Maybe it should be time for reflections and resolutions as the final hour of 2012 is upon us but somehow it is easier to sit back and relax and enjoy “The Gathering”spectacle in Dublin on RTE. Tomorrow we can start thinking about the new year. Tomorrow we can start dreaming our dreams and fretting about our fears.
It has been an a special year for us. We spent a fascinating few weeks in China in June. Shane and Shan got officially wed and so we now have a lovely Chinese daughter-in-law. Baby Shananigans is on the way sometime in February.
In the middle of all this I started this blog and, while I hate cliches like “voyage of discovery”, I’ve learnt a huge amount about Chinese food in the last few few months and I’ve rediscovered a love of cooking. What’s more I’ve got brave about experimenting with ingredients, tastes and flavours and made a host of new friends in the process.
And in Australia, my darling daughter Claire has joined in the fun and developed her own skills in cooking Chinese food… when she is not out enjoying herself….
While in Beijing, Shane’s MaMa, who has never been outside China, has taught herself how to make pizza and is baking fresh bread for Shane every week.
So thank you to all of you who have egged me on and encouraged me.
To all of my friends, I hope 2013 brings good things to your little corner of the world and peace and happiness to your life. Let’s watch out for one another wherever we are in the world.
Go mbeirímid beo ar an am seo arís – may we all be alive this time next year…. with one or two more among us.
31st December 2012, 11.45 pm
Listen up friends you are going to LOVE this recipe.
When I first visited Australia in the mid-1990s, long before I knew I would have a daughter living there, I was blown away by what was being described then as “fusion cooking”. I felt as if I had discovered a big secret – that Australian cuisine could be sublime – a combination of wonderful fresh ingredients, the best of fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and subtle Asian influences in the flavourings. There was something really exciting going on and I thought the world should know more about it but, at that stage, my own knowledge of good food was limited and my experience of cooking it even slighter.
This Christmas Claire sent me a book from Sydney as a surprise. It is called Fire – A World of Flavour by Christine Manfield and features recipes from Japan, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Sri Lanka, Mexico, France, Italy, the Middle East… 20 locations in all.
Claire came across the book in a bookshop in Sydney some time ago but couldn’t remember the name of it. Then she stumbled on a copy in a “home stay” on the central coast where she and Mike were spending a weekend about 6 weeks ago and knew I would love it.
Christine Manfield is an Australian chef, author, food writer and traveller and has built her reputation through three restaurants – Paramount in Sydney from 1993 to 2000, East@West in Covent Garden, London from 2003 to 2005 and now back in Sydney where Universal Restaurant opened in August 2007. She appeared as a guest chef on Australian MasterChef 2012 and her signature icecream dessert “Gaytime” featured in the finale.
Beautifully bound and illustrated, Fire is a travel guide as well as a cook book. It includes suggestions on where to stay, visit and eat in all the places from which Christine has drawn inspiration for her recipes. I have already identified a few new restaurants to try in Beijing that Shane hasn’t eaten in yet and of course we hope to go to Universal Restaurant the next time we visit Claire in Sydney.
Her philosophy is to prepare food “that crosses cultural boundaries with confidence without being labelled ‘fusion’ and parallels… a culinary freestyle that has enriched our food culture and given it maturity and world renown.” She says in her introduction to Fire: “the sharing of food knows no political boundaries; it is a reminder of remarkable places visited, with tastes that transport me immediately to any given place. It’s as if I can taste the character and essence of a place through its food.” That expresses perfectly my own love of food and travel.
I’ve adopted a rule of thumb that, when I find a new cook book, I will include a few recipes from it in the blog, sometimes with a few tweaks of my own, to give you a taste of what is on offer and in the hope that it will encourage you to get hold of the book yourselves. I’ve chosen two of Christine’s Chinese-inspired recipes to try – this stir-fried honey sesame beef and a one-pot chicken rice, the stock for which is simmering on the stove as I write.
The beef dish below just about sums up the way food can bridge the divide between 3 continents – a Chinese-inspired dish, created by an Australian woman, once a firm favourite in her London restaurant, re-created by me on the night of a full-moon in Duncannon in the south east corner of Ireland and, as soon as I tasted it, I was plunged back into a taste memory of a meal I shared with Shane and Shan in Beijing. Such is the power of food to transport you to another place and time.
