"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Salty, sweet, spicy, and simply divine.

This is what I did on my term break:

Went to bed late
Got up late
Had my heart broken by Wally Lamb (again)
Went to the Grampians for Easter (again)
Ate chocolate daily
Crocheted 3/4 of a beanie/beret thing
Worried over my youngest child, away on an arduous camp
Bought an AMAZING set of cheapskate knives
Celebrated my husband's birthday
Became addicted to kimchi

Are two weeks long enough to develop an addiction?  They must be, because here I am, craving mouthfuls of crunchy, salty, tangy, spicy, stinky goodness every hour of every darned day.  And not just any kimchi, but homemade kimchi, which is like nothing you get in either restaurants or shops.  Shop- or restaurant-bought kimchi is all right, but homemade is not anything you can call "all right" – nothing you can be ambivalent about.  It is either love with a violent passion, or completely turn away from.

This term break began with the discovery of Maangchi, whom I promptly fell in love with, for her skills, knowledge, warmth, sultry voice, and her honest and earthy enjoyment of everything she eats.  And it continued with trying a few recipes out here and there.  And then it culminated with my first batch of kimchi, made in desperation out of stuff I didn't want to throw away.

I came home from the Grampians (see What I Did on My Term Break, above), and had my usual shock-horror response when I saw the contents of my refrigerator crisper, which I'd totally forgotten about before I left. Even though I'd never made kimchi before, I decided to make it out of the things that most desperately needed using: a bag of discounted coleslaw mix I'd bought on impulse, a bunch of bok choy whose outer leaves were beginning to wilt, carrots, and a couple of bunches of spring (green) onions that were papery on the outside but still had sweet and tender centres.  

Obviously not a purist's kimchi, but it was good.  Even before fermentation it was like a million plus a million times better than any kimchi I'd ever had before:  the salting process totally removed the bitterness from the bok choy, and the flavours were rounded and full.  After a couple days' fermentation on the bench, the flavours had deepened and I now had something quite complex on the palate.
So I started me thinking: can you make kimchi out of anything? The nice people in Maangchi's forums assured me you could.  I had dreams of pumpkin and broccoli stem kimchi and all kinds of weird and wonderful things, but the first thing that came my way was a whole pile of Chantenay carrots on special.  I had this image of Maangchi munching on very crunchy cubed radish kimchi (kkakdugi) and I knew my time had come.

By this stage, I had availed myself of what is probably the most important ingredient making kimchi this way:  the chili flakes.  Now… I am the queen of substitutions, but after a few tries I have to say:  there is no substitute for Korean chili flakes here.

Chili powder won't do (it has too many foreign flavours), and ordinary dried chili flakes are too potent (plus they don't – at least in Oz – have the wonderful colour).  If you're happy to go to your closest supplier of Korean chili flakes, go, right now, and make this, straight after that.  And enjoy IMMEDIATELY.

See, this is the beauty of homemade kimchi, and an experience you cannot have when you're getting it in a restaurant or out of a box:  munching on freshly-made kimchi.  Yes, yes, fermented kimchi is delicious, but freshly-made is an absolute revelation.  Times like this, Maangchi says, all she needs is the freshly-made kimchi and a bowl of rice, and I can see why.  You just want to enjoy it straight away and have absolutely nothing come between you and it, except perhaps for the comforting earthiness of steamed rice.  I had leftover Asian-style broth from last night's noodle soup, so instead of rice, I made a delicious potful of fluffy ttukbaegi gyeranjjim to go with it.

It was Heaven.  Heaven, I tell you.  Go and make kimchi now.  It's quick, it's easy, you'll never be the same again.

Here's how.

You begin by degorging the veg in salt and sugar.

Look at all the liquid that's released after just 30 minutes.  You'll be draining most of this away.

Dump the other ingredients on top…

... and then just mix the heck out of it.  Hands are quickest and easiest, but wear rubber gloves.  I don't want to hear that you mixed this with your bare hands and then tried to remove your contact lenses and thought your eyes were going to melt off.  Not that I speak from personal experience or anything.

