mardi, novembre 15, 2011

Sarsi/Root Beer Cake

Sarsi Cake

Sarsi is one soft drink that you either love or hate. My Chinese friends said it reminded them of some toothpaste they used to use in their childhood. I only used Lion toothpaste when I was a kid and it tasted of grape or strawberry. Hub said it tasted like medicine. Anyway sarsi is quite like root beer (I believe the herb sarsaparilla goes into making both drinks) and I love root beer.

I decided to experiment with the drink and used it to bake a Sarsi Cake this morning. I used the recipe for yesterday's Light Chocolate Cake, substituting the hot water with the sarsi. The cake turned out to be less tall and had craters on the surface (probably caused by the gas in the drink). The texture was also quite different, I would call it a cross between cake and kueh.

You could taste the sarsi in the cake, but it wasn't strong. I thought of making a sarsi-flavoured icing to go with it, but changed my mind as we've been eating cake almost every day this week. The kids are hyper enough as it is.

After I've finished baking the cake, I cycled from the house (down the path I've been meaning to try) to the kids' school. It took about 25 minutes and was actually quite an easy journey, though I've been sworn at a few times for being on the wrong side of the road. Parked my bike in the school as 3 teachers have already had their bikes stolen at the new mall opposite, so I wasn't going to take any chances.

Shopped at Gap Kids and then ate a bowl of beef noodles in a Taiwanese eatery. I must do this more often.

Sarsi Cake :

125g flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g sugar
100g butter or margarine (softened)
2 eggs
2 tbsp soluble cocoa powder
125ml sarsi or root beer

Preheat the oven to 180°C/365°F.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the middle and break the eggs into it.

Add the sugar and butter on top of the flour (or the sugar may cook the eggs).

Mix the cocoa powder and sarsi together in a separate bowl and pour into the large mixing bowl.

Whisk everything together till you get a smooth batter.

Pour into a paper-lined 20-cm round mould and bake in the hot oven for around 30 minutes.

Craters will usually form in this cake because of the gas in the sarsi so do not be alarmed. The inside of the cake may also have a slight honeycomb structure.

Let the cake cool for a few minutes in its mould then turn it over onto a cooling rack to be cooled further.

lundi, novembre 14, 2011

Light Chocolate Cake

Light Chocolate Cake

The Babies have gone out of the house to play without permission. So I've locked them out. Will not let them in until the sky turns dark and the air cold. When you cannot cane your children to punish them, you have to devise other ways to get their attention and help them remember your instructions. And while they are waiting outside, you roast a chicken and cook rice with ginger and garlic so that they can smell the aroma coming from the house...Will they or will they not get to eat dinner?

My mother would tell you that she never had such a hard time bringing us up. Are kids today more of a pain, or am I an ineffective parent?

I had the piano tuned this afternoon. The Chinese piano Tuner came by bus and walked who-knows-how-many kilometres into my compound. An hour's work for slightly more than 20 euros. I offered him a glass of orange juice and a slice of freshly baked Light Chocolate Cake. He told me I was kind and beautiful. I should consider distributing cake, it seems good for my self-esteem.

My kids like cake but will usually not eat more than a slice, maybe 2, at a time. They each had 3-4 slices of this cake today and I had to stop them from eating more of it or they'd surely fall sick. I adapted it from Trish Deseine's I Love Cake and she meant it when she called her cake "Léger". It was a light and simple chocolate cake, a recipe to be kept and used again and again.

Incidentally, I was not concentrating and accidentally used 4tbsp of cocoa powder and 2 tsp of baking powder - but the result was very good, so maybe in the future I should continue with this mistake?

Light Chocolate Cake (adapted from Trish Deseine's I Love Cake) :

120g butter or margarine (softened)
120g sugar
2 eggs
120g flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
1 tsp baking powder

20-cm round mould

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk till you get a smooth batter.

Pour into a paper-lined 20-cm round mould and bake for 25 minutes.

