Return to Armenia: The Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Food Festival

Last year in December, we dropped by the Soorp Khatch Armenian Dessert Festival.  There will be another of those later this year, but meanwhile, this very weekend they are hosting “A Taste of Armenia,” which includes food you can eat before the sweet indulgences of the pastry table, with some candy and canned goods thrown in for fun.

Magic Meringue Mushrooms

Magic Meringue Mushrooms

There is a choice of three special plates of kebobs with pilaf, salad and bread, but we found that the more interesting choices lurked among the a la carte offerings.  I assembled a lunch of four side dishes, and found them more than satisfying.  A bar with beer and Armenian wine on offer rounded out the festive offerings.

Helpfully Labeled Side Dish Display

Helpfully Labeled Side Dish Display

Beef Shish Kebob Plate

Beef Shish Kebob Plate

My Side Dish Choices

My Side Dish Choices

Cheese filo boreg, imam bayeldi (baked eggplant), lahmajun (spiced meat spread on flatbread), and sarma/yalanchi (stuffed grape leaves) were all delicious.  Armenian coffee with our dessert of kedayif (shredded filo [phyllo] stuffed with cheese and nuts) and a baton sale each (a specialty of the Lebanese Armenians) guaranteed that we would not be hungry again for quite awhile.

Dessert and Coffee

Dessert and Coffee

The scene in the hall for lunch was lively, but nothing compared to dinner service on the weekend – at least according to my informant, Irene, who brought our coffee (made to order).  We had come on the first day (Thursday) because this weekend is overflowing with other events.  Unfortunately, that meant we did not get to see the added attractions promised for the weekend, a merchant’s mall and arts and crafts among them.

Irene with Coffee

Irene with Coffee

The Scene in the Hall

The Scene in the Hall

But there were Attic Treasures in the main hall, and among them I found an old chef friend, Maro Nalabandian.  She has been away for a year, but is back in the area.  What a nice surprise!

Shakeh and Malo and Attic Treasures

Shakeh and Malo and Attic Treasures

The festival runs until 9 p.m. today (Thursday), from 12 to 9 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.  Go and eat!

 

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Playing Hooky Results in Celebrity Sighting

Last Sunday, I sneaked out of school and visited another farmers market.  I know, egregious, right?  That’s what it felt like!  But I had a good reason, and there was no chef demo to shepherd at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market (OFAM), so I didn’t feel so horribly guilty as I might have.

We ankled down to Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market to support some fellow Culinary Historians of Washington (CHoW) members, who presented a program similar to the two enjoyed by OFAM patrons earlier in the season. Beverly Firme, the mastermind behind “CHoW Goes to Market,” envisions it as outreach, to connect with possible new members, and spread insights into historical origins of our foodways.  And because, delicious.

And as none of us are bone-weary of politics yet this year, she decided that the theme would be Election Food.  Yes, this is, and more importantly, has been, a thing, and for quite a long time, in this great country of ours.  CHoW member Shirley Cherkasky’s collection of political fundraising cookbooks enabled Beverly to assemble recipes from different eras and political perspectives. (See the CHoW website, where they are posted along with much more information about the organization.)

There is, for instance, Election Night Fruit Cake from Ruth Finney, of the Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance, published in the National Press Club’s Second Helpings in 1962.  “…on election day before the polls close, I find there is a big vacuum.  The job of preparing and mixing the ingredients for this fussy cake is a good way to fill it.”  You know that’s historical, because so totally obsolete.

From The Gray Panthers Cookbook  (1984), comes Banana Sweet Potato Bread.  I remember the Gray Panthers, an advocacy organization that confronts ageism and other social justice issues, from when it was founded in 1970.  I didn’t think I would fit the membership profile then, but I do now!  Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that the Gray Panthers are still going strong today.

Reaching a little further back in history, and attempting to be politically nonjudgmental, Citizens for McCarthy (published in 1948 so you know it’s not Eugene they mean) is the source for The Vote Getters Coffee Cake.  Balancing the demagoguery is a recipe from Eleanor Roosevelt in The Val-Kill Cookbook (1984) for Pear Bread.

