Tuesday, December 15, 2015

No-Bake Peanut Butter–Oatmeal Cookies: The Christmassy Version!

Middle of December: As you can imagine, in addition to work and all the other stuff I’m doing, I’ve been completely busy making cookies, which is a great deal of my overall holiday “gift-giving” effort. I’ve made three kinds of lebkuchen; I’ve made springerles; I’ve made billy goats. I’ve made date-nut bars, rum balls, orange balls, and more. (Wait: I haven’t given you the recipe for orange balls yet? That’s another “must-have” cookie!)

This year, in part because Mrs. Ferber is feeling much better than she did last year (yay!!!) and is making her own cookies again, I’ve decided not to make a bunch of the ones she usually makes. Which frees me up a little to make some other types.

So this year one of my “extras” is the famous chocolate and peanut butter no-bake cookies I told you about back in 2009 when this blog was only three months old!

I won’t repeat the recipe now, since you can find it on my earlier post.

However, because these cookies, though delicious, aren’t very attractive, or Christmassy-looking, I did want to show you how I doctored them up, so they’ll look nice on the cookie platter I set out for guests!

And here’s the fun part: Back in 2009, if you recall, I wrote about how Sue’s brother-in-law referred to these shapeless chocolate-brown, gooey-looking blobs as “yard sausages.”

You know—“yard sausages” is a euphemism among dog owners for the “presents” that dogs leave in the yard for you to inadvertently step in.

So we’d be sitting around the big dining room table, and the cookie tray would be there, and Gene would say, “Please pass me one of the yard sausages.”

It’s true that they aren’t much to look at, but this year, with the decorations, I think they’re much prettier!

But I suppose it could simply be that the dog “got into the Christmas decorations”! I’ve heard of dogs having glitter in their poop after the holidays. If fact, I chose the silvery sprinkles because it kind of looked like tinsel.

There! Now you have another lovely picture to go with these cookies!

But seriously, now, these are really good! Bon appétit!

This post is dedicated to the memory of Buffy Davis: Gone but never forgotten.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Easy and Reliable Kimchi

My kimchi is ready! It finished fermenting and I packed it into jars: Now I’m having a hard time keeping out of it! The recipe comes from my friend Bonnie, who calls it “bomb-proof”—but even more compelling than that is the addictive, fresh flavor of the finished product.

Before I pass along the recipe, I want to give you some sense of its provenance. Bonnie’s brother Jim, who lives in Washington, D.C., sent the recipe to her about a decade ago. He created the recipe from instructions he got from two people: An octogenarian named Mr. Woo, who owned a dry cleaning shop and convenience store in Dupont Circle, and a friend’s wife, Sue, who is Korean.

Bonnie suggests we call it “Jim Woo Sue’s Kimchi,” or perhaps “Woo Sue Jim’s Kimchi,” for a more chronological lineage. Or, I suppose, “Woo Sue Jim Bonnie’s Kimchi,” since I got it from her!

And I’m grateful to her for sharing it with me!

I’ve amended a few details, not very important ones (for example, I prefer smaller chunks, so I’ve given a range of chopping sizes).

See the notes below the recipe for additional ideas.

Easy and Reliable Kimchi

3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Kosher salt (divided)
6 c. water
1 lg. head (approx. 2 lbs.) Napa cabbage, cut in ½–2 inch squares
6 green onions, slivered lengthwise, then cut in 1–2 inch lengths
1–2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger (see note below)
2 T Korean ground dried hot red pepper (see note below)
3–4 minced garlic cloves (I use a garlic press)
1 tsp. sugar

1. Dissolve 3 tbsp. salt in water to make a brine. Put the cabbage in a large glass bowl and pour the brine over it. Weigh the cabbage down with a heavy plate or glass pie pan (or similar nonreactive object). Let it stand (at room temperature) for 12 hours.

2. Drain the cabbage, reserving the brine. Mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 1 tsp. salt. Pack the mixture into a 2-quart jar (or two 1-quart jars) (wide-mouth jars are a good idea). Pour enough reserved brine over the mix to cover it. Push a freezer bag into the mouth of the jar and pour remaining brine (or fresh water) into the bag to seal it. Set the jar(s) in a Pyrex baking dish (or similar nonreactive tray) to catch any brine that might bubble out. Let it ferment in a cool place (less than or equal to 68 degrees F) for 3 to 6 days, or until it’s as sour as you like.

