Finding myself in possession of ginseng, milk vetch root and sweet rice straight from Seoul, I invited over the unofficial dinner club posse and tried my hand at samgyetang, a Korean chicken ginseng soup traditionally prepared in the dead of summer. (And let’s be real, with highs in the 80’s it might as well be summer in CA right now) Samgyetang involves stuffing a whole young chicken/cornish hen with soaked sweet rice, ginseng, jujubes and garlic, then boiling/simmering the whole bird for an hour or so. It’s healthy, delicious, and easy to prepare if you can track down the right ingredients. I decided to add some star of anise, fennel, and dried orange peel to the stuffing mix. It had been a long week and I was more than ready to kick back with wine and friends in the comfort of my home/a place not calling for heels.

I used the leftovers for next-day meal prep and a big tasty lunch bowl.

ON THE LEFT: Samgyetang mashed up against some kabocha simmered in soy sauce, maple syrup and water. Green onion garnish.

ON THE RIGHT: special batch of scorching hot kimchi from Stormy T, and some rice from the samgyetang stuffing, which is laced with all kinds of tasty spices and garlic.

Had to make a lunch out of all this action. I threw in an egg and some simmered daikon. Here’s the meal prep shot. I made three lunches total to eat at work. Admittedly looking most forward to the single-tier drumstick samgyetang bento.

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And here are some snaps from the dinner party! I entertained myself during prep by listening to BIGBANG and taking some selfies while the rice soaked.20150130_184203 I didn’t have the time/energy to pull off a multi-course affair, so I asked the guests to pick up a few dishes from Jackie’s Korean Fusion in Paso Robles. It is a complete miracle that the likes of Paso Robles has a delicious, authentic Korean place. The owners are a couple that met in Seoul and later moved to the States; Jackie is from Korea and does all the cooking, which is most definitely family style aka top-notch ingredients, sauces from spice mixes ground by hand, and based off a short simple menu. We had her squid bokkeum and chap chae. 20150130_185251 We also burned through a few bottles of wine and engaged in some very competitive Jenga. This is Marianne, and she is basically Jenga royalty. Although we did eventually beat the game by stacking until we literally couldn’t stack no more, this lady executed the final winning stack and can literally snatch blocks from the most quavery of Jenga towers with disturbing speed and ease. 20150130_200509 Mikel tried to pretend he had jittery “coffee hands” but then proceeded to beast the entire game. 20150130_200550 And here’s the feast! The samgyetang was not perfect. I didn’t add enough water throughout the cooking process, which resulting in dryer meat than I had tasted in Seoul, and I forgot to tell everyone to add salt and pepper to their liking. Still, we had a great time scarfing up all the eats and I learned a lot for next time! 20150130_202137 Nolan stopping for a breather halfway through the carnage. 20150130_202413 And this is how you beat Jenga. 20150130_213133

In other news, things have been pretty crazy! I made a trip to LA to see some folks I’d been missing, have been pretty consistent with fitting in workouts at least four days a week, and things are really ramping up at work. It has hit me that going hard at work for a few months is just the beginning of going hard for another thirty years. If I’m lucky enough to have that kind of career. It is officially on in terms of actually, substantially practicing law and I’m very excited about everything to come.

LAST THING! I NEED SOME ADVICE: Where’s the best (or worst) place to travel abroad during November or December? I would be very grateful if anyone out there would share their experience for better or worse with winter travel. I’m definitely willing to entertain traveling somewhere very cold as long as the weather wouldn’t materially dampen the experience. When I’m on a trip my priorities are wandering on foot, eating, museums, and trying to participate in any seasonal stuff the locals love. There are a ton of well-travelled folks on the blogosphere and I’d appreciate any guidance! Please don’t be shy and hit up that comment box!

I had two requests for vegetarian smørrebrød. As I have been quite the holiday chocolate machine lately, I decided to go totally veggie and clean. Was pretty happy with the result. Both are on a slice of sesame Ezekiel bread, buttered and then topped with a little spinach. Both experienced a salt and pepper shower prior to eating.

