Monthly Archives: July 2015

On the Beach across the way from North Korea

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After Michelle Brachet presented a tasting session on Cognac–her book and column in a Chinese wine publication (in other words, her expertise) being the reason she was at the Gourmand Awards)–anyhow, after our tasting there was still a bit of Cognac left in the bottle. And since it was Frapin: oh so beautiful, fragrant and evocative–and since we had been walking distance of the sea for several days already but hadn’t spent any time on the beach, Michelle decided that in the sand, next to the sea, was exactly where we should finish up the Cognac.

She coralled a small posse of myself, the vibrantly hair-coloured Bruna from Brazil and James McIntosh from Northern Ireland who is also the pin-up cookbook western cooking guy of China.

The weather was warm and pleasant, sunny but not so fiercely hot that we would feel fried sitting on the sand.

Since Yantai Wine Bay Resort is on a slight hill, to get there we just had to follow a cobbled stone path headed downward, past various galleries and artisans

creating the traditional pottery of Shandong from local clay.

creating the traditional pottery of Shandong from local clay.

There were gardens with bridges over small lakes, one garden themed Ye Olde English, another with interesting sculptures, such as a much-larger than life bright orange squirrel that we all fell in love with.
Here is Michelle Brachet with the very very large bright orange squirrel (sculpture).

Here is Michelle Brachet with the very very large bright orange squirrel (sculpture).

a beautiful garden that we passed along the way

a beautiful garden that we passed along the way

Once we reached the sand we discovered a row of cabanas looking every so like a beach resort in the UK, selling all the things you might need for the beach: sunscreen, inflatibles, sunhats, as well as spicy noodles and bags of chewy dried fish treats. Then we found the bumper cars! Of course we wanted to ride them, but alas we were too tall–ie adult– so we could only watch the children bump and crash their cars, screaming with glee. But it was okay, we had our Cognac. Then James decided we needed ice cream: I mean what is a holiday at the beach without licking an ice cream on a stick, trying furiously to keep up with it’s melting as droplets run down your arm and you don’t want to miss a single delicious swipe of the tongue? Michelle and Bruna chose vanilla ice cream, covered in chocolate and stuffed on the inside with a jammy fruity mixture. I chose a chocolate fudgesical-looking ice lolly and despite James’ warning: i know i know it looks like chocolate but its probably some sort of sweetened bean flavour, it was, in fact: chocolate! wonderful chocolate! After last years ice cream on the streets of Beijing I had decided never again. But here we were on the beach in Yantai, and really: i was eating the bed fudgsical ever!

another beautiful garden along the way down the hill.......

another beautiful garden along the way down the hill…….

We plopped ourselves down in the damp sand on the edge of the shore and stretched our feet into the little waves as we sipped our Frapin and licked our ice creams. The air smelled of the sea, the soft sand was like California or the Mediterranean, the misty half sunshine half fogginess reminded me of Lima, Peru, the clear water was like Mexico or Malaysia. Yantai beach is very long, miles long, and very beautiful; along the way are promenades and a few hotels–more are being built. Right now the locals seemed to be at that marvel-at-the-miracle stage; they wandered along the promenade, strolled the sands, ate the ice cream and gazed out to the sea. Just as we were doing.

To the right of us was a pier that jutted into the water in what at first seemed a serendipitous way but on closer inspection was shaped like a huge musical clef note, finished only a few months earlier in honor of the developer’s son’s wedding. And because we were happy, and possibly also because of the Cognac, we got philosophical–possibly a result of the Cognac–thinking about how the beaches, the sea, how they are all connected, all people of the world touching the sea, on a beach somewhere…..

But gazing out to sea, before i could wax too lyrical about how we are all one, no matter where we might find ourselves, I saw a shadow of mountains on the horizon, just the other side of the channel. “Whats that James?” I asked. “That?” James answered; “is North Korea”.

an eyes-closed selfie;if you look closely, behind the pier you'll see a shadow of North Korea.

an eyes-closed selfie;if you look closely, behind the pier you’ll see a shadow of North Korea.

Two Great Salads for When You Smuggle Pastrami in Your Suitcase from NYC and Several Nights Later, Dinner is a Sandwich!

