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Here is my latest Korea Herald article, published on Valentine’s Day.

Harnessing Love Through Spaghetti

You still have a little time left. Don’t fret over some overwrapped, overpriced gift basket. In my world, the best expression of your love for someone is food. You can impress without being some master chef.

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Let me tell you a story: My first year in Korea, I had difficulty in the dating scene. I had dates, but they never developed into relationships. One time, I planned a date with a young woman. She asked if I could cook something for her. I made her my spaghetti.

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She is now my fiancee.

Was it my spaghetti? Was it my charm and wit? Was it my manly physique, maintained by many years of beer and tacos?

Let’s assume it was the pasta. It’s not really a recipe. It’s more of a technique that I developed during the college poverty years when dried pasta was all I could afford, and I was forced to make it interesting.

What I do is chop around three cloves of garlic and an onion. I slowly cook them in some olive oil in a skillet. I sweat them, which means that there should be no browning, not even sizzling. Just slowly cook them until they are soft. Sometimes, I also add mushrooms, peppers, or fresh tomatoes. It helps clean out the fridge. I then add a glass of red wine, usually whatever I’m drinking at the time, and turn up the heat. Balsamic vinegar also works instead of wine, but don’t use more than a tablespoon or two. Let about half the wine boil out. Then add either a can of tomatoes or a jar of spaghetti sauce. Turn down the heat and let it cook slowly.

While all this is going on, have a big pot of water on the stove, heavily salted. You need that salt in there to prevent the pasta from having a negative flavor. I have heard that the water needs to be as salty as the ocean, but just a palmful will do. When the water is boiling, add whatever pasta you intend to use. Be vigilant in this, and test it for chewiness. Too many people overcook their pasta. In fact, it’s best to slightly undercook it. Drain the pasta, and add it to the spaghetti sauce in the pan. Let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce. If the sauce is too dry, add some of the pasta cooking water.

Serve this with a fresh green salad, using a big variety of leaves from your local grocery store. In fact, make a Korean raspberry vinaigrette. In a big bowl whisk together aquarter cup of balsamic vinegar, a generous pour of Korean raspberry wine, a tablespoon of good mustard, and half a teaspoon of dried herbs, if available. Make sure that you use something good like Dijon mustard. Honey mustard is out of the question. Now, while whisking very quickly, slowly drizzle around three-quarters of a cup of extra virgin olive oil until it starts looking like a nice glistening salad dressing.

A classy Valentine’s sweet for adults is salted butter caramels. I adapted this recipe from food blogger Chez Pim. Slowly melt 1.5 cups of sugar and half a cup of Korean honey in a saucepan. When the sugar is a nice dark color and not burned, whisk in a stick of room temperature butter in chunks. Add a cup of heated heavy cream and stir until smooth. Let the mixture reach a temperature of 125 degrees Celsius. Spread it out on a non-stick surface and sprinkle in some sea salt. Slice them and wrap them when they cool.

That should rescue you for Valentine’s Day. If it’s too late for you, there is still White Day next month.

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