Sunday, March 15, 2009

Moving Shop

Its been a rough couple of months in my neck of the woods, and as though that weren't bad enough, two months ago I decided to revamp my blog and move house. Those situations combined have meant that I haven't been doing anything here. To be honest, I haven't been doing anything at the new blog site either because A) I've been feeling more than a little overwhelmed, and B) I thought I could design the new blog myself, finally figured out that wasn't likely to happen, and have now spent way too much time thinking about finding an affordable web designer without spending any time actually looking for one.

Anyway, I've decided enough is enough. I'm going to begin posting at the new site and I'll slowly build the thing as I go along. If you know of a good web designer (preferably someone with experience in Wordpress) feel free to leave a comment with their contact information. In the meantime, if you want to find out what I'm up to in the kitchen, check out my new site at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

These Are My Confessions...

I am, understandably (or so I tell myself) picky about my Chinese food.

Having lived in Taiwan and China for a combined total of 2 years, I feel like I have a pretty good sense for authentic Chinese food. As most Americans are no doubt aware, Chinese food in America is, for the most part, a completely different animal than its long lost relative back in the Middle Kingdom (aka 中国, aka China).

The kitchen at Li Qun Roast Duck in Beijing.

One of my greatest complaints with American Chinese food is that it is, generally speaking, extremely greasy and therefore quite heavy. In China, I don't feel like the stir-fried dishes I eat are drenched in oil. In fact, for the most part, what I love about authentic Chinese food is that I rarely feel weighed down after a meal.

Now, it is possible to find good, authentic Chinese restaurants here in the good ole U.S. of A. But it can be a little bit complicated. It helps to have a friend or two in the know. I've been introduced to most of my favorite Chinese restaurants by Chinese friends.

However, I do indeed have a confession to share with you today. My favorite Chinese restaurant here in the States is none other than P.F. Changs. Scandalous! I know. Its slightly embarrassing to admit this in a public forum. My Chinese food credibility is, like, out the window.

Ducks roasting at Li Qun Roast Duck in Beijing.

This is how I explain my infatuation with P.F. Changs: while their style of preparing Chinese dishes is generally not authentic, the flavors, in my opinion, are. As an added bonus, their food is not overwhelmingly greasy. So while the final dish may not look much like what I would order in China, the flavors inevitably take me back to meals I've had there.

One of my close friends in Virginia introduced me to one of my favorite dishes at PF Changs: Ground Chicken with Eggplant. Then, in a somewhat serendipitous turn of events, last year around Chinese New Year I stumbled on an Australian cooking magazine at Barnes and Noble which has quickly become a favored source for new Chinese cooking ideas. To my great excitement the magazine had a recipe for eggplant with minced pork in a spicy Szechuan sauce. I couldn't help but have an "aha!" moment, thinking that this might be my opportunity to recreate the PF Changs' dish at home. Unfortunately, as often happens, I never got around to trying the recipe.

Then 2 weeks ago, before life took an expected, but still decidedly sad turn (we can discuss that in a blog post to come), I had my friend Krista over for a belated birthday dinner and I finally made the eggplant dish. I should not have waited a year. It's fantastic. Not quite the same as the one at PF Changs, but who cares when it tastes this good.

Eggplant with Minced Chicken in Szechuan Sauce
Adapted from delicious. (volume 5 issue 2)

2 t. corn starch
1 lb. ground chicken (if you can't find ground chicken, substitute ground turkey)
2 lg. eggplants, peeled
1 1/2 T. peanut oil
1" chunk ginger, grated
1 T. finely chopped green onion
1/2 T. chili paste (I used Sambal Oelek)

1 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 T. light soy sauce
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. Chinese rice wine (shaohsing)

1 t. salt
Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Cut the eggplant into strips about 2" long by 1/2" thick. Place the eggplant in a colander and set the colander inside a bowl. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt, toss gently, and let sit for 1 hour. Pour off any water that has accumulated in the bowl.

