Posts Tagged ‘Chinese New Year’

Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups The Chinese year 4712 begins on Friday. As a nod to my Chinese heritage, I decided to make “San Choy Bao” or lettuce cups. Lettuce cups, also referred to as lettuce wraps, can be served as a hearty appetizer or as a light main dish. Pine nuts, added to the tasty stir-fry mixture and sprinkled on top, bring an interesting flavor twist and crunch to these lettuce cups. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups
Based on a recipe in Chinatown, a cookbook by Ross Dobson

1 lb 2 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine, divided use
4 small dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 green onions (scallions), white part chopped and green part thinly sliced
2 small red chilies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, divided use
1/4 cup water chestnuts, roughly chopped
8 iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and chilled
Hoisin sauce, to taste
Sweet chili sauce, optional

1. Put the chicken and 1 tablespoon of the rice wine into a food processor and process until the chicken is chopped. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until ready to use.

2. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 20-30 minutes. Squeeze out the excess liquid from the mushrooms, then remove and discard the stems and finely chop the caps. Reserve 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid.

3. Combine the sugar, stock, oyster sauce, remaining rice wine and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid in a bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

4. Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil, swirling the oil around to coat the wok. When the oil reaches smoking point, add the garlic, ginger, spring onion whites and chillies and cook for a few seconds.

5. Add the chicken and half the pine nuts and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked, stirring constantly to break up the chicken.

6. Add the mushrooms and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 1 minute.

7. Add the sauce mixture, pouring it down the side of the wok, and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce has almost evaporated.

8. Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with the slivered green onions, the remaining pine nuts, and the lettuce on the side. Assemble these at the table, two per person.

Serves 4 as a starter

1. Chicken thighs are preferred over chicken breasts, because chicken breasts tend to be too dry.

2. I ran out of shaoxing rice wine, so I substituted dry sherry.

3. I followed the instructions and grated the ginger, but next time I will just finely mince it.

4. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet on medium-heat until they are a pale golden in color. This brings out the flavor of the nuts. Keep an eye on them while toasting, because they burn easily. I toasted more than called for, because I served it as a topping option, rather than as a garnish. If you don’t like pine nuts, you can substitute unsalted, roasted chopped cashews.

5. As mentioned above, I used the pine nuts as a topping. I also sliced extra green onions to use as a topping, too. Fresh cilantro leaves would also make another flavorful topping.

6. In my opinion, the meat mixture needed more flavor. That was easily solved by adding some hoisin sauce. It can either be added to the meat mixture before serving or you can serve hosin sauce on the side as a condiment. Sweet chili sauce can also be served as a condiment on the side.


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five spice pork belly Before you say, “Eww, gross!” at the mere mention of pork belly, consider this: other countries in the world make their bacon from side and back cuts of pork, but here in the United States, we choose to make our bacon from the pig’s belly. In other words, bacon is none other than cured PORK BELLY, so if you’re loving your crispy bacon in the morning, you are eating pork belly!

Dining on pork belly has become a food trend from coast to coast. Chefs at some of the most popular and fashionable restaurants have put their own unique spin on preparing it. For example, Chef Zak Pelaccio of New York, makes a signature Coriander Bacon. His chefs “cure their heritage-pork belly in a mix of palm sugar, coriander, Thai chiles, and salt, smoke it over hardwood, then braise it to melting, candied softness.” That sounds delicious, but the procedure is more complicated than the average home cook wants to undertake. Here’s an easy and interesting pork belly recipe. It’s similar in taste to the Chinese red-cooked pork belly, but with a Thai twist. The addition of chopped tomatoes, fish sauce, and lime juice provides a sublime depth of flavors. This dish will be part of my Chinese New Year’s feast this weekend!

Pork Belly with Five Spices
From The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Thai Cooking by Judy Bastyra

1 large bunch fresh coriander (cilantro) with roots*
2 tbsp/30ml vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp/30ml five-spice powder
1¼ lb/500g pork belly, cut into 1-in/2.5cm pieces
14oz/400g can chopped tomatoes
2/3 cup/150ml hot water
2 tbsp/30ml dark soy sauce
3 tbsp/45ml Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp/30ml granulated sugar
1 lime halved

1. Cut off the coriander roots. Chop five of them finely and freeze the remainder for another occasion. Chop the coriander stalks and leaves and set them aside. Keep the roots separate.

2. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the garlic until golden brown. Stirring constantly, add the chopped coriander roots and then the five-spice powder.

3. Add the pork and stir-fry until the meat is thoroughly coated in spices and has browned. Stir in the tomatoes and hot water. Bring to a boil, then stir in the soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar.

4. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the chopped coriander stalks and leaves. Squeeze in the lime juice and serve.

