Fast Food 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.

London Calling! – From Britain to Belgium in a day

Morrissey woke me up this morning.

“Here is London, giddy London, Is it home of the free or what?” So, what’s got me so giddy?

Medieval torture of course! Traitorous prisoners, the beheaded ghost of Anne Boleyn, the reviled White Tower, and the infamous Crown Jewels!

On the menu today: The Tower of London!

A nice addition to the tour was a trip through the Royal Armories. Jordan and I geeked out so hard on all the swords, axes, crossbows, and overall medieval pageantry of the exhibit.

It hit me only afterwards that today was our last full day in London. Yikes, we still had so much to do!

The British Museum was next, but before that, we headed straight for the Underground. We absolutely couldn’t leave London without sampling Britain’s “true national dish” Chicken Tikka Masala!

+++

Brick Lane and Whitechapel are known as ethnically diverse, primarily Bengali, neighborhoods in London. Devon Avenue in Chicago has a similar vibe.

Funny enough, Whitechapel is also where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred apparently, but today, it’s a vibrant community where English it seems is everyone’s second language.

We decided on Zayyabs. It’s actually a Pakistani place so we knew the dish would be slightly different than the creamier Indian version. But as chicken tikka masala is also one of those dishes that varies from chef to cook to region like any good paella, gumbo, or feijoda, we decided to go for it.

And we are so glad we did. Every dish was densely spiked with spices, richly layered, heavily perfumed, and authentic to the bone.

The only bad thing about our lunch at Zayyab’s was the inevitable food coma that followed.

Thank ye gods for the long Tube ride to the British Museum.

Power nap, go!

+++

The British Museum is an unbelievable treasure.

Packed inside this enormous structure is an arena of antiquities spanning from the Far East to the Far West and everywhere in between.

I had to force my mind to focus. The countless stories behind these objects of old pushed and pulled at my imagination as I walked the halls. It was marvelously overwhelming!

+++

As we descended the grand white steps in front of the Greek Revival façade of the Museum, Jordan and I felt we had zoomed through centuries of history in just a few short hours. Naturally our heads were buzzing and our stomachs rumbling.

So we made our way down a few streets to Le Bistro Savoir Faire.

The charming French brasserie invited us in with its rosy ambiance. Its cherry wood framed windows, French sconces, white napkins, and quotations and French cartoons painted across the walls fit our contemplative moods perfectly.

We supped on paté, bouillabaisse, warm baguette with butter and salt, bone-in ham, and a light Pinot Noir.

And for dessert, we exchanged thoughts on the past few days whilst taking turns cracking the caramelized sugar sheet on our crème brulee.

+++

I felt I was dream walking when we left Le Bistro only to “wake” up in another dream – this one full of sparkle, whimsy, and good cheer. It was Christmas on Oxford Street. Amongst cascades of twinkling white, blue, green, and silver lights, Jordan and I shared one final sweet before surrendering to sleep.

Liege gauffre or Liege waffles from The Waffle Place. What makes the Liege waffles so up and beyond is the batter which has chunks of sugar in it. When cooked the sugar chunks caramelize to form a crispy almost candied coating on the top of the waffle.

Happy Christmas indeed!

+++

London Calling! – Pagan rituals, Pasties, and an Irishman?

Never imagined waking up to a cold, rainy, grey sky would be so exciting!

Today we were off to the countryside on a small group tour arranged by International Friends (hugely recommended) to Windsor Castle, the medieval town of Bath, and Stonehenge. I hope the Queen is not cross with me for waiting so long to visit!

Tony was our guide. He was bright, knowledgeable, and just a gregarious silly dude which we loved. Are all Irishmen this cool?

Here is just a tiny smattering of all the unbelievable sights, scenes, smells, scenery, and of course, tastes of the trip.

The druidic pagan spirits must have been with us today as we were blessed with a clear towering blue sky and bright reflective clouds. This isn’t supposed to happen in the middle of November!

Breakfast of champions at Avanti – a cute Italian cafe in Windsor that served authentic pastries, panini, and coffees

Meticulous gardens of Windsor Castle

The stones speak to me…Ooommmmm…

Welcome hot snacks – meat and potato stuffed pasties from Presto Pasty!

Savory pie filled with juicy tender meat and peppery soft onions

Flaky crust, potato, stuffed with soft onions and lots of black pepper

Ancient Roman Bath of which the city gets its name

Charming streets of Bath

+++

It was quiet on the van ride back to London, part from exhaustion and part from meditation on all the amazing experiences we had today.

Once we arrived back in London, though, everyone wanted something warm in their bellies. Tony again had a perfect recommendation – a placed called Belgo which was all about mussels by the bucket.

Oh my gosh, that sounded killer.

So a bunch of us from the tour decided why not dine together and keep the party going?

Belgo was several floors but crowded as could be – vibrant, full of energy, clearly a happenin’ place, especially for young people. Craft beers, buckets of mussels, and lively conversation at every communal wood table made for some great feasting with some new friends.

It was too dark for pics, but here are the mussels they offer. Hard to remember but we may have ordered one of each, or at least wanted to.

Mussel Pots
Fresh rope grown mussels delivered daily, kilo pot served with frites

Marinière – Steamed with cream, white wine, garlic, celery & onion
Green Thai – Steamed in coconut, green chilli, lemongrass, lime & coriander sauce
Provençale – Steamed with plum tomato sauce, basil, thyme & garlic
Traditionnelle – Steamed with white wine, celery, garlic & onion
Florentine – Creamed spinach sauce with smoked bacon grilled with gruyère cheese
Mediterranean – Topped with a tomato and basil sauce, grilled with cheddar & mozzarella
Portuguais – Mussels & roast chorizo in a tomato, garlic olive oil & paprika sauce with new potatoes & basil
Moules Blanches – Mussels cooked in Belgo Wit beer with shallots, smoked bacon & parsley, served with frites

+++

After our glorious day and lively night, Jordan and I slept quite soundly indeed.

Cheers.