1. Wok With Me Baby is Back…in Hanoi!

    August 19, 2015 by MaryAnne

    bread

    Guys, it’s been a while.

    A rather long while.

     

    However, ever the optimist, I kept on paying my annual website hosting fees and renewed my domain name for nearly two years after I posted my last post here.

    Since November 2013, when I last explained at length how to make sweet potato or pumpkin focaccia from deep in the western Canadian woods, I’ve lived in the midlands of England (where I had a baby and baked so much bread during our ten month sojourn that I started buying atta flour from the Indian grocer in 10kg bags) and am now in Hanoi, Vietnam.

     

    Hanoi street food

    Here’s that baby I mentioned earlier. He likes mystery meat street snacks.

     

    Yes, back in east Asia- but without a wok.

     

    mangosteens

    Yes, yes, but we have mangosteens!

     

    No wok.

    You can see why I’ve been reluctant to resurrect this blog without a wok in sight.

    Wok or no wok, we do have the two big flame burners passing as a stove, and just last Sunday we bought a lovely new countertop oven, just like the finger-burning ones I had back in China.

    I’ve even made three loaves of bread in it within the last 24 hours.

     

    bread

    Bread made in a disposable foil pie tin!

     

    There is currently a lasagne baking in it as we speak.

    The food situation in Hanoi, as it was in Shanghai, a mixed bag. Some things are easily found, others not so much.

     

    coconut condensed milk coffee

    There’s a lot more good coffee here!

     

    After a few days of very frustrating, long, hot, sweaty searching, we finally tracked down baking sheets, muffin tins and loaf pans in the Old Quarter (apparently there is a whole street dedicated to such things)- something that was a bit more elusive and expensive in Shanghai.

     

    bia hoi dinner

    This is why I haven’t cooked much recently…

     

    Butter, basic cheeses and yeast and good olive oils are readily found here (not so much in China) but the vegetable and meat situation is a bit more tricky for the home cook, as our local supermarkets are crap and overpriced and weirdly stocked (and far and few between) and the wet market up the road is unreliable if you don’t get there by 7am to get the best stuff.

    The meat is just out there on tables in the hot, hot sun and I am still hesitant to try any after mid morning. This is tricky when you’ve got work and family to tend to. The fresh herbs, greens and vegetables, however, look lovely at all hours.

    Hanoi has renewed my faith in fresh veggies.

     

    pho cuon

    The magic of pho cuon: for those days when you crave a bowl of pho but wish it could be finger food.

     

    In the coming months, I have a mental list of things I want to try to make while we are here, using the ingredients I can source locally. We’re living in a fairly traditional little neighborhood full of street food stalls and the world’s smallest convenience stores (think: someone’s open doorway with a few random bottles and baskets full of stuff placed artfully around the steps), with a really good market across the lake. Ingredients are limited but not impossible.

     

    Ho Tay

    One of the many lakes around us!

     

    Any suggestions or requests?

     

    A few ideas I’m mulling over include: Turkish lahmacun and pide, more Mexican experiments, more soups, stews, breads, baked goods. We don’t have a slow cooker yet but I’m going to see what I can do with long, slow roasting.

    It’s good to be back.

    I missed you guys.


  2. Making Lovely Lazy Bread for the Zombie Apocalypse

    November 10, 2013 by MaryAnne

    IMG_4476

     

    Y’all, I’ve been quiet here. Eerily quiet. And you’re probably thinking, where has she been and why has she been such a lazy broad in that puny Chinese kitchen of hers?

    Well.

    To begin with, a few things have changed since I last showed my floury face in these parts (see here and here and here for details).

     

    IMG_4484

    This is not a Shanghai freeway

     

    For one, I no longer have my puny Chinese kitchen, the one with the toaster oven and two-burner gas stove and bugger all in the way of counter space.

    I’m now working my craft from a larger but also minimally equipped kitchen in the wilds of rural Vancouver Island.

