Oatmeal or Porridge or Sludge

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Dear Readers,
This is a story of how the husband got me to eat breakfast. And like it. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big breakfast person. I try, but I can't say I succeed. Often, breakfast feels like a chore. However, that's recently changed, all due to the husband's sludge. Now I eat it for breakfast daily, topped with a teaspoon of jam, with a smile on my face. Absolutely delicious. And did I mention I do not like oatmeal? This sludge here, may look like oatmeal, but it's something special. The texture is my favorite part. Enjoy the husband's post, and I hope you give these oats a try.


“What are you making?” the wife asked as she looked over my shoulder to the pot cooking on the stove, pausing momentarily before answering her own question with a teasing tone, “Is it sludge?”  Even though the wife doesn’t particularly care for hot or cold breakfast cereals, these cooked steel-cut oats deserved much more respect than they got.  She could have called it “porridge,” maybe even “gruel” would have been permissible.  But the first time I ever cooked the stuff, she christened it “sludge,” and the name has since stuck.  

About a year before, I purchased McCann’s Irish Oats from Trader Joes and was immediately intimidated by its cooking procedure. Not only did it call for 4 cups of water to cook a single cup of oats, but it took 35 minutes to make. This was counter to my experience of making oatmeal in a microwave for a mere 35 seconds.  The wife and I ended up using the tin as a decorative piece on a kitchen shelf:
The tin would have probably sat there for the rest of our stay at in Altadena if not for our East coast trip last year.  While staying in Sommerville, we were taken to a jazz brunch at a place called Johnnie D’s.  Amid jazz guitar renditions of Radiohead and the Flaming lips, our fancy brunch plates were served, each with a side of oatmeal.  Not just any standard, everyday oatmeal, either.  This was easily the best oatmeal the wife and I had ever tasted.  Brown sugar sweetened each bite of the cinnamon-kissed oatmeal, which possessed a maltiness I never knew the grain possessed.  It was sort of like rice pudding in its depth of flavor, but much hardier.

When I got back home from the trip, I had an epiphany one weekend.  That oatmeal had to be made by steel oats!  So one Sunday morning, I got a footstool and pulled the tin down from the shelf and dusted the top off.  I followed the instructions, and that’s when the wife came in and offered her aforementioned words about sludge.  My hunch was correct—it was steel-cut oats that made the difference.    

Though I doubt the term “sludge” is going away any time soon, one thing that did change since that first batch is the wife’s taste for oats.  She begrudgingly took it to work a few times.  Then, one day when I took the last bit of it for my own work day, she complained that she missed eating it for breakfast.  That was my oatmeal-making green light.   

I started making large batches on the weekend to make up for the long cooking time, and quite honestly, it’s very easy to make once you’re used to it.  And it reheats in a microwave well.  I found that adding an extra cup of half and half created a richer oatmeal.  So from this basic recipe, you can essentially add anything you’d like to fancy it up: raisins, dried cranberries, caramelized bananas, etc.  Now on the weekends when the wife wakes up now, she comes to see what I’m making and asks, “You’re making the sludge, right?”  Maybe one day she’ll call it oatmeal, but for now, I’m just glad she enjoys eating it.

Steel-cut oats
half and half
dried fruits
jam (optional)

1) Boil four cups of water
2) Add one cup of oatmeal, stirring well.
3) When the porridge is smooth and beginning to thicken, reduce heat, add the cup of half and half (or if you’re feeling decadent, use whipping cream), and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.   
4) Add your dried fruits during the last few minutes.


Pozole Rojo

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After cooking Korean food for a week straight, I decided it was time for a break. Time for Mexican food. I don't often cook Mexican at home. This is LA, and there's great Mexican food all around us, might as well go out and enjoy it. And that's what we usually do.

Recently, we were out and I ordered pozole. It was really good and I thought to myself, I bet this soup takes a while to make. Then I wondered if I could make it better. Without knowing it, I had challenged myself, and next time we were out, I was buying huge cans of hominy.

It took me a while to settle upon a recipe. I knew I wanted to make the red version. I knew I wanted to make it with pork. But other than that, I didn't know much. As I researched recipes online, this one caught my eye because it reminded me of making a similar red sauce for tamales.

We invited our fancy Bel Air friend for brunch, and even though I don't want to admit it here, also for a viewing of Clueless. Yes, the movie. I had never seen it. This is what happens when you don't grow up in America. Our friend was shocked at my unfamiliarity with the movie. He grew up in a Clueless high school, and declared I must see it. Who was I to argue? With a doctor! Or kind of a doctor. I'm not certain what he does at Cedar Sinai. I think it's doctory sort of stuff.

But, back to the Sunday brunch. The husband set the table, bringing out the tequila and his fancy napkin folding. I made sure to have all the tasty garnishes -- lime, radish, onion, cilantro, cheese, avocado, and freshly fried tortilla strips -- because this soup is all about the garnishes. We rented the movie on Amazon. Everything was in place. Then, our friend shows up, and within minutes of walking in, he informs us that Wikipedia told him pozole used to be made with human meat. Gotta love Wikipedia. I informed him this pozole was only pork. I poured us healthy bowls, and we got to decorating our plates with toppings, taking a celebratory tequila shot, and settling on the couches for my very first screening of Clueless.