Serves 4

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This dish is not intended to be served as a solo main entrée, but as one among several entrée-type dishes served at dinner (Chinese style).

2. Five-spice powder is said to encompass the five elements of flavor: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty. Use Chinese five-spice powder, which is normally made from cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, and Szechuan pepper, and not the Indian five spice known as Panch phoran, which is made from fenugreek seed, nigella seed, cumin seed, black mustard seed and fennel seed.

3. *I did not have coriander with roots and I understand it can be hard to find, so I cut in a few more stems to make up the difference. Coriander/cilantro stems have a slightly more intense flavor than the leaves.


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A soft, yet crusty, bread surrounds succulent pieces of chicken and savory bits of celery, mushrooms, green onions, and bamboo shoots in these big and hearty Chinese Chicken Buns. Soon after you bite into a freshly baked one and let the flavors flood into your mouth, you’ll pat yourself on the back and say, “Damn, I’m a good cook!” It had been years since I last made these buns, but while deciding what to make for a Chinese New Year’s post, I remembered these delicious buns and it occurred to me that they would make fabulous Super Bowl fare, too! They can be made ahead and frozen for future use. But seriously, after you’ve taken your first bite of one, you’ll want to live in the present and not the future!

Chinese Chicken Buns
Adapted from a Sunset Magazine recipe

2 loaves (1 pound each) frozen bread dough
6 dried Asian mushrooms
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken meat, breast and thigh meat
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2-3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3-4 stalks of green onions
1 8 oz can of sliced bamboo shoots
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs, hard boiled
Cilantro leaves, optional
Butter, melted

Sauce Ingredients:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/3 cup water

1. Remove frozen bread dough from the package and thaw as package directs, rubbing surface with a little bit of oil and covering with plastic film. Thaw just until pliable, about 1-2 hours at room temperature.
2. Hard boil the eggs and let cool.
3. Rinse and soak dried Asian mushrooms in enough hot water to cover them until soft and pliable, about 20 minutes. Cut off and discard tough stems; cut remaining mushrooms into thin strips.
4. Cut chicken meat into 1/2-inch-thick strips, each about 2-inches long.
5. Combine chicken with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger.
6. Thinly slice celery stalks on the diagonal.
7. Wash green onions. Cut into 2-inch lengths (including tops).
8. Drain can of bamboo shoots.
9. Stir together sauce ingredients (listed above).
10. Pour 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch frying pan and place over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the marinated chicken; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
11. Add celery; cook, stirring for 1 minute.
12. Stir in sliced mushrooms, sliced green onions, bamboo shoots, and sauce mixture. Cook, stirring until sauce thickens. Let cool.
13. Peel the eggs and cut in quarters, lengthwise.
14. With a lightly-floured knife, cut each thawed loaf into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a round about 7-inches in diameter.

15. Place 1-2 sections of hard boiled eggs in the center of the dough. Top with 1/2 cup of the cooked chicken filling.

16. Gather edges of dough up around filling, being careful not to stretch the dough. Pleat in the edges and tightly pinch together to seal.

17. Turn on oven to 350 degrees F.
18. Place, buns, pinched side down about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased or parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Lightly cover and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 30-45 minutes.
19. Brush with melted butter and bake for 30-35 minutes or until browned. Serve warm.
20. If made ahead, cool thoroughly on racks, then cover and refrigerate or freeze. To reheat, bake uncovered, in a 350 degree oven until hot, about 20 minutes if chilled. If frozen, bake for 35 minutes.

Makes eight.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Dried Asian mushrooms can be found in most grocery stores and in Asian markets. The most common ones are the dried Shitake mushrooms. To soak dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Place a smaller bowl or plate on top of them to keep them submerged in the water.
2. I always double the recipe! Eight is never enough!
3. I tend to always add a little more of everything – more mushrooms, more celery, more green onions, more meat . . . and I usually double the amount of sauce.
4. I cut the 2-inch top segments (white part) of the green onions in half lengthwise, so that there are no thick pieces of onion to bite into.
5. Although the inclusion of slices of hard boiled egg is typical in a Chinese Chicken Bun, you can always choose not to include them if they are not to your liking.
6. I like the taste of cilantro in these buns, so I sprinkle a few cilantro leaves on top of the dough before adding the meat mixture.
7. Sometimes for an added rich and exotic flavor, I add pieces of Chinese Sausage into the chicken mixture.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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Most of us have memories of particular foods that, when eaten again, take us back to a specific moment or time in our lives. Being transported to a memory, good or bad, by a single taste is what French novelist Marcel Proust wrote about in Remembrance of Things Past. For him it was a madeleine, a sponge cake baked in a shell-shaped mold, that brought his past to the present. A “foodie” like me has many food memory “triggers,” but in honor of Chinese New Year, let me share some of my Chinese cookie memories.