Beverly, Laura Roler, and Mark Collins demonstrated mixing the Banana Sweet Potato Bread and Pear Bread while keeping the audience entertained with historic anecdotes, then passed out samples.

Mark, Beverly and Laura Demo at Dupont Circle

Mark, Beverly and Laura Demo at Dupont Circle

The Audience Gathers Around

The Audience Gathers Around

chow-members-mark-collins-beverly-firme-and-laura-roler-demonstrate-historic-recipes-at-dupont-circle-farmers-market

Delicious Little Bites

Then, as the demo was wrapping up, there was Chef Jose Andres, shopping for his family.  Guess what?  He has an interest in historic cookbooks, and even owns a copy of the second edition of Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-Wife (1824).  We chatted happily for several minutes, then he graciously posed for a picture with all of us.

CHoW Members, Chef Jose, and Chef's Daughter Ines

CHoW Members, Chef Jose, and Chef’s Daughter Ines

All in all, a highly satisfactory day.  Dupont Circle, the biggest and busiest market in these parts, is certainly exciting to visit, but I prefer the more relaxed vibe of Olney.  If that sounds like what the rubes say about New York City, then so be it!

 

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Review: Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens by Pati Jinich

Bless Pati’s heart.  She’s a wonderful cook and teacher, and her winsome personality shines in conversation and on the small screen.  However, the design of her latest cookbook is maddening.  Let me explain.

There are the expected beautiful pictures of food in the current informal, slightly messy food styling mode.  There are engaging descriptions and reminiscences for most dishes, which make this an intensely personal and engaging cookbook.  There are recipes that sound so good you want to rush right out, buy the ingredients, and cook them (providing you have access to a good mercado).  There are many informative asides  – and that’s where one of the problems crops up.

The “Cook’s Tips” and other little teaching moments, as well as many chapter introductions, are negative-printed on dark backgrounds with white type.  Many use a very small typeface.  Now, I may be showing my age here, but I find these very hard to read.  And another thing: many recipes are continued on overleaf pages, so the cook has to flip the page mid-process to continue following the recipe.  All of them could have been avoided with some thoughtful layout design.

But enough complaining.  How do the recipes cook?  Very well, actually, clear and precise, and the ones I tried, delicious.  Pati’s version of the common Mexican street food Esquites (Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote) is not only easy and delicious, but gave me a chance to use my backyard epazote in something other than bean and egg dishes.  It’s so good, it has already become a staple way to cook fresh corn in my repertoire.

Her chapter introduction story on tacos (fortunately printed in black on a light grey background) inspired me to fill warm corn tortillas with sliced avocados and avocado honey (which I happened to bring back as a souvenir from a trip to San Diego).  The orchard ambiance, alas, was unavailable; imagination had to substitute picnic tables for my kitchen furniture.  Even so, they were delicious with the Esquites.

Esquites and Avocado Tacos

Esquites and Avocado Tacos

The Open-Faced Mexican Gravlax Sandwiches (Sandwiches Abiertos con Gravlax Estilo Mexicano) appealed to me as a new twist on a personal favorite.  I make gravlax as often as I can find salmon fillet at a reasonable price, so Pati’s spicing and sugar substitutions were intriguing.  (But another annoying quirk surfaced: the prep time of 15 minutes could be accomplished only with the piloncillo already grated, the cilantro chopped, the cumin ground, the lime zested and squeezed, the salmon scaled and de-pin-boned, and the avocado chopped.  Those of us without at least a sous chef will have to budget a little longer!)

But they were delicious.  The gravlax seemed a little salty when sampled after it emerged from the brine, but in combination with the avocado crema and dark bread, it was sublime.  Another keeper – if only I could get someone to grate that piloncillo for me!

Gravlax Sandwiches

Gravlax Sandwiches

I had a chance to sample the Morelia-Style Savory Fruit Salad (Gazpacho Moreliano), another popular Mexican dish, during the event at WAMU in June, so I know that recipe is also a winner.  I look forward to exploring this book further.  I just wish my eyesight was a little better!

