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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.

Cooking class

8 Jan

After living in China for a year, I want to be able to go home and cook up a Chinese storm for myself, friends and family, so a cooking class when my Mum and Aunty Jo visited was a good way to keep out of Beijing’s cold weather. I love to cook from Kylie Kwong’s recipes (I’ve already included some on this blog!) and wanted to add a few more to the repertoire. We attended a Hutong Cuisine class one Saturday morning in January and were taken on a local market tour by Chunyi – a bubbly woman who has run the cooking school for many years. She showed us mushrooms of many sizes, shapes and colours; tofu that looked like meat and even intestines; and beans, seeds and dried foods. Back in her hutong, her younger sister Xia ran us through a class on seasoning – covering soy sauces, vinegars and shao hsing wine. Now I’ll always look for certain things on soy and vinegars I buy! It also solved the mystery of why I couldn’t find proper shao hsing wine when looking in the sauces section of my local Wu Mart – I needed to be looking in the alcohol section!

Chunyi’s brother, Chao Chao then took us through five dishes – gong bao chicken, a Sichuan favourite, steamed fish with ginger, beer duck, tiger-skin pepper and steamed ginger egg custard. Chao Chao taught us how to hold a cleaver properly, how to flavour oil with Sichuan peppercorns but not have them in the dish and a simple, how to cut chicken to enable more flavour to get into it while cooking, how to get a little “sizzle” and crisp up spring onions, and an easy steamed egg custard dessert.

Of course one of the best parts of cooking is the end result and the eating – the duck, which had been simmering in beer, oil and spices for more than an hour was just divine. Served with fresh fluffy steamed rice, the flavours were intense and delicious. The gung bao chicken had great flavours, minus the pesky little Sichuan peppercorns that cause many people a lot of pain – not only picking them out of food, but when they realise they’ve chewed one and their mouth is now on fire and numb at the same time! Steamed fish was also perfectly cooked, and the tiger-skin pepper had a lovely char-grilled taste to it. A dessert – the steamed ginger egg custard – wasn’t too sweet, but had a great ginger taste from the ginger juice. And it was such a simple dessert we started coming up with other ideas, tastes and flavours we could add to make different types. It’s not often after a meal you come out feeling stuffed, but that you’ve learned something, but this meal also taught us many skills to take home with us and impress others with our Chinese cooking skills.

Chunyi’s gong bao chicken 宫保鸡丁(reproduced here with her permission)

Ingredients:

  • 300 gm chicken, cut into 1.5 cm cubes (鸡肉 ji rou)
  • 1-2 tbsp deep fried peanuts ( 炸花生 zha hua sheng)

Spicy:

  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced (大蒜 da suan)
  • 3 cm piece of ginger, sliced into thumbnail size (姜 jiang)
  • 1 tbs spring onion, white part only, cut into 1.5cm sections (葱  cong)
  • A handful dry chillies, cut into sections, remove seeds if you don’t like it hot  (干辣椒 gan la jiao)
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper  (花椒 hua jiao)

Marinade:

  • ¼ tsp salt, 2 tsp wine, 2 tsp light soy sauce, 2 tsp water, 3 tsp corn starch

Seasoning to add during cooking:

  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp black vinegar

Thickening at the end (if you don’t like a sauce, you can skip this part):

  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 3 tbsp water

Method:

  1. Mix chicken well with marinade and keep for 15 minutes.
  2. Above a high flame, add 2 tbsp oil to season wok, turn off flame, add Sichuan pepper, deep fry pepper until it becomes brown, take out, turn on flame, add chilies, ginger, garlic, spring onion and stir till flavours and smell rises. Add chicken, slowly mix till it changes colour from pink to white and separates. Add 1 or 2 tbsp water if wok too hot. Add all seasoning, stir for one minute, add thickening, stir, when thickening gets thick, turn off the heat, add peanuts, mix and take out.