TOP SLICE: sliced pears, sliced tomato, sliced purple onion, carrots roasted in evoo/balsamic/cumin/paprika/garlic salt, slice of lemon, dill.

BOTTOM SLICE: dill pickle slices (from the Avila Valley Barn), roasted beet salad made with Veganaise/pickle brine/maple syrup/salt/pepper, sliced persimmon, and dill. 

Processed with VSCOcamand here’s how I packed the same ingredients for grain-free bento:
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BTW, I loved hearing your requests for veggie smorrebrod! Please, please let me know if you’d like me to make something from a certain part of the world or featuring a certain ingredient/eating style for either a regular dish or bento. The weirder the challenge the better, even if it’s abstract like, say, a Quentin Tarantino bento. Which I’m guessing would heavily feature ketchup splatters. See, I love that kind of thing! Please get crazy in the comments!

This has been a pretty swaggy Christmas season so far. I participated in Food 52’s holiday exchange this year and had to post a pic or two of my box, since my Food52 exchange buddy Steph really pulled out the proverbial bells and whistles to send me the best of Utah!
2014-12-16 16.21.232014-12-16 16.45.52On Friday, I came home from my swearing in party and found this beauty on the counter. One of my closest friends and college roomie Pam sent me this box of delish homemade goodies. I know, this bragging is shameless but I’m just so thrilled and grateful that I have people in my life willing to send something like this, and all the way from DC. 2014-12-19 20.41.10 2014-12-19 20.42.12

That’s right, bourbon balls. In other news, my sister Erika has returned to Tahoe. It was actually horrible to see her go. I am not a lonely person by habit or nature, but few things make me feel more unfortunately solitary than that vacant, suspended feeling in my chest after she drives away and I realize I don’t know when I’ll see her again. We celebrated Christmas early to coincide with her visit, which was a ton of fun. Does anyone reading play Just Dance on Wii?! It’s awesome. We did a ton of fam bonding with that game, and I can think of no other acceptable venue for me to do the music video dance from “Bang Bang.”

Before I go, a holiday reminder: it’s about the time you spend, not the gifts you give or receive. Christmas gifts are great, but they do not define your relationships. Getting a wonderful gift does not mean your relationship with the giver is any better, nor is the converse true. December is as close as America gets to a corporate sponsored season of days off work, culinary decadence, friends, and family; take advantage. The other 364 days, when the real relationship making and breaking goes down, are full of enough pressure as it is. Cheers, and happy holidays!

I saw this Serious Eats article on smørrebrød and had to make my own. Smørrebrød is an everyday Danish dish, an open-faced sandwich on dense rye bread with a layer of butter, piled high with various toppings. Scandinavian food–with all that smoked, dill-dusted fish–has always held a place in my heart, and with little time to cook I was in the market for a tasty, healthy, easy dish I could merely assemble. I gathered the necessary items, and made a lunch along with several bento for the upcoming week.

Smørrebrød, two ways

Both are on buttered Sesame Ezekiel bread with a layer of spinach.

TOP SLICE/SMOKED SALMON: sliced hard boiled egg, sliced persimmon, and sliced red onion. Dill-ed to the hilt. 

BOTTOM SLICE/PICKLED HERRING: sliced hard-boiled egg, sliced persimmon, sliced red onion, and a secret batch of Stormy T’s turnip pickles (which I am testing for flavor). Then, dill x a million. 

2014-12-14 12.10.58Yes, that’s a crip new Settlers of Catan. Cannot wait to get on board and learn to play!2014-12-14 12.10.48 Here’s the “photo finish” version, before I threw on the egg that didn’t fit and upended the dill. This is a total dirty blogger secret. The food that gets photographed and the food that gets eaten are often not precisely the same…2014-12-14 12.03.41And here’s the bento! Layers of spinach, red onions, smoked salmon, tomatoes, shredded carrots, Stormy T’s turnip pickles, and an egg over medium. 

