January 21, 2012
We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus since our Advent Shadowbox 2011 extravaganza.
We thought it was about time to let you in on our Family New Year’s Resolution for 2012:
Build More Family Traditions & Strengthen The Ones Already In Place
This January, we wanted to begin by instituting or re-instituting our traditional, formal Sunday Suppers. We can’t claim to have any family china or silver of note, nor do we really care about such things. Still, we have been “prettying” things up a bit by actually ironing our cloth napkins and dolling up the table with ribbons and a smattering of half-spent candles. For the first two weeks, the meals centered around one-pot family stews. The challenge of this resolution, after all, was going to be to please the picky eaters without having to substitute hot dogs and salami from the fridge for the main course! So, for our first weekend, we decided to go French by trying Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon. The kids like beef, so we figured it would make for a good start. I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but I found the results absolutely fantastic. (If you’re going to use an entire bottle of good red wine in a recipe, the stew better be well worth it! ) The kids did a masterful job finishing their plates. Having hit on a winner for the first week, Bea insisted, in French (so how could we deny her?), that we continue to “go French.” So, we chose to follow the proceeding recipe in Child’s book, Beef & Onions Braised in Beer, substituing a favourite bottle of German Weiss beer for the required Pilsner. The recipe calls for approximately 3 lbs of beef, and I have to say I am absolutely scandalized by how little was left in the pot for Monday night “parents’ leftovers.” That meal was miraculous. I know everyone makes a big deal about the Bourg, but seriously, this second stew is far and away the classic we’ll keep coming back to in our home. So far, so good.
This Sunday, we’ll be taking a little leave from our adventures in French stews. Since the kids were babies, we’ve always made a big fuss over Chinese New Year. It provides a second chance for resolution-making, of course. And, at least for the years in which the kids were tiny babes, it seemed a great excuse to order from our favourite Hakka Chinese place. Over the past few years, though, we’ve been doing more of our Chinese New Year cooking at home. We even have a special set of “Chinese New Year Plates” we picked up at an off-season sale several years ago. (So, this must be a big deal! The only other “seasonal” dishes we own are the “Cookies and Milk for Santa” cup and plate from the local dollar store!)
Now, I enjoy baking (witness the Chocolate Mini-Cupcake Dragons I whipped up for the Feast, above), but I can’t say that I’m much of a chef, especially when it comes to the kinds of fantastic authentic cuisines we can find, easily enough, in local Toronto restaurants. Also, I’m incredibly wary of frying. I wish I could say this was due to health concerns. My unfortunate anxiety stems from a childhood memory: one night, as I was standing outside in our backyard, my mother ran out onto the porch, screaming over a pot of smoking oil, having burnt an entire batch of cannolli shells. So, aside from the great event of frying up my grandmother’s famous Egpplant Parm in a very shallow puddle of oil, Chinese New Year is pretty much the only occasion for which I’ll heat a few extra inches of oil in the skillet. Even so, we’ve tried to opt for low-oil options wherever possible. And we cook sans wok, as said metal belly full of joy would merely appear as kitchen decor for the remaining 364 (or, as this is a leap year, 365) days.
This weekend, the kids have been super-jazzed about the New Year. They’ve spent their Saturday making “backdrops” (see above and below) and “music” for a video drama they have planned to film about the “First Chinese New Year” – a story which includes a giant monster who is frightened away by the colour red. They’ve also ferreted out the few recipes I’ve jotted down on a few sheets of yellow legal paper over the years. The Pork Potstickers below are cribbed from a phone conversation with my step-mom from several years ago. (My thanks and, also, my apologies for this likely bastardization of the little bits of heaven I can get when I’m in Cali). I’m fairly sure the General Tso’s Chicken recipe is something I copied out of a newspaper during grad school in Chicago. (Lucy Waverman had a nice looking recipe for General Tso Sweetbreads in today’s Globe and Mail which could also be tweaked to taste.) And, the Kung Pao Shrimp is an uber-simplified version of a chef’s 3-wok recipe from a favourite restaurant that closed not long ago. We can’t claim much expertise here. But we’d love some feedback on how to improve upon and perfect these dishes!!! The recipes below will make enough food for a large Sunday Supper and anywhere from 1 to 3 nights of left-overs for a family of four.