Meanwhile, mix 1 t. corn starch in a bowl with 1/4 t. salt and 2 1/2 T. water. Mix in the chicken. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or pan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and onion and stir for 15 seconds or until starting to color. Add the chili paste and toss for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry until almost cooked, about a minute or two. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add sauce, cover and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing 2-3 times, until the eggplant is cooked and almost all liquid has been absorbed.

Stir remaining 1 t. corn starch with 1 T. water. Stir into the eggplant mixture, and then allow to bubble for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Serve with rice.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I Am Not A Pretty Girl... But I Am A Domestic Goddess

I was all ready for 2009. Couldn't wait for the new year to begin. I was feeling the usual anticipation/optimism. I was ready to set some goals, make some plans to improve myself (and the blog). I couldn't wait to see what the new year would bring.

And then it began, and somehow, it began all wrong. I found myself in an awful mood on New Years Day. Suddenly the year stretched ahead of me and it seemed like there was nothing to look forward to. No positive news or developments anywhere on the horizon. It was most assuredly a horrible, no good, very bad day. An Ani DiFranco, angry girl music kind of day*.

So I found myself on New Years Day, mostly dwelling on all the things currently upsetting the delicate balance between feeling relatively happy/well adjusted and feeling completely out of control. In the midst of these, admittedly, depressing thoughts, I remembered that I needed to come up with a couple of appetizers for my family's Sugar Bowl party on Friday night (yay Utes!). And just like that, with that one thought, the clouds parted, the fog lifted, and a small ray of light came shining through.

That, apparently, is the power of food in my life. Seems like, more than anything else, particularly now, food has the power to provide whatever I need most at any given moment in time. Distraction: check. Calming influence: check. Nourishment: check. Joy: check.

So I imagine that in the coming months I'll be spending lots of time in the kitchen. I can't wait. I already spend a lot of time there. You don't always see the fruits of my labors here because most of what I make does not fit into the narrow parameters I currently have set for this blog (although that's likely to change in the near future). The kitchen is just about my favorite place to pass the time right now. If I'm able to show my love for friends and family at the same time by sharing my culinary creations with them, so much the better.

Domestic Goddess in the making... yeah, that's right, I fish too.

My close friends will likely know how hard it is for me to even jokingly claim the title of "Domestic Goddess". My word, there are so many things I can't and don't do. So many people more qualified for the title than I. However, if there is one area in my life that I feel an abundance of confidence, it's in the kitchen. Not everything I make is perfect, and yes, if you ever find yourself at my table, you're likely to be subjected to a litany of disclaimers before you are allowed to dig in to your repast. However, regardless of how the final product looks, I'm likely secure in the knowledge that it will be delicious and hopeful that any time spent sharing food and drink that I've prepared will be nourishing to both the body and the heart.

Today, I have a recipe, that yes, doesn't look quite as pretty as I wanted it to. And maybe could still use a tweak or two. But it was good. Actually, it was exactly what I hoped it would be. An egg custard tart with a smooth, creamy filling and a nice flaky crust. This is one of my favorite things to pick up during visits to Chinatown. As I don't have a Chinatown here in Salt Lake, I'm happy to now be able to make my own egg custard tarts whenever the craving strikes.

Happy New Year. May the year ahead bring much joy and wonder to your life. And maybe an egg custard tart or two.

(Egg Custard Tarts)

As noted above, this recipe could still use a tweak or two. Mostly, this is in the area of the amount of custard filling because the crust recipe makes more tart shells than the filling can fill. My solution would be to do one of the following: either double the filling recipe, or freeze one tray of unbaked tart shells. If you choose to freeze the shells, they'll be ready the next time you want to make the filling. I've already tested this out for you because I did in fact have to put my recipe-making on hold, so I put a muffin tray of tart shells in the fridge and a tray in the freezer. When I was finally able to get around to finishing the filling, I pulled both trays out, filled the tarts, and popped them in the oven together. I let them both cook for the same amount of time, and both trays came out just fine.

