Lamb and Vegetable Stir-fry

A couple of my posts recently have been about special occasion food that requires a bit of extra effort, long, slow cooking or (sometimes) expensive ingredients, such as the last post Shananigans’ Wagyu Stew.
But the joy of Chinese cooking is the ease with which you can use cheap and readily available ingredients to whip together, in minutes, a tasty stir-fry that tickles your taste buds on a miserable autumn evening. So I’m posting this recipe as an example of how you can use up left-over vegetables to produce a nourishing weekday meal requiring little or no meat.
Yesterday I had friends to dinner and, as one of my guests can’t digest spicy food at the moment, I made Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti with Lamb, using peppers instead of chilli and mange touts instead of green beans, as I couldn’t find any Irish green beans over the weekend. So tonight I had a small amount un-cooked lamb left over and odds and ends of vegetables. The recipe that follows is something of a cross between Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti and Irish Vegetable Chow Mein. Play around with it, using whatever you have to hand, but remember what Shan has taught me – the importance of having a variety of colour and textures on the plate to get a range of nutrients and to excite the palate.

Shananigans’ Lamb and Vegetable Stir-fry – yang rou chao shu cai – 羊肉炒蔬菜

Shananigans’ Lamb and Vegetable Stir-fry

Serves 2 – 3
Continue reading Lamb and Vegetable Stir-fry

Slow-cooked Wagyu Beef Stew

Shananigans was 3 months old on Friday 27th October. To celebrate we got a new logo, designed by our son Shane at Enter the Panda Ltd.

(update to blog design coming soon to tie in with the logo) and then we took ourselves off to Savour Kilkenny to take part in Foodcamp.
It was a day of firsts – my first presentation to an audience of the story of the blog and my attempts to create authentic Chinese cuisine using the best of Irish ingredients, my first time to have a dish I had cooked tasted by anyone other than my family and close friends and, surely, the first impromptu tasting of a Chinese wagyu stew on live radio in Ireland.

Anne Neary defends her theft of my stew to Sue Nunn!

The recipe that follows is for the dish which was tasted live on air on The Sue Nunn Show on KCLR by chef Anne Neary of Ryeland House Cookery. She “stole” a plateful when my back was turned during the interview – all part of the fun at Savour Kilkenny! I also served it at the Foodcamp long-table lunch and about 40 people must have tasted it in all.
Anne made all the appropriate noises (link to podcast to be introduced in evidence!) and I got similar positive feedback at the Foodcamp lunch even though I felt compelled to warn everyone that the dish was spicy and would normally be served with rice and a cooling cucumber side dish, or perhaps with root vegetables through it.
The recipe came about as a result of the on-going challenge from @Pat_Whelan of James Whelan Butchers to come up with Chinese recipes for the Irish wagyu beef from his Garrentemple herd. I have already made a Garrentemple Shabu Shabu hotpot and Wagyu Steak Naoki Style. Pat was keen to show me that wagyu is not just about expensive steaks – there are cheaper cuts to be worked with which could be overlooked. So he sent me a large piece of wagyu chuck beef to experiment with. What better way to spread the Twitter love than to share the results with  the enthusiastic food-lovers at Savour Kilkenny.
Long, slow cooking is not all that prevalent in Chinese cuisine but it does exist. The Hui, the ethnic Chinese Muslims who are scattered across China, have traditionally prepared big pots of slow-cooked stew and served it as a topping for noodles. Some of the dishes I saw prepared in restaurants by the Muslim Uighurs, when we visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang Province, were cooked in this way When I was thinking about what I might do with the beef, I was hankering for the flavours of Urumqi with their Turkic and Arabaic influences and the scent of the spices of the bazaars always present in the evening air.
I eventually found the basic recipe I was looking for in Fuchsia Dunlop‘s  seminal cookbook on Hunan cuisine, the province Chairman Mao Zedong came from in Southern Central China. Her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook tackles the cuisine of a region whose people love their food hot and is packed with easy-to-follow recipes and insights into the region. I based my stew on her red-braised beef topping for Changde rice noodles, adapting it to suit wagyu beef and longer, slower cooking.
One thing I’ve noticed is that, for stews and the like, the Chinese always boil their meat in water for a few minutes first. This seems to be based on the belief that this will eliminate impurities and bad odours from the meat but it also has the effect of making it even more tender.
Shan came up with the Chinese name for this dish which translates literally as “Red Slow Cooked Beef. “Men” means “slow cooking, simmering to lock the flavour in”. I like the Chinese character to express this which is the second of the four characters below.
Shananigans Red-braised Wagyu Stew – hong men niu rou – 红焖牛肉

