Dinner Party / Food Coma

ON THE MENUTaiwanese Dinner Yum

Just yesterday I caught myself starting a sentence with the phrase:
“When I was a teenager…”

😱 Cue internal screaming.

It’s probably because last Friday I turned the kind-of gross age of twenty-three that this feels particularly terrifying. Turning twenty-three is not an achievement. I’m not a sassy, Taylor Swift twenty-two anymore, and I don’t really want to celebrate the fact that I am now closer to twenty-five than my wild (not) teenage years.

The good news is, turning a new leaf and beginning my twenty-third year on the planet seems as good a reason as any to celebrate with a little dinner party with my lovely flatmates. Seeing as I’ve been thinking of heading back to Taipei this year, and I Iove any excuse to eat unholy amounts of Taiwanese food, we had a Saturday night feast of some of the easiest and nommiest Taiwanese dishes that you can whack together with a wok, minimal culinary skill, and a whole load of sticky rice.

Dishes 1-6

Taiwanese Dishes

One // Sticky Korean Sushi Rice
Two // Soy Sauce & Shiitake Mushroom Chicken
Three // Mangetout & Ginger Seafood (Kingshrimp + Scallops)
Four // Taiwanese Tomato+Egg
Five // TW BBQ Sauce Vegetables
Six // Stir-fry Broccoli

 I felt very mature and grown-up kicking my old age off with a dinner party (even if we voluntarily opted to have wine and red Schloer instead of wine). If you wanna make something like this, my cooking time in total was around 1&1/2 – 2 hours for a group of five guests, but boy is the result i.e. a mountain of steaming, delicious food, so totally worth it. Needless to say, if you live in a flat with said dinner guests, its almost impossible not to get help drafted in from all quarters.

Thank God.

PUDDING

Taiwanese Sago

I had the time to whip up a classic, super-easy Taiwanese dessert in the shape of Coconut Sago and Sweet Potato soup. It just requires a saucepan and those three ingredients – plus a healthy dose of sugar – which, according to my flatmates, is an exotic approximation of English rice pudding…. Though, if I’m honest, it wasn’t a real hit with the English.

But, I absolutely love this stuff. I think it’s even better after a night to stew to a thick porridge consistency, and the sweet potato has a lighter taste. I grew up with the stuff; folks you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

And, yes, I did eat it again for breakfast.

Nom.

TWENTY-THREE

How does it feel?
Different, actually.

I can feel the heady, impending threat and freedom of graduation just around the corner (yes, I’m one of those multiple gap/study abroad year oldies).  I know that real life, in all its delicious unemployment and assignmentlessness, calls with the summer sunshine.

Yes, I’m gut-wrenchingly sad that I think I’ll finally have to stop pretending be a hip (haha), baby-faced early twenty-something with a student loan… But maybe that means I get to level-up to a trendy, cool encroaching-on-my-mid-twenties-something who gets on with their parents and relishes the thought of starting a career.

But, I guess you’ll just have to watch this space and see how it turns out.

In the meantime,

Where’s that leftover dessert?

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No-Cook Chocolate Traybake

What it is about being crazy in love and the desire to eat myself comatose?

I’ve had the luxury of having my boyfriend to stay this week, which gives me perfect the excuse to cook (and eat) the most ridiculous amount of food. More specifically, it’s the perfect chance attempt eating my own weight in chocolate.

Left to my own devices, I swear I usually eat pretty healthy, but when lovely boyfriend is over, I just want to be cuddled up in my duvet eating horrible amounts of chocolate traybakes to the dulcet tones of Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs, great TV).

These super-simple, lazy-ass chocolate traybakes are perfect for when you couldn’t be bothered to make anything that takes effort, or, God forbid, requires your to get out of your PJs.

Guaranteed favourite.