    There’s an oven and a 4 ring electric stove and a reasonable stretch of counter space to work with. Bags of whole wheat and spelt flour are readily available and affordable; milk is less dodgy; yogurt is plentiful and unsweetened. I can buy ricotta in the shops. I have a few generations of humble, unmatched mixing bowls and a number of baking sheets and tins in various shades of well-used, well-seasoned blackness.

    So there’s that.

    I initially felt awkward with the idea of documenting my nearly daily forays into cooking and baking here as they most certainly were not being carried out in the titular wok.

    Can a gal still blog about trying to cook in China if she’s actually cooking in Canada?

    I had my doubts.

    Then I started to think about it seriously.

    (more…)


  3. Pumpkin Spice Toaster Oven Scones and Wok Parathas

    April 17, 2013 by MaryAnne

    IMG_1907

     

    Given that it’s already, oh, mid April and the skies are light and fluffy and sometimes blue, and temperatures have already soared into the high 20s and it’s definitely shirtsleeve weather, I fear that the title of this one is a terrible misnomer.

    It isn’t though. I’m just a terrible, terrible procrastinator.

    [ETA: I’ve just edited the title so it’s less confusing! It used to be visibly part of the Eating My Way Through Winter series; now it’s just in the category]

    You see, this has been in my drafts folder since last November.

    My drafts folder, I might add, is ridiculously plump with unfinished posts.

    This one? This is actually the third time I’ve hauled it out to write up. The previous two attempts were just me going on in really vague terms about how crappy I was feeling and how hard it was to write about pumpkins without letting my malaise seep into the text.

    Which is tedious as hell to those who are not emotionally invested in my life.

    Like, all of you.

    The pumpkin scones themselves were baked, photographed and eaten about two months ago.

    I was going through a rather brutal and cataclysmic change in my life at that point, which I dealt with through lots of creative experimentation with pumpkins and squash.

    See the size of the ones you can get at the market up the street? The one in the photo below is the size of a small toddler.  You have to really whack at it ferociously with a massive cleaver to cut it into roast’able rings. That one made a ton of scones, parathas, curry, mash, fritters, and hash.

    I roasted it in slices, ring by ring, rubbed with olive oil and whatever spices took my fancy. The paneer curry spice mix my aunt sent me ages ago was my favourite. My Moroccan blend from a spice shop in Fes was also amazing.

     

    IMG_1882

    Would you believe, this thing cost me about a buck in the market…

     

    I’m doing much better now and so don’t need to rely on the catharsis of hacking up a poor defenseless gourd to feel at least somewhat sane.

    I am, however, still buying smaller segments of gourd from the market and making wok parathas to go with whatever soups or stews or random leftovers find their way into the fridge.

    I don’t normally do two recipes in one post but I figured I might as well in this case. After all, you just need to roast up some pumpkin and, lo! You have the makings of two really awesome- and yet not at all the same- quick breads! (more…)


  4. Eating My Way Through Winter: Coconut Spice Bread

    December 12, 2012 by MaryAnne

    spice bread

     

    This is going to be a new series, if I can get my act together.

     

    At the moment my act is very obviously not together, but more about that later.

    I’ve decided that the best way to deal with an unwanted winter is to ignore it entirely, to stay in bed as much as possible, and to bake as if I was in a place full of trees, fresh air and lovely white blankets of snow, rather than in a huge city where the daily pollution readings declare it Unhealthy and where it doesn’t tend to snow but it sure loves to be cold and damp.

    This obviously means I need to bake more. I need to make more warm and happy comfort foods. I need to totally regain all of the  8kg I lost doing that detox back in October. I’m nothing if not diligent. (more…)


  5. Stuffed Cabbage (Because it’s Cabbage Season)

    November 26, 2012 by MaryAnne

    cabbage rolls

    The wind is just howling out there. Last night, I was kept up until the uncivilized hours by the noise of it just whipping around the building, slamming against the balcony that juts out, catching on the corner. Being on the 16th floor is loud. I had no idea before we moved here. I’d always been a first or second (or 5th, at most) kind of gal.

