Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The engineer and his mistress

When eating with chopsticks, it is imperative that everything is brought out in bite sized pieces. When using flat, Korean chopsticks, it is even more important. Well, for me anyway –I taught myself how to hold them and, as a result, can only use round or square ones.

My family and I are staying in Beijing as guests of my dad’s old friend –lets call him the engineer, and his MISTRESS (The engineer’s, not my dad’s..).  Apparently it’s common to keep one.. I am typing this in their study on the 21st floor of a 33 floor apartment building, the view is absolutely breath taking! Since hosting the Olympic games, Beijing has been busy improving itself in every way –bigger buildings, better roads and it’s much cleaner than I remember (although it doesn’t compare to home!)

View from the 21st floor
Their home is beautiful and very well kept and they are every bit the perfect host and hostess. We are told that Beijing is super duper cold, but only outside –all buildings have central heating indoors and kept to about 20°C so our winter coats are only needed for brief moments outdoors (will need them for sight-seeing tomorrow).

Korean BBQ above an electronics store

We are treated to a Korean BBQ just a few minutes walk down the road which, we are told, is one of the mistress’ favourites. I’ve had my fair share of Korean BBQ back home and, I have to say, even though the experience seems more authentic here (the Chinese do know how to put on a show) Chinese beef just doesn’t compare to what we get back home.

The restaurant is wonderfully furnished and even though the temperature outside is -7°C, it is wonderfully toasty in our private booth and I don’t take any notice of the chill.

Roasted corn tea “Oksusu cha”-reminds me of good ol’ corn on the cob
We start off with a roasted corn tea (known as oksusu cha in Korea) which is apparently well known for warming and protecting one’s liver. It reminds me of corn on the cob or rice bubbles that have just been popped –it smells better than it tastes though..

Small cold dishes
Various dipping sauces

Before the main course, many tiny cold dishes are brought out to whet our appetite. A plate of soy beans marinated in BBQ fish sauce and various pickled vegetables (no, I wasn’t game enough to try the pickled onion. Sue me). We were also given a variety of dipping sauces for later on.

Sitting back and letting the pro do it.
Back in NZ, we’ve always BBQ’d our meat at our own tables but here, the mistress insisted on getting a waitress to cook it and cut it up for us –“they know how to do it properly and it’ll give us more time to talk” she tells me. A BBQ plate and charcoal is brought in along with a pipe to suck away the smoke.

Shin meat on the BBQ plate

The engineer orders an all beef platter which seems to use most parts of a cow –shoulder, shin, rump steak, belly and even tongue! The belly is my favourite (I like a little fat on my meat) although, in my opinion, not as good as pork.The engineer is told off for telling me about the ox tongue but I’m not scared (it’s not like it’s raw onion or anything) –it’s actually really tender and I really recommend that everybody try some.

On another note: I have noticed that the mistress has a collection of identical dress in different animal prints. It’s pretty cool..


Ham sushi and cold soba noodles
The engineer and mistress went overboard with accompanying dishes and ordered 3 carb based meals –too much soju perhaps? We had some steamed rice which was mixed with corn, cold soba noodles and ham sushi. Soba is a type of thin noodle made of buckwheat flour and is black in appearance –it scared the engineer and he refused to try it. It was served in a sweet and slightly sour broth and had bits of cucumber floating in it. I felt it was the perfect accompaniment to the fiery sauces and the fatty beef. The sushi had ham, pickled radish, egg, cucumber and carrot –I decided I could get this anywhere and only had once piece. It was average.

Spicy seafood broth (top) and steamed rice (below)
Other accompanying dishes included a steamed egg dish and spicy seafood broth. The steamed egg had small bits of tomato and chives which, I felt, wasn’t as good as my mother makes but that broth was delicious! The broth was flavoured with clams, onion, wintermelon and tomato. It was full of flavor yet clear and brought a strong, spicy kick with it.

Savoury steamed egg

At this point I am told there is more food for supper at home should I get hungry. Don’t think I’ll be needing it..

Snakeskin fruit –see how it resembles snake skin?