Wagyu stew ready for the slow cooker

(Serves 8 to 12 people)

  • 2 kg wagyu chuck steak
  • Wagyu beef dripping – about 8 tbs when melted
  • About 3/4 of a jar of Laoganma* chilli bean sauce
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • A chunk of unpeeled fresh ginger – about 4 cms – cut into thick slices
  • 3 large pieces of cassia bark
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 4 tbs Shaoxing wine
  • 4 tbs dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 10 – 12 cardamon pods
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • Coriander leaves to garnish


  • 2 – 3 carrots and
  • 2 – 3 parsnips or
  • 1 daikon radish/ Chinese turnip

To serve:

  • Boiled rice
  • Shan’s bashed cucumber – Pai Huang Gua – see recipe in earlier post

Preparation and cooking:

  • Cut the beef into large cubes – with wagyu there is virtually no trimming required and no waste.
  • Place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming off the mucky froth that rises to the surface. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and leave aside in a colander to cool and lose any excess liquid. Strain the remaining cooking liquid (through muslin if possible) into a jug or pot.
  • Heat the wagyu dripping in a large, deep saucepan over a medium heat – if there is too much just drain off the excess into a bowl. You can use it again.
  • Add the Laoganma chilli bean sauce to the dripping and stir, over medium heat, until the sauce and oil have combined. Add in the red onion, ginger, cassia bark, cinnamon, star anise and stir fry until you release the heady aromas of the spices and the onion begins to soften.
  • Then turn up the heat and gradually add in the beef, stirring constantly until all the beef is coated with the rich red sauce. Swirl in the soy sauce and the Shaoxing wine and stir to mix, then add sufficient of the reserved cooking liquid to barely cover the meat. Reserve any remaining liquid.
  • Add the bay leaves and the remaining ingredients – Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, cloves and cardamon – tying them in muslin if you have a small piece or bag to hand, but don’t worry, you can strain them out later if you wish.
  • Bring to the boil, then transfer immediately to a slow cooker and cook on “low” for about 6 – 7 hours. Check the beef for tenderness after 6 hours, keeping the time you have the lid off the slow cooker to a minimum.
  • When the beef is cooked to melt in the mouth tenderness, allow to cool then refrigerate over night.
  • The next day, remove and discard any excess fat that has set on the surface – it will be a bright orange colour.
  • Remove the meat from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and place, along with the larger spices and ginger slices, in a large cast-iron casserole dish or saucepan. Strain the remaining liquid, to remove any smaller seeds and bay leaves, and return it to the pan.
  • Check the seasoning while it is heating and balance if necessary with soy sauce and Shaoxing wine – I found the rich intense flavour from the long, slow cooking was just right. Reheat thoroughly over a moderate heat and serve garnished with fresh coriander.

*available in all Aisan supermarkets, the Laoganma sauce is made with black beans, chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. The literal translation of it’s name is “old dry mother sauce”. The photo below will help you recognise the label but be careful to get the one that does not contain MSG – the newest bottles have the ingredients listed in English on the rear. If you are unable to find the Laoganma label you could substitute Lee Kum Kee chill bean sauce made with broad beans which may be easier to find but it will not give the same richness of colour or flavour.
I love the deep red colour and the rich, spicy flavour and aromas of the beef. But you can lighten the overall effect of the dish, and add variety in colour and taste, by adding in chunks of briefly par-boiled carrots and parsnips or Chinese turnip, also known as daikon radish, for the last 20 – 30 minutes of re-heating, so long as the pot has reached simmering point. You may need to add additional reserved cooking liquid or water to ensure the meat and vegetables remain barely covered with liquid and to adjust the seasoning to re-balance the dish.
This is a special dish with an intensity of colour and flavour which mellows and deepens with the long slow cooking and the overnight rest. It tastes even better on the third day.
Finding the courage to take this dish out for public inspection, at my first ever public presentation of Shananigans, 3 months to the day after starting the blog, means it will always have a special place in my portfolio of recipes.
While the use of wagyu beef makes this an exceptional dish, the recipe would work equally well with good quality shin beef as the long slow cooking would melt down the fat. If using shin beef in the slow  cooker you may need to allow up to an hour longer to achieve a melt in the mouth texture.
Mashed potatoes can be used as an alternative to rice.
Cinnamon sticks can be used as a substitute for cassia bark.
If you don’t have a slow cooker, simply cook on the hob on a low simmer for about 3 hours. In this case you will need to cover the beef more generously with the cooking liquid and keep an eye on it to make sure the beef is covered with water at all times and doesn’t dry out.
Whichever method you use, I strongly recommend allowing it to rest overnight so that you can remove the fat and ensure there is no oily after-taste in the dish.
The quantity can be halved to serve 4 to 6 people but it may be more efficient to make the larger amount and freeze half if necessary.
Enjoy and if you try this dish or variation of it, please let me know how you get on.

