Friday, 30 December 2011

Honest Cooking

So I have recently been featured on a website called It is so exciting and I am shamelessly plugging it now, because I just submitted a couple more articles.
Watch this space! And why not follow the website on facebook, too!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Cat Cafe

When I first heard about Korean Cat Cafes, I have to admit I was a little dubious. I am not really a cat person, although I do have an enquiring interest in dog cafes.

So yesterday we took a girly trip to find the place in Hapseongdong that self confessed cat-addict, Leslie, has been raving about for weeks. This cafe was the most oestrogen filled place I have been in a long time. Girls were pawing all over the cats who were quite clearly uninterested as they have seen it all before and as self-pleasing creatures at the best of times, all the human attention was clearly old news.

There were bios for each cat, but we took to creating our own names for each kitty, some of which I have to admit stole my heart a little. The coffee was served in take out cups, which I was pleased about, no cat hair in my coffee please.  For 6,000won, you got a choice of drink from a set list, plus as long as you liked to coax the cats into some play time fun. There was also a Jenga set available which we made use of.
The coffee was really sweet, but good, and there were some nice bread-biscuit treats to nibble on included.

Butternut, as his face was all squashed. Perhaps my favourite.

Vin (as in Diesel). At one point he had his elbow hanging outside his house as though he was pimping his ride.

Cute little houses and pictures.
I was really surprised how much I liked it. There were no litter trays or cat poop to be seen, there was a cat flap into a different room with a sign saying toilet. I assume that was where the action happened, I was just pleased to know it wasn't anywhere around my table.

At one point, the waitress opened a can of cat food and served it to the kitties with chopsticks! One of the more bizarre moments of an entirely bizarre experience! There were toys to play with and cubby holes to sit in surrounded by a host of cat paraphernalia.
I would definitely recommend a visit to any cat cafe. The one in Hapseongdong, Masan is clearly very nicely put together, the cats are all rare breeds and very placid. The coffee is great and the atmosphere is very feline!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ridiculously Happy pancakes!

Happy pancakes

Last weekend, my better half and his epic food obsession struck again. He and Grat found an all American pancake recipe and gathered a host of fresh sweet ingredients to make an immense breakfast treat! Ice cream, almonds, banana, honey, choc chips, honey, whipped cream.... Grat's started to leak ice cream from every layer.
Using Jamie Oliver's USA pancake recipe, they formed a four tier mountain that conquered them both and Tom was eating his the next day. Grat had two cups of tea on the go and was still beaten by the sweetness. Clearly half the portion would suffice, but it was a Saturday challenge to get both boys revved up for the weekend. Teaching can take it out of you so the extra calories will go to good use! I had a modest two tier mountain with far less ice cream, but it was still too much.

Happy face American style pancakes

4 tier USA style pancakes - Delicious!

Jamie's Recipe - click the link or read below.

3 large eggs
115g/4oz plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
140ml/5fl oz milk
a pinch of salt

Separate the eggs.
Add the flour, baking powder and milk to the yolks and mix to a smooth thick batter.
Whisk the whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks.
Fold into the batter – it is now ready to use.

Cook on a medium heat.
Sprinkle you topping on the pancake as it is cooking to make a crispy golden brown finish.
Cook for a couple of minutes and flip over.

Merry Shinsegaemas

Shinsegae Christmas party food

Christmas is not overwhelmingly apparent in Korea, and sometimes you have to go looking for it. There are clusters of lights in our neighbourhood and we have a rather lovely looking tree in our living room. So last weekend I took a hopeful trip to Korea's second city, Busan. Centum City is Shinsegae's flagship department store. Shinsegae translates as, 'New World' and this store is actually the largest department store in the world. I have visited the international food court before, but with Christmas approaching it seemed like the kind of place I wanted to spend a Saturday morning and I was not disappointed! The Christmas displays were a treat and the food was a feast for the eyes. The basement food court is really amazing and a great place to forage for western style fodder and special Christmas finds. We were lucky to find some real Stilton cheese. At $17 for 150g it was an expensive purchase, but you absolutely must have a decent cheeseboard on December 25th.

Shinsegae Christmas window display.