Let it cool for a few minutes and de-mould the cake on a cooling rack.

Grilled Vegetables with Couscous

Grilled Vegetables with Couscous

Hub worked through the weekend and even when we ate out/in with other people they were either former or current colleagues. The thing about Shanghai is that though it's a big city, it's a small world. You always have someone from your past turning up at some point to live/work there as well, or a friend turning up for work or visit. So if he wasn't stuck on the computer or screaming away in a conference call, he would be talking shop with the men we had lunch/dinner/brunch with over the weekend.

Coming back from brunch on Sunday, we discovered that the Teenager had gone A.W.O.L.. He didn't call to ask for permission to leave the house, and we didn't find his note till a few hours later. This was the first time that this has happened - and just a few weeks after I told a few mothers that my son loved staying in his room and had never asked to go out.

I know that it's normal for Teenagers to want to hang out with each other when they can. At the same time I'm starting to worry that they may get up to no good. Shanghai can be a very dangerous place for expat teenagers.

My instinct was to scream, get him to come home immediately, ground him for 3 weeks etc - but I resisted and decided to wait for him to come home. I worked out my speech and it contained the following grand lines :
  • he's still a minor under our responsibility, therefore he needs to ask for our permission before he goes out. And that by talking to us, not leaving messages around the house;
  • we need to know who he's seeing, the person's phone number and address;
  • I'm not the first mother to set this rule, surely he needs to have done reasonably well at school in the week before he's allowed to go out;
  • a curfew helps protect him (and prevents him from being a nuisance to others) for I didn't give birth to him, give up my career etc to have something happen to him;
  • I expect him to behave himself no matter where he is and that should start with his attitude towards his mother at home.
I should also work on my BGR speech, but it'll have to be for another day as he has a short attention span and may already not be able to absorb the above points. I told Hub that I do not want a confrontation with my Teenager, I want to be able to talk with him. Besides, he may just be motivated enough by these hang out sessions to want to work harder at school.

Our guest on Saturday evening has 3 kids too of which 2 are twins. The boys were late bloomers who after a shaky lazy start are starting to do well academically in addition to being good musicians and sportsmen. I can only hope that something positive will rub off on my boy before it's too late (meaning before the IB Diploma in the short term).

I've kept the menu simple for dinner : Salad with Tandoori Prawns, Grilled Vegetables with Couscous, Steak and Chocolate Fondant. Hub really enjoyed the couscous, which was like a winter version of the Taboulé.

Before adding the fresh herbs

Grilled Vegetables with Couscous :

240g medium dehydrated couscous grains
360ml hot vegetable or meat stock
1 tbsp salted butter
pepper to taste

olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 carrot
1 fennel bulb
1 celery stalk
1 small red onion
1 zucchini
1 red chilli
3 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil leaves
fresh flat leaf parsley
fresh mint leaves
3 cherry tomatoes
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Spread them out in an ovenproof dish and drizzle olive oil generously over them. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a hot oven till they are cooked (but still crunchy), turning them over half-way through the cooking.

Turn on the grill and brown the vegetables.

Place the couscous grains in a large salad bowl. Pour the hot stock over them. Leave for a few minutes till the grains have absorbed the liquid, add the butter and fork through the grains to fluff them up.

When the vegetables are nicely grilled, place them on top of the couscous. Chop the fresh herbs and tomatoes and add to the dish. Squeeze a lemon over everything.

Mix just before serving, adding more olive oil if necessary.

vendredi, novembre 11, 2011

Fondant de Nathalie

Fondant de Nathalie

I woke up this morning making great plans for the day e.g. cycling on the pathway along the river and seeing where that would lead me to. Have always wondered what I would find at the end of the path. No cars are allowed on it so we've always turned just before.

The sun was shining so the day looked promising. I walked out of the house and stopped. It was so cold.