No-Cook Choccy Traybake

birds

Ingredients:
Cocoa Powder 3Tbs
(Milk/Dark) Chocolate 300g
Rich Tea Biscuits 250g
Golden Syrup 3-4Tbs
Margarine 250g

Utensils:
Saucepan
Glass/Pyrex Bowl
Baking Tray 3-4cm Depth
Mixing Spoon

Method:

1. Crush Rich Tea biscuits finely.

2. Melt marg in a saucepan on low heat, and add cocoa power, crushed biscuits, syrup. Mixture together thoroughly

3. Pour this sticky biscuit base into a baking tray with 3-4cm depth, and press down gently to help it set solidly.

4. Rinse the saucepan (or use another) to bring a 4cm depth of water to a steady boil – place the glass bowl on-top.

5. Tip in chunks of chocolate to bowl and melt for topping. When melted spread over the biscuit base.

6. Put the tray into the fridge to cool for 15-20mins.

Now, boil that kettle and brew yourself a cuppa. It’s traybake time.

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Wishing you all chocolatey joy,

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Meals of a Twenty-Something

Eating is the best time of the day.
Fact.

Luckily, I also really love cooking: I love the lone-ranger foraging, the neat vegetable chopping, and of course, the creative recipes that I’m forced to think up due to the lack of content in my cupboards. Now that I’m firmly in my twenties (cry), I feel like the transformation to a kitchen goddess is surely somewhere around the corner? Though I’ve got some way to go, my unashamed love of a good, home-cooked meal (or what you could also call a love of stuffing my face) means pottering about the kitchen is one of my favourite things to do.

So, here’s some super quick, no-fuss student creations that might help you out in a pinch:

Stir Fry Noodles / Deconstructed Sushi /Blitzed Veggie Soup

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STIR-FRY NOODLES

Not the most imaginative of dishes, but a vegetable stir-fry is a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables from the cupboard – and of course, feel free to add meat. The kick to these noodles is my mum’s special ingredient: Taiwanese ShaCha Sauce. It’s the mind-blowing, Asian equivalent to good ol’ BBQ sauce (which incidentally, I’m addicted to) and is usually sold in most Asian supermarkets. You don’t need much of the thick, grainy paste to give a slightly spicy, rich taste to the noodles, so start small, but it’s my top tip for stir-frying anything.

noodles ingredients

Ingredients:
Amoy Straight-to-Wok Noodles (150g)

Fine green beans
Sweetheart Cabbage
Red Pepper
Small Onion
Shiitake Mushrooms
Broccoli

Garlic
Soy Sauce
Chinese BBQ Sauce

stir fry - cooking

Method:

1. Put the noodles and shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and a quarter cup of boiling water.

2. Wash and chop all vegetables.

3. Add groundnut oil to the wok and fry vegetables until soft.

4. Add noodles, mushrooms and water, 4 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp BBQ sauce – stir for 3-5mins until noodles are soft and evenly coated with sauce.

5. Serve!

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noodles finished

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DECONSTRUCTED SUSHI
ie. the perfect sushi rice

So this is a cheat meal, and it certainly helps if you are addicted to sushi rice – as I am. There’s nothing like a bowl of incredibly sticky, white sushi rice to make my mouth water, and this super-healthy meal involves lots of it. The key to making this lunch or dinner pop is the faintest sweet taste to the traditional sushi rice: just add sushi vinegar, sugar and salt in the quantities below. You can get Sushi Vinegar pretty cheap at most Asian supermarkets, and sometimes major chains also. I could eat sushi rice by the mountain so I try to control myself…

I tend to make this rice to go with any combo of stir-fried veg, fish, roasted sweet potato – but for once, it’s the rice that’s the star of the show.

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Ingredients:
Sushi Rice
(I tend to go for the Korean rice brand ARIRANG)
Sushi Vinegar
Salt & Sugar

Seaweed Sheets
Selection of fresh vegetables
eg. Peppers, Sweetheart Cabbage, Broccoli

Optional Extras:
Sweet Potato Chips, Braised Eel, Honey and Soy Sauce Salmon etc.

Sushi Rice Method:

1. Boil rice and water in a 1:2 ratio and leave to cook until ready. × [see tips below]

2. Once rice is ready, take off heat and leave to cool for one minute, then add 3 tbs of vinegar per 50g dry weight of rice.