The food court is a hive of activity. Sushi, fajitas, and waffles are earnestly prepared with creative flair by incredibly friendly staff. More traditional Korean sweets like Gyeongju (Hwangnam) bread are swiftly formed and neatly lined up ready to be baked. Gyeongju bread is named after the city and is a sweet bread filled with even sweeter red bean paste. Down in the basement food court you can see this paste in huge quantities as it is scooped into small balls and used to fill the small pretty circular breads. Many of the foods are being prepared out in the open like this, so it is really fun to leisurely walk around and soak up the culinary atmosphere. There are some pretty fantastic aromas, too.

Making Gyeongju bread with sweet red bean paste.

I loved these gingerbread Christmas houses which were lined up on the counter, each one unique in design and sprinkled with Christmas cheer. They were rather pricey, but as gourmet houses go... I thought they were impressive!

Christmas gingerbread house with snowman.

Ginger bread Christmas house

These houses were not the only baked goods which caught my attention. The cakes were amazing! Fruit, icing, jam, sponge, cheesecake, chocolate, coconut, sweet potato every imaginable flavour and each one immaculately presented.
Shinsegae cakes

I was also taken with the range of preserves which included onion and olive marmalade, blackcurrant jams and ginger and lime jelly. There were also very heathy looking deli and wine sections. They even had Yorkshire tea! All in all, I recommend going to check out Shinsegae over the Christmas period and if you can make it over to Busan, the food court is a must. Like me, you will probably have a little chuckle when you see the 'Merry Shinsegaemas' signs.  

Preserves at  Sinsegae food court- Centum City

World teas at Shinsegae - Centum City

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Simple Hummus

One of my favourite comfort foods any time of year is a homemade hummus recipe that anyone can make! Although some people object to eating uncooked garlic, there are some advantages to this. Having lived in Korea for nearly 2 years, I have become accustomed to using garlic as a staple ingredient. Koreans  use it in their annual kimchi preparation which is currently well underway! But the smell of cabbage and garlic will not be fazing me. With winter in full swing, it is always a battle to keep coughs and sneezes at bay. Using garlic before you feel a cold coming is commonly know to help boost the immune system. It has been said that taking a dose of garlic, can shorten the symptoms and help you get back on your feet.
With this in mind, and the fact that I have recently acquired a massive bag of dried chickpeas, I thought I would try introducing the world to my simple hummus recipe.

2 cups (150g) cooked and drained chickpeas or canned chickpeas, drained
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup (120ml) squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 cup (240ml) cold water
sea salt
optional fresh rosemary and balsamic vinegar to taste

A note on dried chickpeas
1. Soak your dried chickpeas over night and then boil with a little salt for around 2 hours until soft.
2. Drain away any froth during the boiling process.
Alternatively you can use canned chickpeas if you don't have the patience, but I really enjoy the anticipation. Either way your chickpeas are ready to roll!

The Hummus itself
1. Put the garlic, lemon and olive oil into a blender and process until the garlic is pureed.
2. Add the chickpeas, cayenne pepper and gradually add a little water to help blend the ingredients into a thick paste. Add a little more water if necessary to help the blender push round the drier ingredients.
3. Add sea salt to taste.
4. As for flavouring, I have tried adding fresh rosemary or a table spoon of balsamic vinegar to the mixture and blending for a further 30 seconds. This can really add some flavour to your hummus.
5. Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper to present and serve with crudities or freshly baked flat bread as a light snack or deliciously tempting appetiser.

Stained Glass Christmas Tree Cookies

I wanted to make something to brighten up our Korean Christmas tree this year as there is not much Christmas cheer in Korea and some of our decorations have been damaged as we moved from one apartment to the next. So I stumbled across a recipe which I adapted to make some festive stained glass cookie decorations. They turned out pretty well!

Stained Glass Window Tree Cookies.

350g plain flour
1tsp bicarb soda
2tsp ginger
100g butter
175g brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 beaten egg
milk to bind together
Boiled sweets crushed.


Grease and line two baking trays. 
Sift the flour, baking soda and ginger together.
Rub in the butter with your finger tips until the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs.
Add honey, sugar and egg. Form into a dough and add milk a little at a time until a soft palpable dough is formed. Rest it for 5 minutes.
Flour a surface and roll our your dough until it is around 1/2cm thick.
Use cutters to make shapes with a space for the window.
Make a hole in the top with a chopstick or straw.
Crush a boiled sweet (a garlic crusher works a treat). Place the sweet in the central window try not to sprinkle on the cookie.
Put all cookies in the oven 180 C for 10-12 minutes or until golden.
Cool on a baking rack.
Once soft, gently peel off the baking sheet. Tie string or ribbon through the hole and use to decorate you tree or windows.

