Spaetzle

I’ve been busy and tired and it’s really cold outside, again. Sawyer left already, so I feel safe in knowing he’s on his way to another continent and therefore will not be witness to my long underwear and furry lumberjack hat. So he won’t leave me in disgust for at least another month, when he gets back to this freezing windswept tundra. The winter’s only going to get worse. I’m shivering just remembering last January.

Tuesday, as I was riding the bus, my tutor student’s mom called me, and explained that they were somewhere not at their house but close by. She proceeded to give me directions. Keep in mind, this woman doesn’t speak a word of English. And I’m bad at directions even in my own native language. I struggled to translate, but more importantly, REMEMBER all the directions she gave me, got lost, knocked on two strangers’ doors in two different apartment complexes and wandered for a good twenty minutes before finding the right place.

After a tortuous hour involving a 3 year old with a cold–and having to hold a tissue to the nose of a child not even remotely related to me, thank you Purell, for existing–I found a cab and met Sawyer and some of his friends at Xiangmanlou, a duck restaurant northwest of Sanlitun, on Xinyuanxili. They brew their own beer, and I tried the black beer, which was dark, nutty and probably the best Chinese beer I’ve had. The duck was good, but the other dishes weren’t terribly remarkable aside from a spicy pumpkin-greens and green chilies dish. The duck soup was bland and didn’t include any of the duck in it. I’m going to stick with Jingzun Duck as my place of choice.

Wednesday night Sawyer cooked us dinner for his last night before his holiday visit home: a really good dish consisting of chicken breast, artichoke hearts, olives, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese, baked in wine. served over crunchy brown rice. we watched the Thing, which seemed particularly apt since it had been completely freezing that day.

Before he left for the airport, Sawyer dropped by my office and we went for a late lunch at Obento, which is rapidly becoming a favorite place for me even though I’ve only been there once before. Start off with a steamy, hearty, warming mug of miso soup while you wait for the arrival of your bento tray–Sawyer got beef sukiyaki and I ordered the chicken teriyaki. It was elegantly presented on a bamboo tray with several small white square bowls and dishes. A flat platter of sliced chicken, a scoop of fluffy wasabi mashed potatoes, steamed daikon, carrot and pumpkin, and sauteed green vegetable with two tamago rolls (sweet egg omelet) all accompanied by a bowl of seasoned mushroom rice. Noms. Then he left to finish last minute packing and I had to walk back to the office in cold so brutal I thought I was going to end. Like robot parts were just going to freeze solid and I wouldn’t be able to keep moving.

Cold makes me sluggish and cranky. I hate getting out of bed in the morning, the moment I’m home from work I wear the warmest, frumpiest brown sweater, wrap myself in a blanket, and read books or look at things online until I fall asleep.

I’ll be home in a week. It’s hard to believe I’ll be gone just a week shy of an entire year. Even when I lived in Taiwan for a year, I went home after the first month, then 3 months later, and my sister came out to visit me as well. But when I get home right on Christmas Eve (my plane lands at 8:00 pm, jut in time for our usual Christmas Eve extended family dinner to be wrapping up), I’ll have gone 360 days without seeing a single family member. So I’m a bit excited to get back. I fondly reminisce about clean, New England air, running outside, quiet-empty!-wide peaceful streets, heck, maybe I’ll even drive my truck!, fresh baked bread from the bakery around the corner, an abundance of bagels, deli meat, and uncontaminated seafood. My favorite Italian grocer. Cheese. Cheese for days. Cheese and pate and charcuterie with all the ridiculously good bread I’m going to consume. Seedless grapes. Cranberry juice. Apple cider. Fusion food. Mexican food. Hot wings. Steak. I’ve a whole list of restaurants to visit and I’ve sent that list, along with a list of things I’d like to have in the fridge, to my mother. And of course, I miss my family and all that too. Yeah. The people. I miss all those people. And my SHOES. A giant bin of shoes that I wrongly decided not to bring with me. They’re coming to China this time. And CVS. Oddly enough, I miss pharmacies that actually sell things like Bandaids and ibuprofen instead of freckle-bleaching cream (yeah, I’m looking at you, Watson’s). I’ll sadly go over the several plastic bins in my room at home containing my cookware, and sigh that I can’t take my 14-piece All-Clad set, and think how silly it would be to take a kitchen blowtorch, immersion blender, or set of Santoukou knives back with me. Silly. Absolutely silly. Right?