16 years in Europe (including 6 months in a very snowy Rochester, NY) and I do not think that I've managed to embrace the cold. The mind spent the day cycling outside the house, but the body stayed indoors. The men arrived this morning to repair the heater so now I have heating going and then a new leak appeared. No showers till they come to repair it on Monday. But no worries, I have another 4 showers/bath in the house. No doubt once we start using them more leaks will be discovered. I do not know how many of these guys they have on the payroll, but when they constructed these houses they probably made sure they would give them enough work to do for years to come.

Hub's colleague and friend from Germany (but he's French-Serbian) would be dining chez nous tomorrow. Bottles will be uncorked and I am expected to furnish a few bites. I haven't gone grocery shopping this week since the car's gone, and will have to make do with my end-of-the-world food stock. Incidentally it's 11/11/11 today and the Chinese will be celebrating what they call "Singles' Day". Cheesy, huh?

I had all the ingredients required for a Fondant de Nathalie in Trish Deseine's I Love Cake book. It is actually almost like my own fondant recipe. This calls for overnight preparation wherever possible, whereas I usually make mine to be eaten on the spot. So I've gotten tomorrow's dessert out of the way and can concentrate on the rest of the menu.

What I really want is to blog about a recipe from the book. Because this book has been offered to me by a few precious friends when I left Modena, namely fellow members of my cooking club. JW will be visiting me in Shanghai next Saturday, by the way. We should be doing a spot of cooking together when she's here, which could include a pasta-making session with a few neighbours.

I've reduced the egg and the sugar. The fondant turned out really well and was a hit with both guest and family.

Fondant de Nathalie (adapted from I Love Cake) :

200g dark chocolate (if more than 50% cocoa increase the sugar)
200g butter
200g sugar
4 eggs
1 tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave oven.

Stir in the sugar and set aside to cool slightly.

Using a wooden spoon stir in an egg at a time.

Incorporate the flour and pour the batter into a paper-lined 20-cm round cake mould.

Bake for 22 minutes. The centre should still be slightly wobbly.

Remove the cake immediately from the mould and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Best consumed the next day.

Virgin Voyage on the Shanghai Metro

First stop Huamu Lu (line 7)

I've been in Shanghai 10 months and regret to say that I've never gone on its metro - until yesterday. It's not that I do not need to take the train (with Shanghai being such a big city), but I do not have a metro station within walking distance of my house. Nor any bus stops come to think of it.

To get around I depend on Hub's driver (when he's available) or the taxi. Sometimes I cycle to the supermarket when I'm really desperate (and end up eating 麻辣火锅).

Hub's away again this week (and with him the driver) and I had a coffee morning to attend at the younger kids' school yesterday. Near the school a new metro station (huamu lu, line 7) has just opened together with the Kerry Parkside mall and hotel. This gave me the idea to take a taxi to school and then make my virgin voyage on the Shanghai Metro on said line. As it was, a group of ladies were meeting for lunch at a Singaporean restaurant in Minhang. I arranged to meet SW at the lines 2 and 10 interchange so that we could make our way there together.

A few months ago there was an accident in the metro near Yuyuan due to a signalling problem. A train entered into another one creating some chaos and injury. I've also read about how the trains tend to be very packed during peak hours. Added to the general lack of civility among the Chinese, it didn't make riding on the system particularly appealing.

Not a soul at 10am

10am on a Thursday morning was a good time to try out the metro though. There wasn't a soul at the Huamu Lu stop (it being the final/first station), I already hold a public transportation card (used it sometimes for the taxis), the station was clean, brightly lit and the signs simple and visible.

As the train went along, it started picking up more and more passengers but it was still not too crowded. I changed at Longyang Lu for line 2 and then at Nanjing Dong Lu for line 10. So far so good. The trains were quite clean and the system seemed efficient. And it was so cheap : 8 yuan for almost an hour spent travelling on it.

However we still needed to hail a cab to reach our destination. The network is still not as dense as say in Paris or in London. Or you may need to know the bus routes.

