Korean-style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste, with Banchan

I see that the last time I posted was on December 5th, and it is now January 5th. Wow. That was an unintentional break that I didn’t even really realize I was taking. It wasn’t from lack of time (though I have none) or lack of cooking, but I guess I’ve just been getting back to basics lately and haven’t made anything I felt compelled to share because I’ve already done a post on it or it’s boring. Or things have been too experimental and I haven’t replicated them for quality assurance. Anyway, I’m back today, so yay!

I’ve been treadmilling lately. I’ve noticed a trend amongst my friends and peers – and even husband – in running. Friends who always claimed to hate running are now training for marathons. I think everyone I know is training for a marathon. Not me, man, I’m sticking to the hatred of running I’ve nurtured since grade school. When I was in 10th grade, our JV field hockey team was in danger of being disbanded due to lack of interest. A friend of mine was on the team and devastated by this and somehow cajoled me into auditioning. (I think perhaps “audition” is not the right verb for applying to participate in a sport, but I’m not up on such sporty lingo.) Despite their desperation for players, the coach wasn’t allowed to waive the base requirements for making the team, one of which was the ability to run a mile in 8 minutes. So basically I had to run a mile in 8 minutes or the team wouldn’t exist and my friend would cry and it’d be all my fault. I think my prior best time for mile “running” was in the 13-minute range. But I bucked up and ran that mile, clocking in at 7:58. The team was saved! Yes, I actually played an entire season of junior varsity field hockey, and because we had the bare minimum of players for a team, I played full-time in every game of the season. We even won a game, too! I must confess that I have absolutely no idea what the rules of field hockey are or what my “position” may have been. A couple of years ago, however, I realized it was very likely the powers that be strategically paused that stopwatch for a minute or five….

That was the pinnacle of my athletic career and quite possibly the last time I ever ran a distance further than a block. I just detest it. Walking I’m cool with – I can walk all day, but running makes me completely miserable. Unfortunately, I think the effects of my indifference to exercise are starting to show, especially since I stopped going to the gym to swim because the gym pissed me off. Plus Mark had been complaining that the company he works for now doesn’t provide a free, onsite gym like his previous employer. So last September I cashed in the ton of rewards points I’d collected on my credit card and bought a really nice treadmill with the cash. Since then I’ve been trying to fit treadmilling into my daily routine. I’ve been using treadmill as a verb because although I don’t run, I DO walk at a jogging pace and I also set the incline up as high as it will go, so I feel like I’m doing something more than just walking, in fact, I’m almost climbing half the time.

Anyway, I’ve been fitting a lot of my dinner preparations around my treadmilling. I’ll often pop home from work and begin prepping dinner, sometimes putting something in the oven to bake or roast, or rice in the cooker to steam, or tofu in a pan to marinate, or whatever, then I’ll go treadmill, then return to the kitchen to finish cooking. Last night’s meal fit this paradigm perfectly because it came together super quickly after my workout, which is good because by then I’m starving.

Banchan are the small side dishes that are served with Korean meals. Kimchi takes a few days to make, but many of the pickles and salads that make up banchan require little to no resting or fermenting time. They are therefore perfect for tossing together an hour or so before you plan to eat. Last night I made a bean sprout salad and a spicy cucumber salad, in addition to miso soup.

For the miso soup, to make the dashi, or stock, I’ll bring some water to a boil in my electric kettle, then pour it into a small, heavy pot over a piece of kombu, then I’ll put the lid on the pot and let it sit for a while. You can use the dashi after as little as 10 minutes, but it works perfectly if you plan some other task, like working out, before eating the soup.

Miso Soup
3 cups water, boiling for a faster dashi or room temperature if you have an hour or more
1 piece (about 4″) kombu
splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake (optional)
3-4 Tbsp miso (your favorite kind; I usually use brown/yellow)
extras: my favorites are traditional – wakame, tofu cubes, sliced scallion

Put the water and kombu in a small pot and let sit for as long as you have (an hour in cold water is sufficient; 10 minutes or so is fine in boiling water). Remove the kombu. Bring the resulting dashi to a near-simmer, adding the optional splashes of rice vinegar, mirin, and/or sake. I just use these for additional flavor since I don’t use bonito, which is fish, in my dashi. Remove a few tablespoons of dashi from the pot and put it in a small bowl. Add the miso to it and stir until smooth, then add to the pot. (It’s easier to blend the miso in this way than trying to stir into a larger quantity of liquid.) Once the miso is in the pot, don’t let the soup come to a boil. Add any extra proteins or veggies you want and let them heat gently. Miso soup is a great starter to just about any meal and also a good, light breakfast.

