Mi Casa

I was very excited about eating some spanish cuisine as it’s something I rarely cook myself.  I used to work in a Spanish restaurant when I lived in Sydney and they always kept me very well fed. We managed to secure a table in the busy restaurant on short notice. Sadly I left feeling rather disappointed and little hungry. There wasn’t anything majorly wrong it was just a few bad points that added up to a less than perfect night. Our total bill was 78,000, not astronomical but I don’t want to spend that much on dinner then feel the need to go and buy a kebab because I’m still hungry. You might feel I’m being picky but one thing that annoyed me is that they told us the kitchen closed at 10, which was fine, we had plans later that evening anyway but they brought out all four of our dishes before we got our drinks. It was a Friday night and I was looking forward to having a nice drink with some dinner but by the time it finally showed up I had lost the desire for it. It wasn’t a fancy cocktail, just a sangria and a beer, but to have it come at the end of the meal was disappointing. It’s service 101 that you get your drinks before your food.  Otherwise everything else was fine.

The meal started off well with the Albondigas en tomate (spanish meatballs), 10,000 for the small portion. They were good and came with a trio of sauces and fresh bread.

Next up was was the Montaditos (bread topped with salmon and ham) 7,000 for 2 this was my boyfriends choice I didn’t eat them but he said the salmon topped with capers was great with a delightful mustard dressing and the one topped with parma ham was  nice but not as good as the salmon.

Then came the Patatas Bravas, which was my biggest disappointment. Having worked in a spanish restaurant and visited Spain several times I knew what patatas bravas should be and sadly these were not the delicious little chunks of potato I was expecting. They were hand cooked crisps. Had this been specified on the menu, I wouldn’t have ordered them. I nearly sent them back and wish I had now, as crisps they were nice and the accompanying sauce was ok, but not what I was expecting. I would not be willing to pay 12,000 for a few potato chips, which is what they were. You could have two kebabs for that.

The saving grace of this meal was the Panceta A La Plancha (pork belly) 26,000. The pork belly itself was very good and cooked to perfection, especially the fat, although the balsamic onions were slighty too acidic and overpowered the taste of the pork, this dish was good, but small, a bigger portion would have been better for the price.

They served Paella here which I really would have liked to have tried but it was rather expensive, although I think I would have left with a full belly had I chosen it. The girls at the next table had barely touched theirs and I was very tempted to ask if I could some but thankfully didn’t. The wine list was very extensive and the bar upstairs seemed to be thriving, perhaps that was why our own drinks took so long. I personally wouldn’t return to Mi Casa as I think my money could be better spent elsewhere. However if you have deep pockets and enjoy wine this could be the place for you.

Mi Casa is located in the allyway behind the Hamilton Hotel right opposite, My Thai China (see my review here) 119-21 Itaewon-dong, Yongsam-gu, seoul, Korea. Call them on 02-790-0063 or check out their website for a full details and a menu.  http://www.micasa.kr/en/index.html

Halloumi Pesto Pasta

This is a little treat I whipped up for myself with all the left overs I had over in the fridge. It turned out great it will be making it into my regular collection. Quick, easy and delicious, just what I look for in a weekday dinner. My boyfriend was lucky to get some. I used penne pasta in this dish but you could use any other kind of shaped pasta you can find, spaghetti would be ok but not ideal, don’t use macaroni. It has no place in this dish.

Ingredients 

300g penne pasta (you can alter this to a bigger or smaller portion if you like, it’s currently on sale in Homeplus 1,800 for 500g)

60g of Halloumi (I just used the leftovers I had, you could use any other kind of cheese though)

100g Anti Pasto peppers (recipe here)

3 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons of pesto (recipe below, but you can use the jar stuff if you like, its at Costco and the foreign food mart)

15 cherry tomatoes halved ( I soaked my in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar first with a pinch of salt)

A generous grating of fresh parmesan

Directions

Cook the penne in salted water for about 10 minutes or until its al dente and drain. Fry the garlic in a little butter or oil until its soft and slightly browned. Add the halloumi until its also browned on each side, it should only take a minute or too. Next add the cherry tomatoes and peppers and stir for a minute or 2. Finally add the pasta and pesto until everything is well coated. Leave on the heat for a further minute or so until the pesto is warmed through, then transfer to a bowl and top with the grated parmesan. Voila a fantastic dinner made from leftovers.

