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Seafood and sesame- a Korean take on Shrove Tuesday

12 Feb

I’m a big fan of pretty much every type of pancake from the classic English sugar and lemon drenched pancake to thin and crispy French crepes (a friend has introduced me to a great creperie, Crêpes à GoGo, just opposite Toronto Reference Library).  One of my most vivid memories of living in Germany as a child is eating crepes filled with chocolate and nuts (and managing to end up with chocolate all round my mouth and on my nose too!) in the chill cold and excitement of Aachen’s Christmas market.  And one of my favourite breakfasts is Mr Kim’s light and fluffy American pancakes bursting with blueberries and swirled in maple syrup accompanied by crunchy bacon.  In fact such is my enthusiasm for this breakfast that when we moved to Canada last friends jokingly suggested that we might have been involved in the great Canadian maple syrup heist.   More recently Korean pajeon have been added to my pancake lexicon.  Pajeon are savoury pancakes with spring onion and then a whole range of other ingredients depending on taste.  They’re often made fairly small, 8cm d., and served with soy sauce.


The ingredients for the pajeon; pajeon mix, seafood, sesame leaves and spring onions


The sesame leaves and spring onions are chopped up

Since I’m by myself this Shrove Tuesday I decided that pajeon would be a good choice for marking the occasion (something English or American pancakes don’t work solo – I’m no good at making up batter for just one person).  Pajeon work well being made in advance and then heated up whenever you want to eat them. My Shrove Tuesday pajeon were made with spring onion, sesame leaves (I love the taste of these) and seafood, and the mixing was made particularly easy by using ready to make pajeon mix.  I’d been taught how to make them with my mother-in-law last October so now was a great time to practise.  There might not be any flipping involved but I still wanted to make sure that I got them right.


A cup of water is added to a cup of pajeon mix and the sesame leaves and spring onions are added along with a couple of cups of seafood mix


Using a quarter cup measure the pajeon are placed in a frying pan on a medium heat and given a few minutes on each side, so that they are nicely brown.  It’s worthwhile squashing them down so that the middle is definitely fully cooked.

One of the aspects of Toronto which particularly struck us when we arrived was the size of the Korean population, which means finding and eating Korean food in Toronto is so much easier than in the UK.  Our favourite Korean restaurant in England is Hamgipak in New Malden who make delicious pajeon and if you want to try making pajeon yourself you might be able to find the pajeon mix in a south east Asian grocery store, like Thong Heng in Oxford. Otherwise a straightforward English pancake batter with the addition of spring onions and prawns would make a pretty good equivalent.


The finished pajeon served with some soy sauce

Happy Pancake Day!



Back to Bread

23 Jan


Mr Kim’s first Toronto loaf; there was a 2nd but we broke into this before I was clever enough to take a photograph

Over the weekend Mr Kim baked his first bread in Toronto.  He was a little miffed that I didn’t immediately think to photograph his creation for my blog, so this post is an attempt to remedy my oversight.

The more I think about the more I realise what a mistake I made.  Anyone who knows Mr Kim is aware of his commitment to the production and consumption of fine food, especially when it comes to meat.  Whether it be homemade sausages, own caught crayfish from the Oxford Thames or his specially created deconstructed Tiramisu there is a broad ranging culinary connoisseurship and scientific enthusiasm which characterises Mr Kim’s cooking and which of course is more than worthy of mention on my blog.

Mr Kim’s bread baking is no exception.  He’s been baking bread ever since I’ve known him and his early loaves were delicious French style breads with a definite Gallic molecular structure and a great walnut bread, enriched with walnut oil.  Then he expanded his wheaten repertoire to best olive bread I’ve ever had, no tiny slivers if shrivelled olives here, but whole, succulent olives nestled in a rich bread beneath a crunchy crust.  And then a light, encrusted sesame loaf, to be enjoyed with Mr Kim’s homemade tzatsiki and taramasalata.

