Monday, January 30, 2017

ACROSS the MILES

It's been so long since my last blog. No excuses! Hopefully this will be the first of many this year. Already feeling good writing it.

What has brought me back were two big events on the calendar this month, both separated by 8,000 miles, and cultures apart. Scotland and China both celebrated last week with traditions which go deep into the history and culture and although both very traditional both would be celebrated in each other's country.
What I am talking about is Scotland's Burns' Day followed two days later with Chinese New Year. I was happy to have a foot in each camp. Normally there is a big celebration here in Shanghai for Burns' Day, however with Chinese New Year so close on it's heels everyone was so busy with the Chinese festivities, and as this involves a week long holiday, many ex-pats had left the city in search of sunshine.





I was not to be deterred from celebrating our Bard and although it was just my husband and myself and I'm sad to admit a tin of haggis, the tradition would be upheld come hell or high water. I prepared my cock-a-leekie soup as usual. That's chicken and leek to the uninitiated, and with a tin of haggis and a frozen swede and carrot puree from M&S, it was the best I could do as there are no neeps here in Shanghai, I set about making my traditional Burns' night dinner. As I didn't have a real haggis I went for chicken stuffed with the haggis served with a whisky cream sauce, roast potatoes and the aforementioned M&S puree. So not traditional in the true sense of the occasion, but would be a good alternative, and I had no complaints from my husband as we sat down to eat.




With a creamy cranachan, which is a cream infused with whisky, honey, toasted oats and raspberries the meal was complete. This day cannot be allowed to pass without a celebration in chez Muir.



Two days later I turned my skills to preparing a dinner fit for Chinese New Year. We would be celebrating with friends the following night but on the eve of the New Year we would sit at our table and celebrate the coming the year of the rooster. My husband is a rooster.

Peking Duck, ribs and steamed dumplings were on the menu. It started smelling good as the duck roasted in the oven. Throughout the cooking I carefully removed the duck fat to use at a later date. I'm thinking roast potatoes or rillettes. (more on this to follow) When the ribs hit the wok more aromas filled the kitchen. It was smelling good so that was a good start. My attempt at making Chinese Pancakes was not 100% successful, but not as bad as to spoil the meal. 

So with different table covers and plates from the Burns' Supper I attempted to inject a Chinese ambience to accompany tonight's dinner.




It all went down well and we had done our bit to embrace cross cultural events. Not too difficult as food being an important part of both celebrations I was more than happy to partake.

My time in the kitchen over my husband very kindly did the tidying up. Suddenly the thought of my carefully collected duck fat came to mind. Would he realise as he saw the jar sitting what it was? My fears were justified. It had been washed away with the rest of the debris. So I'll have to wait until the next time I cook a duck before I can have duck fat roasted potatoes and next time I'll make sure that either I do the clearing up or I make sure I let him know in advance. 

So from Robert Burns may I say

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

And from China I want to say

Xin Nian Kuaile.
Happy New Year.

I hope to keep blogging more regularly in 2017, the year of the rooster.



Sunday, July 24, 2016

COOKING CLASSES

On a sunny Saturday morning my husband and myself set off for a Chinese Cooking Class. I had done some before, however husband not only hadn't had a class, he never actually cooks! Today was looking like it was going to be fun.


Chef Mike welcomed us all and told us we would be preparing Xiaolongbao which is a Chinese soup dumpling. It's one of our favourites. When you bite into the dumpling not only is there a minced pork, or sometimes minced shrimp, but there is also a delicious soupy filling which you have to be careful of. It's very hot and can be very messy. This is created by adding gelatine to the pork. Today it had been made from pigs feet. We would also be making Kung Po Chicken. One of the most popular dishes amongst expats.


 It always amazes me how Chinese Chefs use these cleavers for everything, even to peel ginger!


Preparation got underway. We were a group of 10 so there was lots of chatting and fun, and a little bit of competition. The table was soon covered in flour and everyone was busy making the pastry for the dumplings which was nothing more than flour and water.



 We were supposed to have clean work surfaces by the time we finished the mixing and rolling. This was optimistic.


However soon everyone had completed the task and the dumplings were taken off to be steamed.
We then moved on to the Kung Po Chicken. A mix of  salt, pepper, cooking wine and cornflour, was added to the diced chicken. The secret to a soft chicken is apparently to massage it at this stage until all the liquid is absorbed into the meat. A teaspoonful of water was also added for extra moistness. This too had to be massaged into the chicken.