But that’s still 6 days away. I have more important things to worry about, like walking home in the frigid cold (it’s so windy that even from the very middle of our large, 50 person office with loud conversations in multiple languages, I can HEAR the wind howling by a far off corner window). Yesterday I came out of the cold absolutely frigid, and threw together a scratch meal, ground beef with panko crumbs, an egg, salt and pepper and finely diced onion rolled to make little meatballs, baked at 350 degrees then warmed through in a hastily made sauce of caramelized onion, grated carrot, minced celery, garlic, and a can of whole stewed tomatoes with a generous splash of red wine and chicken stock. Served over pasta, with a side of butter tossed baby radishes.

Today I had a little more time on my hands. I decided to make spaetzle, after perusing some interesting recipes online. It seemed super simple, the only ingredients needed were
2 cups flour
1/4 cup milk
7 eggs
some salt and a dash of ground cinnamon.

Spaetzle Dough


I mixed all this together to form a sticky, loose batter, then refrigerated it for an hour. In the mean time, I roasted olive oil tossed potato, carrot and Brussels sprouts, and pulled out three chicken legs from a brine they were thawing in. I planned to saute them based on a Julia Child recipe.

Sauteed Chicken Ingredients
3 legs of chicken, brined, then patted dry
2 Tbs butter, olive oil
1 shallot, minced
Garlic, minced
Basil (fresh), shredded
Salt and Pepper
Wine and Chicken Stock

Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, Butter, Wine, Stock, Chicken, Shallot, Garlic, Basil


First, I melted half the butter with a little bit of olive oil in a wok (I miss my cast iron). Browned each leg for 2-3 minutes per side, then removed them to a baking dish, where I seasoned them with salt and pepper. Turned the heat to low, then I tossed in garlic and basil into the pan with a tad more oil and butter, put the chicken back in, and covered the wok for 25 minutes, turning them over halfway. I was a little bit afraid they weren’t cooked through, so I removed the legs to the baking dish and popped them in the oven at 350F for the next 25 minutes while I worked on the sauce. I removed all the burnt bits from the pan, and with the heat till on low, added the minced shallots. Let those soften, then deglazed the pan with white wine, followed by chicken stock. I let this reduce down by about half, and then poured it over the chicken.

Browned Chicken Legs, with Basil and Garlic Thrown In


Warmed through in the oven with shallot and white wine reduction poured over


Then I had to get Bambi in the kitchen to help. Spaetzle without a spaetzle press is difficult (I didn’t even know those existed) or at least much messier than it needs to be. I pulled the batter out of the fridge and prepped an ice bath, while a big pot of salted water started to boil. The directions I found said to use a large-holed colander. We tried that first, but the colander had long slits instead of holes, and the very sticky dough was not pushing through very well, the noodles were thin and small. Then I poked a few holes in a ziplock bag and we tried to use it like a pastry bag. It worked alright, extruding long cylindrical noodles, until we pushed too hard and the bag burst and I caught two handfuls of batter and just barely prevented one massive spaetzle blob. Then inspiration hit when I saw the steaming tray from my rice cooker, with 1/4 inch holes evenly spaced apart and a flat bottom. It worked great (although careful with this step, holding something over a steamy boiling pot is hot). Each batch was boiled about 2-3 minutes before removed with a slotted spoon and deposited in the ice bath. Once finished, I drained the noodles, and then tossed them with a little bit of butter and olive oil, basil, and salt and pepper.

