Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Best cookies ever!

Believe me when I say I've tasted A LOT of cookies.  I'm pretty much a cookie fanatic.  I have a deep appreciation for the beauty that is chocolate combined with peanut butter.

Last week I decided to make peanut butter cookies and I set about the internet looking for a great recipe.  I didn't want something mediocre.  Boring!  I wanted THE perfect peanut butter cookie.  I found it at SmittenKitchen.  Thank you for sharing, Smitten Kitchen!  And now to pay forward the sharing.

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. peanut butter at room temperature (smooth/creamy)
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. peanut butter chips
1/2 c. chocolate chips (I used dark)
1 tbsp. sugar, regular or superfine, for sprinkling

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter together until fluffy.  Add the sugars and beat until smooth.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add the milk and the vanilla extract.  Add the flour mixture and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips. 

3.  Place sprinkling sugar -the remaining tablespoon- on a plate.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto uncreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion.  (I scooped up some dough with a spoon, lightly rolled it in my palms quickly, then rolled it in the sugar -worked very well).  Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern (I found it didn't really matter if you did this.  If you like flatter cookies, go ahead though).

4.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (Mine were perfect at 10.  Check often!).  Do not over bake.  Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.  (This is the genius!)  

5.  Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Rice paddy sunset

I'm a sucker for a sunset in any country, and Korea has had a few good ones.  I'm excited to see them on the coast this summer and when the rice begins to grow.  I caught this view one evening while walking the dog.

Spring is definitely on its way, but has a long way to go before I'll be pulling out my summer sandals.  Afternoons have been in the 40s and 50s, but many evenings still get into the 20s.  There is also that bitter Korea wind that sinks into you at least as much as what I remember from Michigan.  Until the warmer weather arrives, I have no problem hanging out in my new red parka, which I bought on clearance my second week here.

It was an Eddie Bauer end-of-season sale and it even came in petite, so it was perfect!  Do you think I could just wear it as a robe in the evening?  It's so cozy.

When we left Tucson in December, we were still dressed for summer (in my book) and cooking like it too (doing a lot of grilling before moving to a place where we figured we wouldn't have a grill).  For most of the winter I was between homes with family in Michigan, and only cooked a handful of times.  Now that we've homesteaded in Korea, I've been cooking again, which is so much fun!  Our kitchen was a real challenge at first.  Every new home has its quirks though, and I have it down to a science now.  There's not much cooking involved with soup and a sandwich, but I was so in love with my grainy grilled provolone and swiss that I couldn't keep from photographing my food again!  We've been enjoying plenty of roasts, soups, and home-y foods like Sloppy Joes and Tacos.  The last two are among my official first week in a new home dinners:)  They help to lower the stress level and they are simple!

I've spent a chunk of time recently working on a winter menu.  I've been reading on various blogs like Simple Mom (so much more than just mom stuff!) and Small Notebook about the ease and simplicity of menu planning.  They're mostly referring to a two to four week rotation of meals, rather than the usual planning for the week or few days ahead.  They also discuss theme nights like Mexican or pasta to help guide your planning into something that takes less effort and creates less stress.

I was interested because:
  -It seems like I'm always forgetting to re-make something we've really enjoyed.
  -I end up making tacos every week.  
  -I buy something and never end up using it.  
  -I want to be able to plan meals that will work well with our evening plans -not roasting a chicken the night I won't be home until six o' clock because it's the only food in the house.
  -I'd love to use seasonal foods as much as possible, but that requires some forethought for me.
  -I plan meals and write out grocery lists anyway, and it always takes longer than I'd like.  Simplicity would be awesome.
  -I want to cook good, real food meals at home, but I don't want to be a slave to the kitchen.

So I have a winter and summer menu coming soon!  I have been cooking with the winter one for the month and it's going great!  I've even made an aisle by aisle bi-weekly grocery list to accompany it.  Just help me figure out how to upload a document to the blog, and it'll be all yours.  (Something about pdf conversion using ____'s going to be free right?)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Songtan fish market

We explored the fish market in downtown Songtan.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

So many whole fish, many dried fish (even little dried shrimp!), and a variety of fish dishes and sides to accompany your purchase.

Not sure, but I may leave the purchases at this market to the restaurants and order from them instead of attempting my own recipes!  Also, I've heard some markets in Seoul allow you to choose your fresh -sometimes still living- fish from the market, and then take it to a nearby restaurant that will cook it for you.    Now wouldn't that be an interesting day?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The sauce off

It was about a year ago that I first published my spaghetti sauce recipe.  It was the story of a combination of leftovers gone wonderfully right.  As great as the sauce tasted the first time, I needed a way to replicate its delicious flavor without having to rely on the right combination of leftover ingredients.