Snakeskin fruit peeled. Looks suspiciously like garlic but don’t let that put you off –it’s ah-mah-zing!
One more note: I discovered this awesome new fruit at Changle International Airport today –SNAKESKIN FRUIT! I was told that photos aren’t allowed so I had to buy a few –I wanted to try them anyway. They are crazy expensive at $48RMB/pound and the two cost us $13RMB. Man, was it worth it! This is one of the best fruits I’ve ever had. It is from Indonesia and tastes sweet and crunchy. It’s as if an apple, a pear and a fig were all involved in some horrific accident which left them looking like garlic and tasting of heaven (forgive this analogy, I’m very tired).

I am able to post less and less as it’s hard to post to blogspot in China but I have been taking notes daily and will definitely upload them as soon as I can (which may be when I get home to Auckland).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tales from the weary traveller

Status: Survived 12 hours of being on a plane. Watched: Despicable me, 17 again, all of season 8 of Family Guy. Waiting to board plane to Fuzhou.

Oh man, I feel so sick. My brain is so confused about having not slept in what feels like forever and, what’s more, I’m sitting in Hong Kong International airport in my winter clothes –you know, because it’s winter here? Oh yeah, the outside air temperature is 22 °C. I cannot avoid the massive windows that surround this place. Did I mention I’m in winter clothes?

Don’t let the dress fool you. That is a thermal underneath the shirt and some VERY warm track pants. It’s also very hot outside.

Forgive the negativity. I’m not one for long flights. It seems that every time I travel internationally I am always “randomly” selected for an explosives screening while my fellow passengers look on. This time was no exception.

Status: am currently waiting at gate 41.
Looking after bags while my mother goes hunting for snacks and a drink. We only brought $15 HK with us because we are obviously very well travelled and know how to prepare for things like this. Lesson learned. It’s ok though, it was just enough for a drink. Local time is 16:19. Body is still in NZ time and, for the love of all that is good, GET SOME SLEEP! And maybe hydrate yourself.. Kids here are loud. Am reminded of why Grace hates kids.

Well thought out menu. Also in Chinese to cater for the non-english passengers.

The upside to all of this was the airplane food. I know right?? Maybe it’s due to my low expectations and previously traumatic experiences with on board meals or maybe it’s because Cathay Pacific has improved majorly since I last flew. Both my mother and I were pleasantly surprised at the quality as well as the portion sizes provided.

The menu was very well thought out and catered for people of all tastes. Except, of course, if you’re a picky eater in which case you will never be pleased and probably shouldn’t read this post as you’ll be sorely disappointed. Go away and come back soon when I post about awesome restaurants in Fuzhou and the other cities I will visit.

Clockwise from top: Fruit salad, butter-jam-milk for tea and croissant, orange juice, yoghurt, croissant and my meal: stir-fried noodles with minced pork and bean curd.

The first ever airplane meal I remember ordering was this terrible beef thing that had a fancy foreign name and came to me as a gelatinous yellow thing that didn’t resemble any sort of meat I had seen before (we flew Cathay Pacific, hence the poor expectations this time). My parents ordered some sort of chicken stir fry which I thought was incredibly boring (“We’re Chinese! We can get this any time!”) –it turned out to be a great choice. It was then that I vowed only to order familiar Asian dishes whenever I flew..

..And that’s what I did today. Good move, Lucy. Good move. My mother opted for different dishes for each meal so we could better appreciate the full menu.

Mothers meal: Caramelised onion and spinach frittata with baked beans, pork sausages and tomato
For breakfast, I ordered stir fried noodles with tofu (yeah I know, more lunchy.. but I love tofu) while my mother ordered a caramelized onion and spinach frittata (a more appropriate choice for breakfast. The sauce that covered the noodles and tofu was delicious and, before I could protest, mum had already stolen a piece of tofu (that’s 50%!!). She made up for it by giving me a bit of her frittata but it just wasn’t the same (me being weird about my onion and such).

Christmas cookies –full of cocoa and walnutty goodness

All the breakfasts came with a fruit salad, yoghurt, croissant and a special Christmas cookie that was beautifully presented. Highly enjoyable –well, for plane food.

Clockwise from top: Kumara and orange salad with shaved ham, pavlova, orange juice,bread roll and my meal: Braised chicken with ginger and vinegar sauce, steamed rice, pak choy and carrot.