Trying to push batter into the pot

Spaetzle, Chicken and Roast Vegetables

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San Bei Ji, Three Cup Chicken

LZ, our Chinese roommate, has decided to leave Beijing and return to his home province in search of work. It was nice having him around for the past couple months, it definitely helped my Chinese and I hope we helped his English, although I’m not sure how helpful learning Lonely Island songs and watching Kill Bill really is.

He took us to dinner to thank us for letting him crash in our kitten room. We went just to the restaurant across the street from us, I made a little fuss about people smoking in my face, and we tried a few new dishes. Iron-plate lamb and spicy cauliflower with chilies and bacon were both good, but we ordered this jelly-like rice noodle that I couldn’t really enjoy. Gelatinous, bouncy, a very strange kougan or ‘mouth-feel,’ with an odd, off-putting sweetness in savory sauce. I had the first bite and filled up on flat roubing , fried dough pancakes stuffed with meat filling. Think like flattened, layered dumplings.

I was a bit of a failure dragon. An early event we organized started at 7, I was supposed to be there at 6:45. I woke up, after having vivid Orwellian dreams (probably shouldn’t fall asleep rereading 1984), at precisely 6:29. I flew out of bed, somehow brushed my teeth and grabbed some clothes and found myself presentable in a cab at 6:37, hastily trying to buckle a heel. Managed to get to the hotel at 6:53. Spent the next hour or so as a fly on the wall to some very impressive bigwig visitors. In fact, in a room of thirty, I was by about 2 decades of accomplishments the least significant person, except the waitresses, and they at least had coffee and juice. I feel small. By the time the event was over and I was back at the office, I was half an hour early and most people hadn’t arrived yet. Long, long day.

Luckily, it was a free evening, no teaching afterwards, so I stopped at Jenny Lou’s to stock up my rather bare kitchen. I’ve been eating some richer meals as of late, and not having time to work out, so I’m going for a healthier dinner menu this week. Wednesday: Pan fried tofu, steamed vegetables and rice, with chili-dipping sauce. Not the most exciting, but healthy and quite fast to make.

Thursday: San Bei Ji otherwise known as Three-Cup Chicken. A traditional Taiwanese dish. I don’t ever recall actually eating it in Taiwan, but I’ve had it many times at Taiwanese restaurants at home. Simple ingredients, amazing taste. It’s traditionally served in a clay pot sizzling hot at the table, but I never got around to buying one so I used my wok.

Start out with chicken. Chicken breast or boneless thigh is the easiest, but the bones give it a better flavor.
*One or two chicken legs (or halves, or a whole chicken, depending on how many people are eating) hacked into equal sized bits (just about bite size).
*Equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine. (Since this was just for me, I used about 1/2 cup of each)
*4-5 cloves of garlic, whole
*1/2 thumb of ginger, sliced up
*2 Tbs sugar (rock sugar works best, but whatever sweetener you use)
* About a cup of basil, torn

Sugar, Chicken in"Three Cup" Marinade and Garlic, Ginger, Basil.


Marinate the chicken for a long time in the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine. I prepped mine overnight, but give it at least 4 hours to really soak in those flavors.

Heat a little oil in the wok. Throw in garlic, ginger, and if you want, some leek chopped up.
Add in the chicken bits and give it a good sear all around. Slowly pour in the marinating liquid along with the sugar.
Bring this to a boil on medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Let it cook nicely as the liquid reduces, about 80%. Toss in the basil and really mix it in there, and serve immediately, sizzling and delicious, with rice.

Noms.

Stuffed Bell Peppers and the Pearl Market

Bambi and I went to the Pearl Market, also known as Hongqiao, to price out some gifts to bring home. We picked up some T-shirts, garnering a lecture from the vendor, who didn’t like any American president because they all decided to give money to rich white people instead of poor Chinese people. She informed me, as we were bargaining, that I looked like an American but “my boyfriend” didn’t, he was far too skinny and he looked French, and he might be cute if he hit the weights and added some muscle. Amazing. Bambi got called out for being a squid by a tiny Chinese girl. Beautiful. As always, it was an adventure walking around a densely populated market with him, as he shouted HELLLO and other responses right back at the pushy vendors telling us to buy shirts. Responses varied from amused “HI!” to concerned “ARE YOU OK?” and my favorite, “YOU ARE SO MEAN!”