Lotus roots and eggplants

19 Dec

As much as I love eating out in Beijing and discovering new and exciting eateries, the produce at the market is almost as equally enticing, calling me to cook something with it. The eggplants are long and thin, shiny dark purple, a huge array of Chinese greens that I wouldn’t know where to begin with names, and so many variations of mushrooms and fungus – long enoki-types, squishy black and white fungus, button, dried shiitake. So I decided to cook Chinese for some friends last night. I also do love cooking for others, and miss doing that now I’ve been in China. I’m not sure if it’s so “Chinese” to have people over for a dinner party, but oh well. It was a nice excuse to sit at my table and light the candles!

 

I took inspiration from Kylie Kwong’s My China cookbook, which I don’t have with me, but was able to find on the biggest cookbook (the web), and another Chinese eggplant recipe which I changed around a little as well.

I’m a big fan of Kylie Kwong, and cook a lot from her Simple Chinese Cooking cookbook at home. One of my favourite recipes, and definite crowd pleaser is the deep fried silky tofu with Sichuan pepper and lemon. The crispyness of the tofu skin mixed with the silky, sloppy texture inside makes it a divine dish. But I didn’t cook that last night.

I LOVE love love lotus root. As well as having a beautiful crunchy texture, I usually can’t help exclaim out loud at the table how gorgeous the vegetable is to look at as well. How can something that grows underground look this good? After a tiny mixup at the vegetable stand (they thought I wanted some other type of vegetable – I think it was a yam), I got some lotus roots. I peeled them, sliced them and put them to soak in some water with a little vinegar, as I’d heard they discolour pretty quickly if left for too long before cooking.

Kylie Kwong’s caramelised lotus root

 

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 bulb garlic unpeeled and cut in half crossways

2 garlic cloves finely sliced

5 cm piece of ginger finely sliced

550 g fresh lotus root peeled and cut into 5mm slices

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons shao hsing wine

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

Heat oil in a hot wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly. Add garlic, cut-side down, and sear over medium heat for 1 minute. Add sliced garlic and ginger and lotus root and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add sugar and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until slightly caramelised.

Add shao hsing wine and stir-fry for 1 minute. Lastly, add vinegar and soy sauce and stir-fry for a further minute. Serve immediately, garnished with chilli and coriander if desired.

The whole bulb of garlic used for searing isn’t meant to be eaten, but it adds a gorgeous infusion of garlic into the oil and the entire dish.

To go with this dish, I made an eggplant, green bean and cherry tomato stir fry as well. It would have been nice spicier as well but my friend doesn’t like too spicy so I toned it down. I was inspired by a recipe from The Age newspaper, which I used the base ingredients, then added my own things to. I don’t salt my eggplants either – maybe I should, but I’ve found these eggplants so fresh and not at all bitter.

Eggplant, green bean and cherry tomato stir fry

Ingredients (serves 4)
3 eggplants (I use the long Chinese ones)
2 garlic cloves
1 knob ginger, peeled
8 spring onions
peanut oil for shallow frying
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
4 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp shao hsing rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil

4 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water

10 long beans chopped into 5 cm pieces

6 cherry tomatoes, quartered

 

Slice eggplants into short, thin strips.

Back home I’d use a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, ginger and four spring onions to a paste. Here I use my trusty cleaver, and have to deal with slightly chunkier pieces. Slice the other spring onions into 5cm lengths. Set aside.

Heat a wok with a cup of oil and when hot, fry the eggplants until golden brown – it’s best to do this in two batches. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on kitchen paper and discard oil.

Heat the wok with a few tablespoons of fresh oil and add the garlic paste. At this point, if you’re not a vegetarian, you could add 300gm pork mince. Stir-fry for 5 minutes on high until the pork is cooked, then add all the remaining ingredients, including the sliced spring onions. Cook for a few minutes until they have softened and the flavours have melded together.

Stir in the eggplant, check the seasoning (if a little salty add more water) and serve.