3. Season rice to taste, 3 tbs of vinegar usually sits well with a 1/2 tsp of sugar and a light sprinkling of salt.

3. Plate up with your chosen sides!

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decon sushi - finished

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×TIPS FOR SAUCEPAN COOKED SUSHI RICE:
(ie. students like me who can’t afford rice cookers)

 + Turn heat down once water is bubbling, stirring rice only when a quick scrape with a wooden spoon shows rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the water boils off, be prepared to stir frequently to prevent sticking.
+ Rice is ready when it tastes entirely smooth when chewed, so give it a taste and don’t be afraid to stir and add more water if it isn’t cooked. Keep a keen eye out if you’re adding more water as rice is more prone to burn at the bottom.
+ Other indicators of perfect rice are: the water has boiled off and rice rising slightly at the edges of the pot, or a white film of rice paper is gathering on the pan sides.

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Blitzed Veggie Soup

veggie soup ingredients

Ingredients: 
Broccoli
Onion
Garlic
Rosemary
Vegetable Stock
Butter
Salt, Pepper, Sugar
Optional Pre-Blending Additions:
 Cream, Philly/Soft Cheese (non-salted) 

Method:

1. Wash broccoli, chop with onions and garlic, and fry  in butter with rosemary leaves.

2. Tip into blender and blend till smooth, slowly adding 1 stock cube dissolved in 250ml of water.

3. Season to taste and serve!
(I added some ground pepper, and a tiny smidge of sugar)

I’ve used broccoli because it’s in my cupboard and thus all my student meals this week, but really lots of veg can be substituted – I’m looking forward to trying sweet potato, peppers, spinach and more! Whenever I get round to buying them, that is…

veggie soup finished

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With winter in my cold cold room, I’ll be looking to make some yummy stews and tomato sauces next week to keep my poor tummy warm. Hit me up if you try any of these tips for a quick lunch next week, and I’ll be back with more meals ASAP!

Happy cooking,

Charlotte xx

Year Abroad: Matrimony and Meals

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夫妻店 ”
(fūqīdiàn)

Lunches and dinners here in Shanghai aren’t like anything I’ve had before, and that’s not just because they’re incredibly cheap at anything from 6-16RMB – 60p or £1.60 to us Brits.

DAYTIME

Although the university has supplied us with University E-Cards that allow us to load money and eat from the canteen just three minutes from our dorms or classrooms, the massive queues, lack of English and strangly institutional feel to the metal food trays prove more than little overwhelming, and most days at the start of term we exchange students opt for the street-food stalls that flock around Fudan’s East and North gates. But it’s not just any old type of stall that swoops in on a wooden cart, fully equipt with electric motor and gas cylinder, come eleven twenty sharp on weekdays: it’s 夫妻店 (fūqīdiàn). That’s to say, it’s the swift-cuisine operation that is the Husband Wife Stall. This is real matrimonial harmony. Watch and learn…

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For lunch, it’s quick queues by the blistering heat of the wok, and the blinding sun as we get our fast, flash-fried meals from a travelling stall run by husband and wife tag teams. They work together with intricate movements of plastic-bag tying, vegetable tossing, and terrifying trust as the searing wok passes over the wife’s hands – and it’s fascinating to watch. I have my favourite stalls now at lunch and dinner – ie. those who understand that the wimpy foreigner only wants: “一點ㄦ辣”- and my lunch time topping combinations range across 金针菇 (golden needle mushrooms), 花生 (peanut), 白菜 (cabbage),紅蘿蔔/胡萝卜 (carrot), 香腸 (chinese sausage), 雞/牛/豬 肉 (chicken, beef or pork), with a choice of noodles ranging from 米麵 (rice vermicelli), 河粉 (thick, flat rice noodles), 炒飯 (fried rice) to 麵 (wheat noodles).

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Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店

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And here’s the result!

