Learning to cook Chinese @SweetMandarin

Sweet and sour chicken. That’s the most popular dish at the northern quarter’s Sweet Mandarin restaurant and so it also featured as part of the cookery school I attended today.
At first it struck me as odd that this above all other dishes would be a restaurant favourite. I’d always thought (wrongly it transpired) it was an Anglo-invention, the chicken tikka masala of Chinese cookery.
Our teacher, the restaurateur Lisa Tse soon put me right and explained that the dish’s origins are very much true to traditional cooking, the balance of the seven necessary flavours being an essential element of Chinese food.
So it was time to get hands-on and practical making not only the sweet ‘n’ sour but also chow mein, fried rice, beef in blackbean sauce and chicken with ginger. (You can get an idea of what’s entailed with the short video clip below).
In just a few hours the four of us had without any previous experience (apart from several confesions of failed fried rice!) managed to produce each of the dishes to an edible standard. And eat them we did!
So much was learned so quickly but here’s a few discoveries;
• Surprisingly few ingredients are used.
• Sweet and sour sauce is made with the addition of tomato ketchup.
• Marinading the chicken in a little water, salt and potato starch before it’s added to a stir-fry retains the moisture and stops it becoming rubbery.
• The white part of the spring onion isn’t used but all the leaves are.
• Oyster sauce, potato starch, Shao Shing wine and sesame oil are essential store cupboard ingredients.
I’ve posted Lisa’s sweet and sour chicken recipe here.
As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable morning, the cookery school also provides the opportunity for us amateur cooks to get a bit of an idea of how a professional kitchen operates.
The small size of the working spaces, the fiercesome flames from the wok stations and the frightening looking cleavers all de-mystified under Lisa’s watchful eye.
But she has taken a lot of effort to research the dishes to ensure students can create them at home and that the professional equipment isn’t required – trying electric and gas appliances in different locations to replicate the experience before passing it on.
It’s a well-thought out course, delivered in a friendly way with plenty of knowledge handed on – all I need to do now is get the wok out and get started.

This morning’s lessons were also tweeted on the micro-blogging platform Twitter in first for a UK restaurant. Recap @sweetmandarin.
Sweet Mandarin Cookery School is held at the restaurant in Copperas Street. See the website http://www.sweetmandarin.com for more details.

Sweet Mandarin’s sweet and sour chicken

This recipe is used by the Northern Quarter restaurant and was passed onto me during its cookery school. Not only is it straightforward to follow, but also uses surprisingly few ingredients for such a delicious end result.
And you don’t need to take my word for it, this dish is the most ordered by Sweet Mandarin’s customers.
What you need;
350g chicken cut into cubes.
Salt and sugar.
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine.
1 beaten egg.
2 tablespoons of potato starch.
Poli for deep frying.
For the sauce….
1 tablespoon oil.
1 small onion cut into cubes.
1/2 small green peper also cut into chunks.
1 small carrot, sliced or cubed.
3 tablespoons of white vinegar.
1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup.
2 tablespoons of white sugar.
100ml of stock or water.
1 slice of ginger.
1 tablespoon of thin potato starch paste.

What you do;

* Marinate the chicken with salt, water and potato starch for 10 mins in the fridge.
* Coat the meat with egg and potato starch and deep fry in moderate hot oil for 3-4 mins.
* Heat wok and add the sauce.
* Add the chopped vegetables.
* Bring to the boil and thicken with a teaspoon of potato starch paste.
* Add the chicken and stirfry until all the meat is coated.

All the city’s food bloggers in one place

Manchester’s food bloggers certainly are a busy bunch so I’ve put together this RSS aggregation of all of our efforts so you can get the latest foodie news as it happens.
The feed below is created using yahoopipes – feel free to take a badge for your own website or blog.
Please note it can take a few seconds to run and that the MEN is not the publisher of the material included.

Pot-roast pheasant with celery and sage

Being off work (as I am this week) means more time to do some proper cooking. I gave this recipe a try last night – it’s very simple one-pot cooking and not the way I’d usually cook pheasant.
It works well – the strong sage and garlic flavours giving a robust background for the bird. I deviated from the published version by adding some carrots because I felt it needed some extra veg in order to be a true one-pot – after all man can not live by meat and spud alone how ever much the one in my house would like to give it a try!).
I also used olive oil instead of butter but whichever you decide, pheasant is generally so lean I don’t suppose the health police will call round.
There was just one problem with the final feast – hence the lack of pictures on this page – I could not work out a way to present it in an appealing way. The resulting dish ended up with a bit of leg here, some breast meat with chunks of potato and celery in a heap – AKA stew in a dish really.
So its a peasant style pheasant plate which in some ways is a shame because the lack of effort involved would make it a perfect prepare and leave alone dinner party dish. If anyone’s got any suggestions of how I could have dressed up the final servings – I’m listening.

The 50 best recipes ever

The recipes featured in today’s Observer food monthly are well worth a foodie look.
Particularly useful for amateur cooks such as me are these best simple recipes
Chosen by “expert foodies, chefs, restaurant critics and cookery writers” who were asked to provide their all-time favourite recipes it includes everything from the supper treat of cheese of toast to the fishcakes served up at The Ivy.
The photography also makes these recipes a mouthwatering bookmark selection.
And on the subject of bookmarks I have today started a Life Through Food delicious account. although I’ve been using delicious on a daily basis for a long time under my name, I felt the food element was getting pretty crowded out by all the journalism links I save there. So please feel free to add these new links to your own network and share along with me.

