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In college I was known for cooking, a lot. And more specifically, baking. It calmed my nerves, soothed my mind, and, half the time, let me play with dough.

Dumplings ready for their strawberries
Photo by Anna Waigand

This week, a past roommate of mine (who is getting married this weekend and I’m incredibly sad that I can’t be there to be one of her bridesmaids, but I will be thinking about her all week, and everyone needs to think happy thoughts for sunshine and warmth in Charlottesville, VA for this weekend!!) sent me a message that simply said, “btw http://smittenkitchen.com.” We are both avid bakers and cookers, especially in the late-Saturday-night-don’t-go-to-Burger-King-for-drunk-munchies-because-Logan-and-Anna-are-making-butter-drenched-biscuits-for-everyone kind of a way. Cooking is the glue that stuck us together at parties and late nights when our boyfriends were playing Halo in the other room. Knowing that she has a good eye for food porn, I checked the website out. First, I must say that the photography is gorgeous. Second, the recipes look delicious. And third, Smitten Kitchen’s admittedly small kitchen still seems moons larger than ours over here at Seoulful Adventures.

I’m impressed at everything she does in such a small space, don’t get me wrong, but it made me realize just how small our kitchen is. I mean, our kitchen is essentially one-quarter of our entire living space. Plus, we have a pre-teen sized fridge, three simple burners (an upgrade from our previous two!), four cabinets for food and dishes, about two square feet of cooking counter space, and, the biggest blow, no oven.

Strawberries and sugar ready for stewing
Photo by Anna Waigand

So, after searching Smitten Kitchen’s site and eagerly reading what beautiful creations they’ve made in their own teeny cooking space, I found one that I couldn’t resist for my own cramped kitchen: Strawberries and Dumplings. It’s a simple dessert recipe that involves all of my favorites: strawberries, sugar, butter and dough. Mmm, mmm goodness! And it’s entirely all too easy to make, even if you have a kitchen the size of a handicap bathroom stall.

After doing our nightly ballet around our narrow cooking space (Andre prepared some amazing vegetable stock while I was cooking…it tastes like Thanksgiving in a shockingly rich and satisfying way! Mmm!), Andre and I gulped down these little doughy morsels. They’re just what the summer’s plump strawberry stock demands.

Strawberries and dumplings
Photo by Anna Waigand

To make it yourself, check out Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberries and Dumplings Recipe.

Personally, I substituted low-fat milk for whole milk, salted butter for unsalted butter and half-white/half-brown sugar for the white sugar in Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. Don’t follow what I did though. I only made these substitutions because they are what I had on hand. I wouldn’t suggest the first two substitutions, unless you’re on a diet and want to forego the whole milk. There is some loss of flavor, but that’s just the price paid for calorie loss, isn’t it? Do opt to go with the half-and-half sugars–it’s richer and healthier.

Oh also, the recipe says it “serves 6, in theory.” Andre and I downed them all in a mere 30 minutes (at most). I’d say it could serve 6 very self-controlled, already full eaters. For everyone else, it serves 3-4 people, if you serve them as a dessert. It serves 2 people if you serve it as a mid-afternoon/pre-dinner snack (don’t worry, no one is judging here–dessert before dinner is a time honored right denied to the young so that you can enjoy it more when you are all grown up…go on, live a little.)

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DSC_0020-11Photo by Anna Waigand

Inspired by a sunny street-side market and the serving style of galbi and samgyeopsal, I decided to make a salad eaten as a lettuce wrap. For those of you who haven’t had galbi in Korea, you grill meat at your table. The most common way to eat it is to make a sort of mini-taco with lettuce like a tortilla and adding any number of toppings from the side dishes around the grill.

This salad has lots of big pieces, which makes it hard to cut up with a fork and eat. If you’re really opposed to eating a salad with your hands I guess you could dice all the ingredients and eat it with a fork, but that would be much less messy and so much less enjoyable, in my opinion.

