Passionfruit Cheesecake

There is a recipe for passionfruit cheesecake in How to be a Domestic Goddess that I never thought I would have the chance to make, because fresh passionfruit are both expensive and hard to come by in Montreal. Still, just by the description, I fantasized about how it might taste. Fragrant, creamy with a tart bite. In Taiwan, passionfruit are cheap and available in abundance. When I was there this past week to visit my mom and grandparents, I indulged in several glasses a day of freshly squeezed juice. Knowing that this might be the only chance I have to make this cheesecake, I just had to sneak back some undiluted pulp to Seoul.

To make the cake, I had to get a little pie tin, which was very naughty of me as I’m supposed to be packing up, not getting more things to pack. More expensive was the cream cheese and whipping cream. But one bite and all was forgiven. I didn’t have my camera with me so I had to take this picture with my webcam (it’s not nearly as yellow).

I love the pastel colour of this cheesecake, and even more so the tanginess of it. Here’s a better picture the day after when I got my camera back.

By the way, this will probably be my last post from Seoul. I’m leaving Korea tomorrow to spend the summer in Washington, DC, with stops in LA and New York to visit my brothers, and my niece and nephew. Then I will go to Taipei, where I will be living for 9 months to study Chinese. I’ll try to continue to post, but I doubt I will ever be cooking/baking in a kitchen as small as the one I have here. It’s hard to believe my adventures in Seoul have already coming to a close. How quickly these 6 months have gone by. I couldn’t have imagined of a more wonderful time. I leave here comforted by the thought that I will be back, and that even greater experiences for me lie ahead.


Chocolates for Charity

People who know me know that I’m not a simple person. Given the choice between a simple and good option, and a not simple but better alternative, I will go to near unreasonable lengths to make the latter reality. I tried to rehabilitate myself, but I have mostly come to terms with the sadistic inclination of mine. So when S told me that he had to prepare something to sell to raise money for a company charity event, I couldn’t stop myself from offering to make chocolate truffles. 250+ chocolate truffles, that is, for all 80 some employees. I suppose I didn’t even really know what I was getting myself into. I haven’t made truffles in a while, and never quite so many at once. And certainly not without a proper kitchen and in the absence of a table/counter space.

The endeavour started with a trip to the Bangsan Baker’s Market, a wholesale market where Korean bakeries get their supplies. They carry most of the ingredients you can’t normally find in supermarkets, including all kinds of extracts, sugars and dairy products (cheeses, creams and butters).

They also have every imaginable baking tool necessary for both the amateur and professional, from the most whimsical cookie cutters and decorating devices to industrial size standing mixers/ovens.

Last but certainly not least, the market also carries an incredible selection of packaging materials (which can be customized upon request) that can make anything homemade ready for retail.

You can see why my imagination tends to get a little carried away whenever I visit this heavenly place. I picked up a carton of whipping cream, some butter and 1.5 kg of Belgium chocolate. Even here, it’s actually still quite hard to find the really high quality stuff, but I did manage to get some Valrhona cocoa power. I also got some little boxes and chocolate liners to pack them in.

Preparing the ganache was no problem at all. But with my nasty disposition in full flare, I wasn’t satisfied with just one flavour, so I had to make espresso flavoured ones too. And then, since I had two flavours, I just had to have two shapes to differentiate them, as well as two different kinds of cocoa powers to dip them in.

I was in charge of shaping the truffles, and S took care of coating them. What I didn’t foresee though, was how tedious the process of repetition could be once you are making hundreds of the same thing.

After the first fifty, my hands started cramping and my back was aching from being hunched over the ironing boards we were working on. By the time we were done, we had inhaled enough cocoa power to feel ill, and the whole room had been dusted with chocolate.

It was worth every ounce of effort though, because these were the best tasting truffles. Probably because I chose the most complicated recipe I could find, but they were truly beyond creamy and divine. And not to mention delightfully pretty.

S and his coworkers are going to be in charge of packing and selling tomorrow, and all the money will go to Kosian House, an organization that cares for underprivileged children in Seoul.

I realize that I sometimes get carried away with making my life more difficult than it ought to be. All the other Asian branches of his bank are simply re-selling store-bought cookies. But when the end results are so beautiful, it is easy to forget about the process and just let the cycle reset itself. Hopefully, the next time I do this to myself it will be for just as good of a cause.

Chinese Comfort Food

Today’s dinner was a three part adventure. When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I bought a Chinese cookbook thinking it could help broaden my repertoire of comfort food. I brought it back to Seoul, and liked flipped through it from time to time. But given that most of the dishes in the book call for ingredients that I can’t even find here, and a wok/steamer/deep-fryer to make, I thought I would be mostly saving the book for the day I have a proper kitchen.

Then this Sunday, after missing my flight to Taiwan, I decided I couldn’t let what remained of our precious weekend go to waste. So we ventured a little north, where I was told we would find a little Filipino market. Sure enough, there was a small gathering in front of a Catholic church of Filipino expats selling everything from chicken skewers to chilli sauce and fake iPads.

We tried some of the sausages, fried plantains, coconut juice and caramel rice cakes. But what I was really about were the 3 feet long green string beans. I love string beans, and especially when they are stir-fried with garlic and minced pork, and I had just the recipe for that in my new cookbook.

