August 21, 2012

kimchi + nori + rice

I've probably mentioned somewhere that I've starved a lot in culinary school. Part of it is putting in a lot of hours in the kitchen without breaks, tasting food here and there but never actually eating. Part of it is having to support myself as a student and not having money for groceries. So time and money are big factors, which is why I often resort to cheap, easily assembled meals like pasta or frozen dumplings.

This meal I learned to make offhand. I kind of stumbled into realizing that it could be a meal. It was the spring of my senior year at college, in the agonizing weeks before thesis deadline. I was in a classmate's dorm, trying to take advantage of the change of place to not procrastinate. It wasn't working very well. I had followed my classmate into the kitchen and there she scooped some freshly cooked rice into a bowl, accompanied by kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) and nori (salted dried seaweed).

I'd grown up thinking kimchi and nori were accompaniments to a meal, so by no means a full meal, even with rice. Little did I know that four years later I would consider it a subsistence meal, much like some students would consider instant ramen.

I just about finished this whole jar of kimchi in about two weeks. Of course I really should learn how to make my own kimchi. (As a side note, the best kimchi I ever had was in this vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Brooklyn. My friends and I went there religiously for it, until one day the kimchi no longer tasted the same and the owner said it was because they had started to make it in house, so it would be fully vegan. Which means that the taste probably had something to do with fish sauce, or shrimp paste.)

Several factors are important in the kimchi + nori + rice trifecta. The rice has to be freshly steamed and piping hot. The nori has to be the Korean kind, which is salted and slick with oil, unlike the Japanese kind, which is dry and more papery. The saltiness of the nori offsets the sour spiciness of the kimchi, and the papery crunch makes a great contrast to the steamy rice. I added the sesame seeds as an extra toasty garnish.

kimchi ingredients

As an added bonus for the blog I decided to make kimchi sushi rolls. The nori absorbs the moisture from the rice and gets all soft, but other than that it works.

kimchi roll

The sushi is great just because it's bite-sized, but the rice bowl is more satisfying as a meal.

kimchi prepared

So this was my subsistence dinner. Completed with some green tea. Very Asian, but very satisfying and simple.

kimchi dinner

I always find it nice to expend a little extra effort to make a meal look pretty. Even if one is dining alone and so very poor, it still makes a difference.

August 6, 2012

blueberry lime cheesecake

Another book from the library, 500 Cakes, inspired me to make my first ever cheesecake.

I had some limes at home, and there was a blueberry sale at Safeway, so this lime blueberry cheese cake was perfect.

1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground
4 oz butter, melted
16 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sour cream
3 eggs
2 limes, zest and juice
1 cup fresh blueberries (more to decorate)

graham cracker crumb

The graham cracker crumbs I ground in batches in my handy Black & Decker food chopper, purchased for $5 at a thrift store. The little thing packs more horsepower (or whatever you call it) than some blenders/food processors. Crazy!

graham cracker crust

The melted butter was mixed into the crumbs and packed into the bottom of a springform pan. This crust was left to chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. (One of the bakeries where I stage at, they actually bake the crust for a few minutes before pouring the filling in. I'll try that next time.)

cheesecake filling

In the Kitchenaid, I beat the cream cheese till smooth, then added sugar, cornstarch, sour cream, eggs and lime zest/juice, beating after each addition. The last to go in were the blueberries - aren't they pretty?


The springform pan's bottom was wrapped in foil before I poured the filling in, just in case there was leakage. Then the whole foil wrapped pan went into a shallow hot water bath (I used one of those disposable aluminum roasting pans for lack of a better tray) and into the 350F oven for 45 minutes.

blueberry lime cheesecake

In my eagerness to eat the cheesecake, I cut it after it chilled for only a few hours in the fridge. The texture isn't quite fluffy then, but it is after spending the night in the fridge. Still, it was delicious for being such a simple recipe.

The great thing about the book is that for every cake, it lists variations. The blueberries and limes can be substituted with any other berry/citrus combination. Personally, I might try strawberry basil before the summer season is gone!

August 5, 2012


In the culinary world, there's a kind of intern/volunteer hybrid known as a stage (rhymes with entourage). It's often the foot in the door, but basically what happens is you arrange for a day/week where you work for free. Sometimes you get the menial repetitive tasks (like picking herbs!) but most of the time you learn a lot and get a feel for the operation.

Having no formal experience in restaurants or bakeries (besides the hostessing gig last year), I decided to also use my free time this summer to stage. Since I didn't know many people who work in bakeries, I wrote a cover letter + resume and approached a slew of bakeries. Some were too busy, or never got back to me, but in the end I was able to stage with two bakeries, one or two days a week.

Both of these were small places, mostly breakfast pastries, but I was able to build on the skills I'd learned in culinary school. Mixing doughs, piping, pate a choux, puff pastry, etc. I want to do as much as I can before the semester starts and my schedule is once again inundated with school and work.

I was even able to stage for a day at a fine dining restaurant. Even though fine dining seems to be the pinnacle achievement in the culinary world, I never fancied myself in that type of environment. Too adrenaline-fueled and too exacting, I thought. But it was a different story once I got on the line. I found the pressure exciting and the detail work very appealing. I naturally like to work fast, and clean, and pretty.

To apply that back to baking/pastry, I think I would love to work for a bakery that assembly-lines cakes/desserts like no other. Maybe I will find some of that in my internship this coming semester, working in a hotel pastry department!

salmon salad

One of the benefits of having a relatively free summer is being able to do all of those things I didn't have time for during the semester. Volunteer, see people, try new things. One day I was bored and decided to go to the library (3 blocks from my house!) and register for a card. While I was there I (surprise surprise) perused the cookbook section.

I had heard about Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook, My Father's Daughter, but had written it off as a celebrity chef-wannabe's collection of ghostwritten recipes. While that may or may not be true, I found it at the library and found it to be a beautifully designed book of down to earth recipes that surprisingly fit my palate.

So I took it home and made something. Namely, her ivy chopped salad, I'm guessing was so named because the variety of ingredients and herbs in it. All told, there was (in counterclockwise order) butter lettuce, cilantro, scallion, salmon, chard, corn, zucchini, basil, beets, grape tomatoes and a balsamic/lime/honey vinaigrette. Rather than throw away the chard stems, Cris pickled them in rice wine vinegar (sugar added).

salmon salad ingredients

When our plates were assembled, I compared them to the picture in the book. Just as pretty, but our salmon slices were more prominent so I decided to name the post salmon salad.

salmon salad & recipe

The great thing about this salad is that it tastes as good as it looks, and as an added bonus, every bite is savored with the knowledge that the salad is also super good for you. Lean protein and a load of vitamins and minerals. If only every healthy meal could be as easily assembled!

salmon salad

Besides inspiring me to cook, the cookbook has also sparked the idea of having my own cookbook. I already have a list of dishes I would include, ranging from childhood favorites I still can't make myself to things I learned in culinary school. I'm sure the book won't come together for another year or so, but it's an idea I'm going to hold on to...