This meal ranks up there with some of the best meals I have ever cooked or eaten. It was a delicious steak dinner, paired with smoky mashed potatoes and some Knob Creek bourbon. The meal was delicious, but the beauty of this meal was the fact that it was cooked and consumed about 6 miles from civilization.

I live in northern Wisconsin in the summers. The night before five friends and I left on a camping trip, I marinated a batch of steaks and roasted a couple heads of garlic and packed them away. We woke up early the next morning, got in the car and drove about eight hours straight north until we arrived at the massive expanse that is the Boundary Waters. We got out of the car and paddled canoes and hiked almost 6 miles from our car. Once we had set up camp, we built a nice wood fire and I prepared the grill.

When the fire was hot enough, I pulled the steaks out and put them directly on the grate, cooking the meat inches above a natural wood-fire, branding the meat with the largest grill marks I have ever seen. As this was happening, I brought a pot of water to a boil, added some potatoes and waited for them to become mash-able. I drained the water, added butter, salt, pepper and the roasted garlic from the night before. The result was one of the best steak dinners I have ever tasted. The meat was a perfect medium-rare and had a subtle smokiness that only a campfire can produce. The potatoes turned out perfectly as well.

This meal is a hard one to recreate since I would need to travel around 900 miles to arrive at a Boundary Water’s campsite, but I know that the next time I visit I will be in charge of dinner the first night. 

Creepy, crawly cuisine

The streets of Seoul, South Korea, are constantly full of interesting smells. The smeel of dead fish and fermenting cabbage fill the restaurants and alleys as people navigate through the urban maze that is Seoul. One of the most distinct smells comes from the street vendors that sell beondegi: silk worm larvae. If you are wondering what this smell smells like, stop it. This is not a smell that needs to be smelled. It is one of the most horrid and nose-polluting foods I have ever encountered. Virtually every subway stop has a man standing at the top of the stairs, stirring a big pot of steaming silk worm larvae. The smell carries down the stairs and permeates the whole station.

I was talked into finally trying the insectual treat when a friend came to visit. He demanded to know what the foul smell was that was filling the streets, and when he was told it was edible, he demanded to try it (8 hours later, after we’d been out drinking for a while to get our courage up.) The smell is so overpowering, I actually had trouble putting the little guys in my mouth. I got a few down and then had to call it quits. My friend ate about the same amount, and then proceeded to throw them up almost instantly. We were both plagued with terrible tastes in our mouths the next morning we could do nothing to get rid of.

On the octopus page, I advised readers of this site to try octopus at all costs if they ever find themselves in Korea. I am afraid to say the opposite is true of silk worm larvae. Do anything and everything you can to stay away from these guys. Trust me, it is not a mandatory part of the Korean experience. Just visit the DMZ, try some kimchi and be on your way. 

Bacon: proof there is a God

In the fall of 2009, the west bottoms in Kansas City blocked off the streets and hosted something for lovers of all things pig: Baconfest. For a $20 entry, I got a free Baconfest t-shirt, as much beer as I could drink (although it may be worth noting that the ‘fest was at 11am) and lots of unique bacon dishes. From bacon ice cream to bacon vodka shots, the west bottoms was a pork-lovers paradise.

Above is a picture of the dish I considered to be the most exquisite use of bacon in a dish I have ever experienced. It is a chocolate cake, filled with a chocolate-bacon ganache, covered in a vanilla creme sauce, fresh raspberries, fresh cherries, and of course, a slice of bacon. The bacon had been coated in brown sugar with a hint of cayenne pepper and then oven-cooked. The mixture of salty, meaty and sweet was intensely enjoyable. The chocolate-bacon ganache on the middle was much more chocolate-y than bacon-y, but the bacon flavor was present. It was a perfect flavor combination that I had never experienced before.

A friendly passerby saw me pick up a plate of the cake off the table and stopped to give some advice. She directed me to take a small bite of the bacon before each bite of cake. I have to say that her suggestion really brought the combo of flavors to the forefront of the dish. These flavor profiles may sound crazy, but a walk around the festival found some even zanier mixtures.

I was potentially most excited to try the bacon-vodka and the bloody mary’s they would be making with it. Unfortunately, they ran out of bloody mary fixin’s before we got there (and we got there early!) and the vodka was repulsive. We took a shot of the vodka and it tasted like a mixture of the juice in the bottom of a box of Oxypads and the congealed fat of a pig. My body instantly shuddered when the liquor touched my lips. After being totally grossed out, I was a little intrigued as to how and why this vodka was made. The bartender pulled a large vat from below the table and showed us something that looked like it belonged in a science lab. Slices of bacon had been steeped in the vodka for over two weeks, making the meat bloated and stringy. The mere sight of the bacon in the vodka made my stomach ill. Although we were disappointed with the vodka, it was truly the only item below par we encountered.

The organizers called this event the “first annual” Baconfest, so hopefully the festival will become even bigger by next fall. My mouth is already watering…

The Tao of BBQ

Mark my words, Korean barbecue will make it big in the United States in the next few years. It is one of the most recognizable genres of food in Korea and one of the most easily-accessible foods for Westerners to enjoy. The whole experience is a shared one, as you and your group sit around a table with an inlaid grill cooking raw meat and wrapping the finished product in lettuce leaves with a spicy red pepper paste.

