lundi, septembre 26, 2011

葱花拌面 Caramelised Onions on Noodles

Caramelised Onions on Noodles

I ate this at 鼎泰丰 (Din Tai Fung)'s Yuyuan branch a few weeks ago when I brought MIL there to try its famous xiaolongbao and became quite hooked on the simple noodles. Visions of caramelised onions filled my head for days until I couldn't stand it any longer.

The bathroom scale has run out of battery and I could no longer weigh myself until I get new ones (those round flat 2430s are really expensive) - and you knew that the batteries were running low when you were weighing 70 kgs and still eating tonnes of carbo one night and suddenly before your very eyes the weight kept decreasing till you were weighing 50 (I do so wish). Sigh, I really wish I could stay away from the rice and noodles - especially at night - but I couldn't and so you now get this piece on my Caramelised Onions on Noodles 葱花拌面.

I bought an enormous yellow onion from the supermarket a few days ago and surprisingly needed only half of it to make this dish. I ate 2 portions of noodles the other day and still have a small bowl of caramelised onion sauce left - probably enough for another 2 portions. If you are running on a low budget, give the cheap spaghetti a miss (used to cook penne with BBQ sauce almost every day when I was a student in Paris, adding cheap Frankfurt sausages from ED/Leader Price occasionally for the protein) and go for this onion noodles instead. And didn't I read somewhere that yellow onions have antioxidant properties, can improve men's sexual prowess etc?

葱花拌面 :

1 medium-large yellow onion (finely sliced)
2 tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 small piece fresh ginger (chopped)
1 fresh red chilli (sliced)
2 tbsp chinese cooking wine
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fragrant vinegar
hot water as required

fresh noodles (cooked and drained)
soy sauce
sesame oil

Heat the oil in a small casserole with a lid and fry the ginger, garlic and chillies till fragrant.

Add the onions. Fry till they turn brown, lower the heat, cover the pot and let them sweat, stirring from time to time to prevent burning.

They will become soft and brown. Pour in the wine and stir in the sugar, but only after the onions are already brown.

Stir in the soy sauces to provide colour and salt to the onions. Only add in the vinegar towards the end or it'll evaporate too much. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (it should taste sweet, salty and vinegary). Add some hot water if necessary to dilute the sauce.

Cook and drain the noodles. Immediately toss with a dash of light soy sauce and sesame oil.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls and spoon some of the caramelised onion sauce on top. Add pepper to taste. Mix well before eating.

I am now busy packing. We're leaving on Wednesday morning. The kids will have to miss a few days of school but I'm sure it'll do everyone some good to be back in France. We're going to bring them to Paris for a few days. They were all born in the capital, but left France when they were very young. The Babies have almost no recollection of their time in the city - something we hope to remedy. I've already bought tickets to the Eiffel Tower, Cité des Sciences and hopefully we'll find time to visit Montmartre, the Latin Quarter and the Champs Elysées as well.

A bientôt!

vendredi, septembre 23, 2011

灵隐寺 Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou

Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou

MIL (facing courtyard of Cheng Huang Temple in Yuyuan) : I've already visited this.
Me (big puzzled frown) : This is not possible. You've never been here before.
MIL : I've already seen this with my son.
Me : This is even more impossible. He only brought you to Zhujiajiao since you arrived in Shanghai.
MIL : It looks the same.

How many times have I said the same thing after visiting a few cathedrals and churches in different European cities in the past 2 decades? Yet we would continue to visit one each time we arrive in a new city - because that's usually the thing to do.

So MIL was on to her 2nd Chinese temple - and thought it looked just like the first one she'd visited. Which is fine by me, only that while European churches usually offer free entry, most Chinese temples charge for it. So I wanted to make sure that we got some value for my money and I dragged her to every nook and corner to take a closer look at the gods, pray for peace and fortune and just short of greater fertility because quite seriously I do not need help in that direction.

I was tempted to seek divine intervention for the Teenager's grades, but thought finally that I should keep that for our visit to the Notre Dame de Paris. I do not speak Shanghainese and Cheng Huang is after all the city's god and was dead long before Mandarin became the official language.

Anyway we would have the occasion to bring MIL to her third Chinese temple - the very important 灵隐寺 in Hangzhou.

Yellow wall = 1st class

Temples in China are classed according to colour and when it's yellow like Lingyin, it's first class. In fact Lingyin is one of the wealthiest (not surprising seeing how costly the entrance tickets were) and largest Buddhist Chan (Zen) temples in China, containing many pagodas, grottos and religious rock carvings.

