Sunday, November 18

Dilly-dallying around Dalian

What? You're asking, what does that mean?  What's Dalian?  
Let me first say, I understand.  I didn't know where Dalian was either until about 2 days before my first trip out here (my last one) when I thought I better look it up on the map before I ventured out there for work.  That was earlier last month, and now I'm here for another stay for a few weeks, and I'll be back in January.
So Dalian is in Northern China, nervously enough not that far from North Korea and Japan.  There's a big Korean and Japanese influence here.  The food is definitely influenced by both I've seen.

I haven't really ventured out much by myself here actually, last time I came it was very crazy busy and I was mostly escorted by colleagues but today I got a chance to do a bit myself.

Let me firstly tell you, it's COLD here at the moment.  When I got up this was what I was greeted with on my phone:

Brrr.  Yes.

I thought it best before venturing out today was to a) have two cups of tea and b) get some work out of the way and go in the middle of the day so it would be as warm as possible.  Well that warm as possible turned out to be 1 degree.  Oh well.

So I got a taxi to Dashang area of town, it's where most of the shops are.

Yes, those are really ear muffs.  I bought them yesterday because I thought they might fall off and for $5 I am happy to keep my ears thank you!

Does this look cold to you?

In this country I really wish I spoke mandarin and I could read chinese characters.  It's a huge disadvantage - but generally shopkeepers will type a number into their calculators or phones to advise price, the only issue is I think I would buy more and experience more if I knew what I was buying!  Some of the food is well ermm.. you don't want to know.  I would prefer to know what I'm eating.

Some are kind of obvious:

Today I bought some almonds from a street vendor and I'm sure I got ripped off for $3 for about 200g of almonds.  I must say they are very fresh and delicious though..

So off to Dalian Center I went in search of some food for my hotel room, because I must say the room service at my hotel doesn't offer a whole lot and I'm a grazer these days more than a full meal person.

The one thing I have to say here is the breads, pastries and cakes are phenomenal.  The bread is light and buttery a bit like brioche actually.

How could you come to China and not buy some custard tarts?  I rationed myself to one.  The shop attendant checked with me twice that I just wanted one, clearly no-one can stop at one here.  And now having had one, I know why.  Pastry light and flaking, custard rich and sweet but not too sweet.  Heaven.

In the dept store market I went to you can also see them make all kinds of things, these are chinese doughnuts which can best be described as fried brioche because it tastes more like that.

You have to watch how quickly they assemble them, it's amazing!

They they place them in the hot oil..

Swizzle them around with chopsticks and they turn over..

Then they are retrieved with the chopsticks and served warm.

Just what I needed on this cold day, and great to munch on whilst you walk..

I bought some sushi for dinner tonight.. you can pick and mix:
They are 50c a piece.

Now Dalian is the seafood capital of China, it's plentiful and cheap (see below the prawns are $6 a kilo....the Nationals will generally always take some form of seafood home with them as I found out when someone's seafood leaked out of their suitcase and all over mine last time I left Dalian.. (note, get your bag shrink wrapped on the way out)

They do eat things I wouldn't dream of eating, like chilled jellyfish and.. turtles.. here's live ones for sale!  Sad!

Moving on... never seen chickens like this before, with heads on...

OK, enough grossing you out, here's some nice things.. 

Candied cherries and other fruits on sticks are everywhere.. and very reasonable at about 30 cents a stick.  

Street vendors also sell a variety of steamed buns, and I was so tempted to buy one but I just didn't know what was in it.. see?  It would be so much easier if I could read chinese characters!

On my way back home I passed an English school, it was nice to see some words that looked familiar and good on those guys for learning English!  I have a mandarin app on my iPad but really would like to do a proper course.

 Maybe this shop two doors down might want to join those guys though...

Just before hopping in my taxi back to the hotel I spied this building, the architecture is always such a surprise in China.  Looks cold right?

I did some fancy pix-elating on my phone and I got this, I love this, might even frame it!  So rather than being cold, this is cool!

Who wants to come to Dalian?

Monday, November 12

Lunchbox Legends: Choc-chip cinnamon muesli bars

My kids don't often ask me for packaged lunchbox treats but something that does come up from time to time is 'what do those choc-chip muesli bars taste like Mummy?'  It's the not-so-subtle way my frills let me know they would like something that their friends have and hope that I buy them.  But their plan failed, kind of.

