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?

Signature

外婆的小菜

Year Abroad: Celebrations & Farewells

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As is be a common theme in our household, everything can be improved, and solved, by eating good food, and boy does our end-of-trip celebration dinner come up to scratch. For the end of our month family holiday together, short family stop-over in Shanghai, and celebrating both my parents birthdays, we head to a restaurant in Wujiaochang (五角场), two bus stops from where we’ve been staying near Fudan University.

外婆的小菜

4F No.600, Handan Road, Shanghai
No: 5566099

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From the lush interior and the welcomed air-conditioning, seated waiting line to the terrifying recorded screeching of “外婆請你吃飯嘍!!!” at deafening volume, it’s a good start to what is one of the most fabulous meals I’ve yet to have in Shanghai. A pleasant little waitress from Anhui province is quick to help us, and another girl steps in to suggest some house specialities for the big night – and they certainly don’t disappoint: beautifully prepared, delicate, perfectly cooked and a sensory delight to behold. Perfect for a family of connoisseurs.

Our favourites include:

外婆紅燒肉 49RMB
荠菜鱼丁滑豆 29RMB
西子藕韵 15RMB

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It’s definitely telling that the only dishes I’ve managed to take proper photos of are three of the sweetest on the table. They do keep saying that Shanghai food, and South Eastern Chinese food in general is meant to have a sweet edge to it, and these dishes certainly hit the spot –  from sticky, rice stuffed lotus root to mouth-watering, slow-cooked braised pork that I’ve been especially recommended by a friend from home. It’s a fantastic farewell meal.

I wish I’d taken more pictures, but take it as a testament to the quality of the food!

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It’s certainly not until I’m walking my last walk back to the hotel my family is staying in and bundle up into their room for the last time that I realise, with a heavy chest, that I’m not going to be seeing them all together like this for a long time. At most we’re apart for four months at a time, and I can tell already that I’m going to miss them a lot.

I may have to make an impromptu trip home at Chinese New Years after 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!

‘Is that… Apple?’: The Chilli and Apple Con-Carne

This recipe comes from a mixture of  wild culinary upbringing, and a strong sense of student fugality ie. I bought a huge £1 bag of apples, and had to do something with them. Needless to say, the housemates were horrified.

I feel like cooking style like this should come with an explanation. Delia Smith, the fabulous lady she is, was a constant presence in my house growing up. She helped me learn to read (as I dictated her recipes to my Dad, and he quickly learned not to trust what I said), she was there with me as I wreaked havoc (serious the-oven-is-on-fire havoc) in the kitchen, and supplied me with staple culinary skills that keep me alive and sane at university. Delia’s emphasis on precision was tempered by my Dad’s sense of absolute wild abandon in the kitchen, the supermarket, in foraging; Delia’s Britishness, by my Mum’s exquisite and traditional Chinese style. On our cookery book shelf at home, well protected by the thick paper covering my Dad and I sello-taped on to prevent further damage, is a wedding present from my Grandparents to my parents in 1991: Delia’s Complete Cookery Course. I’m patiently waiting to passed on Delia’s Cookery Book, stains and all, when I get married.

Apple

Let me know if you have any interesting variations on the usual ol’ Chilli!

Ingredients:
2 value tins of plum tomatoes
1 value tin of kidney beans
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 tbs tomato puree
a quick shake of dried chilli flakes
500g mince beef/stewing beef
3 small apples cored and cubed
splash of apple juice
1 tbs honey
100ml red wine (optional)

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1. Put everything but the beef into a large pot.

2. Fry the beef lightly (just seal the stewing beef) and add to pot.

3. Bring to boil, then simmer for approximately 2 hrs.

Yum.

“Cooking is rarely an automatic instinct, we have to learn as we go.”

-Delia Smith, Complete Illustrated Cookery Course (Classic Ed.). Introduction, p.7.

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Beijing, TUESC: Class Blue G Chillaxin’

After hours chilling with Class Blue G!

It’s sometimes a hard slog in the classroom, but after-class gives Stefan and I a chance to get to know our students in a more chilled out environment – around food and basketball!

Between the enthusiasm of the students and the silly amount of money on our lunch cards, we treat our students to ice-creams, dinner, and lunches where we can, and it’s a great way to help them out with some real-time English and have some genuine down-time with the students.

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After-class Basketball - these guys are awesome!
After-class Basketball – these guys are awesome!
The girls get in on the action...
The girls get in on the action…

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You Pay, I Pay

 On a cultural note, it’s really difficult to get the class to accept our paying for things; the local custom means not only do they want to be the ones ‘treating’ us as visitors/tourists, but that they drive a hard job of resisting us. It’s a push and pull battle as we do our best to explain that we’ve simply got too much money from the University on our food cards, but the bill certainly causes a lot more social hassle than back home…

 Class Lunch with Blue G
Class Lunch with Blue G

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Not long after these events, class assistant Echo and one of our students, Joe announce that the class are planning a trip for us and we’re torn between being excitement and a niggling feeling that they’re trying to return the favour. It’s hard to escape this distinctly Asian sense of social debt, or 人情 (rénqíng) even in our English Summer Camp environment.

As much as the actual learning of grammar and spoken English is integral to the Camp experience, it’s the cultural exchange that’s, for me at least, feeling like the biggest hurdle between our teacher volunteer groups and the students – as essentially, we’re the same age and at similar stages in life. I honestly think that getting to know the other students outside the social restrictions of the classroom has been the best team-building, and friend-ship building (cheesy, I know) experience I’ve had yet.

Blue G, you guys are the best.

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Taiwan: Dinner & View

Dinner with a view = £1.20

And no, I did not eat Mr. Squid, he was someone else’s. That was one unhappy squid.

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