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.
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
I first posted this list the day Shananigans was a month old but I learn something new every week so I update it regularly.
I love getting feedback from friends, tweeps and readers who have been trying out Shaningans recipes at home and finding out for yourselves how easy, good value and nutritious they can be.
Don’t forget that all the recipes we’ve tried so far in Beijing, Sydney and Dublin are in the archives and I’ve tried to make them a bit easier to find by categorising them by principal ingredient. While some need a few unusual or exotic ingredients, not all do and not all are terrifyingly spicy. As time goes by, and I work around the different regions of China, you will learn along with me which regions favour the spicier food and which produce dishes that are more accessible to the western palate. And I suspect, like me, you will become more adventurous in your tastes as you go along. While the chilli heat of the recipes may vary, one thing you will discover is that Chinese food is never boring or bland.
You will also find in the archives tales of our travels in China, of good food experiences in Ireland and elsewhere and of the fun we are having connecting our family in China, Oz and Ireland through food.
A few questions have come up over the past few weeks about cookbooks, ingredients and the basic kit you need to cook Chinese foods so here is a brief recap.
Since I started on this journey I’ve made new “friends” with food writers that have inspired and challenged me. All of these books are available from good book shops such as Hodges Figgis in Dublin or from Amazon.
Gok Wan was my first “discovery” (I know, I was late to that party!) and his Gok Cooks Chinese, which I came upon in the Wexford Book Centre has become a firm favourite. His recipes are straightforward and easy to follow and it’s worth watching the TV series on which the cookbook is based on the Channel 4 Player or keep an eye out for repeats. Thanks to Gok I’ve gained the confidence to make Dim Sum as well as a host of other lovely family dishes. His influences are mainly Cantonese so his food isn’t overly spicy.
Next up in order of discovery is the visually stunning and evocative BBC2 series “Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure“. Ken Hom and Ching He Huang’s journey through Chinese regional cuisine mirrors my own dreams of exploration and some of my experiences. The book that accompanies the series is as much a travelogue and social history as a cook book and captures their insights and discoveries as they travel through China. For both of them it is something of a voyage of rediscovery into their Chinese heritage. Some of the recipes are a bit more complex but it is a beautifully produced book to have on your bookshelf or kitchen table.
It was the addictive, spicy food of Sichuan province that started me on this food journey on my first night in Beijing last June when it blew my mind as well as my taste buds. It was inevitable that within a week of returning I would stumble upon Fuchsia Dunlop whose Sichuan Cookery is the definitive guide to that region. I’ve already tried her Ma Po Dou Fu and Dan Dan Noodles with near perfect results. I have made recipes such as Chairman Mao’s Red-braised Pork from her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook on Hunan Cuisine. Her most recent and accessible cookbook on simple Chinese food, Every Grain of Rice, is rapidly becoming one of my favourites and the one I reach for when I want to rustle up something quick and easy for a weekday dinner.
But Fuchsia is more than a chef, she is a wonderful food and travel writer. Her memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is an enthralling journey through a Chinese landscape that I can only glimpse the aftermath of in 2012, told with wit, humour, keen observation and an objective honesty about the China she encountered tempered with a love of its people and food. I loved every moment of it and read it with a tinge of regret that I can never have her experience of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, so rapidly is the Chinese landscape and cityscape developing.
My journey through the regions led me to The Food of China – a journey for food lovers first published around 2001 which is a great, colourful introduction to the landscape of chinese food with manageable recipes and not a celebrity chef in sight. The Cantonese recipe Lemon Chicken came from this book.