DSC_0013-9Photo by Anna Waigand

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 medium mackerel or one can mackerel
A dozen leaves of interesting looking lettuce
1 tomato
1 green onion
2 in. ginger, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper

1. We made this salad by cooking up a whole fish, which turned out to be a big hassle. It was only beheaded for us, not gutted, and the bones were as thin and plentiful as hairs. Not sure what fish we got, but we’d recommend mackerel instead. Or, for a much easier route, just get a can of mackerel. Either way, put the fish in a hot, oiled pan with half the ginger. Saute until cooked or hot.
2. Mix half the ginger with the lemon juice, olive oil, and green onion. Salt and pepper to taste. These are guessed proportions and mine took a lot of finagling, but this should get you started.
3. Slice the tomato into large circles.
4. Arrange the lettuce in a circle on each plate. Place a slice of tomato on top of each piece of lettuce. Put a small squirt of olive oil, a pinch of coarse salt, and a dash of pepper on each tomato.
5. Shred the fish if it’s whole, otherwise pile it in the center of the lettuce. Drizzle the dressing over everything. To eat, pick up a piece of lettuce and fold it into a U. Pile some fish on top of the tomato. You can eat it in two bites if you feel you aren’t up to the challenge, but the juicy, salty flavor is best enjoyed with a full mouth.

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When out for a night on the town (or in our apartments) in college, the night would undoubtedly end in some greasy, salty, sugary and/or buttery scavenger hunt. Whether it was found in the oven, at 7-11 or, God forbid, the BK Lounge, it happened far more often than I would care to admit.

I had assumed that Korea, being a nation of practically professional drinkers, would be a part of this late-night shame eating as well. The majority of their street food is battered and deep-fried afterall. But what I’ve found is the exact opposite. I’ve already written about the pork back bone soup that we ate one night. We’ve also eaten galbi, which is just meat that you cook at your table and wrap in lettuce, and the occasional mandu (dumpling) on our way home if we were really hungry. None of these even come close to the artery-invading powers of the King’s Quad stacker (which I am proud to say I have never eaten…don’t worry mom!).

Photo by Anna Waigand

The most surprising late-night snacks we have come upon came about after a kimchibilly, Korea’s version of Rock-a-billy, concert about a week ago. We left the roaring, punk, Elvis-inspired concert to find ourselves in need of another location to hang out and our bellies in need of some grub. We found a nice little place with a white brick interior packed with plenty of 20- or 30-somethings. When we ordered we used the point-and-pray method: point at what another table has and pray that it tastes as good as it looks. What we received tasted as if it had been sent from heaven.

First, we ordered pajong, a savory fried pancake with vegetables and seafood. It was greasy, as all pajong are, but even through the grease it was stuffed with fresh vegetables and squid. I don’t know any late-night snacks in America that include fresh seafood. This makes it a unique find I treasure on my late-night food round-ups.

Delicious, simple and healthy. Photo by Anna Waigand

Second was a fat metal bowl filled with small clams each about one inch wide. There were about 80 clams in all. No soup to go with it. Nothing fried. No batter. Just fresh boiled clams with some soy dipping sauce. Simply put, it was delicious. And you even had to work for your food. It’s hard to beat that amount of deliciousness without adding fats and carbs.

Third, we had my favorite dish of the night: dubu kimchi. This is a three part dish. There is the obvious, kimchi. And this was a delicious kimchi: spicy, tangy, and with a gingery zing. It was slightly sauteed which helped to bring out the spices while keeping just a dab of heat inside the strips of fermented cabbage. This was complemented perfectly with a thick, hot tofu and juicy steamed samgyeopsal (pork belly) slices. The kimchi’s zing was tempered by the simplicity of the hot tofu and pork. It’s a dish I’ve craved everyday since I ate it, which is very shocking to me because, well, I don’t like tofu. But this tofu was warm and soft. It slid down my throat with a heated ease after the spicy-heat of the kimchi. It was like coming home from a cold day out in the snow, slightly warming and just plain old comforting. And let’s not forget, it is as healthy as can be (as long as you don’t eat the huge fat chunks on the samgyeopsal).