I wanted to serve it with some fish that we got earlier. In Korea, fish is almost always prepared either raw, lightly fried with no sauce or in a soup. I like those options, but I’ve been really craving for something steamed. Since I knew that a plate of fish would never fit in my tiny pots on top of a steam basket, I made this makeshift steamer with a frypan and a mixing bowl.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped. The mixing bowl wasn’t big enough to stop the steam from escaping, so after 20 minutes it still wasn’t cooked. Even worse, the wind coming in from the window made the liquid the fish was marinading in coagulate. When I shut the window, the cold air from the air conditioner did the same thing (and it’s really too hot in Seoul right have both off/closed for more than a few minutes). I had to resign to pan-frying them in the end.

It was still quite nice though, and to keep the theme Chinese, we had dinner with iced jasmine tea. 好吃!

Back in my Groove

I won’t make any excuses as to why I haven’t been keeping up with this blog for the last few weeks, but I will post this picture to attest to the fact that I’ve been busy.

Fortunately, all that is in the past now, and I’m finally done with all my classes. In fact, I’m done with almost all my undergraduate coursework. It feels pretty wonderful to feel so absolutely free, so I celebrated this morning by making eggs, sausage, baked cinnamon french toast breakfast and coffee.

I have only two and a half weeks left in Seoul (a few of those days will be spent in Taiwan), so my mission from now until the time I leave will be to use up as much of the ingredients I’ve stocked up in my kitchen. Let’s see what I’ll be able to come up with!

Role Reversal

It has been a such busy week. Between research papers and presentations, I also had to go to San Francisco over a weekend to take part in June 4th commemoration events. Now I am back and desperately catching up with school work as finals loom. Hence, I have not been spending much time in the kitchen, but rather taking advantage of inexpensive and quick meals available around campus. Speaking of which, I want to write a post about our campus cafeteria soon.

When I came back from the trip, I teased S about taking over the responsibility of cooking (on top of cleaning) for the next two weeks to help me out a bit. Much to my surprise, he accepted the challenge with remarkable resolve. For the first few days, he simply kept going to the butcher near our house to buy fresh 한우 (fresh local and organic beef), which tastes incredible just lightly grilled and wrapped in lettuce. But now he’s progressed to making several dishes at time. Today, we had two types of fish, fried croaker and teriyaki salmon, along with some seaweed soup that his mom prepared for us. With rice and kimchi, it makes for a really delightful and complete meal. He even went to the grocery store to pick out the ingredients himself.

I wish I could take some pictures, but our memory card is not available right now, so that will have to wait. I think he is as excited as I am about expanding his repertoire, which previously consisted only of fried rice. He even asked me to show him how to make a cake once my exams are over. Good thing I bought some ladyfingers while I was in San Francisco, I can’t wait to teach him how to make tiramisu!

Weekend: A Perfect Picnic and Lunch with 어머니

This semester I find myself doing all sorts of things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing had I been studying at McGill: weekend trips out of town, watching movies on weeknights, writing snail mail or even not using an alarm clock. I shamelessly admit that I have yet to set one all semester. And last Saturday, with the weather comfortably in the 20s, I hosted a picnic with some friends.

The theme was yet again, “Not Korean”. It’s nothing personal, but the purist in me dictates that sandwiches must not be paired with fermented side dishes of any kind. So to go with the BLTs, I made portable chocolate mousse cakes that were baked in empty jam jars. And red wine spritzer, with strawberries and lemon, as a cooler.  

Inevitably, I was so absorbed by my own oeuvres that I forgot to take pictures of anything else. So you’ll have to believe when I say that it was a stunning afternoon at Yeouido Park. There were plenty of other people enjoying picnics too, but I’m pretty sure we were the only ones not eating kimbab (Korean style maki rolls) or fried chicken.

On Sunday, we made out way south of the Han river to have lunch with S’ parents. His mom cleverly found out that the best way to see her son was via text messages to me, as unlike him, I would never dare to ignore or refuse her invitations. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy spending time with them. And given all the horror stories I’ve heard about Korean in-laws, both directly and indirectly, I feel blessed that his parents are actually excessively warm with me.

But the dynamics of a Korean household are a bit difficult for me to understand, and I can’t help but feel confused about what to do with myself when S and his dad are chatting on the couch, and his mom, a quintessential Korean housewife, is frantically racing to and from the kitchen to cover the dining table with unreasonable amounts of food and side dishes. And while she delights in seeing us overindulging in her cooking, she herself will only peck at the meal like a bird. Once we finish eating, she’ll be off again cleaning, absolutely refusing any kind of help.

Then, before we leave, his mother will pack an assortment of homemade, homegrown and handpicked foods that she will insist we take home. This time, we walked away with a bag of organic lettuce that they grow on their farming cooperative, a traditional fermented rice dessert, and marinated beef ribs. They will join our already sizable collection of honey that they gather themselves at bee farms in Thailand, brewed plum juice, kimchi and etc…

I don’t always like the stuff she has in store for us, but I suppose worse things have happened. For all these years of not being fed by own mother, or anyone else for that matter, it’s nothing short of wonderful to be on receiving end of some good old fashion TLC.

Update: This was tonight’s dinner with the food she gave us.

Lazy Dinner

I was in the mood for something sinful and most definitely not Korean for dinner. I was also not in the mood to go grocery shopping. So I came up with this combination of chocolate and banana French toast, topped with cinnamon, sugar and maple syrup.

It was magically delicious, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with guilt upon finishing this. Perhaps this recipe ought to be reserved for weekend brunches only…