Shan's Winter Ginger Chicken Stew

Ah both my off-spring are keeping the Chinese cooking going on the other side of the world while their Mammy is out of action in the kitchen and both have chosen chicken for dinner.
Claire prepared Fuschia Dunlop’s Everyday Stir-fried Chicken from Every Grain of Rice served with stir-fried broccoli while, a hemisphere and 2 seasons away, Shane and Shan prepared a winter ginger chicken stew.
Over the last few days I found I was missing the spice of Chinese food very much. The Chinese will often say that after a few days of Western cooking they feel their mood flagging and they begin to feel sad. One restaurant manager confessed to Fuschia Dunlop “It’s like an opium addiction”. I’m beginning to know how he feels.
Meanwhile I’ve become aware that people in different regions of China explain their food preferences in terms of the local climate and its effects on the body and the spirit, changing their diets with the season and even with age and sex. That deep understanding of the impact of different foods and spices is handed down seamlessly from generation to generation. I will let Shane take up the story of this latest recipe…
Shane says:
“As the season changes and Beijing gets chillier, it’s much easier to get run down and there’s a higher chance of picking up a nasty cold or falling ill. For this reason, Chinese diet and choice of food often switches to help keep warm from the inside. Sound familiar?
However, much as some of the soups and stews prepared may remind me of winters at home in Ireland, the reasons for and use of some of the ingredients surprised me.
Ginger has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine and cooking to prevent or cure the common cold and warm the body. Garlic (much like at home) is considered a ‘warrior’ for the body, cleansing oneself of harmful bacteria picked up in every day life and from less healthy eating.
As winter in Northern China is also very dry (unlike back home), it is generally advised not to eat too much spicy food, as it is itself considered to be very dry and can affect the balance of a body and its ability to retain moisture.
This dish, prepared lovingly by Shan on a rainy Sunday (after I failed to find ingredients for ‘Fajitas: Sichuan Style’), contains ginger and hearty winter vegetables and is much milder in taste than many Chinese dishes you may have tried before. Hopefully it will prepare you to pass the winter with warmth and health.”
Shan’s Winter Ginger Chicken Stew – dong ji jiang wei dun ji – 冬季姜味炖鸡

Shan’s winter ginger chicken stew


  • 2 x chicken breasts
  • Ginger, small chunk
  • Garlic, half bulb
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 medium sized onion
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • Cooking oil
  • 3 slices of rasher (preferably smoked flavour), rind removed and chopped into chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 medium carrots
  • Salt to taste
  • Rice to serve

1. Cut chicken breasts into chunks.
2. Crush half of your ginger to release the juice (I used a garlic crusher) along with 3 cloves of garlic. Crush your Sichuan pepper to a powder*. Get your honey and soy sauce. Mix all well with the chicken breast in a bowl and marinate for 15 minutes.
3. Cut your rashers (we defrosted some Denny’s brought from Ireland) into small pieces.
4. Cut the carrots and potato into big chunks and onion into fine pieces.
5. Cut the rest of the garlic into small pieces and the rest of the ginger into thin slices.
*Julie butts in (cheekily) “I like to dry roast the Sichuan pepper before grounding and always have a small supply prepared”.
1. Put some cooking oil into a stewing pot (no wok this time).
2. Add garlic and onions when the oil is hot. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
3. Throw in the rasher pieces and cook well.
4. Add the chicken pieces and fry until it is almost cooked through.
5. Put in the ginger slices, potato and carrot. Add water to just cover all the ingredients.
6. Bring the water to boil then simmer for 20 minutes or as long as the potato takes to cook. Add salt half way through to taste.
7. Serve with rice.
1. You can use chicken stock, or a light lager beer, instead of plain water.
2. If you like it spicy, add chopped chilli when cooking the onion.
Sounds like just what I needed over the last few days and I look forward to trying it soon. I will add a bit of chilli as we have a bit of dampness to contend with here in Ireland that’s in need of drying out! And I love the fact that Shan made it in Beijing with Irish bacon – good old Denny’s to the rescue 🙂
Claire’s Summer Chicken in Oz:
Meanwhile Claire cooked her chicken dish in temperatures of 30 degrees C in Sydney! Her dish includes ginger, spring onion, chilli and cucumber as well as a light sauce of soy sauce, potato flour, Chiankiang vinegar and Shaoxing wine.