Feilai Feng Pagoda


Laughing Buddha

It was founded by an Indian monk Hui Li who now lies at the foot of the Feilai Feng pagoda. The pagoda fronts a limestone peak containing a large number of caves and grottos with quite amazing carvings all over. Within the cave dedicated to Guanyin, there is a crack in the ceiling that stretches up to the surface, so that a person standing at a certain position can see a sliver of sunlight (一线天). I couldn't see anything, of course, not caring to overstrain my neck and eyes.

The temple is divided into a number of halls and my favourite was the one containing this large benevolent-looking Buddha statue carved from camphor wood. The back of the hall contained a statue of Guanyin backed by a large screen containing carved images of some 150 Buddhist personalities.

Largest wooden Buddha in China


There was also a Ji Gong Hall, one dedicated to the Medicine Buddha and a hall containing bronze statues : Hall of Five Hundred Arhats. I've always said that most Chinese temples frighten me because of the heavy presence of large ferocious statues, though I was always happy to visit one back in Singapore when they offered free vegetarian food on special occasions.

I must say that the gardens and temple had been worth the visit even though we were dying from the heat. The price was quite steep (e.g. 45 rmb pax for the gardens and 30 rmb for the temple) especially when you have to pay for so many people and if you hire audio phones you need to leave a 100 rmb deposit. Plus those in Mandarin cost 10 rmb while those in English would cost 40 rmb! They also do not offer discounts to senior citizens who do not carry a Chinese passport.

Hall of 500 Arhats

We didn't spend too much time in Hangzhou as Hub was busy with work and had to prepare for a business trip to Europe just after. He was also sulking about having to share his space with so many other tourists, claiming that they spoilt his enjoyment of the beautiful scenary. Bear with us, it was just 8 months ago when we left our big field in Italy and we are still trying to adapt to being surrounded by so many people every where we go.

Cheddar Cheese Scones

Cheddar cheese scones

Baby Girl had a friend over for a play date this afternoon and I have a fridge to clear out before we leave for France in a few days. The girl is from Israel though from what I've understood from her mum they are not Orthodox Jews. Still, I made sure that what I baked was vegetarian and contained no lard.

The kitchen smelled wonderful when the Cheddar Cheese Scones were being baked. A little Indian girl from next door dropped by (she's a fan of Baby Girl) with her Chinese Ayi and the latter asked if I was cooking dinner because the house smelled delicious.

The scones disappeared almost as soon as they were out of the oven. MIL said one had to battle to have one's share. It was a good way to finish up leftover vintage cheddar and fresh rosemary. It also provided me with a good reason to use my ajwain seeds.

Meanwhile the Teenager is away at school this evening for a charity High School Lock-in. He will be back at midnight and will have to be picked up by our driver. I feel bad about making the guy work this late, but I have no means of getting to the school bus drop-off points at that time of the night. Our back gate (nearest to the nearest drop-off point) is closed after 9pm and in any case it would be dangerous to be walking out there in the night. Taking a taxi may not be any safer. I miss my Phedra on days like this.

One consolation is that our driver lives near the boy's school and would welcome the extra income from working over time.

I would have baked these scones for his lock-in if they could be stored over night. Unfortunately scones are best eaten fresh out of the oven, as I've discovered at my English friend JW's yummy coffee mornings.

Cheddar Cheese Scones :

200g self-raising flour
1 tsp double-action baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
50g salted or non-salted butter (cubed)
80g sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 tsp ajwain seeds
3-5 tbsp cold milk

Pre-heat oven to 400°F (my current oven uses °F and I am trying to get used to it).

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together into the bowl of your mixer.

Add the butter, cheese, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ajwain seeds, rosemary leaves and milk.

Pulse till everything comes together and you get a rough, yellowish dough.

Knead the dough till you feel that you can work with it. I did not bother to roll it out with a rolling pin, I just used my palm. It should be at least 1cm thick, and more than 2cm if you want the high ones.

Using a biscuit cutter cut out the scones and place them on a paper-lined baking dish.

Bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes.

Eat them fresh out of the oven. Good for breakfast, afternoon tea or even as aperitifs. For non-halal scones, fried bacon bits could be added to the dough before baking, and those who love cheese could also add grated cheese on top just before putting it into the oven. And they can be eaten on their own or stuffed.

jeudi, septembre 22, 2011

Mooncake Experiment 中秋月饼


MIL arrived just before this year's Moon Cake Festival so I hadn't been able to experiment with making my own moon cakes the way I had wanted to. Managed only one session and the results were so-so, purple sweet potato paste not being as soft as red bean or lotus seed paste therefore producing pretty but relatively hard fillings.