People started moving, train must be coming

On the way back, the trains were really packed and it was only about 3:30pm. I hung on to my bag for dear life and as I was waiting to get onto a coming train (with the Chinese around me starting to crowd the door), I reminded them to have the courtesy to let those inside the train to alight first before we started to rush in. I just felt I had to do it, otherwise from what I've observed on my trip out they just do not have this reflex.

A blind man walked through the train with a helper, playing the harmonica. Most people just pretended that they didn't see him (now who's blind?), some even lowering their heads when they passed. Even if you do not wish to give him anything, you can try to appreciate his playing. In my carriage, 2 European (I think they were Dutch) men and myself were the only ones to drop a coin into the cup. In fact the men actually gave them a 5-euro note, though I'm not sure it may be of any use to them.

Train's almost coming to a stop

I was standing next to 2 young Italian men. They kept making comments about the Chinese girls (or rather their silhouettes) around them. At one point, they were wondering about what Liujiazui was about and I told them (in Italian) that it was the financial centre. You should have seen their faces.

The experience has been a positive one on the whole and I am impressed with the metro system. Wish I could have easy access to it for surely the way I live in Shanghai would be different if that should be the case.

mercredi, novembre 09, 2011

Chicken Wings Braised in Chinese Hua Diao Wine

Chicken braised in Hua Tiao Wine

The girl who calculated my fortune said that I wasn't meant to do business because I was too "nice". The kind who wouldn't dare sell anything to the friends for a profit. In other words I'm no entrepreneur.

I was therefore feeling a little awkward when I found myself last evening in a beautifully restored old house in the former French Concession, at a wine tasting dinner that turned out to be a test session organised by a newly set-up wine investment company in Shanghai.

We were 6 : Hub, myself, the American sommelier, the Scottish manager, Hub's married Italian colleague and his lovely and magnetic Shanghainese girlfriend MY. There was also a Chinese girl serving us and a Chef à domicile newly hired and being tested.

They have been in business for quite a long time, even in Singapore, and have arrived in Shanghai a few months ago (everyone comes to Shanghai soon or later). They hope to find investors for good Australian wine. Investors are (rich) people who would buy the wine, have the bottles stored for up to 15 years if not more, not drink the wine, expect the price to go up (hopefully by a lot), and who would finally sell everything at a profit to someone else (who may or may not drink the wine).

Most of the people in the room (meaning except us) were seasoned investors and business people. They don't just like things. When they are interested in something (e.g. sex toys, lingerie, art, cars, whiskey...), they usually also want to make money with it.

I want to get rich, of course. But I have a difficult time trying to imagine buying wine and not drinking it. Or a nice painting and not hanging it up on my wall. I have nothing against sex toys, but I would prefer not to have to buy it in front of 20 other people in the same room. And I'm sure business'd be great when you round up a couple of guys in a room, throw in a few Chinese girls lounging around in scanty lingerie and next thing you know a couple of wives, mistresses and girlfriends get a new set of something sexy.

Anything is possible and there is a lot of new money here in Shanghai. People are bored and they do not know how to spend it. We should try to cash in - just don't ask me how. Ask them.

Dinner was kept simple so that the wines would not be overwhelmed by the food. But there was no real effort to pair the food with the wines either. Conversation flowed rather easily, especially when you have such an interesting character as the manager (between his family's and his own experiences) and the alluring MY.

I've mentioned her in one of my earlier blog posts. We met a few months ago at a company dinner held literally in "her" arena. We are actually of the same age, though of course I'm fat, dowdy and useless next to MY who's tall, slim and pretty like a model, very confident, exudes sexuality whether in gesture or parole (a couple of smartly inserted sexual innuendos always work well with the men, especially European men, you can literally see their minds and other body parts working over time), has a successful career and men running to her for her sexy person, business acumen/partnership, lovely company or all of the above.

