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Cookers & Kibitzers: Celebrating The Chinese New Year With Food

IN THE February 23 ISSUE

FROM THE 2013 Articles,
andFood Fun,
andIrene Morse
SECTIONS

by Irene Morse

The Cookers & Kibitzers Club is a group of women in Visalia who get together each month to enjoy cooking good food and having great conversation. See what they have for us this month-there are recipes at the end of this article & a coupon for Valentino’s Italian Restaurant in Reedley.

Happy Year of the Snake. Be sure to decorate your doors with poems written on red paper scrolls, light your torches and set off fire crackers all night long to scare away the cruel and ferocious beast, Nian. The Cookers and Kibitzers didn’t go that far but we did celebrate Chinese New Year when we got together in February.

We were looking for an excuse to cook duck and we thought Chinese New Year was as good as any–even though we celebrated on the 2nd and the actual holiday began on the 10th. Getting into the spirit of the celebration, Francesca brought her gorgeous Chinese red robe to wear thereby protecting us from the evil Nian who is afraid of red. That prompted Elizabeth to haul out all of her kimonos and embroidered shawls—probably more Japanese than Chinese but we aren’t obsessive about these things—so we all decorated ourselves appropriately for our meal.

Francesca also brought her daughter, Cyrene Kleodora, to help us cook, teach us a thing or two, and delight us with her youth and vivacity. The two of them went to the Farmers’ Market on their way to Elizabeth’s house so our vegetables were fresh and locally grown. As usual, we chatted and sipped champagne while preparing the meal and, as an extra treat, munched on kale chips that Cyrene Kleodora taught us how to fix.

The Menu: Served 9 for $10 each (not including wine)

Kale Chips
Roast Duck
Two Variations of Stir-Fry

Stir Fry


Sticky Rice
Green Tea Gelato

Kale Chips
1 Large Bunch Curly Kale–it cooks down
Olive Oil–we used olive oil infused with lemon
Kosher Salt
Other spices or flavorings as desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Wash and de-spine kale. Cut into bite-sized pieces, drain well and pat dry.
3. Put kale in a bowl and toss with just enough oil to coat all the leaves. Add kosher salt and/or other spices and flavorings to taste. We used only the kosher salt—and the lemon added a nice tang—but other great toppings are pepper, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and Francesca knows a vegan chef who combines chocolate with red pepper flakes.
4. Spread in a single layer on the cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes. The chips on the outside of the baking sheet will cook more quickly than the inside, keep an eye on them while they bake and stir them around if necessary.

These chips are delicious! They are crispy and bursting with surprising flavor.

It is a tradition to give Red Packets to children and, occasionally, to unmarried guests on the first day of the Chinese New Year. We didn’t know about this tradition in time to package up a dollar or two in red paper for our guest, CK. but we’re not certain what the gifts signify and we didn’t want to summon any unwanted complications in any case.

Adorned for the Chinese New Year

As in family traditions and festivities around the world, Chinese New Year is celebrated with food. Of the many customary dishes served over the course of the extended holiday, we chose duck as our main course.

Duck meat is mostly dark and there is not much meat on the breast. All of it is, however, very rich and flavorful. Because of limited oven space, E roasted one of the ducks the day before and used a slightly different recipe than the ones used on the day of our meal. She used the soy sauce variation; we used olive oil and we stuffed the cavity of the bird.


Roast Duck

3 Whole Ducks–approximately 6 to 8 pounds total
½ Cup Soy Sauce–or Olive Oil
1 Orange
1 Onion
2 Carrots
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. One of our ducks was stuffed with an orange; the other was stuffed with onion and carrots.
3. Put duck breast-down on a rack in a roasting pan. Add water to the pan to just below the rack.
4. Sprinkle the duck with salt and pepper and brush with soy sauce or olive oil depending on your recipe choice. If using soy sauce, omit the salt.
5. Roast for 30 minutes. Prick the skin with a sharp knife just to the fat layer and turn the duck over. Season the other side of the bird; again brush with soy sauce or olive oil. Add water to the pan if necessary.
6. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes more. Brush again with soy sauce or olive oil and continue roasting for about 10 minutes. Duck is rare when a thermometer inserted into the thigh reaches 155 to 165 and medium at 175 to 180 degrees. As with all meat, let it rest for about 5 minutes before carving.

We couldn’t imagine Chinese food without sticky rice so we included it in our menu. We didn’t bother with a rice cooker although some of us love that start-it-and-forget-it tool. We brought a pan of water to boil on the stove and added the rice; then simmered it until it was done. It is done when all of the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

Our measurements are: twice as much water as rice. Four cups of water and two cups of rice was more than enough for our group.

