Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Year of the Horse (meat)

The Year of the Horse, here we go!

Sara needs to buy a whole bunch of red under garments; there is a horse in her house.  Her husband is a horse by the way.

The Year of the Horse is coming up and we have been doing a little research into what to be expected. Will we be prosperous? Happy? Successful? Healthy?

Well, according to one source, the year of the wooden horse will be a good year for those who are ready for a thrilling year. It will be a year of opportunities, which one will have to grab if they want a prosperous year. This doesn’t mean much, it is way more complicated than this, or so we’ve heard as there is no general prediction.  It depends on which sign under which the individual was born. This is way too complicated; let’s talk about food instead.

The traditional New Year dinner for the Imperial House consisted of 99 dishes, since the number 9 is an auspicious number. While a feast is still prepared in most Chinese households, the menu is way more limited. An abundance of dumplings are consumed but also other dishes, whatever the cook of the family decides. There are no rules, no musts, no has to be on the tables.... Though Chinese New Year, for the Chinese, is like Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer holiday and birthdays all combined into one it seems a lot less complicated than our must make dishes for big holidays. Families meet up and feasts are prepared and enjoyed all the while listening to the rattling of fire crackers being lit up in the neighborhood. 

So, is one supposed to eat horse during the year of the horse? Is there any auspicious reason to (or not to) do this? Not really but the eating of horse meat around the world is actually quite interesting.

There is no real reason horse meat is not eaten more habitually. The only reason really is that the horse is seen as a pet in many countries and cultures and thus protected for “humanitarian” reasons. Now, there are many people around the world who choose not to eat cow and pig so why this aversion to horse?

Horse, actually, is very lean and compares to both beef and venison and easily replaces both (as well as mutton and pork actually).  It can be prepared fresh and is also commonly found smoked and salted, thinly sliced and used as sandwich meat.

There was a scandal recently involving horse meat, you might remember. The scandal itself came about when it was discovered that horsemmeat was sold under the assumption that it was in fact beef. We can understand the reactions for sure and I doubt that horse will find itself into STARA creations.

To end, please find some interesting predictions for the STARA team:

Dog (Sara):

Work: This should be a lucky year for dogs, everything from work and investments to relationships are on the upswing (sounds great!)

Relationships: Consider proposing if you haven’t already (too late for that!) and demonstrate more love toward your spouse (hmmm, what am I doing wrong now?)

Health: Enjoy your good health but watch out for overeating (shit! I am in trouble now!!)

Monkey (Stacey):

It's important for the monkey to spread themselves around in order to gain success this year (hmmm….I thought the Dog should watch out for overeating!)

Wealth: Money is looking good for monkeys (yay!) with the potential for promotions and investments reaping rewards (She will for sure make CEO of STARA food this year!)

Relationships: If you're single, this won't be a great year for you (phew!) but those who are married can feel confident in the endurance of their union (awwwww! Howsweet!)

Health: Your overall health is good. Be careful of accidents such as from driving. (Another reason why not to drive in China!!)

Have a happy and prosperous New Year everyone!  Xin Nian Kuai Le!  Gong Xi Fa Cai!!

Happy Cooking!!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New Year ... New Beginnings

One week ago, this was the view from the breakfast table.

Today, I’m looking at this.

After a much-needed winter break that included a mega injection of vitamin D, in the shape of sun-filled days, and an overload of Thai food (it seems it actually is a possible to have too much of the stuff) it’s a new year with many exciting food events coming up. The STARA team already has classes lined up until May and they are filling up fast! Visit the STARAcooking page to check out our diverse classes and send us an email to sign up J.

Apart from that, we look forward to eating our way through Beijing, discovering new venues and trying new cuisines to tantalize our taste buds. Our calendar includes everything from champagne lunches, glitzy balls and last but not least 5 rmb lunches from street carts coming up.

We are also extremely excited about the STARA dinner event that will take place in the near future, the first in a long time. We will have a tasting lunch at a venue yet to be decided and later will put our inspired spin on the courses we have selected. Stay tuned to future blog posts for mouth watering photos and tantalizing tales of our kitchen adventures.

We truly enjoy our cooking classes; it is very rewarding to see our tricks, shortcuts and recipes shared with others.  The best part is hearing your stories of how you went home, played with your food and made the recipe  Secret family recipes you say? No way Jose, our philosophy is sharing is caring. We want you to find it inspiring and easy to create masterpieces with…wait for it…high impact – low effort.

However, our hearts lie in creating and recreating meals for a smaller group. Hosting intimate dinner parties or luncheons where we can really let our creativity flow, and for inspiration, visiting amazing restaurants doesn’t hurt either.

Our first boost of creative energy happened last week when it was time for the Champagne and Caviar Club’s first luncheon of the year.  The venue was Temple Restaurant and Bar (www.trb-cn.com), one of the very best restaurants in Beijing with an innovative menu and always impeccable service. The location is inspiring in itself; down a hutong alley lies a 600 year old temple that has been renovated to perfection to host a hotel, an art gallery and Temple Restaurant and Bar.

We were greeted as always with champagne and hors oeuvres, mini cougeres (like magical heavenly cheese puffs) and tiny salmon sandwiches.

The first course was a buckwheat blini with gravlax and avruga caviar. Though it was very good (the blini light and airy, the salmon perfectly salty and the grains of caviar like little bubbles that happily explode in your mouth) it was not that special. Very good – yes – and we understand that for a crowd of 40 where each and every plate needs to be perfect- it was a great choice but a little bit predictable.

Second course was Pumpkin Soup with a Jamon Iberico biscuit, Poached Shrimp and spiced crème fraiche; also very, very good, though a little bit sweet for our taste. This was easily mended with a dash of salt though and we enjoyed it tremendously. While the salmon was served with a continuation of the Mumm Champagne we had enjoyed as a cocktail, the soup was perfectly paired with a French Chardonnay from Bourgogne. It was (and we don’t use this word lightly) outstanding – slightly oaky with creamy, buttery absolutely devine undertones. We can drink buckets of this and we thank The Wine Republic (www.thewinerepublic.com) for bringing it to Beijing.

Main course was boneless chicken stuffed with foie gras chestnut minced pork, parsnip puree, tiny sprigs of asparagus and a red wine reduction. Wonderful again - it seemed like Temple could do no wrong yesterday! The wine to accompany the chicken was very innovatively called Miss Harry, a Rhone blend from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Not our favorite but others liked it a lot – luckily there were more of the white left….

Dessert then…. we had heard about the dessert served at this luncheon. One person said it was worth coming only for the dessert. The extremely competent restaurant manager explained it for us as it came with instructions.

The Butterscotch Budino (a pudding with cream, milk, eggs and butter) had a bourbon caramel bacon chip, micro celery (it was indeed microscopic and not at all needed though it gave the dish a nice touch of color) and sour (was it sour) cream. We were told to mix it all up, make sure to add the cream to lighten it up at bit, and then to add the sherry that came with. This was not your grandma’s sherry or that bottle you have way back in your pantry to jazz up the gravy for the Sunday roast, nonononono. This was heaven in a glass. Slightly smoky yet smooth and buttery with a nutty aroma as well, very hard to describe and delicious to drink but then, we did as we were told (as always …) and poured it over the creamily heaven-ness and we were sold. The crowd of 40 chatty ladies (especially after all that wine) went silent; all that was heard was the clinking of spoons against the glass that the budino was served in. Heaven in a glass.

After that the coffee put a nice end to a fantastic meal and it was time to return home, home to the suburbs and everyday life.  But the memories of the white wine and dessert will stay with us – until the next lunch!

It is good to escape now and then.