Sometimes the discovery of a new recipe excites me. This dish is one that made me need to start writing at midnight. It has “umami” in abundance with its evocative flavours and is simple to prepare. Christine used beef tenderloin fillet and 3 bird’s eye chillies and added watercress sprigs to garnish. I used the cheaper bavette cut of beef which I find so flavourful and the slightly milder Chinese red chillies. I picked up my beef yesterday from Fintan at Dunnes of Donnybrook in Dublin, Craft Butcher of the Year 2012. Stir-fried honey sesame beef
Well I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying what is left of the break.
You know that moment when you just want to see the back of the turkey no matter how much you have enjoyed it? If, like us, you only have two or three people to feed over Christmas, even the smallest turkey goes a very long way. So after traditional turkey dinners on Christmas and St. Stephen’s Day, we’ve made a rich stock with the carcass and bagged and frozen it, we’ve frozen the leg and thigh meat for a Chinese style stir-fry some lazy evening in January and last night we had Bang Bang Turkey Salad with Sesame Dressing.
Tonight I had planned to make one last assault on the leftover turkey breast meat and turn it into a vietnamese style hot or cold salad similar to the chicken one featured by Gok Wan in Gok Cooks Chinese. I had flagged the ingredients for this in a shopping list just before Christmas and had them all in the house. But then I got lazy. Shane was out for the evening visiting friends so we went to the cinema to watch Life of Pi in 3D, an evening of heartwarming escapism which I can thoroughly recommend. Turkey Sandwich
And when I came back, the only thing that would do for supper was a good old-fashioned turkey sandwich. Hardly merits a recipe really – just two slices of toasted spelt wholemeal bread slathered with mayonnaise, a few slices of lovely snow white turkey breast, some leftover stuffing made with apricots and pine kernels (the stuffing recipe came from Miriam Donohoe) and some home made cranberry sauce.
I served it up on my Australian-shaped bread board with a glass of Audrey Wilkinson Verdelho which I purchased with my daughter Claire one day in the Hunter Valley nearly two years ago. Taste and memories of that idyllic Australian summer day collide.
So sláinte Claire and thanks for that lovely day.
It has been a lovely Christmas and fantastic to have Shane home from Beijing for a few days. He came bearing gifts from Shan’s MaMa who is enjoying my attempts to learn how to cook Chinese food. She took herself off to the local market with Shan and Shane and asked Shane to make himself scare so that she would be able to strike a hard bargain, without a lao wai (foreigner) present, for some of the ingredients I might need.
The haul she sent me includes Sichuan pepper (hua jiao), star anise (ba jiao), cassia bark (gui pi), wood ear fungus (hei muer), facing heaven chillies (gan la jiao), toban dijan bean paste from Pixian (dou ban jiang), sesame paste (zhi ma jiang), black fermented soy beans (dou chi), lots of Chinese garlic (da suan) and other items I haven’t quite identified yet.
I will have so much fun cooking with these ingredients over coming months and meanwhile my kitchen smells just like an Asian food market. Thank you MaMa.
Shane and Shan added some lovely Chinese serving dishes and bowls and a USB key encased in a fragment of Ming Dynasty China, a wonderful example of old meets new in today’s China.
I love the laziness of St. Stephen’s Day with lots of left overs to be used up and not too much cooking to be done. With the year that’s in it I wanted to try out a Chinese take on the left over turkey so, to start with, here are a few variations on Bang Bang Turkey salad which you might enjoy.
The name “bang bang” comes from the Mandarin word for ‘stick’ bang a wooden stick used to beat the cooked chicken traditionally used in this dish to tenderise it so that it shreds easily. If you wish you can use a rolling pin to flatten your cooked turkey so that it shreds easily when you tear it with your hands. Chinese cooks will often serve this simple cold dish alongside other hot and more complicated dishes.
