Traveling is a lot of in-between times

I love going new places, traveling is absolutely one of my passions. But my one caveat to it all is the travel itself. I HATE flying. I used to be terrified to fly and have progressed to being anxious and uncomfortable. You’d think after a while it’d get better, but I can’t help but start panicking and feeling like I’m about to die every time a plane takes off or we hit turbulence.
Buses are better, though I have felt the bus tip on one too many turns taken hellishly fast. But there is less rush, less security checks and less restrictions. Plus I am able to sleep through most of any bus rider.
Trains I actually very much enjoy riding! They are quick, practically hassle free like buses, and they are on rails so there is less a chance of careening off a turn. Plus the leg room is incredible.

I wish I was able to enjoy the act of traveling as much as the results of doing so. But even food loses it’s appeal while I travel. It’s always overpriced and underwhelming. Plkus I am the unfortunate victim of low blood sugar mood swings. I usually bring snacks, but if I forget or if it’s just not enough then things get pretty nasty.
When my blood sugar drops I get hungry (hungry-angery). I get real quite because I know I’ll snap at the smallest provocation, I get super irritable and my already over thought decision process becomes unmanageable and the end of the world.

So please excuse the absence of posts this week as I recover from a day of traveling and while I spend time with la familia.

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Korea House

Guess what guys! ANOTHER KOREAN RESTAURANT REVIEW!!!!

YAAAAY! Now you know MORE places to try (or avoid) when in the search for a most delicious Korean style meal.

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Korea House has consistently been one of the top rated Korean restaurants in the Tucson area and has been on my list for several years now. Somehow I was always able to make it to Seoul Kitchen, but not just a few blocks over to Korea House. Until the other day.

Very last minute plans worked in my favor and my friend joined me for a delicious Korean lunch! Just off of Speedway and Alvernon, the building hides between a coffee shop and a music shop. And by hide I mean it seems more inconspicuous and generic than the colorful building to its left and the quaint peaked roof café to its right.

The inside was rather generic Asian restaurant themed, but it does have a very neat booth section – each table is partitioned into privacy along the left side of the restaurant with wallpaper that features a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters on it. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t study Asian linguistics, but it was neat to look at!

My friend and I had actually just arrived after a VERY large party had vacated the premises. There were dirty tables all around and, though we were the only two customers in the restaurant, the poor sole server had to bus us a table for us to sit at. But he was really affable and sweet, joking around with us and recommending we choose the more flavorful-y marinated pork to the quickly sauced beef or chicken. He was also super quick and efficient, without us feeling rushed.

Service: A+

The food was good too! Just very different from what I’ve had before.

Firstly, the menu had all of the traditional items I expect to see at a Korean place. But everything was spelled slightly different. Bibimbap was spelled Beebumbap, most of the words I usually see spelled with a ‘b’ were instead spelled with a ‘p’ and the separation of words/syllables was different as well. Not a bad thing at all, just… different and I am intensely curious as to why they are spelled so different!

I ended up ordering the Kimpo II – the combo plate with beef, chicken or pork bool gogi (bulgogi, as I’ve more often seen it), a bowl of soup, rice, two mandu and chap jae!

Plus unlimited refills of banchan. ❤ ❤ ❤

The soup was similar to kinds I’ve had before – a clear broth with a few vegetables and potatoes cooked in it. I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the flavor balance in this broth, though. It was too peppery, and though I enjoyed the potatoes and onions, it was simply frustrating to have to fish for a measly 3 peas in my soup cup.

Then my main dish and the banchan came out. The plate was full of what it said it was but, like the menu, it was all slightly different from what I had grown accustomed to.

Firstly, the mandu were fried. Every other time I’ve had dumplings they’ve been steamed. It was nice having a crunchy dumpling, and the beef or pork (not sure which) was a slightly spicy and finely ground mixture.  Though I thought it was too salty, but my friend thoroughly enjoyed hers, so perhaps I added too much dipping sauce?

The bulgogi was different too. The waiter had convinced my friend and I to order the pork, instead of the beef, because it sits in the marinade full of flavor. I also tried it medium spicy. It was very good! But even from the picture above you can notice that they are prepared differently from what I’ve blogged before. The marinade is reddish and thick. There was a definitive coating of spices and seasonings on each slice of tender pork. It was a very different bulgogi experience than ever before, though I did immensely enjoy it. Bulgogi meat is always so tender and flavorful!