You can eat it right away or refrigerate it, or put it into a container to ferment for a couple of days before refrigerating.  Either way, it'll be salty, sweet, spicy, and simply divine.

I used to think that kimchi was just a condiment or side dish.  Well, it is, but it's so much more than that.  Think of it as one of your essential ingredients.  Once you realise that not only can you eat it as is, but also add it as one of your special touches to whatever it is you're making, you'll never go back.

1 kg Chantenay carrots, small as you can get them
1 kg white radish or daikon
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
4 spring (green) onions, chopped
1/2 bunch garlic scapes (shoots), cut into same length as carrots
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
2/3 cup Korean chili flakes
1/4 cup fish sauce

What you do:
1.  Cut the tops off the carrots, and place in large bowl.  (If some carrots are extra large, cut in half.)  Peel radish or daikon, and cut into sections as long as the carrots.  Cut each section into six or eight wedges, and add to the bowl.  Sprinkle over sugar and salt, mix, and allow to degorge for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.
2.  Drain vegetables, reserving the liquid.  Add remaining ingredients plus 1/3 of the liquid you drained off, and mix well.  Your hands are best for this, but please – wear rubber or disposable plastic gloves!
3.  Kimchi is ready to enjoy straight away, but you can also ferment it (in fact, you may want to do half and half).  To ferment, pack into a sturdy container, jar, or large Ziploc bag.  Leave at room temperature for 1-3 days.  Kimchi will be fermented when it begins to smell sour; it may also display bubbles on the surface.  Once fermented, store in the refrigerator.

Yumbo McGillicutty!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vibey's Gallery of Not Altogether Useless and Rather Fun Kitchen Gadgetry

I do love me a gadget, whether electric, mechanical, or just hand-pushed.  Gadgets aren't necessary - they're not equipment, not batterie de cuisine - but there are times when you could weep with gratitude that you have them.  That olive pitter you only use once a year?  Tell me you won't want to kiss it when you have to pip 10 kilos of cherries.

But there are other gadgets.  Silly gadgets.  Gadgets that are the equivalent of toys for a person whose favourite playground is the kitchen.  When I've had a hard week, and find myself in a variety store with enough pocket money to have a good time, I will usually migrate to the kitchen section, and when the variety store happens to be Japanese, the playthings are quite something.

Wanna see?

I haven't made onigiri in decades.  But when I do finally make onigiri again, I want them shaped like a heart and a cherry blossom, dammit!

Yes, it's a squirty bottle.  But it's a squirty bottle with class, pumping out not just a single squeeze, but four fine lines with a single stroke.  Mayo on okonomiyaki, melted chocolate on sit-down indoor 'smores… the squiggles make them so much better.

OK so this why the Japanese are engineering geniuses.  We all know that you need both a spoon and a fork or chopsticks when you're having Asian-style noodle soup, right?  So why not combine the two?  Huh?  HUH?  Like I said:  genius.

The fig isn't there for decoration, it's there to show you how small this loose-bottom cake pan is.  In that best-selling book, Why Japanese People (Except Sumo Wrestlers) Aren't Fat Like Us*, one of the reasons put forward is that cakes are made in pans this size, which provide about 30 servings.  I found this size ideal for making my son's sushi birthday cake.  I also bought one that's about 2/3 this size, which also made a great-sized sushi cake to feed about six of us fat Westerners.  Finding loose-bottomed pans this size in ordinary kitchenware suppliers is hard;  when you find them, they cost an arm and a leg.  That's because they're made in Europe and the Europeans want to keep us fat.  This one set me back just a couple bucks.

This thing cuts the crust off a sandwich and encloses the filling.  The heart… the heart is to remind you that it's all worth it.  The end.

OK, so this is not a silly gadget at all.  It's actually quite cool, and I'm quite excited about having this in my arsenal.  The label tells us that "When you cook pasta and retort food, you can boil an egg or vegetables by this colander at the same time."  Yes, yes, but more than that.  If I'm making an Asian-style broth, I can actually put my slices of ginger, garlic cloves, green onion tops and dried anchovies in this thing, and just lift it out when done rather than straining the whole shebang.

