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Bugger!

Oh bugger it! Eliminated!

To be honest I’ve been overwhelmed and surprised to have made it this far in Project Food Blog, into the final 100, and I’ve been inspired by the challenges and completely exhausted by completing them! Thank you to each and every one of you who voted, I mean I really, really appreciated your support.

Anyway, one of the best things about the competition, other than overcoming a fear of deep-frying, has been discovering all sorts of wonderful food-related blogs. Some are still competing, some are out, but they’re all worth reading!

Croque Camille (see below) nominated the three blogs she thought might make it through to win PFB, although sadly we’ve all three of us now been eliminated. Wanting to return the favour, I decided the best way to honour the blogs I’ve enjoyed reading is to award Life on Nanchang Lu Blog Awards of my own, in completely fictional made-up categories.

Now, they don’t come with any prizes worth having, but if anyone is really desperate for concrete proof of their win, I have a pair of Hello Kitty Chinese kitchen arm protectors up for grabs. Now to the winners….

Best Foodie Overseas Blog – Croque Camille

Camille is an American pastry chef living and working in the food capital of the world, Paris. Read about her adventures both in and out of the kitchen, and her only-a-pastry-chef-could know-this recipes. Check out her incredibly detailed Google food map of Paris for restaurants, food stores, and food-related sites, and you’ll be buying a plane ticket before you can say croquembouche.

Best Asian Food Blog- Tiny Urban Kitchen

Jen lives in Boston and whips up amazing dihes from all the major Asian cuisines – Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese.

She’s made it through to Round 5 of PFB and it will be great to see what her take on pizza is for this challenge. I can be confident it won’t be what you expect either.

Best Whacky Blog – Amuse Bouche

Kentucky girl Whitney drinks, swears and cooks up a storm, all for our enjoyment. A self-confessed comfort food enthusiast, she is one of the few blogs whose writing makes it laugh out loud. They should have kept her in the comp because everyone else was getting way too serious.

Best Photography – Palachinka

Marija lives in Belgrade, Serbia, and takes the most glorious photos – they totally transport the viewer to another place. I’ve never been to Serbia, but when I look at her photos I can imagine exactly what it’s like, and what they eat there. She has a perticular interest in traditional ethnic foods and their preparation.

Bravest – Tomayto Tomaaahto

For the Luxury Dinner Party of Round 3, Ruby took the bravest step of all by reminding all of us that while we thought of nothing but food, there were many in the world going hungry. She served her family plain rice, and clean water. It obviously pricked a few too many consciences because despite writing a fantastic blog about food from her own multicultural perspective, she didn’t make it through to the next round. Instead, she established Foodies Sans Frontieres as a way of raising awareness of the issue of world hunger within the foodie community. Bravo.

So keep on enjoying your daily slice of Life onNanchang Lu. Shanghai and I aren’t going anywhere and there are lots of exciting adventures coming up. Thanks again!

Project Food Blog Challenge 4: How to Look Good Naked – If You’re a Duck

Did that really happen? Did I really make it through to Round 4? Thank you! THANK you EVERYONE for votes and support. I couldn’t have made it this far without you!


The challenge for this round is called Picture Perfect. Project Food blog would like us to use our amazing photographic skills to show you an instructional, step-by-step photo tutorial.


Bugger, thought I. This is where I could really do with my sister Emma’s help. Emma, the professional food and travel photographer, who should be helping me but just can’t drop by today and give me a hand because she’s in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m in Shanghai, PRC. Bugger.


So I called her up this morning and had a very expensive long-distance chat because I thought she might have some really fabulous technical tips for all of us budding food photographers. Like how to make a hunk of raw meat attractive, or more specifically, how to make the ugliest duck in the world look lovely in a photo. She told me I wasn’t really an ugly duck, although I was getting old.
I’m talking about the recipe! I said. Not me! Oh please…….


