One on One: Tara O’Brady on Potlucks and Korean Gochujang Honey Butter

It’s a total coincidence that this post is going up on Tara’s birthday, which serendipitously happens to also be the release date of her very first cookbook. It’s a book I’ve been waiting for for years – like, ten of them – since I started reading her food blog, Seven Spoons. It’s one of the most beautiful blogs I know, filled to the brim with recipes I didn’t even know I wanted to make until I saw them. She lives in Ontario with her husband and two boys, and also writes a column for Uppercase magazine, which is based in Calgary and which I also adore. It’s a perfect fit.

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seven spoons

Tara herself isn’t a musician – although she once played tambourine in a band – but music is a part of her life, and she has a great invite list for our fantasy musician dinner party.

RS: Does music play a particular role in your everyday life?

TO: I’d say yes — my sons insist on the radio on the way to school everyday, and the three of us spend our drive singing along. It is such fun for them to be at ages where they each have specific tastes and opinions on what we’re listening to. My older always wants to know the names of songs and singers, and my younger usually wants the volume turned up. They really like George Ezra.

My father is very musical, but sadly I did not inherit the talent. One son is in guitar lessons, and it is pretty special to see Grandpa tune his strings for him. Most afternoons I’ll have some music on as company while I work, whether it is writing, cooking, or simply cleaning up.

RS: If you could host a dinner party with ten musicians – living or not – at the table, who would you invite? what would you serve?

TO: First and foremost, it would be a potluck. Not just because this would be an intimidating group to cook for, but also because I think food is such a great leveler and starter of conversation. Talking about what you brought and why you brought it gets people chatty. I would bring ice cream sandwiches, with chocolate chip cookies and my favourite Vietnamese coffee ice cream with espresso caramel in the middle. I love ice cream.

Florence Welch
Leonard Cohen
Otis Redding
Jack White — I’d ask him to make a guitar like in “It Might Get Loud”
Dolly Parton
Ray Lamontagne
David Byrne
Amy Winehouse
Robert Smith
Kanye West

For the record, this list was hard.

RS: If you were spending an afternoon in the kitchen, what would be on your playlist?

TO: In all things I do, I am pretty moody. So from day to day, the playlist varies wildly. One day Tully and Tully, then Journey, then Great Lakes Swimmers and the Hip. Or Akron/Family, Janelle Monae, Sufjan Stevens, then Jay-Z. I love early Jackson 5 when I need to keep my energy up, and really any Motown. When I was growing up, my parents had the Big Chill soundtrack and I still love it.

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Tara’s book recently enabled me to make my own fried chicken, from scratch – she calls hers Bee-stung Fried Chicken on account of the deep red Korean gochujang honey butter she dribbles overtop. On the night we made this, friends cozied up in our kitchen nook while I cooked, and I made a batch of hush puppies – corn fritters – to nibble while they waited for the chicken to cook. As it turned out, the spicy honey butter was divine with the fritters, and there was hardly any left by the time the chicken was done.

If you don’t happen to have gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) or gochugaru (Korean ground red pepper powder) in your kitchen, spike the honey butter with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, Sriracha or just a hit of cayenne, although it won’t be as intensely brick-coloured as Tara’s version.

Hush Puppies with Korean Gochujang Honey Butter

(The sauce comes from Seven Spoons, by Tara O’Brady.)

Hush puppies:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
canola oil, for frying

Korean gochujang honey:
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
1/2 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp. gochugaru (Korean ground red pepper powder), cayenne, or crushed red pepper flakes

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and oil; add to the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined. Set aside for about 20 minutes – this will allow the cornmeal to soften and absorb some of the liquid.

Meanwhile, heat a couple inches of oil in a heavy saucepan or cast iron Dutch oven (which is perfect for making the fried chicken in afterwards) until hot, but not smoking. Drop the batter by the spoonful into the hot oil, without crowding the pot, and cook for a few minutes, turning as they turn deep golden. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

To make the butter, in a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the butter and honey, swirling to combine. Stir in the gochujang, garlic, and gochugaru.

Serve the fritters warm, with the gochujang honey butter. Makes lots.