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Yangshuo Cooking School

15 Nov

I’d taken a cooking course in Beijing, and wanted to do one in Yangshuo when we spent a few days there in September. The Yangshuo Cooking School came recommended, and I booked in with a friend to go one lazy afternoon. Our partners called out to us to bring them back some food, and we paid them lip service, secretly knowing there would be none left over to bring home!

A quick trip to the market to buy some ingredients where we saw some different fruits and vegetables than what’s normally available in Beijing. But we specially requested not to go into the dog meat section. As dog lovers, it’s not something we really wanted to see, then have to cook an hour later.

Our lovely teacher/chef Jennifer ran us through the basics of wok cooking…”if it’s not smoking, there’s no cooking”. We dutifully turned our hotplates on, up, down, off, up, off, down, as she instructed. Our first dish was steamed chicken, which we chopped up with Chinese dates, ginseng and goji berries, steamed in a basket.

Next up was egg-wrapped dumplings – delicious pork mince with mint, which was fried inside a little egg omelette. They were divine. Linda and I agreed they were both our favourite. An eggplant stir fry was also delicious, and one we agreed we’d try at home. Stir fry vegetables with pork and greens were nice and tasty, and gave us some new techniques when using the woks at home.

Unfortunately, we got back to our hotel with no take away boxes for the boys, but I have since made Dan the eggplant and egg-wrapped dumplings, to a rave review!

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Hearty home cooking

11 Sep

Recently we had a few people over for burritos. The toppings for the burritos were delicious, if I do say so myself, even though I can take no credit for them whatsoever – Jess cooked the whole meal by herself while I was held captive (literally) to unforeseen circumstances for 5 hours while she was in the kitchen.

Anyway, back to the toppings. Even though Jess cooked them, she cannot quite take all the credit either, as the recipes were given to us by a few friends of ours in Beijing.

The chilli beans – a meal by themselves, but just as good added to burritos – are Ellie’s specialty. Ellie, a fellow volunteer over here in Beijing, straddles the vegetarian and carnivore worlds with aplomb. She’s a food lover who eats meat, but her long term partner Brendan is a vegetarian. It’s probably as a result of this gastronomic balancing act that her food creations are so very, very tasty. Ellie has been very generous with her recipe to vegans, vegetarians and food-lovers alike, so I’m sure she won’t mind me saying her chilli bean mix comprises a few types of beans (we used four), celery, chilli, onion, spices and canned tomatoes. Simply delicious and very healthy. Ellie has also introduced us to an Eritrean eggplant dip, handed down to her by her Eritrean friend. I’ve tried to make it as good as Ellie but it just wasn’t on par. I think Ellie could potentially be withholding a few essential ingredients …

Anyway Ellie, you’ve enriched our food world and we’ll think of you when we leave Beijing and cook your creations.

There were other toppings which we can lay claim to, like Jess’s spicy chicken mix with celery and capsicum, and the stock standard guacamole we make, but the corn sauteed with red onion, cumin seed, fresh chili and finished off with fresh coriander and lime juice is a recipe provided to us by Jemma and Andrew, two Kiwi pastors who are very good cooks. Thanks to you J & A as well for such a simple but tasty recipe. And while on the topic of Kiwis, It would be remiss of me not to say sorry about the rugby game on the weekend (Australia won the Tri-Nations after 10 long years of being defeated by the All Blacks). I promise not to choke on any of my food over the next few weeks during the World Cup (NZ, despite being far and away the consistently best team in the world, have only won the World Cup once since 1987 and usually choke at the tournament).

If you’re inspired to cook burritos with any of the above toppings, my suggestion would be to knock them down with a few pomegranate margaritas, or freezing cold beers. We’re off to Mexico in a little over a month and are hoping to have plenty of those …

Toasted muesli

11 May

I’m a big fan of breakfast. It’s a meal I never skip and one I often go to bed thinking about. Yes, I’ve made that confession on this blog before.

But in China, breakfast is a different affair – no cereals, toasts or scrambled eggs and bacon to be seen. My local Wu-Mart has a box of imported corn flakes and a whole row of oats, but that’s it in the way of cereals. Of course you can go to the western supermarkets and buy WeetBix for 55rmb (A$7.80), and they fulfill the cravings a little, but I really miss a good muesli. Back home we’d eat Carman’s, or on the lucky occasion when my mum would visit or we’d go down to Melbourne for the weekend, we’d eat her marvelous toasted muesli.