I served these dishes with rice cooked in my pressure cooker, which I must admit was my fail for the night. I’ve only used rice cookers before and got my quantities wrong…so gluggy rice. Not so yum! But the pressure cooker is fabulous, and I also was able to cook a bread and butter pudding in it, so I’ll continue using it, but just experiment with different ratios of water to rice. Once I work that out I’ll be able to cook jasmine rice in six minutes!

I also served a bowl of peanuts still in the shell – an interesting and mysterious packet which says they are salted…but still in the shell. I’m loving the peanuts over here. A dinner of all textures – crunch and caramel of the lotus root, sloppy and silky eggplant and nutty peanuts. Oh, and a little gluggy from the rice!

How to hot pot

17 Nov

My language school holds cultural activities every month, with hot pot making the flavour of November. A great dish to warm up as the weather gets colder. I love hot pot, and am a huge fan of the communal way of dining. Although you may put some meat, cabbage and tofu in there, you may pick out a fish ball, mushroom and lettuce. It’s all a lucky dip if you and your friends are randomly cooking things. To begin with, we made the delicious sesame paste, which you dip your cooked foodstuffs into. Huo guo, in Chinese – huo means fire, guo is pot. So fire pot. Although many hot pot places will now have a cooker built into the table, there are lots of places you can have hot pot where the pot still sits above a little flame.

Sesame sauce:

1 jar of sesame paste – this is quite thick, like a smooth peanut butter almost. It came in a jar with a thick layer of oil on the top. You mix it in a bowl and add water and keep mixing until it takes on a smooth consistency.
Soy sauce
Fermented bean curd – this came in a jar, it was tofu-like cubes in a red sauce, which we mixed into the sauce and broke up into the sauce – about 6 pieces/squares and some of the red sauce from the jar
Leek flower sauce – a few tablespoons. A little garlicky, and zesty flavoured, it’s a dark-green coloured sauce that we mixed in.
Some sugar
Chili sauce if you want
Coriander on the top

Mix all this (with chopsticks of course!!!) until it’s a smooth consistency. I guess you could garnish also with sesame seeds.

Hot pot stock:

Into the hot pot water we added star anise, dried Chinese mushrooms, dried chilies, dried peel, Sichuan peppercorns and dried Chinese red dates (jujubes). We let that simmer for a little and (here’s the cheat’s part) added a packet of spicy hot pot mix into the water. It was a little hot, not too bad. It obviously had oil in it, as well as lots of chili and Sichuan peppercorns.

Wait for this to come to simmer/boil and then you’re ready to cook.

Meats you can use include very thinly sliced beef, pork, chicken or lamb (sliced like sandwich meat so it cooks quicker) and fish balls. Despite looking like pink, orange and white marshmallows, they taste really good cooked. Just don’t ask what’s in them! Squid is nice in it, as are prawns.

All types of tofu are delicious in it – the deep fried bean curd soaks up stock flavours perfectly, and the dried long varieties hold together nicely. Vegetables are only limited by your imagination, but some of my favourites are napa cabbage, sweet potato, lotus root, lettuce and mushrooms (any and every kind – Chinese black, enoki, shiitake). Noodles are also a great addition, with thick potato noodles taking a little longer to cook, and a little bit of patience to fish them out of the stock, but it’s definitely worth it.

Cook these all in the stock – times will vary. Meat takes a few minutes, sweet potato and thick noodles take around five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness. Scoop them out and dip/dunk them in sesame sauce.

Don’t overcrowd your hot pot with things though, otherwise they won’t cook so quickly.

And if you can’t be bothered doing all this at home, my favourite hot pot in Beijing is at Little Sheep on Ghost Street. It’s a Mongolian hot pot restaurant and you can order the large yin and yang-shaped pot with a herbal stock on one side and a spicy, ‘mala’ (mouth numbingly spicy) stock on the other.