Korean Bean Sprout Salad
3 cups bean sprouts
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar or 1 drop stevia
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/8 tsp Korean red pepper powder
1 scallion, sliced thinly

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and lightly salt it. Add the bean sprouts. Cook for two minutes then drain and run under cold water until sprouts are completely cool. Whisk together the remaining ingredients, adjusting them to your tastes (the quantities above are approximate). Toss the sprouts with the liquid. Let flavors meld in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

Spicy Korean Cucumber Salad
1 cucumber, thinly sliced (mandolin preferable)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
1/2 tsp salt
Korean red pepper powder to taste (I used maybe 1/4 or 1/2 tsp…it’s not quite as hot as “regular” red pepper flakes and not nearly as hot as cayenne)
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Mix together everything but the cucumbers, then toss with the sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow flavors to meld and cucumbers to relax.

Korean-Style Tofu in a Spicy Fermented Paste

1 lb tofu, cut into cubes
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed lightly
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup spicy “mixed” fermented soybean paste (see photo below) OR 3 Tbsp doenjang (fermented soybean paste) + 3 Tbsp gochujang (fermented chili and soybean paste)
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
rice, for serving (I used sushi rice)

Not a great picture – I’m experience photo editing software issues over here and couldn’t clean it up – but this is the paste I bought at Super H; it’s essentially a combination of doenjang and gochujang, which are standard fermented pastes used in Korean foods. I bought it without really knowing what it was at the time just because it seemed like something that would lend itself to quick meals, although I already had both doenjang and gochujang at home.

Prepare the tofu by chopping it and the broccoli by cutting into florets and steaming for 2 minutes or so. Put the minced or pressed garlic in a small bowl and add the rice vinegar. Let it sit for a minute or two to mellow, then mix in the paste or pastes and sugar or stevia. If necessary, thin with some water (or broccoli steaming water). Heat a wok and add some oil, then stir fry the onions, then add the tofu. Cook until lightly browned.

Add the paste mixture.

Add the broccoli. Let it all cook for a minute or two, until the broccoli is heated and the paste has cooked slightly to take the raw edge off the garlic. Top with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion.

To prep this ahead, I got the rice going in the rice cooker, steamed the broccoli, chopped the tofu, and mixed the paste. It took 5 minutes, tops, to have it ready once I was finished exercising.

Here it is served with the banchan.

Between prepping dinner and exercising, I did a load of laundry. When I took it to the drying rack to hang it up, I got some help. I don’t think this looks very comfortable, but here is Gomez “assisting”.

So my work with the mangy fox in my yard has not gone well, I’m sorry to report, though I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money and time on him. As you may recall, I got some medicine for him and started putting chicken out for him, trying to establish a feeding pattern so I could dose some of the chicken with reasonable expectations that he would be the one to consume it. This has proved much more difficult than I’d hoped. This fox is VERY unpredictable, showing up sporadically at all times of day and night. He did eat the chicken once or twice, then his behavior became even more sporadic. Raccoons ate the chicken most nights, and crows ate it every day. Then I didn’t see him for three whole weeks and finally gave up hope. I assumed he’d died or moved on and I was trying to come to terms with my failure when the VERY FIRST day I didn’t put chicken out for him, he reappeared that afternoon. Then at 5 a.m. Then not at all. UGH! I’m still going to see what I can do for him, but realistically I’m going to have to adjust my hopes of saving him. It’s SO frustrating to see him right outside my window when I have not one but TWO different ways of curing him (in addition to the ivermectin we use in the States, the awesome people at the National Fox Welfare Society in the UK sent me some homeopathic medicine), in the house for him if only he’d COOPERATE. I was relieved to see he’s not looking much worse but he’s not looking better and it’s getting really cold now, which is bad when you are missing a lot of your fur.

That depressing update aside, I do have some entertaining videos from the outdoor cam that I set up to track the fox. I switched to video mode because I couldn’t always tell what was going on in the still photos.

This is just the other night, when the sick fox made his reappearance. He looks strange to me, in addition to the mange, but it’s hard to diagnose that strangeness because of the infrared flash and resulting b&w video.