Sorry, it went to fast for a pre-eating shot. But trust me, it really was pretty. Photo by Anna Waigand

So next time you’ve had a few mugs of beer, sips of wine, or shots of soju, remember: It doesn’t always have to be greasy, gross, or gosh-darned bad for you to be oh so gut-pleasingly good.

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Last night during a night out on the town for Andre’s birthday, we came across a new Korean dish: Pig Backbone Stew. Wanting some food, we had two rules: it needed to still be busy at 12:30AM (we didn’t want to walk in somewhere that was about to close) and it could not have chicken feet on the menu. What we ended up finding was an interesting new stew that we may or may not go back for.

Photo by Anna Waigand

It came as a stew and was everything a stew should be: hearty, heavy and hot. It seemed a popular choice among the young, late-night Korean crowd seeing as almost all of the tables were full by the time we left. Drunk 20-somethings kept stumbling in, eating and drinking until their red faces stumbled back out into the cold again.

We were uncertain about what we were eating until a Korean with very good English (he studied in Australia for eight months, apparently) told us that it was pig back bone meat. With that mystery solved, we dug into the fragrant stew that was bubbling on our table. We combed through the spinal bones to find the meat that was still ever so loosely hanging on. It was the most perfectly cooked spinal meat that I have ever had (although I suppose that isn’t saying much). We jabbed it off the spine easily with our chopsticks and it arrived at our mouths juicy and tender. To help it go down, the hearty broth provided a vibrant Korean style taste (think: Korean chili powder with some garlic and green onions) with a miniscule kick at the end. Vegetables swam through the stew providing some extra flavor and a slippery texture.

Photo by Anna Waigand

The problem that we found was the amount of meat that actually came in the stew. As one might imagine, spinal meat is not very plentiful. The size and shape of the bones were much more impressive than the meat volume of the stew. So, it was a delicious meal perfect for a cold late-night on the town, but not something I would want to eat on a regular basis.

If you live in Seoul and would like to check it out, the restaurant was off of the Sinchon subway stop, exit 2. Take a left after the big red tube, then your first right, then your first left. It’s across from the chicken feet restaurant (you’ll know which is the chicken feet restaurant because it has a big picture of a man with chicken feet and it says “Chicken Feet Restaurant”). If you check it out, be sure to let us know what you thought!

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Lunar New Year’s must have given us good luck because Incheon was just the escape from Seoul and city-life that we were yearning. The first thing that you notice upon arriving at the beach is the swarms of ajummas crowding the street (there is one main drag by the beach) yelling, waving their arms, knocking on passing cars all in an effort to get anyone and everyone into their restaurant. It may sound annoying but it’s really quite friendly. One ajumma even suggested another restaurant when she realized her restaurant didn’t have what we were looking for.

Ajumma ushering in hopeful customers

A hopeful ajumma inviting some passerbys to her restaurant.

At the first restaurant we ate, we picked out a plump red fish about the size of a football. We tried to tell our servers we wanted it cooked, but the roar of the language barrier was just too loud. We were shown our caught fish flopping around in a bucket before they brought it to the kitchen, sliced it up, and brought it back on a heaping mound of glass noodles. As most Korean raw fish seems to be, it was stringy but this one was full of flavor and as fresh as one can get.

Our banchan were, well, almost dead. Half of the banchan were either cooked, like the shrimp, or didn’t need to be, like the mayonnaise with apples and nuts. The other half were barely dead (if dead at all) sliding around and pulsating on the plates, filling our table. We had squirming, skinny red tubes that were chopped up into 1/4 inch pieces. There were bright red and orange sea squirts with a gelatinous film covering them. Sea cucumbers moved almost imperceptibly, but a chopstick shove proved they were, in fact, still kicking. And of course to top it all off, we had octopus tentacles soaked in sesame oil flopping around on the plate like a rave dancer in molasses. They moved around, suctioning onto anything they could. We were wary to try it but the restaurant owner gave them to us as “service”, which is what Koreans say when they are giving you something special for free (it’s a great perk to being a foreigner). Plus, our servers were constantly walking by telling us to eat it. So, peer pressure at work, we bit in.