We went near closing time, and didn’t end up purchasing any pearls, but at least now I have an idea of what to expect and prices.

I went to Spin Ceramics, in Lido, for Christmas presents for my parents and other family members. And, because I spent over a certain amount, they threw in “a little gift for me” but seeing as they had piles and piles of the same green-ribboned box, I assume one of their artists churned out something plain and cheap and probably not very likely to sell. Still, nice.

We went to dinner at Sultan’s in Dongzhimen after perusing cute stores, with the team. There was a bit of a snafu with our reservations, but space was eventually made for us in a sketchy random basement outside the actual restaurant. The food was meh but company was fun, and there was a lunar eclipse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before, and neeither had my cab driver on the way home–I thought we might get into an accident, as he kept popping his head out the window every few minutes to look at it while driving.

Sunday Sawyer came back from a conference in Thailand and I made stuffed green peppers. I really wanted to make stuffed squash, as I used to do this with halved delicata squash at home, but couldn’t find any at our local vegetable market, so I made do with peppers.

Ingredients: 4 green peppers, tops cut off, cleaned out.
1 small onion, chopped.
1 carrot, diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
Garlic, minced
2 cups rice
1 Lb. Italian sausage (here I used ground pork belly, mixed well with toasted fennel seeds,herbs, salt and pepper, minced garlic and a few dashes of wine)
1 cup mushrooms, diced
Stock of some sort

Start by popping two cups of rice in the cooker. I put less water in than usual, I wanted the rice to be a little bit drier. As it was steaming away, I mixed up my ground pork belly and set to work dicing all the vegetables.
I heated a little olive oil in a pan and softened the onion with a little salt, then added the carrot, celery and garlic.
In my wok, I browned the sausage mix (no need for oil, ground pork is plenty fatty enough), taking care to break up all the clumps.
Then I added the softened vegetables to the sausage in the wok. I sauteed the button mushrooms in the frying pan. Once cooked, I drained them of the liquid that cooked out, and added those to the pan as well. Then I mixed in most of the rice. Added some seasoning, really tossed it up mixing thoroughly.
Coated the green peppers inside and out with a little bit of olive oil, and stuffed them. Placed them upright in a pot, and since I was out of stock, filled the pot about halfway up the peppers with water and bouillon powder. Then I covered, and put in an oven at 180C for 50 minutes.

Parmesan-topped Stuffed Peppers


After that I uncovered the pot, sprinkled a generous amount of parmesan on top of each pepper, and put them back in for 15 more minutes. Complete success. Very well received and cute presentation, can also be prepared ahead of time. There was extra filling, which I brought to lunch the next day.

Thanksgiving

This is woefully long over due. I wrote this two weeks ago and never got around to putting in pictures, because I’m lazy and apparently when the weather hits below freezing I prefer to hibernate whenever I’m not working.

Beijing had it’s first snow of the year. Hurray acid snow. It was kind of pretty, but didn’t stick very long. Sunday night the pollution was well over 500 on the AQI scale (aka hazardous to health, crazy bad). I had trouble seeing the tops of buildings I was standing under, and except for a few lit up windows, buildings not 100 yards away from me might as well not exist. Pollution was still well over 400 on Monday and still very unhealthy several days later.

We celebrated Thanksgiving a week late this year. With Ginny back in America, and everyone else in Manila, for the actual Thanksgiving Thursday I had a lovely meal with Sawyer and a whole bunch of people I didn’t know. It was nice, but this week after was my real Thanksgiving.

The night before, we had dinner with the lovely couple who just got married. I made my go-to trying-to-impress-dish, pan seared duck, accompanied by risotto and candied sweet potatoes. (Wash, peel and slice sweet potatoes. Dry in oven on a baking sheet at about 160F for an hour or so. Simmer in sugar and water til chewy and soft). I also made a simple orange cake, moist and dense with a light icing.