Homemade Pesto

Ingredients

100g of basil (it’s all my plant could muster, if you have more use it)

100g of spinach ( I used this to bulk up the lack of basil, but I found it worked rather well)

50g of walnuts (I’m pretty sure I have seen pine nuts in Homeplus, but you can use walnuts or almonds in their place)

3-6 table spoons of olive oil.

A generous grating of fresh parmesan.

A  small pinch of salt

Directions

Put the basil, spinach, walnuts and olive oil in the blender for a minute or so until it resembles the consistency of pesto. Add more oil if you need it, or add more spinach/basil if it’s too oily. Mix in the grated parmesan and salt. Voilà. This pesto is actually very easy to make and if you already have the basil and parmesan, you can get everything else in a Korea supermarket. I’ve never actually made pesto before as you can get such nice fresh one as home in the supermarket, but here in Korea I haven’t actually found one in a jar that I’ve liked all that much. The pesto will keep in the fridge for at least a week so it’s the perfect pasta accessory.

Aloha Table

Last night I dined at the Aloha Table and it was a very enjoyable evening. They have a beautiful terrace here for you to enjoy but sadly we could not get a table as they were all reserved. We ate inside, which was still very nice and had the weather not been so beautiful it would have been the ideal place. We came early (at around 5pm) so they clearly are not aware of  how to turn tables, when we left 2 hours later there were still several tables unoccupied which we could have used.

There are plenty of choices on the menu at Aloha Table, some of them Hawaiian others not much (spaghetti bolognese???) There are lots of salads, burgers , meats and fish to choose from but we decided to go for the set BBQ menu priced at 19,800 per person. For this you get a platter of barbecue meats, a variety of side dishes, unlimited french fries and edamame beans plus a Hawaiian shaved ice to finish it off. If this couldn’t get any better you can add an unlimited beer 5,000 or wine 7,000 for 90 minutes.

The sides came first, small buffalo chicken wings in a yummy BBQ sauce, macaroni salad, tofu and nacho chips with sour cream. The sides were fine but nothing to write home about. Next up were the bottomless french fries and edamame beans and boy were they good. For 5 people we must have got through about 12 portions of chips at least, I think I manages about 5, they were so good. Chips are one my favorite foods, so the fact that it was all can you eat pretty much made my day. I also love edamame beans and this is the only restaurant in Korea I’ve seen them in. I’m sure plenty of Japanese places must have them, but bottomless? perhaps not. I wish they sold them in supermarkets here, they are one of my favorite snacks, if anyone knows where to find them let me know!

On to the main course. We were served up a sizzling feast of barbecue meats. Rib-eye steak, garlic soy chicken and spicy ribs. The steak was thick and juicy and the chicken was covered in this glorious thick BBQ sauce, which was amazing if you dipped the french fries into it. I thought the ribs were good although they could have been improved by being doused in the sauce (I’m a big fan of sauce). One of my dining companions didn’t really enjoy the rosemary on the ribs but overall the barbecue fare went down very well indeed, the pans were left bare at the end. Accompanying the meat was corn on the cob and a vegetable kebab which is a nice treat  for anyone not wanting to dine solely on meat and french fries.

Last up was the Hawaiian shaved ice, to be honest it looked better than it tasted. It was reminiscent of Mr Frosty the toy we all had when we were kids. It was just ice covered with flavored syrups, but it was cool and refreshing and I think after all that food we couldn’t have manged anything too heavy anyway. They have plenty of other more substantial desserts on the menu if rainbow ice isn’t your thing.

