28 October 2010

Pumpkin Goulash

It's Fall here in Santa Barbara.  The air is distinctly crisp in the mornings, general humidity levels are dropping, the daylight is losing intensity, and pumpkins are for sale everywhere.  So while the last of the summer tomatoes are still lingering on the vines outside, I am getting into the spirit of Fall.  (I'm also realizing that I need to start preparing Thanksgiving ideas!)

Part of the fun has been perusing seasonal recipes, and I have to say I get really excited whenever I come across a new and interesting way of using pumpkin.  Sadly, the pumpkin is too frequently marginalized in the U.S., being relegated to the limited role of Thanksgiving pie filler, when I believe it has the potential for so much more!  So I was thrilled when I came across the idea for incorporating pumpkin into a traditional Hungarian goulash.  The pumpkin, slowly cooked with the beef and spices, is rather subtle in flavor, but it adds a wonderful quality to the whole dish.

I've certainly had my share of goulash, growing up as a part of a German family, and I remember my grandmother always adding in some sour cream at the end.  It would transform the broth into a smooth gravy-like sauce that would coat the chunks of slow-simmered meat and cling so nicely to the egg noodles.  But this goulash--wow--has such a velvety smooth finish, thanks to the pumpkin, that you won't have to add any cream to this one!

Pumpkin Beef Goulash
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, in 1 to 2-inch cubes
3 Tbs. Hungarian sweet paprika
(1 Tbs. Hungarian hot paprika, optional)
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 medium onions, sliced into strips
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf

3/4 pound egg noodles, cooked and tossed in a couple tablespoons butter

Sprinkle cubed beef with paprika, salt, and pepper and turn to coat evenly.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and sear beef cubes, turning cubes to brown the major surfaces.  (If excess paprika has burned on the bottom of the pot, remove cooked beef to the side, deglaze the hot pot with cool water and scrape up any burned bits.  Rinse and wipe dry, then return beef to pot.)

To the seared beef, add the sliced onions, chicken broth, pumpkin, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until beef is very tender.  Scoop beef and onions out of the broth and cover to keep warm; discard bay leaf.  Heat remaining broth to boiling and reduce until it resembles more of a thick sauce.  Return beef and onions to pot, stirring to coat with sauce, and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed.  Serve over egg noodles.

22 October 2010

French apple cake for the Fall

In the mood for a great weekend dessert?  Here's an easy and delicious French apple cake to try!  This recipe, originally from Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table," takes the unassuming apple and elevates it to a grander level.  And given our fantastic local harvest of apples that is currently available, I can't think of a better dessert to make right now.

As it bakes, your house will fill with the heavenly scent of rum and vanilla.  Just take a few minutes to mix this up, pop it in the oven, and then enjoy a nice leisurely dinner...or go for a walk...or do your Fall gardening...then come back and enjoy a warm slice of this cake.

And you'll love how easy it is to mix this up.  Though you'll be in for a dessert of sophisticated flavor, it won't take you very long to prep the batter and the apples (see my tip in the recipe below), and in my opinion, it's a total breeze to make compared to making an apple pie!

You might be surprised at how many apples are incorporated into the cake batter, but it actually turns out quite well; the top becomes brown and crispy, while the interior, chock full of apples, remains soft and moist.  I recommend serving this with some sauce anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  And while I am only an occasional coffee drinker, I actually do think I'd make the effort to pair this with a fragrant cup of good-quality coffee.  Enjoy, and happy apple-season!

French Apple Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 cups apples (I recommend Fuji, golden delicious, Gala, or Pippin)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Using some of the melted butter, brush the inside of an 8-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl and set aside.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Slice the apples or cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks.  (Note: the larger your apples, the fewer you will have to peel!  And, the smaller your chunks, the less fragmented your cake will be when you cut into it to serve it.)

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk or electric mixer until they are foamy. Add the sugar, rum, vanilla, cardamom, and lemon zest and whisk to blend.  Add in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and smooth out the top with the spatula.

Place the cake on a baking sheet and position it on the center rack of the preheated oven.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a thin knife around the edges of the cake to loosen and then open and remove the sides of the springform pan.  Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Delicious when served warm or at room temperature, with a vanilla sauce, ice cream, or creme chantilly.

15 October 2010

Korean tacos!