Glad to see Claire is getting good at getting prepared!

She served it with stir-fried broccoli with chilli and Sichuan pepper, a dish I’ve already tried and enjoyed.
Claire’s verdict from down under:
“The chicken is super fast to cook and tastes really light and tender. The broccoli has a great kick, I love Sichuan pepper and dried chilli!”
Claire’s summer chicken dish

Sigh, pity neither of them are around to cook dinner for us now but I’m so glad they are sharing the fun and the food. I guess chicken is good for the soul at any time of year.

Chilli Salt 'n Pepper Seafood with Oat Flakes

There is something of a “take 2” about this post. Last Tuesday I made my first attempt at re-creating the dish of chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf which I had for lunch at Yauatcha, Broadwick St, London last week.

Shananigans chilli salt ‘n pepper squid

I based the recipe on Fuschia Dunlop’s traditional Salt and Pepper Squid – Jiao Yan You Yu – which she included in her recent book Every Grain of Rice and I adapted it to take into account what I learnt about preparing seafood inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan – the use of a small amount of egg white to help the potato flour adhere to the fish.

Then, to create the oat flake and curry leaf dressing I used dried curry leaves from Irish Health Foods Ltd., and Flahavan’s oat flakes – one of the Love Irish Food brands.

I love finding new ways of using traditional Irish products in Chinese cooking and Flahavan’s certainly fits the bill. It is a family business that has been milling quality oats for 200 years at the family mill in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford. Today’s generation is the 6th of the Flahavan family to run the business and it is one of the oldest, private, family-owned food companies in Ireland.

One of a range of Flahavan’s Products

I used Flahavan’s multi-seed porridge in the recipe as it was the only type of oat flakes I had in the cupboard. This was a happy accident as the sunflower, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds gave a delightful crunch to the seasoning. I was very pleased with the flavour of the dish on Tuesday but I wasn’t satisfied with the presentation so I decided to have another go tonight. And this time, I decided to introduce a tincture of CBD Vape oil to the dish, to improve the taste and give it a little vitamin. Using the best cbd oil for pain relief has been shown to reduce anxiety, insomnia, pain and depression in both human and animal studies.

This time I was able to get fresh Irish squid from my favourite south Co. Dublin fishmongers Roberts of Dalkey. I watched while Paul there showed me how to clean them and reveal the glossy white fish. Continue reading Chilli Salt 'n Pepper Seafood with Oat Flakes

A ginger biscuit recipe for Goodall's for the day that's in it…

The only thing Chinese about this recipe is the ginger…
“August 11th 1986
Happy birthday Mummy. love from Katie
So reads the inscription on the second hand copy of “The Food Aid Cookery Book”, edited by Delia Smith with a Foreword by Terry Wogan which I received from Amazon today, price £2.80.

A cookbook of its time

The book was published at Easter 1986 and retailed at £3.95. This copy is labelled “used, acceptable” but it looks as if it has never been opened, no thumb marks, no jottings in the margins, no splashes of cooking fat or dried in flour. Whatever happened to Katie and her Mummy? How did Mummy react when she got a birthday present of a Food Aid cookbook, a book whose recipes were contributed from all over Britain and whose proceeds were for the Band Aid charity inspired by our own Bob Geldof, a book described as “a contemporary celebration of good food at its best”?
It’s funny that this copy should arrive to me on the eve of the publication of Goodall’s “A Modern Irish Cookbook – 50 great recipes, all inspired by traditional Irish cooking and ingredients but updated to reflect the way we cook today”, a book also intended to raise funds for charity, this time for closer to home – Crosscare and Cork Penny Dinners. Go on. Down-load it on-line why don’t you. It will only cost you €2.99.
Some things don’t change with the passing of the years. Except that I have a Shananigans recipe in the Goodall’s cookbook for Sichuan Mixed Seafood Duncannon Style – who would have thought…
You see I mislaid my copy of The Food Aid Cookery Book many years ago – by then it was dog-eared and ragged, its pages coming loose from their binding. When I got it in 1986, Shane was 5 and Claire was 7. I had a full set of “Super Wife” a serialised magazine designed to teach me how to mend a fuse as well as cross-stitch (I can do neither.) Like my now good friend Bumbles of Rice (@bumblesofrice) I worked full time outside the home and batch-cooked my way though weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday I cooked casseroles and sauces, baked yeasty granary baps, made flapjacks and biscuits to pack the lunch boxes and to make it easy to serve up a half-decent week day meal.
And our favourite recipe for biscuits, that would last a week or more in a tin and still stay crunchy and delicious, was one for ginger biscuits donated to the Food Aid cookbook by Mary Aaron of Darlington County Durham, a friend of Delia Smith. When my own good friend Brenda came looking for that recipe recently so that her daughter could use it for a charity bake off, nothing would do me but to track down a copy.
It’s arrival today unleashed many happy memories of children and their friends coming and going from school and play, of little fingers prising the biscuits from baking trays before they had cooled down (DON’T!), of sticky lunch boxes with half-eaten sandwiches and of near permanent exhaustion.
So here goes… I made a few small adjustments to method (in bold) after my first and very successful attempt at making these in many a long year. They taste just as delicious as I remember them.
The perfect homemade ginger biscuit