Here’s our Festive Spread:
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1/2 bunch of green onions
- 12-14 water chestnuts from a can about 1/2 the can, finely diced
- 2-3 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 2 tsp minced ginger optional
- 1-2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 package dumpling wrappers
- Vegetable oil for cooking
- 1/4 c rice vinegar
- 1/3 c soy sauce
- 1/4 c sliced green onions or cilantro
- 1 tbs sesame oil
- Mix pork, onion, water chestnuts, soy sauce, ginger (optional), garlic, sesame oil.
- Season with pepper.
- Place a spoonful of this mixture towards the center of one half moon/triangle of a wrapper.
- Use water to slightly moisten the semi-circular or triangular edge of the half of the wrapper you have just filled.
- Fold the empty half of the wrapper over and crimp or pleat the edges lightly to seal.
- Stand the dumplings up so that they look like little old-ladies' purses.
- Freeze extras in batches of 16 or 20. Cook the rest.
- Heat a bit of oil in a large pan (or a few pans).
- Fry the dumplings for 1-3 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.
- Add 1/3-1/2 cup of water to the pan, cover, and cook at medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and simmer low for 1-2 more minutes.
- Drain or dry on a rack or towel if so desired.
- Combine all ingredients for the Dipping Sauce and serve in a bowl beside the postickers.
General Tso's Chicken
- 1 can chicken broth
- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 1/2 c soy sauce
- 1/3 c cornstarch
- 1/4 c rice vinegar
- 1/4 c dry white wine
- 1 tbs sesame oil
- 1/4 c water
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 .2- in slice ginger minced
- orange or lemon zest optional
- 1/4 c soy sauce
- 1 egg
- 3/4-1 c cornstarch
- *OR OPTION TWO
- flour [optional]
- egg [optional]
- 2.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 bunch green onions sliced
- 6-8 dried red chiles remove seeds unless you like it hot
- Vegetable Oil
- 1/4 c Gently Toasted Sesame Seeds or Almonds optional
- Combine all Sauce ingredients and set aside.
- Mix the Sticky Marinade in a large ziploc-style bag or glass bowl and ADD ALL CHICKEN PIECES AT ONCE.
- Remove the pieces one at a time, shaking off excess marinade and setting them on a plate.
- FRY OR SAUTE CHICKEN as below.
- Coat chicken in salt, pepper. Optional: dredge in flour or egg and flour. ONLY SAUTE, DO NOT FRY chicken, as below.
- FRY 10-12 marinated pieces of chicken at a time in a pan of 350 oil
- SAUTE the marinated or flour-coated chicken in batches in a large pan lightly coated in oil.
- Drain chicken on a wire rack set over a pan in a slightly warm oven.
- Add a tablespoon or so of oil to a large, clean pan and cook the onions and peppers for a minute.
- Add the sauce to the pan and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, or just a little thicker...
- Add sauce to chicken to cover. [NOTE: There might be quite a lot of additional sauce. Store to use over other recipes.
- Stir quickly to coat.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds or almonds and additional bits of green onion if so desired.
- Serve immediately!
- 1 lb peeled deveined raw shrimp
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp water or orange juice
- 1 tsp corn starch
- vegetable oil
- 6-8 dried red chiles sliced, seeds removed
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs wine or dark gluten-based chinese vinegar
- 1 tbs brown sugar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1-2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 bunch green onions white parts sliced thin & separated from slightly thicker-sliced greens
- 2 garlic cloves finely diced
- 1 .2- in slice of ginger minced (optional)
- 1/2 can thin-sliced waterchestnuts leftover from the potstickers optional
- 1/2-1 cup chopped peanuts preferably roasted (or honey roasted) and/or toasted coconut
- Combine Marinade ingredients in a ziplock-style bag or bowl.
- Marinate shrimp for 30 minutes.
- Add 1-2 tbs oil to pan.
- As oil heats just slightly, mix soy, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and starch in a small bowl and set aside.
- Cook chiles for 1 minute.
- Add marinated shrimp and cook 1 minute.
- Add white onion slices, garlic, ginger, cook 1 minute.
- Optional: Add sliced waterchestnuts, cook 1 minute.
- Add small bowl of soy, vinegar etc to pan and cook until thick, 2-6 minutes.
- Warm the nuts and/or coconut for a minute or so in a separate pan if so desired.
- Plate the stir fry and garnish with green onions, peanuts and/or coconut.
Kung Hei Fat Choi!