Overall our group left happy and well fed, the goal of any meal out. Everyone enjoyed it, (even the former vegetarian) and vowed to return again. It’s a great place to go for a big group meal if you get the set deal as it eliminates all the problems that can arise from group dining, ie when the check comes. It’s located in Hongdae so you can head straight out after to party the night away.

Aloha table is located in Hongdae at 364-14, Seogyo-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. If you walk along the main road at the bottom of the park away from the university towards Club FF and the like, it’s on a side street on the right hand side just a little further up from Burger B. If you’re hoping to enjoy the summer nights on the terrace then a reservation is recommended. Call them on 02-324-7718 or check out their website  (Korean) http://www.alohatable.co.kr/waikiki/

Anti Pasto – Roast Peppers

I think you have probably learned by now that I am fond of a bargain, especially when it comes to food. When I found 10 yellow peppers for 1,000 at my local supermarket I knew I had to get them. Some people may have balked at the challenge, what the hell am I going to do with 10 peppers that are on their last legs? Not me though, I rose to occasion and was thrilled with the results. Since they were already rather ripe I decided to make anti pasto. This is the perfect recipe if your living on your own and always worried about veg going off if you don’t use it, as it keeps in the fridge for weeks, ready and waiting for you to spice up a sandwich, salad, or pasta. They are even delicious on their own.

I don’t really get many unexpected visitors living here in Oryu dong but I have always wanted to be one of those girls that can whip up a great meal if someone stops by unannounced. My fridge is generally quite well stocked anyway (although usually for the purpose of my own gluttony and not for unexpected guests). These are a great ingredient to have on standby should the need arrive.

Ingredients

10 red or yellow peppers (although you can make this with as little as 2 or 3)

200-300 ml of olive oil (this is just a guide, use as much or little as you need)

3 -5 cloves of garlic

Directions

Put the peppers (whole) on to a tray and drizzle them with olive oil.

Cook them in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the sides have become black and charred, you should turn them over about half way to make sure they get evenly burned.

After the peppers are cooked you need to remove the skins, there are various methods of doing this, I found covering the pan with a carrier bag works quite well. When the peppers have cooled, remove the skins and seeds within and discard. Slice or tear the peppers into pieces then put them in a jar. Slice the garlic and add it in too (you can roast the garlic too if you wish). Top the jar up with olive oil and store in the fridge or enjoy straight away by yourself or with friends.

Baba Ganoush and Flatbread

I was at my favorite Korean supermarket yesterday and managed to get 7 aubergines (eggplants) for 1,200 won. How could I resist such a bargain? So I decided to make baba ganoush, a yummy eggplant dip. After the sucess of pizza dough I thought it would have a crack at making some flat breads too. This recipe is very easy to follow although with the dip you can alter it to suit your own tastes.

Baba ganoush

Ingredients

7 aubergines

3 table spoons of tahini (you can buy this at the foreign food market or make it yourself, its just sesame seeds and olive oil blended together)

2 tablespoons of sour cream (optional)

2- 6 cloves of garlic

lemon juice

salt

table spoon cumin

Directions

Slice your aubergines down the middle and drizzle with olive oil, then roast them in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are soft inside and the skins are crinkly. I also roast the garlic at the same time. After they have cooled scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork, or you can do this in the blennder. The more traditional way is to just use the pulp inside, but i don’t like to waste the skins so i usually blend them up too (I dont think it really affects the taste either way). Add the roasted garlic and tahini and blend again. Then stir in the cumin, lemon juice and salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, paprika and some chopped fresh herbs to make it look pretty.