Pati Jinich, Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2016.

 

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Faces Made For Radio: In the Studio Audience at The Kojo Show

I was, as usual, listening with half an ear to the house ads and teasers on WAMU-FM, when I sat right up: there was an announcement of the chance to be in the audience for a live broadcast of Kojo Nnamdi’s Wednesday food show, when his guest would be Pati Jinich.  And more – Pati would do a demo just before the show.  Needless to say, I signed right up.

We arrived at the new WAMU headquarters on Connecticut Avenue on a beautiful day at the end of June.  The waiting room was already full of fellow Kojo fans.  This would be the first live studio-audience show from their basement broadcasting theater.  We were led downstairs to the bright, cheery space fitted with a demonstration kitchen, set with cafe tables and decorated with Mexican paper flowers and garlands.

The staff seemed as excited as the audience.  WAMU’s general manager, J.J. Yore, was there, and the local host, Matt McCleskey, served as foil for Pati as she prepared a dish from her new cookbook.  Gazpacho Moreliano, or Morelia-Style Savory Fruit Salad, she explained, is not Spanish-style gazpacho, and many restaurants in Morelia (in Michoacán state) claim to have the original recipe.  It includes cotija cheese, onions and chile along with mixed fruit and jicama.  It sounds a little improbable, but is delicious.  Pati mentioned that it could be made with other white cheese, but she prefers cotija for its “barnyardy” taste.

Pati and Matt At the Demo Kitchen

Pati and Matt At the Demo Kitchen

Move Over Jicama!

Move Over Jicama!

Pati's Audience

Pati’s Audience

Station interns passed out samples, and Pati took questions.  Then it was time to file into the studio for the broadcast.  And there was a surprise – Kojo and Pati were joined, not just by Mariano Ramos, chef and instructor at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, but by Paula Johnson, curator of the FOOD Exhibit at the National Museum of American History.

Kojo, Pati, Mariano, Paula

Kojo, Pati, Mariano, Paula

During the show, Pati told tales of food in her life, including the time she got weepy over a Mexican hot dog, her first after twenty years away.  She was filming for her TV show.  The powerful emotional impact of food!

Chef Mariano pointed out that humans are the only animal who uses heat to cook food.  Kojo asked each of them what is their favorite kitchen tool?  Mariano loves his blow torch (there’s a theme here).  Pati prefers her blender.  Paula, joining for the last segment, described how the NMAH exhibit traced the history of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex cuisines.  The topic of tortillas came up.  In answer to the question, “What can you eat on a tortilla?” Pati replied, “You can taco anything!”  And that was the last word.

After the show, there were door prizes.  I didn’t win, but I did get Pati to sign my copy of her new book, Mexican Today.  I’ll be reviewing it here soon.

Mexican Today

Mexican Today

J.J. Yore Gives Out Door Prizes

J.J. Yore Gives Out Door Prizes

Pati Signs Her Book

Pati Signs Her Book

Only Crumbs Left on the Tabletop

Only Crumbs Left on the Tabletop

After the program, we needed lunch.  We didn’t have to go far; there were several food trucks lined up across the street.  A Jamaican truck had an oxtail platter special.  One to split between the two of us, a Jamaican ginger beer, and a picnic table in Rock Creek Park – a perfect coda to a foodie morning.

Oxtail Alfresco

Oxtail Alfresco

 

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Conserver of a Great Tradition – Review: Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields

Have you ever picked up one of those spiral-bound cookbooks published by a community group, expecting to find it full of recipes redolent of the culture or region of its origin, only to discover it contains only a single section of “specialties,” with most of the book padded out with generic stuff?  Me, too.  This book is the antithesis of that.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Chesapeake Bay Cooking marks the culmination of John Shields’ career as proponent and practitioner of the cuisine of the mid-Atlantic region.  From Baltimore to Virginia, the domination of the great Bay is recognized as the major influence on the ingredients, with the mix of immigrant cultures, history, and personalities contributing to a unique way of life that was disappearing even as the first edition was published.  Now, when one reads about the great shad runs of the past, or the many tons of oysters pulled from the Bay each year, or the skipjack fleet, or the crab-picking houses that were the life-blood of small towns lining the Eastern Shore, the feeling of regret for the feckless exploitative  profligacy is almost overwhelming.