I guess everyone has their way they like to eat it. My dad and Dan like it plain with cold milk. My mum has hers with fruit. I love mine with fruit and yoghurt.

Despite there being a wide selection of muesli to buy in the western supermarkets, we’d been disappointed by too many, so when a friend lent us her toaster oven, the second thing I made (after a chicken, leek and mushroom pie) was toasted muesli, a la my mum, Kathy. It was the first time I’d ever tried making it, and despite not being able to find a few of the ingredients, it turned out delicious. It had oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sultanas, dried apricots, coconut, almonds, cashews and more…no soy grits unfortunately – I’m still looking for them. We also managed to get most of the ingredients organic, so we were really happy with what we were cooking with.

I combined everything and toasted it in batches in the toaster oven, and in 10 minutes the house smelt like my parent’s when my mum makes her muesli. I tried some and it was really good, if I do say so myself. But Dan also agreed, so we made another two or three batches. Each mouthful has crunch, plus delicious flavours and textures. Mum’s recipe really is good. I have to give the toaster oven back soon, so I’ll make another few batches to tide us over until we either buy an oven or borrow this one again! We’re also considering taking orders for this OM (Organic Muesli), so if anyone’s interested in trying some, let us know!

Morning porridge

2 May

I’ve just been reading Terry Durack’s piece about “daggy food”  being the latest food fad…and had to pipe in with my two kuai’s worth, particularly when I read that someone called oatmeal/porridge daggy.
At the moment we’re eating porridge quite often. We may not when summer comes around, but for the cold winter months it’s warmed us from the inside out. It was probably my Mum’s delicious winter porridges filled with dried and fresh fruit that made me such a big fan of this breakfast. One of my enduring memories of my Grandma was of her teaching me to eat the porridge at the edge of the bowl before the middle part – that way it would always be cooler and I wouldn’t burn my tongue.

I actually look forward to it when I’m going to bed the night before. That could be a tragic confession.

Anyway, we thought we’d post a blog to our delicious everyday morning porridge/oatmeal.

About 1 to 1.5 cups oatmeal. I’ve used many brands here in Beijing. Quaker, Chinese brands, and have now settled on Australian-produced oats and I think they are also quick-cook.

Half a frozen banana, defrosted. Since learning the hard way that bananas seem to go off very quickly here, I chop them in half and pop them in the freezer. Sure, they may not look pretty, but it’s going to be mushed up anyway.

Half a handful of sultanas.

Half a handful of Chinese dates (jujubes), cut in half and stones taken out if you can be bothered.

Quarter of a cup of milk, and just under three quarters of a cup of water.

Optional extras: Cinnamon, chopped/grated pear or apple, chopped dried apricots, fruit compote on the top.

Mix all the above ingredients into a saucepan on the gas stovetop. Stir every 30 seconds to a minute to prevent it from burning. Don’t worry – it only takes about 5 minutes to cook, you won’t be at the stove all morning. Once the water has soaked into the oats and the mixture has become thick and bubbly, take it off.

Put it in a bowl, drizzle some honey or brown sugar on it and add milk. Eat while lovely and hot. Voila.

Daggy perhaps, but oh so delicious!

Dips, dips, dips

3 Mar

 We’re having some friends around for dinner tomorrow night, and both of them are vegetarian, with one of them also allergic to wheat and gluten products. So I’ve had my thinking cap on this week and many recipe websites open to get inspiration for a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner which tastes good and also pleases my meat –loving man, Dan. So I decided upon falafel, tabbouli, dips and marinated eggplant and zucchini. I knew I’d make a tzatziki. That was easy. With my fabulous home-made yoghurt maker, I make at least a litre of yoghurt every week. Using a starter culture of He Run sugar-free yoghurt, I add full cream milk and let it sit and brew overnight. Once it’s done it’s thing, I pop it into the fridge, where it cools down and sets a little bit.

 

So tzatziki was easy to make:

2 cups yoghurt

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 small cucumber, finely chopped

Sprinkle pink salt flakes (or any salt)

But to make the hummus I was left wondering…where to find tahini? The sesame paste was not easy to come by. A friend even went to the western supermarkets, where she reported “meiyou” (don’t have). I could have tried using the dark brown sesame paste I’ve seen in my Wu Mart, but I wasn’t sure if there was anything else in it that was wheat-based. I could have also bought pre-made from the western supermarkets, but had the same issue of not knowing what exactly was inside it. But I was able to find a packet of sesame seeds, which I ran through my blender with some olive oil. I was able to make a paste-type mix which I used for my tahini.

