Chinese New Year 2019 Celebration

With Chinese New Year coming up on Tuesday, February 5th (Year of the Pig, if anyone is interested), this Sunday was our New Years celebration.

I tend to maybe go a little overboard when I do themed meals…I always want to make sure there is something for everyone, and that no one walks away hungry. Although, really, I’m not sure anyone leaves our house hungry!

Details are important to me, and we usually put on background music that is appropriate for the cuisine. Brian asked if I’d like to listen to Chinese music, and at first I was like, “Ugh, no”, but then I said “You know, if you can find some relaxing Chinese music, like if you go to a nice Chinese restaurant and you hear it in the background.”  He found just the right channel and it reminded me of being in a spa. Louie seemed to like it…

Louis Relaxing

Place settings that I bought in Chinatown in San Francisco in probably 2009 created just the right tablescape.

I started planning the meal probably in the middle of the week. Lots of research and figuring out what to fix. I knew I would make Crockpot Beef with Broccoli because it’s good, easy and I’ve made it before. I always seem to Google for a recipe whenever I make it, and I’m not sure I’ve made the exact same recipe more than once. But, I found this recipe at Damn Delicious, and it’s a keeper.  Couldn’t be easier, and I had all the ingredients on hand anyway. Hardest part was slicing the chuck roast, and that was a cinch after having been gifted some proper chefs knives from a very dear friend. Recipe can be found here – seriously, super easy. And if you don’t have oyster sauce in your fridge, you totally should! At all times!!!

Broccoli Beef

Because one entree didn’t seem to be enough, I started thinking about other options. I’ve made fried rice, but figured with the jasmine rice, we didn’t really need more rice. I’ve also made vegetable lo mein, but for some reason, I was thinking about chicken. I don’t know that I’ve ever had cashew chicken before, but I like chicken and cashews, so what could go wrong? It didn’t take long before I settled on this recipe from Ree Drummond. She’s never led me astray before, and this time was no different. I did substitute red and yellow pepper for the green that the recipe called for. After I completed the recipe, I put it in the crockpot to keep it warm as I worked on other things. I did wait to put the cashews in until about 60 to 90 minutes before serving. The cashews held their shape but were tender. Sliced scallions and sesame seeds served as garnish.

Cashew Chicken

I love Chinese appetizers, and knew I was going to get egg rolls from the store, and thought about crab rangoon or shrimp toast (YUM!). But a person has to know their limits, and I wanted to make a dessert instead.

Dessert was much harder to decide on, as we don’t live in a metropolitan area and the Chinese section in our local groceries is somewhat limited. Some of the recipes were intimidating, others I would’ve needed to plan farther ahead so I could order ingredients from Amazon. I thought about egg tarts, but the last time I made them was a little frustrating. Almond cookies were also a consideration, but I knew I’d be picking up some Fortune Cookies (next time I might try making those myself!). Chinese donuts found on a buffet would’ve been OK if I weren’t scared to death of deep frying things. Then I stumbled on these Easy Chinese Moon Cakes from a link to 10 Easy Desserts on Yummly. Sounded a lot like a thumb print cookie, and bonus, I had all the ingredients (although I did pick up some higher quality strawberry preserves to use). I think this is completely Americanized (no offense to Shirley the contributor)…if I’d had access to some red bean paste, I would’ve been happier. But, they turned out well and were tasty. The only think that I would change in this recipe is to use the egg white that was left over from the yolk in the dough. Wasn’t really impressed with using a yolk for the egg wash, just not visually appealing.

Moon Cakes

Because it just wouldn’t be Sunday dinner without a green salad for me, I decided on Spring Mix (because I always have some on hand anyway) with Mandarins and chow mein noodles (instead of croutons). But what to use for dressing, that was the question. I was inspired by the other flavors in the main dishes so I started with a base of avocado oil, used rice vinegar, adding a dash of soy sauce, fresh minced garlic and ginger, and agave to balance the sour. I wish I could give measurements, but the only one I know for sure is that I used 2 small cloves of garlic. What can I say – some of my best cooking is completely impromptu. Added some scallions and chopped red pepper for color, and I must say, it was pretty darned good!