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Yes, and I’m just going to believe that Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise has better things to do than read my blog, anyhow, yes, i smuggled some lovely pastrami and rye bread from NYC last week. Last night was the night I put the two together for a sandwich supper.

To complete my New York themed dinner, I made two salads, variation on the classics: potato salad (but in my case with peas and fresh dill) and my own variation on the oil and vinegar based cabbage’coleslaw (“health”) salads i find in my fave delis. The salads are really easy and wonderful and i’m putting them on the blog so I don’t forget about them, and so if you want to make them this hot summer, you can.

Potato, Peas, and Dill Salad
This really only makes enough for two but you can multiply it at will
I like to keep the skins on the potatoes for this salad. Such an earthy taste, the skins.
About 1 lb small to medium waxy potatoes, unpeeled
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon, aprox, white wine vinegar
About 1/2 cup petits pois: either fresh or frozen
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons, aproximately, coarsely chopped fresh dill
3 heaped tablespoons mayonaise
3 heaped tablespoons sour cream
Black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a pot with water to cover and bring to the boil; cook 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are just cooked through. Drain, cut each potato in half or quarters, sprinkle with salt and return to the stove for a few moments, shaking, covered, to dry the potato flesh.

Uncover, cut the potatoes into fairly large chunks, sprinkle with white wine vinegar and toss with green onions. Leave to cool.
When cool enough to touch, add the dill, the mayo, and the sour cream; Season to taste with salt if needed and black pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Cabbage and Red Pepper Slaw
Serves–again, about 2: two hungry people who love cabbage
1/2 a medium to large cabbage, thinly sliced
3 small shallots, peeled and chopped
Coarse grained sea salt, a few shakes
2-3 roasted red peppers, from a jar, diced
2 or so teaspoons white wine vinegar, or as desired
a few shakes garlic powder (i know, i know, garlic powder: its just, i’m aiming for the deli taste and fresh lusty garlic, its a little strong. i’m aiming for that kinda compelling wimpy garlic-ness that comes from dried). (but you can totally use fresh if you like: use one clove, finely chopped)
About 1 tablespoon sugar

In a large bowl combine the cabbage, shallots and salt, and work it through with your hands, squishing and squeezing it.
Add the red peppers, vinegar and sugar; mix well, taste for seasoning, and chill until ready to serve.

Rainy Day Ramen with Cabbage, Miso, Seaweed and Chile Oil

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So its raining, and i’m thinking: what to eat for lunch, and really when i say raining I mean miserable has summer left us forever raining…..and I’m hungry, and of course there is no good bread in the house…..not much of anything really. And i’m trying to watch my weight, always so annoying when thinking about the next delicious thing to eat.

But on my shelf I have dried ramen: the kind from natural foods shops which promises decent noodles (and seems to have delivered) and a not too awful powdered soup mix to go with it. Also: one good thing about using the packaged ramen: you do have a calorie count and can’t help yourself to seconds unless you want to open up a new package. With all the cabbage and seaweed and miso, all of the uber-umami liquid, those 200-ish calories worth of noodles go quite far in your bowl.

so: here is how it goes, at least today. For lunch. I boil a quarter of a shredded cabbage for a few minutes until it softens, add the ramen noodles until they are half tender, then shake in the soup powder along with a little ginger.

When its all tender-ish, a few minutes no longer, I stir in a tablespoon miso (i used white) and 2 tablespoons seaweed bits; I used the kind seasoned with green tea and sesame. Oh and a drizzle of sesame oil at the end.

Then i heated it all up with a big fat splosh of hot fragrant chile oil.

1’/4 white/green cabbage thinly sliced
3 cups water
1 packet of ramen, noodles
the accompanying sachet of soup powder
2 tablespoons white miso
a little bit of shredded ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons seaweed bits, the kind meant to be sprinkled onto salads or soups
hot fragrant ( i like homemade) chile oil

Combine the cabbage and water and bring to the oil; add the noodles and cook until noodles are half tender.
Add the soup powder and cook a minute or two longer or until the noodles are just tender.
Stir in the miso, taking care it all dissolves; you can thin it down before you stir it in if you like.
Stir in the ginger, sesame oil, seaweed bits and ladle into bowls. If you like, add a spoonful of the hot chile oil to taste.