Yes, it's another mould.  For rice.  This one-serve mould holds over half as much as the cake mould does, which again tells us Why Japanese People (Except Sumo Wrestlers) Aren't Fat Like Us*:  it's OK to eat half a cake, just as long as the cake is only rice shaped like a cake.

Another rice mould, this one for omurice.  I have no idea how this is going to work, unless I make a completely flat, dry, pancakey omelette, and line the mould with it before spooning in the rice.  But if I did that, then I would miss out on the ritual of splitting the gooey omelette and having it flow over the rice, and… OK, I'm taking this one back to the shop.

Because I like to have wooden spoons for mustard and other tracklements at the table.  Even if they are rubber wood.  Whatever that is.

OK, I admit it:  I have a son who expressed an interest in making his own teabags.  That is perfectly normal, right?  So the small ones are for him.  The big ones are for me, for bouquet garni and other things I want to fish out easily from a pot at the end of cooking.

Again, not silly at all.  These little natural fibre brushes are so incredibly brilliant that I bought three.  The notches on the side are to control the length of the brush fibres.  Have them long like this, medium, or short and stubby (ideal for greasing up the pan between crêpes).

This very gorgeous foil paper is used for wrapping up sandwiches and bento items.  One day, when I decide to be an exemplary mother, I will do that.  Or maybe I'll wait until I can be an exemplary grandmother.

This is such a clever idea that I don't know why no one thought of it decades ago.  Shot glasses are a standard measure, right?  So here you have a standard measure with measurements up the sides.  The measuring spoons have been feeling pretty neglected since this came into the house.

Another gadget I am excited about.  A little thingie that will grind sesame seeds for you.  I love to sprinkle gomashio over everything except my All-Bran, and this is brilliant, because as you may or may not know, if you make gomashio ahead of time, it just clumps together after a few days.  But I can fill this mill with roasted sesame seeds and sea salt flakes, and grind my gomashio as I need it.  That is, if I can make sense of the instructions:  "This commodity might change in quality by the terpene or oils and fats contained in the skin of citrus fruits such as the lemons."  "Rough of sesame can be added or subtracted to the own taste by adjusting an internal screw."  "Of beginning use it becomes easy to use when putting sesame in the container and turning the steering wheel though the rotation of the steering wheel may be tight."  Of course.

These I didn't buy. My colleague Kylie brought them for me from New Zealand.  They are for frying eggs in the shape of a cow, a sheep, or a kiwi (the bird, not the fruit).  I wonder what made her think I would use such a thing?

Surely not these eggs shaped like teddy bears, bunnies, hearts, stars, cars, and fish!  No way.

No, I didn't need another saucepan, but this isn't just another saucepan.  It isn't that it's just the right size for one or two packets of ramen, but that despite being stainless steel, it's thin with a thin bottom.    It's not meant to sauté anything:  it's meant to heat liquids up fast.  Faster than the mikey, with more even heat distribution.  My sons, who eat ramen in industrial quantities, will use this.

As will I.  Happy and satisfied after my little shopping spree, I can have a little play in the kitchen and a bit of a giggle while I eat my lunch.  Because sometimes, we all need a little teddy bear looking out at us from our noodle bowl.

Yumbo McGillicutty!

*  Not a real book title. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

50 posts, 16 years, one cake

This is my 50th post in this bit o’fun I call Yumbo McGillicutty! – my quiet and unassuming little food blog.  Fifty posts may not be much by other über-blogger standards, but it’s got me thinking about when I got into the Internet, about 16 years ago.

The Internet – even though it was far more advanced and bore little resemblance to the “first”, government- and nerd-populated Internet others knew through the ‘70s and 80s – was quite a different place then than it is now.  It was rough-and-ready, and looking back, quaint.  And it opened up the world for me.

In those days, I was isolated and lonely, raising children on acreage and holding the fort through some happy but hard days, unable to really count on a husband who worked unspeakably long and impossible hours.  Perhaps to my detriment – I dread to think how many hours could have been spent doing something constructive instead of “research” that steals hours in the blink of an eye – I turned to the Internet to draw closer to everything and everyone who was far away, and to amass and absorb information in a way that not even a mad reader such as me had been able to before.  It was awesome.  