Here’s what she said:


Emma’s Tips for Technically Great Food Photos (and Fiona’s Reality Check)


1. Photograph in a room with good natural light (No worries, I’ll just move the entire small dark Chinese kitchen to a sunnier part of the house). The light should come from the side and slightly in front of you, so that shadows fall away behind you. 

2. Minimise shadows with a reflector or white drapes (I just made the bed. Now I have to take the sheets off again and hang them up in the living room? Are you serious?)

3. Use a tripod to get a different perspective on the dishes. If you have time, take shots from 3 different heights or angles for maximum interest (Oh yes, I’ll just debone that duck, race around to the other side of the camera and with my greasy dirty hands take 3 different and wildly interesting shots. Sure thing.)

4. If photographing unaided, use manual focus and a self-timer with a 20 second delay – time to position, then to relax. Otherwise, use a remote control held in your mouth. (Easy see? No hands! And can I make it work? No!)

5. Always have clean hands and fingernails. (Are you truly serious? In addition to the cooking, the photography, the styling and the writing, now I have to find time to get a manicure?? For.get.it…)

6. If your hands look too veiny, hold them in the air for 30 seconds, then take the shot (Hilarious! See how any shots I remembered to do this in…..zero)

7. Avoid blue plates. It doesn’t look that appetising. (Emma’s view, not mine. I quite like blue plates….)

8. Always give the food left at the end of the shoot to the photographer (Oh! that’s me!)


Anyhow….down to the real photo-tutorial. 


Kylie Kwong is an Australian Chinese chef and author, whose Sydney restaurant, Billy Kwong, is an all-time favourite of mine. Her signature dish is featured today – Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce, an intense sweet-savoury, spicy and tart combination with sour plums and twice cooked duck. It’s fabulous. I’ve served it with Chinese steamed buns from a recipe by David Chang of Momofuku fame. These sweet little steamed breads are very traditional in China’s north, and they’re easy and fun to make.


So today I’m going to teach you how to make both of these dishes, and when we’re done, I will have cooked my first duck at home, ever. Thanks PFB, I’m not afraid any more! I will cook duck! I will deep fry it! I will debone it! I will remember to debone it first and then deep fry it! Here goes….










Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce


Ingredients

  • 1 x 1.5 kg (3 lb) duck
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan pepper and salt
  • 1/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
Sichuan Pepper and Salt
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
Blood Plum Sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 250g ripe blood plums (about 4-6)
  • 2/3 cup fish sauce
  • 6 whole star anise
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1/3 cup lime juice


Method

  • First make the sichuan pepper and salt
  • Dry roast the salt and sichuan pepper in a heavy based saucepan until the peppercorns begin to pop and become aromatic
  • Allow to cool
  • Grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  • Makes 4 tablespoons




  • Rinse duck under cold water.
  • Trim away excess fat from inside and outside the cavity, but keep neck, parson’s nose and winglets intact.
  • Pat dry and rub the skin all over with two tablespoons of Sichuan pepper and salt. 
  • Cover duck and place in refrigerator overnight to marinate.















  • Transfer duck to a large steamer basket
  • Place basket over a pan of boiling water and steam, covered with a tight-fitting lid, for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the duck is cooked through (to test, insert a small knife between leg and breast – the juices should run clear)
  • Using tongs, gently remove duck from steamer and place on a tray, breast side up, to drain
  • Allow to cool slightly then transfer to refrigerator to cool further









  • Meanwhile, make the plum sauce.
  • Combine water and sugar in pan and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced.


  • Halve and de-seed plums. Leave skin intact.




















  • Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the sugar and water mixture
  • Add the spices and plums
  • Simmer for 2 minutes
  • Remove pan from stove and keep sauce warm while you fry the duck















  • Place cooled duck breast-side up on a cutting board
  • Using a large knife or cleaver cut duck in half lengthways through breastbone and backbone

















  • Carefully ease meat away from carcass, leaving thighs, legs and wings intact








  • You should now have two flat duck halves like this
  • Discard the bones



















  • Lightly toss duck halves in flour to coat, shaking off any excess






















  • Heat vegetable oil in a wok until the surface seems to shimmer slightly
  • Deep-fry duck halves, one at a time, for about 3 minutes, or until well-browned and crispy
  • Don’t forget to wear the best Chinese kitchen invention ever – arm covers to keep you protected from hot oil splashes!
  • Using tongs, carefully remove duck from hot oil







  • Drain duck halves well on kitchen paper
  • Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes










  • With a large knife or cleaver, slice the duck
  • Arrange on a platter and spoon over the hot plum sauce
  • Serve with Chinese steamed buns – gently prise open the buns and place a piece of duck inside, or use it to mop up the delicious rich sauce.























Chinese Steamed Buns

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons non-fat milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup pork or vegetable lard at room temperature



(makes 50 buns. Can be frozen for up to 3 months)




Method

  • Combine yeast and water in a mixing bowl
  • Add all other ingredients and mix
  • Knead dough for about 8 minutes
  • Cover dough with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour 15 minutes



  • Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface
  • Using a knife or dough scraper, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces
  • Gently roll each piece into a log
  • Cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total




  • Roll each piece into a ball
  • Cover the armada of little balls with a draping of plastic wrap
  • Allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes
  • Meanwhile cut out fifty 10cm squares of parchment paper
  • Coat a chopstick with vegetable oil



  • Take a ball of risen dough and squash it flat with he palm of your hand
  • Use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 10cm long oval


  • Lay the oiled chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape




  • Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper
  • Let the buns rest and rise under a dry tea towel for a further 30-45 minutes 







  • Steam the buns in batches for 10 minutes









  • Buns can be used immediately – just gently pry the two halves apart and fill with succulent pieces of the duck.
  • Can also be frozen and used when needed by defrosting and then briefly steaming

  • Cook’s reward!!














Did you enjoy that fabulous duck? Voting for Challenge 4 opens Tuesday morning and continues through to Friday morning. Thanks to all voters, past, present and future!


You can view my other entries here:


Project Food Blog Challenge 3 – A mahjong lunch in four rounds
Project Food Blog Challenge 2 – The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment
Project Food Blog Challenge 1 – A Food-Filled Life in Shanghai



Aiyah!! I’m Through to Round 4!!

Incredible, but true! Thanks to your votes and support I’m through to Round 4 of Project Food Blog, and one of the final one hundred competitors of an original two thousand. So thanks again!
The next challenge will be posted tomorrow night, and voting for this challenge begins again on Tuesday morning.
And the chair photo? Just for fun, seen this morning on my way to coffee. Should you be needing a rocking chair, a cane recliner, or a set of four dining chairs, buy them from one of Shanghai’s many roving chair vendors.  What a way to make a living! The whole cantilevered contraption is pulled along the road by hand until a customer comes along…..just try not to choose the one at the bottom of the stack!


Project Food Blog Challenge 3: A Mahjong Lunch in Four Rounds

Unbelievably, I have made it through to the third round of Project Food Blog, thanks to all of you who  read my entry and voted for me. I’m incredibly thankful and not a little blown away to be amongst such wonderful company. Have you seen those other food blogs? They’re incredible!
Here’s what have I learnt from the first two Project Food Blog Challenges:
1. I have lots of great ideas, matched only by my lack of skill in carrying them out (croquembouche! In Shanghai! shouldn’t be that difficult…….)
2. I have discovered new abilities as a result of being pushed gently along (who knew I could cook pig skin jelly and then style it to look more attractive in a photo?)
3. Time is the greatest luxury of all. (If only I had one more week/day/hour/minute in which to finish this challenge! and also remember to feed my children!)
Given that we could all use more time, the gift of Chinese National Day, October 1st, fell in my lap this week. A whole extra day off for everyone I know! Schools and businesses closed! Challenge Three calls for us to celebrate by hosting a party for friends and family, and to thank you all I’m having you round to my place on for a game of mahjong, and a long lunch. Never played mahjong before? No worries, I’ll teach you every thing you need to know, Shanghai version.
I love to have our old lane house full of people, enjoying each others’ company and the pleasure of good food and wine. Everything about life in Shanghai is fast and frenetic, so how wonderful to just slow down, take some time, and fill it with delicious foods, great conversation, and a few rounds of mahjong.
Here is the menu, and an account of the day. Even if you can’t make it, I’ll try and describe the tastes and smells for you – imagine yourself there.