There was so much slight variation in my dish that it was nice to notice the chap jae was the same. As were the banchan. We were served three dishes – one of cucumbers dressed in vinegar, kimchi, and bean sprouts. Both the chap jae and banchan were very good and EXACTLY how I’ve had them before. It gave a nice point of reference to this off-kilter meal.

Though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I did really enjoy the meal and the atmosphere of the place. I’d love to come back when there are other customers, some weekend evening, perhaps, to see how the ambiance truly shines. Also, I just discovered they serve Jjajangmyeon (I really need to just start asking if they serve it because I never find it on the menu!) so I am REQUIRED to go back and try that dish.

Try Korea House! It is good, the portions are filling, and the price is just right!

 

Jjajangmyeon!

IMG_1960 (2)This is an Asian noodle dish that I learned about from my fascination with Korean culture and kdramas.

This is a Korean dish. It is also a Chinese dish. It is, in fact, a Korean Chinese-fast food dish. Very popular in Korea. Also one of the traditional dishes for those who spend Valentine’s Day alone! (I mean it’s just too messy for date food. And I would eat spaghetti on a date.)

Now time for a confession. I have not tried any “authentic” jjajangmyeon. I’ve never bought it at a restaurant or had a Korean friend make it for me. I just thought it looked so delicious that I had to try it. So I looked up this recipe and made it. Twice. To make sure it tasted the same, of course. XD

After finding the proper ingredients, it actually wasn’t that difficult. The recipe itself was a bit confusingly written, so I’m going to re-write it below. The original however comes from the ever-entertaining Nasties Simon and Martina. Watch EatYourKimchi, you won’t regret it!

This is a very unusual dish – very salty, slightly sweet, very savoury and thick. The noodles are slightly dense and chewy and the sauce is very unique and I love it. I made half of the original recipe (my half recipe measurements are listed below) and still had enough for two more servings.

Make sure you add NO additional salt. Because this sauce can get quite close to briny.

The modified recipe!

Ingredients:

– 3 Tbsp oil
– 2.5 TBSP Black Bean Paste AKA Chunjang 춘장
– 1 medium sized onion (or however much chopped onion you desire)
– 1/4 Lb ground pork
– 1/8 TSP ground black pepper (or add more to taste)

– 3/4 Tsp sugar
– 1/2 TBSP Oyster Sauce
– 1 Cups of water or broth
-Fresh noodles, preferably kalguksu 칼국수 noodles (4 servings)

For The Thickener:
– 1/2 Tbsp potato starch (or corn starch)
– 1 Tbsp cold water

Garnish:
Thinly sliced cucumbers, or carrots or any thinly sliced crisp and light flavoured veggie.

Cooking Instructions:

1. In a small sauce pan heat the oil over low heat. Add the black bean paste and stirring constantly for 6-8 minutes.

**If you stir well enough and constantly it will be smooth and sauce like. If you do not it will look like this=> (this isn’t a bad thing, but it looks the opposite of appetizing.)

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2. When the mixture starts to release a strong smell (like chocolate or freshly baked bread) or once the time is up, strain/pour off the excess oil. Set the black bean paste aside off the heat.

3. Add more oil if you need to, then toss in the onions. Sauté on medium heat until softened but not totally cooked.

4. Add the pork, grind on some black pepper while yelling BAM and let it cook.

5. As the pork cooks, start boiling hot water for the noodles.

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6. Once the pork is lightly browned (don’t dump off the pork oil) add the black bean sauce and stir furiously! You should coat the pork well.

7. Add the 2 cups of liquid and simmer for about 5 minutes. If you’re adding more veggies, add them now but reduce the liquid to 1.5 cups since the veggies will create more liquid.

8. While the pork mixture simmers, cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Most kalguksu noodles require you to rinse them in cold water after you drain them until they are almost cool or else they will form a death ball of noodles that cannot be separated. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

9. Combine the starch and water thoroughly. This is your thickener, aka slurry.

10. Add the sugar and oyster sauce. Mix thoroughly and adjust seasonings to taste!

** The more your reduce the pork and black bean sauce, the saltier and more intense the black bean mixture will be, so you can test the flavour as you simmer it and decide when you want to stop.

11. Once you like the flavour, add the potato starch slurry to thicken it. Stir well and it should thicken almost instantly. Sauce is finished!

12. Add the noodles to a bowl and scoop on a hearty serving of sauce. Garnish with thinly sliced cucumber and eat before it gets cold!

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Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

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Possibly the best cookies I’ve ever made ever. Also I am in love with this new brown butter fad. TRY THESE IMMEDIATELY!!

