Monday, August 27, 2012

ESCAPE from SHANGHAI.

I have just spent the last three days away from my beloved city. With my husband and 200+ Chinese I was headed South for a company outing in the mountains. It was not without hesitation I headed out. Five hours later we were checking into a very nice hotel. Much better than I had expected. Two bathrooms, sitting room and bedroom, not too shabby. We had travelled by car, an hour or so later saw the rest of our party arrive by bus. It had taken them seven hours.

HOTEL FOYER
Soon we were headed out for lunch. Very nice. Much what I had thought. This isn't Shanghai, but the food was good, the staff excellent, although perhaps a little zealous in serving us. I think we were the first non Asians they had come across. There was much giggling, staring, attempts to converse with us and I think we were served by every waiter and waitress in the restaurant. It always amuses us that we attract so much attention.

Lunch over, we had three hours to rest before heading back to same restaurant for dinner. One thing about the Chinese is that they love to eat, and they do eat at the same time every day, their evening meal being eaten much earlier than Europeans are used to. What I came to discover over the three days is that they pretty much eat the same things at each meal. There are a few variations but basically, rice and noodles, some proteins in the form of fish, shellfish, pork or chicken, hardly ever beef, and a selection of veg. But is always tasty and satisfying.


However I was slightly surprised to see almost exactly the same meal served up at dinner as we had eaten for lunch. But what surprised me most was when a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Chivas, a bottle of Sweet Martini, numerous bottles of Red Wine and Beers, plus strangely enough a carton of milk were produced from carrier bags. It was at this point I realised just how well the Chinese can party. Much toasting and drinking went on, people moving between tables during the meal. Everyone came to toast my husband. As the boss they all wanted to thank him and do a one on one toast with him. Couldn't happen, as I had to see him back safely, so we persuaded them to toast him in groups. It was a lot of fun. But can you imagine drinking Baileys and milk? I found out this was why the milk had been produced.

As you can see there was much drinking and toasting going on. Everybody relaxed and the party got under way very quickly.



Various parties were carried on in rooms. I'm sure by the look of some people in the morning they had gone on all night. We made an early exit as a 6-30 am wake up call was on the cards and my all night partying days are over, that is if they ever began!

Just after 7-00am we arrived back at same restaurant for breakfast. Chinese breakfasts are not really for me. Rice in water, warm soy milk, noodles, hard boiled eggs, fermented bean paste, were a few of the delicacies on offer. Also steamed dumplings which quite honestly looked like uncooked dough. I did see what looked like churrros on the table, that would do with a cup of coffee I would be sorted. No coffee and churro lookalikes were salty and very greasy as they were cold. Also no drinks apart from warm soy milk. Day not off to a good start.
Very kindly someone did manage to get me a cup of Chinese tea and a coke. 



I'm sure you agree it looks quite unappetising.

Couldn't believe there was no coffee. Biggest crime of the weekend. I have found out that the Chinese do not drink with their meals, apart from dinner when the may have a beer. Not even water.

We had a great day at the mountain. Hard work but ultimately fun. have to confess to not going to the top as most of the others did. Steps all the way. Very tiring. A mediocre lunch, then back with an hour to spare before dinner. Action packed. Different restaurant, same food for the most part. Drinking not quite as party like as the night before, but still the toasting had to be done. 

Breakfast next morning. We arrived back at restaurant before buses. Some people were late arriving. When they did turn up it was with bread, jam, coffee and cheese slices. They are superstars. A quick trip to a supermarket to buy me b'fast. Also two fried eggs appeared from the kitchen. B'fast was served. I am amazed at how far these people will actually go to please you. They are so kind.


Coffee, even although it was instant had never tasted so good. I was ready to face the day.

A great weekend was had by all. I am now more relaxed around such large groups. Everyone was so friendly and I had my photo taken many times with various members of the company. Looks like we have been accepted and can now look forward to next years trip, although this time I will be packing a few essentials! Coffee top of the list.

So cheers, or gan bei, as they say here. A great weekend. Good company good, for the most part, and good wine. Result a good time had by all. Here's to next year.


Monday, August 20, 2012

GOING RETRO

A couple of weeks ago was my wedding anniversary. 38 years ago, as a very young bride, I walked up the aisle and said "I DO". My cooking skills at that time were almost non existent, but over the years I, hopefully, have greatly improved my endeavours the kitchen. So although we were going to be celebrating in a very nice restaurant on the Saturday night, somewhere I could only have dreamt of all those years ago, I decided to take a trip down memory lane, back to the kind of food regarded as upmarket in those days, and which my husband still loves today, and to cook it on the actual day.

For starters it would have to be prawn cocktail. A real blast from the past, and a delicious one at that. Still making it the same way, mayo, tomato ketchup and a squeeze of lemon juice. If it's not broke don't fix it!


