Monday, April 13, 2015

Eat, Laugh, Grieve

Pennsylvania finery— gravy smothered ham, roast chicken and potatoes, stuffing, corn, green beans and a buttered roll

Here lies Anges Gellis, laid to rest at the age of 92 surrounded by family and friends; it was a sad occasion colored with great stories of this feisty matriarch. We drove out to Danielsville PA for the service, after which the reception hall filled with great stories and laughter. The banquet table overflowed with chafing dishes of baked ham, roast chicken and potatoes, stuffing, corn, green beans, salad with bacon dressing and buttered rolls along side a separate island of kiffel, cheese cake, rice pudding and other sweets. Agnes had a pet rooster named Pete; she played guitar and loved to polka; Pennsylvania Dutch was her first language; she always had a choke to make you laugh. Her daughters and grandchildren eulogized how she was a frugal disciplinarian yet she was generous to all, especially with her baked goods. This loving granny was the queen of the rhubarb pie.

I often ponder the association of death and food. People on Guam are renown for epic funerals with devout prayer vigils that run the course of seven days. But despite the tone of sadness, funerals also bring about celebration and a tribute to a person’s life— or as my parents would say funerals are reunions of a certain age. As with all sad occasions on the island, grieving comes with a generous banquet. And with that banquet comes the balutan, the to-go plate that you pack on your way out. Balutan is co-opted in Chamorro from the Filipino word which means “package.” But on Guam it’s used more as a verb that pertains to taking food with you.

“Fan'balutan hu na talo'ani pot agupa.” “Pack my balutan for dinner tomorrow.” you can hear people yell from the parking lot to the person carrying the roll of tin foil. On Guam balutan is a well honed skill and everyone has their own technique of assemblage. In general you build a base with a paper plate and place the more solid foods first (ribs, BBQ, chicken, Spam, sausage) followed by a halo of softer foods (red rice, kelaguen, kimchee, corn, pasta) finish with savory pastries (tortillas, potu, lumpia, empanadas) then finally sealed in foil with an air-tight crimp. The goal is pack it in such a way that you can eat your way from top to bottom, so the order of food is most important. Sweets and delicate pastries are packed separately. Island folks build massive foil towers but you can spot the real pros, they bring their own plastic containers.

At my fathers funeral his friends told me how much they missed him and how much I look like him when he was younger— many asked who did the catering and who made the flan. These are hardly insincere questions, the complement on the fresh soft rolls and BBQ note the host’s attention to detail. It is more of an insult if no one takes food home with them. My aunt who lead the rosary vigils brought her legendary Tupperware set that stacked and fit perfectly into the cooler in her pickup truck. Portable Infant of Prague with carrying case, vigil candles, gold rosary beads and Tupperware— Auntie Fe is balutan-ready and always prepared.

As I stood in a freshly plowed field in Danielsville, PA, I reflected on all the changes that this woman had lived through. Rural roads that wound through farmland became suburban track homes and highways over time. Seeing her children have children. Truth be said, I’ve only met Agnes Gellis once before, but I got the sense of her being. She will be remembered and missed by all. Life and death are celebrations and we must must all take part in this sweet and savory feast.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Gochujaccia, A Korean Focaccia Bread

Italian focaccia bread with Korean chili paste with rapini namul, East and West have come together in the oven.

Doh! I was trying to make Italian bread this past weekend but my dough didn’t rise as high as I wanted. But all was not a waste, I made focaccia instead with gochuchang, Korean chili paste. Baked pastries and breads are not traditional Asian methods of cooking, but their Western influences have been widely adapted and transformed. Koreans and Japanese tea shops are bustling with French pastries and cakes; China is now the largest consumer of red wines and Scotch whiskey. It’s only fair since Italian pasta originated from the Far East. I recall Chinese pizza from trips to Hong Kong and Philippines: spongy rice-wheat crust with sweet red sauce topped with hard-cured lapsang sausage. It wasn’t terrible, but it sure wasn’t pizza.

Focaccia is an oven-baked flat bread similar to pizza but instead of tomato sauce and cheese it’s lightly flavored with herbs, course salt and olive oil. I’m experimenting with combinations of bread and rice flours, as well as extra virgin olive and dark roasted sesame oils. Instagram friend and sous chef Jason LaVerdiere aptly named this dish gochujaccia, and thus the name has stuck. This recipe is still in development. I’m sharpening up my baking skills for the pastry section of my ePUB cookbook. Of course I’m also working on the gluten-free version of this toothsome Italian bread. Here’s a sneak peek.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On a Roll for Easter Dinner 2015

After hours of prep and basting the long awaited Easter ham popped out of the oven by late afternoon in all its cloved glory. The orange-maple glaze and low-slow cooking made the ham moist and succulent; it was simply delicious as were the roasted new potatoes with rosemary and cotija cheese, braised rapini and greens, guacamole (yes guacamole) and cranberry bread. I was most proud of my freshly baked Parker House rolls— layer upon layer of soft buttery pillows finished with a light dust of sea salt. They melted in our mouths.