This is a very versatile cold turkey salad which you can make with whatever ingredients you have to hand. You can serve it on a simple bed of cucumber or toss some salad leaves into the mix. Or you can create a more colourful platter by using a bed of vermicelli noodles, carrots, cucumber and even radish. If your turkey is a bit dry, moisten it with a little stock. And of course you can also use steamed chicken or left over roast chicken.
You can make up the dressing to suit taste and mood on a given day much as you would play around with a vinaigrette for salad. The ingredients for the dressing usually include soy sauce, chilli oil, ground roasted Sichuan pepper, vinegar, garlic and sesame oil. I’ve suggested a few variations below, based on recipes by Ching-He Huang, FuchsiaDunlop and The Food of China but please enjoy experimenting.
To make your ground Sichuan pepper, roast some peppercorns over a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and very fragrant, then grind down in a pestle and mortar. Any left over will keep for a week or so in an airtight jar. Bang Bang Turkey – Liang Ban Huoji
Just a wee note from Dublin, Ireland to wish you all a very happy Christmas wherever you are in the world tonight.
We have a candle lighting outside our window for all our loved ones, especially my daughter Claire and her husband Mike who are in Melbourne and my daughter-in-law Shan and her MaMa who are in Beijing. And we are counting our blessings in having our son Shane here with us for a few days.
Thinking of everyone who is separated by distance from those they love most tonight and may be feeling a little longing for home and family. Also sparing a special thought for those who lost ones they love in the past year or are going through a difficult time.
If this is one of those special Christmases when you are all together, enjoy every moment of it.
Whatever changes last year brought and the new year may bring, I hope you have a peaceful and restful time this Christmas.
PS. Back soon after Christmas with some ideas for using up turkey leftovers!
Ah Christmas. Bittersweet. Shane home from Beijing for a few days. Wonderful to have him around. Shan and MaMa in Beijing as Shan is too advanced in pregnancy to travel. Claire and Mike visiting friends in Melbourne. I would love to bundle them all together under one roof here in Ireland, even just for Christmas Day.
From the time Claire first moved to London over 10 years ago, part of our Christmas ritual is that she makes Jamie Oliver’s Italian meatballs on Christmas Eve whenever she is here. It doesn’t feel the same to have them without her but Shane had a longing for a western style supper as a change from Chinese food so I cooked them last night. We use the recipe in our battered copy of The Naked Chef but you will find a variation of the recipe here.
I also baked a batch of ginger biscuits as Shane had a yearning for this memory of his childhood when I posted the recipe for them a few months back. Now I’m sure that when he comes back from meeting his friends in the pub he will enjoy both…
I’ve spent the evening sorting out how I will do the Christmas dinner this year – what stuffing recipes for the turkey, what vegetables, what starter, what dessert. As there will only be 3 of us I was tempted to have a crown of turkey but Christmas just wouldn’t seem the same without a whole bird roasting in the oven. So I ordered the smallest turkey I could find and now I’m thinking about the perennial problem of what to do with the leftovers.
Usually I start looking up recipes on Stephen’s Day when the shops are mostly closed and stocks of fresh vegetables have run out. This year I’m trying to get ahead of myself and be prepared so I’ve dug out some recipes for some simple salads that give a Chinese twist to turkey leftovers. I’m posting the ingredients you will need now in case you also want to pick up any of them as part of your final Christmas grocery shopping and I will post the full recipes the day after Stephen’s Day. 1. Bang Bang Turkey Continue reading Shopping List for Turkey Leftovers Shananigans Style
Here at Shananigans base camp my head and my heart are teeming with memories of last Christmas which was very special. In Christmas week Shane arrived with Shan on her first visit to Ireland and it was also our first time to meet her. Claire and Mike came from Australia spending part of the holiday here and part with Mike’s parents in Wales. Christmas resembled a Six Nations convention as we were also joined by my young Italian teacher Solange and her Argentinian husband Agustin. With a bit of talent we could almost have fielded a rugby team between us.
What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time I was nervous about meeting Shan and wondering what it would be like to have a Chinese person staying in our home. Now she is my much-loved daughter-in-law and soon to be mother of my first grandchild.
