Learning about the Different Apples

Random photo of an apple with strawberry leaves… Because they were on the counter, so might as well.

So back in the day—up until not so long ago, really—I had, well, basically no idea what was the difference between the different apples. I used to think Red Delicious were a good idea, until I met an appalled David who paid special care to emphasize his disdain for Red Delicious. I guess Snow White was indeed a cautionary tale? So Dave wanted to share his full agreement with the following xkcd comic:

xkcd’s Apple Spectrum – Comic # 1766

I guess whether or not some apples are indeed better than others is a matter of personal taste, but you do have apples that are better for pie baking, for example. I wish we would’ve written down Bartlett’s store clerk’s advice on which were the apples that make for the ideal apple pie apples. But alas, I didn’t. I seem to recall—~94% sure—he said it was Granny Smith apples, which were at the time not in season. Granny smith are actually one of the most popular choices for baking. Midwest Living has several other suggestions for your apple pie needs with some interesting combinations, and here’s the fun hands-on experimenting from Serious Eats.

And now, the quick story behind Maria Ann (‘Granny’) Smith, of whom I was reminded by my father-in-law over Thanksgiving week:

Maria Ann
Maria Ann “Granny” Smith. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1868 Australia, Maria Smith had come across an apple seedling growing by a creek on her property, which had developed from the remains of some French crab-apples grown in Tasmania. She began to work a few of these seedling trees, and soon, a local orchardist planted out a large number of them, from which he marketed annual crops. Though the apple was not a commercial variety in her lifetime, its cultivation was sustained by local orchardists, and by 1891-1892, ‘Granny Smith’s seedlings’ had begun to win prizes in the cooking-apple class, with several local growers exhibiting the apples. Their large scale production began in 1895, followed by export and unto the kitchens of the world!

Happy biting,
Kika & Dave.


[1] “12 Great Apples for Baking” by Riane Menardi at MidwestLiving.com, http://www.midwestliving.com/food/fruits-veggies/great-apples-for-baking/
[2] “The Food Lab’s Apple Pie, Part 1: What Are the Best Apples for Pie?” by J. Kenji López-Alt at SeriousEats.com, http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/10/the-food-lab-what-are-the-best-apples-for-apple-pies-how-to-make-pie.html
[3] “Smith, Maria Ann (1799–1870)” by Megan Martin at the Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-maria-ann-13199
[4] “The Granny Smith Apple | The Story of its Origin” by the Sunday Times,02 Nov 1924 (Perth, WA: 1902 – 1954) at the National Library of Australia, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58061784


Spaghetti alla Carbonara + Asparagus Casserole

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Asparagus with Cheese Casserole
Dave’s first attempt at Spaghetti alla Carbonara plus a side of Asparagus with Cheese Casserole
Unrelated note: We got a new tile background at Home Depot and were super excited to it try out for the picture.

Sunday November 20th, 2016

Dear Blag,

On a weekend much like this one, except with a different date… Since it was last weekend… Dave (!) got around to finally trying a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara[1].

“The tricky aspect about making carbonara,” he said, “is that the sauce is primarily made of egg, which is dropped raw into the pasta—after drained—and mixed vigorously. If you drop it in too early, when the pasta is still too hot, your risk getting scrambled eggs. If you drop it in too late, with the pasta cooled past a certain point, you risk having raw egg in your pasta. You want to mix it in just at the right moment so that the heat of the pasta combined with the stirring turns the eggs into a nice, creamy sauce.”*

