The Year of the Monkey is upon us!

The Year of the Monkey is upon us!

This is Chinese New Year, which is also called Spirng Festival, it is the time of year that thousands of Chinese travel home to celebrate with their families, a bit like Thanksgiving in the USA, it is family time. Red envelopes filled with money are given to children, and unmarried couples!

The Chinese New Year, starts with the first day of the Lunar Calendar and lasts for 15 days, people wear new clothes ( including red underware ) worship ancestors, play MahJong and set off Fireworks. They also avoid many things during this period, avoid breaking dishes ( brings bad luck) do not empty the trash ( sweeping away good luck ) crying is bad luck, as is sweeping the floor and washing hair!

Food is very important during this period. Dumplings which originated over 1800 years ago, and there are also as many recipes as there are years.Spring rolls are also important as their shape represents a Ton of gold. Fish is most important, carp, catfish and West Lake fish. The West Lake in Hangzhou is The West Lake, which has been written about and drawn throughout the ages. Presumably being able to access fish from this lake must be top of anyone’s list for the Chinese New Year.

In Mainland China, there is very much a North South divide, when it comes to food. In the colder north, people eat Dumplings, Whet Noodles and Steamed buns, in the south, it is much more rice, rice noodles and lots of vegetables.

Much to the disgust of most Westerners, is the fact that the Chinese will eat anything that moves, and this includes, Dog, Rats, Insects,Scorpions,Snakes,Pigs Ears and chicken feet..

All food is cooked in bite size pieces as it is eaten with chop sticks, About 45 Billion Chop sticks are used each year and most of them are made out of bamboo. When travelling in China, watch the locals, before they use their Chopsticks, they rub them together. Why? To remove any splinters !!

So recently we were treated to a Chinese New Years Lunch. Taiwanese cuisine is influenced from mid to southern provinces of Mainland China, most notably from the province of Fujian (Hokkien), and also Japanese influence also exists due to the period when Taiwan was under Japanese rule.

Chinese stir-fry chicken with snow peas


Serves: 4


1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 green onion leaves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3 cups (150g) snow peas

1 pound (500g) chicken breast, cut in thick pieces

Ingredients for the sauce

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chicken stock powder

½ cup (1.2dl) water

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a jar and shake thoroughly., mix well with the chicken.

Begin by heating the oil in a wok or large skillet on high heat. The wok or skillet will be hot enough when the oil starts to smoke, (Test with a piece of dry bread. )Chinese stir-fry is cooked on an extremely high heat, so keep an eye on your stove to make sure nothing burns. All ingredients must be cooked until a bit tender but not brown.

When the oil is hot, add the garlic, green onion stems and ginger. Stir-fry for 1 minute.Set aside on a separate plate.

Add the snow peas and stir-fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not golden. Set aside on the same plate.
Drain the chicken but keep the sauce to one side.

Add the chicken breast and stir-fry until cooked through and golden. Set aside on the same plate.

Return all the vegetables and chicken to the wok, reduce heat to medium and pour sauce over the ingredients. Heat the chicken and vegetables through for 5-7 minutes until sauce thickens. If your sauce becomes too thick you can always add a bit more water to thin it out. Serve immediately when ready.

Chinese lunch,Vitelotte potatoes and French Supermarkets!

Whilst I love coming to France for the summer I have to admit to getting extremely frustrated in the Supermarkets. Firstly, customer service does not seem to exist, they will close the door on you as you are about to enter, as it is l’heure du repas ( lunch time), or’ Vous n’avez pas pesez les bananes, Madam” ( you forgot to weigh the bananas ) and so now you can forget about the bananas, and the banana bread you were about to bake, or lose your place in the queue and go back and weigh them, no-one else is going to weigh them for you! Or, what about picking up a head of celery, only to be told you have to weigh it, and yes you can buy just one stalk,hence the reason that what is normally left on the shelf are  the tatty outer stalks, as everyone has taken the choice bits from the middle!

My other complaint is the lack of products that I take for granted ( and I realise that I am spoilt by living in central London , But!) The younger Himself accused me the other day of taking Coals to Newcastle, as I was packing the car for our annual pilgrimage to the French Alps. No wasabi, no Sesame Oil, no Sweet chili sauce, no jumbo oats for porridge, no Ghee, no Panko Breadcrumbs,no horseradish sauce, even though the word for horseradish, does exist (Raifort). And, despite the shelves being jammed packed with teas of every type imaginable, no Lemon and Ginger. But on the other hand 10 different types of Lettuce and up to 400 different types of cheese and a 1000 if you count the sub divisions, so some you win and some you lose!  

Recently at a lunch, we were served, what was described erronously on the menu as Violet potatoes. I would assume that most English speakers would call them violet potatoes, as that is their colour, however, they are of french origin and are called VITELOTTE. According to Wikepedia  they are a gourmet  french potato and have been cultivated in France since the 19th Century. However the translation of Vitelotte, again according to Wikepedia, is the word Vit means Penis, and prehaps that is because of the shape of the potato.. As potato Crisps/Chips they look just fine, but as mashed potatoes, they did nothing for me not in colour, texture nor appearance, I compared it to either a dead mouse or a giant slug, that is about as appealing it can get! As my willowy brunette has been known to remark, they have to be something wonderful to justify those  calories. I was not impressed.   


violet potato chips
 Also recently we were treated to a special lunch by our dear friend Annie, who hails from the beautiful island of Taiwan. For those of you who have never been, put it on your Bucket List. Taipei, as you might imagine, is not the most beautiful city in the world, but does have the most amazing Museum housing Chinese Artifacts, which Chiang Kai Shek Stole? or rescued from Mao just after the 2nd world war, thank goodness he did so , otherwise they would all have been destroyed during the cultural revolution . There are so many  wonderful articles, that there are just too many for them all to be on display at any one time. Also in Taipai there is an enormous Multi-Storey restaurant that serves nothing but Dim Sum, the best I have ever had, but it is possible to eat good dimesum , almost anywhere in the city so now you have at least three reasons to visit Taiwan., not to mention it as being a beautiful island. After all, it used to be called Formosa, the translation of which is Beautiful!
But on to Annie, she cooked us her version of a chinese meal, which I assume is influenced by Taiwanese cooking.  We started with fish cakes and  Taiwan influenced marianted chicken wings. this was followed by Dim Sum and then fine asparagus with shrimp,noodles with small onions and chicken,sautéed asian aubergines and peking duck, All was absolutly delicious and toppd off with homemade mango ice cream and fresh mangos.All in the name of Charity “The Alexander Devine Hospice”. Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice Service was founded in 2007 with the aim of providing a dedicated children’s hospice service for all children with life limiting and life threatening illnesses in Berkshire and beyond. 


prawns and asparagus
peking duck
mango ice cream with freh mangos