When food is love connecting families

I love my two children and their ability to bring a smile to my face (or even a tear to my eye) from the other side of the world.
When Claire is in one of her bubbly moods, her enthusiasm is infectious. And Shane has a soft side that tugs at my heart strings. In the last two days both of them took on new cooking challenges.
When Claire visited home briefly in September she got bitten by the Chinese cooking bug and she took a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice back with her to Oz. If I was to recommend just one book from the list I set out in Chinese Kitchen Essentials it would be this one. It is packed with straight-forward and easy to follow recipes for Chinese home-cooking and is a great spring-board for experimentation.
Anyway yesterday Claire cooked a meal for Mike who has just started a new job and her sequence of  emails from Sydney about her latest culinary exploits went something like this:
“Oh my, I may actually be the best chef ever!!
“Fuschia Dunlop is a genius! We’ve just wolfed down her menu for two – twice cooked pork, smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce and pak choy with fresh shiitake. So good, more photos to follow!”

Claire cooking off the  veg for twice-cooked pork

“This was the easiest meal to cook and prepare.
I boiled the pork belly last night and it went in the fridge so today it was just a matter of chopping up the veg and getting everything prepped.
The pork belly is just so, so tasty. I added lots of red and green pepper as we had a few sitting round and I can’t get over how far 200g of pork belly can go!”

Preparing the pak choy with shitake mushrooms

“The fresh shiitake and pak-choy side dish is great with the lashings of garlic and ginger. I maybe under cooked it just a little.

 Like you I love the Chinese cucumber dishes, I added extra chilli as I had no chilli oil and it was refreshing but with a kick.”

“Yummy dishes!” says Claire

And Claire’s verdict: “Altogether a spectacular feast for a Tuesday night! Poor Mike has been made tell me in many ways how much he enjoyed it. I feel like a domestic goddess! xx”
“Dinner is served.”

“P.S. if it’s not obvious from excessive photos, I would like praise please! xx”
Praise granted Claire and we have also noted that the photos were taken with your brand new iPhone 5 🙂
If you would like to cook Fuchsia’s recipes, go out and by her book which is readily available in Ireland and elsewhere. You will also find variations of the three recipes Claire cooked in these links on the blog – twice-cooked pork, bashed cucumber and pak choi with shitake mushrooms.
Meanwhile, over in Beijing, Shane was helping Shan celebrate her first birthday as his wife today. I spoke to Shan earlier and she was very excited that her MaMa was cooking Big Plate Chicken with home made wide flat noodles for her birthday dinner. But Shane had another surprise up his sleeve. He took himself off to a baking school near his office and made his first ever cake to mark the occasion.
I think Shane looks just a little bit pleased with himself!

I spoke to Shane, Shan and MaMa on Skype just before their guests arrived for dinner. MaMa was waving at me in great excitement and telling me in Mandarin to hurry back to Beijing soon where she will show me how to make those wide flat noodles. Sometimes I wish I had a “beam me up Scottie” transporter so that I could just share those special moments.
Anyway Shane says “The cake was a success, as was (more importantly) Shan’s impromptu Birthday dinner”. Aww… he’s a romatic is my lovely son…
A Chinese birthday cake with an Irish twist

Old friends, twice cooked pork and fried green beans

I had a special kind of Monday evening tonight. For many years a group of us women friends, mostly busy mothers, met in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham on a Sunday morning for a run and an aerobic workout on the steps of the old house.  And every Monday night we would go to an aerobic class in nearby  Lamb Doyles with Gladys our wonderful teacher. Well 10 years or more have passed, kids grew up, a lot of us drifted apart. I haven’t seen most of those women in years.
Until tonight that is when Gladys got us all together for one night only as a charity fund-raiser for Crumlin Children’s Hospital – her daughter is running the New York Marathon for them. Even the pressure to get home from town in rush hour traffic and make a quick change into workout gear brought back old familiar feelings, When we walked into that room, shrieking with delight at recognising old faces that hadn’t changed nearly as much as we feared, all we were short of was the leg warmers.
The music came on – “I will survive” inevitably – and with a tear in my eye, muscle memory kicked into action and we were off. Apart from a few moans and groans, and nobody pregnant, it was as if we had never skipped a beat. Gladys didn’t spare us, well she cut back on the leaping about a bit, so we will have some aches and pains tomorrow. It was a bit of magic, a chance to catch up with old friends who are wearing rather well and to marvel at the daughters who turned up, the same age as the ones we used to fret about on our Sunday morning walks, now grown up into gorgeous young adults.
Having undertaken to cook dinner for “the lodger” aka my lovely niece Jodie, I didn’t hang about for coffee afterwards but it was still 9.30 by the time I got home and I was on a high and ravenous. The meal that follows was on the table by 10. Maybe it was the mood but this was one of the tastiest Chinese meals we have had yet. Inspired by the taste, I went onto the internet and my rambling bought me to Bay vs Kitchen, where I found many a great recipe.
I was prompted to try Ching-He Huang’s version of Twice Cooked Pork after seeing her prepare it on Saturday Kitchen Live on BBC1 last Saturday morning and it is included in Exploring China – a Culinary Adventure. It uses pork belly – wu hua rou – 5 layers of heaven – skin, fat, meat, fat, meat. Chin-He was great fun on the programme by the way and you can follow her on twitter @chinghehuang. I rang ahead on the way to Duncannon last Saturday evening and got the last piece of pork belly in Wallace’s SuperValu Wellington Bridge just as they were closing at 7 pm. It’s best to boil the pork the day before you use it – see below.

Twice Cooked Pork

The green beans are a vegetarian variation of Shan’s recipe for fried green beans which was the very first dish I cooked for the blog. I like this version as you don’t need to have small amounts of minced pork in your fridge to make it. I found it in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. Fuchsia is also on twitter @fuchsiadunlop. The excellent Irish green beans came from P.Ryan in Rush Co. Dublin.
Vegetarian fried green beans

See Chinese Kitchen Essentials for any unusual ingredients you don’t recognise.
Twice Cooked Pork
Cooked once… cooked twice

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