Thursday November 24th, 2016

Dear Blag,

Sorry I didn’t finish my thoughts the other day. Right now we’re super full from my in-laws’ awesomely** delicious Thanksgiving lunch (linner? Since we’re too full for dinner?) to think of much more to add to the carbonara story. Althoooough, long story short, we re-added the pasta to the pan because it seemed like the egg was still a bit raw. Dave thinks it was due to the recipe asking for eggs at room temperature, and ours were still cold from the fridge… The re-throwing in the pan is typically a big no-no, but fortunately the pasta was still pretty creamy afterwards, even though the picture makes it look drier than it was.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is essentially eggs, cheese (some variation of parmesan and/or pecorino), bacon (we used pancetta), and black pepper. There’s different stories behind the origin of pasta carbonara, with perhaps the word “carbonara” implying it was eaten by coal workers or maybe that the black pepper resembled coal flakes.[2][3] Overall, the general consensus seems to be that the dish originated around the mid-20th century in the Lazio region of Italy, which is where my dad’s family is from! And which is where Rome is too. So there you go.

Here’s the recipe for the Spaghetti Carbonara, from the NY Times Cooking section. Below is the recipe for a super quick side dish of Asparagus with Cheese Casserole, which I’m not entirely sure it can be considered a casserole since it’s not cooked slowly, but let’s call it a casserole. It’s one of my favorite side dishes to make to add some greens to the plate.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,
Kika & Dave.

* I used quotations, though I might’ve embellished his words a bit since it’s been a week already… Still has the “Dave Seal of Approval,” though.
** This is an actual word?? Adverb. Sweet.

Cheesy Asparagus Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
  • Print

One of my favorite side dishes to make. Please do not be intimidated by the complexity of this recipe.


  • Oven Broiler
  • 9×9 Metal Cake Pan or Casserole Dish (if you have a larger size, just push the asparagus to one side)


  • Asparagus (2 cans, 15 oz.)
  • Sliced Cheese (my preference is ‘Murican Cheese, Dave likes Asiago)
  • Butter (regular, salted)


  1. Open Asparagus cans.
  2. Drain liquid from Asparagus cans.
  3. Place asparagus in pan/dish; stack in layers of 2-3 asparagus.
  4. Throw in specs/dollops of butter (evenly spaced) over the asparagus.
  5. Place slices of American Cheese over the butter/asparagus stack; (enough so to cover them, layers of 1-2 slices).
  6. Place in the oven. Set to broil high.
  7. Watch until the cheese is browned. (Only a couple of minutes).



[1] “Spaghetti Carbonara” by Ian Fisher from New York Times Cooking http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12965-spaghetti-carbonara
[2] “Carbonara” Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonara
[3] “History of Spaghetti Carbonara” by Clifford Wright at CliffordAWright.com http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/4/id/117/

TIL: Korean Crushed Red Pepper ≠ US Crushed Red Pepper

Spicy Pork Bulgogi
Our first attempt at Spicy Pork Bulgogi! Ok so, not quite like at my favorite Korean places, but still purty good first attempt, with a donkey’s kick worth of heat.

Gochugaru (고추가루)

Monday November 7th, 2016

This past weekend we had some friends over for an evening of at-home cooking. Jeremiah made yet another awesome apple strudel and Dave made some Moscow mules, a tortilla soup, and our first attempt at spicy pork bulgogi. Unfortunately, there was no belly space left for Alex’s eggies in a basket to commemorate the 5th of November.

The reason why we’re sharing this post today, though, is because of the spicy pork bulgogi. We followed a pretty good recipe from Food.com that is also absurdly/amazingly simple to follow—literally mix the ingredients, let marinade for a while, then dump it in the pan and cook at medium high heat, serve (preferably with white rice).

ERROR #1: The recipe says to use “2 tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes.” Dave says, “Hm, we don’t have Korean red pepper flakes… Should we just use regular flakes?” I say, “YEEaaaahhh, use regular.” David hesitates. I insist, “Just use regular! It’s fiiiineee…”

ERROR #2: David suggests using just one tablespoon of pepper flakes—this coming from a guy that doesn’t consider heat to be heat unless it’s “hotter than an Indian summer on Alderaan”… (I give up, this is the pun you get). But then again, his suggestion was also in consideration of our friends. AND STILL, I say, “No Dave, one must follow a recipe and then modify accordingly.” Haha, foolish Kika *says mildly-wiser Kika to less knowledgeable Kika from the past through psychic exchanges*