I decided I would make them.  Now I've made a good many muesli bars in my time but none with choc-chips.  My main complaint about muesli bars is they have the tendency to either crumble or stick, or both.  These ones I added a little more flour, and they are kind of muesli bar-ish and kind of slice-ish.  But they are easy-peasy to make and easy-peasy to get out of the tin.  Win-win if you ask me.

And the verdict from my frills this afternoon.  It seems they were so good I didn't even get to take a photo.  Gone.  Like that.  They did offer to eat another one, you know... just for the photo... ahem.

The recipe makes 24, and I've put them in the freezer, individually wrapped in a bit of baking paper.  Easy for hubby to get out and put in the lunchboxes in the morning.

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
3/4 cup choc-chips
1 egg
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175 degrees c

In a large bowl mix your dry ingredients:  Oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon, choc-chips

Make sure they are well combined!  Make a well in the centre and add your honey.   Then in your cup measure, add the canola oil, egg and vanilla extract, give it a quick whisk with a fork.

Pour the contents of the cup measure, into the well with the honey and combine the wet with the dry.  Don't be tempted to add more wet ingredients, if it's not combined enough, mix it in with your hands.

Like I did!

Press into a well greased slice tin 

Bake for 35 minutes.

Let it sit for about 30 minutes to cool before slicing up, I do mine with the end of my egg flip.. they should easily lift out.

If you want to store these, cut up your baking paper.  I roll mine a few times and cut them all at once.  I'm a bit of a cheat like that..

Wrap them up and get ready for the hungry hoardes to come and eat them!

Place them in airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months, or in the pantry for say 4-5 days.

No nuts either !  Perfect for the school ground!

Tuesday, November 6

Malted choc-chip cookies!

I've just returned from 4 weeks away from home (yes, really - it was very l-o-n-g and tiring!) and I had my first bout of South-East-Asia-Tummy bug too... but on recovery at home I found myself craving some home cooking and obviously spending time with my frills was the major priority.. so we got on to baking..

I'm still getting used to my new kitchen but I have to say, I love the double oven!   I had dinner baking in the top oven and I made cookies in the bottom oven, you have to love that !  

Eloise was my helper, look how big she's got!  8 years old, her face if finally growing into her teeth (you know how they get their big teeth and they seem too big for their faces?) and she absolutely loves to cook.  She prepares her own breakfast and when I'm home I let her make my toast, and she's always keen to lend a hand if something needs to be cooked.

This recipe is from the lovely Ree, bless her cotton-socks-in-cowgirl-boots.  These cookies are foolproof and seriously chewy.  And I love me a chewy cookie.

250g butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup  sugar
2 tbs vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup malt powder (you can find it near the milo at the supermarket)
2 cups plain flour
1 1/4 tsp bicarb soda
1 packet (yes a whole packet!) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 200 degrees c

Cream your butter, meaning whip it until it turns pale yellow.  This is a great job for an 8 year old to monitor..  I even let her turn the kitchenAid on, and slowly turn it down..

Add the sugars and give it a good beating, ensuring the mixture is well combined and fluffy, 

Get your assistant if you have one to crack the eggs, if they can't crack eggs, crack them into a cup and get them to pour them in.   All my girls can crack eggs now, it's their favourite part!

And pour in the vanilla extract, mix on a low speed until combined.

It should be lovely and wet..

Then add your dry ingredients - malt powder, flour and baking powder.  I folded it a little with the spatula first so it didn't create a flour-storm in my kitchen.. there's a good tip for you!

Mix it on a medium speed, at this point it looks and smells like you need to eat it at that moment, but believe me, you should wait..

Add your bag of chocolate chips.. one or two may go missing.. just saying..

Phwoar!  It's ready!

They don't seem to grow out of this.. hell what am I saying, I still love to do this! Don't you!?

Put on greased trays (I've used silpat liners, love these!) spread apart because these babies spread!  I placed mine about 10cm apart and the size of small ping-pong balls.

Kids love watching them spread and bake, but according to them it makes them bake slower - but between you and me, it makes no difference - about 12 minutes..

Cool on the tray for 3-5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack.  Made me 22 cookies about 10cm diameter.

They are great cooled but out of this WORLD warm.


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