3/4 c. confectioners sugar
2 3/4 c. cake flour
3/4 c. butter
1 egg, beaten
1-3 T. cold water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is about the same size as small peas. Stir in the egg. Add the water slowly, adding just enough for the dough to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" inch. Using a standard biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Give each round another quick time or two with the roller to stretch it out just a bit further. Then push the dough round into a muffin tin. You want the dough to come just to the rim, or slightly below that. Repeat until you have filled two muffin trays. Prick the base of each tart with a fork. (As noted above, at this point either freeze one tray or double the filling recipe.)

Custard Filling:
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. + 1 T. sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 c. evaporated milk
1/4 t. vanilla

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once the sugar syrup is cool, add eggs and egg yolks to a mixing bowl and beat well. Then add the sugar syrup, milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Fill tart shells about 90% full. Bake for 25-20 minutes. Put trays on cooling racks and let the tarts cool for 10 minutes, before removing from muffin tins. Then let the tarts cool completely on cooling racks.

* For the record, I love me some Ani DiFranco. She is one of my favorite artists, and for the benefit of the uninitiated I feel compelled to say that not all of her music is angry girl music. However, that being said, "I Am Not A Pretty Girl" is one of my all time favorite songs. I often feel like it describes me to a T.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bring On 2009

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I inevitably hear people talk about how the holidays are too crazy. Too much going on. People taking too much on themselves. That with all the hustle and bustle we lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

I'm here to admit that I am one of those people who overloads their schedule with projects and parties and people. But I LOVE it. To me, thats what makes the holidays so fantastic... for one whole month I lose myself thinking about other people, thinking about how I can show my love for friends and family and co-workers. By the end of the month I'm completely exhausted and ready for the new year to roll on in. But by the time the next December rolls around, I get excited all over again, thinking about all the fun stuff I'm going to make and do for the people in my life.

This year, December felt even more chaotic than usual, and it has been a true relief to spend the weekend putting all of my Christmas stuff away, cleaning my closet (and kitchen and bathroom and quilt room), catching up on the many neglected emails in my inbox, etc. etc.

I've decided to use today's post to provide all and sundry with a quick recap of my life this past month... Maybe it will inspire you to forgive my sporadic posting.

With my siblings at Thanksgiving. I cooked a turkey, corn bread stuffing (made the corn bread from scratch, yeah baby), roasted sweet potato cheesecake, and cranberry sauce. Yum!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving my sisters and I decided to do a Top Chef cook-off. I ended up making dessert. This is my attempt at Richard's Banana Scallops (season 4). For the record, this is a winner. So good. But I decided not to make the banana guacamole that went with it. That was a little too strange, even for me.

The first week of December, Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake has a huge fundraiser called the Festival of Trees. Individuals and companies donate decorated trees (or wreaths or gingerbread houses) to the festival. Before the festival officially opens to the public, people can purchase a ticket for the bidding night. I went with my sisters and my aunt that night because this year my mom's close college friends decorated and dedicated a tree to her. I had planned to bid on her tree, but with a starting bid of $675 it was a little out of my price range. I bid on a wreath instead and won! Very exciting.

This shot is also from Festival of Trees. I took this for JB. A gingerbread airplane and hangar! Awesome! If they had only had a NASCAR gingerbread house the night would have been complete.

I was in San Diego from the 12-14th for a friend's wedding. Highlights include an amazing Italian meal at a great restaurant in La Jolla, the wedding (of course), driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Clemente, Trader Joes, Balboa Park, and best of all, a long, leisurely walk on the beach. Sometimes I really do miss southern California.

This is me, looking a little windblown, on Torrey Pines State Beach.

Balboa Park

Every year at Christmas I make homemade granola for my co-workers. I made the above batch with dried cherries and blueberries I picked up at Trader Joes.

Then I make little gift bags out of fabric for the granola. Above is the finished product. Cute, eh! It gives me such a thrill to make this every year. It's really easy, and everyone loves it.

