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Long time readers might recall that we were introduced to Korean food by Big Boy five years ago.

Since that time, we’ve had a growing fascination with the flavours of this wonderful cuisine, moving on from the widely available barbecue offerings to japchae and spicy stews like jjigae (photo above), which we’ll whip up for dinner on a regular basis. We use a fabulous recipe by Adam Liaw, taken from his Asian After Work cookbook…

Asian After Work: Simple food for every day by [Liaw, Adam]

Earlier this year, we experimented with dolsot bibimbap for our seasonal vegetarian dinner party. This dish is traditionally cooked in a hot stone bowl to create a crispy rice crust and heat through the other ingredients. We didn’t have individual bowls, so we improvised with our Emile Henry Flame pots. It was a huge hit…

Pete and I had so much fun prepping this dish that we decided to explore Korean cuisine further.

The first step (of course) was to acquire the necessary cookware. We decided that traditional dolsot (stone/granite bowls) were too heavy for us to handle, so we settled on the far more economical ceramic ttukbaegi pots, which my darling friend Al and I found at Asiana Grocery (Korean supermarket) in the Lemon Grove Arcade in Chatswood. The folks there were very helpful and answered our questions cheerfully.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a bit obsessed with clay cookware, so finding such gorgeous new pieces was like uncovering treasure…

Next, we went looking for recipes.

Maangchi to the rescue! Many of you will already know of this prolific Korean blogger and YouTuber, but it was the first time we’d come across any of her recipes. We carefully studied her videos on shopping in a Korean supermarket and then took ourselves off to Komart in North Strathfield. This is what we came home with…

The receipt made me laugh a lot, as I have no idea what most of it meant…

The first dish we tried was Maangchi’s dakjjim (braised chicken with vegetables and starch noodles). Each of her recipes comes with an excellent video. The kids adored this dish – an entire wok full of stew was scraped clean (and yes, that’s cooked cucumber in the photo below)…

Last night we made her kimchi-sundubu-jjigae (spicy soft tofu stew with kimchi and pork belly). It was the perfect excuse to test out our new ttukbaegi pots. I soaked them in cold water before heating on the gas burner…

Again, Maangchi’s instructions and video offered excellent guidance, and we were delighted with how dinner turned out. I ate until I couldn’t bend over and had to lie down to let my stomach settle. But just look at how pretty it was!

There’s a lot more to explore on Maangchi’s website, and I’ve also purchased her cookbook, which is available in Kindle format for just $4

Cooking Korean Food with Maangchi: Book 1, 2, & 3 by [Maangchi]

So…it looks like 2018 is going to be the year of Korean cuisine in our house. Thankfully our sons (particularly Big Boy) both love the flavours as much as we do. I’ll keep you posted on our adventures!

There’s been a lot of discussion about mental health lately.

A couple of weeks’ ago, Australian billionaire James Packer resigned from his public company boards, citing mental health issues. A few days later, Professor Patrick McGorry published this opinion piece. In it, he discussed current government initiatives in the area, and what further steps need to be taken to ensure that all Australians have access to appropriate and necessary treatment.

Prof. McGorry is correct, of course, mental health should be afforded the same concern and care as physical health in terms of government support and services. But it also made me think about what we as individuals could do to bolster both our own mental wellbeing, as well as that of those around us.

And I realised that…we can be kind.

We can be kind to ourselves.

I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. Looking back, I suspect it was exacerbated by being a severe asthmatic at a time before Ventolin existed, but there is also a clearly identifiable anxious gene which runs right through my dad’s side of the family. Most of the time, I think it’s quite well managed (Pete might not agree), but over the years, I’ve experienced several bouts of that gut-wrenching, wish-I-was-dead, internal turmoil which is almost impossible to explain to folks with calmer dispositions. “Just don’t worry about it” is their usual, well meaning advice.

Over time, I’ve learnt strategies to maintain my balance, but I know it’s a work in progress (and trust me, the menopause hormones aren’t helping). More importantly though, I’ve learnt to be kind to myself. I no longer see my anxiety as a weakness – it’s simply part of who I am – so I no longer beat myself up about it. I’ve long ago accepted I’m never going to be willowy thin…or always calm.

We can be kind to others.

Ironically, first world society is hard on all of us. We are constantly bombarded with bad news, struggling to keep afloat financially, and trying to live up to peer pressure and the expectations of family. Most of us no longer need to worry about where our next meal is coming from, but stress can be very real and debilitating nonetheless.

There is probably little we can do to change society at large, but I think we can make a small difference by actively trying to be kinder to others. I know it sounds trite, but saying “good morning” to my fellow bay run walkers brightens my day, and I’d like to think it brings them a little cheer too. Stopping to acknowledge someone asking for coins, actively building neighbourhood communities, saying thank you – any small act of kindness might bring a moment of happiness to someone else’s day and improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. It will help ours too.

Let’s cut strangers some slack – if the waitress is grumpy, don’t let that spoil the meal. She might be having a rough time, and getting her in trouble with her supervisor won’t help anyone. Let’s try not to slam a fist on the horn when someone cuts us off at the roundabout. It will raise both their blood pressure and ours. Stuff is going to happen all the time that we have no control over – all we can do is respond in as gentle and considered a way as we can manage. It’s not worth taking any of it personally, because most of the time, it’s not about us.

Even more importantly, let’s do what we can to shelter and empower those we love. Big Boy and Small Man are now 25 and 21 respectively, and both trying to find their way as young adults in a competitive world. Society places enough expectation on them without Pete and I adding our own, so we try (I’m not saying we’re always successful) to give them as much space as we can. We try to provide them with a home where they can feel unconditionally loved and completely at ease. We try to offer advice and guidance without expecting it to be actioned. And seeing so many young people struggling to maintain their equilibrium in this fast moving and stressful age makes us determined to try even harder.