3 cups flour
Baking soda and baking powder
3 eggs
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
Zest of two oranges
1/4 cup of orange juice

Sift the flour and baking powder and soda together. Blend the butter and sugar together until soft. Then incorporate the eggs one at a time, along with the vanilla, zest, and juice. Add in the flour and yogurt in separate turns until well mixed. Butter and flour a baking pan and preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Bake for 50 minutes.
Mix 1/2 cup of icing sugar with 2-3 Tbs of orange juice and whisk briskly, adding sugar or juice as the consistency needs. Pour over the cake. It was delicious for dessert after dinner, and plenty of slices left to enjoy with tea at work.

After a late fundraising event on Thursday night, I got a late start Friday, only making it to Sanyuanli market around 2 in the afternoon. I picked up some things for Bambi as well as everything I needed for dinner Friday and Thanksgiving Saturday. I was pleased to find the duck breast that I get at Jenny Lou even more affordable–only 18 kuai for four! Sawyer’s landlord came over early while I was in the midst of baking, my hands covered in flour and butter. An awkward 40 minutes waiting for Sawyer to get home while I cooked and he sat and poked at the heaters.

Saturday after a long kindergarten class I ran home and started cooking immediately. I put Sawyer to work chopping onions, fennel, pumpkin, celery, tomato, pepper and garlic. I made a quick vegetable stock with sweet potato, onion, garlic, celery, the top of a fennel bulb, and some old carrots we had in the fridge. Then I got started on the macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin-apple-sausage stuffing.

Stuffing Ingredients: 1/2 onion, diced. Fennel bulb, diced. Two ribs celery, diced. 2 cloves garlic, minced. 1 pound of pumpkin (or butternut squash) in 1/2 inch cubes. 2 granny smith apples. Bacon (at least 1/2 to 2/3 of a pack), cooked in the oven until crisp and crumbled. Italian sweet sausage. Cranberries. 1 loaf crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and left out/toasted stale. 1 egg. 1 cup broth (and or white wine).

Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients: 1 packet elbow macaroni. 12 ounces grated cheddar and parmesan cheese. 15 ounces milk. Three Tbs butter. Two Tbs. flour 1/2 onion. Bay leaf, paprika, salt and pepper. 1 egg. 1 can of diced tomato or 1 tomato chopped up small. 1 bell pepper, diced. Panko bread crumbs. Bacon.

Pumpkin about to go into the oven


I started out by baking the bacon and the cubed pumpkin at 350F for about 45 minutes. Once the bacon was crispy and drained of fat, I crumbled it into little pieces and set aside. Macaroni first. I made two trays, one with bacon, and one without for the stinky vegetarians. (I love vegetarians, as long as they don’t try to proselytize to me. More meat for me!). Boiled the pasta, tossed with olive oil, and set aside in the baking trays, one mixed generously with bacon and one plain. Melted the butter in a pan, and once frothy, whisked in the flour, being sure to coat it all and not let it get clumpy and gross. Once that started to turn a bit golden, I whisked in the milk, the onion, paprika and bay leaf. That simmered for a few minutes, I retrieved the bay leaf, and added the tomato and bell pepper. Let it simmer, and whisked in a beaten egg. Then I added the cheese, handful by handful, stirring until it was melted completely. Folded this into the pasta, making sure to mix it thoroughly, then topped the pans with a nice even layer of panko crumbs and grated parmesan. Popped these in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C (350F).

Pre-assembled Stuffing Ingredients


Then I started with the stuffing. So, I’m sure there are places in Beijing where you can buy good, actually tasty Italian sausage but those places tend to be prohibitively expensive, so while I was at Sanyuanli market I went to a pork vendor and had her grind up about a pound of pork belly, also known as wuhuarou. Nice and fatty. To this I added a splash of white wine (not having any vinegar or sherry on hand), salt, pepper, whole toasted fennel seeds, some minced garlic, and a sprinkling of herbs (whatever is included in those jars of “Italian Herbs”). Mixed this up well.

