21 February 2011

Warming winter jjigae

Would you believe it--we had snow in Santa Barbara this weekend!  Okay, so not downtown near sea level, but we did have a spectacular blanket of snow covering our coastal mountain ranges for a good 24 hours or more.  After some dark and stormy days, I was utterly captivated during my Sunday morning run by the views of snow-capped peaks standing against clear blue skies in one direction, and sparkling blue ocean and island views in the other.  Absolutely gorgeous.

But it has been cold--chillingly cold--here in Santa Barbara, and as I hear of the snow storms going on across the States this winter, I think it's a perfect time to share about this warm and satisfying Korean winter stew, kongbiji jjigae (say "kongbeejee jeegay").  It's a delicious stew, nutritious and protein-rich thanks to ground soybeans, and full of fun and savory bites like diced pork, shiitake mushrooms, kimchi, and green onions and peppers.

As with most jjigae recipes I've seen, this one starts with making a stock, using dried shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, and anchovies.  The stock is liquid gold, I tell you, adding such wonderful depth of flavor!  

Another component, special to kongbiji jjigae, is a smooth, creamy puree made from soaked soybeans.  Traditionally, this stew was a way to use up soybean solids (the kongbiji, or okara in Japanese) leftover from making soymilk and tofu, but you don't have to be in the business of making your own tofu just to enjoy the stew!  Here I follow Maangchi's lead, using both the solids and the liquid.  And the nice thing about this recipe is that both the stock and the soybean puree can be made several days in advance, breaking down the work into very manageable steps if you don't want to cook it all in one go.

I can't tell you how much of this stew I've eaten this winter--it truly hits the spot.  And my parents, who are a little more tentative when it comes to trying "new" foods, actually tucked into this with gusto, even going for seconds!  Serve garnished with some sliced green onions and red chili pepper for a little kick.  At the table, add a nice big scoop of steamed rice to your bowl of jjigae, and don't forget to have some kimchi along with it--the kimchi is a perfect accompaniment and opens up the flavors of the stew beautifully.

Kongbiji Jjigae  공비지 찌개 (Ground-soybean stew)
Makes 4 servings, Adapted from Maangchi

½ cup dried soy beans
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
8 large dried anchovies
2 x 2 – inch piece dried kelp
1 ½ tsp. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb. (250 g) lean pork shoulder or loin, diced
1 cup kimchi, chopped
4 green onions
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 large green chili pepper, sliced
Salt to taste
1 small red chili pepper, sliced

Soak the dried soybeans at least 8 hours to overnight. (Yields about 1+ cup soaked beans.)  The next day, drain water and add enough water to cover the beans.  Bring to a boil and boil for just 3 minutes (don’t overcook).

Drain beans and cover with cold water.  Rub beans with fingertips to release the skins and pick out the skins that rise to the top.  (For higher fiber content and easier preparation, feel free to skip this step and leave the skins in.)

In a blender, puree the soaked soybeans with equal parts water (about 1 cup) until it is smooth and creamy.

Combine 4 cups water, the dried mushrooms, dried anchovies, and dried kelp, and bring to a boil.  (I keep the anchovies and kelp in a large mesh ball for easy removal later.)  Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook for 20 minutes at a gentle boil.

Remove mushrooms, dice them and set aside.  Discard the anchovies and the kelp.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté garlic in the sesame oil for a few seconds, then add chopped pork, mushrooms, and kimchi and continue sautéing for a few more minutes.   Coarsely chop 3 of the green onions and add along with 2-4 cups stock (depending on how thin/thick you like your stew) and cover pot with a lid.

Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes.  (Watch carefully that it doesn’t boil over!)  Pour the blended soybeans into the boiling pot and lower the heat.  Let cook for about 2 minutes (without stirring during the first minute of cooking time).

When the jjigae returns to a boil, carefully stir in fish sauce and the green chili pepper and season with salt to taste.

Garnish each serving with finely chopped green onions and red chili pepper.

Serve with steamed rice and more kimchi!

11 February 2011

Cupid's Cookies

I know Valentine's Day is still a few days off, but I wanted to give you a peek into my kitchen for a little inspiration.  Just trying to spread the love to you, my dear readers, who make blogging so sweet!

Okay, okay, with the saccharine sentiments aside, let's take a look at these cute cookies.  Cupid's Cookies are lovely little creations: a butter-oatmeal cookie on bottom, a pink peppermint cookie on top, and a nice big chunk of chocolate sandwiched in the middle.  Each bite is a perfect balance of flavors, and I don't think Valentine's Day treats can get much better.

Just look at that chocolate bar all melted and delicious!

It was Deborah, my mom's best friend, who introduced me to these cookies.  She used to make them (and then later hired me to make them) for the annual recital she organized for her violin students each February.  It was always a grand affair: everyone would get dressed up, she'd rent a beautiful recital hall, and she'd splurge on an amazing spread of treats for the reception to celebrate her students' achievements.

I remember being enthralled by these butter-oatmeal and peppermint sandwich cookies the first time I had them.  Deborah called them "Cupid's Cookies," and I'm so glad I have the recipe now!

