We have had a traumatic start to 2013. New Year’s Day dawned fresh and shiny and we celebrated in Duncannon by preparing a farewell meal for Shane who was returning to China later that week. It was a cheerful, happy occasion attended by 13 of my family including my mother, brothers and their children.
Sadly, just two days later, we lost my mother-in-law, a special woman who I paid tribute to in “In Memory of Alice”. Shane had just returned to Beijing, reeling from the loss of his beloved Gran, when Baby Shananigans attempted to make a premature arrival. Shan’s due date is 22nd February and she is holding on for now. We love you dearly Baby Shananigans and are really looking forward to meeting you but we can wait a little while longer. Honest!
As a result of this and a number of other family matters I’ve been preoccupied for the past week and I haven’t had time to write. But I’ve found cooking therapeutic. Tasty, nourishing food is a physical necessity when the going gets rough and I’ve discovered that Chinese spices can awaken senses that are numbed by shock and worry.
During the last few days, I found myself returning to some of my favourite recipes from 2012, accessing them on my iPhone or iPad when out and about so that I could identify the ingredients I needed to rustle up a meal that evening. I have lots of new recipes to share with you as soon as I re-group and some exciting plans to celebrate the Chinese New Year in mid February but meanwhile I thought it would be useful to remind you of the links to the recipes that got the most positive reaction since I started the blog at the end of last July and to which readers return again and again.
Beef recipes are always popular, especially those that are similar to dishes available on Chinese take-away menus but are lighter and fresh-tasting. These dishes have become firm favourites with readers and I love when I hear that you have come up with your own variations. Recently I’ve taken to using bavette of beef in these dishes because it is great value and has a lovely texture. Sirloin and fillet also work well.
Pork cooked many ways
Pork is a staple in Chinese cooking and Chinese cooks have perfected techniques over the centuries for making even the cheapest cuts taste tender and delicious. My most popular pork recipes so far are all inspired by traditional Sichuan or Hunan recipes and variations of them can be found on the menu of the China Sichuan restaurant in Dublin whose chef gave me the fish-fragrant pork recipe below.
Lamb dishes are particularly prevalent in Xinjiang province where Shan was born and her family still live. In that far western province of China the influence of the Uighur Muslim community is strong. These two recipes came from Shan and her MaMa and make for simple, satisfying everyday meals.
Shan’s Big Plate chicken is already the stuff of family legend and is the dish she and Shane use to celebrate the Full Moon Festival. Lemon chicken is a more traditional Cantonese dish and the version below is simple, tangy and light.
I have had great fun experimenting with giving a Chinese twist to our wonderful Irish seafood. Sichuan Seafood Duncannon Style was included in Goodalls Modern Irish Cookbook, much to my delight. I also stumbled on an interesting way of using Flahavan’s Multi-seed Oatmeal in salt and pepper seafood dishes.
Starters and light supper dishes
Finger food Chinese style and light supper dishes can be great fun to make at home. Pot-sticker dumplings are strongly associated with celebration of the Chinese New Year where you will find them laid out on every surface ready to be cooked. For our New Year’s lunch in Duncannon I made large quantities of duck pancakes and spring rolls as a starter. They were all gobbled by appreciative adults and children. Noodles symbolise longevity in China and the Dan Dan noodle recipe below is one of those staples that I prepare whenever I need a fix of Sichuan pepper.
Apart from learning how to cook some of the better known dishes of China, I’ve also had fun using new and lesser known cuts of meat. Thanks to Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers I’ve tried several ways of cooking his wonderful wagyu beef from his herd at Garrentemple, Co. Tipperary. I ended up having my wagyu stew tasted by local celebrity chefs live on The Sue Nunn Show on KCLR during the Savour Kilkenny festival. And with the help of many chefs who are friends on Twitter, especially Tom Walsh of Samphire at the Waterside, Donabate and Niall O’Sullivan of Isabel’s in Dublin, I have discovered some unusual ways to cook pig’s cheeks and short beef ribs (also knows as Jacobs Ladder).
- Shananigans Wagyu Stew
- Wagyu Shabu Shabu Hotpot
- Pig’s Cheeks with Orange, Fennel and Star Anise
- Short Beef Ribs with Red Cabbage
And finally – where it all began
I doubt if I would ever have started this blog if Shan hadn’t chosen a side dish of fried green beans in a Sichuan restaurant on our first night in Beijing last June. That was also the day she and Shane revealed to us that Baby Shananigans was on the way but that’s a whole other story. 🙂
The Sichuan peppercorns exploded in my mouth, the dried facing heaven chillies added heat, the crunchy Sichuan preserved vegetable yai cai added texture and flavour, and of course the magic trinity of garlic, ginger and spring onions provided their subtle notes. Combined they elevated this simple vegetable out of the ordinary. It was in that moment that I decided I wanted to learn and write about Chinese food. I made fried green beans as a side dish at home the other night using the yai cai, Sichuan pepper and dried chillies Shan’s MaMa sent home to me with Shane at Christmas. Comfort food to awaken the senses.
I hope you continue to enjoy the blog during 2013 and thank you for your encouragement and support.
P.S. Don’t forget you can find a convenient list of equipment and ingredients in Chinese Kitchen Essentials