Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

My kids both attended a wonderful pre-school program called the University Lab School. My husband and I both loved this school but more importantly, both of the boys loved it too. We all learned a lot of things at 'the Lab School' and made many great memories. One of my favourites was watching the kids celebrate Chinese New Year. They did it up right, every year, with a 'snack' feast of Chinese favourites and a parade of noisy revellers wreaking havoc through the halls, warding off evil and helping to usher in a prosperous New Year. I don't do a ton of theme menus for our Sunday dinners but this week, with Chinese New Year approaching, I couldn't resist.

Our Chinese New Year menu consisted of:

Chinese Steamed Rice (from hungry for comfort)
Chinese Orange Beef (from The Best Simple Recipes)
Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy (no recipe required)
Mini Vegetable Egg Rolls (President's Choice. I know my limits.)
Peanut Butter Cookies (James Beard)

On reflection, I might tweak my menu next year. For starters, I'm kicking myself for not making Hot and Sour Soup. I wanted to, but I had a bowl of Hot and Sour soup at a restaurant once that was so good that I'm afraid I can't top it. So I don't dare try.

The steamed rice was excellent and dead simple: rinse rice, put rice in pot, add water to pot, bring pot to boil, take pot off heat, rice steams in about 20 minutes. Seriously, everything I make from hungry for comfort comes up roses. If you don't own this cookbook, you totally should.

The Chinese Orange beef got raves from both my husband and D. but P. was not impressed with what he called my 'saucy beef'. Broke my heart when he demanded his beef be de-sauced, (yup, we wiped it off) then proceeded to drench it in Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Which was pronounced delicious. The 'saucy beef' sauce was a combination of orange juice/rind, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, Asian chili-garlic sauce and ginger. We cooked up a huge flank steak that seemed to promise lots of leftovers but once the beef was cooked and the sauce added, there was no turning back. We ate nearly the whole thing.

I think Baby Bok Choy is a lot like celery. It's likely on your plate for colour and because it's a vegetable and every meal should have a vegetable. I know BBC can be better; I didn't exactly knock myself out cooking it - chopped it, sauteed it with some sesame oil, done. Here is how it all looked on the plate:

If I was trying to be authentic I should have made Almond Cookies as our dessert, but my quick poll of the family indicated that Peanut Butter cookies were preferred. When you can't send nut products to school they tend to fall to the bottom of your baking list. I never bake Peanut Butter cookies and all three of my boys adore them. So I went and made the cutest Peanut Butter cookies you ever saw:

Maybe you can't tell in the picture but these cookies are seriously wee. When I was making them (recipe from James Beard's American Cookery) I will admit to cursing James a wee bit when it came time to prepare the cookies for the cookie sheet. His direction of rolling the dough into a cylinder about an inch thick then cutting off portions about an inch thick seemed rather tedious, since I then had to roll them into a ball and fork them. But it resulted in such adorable little cookies that I've forgiven him. All three of my guys had the same reaction to these cookies, which I also had: "Oh! These are so cute!". I don't think I've ever baked anything cute before. I served them on an equally cute tray I bought at The Yong Feng Shangdian Shop in the China Pavilion at Epcot. Which is the closest I'm likely to get to Asia. These cookies have disappeared very fast because they are (a) very good and (b) very small. So you figure you can eat five or six in a sitting.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and peanut butter, cream in the brown sugar, then beat in egg and add vanilla, if using. Sift flour and salt and stir in to butter mixture. Makes a very stiff dough. Form into long rolls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into lengths of 1 inch or less, form into balls and place an inch apart on greased cookie sheets. Flatten each cookie with a fork, first in one direction then the other to make a crisscross design. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 9-12 minutes.

I'm just realizing that with this meal I've accomplished another 'To-Do' this year, which is to make a Chinese dish at home. When I was trying to pick a dish or two for this dinner I came across many contenders, so more Chinese might be on the menu in 2011.

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