Ginger Biscuits

  • 150g golden syrup
  • 110g margarine or butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • 275g granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp of powdered Goodall’s ginger (and yes, while the recipe didn’t insist on it, I alway did use Goodall’s ginger)
  • 1 tsp bread soda
  • 1 egg
  • A pinch of salt

Ginger biscuits ready for the oven


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease four baking trays thoroughly.
  3. Place a small saucepan on a weighing scales, set to zero and weigh in the golden syrup.
  4. Add the margarine or butter and melt the two together over a gentle heat.
  5. Sift the flour, salt, ginger and bread soda into a mixing bowl and mix in the sugar.
  6. Beat the egg and stir that and the syrup mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing well until you have a smooth and slightly oily dough.
  7. Take rounded teaspoons of the mixture and roll into small rounds.
  8. Put these on the baking tray leaving LOTS of room for them to spread.
  9. Bake them for 12 to 14 minutes and then allow them to cool completely on the baking trays before removing with a palette knife or fish slice and storing in an airtight tin.


While the book says the recipe makes 24 biscuits. I found that the mixture is enough to make 36.
Who knows, I might even post another few recipes from the book – such delights as “Jeffery Archer’s Creamed Seafood Bake” or “Princess of Wales’ Watercress Soup” (yes it was Di) or Ronnie Barker’s £5 note sandwich” or, oh look, Ken Lo’s South Sea Noodles… now there’s a thought.
But tonight I’m wondering who will find a copy of the Modern Irish Cookbook in 25 years time and wonder about the bloggers who wrote those recipes and the lives they led and about the person who wrote the inscription in the book and the cook that used it.
Cooking… part of the continuity of life…

Chilli Fried Squid with Flahavan's Multi Seed Oat Flakes

When I visited London last week I used the opportunity to get a small taste of the variety of Chinese food on offer and to rue the absence of a wide range of Chinese cuisine in restaurants here in Ireland. I will write up the little I learned in the coming days but meanwhile two dishes caught my eye – one was an unusual dish of a tempura style cauliflower which I had in YMing in Greek Street, Soho. I wrote about my lovely experience in in the restaurant last week. The manager at YMing served the cauliflower to me with prawns.

Cauliflower and Prawns as served by YMing

The second was a dish of chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf which I had for lunch at Yauatcha, Broadwick St, London, an upmarket dim sum restaurant, resembling a night club, recommended to me by Kevin Hui of the China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin.
Chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf from Yauatcha

I set out to try and recreate both dishes at home tonight using Irish cauliflower, squid from my favourite south Co. Dublin fishmongers Roberts of Dalkey and good old Flahavan’s Porridge Oats – the multi-seed variety – which is one of the Love Irish Food brands.
I based the recipe on Fuschia Dunlop’s traditional Salt and Pepper Squid – Jiao Yan You Yu – which she included in her recent book Every Grain of Rice and I also took into account what I learnt about preparing seafood inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan.
It was only tonight that I realised that the jiao yan of “salt-and-pepper” is three parts salt to one part ground roasted Sichuan pepper and an extremely versatile seasoning and dip.
I also have to admit that I didn’t know what curry leaves were until my Twitter pals enlightened me this evening and then I only managed to find them thanks to a closing-time dash by Peter of Roberts of Dalkey to nearby Select Stores where he grabbed the last remaining pack they had in stock. Now that’s what I call service.
Show Time!