And finally I have to spare an affectionate thought for my first ever Chinese “cookbook” more a recipe leaflet really, produced by Sharwoods when they first introduced a range of Chinese foodstuffs and prepared sauces to Ireland in what must have been the late 1970s. I will forever have a soft spot for that booklet which hooked me into Chinese cooking and using chopsticks when it was relatively unheard of in Ireland. And do you know the recipes still work – I might just reproduce one of them one of these days… I bet you some of you have this hidden away on your bookshelf somewhere. Go on. Check. Store cupboard ingredients
I took a tip from Gok Wan from his first episode. I invested in two cheap wicker baskets in which I store all my Chinese ingredients and I keep them separate from all my other store cupboard ingredients (stored under the butcher block in my case) so that they are always easy to find. They even travel with me in the back of the car to Duncannon at weekends.
I buy ingredients as I need them for specific recipes. Once you make the initial investment, replacements are relatively infrequent and not very expensive. I keep a list in notes on my iPhone when bottles or packets run low and stock up on them whenever I visit the Asia Market or a good store.
A lot of these ingredients are available in supermarkets in ranges such as Sharwoods, still on the go all these years later. Speciality food stores and good local greengrocers are also good sources of many of these ingredients. Brands such as Lee Kum Kee, Blue Dragon and Pearl River Bridge are also readily available.
I’ve tracked down all of the ingredients in the Asia Market in Drury St. or Oriental Emporium in Jervis St., both in Dublin city centre, or in the Tony’s Asia Market in Bray, Co. Wicklow (opposite the Royal Hotel). Tony in Bray is particularly helpful at finding products in his densely packed shop and will go looking for them for you if they are not in stock.
Many of these ingredients are also available in good supermarkets or speciality food shops such as Roy Fox Gourmet Foods in Donnybrook. Niall at Get Fresh Rathfarnham has at least 90% of the items in stock and is working on sourcing the rest. Kate’s Farm Shop in Wexford also has a good range of oriental ingredients and spices.
Where I have found a brand that I like I have included it in brackets below but in most cases there are alternatives.
In my ever expanding “sauce/ jar” basket I have:
Light soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee or Pearl River Bridge)*
Dark soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee or Pearl River Bridge)*
Shaoxing cooking wine* – sherry or white wine can be used as a substitute but Shaoxing is cheaper and has a more authentic flavour
Chinese black vinegar – Chinkiang Vinegar (Gold Plum)* or any good Chinese black vinegar. Watch out for aged black vinegar – Balsamic vinegar can be used as a substitute but the flavour is different
Large whole chillies or chilli pieces – the milder or Sichuan type, not the small, fiendishly hot Thai ones – you will find these in Asian markets described as Chinese long chillies*
Cinnamon or cassia bark* – the Chinese substitute this for cinnamon
Chinese white pepper (ordinary white pepper will do but if in an Asian market pick up some Chinese )
Dried noodles and egg noodles (I find these easier to get in good quality in a supermarket. I particularly like Blue Dragon wholewheat noodles and their medium egg noodles)
Rice – thai jasmine rice
Fine sea salt – sea salt flakes do not dissolve fast enough when stir-frying
White pepper – there is a special Chinese type which is very aromatic but ordinary white pepper will do – Chinese cooks consider flecks of black pepper unsightly.
*all available in Asisan supermarkets
I acquired a few exotic ingredients when I was making Gok Wan’s dim sum including some very camp dried lotus leaves that open up to look like enormous fans and ridiculously expensive dried scallops which will last me a lifetime but you don’t need these unless you are going to do his sticky rice parcels and even then you can improvise.
A few items are hard to come by in the quality available in Beijing – Sichuan peppers and Sichuan dried chillies in particular. A lot of the Asian Markets here are Cantonese owned and do not seem to import direct from Sichuan. Restaurants like The China Sichuan import their own. The Green Cuisine range includes Sichuan pepper and cassia bark among other exotic spices Bart’s Spices is another good quality range. I recently found them in the Harvey Nichols in Dundrum. They can be expensive in small quantities so I bring home a supply whenever I am over in Beijing.