Now time for a very hot wok and a bit of stir frying. Some garlic and ginger and dried chillies were added to the wok, followed quickly by the chicken, a quick stir to seal then out it came. A mix of light and dark soy sauce, sugar, pepper and vinegar was heated then the chicken added back for a final cooking. A spoonful, or two, depending on hot you like it, of chilli paste, was added. A final blast of really hot heat and it was ready.


I hope you agree that it looked delicious and I am happy to report it tasted as good as it looked.


All in all it was a very successful and pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. As for my husband he really enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to doing it again. Will it entice to cook at home? Maybe, but think I need to wait and see. 
However I will be cooking these dishes again at home and probably in the very near future.







Tuesday, July 12, 2016

WHEN I'M OUT OF LEMONS....................

They say when life gives you lemons make lemonade. Today was one of those days but with no lemons to hand the best I had was mushrooms so I made mushroom soup!
With nothing more than mushrooms, plus a few dried ones which I used to make the stock, I set about making my soup.




It never seems to amaze me how easy this is. I chopped my mushrooms, I only had oyster, boiled the kettle and poured it over the dried mushrooms and after 5 minutes poured this over the mushrooms. I just covered them, added salt and pepper and a pinch of dried thyme.


 After it all came to the boil I turned it down to a low simmer. 15 minutes later I blitzed it, adjusted the seasonings, a touch more pepper, and added a spoonful of creme fraiche.



I then tucked into a delicious bowl of "pure" mushroom soup. No need for an onion, and the stock from the dried mushrooms gave it a delicious flavour.


I may have been given lemons today but making, and then enjoying the soup helped a lot.

Cooking is my therapy. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

NOT MY FINEST MOMENT

I am what probably is known as a magazineaholic. Mostly cooking and home decor. However now living in Shanghai I can only get them on my iPad, and although I love still being able to access them it still isn't the same as flicking through the real thing.
However, I came prepared and had a backlog to bring with me. I decided recently, that when they were 5-6years old I should really start to cull them, but this was not before I had gone through them and pulled out recipes I had intended to make, but never quite got around to.
When my husband complained we never have dessert apart from fruit and yogurt, or when we have people in for dinner, I decided to give one of the ripped out recipes a go.
It sounded delicious, not to heavy and would suit both our tastes. Perhaps mine a little more than his!
The dessert was a Prossecco and Peach Jelly with a Passion Fruit Zabaglione. I knew I had 2 little bottles of process in the fridge, infact the only thing I didn't have were Passion Fruits, but that was soon solved with a visit to the market.
Soon the jelly was chilling in the fridge. Zabaglione was to be prepared just before serving. This is never a good idea in my mind. However I would see it through.
Having waited, with high expectations, I put the dessert on the table after 15mins of whipping eggs to make the topping. I was exhausted and made note to myself, never do this for a dinner party. Way too much last minute preparation. It looked delicious, very enticing.


Would I make it again? NO! It tasted ok, not fantastic as I had hoped. Basically it was posh jelly and custard. I think I'd rather have eaten the fruit and drunk the Prossecco. I certainly didn't make me want to rush and make it again. 
I threw out the ripped out recipe so I wan't be tempted again. It just proves that you have to actually try something before you know if it finds a permanent place in your recipe files.


So I will plough on, making my way through ripped out recipes and backlog of magazines and find the ones I want to keep and discard the ones that look better than they taste. This is a chore I will actually enjoy. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

BEIJING DUCK

When a Chinese friend messaged me to say she had been in Beijing and brought me a duck I was a bit surprised to say the least. I know Beijing is the original home of, what I always knew as Peking Duck, but I hadn't expected one in a gift.

It duly arrived a few days later with the instructions to cook at 180c and it will keep for 3 months. That was it. It did come complete with pancakes and the hoisin sauce. It lay around in the fridge for a few weeks before I decided to cook it. Out of the vacuum pack it didn't look too appetising and the pancakes had gone mouldy. On reflection I should probably have frozen them.