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Highlights from this week include: work party at the Madonna Inn (was served fillet mignon on a stick. So yummy, so laid-back Central Coast), midnight eggnog gelato and sunflower seed cookie sammies, seeing the Nutcracker and getting my picture taken with the Sugar Plum Fairy, and watching a date struggle through “level ten hot” Korean food while trying to remain nonchalant/keep up our conversation. 

In other news, my sister will be in town all week! I have put all other plans on hold for maximum sister and fam hangout time. This means there will be a ton of sushi-eating, hopefully some Moulin Rogue watching, and lots of quality convos that can only be had with your best flesh and blood relations.

ALSO: let me know if there’s a certain kind of cuisine you’d like to see stuffed in a bento. I am all about accepting challenges, Top Chef style. Just comment away if you have any ideas! Take care, hope you’re having a delightful holiday season!

Nothing says “I hate you” (or worse, I’m totally obligated) like a bagged gift from Target. While this is not a blanket rule–hello Target holiday pajamas–getting friends and family special, personalized gifts is what makes the holidays fun. There’s no point doing the stressed out gifts slog under those big box fluorescents if you live in a place with as many artists, artisans, and makers as SLO County. Here are some options:

  • Commission Some Art

The Central Coast has a glut of talented artists who may be willing to draw/paint/sculpt/decollage something awesome for your loved ones. And, it doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. (Because let’s be real, for all the faux-Italian swag in this county, many of us are NOT Medicis looking to get our busts sculpted.)

This year, I commissioned two works from local artist Kevin Castaniero. This is one of his pieces (but not the one I commissioned! Those have to stay under wraps for now!):

Badass, right? Kevin will draw your friends and family members, potentially in the fighting gear of your choice, or any other character. He’s wonderful to work with and I would very much recommend him. Each piece will generally run from $30 to $70. Check out his website for details!

  • Local Jewelry

Len Designs Jewelry is the real deal. The materials are heavy, quality metals and Shannon Len’s point of view as a jewelry designer is strong. She’s all pared-down-contemporary with an eye for beautiful details. Observe:

Situated right across the street from the SLO Goshi, it’s easy to stop in and browse for something elegant. North County folks can pick up Len jewelry from the General Store in Paso.

  • Meat

Because that weird ish from the supermarket just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Alle Pia salumis made by the good folks at Buona Tavola are to die for and would serve as a decadent treat under the tree. A few months ago I went to a work-related event at Buona Tavola SLO and literally gorged myself on salumi-wrapped asparagus finger foods (classy, I know).

Check out their website here for local distributors or just go see Alex at the Tempelton Farmer’s Market on Saturday!

  • Theatre Tickets

People who say there’s “nothing to do” in SLO county apparently haven’t consulted local theatre schedules. The busy bees at the SLO Little Theatre turn out compelling productions, ranging from crowd-pleasing musicals like a Chorus Line and the Music Man, to acclaimed comedies like Steve Martin’s Picasso at Lapin Agile. There’s also the PAC, which always has an eclectic mix of performances running.

  • Bath and Body Goods

I am pretty obsessed with skincare and can be found lurking about Sephora on a weekly basis, but the line of custom-made soaps and scrubs at the General Store in Paso Robles keeps me coming back. I know I talk about these a ton, but seriously you need the Bitter Sweet Scrub in your life, or at least your Grandma does.

  • Spices

Spices are one of the few commodities people probably don’t spend enough money on. A good spice cabinet is a game changer in terms of the tastiness level in your home cooking. Fresh spices are pricey but they are literally magic powder in the kitchen; box store spices can’t compare. Luckily, Spice of Life in Paso Robles offers fresh spices and creative blends for sale at reasonable prices. I went in over the weekend to get some quality allspice and came across oodles of blends, sampler packs, and exotic ingredients (hello dill pollen?!) that would be perfect for a holiday gift. I’m pretty obsessed with their garlic salt, “Curry Up,” and “Greek Influence” blend. They also have cooking-grade matcha. Let’s just say someone on my list is getting a nifty little  bag of lovingly-selected mulling spices!