It’s Friday October First, China’s National Day and a holiday for all – school children, office workers, and businesses have a five day holiday starting today. There is a festive spirit in the streets, like the eve of Chinese New Year, and everyone is in a good mood. Red flags line the streets and children, dressed in party outfits, walk alongside mothers and fathers wearing their best new clothes to visit family, bringing baskets of fruit and sweets.

As I stand at my kitchen window waiting for the first batch of pies to come out of the oven I can hear firecrackers popping and banging in the lane. They started early, around eight, and will continue to punctuate the day at random noisy intervals. As the sulphur fades, I can suddenly smell the distinctive and sweet scent of the first osmanthus flowers of autumn. The smell is so typical of these flowers I can pinpoint exactly when their flowering begins. I rush downstairs and pick a branch from the tree to bring inside the kitchen. The tiny yellow flowers are yet to open, and I play with the idea of steeping them in warmed cream to flavour it, but time is running short and I still have a lot to do. The branch sits in a vase on the windowsill instead.

I’m looking forward to seeing our Australian Shanghai friends today, and their two beautiful girls. They were some of the first friends we made here and will be the ones we miss the most when we leave. They love good food, good wine, and a good joke, and will be bringing two old friends of theirs for us to meet. We have family visiting too from Australia, so together we’ll make a very cosy group of fourteen in our little lane house.

I began thinking about this lunch several days ago – wondering what impressive dishes I could coax out of my tiny kitchen with its dysfunctional oven, worrying about how my cooking could possibly measure up against everyone else’s. After a day of fretting it dawned on me. People don’t like my cooking because of any technical prowess I have (I don’t). What they like is to turn up, knowing that the next four, or six, or eight hours will be filled with wonderful laughs, interesting conversations, and good wine, and that along the way I’ll bring them delicious food, cooked with love and to the best of my ability (which is sometimes sadly lacking), and they’ll leave with that wonderful feeling of being full. Full of food, full of love, full of life.

So I scrap the fancy plans and instead start planning the way I often do – with a trip to the markets to see what’s looking at its best this week. The persimmons are wonderful – plump, deep orange, and perfectly ripe, and the last of the grape tomatoes sit plumply red and orange in the baskets. I see the first pears of autumn, and suddenly there it is, a whole early autumn menu laid out in my imagination.

At the back of my mind there is always the same group of thoughts when planning to cook for a large group.

-When I have a dinner party, I want to spend as much time as possible with the friends I’ve invited – so everything I serve comes from a simple repertoire of dishes I’ve made dozens of times, all of which can be cooked in advance and heated to serve. That way, I enjoy the guilty pleasure of two days of cooking on my own, then the shared pleasure of hours of uninterrupted conversation with friends.

-The food I serve should be in season – it will be luxurious in flavour, but not in cost.

-The food should enhance the company eating it, not compete with it. So although my food will be good, it won’t be distracting or confusing, and it will appeal to most ages and palates (because not all my friends like to be adventurous when it comes to food)

-Lastly, I think – What flowers will go well with these dishes? This, of course, is pretty trivial but buying flowers in season gives me an insane amount of enjoyment. And I reason it will add to the ambience.

I decide to go with a largely Australian menu – as a treat for the homesick who live here, and a reprieve for the visitors who have had Chinese food back-to-back for a week. Other than the champagne, we will drink all Australian wines too – because we love them and Chinese wines are unmentionably bad.

