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!