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!






  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BUTTERNUTSQUASH, COCONUT & CURRY SOUP

This blog is for Judith.
 Judith is a lady I met last year just after she had arrived in Shanghai from Holland. As with all the "newbies" she was suffering with the culture shock which comes with arriving in Shanghai. She had reached out to a local web site which offers help to people like herself, and I had realised she lived close by, and that I could offer her help, or support, to settle in. Soon we were sitting in a coffee exchanging our stories and enjoying a coffee.

Judith's journey to Shanghai had been a bit of a whirlwind. Living with her partner of many years, working at a job she loved, and had been doing for a long while, she was suddenly having to make a big decision. Well, to be honest several big life changing decisions, all of which were going to have to happen very quickly and change her life dramatically.  Her partner was moving to Shanghai, and of course Judith was willing to come with him, to give up her job, her family and her home to accompany him. But with, I'm sure a lot of thought behind this decision. Then she realised the Chinese will not give visas to an unmarried partner. So within one month she was married, gave up her job and took a leap into the unknown. Phew. This would have caused many of us to think again. A brave lady.

People often scorn the life of the expat wife seeing it as an easy ride. I agree it's a great life but has it's drawbacks. These these ladies as strong, independent and very resilient. We support our husbands, making our homes, in a strange place, feel as comfortable and as like home as we can. A place they can come home to and relax at the end of what can be very long hard days. Also we spend a lot of time on our own, we have to learn to enjoy our own company, how to deal with various issues that arise, either with workmen, landlords or whatever is thrown our way.

But all this gives us a strength that often we didn't know we had. Some find it harder than others, but we all offer support to each other. Judith embraced it. She did what many of us do. She uses this time to learn new skills she never had time for before. Some work some don't. I'm sure won't mind me saying the knitting didn't work! However the quilting did. She also is using this time learning to cook. This is something I can help her with. So Judith this recipe is for you as you are always asking me to post my soup recipes. I hope you like it.

RECIPE Serves 4

Onion chopped, butternut squash (1 small or half a large one), cubed,
1tbsp curry powder (more if you want it spicier), 1 box/tin coconut milk, water, S&P, 1 apple, coriander (fresh)

Using twice the amount of squash to the onion, (doesn't have to be exact) is my mantra to soup making.

Gently sweat off the onion with a pinch of salt until it starts to soften. Add the curry powder and continue cooking until you can smell the spices. Add the cubed squash and stir to coat with the spices.

Add the water until it just covers the ingredients in the pot, add S&P. Bring to a boil, turn down and cook until squash is soft.

At this point I liquidise the soup then add the coconut milk to the consistency you like. Now a bit strange I know, grate an apple into my soup. But this is optional. I think it gives it a bit of texture and another layer of sweetness which goes well with the curry flavour.

Check seasoning and adjust to your liking. Add chopped coriander and heat through. I like to serve with naan bread and an extra sprinkling of coriander.




Once you've made your first batch you can then mess around with amounts of curry powder, coriander and seasonings. All my soups start simple and can be added to as you feel fit. It means if one element is missing from your store cupboard you can replace it with something else. I have replaced the squash with sweet potato before, and it worked. The apple is completely optional and I'm sure pear may even work. Mental note to try it next time!

Happy cooking Judith. It has been a delight to get to know you and I hope your time here in Shanghai is as good as mine. Make the best of your time here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SHANGHAI SIGNS

Just a short post today but something I wanted to share with you.

I am still stopped in my tracks sometimes by the signage here in Shanghai. Some are just wrong and make no sense, and some make me laugh. There are always calls from foreigners living here for them to be put right and for the grammar to be corrected. I say get over it and have a laugh. It wouldn't be Shanghai without these signs.



These signs were in my local supermarket. The "rank" sign pointing to the dried fish in a packet! No, not refrigerated, just on a shelf. 

Made me smile and hope it will make you smile too.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Scottish Night in Shanghai

Saturday night saw me co-hosting a tribute dinner to Rabbie Burns, right here in Shanghai. It would be an evening bringing together fellow Scots, far from home, but joined in their  love for one of Scotland's most famous sons. There would be a lot of planning, a lot of hard work but Lesley and I were more than up for the challenge.

     

With my newly acquired laptop and printer I was able to produce menus, programmes and place names for the table. Happy with the way they'd turned out I set about printing song booklets for the evening as I knew the upcoming event would be an evening full of poetry, song and quite probably dance.........  
 I was not to be disappointed.


The dinner was being held in my friend's house, it was more suited to hosting. We would be a party of 14. Arriving I was greeted by the site of a beautifully dressed table in a very welcoming room. The night was going to be a good one. She had done us proud.

Soon people started arriving and the party really got going. Pre dinner drinks relaxed everyone and conversation came easily. Although we didn't all know each other well we all had some connection here in Shanghai, but of course that didn't matter one jot. We Scots are a friendly sociable bunch who know how to throw a good party! 


Of the 14 we were made up of 11 Scots, 1 Irish and 2 people from South of the Border! All were welcome. One Scot by marriage the other a Geordie, so close enough. 

Haggis was smuggled in by one of the guests through Hong Kong, neeps, or turnips as some of you may know them, had arrived in Shanghai only that morning courtesy of my husband who was returning from a trip to UK. We are a resourceful lot.


Soon we were sat at the table and the formal part of the evening began. The Selkirk Grace, Address to  the haggis and then the food arrived. Very traditional. I had made my Cock-a-Leekie Soup, it was followed by the Tatties, Neeps and Haggis and how delicious they were, followed by Steak Pie, Veg & Roast Tatties, Cranachan, Oatcakes and Cheese, a truckle of cheddar I brought back from Scotland, and of course tablet with the coffee. We are always bringing such things in, and although not allowed, we take the risks to bring a little of what we like back to Shanghai. Well fed we sat back to enjoy the evening's entertainment. The rendition of Tam o' Shanter was one of the best I've ever heard, delivered by Alastair, our host. My husband did Toast tae the Lassie's. It brought a lot of laughs and gasps as he almost managed to stay on the side of good taste. It was excellent.



My friend Lesley sang beautifully, I knew she could sing but was amazed at how good she was. Others recited, sang and told stories. As the whisky and wine flowed so did the jokes. Alcohol has the ability to lower ones defences and soon people who had never sang in public were happy to belt out their favourite Scottish ballads. Even a chorus or two of Donald Where's Your Troosers? was sung, and everyone joined in with gusto.


There was no doubt everyone was having a great time and all the planning and hard work had payed off. Everything came together seamlessly, and all fears were allayed. 

I am always amazed, living thousands of miles from home, I can still find myself surrounded by fellow Scots all connected by our passion for our country, by our natural ability to make friends and welcome people into our company, and of course by the love of our own Rabbie Burns.



By 4-30am the party was over. People were making their way home through the streets of Shanghai but with Scotland in their hearts. An evening like this has two things which it leaves with us. Our love of Scotland, but also a sense of how far away we are. Thankfully this type of evening makes us feel closer to what we miss, and remind us that we have friends wherever we go. Likeminded people who can gather together and have a good party.

Life is good. 

We were asked if we will do it again next year. Personally I'll be happy to, but I'll have to check with my friend, although I'm sure there will be a repeat performance. Once word gets out I'm sure it will be the hottest ticket in town.

It will take a few days to completely recover, but well worth it.


Here's tae us,
Wha's like us?
Damn few and they're a' deid.

Robert Burns