Pandan snow skin moon cake with purple sweet potato and salted duck egg yolk filling

The pandan paste I bought from the Fairprice supermarket in Singapore also had a chemical taste - so the next time I'll try to use natural pandan juice instead.

Other than that, as they say, failure is the mother of success. So I can only hope that this batch of moon cakes would serve as a step towards future success in moon cake making.

But the tea was great. Found this small shop in Tianzifang in Puxi that sells really good tea leaves. Expensive, but oh so very good. Now I find it difficult drinking mediocre jasmin, tieguanyin or puer tea. One should never get too used to good things, it makes one's life more complicated after that.

樱花菜市场 Cherry Blossom Wet Market, Pudong

Cherry blossom wet market in Pudong

Back in Singapore I am fond of wet markets especially for the food stalls that would usually be found in them. Over here in Shanghai, I have been putting off visiting one since I wasn't sure if I could stomach the food if there were any, and I do prefer to do my grocery shopping nowadays in air-conditioned comfort.

You see propaganda inciting the use of polite language in the market

View of ground floor from the escalator

But the kids' school organised a wet market tour recently and I thought that it could be an interesting outing for the MIL. We were led by a Shanghainese-American mother who fed us horrifying tales about pesticide-filled vegetables, hormone-injected meat, pork masquerading as beef, gutter frying oil - and she concluded by informing us that she wouldn't risk eating any seafood in China. Apparently they made trips to Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore when they felt like eating any.

Quite a large choice in soy products

So we visited the 樱花菜市场 somewhere in Pudong. Was surprised to see that the market was quite clean, the stalls tidy and bad odours limited mainly to the live fowl section (also the abattoir) which was housed in a separate annexe next to the market. Didn't take any pictures of the latter as I couldn't live with the smell and had to run out in a flash, faster than you can say "chicken".

A butcher

One of the vegetable/fruit stalls

The wet market was divided into 2 floors, the upper floor containing mainly rice, toy and clothing stalls. The ground floor was divided into fresh vegetable/fruit, cooked food (take-away only), soy products, preserved products, meat and seafood. There was also a guy preparing fresh dumplings and egg dumplings for sale, they actually looked quite nice - if you could trust his meat filling.

Cooked food : a lot of weird stuff if you ask me. See the pigs' snouts?

I wasn't inspired to make any purchase, probably lost any desire after taking a look at the cooked food section, plus the fruits and vegetables somehow looked unnaturally big and juicy at most stalls. MIL and I started to wander away from the group because we were bad at following, lacked concentration etc. Outside there were mobile vegetable and fruit sellers as well as a few stalls selling fried food - but thinking of the gutter frying oil of course I didn't buy anything.

Crab season'll be here soon

From the look of things I'll have to stick to my expensive supermarkets with their imported food sections. There are of course many ways to die, but hopefully I would be able to avoid some form of acute food poisoning until we somehow manage to build up more resistance. Plus I do not derive any pleasure from shopping at the local wet markets, unlike the bliss I usually feel when I visit European ones.

mercredi, septembre 21, 2011

Jiangnanyi International Youth Hostel Hangzhou 杭州江南驿国际青年旅舍

Jiangnanyi International Youth Hostel, Hangzhou

MIL hadn't wanted to go on private tours (i.e. alone) to other parts of China, so we decided to make a short weekend trip to Hangzhou with her - or she would only have seen Shanghai in her 22 days here. Hub doesn't have much leave from work and the kids have school. Certes, in a week's time the famous Chinese Golden Week begins, but only a very brave (and mad) person would travel any where within China - for there would be the Mother of crowds everywhere.

We, for instance, would be flying back to France for 10 days. A very short break for the distance, but a needed one. Just to eat fish for a start. People who like to play safe do not eat any seafood in China if they could help it. I am not that paranoid, but the seeds of doubt have nonetheless been planted.

Anyway, like I've mentioned in my last post, we stayed at 杭州江南驿国际青年旅舍. A youth hostel, would you believe it. Not too far from the famous West Lake in Hangzhou, nice surroundings, a very good restaurant and a couple of basic but reasonably clean rooms - if no unfortunate incidents like NO water supply in the middle of the evening should happen to you.

Most of the en-suite rooms were in this building

It was a small but busy place perched on top of a slope. There was a reading corner, computer for Internet access, self-service laundry, small parking space and weirdly even rock climbing facilities. Everything happens more or less in the restaurant, from checking in, ordering food, paying up, to climbing the wall.