This is my cute mom on the train on our way to see Neil Diamond on the 19th. I would have taken a picture at the concert but I ended up having to sneak my camera in, and as we were in the handicapped section, there were lots of ushers around and well, I didn't want to get in trouble. If you haven't yet had an opportunity to see Neil Diamond in concert, I highly recommend it. He sang all my favorite songs. During Sweet Caroline I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended I was back at Fenway Park. If only....

This photo is from 2 nights ago. My sisters and I were playing Sorry (obviously). Notice all the little green men, sitting in the Start bubble. Yeah, those are my guys. Then observe how my opponents have all of their little guys on the board. We had already gone through the cards 1 1/2 times, and I hadn't moved any guys out of start. None. It was thoroughly depressing.

Fast forward to another time and a half through the cards. Triumph was mine! Ahhh, winning is sweet.

Earlier today, trying out my pizzelle maker for the first time. I've wanted one of these for years, and then one of my good friends surprised me with it for Christmas. She is probably the only person on the planet I have ever confessed wanting this to, so it was a total and complete surprise. I was giddy the day she gave it to me. After making my first batch this afternoon, I OD'ed on pizzelles. They are so addictive. Can't wait to share them with the folks at work tomorrow, although come to think of it, most of our staff will still be out on vacation.

And finally, the recipe you've been waiting for... OK, you probably haven't been waiting for this, but this is the recipe that has caused me months of torment. I tried it again on Saturday and I now have both sisters' stamp of approval, so even though I think it could still be perfected, I figure its good enough to post.

烧饼 (Shao Bing)

These little babies are called shao bing. They're a Chinese flat bread. My favorite way to eat these is to grind peanuts and sugar together and then stuff that into the shao bing right when they come out of the oven. The hot bread melts the peanut/sugar mixture just a bit and it is so tasty. If that's not your thing, you can also whip up a basic stir-fry and stuff the stir fry into the bread instead of eating it over rice. Hopefully soon I'll have a stir-fry recipe on the blog specifically for shao bing. In the meantime, try the peanuts. I think you'll love it as much as I, and my sisters, do.

1/2 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. All-Purpose Flour

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour is nut-brown and very fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the shao bing dough.

4 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/2 t. salt
3 T. sugar
3/4 c. very hot tap water
1 c. very cold tap water

Sesame Seeds
Spray bottle with tap water (or you can use a pastry brush and a bowl of water)

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer running on low speed, add the hot water and the cold water in quick succession. Knead in the machine until smooth and elastic, approximately 4 minutes. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, knead briefly, form into a ball, and let rest under a kitchen towel for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Let rest for 5 minutes on a floured surface under a kitchen towel.

This is where it gets a little tricky....
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take a piece of dough and roll it into a 6-by-3 inch rectangle. With a pastry brush, brush a generous amount of the roux over the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, rotate the dough packet by 90 degrees, and roll it out a second time to make a 6-by-3 rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds again and roll it out briefly to make it about 2-by-4 inches. Spritz or brush the top of the dough with water. Fill a bowl with sesame seeds. Press the top-side (the side with the water) of the dough into the sesame seeds then place sesame seed side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with all the remaining pieces of dough.

Bake for 12 minutes, then take out the tray and flip the breads over. Bake for another 12 minutes.

Peanuts and Sugar Mixture:

2/3 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts (I buy mine at Trader Joes)
1/4 c. sugar

Place in a mini food processor/chopper. Mix until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Hey kids. I'm back baby, back! I know, I know - you thought you had seen the last of me. You thought, That's it. She gave up on the blog. She got bored, distracted, busy. No more Chinese food a la Shannon.

And then you stopped by the blog today and got yourself a little holiday surprise: me. Here. Blogging. It's a Christmas miracle, almost too good to believe. But hey, it's the holiday season and I wanted to do what I could to spread a little cheer.

I can't take full credit for this post however. I have to give a quick shout out to Erin and Amri for gently (at least in Erin's case) nudging me back in the direction of the blog. Many many thanks ladies for the extra, and highly needed, dose of motivation.