Mr Kim’s job load over the past few years, whether in Oxford or with the new Toronto job has seriously curtailed the amount of time for bread making.   On Sunday however we had lunch with friends and they had made a tasty walnut loaf.  It reminded Mr Kim of his love of bread making and on our way back he set off to locate a few necessary bread making ingredients, yeast etc and came back eager to get to work.  Since he couldn’t find walnut oil he opted for a classic white loaf, with a good, crunch to the crust and an airy, firm texture to the bread.   One of the elements I especially like with Mr Kim’s bread is his shaping of the loaves; this time it had a sturdy baton shape with two pointed ends.  It was delicately flavoured with thyme and tasted delicious with our evening meal of homemade pasta sauce and fresh pasta from St Lawrence market.

This initial revival of Mr Kim’s breadmaking means that I hope for two things; that my husband will continue to feel inspired to make his great bread and in doing so provide me with more culinary material for maplesyrupandcastersugar.

Danforth Discovery

14 Dec


La Cigogne, a French patisserie in the heart of Toronto’s Greek town

Yesterday morning I took a journey east to an area of Toronto known as the Danforth.  I was meeting up with Dorie who like me has a passion for lace and a fascination with the processes and practices of lace in its contemporary form.  The Danforth is well known as being Toronto’s Greek town and as I walked from the subway stop I passed plenty of shop and restaurant signs with Greek lettering.  However I was heading to the French Patisserie suggested by Dorie, La Cigogne.  As their website points out the stork, la Cigogne, is the bird of Alsace and the patisserie focuses on Alsatian delicacies.  But I also like the custom they described; ‘The stork is a symbol of good luck – a marker of happiness and fidelity throughout Alsace. Regional folklore says that when a child wanted a younger brother or sister, he would place a piece of sugar on the windowsill to attract the stork, in hopes that it would leave a precious package in exchange for a sweet treat.’


A selection of the delectable cakes on offer at La Cigogne

I wonder how many hopeful older brothers and sisters would willingly give up their sweet treat?  I’m sure that they wouldn’t quickly part with any of the delicious pastries from La Cigogne.  It was hard for me to choose as there were so many tempting cakes and sweetmeats but after seeing their fresh almond croissant I felt that they needed to be tested.  It definitely rated as one of the best which I’ve had in Toronto.  The croissant itself was deliciously flaky and crisp and was generously filled with the rich almond paste which liberally covered the top.  It was finished with a scattering of flaked almonds and icing sugar, and I enjoyed it with a cup of black, French roast coffee.  Accompanied by chats on lace, contemporary textiles and life in Toronto it was the perfect way to spend a cold winter’s morning.


One great almond croissant

Lunch at St Lawrence Market

4 Dec

St Lawrence is the patron saint of chefs and butchers so it seems particular appropriate that one of Toronto’s best known food destinations, St Lawrence Market, should bear his name.  There’s plenty to excite any food lover and since this Saturday was a rare weekend when Mr Kim was around we took a wander down to find lunch and enjoy wealth of butchers, bakers and a great cookware store.


Mr Kim’s lunch from Buster’s Sea Cove – halibut and chips


My lunch – a delicious seafood orzo with mussels, calamari and big, juicy shrimp, all washed down with some San Pellengrino


Buster’s Sea Cove, serving a myriad of sea food dishes and very busy at lunchtime


I wonder if this has anything to do with Alex James – or maybe I’m running a cheese business and just don’t know it?


Beef at Di Liso’s – Mr Kim’s declared it his butcher of choice, so a good rib roast was on the menu that night


Placewares in St Lawrence’s – a great cookware shop with a wealth of unexpected cooking items and one of the best selection of cookie cutters I’ve seen


There are a couple of bakeries in the market and at the suggestion of friends we tried out some of the Montreal style bagels


On the 2nd floor of St Lawrence is the Market Gallery, run by the City, which hosts a range of exhibitions exploring the history of Toronto.  The current exhibition is a rather dry exhibition about public works in Toronto called The Water Czar – R.C. Harris Works for Toronto 1912-45 (there are only so many photos of sewers and drainage schemes that I can get excited about) but I did love this 1921 photograph showing a group of Toronto city stenographers, no doubt all dressed up for a day out. 