But this is not John Shields’ brief.  His tone is not elegiac but celebratory.  He has not updated the book to be a wake for what is lost, but continues to rejoice in what remains.  Many recipes are prefaced by an attribution to one local character or another, interspersed with vignettes of people and places, all told in the folksy, down-home voice that he comes by honestly, as a local boy.

And speaking of Baltimore, the crab section (the very first and largest in the book, a full 51 out of 325 pages) includes a contribution by Senator Barbara Mikulski, “Senator Barb’s Spicy Bay Crab Cakes.” She is described as “an east Baltimore gal through and through.”  I wonder if she would be flattered?

The recipes are easy to follow, well-written (with the caveat that a few run to the overleaf), and not at all “cheffy” (even those contributed by professional chefs).  They are written in the direct style one imagines the contributors used as Chef John collected them.  Many have the patina of age, an air of having been proven by generations of watermen and their wives.

There are also new ones added for the 25th Edition, such as Neopol Smoked Rockfish Chowder, from the Neopol Savory Smokery in Baltimore (their smoked garlic is addictive).  Recipes from the German community add diversity, and an authentic recipe for Brunswick Stew includes squirrel meat.

I can vouch for the delectability of “Miss Lorraine’s Barbecued Chicken” and “Smoked Country Ham and Blue Cheese Pie,” although I substituted generic ham for the hickory-cured ham called for.  Don’t attempt to count the calories in this one!

I also had the chance to taste two other dishes from the book, thanks to Chef John’s appearances at the Gaithersburg Book Festival and the Farmers Market at River Hill.  Crab Soup (there are two of them in the book, but I think it was the one attributed to the Cross Street Market) and Back Creek Inn’s Crab Quiche were both worthy of their sapidus ingredients.

Chef John Signs A Previous Edition For A Fan At River Hill

Chef John Signs A Previous Edition For A Fan At River Hill

The Demo Quiche

The Demo Quiche

Chef John Cooks In Gaithersburg

Chef John Cooks In Gaithersburg

John Shields, Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, 25th Anniversary Edition,  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

 

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History and HerStory: Legal Eats: Food and the Culture of the U.S. Supreme Court

What would you like to know about the eating habits of the Supreme Court? A peek behind the bench was revealed earlier this month when the Smithsonian Food History Program collaborated with the Supreme Court Historical Society to present a panel on that topic at the National Museum of American History.  The two bona fide historians were beside the point – everybody was there to be in the same room as the two Justices.  For a foodie in this town, it was thrilling.

These Are the Justices You're Looking For

These Are the Justices You’re Looking For

L to R: John Gray, Clare Cushman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Catherine Fitts

L to R: John Gray, Clare Cushman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Catherine Fitts

Secretary Skorton

Secretary Skorton

The program was introduced by David J. Skorton, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and John L. Gray, the NMAH Director.  Appropriate for the level of company!  On stage along with the Justices were Catherine E. Fitts, the Curator of the Supreme Court, and Clare Cushman, Director of Publications of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

It transpired that Justice Ginsburg had made a study of Supreme Court history.  In addition, her late husband, Martin, was a consummate cook.  The SCHS has published a collection of his recipes as a tribute.  Justice Sotomayor?  “I love food!”  We have something in common there!

Among the interesting historical facts: Justice John Marshall’s court lived and dined together in a boardinghouse – sometimes alone, sometimes with the other boarders.  At the time, the Court’s normal practice was to issue unanimous opinions.  That broke down when the Justices moved out of the boardinghouse.