    Anyway, it’s still noisy this morning and I’m tired and it’s Monday.

    It’s also grey and grim and cold, as is to be expected here at this time of year.  I really should get a stock photo for this, to put on every post between now and next April. (more…)


  6. Spicy, buttery rearranged cheese biscuits

    November 23, 2012 by MaryAnne

    And then there were (eventually) none. I started out with 27...

    Apparently I’ve been on hiatus.

     

    I popped by here yesterday to update my plug-ins and noticed I hadn’t done anything in two whole months. You’d think I was starving to death or something.

    Which I was, for a while.

    After we came back from a gluttonous week in Hong Kong in early October, I sentenced myself to a 30 day detox, cutting out everything that was fun in the universe: no grains, no dairy, no sweeteners (not even honey), no starchy veggies, no nothing. I lived on veggies… and veggies and tuna and coffee and grilled chicken enlivened by the spice rub I brought back from Morocco.

    Somehow I survived.

    I didn’t do much inspired cooking though. Certainly nothing worth noting here.

    Oh, hey, look, it’s another freaking tuna salad!  I can’t wait to document it for posterity!

    Oh, no, wait. Never mind.

    Anyway, I’m back. I’ve dusted off the oven and prepped myself mentally to regain the 6 or 7 kilos I lost over the past 2 months. After all, it’s winter now and I need to be ready for  the long, unpleasant season of hibernation. Shanghai is bad at winter.

    See?

     

    Today’s forecast: dire, with a chance of grim extending to the weekend. Highs of meh, with a projected low of get me the hell out of here.

    (more…)


  7. Killing My Crock Pot Softly With Yeast Breads

    September 26, 2012 by MaryAnne

    It's remarkably hefty, that bread.

     

    I’m not, I admit, one of those pretty food writers. I’m not talking about me and my bad hair and naked face and un-manicured nails, mind you- I’m talking about my food styling abilities, or lack thereof.

     

    I’m also not good at pretending that things turned out okay.  Like that time I made those Suzhou hockey pucks. Or the biryani that was a bit, well, stodgier than anticipated.  Or the crackers that weren’t quite as crackery as hoped. As long as it’s on the high end of edible, I’ll post it, looks be damned.

     

    Look, irregularly lumpy scones!

     

    Which is why I’m writing about my Great Crockpot Bread Experiment.

    Which, well, didn’t go quite as planned. (more…)


  8. Awesome Nanjing Klepto-Banana Bread (and Pudding)

    September 25, 2012 by MaryAnne

    banana loaf

    I’m a bad food blogger.

    While I’ve been blathering away over yonder about mops and Chinese demolition sites, I’ve been neglecting to talk with y’all about food. Because I have been cooking, believe it or not. And baking. And blowing up the kitchen. Daily!

    I just didn’t have the time or energy to take the pictures and blog about it.

    Since we got back from Morocco, I’ve spent nearly every weekend being shipped off to 2nd and 3rd tier cities around the East coast of China for work (in addition to my Monday-Friday job, so yeah, hello exhaustion).

    The last thing I felt like doing in my rare free time was uploading photos of mashed bananas.

    This recipe is a two-parter: banana bread and banana bread pudding.

     

    The first one was sent to me in an email by my mother back in August, when I was having a supremely bad week (I forget why, but if it necessitated an email containing my childhood favourite banana bread, it must have been fairly rough). It’s from our Harrowsmith cookbook, which is well thumbed and streaked with batter.  They have really good oatmeal cookies too, for the record.

     The second was to use up the aforementioned banana bread that I couldn’t actually finish (Doug doesn’t like banana bread) and it was starting to go stale. I decided to attempt to use semi stale banana bread in a bog-standard bread pudding recipe. It worked. Yay!