It’s impossible to get through a weekend of Chinese cooking without the holy trinity of fresh ingredients:
and I also usually need some fresh red and green chillies. The garlic keeps but I usually buy a “hand” of ginger, a bunch or two of spring onions (Irish if at all possible) and a few red chillies each Saturday. I’m constantly searching for fresh Irish vegetables for use in the recipes and try to always use what is in season. Irish pak choi is readily available.
Your Chinese kitchen
My favourite place to buy kitchen equipment is Sweeney O’Rourke, Pearse St. Dublin which has been supplying the catering trade in ireland for over 30 years. Prices are reasonable, the staff are very helpful and you can even have your knives sharpened for about €1.50 each. I have found nearly everything I need for Chinese cooking there including my latest stainless steel cleaver which is better suited for fine work than the cleaver I originally bought which I use for chopping meat.
What few things you cant get at Sweeney O’Rourke you will pick up at the Asia Market or the Oriental Emporium. Many items are also available in the kitchen shops of Brown Thomas or other large Department stores and in specialist kitchen shops.
It’s not for nothing that countless generations of Chinese have cooked sumptuous meals in tiny kitchens in claustrophobic spaces with only a hob and the space for a chopping board. I was amazed at how small the kitchens are, even in modern Chinese apartments and an oven or grill is still a rarity. So, apart from one or two rings on which to cook, all you really need is:
A wok or two or three – one that requires seasoning before use and takes on the “patina” of the food cooked in it over time gives a much more authentic flavour. Go for a type that suits your hob – I have an induction hob which limits me a bit but I find the “boost” function on an induction hob is fantastic for fast stir-fry cooking. Woks are available in Sweeney O’Rourke, the Asian Market, Oriental Emporium, Ikea and most kitchen stores. They are inexpensive. I have two – a larger one for deep-frying and steaming and a medium one capable of handling a stir-fry for two to three people. My favourite, multi-purpose wok is this one from Ikea which has great capacity and cost €43
A ladle, shovel and strainer – these are cheap and great fun. They make you feel like a real Chinese cook. The strainer is great for working with deep-frying in the wok.
A chopping board, preferably round as the Chinese consider that more auspicious, or use plastic boards colour-coded for food safety
A cleaver – mine still scares me and I haven’t got the hang of it. Now that I’ve attended a Knife Skills Course, I’ve reverted to a Chef’s knife for dicing garlic and ginger. I have ambitions though. I aspire to being able to use two simultaneously to mince meat like they do at the markets in China! (update in November 2013 – I now own 5 cleavers and use them all the time!!)
A set of stacking bamboo steamers in various sizes with lids for each stack. Make sure at least one is big enough to take a dinner plate and one small enough for pancakes. Cooking with steamers is a revelation and so healthy.
This final bit of kit is far from being an essential but is my favourite – a genuine Shabu Shabu hotpot which I bought on line from the lovely Sophie in Table Top Cookware who had no difficulty arranging it’s delivery to Ireland.
And finally… a film
This is not a book, ingredient or implement but if you can get hold of it it will complete your love for Chinese food and culture.
Ang Lee’s film Eat, Drink, Man, Woman is an absolute treasure for anyone who wants to understand the importance of food and family in China and the opening scene is pure food porn.
Unfortunately it never seems to have gone on general release here in Ireland but it is available from Amazon. Just make sure it’s “region free” before you buy.
I love the literal translation of this name – Pock-marked Mother Chen’s beancurd. It was named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a Qing Dynasty restauranteur who prepared it for labourers on the way to the city markets carrying their loads of oil. Just don’t ask me when exactly she lived between 1644 and 1911.
I got used to calling Tofu “Dou Fu” while I was in China where it was a regular feature on menus and I was fascinated by its ability to take on different textures and flavours.This particular dish is traditionally served in a bowl with a good layer of chilli oil on top rather than on a plate and is eaten with a spoon. You can cut back on the oil if the idea of all those extra calories is putting you off.