Flat Bread

Ingredients

500g of flour (I used the one for noodles and dumplings)

2 tablespoons of oil

10oz of water

8g pack of yeast (found in most Korean supermarkets)

2 tablespoons of salt

1 tablespoon of mixed herbs

1 tablespoon of cumin

Directions

Stir the salt and instant yeast into the flour and mix well. Add the oil and water until the flour becomes dough like, you may not need all of the water or you may require a little more. When the dough is in a big ball and clearing the sides of the bowl and the bottom you have the right consistency and its time to start kneading. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes to make it more elastic. If you want to make pita breads in the oven then , leave the dough for an hour or so to proof. However if you want to make flat breads and cook them in the frying pan as I did you can start straight away. Take a small ball of the dough and roll out thinly on a floured surface with a rolling pin (if you dont have a rolling pin you could use a can of something heavy, although I think its well worth the 2 dollar investment at Daiso). Dry fry the flat bread  for a minute or two on each side until its lightly browned and cooked through. Then serve with your delicious dip.

High Street Market

I had passed this store a number of times before I finally ventured in and I’m very glad I did. It has a wealth of foreign food and deli items. Fresh coffee beans, meat, cheese, and wine can all be sourced here to make the perfect brunch. Laid out like a deli you would find at home, it’s so  much more stylish than the foreign food mart where everything is crammed in. This is the kind of store that you have been longing for and now its right here in Itaewon.

The main pull of High Street Market compared to the foreign food mart is their meat counter. They have a buffet of meat produce available. Lamb, turkey, pork chops, and a variety of different cuts of beef can be found in abundance here. They have all manner of cold cuts such as smoked turkey, roast beef, and pork  meats all ready to make your favourite sandwich or sub. It beats the plastic ham they sell in Homeplus any day of the week!

The cheese section in this store is also rich and plentiful (Brie, Gouda, Ricotta, Mascarpone, Gorgonzola, Bleu, Gruyere, Red Leicester, Fresh mozzarella and Parmesan) , they seemed to have everything I could think about wanting. Imported cheese is expensive in Korea full stop, but I generally think its worth paying for, in the end its only the cost of a cocktail or two so I’m usually happy to indulge myself.

Another great thing about this store is they have plenty of baking equipment which can be at times difficult to source.  Homeplus doesn’t have everything ,especially when it come to items that Koreans have no need for so its nice to know you can get everything you need in one trip.  There are also all the baking ingredients you would require, like whole-wheat and rye flour, a whole shelf devoted to Betty Crocker and a variety of other baking products we take for granted at home but just can’t seem to find here in Korea. Although some of these things can be found in the foreign food market it can take ages to walk around picking everything up as nothing is laid out as conveniently as it is at this store. It really is a shopper’s paradise.

The most exciting part for me was all the sugary treats. It’s a sweet lovers dream, they have a large variety of chocolate ( a fair few from my post here) and sweets and candies galore. There is something to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.

There are also plenty of ready to eat products at this store. They had a rather extensive list of sandwiches which are made to order which you can eat in the small cafe within the shop or take away. I can recommend the cookies too. Also available are home-made lasagna, hummus, coleslaw and tzatziki but I didn’t try them as I’ve made most of them myself. Check out my coleslaw recipe and Lasagna recipe. Hummus coming soon…….

High Street Market sets itself apart from other some of the other foreign supermarkets in the area by providing a delivery service. So you don’t even have to leave the house to get a taste of home. Free delivery is even included on rainy days, what could be better?

If I havent convinced you  so far to pay them a visit then this picture should do the trick. 3 different varieties of salt & vinegar crisps, what more could a girl ask for?

High Street market is located in Itaewon, come out of exit 2 and keep walking up through Itaewon, its towards the far end, next to the IP Boutique hotel (map below). Opening hours are 10am – 9pm . Phone number 02-790-5450 . Full product details can be found on their website, as well as all information about online delivery.  http://highstreet.co.kr/

Halloumi Stuffed Peppers

Last week I went to foreign food mart when I had rather a lot to drink. I always end up buying far more expensive items when I am a little tipsy than when I am sober. Anyhow I woke up the next morning to find some halloumi sitting in my fridge as well as more salt and vinegar crisps than it is acceptable for one person to eat.

I’m actually very glad that I bought the halloumi, as it’s a treat I always enjoy when I’m on holiday. For those not aware of the deliciousness of halloumi its a gorgeous cheese from Cyprus. If mozzarella and feta had a baby, halloumi would be the result. It has the texture of mozzarella and saltiness of feta. I decided to make some delicious stuffed peppers.