 

I hope I’ve convinced you to up your present game this year! Christmas can get costly and stressful, so you might as well get the good stuff and keep our local economy on its feet. Take care everyone, and happy holidays!

Two maj holidays down, one to go. I’m working on putting together a gift guide but for now all I’ve got is this post, which contains all the best parts of my long weekend: friends, family, wine tasting, all winding up with some meal prep and hella eggs. 

For Thanksgiving, I was asked to make the apple pie. I decided to apron-up and improvise on a basic recipe; the result was a whiskey-spiked mulled cider apple pie with apples and Gopher Glen cider from the Avila Valley Barn. I mulled the cider myself, then boiled it with Crown Royal and Throat Coat tea. Yes, I basically doused these apples in a scalding cocktail before stuffing them in the crust. I think the real “secret ingredient” was coconut sugar, which lent the pie a nice caramelized taste.

Phase one: peel.

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Last week I assembled a posse and headed for a pre-SLO brew show dinner at Foremost Wine Co. This is a brand new SLO establishment and if our meal is any indication of what the kitchen is capable of, it’s here to stay. It might even be better than Thomas Hill, which is a pretty tall order. In any case, I was deeply impressed with the creative menu options. Foremost, if their aerological-themed menu presentation didn’t give it away, serves strictly seasonal fare and boasts a kickass, international wine list. The actual space is beautiful to behold. Part enchanted forest with lots of cool, dark earth tones, Foremost has an elevated but folksy noir feel that welcomes. Like if Karl Lagerfeld and Malificent had a baby who decided to decorate a restaurant, it would probably look a lot like Foremost Wine Co.

At some point during my visit I remember thinking Foremost Wine Co. is just the kind of place SLO County needed; food that’s not only quality but inspired, and with a casual but distinctly polished atmosphere that serves the food-forward 20-something crowd just as well as it does the 40-somethings. No faux-Italian/French/whatever, no pretense; just balls-to-the-wall creative cooking. I’d highly recommend Foremost and can’t wait to return. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Here are Marianne and I nerding out over the prospect of delish food, as per usual.

2014-11-16 18.05.25 Liquid courage indeed! We all started out with a drink. I was feeling girly and tried their rose by the glass. It was only slightly pink and BONE DRY, which is exactly up my alley. Marianne tried the cava, loved it, and Alex had a drink from the bar but I sadly do not remember its name. 2014-11-16 18.08.27 The menu front page is beautiful. Inspirational quote at the bottom of the page doesn’t hurt. 2014-11-16 18.11.24Spoiler alert: we definitively asserted our dominance as a species with these meal choices, covering both land and sea. We started out with the rabbit mole tacos. This was a rich, spicy mole made with evident care, and the rabbit meat took to it wonderfully. 2014-11-16 18.34.15 We also split the cauliflower fritti, which is curried and served with mint, accompanied by lemon yogurt for dipping. This dish was the only choice I wasn’t so fond of. The deep-fry killed the curry flavor. 2014-11-16 18.34.20 And here is the decided belle of the ball for the evening: the cocoa paperdelle with braised quail. If given the option, I would have put my face in the bowl. This was what I came for: delicious slow-cooked, handmade food with a burst of culinary creativity. The taste was unique, the noodles soft and perfect–not too overwhelmingly imbued with cacao–and the braised quail actually mouthwatering. We split all the dishes but I probably ate more than my share of this one.2014-11-16 18.34.27 This grilled octopus was also a table favorite. Foremost expertly prepares that hard-to-find TENDER octopus that’s still a bit crisp around the edges. It is served in cream corn with chorizo vinaigrette and arugula. This dish should be considered a must for your trip to Foremost. 2014-11-16 18.34.36 Stoked. 2014-11-16 18.35.12The servers also take awesome group shots! I should note that Foremost brings a strong service game. Everyone we came into contact with from servers to hosts was poised, no-fuss and excited to talk about the menu.
2014-11-16 18.36.22The receipt came with kale seeds.
2014-11-16 19.15.33 Must get a seat at this sexy oyster bar next time. Foremost has a full on dining room, an oyster bar, and a lounge.2014-11-16 19.17.43Pretty decor, indeed.
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Hopefully these pictures have persuaded any SLO readers out there to book a table, although you might have to fight me for it. Enjoy your last few days of sanity before Thanksgiving sets in!

