Sunday, April 19, 2015

MY SHANGHAI MONDAY

Today was wet and miserable, but I was not complaining. It was the perfect excuse to stay at home and recover from a very busy weekend. A weekend of overindulging in food and drink and staying up way too late.

A quiet Friday night with friends enjoying a rare treat of good old British Fish and Chips, cooked by myself, ended up with a 3-00am finish, too many empty bottles, but it was so much fun.



Now this wouldn't have been so bad if we were having  a quiet Saturday night at home. However we had to be ready to have dinner at a friend's house on the Saturday night. Some great food and wine and very relaxed, but again a late night although only 2-00am this time!!!
If that wasn't enough we were taking a colleague of my husband's for brunch on Sunday morning. Getting out of bed was a bit of a struggle, but we both pulled through and managed to fulfil our commitment. It was an Indian brunch and although I didn't think I wanted it I did enjoy it once I was there. What's not to love about Indian food. But the afternoon was spent on the sofa catching up on second series of Broadchurch.
Lesson being I'm not as young as I used to be.

So a wet Monday gave me the excuse to stay home and cook some healthier options than we had been indulging in all weekend.

Soup of course top of the list.
 Leeks, carrots, green beans, broccoli, soya beans, peas and courgette all cooked together for a very healthy soup. Feel healthier just making it.


Now a roasted vegetable creation. Red and yellow peppers, courgette, red onion, aubergine and lots of garlic cloves all roasted in the oven with some rosemary.


I always finish the vegetables off with a splash of balsamic as soon as I take them from the oven. Tonight we will eat them with roast chicken pieces. There will be enough for my husband to take for lunch packed into a pitta bread. I also love them on a toasted ciabatta with the edition of some pesto and goats cheese. 

I have to admit to loving bread and I know I should cut back but we do need some treats with all this healthy food going on. So I make my soda bread oats and wholemeal flour, I add some wheatgerm today to make it as healthy as I can. No artificial ingredients just fresh simple ingredients.



Now I'm on a healthy roll. I have a large piece of water melon which I decide to juice. I love this and as watermelon season is starting here in Shanghai I will be enjoying it for many months.


This year I have the privilege of being President of Brits Abroad Shanghai and tomorrow I am hosting a committee meeting in my home. So to finish I made some banana bread, a healthy version, and some small cranberry and orange muffins to serve. 



Not sure why but my banana bread seems to have exploded on one side. Not to worry it will taste just as good I'm sure.

So feeling very pleased with myself I feel and hour on my sofa with the newspaper and maybe a nice bowl of soup with a slice of my bread (small slice) is in order. I'm sure I can balance out the effects of a hectic overindulgent weekend within a couple of days. 



Thursday, April 9, 2015

DELICIOUS CURRY SAUCE

Curry is a big favourite in this house. Homemade, takeout or indeed when eating out, it is always a consideration. As a result of our love of curry I am always looking for new recipes to try. My curry cookbook library has grown considerably recently. I love reading about the food, it's origins and how every region in India has it's own specialities.



Last week I found a scrap ripped from a magazine, I don't know when, but from the look of it some time ago. It was just headed Curry Sauce. It went on to say it could be used with fish, chicken or vegetables. I read further and found what was a simple, but looked like a great sauce recipe. Time to try it out and see if it had been worth keeping this bit of scrap for so long. The truth would be in the cooking.
Fortunately I had all the ingredients needed in the fridge or cupboard and I took some fish from the freezer. Dinner was sorted,  or so I hoped.

I set about cooking the sauce and I was delighted with the result. I did it early in the day thinking the flavours would be better if they were left for a while. Fish, when defrosted was sadly a bit wet and limp. No problem I'd salt it and put it into the fridge for a hour to firm it up. A useful tip I heard on TV once.

Time to put it all together. Rinsed the salt from the fish, slipped it into the sauce to cook. Put on the rice and turned oven on to heat up naan bread, also from the freezer.

