Kitchen cupboard-love.

For years/decades, I’ve yearned for one of those pointed oval tins for raised game pies (the type with clips at either end).  Just one of those longings for a classic piece of cooking equipment that carries breaths of nostalgia and tradition.  When I had the chance, I’ve scoured antique fairs without success but my longing was finally more than satisfied this Christmas by friends Sue and Joan.  Heaven knows why these tins are so wildly expensive!

My own version of hot water pastry to make the game raised pie included: strong white bread flour added to the ordinary plain; rubbing in butter; adding lard dissolved in hot water.  A quarter of the pastry was set aside for the pie lid and the rest went in the tin.  I pressed it out and gradually raise it up the sides.    Just like trying to mould hot greasy and slithery plasticine!  It kept oozing back down the sides of the tin and gathering at the bottom –it would have been better allowing it to cool more so it didn’t sag like Nora batty tights!

Pork gave bulk to the filling:  sausage meat and mince seasoned with mustard powder and ground allspice. Pork is also important in adding a little fat to keep the game moist – in this case, partridge (skinned and bones removed) marinaded with a little white wine.

By the time I’d struggled with the pastry, rather roughly layered in the meat and topped off with the lid, I was running out of cooking time.  But, even though I had to switch the oven off 30 minutes early, leaving it in the residual heat did the trick.  I confess that one side was a bit scorched (too near the gas), I failed to do the egg glaze and the jellied stock added later didn’t reach all the parts required or set firmly enough – it sounds like a series of disasters.  But the pastry was the best I’ve ever made and the filling was deliciously moist.  Definitely an experiment to be repeated in rather slower time to do more justice to that excellent tin.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for another classic pork dish, look no further than this week’s video (https://youtu.be/s9ssUcVIIto) which features the first of three versions of sweet and sour spare ribs from my time in Chongqing in China.  This was the recipe from the professional chef with two more homely versions to come.

Penny

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China starts the New Year.

Chongqing is the largest city in the world – and the most exhilarating.  Rather than me trying to describe it without sight, my intrepid videographer and nephew, Toby, explored the excitement, dynamism and visual magic in his video (https://youtu.be/s8Y7PXLpmvM) cityscape.  This marks the start of the second leg of our Holman adventure: China, Australia and Malawi all coming over the next few months.

Helped by local architects Julia and Matthew, we learned to appreciate the delicate balance between past millennia of civilisation and the surge of current building.  The ancient mudstone conceals a labyrinth of caves and tunnels where the population sheltered from Japanese bombing in the 1940s while the city became the temporary capital of China during the hostilities.  Now, that bedrock also supports glittering glass and steel towers alongside more traditional homes and businesses.

With some 37 million inhabitants (more than half the total population of the UK), the city is a magnet for those who want to work and share in the benefits of modern growth.  Like any other city, there is tension between the demands for excellent work and living conditions and the preservation of authentic local character.   We managed to experience both:  singing to the echo of the mudstone caves; the dazzling night-time light displays; the traditional flower market with exotic plants and miniature gardens; the superb modern apartments and eclectic backpacker hostel.

Most importantly, of course, were all the wonderful people from the International Women’s Group, the Rotary Club that sponsored our visit and everyone who took part in our cooking videos – professional chefs and home-cooks.  Each and every one of them gave us hospitality, kindness and invaluable enthusiasm that we continue to treasure.

And Toby was inspired to add more fabulous drawings to his freelance architectural illustrator portfolio – images rich in detail and atmosphere (www.Tobymelvillebrown.com ).

Next time, see me cooking at the prestigious Intercontinental Hotel with one of their top chefs: an authentic Chinese chicken dish that you can try at home too.

Penny

Inspired by Baking Blind, China, Rotary Club and Lighthouse.

See Toby’s creative process https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=jyJcGAwAIsA  and hear his thanks for the truly inspirational trip to China that resulted in his excellent new artworks and the success of his inaugural exhibition.  The Holman prize has reached further than could have been imagined.    All thanks to the funding from the Chongqing Rotary Club and San Francisco’s Lighthouse organisation

See more of Toby’s work here.