They look really pretty, but more importantly, they taste good! They should keep a long while on your tree, but I was saving mine in a tin for Christmas week. I put it on top of the fridge and unfortunately, Tom pulled the door a bit too hard and the tin fell on the floor. I now have a box full of smashed Christmas cookies :(
Oh well, I will just have to make more!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Pepero Day November 11th

So Pepero Day has been and gone and I have only just got around to writing about it! It has been a busy couple of weeks. My friend from England has been living in New Zealand for the past year and she visited us on her way home. It was so lovely to see a familiar face.
I took the bus up to Seoul at 6:00 on Saturday 11/11 and arrived in good time at 11:00am to meet her at the lovely Namu guesthouse. I know we should have been spending a few minutes quietly reflecting for Remembrance Day, but I was so ecstatically happy to see Hannah that we talked none stop for over an hour before deciding to go for lunch to a little gimbap and soup place where we talked some more. It was weird for us two small town girls to be catching up in Seoul and sharing all our adventures. I explained some of the Korean food to her and we discussed the trials and tribulations of living in countries where vegetarians are looked at like aliens!
Hannah, like me has been a vegetarian for many years. Although she usually doesn't dabble in seafood, I was amazed to hear that the meat loving Kiwis had somehow encouraged her to catch and skin her own eel for a BBQ. She told me she had even explored some New Zealand chicken! A much braver girl than I am but in my defence I have eaten more strange sea creatures in the past two years than I probably ever will again!

We had a lovely day exploring the shops and markets in Myeong-dong and spent far too much time and money in the US brand fashion chain store, Forever 21. As I am living out in the sticks of Masan, it was like all my Christmases coming at once. We realised we wouldn't have much time to have dinner before we went to see JUMP, the martial arts comedy performance show. So we grabbed a Krispy Kremes coffee and donut before heading to the theatre. Coffee and donuts are a big deal in Korea. All the coffee shops have huge window seats so it was fun for us to sit with our treats and watch the Seoulites go by. 

The show itself was wonderfully funny. Before it commenced, an extremely athletic performer disguised as a doddery whiskered old man stumbled down the length of our row making each individual stand up to let him slowly struggle past... us and all our shopping bags. The audience chuckled heartily, as once he reached the other end of the theatre he then motioned that he wanted to walk back along the same row the other way making everyone stand again for no purpose other than sheer comedy value. But he gestured that he was just joking. Instead he needed my assistance to get up onto the stage to start the non-verbal show. He stuck his very muscular bottom out for me to push and pull him onto the stage. Clearly a humiliating feat for me as there was no way to push him than from the rear. I placed one hand on his bottom and he yelped loudly leading me to run back to my seat. I didn't realise it was an audience participation show otherwise I wouldn't have booked row C! Hannah of course found it all highly entertaining. I can't recommend the show enough it was delightfully playful and the performers were strong, entertaining and at times adorable.

When we left the theatre, we stumbled across a lantern festival along the Cheonggyecheon stream which I strongly suspect included a lot of the Jinju lanterns. We wrote on a piece of crepe paper and added to a huge dragon lantern made from visitor's messages. We continued walking and it was difficult to ignore that 11/11 is important in Korea because it is Pepero Day! This is a Korean holiday and another excuse for Lotte to make a shed load of money. Pepero are a boxed treat (뻬뻬로), of thin bread sticks dipped or filled with chocolate. There are a few different varieties including almond and plain chocolate. The holiday is celebrated on the 11th of November because it is said that this date looks like four Pepero in a line (11/11). It is an excuse for Koreans to buy small chocolate gifts for their friends and luckily in my case, teachers. Some kids including one of my students Alice, enjoy making gourmet homemade chocolate sticks and handing them out all neatly gift wrapped. Paris Baguette the Korean-American-French style bakery chain make some amazing baguettes, beautifully dipped and decorated with sweet chocolate sparkles and fancies to make super Pepero!

