Wednesday, December 16, 2015

a Saturday meal among friends

This past Saturday, December 12, I went to a get-together at my friend Charles's place near Seoul National University campus. Charles lives in very nice faculty housing, and while his kitchen, like those found in most Korean dwellings, lacks adequate counter space, his bathroom is a thousand times nicer than mine.

I was the first dinner guest to arrive; our mutual friends Tom and Patrick showed up over an hour later. I had plenty of time to prep my fondue and my choucroute alsacienne while Charles worked on his bread and stew, and Charles's wife Hyunjin worked on her very colorful vegetable offerings. Charles didn't have a proper caquelon for my fondue, but he did have the next best thing: an electric jeongol pot that was the perfect size, shape, and design for the melted cheese. I rubbed the pot's interior with a split clove of garlic, then poured in some wine that Charles and the Missus kindly contributed to the cause.

Here, below, is the fondue before the cooking started. The cheese is in a plastic zipper bag. A whole baguette from Paris Baguette has been cubed. As usual, Paris Baguette's baguettes weren't very high in quality; the two I had bought were tough, and their crusts weren't as shatter-y as a true baguette's crust is supposed to be. But with fondue, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'd be loath to waste a high-quality baguette that way.

Charles is a scrupulous, detail-oriented baker. He dots every "i" and crosses every "t," which is a virtue when it comes to baking, because baking requires care and precision. You can't be sloppy and overly "intuitive" when you're making bread: measurements and proportions matter. Below, a picture of Charles's loaf. I joked with John McCrarey, who flipped through these images on my phone during Sunday's lunch, that this was actually a photo of Charles's covered dick.

Here's a shot of the fondue once the cooking had started:

The cheese proved to be seductive and addictive, at least for some of the dinner's participants. Patrick, who supposedly has some French heritage, certainly got into the fondue. Below, we see Tom (L) and Patrick (R) attacking the cheese:

And another, similar shot:

Here's Charles's loaf, now exposed to the world, right before it went into the oven:

From left to right: Patrick, Tom, Charles, and Hyunjin:

Since I had taken the picture, I had to include myself somehow:

Next, a shot of Hyunjin's wonderful salad. She always makes great salads.

A cabbage-and-onion dish. I didn't know it had onions in it until I took my first bite. Still, it tasted good enough for me to finish my serving.

Charles and his now-baked bread:

A closeup of Charles's Meisterwerk:

Here's a shot of my plate once we began eating. Charles's fish stew made an appearance soon after, but he encouraged us, meanwhile, to start eating what was already on the table. Now that I think about it, we had quite a few veggies, there, didn't we.

Charles next brought out his North African-inspired fish stew, made with fresh cod purchased that very morning. I thought this stew was excellent, rib-sticking and aromatic, so I had myself two bowls. (The green stuff is cilantro.)

A slice of Charles's bread sitting on the edge of my stew bowl:

Patrick hexes Charles while Charles pours out some beer. Much of the evening was devoted to beer tasting, an activity I didn't really engage in, given my teetotaler status.

The remains on the tray:

I cleaned my plate and my bowl:

Some, but not all, of the beers that were drunk that evening:

Tom, whose birthday it was, cringes as he's forced to sit next to a spam "cake" with a candle in it. Note, too, the Choco Pie also pretending to be a cake. Tom made retching noises as the odor of the spam wafted into his nostrils. Hard to tell the extent to which he was joking; he seemed pretty sincere when he talked about how much he hated the smell of spam.

By the time dessert came out, people were sufficiently tipsy that they immediately set about rearranging the letters on the damn ice-cream cake. I think the idea was to make words that were so fucked-up that you'd have to be drunk to be able to decode them.

Not satisfied with that arrangement of letters, our resident scholars set about creating prose that would be even more inspiring:

And that's the story of our Saturday gathering. I've left a lot out—like what we talked about (jokes, politics, beer, trivia), and the fact that poor Hyunjin, who was sick, left us for a while to go rest in the bedroom until she felt strong enough to come out and rejoin us. Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, and we're looking forward to our next gathering.



Charles said...

Wow, you managed to take a lot of photos. Although you didn't catch me with the fondue, I enjoyed it a lot as well. I just got stuck running back and forth between the kitchen to snag quick bites.

That's an excellent shot of the slice of bread, and very helpful for analytical purposes. You can see that the crumb is more dense toward the bottom and much "hole-ier" toward the top, and also that the upper crust is properly browned while the bottom crust isn't. Such are the limitations of the little halogen oven. Usually, the walls of an oven will heat up, allowing for uniform radiant heat over the whole surface of the loaf, but the little halogen oven doesn't heat up quite as efficiently, only radiating heat directly from the heating elements. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that I don't have enough vertical space to properly cook a loaf like this, which means that the rack has to go in its lowest position, which is roughly a centimeter above the bottom heating element. As a result, I have to cover the rack with foil so the bottom of the loaf doesn't burn. I wish I could figure out some suitable compromise, but I suspect that I'll have to make do with half measures until the day we move into a place with a real oven. Then we'll be able to have real bread, proper roasts, etc.


Kevin Kim said...

I think you're doing great with the oven you have. Hats off.

Charles said...

Thanks. But hopefully one day I will be able to bake bread for you in a real oven, too.

My dreams, they are not so lofty.

Rory said...

That bread looked great!

I'm going to have to give bread making another go.

My last attempt could have been used to anchor the foundations of a house.

(I used to use my micro oven in Korea as an emergency underpants dryer at times. There was only the one fire.)

Maven said...

Everything looked utterly delicious:)

I'm not sure how or why I've overlooked or not paid that close attention to your teetotaler status! You have me curious now!