Wednesday, April 12, 2017

MORTAR and PESTLE ENVY

For those of you who read my blog you will know I have recently been on a Thai cooking class. Lots of fun and lots of good information, but the highlight of the class was the wonderful mortar and pestle  that was being used. It was wooden, large and very beautiful. I had M&P envy!


The dressing was made in this then the salad ingredients added and the whole thing was put in the centre of the table. I so needed one!


It had been bought in Thailand but was assured they could be purchased online here in China. Taobao which is the Chinese equivalent of Amazon was where I would find it. However, trying to navigate it is not so easy but luckily my husband has someone at work who helps out with it when necessary. 
Three days later the box arrives, I am so excited. Box does seem somewhat large but guessed there was a lot of packaging protecting it. When I finally got to open I was in for quite a surprise.
It was huge, and I mean really huge! Barely able to lift it out of the box I couldn't stop laughing at the size of it. 


It was beautiful, there was no doubting that, but I think my envy had come back to bite me. The mortar is like a small baseball bat and if I ever use it I will have to stand on a box to reach up to it. 
As you can see in the photo below it will take some dexterity and strength to ever actually use it. 


Wherever it ends up it will be a great conversation piece and a wonderful memory from my time spent in China, but most of a lesson on envying another person's mortar and pestle lol.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FRENCH ONION SOUP

On a night out my husband ordered the French onion Soup. His comment was, "Why don't you make this anymore, I really like it."
What he said was very true, I used to make it, quite regularly but couldn't quite remember the last time I had put it on the table. It was obviously some time ago.

So like the good wife I am I decided to make it for him returning from a business trip. He had been out of town all week so this would make hime feel glad to be back.

No sooner had I started to prepare it than the reason that it wasn't on the menu quite so often soon became apparent. The onion chopping! Once that was over it wasn't so bad. However, I made one big error which was silly, obviously not thinking as I coloured the onions I added salt. Wrong thing to do! So instead of colouring nicely they sweated and stayed pale. Salt just draws the water out. Still it would still taste good just not a deep brown colour I was after.


I had no beef stock so I used a Knorr gel stock cube. I would rather have my own stock but I knew this would work ok. Soon the onions and garlic had sweated down, pale but soft. I added the stock and some white wine, with a bit of seasoning it was well on the way to being a tasty supper.

I decided to make croutons for the top instead go using a slice of bread. I think this makes it a bit more manageable to eat. So the croutons toasted in the oven as the soup cooked. I cook the soup very slowly to let flavours develop. I leave it for a good hour on a very low heat. Once ready and seasoning tested I add a splash of brandy to it. This really ramps up the flavour.
So once in the bowls, topped with croutons and grated gruyere and grilled it was ready to go.


I had forgotten just how much I liked it and I will be making it again soon. Back on the menu.

RECIPE
750g onions sliced
2 tsps olive oil, 50g butter
2 crushed garlic garlic cloves
1/2 tsp sugar
1.5 litres beef stock
275 mls white wine
salt and pepper

CROUTONS
cubes of bread coated in olive oil and toasted in the oven until crisp

Fry onions, garlic and sugar in oil/butter mix over a low heat until softened, around 30 minutes. Don't worry if they brown and catch at the edges, this will add flavour.
Once softened add stock and white wine and seasoning then stir until you have all the bits scraped from the pan. Bring up to a simmer then turn down and cover and cook on a low heat for around 1 hour. At this stage it is ready to be put into bowls. You can if you wish add a glut of brandy to the pan. Add croutons and grated gruyere cheese and sit under a hot grill until melted.

So going forward I will need to make sure I don't let this soup fall off the favourites list, and maybe I should bring out food processor to help with the onion slicing, although, on reflection it wasn't that bad. Not worth giving up the recipe for.




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

COOKING CLASSES

If you read my blog regularly then you will know a lot of my life in Shanghai is spent in the company of food! With regular breakfast, coffee and lunch groups, add to that dinner invitations and just the general lure of all the fantastic food on offer here it's not really surprising that this is the case.

With my love of not only sampling all that's on offer, but also of shopping for ingredients, which sometimes can be a bit of a challenge, but something that has got much easier here during my almost five years in Shanghai.

Online shopping allows you to buy almost anything you want but something I resist. I don't think you can beat actually seeing the produce before you buy, and by shopping online, which some ex pats do almost exclusively, I think you miss out on a lot of interesting produce. Also I'm not sure how organic the produce sold online here is, it doesn't have the strict rules applied to it as they have in other countries. So for now local wet markets and stores with trips to more international stores is how I shop.