Wishing you all a very happy Easter. May it be joyous and calm and stress-free! ♥

Here is a quick variation on my previous recipe, using chocolate chips and a reduced amount of milk.

I made it for friends who are slightly lactose intolerant, but it’s proven to be a big hit with everyone else as well. Each bun contained just 1¾ teaspoons of milk. The glaze was made simply of water and sugar, with a little butter added to reduce flakiness (there’s almost no lactose in butter).

I’ve increased the hydration slightly to lighten the crumb, resulting in a slightly stickier dough that’s a bit harder to work with. It’s worth the extra effort though, as the finished bun is fluffy and light, with a brioche-like texture. I’ve also omitted the spice, as I wasn’t sure how it would go with the chocolate.

For 12 buns, I used the following ingredients (please resize quantities as needed):

Dough

  • 500g bakers/bread flour
  • 50g ripe, bubbly sourdough starter
  • 7g fine sea salt
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large (60g) free range eggs
  • 100g dark chocolate chips (I used Callebaut 811 54%)
  • 100g full cream milk, heated gently and then cooled to blood temperature, or UHT milk, unrefrigerated
  • 150g water

Cross

  • 2 tablespoons self raising flour
  • 1 – 1½ tablespoons cold water

Glaze

  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (approximately) of unsalted butter

Note: Please follow the method outlined in our previous recipe. I baked this batch of 12 in a small lamington tin (29 x 19cm). Enjoy!

Here’s a new sourdough hot cross bun recipe that I’ve been playing with! It’s an adaptation of our tried and trusted yeasted bun recipe, but with a slightly better flavour (according to Pete and Small Man).

A couple of tips: firstly, make sure to use a ripe, bubbly sourdough starter. Pop a teaspoonful into a glass of water and if it floats, it’s generally good to go. If you’re not sure how your starter should look, please visit our FAQ for photos and tips.

Secondly, don’t rush the final prove. Hot cross buns are notoriously slow to rise once shaped, so make sure your dough is nice and puffy before you pop it into the oven. Mine took an hour and a half today, but it was worth the wait – if you bake too soon, you’ll end up with heavy buns. Here’s how my dough looked just before piping…

Dough

  • 1kg bakers/bread flour
  • 100g ripe, bubbly sourdough starter
  • 14g fine sea salt
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 120g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large (60g) free range eggs
  • 4 tsp mixed spice or allspice
  • 150g currants
  • 500g full cream milk, heated gently and then cooled to blood temperature, or UHT milk, unrefrigerated

Cross

  • 3 Tbsp self raising flour
  • 2 Tbsp cold water

Glaze

  • 4 Tbsp milk
  • 4 Tbsp caster (superfine) sugar

Note: this makes 24 hot cross buns and bakes perfectly in a sheet pan measuring 40cm x 28cm (15½ x 11″). I used to bake a dozen at a time, but there were never enough to go around! The recipe should halve well if needed.

1.  The evening before baking, whisk together the starter, sugar, melted butter, eggs, milk, currants and mixed spice in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and salt. (Note: I use UHT full cream milk, unrefrigerated and straight out of the carton.)

2. Squelch all the ingredients together with clean hand to form a shaggy dough. Allow the dough to sit in the mixing bowl, covered with a clean tea towel or a pot lid, for about 30 minutes.

3. Uncover the bowl and give the dough a brief knead.

4. Cover the bowl again and allow to rise overnight (8 – 10 hours). I leave it on my kitchen bench to do this.

5. The next morning, turn the risen dough onto a floured bench and give it a couple of gentle folds, then divide it into 24 equal pieces (about 90g each). Shape each piece into a small ball, trying to keep the currants inside the ball as much as possible (currants on the outside tend to burn). Place them side by side on a quarter sheet pan which has been lined with a sheet of parchment paper (four rows of six, evenly spaced – they’ll rise into each other). Allow to rise, loosely covered with a tea towel, until doubled in size (mine took about an hour and a half, don’t rush this bit, let them get good and puffy). In the last half an hour of rising, preheat your oven to 210C with fan.

6. Mix the SR flour and water together to form a paste and spoon it into a plastic freezer bag or small piping bag. Clip off the very end of one corner. Pipe crosses over the top of the buns, doing all the lines in one direction first, then the other. Spritz the tops with water.

7. Turn the oven down to 200C with fan and put the buns in. After 15 minutes, turn the buns around and bake for a further 8 – 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

8. When you’ve rotated the buns, start making the glaze. Heat the milk and caster sugar together in a small saucepan until thick and syrupy. Stir constantly and keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over. When the buns are finished, pull them out of the oven and paint the hot buns with the glaze. Allow to cool on a wire rack before scoffing.

I splodge the glaze on with a pastry brush using a swirling action. Just for fun, actually…

The buns are surprisingly tender…

Best of all, baking two dozen at a time lets you share with all the neighbours…

Four dozen made, and it’s not even Easter yet! If sourdough sounds a bit time consuming, rest assured that our yeasted buns are also very tasty and much quicker to make. Opinion is divided on which is better, actually! If you’d like to give them a go, the recipe is here. Enjoy! ♥

I promise I haven’t disappeared, but it’s been a hectic (and fun) few weeks!

I’ve still been walking though, and this sunrise was just too pretty not to share with you. It was taken with my iPhone at 7am. If you click on the image, a much larger version will open and you’ll be able to see the gloriousness that greeted Big Boy and I this morning.

Take care, and I’ll be back soon to catch you up on what’s been happening! ♥

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