Balcony garden 101

Balcony garden 101

For my birthday I received five books from Korea and one of them was on how to grow any kind of vegetable on a balcony garden. It seems more and more people in Korea are becoming interested in healthy living and with cost of vegetables going through the roof, growing vegetables and herbs at home is not only a healthy choice but also fun.

This book is written by a Korean blogger who started her balcony garden a year  ago and has now published a book providing tips on how to grow various Korean vegetables in a small balcony. So here are a few ideas I learnt from the book on how to get started without costing you an arm and a leg.

First, visit your local gardening shop and ask for a bag of good organic soil. Tell them you are going to grow vegetables or herbs. I highly recommend organic soil as there is no chemical in the soil.

Next stop is Daiso, a Japanese store which sells everything from kichenwares to clothing for only S$2. Pick yourself up a shovel, garden fork and garden hoe.

For planter boxes, I recommend using recycled items such as  empty milk cartons or  plastic bottles, detergent bottles, or baby milk powder container. Cut these items(bottles only) in half and put 3-4 holes in the bottom. You can also use a rubbish bin by inserting a plastic bag with a few holes.

Let’s get started! The first vegetable I would recommend is either spring onions or leeks. All you have to do is cut the fresh leek stems into about 3cm long and plant them. You can do the same with the spring onions. One thing to remember is to buy leeks or spring onions which have the roots still on them. Below is a picture of leeks I bought from one of the wet markets in Singapore.

I wouldn’t bother trying to grow anything from seeds as they need a lot of care and you might get discouraged straight away if you don’t have success. With the tropical climate of Singapore, I have found it is impossible to grow leeks from seeds.  I tried many many times hoping for a miracle but never got the seeds to germinate.

Isn’t this great? I simply dug a small hole, stuck the leeks and watered them. The following morning, there were already small shoots coming out. By the third day they were 10cm tall.

Another easy way to start your garden is to use clippings of basil. Grab some fresh basil (sweet or Thai) from either the supermarket or local wet market. Fill up a small bottle or cup with water and stick the basil in. Make sure to pull the leaves off around the lower part of the stem so that no leaves sit in the water and rot. After 4 or 5 days,the roots will start to grow around the bottom part of the stem. You can continue to grow them in the water or transplant them to a planter box with a soil after a few weeks. I’ve had a lot of success with this method and now have lots of basil growing on my balcony. The fragrant smell is just amazing!!

Here are some of my other little projects on my balcony. I had a friend visiting me from Korea a few weeks ago and she brought me some Korean vegetable seeds including some perilla seeds. Yeh!!! 🙂

Two types of Korean cherry tomatoes and perilla leaves seeds.

Chinese chives and Korean radish.

Here are some of the seedlings growing in various containers.

  • Radish seedlings in a bucket bought from Isetan department store for only S$3.50. The seedlings are about two weeks old.

  • Perilla leaves in a recycled mesh box.

Happy gardening! 🙂

My husband’s birthday dinner

My husband’s birthday dinner

Apologies for posting this one so late. My husband’s birthday was in November and I am only now posting photos of his birthday dinner.

I decided to cook  only traditional Korean birthday dishes for my husband, without even asking him what he wanted for his party. We invited a group of our friends and it was interesting to see the different responses from all the dishes I cooked.

The first dish is called “hwang-te gui” (황태 구이). I tried to find an English name for this dish but no luck. Hwang-te is a dried fish and is normally cooked in a chilli sauce with garlic. Koreans eat this on special occasions and it’s also served with beers at pubs.

The second dish which turned out great is sweet and sour chicken (kkan-pung-gi-깐풍기). It’s a chinese dish but its also very popular in Korea. It’s fried crispy and mixed with sweet and sour sauce.

The next photo has 3 different types of dishes in one. The first one on the left is mung bean pancake(빈대떡). The one in the middle is fried fish(생선전) and the last one on the right is fried zucchinis(호박전). You will find these at a birthday dinner all the time. I remember cooking these whenever it was my father’s birthday or some other festive occasion (New Year, Thanksgiving, etc).

The most important dish out of all for a birthday is seaweed soup – mi yek guk (미역국). This soup can be cooked with beef or mussels although personally I prefer it with mussels. The shop is normally given to new mother for about a month after giving birth. It is supposed to aid with breast feeding. So to symbolise your birth and your mother’s hard work, it’s a must dish that you eat it on your birthday.

The other dishes I cooked were sweet poato glass noodles(jap che -잡채) and acorn jelly salad (도토리묵). Out of all the dishes I cooked, sweet and sour chicken was the most popular dish then followed by  the noodles.  It’s always great to see my friends enjoying my food!

Korea town in Kuala Lumpur

Korea town in Kuala Lumpur

I really enjoy  discovering “Korea towns” in different cities when I travel and sharing my little discoveries with everyone through my blog. As I travel quite frequently, I am starting to see a big difference in various cities.

