Thursday, October 5, 2017

GOLDEN WEEK

This week is a big holiday not only in Shanghai but China. It is the time to look forward to a good harvest next year and to give thanks for this year's crop. A bit like our own Harvest Festival. It is a time when many millions of people head home for the holiday, a time when I really want to stay at home away from the mayhem and chaos.


It is also the time when people give mooncakes (yue bing) as gifts. These come in amazing boxes, from simple to the most elaborate. Hotels, shops and restaurants all have their own, with their logos on them. I love the boxes, what's in them not so much! They look to an untrained eye a bit like a pork pie, so far so good, and then you bite into them, at least if you are new to them, anyone in the know will first of all cut into them to establish the filling. Generally it will be a bean paste, red or green, or some kind of preserved fruit,  perhaps a pork mixture bringing it back into the pork pie category but this is all random. I'm sure somewhere it is indicated but so far I have not been able to tell. So I have to admit that my course of action is complete avoidance of the offending offering. I really do not care for the flavour or the texture of the fillings, and the texture is such an important factor for me. Anything I don't like will usually because of texture not flavour.
However, I love the boxes and use them for storing my craft items. Some come with drawers which is perfect for what  I use them for. The mooncakes? generally re-gifted. Sorry!





You can buy beautiful mooncake moulds to fashion the top of your own homemade cakes and these I love. They will be perfect for biscuits and shortbread when I return home. The moulds are wooden and come in many different designs. I am sure they all have some significance but sadly I have not established just what they all mean. Something to get on to.


This will be my last Moon Festival here. Perhaps on my return home I can start a tradition in the family of making shortbread with the moulds at this time of the year, something which will always remind me of my time here in China and something that hopefully can be passed on to future generations. In theory This sounds a wonderful idea, in reality? Well who can tell. I'll get the grandchildren onto it next October.



                                            HAPPY MOON FESTIVAL EVERYONE

Saturday, September 23, 2017

FRIENDS to STAY in SHANGHAI

I have had visitors staying with me for the last two weeks and as usual when they leave the place seems so quiet. With my husband being out of town it's even quieter. It was a wonderful two weeks and I really enjoyed not only showing them around Shanghai, but also going along on their trip to Beijing. It's amazing how showing people around opens up your eyes again to the city. I guess having been here for over five years now the sights and sounds which were all so exciting in the beginning have become normal to me. I'd forgotten how scary it is crossing the roads with traffic coming in all directions, and of course now the weird and wonderful stuff on sale in the supermarkets don't even register with me any more. But with friends seeing it for the first time it brought those early days all back.

A trip to the supermarket opened their eyes. Not everyday you see snakes, turtles and frogs, all alive, on sale. Something tells me they don't particularly want to see it again.

Having the second tallest building in the world right outside the window took their breath away and they were soon loving wandering through "my Shanghai",  getting a glimpse of my life.




Strolling along the river on what was a beautiful sunny day soon I was feeling as if I was on holiday too. Shanghai is a really amazing city to visit, and to have been fortunate enough to have been able to live here is quite unbelievable. I have been so lucky and so happy to have been able to share it with family and friends who have visited. It always good to see people from home.



The food of course is a huge part of life here and after initial fears about using chopsticks (kuaizi) they soon got the hang of it and tried all that was on offer. We ate all kinds of foods, not only Chinese and they enjoyed it all I'm glad to say.


Empty plates testifying to the fact that the Chinese cuisine was embraced.


Our trip to Beijing started off at a very busy and mesmerising train station. We were catching the Bullet train which would whisk us all the way to Beijing in five hours at speeds of 310km per hour!. It left on time and arrived on time. Soon we were enjoying all Beijing had to offer. The Great Wall was first on the agenda. It's about 3 hours outside of the city but well worth the trip. It didn't fail to impress. A cablecar ride up and down made it not quite a strenuous as it might have been. I cannot in my wildest imagination think about how they built it.


Of course The Forbidden City and Tian'anmen are other attractions you can't miss when in Beijing and we were certainly not going to miss them.



A trip to the night market and a search for a Peking Duck restaurant was next on our agenda. Turned out it was just around the corner from the hotel! We wandered along the market and decided against eating anything that looked remotely like an insect, and certainly nothing that was still wriggling around. We enjoyed all the sights and smells of this bustling street.



Finally we arrived at the restaurant and were able tho enjoy delicious duck, carved at the table, and managed it all with chopsticks. 



It was a great trip and I was so happy to have gone along.
I think I can say that my friends enjoyed their China trip and they certainly embraced all that was on offer. I certainly enjoyed sharing a little part of my life with them. 
However started to think they were getting a bit too comfortable and feeling to much at home LOL!



My time in Shanghai is now beginning to run out. I'll be home next year, so in the months I have left I must make the best of it. It is a wonderful life here, although most certainly not a normal life. I  always knew it was temporary but that only made me embrace it even more. I'm sure there more fun and strange adventures still to come. I wait with baited breath.









Monday, August 14, 2017

A TRIP to INDIA

I have just returned from an amazing trip to India, to Agra to, see the Taj Mahal. It is something I have always wanted to visit since I first learned about it at school, many, many years ago!
Finally I got there and I was not disappointed. I was staying in an hotel, The Oberoi, which was located 600m from the Taj Mahal. Imagine my delight when the door to our terrace was opened there it was right in front of me. It was perfect, and I was so happy. Getting up at 4-30am to see the sun rise over the the Taj was no hardship. At this time it wasn't so busy and there were lots of opportunities to take photos. Of which I took many! I was just so happy to be here at last. I never imagined as I listened in school about it that one day I would actually be there. I realise how lucky I am being able to achieve this long time wish.



As if that wasn't enough the hotel was amazing. And on the first night we ate a wonderful Indian meal. The staff were so friendly and willing to chat about the food and the preparation which suited me just fine. I was in heaven.



To top off a wonderful evening I was invited to tour the kitchen. Here I met the chefs, saw all the preparation areas. The tandoori ovens were so hot I could barely stand in the room. I was told the chefs who work there only work for 20 minutes at a time. I am not surprised. I was given a demonstration on how to make kebabs from one of the chefs. My holiday was just getting better and better. 



                       It really was interesting seeing how the orders came into the 
kitchen, including the room service orders, and how they were dealt with. Everything was laid out ready to go when the food was ready. Trays, trolleys and all the sundries which  
come with your food were arranged to make the process as quick and simple as possible. No scurrying around trying to find milk jug, spoon or a napkin here. 
I never thought about how the food gets to the room before, about how many people were involved in it arriving hot and delicious. From the person sitting in a little glass box taking the orders by phone to the person setting up the trolley and trays, not forgetting the chefs involved in cooking it and finally the person delivering it to your room. All very efficient. I will never eat a meal in an hotel room again without thinking about what goes on behind the scenes.




Meeting the chefs was really good. However, I did notice there were no females cooking here. A few in the background of the kitchen but not doing any of the top jobs. When it was time to leave I was given a box of spices which when blended together would make a garam masala mix and told to call if I ever needed any information or help. This amazed me, but don't think I'll put it to the test. I have still to use the mix but I will in the near future. I don't expect to produce the delicious food I was served in The Oberoi, but it will bring back lots of wonderful memories my holiday. 

Travel and Food, two of my favourite things, and with both highlights of this holiday I can say it was one of the best trips I have taken.
I am one very lucky lady.

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.





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