We sit under the shade of the entirely decorative front porch to Fudan University’s tall twin-towered Guanghua building, hiding from the blazing heat and making decorative sweat patches on the concrete, as we make a hasty consumption of lunch in our 1135-1235 lunch break. Believe me, by this stage in the day after an 8AM start (which, I’m sorry, but no-ones brain is ever ready for) there are characters bursting out my ears and my stomach’s ravenously hungry.

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NIGHTTIME

At night, the north gate to Fudan University Campus takes on a whole new persona as the stalls that rolled out in the afternoon from around 5PM-6PM return from their hiding place for the moonlight shift. It’s steaming pots, grilled skewers, and deep fried goodness that wafts across the street to the Fudan University International Dormitories and on the tipsy walk home from our local, Helens, and under glaring filaments we pick our poison from the stock on show. Thankfully, I had a rough stint of disagreement with my stomach in Egypt as a child, and since then have been resilient in the face of certain gastronomical disaster, but never say never…

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If the couples make a killing in small change by day, by night its a brother duo that sell Chinese Stewed Pork Pittas that are raking in the students with a delicious, slow-cooked meat sandwich which is assembled with the systematic tekkers of automated art. There’s skill to equal the nosiness of that cleaver, and personally, I think the bread brother is definitely underrated with his doughmanship. I’m not sure if it’s proper Chinese vocabulary, but these days with LOL in the Oxford English Dictionary, who’s to argue with me; it’s 兄弟店 (Xiōngdì diàn) FTW at dinner time. That’s a Brother’s Stall to you and me.

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It’s tough competition at nighttime for the couples, for sisters to friends, brothers to bored looking individuals. This community that springs with forty watt brightness out of the night is a tight group of congee-sellers, barbecuers and flash-friers that work steadily through the wee hours with as much heckling and cajoling as the 10PM Friday pub quiz. It’s a life of day-to-day physical labour of the kind that is seldom seen nowadays in the U.K., but boy, do these folk do it with a sense of aplomb.

That’s how I want my dinners.

Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店 Shanghai China

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Charlotte xx

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Lemon Drizzle Cake: “Easy Peasy…”

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“Easy peasy lemon squeezy!”
– Not sure if anyone else’s family have this saying, but it’s a oldie in my house. Urban dictionary tells me it comes from an old TV commercial from when dinosaurs roamed the earth, lost even to the cataloguing power of Youtube.

So here I am in Taipei, Taiwan as I start my Year Abroad in the East, and already I’ve been doing my fair share of baking (typical!) with my girlfriends here, and in our tiny Asian-style kitchen as gifts for old family friends. This recipe is a favourite, and it’s based on one that I found by Tanya Ramsay, and have experimented with to give it a proper lemony bite; it’s a cake I’ve saved for special occasions so I can guarantee it’s a crowd pleaser!

Even if you’re a first-time baker, this is one to try, it’s very very hard to go wrong.

Have a read through the method, gather your tools, and get baking!

Ingredients:
The Cake Mix
1 lemon’s worth of zest ie. yellow of the peel grated
1/2 lemon of squeezed juice
225g self-raising flour
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs

The Drizzle
75g Caster Sugar
1 lemon’s worth of zest
1 & 1/2 Squeezed lemon juice
(pips removed, bits removed if preferred – but I like them in)

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Method:

Tip – Start by grating both lemons of their zest, then cut lemons in halves and put aside for squeezing

1. Turn on the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

2. Mix the butter and sugar either by hand or electric whisk till light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly until the mixture is smooth.

4. Fold in the flour, grated lemon zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon – gently fold till mixed thoroughly.

5. Use a kitchen tissue/butter wrapping to grease the insides of the cake tin, then fill with mixture.

6. Pop in the oven for 45-50mins!

The Drizzle

– While your cake is cooking, squeeze the rest of the lemons (1 & 1/2).

– Add the sugar and the lemon zest of one lemon to the juice and set aside to steep while the cake is baking.

The Finishing Touch

– When the cake is ready, a metal skewer can be inserted and removed leaving no trace of mixture on the skewer.

– Take the cake out of the oven and pour the drizzle as evenly as possible over the cake.

– Leave to stand for approx. 15-20 mins to cool before removing from tin.

