from place to place to kitchen to Tupperware to dorm to classroom to office to bellies. I think in most – save Italy – kitchens, I’ve set claim to my territory by baking carrot cake. And undoubtedly, every time grated carrots are sitting in a bowl, and eggs, sugar, and cinnamon are all combined, waiting for a quick mix, I think of Brenda.

Brenda is a dear friend whose name is not in fact Brenda. Only when carrot cake – or some other luxurious pastry – comes around her or she smells a whiff of the maple syrup infused carrot treat does her name change magically from Brianna to Brenda. It’s unexplainable, but adorable and simultaneously scary.

“Is that carrot cake? No really, is it? I can smell it. JOSH! Why don’t you tell me?!”

“It is, yes. It’s”

At this point I black out because Brenda rushes toward me, takes the cake – and extra cream cheese frosting from my hand – and sits down at the most convenient location (sometimes a floor covered in Newfoundland dog hair), and digs in, no matter her hunger level.

There is always a moment of clarity while she is fork in cake – “Wait, I should cut a piece off and just eat that.” But that drifts slowly into the background of carrots, cinnamon, cardamom, cream cheese, sugar, and maple syrup.

I do have to say that this reaction does come from a place of sanity: this cake is my crowning baking achievement. Not flan or cheesecakes or crème Brule, or soufflé, but this 1970’s health treat.

Since I have been feeling feisty with my new oven, I decided to stake my claim in my Korean Kitchen, once and for all. Equipped with tiny bread baking tins, and an oven that doubles as a microwave, I started in on the process.

Grate the carrots fine with a grater or my new food processor, and let them sit. I always add a little brown sugar to the grated carrots to help them sweat a bit – that is to say that with this added sugar, the carrots will release a little carrot juice which, when added to the cake batter, makes the final product really moist, and carrot-y.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and if you have it cardamom. Now, there is a foreign foods mart a few subway stops away from me, but cardamom likes to price itself out as the most expensive to buy there. 10 pods for 4 dollars? Not in my book, or in my carrot cake coincidentally.

The one thing I was missing for this Brenda-tastic cake was the icing.

Brenda: I know that the icing is your favorite part, but I just couldn’t find the cream cheese to work within my budget. If you were here, I’d spend all the money in the world on it, but alas, it was just me.

Thirty to forty minutes in the microwave-convection oven, and out comes beautiful orange-brown cakes ready for a honey drizzle and a cooling on the windowsill.  Moist, deep and rich notes sourcing themselves from the carrots, not overly sweet with spicy hints of cinnamon and well rounded flavors of vanilla and honey dancing on top. It was unashamedly moist, and perfect for a morning, afternoon, or evening snack.  This carrot cake was something that Brenda would have flown from France to Seoul for. But until that happens, I’ll enjoy a slice of it for breakfast with a hot cup of French Pressed coffee, cooled slightly with soy milk, and wish her good luck in the Parisian Marathon. Because not only is she a carrot cake monster, but also a running fiend. Good luck!

Wooden Bars and Korean Pancakes

It has been a long time since I’ve posted, and not because I have a lack of meals to talk about and explorations to divulge. More so, I have too many things to transcribe. With so much to write, I have a problem figuring out where exactly to begin. More recent, or stay chronological? Korean or experimental? Breakfast, lunch or dinner? Sweet or Savory. With so many questions, I take anything as a sign to write.

My latest sign? A family friend had ever-so-kindly sent my blog along to one of his friends. In his description, he said that this was a blog about Korean food, amongst other cuisines. Incidentally, I haven’t been posting much about Korean food lately. So, as a sign, I’ve decided to dedicate this post both to Korean food, and spreading the word of 20something meals.

 

Out of the wide world of Korean food, from rice dishes to soups to stews to pickled side dishes, one of my favorite dishes pajeon, or any kind of jeon (전). Unlike other Korean dishes, which I jokingly say never fill me up, this one is a hearty dish that doesn’t play around. Typically, jeons are eaten after the sun sets and the beer starts to flow. That is to say, this greasy-savory pancake is a drinking food that fills you up to sustain you through the wee hours of the night.