Single/double en-suite bedroom

There were rooms with en-suite bathrooms and rooms with shared toilet facilities (but bring your own towels and toiletries in any case). We had 2 of the former : a tiny single/double for 180 rmb and a family room that sleeps 3-4 for 238 rmb. The beds were very hard, you had little privacy and the bathrooms were tiny. Chinese people generally make a lot of noise so don't count on having late mornings or early evenings.

Always crowded dining hall - serve your own rice and tea

But they were reasonably clean and even had TVs (only local channels though). Things should be bearable if not for the total lack of water in the building due to some problem with the water supply the one evening we were there. Fancy not being able to take a shower after a hot day out, nor to brush your teeth and worst of all, there was no water to flush the toilets with. It was quite a nightmare in other words.

Beef and potatoes with salted vegetables

Almost perfect fried spinach

The food (we had lunch, dinner and breakfast there) did more or less make up for the inconvenience, it being indeed very good (though the children failed to appreciate it). It was home-style, largely spicy, quite salty, but particularly yummy. I was especially impressed with its Ma La Salted Chicken and Beef and Potatoes with Salted Vegetables. Felt immediately inspired to return to my kitchen to try to reproduce some of the dishes. I have missed having this feeling, this impulse in the last few months. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants in Shanghai, but the stuff they usually serve just tends to be the usual stuff.

Ma La Salted Chicken - excellent dish

Prawn, calamari & eggplant casserole

The weekend at Hangzhou marked the arrival of autumn for the region : temperatures literally dropped 10°C between Saturday and Sunday and the weather has been pretty cold since. Time to take out the sweaters and the Burberry trench.

310008 Hangzhou
Tel : 0571 87153273

Lamb with Potatoes & Szechuan Vegetables 柞菜土豆羊肉

Lamb with Potatoes and Szechuan Vegetables

We had gone the rustic way during our Hangzhou visit based on a recommendation from one of Hub's Chinese colleagues. I could barely believe it when Hub sent me the guy's email containing a link to a...Chinese Youth Hostel. In my middle years it hardly seemed appropriate to rough it out (much as we're quite broke now after summer) and added to that we had the MIL with us.

But said colleague insisted that the rooms were clean and more importantly, he added that the food (home-style) was delicious and not to be missed. Apparently as a client of the hostel you get priority seating and since the restaurant tends to be full, this would be most helpful.

When we were ordering our lunch, the waitress suggested that we try their house special "beef with potatoes and salted vegetables". I was hesitant upon hearing the word "salted vegetables" but Hub and his mother said they wouldn't mind trying the dish so I ordered it.

It turned out to be simple but good, a cross between a beef stew and a potato salad, with a slightly sourish and salty taste and between mouthfuls, you discover bits of what seemed to be cumin. Since I had a packet of szechuan vegetables in the pantry and half a leg of lamb left over after using the other half in a lamb stew (a simpler version of my Irish Stew and a hit with the family), voilà Lamb with Potatoes and Szechuan Vegetables 柞菜土豆羊肉for dinner this evening.

柞菜土豆羊肉 :

800g leg of lamb (deboned and cubed)
2 tbsp canola oil
half an onion (chopped)
2 large garlic cloves (chopped)
1 large piece fresh ginger (bashed and chopped)
2 tbsp cumin seeds
30g preserved szechuan vegetables
1-2 fresh red chillies (sliced)
crushed black pepper to taste
500ml hot meat stock
2 large potatoes (peeled and sliced thickly)
2-4 tbsp white vinegar

Heat the oil in a casserole and fry the onions, garlic and ginger till fragrant.

Add the cumin seeds, chillies and szechuan vegetables. Use more szechuan vegetables if you are a fan, but the rest of my family wouldn't like it so I used it sparingly.

Fry the lamb cubes in the fragrant oil and add black pepper to taste. There is usually no need to salt the dish as the szechuan vegetables will be salty enough.

Cover the meat with the hot meat stock. Cover the casserole, lower the heat and let the meat simmer for at least an hour or till it melts in the mouth.

In a separate frying pan fry the potatoes in a little oil till both sides are lightly browned. Add them to the lamb stew and cook till they are soft (maybe about 30 minutes). It depends on how mushy you like your potatoes but in my case I prefer to still see pieces of the vegetable.

If you like your dish sourish, stir in a bit of white vinegar. Best served hot with steamed jasmine rice.

Baby Boy refused to try the dish in the restaurant, but said that since his mummy cooked it, he would this evening. It was a pleasure to see him serving himself at least twice, he loved it!