In those early days, the rule was to drink only “when it’s raining or for medicinal purposes” – but, as Justice Ginsburg said, “Somewhere in the world, it’s raining!” Justice Marshall and Thomas Jefferson were both partial to Madeira.

Until Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court building had a Ladies Dining Room for spouses.  It has been renamed.  Here’s the funniest historic tidbit: sometimes during oral arguments, the Justices would slip behind a partition and eat lunch, while the proceedings continued.  When, in 1898, a Champagne cork sailed over the partition, the Court initiated a lunch break for all.

The audience listened politely to the history discussion, but really appreciated the nuggets of personal and current information revealed by the Supremes.  Justice Sotomayor’s clerks have an “other duty as assigned” – to scout out restaurants she might like.  She brings candy back from trips, even though she’s diabetic and can’t eat it.  Why?  It attracts people to come and talk.

The Chief Justice will bring a bottle of wine for a toast on each Justice’s birthday.  There are formal dinners for each Justice’s appointment and retirement.  The Justices often eat lunch together, and the topics of conversation do not include current cases.  They have guests: Heads of State, Justices from the EU and the Court of Human Rights, other high-level personages.  Alan Greenspan and James Wolfensohn are both favored guests.  Why?  They can both eat and speak at the same time.

Justice Ginsburg does not cook.  Her daughter fills her freezer with lunches for her.  Justice Sotomayor wants something different every day.  Salads, sushi, Indian carryout, sandwiches.  “Eating is sacred.” A woman after my own heart.

Tales out of school: Justice John Paul Stevens had a cheese sandwich every day, with the crusts cut off.  Justice David Souter ate nothing but plain yoghurt for lunch.  You should have seen the look on Justice Ginsberg’s face at that!  “And sometimes an apple later!”

Justice Sotomayor, by her own admission, is not a bad cook, but not of Puerto Rican food, because her mother and grandmother were such good ones.

One More - Because, Why Not?

One More – Because, Why Not?

And the last question (though not, alas, from the audience; that might have been too undignified): who would you most like to have lunch with, living or dead? Justice Ginsburg: John Marshall.  Justice Sotomayor: also John Marshall, and Thurgood Marshall, “who never told the same story twice.”

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Cuisine and Coincidence at the Embassy Chef Challenge 2016

Where can one find tastes of eighteen countries’ best dishes in one impressive light-filled atrium?   At the Embassy Chef Challenge, an annual event sponsored by Events DC and Cultural Tourism DC, the folks who bring you the Embassy Open Houses every year.  If you are tired of hearing me declare that there are events that could only happen in Washington, DC, then skip to the next paragraph now – because this is yet another example of the genre.

The event is always a visual feast.  The Ronald Reagan Building’s atrium space  was filled with colorful displays from each country, interesting people, and some appropriately international entertainment.

The Way In

The Way In

Selfies Abound

Selfies Abound

Marilyn!

Marilyn!

A Shot From The Stairway

A Shot From The Stairway

Posing In El Salvador

Posing At El Salvador

Of course, the food provided its own entertainment.

Czech Duck With Cherries

Czech Duck With Cranberry Sauce

Czech Wine

Czech Wine

Ecuador's Shrimp Ceviche Had My Vote

Ecuador’s Shrimp Ceviche Had My Vote

I remembered Chef Andrzej Bielach from 2014

I remembered Polish Chef Andrzej Bielach from 2014

The Uzbekistan Table Was A Work Of Art

The Uzbekistan Table Was A Work Of Art

And The Plov Was Delicious

And The Plov Was Delicious

There were drummers, dancers, then more dancers, then more dancers.

African Drummers

African Drummers

Chinese Dancers

Chinese Dancers

Brazilian Dancers

Brazilian Dancers

Panchamama Dancers

Pachamama Dancers

This is the eighth annual Chef Challenge.  New this year (at least to me, as I missed last year’s event), extra points were awarded for pairing drinks with the small bites.  Thus, the night’s two winners both had tasty alcoholic tipples to drink with their food – the Barbados chef, winner of the Judges’ Award, even managed to infuse rum into the Barbadian Seasoned Pork to go with the Tamarind Ginger Infused Rum Sour.