Ingredients

Halloumi (mine came in a 180g pack but I only used 120g)

3 whole peppers (any color)

100g of couscous

A glug of olive oil

Directions

Start off by making the couscous. I made a simple one with just courgette in it, but you can see my previous recipe if you don’t know how to make it. Cut the peppers in half lengthways then drizzle them with olive oil and roast them in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until they are slightly soft. Fill the peppers with the couscous, then top with a slice of halloumi and put under the grill again until the cheese is golden brown. Drizzle with pesto and serve with salad. Voilà, another tasty treat.

My Thai China

Located in the alleyway behind the Hamilton Hotel is the delightful fusion restaurant My Thai China. The menu has a good balance between Thai and Chinese dishes. This second floor restaurant gazes down upon you looking warm and inviting to those on the outside. Take a journey up the stairs to find yourself in a Thai den of iniquity full of dark wood and flickering candles.

The menu is quite substantial and has a lot to offer, all the Thai favourites seem to be there as well as the more westernised Chinese offerings. We opted for the set  menu (55,000)which included spring rolls, the choice of two main meat/fish dishes as well as a rice or noodle dish and 2 complementary soft drinks. For an extra 30,000 you can upgrade it to include a bottle of wine.

The spring rolls were crisp and tasty and reminiscent of the ones I ate in Thailand. It’s very hard to find good  spring rolls in Korea but these guys cracked it. The sweet chilli sauce accompanying them was also very good. It had the right balance between chilli and sweetness, and it tasted homemade.

 

Next were our main dishes, we chose the fried chciken with mushrooms and cashew nuts and the fried shrimp with pineapple in red wine sauce.  The chicken was lightly fried without batter in a spicy sticky glaze, there was a generous amount of cashew nuts sprinkled on top of the dish. I really liked this dish, but my boyfriend said it fell short of the Kung Pao at Ho Lee Chow as he felt it was too dry, perhaps a little bit more sauce could secure them a victory.

The real star of this meal was the fried shrimp with pineapple in red wine sauce. It was so good I don’t even know where to begin. The king prawns were large and juicy and covered in a divine thick crispy batter. It reminded me of the same batter we get at home on our fish and chips, The pineapple was juicy and the sauce was a nice take on the sweet ‘n sour, I would have licked the plate clean!

Our last dish was the soy fried chicken rice but it turned out to be rather disappointing. There was far too much soy sauce for a start and it was too heavy on the garlic, both flavors I usually enjoy but they completely overpowered any other elements in the dish. I love fried rice but this one was worse than the Korean fried rice(볶음밥).

Overall I would certainly go back to My Thai China, it would be worth it for those king prawns alone, but there were plenty of other dishes on the menu I would like to have tried. The decor is dark and romantic, it would be a nice place to take a date and it’s not too expensive, our food could have easily fed three people.

To get to My Thai China come out of exit 1 and head for the alley behind the Hamilton Hotel, it’s just opposite Scrooge’s pub. It was quite busy on the Thursday night we were there so it might serve you well to make a reservation to avoid disappointment. Telephone number 02-749-9287.

Gazpacho

I was unsure about what I was going to make for dinner tonight, I was keen to make something new but I didnt know what. I decided to just go to the fruit and veg market and see if inspiration struck. It did, I couldnt belive my eyes when I saw they were selling 700g tubs of ripe tomatoes on the vine for 1,000 won (50p to those at home)I bought 3 packs. I realize that many of my recent recipes feature tomatoes but they are in season here in Korea and I’m a big fan of sesonal ingredients as they are cheap and plentiful. A quick search on my iPhone told me I needed cucumber and red peppers which I picked up at the veg market both 4 for 1,000 and a red onion which I knew the ajummas on the side of the road had, I got about 10 for 2,000 from my favourite ajumma, she even threw in a free nectarine.