A dear friend suggested this recipe to me. Actually, she recommended the caramel snickerdoodles but seeing as I had no sea salt caramel, I went with the original recipe. Brown Butter Snickerdoodles!

I pretty much followed the recipe to a T (or is it tea? …never really understood that saying…) besides one minor adjustment. I didn’t (and still don’t -hey no throwing things!) have any cream of tartar. So I did a bit of googling and decided to go in between the two main substitution measurements I found. I used 2 tsp baking powder and left out any additional salt – and they came out beautifully even so.

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They even stayed soft for the next day (there was one left for my dad and I for the next night’s breakfast dessert.) But even holding out on the last two was a test of will!

They are rich and have a very deep and complex flavor for cookies. I have never tasted anything so subtle and varied in my favorite baking form! The brown butter really made all the difference. It brought out this sweet, salty, nutty, toasted flavor that I have yet to encounter anywhere else.

And for those of you who are trying to brown butter for the first time, here’s a secret. You’ll KNOW when it’s started to brown. Just be patient and wait for the butter to form tiny solid specks at the bottom – that’s the browned fat content! And once it starts to darken, take it off the heat IMMEDIATELY.

I have to admit, I did take it off a tad bit prematurely. I can’t even imagine how rich the taste will be when I properly brown the butter!

Anyways, stop what you are dong right now and go make these. No excuses. You’ll thank me later.

Hotrods Old Vail

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Hotrods is a really neat and eclectic restaurant. It is part American country food and part vintage car garage and restoration biz.

It is on the far south side of town. In fact the only reason I went there is my dad and I were returning from an impromptu camping and wine tour weekend trip and it was on the way back home.

It is honestly in the middle of nowhere right off the highway, but it suits the fixer-upper garage come-here-to-watch-the-races vibe of the place. I’d borrow some pictures from the internet, but I’ll just link you to their website here.

The inside is very race track themed. Racing stripes, black, red, white checks everywhere. Flags and numbers and shiny glossy tiles and metal beams inside the restaurant.

There is a bar on the second floor that seemed pretty swanky. The ground floor is family friendly – very much like a diner. And in the back is a windowed wall where you can look at the restored cars they are working on. Each table has a flip deck of the cars and what they are doing to them. It was all pretty neat and my dad was able to explain what some of the jargon meant. New engines, refurbished hoods and doors, modern tires and shiny new paint jobs.

Now onto the food. They have a bunch of fried American diner food, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, the like. My dad and I split the Buffalo Chicken Calzone. The pastry was flaky, the filling was hot and tasty. And i’m not usually a fan of buffalo sauce, but it wasn’t overwhelming and balanced nicely with the filling.

If it were closer I would definitely drop by again and try out their breakfasts and other diner treats!

Pho-tastic Adventures in Vietnamese Cooking – CHALLENGE

Can you guess from the title what I’m making? No? I’m sure the pho-to gave it away though!

This week my friend and I decided to do a challenge with each other!

The terms – make a chosen recipe within a week. The stakes – a satisfied tummy or a frustrated burnt pot of nothing.

The recipe – Ready, set, pho! (It is just too much pho-n using all these puns and homonyms. I apologize if you are groaning. But I don’t really care because it’s a blast to write!)

I love Pho. It is one of my top favortie Asian soups. It’s warm, spicy, comforting, refreshing and cooling all at the same time. Plus you simply can’t beat the price per serving ration. Usually around $8-10 for a GIANT BOWL that will give you leftovers (usually two more meals’ worth!)

I was excited to try making it on my own. But HOO-HEE. The authentic from-scratch method takes over 3 hours and the use of beef knuckles and leg bones… and I’m really just not familiar with nor comfortable with using such new ingredients in such a new dish. (This recipe at Steamy Kitchen seems very easy to follow though, if you are daring enough!)

I briefly researched a vegetarian version, correctly assuming it would be easier. But the recipe makers themselves often said the flavor just isn’t as rich. There really is NO replacing the scrumptious heartiness of a bovine’s bones and flesh boiled into your soup.

So I looked for the cheater’s version.

After much research (okay only like 3 different sites. I get bored and HUNGRY easily!) I decided I’d combine a couple recipes together. This is mainly a mashup of the long version from Steamy Kitchen and the cheater’s version from Tale of 2 Kitchens.

IMG_2016(2)So. This soup wasn’t actually quite pho.,,

It was really good! It had the definite trademark flavors of pho… but it was too sweet and rich. The broth is obviously too dark. And I left out the beef because I am too lazy and fail at grocery shopping.