I heated some olive oil in a pan and softened the onion, celery and fennel bulb as a bit of a mirepoix. I removed about 2/3 of the vegetables from the pan and added in the ground pork mixture, browning it thoroughly. Once totally cooked, I mixed it with all the vegetables, the pumpkin, and bacon in a big glass baking dish. I waited until then to chop up two small Granny Smith apples (I didn’t have any lemon to prevent browning), which I mixed into it with a generous helping of dried cranberries. Then I mixed in the bread cubes. I beat an egg into about 3/4 cup vegetable stock and 1/4 cup white wine, poured it over the whole thing, and mixed thoroughly. This baked at 350F for an hour. I started cooking at 1:15 and finished up just around 4. We headed over to the party.

Food was great. Mashed potatoes, twice baked sweet potatoes, other stuffing, green bean casserole, cornbread, vinegar dressed cucumber salad, and of course, turkey. Everything was amazing. My dishes were a hit–not a bite left over of any of it.

Pumpkin Sausage Apple Cranberry Stuffing, Bacon Tomato Mac and Cheese

We didn’t want to go out Sunday night because of the smog, but I wasn’t feeling particularly like cooking. I dug around in the freezer and came up with a container of sauce, although since Sawyer had a friend staying with him, wasn’t quite enough for three. I threw together a quick scratch sauce for me. Heated some olive oil and butter in a pan, softened a minced shallot and 4 cloves of minced garlic, then added a finely chopped tomato we still had kicking around the fridge, a handful of torn basil leaves, with salt, pepper, 1/4 cup of vegetable stock and a splash of red wine. I let this simmer for about 15 minutes and served over pasta. Xinjiang pears (a gift from my students) and cake for dessert.

Chili-Cinnamon Braised Lamb

After a hectic and seemingly long week, I needed a night in. Last Friday, I was going to send off my friend Scones in proper party style, but Friday was so frustrating, trying to write cover letters and meet deadlines, making several calls, and in the midst of that, that adorable bastard jerk face kitten of ours, Hector, chewed through my iPad cord and my laptop cord. I just didn’t have it in me to go out and be surrounded by loud people drinking. I made dinner at home instead, watched a movie, and went to bed early. Oh, the riveting life I lead.

I decided to make Thai fried chicken and sticky rice again. The chicken came out great, although the batter comes out differently every single time I make this. And this time, to avoid sending my boyfriend into allergic shock, I used the vegan “fish” sauce I made as a replacement. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was still good. I marinated the chicken all day in garlic, oyster sauce, ‘fish’ sauce, ginger and chili, and rice wine. I made a batter with equal parts flour and rice flour, baking powder, a dash of chili and paprika, and water. Dredged the marinated chicken wings in batter, deep fried them in a wok of hot soy oil, and in the meantime, steamed the sticky rice and sauteed diced cucumber with a few dried chilies for a veggie side.

Saturday was another day of class with my wonderful kiddles. We talked about observations and the five senses. They were mostly better behaved then last time, although there were definitely moments I wanted to tear my hair out, and by the end of three hours my voice hurt from talking. Afterwards, I met up with some friends for a late brunch. I had a leisurely Saturday afternoon, working a little on my cover letter and watching a movie, before taking Sawyer out to dinner.

Tavola was recommended to me by a friend and reviews are largely filled with praise. I made reservations, although because the guy had so much trouble with my name he ended up writing nothing down. No matter, they were able to seat us right away. Everyone raves about the cheese. We ordered Parma ham wrapped buffalo mozzarella for an appetizer to share. Everyone was right. It was amazing. Delicious. Melty, fresh, flavorful cheese, crispy Parma, a little bit of tomato based sauce….the cheese was better than anything I’ve had in china, more like I just stepped out of an old nonna’s shop in Little Italy.