The result was a very appetising looking dish, the reality was the sauce had indeed come up to expectation but I hadn't rinsed the fish properly and it was inedible. Just way too salty. I hate when this happens as I hate to waste food. So fish was removed from the sauce, more rice was added to the plate chopped bananas were put as a side, retro early curry days, and we mopped up the sauce with the rice and bread. I guess you can't always get it right.

However I do stand by the sauce, and I will make it again. The recipe has made it into my food recipe journal and the scrap of paper is now in the bin.


RECIPE

50g shallots,
3-4 garlic cloves
3cm piece of fresh ginger
1 med hot red chilli
Roughly chop then whizz in a blender with 2 tomatoes until smooth.

1tsp chilli powder,
 1/2 tsp of S&P,
1tsp turmeric powder.
 Add these to the above paste and blend again.

2tsp oil or ghee, 1 tsp black mustard seeds, tin of coconut milk, 200mls stock.

Heat oil add seed and wait until they start to pop. Add the paste mixture and fry until you can smell the spices. 2-3 minutes. Add coconut milk and stock heat through. To finish add chopped coriander to the mixture.
You can now add your fish,veg or chicken and let it cook through.

I hope you enjoy the sauce but have more luck with the fish! 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THREE YEARS in SHANGHAI

Can't believe it was three years ago since I first arrived in Shanghai, and what's even harder to believe is just how quickly the time has gone. It really has gone so fast.

Three years ago next Tuesday I took my first tentative steps into the Waldorf Hotel to join a Brits Abroad Shanghai coffee morning, and this Tuesday I will be walking into the Waldorf as President of Brits Abroad Shanghai. I can't quite believe it, and as on my first coffee morning it is also tentatively I take on this role. Brits have been so good to me I really want to give something back. I hope I can step up to this and still enjoy everything they have to offer.

On that first day I met another "newbie,"  Sandra, and over the next few years we became very good friends, not only ourselves but our husbands too. We enjoyed trying out various restaurants around the city, and the guys became mojito aficionados. Mayas winning out. Sadly they returned to UK just before Christmas and the only fitting farewell was dinner at Majas followed by an overnight stay in the Waldorf taking in the brunch next day. I have to say this is probably my favourite brunch in Shanghai. Expensive, yes, but absolutely worth it, very occasionally.

This is the way of an ex pat life. You no sooner make new friends then you are saying goodbye. Only yesterday I was doing this once more. As always it is sad when people leave but yesterday was a great day to do this. The sun was shining, it was 29c and we ate al fresco. Yes it was still April, just, and this is not the usual weather for this time of the year, but it made for a lovely afternoon spent with friends, eating good food, enjoying a few glasses of something and of course doing what we women do best, chatting. A bittersweet afternoon.

So as people leave new people arrive, new friends in the making. It is a strange life and friendships blossom quickly, not always with people you imagine being friends with, but as we never know how long we will have with these people in our lives we can't afford to hang around. Brits Abroad is a really welcoming and friendly organisation and we try to make everyone feel welcome. Some friendships will last the test of ex pat life, some will flounder, but the people who remain in our lives share a very special bond of having shared the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the amazing fun and adventures we had living in another country with a totally different culture. These friendships are very special.

So after three years what are the ups and downs?
As always the downs are being far from home, from old friends and mostly from being away from family. This is by far the hardest bit about living away from home.

The ups?
 Well who would have guessed that I can now conduct daily life in Mandarin, still a long way to go but getting there.
I can now cross my 8 lanes of traffic without blinking, something I never thought I'd be able to do. Buying a chicken with head and feet still attached presents no problem, and I know the feet make excellent stock.
Tanks of live frogs, eels, turtles etc don't even warrant a second glance now.
 Chopsticks no longer slow down my eating.
I can take a photograph of a dress in a designer store, most recently Hermes, and have a copy made at the fabric market.