It will be a quieter Christmas here this year. Claire and Mike are spending the holiday with friends in Melbourne, Solange and Agustin are visiting her family in Italy with their 4 month old twin boys. Meanwhile we are waiting with baited breath for Shane to arrive on Saturday from Beijing. He will be on his own this time and it will be a short visit as Shan is now over 30 weeks pregnant and can’t risk the long-haul journey. Still it will be fantastic to have this time with him as he takes a rare break from life in Beijng and gets ready to become a father.
Shan’s MaMa will be with her in his absence and Shan can be sure of a constant supply of regular and nourishing home-cooked meals. Like us the Chinese have all sorts of strictures on diets for pregnant women. They avoid overly spicy food for instance. As a result many of the meals Shane and Shan are eating these days are easy to replicate here in Ireland from readily available ingredients.
I know most of you are probably up to your eyes with last minute preparations for Christmas and cooking Chinese food is the last thing on your your minds but this recipe of MaMa’s for Lamb Rice is so straightforward that I was able to put it together in just a few minutes yesterday evening. What I like about it is that it is winter comfort food, similar in its appeal to Irish stew, but it can be on the table in about 45 minutes. So if you’re stuck for a quick meal to prepare during this busy week, give it a go.
Lamb is always on the menu in the Uighur restaurants in Xinjiang province and a similar rice dish was served at the first meal we ate out with Shan’s Mum in Urumqi at the restaurant attached to the This and That Satisfactory Chain Supermarket. In her simple and authentic version, MaMa makes this with lamb ribs, carrots, onion, tomato, rice and cumin. I’ve jazzed it up a bit below, adding in some of the ingredients I associate with the middle eastern influences of that region – dried apricots, dates which I brought back from Urumqi and a stick of cinnamon. I also took a notion and added in a half bottle of stout which is entirely optional. You could use a light chicken stock or, as MaMa does, simply water. MaMa’s Lamb Rice
Q. How many chefs does it take to teach a novice how to cook pig’s cheeks? A. Ask Twitter.
Despite the recession, the standard of food in Irish restaurants has improved dramatically in recent years. A new generation of young chefs and well established celebrity chefs are using considerable skill and imagination to create taste memories and to offer value for money to people dining out on more limited budgets. I’ve noticed a growing emphasis on cooking meat “low and slow” and on using lesser known cuts of meat that cost less at source but are full of flavour when cooked creatively. So belly of pork, pork shoulder, lamb shoulder, beef cheeks and pigs cheeks pop up all over the place and even pig’s heads find their way on menus, tastefully described of course.
Although the cooking techniques can be quite different, this new emphasis reminds me of the attitude to meat in China where virtually every component of the animal is valued and used so that pig’s ears and chicken feet are a sought after delicacy. The butchery demonstration in Avoca Food Market Monkstown which I described in an earlier post left me intrigued to learn how to cook these cuts at home.
When I visited the Tannery in Dungarvan a few months back I ate pig’s cheeks for the first time. I was blown away by the delicate, almost creamy texture of the meat. Paul Flynn (Chef No.1) showed me how to cook it low and slow with beer at the Tannery Cookery School recently so I got some idea of how to handle the cut and bring out its flavours. But in keeping with the Shananigans’ Chinese theme I wanted to come up with a recipe that would be more oriental in its ingredients.
I purchased a batch of them from James Whelan Butchers to cook for a meal for friends last weekend. They arrived vacuum packed and my first thought when I unpacked them and looked at their sinewy, fatty exterior was that they seemed nothing like the tasty morsels I had eaten in the Tannery. Feeling slightly daunted and unsure where to start, I put out a Saturday afternoon plea to Twitter for help.
First up was the ever-helpful Tom Walsh (Chef No. 2), the head chef at Samphire Restaurant in Donabate, Co. Dublin, who gave me so much advice on my Short Beef Ribs recipe the previous week. He suggested a marinade of garlic, lemon grass, chilli pepper, sugar and rice vinegar with rapeseed and and sunflower oil and then long, slow cooking at 110C.