Parker House rolls (eponymous of the famous Boston hotel) are yeast rolls made with milk, sugar and lots of butter, known for their light, velvet texture and mild sweet flavor. Although they are a New England trademark pastry they became a fiesta staple on Guam; we just call them sweet rolls. I’m not much of a baker but I finally got the hang of this Fanny Farmer recipe by my third batch. You might say I was on a roll. Here’s a peek at Easter dinner.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Recipe: Rapini Namul, a Broccoli Rabe Side Dish

Korean inspired Broccoli rabe with tossed with fetuccine pasta — this rapini side dish goes a long, long way.

Good evening Verrazano
 Last night I made a batch of rapini namul to use as pizza topping. Pizza has become an important part of our Sunday viewing of “The Walking Dead” with our friend Jenn in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Luckily for us Bay Ridge is never short on great pizza.

Rapini (broccoli rabe) is an Italian cruciferous vegetable from the same family as as broccoli, kale and mustard; it’s grown for its tight green florets and tender leaves. It has a nutty, peppery flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s a very healthy green rich in vitamins A, C and K, and minerals potassium, calcium and iron. I love the way it tastes when it’s cooked and seasoned properly. My friend Elaine’s mother, Lena Cardella, showed me the proper Southern Italian way to prepare rapini, which I’ll gladly share.

Namul is a Korean style of preparing highly seasoned vegetables— first steamed or stir-fried then tossed with a combination of seasoning which include roasted sesame seed oil, soy sauce or salt, vinegar, fresh garlic, sliced scallion greens, Korean chilies and toasted sesame seeds. It’s usually served as along with small side dishes that accompany the main meal— in our case New York style thin crust pizza. Here’s a recipe for making one of my favorite Korean-Italian fusion foods.

A Korean-Italian side dish from Brooklyn served with a French omelet— how's that for world class dining?
Rapini Namul
  • 1 pound rapini (broccoli rabe)
  • 2 tbsp light olive oil
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, prepared and divided
  • 1 1/2 tbsp roasted sesame seed oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh Korean chili, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar or 1 tsp honey (optional)
  • large skillet (14") with a lid, you can also use a large pot
Prepare the rapini: cut the blossom ends three inches down into the stem; remove and reserve the leaves from the stalk; cut the stem into pieces that are 2 to 3 inches long. This next preparation is important: with a small knife or vegetable peeler, peel the woodiest part of the stems. This will remove most of the bitterness and bring out the natural sweetness when it cooks. Wash everything well and and drain fro 20 minutes in a colander or run through a salad spinner.
Thinly slice two cloves of the garlic and divide into equal portions; crush the third clove. To flavor the olive oil, heat skillet on medium and add olive oil and the crushed clove. When the garlic clove turns a golden color, remove from the pan and discard. Toss rapini and half the amount of sliced garlic with salt, place in the pan and cover. Steam for three to four minutes or until the volume is reduced by a third. Remove cover and stir-fry until blossom ends are firm yet fork-soft. Transfer contents to a metal bowl to cool or set into and ice bath.

When rapini has cooled toss with sesame seed oil, rice wine vinegar, the remaining portion of sliced garlic, toasted sesame seeds and sliced Korean chili; adjust the flavor to taste. If you prefer a little sweetness, add sugar (if you’re vegan) or honey and toss. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Rapini namul will keep refrigerated for about five days. Enjoy it as a side dish or a topping for rice and pasta (or pizza).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Porridge Equinox

After days of icy gale force winds, this first day of spring was draped in a blanket of snow. With daily temperatures swinging from below freezing to 45°F, this last week of winter has been brutal. It’s not been very inspiring for getting out and about, but more inspiring for cold-weather comfort food. For breakfast, lunch or dinner savory Korean rice porridge is one of my favorite winter meals; juk is simmered with Asian rice and chicken stock. It’s flavored with ginger and garlic but mot overly spiced. Usually it’s accompanied by many flavorful side dishes, both savory and sweet, and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Juk is a simple dish that begs for exploration. I have an easy recipe on my blog; if you want to give it a go click here. Take a look at some home-cooked highlights from last week. I hope these photos inspire you... or at least make you drool.

Honey cured ham over juk with wilted spinach and kimchee with sweet soy sauce
Fried egg over coconut saffron juk with chili-spiced pecans, shaved radish salad and a wee drizzle of maple syrup

5:10 soft boiled egg over juk wilted spinach, almonds, toasted garlic and Korean peppers with a little clover honey

Miso roasted chicken over juk with asparagus, Brussels sprouts, almonds and toasted garlic with sweet soy sauce

Sliced Italian meatballs and toasted pecans over coconut saffron juk with ponzu sauce

Bacon and eggs over juk with katsuoboshi (shaved bonito flakes) and honey

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Recipe: Mak Juk, a Korean Porrdige Hack

Dinner: Juk topped with chicken, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and toasted almonds and garlic

Now here’s some classic Seoul food: dak juk, a savory Korean rice and chicken porridge. This dish is traditionally made by slowly simmering Asian medium grain rice and a whole chicken for hours until it creates a thick and silky porridge. It’s lightly seasoned with ginger and ginger and served with full-flavored banchan (side dishes) that typically accompany Korean meals. Although it’s a savory dish its best served with a little sweet for balance with chopped dates or a little honey.