East Wind
Late Harvest Tomato Tart with Chevre
Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2002 Champagne
Up on my rooftop a minor miracle has occurred and despite my being, on the whole, deadly to plants, I have managed to grow two things – cherry tomatoes, and a huge pot of basil. The orange and red tomatoes from the market will be added to my misshapen ones, and slow roasted with a dash of balsamic. As they sweeten and shrink, they will be perfect for tiny shortcrust tarts topped with a sliver of salty, tangy chevre, and a peppery sprig of basil to begin the party.
And nothing else starts a party quite champagne – I have been saving a bottle of 2002 vintage Veuve Clicquot for such a celebration. As the cork pops satisfyingly with a sigh, the delightful bubbles dance on my tongue. Cheers!
South Wind
Bush Lamb Herb and Spice Pies with Rich Tomato Relish
Potato and Artichoke Cream Gratin
Rocket and Tomato Salad
Yering Station Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
After seeing the most luscious legs of South Australian lamb at Les Garcons Bouchers in Shanghai this week, I knew I’d be making my favourite slow food recipe of all time – bush lamb pies. I start it two days earlier, by dry-marinating the lamb in a combination of four spices -cardamon, cumin, coriander and cloves; then cooking it slowly with red wine, mire-poix, and four herbs – bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and parsley. The cooking liquid makes a wonderfully rich reduction which adds depth to a home-made tomato relish. On the day of the party I make the pastry and bake the pies early in the morning, heating them later when needed.
Alongside the pies, in an effort to elevate spuds to something a bit more elegant, I make a rich, creamy potato gratin interspersed with layers of shredded marinated artichoke. 
By the time we reach the main course we’re all having a good laugh and the pinot noir from Victoria, Australia, is going down well, along with one or two bottles of West Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Shiraz from the Hunter Valley. It’s great fun being patriotic. 

West Wind
Rich Dark Chocolate Mousse
Spiced Chinese Pears with Muscat Syrup
Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Torte

The desserts! I think of autumn, and images of pears, chocolate and hazelnuts leap into my mind. The markets are selling the first small Chinese pears of the season. Elongated and green-skinned with a pale yellow blush, they are not yet quite ripe so will be perfect poached in muscat and spices, with the cooking liquid reduced to a sticky, spicy syrup. 
The bittersweet dark French chocolate I bought is worth every cent, and goes into a rich dark mousse, and a dense, fudgy, flourless chocolate and hazelnut torte. 
And now, time for mahjong!

North Wind
Fresh New Season Persimmons
Cheese Selection with Oat Cakes
Tobin Wines Aged Liqueur Muscat

I learnt to play mahjong years ago, and since moving to China it seemed only right to keep it up. In Shanghai mahjong is played in living rooms, cafes, on the streets,  and just about anywhere you can fit a folding table.  Shanghai rules are simple and fast, so when there are new players we start with these. Someone is east wind, and play goes in turn anti-clockwise to South, West and North. I could never remember this until a mahjong guru said to me ‘It’s easy! Eat Soup With Noodles – ESWN’ I never forgot again, and I always eat my soup with noodles.

(If you would like to read up on the Shanghai rules for mahjong, this is a good place to start.)

We play round after round, stopping between for wedges of sweet persimmon and sharp blue cheese, and luscious soft camembert with oatcakes. The rich aged muscat comes out of the cupboard, made by my own father-in-law, all the way from Ballandean in Queensland. It gets better and better with age.

Lunch began at two, and at midnight we have to finish playing because we’ve run out of wine, and it doesn’t occur to any of us to call up and have some more home delivered. And yes, in Shanghai, you can call up at midnight on a national holiday to have a bottle of wine delivered by motorbike courier to your door half an hour later. It’s that kind of city. Instead, we play our final round, nibbling on the leftover cake and pears.

Time to wash up, and put away the tiles. Goodnight everyone!

Project Food Blog Challenge 2: The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment



A giant thank-you to everyone who voted me into Round 2 of Project Food Blog!
For this second challenge I have been asked to prepare a dish from another cuisine.


