Casual Category

Peanut Butter & Squid

Ah, the classic peanut butter and dried squid snack. Where’s the Smucker’s grape jelly, you ask? Wonder Bread? BORING. What that classic combination really needs is a salty, briny, tough and stringy piece of jerky a la squid.

I can almost guarantee that in a Korean living room, bar, or “cafe,” where there is drinking of soju or beer (Hite or OB usually); then somewhere on that same table, there will be an unkempt scattering of fibers from strips of ojingo (dried squid) and peanuts (shelled or un-shelled) being eaten together. This is one of the most popular anju or snacks to eat while drinking for Koreans.

This combination is classic. There are even packaged snacks that deliver the strange combination in one cute little bite-size package.

I admit that peanut butter isn’t necessarily traditional. Typically, you’ll see whole peanuts being eaten with ojingo; some people like my Dad tear the ojingo into a thin strip, wrap it around a whole peanut, and then pop it all in their mouth at once. Others roast up the ojingo over a flame which softens it and intensifies the fishy flavor (don’t try this at home unless you’re an expert Korean person like my Mom. Seriously, it stinks up the whole house and the ojingo pieces usually catch on fire). And still others, especially children, like to take a strip and gnaw and suck on it until it literally looks like a wet ragged piece of cheesecloth at the end of an alien-like creature.

What’s nice about peanut butter is that you most likely have a half full jar in your fridge somewhere. It’s easy to dip into with a hard strip of ojingo. And what you lose in texture with peanut butter, you gain in indulgent sweetness.

Of course, don’t expect to be able to spread that peanut butter on much else, unless you like squid flavor on your sandwiches. And if you’re overzealous with your dipping, expect those skinny jeans to feel a little tighter.

Either way – whole or spoonable, dried or roasted – this combo is oddly wonderful.

Ketchup & Rice

“EWWWW!,” I exclaimed with my best blech face. Sarah, my childhood neighbor (and one of the very few Korean girls in New Castle, PA), proceeded to pour Heinz ketchup all over her beautifully steamed bowl of sticky white Kokuho Rose rice. What was she thinking? Sure, pile on the stinky fermented cabbage, pickled burdock root, dried and fried anchovies, and Spam, but ketchup? That was just wrong.

Right?

Actually, it wasn’t until years later as a twenty-something when I traveled to Tokyo and discovered omu-rice, did I realize why Sarah didn’t flinch despite my outburst, as she ate that bowl of ketchup-y rice. The sweet and tangy western ingredient worked in the strange omu-omelette “paper”-wrapped dome of fried rice. It’s like when you spoon up a perfect mix of buttery hash browns, soft scrambled egg, and ketchup from an IHOP breakfast platter at 3 am (after you’ve been drinking).

I do confess, though, that I never really took to the cold Heinz on hot rice method. And I frankly get a little tired of the flavor about halfway through my omu-rice. Maybe it’s the Korean in me, but I find myself wanting to incorporate a pickle note or spicy kick.

This recipe is still easy and comforting, but brightens up the palate with fresh herb, heat, and texture.

Kicky Omu-rice
Adapted from the recipe by No Recipes

Fried Rice
1 chicken thigh, cut into 1″ pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 cups cooked rice
3 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1/4 cup napa cabbage, chopped

Egg Blanket
2 eggs
salt
1 tbsp oil

Beat eggs – add a pinch of salt and pepper – and set aside.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and add the chicken. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Mix in the cabbage and cook until slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, ketchup and gochujang. Mix thoroughly.

Fill two deep bowls, about halfway, each with a mound of the rice. Set aside.

Heat same pan to medium, add a tbsp of oil and then the beaten eggs. Using a silicone spatula, gently fold the eggs over each other, until the majority of the eggs set and look like fluffy but shiny (moist) yellow clouds (about 3 minutes).

Blanket each mound of rice with the eggs. Garnish each top with chopped cilantro.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 7 & Final Aloha

Nine, count them nine, zip lines were ridden with much hootin’ and hollerin’ by yours truly! One of the zip lines was 1200 feet long! Princeville Ranch Adventures did a nice job introducing us to zip lining, and we even got to jump off a lil’ cliff into the natural swimming hole where the tour ended.