You're probably wondering how my first pozole turned out. It was everything I had hoped. The red sauce adds a deep, smoky flavor, but it's the garnishes that let you customize the soup. I like mine limey with lots crunchy onions and tortilla chips. Because of the pork, the broth is rich and fatty, so the toppings allow you to brighten it up.

And what about Clueless? Well, it wasn't quiet as good as the pozole, but I'm glad I saw it.

Pozole Rojo
Via simplyrecipes.com

4 ounces guajillo, ancho, or a combination of both, chili pods
1 large (108 ounce, 6 lb 12 oz, 3 kg) can white hominy, drained and rinsed
3 lbs pork shoulder (preferably with bone), cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes (can also use pork shanks), make sure to use a cut well-marbled with fat
8 cloves garlic, 4 cloves roughly chopped, and 4 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I added two, as well as a teaspoon of paprika)
2 Tbsp of dry oregano (Mexican oregano if available)

cabbage, thinly sliced (we skipped on this one)
cilantro, chopped
white onion, chopped
avocados, chopped
limes, quartered
red radishes, sliced thin
tortilla chips

1) Fill a large 10-12 quart stockpot with 5 quarts of water. Set on heat to bring to a boil.
2) Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and large veins from the chili pods. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high and lightly roast the chili pods for a couple minutes, until they begin to soften. Do not let them burn. While the chilies are heating, bring a medium pot with 3 cups of water to a boil. Once the chiles have softened, submerge them in the pot with the 3 cups of hot water, cover the pot and remove from heat. Let the chiles soak in the hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
3) Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan) in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Pat the pork pieces dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them generously with salt. Working in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan or stir the meat much, brown the meat on all sides. Right at the end of browning the meat, add 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic to the pan with the meat, let cook with the meat for about a minute.
4) Once the meat has browned, transfer it to the large stockpot of boiling water, along with the pork bones. Scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan, and any garlic, and add those to the pot as well. Add the rinsed hominy. Add bay leaves, cumin, and paprika. Add a few tablespoons of salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and cook for 15 minutes.
5) Prepare the red sauce by puréeing in a blender the chilies, 2 1/2 cups or so of their soaking liquid, a teaspoon of salt, and 4 cloves of garlic. Strain the red sauce through a sieve, discarding the tough bits of the sauce.
6) Add the red chili sauce to the pot with the pork and hominy. Add another couple teaspoons of salt. This soup absorbs a lot of salt, just make sure to taste along the way. Return to a simmer, lower the heat to just high enough to maintain a simmer, partially covered. Cook for 2-3 hours until the pork is completely tender. Skim away excess fat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste. The resulting soup should be rather brothy, as you will be adding a lot garnishes. Add more water if necessary.
7) To serve, arrange the garnishes in bowls on the table and serve the pozole soup into bowls. Let your guests pick and choose which garnishes they would like.


Rice Cake Soup (Ddeokguk)

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When eating out at Korean restaurants, we love to order this soup. It's comforting, subtle and delicious. I decided it was time to recreate this favorite at home.

Now I've got to be honest, this soup was not as good at home, as at Korean places. At least not on the first try. First, it didn't have dumplings, which although optional, are my favorite part. Second, I should have cooked the brisket whole and shredded it afterwards, instead of cutting it into pieces, as Maanchi's video suggested. And lastly, this soup was missing that secret Korean ingredient.

Despite what I've mentioned above, this rice cake soup was still tasty, just in a different way. And it's fairly simple to make. Next time, I will buy some dumplings to throw into the pot and experiment a bit with the ingredients, trying to unlock those protected secrets!


Grilled Red Snapper with Korean Spices

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Sometimes you see a whole, beautiful fish, and it's just begging to be grilled. This red snapper was that fish. Did I mention our new Korean market has a fish and meat section? Yes, I did. But, I can mention it again. 

I was not looking for fish that day. I bagged up some jumbo shrimp, picked up a few Cornish hens, and then happened to glance over at a bin of ice lined with snapper and cod. The snapper and I made eye contact, and I knew we were going home together. The best part was that the nice, skinny man behind the counter cleaned and gutted the fish for me, with a smile and without an extra charge. 

Seeing as to how this fish came from the Korean market, I decided to make it Korean. No, I didn't look up any recipes, I just figured if I use Korean spices, I can call it a Korean dish. So I created a quick marinade with gochujang, the pepper paste, sesame oil and soy sauce. I poured my marinade all over and inside the snapper. Then I added slices of ginger, garlic and green onion into the fish belly, and a few slices of onion on top, wrapped it in foil, then wrapped it again, and had the husband grill it over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side. 