I stuck it on a baking tray and put it in the oven. I thought around 40 minutes should be enough time. I  was not in the mood to make more pancakes so pulled out a pack of tortillas and proceeded to chop some cucumber and spring onions. 40 minutes later when I took it out the oven it had been transformed into a lovely glistening duck which when pulled at with two forks shredded beautifully.


Once piled into warmed tortillas it provided a very delicious supper. I have to say I had been doubtful but obviously coming from the home of the Peking Duck I should have realised how tasty it would be.
I had forgotten just how much I like to eat this and I'm thinking I'll be searching out a duck restaurant here in Shanghai. Or maybe I will try ant attempt it myself. Whatever way I know I want to eat it again very soon.




Monday, April 11, 2016

SCOTTISH TAPAS in SHANGHAI

I love tapas and for some time have thought it might translate well into some tasty Scottish treats. I finally got my act together and put together a menu of, what I hoped, would be a selection of delicious Scottish Tapas. Little tastes of home served tapas style.
Once I began thinking of what to serve I realised that so many our national dishes come with pastry or indeed are deep fried. Would need to think of something bit lighter to serve alongside the other dishes.
This is what I came up with.

MENU 
Mini Steak Pies
Black Pudding Croquettes
Haggis Samosas
Sausage Rolls +Baked Beans
Scotch Eggs
Fish Gougons + Mushy Peas
Scallop Black Pudding and Mushy Peas
Tian of Haggis, Carrot and Tatties (no neeps here)
Smoked Salmon
 --------
Mini Trifles, Mini Berry Pavlova, Millionaires Shortbread and Tablet

I invited some of our Scottish friends and got busy in the kitchen preparing the food. It may only have been small bites but with so many of them it took some time to prepare. The good thing was most could be prepared the day before leaving them to be reheated on the night. Only the scallops and fish needed to be cooked at the last minute.


With the table set and candles lit we sat down and waited for our guests to arrive. I always love this part of the evening where my husband and I sit down and enjoy a pre dinner drink before we go "on duty" for the evening.


Not that we mind we love to entertain and enjoy to have people at our table hopefully enjoying an evening of good food, good wine and lively conversation. What could be better. We knew from past evenings we would put the world to rights tonight.



The food was given a thumbs up, and the chat was indeed lively. The food brought back thoughts of Scotland and for one night at least, with Scottish accents and Scottish food, you could almost believe we were all back home and not some 6,000 miles away in China.  



A successful evening enjoyed by all and especially by us. It's a great relief to know everyone has left happy with nice memories of a Scottish Tapas Night in Shanghai.


                                                      

Thursday, March 31, 2016

BLAST from the PAST

It's good having my husband back with me, for many reasons. I do hate cooking for one. Let me correct that statement, I hate eating alone. There is no fun sitting down to a plate of food with no one to share it with, to ask if it's ok and how I could better it. I know many people do this everyday, and it must be so hard.
For one there is no one to discuss what to have for supper, to ask what they fancy or don't fancy. So left with the decision I would find myself living on a diet of sandwiches I'm sure. But then again on the positive side you can eat whatever you like without any pressure of producing food at a particular time. You can eat when, what and where you eat. When alone this is usually from a tray on my lap.
Last week I started off pretty well. I made a Nasi Goreng, minestrone soup, a mushroom omelette and then I ran out of enthusiasm for cooking for one.
Then a friend arrived with 2 thick slices of cooked ham which she had cooked. She thought I might fancy them for one of my solo sandwiches. However I decided to take a trip down memory lane and cook something I rarely eat, have rarely eaten since I left home. I would cook ham, egg and chips! Healthy, no, tasty very. I knew I was going to enjoy this.


With the yolk just right, the addition of baked beans I sat down to enjoy my retro tea. I did have it on a tray, in front of the TV and I enjoyed every bite. I knew I wouldn't be enjoying this again for a while which I think made it even more delicious.

So as much as I love all kinds of foods, Indian, Chinese (luckily), Sushi, Thai etc it's still good to take a trip back to my early childhood food and remember how much things have changed, how our food tastes have moved on. But it confirms that foods like music, have the ability to take you back to a time and a place. This time back to a yellow formica covered kitchen table enjoying the meal with my mum dad and brother. Sadly no longer able to sit round a table with my parents and with my brother being far away, and really not to sure they would have the same taste for "foreign" foods as I have but with these memories it keeps times like those alive. For this I am thankful.