Hub asked me if I was jealous (I guess I should be if I were not, I mean when your Hub asked you a question like that it meant he thought that you ought to be, don't you think so?). I think I can honestly say that I'm not. At my age, I have learnt to accept that there are all kinds of people on earth, some better, some worse off. I am envious though, because she seems to have everything going for her, while I'm just a housewife doing nothing exciting except growing fatter and fatter. And even then I'm not doing a good job (as Hub likes to tell me) for my kids are not brilliant academically and my youngest has been really mischievous lately (surely my fault).

But in this macho world I think it's good to see women like MY holding their own. Make the guys salivate, run to you with their tails between the legs, run the show and enjoy it at the same time. This girl smokes cigars, drinks, dances etc. She sounds intelligent, has business acumen and lots of guts. I only wish she could have better taste in men.

Keeping to the theme of wine, though not investment grade, I made Chicken Wings Braised in Hua Tiao Wine today. I've been meaning to use the pyrex dish I bought some time back and this seemed like a good time. I cooked the dish entirely in the oven. If you have a gas stove, a claypot would do great.

Chicken Wings Braised in Hua Tiao Wine :

a dozen chicken wings
30g ginger (finely sliced)
3 garlic cloves (halved)
2 tsp sesame oil
3 pieces black fungus (soaked in hot water - will become quite big)
60ml (or more) chinese rice wine (hua tiao)
200ml chicken stock
1 tsp salt

Heat up the oven to 190°C.

Dry roast the ginger and garlic in a pyrex casserole in the hot oven till fragrant.

Add sesame oil to brown the ginger and garlic.

Cook the chicken wings in the sesame oil till they render their own fat.

Add in the black fungus (cut into smaller pieces), the wine, salt and the chicken stock.

Cover the pyrex dish with its lid and simmer in the oven till the chicken wings are tender.

Adjust seasoning, and drizzle more wine over the dish.

Could be eaten immediately or cooled so as to have the fat removed. It actually tastes (and smells) even better reheated.

vendredi, novembre 04, 2011

Gai See Hor Fun 鸡丝河粉


I made a Vietnamese Beef Pho one evening and a roast chicken the next and found myself with some leftover chicken breast, beef stock and flat rice noodles. Images of Gai See Hor Fun 鸡丝河粉 started to flash before me so that was what I made myself for lunch.

I grew up more or less with 2 versions of this dish : flat rice noodles in clear soup and flat rice noodles in dark gravy. And have somehow always preferred the latter. So it was the dark gravy version that I will blog about. We usually use the thinner flat rice noodles to make this dish, but I had to make-do with whatever I could find here, of course. So fresh medium-broad rice noodles'll have to do.

Flat Rice Noodles and Shredded Chicken Meat in Dark Gravy (serves 1) :

a piece of fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp sesame oil
200ml meat stock
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp small rock sugar
salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1-2 tsp water

flat rice noodles (cooked and drained)
chicken meat (cooked and shredded)
bean sprouts (blanched)
spinach (blanched)
fresh chilli
fried shallots

Pound the ginger and garlic into a rough paste. Fry the paste in the sesame oil in a small sauce pan till it turns fragrant.

Pour in the stock. Followed by the sauces and rock sugar. Stir to mix well. Taste to adjust the seasoning, adding salt or sugar if necessary.

Prepare the serving plate. Fill it with the cooked and drained flat rice noodles. Top with the blanched bean sprouts and spinach.

Dip the chicken meat for a minute in the gravy still cooking on the stove. Remove, shred and garnish the noodles with.

Stir the cornstarch into the gravy to thicken it. Remove from the heat and pass the gravy through a sieve.

Pour the gravy over the noodles. Add chilli and fried shallots if desired.

涟 is my new nickname

lian (2)

As you know, I am Lotus. A flower that is associated with the Goddess of Mercy, a very useful plant that can be used almost entirely. It has stood me well all these years, if giving me a little of a burden which I have assumed quite willingly before.