Compare him to one of my healthy foxes:

I have dozens to hundreds of videos to comb through every day, 75% of which are raccoons and the rest foxes and smaller animals, so that I’m shocked every time I find an animal taking up the entire frame (even though the camera I’m using is actually intended for hunters to track their prey, which I assume is mostly deer)! I at least have a small victory in this doe. In this video you can see her holding her rear hoof up. In other videos, she refused to walk on it. But in a video I captured two nights ago, she’s putting her full weight on it! I had nothing to do with it other than providing her a source of easy food while she recovered, but I’m glad SOMEONE has healed during this trying time for me.

I have a bunch of other videos but I think I’ll save them for future posts, so I’ll close with raccoon party:

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Generic Korean Dinner, and Cat Party

Cucumbers were $1 each or 3 for $2 at the farmers market yesterday, so I got three. But considering I already had half of one at home, that was far more than I needed for tossed salads this week, so I made a cucumber salad. Instead of my regular cucumber salad, however, I made a Korean cucumber salad. When I didn’t know what to make for dinner tonight, I decided to make something that went with the Korean cucumber salad. So basically this dish has nothing to do with cucumbers but happened because I had excess of cucumbers. It’s a “generic” Korean dinner because you can use whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand.

Generic Korean Dinner

1/4 cup gojujang (fermented chili paste; from an Asian grocery store)
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled (sloppily is okay) and chopped
2 Tbsp (not packed) brown sugar
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups chopped protein, like tofu, seitan, or tempeh (I used a couple of Gardein chick’n cutlets and 1/2 block of tofu)
3 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (I used broccoli, banana pepper, and edamame)
2 scallions, sliced

Chop the ginger and smash the garlic.

Combine the gojujang, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Thin with water if necessary.

Stir fry the vegetables and proteins in a wok over high heat, adding them in order of descending necessary cooking times.

Reduce the heat a bit and add the sauce, stirring to coat everything. Cook for a minute or so.

Top with scallions and serve with sushi rice.

So, yesterday, June 12, was the one-year anniversary of the day I brought Gomez and Torticia home. Mark and I have been re-watching old episodes of The Office lately and in (I think) the first episode, Pam says she has something important to ask Jim, which turns out to be “are you going to Angela’s cat party on Sunday?” Ever since then I’ve been wanting to go to a cat party but no one ever invites me to any. Until yesterday when Mark announced he was leaving the house to procure party supplies and upon his return mysteriously began preparing something behind closed doors. Eventually he announced it was time for the cat party to begin and he herded me and the cats into the basement, where we were met with:

There was also music playing: cats meowing Christmas carols, which was the only cat music Mark could find. So please add that to your mental picture of the cat party. There were also noise makers and party mix:

After a brief mingling session, Mark announced it was time for prizes and began his awards ceremony. Gomez took first place in the category of Perfection.

Torticia took home the Outstanding award in the category of “Being Cuddly and Awesome”.

Unfortunately, during the formal portrait session part of the awards ceremony …

… while Gomez was being photographed …

… Torticia decided she found cat party terrifying and fled.

I’m not really sure what was up with that, because I’ve never seen Torticia scared of anything. I take this cat along to the vet with Gomez even when she doesn’t need to go herself because she likes it. Gomez is the one who is highly-strung and flees from loud or sudden noises. However, Gomez LOVED cat party. He was strutting around, showing off his perfection …

… and eating so much party mix I was worried he was going to spoil his appetite for dinner and/or get sick.

Fatty did resurface when I served dinner …

… until Mark accidentally touched a balloon and she was off again. Gomez, on the other hand, didn’t even care about the noise makers – as long as I used it silently.

All in all, three of us had a grand time at the cat party.

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Renae out of control at Super H

Due to a combination of factors including our trip to Charleston and, oh, a few blizzards, I have not been to Super H or any other Asian grocery store in many weeks, other than the solitary Chinese grocery store my mother-in-law found in North Charleston. I don’t know if Super H got wind of the fact I was considering moving to Charleston or if I had just missed it sorely, but for some reason it seemed to be even more amazingly awesome than usual this evening.

Oh, my love.

(This picture taken a million years ago when there weren’t 20′ snow piles all over the parking lot. Oh, happy, happy days.)