‘Pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or you are not as familiar with. Try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal.’

So because I’m living in Shanghai, for this challenge I have created one of the most classic and beloved Shanghainese dishes known, as well of one of the most difficult – for anyone who is not a dumpling chef. Which I’m not. The dish is xiǎolóngbāo. The name xiǎolóngbāo means small steamer bun. Say show(as in ‘ow!’)-long-bow.

Xiǎolóngbāo are small, delicate, thin-skinned steamed dumplings filled with pork and an aromatic and savoury soup. There is some contention about their exact geographic origin, but now they are associated inextricably with Shanghai. Someone went so far as to say they were ‘the only contribution Shanghai had made to global cuisine’. Well!


The first time you try xiǎolóngbāo the soup bursts surprisingly onto your tongue with your  first bite, sending hot liquid all over your dress. Despite this, you are filled with wonderment that scalding soup can be contained inside a soft dumpling skin. How do they do it? How do they get the soup inside?? The secret to this culinary marvel is that the soup is made from pork jelly, mixed with the meat filling, solid at room temperature but melting into a delicious liquid when cooked. 



Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m cheating

You will all gasp: She lives in CHINA and she’s making a CHINESE dish??!  How hard can that be??


But I’m an Australian. My national food is a fusion of Mediterranean, British, and South-East Asian cuisine. When it comes to Chinese food, it’s about as far away fromy own ethnic cuisine as it possible to be. In fact, I had never cooked it before, unless you count working your way through The Australian Women’s Weekly Easy Chinese Cookbook, age 14. I’m sure if you served those dishes to a Chinese person they wouldn’t recognise them. I thought we were pretty cosmopolitan.  


And although everyone in Shanghai loves xiǎolóngbāo, I have never met a single person who makes them at home, because they are far too time-consuming, and they need to be cooked and eaten within five minutes of being made. I thought, therefore, that they sounded like the perfect dish for this challenge.


So just how did my xiǎolóngbāo experiment pan out? Better than the Australian Women’s Weekly Lemon Chicken, circa 1983, let me tell you. But still in need of a lot of practice. At least the ugly ones still taste good.

The real fun of xiǎolóngbāo is, of course, in the eating. Here’s the technique:


Lift one carefully out of the steamer by its topknot.



Drizzle over some dark, complex-flavoured brown rice vinegar, or dunk the whole thing in a dish of vinegar. Or, if you prefer, eat it plain.



Nibble a small hole in the top, and allow the steam to escape.
Carefully, ever so carefully, suck out the boiling hot soup. Slurp noisily, and with enjoyment. Now pop the whole hot steaming bundle into your mouth.

Have another, and another. You’ve got a whole basket to get through!



Should you have a day or two up your sleeve, here’s the recipe. The pork jelly needs to be made the day before.

Shanghai Xiǎolóngbāo
Makes 24 



Ingredients

For the filling:

200g pork mince
3tsp water
3tsp shaoxing rice wine
2tsp ginger, finely diced
1tsp scallion, finely diced
1 tsp salt
2tsp sugar
2tsp light soy sauce
shake of white pepper
2tsp sesame oil
200g pork skin jelly, finely diced (my recipe separately here)

Combine all the ingredients except the jelly. Stir the mixture 50 times in one direction. Not a joke! If you don’t the meat will be lumpy. Now add the jelly, and mix. Refrigerate until ready.


For the dumpling skins:


160g wheat flour
90ml cold water


1. Combine the flour and water into a dough. Knead for 10 minutes until elastic.


2. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 inch long cylinder. Separate each cylinder into 12 equal pieces.