I hadn’t been able to get hold of lemongrass and I was still contemplating my options when Rozanne Stevens (Chef No. 3) suggested I ask Kate Lawlor (Chef No. 4) the head chef at Fenns Quay in Cork who is a whizz with pig’s cheeks. Kate told me that in her restaurant they cook them slowly on a low heat on the stove with orange slices, onion, fennel, leek and bay leaf. This rang bells for me as I had come across a recipe in Ultimate Slow Cooker for pork shoulder or spare ribs with orange and star anise.
I went to sleep mulling over the possibilities for sweating down onion, leek, fennel, carrot and bay leaf as a base for the slow cooking, mindful of what I learned from Paul Flynn about layering flavour on flavour – fennel seed, star anise, fennel – and watching what matches with what – carrot with orange, fennel with pork for instance. As I described in an earlier post, I learnt a lot from attending Paul’s master class and it is gradually seeping in.
Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Niall O’Sullivan (chef No. 5) the head chef at Isabel’s in Dublin tweeted me the suggestion that I brine the meat for tasty and tender cheeks. Now Isabel’s is currently serving some of the most exciting food in Dublin and I had a sublime dish of pressed pork shoulder their recently so of course I was going to sit up and take note. I could hardly admit to him that I had only the vaguest idea what brining entailed so I was up at the crack of dawn on Sunday googling “brining pork”.
I gathered from the internet that the basic principle of brining was to use a solution of 1 tbs salt to 1 cup of water (about 1 : 8) and then add sweetener and some seasonings that would gently bring out the flavours I planned to use in the subsequent dish without overwhelming the meat. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked for the brining so I decided that less was more the first time around and gave them 6 – 7 hours.
I’m grateful to Derry for figuring out a way of trimming the cheeks after brining so that he removed most the outer fat but left each cheek intact and looking more like what Paul Flynn cooked for us in the Cookery School. I’m sure your friendly butcher could be prevailed upon to trim them for you if you ask nicely.
Anyway after much deliberation, and remembering advice from my Twitter friend and chutney maker Audrea of Tastefully Yours to trust my instincts, this is what I did: Pig’ s Cheeks with Fennel, Orange and Star Anise
Christmas is coming and 0ur culinary adventures have been continuing on three continents.
Claire has an annual ritual of watching Love Actually in December, no matter where she is in the world and what the temperature is outside. For her it marks the true start of the Christmas season. On Friday night she watched it with friends and served them her most elaborate Chinese meal yet. She prepared five fabulous Chinese dishes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice including her first attempt at using tofu and her first buckwheat noodles dish. I’m very proud of my daughter’s growing culinary expertise and maybe she will even write it up for the blog (big hint Claire!!). I just wish I could watch Love Actually with her.
Meanwhile Shane and Shan were out to dinner with his good friend Steve who was visiting Beijing for a few days. They went to Jing Zun restaurant which specialises in Peking Duck and where we had a lovely meal with them and with Mike and Claire early in July. They didn’t sit outside this time though as the temperature is dropping as low as -12C in Beijing these nights.
We also had friends to dinner on Sunday and I cooked up my own Chineseish feast with a lot of help from friendly chefs on Twitter. These same friends had participated in my dim sum experiment a few months back and this time I wanted to be able to sit down and enjoy the meal with them. So the menu went like this:
Thin Apple Pie with Pecan Carmel Sauce and Vanilla Ice cream
Here is how I went about an Irish take on the classic Peking Duck Pancakes. These have five essential ingredients:
Thin wheat flour pancakes
Cooking a whole duck Peking style is quite an undertaking and one I haven’t got around to yet but I have discovered that P.M. O’Loughlin Foods in the Barbecue Centre in Shankill, County Dublin can supply a box of really tasty duck legs from Monaghan, frozen and vacuum packed in pairs. Twenty packs of duck legs cost €60 and I split the box with friends. These are a very handy freezer staple for €1.50 a duck leg and a convenient way of preparing the shredded duck meat.
As for the pancakes, Ive had one disastrous attempt at making my own with flour, hot water and a little oil (the phrase “lumps of lead” spring to mind), so I picked up a freezer pack in the Asia Market which are reliably skinny. But the treatment below gives these shop bought pancakes an extra lift.