Black stuff at Balzac’s

17 Oct

If you enjoy coffee as much as I do it’s always a delight to find a really good coffee shop, which serves great coffee and where you wile away the time, book in hand, or meet with friends for chat and a catch up.  I like a coffee shop where I can order my coffee in small, medium and large, and not a system of three words that all mean large.  I don’t need the barista to address me by name, a friendly smile and efficient service will do, and I’m always up for a tempting great to accompany my cup of coffee; it’s even better if it’s got a home baked feel to it.

So I’ve been particularly pleased to discover Balzac’s coffee roasters, a small chain of coffee shops which was started by Diana Olsen in Stratford, ON, home of Canada’s Shakespeare festival.  Diana’s degree in French literature, time in Paris and common passion for coffee which she shared with the French author Honoré de Balzac (he used to write furiously at night fuelled by cups of coffee) inspired to set up her first coffee shop based on a set of values that prioritises the production of artisanal, sustainable and great tasting coffee.  Now that original shop has turned into seven shops sprinkled around Toronto and Ontario.

I love the idea of a coffee shop inspired by a literary giant and one for whom coffee plays such an important role in story telling.  Reading through Balzac’s works you find that time and again, crucial action is centred around the social niceties of coffee making and taking; for example, in Eugiene Grandet where Eugiene defies her miser father to give her cousin Charles a cup of good sweet coffee before he learns about his father plan to take his own life, or Cousin Bette agreeing to take part in clandestine assignations in order to make sure she has enough money to buy the pure mocha she loves so well.  Coffee in Balzac work is far more than a drink with a pleasing aroma; in all of its social niceties and complexities it’s a  brilliant dramatic tool for revealing character and sending the narrative hurtling in new and unexpected directions.

So far I’ve been to two branches, the one in the distillery district, now an elegant place to shop, eat and enjoy the drama of the Soulpepper theatre co., and the one based at the public reference library.  What could be a better combination than books and coffee?  What I’ve enjoyed in both are the beautiful advertising posters, one to represent each shop and all designed in the graphic style of the 20s and 30s advertising that would have pleased artists like Bawden, Leighton and Nash.

To make me even happier I discovered that Balzac’s serve an almond croissant, which came close to my favourite almond croissant of all time (an honour that is currently held by Maison Blanc).  Balzac’s almond croissant is filled with a rich paste (rather than a crème patisserie which I’m not so keen on), topped with the same paste, so that it crisps in the oven and becomes beautifully crunchy and is sprinkled liberally with flaked almonds and baking sugar.  Almost, but just not quite, as perfect at Maison Blanc’s version.

In honour of this new found delight here are some of Balzac’s characters on coffee:

‘If you will but help me to my revenge,” the tradesman went on, “I will sink ten thousand francs in an annuity for you. Tell me, my fair cousin, tell me who has stepped into Josepha’s shoes, and you will have money to pay your rent, your little breakfast in the morning, the good coffee you love so well—you might allow yourself pure Mocha, heh! And a very good thing is pure Mocha!’ Crevel talking to Lisbeth, Cousin Bette

‘Well, let him have his coffee very strong; I heard Monsieur des Grassins say that they make the coffee very strong in Paris. Put in a great deal.’ Eugiene about Charles’ coffee, Eugiene Grandet

‘just think! they ask you sixteen sous for a cup of coffee alone on the place de l’ Odeon’ The Brotherhood of Consolation

‘The brother and sister poured in the coffee made by Sylvie herself on the table. When Sylvie had carefully prepared hers, she saw an atom of coffee-grounds floating on the surface. On this the storm broke forth.’ The Celibates

‘The pudding is delicious,’ said Genestas.  ‘Then w hat will you say to her coffee and cream?’ cried Benassis.  ‘I would rather hear our pretty hostess talk.’ The Country Doctor

‘Friendships struck up over Flicoteaux’s dinners were sealed in neighboring cafes in the flames of heady punch, or by the generous warmth of a small cup of black coffee glorified by a dash of something hotter and stronger.’ A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

‘Have we time to get a cup of coffee?’ said the artist, in a gentle voice, to Pierrotin.’ A Start in Life

‘It is pleasant to sit down and take a little coffee in quiet.’ The General in The Stepmother: A Drama in Five Acts