I’ve had jeon on a few occasions; it’s not a food that you eat regularly at all.  After a long work day a few of my coworkers and I would go to the best pajeon in my neighborhood, get a large bowl (note: bowl not pitcher) of a rice wine, and go to town on a double-decker pajeon while regaling each other with stories of the weekend, or plans for the future. There, it was both the atmosphere and hearty bites that really made me fall in love with this food. It was crispy like falafel on the outside, and chewy on the inside reveiling it’s quick pan-fried cooking technique, loaded up with green onions, peppers, onions, and sometimes a piece of squid or three. To pick up a piece between the ends of your chopsticks, dunk it in soy sauce laden with wasabi, and wash it down with a rice wine is truly 20something and Korean.

Despite it’s near perfection for that “every now and then” moment, I decided to switch one thing up in the jeon equation: the location. As with most things these days, I wanted to try to make it myself. From peanut butter to bread to kimchi-jeon, I wanted to make the delicious treat for myself, proving that I could a) do it and b) share it with others.

And with a few searches on the internet and through a Christmas present (Korean cookbook), I found a recipe worth trying. And luckily for me, it was extremely simple. Flour, some eggs, water, oil, green onions, and some kimchi (but of course), a frying pan, and an appetite was all I really needed.

I tried two versions, one being a kimchi jeon, and one being a mixed vegetable jeon, just as a comparison. Both were savory, hearty, warm and satisfying on that cold night back a few months ago. Although the atmosphere wasn’t the smoky, wooden, Korean bar, and there was tea accompanying this jeon and not rice wine, the flavors were still there, and I enjoyed every crispy, salty, 20something bite.

A quick thank you to those who are sharing my experiences with others. I genuinely appreciate any and everyone who reads this – it’s a huge compliment to know people read this blog regularly. If you have any comments, concerns, or suggestions, please feel free to comment. Thank you again.

 

BKFST Inspiration

Inspiration strikes at random. Like when you click on a new website and are greeted with pictures of delicious breakfasts making the mornings now full of possibilities. Or like when a friend – who recently moved into your apartment – comes to a lunch-cooking date with pumpkin puree and pancake mix.

You really can’t fight it, inspiration that is. Just get your wits about you and go forth, just as we did to create this feast on a good-old-fashion Wednesday afternoon.

The Menu:

Walnut Raisin Pancakes that were seared crisp on the outside and hand textured surprises on the inside. Not too sweet, but sweet enough to keep you wanting more.

Maple Pumpkin Topping that was thick and rich, sitting on top of the golden pancake, giving an added hint of sweetness and a whole lot of earthiness to this breakfast.

A Garden In Your Omelette, which is true to it’s name, chalked full of mushrooms, broccoli sliced thin, carrots, onions, garlic, and maybe a sprig of basil (if it grew here…), all held together with fluffy, moist eggs worthy of envy.

 

Southern Postage; Beer Bread

Being an ex-pat teaches you a few things about yourself, your abilities, and your relationships. You may think you have a good handle on who you are and how you react to different situations, but it’s not really until you get outside of your comfort zone – I mean way outside of your comfort zone – to see how everyday life can be interpreted differently.

Maybe it was because of the routine I had gotten myself into, or the bubble that my college encased me in, but everyday tasks like grocery shopping, running, getting a cup of coffee, going to the post office, all seemed menial and boring. But out of context – and out of my own language – things were given a new life. Now it’s the little things that I look forward to in a day. What new word am I going to learn by mis-ordering my daily brew? What reactions will I get today as I bound over puddles on the bridge that spans the Han River – will it be the look of shock, fear, or the thumbs up or applause (which happen every so often)? What exactly is that leafy green in the supermarket that is always on sale? Should I buy it?