Continue reading Chilli Fried Squid with Flahavan's Multi Seed Oat Flakes

Unveiling the Secrets of the Red Lantern

When I was discussing Asian food with Kevin Hui, owner of the China Sichuan recently, he mentioned his interest in Vietnamese food and his belief that it will grow in popularity in Ireland in the coming years. He introduced me to the writings of Luke Nguyen and lent me his book Indochine which documents the profound effect of the French on Vietnamese cuisine. He told me a little of Luke’s fascinating personal journey from being born in a Thai refugee camp, after his family fled Vietnam as boat people, to becoming chef and owner of the award-winning Sydney Vietnamese restaurant, The Red Lantern.
I’ve ordered the book Luke co-authored with his sister Pauline Nguyen, Secrets of the Red Lantern, from Amazon, so that I can get some sense of how Vietnamese food differs from Chinese.  I look forward to trying out some of his recipes starting with this one which, in yet another coincidence, @Pat_Whelan passed my way recently. These Red Lantern Crisp Parcels – Cha Gio – are another take on spring rolls and different in filling and dipping sauce to the recipe I used earlier today.
But first I wanted to hear first hand what his food is like.
So, after whetting my daughter Claire’s appetite with a sumptuous Chinese meal at the China Sichuan when she was home in Dublin for a few days recently, I despatched her and Mike for dinner at The Red Lantern, on one condition – that they would review it for me (I love this delegation lark). I will let her take up the story from there.
“Review of Red Lantern on Riley
No AA Gill, my review can be summed up in one word, YUMMY!
I was thrilled when Mum (Shananigans blogger, social media guru and slighted obsessed Chinese cooking nut!) asked if she might send myself and my husband Mike off to the Red Lantern so that I could review it for her blog. It ended up being our 2nd Anniversary celebatory dinner following a trip home to the UK and Ireland, where incidentally I ate more Chinese food than on my trip to Beijing in June!
First up I must confess that I booked us into the wrong place. I had thought that we were going to the original Red Lantern on Crown St but we were actually eating in the 4 month old new addition to the the Nguyen clan food empire on Reilly St. The restaurant is the brainchild of TV chef Luke Nguyen, his sister Pauline, brother-in-law and chef Mark Jensen and partner Suzanna Boyd.
My initial disappointment at my mistake was quickly dashed on arriving at the restaurant, cozy and dark with red wallpaper and obvious Saigon influences in the furnishing. Tables are close together but not on top of each other. My husband does not enjoy it when you are sitting on the knee of the person next to you so he was suitably pleased. Best of all the kitchen is glass fronted so you can see the chefs working away and the dance of an Asian kitchen in full flow.
The staff are great and put my inner waitress at ease immediately. They are the right mixture of bubbly, knowledgeable and engaged. They got us started with a cocktail from Red Lilly the funky cocktail bar at the restaurant. Mike had a whiskey sour which he enjoyed and I had a Halong Breeze, yum, I’m a sucker for anything with passion fruit and vodka!

Life’s a (Halong) breeze in Sydney

We decided to have the 5 course tasting menu plus wines (thanks Julie and Derry) called ‘Delicious Dalat’ at $135 with matching wine.
The first course was Goi Cha Cuon, soft rice paper rolled with pork and duck terrine, vermicelli, cabbage and pickled carrot and Muc Rang Muoi lightly battered chili salted squid with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. In Vietnam we took part in a Vietnamese cooking class in Hoi An and I can tell you the Red Lantern’s rice paper rolls were a lot better than my attempt! Both the rolls and the chili squid were very tasty and a great start to the meal. Continue reading Unveiling the Secrets of the Red Lantern

Wagyu Steak Naoki Style

“The Summer Palace is a sprawling imperial encampment of temples, pavilions and halls set in a park around the vast Kumming Lake. The imperial family once used this wonderland of noble follies as a summer residence. If the weather is is fine, a visit here can make for a memorable day…” Thus said my favourite guide book to China from National Geographic Traveller (and by the way I strongly recommend National Geographic Guide Books for those who would rather a traveller than a tourist be). We had missed it on our winter visit to Beijing 5 years ago, so last July we set out with Claire and Mike, 11 km north west of Central Beijing, expecting something like this:
National Geographic Traveler China
Instead we endured one of those misty, smoggy Beijing days when it was hard to appreciate fully the beauty of the place.
A murky day at Kumming Lake
I somehow doubt that the Imperial family of old would have tolerated the smog of Beijing extending to their summer hideaway. All the same the elaborate Marble Boat and the views from the Pagoda of Buddhist Fragrance conveyed a sense of the decadence and sumptuousness of the glittering playground it must once have been.
Marble Boat at Summer Palace