Little pig-shaped cookies are my “madeleines.” Eating these hard-baked, dry cookies, sold only during fall harvest, always reminds me of my childhood. Although I have not eaten one of these cookies in a very long time, just the thought of them makes me happy and transports me back to the streets of Chinatown. If I was lucky, my parents would buy me one of these cookies while I tagged along with them on their Chinese grocery shopping trips. Sometimes I would get the large Buddha-shaped cookie that had colored sprinkles scattered across his belly, but my favorite one was always the little pig-shaped cookie sold in a little plastic basket. Breaking off small bits and savoring each little bite until it was gone was the only way I could eat it.

Another cookie that transports me to my past is the Chinese Almond Cookie. I remember friends of my parents would come to visit and bring large boxes of these. They made a crumbly mess when eaten, but boy were they good! Sometimes I would pick off the almond and eat it first, so that it would not interfere with the enjoyment of the best part – the crunchy, almond-flavored cookie!

Here’s a recipe for Chinese Almond Cookies that are thin and light; they’re crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside and have a wonderful almond flavor.

Chinese Almond Cookies
from the Sweet Spot Cookbook by Pichet Ong

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 cups almond flour
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 large egg white, beaten

1. Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Put the almond flour, butter, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the mixture resembles cornmeal, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the egg and almond extract and mix until well incorporated. Turn the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix just until no traces of flour remain.

3. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, flatten into a 1-inch-thick disk, and wrap tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate until hard, at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Form the dough into 1/2-inch balls and put 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Use the palm of your hand to press balls into 1-inch circles. Press 4 slivered almonds into each cookie arranging them decoratively to form an X. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white.

6. Bake the cookies until golden and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheets on a cooling rack. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Almond flour can usually be found either in the baking aisle or the health food section of your grocery store.

2. In step 5 it helps to wet your palms with a little bit of water first before pressing down on the dough balls. The water prevents the buttery dough from sticking to your hands. Also, the 1-inch circles were too small to press four pieces of slivered almonds into an X-formation. I only used two pieces per cookie, but if you like your cookies to be nuttier, use more!

3. For me this recipe made way more than the three dozen it specified. I counted 88 cookies in my batch! Double 8 – how lucky!

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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My last post was all about Valentine’s cookies, but this coming Sunday, February the 14th, is not only Valentine’s Day, it’s also the first day of the Chinese new year 4707. According to the L.A. Times, “This is a rare convergence — it’s only the third time since 1900 – and it won’t happen again until after 2030. Added to that, it’s the year of the Tiger, which traditionally symbolizes great passion.”

So why not celebrate both passion-filled holidays at the same time? Here are a few ideas for ways to incorporate these two distinct holidays into your upcoming holiday meal planning and table decorating:

1. Using Paula Deen’s recipe make your own fortune cookies and fill them with romantic fortunes. Even better, whether homemade or store bought, dip the ends of fortune cookies into melted chocolate, then dip into toppings of your choice such as Valentine-colored sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut shavings, or finely chopped white chocolate. Let cool. Serve for dessert.

2. Decorate Chinese take out boxes with stickers or use rubber stamps and emboss the boxes. Place one at each place setting and serve fresh salad or delicious pasta inside of them. Stick in a pair of chopsticks and you’re good to go!

3. Make Chinese fortune cookies out of felt a la Martha Stewart and tuck Hershey Kisses and personalized fortunes into them. Scatter these on the dining table, place them in a bowl, or use them as party favors.

4. Use rice in your candlescapes by arranging candle pillars on a platter and pour and smooth white rice around them.

5. Set your table with napkins folded to resemble fortune cookies.

Materials Needed:
Solid-colored light brown or tan-colored cloth napkins
Paper strips and pens or computer printed fortunes

How to Fold Fortune Cookie Napkins:
A. Place napkin completely flat, right side down on an even surface.

B. Bring lower edge up about one third of the napkin height.

C. Fold down the top of the already folded napkin so that the top third of the napkin covers the bottom third. You should have a rectangle at this point.

D. Hold your thumb at the center top of the rectangle and fold the right half under itself and pull down so it extends about 3 inches below the edge of the rectangle.

E. Repeat a mirror image fold with the left half.

F. Fold up each of the two corners of the left tail so that they meet at the base of the large triangle and form a new triangle with the point at the bottom. Repeat with the right tail.

G. Fold the left tail up so that it touches the top point of the large triangle and creates a rectangle.

H. Fold the rectangle in half to form your fortune cookie. Turn it over so that the slit side is up. Place “giant” paper fortunes in them.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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