The Chinese have been very friendly and helpful. Even the people working in the markets and shops have been kind. I am now recognised in these places and there are times when I feel at home here. It hasn't been nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be. There are challenges, yes, but that's what keeps it interesting.

As this will be "home" for a few more years I am happy it's been a good experience and I look forward to enjoying more of this amazing, strange and wonderful city. One day it will be my farewell lunch I'm enjoying and then I will be happy to be going home, to the familiar, to old friends but most of all back with my family.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

DIM SUM from my CELTIC KITCHEN

I have been enjoying getting back into the kitchen again after having flu. Although I've had no one to actually cook for as my husband is still out of town, it hasn't deterred me from playing around. And of course, I still have to eat, so I've been cooking to feed myself. Feels good to have my appetite back.

I have to admit rather than cooking what I fancy eating I have been eating what I fancy cooking. Does that make sense? I'm sure you all know what I mean. Sometimes I see a recipe and think I must try that and it lies around and somehow never makes it to the oven or pot never mind to the plate.

So yesterday afternoon I had planned to make some dumplings. There are many kinds of dumplings here in Shanghai, all with different names, different fillings and different ways of cooking. Some are steamed, some boiled and the pot stickers start of frying before water is added. This gives them a nice crispy bottom.

Mine were basic. They are called SHUI JIAO, which translates as cooked in water. Filling was chopped prawn, 150g  and minced pork 50g, a very popular filling here. With some garlic chives, S&P, oyster sauce 1tbs and rice wine 1tbs. I cheated and bought the wrappers. Getting the shape is tricky but I think the more I made the better I was getting. A couple let in water but most were fine.


I was quite happy with them and served them with soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar for dipping. This is the traditional dipping sauces here in Shanghai.


As I had some pork left over I decided to experiment with the shape. I added grated ginger, chives, 5 spice and soy sauce. They tasted ok but something else was needed. I need to work in those ones. But they were edible just lacked a bit of flavour.


As I was preparing them it made me think again about how similar food is wherever you are. I had been making samosas earlier in the week to take to a friend who was doing a curry night.


A samosa is just another filling enclosed in a pastry, as is a sausage roll, a Cornish pastie, an empanada, ravioli and I am sure you can think of others. It always amazes me the similarities in foods from different corners of the world.

Fried rice, byriani, nasi goreng, risotto, rice and beans and good old Scottish kedgeree. All ways of using up ingredients in the fridge and using rice to make the leftovers go further. Of course nowadays these dishes are much more sophisticated than their origins, and I'm sure much tastier too. But basically they all started out as a way of using up leftovers. Something I like to experiment with. from time to time.  Sometimes with great results and sometimes not so great! But you never know until you try.


Monday, March 9, 2015

A SHANGHAI BIRTHDAY

Friday was my birthday. Hubby was out of town, I had just recovered from flu, and my birthday lunch with friends had to be cancelled as my flu was now being passed around, and several girlfriends were now suffering. Not a great way to spend a birthday, alone!

Then another friend came to my rescue. An invite to join her and her husband for dinner at Shanghai Town and Country Club where her husband is GM. This is a new club, just opening as I write this. It is an amazing venue. Spas, pools, restaurants, hotel, apartments, retail and the most amazing children's play equipment. I was blown away with this "community" within Shanghai. 


Our evening started in the bar with a rather welcome G&T and a selection of canap├ęs which were on offer. It would have been rude not to try one of each! Right?




As we sat and relaxed and enjoyed the lovely surroundings I thought how much my husband would have enjoyed this evening. Hopefully on his return we do this again, and again!

Soon we were sitting in a private dining room and choosing what we would like to eat. A difficult choice as there was quite a lot of dishes I was being tempted by. 

Duck, always a favourite of mine, this time Cantonese Style seemed like a good choice. We were not wrong. It was delicious and tender and very tasty. Just melted in your mouth.


One thing I do enjoy about eating in China is that food is always served "family style". So all the dishes are laid out on the table and you can pick and choose from a selection of dishes.