I feel like I can't let my two month absence pass without an explanation of some kind. This is what happened - I got a bad case of extreme stubbornness. This happens to me sometimes, but this year has been worse then most. Earlier this year, I avoided my quilt room for 6 months because I didn't want to work on this one nightmare quilt I had started, but I refused to start another quilt until I had finished that one.

In the blog's case, I had one specific recipe in mind for my next post. It's one of my favorite things and I was so excited about sharing it with all of you. Unfortunately however, the recipe is, well, complicated. And a tad tricky. I made it twice (this was months ago) but felt the recipe still needed a bit of work before it would be blog worthy. I posted instead about my trip to China and shared another recipe I had ready to go. Then I was done, and I needed to figure out the recipe I was now dreading. I couldn't face the thought of going through the whole process again, making a few changes, and then (perish the thought) having to possibly make it again! So rather than do the rational thing, and just make something else, I stalled. And stalled. And stalled some more.

This past week, due to an unexpected case of the flu, I hit upon another recipe I wanted to try: egg drop soup. Growing up, whenever I got the flu, my mom would feed me the following easy to digest items: soft-boiled eggs, white rice, chicken broth. As I was laying in bed feeling miserable on Wednesday night, I got to thinking about how none of the above sounded appetizing. However, if I combined two of them as an egg drop soup, I might have something. The perfect sick girl's food; something with enough flavor to actually be appealing, but still easy enough on the system to not cause alarm. If you, like me, manage to catch a case of the flu this winter, give this baby a try. I'm quite pleased with it. So much so that I'm almost looking forward to my next bout of the flu so I can test its efficacy as healing food.

Egg Drop Soup
Adapted from this recipe.

3 cups low-sodium chicken stock, plus 2 tablespoons
1" chunk grated fresh ginger
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. corn starch
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 green onions, chopped
7 oz. soft tofu, diced (optional)
Salt and white pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the cornstarch and 2 T. of the chicken stock. Stir until dissolved.

Combine the remaining chicken stock, grated ginger, and soy sauce in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture while stirring the stock. Stir until thickened. Reduce heat to a simmer. Pour in the eggs slowly while stirring the soup in the same direction. The egg will spread and feather. Turn off the heat and add the green onions. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Lasting Influence

I've moved a lot in the adult-portion of my life.

View of the Puli valley.

In the 14 1/2 years since I graduated from high school, I've lived in the following places:
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Valencia, California
  • Farmington, Maine
  • Taiwan: Puli, Caotun, Taichung
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Shanghai, China
  • Washington, DC area: Vienna and Arlington, Virginia
The list itself really isn't too long. But it becomes significantly longer if you add in the number of times I've moved between those place... Currently the count stands at 15 moves in those 14 1/2 years. Because of all those moves, I've come to know, quite well, the many different challenges inherent in settling into a new place.

Regardless of how many times I go through that process it never gets any easier. The only advantage I have found is that at least now I know better what to expect. It takes time to find your niche in a new place - to feel like you have found the people and the space where you fit. It is often hard and emotionally draining to work your way through that process with enough patience to avoid becoming depressed and frustrated on a regular basis.

With Pele, my missionary trainer and one of my all-time favorite people.

One of the lessons I've learned repeatedly, as I've weathered this process so many times over the years, is that people play an instrumental role in easing your way down the road. Never was this more true than on my mission. Any move is going to have its own unique difficulties, but few, in my experience, compare to the challenge of moving to a foreign country, with a foreign language and foreign customs. Add to that, a complete and total loss of independence and you are in for a sometimes difficult transitionary period.

With my fellow missionaries, on the roof of our apartment building, celebrating my birthday.

When I look back on my first few months in Taiwan, there are a few people who come to mind as playing a major role in helping me to adjust and acclimate to my new life there. Within that group, my thoughts always return with particular fondness to Huang Laoshi (Teacher Huang).

