Monday, April 30, 2012

Dakgalbi - Spicy Korean BBQ chicken

Long before I came to Vietnam I spent two and a half years living in South Korea. It was my first time in Asia and my first time in a non-English speaking country, so of course everything was new, especially the food! I remember on my first day of work, my boss asked me what I wanted for lunch, and I just stood there dumbfounded, not having a clue what to say. I asked what was available, and he said, well, anything you want. It didn't seem like the time or place to ask for pizza so finally I got a suggestion for kimbap out of him and was able to have lunch with everyone else! During my first year there I found a few more dishes I liked, but I it wasn't until I went back for another year that I really started to get to know the food better.

During that second year I found dakgalbi. It's chicken (usually dark meat) that's cooked in a huge round frying pan at the table, with cabbage, onion, carrots, sweet potatoes, maybe some rice cakes and a lot of spicy red sauce. It very quickly became my favourite dish and I wanted it all the time!

Since I left Korea I have craved this regularly, and have found it here and there but it's never quite right, because it's never cooked in front of me, I've always been alone (Koreans don't cook this at home, and if you eat out in Korea you're nearly always with people!), and it just doesn't taste the same. I tried making it myself once and it was tasty, but so spicy I could barely eat it!

I've had houseguests this week. My Korean friend Jiyeon of Runaway Juno and Stephen of Bohemian Traveler were visiting on their way through Vietnam. I first met Juno in Singapore after I left Korea for the first time. We were staying in Chinatown and celebrated Chinese New Year there together, both being completely deafened by the firecrackers! We then traveled up into Malaysia together, to Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, where we found a Korean restaurant and had a well-earned taste of the food we were both missing so much!

From reading Juno's blog I've seen that she makes Korean food for people all over the world. Obviously, when I found out she was coming here, I wanted to cook with her, and what else would I want her to teach me to make but my old favourite dakgalbi?

In one of the imported food shops here I found the key ingredient, gochujang (spicy red pepper paste). You can see on the bottom left corner of the label there's a thermometer with a 4 (I think out of a scale of 5) for the level of spiciness! Wowzers!

We assembled all the ingredients: chicken, onion, garlic, gochujang, rice vinegar, sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

I set to work de-boning the chicken, while Juno worked on the sauce.

Then she added the chicken and mixed it in well by hand....

...and we left it to marinate while we went out for the afternoon!
When we came back hungry we cut up some vegetables and put them in a frying pan (yeah, they call it BBQ but it's not) with the chicken.
Juno cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces with a pair of scissors - Korean style!

And we added ramyeon noodles, just like I used to have it in Korea.

And it's done! We served it with rice and cold beer!

This was the closest I've had to what I used to eat in Korea, and it was pretty spicy but still edible! Not to mention delicious! 

*all measurements are approximate. Taste the sauce and add things until it tastes good!
5 tbsp gochujang
2 small tbsp sugar or maeshil (Korean plum syrup)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 onion, pureed
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bulb garlic, diced very small
2 tbsp sesame oil
black pepper
approx. 1 kg chicken (dark meat)
cabbage, carrots, green pepper, baby corn, sweet potato, or whatever other vegetables you want
1 pkg ramyeon noodles (optional, or more, if you want)
Mix together the gochujang, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, onion, and garlic. Taste to see if the mixture of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness is ok. Add sesame oil and black pepper at the end, to taste. Add chicken and marinate for a few hours.
When you're ready to eat, cook some rice and boil the noodles until they're soft.
Put the chicken in a hot frying pan and cut it into bite-sized pieces with scissors. Add vegetables. Cook until the chicken's cooked through and the vegetables are tender. At the last minute, add the noodles and stir through. Serve with rice and cold beer!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Strawberry Truffle Pie

One of the things I miss most about home is berry season. In the summer, from late June right through to September it's one after another - strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and finally blackberries. I have memories of going strawberry picking as a family when I was really small, when my parents would dress me and my brother in our oldest clothes and let us loose in a strawberry field while they picked buckets and buckets of berries, then going home smeared in red and "helping" mom make jam all day. Of wandering out to the back garden in my bare feet and eating raspberries, blueberries, or cherries until I was about to burst. Of having to be careful when I was climbing the cherry trees in case the little family of raccoons was up there too! Of canning cherries for hours on end. Of eating fresh berries with vanilla ice cream for dessert every night. Of putting bag after bag of various kinds of berries in the freezer in a box marked "Beans" so my little brother wouldn't eat them all before winter even came. And of my little beagle, Nikki, who used to also eat raspberries straight off the bushes right alongside me!

Here in Hanoi the only berries we get are strawberries, and as I think I've mentioned before, they really aren't very good. However, sometimes you take what you can get! When I found a lady selling fresh strawberries fairly cheaply on the street, in what I thought wasn't strawberry season anymore, I had to buy some! And what better dish to make than my old strawberry-season favourite, Strawberry Truffle Pie.

I found this recipe years ago in a cooking magazine (I have no idea which one) that did a whole month's issue on chocolate. This was probably the first thing I made out of that magazine, and I was instantly in love. It's an amazingly delicious and yet simple pie, but the problem is that it's best in strawberry season at home, when I can get fresh, ridiculously sweet strawberries straight from the field. But I just couldn't resist this time. 