To me this makes so much more sense than everyone ordering one dish. How many times do you order something, but when it arrives you wish you had ordered something you see someone else getting? This way everyone gets a chance to taste all the dishes.

A sweet and sour pork, fried rice, shrimp and vegetable dishes were soon joining the duck on the table. 


Sweet and sour pork was the right side of sweet. Sometimes I find it can be a bit too sweet, and not enough sour. As you can see this dish, unlike in UK, doesn't come covered in a gloopy red sauce. It will be difficult to go back and eat Chinese food in UK. It is just so different, and not in a good way. I will have to find a good Chinese, or cook it myself. Not that I'm putting my cooking skills at this level. I'll just have to do my best. Maybe I could put in a request for a few lessons from the chef.


Just when I thought it was all over dessert arrived. I had wondered why I hadn't been asked for any input, and then I saw it and realised why. 


Lemon tart and tiramisu. Whats not to love?

So what could have been a lonely day for me turned out to be a good one. A delicious dinner with two lovely, relatively new friends, spent doing what I love to do. Yes, you've guessed it, eating good food with good friends. Difficult to beat. Having my husband with me would have made it absolutely perfect. However, I am sure the pressure was off as he had left me in safe and capable hands.

It was a lovely evening and I was so happy not to have spent it alone. 
A big thank you to two lovely people.












Monday, March 2, 2015

STAYCATION SHANGHAI

For Chinese New year my husband and  were heading to Tokyo. I was so excited as I have never been to Japan, and I was so looking forward to some great sushi.

However we never made it thanks to my taking poorly. Flu! But just to make it worse I had also picked up a stomach bug. So we were homebound. Now the coughing, sneezing, snot and headache I could probably have put up with but the constant nausea, that's so hard to deal with.

For three days I was never out of bed, and for two weeks I couldn't shake of the feeling of sickness, and I had absolutely no appetite. For me, who lives and breathes to shop and cook this was a disaster. I didn't even want to read my food magazines or pick up a cook book. I existed on tea and toast for a whole week! I so wanted it all to end. I can't even imagine what life would be like without my cooking. I spend so much time doing it. Either deciding what to eat, shopping for ingredients, cooking and ultimately sharing it with friends. I was not a happy person.

I still couldn't shake it off but fortunately as it was the Chinese New Year my husband was at home taking good care of me. This weekend I started to eat a bit more but only because I knew I had to. I was feeling pretty shakey on my feet. Can't say I enjoyed it which is something I never thought I'd say.

Then last night. Oh dear, whatever was troubling me came to the fore, with vengeance. But today it's like a new me. It must have worked it's way out of my system.

I've just made some tomato soup and I'm so happy to be back in my kitchen. I'm going to take it easy, but not having the feeling of nausea is such a relief. I was actually starting to think it would never go.

So hopefully I will have something nice to blog in the next few days.

So a very belated  XIN NIAN KUAILE    Happy new year.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A WEEK at my TABLE

People from home often ask if we eat Chinese every day, and there will be some weeks when we pretty much do. However, as you know I love to cook, and I do cook Chinese on occasion, but this week we pretty much worked our way around the world.

MONDAY: Cauliflower cheese soup with Cauliflower Pakora. English/Indian I think I'd call it.


This came about as I had just started cooking cauliflower for cauliflower cheese when my hubby called and said he would be late. I poured out half of the water, added hot milk to make up. When cooked blitzed it and added grated cheese. I also rescued a few florets to make pakora. Just dipped them in a batter with some curry powder added and deep fried just before serving. My husband loved it, and there was leftovers for his lunch the following day. Time in kitchen, just as long as cauliflower took to cook and blitz, about 25 mins. Another 10 before serving to cook pakora.

TUESDAY: Chicken Paprikas with boiled rice. Definitely Hungarian. A favourite when I spent time living there.