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Voilà!

Cake is ready to be served.

For any experienced bakers out there who want to experiment with a different texture to their cake, I recommend trying a pure wheat flour. I struggle to find anything other than this extremely fine version of low-gluten flour here, and it produces a very light and even bake to any cake. Try your local Asian food store and let me know what you think!

Mourne Mussel Feast

If you’re squeemish, mussels may not be the meal for you. As my grandma has always said, (and look away if you’ve got as weak appetite!) mussels look like snatters – and that’s bogeys to you non-Northern-Irish English speakers. Personally, I reckon it’d be pretty worrying if I was blowing fluorescent globs of orange out my nose; I suppose I see where she’s coming from but I’m not sure I agree. While there’s not much escaping the visceral when you’re eating meat, seafood is definitely less cute-and-relate-able than lambies.

mussels

Mussels have grown naturally in Dundrum Bay off the East coast of N.I. for hundreds of years, and my family own a rustic, weather-beaten cottage in the Mourne Mountains (no running water; no electricity; not many female visitors), the drive to which passes the bay. We’ve made it tradition to now and then stop off at a small mussel farm, the back door of which is tucked between new-built, luridly pastel seaside flats on a road pot-holed with concrete dust soupy puddles. We’re served through a gritty back-trap (between machinery that would look great on the set of a horror movie) 3kg of mussels for £5 – take that for local sourcing. I may never eat mussels in a restaurant again…

On a less bodily note, this ‘recipe’ can barely be called such, it’s so simple. We can get you from tub to table in less than 30 minutes!

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Ingredients:
White Wine – 500ml
Mussels – 3kg
Garlic – 4 Cloves, crushed
White Onions – 2, Cubed to inch sq
Pepper

Method:


1. Give the mussels a good wash and scrape seaweed/grit off with a blunt knife (your local fishmonger may have already done this for you).

2. Golden the onion pieces so they separate and add crushed garlic cloves.

3. Bring a 250ml of water to boil in a pot and add onion, garlic and pepper and bring back to boil.

4. Add the mussels and seal lid for 12 minutes.

5. After 7 minutes, check the pot – some mussels will never open because these are already dead before cooking (live mussels open in the heat and cook) so under no circumstances eat unopened or not sufficiently opened mussels – keep cooking  until nearly all of the mussels have opened

6. Plate and serve with white wine and thick-cut bread with butter to mop up the sauce!

Open fire to Open Bowl: Guest Chef Dad!

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Bon appetit all!

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The Friendly Stew

For the big two-one this year, my lovely housemates let me invite the friends I grew up with in Belfast to our tiny student house in Exeter… with absolutely no idea what they were in for. The invitation was made, plans were set and an fleet of raucous Belfast accents invaded our house by plane, by air, by car, by train, doubling our numbers for a weekend – spoiling me beyond all belief and travelling horrendous distances to the very south of England. We were noisy, ate large quantities of food and touristed like nobody’s business.  The Belfast lot were horrified by how Anglicized my accent had become; the English were baffled by how incoherent my accent became in their presence. But we danced, we drank, we mingled and resolved our respective cultural differences through games enforcing alcohol consumption. An unforgettable twenty-first.

Friendly stew and a heavenly Korean white rice

On a practical note, having lots of people about reminded me of this great recipe! The Friendly Stew is a great way to feed large numbers of people with varying tastes; it’s quick and easy to make, requiring minimal fuss – so you can leave it to do it’s magic while you enjoy playing hostess. This super basic Spanish-style stew is adaptable to many circumstances, and built around a tomato, onion and pepper base which is a good starter for any beginner cook; it can easily be adapted to fit different ingredients and built up into an individualised master-piece! A personal favourite, and one that I crave when homesick, is our family’s ‘Pork and Olive’ – the addition of pimento stuffed green olives (pre-soaked to remove any trace of brine or oil) makes it bitter and rich; it was the only good thing about winter, as my parent’s refuse to cook it any other time, and to be fair, bar Christmas, there’s not much else to be celebrating. (I’m a bit of a grinch when it comes to the cold.). Try switching up the flavours with rosemary instead of bay leaves for a sweeter edge, or three whole garlic cloves for warm tangy undertone.