Living abroad also teaches you about your passions and similarly your relationships. What exactly do you bring with you to settle into this new place? Not tangible possessions, but your passions.  Back home I was a yoga-running-dancing-baking-talking fiend that lusted for activity all at once. Here, I’ve brought with me most, if not all of those passions, which just goes to show that those are things that make me, me.

But the point of this ever-so-cheesy post, is that I have really come to appreciate and recognize meaningful relationships with those people back home to whom I’ll forever be indebted. Friends that write emails. Family that sends packages and cards and letters. Everyone that finds time to get on the magical world of skype. Going abroad really can show you many things about your life that staying home, safe and warm, cannot.

For example, the other day, for St. Patty’s day, since my family seizes every opportunity to send me something, I received a box fit for a celebration (coffee! Dried figs! Dried Mango! Honey!!!) as well as a letter from my Grandparents who live in a small sleepy town in southern Virginia.

 

In the letter, which updated me about family happenings back in the South, I also found a little newspaper clipping that had a recipe on it; “Homemade bread in under an hour.” With my new purchase of an oven, and my recently enlivened passion for baking everything, this was the best darn newspaper clipping I ever did see in my 20something’th year of my life.

The recipe was short, and I had everything, except for the star of the show: beer. Being that it was “Beer Bread,” I couldn’t really replace the beer like you could eggs, butter, or oil (thanks vegan replacement tips!). So, bright and early on a Monday morning I went to the local convenience store to buy myself a Bud. No, it wasn’t my best moment, and no I didn’t try to explain in broken Korean that I was buying this for bread, and not imbibement. I just paid my one-dollar for a beer, and walked out of the store, eyes avoiding contact.

Once home, I found that this recipe is as easy as it looks (please note what part my Grandmother underlined: “No sips” in reference to the beer). Boom bang flour baking powder, salt, sugar, beer, done in under an hour.

I’d highly recommend this bread – it’s super simple and surprisingly delicious. I’m sure – abroad or home – I’ll make this again.

Beer Bread (slightly adjusted for a smaller loaf, since I don’t go through that much bread):

1 ¾ cup flour

1 ½ Tbs Sugar (white or brown will work)

½ Tbs Baking Powder

1 Tsp Salt

6 Oz Beer

1 egg, beaten

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add beer and stir. Get everything out of the bowl and onto a floured surface to knead for a hot minute or two. Pre heat the oven to 375. Once the oven’s hit it’s temperature, take a sharp knife and cut an “X” into the dough to give the bread room to expand and evenly cook. Wash it with the beaten egg for a nice golden hue. Bake for about 30-40 minutes. Let cool (or dive right in).

Fusion On All Accounts

A good friend likes to tease me that everything I make is fusion food, or at least I present it that way.

We lived together for a few months, so after a quick bike ride, run, jaunt down to the coffee shop, a through hike of the AT, and long-winded study sessions on Islamic history that turned quickly into vocabulary lessons, I’d cook dinner. Countless times, as he smelled the aroma of sautéing onions and garlic, he’d come in and start in on a deep, booming, easily imitate-able voice that was mimicking one of the Food Network’s ever-so-cheesy announcers. “Tonight we have a pan-Asian fusion of stir-fried broccoli, onions, and carrots accompanied by a green curried noodle dish all finished off by an Indian rice pudding for dessert,” or “We’ll be taking a fusion tour of the Mediterranean for dinner with a Caprese Salad, Falafel with hummus and tzadiki sauce, hmmm?” And, if on the chance that I didn’t mention fusion, he’d always ask “But, is it fusion?”

I’ve never really given into his taunts, nor agreed. For some reason or another I would always say “No! This is original! Nothing fusion about it!” but if he had been here for this mean, I wouldn’t be able to disagree that this meal was all about fusion. I had just learned how to make Chapchae sauce, so I had to try it out. I also had some Brussels sprouts and green beans in my refrigerator. I needed some kind of protein, so I wanted to try out a new recipe with tofu. And what’s a meal without a salad? There was no connecting thread through this meal. It was just a fusion of delicious tastes with no specific continent.

First up: Brussels sprouts and green beans sautéed in a browned-butter sauce. Straight out of the US south.