Live octopus soaking in sesame oil

The boys dipped the tentacles in hot sauce, which seemed to make them very angry. When I took the leap, my little octo-friend decided to latch onto my tongue. It’s a very odd sensation having your food rebel inside your mouth. But after about a minute of chewing and being sure that it would not cling to my throat on the way down, I swallowed. The taste was fine, mostly overpowered by the taste of the oil, but nothing I have craved since. The experience of it was all I needed.

Clam kalguksu

The next day we treked over to a neighboring snow-covered beach. We wandered into a small restaurant directly on the beach with a central fire and most patrons still wearing their jackets for warmth. We ordered a soup that I can only describe as crave-inducing. It was a simple soup: a bowl half the size of the table filled with broth, noodles, clams, and a sprinkling of zucchini and green onions. The clams gave just the right amount of saltiness to the simple broth. The zucchini and green onions amplified the flavor of the soup and it was all satisfyingly weighed down by the thick, slippery noodles.

Clams grilling over an open fire

That night, Lunar New Year’s night, we decided to treat ourselves to something special: a big, juicy, meaty, fresh king crab. I do think we have never made a decision quite as good as that one in our whole lives. The first course was what we lovingly called a “clam bake” although it was actually more of a clam barbeque. Heaps of fresh clams still hiding in their shells were thrown on the grill in the middle of our table. The real gem of this course is the miniature, disposable aluminum foil pie tin filled with an unidentified, non-spicy red sauce, rice cakes, and, get this, mozzarella cheese. Yes, you heard that right, cheese. This was placed on the grill and, as the clams were bubbling over and being cracked open, the juices were poured into the cheese bake. The result was a straight-forward tin of melted cheesy-goodness. My mouth is watering just from typing about it. Mmmm….

Cheesy, cheesy goodness

Heaven in a little aluminum pan.

Alright, now that I have taken a moment to reminisce with my taste buds, I can continue. The next course was our beautiful king crab. The glorious creature practically covered our whole table. Each leg housed thick, lengthy chunks of crab meat. Each time someone pulled out a slab of meat I was shocked at the size. Greg, who worked at Red Lobster for a few years, could not stop commenting on the enormous amount of meat and the low price of it all. It was truly a glorious occasion.

The King Crab

The head of the crab was hollowed and filled with a cloudy liquid. I later found out from my 6th grade student that we were supposed to mix this with our rice. Apparently, it’s delicious. We missed out on that part because we were unaware of the appropriate way to eat it at the time, but this only gives us one more reason to go back again.

Later that night, we befriended a Korean family. On a snow-covered beach. By a bonfire. With sparklers. And tried roasted octopus.

All in all, I’d say, it was one delicious adventure that I will never forget.

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After another night out at a mediocre Italian restaurant in Seoul and after cooking up our own spaghetti at home, I’ve decided to offer this list of totally free advice for anyone planning on opening an Italian restaurant in Korea.

1. Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, please buy something other than spaghetti. It will set you apart. Penne, bow ties, spirals, ravioli, tortellini, anything. It isn’t even hard to find. Just go to Home Plus.
2. Don’t serve Tobassco. Grind up some red chilis into flakes. Not sure where you will find the whole chilies though.
3. Invest in some pepper grinders for fancy topping at the table. I’d prefer if you found some comically large ones in the same family as this whisk, but that’s up to you.
4. Cut your menu in half. then do it again. Offering all possible permutations of chicken, shrimp, bacon and oysters with garlic, tomato and cream sauce is boring. There are tons of great Italian dishes that are still really simple and can be made in mass quantities that use other ingredients. If you aren’t sure about cutting down your menu, please refer to any Kitchen Nightmares episode.
5. While you’re cutting it down and adding something other than spaghetti, how about some lasagna or giant meatballs? Or chicken parmesan? I bet Koreans would love that. Just call it chicken cutlet with cheese and tomatoes.
6. Serve cocktails. You can still offer some bad, overpriced wine for people who are desperate, but give people a selection of cocktails. And I’m not talking about whole bottles of Macallen 12 year and Johnny Walker Black. Single drinks at reasonable prices. You’ll make a killing.
7. Stop chilling your red wine. Immediately. Please pass this tip on to every other establishment in Korea.
8. Have someone put just a little bit of care into the music playlist. Don’t put John Mayer or Norah Jones on repeat and don’t put on whatever playlist or radio station that inserts Eminem after the salad arrives. It kills the mood.
9. And if you offer some free bread and cheap olive oil in a fancy container the foriengers will come running on word of mouth.

I ask only for an occasional free meal or, in the case of wild success, a dish named after me. Make sure it includes bacon and plenty of cheese.

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I came home today to joyful news: one of my best friends from high school is engaged. In fact, she is the first of my close friends from high school to get engaged.

It’s moments like these that I get that little twinge of homesickness. I wish I could put on my imaginary running shoes complete with Hermes-like wings on the heels. I would run and fly as fast as I could straight home so that I could sit in Lauren’s living room, the hot fingers of a fire crawling up our backs. We would sit there with warm blankets wrapped around us, a Ledo’s pizza in front of us, and mugs of spiked hot chocolate ready for us to devour then go back for seconds.

“How did he do it?” I’d say. “Where was it? Did you cry? Show me the ring!” I wouldn’t give her a chance to talk until all of my questions were out of my system. Then she would show me the dazzling ring, tell me the full story with all the boring details, and we would giggle well into the night.

But this little, flitty, girlish fantasy will not come true. We will skype…once she is awake. I will see the ring…in gritty, blocky pixels. I will ask all of the questions…one at a time since there will be a lag in the audio and she will start answering after she hears the first question, thus blocking out the rest.

It’s at times like these that I get that little throb in my chest telling me I can’t live abroad forever. It’s at times like these that I just want to sit with my closest friends and watch a movie, we don’t even need to talk. It’s at times like these that I get up, put my apron on, and cook. Because, quite frankly, it’s at times like these that cooking is the only thing that makes me feel like home, no matter how small my kitchen is.

Chicken nostalgia
Photo by Anna Waigand

So tonight, I share my recipe for a simple white wine sauce with chicken legs. Nothing fancy. Nothing fresh. Nothing new. Instead, sometimes it’s just that little touch of “There ain’t nothing Korean about this” that makes it all worthwhile.

Simple chicken legs in white wine sauce
Photo by Anna Waigand

Chicken legs simmered in a simple white wine sauce
(For my Ghetto BBJG and her new plant in the garden)

5 chicken legs (medium)
Coarse salt
4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed and chopped (Fresh is better, if available)
Butter, 1 Tbl and 2 Tbl
3 garlic heads, minced
1 medium white onion, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth (or water if chicken broth is unavailable)
3 squirts of lemon juice (about 1/2 tsp)
Salt
White pepper

1. Rub chicken legs with coarse salt, white pepper and 3 tsps of rosemary.
2. Melt 1 Tbl butter with 1 minced garlic head in a frying pan over medium-high heat.
3. Place chicken legs in pan. Brown on each side.
4. Remove chicken legs and set aside, covered.
5. Turn heat down to medium. Melt 2 Tbl butter. Add onions and 2 minced garlic heads to pan. Saute until start becoming translucent.
6. Add white wine, 1 tsp crushed, chopped dried rosemary, chicken broth (if using water, add more salt to taste), lemon juice in pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Add chicken legs to white wine sauce. Cover and cook for 15 minutes (or until done), turning the chicken halfway through.
8. Serve on rice and enjoy the delicious simplicity.

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