Wednesday, April 28, 2010

To Bim or Not to Bap, A Taste of Korean Food!

I had a quick Manhattan weekend with Number One Daughter to check out her new home this Fall, the Fashion Institute of Technology. Woot woot for my smart and creative girlie! We stayed in a hotel room on West 32nd Street, alias Korean Way, which is an exciting block dotted with Korean language store signs, restaurants and lots of gorgeous people walking up and down the sidewalks even late, late into the night.

For two rubes from upstate New York this was all quite enervating, and we were pleased to be able to roll downstairs from our hotel when we were tired and famished from our train and walking journey (Broadway jogs around a bit more than I had remembered) and grab a delightful and exotic lunch at New Wonjo Restaurant (23 West 32nd Street). My girl has always loved Chinese and Japanese food, and even has us making our own sushi at home on occasion, so we were both primed to try out Korean food.

We each ordered a hot, steaming bowl of bibimbap; hers with chicken, a seafood version for me garnished with perfectly cooked squid, shrimp and tiny little mussels. Bibimbap is a blend of rice, cooked vegetables and some kind of protein, topped with an egg (blessedly fried hard for my tastes) and some crumbled nori. It's a satisfying pot that we both tried to consume in its entirety, but were unable to achieve. Our bimbimbap was served in a searingly hot stone bowl that kept our lunch sizzling throughout our meal and it was great fun to pluck choice bits out with our chopsticks.

A telling reason why we weren't able to clean our stone bowls was because of all the little dishes of Korean tidbits which our waiter brought out before our main course was on the scene. Later research tells me that these tastes are called banchan, and are traditionally served to accompany a Korean meal or a big communal bowl of rice, stew or barbeque.

There was a bit of a Korean-English language barrier between us and the restaurant staff so I wasn't able to find out what the banchan consisted of, but we figured out that we had some cabbage kimchi, some radish or daikon kimchi, some cold sauteed Asian greens, tiny little dried fish sauteed with peanuts in a brown sauce (my daughter wouldn't eat them because each fish retained its little dried eyes), a clear noodle salad, some kind of bony fish in a sweetish sauce (mackerel?), Korean meatballs and a pyramidal pile of mashed sweet potato (or a relative) with a dried cranberry cap. I think that's what we ate, anyway.

This has me all excited to try out some Korean cooking at home and I've been bookmarking recipes like crazy on the Internet. I love those clear mung bean and sweet potato noodles that we buy at the Asian Market in Albany (the sweet potato ones are tinged an intriguing pale blue-green) so we'll have to venture there soon to stock up on supplies).

If anyone more familiar with Korean food than I has any great recipes to share or comments on what we actually dined on in the photos, I'd love to hear more...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cooking with Squid for the First Time

It was a shocking sight. My friend Patty and I were eating out with friends when we were sweet young things, flush with money from our first REAL jobs out of college. We were at an Italian restaurant and ordering up piles of spaghetti (this was the early 80s when it wasn't yet called pasta), when out comes Patty's bowl of Seafood Marinara topped with these weird spiky clusters that looked to me like creepy little splayed hands. What the heck was up with that dish?

That was my first sight of calamari in all its tomato-stewed glory swimming around in my buddy's dinner plate. She tucked into her meal with obvious relish so when she offered up a forkful, I tried a tentative bite. Not bad. Not like the tough little rubber band I expected.

In the eons since, I've eaten a fair bit of calamari when dining out. Our Crispy Crew particularly like Fried Calamari as an appetizer when we go out to a restaurant, and the fried squid cooked up gluten-free in a dedicated GF fryer at KD's Fish Fry in Ballston Spa is our favorite.

I never had tried cooking with squid at home, so when I found a frozen block in my local supermarket I brought it home to play with. There was even a handy recipe for Calamari with Pasta on the back of the package, so that's what used for my foray into squid cookery.

My package of squid was 2.5 lbs. and the recipe only called for half the amount, but I went ahead and thawed the whole thing since it was one big block. It involved a little picking over to remove a few bits of clear, flexible cartilage and even one teeny tiny squid beak. I patted it dry and took care in the cooking to ensure that it didn't get past the tipping point of tenderness and into rubbery terrain. It proved delicious and I was even able to sneak some black olives into the sauce though I live with a pack of olivephobes.

Here's the tasty recipe, slightly adapted from the package:


1-1/2 lbs. squid tubes and tentacles, cleaned and patted dry
1-1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used a can of diced tomatoes)
8 basil leaves, slivered (I used frozen garden basil)
1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped black olives

1 lb. pasta

Cut squid tubes into rings about 1/4 inch thick. Leave tentacles alone to blossom into spiky little "hands" during the cooking.

Heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook for another minute, stirring. Add tomatoes, basil, parsley, and ground red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add olives. Stir, lower heat and let simmer over low heat while you cook up the squid.

In a separate saucepan, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add squid pieces and cook over medium heat for 2-4 minutes, stirring all the while and checking to see that the squid remains tender. DO NOT OVERCOOK! When done, add squid to tomato sauce and cook another minute or two to mingle flavors.

Cook up your pasta and while still warm, pour sauce over the top and toss with the sauce.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Sending a big thank you to my friend Patty for introducing me to the pleasures of calamari and a bowl of this deliciously squiddy pasta over to Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly roundup of all things noodly started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's edition, Number 161, is being hosted by Thyme for Cooking, a lovely French food blog and the roundup of delicious pastas will be featured after the April 30 deadline.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Persian Lentil Soup with Sumac and Yogurt for Novel Food

Now you all know how much I love reading (bookstore owner) and cooking (Crispy Cook blogger) and when the opportunity to combine these two passions presents itself, I am in heaven. Every two months, my two blogger buddies Jo and Deb and I take turns hosting a foodie book club online at Cook the Books (we are reading Nigel Slater's funny and very informative book "Eating for England" right now), but in between I cannot resist reading many other books that educate and tempt and entertain me. Some even inspire me to head toward the kitchen and cook, and so when the book is not the CTB pick, I like to participate in Briciole's semi-annual Novel Food event.

With Novel Food, one gets to pick a literary selection of one's choice and then cook up something inspired by your reading. I recently enjoyed reading two novels by Marsha Mehran about three Iranian sisters who flee their native country after the Islamic Revolution for the small Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Here they renovate an old bakery into a restaurant serving Persian comfort foods for an increasingly appreciative batch of customers and work out the various problems that two adult sisters and one rebellious teen sister wrestle with.

The first novel, Pomegranate Soup, and the sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, were both enjoyable dramas, sprinkled with a bit of humor, a dollop of magical realism (there's a selkie of sorts in the second novel) and revelations of tragedies endured back in Iran. Side orders of Persian and Irish recipes enliven the reading and got my interest piqued in trying some of this savory, exotic cuisine.

Pomegranate Soup contained a recipe for Red Lentil Soup, but I didn't have a couple of the ingredients in my cupboard, so I turned to this similar recipe and made up a batch of comforting soup for a delicious Middle Eastern meal last week. Topped with a blob of Greek yoghurt, a sprinkling of ground sumac and some fried shallots from the Asian Market (not so traditional, but very tasty), this was a winning recipe.

I am sending this post over to Novel Food, where Simona of Briciole will be accepting entries until April 17. Do travel over there to see what others have been reading and cooking from after the deadline.

Another bowl of this tasty soup is being sent to my CTB cohost Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, where every Sunday is Souper Sunday, with a roundup of delicious soup posts.