My last exploration was in Kuala Lumpur(KL), Malaysia. I used to live in KL 7 years ago and never noticed how many Korean restaurants or grocery store there were. According to my research, there are more than 20,000 Koreans living in KL so its only natural that a “Korea town” would pop up.

My adventure started with a 20 minute taxi ride from KL city  to an area called “Sri Hartamas”. If you only spoke Korean then you could survive in this suburb :-). There were at least two Korean supermarkets in the area, many Korean restaurants and countless hair dressers (Why are there so many hairdressers?? – Are we that vain that we need to look our best when we are grocery shopping?!).

My first pit stop was Seoul Mart. What I really liked about this Korean supermarket was that they had fresh vegetables and fruit directly from Korea.

You can see Korean zucchinis, mandarins and apples as well as Korean squid and frozen fish .

I was curious to find out what else this supermarket had so I tested them by asking if they had a cold medicine called “contact 600”. (This is a famous brand and works wonders  for a cold) To my surprise,  the grocer had some for sale on the counter. So with only a 1 hour flight or 5 hour coach ride from Singapore I can now get my Korea fix! They had everything except the Korean weather…..

I was getting a little hungry so the owner of the Seoul Mart pointed me to a restaurant upstairs from the grocery store called Daore. The name of the restaurant in Korean means “Come everyone”. Strange name for a restaurant but I guess it makes sense, right? 🙂

I ordered a hot stone bowl bibimbap (dol sot bibimbap – 돌솥 비빔밥) which is a perfect lunch dish when you need a lot of energy for exploring a city. Koreans usually have dol sot bibimbap in winter,. It’s normally too hot to have in Malaysia or Singapore but the aircon in the restaurant was strong enough to make me wish I had brought a scarf.

The meal was served with many delicious side dishes. I had to resist not to eat too much of these before the dol sot bibimbap arrived. The kimchi tasted and looked authentic, and the cabbage salad was amazingly refreshing.

After a nice lunch, I went further down the street and found a Korean rice cake shop. Yum – My favourite! But unfortunately they  had moved and no matter what  way I looked at the directions , I couldn’t find the new shop. Later I found out they have not yet opened at the new address.. 🙁  If you ever around the area and find it, drop by to check it out and let me know.

Around the block from the Seoul Mart, is another grocery stored called “Lotte Mart” and a number of other Korean run stores.

I will be back in KL again soon to do more shopping. I am also organising Korean cooking class in KL soon, so I will keep you posted. Hope to see you there soon! ^_^

My garden update for 2010

My garden update for 2010

My Korean cooking classes have been taking up all of my time lately causing me to neglect my garden at the back my condo  for the past few months. The whole thing had become overgrown with basil plants whose flowers seemed to be the main source of food for a swarm of nearby bees!! This time I decided to be a little more organised and plan the vegie patch more carefully. Tada….!

While I was busy gardenening, I was startled by a huge lizard that had made its home in the undergrowth. Its funny how I love growing vegetables, but I hate the insects and bugs and other creepy-crawlies that live in a garden. Even ants scare me!!  Can you see how the lizard is hiding among the leaves? It was HUGE!!!

This mext picture looks like weeds but it’s actually onions. I grew them from seeds. Only two made survived to be transplanted into the garden but it was a successful experiment and it will be interesting to see how long they will take to become a full grown onions.

The next photo is a sweet potato. I had these in my original garden but decided to pull them out and plant a Japanese sweet potato which is sweeter and a little smaller. Again after only a few weeks they have taken over the entire garden.

Now some updates on my balcony garden. I added a new red sign to my balcony and a few more vegies.

I was told ginger grows really well in Singapore but I didn’t really know where to start. So one day, I just filled a pot with compost soil and buried a young ginger root in it. It seems to have done the trick and so far it is growing well. Someone told me ginger grows better in a pot than in a garden. Does anyone know why?

The next addition was an unexpected one. I have never succeeded in growing any other beans except French beans. This time I thought I would have a go at growing some dwarf beans. As you can see there is not enough to make a whole dish with it just yet but I should be able to combine them with my French bean harvest and make a nice stir fry.

Finally, I have saved the best for last. I have tried to grow coriander many, many times but always without success. A few months ago, I came across a shop selling different types of seeds in Chatucchak weekend market in Bangkok. I grabbed a few packets and hoped for a miracle. So far, they are doing really well and it may justify another trip back to Bangkok just for more seeds!

According to my research, coriander plants don’t like to be disturbed so I am leaving them alone except for lots of tender loving care, water and some organic fertilizer. I am crossing fingers and toes for this one!

I also have Thai tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant seedlings growing at the moment. Not big enough to show off just yet but I will share them with you soon. It’s been raining here in Singapore every day, almost too cool(?) for my liking and not enough sun for my plants. Happy Gardening everyone!

Christmas baking

Christmas baking

Here are some pictures of my Christmas baking that kept me busy during December. I know I don’t upload photos of my baking  normally but before I discovered the pleasure I got from cooking, baking desserts was the only thing  that I enjoyed.