Korean tacos are all the rage right now in foodie circles, getting a lot of press both here in the States and abroad.  Born out of the confluence of Mexican and Korean culture in Los Angeles' K-town, these tacos unite the flavors of two of my favorite cuisines in some of the tastiest street food ever.  Denizens of LA and its environs have the great fortune of easy access to a fleet of Kogi trucks, serving Korean-Mexican fare at varying locations throughout the week.  A number of weeks ago, one of these famed Kogi trucks made a rare visit to Santa Barbara, and I and some of my foodie friends went with much anticipation to sample some of their specialties.

Unfortunately for us, what I had thought was an insiders-only Kogi truck stop in Santa Barbara turned out to be a widely-publicized event, and we hadn't counted on the mass of people coming in from all corners of Santa Barbara county (and beyond) to get a bite.  After waiting well over an hour and only making it through a quarter of the length of the line, my friends and I reluctantly abandoned ship and headed over to a local Mexican taqueria, starving and disgruntled because of all those out-of-towners who got between us and our K-tacos.

But as you know, dear readers, I've been working on my own K-cooking skills, and as I munched on my carne asade taco that disappointing day, I realized how easy it would be to just make some of these fusion tacos myself.

You can bet that I peeked at the orders coming from the Kogi truck, almost to the point of making the diners uncomfortable.  I wanted to know what was going into those tacos!  It was hard to get a good look, so I watched some Youtube videos, read some articles and blogposts, and then even visited a dive of a place here in town that boasted their own version of Korean tacos.  (That last, by the way, was a disappointment--no kimchi in sight!)  In the end, I just went with my gut instincts...I knew if I wanted the flavor combo I'd been imagining and looking forward to, I'd just have to make it myself.


And they turned out to be pretty rad.  If I say so myself.  A delicious combination of comforting corn tortillas, savory bulgogi beef, spicy Korean red pepper, and fresh and tangy kimchi and cilantro. And after serving these up to a bunch of friends, I know it's not just me that thinks they're awesome.   Dig in, guys, and enjoy!

Korean Tacos

corn tortillas (fresh, hand-made are best!)
ssamjang (recipe below)
bulgogi (recipe below)
roasted sesame seeds
Napa cabbage kimchi, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 bunch cilantro, thick stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely minced and mixed into the cilantro
lime wedges, for serving

To assemble tacos, spread a dab of ssamjang on a warm tortilla.  Then layer on a scoop of bulgogi, a sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds, some chopped kimchi, and some of the cilantro-onion mixture.  As a finishing touch, squeeze fresh lime juice over the top.


4 Tbs. fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장)
2 Tbs. Korean red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)
2 Tbs. roasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.  If desired, use as a base for a spicy Korean aioli by mixing 1 part ssamjang with 2 parts good-quality mayonnaise.


2-3 lbs. round beef roast, partially frozen
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely minced or grated
1 kiwi (or Asian pear)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Place onion, garlic, and kiwi in a food processor and process until very finely minced.  Transfer to a large bowl and stir in soy sauce, water, and sugar.  Slice the roast into 1/8-inch thin slices. (Using a partially-frozen roast, as well as an electric slicer, makes this considerably easier!)  Dip each slice of meat in the marinade to coat both sides, then place sliced beef in a large plastic Ziploc bag.  Pour the marinade in over the meat and seal.  Marinade at least 2 hours to overnight.  Heat a griddle or grill pan over high heat and cook meat slices, turning once to cook on both sides.  (Optional: cook the remaining marinade until thickened and caramelized, and pour over the meat for extra seasoning.)

10 October 2010

Cooking therapy


I have been craving kimchi--really, really craving it.  It's kind of funny, because it actually has never figured largely into my diet growing up as a European American.  In fact, the first time I ever heard of it was in college, eating out with some roommates once or twice back then.  Now, years later, after having it a number of times over the course of the past few months, I have this persistent longing that just won't go away.

And so I gave in, jumped into the process undaunted, made a batch, and have now devoted a section of my refrigerator to the storage of some of the most beautiful kimchi ever.  Yes, it's beautiful.  And abundant!  I had to use the largest food storage containers I could find in my house.  For some reason, this taps deeply into some of my most primal instincts...I feel like I've been a dutiful provider, a competent housekeeper, a feeder of the stomach and soul... it just totally presses my "satisfaction button" knowing that I now have so much delicious kimchi on hand.

As I reflect on the steps of the actual process, I am realizing how joyful and life-giving it was for me.  The recipe, on intial reading, appeared rather involved, but as I lifted each cabbage leaf, salting, washing, and massaging them with kimchi paste in turn, it became a calming, centering therapy one evening in the middle of a busy week.  Though I love the touch of soft dough and enjoy kneading bread dough by hand, I've discovered that the tactile pleasure of preparing kimchi in this more traditional way is superlative.  What fun it was, elbow deep in my largest work bowl, stuffing one layer at a time!  And the fragrance of the red pepper paste, promising of the succulent kimchi to come--absolutely mouth-watering!