Next up was steak and chips. Real chips, twice cooked, now that was a break from tradition. 38 years ago, infact 5 years ago who had ever heard of twice cooked chips? TV chef's have a lot to answer for. Steak here, not so easy to buy good ones. However, at great cost, worked out they cost the equivalent to 2 weeks salary back in 1974, I sourced 2 wagyu strip steaks from Australia. They proved to be melt in the mouth. With some onion rings, freshly made, and very crunchy,  a few mushrooms, and a decent bottle of red my husband was a happy man. A bit of grainy mustard on the side and he was sorted.


For dessert I have to confess to buying it. Individual mini black forest cakes. It's way too hot here to deal with chocolate in the kitchen. So please forgive me this indulgence. This one looks a bit different from the ones way ate back in the 70's but tasted equally good. Can you remember your first taste of this exotic dessert. Now sadly often dry and sickly, but thankfully this one was not.


So all in all meal was a big hit. A trip back in time. I so enjoyed this retro revival in my kitchen. I must make a note to do it again, soon. What would you cook as your retro trip down memory lane? I'd love to hear from you.

 All this us to reminiscing back over the last 38 years, and to the journey we have been on together. Ups and downs, but then who has a smooth passage through life? Two wonderful daughters, of whom we are very proud. Three very precious grandchildren and two son in laws complete our family, and make us very happy. We have been fortunate and never forget this. Thankfully my kitchen skills have improved, maybe part of the secret of holding on to the man in my life!

Here's to the next 38!!!!! 




Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dish of the WEEK

Once again my dish of the week is something I actually ate!
Yes I know it looks quite unappealing, and to be fair I didn't order it, wee problem in the translation I think. I thought I had ordered shrimp tortilla. Clearly it was not shrimp tortilla that arrived, I'm sure you will agree.

We were enjoying a birthday lunch in a great little Tapas Bar, with 12 "new friends" in Pudong. We all were ordering a couple of tapas each, and we ordered by number, as you would do in any Chinese Takeout in UK, but still a mistake was made.

During a discussion on what it was, various suggestions were thrown around, but two of us agreed the thick black gunge was probably squid ink, therefore main ingredient would be squid. Okay I could handle that.

Carefully I cut into it, there was a stuffing of some sort, and when I bit into it I was very surprised, it was delicious.
There would be no problem eating this.

 As you know Tapas is all about sharing, well there was only one person willing to share this with me. I was happy about that. We soon finished it off. A second look at the menu showed we had been eating squid head stuffed with pork and shrimp, finished with a squid ink sauce.

So it only proves that sometimes it's worth taking the risk, you never know what delicacies may come your way.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

CHINESE at HOME

MY CHINESE DINNER TABLE
It may seem from my postings that I never cook anymore, and that I eat out every night. Whilst I have to admit to eating out a lot more than I did at home, I still like to cook too, maybe just not so often.
It can be cheap to eat out, and I have the wonderful situation of  eating out with my husband on work related dinners. A real treat, and also a great way of meeting the people he works with everyday. Win, win!

However a few weeks ago I decided to invite some friends over for supper, and promised I would cook a Chinese meal.  Almost immediately regretting my promise, as one of my guests was to be Chinese. Would I mess up and have her laugh at my efforts? I would just have to be very careful with what I chose to serve. After much deliberation I went for Gok Wan's twice cooked pork, I knew this was achievable, fried rice, no problem, ribs in a sticky sauce, had done this before, okra in batter with a dipping sauce, a first and no recipe, how wrong could I go with this? prawns in a sweet and sour sauce, an old favourite, and last but not least my piece de resistance would be crispy duck, another first, but a quick google brought me a Jamie Oliver recipe, and another google brought me the recipe for the pancakes. I was sorted, I hoped.


FRIED RICE DISH
I spent the afternoon marinading, chopping, mixing sauces and generally getting everything ready to go. With Chinese cooking most of it has to be done at the last minute so the preparation is very important. The pork had to be boiled in a delicious aromatic broth for a couple of hours, and the duck, after being rubbed with salt and crushed ginger, had to be roasted for two hours. So at this stage I was as ready as I could be, just the table to put together. I seemed to have it under control. I sat down to relax for a while when suddenly I realised I had forgotten to make the pancakes for the duck! It was just over an hour until guests arrived............


I rushed to the kitchen, I knew flour and boiling water were the only ingredients. I knew it would be a bit before I could handle the hot pastry after making, 30 mins the recipe said. I didn't really have 30 mins, so I went early. Still a bit hot to be handling but there was no alternative if I wanted to serve the duck as I had hoped. Rolled out the pancakes, then saw I had to brush with sesame oil and place one on top of the other, seal together then dry fry.  All went well until I tried to peel the two apart, as was the instructions. They were really hot. Really, really hot. Ok so I ripped few edges, and they weren't perfectly round, given more time I think I could sort out these things, but they tasted fine. Panic over. Guests arrived, food was put on the table and we all tucked in. Duck was a big hit, as was the pork the ribs and rice. I felt prawns were a little sweet, but they were all eaten. The fried okra was okay but having to be fried at the very last minute made it a bit of an added problem. 