I also love to cook, and actually I do cook most week nights, contrary to popular belief. I cook everything from Chinese to Indian with Thai/Asian Italian with of course good old home cooking in the mix.
When I saw a Thai cooking class I thought I'd go along. A couple of girls I knew joined me and it was all the more fun as there was no clearing up afterwards. I have cooked Thai and didn't really learn anything I didn't know but really that wasn't the main reason for going along. It's always nice to meet new people and this was an interesting group of beginners to people who could cook. One lady was only there so she could teach her maid how to do it! Not sure why she didn't just send the maid along.


Payal, the teacher was a lovely friendly Indian lady. She obviously enjoys passing on her skills, not only in Indian cooking, but also Thai cooking. For beginners she was very informative and made it all very simple. Everyone went away with the knowledge and confidence to try it themselves. Sometimes cooking classes are good for the experienced cook, assuming you have a level of knowledge, others are condescending but Payal hit the mark just right keeping everyone involved at whatever level they were comfortable with.



Above shows my friend Ros preparing the papaya salad and being given lots of helpful advice from someone who I believe was a non cook at the start of the class. As well as the salad we were shown how to make a lemon chicken and flatbreads. I love papaya salad and this was a good one. The chicken and flatbreads were delicious too. 


I have just taken some chicken from the freezer and plan to make this tomorrow. 
I am so pleased I went along as it was such a nice group of ladies and of course we were all there for the same reason, our love of food.

Payal had the most beautiful pestle and mortar I've ever seen. It was a large, very large, wooden one. She had bought it in Thailand but apparently it is available online, so I have to search it out. She served the papaya salad in it on  the table. It looked great. Want One!


I'm sure you cooks out there will agree it is a thing of beauty. I look forward to adding one to my kitchen soon.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MICHELIN STAR v LOCAL CAFE

One of the big advantages of living here in Shanghai is all the wonderful food opportunities on offer. Every day new places are opening, and closing. With so much choice there is no place for anywhere not coming up to standard. There is everything from Michelin starred restaurants to hole in the wall and street food carts, all in their own way selling delicious food.

A few weeks ago I found myself, in one week eating at both ends of the spectrum, and both were for different reasons worth this blog.

Firstly on Valentine's Night my husband had very kindly booked the Michelin Star Phenix Restaurant in the Puli Hotel for our romanic evening. The set menu was very tempting indeed.
So it was with much anticipation we arrived at the restaurant.

Food was indeed delicious, and with an a wine pairing alongside we had nothing to complain about. Well apart from the fact I opted out of wine pairing and settled on one glass champagne, as was on the pairings list, and was charged more than half the price of having a wine with each of five courses. Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label 

However, down to the food.

Belon Oysters, plump and delicious. followed by a trio of dishes, foie gras, confit of smoked salmon with apples sorrel and horseradish, and finally a plate of perfectly cooked carrots with format blanc sorrel and dukkah. It was all very tasty but somehow the carrots just didn't seem to fit into the picture.




Soup was a creamy jerusalem artichoke and vanilla with scallop, date and burnt butter. I really enjoyed this but it did make me giggle as I am sure you know this vegetable is better known as "fartichoke" because of the effects it has. Surely not a great choice for a romantic dinner. 


Braised and roast Angus beef with parsnip, watercress and shallots was served for mains. Beef was so tender it just melted. Needs no more explanation.


Finally for dessert it was described as compressed strawberries, strawberry granite, yoghurt chantilly and basil. Once again delicious but really just a plate of chopped strawberries with yoghurt and granita. The basil really added to the dish.


So all in all a wonderful meal. However, service was swift and we had to ask them to slow down. There was not a red rose or rose petal to be seen and not a candle to add a romanic theme to the restaurant. It was so quiet with no ambiance. So although food was good we did feel let down by the Valentine Special Menu it seemed just a way to fill the restaurant on a Tuesday night in February.
With tax and service charge this was not a cheap option. Worth it? I'm not so sure. 

Roll on a few days and we were eating lunch at a local restaurant, only a few hundred metres from my home. 
Here we enjoyed various dumpling dishes, steamed and fried a very tasty soup with dumplings. Dumlings are big here in Shanghai as you may have realised. It was hot tasty and served with a smile. The menu was all in Chinese but one waitress was very happy to try and help us. The restaurant was bustling and noisy and we didn't feel at all self conscious about being the only Western people there, we were made very welcome.





Here we ate well for less than 5 pounds. Cheap, cheerful but delicious.
I think we will be making regular trips here. 
Great having so many choices and goes to prove sometimes the most expensive doesn't always make for the best experience.





https://www.veuveclicquot.com

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.