This Pasta Tastes like Napoli, Sicily, like Beautiful Southern Italy!

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Okay: right this moment I can’t get the oh-so-appealing photo of this oh-so-delicious dish up on this blog, but I want you to have the recipe before I wait for it to work out. It could be awhile, right? And really: when you have such a luscious dish of pasta–linguine or spaghetti–with a lusty sauce of fish, tomatoes, peppers and capers, really: you don’t want to wait. And I don’t want you to wait.

So here is the recipe: And, I hasten to add, its my own reflection on sauces of fish and flashy aromatics I’ve eaten in Napoli and its surrounding areas as well as Sicilyq1.

Linguine con il gusto della mare (okay: linguine with the taste of the sea, really: i’m reaching for a name here). (but it is so very Neapolitan, Italian, Mediterranean…..) (giving it an Italian name seems very important at the moment). To be honest: I am sure I used far more garlic than any Italian ever would!

Serves 4 (halve it for two)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if and as needed
1 medium sized red onion, cut into thin strips/slices/or diced
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped or thinly sliced
About 12 ounces fish, in chunks: I used a mixture of cod, haddock, and a little bit of cold smoked haddock; any sort of sturdy but mildish white fish should be great; if you feel like a hit of smokey flavour and don’t have the smoked fish, add a pinch of smoked salt or diced bacon/sausage
1 small-medium sized jar of roasted/lightly pickled red and yellow peppers, drained and rinsed, cut into strips
2 small (350g/13 ish oz) tins/cans tomatoes, or one large one, including its juices
1 tablepsoon capers, including a little bit of the juice
3-4 whole (6-8 halves) sun-dried tomatoes, thinly slices/chopped
1-2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
Pinch sugar to taste
Pinch black pepper to taste
Large pinch or two dried oregano leaves, crushed in your hand as you add it to the pot
Optional: a pinch of dried chile flakes or Chinese chile oil (not too desperately hot; i use homemade)
12 ounces linguine or spaghetti
Salt for cooking water, or as needed

Put up a large pot of water to the boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan lightly heat the olive oil and gently saute the onion until its softened; add the garlic and fish, stir-fry together a few minutes until the fish is growing opaque, then with a slotted spoon remove the fish to a plate, keeping as many onions in the pan as you can.

Into the pan add the peppers and tomatoes. Raise the heat and cook together, stirring, a few minutes, then add the capers, sun-dried tomatoes,T parsley, sugar, black pepper and oregano. Cook until it condenses a bit and grows thicker, less saucey, then return the fish and its juices to the pan and heat together. Set aside while you cook the pasta.

Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water then add the linguine; if it bubbles over lower the heat slightly but keep it basically rolling, the pasta cooking in the boiling water. When it is just barely al dente, drain, reserving about a coffee mug full of the cooking water.

Place the fish pan on the heat, add the drained pasta to it, and a quarter or so of the liquid from the mug. Toss together on the heat, and when the liquid has evaporated add a little bit more. The linguine you added to the pan was ALMOST al dente; you want to cook it with the sauce until it is JUST al dente.

Continue cooking, tossing, and adding a little of the liquid as you do; this whole thing will only take a few minutes.

Taste for seasoning, add a pinch of dried chile flakes if desired, then serve, with an extra drizzle of olive oil over it, or a small amount of chile oil to taste. Eat right away!

Watching the garden part three

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i’ll never complain again about the difficulty watering my own garden, in the UK without a good hosepipe or watering system. Lugging water in my big orange-coloured plastic watering can, filling it up from the kitchen faucet then carrying it to the front of the house, watering the tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, nastrurtiums, geraniums, lavender, and peppers. The whole process of watering takes about an hour–depending on the heat and dryness or cool moisture of the day; some days take more water, some days less. But after watching the Chinese gardeners in my Rear Window, 14 floors down, using bowls and buckets without handles, drawing the water from one of several scary wells–uncovered and oh so easy to fall into–climbing down a dodgy flight of homemade stone steps to dunk the bowl into the water, then climbing the stones and walking down the path to their little plot of greenery. No, I will never complain about watering MY garden, again.