Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SCOTS in SHANGHAI

Saturday night saw us "amongst oor ain folk". We were attending an evening hosted by a young couple who have fairly recently arrived in Shanghai. The get together was to bring Scots they had met together, to eat, drink and be merry, which as Scots we can do very well. An evening like this was bound to be a success.



I have to say we were not all Scots, an Irish couple had slipped through the net! I think they qualified as fellow Celts, and the host himself was only there because of his Scottish connection, his fiance, so we really had to accept him, and a couple of English ladies, with Scottish husbands, into the fold. Everyone warmly welcomed only criteria, have fun. And we all did.





Our hosts had done a wonderful job of pulling it all together, not just the assembled company, but also the delicious Scottish fare on offer. People had brought along various Scottish dishes and the hostess had worked really hard to produce some delicious food. I had taken along Scotch eggs, always a favourite, and some tablet  http://thecelticcook.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=tablet click on this for recipe.
However I was not alone in producing tablet, but there is never such a thing a too much, so I'm sure as the week went on the supply grew smaller. There was soup, a good wholesome broth, shepherds pie, stovies, an Irish stew, and a bowl of turnips, Shanghai style. Not a bad thing, they were delicious. It is just that some things are not so easy to track down here and sometimes you have to be prepared to compromise. But as far as I could tell it was a turnip dish, okay maybe a few varieties but pulled together tasted good. An attempt had been made to recreate the famous "square sausage" I did not get around to tasting it, but as people were tucking into rolls filled with it there didn't seem to be much wrong with it. There were even tattie scones and skirlie on offer.




The table groaned with a good old Scottish "Bill of Fayre" and everyone got stuck in. Desserts were also on offer, apple crumble, pancakes and jam to name but a few. I'm full thinking about it. "Fu tae burstin' " as a Scot might say, or as we are in China perhaps we should be saying, "wo chi bao le" A truly international blog today folks! 

Anyway, wine, food and conversation flowed. New aquaintances were forged and business cards exchanged. I am sure we will be spending more time with some of these people as our paths cross during our time in Shanghai. There is a comfort in chatting with people who know how you think, know where you come from, and are accepting of new cultures, not only of accepting but embracing them. We shared with these people the experience of living far from home,  the fun and challenges that go hand in hand with it. Until you have done this it is difficult to understand, and for a few hours on a Saturday night in Shanghai we were all able to share tales of here and of home. 

So a big thank you to our hosts. To organise this after such a short time here tells me that they will fit in. You have to put yourself out there and make the best of your time here and this was a great way of doing that. I'm sure many invites will come their way.

I had only one slight regret about the evening. 
And that was I had decided to wear my tartan shoes in celebration of the Scottish night.
6" heels + 4 hours standing = "sair feet" 
"Hell mend you" I can hear my mother say.  Fellow Scots will I'm sure know this phrase.


So a big thank you to our kind hosts. Here's to many more nights like this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AUTUMN in SHANGHAI

Today is a beautiful day here in Shanghai. The sun is shining, the skies are blue and it is a perfect cool 16c. The hot humidity of summer has gone leaving everyone feeling more comfortable. The trees are still green, which feels strange but there is a definite feel of Autumn.

This is the time of year I love. I love being able to pull on woolies and to feel cozy and warm. Especially at night when outside it is much chillier and I can cozy up with my magazines, a good book, DVD or on the rare occasion when there is something worth watching on the TV. I feel so happy at this time of the year.

However I do miss being at home. I don't miss the rain and grey skies, but I do miss beautiful colours of the trees and the build up to Christmas, which will now be well under way at the moment. Here of course there is no Christmas, but there are signs of some places cashing in on the ex pats love of this time. Not too much, but a hint of the commercial side of this holiday.

One thing I love to do on these cooler nights is to get back into the kitchen and start cooking some homely warming dishes. Often in summer it is just too hot to put the cooker on. Hard to believe I know but can be the case.

So not quite cold enough for stews and thick soups, but I have made a few delicious soups and look forward to a nice big stew cooking away all day in the slow cooker. I love the smell when I come home and the house and is filled with a nice aroma of supper. I think smells are the one thing that stimulates the brain most. Smells can transport me back into my Gran's kitchen, to Mum's kitchen on baking day and even back to the school dining room. All very evocative of good times. Great memories all prompted by the smell of cooking.

Anyway it was a creamy risotto I turned to this week. A nice comforting dish to be had any time of the year. But as the mushrooms were looking so good at the market this week a risotto seemed the obvious dish.

I choose a big bag of different kinds and set off home to make supper. I knew this dish would please my husband. One of his favourites.

I used to be afraid of attempting risottos, but once you make a few then you realise just how easy it is.