I hope you will be inspired to make this sometime yourself...I think you will love the process as well as the results!

Traditional Kimchi
Adapted from Maangchi

2 heads Napa cabbage
1 cup salt
1/4 cup sweet (aka glutinous) rice flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 cups gochugaru (Korean hot pepper powder) or more, to taste
1/2 cup finely minced garlic
1 one-inch knob of fresh ginger, finely minced
1/2 medium white onion, grated or finely minced
1 1/2 cups green onions, finely sliced
1 cup Asian (or regular) chives, cut into 1 1/2 inch strips

Salting the cabbage:

Cut each cabbage into quarters, cutting through the core.  Wash cabbage in cold water, submerging completely to soak all leaves, then sprinkle each leaf with salt, using about 1/2 cup salt per head of cabbage.  (Try to sprinkle more salt on the thicker stems than on the thin leafy parts.  The goal is to draw water out of the cabbage and cause it to wilt.)  Place salted cabbage in a large bowl and let sit for 2 hours.

After the first 2 hours, turn pieces of cabbage in the bowl, exchanging the top and bottom layers, so that they get salted evenly, and let sit for 2 more hours, until cabbage is soft.  (Total salting time should be about 4 hours.)

Thoroughly rinse the salt off the cabbage under running water and/or by submerging in 3 fresh changes of cold water.  Let cabbage drain.

Making the kimchi paste:

To make the kimchi paste, whisk together sweet rice flour and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  As soon as boiling begins, whisk in the sugar and continue to cook one more minute.  Let cool, then transfer to the largest bowl you can find!

To the flour paste, add the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and grated white onion and whisk together.  Then stir in the green onion and chives.

Putting it all together:

Before getting started with this final step, set up a work station: the drained wilted cabbage, the large work bowl containing the kimchi paste, and a large (air-tight and seal-able) storage container ready to receive the prepared kimchi.  Next, put on some rubber gloves (to protect your hands from staining as well as from the painful capsaicin).  You will definitely want to be working with your hands, not only to better coat each leaf, but also for the tactile enjoyment!

Place one of the quartered cabbage pieces in the large work bowl.  Scoop up a handful of the paste and spread it onto each cabbage leaf, massaging it into each of the curls and folds of the cabbage.  Place the coated cabbage into the storage container.  Repeat with remaining cabbage pieces, then close the container with an air-tight lid.

If you like your kimchi on the fresher-tasting side, like I do, store the kimchi immediately in the refrigerator.  Or, if you prefer the slightly sour, fermented flavor, let kimchi sit overnight at room temperature until desired level of fermentation is reached, then store in the refrigerator.

06 October 2010

Edamame-feta hummus

Over and again, I find that it just takes a few key ingredients lying around on hand to come together and make something good.  Here I got inspiration from the things sitting on my refrigerator shelf, and I ended up with a great hummus-like dip, made with edamame (fresh soybeans) and feta cheese and a dab of tahini.

Also blended into the hummus are sesame leaves, which add a delicate hint of fresh herbs.  These green, heart-shaped and serrate-edged leaves (also known as perilla) can be found in most Korean grocery stores, but if you're unable to find them, a tablespoon of fresh mint would be a suitable substitute.

This dip was the perfect bring-along for an evening of cocktails and games that I enjoyed with some friends recently!

Edamame Feta Hummus

12 oz. shelled edamame
1 1/2 Tbs. tahini
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup (packed) sesame leaves, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until fully blended and smooth.  Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired.

02 October 2010

Putting it all together

I think it was so obvious that I overlooked it for a while...but why not put it all together?  A re-incarnation of my pea soup (but served warm and using 1/2 cup fresh basil instead of the mint this time), garnished with a lotus chip and tomato jam.  Gorgeous!  Yum!

I think the aromatic basil pea soup and the tangy tomato jam complement each other well, and there's nothing so special as starting off a meal with a little visual "wow" factor.  This combination lends itself to so many fun plating possibilities!  You can set up the lotus chip as a little boat floating on the soup, with a dollop of tomato jam on top...

 ...or put the jam on first and stand the lotus chip on end in the jam.  Then all you need are a few chives threaded through the lotus root to add some extra visual detail, and you've got a perfect little appetizer!