For lunch, we got an interesting tip. Apparently, one of the best cheeseburgers this side of Kauai was at a Chevron gas station in Princeville. Sounded good to us! The North Shore General Store had tasty and fresh burgers made from locally raised, grass-fed Kauai cattle. Their fries were extra good too. For dessert, I indulged with a fat scoop of Kauai Pie – Kona coffee ice cream, macadamia nuts, toasted coconut, and chocolate fudge – from Lapperts. And Jordan had a lillikoi-watermelon-lychee shave ice from Kauai’s Best Shave Ice which proved true to its name, believe it or not.

The rest of the day we relaxed poolside and then had a beautiful and intimate dinner at Red Salt at Koa Kea. Unfortunately, I sacrificed decent pictures for romantic lighting, but Red Salt provided a more inspired culinary experience for me than some of the other dinners we’d had on the island.

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Naturally, as Jordan I sat quietly on our patio back at the hotel, we were a bit morose given our departure the next day. But as we reminisced on our 10 year anniversary visit, we realized how many first-time experiences we had in Kauai. And I knew, we could leave knowing there would be many more first-times in the years to come.

And wouldn’t you know it, but as we were driving toward the airport the next day, we decided to have one more first-time experience before we left. So we stopped at the Koloa Fish Market in Koloa. There was absolutely no way in Hawaii, I was going to leave without having an authentic “plate lunch”.

Koloa Fish Market is a small storefront that screams “local,” outside and in. I ordered two Hawaiian plates, and while I waited, I witnessed a raucous exchange between a local dude who walked in for a pick-up, and the guys running the place. The conversation was bursting with good, loud humor, and Hawaiian slang.

When I was handed our two styrofoam containers, each weighing what seemed 5 pounds each, I knew we had come to the right place. We parked at a local baseball field near the store, turned off the engine, and had our very own Hawaiian picnic in the car while watching a Little League game.

No fooling, this was a seriously delicious meal. Our plates included chicken long rice, lomi salmon, lau lau, and shredded Kalua pig. You will crave the succulent and sweet lau lau pork, its herbaceous flavor and scent imparted by the taro leaf wrapping.

How could we possibly be depressed leaving Kauai if our bellies are full of this all the way home?

Mahalo, Kauai. 🙂

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 5

When visiting Kauai, surprises can happen anywhere and at any time, and they usually take the form of something wild.

It was a glorious morning at the beach in Poipu and while Jordan was off body surfing, I opted for some quiet reading time on an adjacent beach. It was there whilst lazing in the shallows, that I felt a forceful bump behind my legs. Thinking it was some errant child pushed over to me by a wave, I turned my head around – eyes sleepy with sunshine – and found myself level with a young sea turtle.

Of course I was startled at first, but elation quickly took over. When things like this happen, it makes one feel as if reality isn’t all that it seems to be, and that there is much more right under our noses. And sometimes, like a sea turtle’s head breaking through the surface of a mossy ocean, that other reality breaches our own, if only for a few moments.

As a smallish crowd began to surround the two of us, I worried the sea turtle would abruptly leave. But it visited for about thirty minutes before heading back out to deeper waters. I felt so special.

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Still in a contemplative mood, I decided on a simple, casual lunch. Puka Dog would be the perfect place to go in our damp beach clothes. This Hawaiian original is a homemade toasted hot dog bun that is stuffed with a uniquely crafted polish sausage, and your choice of crazy sauces: Garlic Lemon, Sweet Maui Onion Relish, Spicy Hawaiian Pickle, Spicy Garlic Pepper Cheese, and seven other tropical condiments. Puka, by the way, means “hole” in Hawaiian.

We decided on one with hot garlic sauce, mango relish, and Hawaiian (lilikoi) mustard, and one with the same except with pineapple not mango relish. We also got some sweet Maui onion chips too, and washed it all down with their homemade lemonade. Althoudgh Puka Dog doesn’t hold a candle to the dogs in Chicago, in my opinion, it was definitely a great example of local tastes and was worth a try.

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Dinner was at another highly rated restaurant called Merriman’s. To be completely honest, it was a solid dining experience in a romantic setting, and it’s definitely a plus that they work with local fisherman for the day’s freshest catch. But I would have been just a fine getting some poke and homemade focaccia to-go and spending the rest of the night gazing up at the stars (which I ended up doing later).