Throughout this past year, I have made this recipe many times.  I've experimented, too, to get it just right.  One of the things I've experimented with is tomato paste versus tomato sauce.  I tried it both ways and each time thereafter that I went to make the sauce, I could not recall which version was best.

No more guessing, please.  Last week I decided to finalize this beauty of a recipe: the one with tomato paste or tomato sauce?  The Sauce Off ensued.  

The pot on the left contains the paste version, and on the right is the sauce version.  The paste sauce has a more robust tomato flavor.  It requires a can or two of water and a teaspoon extra sugar for my ideal flavor.  The sauce sauce, however, is the winner for me!  Its tomato-y-ness is just-right, not-too-strong tomato, and balances well with the herbs and sugar.

1 tbsp. olive oil
4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 onion, chopped
1 lb. LEAN ground beef
14.5 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
15 ounce can tomato sauce (no or low sodium works well, too)
1 tsp. each dried oregano, marjoram and basil
4 tsp. raw sugar
To taste garlic salt, ground black pepper, crushed red pepper (I never measure this.  I just sprinkle/lightly dash over the surface of the sauce, stir, taste, and repeat until ideal.)

1.  Heat olive oil, garlic and onion on medium, stirring occasionally until garlic and onion lightly brown and caramelize.

2.  Add ground beef, cooking and stirring until cooked through and broken into small pieces.  I use at least 93% lean, which leaves virtually nothing to be drained.  This is helpful so I don't lose any of the flavor of the garlic and onions.

3.  Add remaining ingredients, stirring thoroughly.  Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally 10-15 minutes until savory.

This recipe makes about 8 servings.  Half of the recipe works well for one pizza.  Once cooled, the sauce freezes well.  Try putting it into sandwich or quart sized zip lock bags and laying them flat in the freezer to save space. 

For a meatless marinara, simply omit the ground beef and carry on.  It is equally savory.

This year I also discovered that my sauce is delicious on homemade pizza.  The meat version is simply ideal with a grainy crust and dusting of shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

My favorite crust recipe comes from Mrs. Head (of course!).  She was a wonderful cook!  I think she would be delighted for me to share.

1 envelope yeast
1 c. warm water
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 c. flour

1.  Dissolve yeast in water.

2.  Mix ingredients in large bowl, adding water last until dough is easy to knead.  Knead for 2-3 minutes forming a ball.

3.  Set aside in a warm place to rise for 25-30 minutes.  Roll out and place on a floured pizza pan.

4.  Bake at 450 degrees F until done. (Usually 10-15 minutes)

This recipe makes one medium to thick crust or two thin crusts.

The secret to a perfectly-done pizza crust is to poke the crust all over with a fork and bake 5-10 minutes in oven before adding sauce and toppings.

You can enhance this crust by substituting up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour and/or 1/4-1/2 cup of flour with ground flax seed.  Another alternative is to use whole wheat flour or ground flax seed when rolling out the crust.

For a deep dish pizza, or if you don't want the work of rolling out a crust, skip the rolling step altogether.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan and gently push the dough to cover the bottom and just a touch of the sides of the pan.  It is divine!

Extra sauce is great for dipping the crust of the deep dish pizza.

Sometimes we make a garlic butter crust.  After pre-baking the crust, but before adding the sauce, butter the edges of the crust and sprinkle lightly with garlic salt.  Herbs or parmesan cheese are also tasty.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tour of Seoul

Nearly two weeks ago we went north to tour Seoul.  We just wanted to know what it was like.  Determined to satisfy our curiosity, we set off (via bus from our base to Yongsan, the army base in Seoul) towards this larger than NYC metropolis to walk, watch, listen, and eat.

Upon exiting the base, we were welcomed by Itaewon, the Americanized area immediately outside Yongsan's gates.  It's interesting to be in a country so far from the U.S. and see so many things you recognize.  It's also a new kind of strange to see things you know (like Outback Steakhouse, Nike, and Quizno's) transformed into something uniquely Korean.

There are many things here we will have to go back to see such as a street filled with Korean furniture shops and another with nothing but international restaurants.

After touring Itaewon, we ventured onto the subway.  This was my first time ever on a subway, and it was quite exciting for me.  The whole process was an adventure from figuring out how to use the ATM-like machine to purchase tickets to navigating the stops and routes of the subway map and train and what to do with the card that was our ticket.  The Koreans we were met were very kind and helpful to us naive tourists.

In the area where you wait for the subway, they had locked cabinets containing gas masks.  The cabinet was a "break the glass in case of emergency" type of thing.  It's so surreal to see something like this, but at least it shows some preparation.