Barbados Chef Creig Greenidge Handing Out Pork

Barbados Chef Creig Greenidge Handing Out Pork

The People’s Choice Award was won by the Philippines’ Chef Claude Tayag with Bringhe (seafood rice), paired with a special cocktail by Enzo Lim.  And guess what?  The minimal description of bringhe neglected to mention the secret ingredient – it was topped with crab fat.  Dynamite.

Philippines Chef Claude Tayag

Philippines Chef Claude Tayag

Philippines Drink Display

Philippines Drink Display

Bartender Enzo Lim

Bartender Enzo Lim

And then there was the coincidence: one of the chefs at the Dominican Republic table looked familiar.  Sure enough, the two Compres brothers, with their mother, run Los Hermanos  restaurant in Columbia Heights.  I had been there in April with a group of adventurous eaters, enjoying their oxtail, among other authentic Dominican delights.  This place is an unpretentious hole-in-the-wall with delicious food served in generous portions.  What a nice surprise to see them serving their mofongo (plaintains with garlic and meat)!

Dominican Brothers

 The Compres Brothers

 

At the end of the night, all the chefs and judges posed for a group photo, and the winners of the Challenge were announced.   They were presented with Golden Pineapples.  The Ambassador of Barbados and his wife couldn’t have been more pleased and proud!

Chefs and Judges

Chefs and Judges

The Ambassador's Wife, Chef Creig Greenidge, the Ambassador,  H.E. Mr. John E. Beale

 Chef Creig with the Ambassador,  John E. Beale, and His Wife

Both Winning Chefs With Their Pineapples

Both Winning Chefs With Their Pineapples

Everyone else was happy, too.

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New Management, Same Dedication To Local Food: The 2015 Governor’s Buy-Local Cookout

Last year’s Governor’s Buy-Local Cookout belied fears that the change of parties might affect that office’s dedication to Maryland food producers.  The event on the governor’s mansion lawn showed just as much consideration for the promotion of local products as ever it did.  More, actually; the new First Lady pitched in to help serve one of the tastiest entries.

Yumi Hogan, First Lady of Maryland, Serves Her Bulgogyi

Yumi Hogan, First Lady of Maryland, Serves Her Bulgogyi

Her bulgogyi was delicious, and reflected her ethnic heritage.  Come to think of it, this Cookout could better reflect the mix of cultures in Maryland these days, beyond the traditional European-derived bisques and grilled meats that dominate the menu.

That’s a quibble, though, in light of the wonderful creations showcased by the producer-chef teams.  In addition to the appetizers, mains and desserts, there was liquid nitrogen ice cream and a table of Maryland distilleries sampling their products.

Chef James Barrett Handles The Cold Stuff Like a Pro

Chef James Barrett Handles The Cold Stuff Like a Pro

And the Hard Stuff Pours Well, Too

And the Hard Stuff Pours Well, Too

The Maryland wineries and the Ice Cream Trail were also back to offer their fare.  So many good things to eat in our state!

Celebrities were in attendance, as well.  There were not one, not two, but three (count ’em) Queens in the house.  John Shields, of Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art, did his bit for the Maryland television industry by being filmed for a new season of “Maryland Farm and Harvest” for MPT. And, of course, the Secretary of Agriculture and Governor Hogan were present for the Proclamation.  The only thing missing was a gubernatorial presence in the band.

The Agriculture and Dairy Queens

Miss Agriculture and the Dairy Princess

The Watermelon Queen

The Watermelon Queen

TV Star John Shields

TV Star John Shields

L to R: Yumi Hogan, Governor Hogan, Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Monica Rutherford

L to R: Yumi Hogan, Governor Hogan, Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Monica Rutherford

The Cookout invites teams of producers and chefs to submit entries, to be sampled on a (usually) hot evening in July.  There was one producer who sells at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market, Banner Bee in Laytonsville.  They provided the “sweet” in a sweet and sour pork dish.  Another dish I was interested to sample served up blue catfish, an invasive species now infesting our waterways.  It is delicious – I hope to see it available more widely in the near future.  Let’s eat it out of our rivers!