FRIED OKRA
So all in all a success. I am not the laughing stock of the Chinese community, I can hold my head high. I had fun doing it, learned a few lessons, and I will do it again. One of the nice things about having Chinese people for dinner is that no dessert is expected, therefore all my efforts went into the main dishes. But as I love making desserts I will have a special dessert event for my expat friends, I know they will enjoy it. 

Happy in the kitchen as always, and stretching my skills also makes me happy, and of course happy sharing my experiences with you. Maybe I should cook more than I have been lately.



Monday, August 6, 2012

SHANGHAI'S FISH MARKET

Saturday night saw us headed out to Shanghai's fish market. We had been planning to go for some time but something had always got in the way. However, on Saturday nothing was going to stop us, even the possibility of heavy rain, which thankfully failed to appear. So my husband and two friends headed out to experience what was on offer.


The market is open 24/7 and the only piece of advice I was given was not to wear open sandals. Soon I realised why this was good advice, as everywhere people were washing pavements, slooshing away fish guts and whatever else was lying around. You had to be careful not to be on the receiving end of a hose, or bucket of water.  Not as gross as it sounds, honestly.


What happens is you purchase the fish you want, and take it to one of the many restaurants around the area where it will be cooked for you. You can of course take it home, but we chose to sit and enjoy a few drinks as the chefs prepared our catch.

The place was really busy and lively. There were what seemed like hundreds of open shopfronts filled with tanks of all kinds of fish and shellfish imaginable, and some unimaginable!. There were lobsters from Boston and Australia, crabs, clams, shrimp, flat fish round fish, salmon and fish and shellfish in all colours. Everyone was calling us in to see their produce. We had to haggle hard and soon we had bagged a lobster.





This was soon followed by crab, clams, ugly shrimp, which I think was a small langoustine. We also bagged a whole sole and headed to a restaurant to have it cooked. As it had been difficult to choose where to buy the fish, it was also difficult to decide what restaurant to choose, They varied from basic cafes to nice looking restaurants, we went to one which looked busy, bright and friendly.
As we waited for our food to arrive we laughed about one very strange seafood which was on sale everywhere, I have seen it on TV but could not think of what it was called but it certainly didn't entice us to buy and eat. I think you will see why from the picture, and if anyone does know the name of it please let me know.


The food soon arrived, lobster steamed in garlic and chives, it was delicious, the crab in a spicy sauce, simple cooked shrimp with just the addition of salt and pepper, little brown shrimp served with green beans, all really good. The flat fish steamed with soy sauce just fell off the bone. The clams a little disappointing, not a lot of meat in them, but what was there was delicious.

Spicy Clams
Steamed Lobster
Crab in Spicy Sauce
Flat Fish in Soy sauce


So as you can see everything looks good. But as much as the food was excellent the experience was a major part of the night.

We were probably the only non Asians around, and that brought us a lot of attention. Not, may I add negative attention, merely a curiosity. Everyone was friendly, eager to try out their English, and patient enough to listen and try and understand our limited Chinese. They happily posed for photos, and didn't object to me taking a lot of random photos. There was a great atmosphere, it was noisy, bustling,  and I really enjoyed being there.




I enjoy getting out of the city centre and out and about to places where the ex pats seldom go, although I am planning a girl's day out to the market in the near future. I know a few of my friends would also enjoy the experience we had. It is a safe and friendly environment, and maybe as Westerners we pay a little more than the locals, I don't really object as long as I feel I get value for money. These people are working very hard, and very long hours to put the fish on to the tables of restaurants not only in Shanghai but all over China, and I am sure to other parts of the world, so a few extra RMB's doesn't really hurt. 


 
So ever since Saturday night I have had my head buried in all my fish cook books, and hope to soon cook a seafood feast here at home. Of course I will have a few friends along to hopefully enjoy the evening with us.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

DISH of the WEEK

This week's dish is a bit different from usual, as this week it is actually something I have eaten.

Did I like it? Wasn't the worst thing I've eaten.

Will I eat it again? Think maybe I'll give it another go at some point.

Was it what I had expected? No.



What was the subject of this blog? SPICY BULLFROG!

What I didn't know was it is not just the legs they eat here, they eat all of the frog, and unfortunately I pulled out a piece of the body which was pretty grisly. As it was really spicy the taste was mainly a peppery one..
Next time I'll try and hook a leg.