Party 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.

There’s no place like a [Korean] home…

Just when I’m getting cabin fever and feeling homesick, my photo archive reveals a treasure trove of pictures from a visit back home to Pennsylvania where my parents still live. I know it’s trite to say, but memories do indeed fuel the wonder only dishes from home can bring to the soul; especially when you come from a Korean family that loves to eat!

First let’s talk about what to me is the quintessential Korean dish (besides kimchee, of course), bibimbap. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice.” It’s become so mainstream, you find it on the menu in the most unlikely of places. Even just today I discovered that Chicago’s famous gastropub The Publican’s Sunday brunch menu features a pork belly bibimbap!

Bibimbap works for so many reasons, not least of which is that when it’s made at home it takes no prep whatsoever. It originated from literally taking whatever leftover rice and banchan you had (traditional small dishes to eat with rice), throwing it all in a big bowl, adding lots of gochujang (bright red, sweet and spicy fermented chili and soybean paste) and a sunny side up egg (if you had it), and mixing and incorporating everything together until your arm hurt. Then the fam would each grab a spoon (somehow it seems to taste better with a long stem metal Korean spoon), and communally dig in! Even clean up is easy!

And just as layers of flavor permeate bibimbap, so does this dish speak to the rich agricultural history and resourcefulness intrinsic not only to making Korean food, but also eating it. At its core, it’s a no frills, hearty kind of eating spiced up with fire from plenty of hot chiles.

These photos were taken from Christmas 2011. We had a bunch of tasty banchan from my Mom and during a visit to my aunt’s house, a bibim party ensued with gusto! It’s always a special treat when my Dad decides to be the “Bimbim Master,” as we kids like to call him.


This is the kind of spread waiting for me when I visit home. Gawd. Moms should be recognized as the ninth wonders of the world. All of this was made from scratch, yo.



We also had some other memorable dishes from the visit including homemade Duk Mandoo Guk (beef soup with beef dumplings and rice cakes) and Guksu jongol (spicy casserole with noodles). Had to throw these in too because they are absolute pure comfort food for any Korean!


Pure comfort indeed.

Like Pumpkin or Pistachio? Try Labriola’s gelato!

2 words: Labriola Bakery. It’s out in the western suburbs of Chicago in Oak Brook.

Not only does this bakery and cafe bake their own ridiculously good breads (ciabatta, pretzel rolls, baguettes, oh my!), and offer excellent brick oven pizzas and burgers, they also have authentic gelato.

Feast your eyes on their seasonal flavor: pumpkin!

Unlike other places that offer a pumpkin-flavored creamy frozen dessert that’s bright orange and pretty much tastes like vanilla, Labriola’s pumpkin gelato tastes like cinnamon-spiked pumpkin pie mousse. The luscious pumpkin flavor lingers on your tongue while the strong cinnamon effervescences up the back of your throat!

They’ve got a modest but good flavor selection including Hazelnut, Belgium Sugar Cookie, Chocolate, Stracciatella, Tiramisa, Tartufo (with rum), and Pistachio (of which I picked up a heavy pint).

Yum. 🙂

Sunday Dinner: Halibut en papillote, Mill City Farmer’s Market carrots, Butter leeks

Halibut en papillote, Mill City Farmer’s Market carrots, Butter leeks

This meal is inspired by my dear friend Jeanne Wang’s nature farm wedding celebration in St. Paul. While there I visited the fantastic Mill City Farmer’s Market and brought home some beautiful local vegetables. How better to showcase the vibrant colors and fresh flavors than cooking en papillote!


8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 leek, white and light green parts only, julienned

6 carrots, julienned

1 pint fresh shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons crushed fresh ginger

2 tablespoons grey salt or kosher salt

4 fillets skinless halibut, 8 ounces each

Fresh thyme

Dry white wine

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Parchment paper

Baking sheets


[Not a valid template]


Before you get cooking…

  • Heat oven to 375° F.
  • Cut eight 15” x 15” sheets of parchment paper.
  • Rinse your fish with cold water and pat dry. Set aside.
  • Julienne the carrots and leeks. Soak the leeks in cold water then drain to remove grit.
  • Slice the mushrooms.


Time to cook!

  • Heat a medium sauté pan to medium-high.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. When you see the butter foam, add the leeks and sauté until translucent. About 2 minutes.
  • Remove the leeks and set aside.
  • Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter just to re-coat the pan, and sauté the carrots for 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Season the halibut fillets well with salt and pepper on both sides.

Now you’re ready to create your first packet of goodness!

  • On a sheet of parchment paper, place a small flat mound (~1/2 cup) of leeks in the middle of the paper.
  • Then place a layer of carrots on the leeks. Follow with a thin layer of the raw mushrooms.
  • To taste, sprinkle a little fresh ginger over the vegetable mound.
  • Carefully place the halibut on the vegetables. Top it off with 2 fresh sprigs of thyme.
  • Drizzle a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the halibut.
  • Along the edges and over the mound, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of white wine.
  • Place another sheet of parchment paper over the mound and line up edges with other sheet.
  • Starting at the top right hand corner, fold the paper over itself and fold the edges until they are about 4 inches away from the food.
  • Then at the fold, starting at the end nearest you, fold over the parchment over again in the same way.
  • Continue folding the paper over itself, and firmly twisting them closed until the entire mound is sealed so no moisture can escape.
  • Repeat for all 4 fillets.
  • Place a package or two in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

Without opening the oven door, see if the packets puff up! That’s a sign it’s working!

  • Remove from the oven and serve immediately en papillote at the table or serve separately.
  • Use a paring knife to cut open the packets. Be very careful of the escaping steam!



09 2010