3. Roll each individual piece into a ball, then flatten into a disc. Roll out to 6cm size.


To construct:

1. Hold a wrapper flat on the palm of your left hand.


2. Place a heaped teaspoon of the dumpling mixture into the centre of the wrapper.


3. Cup your hand slightly, bringing the edges of the wrapper up around the filling.


4. Using both thumbs, and both index fingers, stretch and pleat the edges of the xiǎolóngbāo wrapper working anticlockwise as shown. Both thumbs remain inside the dumpling at all times, with both index fingers on the outside.


5. Continue working all the way round the edge of the wrapper, gently turning the bun in the palm of your left hand as you go.





6. It should resemble a rosette like this.


7. Press the pleated edges lightly together to seal.


8. So that it looks like this.


To cook:

1. Line a steamer basket with a store-bought liner, or a piece of tea-towel cut to shape. This will stop the xiǎolóngbāo frosticking to the steamer bottoand tearing when you lift them out. Place the xiǎolóngbāo into the steamer without touching one another.


2. Bring a pot of water to the boil, reduce to a simmer. Place the lidded steamer basket on top. Steam for 10 minutes.


3. Serve xiǎolóngbāo in the steamer basket, with brown rice vinegar on the side for dipping. Enjoy!





(Adapted with thanks from a recipe by The Chinese Cooking Workshop, Weihai Lu, Shanghai)

The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment Part 1 – Pork Skin Jelly

Exciting news! I have made it through the tough first round of Project Food Blog and into the second. For this challenge I have been asked to make a classic dish from another culture, and as I am living in the midst of a culture about as different from my own as it is possible to be, I have decided to make the classic and beloved Shanghai dumpling – xiǎolóngbāo


I spent all day (literally!) yesterday making pork skin jelly, an essential component for making xiǎolóngbāo completely authentic. Xiǎolóngbāo are filled with a fragrant soup, 
made possible only by the melting of the jelly during steaming. When I first learnt that the jelly is made from slow-cooked pig skin I have to admit I was pretty repulsed. But they taste so good, and so in the interests of good food I have managed to overcome my repulsion and consume about 500 of the beauties.


Here’s how to make the jelly. The next post (my official entry) will tell you how to make the dumplings themselves.



Pork Skin Jelly


Ingredients


400g of pork skin, undyed

Water, for blanching skin
4 cloves of garlic
4 small scallions
4 slices of ginger
8 cups of water
1 teasoon of salt
1 inch piece of smoked ham or a ham bone



Method

1. Blanch the skin to remove any impurities. Bring a big pot of water to the boil and add the pork skin. When the water returns to the boil, remove the skin and blanch in cold water. Scrape any hair off the skin with a sharp blade.


2. Cut the skin into 3cm squares. Remove excess fat.


3. Combine the 8 cups of water, pork skin, and all the remaining ingredients in a stock pot. Bring to the boil.


4. Cook covered for 6-7 hours at a simmer until all the pig skin is dissolved.  If the water level drops, top up with boiling water from time to time. When ready, you should have an opaque, milky liquid with scant small pieces of undissolved skin.


5. Strain and reserve the liquid. Refrigerate overnight.
6. When jelly is set, remove any solidified fat from the top. Chop into fine dice. Can be stored frozen for up to three months. 



After 1 hour
After 2 hours

5 hours
After overnight refrigeration

The finished jelly


Project Food Blog – Voting Now Open!

Voting has now opened for the first Project Food Blog Challenge. In case you missed my entry explaining it all Project Food Blog is going to whittle down the ranks of TWO THOUSAND food bloggers to just ONE over the next twelve weeks with 10 nail-biting challenges. It’s terrifying. I mean, think of those poor buggers on Australian Idol who get slammed by Kyle Sandilands before they even start singing. You can help me avoid a similar fate by signing on to Project Food Blog and voting!

Voting opens now and closes 6pm US time on Thursday,Sept 23, or 9am Shanghai time Friday Sept 24. 