I have been making Christmas cakes using my mother-in-laws recipes for the past 5 years. As Koreans don’t really have any specific food for Christmas, I thought it would be great to learn some of my mother-in-laws traditional food. This year, I made  quite a few Christmas cakes and gave them out to friends as presents. My mother-in-law usually  bakes 20 or more cakes and shares them with her friends. It takes 3 hours to bake one so that’s a lot of baking!!

Here is my first cake I made before Christmas and  shared at a  friend’s dinner party! It was delicious. I poured a bit of Bundaberg rum into the cake every day. The alcohol preserves the cake and keeps it very moist. My husband had to stop me from pouring too much Bundaberg rum into the cake I was liking it so much!!

The second cake I made for another friend. I even bought a proper cake box to give it to her!

My third and final cake I decorated with a few different ornaments and shared it at friend’s Christmas eve dinner party!

Here is one picture of my mother-in-laws’ Christmas cake – just to show you how the expert does it!

As well as the Christmas cakes, I also made some mince pies (pies with fruit fillings). It’s one of my husband’s favorite. He even yelled out “it smells like my mother’s kitchen!” when he came home from a meeting. (Is that a good thing?) The trick to making a mince pie is to roll the pastry as thin as possible. It took me 3 different attempts to figure out!!

The first batch was a little too thick around the edges…

Aren’t they cute? Heart and star shapes…

I was getting a little more creative on the second batch of mince pies except the fillings were over flowing.

My final batch. I must have made at least 40 mince pies in total. They were great to give out as Christmas presents.

Here is my husband’s contribution to the Christmas baking – brandy butter! He insisted that mince pies cannot be eaten without a good helping!!

Gam ja ttang mystery solved!

Gam ja ttang mystery solved!

As  promised in my last blog, I had a go at making gam ja ttang(감자탕) which means potato stew. Its main ingredients are potatoes and pork back bones. I was so nervous for some reason and kept thinking “what if things go wrong” and “am I going to waste all these ingredients”. I eat gam ja ttang regularly whenever I go to Seoul so I’m not really sure why but I always thought this dish would be impossible to make. I’d never even contemplated making it before in my life. On my last trip to Sydney, I brought back some pork back bone with the intention of cooking it one day.

How to make gamjattang:

Ingredient list 1 (used to boil the pork and remove the meaty smell): 20 whole black peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 leek (only white part), 3 tbsp soju(Korean rice wine), 1 tbsp Korean soybean paste(denjang), 3 cloves garlic, 4 slices fresh ginger.

Ingredient list 2 (main ingredients): 1kg of pork back bones, 3 L water, 300g sesame leaves, 4 potatoes(half boiled and cut into halves), 5 Chinese cabbage leaves(I replaced this with kimchi), 1 pack enoki mushrooms, 2 red chillis, 2 green chillis, 4 tbsp  Korean soybean paste(denjang), 3 tbsp chilli powder, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tbsp minced garlic, and salt.

For those of you who do not know what sesame leaves look like, here is the picture below. This was mainly served as a side dish until I realised a lot of BBQ restaurants in Korea were serving it to wrap the meat in.  Sesame leaves are  essential for gam ja ttang as it brings a very aromatic smell to the dish.  I was hoping one of the Korean grocery stores in Singapore would stock them, but after three months of searching, I gave up. I ended up finding them in Hong Kong. A fine example of  global food shopping!

Let’s start cooking! Firstly, the pork bones must be soaked in water for 2-3 hours to remove all the blood from the bones. Once this is completed, add the pork with ingredients list 1  above and 2 L of water and boil for about one hour. This is to reduce the smell of pork. I removed the black peppers and bay leaves from the pot after one hour.

While the pork is boiling in the pot,  I made a sauce using the soybean paste, chilli powder, fish sauce, garlic and salt. Pour  an additional 1L of water into pot and add  two spoonful of them. You can add more to make it spicier.

Then add kimchi, sesame seeds leaves and potatoes and continue to boil until the meat is about to fall off the bones. Mine took another 30mintues or so. As a final touch, add mushroom, red and green chillies and some more shredded sesame leaves and  boil it for 5mintues more.

Gam ja ttang is best served with radish kimchi(kkak du gi)!

You dip the pork bone meat into the wasabi sauce (wasabi paste and some water) to bring the zing!

On top of this great meal, I used the left over sauce in the pot to make some fried rice and it was amazing! All you have to do is add plain white rice into to the pot, some shredded sesame leaves, dry seed weed (gim), and sesame oil. Mix on  the stove for 5minutes!

What a great meal this was!!

I am hoping I will get hold of more of the pork back bones and sesame seed leaves soon so I can make it again.

PS: sorry for the radio silence, December was a busy month with lots of activities and I was hoping to start 2011 with a bang but I have been suffering with a cold. I promise I will write more frequently. I have so much more I want to share with you all!! 🙂