She cited the Los Angeles Times as the original source, but be that as it may, I will always think of these as Deborah's cookies.  And, I'm especially glad to credit Deborah here, because, you see, she passed away from breast cancer this past December.  I'd like to think that wherever these cookies go, they will be a sweet blessing to others in her memory.  She was a lovely, courageous, and adventurous woman who was an inspiration to many, and a lady with fine taste in cookies, I might add!

So with the weekend ahead of us, there's still plenty of time to gather any last ingredients and make your own batch!  If you want to package them up as homemade Valentine's gifts like I did, just go to your local craft store and look for lollipop bags and ribbon.  Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Cupid's Cookies
From Los Angeles Times via Deborah MacCallum
Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1½ tsp. vanilla
2½ cups sifted flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup rolled oats
¼ tsp. peppermint extract
Red food coloring
6 – 1 oz. Hershey milk chocolate bars, broken into squares

Beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift together flour and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Stir in oats.  Divide dough in half.

Add peppermint extract and a few drops food coloring to one half.  Chill for several hours. Roll out tinted half to ⅛” thickness between 2 layers of plastic wrap.  Remove top layer of plastic and cut with smaller heart cutter. Peel cut cookies from bottom layer of plastic and arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet.  (Having chilled dough at this point makes things easier--you might want to consider rolling out the dough between the plastic wrap and then chilling for about 30 minutes before cutting.)  Roll out remaining dough and cut with large cookie cutter.

Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly, then place a square of milk chocolate on larger heart and place smaller heart on top of chocolate. Press gently (you don't want melted chocolate to squirt out everywhere!) to bind. Let cookies cool completely, until chocolate is hardened.

03 February 2011

Eggplant Capellini Involtini

Okay, get ready...here comes another Italian dish inspired by the cooking at Trattoria Grappolo.  Slices of roasted eggplant are wrapped around capellini in tomato-basil sauce to make involtini, then each little roll gets topped with smoked mozzarella and baked until the cheese is melted and golden.

I love roasted eggplant.  It's luscious and savory, soft and creamy in texture.  And I love pasta with red tomato sauce.  And the smoked mozzarella adds another delicious dimension.  So all in all, I'm finding this dish to be pretty awesome...a tasty fusion of some of my favorite flavors!  It doesn't hurt, either, that the presentation is gorgeous.

Or that this dish is so easy to make.  Really!

Or that it's perfect for entertaining (you can break the recipe down into several do-ahead steps).  A pair of involtini would make a lovely first course (the primo, if we're going to stick with our Italian), or serve up three per person for a vegetarian main dish.

Okay, quick confession here: I'm really bummed I didn't have extra basil for the garnish--but the chopped parsley I ended up adding after the photo shoot was actually a fantastic finishing touch, both in flavor and in looks...so don't get too tied up if you don't have a ton of fresh basil on hand!

Eggplant Capellini Involtini
Adapted from the Trattoria Grappolo Cookbook
Makes 4 servings (12 rolls)

2 large (1 lb. each) eggplants
3 Tbs. olive oil
3/4 cup diced carrot
3/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 handful fresh basil leaves, loosely torn
1/2 pound capellini (angel hair pasta)
sea salt
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
4-8 oz. smoked mozarella (depending on how much cheese you like!)
Whole basil sprigs or chopped parsley, for garnish

Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices (you will want at least 12 large slices).  Lightly brush each side with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Arrange slices on two baking sheets and bake  at 400 F until golden brown in spots (about 30 minutes), switching baking sheets half-way through.  Remove eggplant from oven and let cool slightly, then stack slices together to trap moisture and ensure that they are nice and soft for rolling.  (Can be made ahead.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.)

Meanwhile heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pot over high heat, then saute the carrot, onion, and garlic until onion becomes translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the white wine and reduce by half, then add the crushed tomatoes and basil.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, covered, for 30 minutes until carrots are soft.  Remove pot from heat and blend thoroughly using an immersion stick blender.  Check seasoning and add sea salt to taste.  This should make about 4 cups of sauce.  (Can be made ahead.  Store covered in refrigerator up to one week.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook capellini according to package directions until al dente.  In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta with 2 cups of the prepared tomato sauce.  Strain and transfer the capellini to the large bowl and mix to thoroughly coat each strand of pasta with the sauce.  (Work quickly to mix the sauce in, as capellini tends to clump together soon after being drained from the cooking water.)

Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a large baking dish, then prepare the involtini.  Place a generous 1/2 cup of the capellini mixture on the narrow end of an eggplant slice, then roll up snugly and place seam side down in the baking dish.  Repeat with remaining pasta and eggplant slices.

Layer thin slices of smoked mozzarella over the top of the involtini.  (Can be made ahead.  Cover baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and store refrigerated up to 2 days.)  Bake at 400 F until involtini have heated through and the smoked mozzarella has become browned and bubbly.  For each serving, spoon some of the remaining tomato sauce on a plate or shallow bowl and place 3 rolls on top.  Sprinkle with a little minced fresh parsley or basil for some pretty color!