For lunch/dinner (I say this because I am unsure of what time zone we were in) I ordered braised chicken with chinese veggies while mum ordered beef tagine with orzo. I found my chicken to be a little too salty but, again, I fully appreciate that it’s airline food and probably very good for what it is. Mum’s beef was delicious! If our meals hadn’t come with so many accompaniments, I probably would have more of it. It actually had the texture of meat, even the type of meat that had been stewed for a while –I knew better than to ask. Mum tried to be adventurous and ordered tomato juice with her meal. While this sounds like a much healthier choice than the sugar laden soft drinks and fruit juices don’t, I repeat DON’T, order this! It is the vilest thing I’ve had in my entire life! Unless you like drinking ketchup.. Then go ahead. I dare you!

Mother’s meal: Braised beef tagine with punpkin and pea orzo.

All the lunch/dinners came with a kumara, mandarin and ham salad, bread roll and mini pavlova. The salad was covered in a light, eggy mayo and the pavlova was absolutely divine! It was covered in whipped cream and some passionfruit sauce which left me wanting more. A vegetable korma was also available for choosing.

About to board flight now. Will continue this later. Having dinner on this flight!

The food on this flight was not worth blogging about. We had a hamburger (with Christmas ham) for dinner –the only upside was that it was warm and was swimming in cheese which was just what I needed at the time.

Status: Exhausted. Don’t care what time it is anywhere. Am going to bed.

I realise this post wasn’t about food as much as me moaning about my travel experience. I promise it’ll be more about food when I’m more refreshed. My dad tells me that we are booked for dinner every night we are here so I’m sure there’ll be heaps to write about.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Before we go our separate ways

Since Christmas last year, it has become tradition to gather at the "JJJ flat" (Jack, Jai, Jamie + Cam and Starsh) for Christmas dinner before we all go our separate ways for the holidays. Seeing my childhood friends gathered together for such a meal reminds me of just how grown up we've all become.

Grown ups preparing salad and eating crumbed chicken

Our parents no longer have to come up with ideas for snacks to take for shared lunches -we do that all by ourselves. Everyone who attends has a hand in the meal -bringing a plate, doing dishes and providing good conversation.

The good thing about grown up dinners is that guests realise that it's an actual meal and make an effort to outdo each other with their dishes -no packets of chips allowed!

Finished Chocolate Cobbler -it was really dark so I couldn't take a great picture..

I had decided against the randomiser and opted instead for a recipe I had seen on pioneer woman a few months ago. The chocolate cobbler looked simply divine and Jason begged me to make it. The recipe was quite easy to prepare and was absolutely delicious! The only trouble I had was that the oven dish I used was too big for the recipe and, hence, was forced to double it (but it's OK, the 20 servings of chocolate cobbler had be demolished by the end of the night). The recipe is at the end of this post.

Front to back, left to right: vegetable curry, also veggie curry, pavlova, ambrosia, lemon and sour cream cake, grated cheese, chilli, spinach and feta quiche, salad, crumbed chicken, chocolate brownie.

My mouth started watering as soon as we entered the flat. The smells that were coming out of that kitchen were absolutely delightful! When my eyes finally adjusted to the dimly lit kitchen, I spied Jai at the stove making his veggie curry, Ronen and Jo preparing the salad and a heaps of people crowded around a giant platter of, what I later found out, was crumbed chicken (thanks to Ronen's pro baking skills). Note to self: must crumb more chicken. More often.

Ronen's crumbed chicken (sorry for the lighting. I wish I was more pro)

Time: not sure. Status: really really hungry and wishing they would hurry up with the salad so I could grab a plate.

The spread before us was pretty magnificent. I didn't even know where to start. I just knew that I wanted a little bit of everything. 

Jai's: Veggie Curry #1 -chickpeas, green beans, onions
Jai's Veggie Curry #2 -capsicum, onions, cauliflower
 I am of a belief that a meal is not a meal without meat but Jai could persuade me otherwise if he cooked me food every day. As you may remember, I'm very weird about onion -it has to be cooked right the way through or I feel like vomiting. I did the opposite of vomit. I went back for more.

Jamie's Chilli
I'm a little ashamed to say that I didn't realise this was chilli until I saw Jamie have it over nachos. I treated it as a curry and had it over my rice which was just as nice (heaps of people copied me and had it over rice so it's OK).