Lots of different cuts of pork, beef and chicken are offered at these restaurants, but we almost always ordered pork ribs when I lived in Korea. The meat arrives at the table totally raw, ready for you to cook it. On the side you find garlic, onion, mushrooms and other delicious veggies to put in a lettuce wrap with your meat once it is cooked. Once the meat and veggies are stuffed into the lettuce, you cover it with spicy red pepper paste and then stuff it in your mouth. It is an explosion of Korean flavors that you will not forget.

I feel it is necessary to mention how important kimchi is to Korean cuisine as well. Kimchi is a staple of Korean cuisine. It is chinese cabbage that becomes pickled, allowed to ferment in the kimchi pots that fill the back alleys behind the barbecue restaurants. The spicy, pickled flavor goes great with the flavors of barbecue. Many Korean BBQ restaurants are similar, so the locals choose a restaurant based on their kimchi. If you see lots of people packed into a restaurant, you can be sure they have the best kimchi in the neighborhood.

If you want to try Korean BBQ and you live in the Kansas City area, I suggest you check out Cho Sun, an incredibly authentic Korean BBQ spot right in the middle of the Heartland. 

Cooking a chicken on the grill, a backyard chef usually is forced to take one of two paths. First, the chef may cook the chicken over a direct fire, making the skin crispy and delicious, but the meat becomes too dry to enjoy. The other method is an indirect method, leaving the meat juicy and succelent, but the skin remains rubbery and unappetizing. Cooking a chicken on a beer-can produces the perfect bird because you allow the skin to get nice and crunchy while injecting the meat with a flavorful mixture of beer and bbq spices.

I’ve been cooking beercan chickens for over a decade now, and I have yet to get tired of the wonderful results of this method of cooking a whole chicken. There is so much room for variation in the method that you will never get tired of it: combine different spice rubs, use different beers, wedge garlic-butter under the skin, use soda pop instead of beer, marinate the bird, use a turkey (and a can of Foster’s) or a cornish game hen (works best with 8 oz. cans.), etc. The list truly goes on and on.

The first step is to pour half of a beer out of its can, leaving about 6 oz. of beer remaining. To the beer in teh can, add a couple spoonfuls of your favorite spice rub (I use rubs from Gates and Oklahoma Joe’s, two prominent BBQ restaurants in Kansas City) to the beer and poke a few holes in the top of the can. Apply the same spice rub to the chicken, and then place the bird on the can, using the two legs and the can to create a tripod (see picture above.) Cook on a grill indirectly for around one hour and fifteen minutes. The skin should look browned and crunchy. Stick a fork in the thigh and if the juices coming out are clear (not red!) your chicken is done.

Below are some pictures of the beer can turkey I cooked when I lived in Seoul. There were no grills big enough for what I needed, so I bought a bird cage from a street vendor, deconstructed it, wrapped it in tin foil and turned it into the upper-half of a grill. The turkey turned out perfect and provided a Thanksgiving dinner for a whole crew of ex-pats living in Seoul.

The more you cook with this method, the eaiser it gets. Start with this basic recipe and then give it your own twist. This is an incredible final product and easy for even beginning grillers. Give it a try and impress your friends!

Live octopus (or san-nak-ji in Korean) is a local delicacy in Seoul, South Korea. Restaurants that serve this dish usually have tanks and tanks full of baby octopus just waiting to be consumed. Eager octopus eaters can walk the streets looking for the restaurant that looks to have the nicest looking octopi.
The live octopus is taken out of its tank and placed on a cutting board, usually along the street so pedestrians walking by can see how delicious their octopus looks. The octopus will be placed on a platter, covered in sesame seeds and rushed to the table. The limbs are still actively moving - giving off the appearance of a plate full of little cut-in-half worms, wriggling and spinning in their own juices.
The experience of having food in my mouth that was writhing and sucking on my gums was one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt. The texture (and flavor) closely resemble that of rubber. The octopus is served with a side of sesame oil and some spicy red sauce (I thought it tasted like spicy red pepper paste, a staple of Korean food, but I was told I was wrong and the waiter could never fully explain what it actually was.) The oil gives the dish some taste, and lubricates it for the journey to your stomach.
If you ever find yourself in Seoul, South Korea, do yourself a favor and at least give this dish a try. It will not be the most delicious food your taste buds have ever encountered, but the experience is unlike any you can have on the planet. 

Live octopus (or san-nak-ji in Korean) is a local delicacy in Seoul, South Korea. Restaurants that serve this dish usually have tanks and tanks full of baby octopus just waiting to be consumed. Eager octopus eaters can walk the streets looking for the restaurant that looks to have the nicest looking octopi.

The live octopus is taken out of its tank and placed on a cutting board, usually along the street so pedestrians walking by can see how delicious their octopus looks. The octopus will be placed on a platter, covered in sesame seeds and rushed to the table. The limbs are still actively moving - giving off the appearance of a plate full of little cut-in-half worms, wriggling and spinning in their own juices.

The experience of having food in my mouth that was writhing and sucking on my gums was one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt. The texture (and flavor) closely resemble that of rubber. The octopus is served with a side of sesame oil and some spicy red sauce (I thought it tasted like spicy red pepper paste, a staple of Korean food, but I was told I was wrong and the waiter could never fully explain what it actually was.) The oil gives the dish some taste, and lubricates it for the journey to your stomach.

If you ever find yourself in Seoul, South Korea, do yourself a favor and at least give this dish a try. It will not be the most delicious food your taste buds have ever encountered, but the experience is unlike any you can have on the planet.