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.

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