Kitchen X

Welcome to Kitchen X – the experimental chop-shop, the room of a thousand inaccurate measurements. Not for the faint of heart is this gruesome compilation of culinary mash-ups.

Mystery Muffin

I actually don’t feel like I’ve been cooking that much lately – I’m so used to making cookies all the time, I guess, and I haven’t made any (at home) for almost a month. Still, In September I managed to make pretzel challah rolls and kimchi jjigae pulled pork. They were supposed to be eaten together, but I think that rice is better suited to pulled pork than the soft and chewy challah. Next time I’ll try a crusty sourdough. I made the bread using this recipe. I loved all the little helpful comments, and I even used her tutorial for making little knots out of the dough. Though the knots were easy to make in concept, shaping was still the hardest part of the process. The dough did not want to be anything but a blob, and it kept shrinking back to its original form. Maybe I needed to let them sit longer? At any rate, once shaped and allowed to rise a bit more I gave them a bath. I ended up using my cast iron frying pan, which was just large enough to hold a small braid. Yup, that’s right, I jumped the gun like usual and doubled the recipe so I could make two small loaves for myself and take the rest to work. This turned out to be just the right amount. If I make it again I’ll double it but just make knots. I liked them better than the loaves – they tended to come unbraided once cut.

The kimchi pulled pork doesn’t have a recipe. Really, I just wanted to get rid of the last bit of kimchi before it grew legs and walked out of my fridge. I had eaten all the cabbage out of both containers so the only thing left was radish and juice, and I’m not really thrilled about radish. Picky, picky. Kimchi jjigae is the traditional use of the kimchi dregs, being kimchi soup. It’s supposed to be made with old kimchi, and I always figured it’s what I would make with the last bit of mine. I always think of kimchi as cold and crisp (ah! just thinking of it makes my mouth happy!), but I really love it hot. Kimchi and thick slabs of ham, toasted on a slab of crusty bread with some lovely melty cheese . . . . Hmm, now I’m hungry again. Anyway, for this concoction I rubbed the pork shoulder with a conglomeration of garlic, garam masala, korean crushed pepper (I still have a huge bag leftover from my kimchi making escapades), and brown sugar. I pureed everything in my little pint-sized food processor and then rubbed it on the meat. This mixture smelled so incredible that I almost didn’t have the heart to do anything else to it. However I was strong and seared the shoulder with the onions and garlic the next day, adding the kimchi and the juices (if you remember, I made both white and red kimchi and I added the juices of both) and sticking the whole pot in the oven until fork tender. Yum. It’s spicy enough to make my nose run, but it’s a spice you can’t really taste. And the leftovers are amazing with some rice and a bit of coconut milk. Instant Korean flavored curry. Being gauche, I asked one of my coworker’s to smell it and she assured me that there was nothing unappetizing in it’s odor, so I feel safe eating this around other people too. I’ve got some leftover in my freezer, which I’ll either eat on a rainy day or turn into meat pies.

And now that you’ve gotten this far, I guess I’ll explain the muffins. These are the savory carrot-onion muffins from Makiko of Just Hungry-Just Bento fame. I’ve made these before (in Japan, no less) and liked the idea of having both a savory bread and a bit of extra veggies on hand in my freezer. Yes. I am part squirrel. And yes,  I doubled the recipe (in my defense, Makiko writes small recipes. Like really, I’m going to dirty a bowl just for ten muffins?). I also frankensteined it up. First, my oil measuring was a little slapdash (I had extra in the pan so I poured it into the wet ingredients . . . . ). Then I realized it called for walnuts, which I’m all out of. I thought, “Hmm, miso would be a good substitute, right?” {{1}} [[1]] The pumpkin-miso muffins are on the same page as the carrot ones, so that’s probably where I got the idea[[1]] and plopped a generous spoonful of white miso into the batter. But that didn’t seem nutty enough, so I added a giant pinch of flax seed as well. Then I realized I had sunflower seeds. Seeds are just small nuts, right? So in went a handful of those. The result is really pleasant. The miso makes the faux-maple syrup really pop, but also adds extra umami – the same effect you would get by adding cheddar cheese to the batter{{2}}. [[2]] Which now I totally have to try[[2]] The random addition of flax seed really helped the texture of these too, since they’re eggless. When they first came out of the oven the insides were still a little gooey and they tasted like a really thick meat pie. So good! Once they cooled they lost that gravy like center, but they’re still amazingly delicious. The best part is they don’t muffin top, which means they fit in my toaster for convenient defrosting.