Liz's Spinach and Feta Quiche
This was one of my favourites. Liz used flaky pastry instead of the traditional shortcrust pastry which gave it a lighter texture -perfect for the summer. 

Sarah's Pavlova and Ambrosia
Even after stuffing myself to bloatation, I was still looking forward to dessert. Again, we all got a little bit of everything in our bowls to fill our second stomachs (the one reserved for dessert).

My dessert bowl -chocolate cobbler, vanilla ice cream, ambrosia, pavlova, lemon cake (my trifle was on Jason's plate)
I was absolutely blown away by the calibre of pre-separation-Christmas dinner. I wish I brought my extra stretchy eating pants. I wish I owned extra stretchy eating pants. I must remember to buy some extra stretchy eating pants. The only downside was finding what I think was a hair in Grace's cake.. She denies this.

Grace hair? Mmmm..

I was more impressed with the way old friends came together and worked towards a dinner -how far we've come!

Cameron manually whipping cream for his trifle (unfortunately I was so excited that I started eating it before I could take a picture..)

Recipe for incredibly easy and incredibly yummy chocolate cobbler:

Ingredients -Brown sugar, flour, cocoa powder, milk, butter (later to be melted), salt, white sugar, baking powder and vanilla essence

- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 7 Tbs cocoa powder, divided
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I always like to put extra)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 1/2 cup hot water

1. Preheat oven to 180°C

Step 2

2. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, 3 tablespoons of the cocoa, and 3/4 cup of the white sugar. Reserve the remaining cocoa and sugar.

Step 3

3. Stir in the milk, melted butter, and vanilla to the flour mixture. Mix until smooth.

Step 4 with glad wrap.

4. Pour the mixture into an ungreased 8-inch baking dish. 

5. In a separate small bowl, mix the remaining white sugar (it should be 1/2 cup), the brown sugar, and remaining 4 tablespoons of cocoa. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the batter.

6. Pour the hot tap water over all. DO NOT STIR!

7. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center is set.

Ice cream. Highly recommended.

8. Let stand for a little while and serve with ice cream and pour the gooey centre over the top. Trust me -you'll need the ice cream as this is super sweet!

Note: stopped at step 5 and took my separate parts over to the flat and completed the recipe there. This way, the cobbler would be nice and warm by the time everyone was ready for dessert. I highly recommend this option if you are taking this to a party -let it cook while you're eating!

I'm off to bed now as I'm flying out to China in 7 hours for more food adventures. Blogspot is banned there so I'll have to find a way to stealth blog. Stay tuned for weird food you probably never want to try!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Randomiser 1.0

My parents got me an iPhone for my 21st birthday so, naturally, I went about downloading all the apps I could find. I now have a 6 categories on my homepage: entertainment, language, games, music, photography and, of course, food and drink. 

One of my favourite apps is from Allrecipes AU which has endless amounts of recipes to try and, what sets it apart from the rest, a RECIPE SPINNER!

Dinner spinner (choose categories or let it decide for you!)
Current forecast = Rain. Just rain. And lots of it. 

Since the rain has ruined our plans for a picnic my boyfriend, Jason, and I decided to finally try this gadget out. 

Hmm.. A vegetarian dish including grain that we can make in less than 60minutes..
To be perfectly honest, we spun the randomiser 5 or 6 times before we settled on something we actually wanted for lunch..

Zucchini Fritters!
I love zucchinis. Jason loves fritters. Our decision was made.

Clockwise from top left: Pepper, Salt, Creamed Corn, Milk, Garlic, Onion (pre fried), Italian Herbs, Eggs, Flour, Cheese and ZUCCHINI!
The recipe, itself, is really simple -just get the ingredients into bite sized pieces, mix and then fry -voila! The reviews for this recipe thought the fritters turned  out a bit plain and definitely needed some sort of dipping sauce as an accompaniment. We had it with sour cream and good ol' Watties tomato sauce.

Jason, the pro fry cook
Recipe (courtesy of the spinner): Serves 6, ready in 25 minutes

-1 large zucchini, grated or finely chopped
-1 small onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-3 eggs, beaten
-1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (we just used tasty cheese.. I don't think it makes a difference)
-1 Tbs chopped parsley
-1 cup milk
-2 cups plain flour
-salt and pepper to taste
-2 Tbs olive oil for frying
* We added 1/2 cup of creamed corn (trust me, it makes it so much better)

1. In a large bowl, mix together the zucchini, onion, garlic, eggs, cheese, parsley, milk and flour. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat about 1 Tbs of oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the frypan, and flatten slightly with the back of a spatula. 