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Review: Two Asian Cookbooks: Lucky Rice and Koreatown

Danielle Chang, Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts, and Family Tables, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2016.

Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard, Koreatown, A Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2016.

The two featured cookbooks at the National Museum of American History’s  “History After Hours” session  have a common theme but widely differing manifestations.  The totally-un-PC phrase that leaped to my mind was “gender-specific.”  Allow me to explain!

Lucky Rice focuses on the family, dishes that can be prepared by a non-Asian cook with easily-available ingredients (although some require access to an Asian supermarket).  Chang gives clear instructions and tips for preparation.  It’s a nice-looking, well-designed book, well-mannered, and with a somehow feminine sensibility.

She is guilty, though, of violating the Overleaf Rule- spreading the instructions for a recipe over two non-facing pages, forcing the cook to flip the page over while cooking.  This could have been avoided with a little consideration.

The recipes are pan-Asian, ranging from Hawaiian Poke to Tofu With Thousand-Year Eggs.  The latter is one of my favorite things to make for a quick lunch.  Chang’s recipe left off the finishing sprinkle of coarse salt, which I feel adds an essential crunch to its otherwise overly-soft mouth-feel.

I cooked her Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken With Fish Sauce, which I noticed resembled a dish in Koreatown.  Aha, I thought, I’ll compare the two similar, but not matching dishes!  Both use a cast-iron skillet to roast a whole bird.  Marinated overnight, Lucky Rice‘s chicken is placed in a room-temperature pan and a preheated oven, roasting for one hour in a moderate oven (in contrast with the more adventurous method of Koreatown, described below.)

The chicken was delicious, tender and tasting of the lemongrass in the marinade.  Like many recipes in Lucky Rice, it’s a worthy addition to my repertoire.

Lucky Rice's Roast Chicken

Lucky Rice’s Roast Chicken

Koreatown smacks of another sensibility altogether.  Written by two millennials, a chef and a food writer, it’s the product of a bromance that engenders a miasma of testosterone.  In this book, Koreatowns of America are scenes of hazy, late-night drinking parties preceded by meals loaded with spice and smoke.

In addition to many recipes, most based on tradition but more or less tweaked to reflect Chef Deuki’s training and taste (CIA-trained, he has cooked in both Korean kitchens and Jean-Georges), there are articles about and interviews with many food personages discussing their love for Korean food.  They are all of the male persuasion.  There is a small section of recipes contributed by “guest chefs.”  Here you will find one token woman chef.

There are two pages of photographs of “emos,” the women who serve as greeter, cashier and major-domo common to many Korean restaurants.  The captions identify only the restaurants, not the actual women in the pictures.

Indeed, the index lists 43 names of males and three names of humans of the other gender – and two of them are mentioned as part of married couples.  One would think that Korean food is the near-exclusive domain of the XY chromosome set.

But that’s enough rant.  How does it cook?  Pretty well, actually.  I tried that roast chicken recipe (Tongdak).  The skillet is heated in a 450-degree oven for 30 minutes before the seasoned bird hits it, then it’s returned to the oven to roast for 40 to 50 minutes.  The finished chicken is tender and juicy, and your frisson when the oil and meat meet the hot pan?  Priceless.

The Tongdak recipe recommends serving Quick Soy Sauce Pickles (Jangajji) with the chicken, and I found that these were easy to make and delicious with many other dishes.  I made the Daikon and Garlic, and the Egg pickles.  The Daikon pickles were crunchy and sufficient, but the  Eggs were little packages of umami-packed goodness.  When they were gone, I boiled up a few more and pickled them in the same juice (Sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar, boiled and cooled; marinate solids, refrigerated, 4 hours.  Nothin’ to it!)