Dining on dim sum

16 Sep

Rol-san restaurant and Toronto patrons, dim sum morning, noon and night

What’s the earliest you’ve ever had dim sum?  Until yesterday my only pre-noon consumption of dim sum was the breakfast buffet I had in Singapore in July but after this trip I’d be quite happy to make dim sum brunch a regular outing.  My dining companions were Sue Jefferies, former curator of modern and contemporary ceramics at the Gardiner Museum and Linda Sormin, head of ceramics at Sheridan College, just outside of Toronto.  Linda recommended a dim sum restaurant Rol San, on Spandina Road, right in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, which is one of her favourites. An instant sign that it’s a great restaurant was the fact that even at 10.30am we had to be ushered to be back room as the front of the restaurant was already full.

Linda did the ordering, which was the perfect opportunity for me to be introduced to a range of new dishes (it will come as no surprise to people that Mr Kim’s selection of dim sum tends to veer towards the meat, meat and shell fish variety.)

left to right: har gau (prawn dumplings), wu gock (taro dumplings), snow pea tips, beef cheung fung (rice roll with beef), eggplant with shrimp

Pretty soon we had a table decked out with a variety of delectable and tempting dishes: beef cheung fun, har gau, lo bak goh, Eggplant with shrimp and wu gock among them.  Helpfully most of the dishes came with three pieces so there were no difficult decisions to make about who got what and we could munch away while discussing ceramics, museums and Toronto life.  Each of the dishes were delicious; most of the them, apart from the har gau, the plump prawn dumplings, were ones that I had never or rarely had, but the combination of flavours worked beautifully and the har gau, which had a great taste, were so stuffed full of prawns that my attempts to elegantly handle them with the chop sticks failed dismally as the prawns were bursting out of their rice casing.  The wu gock dumplings, cocooned in their wisps of fried taro (as Sue pointed bearing something of an echo of Linda’s ceramic work), were fantastically crisp, with a succulent pork filling.  And to accompany all of these dim sum delights Linda chose snow pea tips, gently tossed in garlic.

eggplants are one of my favourite vegetables so I loved these slices with pureed shrimp

The wispy taro dumplings.

You might have thought that by the end of this I would be so full of food I wouldn’t be able to leave the restaurant, let alone contemplate dessert, but when Linda ordered some freshly steamed custard buns, I felt that they deserved to be tried.  Now, I’m not usually a fan of Chinese desserts since I’m not particularly good with custards or sweet pastes, unless of course it’s marzipan.  But that’s maybe why I got on so well with the custard bun; its filling was almost as thick as a marzipan, with a rich vanillery taste, and all wrapped round by the rich bread.  It looked not dissimilar to a boiled egg with its fluffy white bread and sunshine yellow centre.  A perfect finish to the meal.

Linda with the steamed egg bun, with its bright yellow centre

Any one for dim sum brunch next Saturday?

From Patagonia to Japan in Toronto

9 Sep

On Friday night I went along to the first of my TIFF films with a good friend.  This film was the Argentinian Gone Fishing, which was beautiful and lyrical, with a very simple story and little that actually happened, leaving plenty of time to observe people and their relationships.  The film was shot against the backdrop of the stunning Patagonian scenery with a wonderful musical soundtrack; as the director Carlos Sorin explained in his after screening Q&A (apparently these are a big part of the TIFF) it good have been only too easy to let the scenery take over but he wanted viewers to concentrate on the landscape of his characters’ faces.  One of the really interesting points to emerge from his Q&A was that only the two central characters, the recovering alcoholic father and his on screen daughter, were actors, all the others, from the guy who ran a shark fishing business to the boxing trainer and female boxer, were all people not acting at all but simply doing what they did in life.  It was as Sorin said, as if they had been training for these parts all their lives.


Alejandro Awada in Gone Fishing contemplating the coast line of Patagonia

There wasn’t much cooking in the film, just a sliver of a scene with some barbecuing,  but afterwards Sue and I went to a small and friendly Japanese restaurant,  Konnichiwa, near the university, where I had a delicious Katsu curry, sitting out front.  The intense heat of the Toronto summer has gone, leaving beautifully balmy evenings, although as many friends keep telling me winter is only just around the corner.