We took the subway to Seoul Station so we could see the "real" idea:)  I'm glad we went because this was probably the coolest part of the experience.  Back at Itaewon there was a mixture of Americans and Koreans, heavy on the Americans and western influences.  Near Seoul Station, however, was a completely different flavor.  We became instant minorities in both looks and language.  Even though we had no idea what we were doing and almost as little idea of where we were going ("the market"), it was really amazing to be walking the sidewalk and crossing the street with hundreds of Koreans in SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA!  It was fascinating to me that even when so much appears foreign here, there is so much we do know.  

We can read some of the words.
We recognize logos.
There is 7 Eleven.
We know where to cross the street and what the crosswalk symbols mean.
We can identify bathrooms.  
The sun still sets in the west.
We know what to do with a sidewalk.  
We can pick out landmarks to help us find our way back.
And as corny as it really, really sounds - everyone smiles in the same language.      

We were here in March 2012!

Hmm, which way to the market, I wonder?  We set pins on the maps on our phones like a trail of popcorn back to the subway station.

Not the world's most flattering picture, but here we are, Husband and I in downtown Seoul!

We meandered our way up hills, across streets, passed foreign embassies until we found the market.  It would be great if I had taken a photo of the market, but I'm not sure there would have been room for me to actually get my camera out and snap a shot.  It was like an outdoor mall of tiny outdoor storefronts filled with every kind of thing you could want especially clothes, shoes, belts, jewelry and so forth.  The Saturday afternoon had it absolutely packed with people.  Much of it was not as much uniquely Korean as it was "made in China".

The food stands, however, were completely Korean.  We wandered past them wide-eyed and wondering what they were serving.  I really wanted to try something, but with each stand we passed we just wondered aloud about it and traveled on for something that "looked good".  We never did find anything that looked good, but I think that's just because we didn't know what it was.  Next time we will have to just wonder through and try one of everything so we will know what tastes good.  

By this time we were hungry for more than street food.  It was time to head to Seoul Tower where we hoped to eat a meal at a restaurant up in the tower.

I have no idea what these buildings are, but I loved the juxtaposition of old and new.

We're on our way to the tower.

There it is!  Just "a little" farther to go.  We walked about a half mile farther from here.  Then we walked up stairs and stairs and stairs.  After that we rode the gondola to "the top".  We realized the top is not really the top, and walked up more stairs and stairs.

And that's when we saw this.  This is Seoul viewed from the first level of Seoul Tower, towards the north.  The view was so beautiful that I stopped literally in my tracks and uttered, "Wow." 

This prosperous city lies just a handful of miles to the south of an impoverished nation filled with people who are oppressed by a dictator who hides the world from them and them from the world.  Pray with me for the people of North Korea, that their eyes, ears, and hearts may be opened by Love and to Love.  

This is a pagoda all aglow outside the tower.

We ate a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant in the tower, all with the gorgeous view as pictured above.  The night skyline was equally stunning.  After being filled with the view and good wine, we high-tailed it as fast as we could back to Yongsan to make our return bus home.  We made it with ten minutes to spare!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Purple drink meets soju

The weekend before last we went to a Brazilian steak house.  If you've never been to one, you really should try it.  Just don't bring any vegetarian friends.  Husband and I went to one in Fort Worth called Texas de Brazil.  They have them throughout the U.S. and -presumably- Brazil.  Be prepared to spend $25 or more per person and don't eat anything for the day prior!  

These steak houses cook many kinds of meat on long skewers/swords.  As the meat becomes ready to serve, a number of waiters come to your table offering their selection:  Chicken, Filet Mignon, Butter steak, sausage, bacon...  Some places also give you a card with a red ("My food is settling.  Come back soon.") side and a green ("Yes, please, keep it coming!") side.  There is also salad, bread, and side dishes either on the table or at a buffet.  It is so good!  This is definitely not a restaurant to frequent, but once in a while it is a real treat!

Next on the agenda: Soju.  Wait, make that "Purple Drink".  I had heard there are many different kinds of Soju, but I never considered all the different ways it could be mixed.  Soju is a rice liquor, which is apparently commonly home made like Moon Shine.  The bars serve it out of reused juice jugs.  I'm not even kidding!  They aren't even labeled.  First we had "Purple Drink" with Soju and random purple unknown liquid.  It tasted like Kool-Aid; delicious:)  Do you love the purple (is the matching intentional or to prevent staining?) crushed velvet chairs?  They go perfectly with the glowing nightlife street scene.  

The Soju I'd heard of before coming to Korea is prepared in a small steel kettle.  Soju plus one or two or three other liquids are combined and the result is a fluorescent green beverage.  You take shots of this, which also taste like Kool-Aid.

Pictured is a the main downtown strip in Songtan.  There are restaurants, shops, and bars all squished and stacked together five stories high including the basements.  The city is really safe, the people are friendly, and the entertainment is what we were missing the past few years!
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