Foremost Wine Co.

570 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805)439-3410

foremostwineco.com

 

I guess it’s one of those annoying “blessings in disguise” that San Luis Obispo is bereft of a legit dumpling place. As is the case with many finer points of Asian cuisine, SLO residents have to make their own damn mandu. (Aka, Korean-style dumplings!) The least that can be said for this predicament is, with the stern expectations of “authentic” cooking cast on more diverse/cultured pockets of California, at least there’s room to be creative. So, I got creative. This recipe had been brewing in my head for over a week before I finally made some time to execute.

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Mandu filling contains (top row): sweet potatoes roasted in gochujang and chili oil; roasted garlic; kimchi and sesame seeds stir-fried with red pepper flakes; smoked effing gouda cheese; scallions; and lean ground beef. I added a dollop of oyster sauce and drizzled in some soy. Wrappers are store-bought (sorry not sorry, they take FOREVER to make by hand). Over fresh spinach.

Roast veggies (bottom row): broccoli, cauliflower, and kabocha roasted in fermented black bean paste, chili oil, garlic salt, and red pepper flakes. Over raw shredded carrot.

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And they were really, really good. I’m excited to nom on these all week! The great thing about these mandu is that the taste is brash and complex, but they’re still firmly the “clean eating” category. This is lean ground beef, there’s hardly any cheese spread across like, sixty dumplings, and oil was used sparingly. There’s also great-for-your-gut fermented ingredients (kimchi and gochujang). Sweet potato and garlic go a long, long way.

DIRECTIONS: Roast some sweet potatoes in a little less than a handful of gochujang, and roasted a ton of garlic on the side. Super easy step, just put them in the oven at 400 degrees for around an hour. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl to cool.

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Stir-fry some kimchi and sesame seeds in a little chili oil. Get the kimchi nice and crispy while toasting the sesame.2014-11-15 11.05.32 Chop up some scallions and toss them in a food processor with the kimchi and the roasted garlic. I have a fancy tub-like food processor but I always find myself resorting to this little Ninja! So handy, so easy to clean. 2014-11-15 11.13.52Add the food processed mix, ground beef and shredded smoked gouda to the mixing bowl along with a few dashes of oyster sauce and soy sauce. Time to get your hands dirty and mash it all up! Try to ignore how the ground beef looks uncomfortably like brains…2014-11-15 12.12.34 Set up your wrapping station, pick a dumpling shape and get to folding! I always have a little bowl of water to dampen wrapper edges for easy sealing. PRO TIP: GET A FRIEND TO HELP. DUMPLING-MAKING IS TEDIOUS, DEFINITELY A TEAM SPORT. I had to call a friend over for backup so the meat wouldn’t spoil on the countertop! 2014-11-15 12.19.50 Steam those baddies for eight (8) minutes on the stove. I use a steaming tray and rice paper in a big wok-like pan, but a bamboo steamer with some napa leaves would surely be more effective. 2014-11-16 13.15.14Mixing sauce is up to you and your taste buds. I tend to use soy sauce, chili oil, and chili flakes.

Hope you enjoyed this bento! Get excited for more food soon!

Liz

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