I was going to do a traditional Peking sauce but a recipe from Ken Hom in Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure caught my eye. In it he used a sauce with Sichuan flavours inspired by Beijing Chef Da Dong who is widely regarded as one of the best chefs in China for his skill in re-interpreting regional Chinese dishes. Da Dong prepares shredded pig’s ears in a sauce similar to the one below. Note to self – must ask Shane to take us to Da Dong’s restaurant the next time we are in Beijing. Shredded Duck Pancakes with Sichuan Flavours
Serves 4 – 6 Ingredients:
4 duck legs
Salt and white pepper
For the sauce:
1 tbs dark soy sauce
2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
2 tbs Lee Kum Kee chilli bean sauce (Toban Djan)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
About 24 wheat flour pancakes
A little white rice wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar
A bunch of spring onions
Preparation: Duck legs
Preheat your oven to 200C.
If your duck legs have been frozen, ensure they are fully thawed and dry them out, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour, then give them a final pat dry with kitchen paper.
Score the skin of the duck legs in a cross hatch pattern, season well with salt and white pepper and place in the oven in a roasting tin, skin side up.
Roast for about one hour or until the skin is crisp and golden and the fat has run off (you can save the fat for making delicious roast potatoes) and place on a wire rack to cool.
When cool, finely shred the meat and most of the duck skin and set aside in a serving dish. (Thank you Derry for excellent shredding skills.)
Assemble the pancakes in pairs by brushing a pancake on one side lightly with sesame oil and placing another on top of it.
Preheat a large flat, non-stick frying pan until smoking hot and then reduce to medium.
Place a pair of pancakes onto the dry pan and turn them over with a spatula as soon as brown spots begin to form on the underside. Repeat on the other side then remove from the pan and gently peel apart and fold the pancakes, cooked side in, onto a plate.
Repeat the process until all the pairs of pancakes are cooked and stacked. Cover them with a damp tea towel, ready to be steamed briefly before serving.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and divide into small dipping bowls, one for each diner.
De-seed the cucumber and julienne it. Place on a rectangular serving dish and drizzle with a little white rice wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Try to do this about 30 minutes ahead of time so that the flavours mingle.
Julienne the spring onions and serve on a separate rectangular dish.
Just before serving place the wheat flour pancakes in a small bamboo steamer over a wok or pot of boiling water and steam for 4 – 5 minutes at most. If you have stacking bamboo steamers you can also reheat the shredded duck at the same time.
Alternatively you can re-heat both briefly in a microwave or steam oven.
Serve the pancakes and the duck on a platters to share.
Your guests can help themselves at the table. Just spread a little of the sauce on a pancake with the back of a spoon, place some shredded duck on top, followed by some spring onions and cucumber. Fold and eat. These taste moreish and were a very big hit with our friends – definitely set to be a household favourite.
A quick post this as my quest continues to find new ways of using lesser known cuts of meat to prepare weekday family meals, Chinese style.
Bavette of beef was one of the cuts I discovered at the Butchery Demonstration given by James Whelan Butchers in Avoca Food Market, Monkstown. It comes from the flank or belly muscle of the cow and I first used it to make Hunan Style Crispy Beef. I was blown away by how well this relatively cheap cut responds to fast stir-frying with minimal marinading and I wondered if it was a fluke.
So in order to test the theory that almost any Chinese recipe requiring fillet or sirloin beef can be made with bavette, I decided to adapt a recipe from Ken Hom for stir-fried fillet beef with Sichuan preserved vegetables which features in Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure. I haven’t yet found Sichuan preserved vegetable in Dublin but I have used Tianjin preserved vegetable – dong cai – as a substitute. This salted mustard green is sold in squat earthenware jars and is readily available in Asian food markets and some speciality stores. It keeps for ages so a jar goes a long way. The 600g jar costs €1.75 in the Asia Market in Drury St., Dublin.
I have used it before in the vegetarian version of fried green beans and I love its crunchy texture. It is very salty and it should be rinsed well and squeezed dry before use. I also had a leek left over from the weekend when I cooked Short Beef Ribs Chinese style. And so the dish below was born. Stir-fried Beef with Tianjin Preserved Vegetables, Leeks and Noodles