Hummus

1 can chickpeas, plus some of the chickpea water

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp cumin

3 tbs tahini/sesame paste sauce

Lemon juice

Olive oil

I ran this all through the blender until it became a thick smooth paste. I think I may have put too much sesame paste in it, as Dan remarked it was “unlike any hummus I’ve tried, but it’s good”. For my first attempt at hummus ever, and also in China where it’s sometimes hard to come by ingredients, I was fairly impressed with this try, and can’t wait to eat it with falafel.

Valentine’s dinner, BJ style

14 Feb

Dan has no idea that his cooking tonight makes it into our blog, but his (un)Valentine’s Day dinner was so amazing I have to blog about it. We don’t normally celebrate Valentine’s Day, and although we had vague thoughts about heading out to dinner in Beijing somewhere, the plans got a bit waylaid when we stumbled across an incredible fruit and vegetable market just around the corner from our house. All we had to do was follow the people with plastic bags full of goodies. When we got there we were not disappointed.

Tables of strawberries, from 6 to 9rmb per jin (half kilo), papayas for 3rmb a jin, every kind of Asian green vegetable imaginable and oh, the mushrooms were of almost every colour, shape and size imaginable. We started salivating straight away, and all thoughts of eating out were banished! Yes, Beijing is a great city to eat out in, but after a few weeks away we were craving home cooked food with little oil and salt and lots of crunch, flavour, colour and vitamins. 

We stocked up our trusty re-usable-eco-bags that come in handy almost every day of living in Beijing, stopped in at Wu Mart to pick up some pork fillet and off home. Dan got straight to work, dicing, slicing, marinating, while I put a beer in the freezer and tried to help out by cleavering the garlic and ginger. What appeared on the table was a culinary masterpiece – all up I think we counted more than 15 vegetables in the stir-fry. Tender marinated pork fillet among glass noodles and all that colour and flavour…it included: capsicum, two types of mushroom, ginger, garlic, onion, lotus root, (fresh) water chestnuts, sweetcorn, broccoli, unidentified green leafy vegetable, coriander, eggplant, chilli and I forget the others…Anyway, it was an excellent meal for an (un)Valentine’s Day. Oh, and I finished the meal with a fruit salad – papaya, pineapple, strawberries, oranges, apples and others…apart from being awesomely healthy, it was so so so tasty. So I had to give a shout-out to my lovely other Hungry Traveller, Dan, and say thankyou for the dinner, darling. (awwwww).

* Of course, I couldn’t take any photos of dinner unfortunately or he would have known I was going to write about it and possibly not allow it. You’ll just have to imagine it.

Pot luck lunch

30 Jan

I just had to post a link to this incredible feast held in Hubei province marking Chinese New Year.
Apparently they broke the world record for showing the most dishes in multiple venues! The detail they went into is also fairly extraordinary – who would want to eat the little rabbits!?!?
My Mum, Aunty and I were lucky enough to be at a much smaller version of a “pot luck” lunch for Spring Festival recently at a Beijing elderly community, where all the residents brought a thermos, flask or container of food to share.  It was amazing what some of the elderly people brought to share, and they must have been up early in the morning cooking to try and impress their friends. There was a whole cooked fish, sticky rice triangles wrapped in banana leaves, dumplings, stir fried vegetables, meats, noodles, crispy bread things, chicken wings and so much more.
 
Mum and Jo brought along “Ao da li ya cai” – Australian “cuisine” of pikelets. As my apartment has no oven, they had to be creative in what they could make, and also use ingredients that were fairly easy to get here. The food was all a hit. The room was filled with laughter, old friends gossiping away to each other and sharing their food. The mood in the room was one of excitement and joy – everyone was so proud of what they had made and wanted to show it off, explain what was in it, what it was, and how to eat it.
 
At one stage Mum had two dumplings almost force fed into her, and it was great to see the elderly Chinese helping Mum and Jo put the jam on the pikelets and arranging them with their chopsticks. There was not a lot of wastage, and everyone left feeling satisfied and happy.