On the Friday I had picked up a milk and white chocolate baguette for my debate class as a leaving treat for three of the students moving on from our academy, in the approach to their gruelling high school schedules. It was difficult to cut a baguette covered in set chocolate and it made a real mess of my classroom but it was fun, and definitely in Pepero spirit. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture :(
Koreans love creating new excuses to buy gifts for each other. Not only does Korea celebrate Valentine's Day on which girls should give chocolate to their boyfriends, there is also White Day on March 14th for boys to buy things for their female counterparts. Rather more comical is Black Day on April 14th on which all the other lonely souls get together to eat black noodles and wallow in their singledom and lack of opportunity to celebrate White or Valentine's Day.

Pepero Day is a big deal with young people and as I say it was hard to miss! As we walked around Seoul that evening there were so many stalls and displays filled with Pepero. Everywhere we looked.... oh there was a gift basket, a sculture, a robot made from Pepero boxes!!


So we succumbed and picked some up at the gift shop on our visit the next day to the De-Militarized Zone. The DMZ is the strangest place on earth. A no-man's land 4km wide nature reserve hiding dozens of "accidental" northern built infiltration tunnels between North and South Korea. It was kind of strange watching the propaganda movies pushing home the terrors of the history and the sadness that the two halves are still technically at war and families seperated. It was a weird paradox to watch the divided country focus on chocolate sticks when the same date is used in my country to remember those who died in efforts of war. I am sure there is a deeper point to be made here, but it just felt like a bizarre state of things....

Hannah and I at the last train station in South Korea, next stop North Korea. Pepero anyone....

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Jinju Lantern Festival

We recently went to the Jinju Lantern Festival and I was really impressed! Usually festivals in Korea can be a little bit of a let down. The internet can play up the size of the events, I always just miss the activities or all the tents are packed up and empty. But this festival was really cool! The river running through the center of Jinju was filled with lanterns. They were huge in size and characterised a variety of Korean fables and Disney scenes. There were also miniature world monuments and huge mythical animals.

Tunnel of sponsored lanterns

There was an impressive and really long lantern tunnel. The canopy was made from thousands of identical, individually sponsored lanterns. Each one was labeled with a name of a business or family.  Another tunnel was filled with the efforts of local school children. There were so many sponge bob square pants and angry bird lanterns, the latest crazes in Korea. There was even a toilet shaped lantern which depicts Korea's general obsession with toilet humour! It was a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you looked there was an interesting and creative lantern. Some were made with kitchen strainers or other household items.Also fish, insects and traditional styles.

School children's lanterns

When it was time to eat, we avoided the arm grabs from the ajummas (old ladies) selling the outdoor hog roast. They were really pushy which is something I have not seen before in Korea. The language barrier helped a bit when we tried to ignore their temptations. The lantern festival must be a tourist hot spot and don't these women know it! My co-worker actually visited a few nights before us and she got bullied into eating at these open-air restaurants. She said the Korean table next to her got a huge plate of pork, but the foreigner table seemed to get half portions and it was very over priced. Watch out for that little scam!
Luckily we bypassed them as my Korean friend Hazel, wanted to take us to the Jinju Hikers' food tent. This was a tent, funnily enough, run by the Jinju Hikers and their food was anything but amateur. We enjoyed a couple of the vegetable pancakes (전), and some delicious mussels in a garlic broth. We also went for a couple of cups of makkoli rice wine and had a gorgeous view of the river, although the lanterns were a little further along out of sight.

Delicious food from the Jinju Hikers

Squid stuffed with their own legs.

 We wandered around the long market stalls. It was a strange hotchpotch of all kinds of traditional souvenirs, rugs, shampoo, phone covers and socks! There were various other food vendors selling corn dogs, cinnamon crisp breads and squid stuffed with their own legs until they looked uncomfortably full! We took a stroll back down the river. On approach to the rhino lantern, I was convinced it was an elephant. But Steven knew better. I guess his skills in identification of animals from the rear are better than mine.

There were some really intricate lanterns and the traditional Korean lanterns were great! There were also the usual photo opportunities. Hazel and I couldn't resist! Thanks Hazel for taking the time to drive us over to Jinju. The evening was very laid back and relaxing. So much so, that I slept in the car all the way home! :)

Hazel and I