Not sure whatthat white haze is in the photo. This photo was taken the morning after they were made, so the muffins were cool at this point.

Better than gold ingots in the bank.

The Off-putting Pickle of Process

The thing that I dislike most about the whole creation problem is that, somewhere along the way, things always seem to reach some dreary head of confusion and frustration. Stitches drop, skeins tangle, the hard ball doesn’t form – something happens which interrupts the so called creative flow and forces one to look at the thing squarely, with the eyes not of a artist but an assessor. This is where, lamentably, I fail in the whole art-process. Even in cooking, I’m not the best at slowing down and thinking it through. I want the experience of making to be as beautiful and uplifting as the end product is (theoretically) going to be.

I now love Korean hot peppers. I'm not always this shallow.


Enter Kimichi.



Kimchi has a pretty bad rap, and for good reason. On it’s best days it smells like wet dog. Luckily, I have a deficient nose and a natural{{2}}[[2]]natural is a word which here means innate, as in “I was born with it.” Though I can understand why some people might think the love of fermentation an unnatural thing indeed[[2]] curiosity about fermented foods. I tried it, I liked it, I put it on my to-do list. Two Mondays ago I finally got around to crossing it off. It was a bit of a production to produce, mostly because I decided to make both the more recognizable napa cabbage kimichi and the less spicy (and smelly) radish, or water kimchi. The other reason? I doubled the recipes.

Being a masochist can also confuddle the artistic process.

The bowl situation at my house being what it is, doubling the recipe involved a lot of shifting, washing, and moving. But by the end of the very long but emotionally satisfying day I had two large glass jars of water kimchi and one huge, plastic pretzel tub of gloriously red stuff {{1}} [[1]]a tub which I had saved for the purpose sometime last spring. It’s hard to break a habit that is so very useful [[1]]. Then I put them out of the way and forgot about them.

Red Stuff

Red Stuff

In fact, I wanted to forget about them. I was sick of the smell, and the idea, and washing my hands yet again. It was a relief to know that, even if they didn’t turn out – which, I figured, was highly probable given my lose interpretation of the recipe – at least I wouldn’t have to deal with them today. So I shoved them in the back of my mind, washed my hands for the final time, and pretended the whole thing had never happened. The process had been fun, even enjoyable, but now that I had worn myself out I had to come face to face with the fact that what I had produced was foul smelling and liable to go bad because I hadn’t used enough salt or something.

I’ve just started eating the cabbage kimchi in earnest now. It’s good (but still pretty rank). My favorite application? Avocado and kimchi sushi. The radish kimchi has a wonderful first impression – but I’m afraid the after taste still needs some mellowing out. It’s not bad, I just don’t like it, so we’ll see if it eventually gives in to what ever bacteria are preying on it.

More so even than eating it, my favorite part of this whole affair is knowing that I was able to make something so very alien to the part of the world I live in. I didn’t succeed because I’m smart, or talented, or able to see to the heart of the problem and come up with a logical solution. I succeeded because, miraculously enough, when you throw a little of this in with a little of that, something happens quite apart from you and me and voila, kimchi! Making kimchi was enjoyable because it was so physical – cutting, kneading, spreading. It took a little tenacity, and a bit of impulsive grit, but before either of these could be completely exhausted the lids were screwed on. Was it still a mess when I was done? Yes. Was I confident it would turn out? Quite the opposite, actually. And yet look, beautiful miraculous perfection. If I only I could put my knitting down once in a while only to later find a completed sweater in its place.

Yes, the floor does have the best lighting