Pagoda rooftops at Summer Palace
We had hoped to visit the restaurant at the Aman Resort at the Summer Palace which had been recommended to me by Twitter friend @paulshoebox but we didn’t manage it this time around.A few weeks ago I cooked @Pat_Whelan ‘s very special Wagyu beef from his herd at Garrentemple, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary for the first time,. The meat is high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids as a result of its intense marbling. It is also significantly lower in saturated fat and higher in healthy monounsaturated fat making it far healthier than any other breed of beef available on the market. The beef is dry-aged for a minimum of 21 days.Before deciding how to prepare it I did lots of research by Twitter and I finally settled on making a Shabu Shabu hotpot which was very successful. But there were those, including Shane’s foodie friend and restaurant reviewer Carl Hayward in Beijing, who felt a better way to treat this delicate and precious beef would be to pan fry it as a steak.
Last weekend we were celebrating, long distance, the official marriage of Shane and Shan in China so I decided it was a sufficiently special occasion to be an excuse for purchasing some strip loin Wagyu steaks on line from James Whelan’s Butchers. This time I decided to use the method Carl learned when he attended a cooking class with, and subsequently interviewed, Japanese chef Naoki Okumura who, as it happens, is the executive chef at the Japanese restaurant in the Aman Resort at Summer Palace. Carl’s interview was published in That’s Beijing and you can read it here. Continue reading Wagyu Steak Naoki Style

A kind of a wistful post – YMing, Soho, London

This isn’t quite the post I intended uploading while here in London. You see I have two ready to go – one about my second attempt at cooking @Pat_whelan ‘s famous wagyu beef and another from my daughter Claire about her and Mike ‘s visit to the famous Red Lantern Vietnamese restaurant in Sydney (it’s called delegation).
But yesterday Shane and Shan got officially married in Changchun, Jilin Province, China. In a manner reminiscent of the trip to Bethlehem, they had to travel there, an 8 hour fast train journey north of Beijing, to register the marriage because that is where Shan went to university and counts as her place of residence. I’m waiting for Shane to recount the full, entertaining story of the bureaucracy involved.

Shane & Shan’s official marriage cert photo

And while this was really only a formality – they were already married in their hearts and the real celebration of their union will be with one helluva a party in Ireland late next year – we all still felt the emotion of it when the moment came and it was hard not to be there. He is my baby after all and it only seems the other day that I could never imagine him out of my sight and now here he is, all grown up, married, and shortly to be a father himself.
So tonight I found myself alone in London, after attending a meeting near St Paul’s Cathedral, and it seemed appropriate to mark their special occasion with a meal in a Chinese restaurant here, one that specialises in the type of north-eastern cooking that Shan has been trying to teach me and which can’t be found in Dublin.
St Paul’s Cathedral

I did my homework and, thanks to Cuisine Genie (Laoise Casey) who lives here in London with her Mr. Moustache, I got a recommendation for YMing in Greek Street which had been reviewed back in 2000 by the famous Matthew Fort of the Guardian. While I was at the airport in Dublin at lunch time I sent an email to the restaurant to see if I could get a table at 10 pm tonight for a quick dinner and, yes, I did mention that my son had married in China yesterday. I got an immediate response from Christine Yau, the proprietor, to say they where looking forward to seeing me.
By the time my meeting was over I was tired and wondered should I just head back to the hotel for an early night but I took a taxi to Tottenham Court Road, the journey enlivened by the cabbie explaining to his girlfriend via his hand-held mobile, that he had nearly collapsed and fainted over his steering wheel a short while earlier… not re-assuring.
Welcoming YMing

The cabbie dropped me at the corner of Greek Street and I liked YMing on sight – its duck egg blue exterior and it’s clean, fresh lines. The restaurant was quietening down after a busy night and a large party were just exiting. Christine wasn’t there but William, the head waiter, greeted me by name like an old friend and planted a glass of pink champagne in my hand before I was in the door.
I asked William’s advice on a simple appetiser and he suggested a mixture of cauliflower and prawns with garlic and chilli as a starter. I had a eureka moment with this as the flavourings – the hint of Sichuan pepper, balanced with chilli, garlic and spring onion, the cauliflower and prawns lightly battered in potato flour then quickly deep fried had EXACTLY the same effect on my tastebuds as the Sichuan Seafood Duncannon style which is my recipe included in Goodall’s Modern Irish Cookbook to be launched next week. I would never have thought of cooking cauliflower florets this way but the crunch of the cauliflower was perfect with the light crisp batter and the sour, salt spices, so far from the soggy, watery cauliflower we have sometimes been served in Ireland. I think, just maybe, I could reproduce this dish.
Chilli Cauliflower and Prawns