The seventh day of the Chinese New Year celebration is the day of everyone’s birthday. It doesn’t matter what day you were born, on this day you become one year older.

This is also the day that, in some communities, it is traditional to eat a tossed salad of raw fish. The salad could include shredded vegetables and a plum sauce dressing. This dish promises wealth and prosperity but we decided to just skip it.


Stir Fry Sauce #1

1 ¼ Cup Chicken Broth
1 ½ Tbsp Cornstarch
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Sake
2 tsp Honey
2 tsp Chili Paste
1 tsp Sesame Oil

Stir Fry Sauce #2
3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Peeled, Grated Fresh Ginger
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Cornstarch
½ tsp Sesame Oil
2 Cloves Garlic-crushed in a garlic press

Vegetables
Broccoli
Baby Carrots
Bok Choy
Celery
Onions
Bell Peppers
Mushrooms
Water Chestnuts
Sprouts

F and CK brought us beautiful fresh vegetables from the Farmers’ Market. We washed and combined them, in bite-sized pieces, into two bowls. We sautéed them quickly in a bit of sesame oil in two different woks.

They come out more evenly if you begin with the veggies that take a little longer to cook (broccoli, carrots, celery, peppers, etc.), about 7 to 10 minutes, and add the faster cooking ingredients and sprouts at the last 2 to 4 minutes.

Stir together all the ingredients for the sauce and add it to the vegetables for the last minute or two of cooking. Serve immediately. There is plenty of sauce to serve one or both stir fry dishes over top of the sticky rice if you choose.

We found through an internet search that Pinot Noir goes nicely with Chinese food. Genevieve brought a wonderful bottle from her extensive wine cellar. We added a couple of other bottles as well and found Pinot Noir was indeed an excellent pairing.

E surprised us with a dessert of Green Tea Gelato. She made it the day before so we didn’t even have to work for our treat. The gelato comes out of the ice cream maker with a creamy, not frozen, texture. A few hours in the freezer brings it to the consistency that is expected.

A more traditional dessert might have been niangao. This sticky, sweet cake offering is made to the Kitchen God, Zao Jun. Every year, household gods go off to heaven to report on the family—misbehaviors as well as good conduct. The hope is that offering the Kitchen God a sweet indulgence will result in a “sweet” report to the Jade Emperor.

The Chinese also celebrate with baked goods that contain seeds. This is a symbol of fertility so we were careful to avoid that type of dessert all together.

Green Tea Gelato
3 ¼ Cups Whole Milk
8 Green Tea Bags
¼ Cup Powdered Fat-free Milk
8 Large Egg Yolks
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Heavy Cream

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan to a simmer. Into a bowl, pour half over the tea bags and let steep 30 minutes.
2. Stir powdered milk into the other half and keep warm.
3. Place egg yolks and sugar in another bowl and whisk–with a hand mixer or whisk–until they are thick and pale yellow.
4. Continue whisking as you pour hot milk into the mixture; blend well. Stir the egg mixture back into the saucepan and add the tea-infused milk.
5. Stir the mixture over medium heat using a wooden spoon. The mixture will become thickened, about the consistency of custard. It should register 180 degrees with an instant-read thermometer.
6. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Stir in cream, cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
7. Follow instructions for your ice cream maker. The texture will be creamy. Put in the freezer for at least 2 hours for a firmer consistency.

Chinese New Year ends at the next full moon—15 days after it begins—with a Lantern Festival. People parade in the streets, carrying lanterns, and young people perform a Dragon Dance.

The Cookers & Kibitzers didn’t even attempt the dance, let alone a dragon costume. We just piled into the designated driver’s van and made our way home. We had enjoyed a very satisfying meal and an afternoon of great company.

You can find more recipes and some restaurant reviews in our food section, Food Fun! You can also find more recipes for your Chinese New Year celebration in an article from last week’s issue by Alicia Lieu.

And if you decide you’re not in the mood to cook, check out Valentino’s specials listed on their Facebook page. Check out this special coupon for KRL’s readers!

Irene Morse is a freelance writer. When not hanging out with her husband, Gary, and their large family, she enjoys traveling in search of adventure and examining the human condition through drama and community theatre. Read her family’s Christmas story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Christmas Magic, 2010. Her column on theatre appears regularly in the local newspaper. Email her at irene [at] ingramct.com.

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