One of the most awesome things was access to recipes.  Recipes for anything, courtesy of your favourite search engine!  Delivered to your Inbox via e-mail!  Recipes everywhere!  But they weren’t like you might see them today:  set up to food stylist standards with photography to match.  They were just… recipes.  Recipes that were sometimes backed up with lovely words that made you want to cook that thing, right now, but more often recipes by people whose judgement and taste you’d learnt to trust by virtue of their presence in a particular forum or noticeboard, where Experience and Knowledge was a beacon.

Look at me.  Getting nostalgic over the Old Internet.  But there were people who taught me so much and have been proven by time to be unforgettable.  “Limey Rik”, a teetotaller who compulsively made vats of wine from whatever he foraged each year:  dandelions, brambleberries.  Marie from Countrylife, whose knowledge of bread baking was encyclopaedic.  And Raz, whose grammar and spelling were woeful but whose every home-style recipe was guaranteed to make the people you cook for forget that things such as grammar – or even language! - “Mmm… mmm!...” – exist.

It was Raz who first posted a recipe for something called Spanish Bar Cake.  I’d never had it before, but she posted my favourite part of a recipe besides the eating:  the anthropological context.  She said it was a standard in A&P grocery stores in the U.S.  Here in Australia, I’d never been to an A&P store, much less had the cake, but even though the cake seemed nothing special to me, I trusted Raz, and I was intrigued that enough people rhapsodised about it, were nostalgic about it, and wanted to reproduce it at home.  So I made it, and understood why they did:  it isn’t a cake for sissies.  It is Serious Cake.  Very sweet, very spicy cake.  Dense cake.  Happy-to-be-home cake.  Not for dessert, but for chowing down.

Raz said, “Eat it, drink milk.  Makes a complete dessert meal.  Protein, fat, carbohydrate, pleasure.”

Yes, I wrote that down.  Now, it’s history.  When Raz first posted the recipe, it was one of just two or three recipes for Spanish Bar Cake on the Internet.  Since then, it’s been reproduced countless times in many websites, and the name of its original contributor has been lost to the virtual sands of time.  Or whatever.

But I remember.  I may be reproducing the recipe yet again, but I’m returning credit where credit is due.  I don’t know who Raz is, or was, but she shared something with me that has been part of my life now for 16 years, and part of my kids’ lives, and who knows?  Maybe my kids’ kids and theirs.  None of us in the U.S., none of us giving a damn about no A&P.  Just the cake.

A slice for you, Raz, and a nice cuppa herbal tea (although I did have a piece with a glass of milk for breakfast a few days ago), and a slice for everyone at the birth of this super information hyper highway who took the time to share a special recipe, and the reason it was special.  Because of you, the food blogosphere would not be where it is today.

This is Raz’s original recipe, almost as exactly written back in the day.  Raz didn’t include milk in the original recipe, but you may need it due to the variables in homemade applesauce:  if it’s too thick, you’ll need milk, if it’s more liquid, you won’t.  Remember, however, that this is a dense cake with a dense batter, so add just enough milk to slacken it, not liquify it.

2 1/2 cups Plain flour
1 tsp. bicarb soda (baking soda)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated for preference
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
Milk, as needed
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1 cup chunky applesauce, homemade is best
1 cup plump raisins
1/2 cup roughly-chopped walnuts (opt.)

For the icing -
250g. cream cheese
4 tsp. butter
2 1/4 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

What you do:
1. Grease and flour rectangular cake pan, or brush with Baker's Secret.  Preheat oven to 175oC.
2. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside.
3. In mixer on high speed, cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs.  Blend well, then turn to low speed, and add vanilla and applesauce.  Add raisins, and dry ingredients.  Mix with a wooden spoon only until dry ingredients are moistened, then stop.  If necessary, add a little milk to slacken mixture slightly.
4. Turn mixture into pan, and bake for about 45 min., or until cooked when tested.  Leave to cool in pan, and cover with icing, making squiggle patterns with a fork.

*  To make icing, beat all ingredients together well.

Yumbo McGillicutty!