This is the perfect meal to make, when the weather is hot and humid and you need cooling down. I can’t believe how quick and easy this recipe is to follow, dinner will be made in 10 minutes, it’s healthy, nutritious, and delicious. I’ve just eaten two bowls and it’s extremely filling and low calorie, a definite bonus after all my recent indulging, especially since its bikini weather.

Ingredients 

700g ripe tomatoes

1 red onion

1 cucumber

1-2 cloves of garlic (chop the garlic and pour boiling water over it first if you find the taste of raw garlic too strong)

2 red peppers

2 teapoons of white sugar

2 teaspoons of salt or celery salt (I used one of each)

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoons of white wine vinegar or apple cider viner

2 generous glugs of olive oil

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped coriander (optional)

1 teaspoon of freshly chopped parsley (optional)

A little lemon juice.

Directions

Roughly chop the onion garlic, cucumber red pepper and  tomatoes (reserve 6 or 7 for the end)  and blend until smooth. If you do not have a blender just chop everything as finely as possible, although of course this will take more time. Pour this into a large bowl and add the salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, chopped herbs, and 1 glug of olive oil and sir well.  Chop the remaining tomatoes and add to the soup to give it some texture then drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top. Garnish with spring onions or fresh parsley or basil. This dish is traditionally served ice cold so leave it in the fridge for an hour or two or add few chunky ice cubes if your serving it straight away. Et voilà, a tasty summer soup in minutes!

Cupcakes – Life is just a Cup of Cake

Is there anything better in life than a sweet delicious cupcake? Perhaps not, but good cupcakes can prove very tricky to track down in Seoul. Cupcakes are becoming more and more popular in Korea and can be found in most food halls in big department stores. The cake parts are generally fine but icing is always very artificial and rather disappointing. I’ve tried making them myself but again I just cant get the buttercream right, I’m not sure if its the butter or the icing sugar which is causing the problem, I’m going home in a few weeks to visit and I plan to bring back an abundance of baking supplies so I can once again make yummy buttercream.

In the meantime I have had to wait until I visited Itaewon to get my cupcake fix. Life is just a Cup of Cake has, hands down, the best cupcakes I’ve ever had in Korea and possibly ever. The sponge is light and moist while the toppings are rich and sweet. Just writing this is making my mouth water again  just thinking about them, I really wish I had bought more than two now, though I fear if I had bought more they would be gone too.

I bought one vanilla as I always do, you may think this is boring and unadventrous but its so heavenly I cant resist. Vanilla is a classic for a reason and the the buttercream on this little beauty is immensely pleasurable. The topping is thick and generous with the perfect frosting to cake ratio, it’s sweet and buttery with the flavour of the vanilla complementing it nicely. It’s like eating a heavenly vanilla cloud.

My second choice was the red velvet. I’m fairly new to red velvet cupcakes, they arent really as popular in the UK as they are in the USA. So forgive me if you don’t agree but I think this one is perfectly baked too, there is a cream cheese frosting on this one rather than the buttercream but  it works well with the slightly sour chocolate flavour. There’s a good balance between the cake and the frosting. The cupcakes come in a variety of flavours, so far I’ve had the Chocolate, Very Berry, Peanut butter and Espresso and I can vouch for them all.

The cupcakes are all priced at 4,800 each which, for how perfect they are, I think is very reasonable. They also serve all manner of coffees and teas but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever had a drink there, all the surplus money I have had has been spent on more cupcakes, though the cafe is always busy and looks like an enjoyable place to while away the afternoon.

Life is Just a Cup of Cake is a hidden treasure nestled at the far end of Itaewon at Itaewon-ro 45 gil. If you come out of exit 2 and keep walking towards the far end past Rocky Mountain Tavern. It’s on the second left turning after the IP boutique just after Carne do Brazil and the 365 Bank. If you get lost you can call them on 02 794 2908 or details can be found on their website (Korean) http://www.cupcake.co.kr/  They also have stores in Sinchon and Sorae.