But I am now entering a phase in my life that is lacking in the water element and I need to change my name in order to create some balance in my fate.

For a short while I will therefore be known as - ripples. Say it aloud, associate it with me.

mercredi, novembre 02, 2011

Jade on 36, Shanghai

The kitchen @ Jade on 36

I just turned 39. Or 40 if you listened to my mum (who's Chinese - not that I'm not, but...). Anyway it gave Hub the occasion he had been waiting for to try out the champagne brunch at Jade on 36 in the Shangri-La Hotel in Pudong.

We were not supposed to eat another buffet till we've lost some weight. But Hub had been tempted by the caviar and free-flow alcohol while I wouldn't mind collecting a few more points on my Shang Rewards card. So he got us a table next to the window giving us a 36th-floor view of the Huang river. You will notice that unlike other husbands he didn't dare tell the restaurant that it was my birthday - for fear that we would get one of those goose bump-producing all-staff-sing-happy-birthday-to-Lotus scenarios.

View of the river, the Bund and the other half of the hotel

I must admit that things were a little strained between us in the past few weeks. We have been rubbing each other up the wrong way more than usual lately and nobody felt ready to back down. It doesn't help that he was trying to make us drink soup every evening (as part of said diet) and we (as in the rest of the family) are really getting quite sick of it. Seeing your husband stuck to the WC on his iPhone first thing in the morning when you were running around getting the kids ready for school doesn't help improve your feeling of bien-être towards him either, and when he actually opened his mouth to ask you why you couldn't be quieter...Maybe you get the picture.

Then the French Presidential Elections are round the corner and the French are more-than-ever interested in politics at the moment. Hub and his family have always been peeved that I've some sort of partiality for Sarkozy (which I don't, but you just need to rub them up the wrong way when you see how they can get on their high horses when it comes to this), and would take any opportunity to take me to task for it.

The dining hall

During brunch, while sipping yet another glass of Moët & Chandon, Hub started telling me about how horrible Sarko was (again). I answered in turn that his policies aside, I actually liked him for being true to himself e.g. never bothering to hide his pretty wife, penchant for expensive watches or filthy rich friends. The French have such a thing for never discussing the private lives of their politicians that most of them would indulge in all kinds of weird things behind public scrutiny only presenting a certain face to the world. And that's supposed to be good?

You should see his reaction. He ticked me off : I was shallow, had no reading of politics, how could I claim to have studied politics, I could say such rubbish to the driver but not to him blah blah blah. On my birthday, in a very expensive French restaurant on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel in Pudong. Was that the way to treat a birthday girl?

Some of the appetisers

That aside, I would recommend the brunch. They had quality offerings that included foie gras, grilled scallops, sashimi, salads, smoked ham, beef tartare canapés, raw oysters, king crab legs, cooked prawns, caviar...and you get to enter the kitchen to choose your mains : roast wagyu beef (a little too cooked), lobster, rack of lamb, veal shank, grilled goose breast, seared be accompanied by truffle risotto, gratin dauphinois, grilled peppers etc.

Lobster & cod main course

You get free-flow champagne, red and white wines, water, porto and even coffee. There was also a cheese trolley.

Crèpe Suzette

For dessert, there was an ice cream stand where you can also order a crèpe suzette. It wasn't too bad, lots of orange juice and couldn't really taste the alcohol - the way I like it. Another crepe stand where you can have your crepe prepared with other fillings. A selection of desserts like panna cotta, opéra, mille-feuille, fresh fruit etc were on display in the cellar. I found them so-so however. I am a bit difficult when it comes to French pastries.

The bill came up to nearly 1600rmb for the 2 of us. A reasonable price for a brunch of this quality though expensive if you should indulge in it too often. Meanwhile it's back to the zuppa for now. I still haven't lost any weight, thank you for asking.

Jade on 36
Shangri-La Pudong
33 Fu Cheng Road, Pudong
Shanghai 200120
Tel : +86 21 6882 8888