 

Penny

Chongqing – probably the biggest and most exciting city on Earth!

For richness of experience, this is the place: bustling, teeming, throbbing with life, developing, exploding, cutting edge, fascinating, stimulating and so much more!  Thank goodness for the vision of the rotary Club of Chongqing for making this latest Baking blind visit possible over the last nine days.  And, particular thanks are due to the indomitable Julia who organised every event.

Forget any myths about life being grey, the people being unfriendly or the culture being stifled.  Here life, like the thrum of the traffic and the 24 hour construction workers, never stops.  I’ve experienced everything from the woman sitting alongside her pavement display of antique coins to the dynamic optimism of high rise living.  Even at night, the city sparkles with drama: vast collections of buildings lit up:  the mystery of Chinese calligraphy to fish darting from tower to tower.

I’ve explored miniature garden landscapes (complete with waterfalls) in the flower market, haggled over sales, chorused improvised songs in an air-raid shelter cave, tramped along alleys carved in to rock complete with huge tree roots, negotiated steps galore, talked to everyone from local school children to Consuls general, just about managed some basic Mandarin and had one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

And cooking, of course, has been at the heart of it all.  Chongqing is famous (or notorious for some) for hot spicy food – they just love chillies.   Everyone needs to try their renowned “hot pot” at least once: a dish of hot oil redolent with chillies in which everyone cooks different delicate slices of meat, mushrooms, vegetables and seafood.  Each diner mixes their own dipping sauce: a personal ring-pull can of sesame oil poured over slithers of garlic, fresh coriander and, perhaps, soy and oyster sauces.  It’s like a fondue on acid – and only the bravest will attempt the option of offal slices – a gland too far?  I was lucky enough to share an authentic hot pot high in the mountains with the key chefs from the Intercontinental Hotel – Corporate Chef Julie Donaghue plus her Chinese colleagues Chefs Jack, Dylan and Frank plus the magnificent general Manager, Sharon.  If this team couldn’t find the best place, no-one could.   After a couple of the chilli-oil cooked delicacies, it felt as if I’d developed a Botox trout-pout of numb lips so I cravenly resorted to food cooked in hot chicken stock – delicious when my taste buds had returned to consciousness.

This city has already gained international credibility and must be one of the best places for business opportunities.  But I focused on Chinese cooking and have barely touched the enormous range of styles and diversity of fabulous ingredients.  There was chicken, wonderful braised pork and tofu with Chef Dylan, yellow fish and prawns with Chef Dong, sweet and sour pork plus braised beef with Charlie and a lunchtime feast with May.    There will be videos and recipes next year – and you can watch six of us struggling to make the traditional steamed dumplings so expertly demonstrated by Wangyi’s aunt.  I did knock up some rather unadventurous raspberry sponges for the International women’s group – but mainly as they were simple and time was tight.

You’ll be able to get a real insight in to how and where people cook: from the wild and noisy commercial kitchens to the sleek modernism of high rise apartments with the hippie chic of Charlie’s hillside backpacker hostel.

When I started this Baking Blind venture, it was all about how sharing a great enthusiasm might bring people together, regardless of disability or blindness.    This week has proved that a common passion for cooking can transcend cultural differences, language difficulties and so much more.  The best example is how the Intercontinental chefs and I worked alongside two young blind women.    Both had trained to provide Chinese medicinal massage but had virtually no kitchen experience – even handling a knife!  So they are utterly dependant on others feeding them – whether the cook in the massage centre or street food.  It was poignant to take part as they gained in confidence: together we made dishes that used all our senses, learned how to feel how meat is cooking, taste for balance of flavours, feel temperatures and consistencies, smell and listen as food cooks.   What was magical was how something as simple as food worked to create the bonds of humanity and empathy – transcending differences in culture and capacity, relegating preconceptions about disability and blindness to the bin.

Check out the Baking Blind website and the YouTube videos so far.

I’d love your feedback and perhaps you have a recipe to share: penny@bakingblind.com.