Chinese restaurant’s neat tweets

If further proof was needed that Manchester has gone potty over Twitter – you’ll find the first UK restaurant to take to the micro-blogging platform serving up some virtual dim sum in the city.
Sweet Mandarin‘s Lisa Tse has started tweeting tips about Chinese food as well as offers and invites for the Northern Quarter eaterie after being persuaded to give it a go by a friends.
She says: “My journey into this scrappy world of 140 characters is thanks to my customers telling me about this MUST TRY social network. I responded “Look, I got Facebook, Myspace, Blog and a real life restaurant with hundreds of clients…what’s so good about Twitter?”
“They responded with such passion – “its instantaneous, its addictive and it gives us a chance to figure out how you fit it all in – a restaurant, a cookery school, a book, juggling your family and Lisa – you’re everywhere – HOW?!”. Their arguments roused my curiosity and struck so deeply into the psyche of me that I put aside my common sense (and time) and signed up. 400 followers and 200 tweets later, I’m hooked and I wear my heart on my sleeve. ”
So what do followers of @SweetMandarin receive? Here’s just two takeaways from yesterday;

“We load up on oat bran in the morn so we’ll live forever. Then we spend the rest of the day living like there’s no 2morrow! ”
“am daydreaming about making a snowflake broccoli…..with tiger prawns.. for my midnight snack…i obsess about food….feed me! feed me now”.

But it’s not all advice and whimsy, Lisa also takes part in conversations with interested participants around the world and is even planning to do some live tweets from the cookery classes she runs.
Lisa’s hosting the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School Tweet on 28 February 2009 10am UK time and proposes to tweet all through her cookery course answering questions as she takes us on her culinary journey from East to West.
I shall also be there – tweeting as we go of course @foodiesarah!
And she says the community which, together with her sisters, Lisa has built round the restaurant has strengthened thanks to Twitter. She says: “I want the next Manchester Tweet up to be hosted at Sweet Mandarin. I can’t wait to serve our dim sum and cocktails.”
Apart from the fact she has an uncanny knack of making you feel hungry around lunchtime if you’re stuck in front of your laptop for yet another deskbound sandwich, it’s an interesting use of social media taken to that most social of activities – eating together.

Earth WILL re-open!

News just in that Manchester’s veggie and vegan cafe Earth will live on. Although it is still to close at the end of February (as I revealed on this blog last month) the Northern Quarter institution wil re-open at some date in the near future under new management.
I understand the new manager is experienced in catering for vegetarians and vegans having previosuly been involved with providing food at events such as retreats.
I hope to bring you further information very soon.

Revealed! Paddington is still into marmalade shocker

Paddington Bear Sandwich.jpgIt’s almost 18 months since I first blogged about Paddington Bear’s conversion – the day he finally gave up on the marmalade to take the sensible breakfast choice of Marmite.
But it seems the stuffing-for-brains creature hasn’t got with the script after all. In fact, I can reveal, he’s going to show his true turn-duffell coat nature this weekend when he helps launch a new campaign to get the orangey stuff back on the breakfast tables of the nation.
I caught up with two of Paddington’s guardians at last night’s Twestival in Manchester and here’s how they explained it.

How your chicken choice could impact on the rainforest

OK, let’s get the issue of price out of the way first so that we can move on to discuss some more important aspects of poultry production. Is £9 a lot of money for a chicken?
Before you answer that question, consider this – it provides four meals and a source of stock for another two. That’s £1.50 per sitting.
Just how cheap do you want your meat to be people?
I can hear the keyboards of wrath being pelted as I post this – “people can’t afford such things”, “food needs to be cheap to improve the nation’s diets”, everyone is having a hard time etc. etc. and of course, all of that has some merit.
But as the many chicken campaigns have pointed out, there is a price to pay for all this poultry availability and personally I don’t want that price to be cruelty or damage to the environment.
Which is why I agreed to taste test a new product from Abel & Cole – rainforest friendly free-range chicken.
I had no idea that our choices in the UK supermarket could impact on farmers in Brazil where concern is mounting that the widespread use of soya in chicken feed is contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon.
My plump bird was delivered to the door thanks to Devon chicken farmer Peter Coleman who was inspired to create a soya free feed after visiting the Amazon and seeing the impact of deforestation first hand.
Peter explains “A chicken requires protein to build up its vital amino acids, the building blocks of life, particularly during its first three weeks. Protein in chicken feed comes mainly in the form of soya, GM-soya comes from North America, GM-free soya in large quantities and at a commercial price comes from Brazil. To make way for the soya crop, large chunks of rainforest are wiped out.
“The Amazon rainforest is one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth. It is home to nearly a tenth of the world’s mammal population and a staggering 15% of the world’s known land-based plant species, not to mention the thousands of people who live there”.
Perhaps in light of that, £1.50 a helping doesn’t sound quite so pricey now?
But the all important question – what did it taste like?
Well the first thing to note was how different the cooking experience was. I decided to do a straight forward lemon roast for the first of the meals and the amount of fat the roasting bird produced was so minimal that I had to add a good slug of olive oil for the spuds.
The texture was firm and meaty (no hint of wateryness) and the flavour – well flavoursome, there was no mistaking it as chicken, no blandness or rubberyness here. In fact I would go as far as saying that one of these chucks may well be ordered up for the Christmas table!
Abel & Cole’s free-range chicken is available at www.abelandcole.co.uk
What price should a chicken be?
( surveys)

Chip flicks? Well it is National Chip Week!

Today sees the start of National Chip Week which is why you’ll find plenty of potato related stories around at the moment.
The campaign to promote our favourite fried stuff is online and across social media platforms this year so you’re unlikely not to encounter it somewhere. As part of the week, they’ve also produced these “chip flicks” . Silly yes, but a perfect for a break click so enjoy!