Here’s the list of what I put into my stew usually, but mix it up with whatever’s in your cupboards. It serves six people generous portions or can be frozen for savvy student consumption (and most importantly, to participate in student freezer tetris).

Ingredients
4x  cans of chopped tomatoes,
3x large peppers
2x large onions
1x tbs tomato puree
Salt & Pepper
2x bay leaves
750g gammon*
I usually use a cheap and cheerful cooking bacon and it tastes great!
Soak for aprox. 30mins before cooking to remove saltiness.

Method

1. Chop peppers and onions into approx. inch by inch squares and put in pot with all ingredients but the pork

2. Dice pork into inch by inch cubes and very lightly pan-fry so they’re ‘sealed’ and pop them into the stew
ie. changed colour on the outside but raw inside.

3.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for min. two hours until the sauce thickens

4. Serve with rice, boiled potatoes or roasted yam if you’re feeling adventurous.
Yum!

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© Jonathan Boyd Photography

Much, much, much love goes out to Simon, Scott, Hannah, Peter, Jonny and Rebecca for making the horrific journey to land’s end to celebrate my oldness; a MASSIVE thank you hug to Emily, Sophie, Jonnie, Tom and Megan for coping admirably with us Norn’ Ireland lot and holding up the English end with gusto!

Speedy Snacks: Spring Onion Pancakes

Wow. All you eat is… rice. –  The housemates, x5

Taiwan is the home of měishí (美食), or ridiculously delightful food, and since I’m finally returning to the capital Taipei this summer, all I’ve been dreaming of is the Chinese food that I’ve been actively suppressing from my memory for the past couple of years [knife shorn beef noodles (niúròu dāo xiào miàn – 牛肉刀肖麵), dry fried green beans (gàn biǎn sìjì dòu – 干扁四季豆) being just two of the many dishes that I don’t have the patience to fiddle with Google Translate to find an adequate English translation for…]

By a horrible contrast,  seven months of English catered food nearly killed me in my first year of university… OK, well I’m obviously still alive. And seven months worth of lactose heavy food made me realise I’m intolerant, so that could be considered a plus (?). But it wasn’t until this experience that I realised how Asian my eating habits are; I moved in with my housemates and they pointed out – and I realised – how much Chinese food I eat. To me, egg and tomato with some spring onion is a completely natural combination (fānqié chǎo dàn – 番茄炒蛋), vegetables should be fried-then-steamed – all in a pan of course – and rice done in a saucepan instead of a trusty rice cooker is practically sacrilegious…

But to the point with this post: in celebration of finalising my return trip to Asia, I’m making traditional cōng yóu bǐng 葱油饼 – or spring onion pancakes to share with you all. It’s super easy, so the perfect post-library 3am snack. It’s super quick, so you’ve no excuse not to try flipping at least one to be cultured. And the ingredients are so simple that, more likely than not, you can whack it together with what you’ve got in the cupboard.

chongyoubing chongyoubing2

Ingredients
3 sprigs spring onion
Sesame oil
Lard (or alternative veg. oil/butter)
Salt and Pepper
Fine wheat flour ie. plain flour

Method

1. Add water to plain flour until dough consistancy – should not stick to hands, but also shouldn’t crumble

2. Roll out a small pancake of dough, finely slice spring onion and scatter over with salt and pepper, and a dash of sesame oil
(alternatively add sesame oil at the end over cooked pancake – this is easier if you find step three difficult to mix)

3. Roll up the spring onions in the pancake into a ball of dough again, then re-roll flat to a half-centimetre spring onion pancake

4. Fry in lard until golden brown

5. Eat it up plain or with soya sauce… Delight.

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If you get stuck, try this video by Taiwan Duck, who happily trundles through the language barrier to teach traditional Taiwanese recipes – I’ve never had it with sesame, but she’s pretty convinced. Bless.

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ps. My housemate Tom has convinced me saucepan rice is OK.