Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Having an oven in Korea

Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook, and I love to feed people.  Even before I was able to cook meals for myself or others, I knew how to bake.  My mom made darn sure of that.  When I was old enough to see over the counter-tops of our kitchen, she put an apron on me and set me on a footstool to watch her as she rolled out cookies, mixed cake batters, and kneaded bread dough.  At first she only let me watch as she explained things:  how to tell if a dough was too hard, too sticky, or just right for baking and how to fix each problem.  She showed me how to measure out dry ingredients properly to ensure the most exact amount.  She even taught me the fine art of how to eyeball the perfect ratio of cookie dough to cookie sheet coverage.

My first forays into solo baking were not without errors, however.  I distinctly remember a batch of overly salty chocolate chip cookies when I lost track of my ingredients and ended up adding too much.  Not to mention there were several instances of over-baked cookies that resembled hockey pucks.  My hands are laced with several burn scars from absently grabbing hot cookie sheets and oven racks, then realizing that I am in fact not invincible.

After a few years of that, my mom decided it was time I moved into cooking something other than the dessert menu.  She started to teach me her more basic recipes, the standards of our dinner table.  And it was always with the advice that "those who know how to cook will never wonder what to eat for dinner."  Her love for cooking was that she loved to feed people, and it made her happy when people enjoyed her food.  Growing up I was somewhat of a picky eater, but these days I am pretty open to a lot of culinary experimentation.  One of the most important lessons I learned from her was how to show people I cared about them through my cooking, and it still holds true.  I enjoy cooking for myself, but far more for others, as I can share friendship as well as good food!

When I came to Korea I was unhappy to learn that ovens were not a common thing as back home.  Most Koreans cooked on the gas range or ate food that came from a restaurant.  I struggled to adapt my cooking methods to a gas range (I had never cooked on gas before), and exploring with new ingredients.  Sad to say, I didn't cook much during my first year in Korea--not to the extent I was used to at home.  But as I spent more time living here, I was able to seek out better ways of making food as well as how to use the new ingredients at my disposal.

Last year I had a tiny toaster oven that I used to make brownies or cookies from time to time, but it wasn't what I was really looking for in my kitchen.  So this year I searched on GMarket and invested in a much nicer convection oven, large enough to hold a whole chicken.  It came with a few various cooking tools and a pretty awesome rotisserie spit, which I will have to try sometime.  The price is worth what I can do with it, and it has paid off handsomely.  I've made a few loaves of banana bread, muffins, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and baked veggies and chicken in it.  I love how I can toss a piece of seasoned chicken with veggies into the roasting tray, set the temperature and timer, and in 30 minutes have dinner ready to eat.  The clean-up is a lot easier than fiddling with pans and utensils, too.

Having an oven in Korea has made all the difference when it comes to cooking and baking.  I don't feel limited in what I can make; only in the ingredients I can find.  Even then, I can find a pretty good substitute or do without.

What do you wish you could cook/bake in Korea?  What food(s) from home do you miss eating the most here?

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