I started with a regular pie crust, using this recipe. I would normally use my Grandma's recipe, but it's HUGE and I just didn't have room in my freezer for all that extra dough!

I baked it for about 8-10 minutes and let it cool down.

While it was cooling, I melted some chocolate with some butter in the top of a double boiler, then added cream cheese and a bit of orange juice (you can use liqueur and it would be nice, but I didn't have any) and stirred until it was all smooth and creamy. Then I took it off the heat, added a bit of sifted powdered sugar, and poured it into the pie crust!

I washed a lot of strawberries...

...and started placing them on top of the chocolate, starting with the biggest ones.

Pile them up slowly and carefully, so that you have a nice even mound of strawberries on top.

Next I melted a bit of strawberry jam (the recipe actually calls for red currant jelly, but who has that just sitting around?) and carefully brushed it over the top of the strawberries to give them a shine.

Chill it in the fridge for about 4 hours and serve with whipped cream!

Here's a really terrible picture (I apologize) of a slightly fallen apart slice of it that I'm about to eat!

I LOVE this pie. I don't make it very often, because it MUST have the fresh berries, so every time I do I'm blown away once again at how delicious it is. It's so simple, but the way the creamy chocolate contrasts with the tangy, fresh berries and the flaky pie crust is just heavenly.

Strawberry Truffle Pie

1 cup (6oz) semisweet chocolate pieces
1 T butter (no subs)
1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
2 T orange liquer or juice
¼ c sifted powdered sugar
1 9 inch baked pie shell
1 lb whole fresh strawberries
2 T red currant jelly
½ c whipped cream – sweeten with powdered sugar

Combine chocolate and butter in a saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until melted. Add cream cheese and liqueur or juice. Heat and stir until blended. Remove from heat. Stir in the ¼ cup powdered sugar. Spread in baked pie shell. Arrange berries in chocolate filling. Melt jelly, brush over berries. Cover pie and chill 4 hours. Let stand at room temp before serving with whipped cream.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Old Family Favourites - Pork Bits Hawaiian

Me and my Grandma when I visited last year.

I took a trip home last June, and while I was there, I got to talking to my sister in law about family recipes. She put forth the idea that we should have a family recipe book, with all of our old childhood favourites in it, that we can print and give out to the whole family. Part of the idea was so that they don't disappear, and partly just because some of us don't have these recipes and want them! (At this point my brother asked me if I could give him the one I'm about to post.) I don't know if Trish has pursued this idea at all (she's kinda busy...), and we did think it would be tricky to narrow it down. Where do you draw the line? Does it have to be something I remember, or can it be from a cousin, or an aunt, or from an in-law's family, Mom's side or Dad' do you decide what goes in and what doesn't? Everyone's experience and memories of food are different, so while I love the idea, I think such a project has a great risk of offending someone!

So, I'm starting a new project here. I'll have a new category of blog posts, called Old Family Favourites, and every recipe in it will be just that - something from my childhood, that mom, dad, grandma, an aunt, or anyone in my family used to make! (And of course, things they still do make!) There are dishes that have appeared at big family gatherings throughout the years that I know my siblings and I always look forward to! Dishes here can be from either side of the family, just whatever comes to my mind, when I get around to making it, I'll post about it. Some will be dishes I already make regularly, some not. Some of those I might have altered to my own tastes, some are already perfect just as they are. I have my own ideas about what should go here, but I'm open to suggestions from any family member who might read this or hear about it or want to contribute, and I'm not afraid to try cooking things I haven't made before (assuming I can get the ingredients). I know there will be things I haven't thought of! So please, family, let me know if there's anything you want me to cook and then blog about!


This button will be on each "Old Family Favourites" post, and it will also always be on the sidebar, so if you want to find any of my posts that fall into this category, you can just click on it and it'll list them all for you!

For starters, tonight I made a dish that I ate time and time again when I was a kid - Pork Bits Hawaiian.

I think the original recipe came from a cookbook my mom bought as a fundraiser from a friend's kid's school (Why do I remember this useless information?), and that's what it's called in the book, but I've always thought it should be the other way around...Hawaiian Pork Bits just makes more sense doesn't it? But either way, Pork Bits Hawaiian is what it's always been in my family, and that's what it always will be to me. And it's simple, super easy, and delicious!

Start with some pork, (I have no idea what cut I buy here, something fairly lean) and cut it into bite-size chunks. Brown these in some hot oil, then add half a cup of water and let it simmer for 30 mins to an hour (this helps tenderize the pork a bit I think). Check now and then that the water hasn't all evaporated away.