For a main course I had Fiery Young Lamb served with rice laced with fresh mint – the mint cut the fiery heat of the red and green chillies which were scattered generously through the thin slices of lamb. Only the yellow pepper was safe to eat. A fresh and delicious dish.
Fiery young lamb

I had had enough by then but William insisted on a little chocolate – a chinese looking concoction which was quite delicious arrived at my table and it was…. drumroll… deep fried Mars bar. Hardly authentic Chinese but a lot lighter than your usual Mars bar and sure… I was celebrating.
Er… deep fried mars bars…

it was getting late by this stage and the last few customers were drifting off. I asked for the bill and it was presented with a flourish and it was… zero… just a smiley face :-)… courtesy of Christine Yau. I hadn’t expected or wanted this and their generosity of spirit made me cry. The four or five staff left on duty gathered around to smile and nod and wish me well (and advise me on the safe tube station to go to).
For me, the last few days have been about welcoming our lovely daughter-in-law Shan into our extended global Irish family. In that moment in YMing I realised the reverse is also true. I have suddenly become part of a global Chinese community where family is important and where the ties that bind extend beyond borders, beyond continents even, into the interconnectedness of race and culture and where they appreciate the importance of ritual and of marking the occasion.
Thank you YMing.
Not so romantic wedding vows
Not so romantic wedding vows

Full Moon Dinner – Shan's Big Plate Chicken

The full moon over Beijing

Ah the full moon – hands up if you have ever gazed up at it wondering if someone you love is, at that very moment, watching the same moon somewhere.
The Full Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival – Zhongqiu – is an important event in the Chinese calendar, a lunar harvest festival with rituals of dancing and story-telling dating back 3,000 years. It reminds me of our own Irish harvest Festival of Lughnasa as described in a recent blog post by Felicity Hayes McCoy..
The festival is held on the fifteenth day of the eight month in the Chinese calendar, close to the Autumn equinox. It is a welcome break from work before the onset of a cold, hard winter and a time of family togetherness. Even if your family are not close by you can still think about them as you watch the moon rise and disappear and celebrate the occasion by cooking a special meal for your friends.
When Shan came to visit us in Ireland for the first time last Christmas, she arrived armed with Sichuan pepper and star anise and one night she kicked me out of the kitchen so that she could prepare her signature dish for us, a dish that is now set to become part of our family Christmas rituals. Since then I’ve been trying, with some difficulty, to extract the recipe for that delicious meal from her and here it is. I will let Shane take up the story from here…
My first attempt at Shan’s Big Plate Chicken

Shan’s Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken – xin jiang da pan ji – 新疆大盘鸡 
“In the glow of a full moon and enjoying one of the rare National Holidays in China, this Mid-Autumn Festival, we invited two of our good friends over for dinner.
Our friend Carl recently has had myself and Shan over to his house (more than once) for a Sunday roast chicken dinner. Being so far from home and without a sufficient oven in my apartment to attempt such a spread myself, his roast chicken, spuds, garlic and gravy are heaven on a plate. Although we recently raided our freezer and treated him and his girlfriend to an authentic Irish fry-up brunch, we felt it was only fair to man-up and try to repay the favour with a proper O’Neill-Gao Sunday dinner experience.
After much persuasion, Shan finally agreed to teach me her signature dish, but with the footnote that it’s only because hers “will always be better anyway.” She has since qualified that statement by explaining what she really meant…
Throughout all of our childhoods there was one dish that was a speciality of a Mum or a Granny, that although often copied could never be equalled. She promises that while her speciality will likely be reproduced by many members of our ever growing family, this will be the delicious plate that everyone agrees ‘Granny cooked best’ many years from now.
This was also the first meal Shan cooked for our family in Ireland on her Christmas visit, and the very first meal she cooked for me in our shared home in Beijing.
So, we went to our local markets and picked up some fresh meat and veg, then with notebook and pen in hand, I watched and learned (and chopped and stirred when ordered).
The result is my best attempt at the recipe for you all to try at home and enjoy… Continue reading Full Moon Dinner – Shan's Big Plate Chicken