I had a vegetarian variation of Ma Po Tofu inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan recently where it included yellow bean paste and Gok Wan includes a version wrapped in omelette in Gok Cooks Chinese. But the recipe below is the traditional one taught in the Sichuan provincial cooking school and included by Fuchsia Dunlop in her Sichuan Cookery book and I decided to stick closely to that for my own first attempt at making it at home.
This dish is yet another example of where a little meat goes a long way in Chinese dishes. Ken Hom explained that very well in the third episode of BBC Two’s Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure where a small chicken is “stretched” as we would say in Ireland to feed a small vilage. If you have a population of over 1.3 billion to feed a small amount of animal protein per person has to be supplemented with other ingredients to make tasty and nutritious meals. This leads to a very different balance between meat and other ingredients than we tend to be used to here in Ireland and one that I came to find healthier and easier to digest.
While we might balk at some of the more exotic ingredients used as sources of protein in Chinese cooking, I found when I visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang Province that their biggest concern about coming to visit us in Ireland is being faced with indigestible (to them) plates of steak!
By the way if you are keen to learn more about cooking Sichuan food, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery book is a must for your cook book library.
I don’t usually feel compelled to write two blog posts in one evening but a number of things came together over the last few days which have my mind whirring with the endless possibilities of Chinese cuisine. Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure
The second episode of BBC2’s Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure with Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang plunged me back into the “feel” of the China I experienced – the passion for colour, texture and taste, the array of dishes, the attention to perfection in technique and authenticity, the extraordinary, numbing sensation of sichuan pepper on the tongue, the mothers and “nãinai” (grannies), especially the grannies, so devoted to preparing the meal for everyone else that they are usually the last to eat and often eat alone. Shan told me she never saw her beloved Granny sit down to eat with the family and yet this woman, with her bound feet, was the powerhouse of her family.
This 2nd episode of Exploring China was set in Chengdu the capital of Sichuan Province and the images of ever-expanding and developing China, while the old traditions linger, evoked my own experience of Urumqi in the far north-west in Xinjiang Province, a city which now has a population of over 4 million people.
Gok Wan’s Dim Sum
Meanwhile I set out yesterday to see if it was possible to create genuine dim sum at home using Gok Wan’s recipes from his Channel 4 Gok Cooks Chinese series. So I prepared:
Prawn and Scallop Moneybag Dumplings
Chilli and Salt Squid
Steamed Rice Parcels with Chinese Mushrooms wrapped in lotus leaves
Chicken and Leek Potsickers
Pork and Prawn Potstickers
Steamed Beef and Coriander Balls
Steamed Pork Ribs
The short answer is that it IS possible, provided you don’t mind being on your feet from 11 am to 6 pm and enjoy the pleasure of playing around with endless small quantities of ingredients, making up tiny, delicious parcels of delights and have VERY patient friends who can tolerate their Sunday dinner coming at them in a haphazard way – but that’s what happens in China after all.
For me the real kick of yesterday was discovering the sensuous pleasure of cooking with a bamboo steamer, the speed with which pork ribs and minced beef meatballs cook and absorb flavours with no oil added, the scent of the steaming wood and the sizzle of water added to sticky dumplings, their bases already crisped, which turned out exactly like the real thing served at home by Shan’s family in Urumqi.
I loved making the prawn and money bag dumplings and tying them up with chive “lasoos”.
Once our guests arrived it was impossible to cook, serve, be hospitable and take photos at the same time but I can honestly say that the part-fried and part-steamed dumplings turned out just as I remembered them from Urumqi.
We finished the meal with chilled watermelon dipped in lime and raspberry coulis from the Exploring China cookbook – simple and palate-cleansing. Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti
Then I woke this morning to a new recipe from Shan in my inbox. This time it was for Xinjiang spaghetti with lamb, one of my favourite recipes from Urumqi and another reminder of the common ground between Italian and Chinese cooking. As luck would have it I had 2 small lean side-loin lamb chops in the fridge and it was easy to pick up Chinese Celery and Hu Jiao Fen pepper in the Asia Market.
