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Early experiences, Family Style Korean BBQ, and Sunday Morning Ecstasy!

Twenty years ago I worked for the Marriott. I was a hostess/cashier and then floor supervisor at the restaurants, working mainly the front of the house. We had a few dignitaries who stayed with us and I felt that it was important to learn how to show respect to each culture, so I worked with the primarily Asian housekeeping staff to learn about proper bowing, eye contact, and other ways to show respect (and ways to avoid showing disrespect) to each of the Asian cultures. Most of these people were not ‘mere’ housekeepers. They were educated and several were highly educated doctors, professors and other esteemed professionals in their home countries. They came to the United States in search of that ethereal dream, only to be shut down by a society that valued ‘good’ English over education and skill. But I digress….

I made some wonderful friends and learned as much as I could about each of their cultures. I learned to see the difference in Thai, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and other Asian faces. And best of all, I got included in their meals. Oh yes, it always comes back to the food. There was (probably still is) a very popular Thai restaurant in the Kent valley and it was fabulous. Three doors down from it was the one that I went to because I knew the owner’s family from working at the Marriott. When we went there we got the real deal food, not dumbed down for Americans food. I fell in love with Thai food.

Then one day shy and really wonderful Mr. Kim informed me that he was opening a restaurant on Kent’s East Hill. Kimi’s he called it, and it was authentic Korean food. I had never had authentic Korean food so Mark and I took ourselves there forthwith. He was so generous and treated us like royalty! Over the course of a few visits we tried every dish they made and I fell in love with Kimchi (not for everyone, I realize), cuttle fish, sesame spinach, and all the fabulous little side dishes that come with every tantalizing entree. We moved from the area and I don’t think Kimi’s is still there, and we have not had great Korean food since. Most places tout themselves as teriyaki, and may offer a bit of Korean food as well, but not like I remember it from Kimi’s.

So earlier today my buddy Kat and I met at Suzy’s BBQ in Bremerton (6th and Callow, SE corner, across from La Poblanita, which I still have to try.) It says ‘Korean BBQ’ on the window and I have been eyeing it for a couple of months now. Suzy’s has been open 5 1/2 months, I heard her tell a curious customer as I was waiting for Kat’s grand entrance. I studied the menu and I have to admit I thought it a bit odd: meatloaf and Swedish meatballs, teriyaki chicken, and some other dishes that I am sure are fantastic, though decidedly not Korean. I asked Suzy if there was a Korean menu with the family style main dish and all the little side dishes that accompany it and she flipped over my menu to show me the back. You have to know what you are looking for, because it is not obvious.

We (ok, I) ordered the ‘potstickers’ as the menu said, though these homemade Korean dumplings that are filled with kimchi and other delights are no mere potstickers. Potstickers are the Chinese dumplings, Gyoza are the Japanese version and these are my favorite. (Every culture has a stuffed dumpling! From empanadas-which, by the way, is one of the first food items I ever made on my own-to pirosky, and on and on, every culture I can think of has a version of a stuffed dumpling. Interesting…)

First she brought the soup bowls so we could anticipate the soup to come. We got the ‘spicy tofu soup’ and I asked for ‘medium’ spicy since Kat is not a fire eater like I am. It came out hot and bubbling in a pot, and it cleared our sinuses nicely, with lots of bits of seafood in it. Then she brought out the side dishes and started lining them up around the table between us. Fresh and citrussy radishes, another refreshing side that I am not sure what it was but it was yummy! 2 kinds of kimchi, one traditional cabbage-spicy and funky, just how I love it- and one with chunks of radishes, also spicy and funky in a very different way from the other. Sesame spinach, bean sprouts, a bowl of white rice and finally cuttle fish, which was sort of a teriyaki style. It was all fabulous!

The main course we ordered, which is what got us the sides, (this is all very shareable food, one person could eat for days on it) was the short ribs, because that is what I remember most about Mr. Kim’s entrees. These were not done over a fire, as his were, but they were tender and tasty nonetheless. So one appetizer, one soup, and one entree, and we both ate plenty, PLUS we both took home a sampling of everything from the leftovers so Mark and Keegan could try them as well. We split the bill and it was not very big! Oh, and I had hot tea and Kat had a soda pop. So what I am trying to say is get on over to Suzy’s, tell her you want a traditional Korean meal and have her guide you to her best dishes. If the Americanized menu looks good to you (and it did look good!) you can go back for that later, but try her traditional foods first. You will not regret it!

Did you try the broccoli and spinach recipe? The farmer’s markets are starting to open and I can’t wait to see what’s in season first. With the snow that happened recently I am not sure what will be there! So for this week’s recipe I am going to give you breakfast! This is a one-dish meal that can feed 6-8 people or feed you several times, and it is an excellent way to use up bread that is past it’s sandwich prime. Assemble this dish the night before you want to make it (or in the morning if you want it for dinner)because it needs to set for at least 8 hours before you bake it. If it doesn’t, it will not have a good texture and you will not enjoy this nearly as much.

French Toast Casserole

A loaf of bread, sliced about 1/2 inch thick if it isn’t presliced. French bread is the obvious choice here, but you can use anything at all. You could use our cinnamon bread and omit the sugar and spices below and you will be kissing yourself for how amazing it is! Or, go to Luigi’s in Bremerton and get a large Brioche if you REALLY want to get decadent!

1 TBS butter (unsalted and room temp or softened)
8 large eggs- get fresh eggs at the farmer’s market (get there early) or if you are in Silverdale go to Pheasant Fields Farm for some fabulously fresh eggs.

2 cups whole milk (yes, you can use any kind of milk here, including soy if you like)
2 cups half and half (if you don’t do it, it may not thicken up well, especially if you use lower fat milk, but it will still taste good)
1 TBS sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (if you don’t like these spices don’t use them. Use something else or nothing else instead. Cardamon would be good, or allspice. Pumpkin pie spice. Cloves. Whatever you like!)

TOPPING:
12 TBS butter (unsalted and room temp or softened)
3 TBS rice syrup (you can use corn if you are into that) or maple syrup
1 1/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 1/2 cups pecans, or walnuts, or any nuts, or no nuts, coarsely chopped
Mix all of those things together really well and then set it aside until the end.

Set the oven to 325 (300 if you have convection) and make sure the pan will be in the middle of the oven.

Put the bread on a baking sheet or two in a single layer and bake it until it is dry. It should be light golden brown and depending on how fresh it was will take around 20+ minutes. You will want to turn the pans and rotate them about 10-12 minutes into the baking. Cool it off completely.

Get a 9×13-baking dish, or something similar, and use that first pat of butter to grease the sides and bottom really well. Layer that toasted bread in tightly and squished together. You will have 2 layers for sure.

Whisk the eggs with the milk, half and half, sugar, vanilla and spices really well. pour it over the bread and press it all in so that every bit of bread is submerged and soaking up that eggy goodness. Cover this tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 8 hours (no more than 24 hours though or it will be a mush pile.) Go to bed; go about your business, and when you wake up in the morning the real fun begins!

When you get up and stumble into the kitchen set that oven to 350 (325 if you have convection) and pull out the casserole. It should be all eggy and soaky and smelling like spices. Scatter that topping mix over it and spread it out evenly. Bake the casserole until it is puffy and golden on top. It will take about an hour, and you want to turn it half way through. You may want to put it on a baking sheet or some foil in case it bubbles over the edge of the dish.

At the halfway point, if you are thinking ahead, you will put some bacon or sausage in the oven to cook alongside the casserole, and when the casserole comes out to rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting it, you can finish the breakfast meats. Eat it with syrup, or not, and have a lovely morning!