A Food-Filled Life in Shanghai: Project Food Blog Number 1



It’s 6am in Shanghai, and I’ve been woken up by the group of elderly women exercising and gossiping on the communal exercise equipment in my lane. Again. They’re my human alarm clock. I get dressed and head out into the hot and steamy September day. The cicadas have already begun humming loudly in the leafy green French plane trees lining my street, Nanchang Lu, and as I pass the corner shop there is an emerald green cricket singing loudly in his exquisitely tiny bamboo cage, hung above the doorway. He stops as he senses my approach, and starts up again in full chirruping song as soon as I’ve passed.

I’m heading to the wet market – the noisy, colourful Chinese version of the supermarket, to buy food for dinner. It’s part of my daily life now. The food vendors are already busy outside the wet market entrance, where a crowd is building. The walnuts arrived this week from distant Xinjiang, in far-west China, and the man selling them from two large wire panniers balanced on each side of his bicycle wears a crisp white cap. Next to him Chicken Lady is selling live chickens, ducks and pigeons from a 6-storey cage strapped tightly to the back of her tricycle. Later, as she cycles away with the unsold birds, the cages, way taller than her head, lean precariously to the left and all the chickens sqwawk and try to stand up, feathers flying everywhere. A lady in her pyjamas, holding a chicken upside down by its feet, walks towards home.

Early morning is the best time to come shopping, when the produce is freshest and the choice is best. I go inside the market, making my way through the tangle of bicycles, and the buzz of hundreds of voices fills my ears with snatches of ‘fresh today!’ ‘best quality!’ and ‘good price!’ filtering through the noisy hum of Shanghainese dialect. 

At the first row of stalls the customers are three deep, and through their elbows I can see a pile of glistening deep purple Chinese eggplants, long and slim; a basket of shiitake mushrooms so fresh there is still moist earth clinging to their stems, and bundles of sinuous green snakebeans.  The second row of stalls is lined with woven baskets filled with Chinese leeks, mountains of fresh ginger, pale green bamboo shoots and tender baby bok choy so fresh it was born only a few hours ago. 

Strange misshapen dirt-coloured lumps catch my eye – they are lily bulbs, in season right now, and when cleaned they can be separated into small white petals and stir fried with a little garlic and celery. They have a tender and delicate flavour. I buy a handful, and choose some eggplants and a bunch of fresh greens.

The last row of stalls is lined with fish tanks filled with flapping fish, tubs of slithering eels, and net bags full of bullfrogs and crabs. The smell is strong, salty, and quite unpleasant, so I move off to the side where the noodle seller and his wife, covered in a fine layer of white flour, hand me a stack of dumpling skins and a tangle of fresh-made noodles to take home. Dinner sorted in ten short minutes, and way more interesting than the aisles of a supermarket.

I arrived in Shanghai over a year ago now, with no real idea of what I had gotten myself into. I came here for my husband’s work, along with our two daughters, initially unwilling participants but now full-blown ‘old china hands’. Accustomed to the intensity of my work as an ER doctor, I suddenly found myself with more free time on my hands than I’d had since I was a kid. I had only a single resolve – I wanted to write a blog, to document the incredible and colourful life around me, and I wanted to concentrate on people and food, always so inextricably intertwined in my life. Along the way I rekindled an old passion – photography, and learnt to really enjoy writing, and as I wrote I began to understand a little of this intriguing place in which I found myself. 


So much of life in China orbits around the national obsession – food. When you read my blog I want you to imagine you are here in Shanghai, right at my elbow, bargaining over the price of a plump catfish, or hovering at the kitchen doorway working out exactly how that dish is cooked. Think of yourself as a culinary anthropologist, discovering new places and foods without ever having to leave home. I will be your eyes, your ears, (thankfully not your nose) as you discover what life is really like inside China, and what they eat here. People. Food. Life. That’s it. I hope you enjoy your little slice of life in Shanghai with me!

This is my first entry for Project Food Blog, an incredibly fun competition involving two thousand food bloggers from all over the world and weekly knockout challenges. They’re looking for the next food blog star! You can vote (for me! for me!) by clicking on the link below and signing in. I’ll keep you posted about how it goes….!