In the meantime mix up 1/4 cup brown sugar and 2 tsp cornstarch (my recipe actually just says 2. I'm thinking it's tsp because 2 tbsp sounds like a lot, but you may need to adjust to whatever you need to get your sauce thick enough), then add the syrup of one can of pineapple*, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 cup of white vinegar.
*Since I've been living here I've been using fresh pineapple for this dish. This presents a number of problems, the first being that there is no syrup from the can! I buy a carton of pineapple juice and use that instead, but because that isn't as sweet as the syrup, I have to add more sugar. I also am not sure how much of either pineapple juice or sugar to add, so this whole sauce becomes a big taste test with me adding things until I think it's right. I sometimes end up making it too sweet because that's what tastes right, but then when it goes in the dish it's too much, so if you're doing this, be careful. You can always add more sugar when it's in the pan later if it really needs more. The advantage of doing it this way is that I can make as much sauce as I want! The other "problem" is that when pineapple is in season here, it's actually too sweet for this dish! I most certainly am NOT complaining, I'm just sayin'.

Ok, so then chop up some onion and green pepper (and your pineapple, if you're using a fresh one like I do), and when most of the water has evaporated from the pork, toss the onion in for a couple of minutes. Then add the sauce, and let it heat up and thicken. Stir occasionally.

When the sauce is thick, add the green pepper and pineapple, and cook until it's a bit tender.

Serve over rice, and ENJOY!

Pork Bits Hawaiian

1 ½ lbs pork
14 oz pineapple
¼ c brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp salt
¾ c green pepper
¼ c onion
2 tsp cornstarch
¼ c vinegar

Brown pork. Add ½ c water and simmer 1 hr. Drain pineapple, save syrup. Combine sugar and cornstarch. Add syrup, vinegar, soy sauce, salt. Cook low until thick. Pour over pork. Add pineapple, green pepper, and onion. Serve with rice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


One thing about moving from one part of the world to another to live is that no matter how much I might be enjoying my current home, I always miss the places I lived in before. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. My friend Jacqui from Fashion & Pho lived in Turkey for a while and still talks about it all the time! Food is usually paramount in most people's memories, including mine and Jacqui's! When she said she wanted to try making baklava, I couldn't help but remember wandering into a bakery in Amman, Jordan and buying a bagful of sticky honey-flavoured sweets....

...or the time when, on our last night in Cairo, Jeff and I thought we were treating ourselves to two pieces of cake, and accidentally ended up with a massive two kilo box of delicious, crunchy, sweet treats!

What two kilos of Egyptian sweets looks like!

Of COURSE, I desperately wanted to get in on Jacqui's baklava fun!

We found with this recipe on, and thanks to the reviewers, we knew to make the honey syrup first, so it could be cool when we poured it on the hot baklava. The previous reviewers also said we should make 1.5 times as much syrup, but because my pan was a bit smaller than the one they said to use, we just went with the full amount on the recipe, and it was perfect!

While I was doing this, Jacqui got busy shelling pistachios!

We then ground them up in my blender and added cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg.

Assembly was tedious, but pretty easy. I had found some phyllo pastry in one of the imported food shops here, and it magically fit perfectly in the pan I had if we folded it over into thirds. And so it went...pastry-melted butter-ground nuts-pastry-melted butter-ground nuts.....over and over and over again.

Jacqui's excited about BAKLAVA!

 When it was all layered together and we were out of ingredients, we sprinkled the last few nuts on top and cut it into pieces.

Then it went into the oven for about 45 minutes and came out looking like this:

Next it was time to pour the syrup on.

Can you see the syrup down in the cracks? That's going to seep in between all the layers of pastry and pistachios until it's all soaked up.

We waited for it to cool down for just about as long as we could stand it (all of about 3 minutes), then started feasting!

This was SO good. So good that I couldn't stop eating it. So good that Jacqui said she got up in the middle of the night to eat some more. So good that I've been craving it just about every day since I finished it off! So good that despite the amount of work and all the other things I want to make and the cost of the ingredients, I still want to do this again and again and again!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

It's pineapple season! That means that just about anywhere you go in Hanoi right now, you can buy a whole small pineapple for less than 50 cents US, and the seller will cut the stem, peel and eyes off for you in a cool diagonal pattern. And it's some of the sweetest pineapple you'll ever eat.

Sometimes I go to the market outside my house, and find so much fruit that looks so good, that I really go a bit overboard. On this particular day I had bought a kilo of mangoes, about 10 bananas, and two pineapples. I live alone, and that's far more fruit than I can eat before it will go bad! Solution? Well, usually, it's bananas that I end up with too much of, and they end up being banana bread, but this time I decided to go another way. Pineapple upside-down cake!

I found a basic recipe on but of course, being me, couldn't do it just like it said, so I added a few extra spices! I started by making a syrup from brown sugar, melted butter, pineapple juice, the juice from some grated fresh ginger, and a tiny bit of ground cloves. I poured that into the bottom of a pan, and arranged some pieces of pineapple on top in a pretty pattern.

Then I made up the batter as the recipe said, but added about 1 tsp of cinnamon to it. I poured it on top of the pineapple and syrup, and baked it for 30 minutes like the recipe said. The syrup started to come up the sides of the cake and it smelled amazing!

After it had cooled for about 10 minutes I turned it upside-down onto a serving tray.

This cake was delicious. It's quite dense, despite the beaten egg whites that went into it, and the syrup on the bottom (er...the top?) soaks into the batter and makes it sticky and gooey. I would make it again. And again. And again. When I took it to work even Emma, who doesn't like pineapple, picked off the fruit and loved it!