This pho-inspired soup was rich and warm and spicey – but in a full of spices way. I think I used too much of the seasoning packet. Or maybe I used the wrong one?

Finding the proper ingredients for a new recipe in an Asian supermarket is RIDICULOUSLY hard. I will chuckle at my bewilderment and overwhelmed searching in a few years… I’m sure. Once I’m more experienced and confident in my recipes and ingredients. (Vietnamese is really difficult to figure out. Thank gods that there is always a transliteration with “phò” boldly printed on anything having to do with… well, pho.)

I’d write out my recipe, but suffice it to say I’m not sure it’s replicable or worth replicating. I definitely DO want to try this again though! Maybe more closely following a legit recipe. Perhaps I will do the whole multiple hour long process someday soon after all.

But in the meantime, if there were winners, I think it would be Nikki. At least hers LOOKS like pho should. XP

(She will shortly be having a blog to which I will link this post! Check back for updates!)

Chocolate Caramel Cookies

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I was inspired to make these sumptuous and overly decadent delights by the amazing stop motion video by Sorted and co. Click on this link and watch for yourself. That is the VERY definition of Food Porn. Tell me you didn’t start moaning over the richness of it all.

I dare you.

Needless to say I was so hot and bothered over these cookies I rushed out to the store to pick up the candies and nutella (the only ingredients I didn’t have on hand.)

I got home, washed my hands and commenced assembly immediately.

Only to discover that the ingredient amounts are listed in grams. Oops. Forgot about that whole conversion bit.

I did some quick google searching for the ingredient conversions (it’s important to keep in mind that grams are a WEIGHT measurement and cups are a VOLUME measurement. So it’s no easy formula.)

This is my interpretation:

INGREDIENTS

  • butter (110g) ~ 1 stick
  • light brown sugar (350g) ~ 1 3/4 cups
  • cocoa powder (55g) ~ heaping 1/3 cup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • plain flour (260g) ~ according to calculations 2 1/2 cups, see the explication below for further details.
  • milk or dark chocolate chips (100g) ~ I didn’t look this one up, just add as much as you want! (~1-2 cups)
  • sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 8 tbsp nutella
  • 16 caramel-filled chocolates

RECIPE

line a baking tray with parchment paper.
preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (that’s 350 F for us Americans).
melt the butter in a medium heated pan.
take off the heat and stir in the brown sugar and eggs.
add the cocoa, salt and baking powder and stir until well combined.
add the flour and stir until no floury patches are left.
stir in the chocolate chips.
take 1 heaped tbsp of dough, use your finger make a large indentation the centre of the dough; fill the indentation with a small blob of nutella (like 1/2 tsp ish), and top it up with the caramel-filled chocolate.
top with a flattened tablespoon of dough, and seal the edges.
sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 8-10 minutes

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So. All was going well despite the frantic search to convert the measurements until I got to the flour. I put in about 1.5 cups fluffed flour (as in I spooned, stirred and fluffed the flour before scooping into the measuring cup) and stirred thoroughly. Only to find the dough was more of a batter. So I added some more. And some more. At this point I was just pouring it out of my almost empty bag so I have no idea how much extra I added. But I kept at it until the batter was DOUGH consistency and would hold a cookie shape.

Unfortunately by this time the chocolate chips had melted.

And I think I added a LITTLE too much flour.

But I was happy just to be able to scoop a blob out and push my finger into the middle! So I wasn’t going to complain.

I filled with Nutella and plopped a Ghiradelli salt caramel chocolate square on top (my cookies were quite a bit bigger than those in the stop motion version.)

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I then covered them up using almost all of the dough and popped them in the oven for 10 minutes. I let them cool a bit and broke one open. Before I get into the explicit and mature description I will warn you that they will appear to be undercooked. But do NOT cook for longer than TEN MINUTES. Otherwise they get a bit too crunchy and hard. Unless you are into that kind of thing. No judgement.

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I’m not actually sure I can do justice to that picture. It was warm. Gooey Molten Ambrosia. . Rich. Decadent. Satisfying. Overwhelming. Lightly crispy. Creamy. Dense. You know the words ( I really need to get some new vocabulary for cookies. But, I mean, what other trigger words do you need besides dense, chewy and rich?) Sproing! My mouth is salivating.

These are dangerously rich and thoroughly crave-quenching. Bake at your own risk (and glorious tastebud overload!)

 

Conversions found through these lovely links!

http://www.traditionaloven.com/conversions_of_measures/sugar_amounts.html

http://www.pastryscoop.com/category/look-it-up/flour/