I remember vividly the first time I set foot in Super H. It must have been 5 or 6 years ago and I’d driven down to Fairfax from Arlington, where we lived at the time, just to check out the big brother to the closer-by Han Ah Reum. I walked into the produce department and immediately gaped in amazement. I remember digging my Blackberry out of my purse and immediately IMing Mark: “I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS GROCERY STORE.” Super H is HUGE and their produce selection is simply unbelievable. And CHEAP! Then there’s the entire aisle devoted to rice, and an entire aisle devoted to noodles, an entire aisle devoted to soy sauces and vinegars….it’s just amazing. You do have to watch out for certain areas – there are a lot of tentacles and other scary things that need to be avoided, but that’s really only a problem in the frozen food aisle, otherwise that stuff is confined to the seafood department in the back that I just pretend doesn’t exist.

Not only is Super H jam-packed with awesomeness, but they’re always playing good music. Like The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Erasure. I don’t know how a Korean grocery store chain got a hold of my high school record collection, but I’m not complaining.

Anyway, I went completely nuts tonight. I should have taken a picture of everything I bought, but it didn’t all fit on the kitchen island at one time. I filled four big reusable grocery bags to the point they were nearly busting, and the bill was only $100. If I’d bought that much at Whole Foods, it’d have been $500. Not that Whole Foods has half the stuff I bought. I think the blizzards have mentally scarred me and I decided I’d better pack my pantry with enough stuff to see us through an entire year or something.

No recipes tonight – it’s very late so I’m just having a huge assortment of fresh banchan supplied by Super H, and some sushi rice – but I wanted to share a few items I picked up that are new to me, with the hopes maybe some of you will supply me with ideas on using it.

Tia To:

I thought this looked suspiciously like shiso, which can be hard to find, so I snatched it up. Turns out I was right: it’s Vietnamese shiso, and apparently it has a stronger taste. There’s a pretty large amount of it for $1!

Frozen bean curd:

I got this because it looked a little bit like fish cake, so I was thinking I could use it in something that calls for fish cake. I’ve never had fish cake before, so I’ll have no idea if it tastes like it or not. I’ll probably add seaweed to whatever dish I come up with to make it fishier. Anybody tried a product like this? Since the tia to is supposed to be good with seafood dishes, I’m thinking about combining these items?

Fermented soybean:

I think I’ve identified this as doenjang, so I’m pretty sure it’ll end up in an awesome Korean soup, but I’d love to hear ideas on this.

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce With Pickled Cucumber


This one is so simply bizarre, I couldn’t pass it up. I’m not sure if I will actually eat it, although it is vegan. It’s fried wheat gluten with pickles. Apparently you put it on spaghetti?! I’ll definitely do a post on this, even if it’s not edible.

Soy Pudding

Not entirely sure why I bought this because it’s just soft tofu, which I can easily make myself, with a syrup you mix in to make a dessert. The syrup is just high fructose corn syrup with ginger flavoring, so I imagine I’ll be throwing that away and making my own syrup using fresh ginger and no HFCS. Anyone tried this stuff? Thoughts on replacing the syrup?

Rice Noodles

I just picked these up because one of the very, very few things I can’t find at Super H are really wide rice noodles, like I’d use for drunken noodles. The Thai grocery has them, but it’s far away. Actually, that Chinese grocery in North Charleston had them! Score 1 for N. Charleston (but 1,000,000 for Super H).

Aloe

I love aloe but I’ve just never bought it fresh. It was only $1 for this leaf so I figured, what the heck. Now I’m not sure what to do with it.

Kimchi!

This is NOT a new product for me, of course, but it’s pictured here because this huge container cost $14.99, and the cashier was raving about it and saying how it’s the best kind and that it was “so expensive” but worth it. Which I got a huge laugh out of, because in Charleston, Mark picked a tiny (Vegenaise-sized) jar of kimchi up at Earth Fare without looking at the price and I was shocked to look at the receipt later and find it had cost $14.99. Flabbergasted. It was just cabbage, carrots, ginger, and salt! Outrageous! When he ate it I asked him if it was the most amazing kimchi he’d ever had and he said no, in fact, it was extremely boring. It wasn’t even spicy. So now we’re always joking about the world’s most expensive kimchi. I can’t believe Super H thinks THEIR kimchi is expensive! (By the way, this kind of kimchi didn’t contain any fish sauce, anchovies, or oysters, but you’ve got to look out for that stuff when buying kimchi. Or make your own.)

Speaking of the cashier, who was Korean, she noted all the Korean food I was buying and seemed quite impressed by my selections. I’m now an honorary Korean!

I’m off to eat my banchan…have a great weekend, and if you have any thoughts on these items, let’s hear them!

Update: Here’s a picture of tonight’s meal:

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