Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cooking in Shanghai

First they revealed that the baby formula was tainted with melamine. Certainly this is the most appaling - as every producer on the supply chain knew that their choices would have a dangerous and possibly fatal effect on their intended customers.

Next they revealed that any powdered milk may be tainted my melamine.

Soon after, they revealed that liquid fresh milk had significant traces of melamine. This is where the milk crisis hit our home - milk from Shanghai's Bright Dairy was poisoned. Our original pediatrician recommended Bright Dairy over any imported UHT milk (UHT = unpasteurized, and prepared for a long shelf life = stripped of some of the good things milk holds), so that's what our babies have drunk since our arrival over 1 year ago. Don't worry for us, though - no kidney stones have appeared in any guts in our household.

So, we cut out local dairy. We switched to an organic dairy out of Beijing which produces milk and yogurt. We stopped going out for ice-cream.

Now we learn that Chinese eggs have unhealthy levels of melamine as well.

We have now begun purchasing eggs from this same organic supplier, although we had been consuming the cheapest local eggs on our grocery shelf until just weeks ago.

But the whole mess raises a strong suspicion that I should not purchase local products, unless they have been internationally certified as organic. Melamine is suspected to have entered the eggs through chicken feed. Could this be the same feed they give to chickens bred for their juicy breasts meat? Could this problem extend to pork and beef? Of course it could. I had made a similar choice in the states, but once I moved to China I found organic produce and meat too difficult and pricey - we've got no branch of Whole Foods here. Apparently I need to step up my game.

Of course, the other challenge in putting healthy food on the table is being able to afford even basic ingredients. Forget whether they are organic or not, some foods are only available as imports and therefore come at a premium. A bag of flour costs about 60 RMB - that's about $8.75. A block of cheese costs about 50 RMB - that's about $7.30; and a bag of shredded cheese comes at closer to 88 RMB - that's about $12.85. Fixing a Western meal without basic baking ingredients or dairy limits your choices dramatically. So most of us limit to just 1 or 2 expensive items per recipe. And with that limit, I've found a few Western foods which comes at an acceptable cost.

Apple Chicken Chili
1/4 Cup cooking oil
2 pounds chicken breasts, in bite-sized chunks
4 teaspoons chili powder*
2 teaspoons ground cumin*
salt and pepper
2 green apples, in bite-sized chunks
1 diced onion
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup flour
2 Cups chicken broth
3/4 Cup milk
2 15 ounce cans pinto or white beans, rinsed
1/2 Cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 bunch chopped scallions

*The affordability of this recipe relies on a person having imported their own spices.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken, chili powder and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

In the same pot, heat 2 Tablespoons of oil. Add apples and onion. Cook, stirring, for 6 minutes. Add to the chicken.

In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and milk for 3 minutes. Stir in the chicken, apples and beans. Add the cheese.

Serve with scallions, chili powder and hot sauce.

Cauliflower Soup
Lemon juice
1 cauliflower, in florets
3 leeks, the whites thinly sliced
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 Cup sliced almonds

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 2 Tablespoons salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Add cauliflower and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons butter. Add leeks and salt to taste. Cook until tender, 8-10 minutes. Do not brown.

Put leeks and cauliflower in food processor with some stock. Blend until smooth.

In small saucepan, melt 4 Tablespoons butter. Add almonds. Stir occasionally. Cook until butter turns brown - 5 minutes.

Drain butter into soup pot. Reserve almonds.

Stir cauliflower into the brown butter. Add remaining stock and simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Garnish with almonds.

Oatmeal Apple Scones
1/2 Cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon whole milk
1 egg
1 1/2 Cup flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
4 ounces butter (1 stick, in the US) chilled and in small chunks
1 1/2 Cup rolled oats
1 red apple cut into small chunks
optional: 1/2 Cup cooked bacon, to add into the batter

Preheat oven to 450. (this recipe will be out for some in China, as it requires an oven)

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and egg.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Blend in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the oats and apples. Stir in liquid until dough forms a ball.

Turn dough onto a floured surface. Pat into a 7 inch round and coat with flour. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush with milk. Bake on a nonstick-sprayed cookie sheet for 20 minutes.

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