You might be able to conclude from this that the dish packed more heat than needed—or less!?!? No, it was more… Oh sorry, you were trying to guess.. Well, forget what I said and guess again. *Reader makes a guess out loud* You’re correct! It probably packed more heat than needed. But then again, there’s still more that’s solely wild estimation. You see, not only is there a difference in heat between Korean pepper flakes and typical pepper flakes, they also contribute very different flavors.*

For any redditors out there, here’s some key takeaways from a Reddit thread on the topic of Korean Red Pepper Flakes, or, Gochugaru:

  • Gochugaru is made from a different kind of pepper than typical crushed red pepper**: It is made from “Chungyang” red pepper, which is about 12,000 to about 23,000 Scoville units, making it milder than your typical red pepper flakes which place in the 30,000 to about 50,000 Scoville units range.***
  • You can find different levels of coarseness for gochugaru. Fine gochugaru, which seems to resemble cayenne powder in texture and color—using Google and Amazon as my friends here—is usually used for making gochujang (sometimes written as kochujang) sauce. The vast majority of recipes will request (or assume) you use the coarse kind, though, kimchi included.
  • There is a big difference in aromatics between gochugaru and typical crushed red pepper, with gochugaru being described as smoky, sweet, even earthy, and some users even attributing an almost fruity and/or floral taste to it. The phrase “a cross between an ancho and Hungarian paprika” appears in the thread.
  • Gochugaru are sun-dried, which gives them a different flavor than regular-dried chili flakes.****

With my head emotionally (and spiritually because I’m not literally doing this right now) tilted against the window deep in sad thought, wondering why we couldn’t be blessed with proximity to an H Mart, I comfort myself with the idea that I can actually order gochugaru through Amazon and get it in just two days. Without leaving the house. But then again, I have to work tomorrow. And it’s election day too. Sooo, before I make further judgments like, “maybe we can use a bit less soy sauce?” or, “hm, this is good, but it’s not quite like the recipes from my favorite Korean restaurants,” I’ll have to:

  1. Vote.
  2. Order the coarse gochugaru.
  3. Not ignore the recipe’s only two warnings of not substituting the gochugaru or the gochujang sauce.
  4. Maybe marinating the beef longer by leaving it overnight?
  5. Actually follow the measurements on the reci—what, really, Dave? You tweaked all over? You’re telling me this now? After I’m almost done writing this whole post—it’s ok, babe, it came out awesome… No, I know now that you had to adjust for more pork… We’ll just try it again with gochugaru too.

And yes, voting comes first, because without democracy, capitalism, and ‘Murican Freedom *insert ‘Murican flag waving elegantly in the wind in front of fireworks and a passing eagle* I couldn’t order foreign items at will from the comfort of my couch. It’s like witchcraft, really. The awesome kind.

So once you’re done voting or not voting because you can’t vote, are too disturbed to vote this year, or can’t vote in the US and your country’s voting is not tomorrow or anytime soon, also make sure to go over “15 Essential Tools & Ingredients for Korean Cooking” if you want to one-up your Korean food cooking skills. I sure do.

From cold Massachusetts, wishing you a warm week,
Kika & Dave.

* A claim we’ll need to scientifically test ourselves.
** “Crushed red pepper flakes are generally made up of different types of chili peppers, including cayenne, ancho and bell.”[3]
*** You can still purchase them in different levels of heat, though, with “maewoon” (매운) meaning spicy and “deol maewoon” (덜매운) meaning mild (literally, less spicy).[4]
**** We’ll need to look into the typical industrial methods for drying red pepper flakes. Please remind me to look into this. If you forget, no worries, I’ll randomly remember at a family gathering in ~20 years.