    The bananas used in the recipe were nicked from my hotel room in Nanjing, where I had been shipped off to for two weekends in a row. There are only so many complimentary bananas that a gal can eat, especially when she’s not actually a fan of fruit. If they left me a plate full of cucumbers and peppers, I might be more appreciative. (more…)


  9. Made in Jiānádà: Suzhou Porky Mooncakes

    August 31, 2012 by MaryAnne

    20120703_0820

    Hello. I’ve been away for a while, haven’t I?

    It’s been a very hot,  busy summer, much of it nowhere near a kitchen to call my own.

    We were in Morocco for a month, which was lovely in spite of the fact that it was 46 degrees in the shade AND Ramadan for most of the time we were there. Whoops.

    Anyway. I’ve been back in Shanghai for nearly three weeks now and have yet to dust off the oven and check to see if it even still works. Poor thing. I’ve made chili and tacos and a ton of wok tortillas, but those aren’t new things so I can’t exactly re-write posts for them just for the sake of it.

    This one… this is one I made back in Canada just before I left, but never posted.

    Why?

    Because I royally screwed it up.  Kind of. I made Suzhou pork hockey pucks.

    You know, the Canadian interpretation. Like, say, chop suey or bison fried rice.

    Apparently my skillful light touch and intuitive cooking skills don’t apply to pastry.

    I love Suzhou mooncakes. In China, however, it isn’t worth the energy to actually make them at home because they are so good, so fresh and so cheap here.

    For the past two mornings, on my long, hot trek out to the Entry-Exit Bureau in deepest, darkest Pudong to renew my residence permit, I’ve stopped at a tiny stand at the bottom of our street to buy a little brown bag containing exactly two mooncakes, still hot and flakey and filled with lovely, juicy, umami seasoned ground pork, fresh from the oven. 6 kuai (under a buck) for a very solid breakfast.

    I was too busy eating them to take pictures, but below is one I took a few weeks ago when I was actually in Suzhou. See the little red stamp on the ones below? They stamp their mooncakes, yes. Much more low key than all the fiddly crimping and dough-engraving that goes on with the classical lotus paste and duck egg filled Cantonese style ones that are exchanged (and then re-gifted and re-gifted, like fruitcake) during the mid-autumn festival (coming very soon). (more…)


  10. Made in Jiānádà: Homestyle porky Eggplant (家常茄子)

    July 11, 2012 by MaryAnne

    We took ours camping. It reheats very well in a cast iron fry pan over a propane camp stove. Just so you know.

    Eggplant (茄子 or qiézi) was one of the first words I learned in Mandarin back in early 2009, partly because we ordered it so often that it inevitably had to stick in my head, and partly because it sounded like a hybrid between cheese and chaise (as in longue). Kind of like ch’yay’zuh.

    Except not really.

    If you are anything like me, your tones will be so inconceivably wrong that you could say it every day for three years and still only get it right half the time.

    And I do get practice saying it. We eat spiced deep fried eggplant slices, stewed umami eggplant fingers with sizzling red and green peppers, dry fried green beans with long melty lengths of lightly spiced eggplant with just a hint of pork crumble. At home, I’ve baked it and fried it and breaded it.

    When I lived in Turkey, I lived on it.

    And the thing is, until a decade ago, I thought I hated eggplant. I loathed it, in fact. It was on the list of things I told people I didn’t like, alongside all sorts of fungus and organ meats.

    What I failed to realize, however, was that 1. I just hated those big spongy bitter eggplants normally sold in Canada and 2. I hate big spongy chunks of poorly prepared eggplant.

    Those little tiny thin Asian and Turkish purple-black eggplants, properly sauteed or baked slowly and drizzled in olive oil? Those I like.

    This recipe is astonishingly easy to pull together and really quite tasty, even for those who think they hate eggplant. It’s not at all spongy and it’s not at all bitter. It tastes even better, reheated over a propane camp stove three days later, eaten plain with a spoon in little unbreakable bowls in the wilds of Vancouver Island.

    This is, as the name says, simple homestyle eggplant (家常茄子 – jiācháng qiézi). This is comfort food. (more…)

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