3. Remove the brine bag and cap the jar(s) tightly. Store it in the fridge, where it will keep for months.


What do I eat it with?
Bonnie says this pairs well with foods that are spicy, smoky, or rich, such as barbecue, chili, smoked fish, canned tuna, and so on. Basically, think of this as another kind of pickle or relish to enjoy. Plus, of course it goes well with Korean foods!

Minced fresh ginger. Asian recipes got a whole lot easier for me when I started batch-processing fresh ginger ahead of time and freezing it flat in a thin layer in a freezer zip bag. I described the process when I told you about a cantaloupe sorbet recipe.

Dried hot red pepper.
The recipe calls for the Korean kind, but I used a combination of “regular” crushed red chili flakes and Indian ground red chilis. You must use your best judgment, based on your own heat preference and how hot your dried chilis are. (You can always add some chili and make it hotter, but it’s hard to do the reverse.)

Alternate veggies.
Bonnie says this recipe works with lots of different kinds of cole and root vegetables. I’ll bet thin-sliced bok choi, turnips, or cucumbers would be good variations.

On a grilled cheese sandwich. Bonnie loves to caramelize the kimchi and put it on a grilled cheese sandwich. She caramelizes it by chopping ¼ cup of the kimchi rather finely and mixing it with 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. rice wine (I think mirin would do nicely), and 1 tsp. soy sauce. Then, she heats a little oil in a skillet and cooks the mixture until it bubbles.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Pickled Cabbage, Kimchi, First Steps

There are lots of reasons to enjoy food preparation. In addition to producing something that people can enjoy, the process itself can be pleasant and fun.

This is true whether the cooking is challenging or simple. When it’s challenging, the process can provide the satisfaction of mastering something hard. When it’s simple, then sometimes it’s about witnessing a miraculous, synergistic, seemingly alchemical process.

The latter is what I’m up to today.

Making kimchi is ridiculously simple: Basically, you just throw a bunch of stuff together in a bowl, and let it sit. But the results are bafflingly good, thanks to some biochemical “miracles.” In lactic acid fermentation, naturally occurring bacteria convert carbohydrates (sugars) in the cabbage into lactic acid, raising the acidity of the whole, which helps preserve the cabbage. The process of brining softens the cabbage and also helps preserve it. Both the fermentation and the brining make it tasty!

In addition to being a practical, cheap, no-cook method of preserving and flavoring foods, lactic acid fermentation—when you do it at home and don’t heat-sterilize the jars—provides so-called probiotics that assist and improve your digestion. It’s very similar to the process that creates yogurt, sourdough bread, Japanese miso, and many other dishes.

To our ancestors, to our grandparents, this method of pickling was a boon for surviving and enjoying winter. Fruits and vegetables had to be preserved, if you wanted them at all. In western Europe, fresh cabbage was turned into sauerkraut. In Korea, China, and other southeast Asian lands, kimchi and its variants were about the same thing, only flavored differently—with ginger, garlic, green onions, chilis, soy and/or fish sauce, and so on.

In Europe, the finished kraut can be served straight up, or it can be drained, rinsed, and drained again, then simmered with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and/or chicken stock, flavored with such things as juniper berries, caraway seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Meat, such as pork chops or sausage, can be cooked in a bed of this kraut. Or you can make sauerkraut salads or other dishes out of it, using drained kraut as an ingredient and not an entire dish in itself.

I hear it’s pretty much the same way in Asia, where kimchi can be served right out of the crock, or it can be sautéed or otherwise further prepared, and used in other dishes.

I’ve often entertained fanciful ideas about the parallels of Germany and Korea—proud mainland nations divided into two by war, yet united in language, culture, and family ties; nations historically dominated by a hard-working peasant agriculture economy, now transformed into industrial powerhouses; nations whose most famous (or notorious!) dish is funky, fermented, pickled cabbage. Isn’t that interesting? Do you suppose there are other shared cultural characteristics, as well—a similar mind-set, similar outlooks and attitudes?

Anyway—my musings aside—a friend gave me her brother’s recipe for kimchi, and I’m finally trying it!

I’ve never made kimchi or sauerkraut before, and I’ve been wanting to try making both for a long time. Especially once I figured out that homemade krauts are much tastier than the “store-boughten” kind!

Last night, I chopped up a big head of Napa cabbage and set it to soak in a salt solution (brine) overnight. This morning, I combined the various ingredients, packed it in two quart-size wide-mouth jars, “sealed” them loosely with a plastic bag of water, so bubbles can escape . . . and now we wait.

If it turns out well, and if my friend says it’s okay with her, I’ll share her recipe with you!

More to come!