[1] Spicy Pork Bulgogi Recipe by Jelisa, at Food.com http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-pork-bulgogi-29690
[2] “Korean red pepper flakes – how different are they from typical pepper flakes?” Question made by user themadnun on r/AskCulinary on Reddit.com, https://m.reddit.com/r/AskCulinary/comments/4jkx2f/korean_red_pepper_flakes_how_different_are_they/?utm_source=amp&utm_medium=comment_list&compact=true
[3] “How to Make Crushed Red Pepper Flakes” by Christine Wheatley of LEAFtv, https://www.leaf.tv/articles/how-to-make-crushed-red-pepper-flakes/
[4] “Hot pepper flakes – Gochugaru 고추가루” at Maangchi.com, http://www.maangchi.com/ingredient/hot-pepper-flakes
[5] “Beyond Kimchi: 15 Essential Tools & Ingredients for Korean Cooking” by Matt Rodbard of Food52 — Culinary Arts, February 26, 2016, on Curious, Presented by Startford University http://curious.stratford.edu/2016/02/26/beyond-kimchi-15-essential-tools-ingredients-for-korean-cooking/

Mead: What is it and how do you make it?

We got the Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine half-hiding there on the left side. Locally-made in Western Mass by Green River Ambrosia.

Mead! The ancient drink. One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and the reason behind the word “honeymoon”—good thing Dave and I did not drink it after the wedding, if the mead had been “proper,” we’d currently have a bun in the oven! (Side reminder that Dave and I need to learn how to make our own bread).

So… What do I mean by all this nonsense? Let’s start from the beginning. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water, with at least 50 percent of the fermentable sugars coming from honey.[1][2]

And what was all that about the bun in the oven? Well,

“Mead was a part of the rituals of the Celts, AngloSaxons and Vikings. It was believed to have magical, healing powers even capable of increasing fertility. The word honeymoon is derived from the practice of the newlyweds drinking mead for one month (a moon) after the wedding. If the mead was “proper,” a son would be born nine months later.”[1]

If you would like to read further on the topic, you can read the rest of this cool article on the Art and Science Behind Making Mead. The article provides you a background on mead as well as (perhaps more importantly) a guide on how to brew it yourself for those enthusiastic home-brewers—we’re looking at you, Varun—including basic mead recipes/formulae and several variations with diversified flavors. Interestingly, mead-brewing equipment is similar to that used in brewing beer, even though the current licensing for brewing mead classifies it as a wine.[2]

We stopped by Nejaime’s Wine in Lenox last weekend and got some Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine. My first thought upon tasting mead: “This tastes like the best beer I’ve ever had!” Even though it’s obviously not beer per se, but that’s what my mind decided to feed me on instinct. The alcohol content felt comparably mild at first, though, and after a few sips it felt as strong as regular wine, and then as strong as vodka—you will not find a high tolerance to alcohol in this household… Mostly because we fall asleep before being able to “tolerate” it.

The labeling behind this sweet alcoholic nectar can spark a bit of controversy, though, since mead is often considered to be a specialty beer and there is some discrepancy between honey wine and mead, so that some consider them to be the same thing while others emphasize their differences, with mead having a higher percentage of honey, often having grain or herbs, and being aged longer than honey wine.[3] On a less technical note, Dave and I found that after leaving our honey wine open for a while and/or overnight in a mug in the fridge, the flavor of honey becomes a lot more prominent. (Not sure whether there were other factors—perhaps even involving perception—involved. Will have to further test this hypothesis.)

Found the National Honey Board site if you’d like to “Discover the natural wonders of honey”!


[1] “Making Mead: the Art and the Science” by the National Honey Board http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/makingmead.pdf
[2] “The Alchemy of Mead” by Dawn Hibbard at Kettering University, 2006  https://news.kettering.edu/news/alchemy-mead
[3] “What’s the Difference Between Mead and Honey Wine (T’ej)?” by Joel MacCharles of WellPreserved.ca http://www.wellpreserved.ca/whats-the-difference-between-mead-and-honey-wine-tej/