3.Turn fritters over when the center appears cooked. Cook on the other side until golden brown. Set aside and keep warm. Add more oil as needed and continue with remaining batter.

I'm not a fan of onion so I diced it really really finely and then fried it before putting it in the batter.

Finely diced onion. Because biting into raw onion is gross. No one wants that.

Mixed ingredients -looks better in real life.

Flip over when the top starts to bubble

Verdict? Not bad -I definitely agree with the reviews that the fritters were a bit bland but good with sauce. Certainly doesn't deserve the title of the best zucchini fritters.. Maybe "good for a quick lunch" fritters..
Jason thought the zucchini pieces could have been larger and I would have liked a little more corn. 

Maybe you'd like to play around with this recipe and give me any suggestions?

I'm going to the boys' flat for an early Christmas dinner tomorrow so tune in for another randomised dish soon!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tres Bien (well.. sort of..)

So I'm at my computer surrounded by a mess of clothes, clutter all over my desk and my bed is so messy. Instead of doing something about it, I'm blogging. I've even left my boyfriend sitting on my bed with nothing to do. I'm addicted. 

The proud graduand
Yesterday was my cousin, Jacky's, graduation. As in Chinese tradition, it was up to him to take his guests (his girlfriend, Jenny, and me) out for a meal. He'd treated the whole family to a lovely dinner two weeks ago, but I was n00b back then and didn't take photos so you'll have to trust me that it was delicious.

Look! I found their website!

Because it was graduation day, parking in town was horrendous! We ended up walking 15 minutes to our destination: Bien -a cute Japanese restaurant tucked away on Mount St in Auckland City. I'm quite surprised I've never noticed it before as it is opposite O'Rourke Hall (Auckland uni halls of residence) which I used to frequent in first year.

Ever since stumbling upon this, I prejudge all Japanese restaurants by the quality of their chopsticks -are they generic takeaway store ones or nice ones you'd have at home? The ones at Bien were somewhere in between -disposable, but there was none of that annoying splintering business. First test = pass.

There was also catchy J-pop playing in the background which reminded me of the DDR games I used to play. Second test = pass.

Unsuspecting sushi waitress
Bien has a great variety of meals to choose from ranging from donburi and udon to many different types of sushi. All quite reasonable prices for lunch. 

We started off with Takoyaki -octopus balls. It is a very popular Japanese dumpling made of batter,  baby octopus, tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, ponzu, mayonnaise, green laver (aonori), and katsuobushi (fish shavings). These are a personal favourite of mine -I can't go to a Japanese meal without a serving of good ol' octopus balls!

I had originally meant to get this as my meal but, because they looked so good, I was made to share and get another meal..

Kitsune Udon (half)

I wasn't feeling particularly hungry so I ordered a half serving of the Kitsune Udon which is thick Japanese noodles with sweet bean curd with soup. The soup really clear and simple which went really well with the sweet bean curd. 

Chicken Katsu Don (half)
Jenny ordered the Chicken Katsu Don which, I must admit, didn't look very appetising to me (I didn't take a very good photo either.. oops). The dish included deep fried chicken cutlets cooked with onion and egg on top of rice(you can also choose pork). Despite its appearance, it was delicious -the egg was full of flavour and the chicken still crunchy.

Chicken Katsu Curry

I'm a big fan of Japanese curry. Unlike Indian curry, it is mainly sweet. Jacky's dish tasted very generic -like store bought Japanese curry that you can heat at home and pour over rice. The portion size, however, was very generous.

How to eat sushi like a pro
Since I got the smallest meal, I had a good 10 minutes of sitting around while waiting for the others to finish. But it was OK, there were plenty of things to look at -like the best way to eat sushi!

Verdict? Nice -just like ALL the Japanese eateries I've been to so far. The food tasted nice, but there wasn't anything particularly special about it. It's certainly better than any of the food on uni campus though -so I'll definitely be back when semester starts next year!