I have to say, this fish was pretty amazing. A bit spicy, but not too much, it was packed with flavor due to the ginger and garlic. The husband said it was the best fish (any fish) he's had in the last several months. Maybe if I can't learn the Korean secrets to recreate real Korean dishes, I can just make recipes up!

As you can see from the last photo, the two of us polished off this pretty little snapper, along with some Korean side dishes and refreshing beers.  


Korean Soy Bean Sprouts (Kongnamul)

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So this quick little side dish turned out to be quiet tasty. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, something was missing, and I have no clue what. I made another version last night, so maybe that one will be more Korean. We shall see.

This week, the husband will be visiting his new optometrist. It is no coincidence she is Korean. Yes, I will admit, I selected a Korean eye doctor for him primarily so he can quiz her about food. We will get to the bottom of their food secrets!

Here's what I like about this salad, it's refreshing, crunchy and light. Makes for a great snack!

Soy Bean Sprouts
Via  www.maangchi.com

1 package of soy bean sprouts (12 oz)
1 cup water
3 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chopped green onions
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

1) Rinse and drain the package of soy bean sprouts. Pick out any rotten sprouts.
2) Put the soybean sprouts into a pot. Add 2 ts of salt and 1 cup of water. Close the lid.
3) Bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for about 10 minutes.
4) Drain the cooked sprouts and let them cool.
5) Place sprouts in a large bowl with 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 chopped green onions,1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tsp of salt, ½ tsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of sesame oil, and ½  tsp of hot pepper flakes. Mix it by hand and refrigerate. I like to have the flavors marinade for several hours.


The Korean Conspiracy

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She's obviously hiding something.
With 2012 being the Korean year for our family of two, we've been shopping at our newly discovered market, checking out Korean food blogs, reading our Korean cookbook and trying out recipes at home. And we've noticed something. Despite following recipes to a tee, despite using Korean ingredients, our food, though good, is not quiet Korean. 

There are five magic Korean ingredients: sesame seeds and oil, soy sauce, gochujang (pepper paste) and gochugaru (pepper flakes). Apparently, that's all it takes, with the occasional addition of fish sauce, rice vinegar, green onions and sugar. Yet, we know there's something missing. 

Now I am not one for conspiracy theories. My middle brother seems to have inherited the conspiracy gene, leaving nothing for myself and the younger brother. But, there are secrets, Korean secrets, that are being kept from us. We're sure of it. It is the only reasonable way we can explain why our food tastes different. 

So now, 2012 is not only about Korean food, but also about uncovering the Korean conspiracy. If you, dear reader, have any insider info, don't hesitate to share. 

Coming up next... more of our not-quite Korean recipes.


Armo Christmas in Style, with Italian Food

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What is Armenian Christmas? Well, it's like American Christmas, but it takes place on January 6. They celebrate based on the Orthodox Christian calendar and traditions. The internet tell me that historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ's birth on the 6th until the fourth century. Then, the date was changed to Dec. 25 to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth off the Sun. So what does this tell you about my people? They don't like change. Can't roll with the flow. But that's okay, it allowed us another opportunity to get together with friends, share a meal and receive presents.

Unlike Christmas number one, this version was small, involved minimal cooking and zero stress. Somehow though, we ended up with just as many dishes! The meal not only celebrated the birth of Jesus, but also Trader Joe's, where most of the food came from. I'm not going to lie to you, those pretty turkey meatballs in the picture below came straight from the freezer. The whole meal came together in 30 or so minutes, allowing me time to get to the gym after work (sadly, I had to work), shower and pour our wine into a carafe.

But, I do have to commend the husband who not only set the table beautifully, but also made a fresh and delicious salad using our garden greens. Unfortunately, the salad was not photogenic. It was however, a great start to our dinner.
 The husband's napkin folding.
Presents from Florida -- funny wine and super hot gator sauce.


Napa and Tofu Salad with Miso Dressing

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I didn't intend for this salad to be this simple, but this is all I had in my fridge, and it proved to be just enough. Although there are only two real ingredients here, and sesame seeds, this salad is fairly substantial, and makes for a satisfying lunch. Also, it's vegetarian! There's not too much of that on this blog, so let's celebrate this tofu victory.

So what you see, is what you get. I fried (but not really fried) firm tofu in about a tablespoon on sesame and grape seed oil. I let the tofu cool, then sliced it up and placed it over finely shredded napa cabbage. I toasted sesame seeds, half which went on top of my salad, the rest into the dressing.

Now the dressing has a couple more ingredients, but still took me less than five minutes to make. In went miso paste, rice vinegar, sesame and grape seed oil, hot mustard powder, soy sauce and those seeds I toasted earlier. I tasted, I adjusted, I shook my little jar really hard, and the result was a delicious and refreshing dressing, with very subtle hints of miso.

Sure this salad would be better with carrots, cucumbers, thinly sliced bell peppers and sprouts, but, it was also good without any of those things. Hence, if you want to keep things simple, intentionally or not, this healthy and almost effortless salad offers a lot of flavor.