Crispy Parma Ham Wrapped Melty Buffalo Mozzarella


We couldn’t settle on one plate each, so we ordered two pastas and a pizza to share. Their main courses looked amazing too, but we felt like the pastas were more their signature dishes. After much deliberation, we narrowed it down to snow crab and crayfish risotto and a parpadelle with eggplant, pancetta and tomato sauce. They were both good, but the risotto was by far the star of the evening. Just the right amount of fresh shellfish flavor, creamy cheesy risotto, topped with a cracked open crayfish and two legs of crab ( the portions are not precisely generous). We ordered a salsiccia pizza, sausage with pepper and zucchini and cheese. Again, amazing. The sauce was perfect, the cheese was amazing, the crust was crispy and the perfect texture. I saved the last piece for breakfast the next morning, but otherwise we ate every bite, and still had room to share the ice cream cake drizzled in chocolate syrup, and I sipped a cup of Lady Grey tea (I haven’t even seen Lady Grey tea anywhere in China, it was amazing.) Although this may have been the most expensive dinner I’ve had in Beijing (¥968, including a bottle of very nice pinot noir), compared to American prices, it was about equivalent and totally worth it.

Snow Crab and Crayfish Risotto, Eggplant and Pancetta Parpadelle


All-Dolled-Up Robot and More Importantly, An Amazing Pizza


Came back from teaching on Sunday morning to find Sawyer making us cheese and egg sandwiches for lunch. I love walking into a house with the smell of food being cooked for me. We decided to have a little adventure and went rock climbing at Ole. We found our way there via cab, and although they were having a competition that closed off the bouldering section and part of the wall, had a pretty good time. It’s been about a year since I’ve been, and my forearms hurt after just a few climbs (although I definitely jumped onto way too challenging paths too early).

We went to Sanyuanli market again (known by cab drivers as Xinyuanli). Bought a boatload of stuff to make for dinner. I knew I wanted to make lamb shank but the shanks were kind of small and meatless, so we went ahead and bought a whole leg. It was 80 kuai. I had them saw through the bone and cut it into chunks. I had looked at several different recipes and decided to combine the elements I liked together.

Pre-Assembly Dinner


Braised Lamb
1 lamb leg, or 2-3 shanks
1 cup baby potatoes (or one large potato cut into chunks)
3 ribs celery, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, diced, garlic and ginger minced.
2 carrots and 1 tomato, cut into chunks
1 can tomato paste.
2 sprigs rosemary, 1 heaping tsp chili powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cinnamon, salt and pepper, some cloves

After washing and chopping all the vegetables, I heated some oil in a stockpot, and browned the lamb on all sides.
I removed the lamb from the pot and softened the onion, garlic and ginger. Once softened, removed the veggies with a slotted spoon, and deglazed the pot with some red wine and stock, really scraping up all the browned bits.

Lamb Leg and Baby Potatoes Braising in Chili-Cinnamon, Red Wine and Stock for Two Hours


I put back the lamb and potatoes into the pot and poured in stock and wine until covered. Mixed in the can of tomato paste, then seasoned with salt, fresh ground pepper, the rosemary, and spices. I brought this to a boil, then reduced heat to a simmer and added in the softened vegetables and tomato. I let this simmer for two hours. After two hours, I removed the lamb and vegetables and put them in a big baking dish. I boiled the remaining sauce in the pot until it had reduced and thickened, then poured it over the plated lamb and veggies.

Chili-Cinnamon Braised Lamb, Cheddar Cheese Pureed Cauliflower, and Orzo


In the meantime, I decided to serve it with orzo pasta and pureed cauliflower. I did a quick boil (just about six minutes) on two chopped up heads of cauliflower. Melted about 2-3 Tbs of butter and sauteed chopped up garlic and shallots in it, then mixed it in with the cauliflower florets. I put all of this into a blender, with a little bit of stock to thin it up (milk would also work). Once smooth, I emptied it into a bowl and folded in shredded cheddar, salt and pepper. The braise sauce was flavorful, with a nice complex kick from the cinnamon and chili, and went well with both the cauliflower mash and the orzo, and the lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender. Both Sawyer and our dinner guest were fans, which was great because I made so much we’ve been eating it since then. Living with the boys has really thrown off my sense of portion size.