I cannot buy arborio rice here but with so many choices I chose one which looked much like the one I use at home. I knew as long as I could get the starch out of it then I would be fine.

A splash of oil, a finely chopped onion, a small glass of wine and some gently boiling stock was all I needed.

 

I gently sweated the onion before adding the rice. I stirred to coat it in oil the added the glass of wine and stirred until it evaporated. I then started to add the stock a cup at a time all the while stirring gently, coaxing it into a nice creamy dish. There should still be a bit of a bite in the centre of the rice, so constant tasting is essential.


I fry the mushrooms in a splash of oil and knob of butter. I also season them well with salt and pepper. Once the rice is ready I season it then add the cooked mushrooms. Mixing it all together.


To finish off I sometimes add a handful of grated parmesan, or to make it a really special and extra creamy a spoonful of marscapone will do the trick. This is for special suppers only, not for mid week nights.


So soon we were tucking into a nice bowl of risotto and of course nothing to do but drink the rest of the wine which I had used to cook with. We both enjoyed it. The mushrooms were really earthy and delicious. A very satisfying supper indeed.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

CHINESE COOKING CLASS

Yesterday I went to my first Chinese cooking class. Although I do what I can at home I wanted to check out the real way to cook good Chinese food. We were a group of 10, two celts, two Germans and the rest of the group were American. Our teacher, Mike, was in fact Korean, and not Chinese, so were were truly a multi cultural group.


The class started with a trip to a wet market, much like the one I use, only this one was much bigger. Mike helped out answering our question on some of the more unusual fruits and vegetables, giving us tips on how to prepare and cook them. I love being able to but fresh bamboo shoots, fresh dates and fresh water chestnuts. It's great to see all the rows of neatly arranged produce just waiting to be be turned into something delicious. 

Then on past the rows of rice. So many different kinds, one good for sticky rice, another better for fried one for boiled, it goes on and on. I am still experimenting with the different types. It seems they all turn out to be sticky by the time I've cooked them. I'll crack it eventually.


No hard sell here. "Man,man lai" is a phrase they use here which means take it easy, and I think the person photographed here is taking the advice very seriously. Anyway a group of foreigners are probably not going to be his biggest buyers today.


We continued our trip around the market, finding new and interesting things around every corner. Some of the things and smells not so pleasant. But you kind of get used to that here, and it doesn't bother me as it did in the beginning, although  few of the ladies were very new to Shanghai and found some things very difficult to deal with. I know it's not how we do things in the west, but it's not so long ago you would find live chickens at markets and be able to buy parts we no longer use, although it seems there is a new revival of nose to tail eating. Easy to find that here.


YES LIVE PIGEONS FOR SALE................
 AND YES BELOW IS A SELECTION OF BIRD HEADS FOR YOUR DELECTATION


My husband had duck head for lunch this week, not sure why. He said it tasted fine but here wasn't much eating in it. Really! A big part of the Chinese enjoyment of food it chewing and sucking on bones. Not for me, especially when they are spat out on to the table in front of you. There are things here which I don't think I'll ever get really used to. But it is all a great experience, one I would not have missed.

So as we wandered around, a group of women many meeting each other for the first time, we had fun getting to know each other. Finding what had brought us all to this amazing city, mostly our husbands! We were a group of lucky ladies looking for things to do in our adopted city, and there is never a shortage of things to do. I find the thing is there is almost too much to do, and to see. So meeting at this class meant from the get go we all had something in common, a love of cooking, or for eating, and most of all a wish to become more familiar with the cuisine of Shanghai.


Soon were all back in the kitchen, chopping and preparing. Mike had good English and explained the dishes well. We were cooking Shanghai Noodles, Spicy Green Beans and Mike would demonstrate a Spicy Chicken Stir Fry. It always amazes me at just how few condiments and spices are used to produce the amazing flavours. Garlic, ginger, dried chillies, light and dark soy sauce, pinch of sugar and salt and a shake of pepper are the only flavourings we used. Although in the Shanghai Noodle dish we did put a pinch of five spice. I am always surprised at how few spices are actually used to produce such wonderful flavours.


The green beans were the first dish produced and we all tucked into them. It was surprising how all the dishes tasted a little different depending on how much of the various spices we added. But they all tasted good.



So the afternoon progressed, we were creating new dishes and at the same time making new friendships. I was a great afternoon. All too soon it was time to go our separate  ways. We had all gained an insight into new ways of cooking. Some of us would be trying out these dishes as soon as we could. Some of us would probably never cook them, but had enjoyed the company and the fun of the day spent in the company of like minded women. We will probably meet up again at various events and classes, some of us will have made new friend. But whatever people get out of these events one thing is for sure is that they are always fun.


So thank you ladies, and thank you Mike for helping make my time in Shanghai a great one, and for creating another memory of my time spent here. 
Cheers!