From waste-not-want-not cultures come some of the best comfort food; juk (Korean), congee (Chinese), jok (Thai), lugaw (Filipino), deythuk (Tibetan) and okayu (Japanese) are similarly the same porridge but vary by cooking liquid and what accompanies the meal. This includes arroz caldo, the Portuguese rice soup which finds it’s origins in Macao.

3:10 soft-boiled egg with wilted spinach and toasted garlic over Korean rice porridge with a little maple syrup

Chop chop! Get your aromatics ready.
Mak Juk, a Korean Porridge Hack
In this recipe I’ve made some shortcuts; I call it mak juk (Korean for easy porridge). The key to this dish is using a good chicken stock. Each month I break out the large stock pot and make my own thick, silky chicken stock by simmering bones, meat and vegetable scarps that I save in a freezer bag. But in a pinch I also make a decent “stock hack” by reducing a carton of organic chicken stock with a small onion, a little salt and unflavored gelatin (or chicken feet if I can find them instead of gelatin). Note: Use organic stock, not broth. Although this recipe is gluten-free by nature, people with celiac disease should always check the ingredient list for GF claims; that’s one incentive to make your own chicken stock when you can.

I prefer Asian medium-grain rice over long grain rice; it incorporates well into porridge and holds its shape and texture much better than a long-grain rice such as Basmati— a short grain rice might be too sticky. In a pinch, Jasmine rice from Chinese take-out seems to be a happy medium. As my grandmother used to say “Don’t throw out that leftover rice!” So let’s get busy in the kitchen! This recipes serves six hungry people— cooking and prep time is about one hour.

Reduced Chicken Stock
  • 1 32 oz carton organic chicken stock
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin (1/4 oz packet)
  • 1 small onion, with skins cut into quarters
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp whole pepper corns
Pour a carton of chicken stock into stock pot and bring to a boil, add quartered onion, salt, sugar and pepper corns. Lower heat and simmer until stock is reduced by one quarter of volume. Strain stock through a fine sieve, discard solids and dissolve a packet of unflavored gelatin into the reduced stock; stir well and reserve 1 3/4 to 2 cups.

Korean Porridge Recipe
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups cups reduced chicken stock (see above)
  • 2 cups cooked medium or short grain white rice
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned (about 1 packed tbsp)
  • 2 large garlic clove, minced (about 2 tbsp)
  • 3 tbsp peanut or light sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup leek greens, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Prepare garlic and ginger, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and set aside. Bring 5 cups of water to boil, add reduced stock, lower heat. Add rice, garlic, ginger, peanut oil (or sesame oil), diced carrots, salt an black pepper. Cover and simmer on low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the porridge thickens, remove from heat and allow to cool, adjust salt if needed, but it should be mild and savory. Serving in bowls with your favorite toppings, drizzled with soy sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. You can make Juk ahead of time, it will store well refrigerated for about three days. Reheat it in a double boiler or microwave.

Juk is a dish that pleases everyone at the table— served with small plates of bancahn, side dishes that complement the main meal. This way everyone can tailor their meal to their liking. Let your imagination run free and enjoy your hot savory porridge. Here are some of my favorite sweet and savory toppings:
  • kimchee
  • toasted garlic
  • toasted almonds
  • ground peanuts
  • shaved bonito flakes (katsuoboshi)
  • soft boiled egg
  • fresh Korean peppers
  • sliced roasted chicken
  • bacon
  • Tasso ham
  • wilted spinach 
  • asparagus
  • fresh kale
  • roasted cauliflower
  • sweet pickles
  • pan-roasted Brussels sprouts
  • maple syrup
  • clover honey
Yesterday’s miso-honey roasted chicken breast is today’s Korean porridge topping— waste not a thing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Gluten-free EeatUP! One-year Anniversary!!

The Gluten-free EatUP celebrates its one-year anniversary! This pop-up market is dedicated to the food makers that serve people with celiac disease or who live with a diet that is free of gluten; GFEU is sponsored by Levine’s General Store. Mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled kimc-cheese sandwiches, vegan empanadas (Yum Pies)... hot-served and packaged savories, sweets, vegan kimchee and so much more. Glutenberg beer is available at the bar. Admision if free! Levine}s General Store will be raffling fabulous gift boxes! Bring your friends.

The Gluten-free EatUP!
Sunday, March 1 from 1 to 6PM
Freddy’s Bar in South Slope, Brooklyn