The white pepper seems slightly more aromatic than ordinary white pepper but I suspect the latter would be a good substitute.
The Chinese celery has a lovely crunchy texture and more flavour than ordinary Irish celery.
I notice I tend to use a bit more meat in her recipes than Shan recommends but it’s not really necessary and these stir-fry dishes are a great way of “stretching” meat for a quick family meal. I used spelt tagliatelle because that’s what was in the cupboard and it reminded me of the flat noodles in Urumqi. I would also love to try this dish with “Pici” pasta from Tuscany.
It took about 20 minutes, if even that, from the time I started slicing garlic to serving up the meal. It was filling and delicious but not heavy. Not a scrap was left at the end.
When I started out on this blog a few short weeks ago I said I had no idea where this journey would take me. Well tomorrow, on the strength of it, I get my first chance to be inside a Chinese restaurant kitchen in Ireland. This is how half-formed dreams take shape. A word of acknowledgement
Over the weekend I visited various Twitter Foodie friends for ingredients so a special thanks to @brid_h2g for fresh produce at her Honest to Goodness Market. @pat_whelan for pork, lamb, beef and chicken from James Whelan Butchers at Avoca, @RobertsofDalkey for scallops, prawns and squid from Roberts of Dalkey and @AsiaMarketIrl for endless patience in meeting my requests for ingredients at the Asia Market, not to mention Enter the Panda @enterthepanda and @ClaireB_Oz for supporting their enthusiastic Ma in this new endeavour 🙂 If you’d like to try a hand at this dish yourself, have a look at Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti recipe. Please leave a comment too. I’d love to hear how you got on!
The rituals of food unite us and create bonds that make up for lack of a common language and even, sometimes, for the distance between continents. To start a vending machine franchise go to royalvending.com.au/vending-machines-australia/.
The importance of food to Italians is the stuff of legends. As I struggled to follow the conversation the first time I attended a family dinner in Puglia, I realised that much of the animated discussion was about food – buying it, preparing it, eating it. It was fascinating to discover first hand how similar China is in that respect. Food there is more than a necessity for survival. It is a passion and an obsession. There is endless conversation about the importance of food, the health-giving properties of different vegetables and spices, the need for variety in colour, texture and flavour, the way to achieve balance in the diet, how to make use of every part of a plant and animal.
And there are rituals in abundance – noodles offered at the first meal when you arrive to visit family, a reminder of the ties that bind; dumplings served before you part, to reassure you that family wraps itself around you and minds you even when you are far away.
When we stayed with Shan’s family, in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Shan’s mother served us freshly prepared lamb noodle soup within moments of our arrival late at night. Day trips out of the city with her brother revolved around finding good locations to eat lunch, snacks or dinner. “Are you hungry? Will you eat?” were the most frequent questions.
Breakfast was regarded as an important meal and often included leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner as food is never wasted. No matter what time we arrived back at the apartment, or how much we had eaten that day, a home cooked meal awaited us as well as platters of fresh fruits and nuts, grown locally. Once a meal was served we all sat down immediately to eat – it would have been perceived as the height of rudeness not to treat the eating of food with the same seriousness and respect as our Chinese hosts did.
Throughout our visit, the family remained curious about our eating habits and concerned about our “small” appetites. We were constantly reminded of the importance of variety in our diet and the reasons why we should eat particular foods. I took my first halting steps to learn a few words of Mandarin as Shan’s mother taught me “Yángròu” for lamb, “Miàntiáo” for noodles and “Jiàozi” for dumplings.
This week we discovered a new way of achieving connectedness through food – the sharing of a meal across three continents as I prepared Shan’s recipe for Black Pepper beef in Dublin while Shane attempted the same dish for the first time in Beijing and our daughter Claire made her version of it in Sydney, Australia – our own unique version of a communal Sunday dinner. Skype, iPhones and iPads all played their part in keeping old traditions alive and starting new ones. Continue reading Creating new food rituals across continents