Round two: Chapchaed broccoli, onions, garlic, and carrots. Nothing but Korea.

Need more?: Marinated and baked tofu. Some strange blend of Asian and Bohemian Bourgeoisie Neo-Hippy.

Put it all over: A Simple Bed of mixed greens with a new green I found in the grocery store that looks a little like plump, vibrantly green Christmas tree leaves. Don’t worry, they’re more delicious than I can describe. Straight up French.

So there you have it, a French based mixed-green bed served with Southern buttery, tender sprouts and beans, sweet-spicy-soy-sauce laden “Pan-Asian-Californian” vegetables, and crisp, baked marinated tofu with hints of sweetness. Hey, at least I hit most of the flavors: sweet, spicy, savory, and a bit bitter with the fresh greens. It’s fusion, baby.

Chapchae sauce

4 Tbs Soy Sauce

2 Tbs Sesame Oil

2 Cloves of Garlic (smashed, chopped, and diced)

2 Green Onion (Only the white part: chopped, and diced)

Brown Sugar (honey, agave, maple syrup, or white sugar also work)

Mix these all together and let sit for a few minutes to let the flavors fuse (fusion!) together a bit. Sautee your vegetables a bit in minimal oil for about one minute, each (that’s right dear readers, you sautee these puppies one kind at a time). When all of them are good and sautéed, throw them all back in the pan, bring to medium-high and after 30 seconds of painstaking delay, pour this sauce in. The soy sauce will quickly evaporate and fuse (fusion!) to all of the veggies, so keep the pan moving. Once the sauce is a bit thick in the pan, cut the heat and serve.

Little Muffins, Big Cities

Food and eating are almost inseparable from memories, personally. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but yesterday’s adventures in banana-bread town lead me back in time to the week right before I moved to Seoul.

It was summer time in Brooklyn, which meant hot and humid days filled with an irresistible desire to be outside, exploring, around fresh food, wearing tank tops and flip flops, and with friends eating cold ice cream. Farmers markets were opening early and serving many samples of peaches, strawberries, and cherries, and an iced coffee always seemed like the right thing to drink.

By chance, I met up with two amazing fantastic crazy incredible friends in a farmers market only to wander around the city, dipping in and out of grocery stores, and finding out way back to one of their houses. They had just gotten off the Long Trail in Vermont and were in heaven with all of the choices they had, food wise.

“We met up with two awesome hikers.”

“Yeah, they were great, funny, and so nice.”

“I think we should bake them a banana bread and send it to them.”

“Let’s find a recipe.”

Off to the cookbooks they went, with me in tow. I suggested epicurious, they got out their big Joy of Cooking, and we found the right recipe: simple, but it had everything we needed.

We baked and laughed, and drank cold water and hot tea. We made kale chips as we waited and had a Caprese Salad too – indulgence at its best.

By the time the timer went off the room had filled with the deep, warm smell of cinnamon, sugar, and baked bananas. It was comforting and appetizing. We let the quick-bread cool on the granite counter top and anxiously eyed the hearty confection, wondering who would be the first to try it.

As I bit into the sugary-crisp outside, and I found the gooey, yet fluffy, banana, cinnamon-laden inside that had hints of maple syrup,  I was thrust out of memory-town, USA, and was back in my Seoulite kitchen, with three mini-loaves of banana bread and one muffin. With a confection oven in my apartment now, no longer will I have to Macgyver my way through a baking recipe in a pan, over low heat. It’s the real thing.

 

Perched on the windowsill to cool, the little muffin had made the journey from Brooklyn to Seoul, finally.

 

Simply Put: Honeycomb French Toast

Breakfast foods are always a point of contention for a lot of people. Do you eat sweet or savory breakfasts? What should the size of your breakfast be? Should you eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper? Or the reverse order? Should there be a lot of protein or tons of carbohydrates? You can find a multitude of answers in different research, newspapers, or even magazines. For me, it’s not about the research, it’s about the honey.

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