Koreatown's Roast Chicken

Koreatown’s Roast Chicken

Pickles To Go With The Chicken

Pickles To Go With The Chicken

The Beef Short Rib Stew (Kalbijjim) is another excellent flavor-packed recipe, tweaked for an American crock-pot preparation, but I used the old stove-top simmer method (also OK, as mentioned in a note), and it turned out fine.  This was, however, a recipe that breached the Overleaf Rule mentioned above – there are a few of them in this book, too!

Short Ribs and Vegetables

Short Ribs and Vegetables

These two cookbooks would be useful additions to the library of any cook looking to expand their range into Asian cuisine.  Get them both, for the gender-balancing effect.

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Kor Eat Own at the Smithsonian

No, the title is not a typo, but echoes the clever type layout for one of the cookbooks authored by two of the panelists at the program, “Cooking Korean in America.”  Last month, one of the History After Hours sessions at the National Museum of American History tracked the latest hot trend in eating: Korean food, both traditional and adapted.

The line snaked around the lobby of the Constitution Avenue entrance.  As guests entered the big space in front of the “barn doors” of the demonstration kitchen, we noticed an exhibit of cultural artifacts from the Smithsonian’s collection.  They were nice, but most folks’ attention was captured by the buffet tables and side tables of food and drink.

A greeter in Korean traditional dress was matched by several others at the tables, dispensing tastes of Korean pancakes, bibimbap, makgeolli (rice wine), and the popular combination of soju and beer.

Welcoming Greeter

Welcoming Greeter

The Bibimbap Table

The Bibimbap Table

Makgeolli and Selfies

Makgeolli and Selfies

And off in a corner, a very picturesque tea ceremony.

Tea Ceremony

Try Some!

Try Some!

The main attraction’s buffet of Korean specialties and, later, desserts, could be enjoyed at tables (if you were early enough) or from your lap on rows of chairs in front of the demo kitchen.

Buffet: Kimchi Burgers, Korean Tacos, KoMex Short Rib Slider, Korean Fried Chicken

Buffet: Kimchi Burgers, Korean Tacos, KoMex Short Rib Slider, Korean Fried Chicken

Closeup: Steamed buns

Closeup: Steamed buns

Hangover Soup

Hangover Soup

Some folks had to stand or find improvised seating around the room.  Shouldn’t the organizers have anticipated the number of guests and provided seating for all, ideally at tables?

The Lucky Ones at the Tables

The Lucky Ones at the Tables

Standing Room Only

Standing Room Only

Several Koreans I spoke with mentioned that the food was rather more bland than authentic.  I guess that’s what the rooster sauce was for!

Pass That Rooster Sauce!

Pass That Rooster Sauce!

Dessert: Mochi, Green Tea Ice Cream, Four (count 'em) kinds of Pocky!

Dessert: Mochi, Green Tea Ice Cream, Four (count ’em) kinds of Pocky!

 

While we ate, the program started with a kimchi-making demonstration.  Danielle Chang, author of Lucky Rice, showed us how to cut up Napa cabbage in the approved style; and mentioned that kimchi can be used as a verb: “What will we be kimchi-ing today?”  It’s a great use for any surplus vegetable.

Kimchi Demo

Kimchi Demo

Next came a panel discussion with Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard, moderated by Maria Godoy of NPR’s food blog, The Salt.  It’s Deuki and Matt’s cookbook, Koreatown, that’s responsible for the odd spacing in this article’s title.

Panel: Maria, Deuki, Matt

Panel: Maria, Deuki, Matt

As they finished up their discussion of the spread of Korean food across America, they naturally had to indulge in a group selfie.

Selfie!

Selfie!

In the book-signing line, a funny tee-shirt seemed appropriate to the event.

Pikachu's Guts

Pikachu’s Guts

This event, presented in partnership with the Korean Heritage Foundation, was part of the series “American History (After Hours)” on various aspects of food and drink.  The NMAH is also sponsoring a series of demos by local chefs on Fridays. It’s good to see them putting that kitchen to use!

P.S. I will be reviewing both Lucky Rice and Koreatown very soon.

 

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