Pele and Huang Laoshi

During my first few months in Taiwan, Huang Laoshi's home felt like a refuge to me. Huang Laoshi had an illness that made it difficult for her to leave her home. For that reason, she could no longer work or attend church meetings. My companion and I tried to visit her about once every week or two in order to make sure that she was doing OK and to provide some companionship. Two things made Huang Laoshi's home such a haven for me: she spoke very good English, and she was a very nurturing individual. Also, she expressed her love, care and concern for others the same way I tend to - with food.

Huang Laoshi was an amazing cook and she loved having the missionaries over for dinner. She was the first person I met on my mission who invited me into her kitchen and taught me to make a dish or two. My notes on how to make soy milk came from her. She also taught me how to make passion fruit juice, sweet and sour pork, as well as my favorite Taiwanese dish: stir-fired chicken with soybeans and carrots. I've been making this dish since I returned from Taiwan. I love it. It is so simple, healthy and tasty. Every time I make it I remember visiting Huang Laoshi: making sweet and sour sauce, flipping pieces of fried pork out of the oil onto a waiting plate, sitting and talking in her cozy living room, slicing carrots, and maybe best of all, drinking tall, refreshing glasses of her homemake passion fruit juice. I haven't seen her since I left Puli in December of 1998, but I still miss her.

With Huang Laoshi

Stir-Fried Chicken with Soy Beans and Carrots

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots
3 c. frozen, shelled edamame
4 green onions

1.5 T. corn or potato starch
4 T. sesame oil
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 T. soy sauce

Cut the green onion into 1" long sections. Then cut the sections into quarters so you have long slivers of green onion.

Cut the carrots into chunks about 1" long. Cut these chunks in half. Then very thinly slice the chunks so that you are left with large, thin slices of carrots (see final photo below for a visual). Put the carrots into a Ziploc bag, sprinkle in a little bit of water, seal, and then microwave for 2 minutes.

Cut the chicken breast into small cubes. Mix with corn starch, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Let sit for approximately 15 minutes.

Heat a splash of sesame oil in a wok or saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a bowl, and then return pan to heat. Add the edamame and carrots and stir-fry until cooked to your taste (for me this is about 5 minutes, but check the carrots to make sure they are cooked the way you like). Add the chicken back to the pan along with the green onions. Stir-fry briefly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Serve.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Shanghai: Let Me Count the Ways...

We arrived in Shanghai after a 20-hour, overnight train ride. Even with tickets in the soft sleeper carriage, that was a little too much time on the train for me. Matters were not helped by the fact that all the toilets on the train were of the squatter variety and were not cleaned during the train ride. Draw your own conclusions on the state of the bathrooms a few hours into the trip...

Shanghai at night.

It was a relief (joy) to arrive in "my town", and even more of a relief to discover that our hotel was far nicer than expected - by far the nicest of our trip. If you ever travel to Shanghai, I highly recommend it - the Astor House Hotel. It is the oldest hotel in Shanghai and has hosted many distinguished guests, to include Albert Einstein (although, in true Chinese fashion, the hotel managed to misspell his name on the plaque commemorating his visit).

Carri on the train.

Some of my favorite moments from our two-and-a-half days in Shanghai...
  • Dinner at Simply Thai
  • Seeing the Incredible Hulk at 新天地 (Xin Tian Di) - my first movie theater experience in China
  • Hottie trumpet boy, not to mention great jazz and blues, at the Cotton Club
  • Dinner at Malones
  • Evening river cruise... where it was once again confirmed that I can't travel without running into fellow Mormons
  • The Silk Market - I only wish we had hit it our first day in Shanghai so I could have ordered a custom-made winter coat
  • Chinese acrobats at Shanghai Centre
  • The Pearl Market
  • Watching The Prestige on HBO with Carri... and then being totally bugged by how ridiculous the storyline was
  • And last, but most assuredly not least, Papa Beards cream puffs

Catching a cab at the hotel.

