My apologies for the blurry, dark photo. It was late, and I was hungry.
When I was about two years old, my best friend in the whole world was Jon. He was six months younger but a whole head taller than me, and while I was very quiet and shy, he could wail loud enough for the both of us (or so my mom says). Where I would scamper, he would lumber. One of the only things we seemed to agree upon was that pigeons were meant for chasing (we're city kids), but despite our differences, we were practically inseparable: JonJon and SaSa. Then his family moved down the Peninsula, and our paths wouldn't again cross until much later.
In college, my Jon was my buddy Kevin. Again, he was the outgoing one, and quiet little me always seemed to be tagging along to his parties. His social sphere was only slightly smaller than the campus population, whereas I tended to stick to a very small circle of friends. So it was a strange twist of fate when I found out that Kevin and Jon were close friends, having met through the university's crew team.
Fast forward about 15 years to last weekend when we hosted Jon, Kevin, and their awesome wives for a little dinner party conceived through my Momofuku cookbook. We enjoyed an upscale ssam dinner (Korean barbecue served as make-your-own lettuce wraps) with kalbi-style New York strip and grilled pork belly and an insalata caprese-inspired cherry tomato salad that I was dying to try. Rather than nesting the tomatoes on soft discs of mozzarella, Chang substitutes silken tofu and replaces zesty strips of basil with equally pungent Japanese shiso.
The resulting dish was fantastic, even heading into Winter (I can only imagine what it's like when the tomatoes are at their peak of flavor in late Summer). And in one of my pensive moments (because — if you haven't already noticed — I am a quiet person) I realized it's a terrific metaphor for these friendships: seemingly mismatched ingredients intersecting in a harmonious medley. For the recipe, read on.
Last month, my husband had a business trip to NYC where he enjoyed his long-awaited meal of hwae naeng myun in Koreatown as well as a much hyped dinner at Momofuku Ssam where he tried those infamous pork belly buns. I was soooooo jealous. Last August, I went to Momofuku Ma Pêche with my coworkers where we ordered the closest thing on the menu and a poor stand-in, slow-cooked pork spareribs. Don't get me wrong: they were lovely, perfectly cooked spareribs, but I really wanted to try that pork belly. So, a little miffed at the fact that my husband conquered one of my food goals for me, I decided to make them at home (of course!).
I found a recipe that adds a few flourishes to the original like rosemary and thyme in the dry brine and gotchujang instead of sriracha for the sauce. Once assembled with the pickled cucumbers and gotchujang, the medley was tasty, but there were three areas in which I felt this recipe was lacking. First, the pork on its own was a salt lick. We were guzzling water all night and through the next day. The meat ended up a little tough, too -- not the moist, succulent pork belly I had envisioned. Finally, I was hoping for a little more sweet (like charsiu pork) next to the spicy and pickly flavors. So, based on the "true" recipe I found online plus my own palatal desires, I have adjusted my recipe according to what I'll do next time. I'm sure that further updates will be necessary! For the recipe, read on.
Last August, Melissa and Sabs introduced me to the marvelous world of Momofuku restaurants in NYC. We (plus Randall) had an awesome dinner at Ma Pêche, and afterwards we pored over the goodies at Milk Bar upstairs. We took back to the hotel about 75% of the store, and among the loot was this enormous, ugly-looking pastry called the Compost Cookie. I eyed it cautiously and then took a bite.
And it was AWESOME.
Aside from normal cookie ingredients, the geniuses at Momofuku threw in pretzels, potato chips, graham cracker crumbs, and coffee grounds, and then added your run-of-the-mill chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and oats for good measure. The result is a delectable sweet-salty (yay!), chewy cookie that blows ol' Toll House out of the water. So when Dave was out in NYC for work last week, my one souvenir request was a single Compost Cookie.
He brought me 6.
I love that man.