A really quick and easy meal. Chicken strips, onion, chopped garlic and mushrooms fried off with S&P and a heaped teaspoon of paprika. When its cooked through add a cup of sour cream and stir through. Boil rice. couldn't be easier. Time in kitchen is about as long as the rice takes to cook. While it's cooking you can stir fry the chicken etc.

WEDNESDAY: Nasi Goreng. We're now in Indonesia. No reason except I love this dish and I'm using leftover rice from yesterday and some chicken strips I'd held back.



Ok I always make too much rice! So a Nasi is often on the menu the day after we have rice. I had held back some chicken strips and defrosted some prawns. I think 3 prawns and maybe 4 pieces of chicken per portion works. I chopped and onion and red pepper. I did make my own Nasi Paste, but it is easy, and quick, which is important.  I hate all these half empty jars that litter the fridge and I can never remember how long the should last, or when the were bought. I'll put Nasi recipe at end of blog. It's just a case of stir frying everything together with the paste. I add the rice last. I serve with a fried egg and a few slithers of spring onion. Again maybe 15 minutes cooking, and the paste takes all of 10 minutes to make. I served some ribs with this but the were taken from the freezer, already in marinade, I find this way it really penetrates and gives plenty of flavour. In the oven for 30 mins. So these are cooking while I get on with the rest of supper.

Thursday: Thai  Fish Curry. Thailand!


I use the extra prawns I'd defrosted yesterday a piece of salmon and this time I am using a pre made spice paste. I can buy this in packets and it's a one time use, so no waste. Coconut milk, green beans and noodles are the main ingredients. I fry off the paste until oil starts to separate, add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. I add the fish and beans (sometimes I use mange tout) you can use whatever you have.If I have lemon grass I will pop one in. The noodles are soaking in boiling water to be added at the end. At this point I usually add a splash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Not necessary but it can lift the flavour a bit. 
I put noodles in bottom of bowls add the curry mixture and scatter over some coriander. Once again quick and easy and maybe 20 minutes in total. I like to serve with some naan bread to mop up the sauce.

FRIDAY: Fish, of course. Harks back to when I was a child and the fish van would come around on a Friday. Everyone ate fish.
However these days it's not going to be breaded haddock in bright orange breadcrumbs. What made them that colour ?
Sichuan Squid, followed by Fish Pie. An East meets West I guess!


Squid dredged in flour mixed with Sichuan pepper. Simply deep fry. Easy and delicious. Just don't overcook........  It can get tough if cooked too long. A couple of minutes is fine. A piece of lemon on the side to squeeze over and some, in this case, sweet chilli dipping sauce.


Fish Pie was a mix of salmon, cod and prawns all poached in milk, with a few frozen peas thrown in towards the end. I thicken the poaching liquid to make a sauce, first removing some to use in the mashed potato topping. This is completed in the time it take to boil and mash potatoes and assemble the pie. It can be done ahead and reheated. 30 minutes should see this dish completed. Fish cooking, the sauce made while potatoes are boiling. I always add an egg yolk to my mash as it helps it puff up and brown when in oven, or under the grill.

So that's a look at what was on my dinner table last week. No more than 30 minutes spent in the kitchen for any of these meals, and I hope you'll agree they all look very nice. As for the taste, you'll just have to take my word for it, delicious. Hubby left clean plates every night so I must be doing something right. 

You don't have to spend hours in the kitchen to produce good home cooked meals. It's all down to organisation. Making best of leftovers and having a good selection of ingredients in your store cupboard.

HAPPY COOKING.

NASI PASTE RECIPE:

3 tbsp oil, 4 chopped garlic cloves, 1small onion(or 2 shallots) chopped, 15g rasted salted peanuts, 6 red chillies chopped, 1tbsp tomato puree, 1/2 tsp dried shrimp paste, 1 tbsp ketchap manis (sweet soy sauce)
Put everything into a food processor and blend.
I actually did it in my mortar and pestle. Less washing up!