As a little bit of background on that last point... Before arriving in Shanghai, with the exception of a few visits to McDonalds (because its hard for me to pass up an opportunity to indulge in a deep-fried pineapple pie), we had eaten Chinese food for every meal since we arrived in China. Now, although I love Chinese food, I get burned out on any cuisine pretty quickly when it's all I eat. Because that was all we had eaten for almost two weeks, by the time we arrived in Shanghai I was DONE! with Chinese food.

The sitting area next to our hotel room.

Therefore, we didn't eat any Chinese food while we were in Shanghai. I just couldn't do it. We had Thai, Japanese, Italian, and American, but no Chinese food... this of course meant that I didn't eat any of the Shanghai specialties I was excited about prior to our trip. While it now makes me more than a little sad to realize that I passed up a chance to devour a basket or two of 小龙包 (little dragon dumplings), Shanghai was definitely the perfect city to take a culinary detour because my favorite restaurants from 7 years ago are still in business, and based on appearances, thriving.

At the Shanghai Museum.

While I was avoiding Chinese food, and rediscovering my favorite eateries from back in the day, I did make one new discovery - Papa Beards. I hit it twice while we there. I'm a sucker for a good cream puff and the ones at Papa Beards, while slightly unconventional, were decidedly tasty. I became a big fan.

At the Japanese photo booth shop... finished product below. Who knew decorating these shots could be so much fun? Well, I suppose Japanese girls have figured it out as that is where the craze started.

Anyway, our few days in Shanghai passed far too quickly, especially because it took me a good day and a half to realize that this was indeed the same place I lived in for 6 months of my life... it has changed so much I really didn't recognize it. Suddenly I found myself back in the States and I then started thinking about which dishes from the trip I wanted to recreate for my blog. Beijing and Xi'an were easy, no-brainers really. But Shanghai had my stumped. What to make for my Chinese cooking blog when I didn't eat any Chinese food while we were there?

At Xin Tian Di.

And then I remembered Papa Beards and the cream puffs. Definitely not Chinese, but in this particular case it seemed fair to diverge from my blog's stated purpose. Plus, I had never made cream puffs before so it did at least meet the requirement of providing me with an opportunity to further develop my culinary skills.

Blues at the Cotton Club.

I decided, in the spirit of Papa Beards, to create a somewhat untraditional cream puff. I combined a whole-wheat puff pastry dough with Devonshire Cream, a recipe my friend Jessica gave me that seemed perfectly suited for a cream puff filling. Then, for added punch, I topped the cream with fresh raspberries (although really any fresh fruit would be good). These were surprisingly easy and very tasty. If you like cream puffs as much as I do, give this recipe a try and then let me know what you think.

On the river cruise. Good times our last night in China.

Cream Puffs with Devonshire Cream

Whole-Grain Cream Puff Pastry (adapted from The Baking Sheet)
½ c. unbleached flour
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 c. water
½ c. unsalted butter
¼ t. salt
4 large eggs

Combine the flours and set aside.

Put the water, butter, and salt into a saucepan, and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Remove it from the heat, and add the flours all at once. Stir vigorously. Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture forms a boil—this should only take about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes, to 140 degrees F. It will still feel hot, but you should be able to hold a finger in it for a few seconds. Transfer the dough to a mixer and beat in the eggs one at a time. The mixture will become fluffy. Beat for at least 2 minutes after adding the last egg.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the dough in a pastry bag with a ¾” diameter opening (you could use a Ziploc bag and cut off the corner if you don’t have a pastry bag). Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheet in mounds approximately 2 inches wide. Leave at least an inch space around each mound because the dough will expand as it cooks.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the pastry inside to cool for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool completely.

Once cool, use a fork to cut off the top of the cream puffs. Fill the cream puff with Devonshire Cream and fruit.

Devonshire Cream (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 t. vanilla bean paste
3 T. white sugar
zest of 1 lemon

Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until the mixture holds its shape and looks like softly whipped cream. Refrigerate the cream until ready to use. This cream does not hold very well and should be made shortly before serving.