Salad with Ginger Dressing

I wanted something special to drink, and love the Lychee martinis from Koi Asian Bistro, so I set out to find canned lychees. But absolutely no place had them. Even Koi didn’t have any to spare to sell me. However, Jewel had fresh lychee nuts, so I picked up about three quarter of a pound and hoped we could figure it out. Brian, being the cocktail master and ever inquisitive being that he is, found a recipe to make the lychee simple syrup, and peeled and pitted them. Aunt Pat, mom and I had the lychee martinis with the first course (mom even let dad eat the lychees that were the garnish in her drink), while Brian had his usual martini. And because we were uncertain how the martinis might turn out, Brian picked up a bottle of Sake and Plum Fu-Ki wine, just in case. We had the wine with the main course, and it was a hit! It was on the sweet side, which for Brian and I is unusual, but it was very pleasant. We saved the sake for a digestif, served at room temperature. Bracing would be an understatement. So we heated it in a carafe submerged in hot water. Better. Warming it even more was even better. Brian was ready to dump the rest of the bottle out, but I’m thinking I could use it still to deglaze while cooking. At any rate, if I never drank sake again (and this was our second attempt), I wouldn’t be upset. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, or our selections have been limited. I can’t even come up with adequate words to describe it…pure grain alcohol is the only thing I can think of!

Here is the menu, just to recap:

Appetizers: Chicken and pork egg rolls, Lychee martinis

Salad: Spring mix with mandarins, red peppers, scallions and chow mein noodles dressed with a ginger and garlic vinegarette

Entrees: Beef with Broccoli and Cashew Chicken, both served with jasmine rice. Plum Fu-Ki wine made a nice pairing

Digestif: Sake

Dessert: Easy Chinese Moon Cakes and Fortune Cookies

It’s a good thing that Chinese New Year only comes around once a year. While none of the recipes were particularly difficult, there was a lot of preparation involved. I’m thankful that I have a husband that also likes to cook and help out in the kitchen. Having someone clean up my messes is so very nice! Not to mention having my own personal bartender. I think I’ll keep him.

Kung Hei Fat Choy, everybody!

Pork Chops and Hasselback Bakers

Sunday Dinner -12 August 2018

Pork Chops Hasselback Potaotes

This was a simple, delicious meal. We had some pork chops in the freezer, so I decided to use one of my favorite brines for pork from Vrobel. We were out of Bourbon, so I used dark rum in the brine, and also omitted the glaze.

For the Hasselback Potatoes, we used bakers. I made slits in them 1/8th inch apart, sprayed them with olive oil, and sprinkled with onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. They went into a pan on the grill over indirect heat for 30 minutes, then got hit with olive oil again, roasted another 20 minutes, then I put them over direct heat for another 15. I’d put some cloves of garlic in olive oil in the bottom of the pan as well.

The pork chops were on for maybe twenty-five minutes total over direct heat. Claudia cooked some corn that had been put away last year, and made a nice fresh green salad. She also baked a banana cake from scratch earlier in the day for dessert.

Grilled Veggie Sandwiches

Sunday Dinner – 5 August 2018

This week we grilled a bunch of veggies and made sandwiches.

Neither of us can remember precisely when, or why, we started making this particular meal, but we know that it goes back at least a decade to when we were living in Mattoon, Illinois. It’s basically a huge mess of vegetables, grilled in batches and put between bread with cheese and returned to the grill to get gooey.

We included eggplant, Portabello Mushrooms, zucchini, red and orange peppers, red onions and tomato slices. These were all seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Herbs de Provence, and grilled with liberal spritzes of olive oil. Once they were grilled, Claudia and Aunt Pat assembled them with Provolone slices between the halves of three loaves of Italian Bread, and wrapped them in aluminum foil, and then we put them back out on the Weber Genesis to warm through. Datsa Sanguige!

Prepping Sandwiches

We also grilled some halved nectarines for a few minutes, then topped them with Mascarpone, Balsamic Vinegar and honey before taking them out to finish.

Aunt Pat also brought a delicious lemon meringue pie for dessert.

We served a couple of bottles of rosé (once from Lodi and one from France) with the meal. Mrs. Noe and I aren’t huge fanatics for blush wines, but I do like them every now and then in hot weather (which was certainly a feature of this weekend).

Oktoberfest in April

Sunday Dinner – 22 April 2018

German Food Fest Plated
This week for Sunday Dinner we had our own private Oktoberfest. Though it isn’t the right time of year, it was certainly a delicious meal.

Sauerbraten with ginger snap gravy and roasted veggies was the main course. We also enjoyed hot German potato salad, homemade spaetzle, a lettuce salad with apple and blue cheese dressing and an amazing cherry streuselkuchen for dessert.

The sauerbraten got started marinating on Wednesday evening, in a container of vinegar, spices and Coke. Here is the full list of ingredients.

  • 2 2.5 LB Boneless Chuck Roasts
  • 1 1/2 c Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 can Coca Cola
  • 3/4 c Water
  • 3 Onions, sliced
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 10 whole cloves garlic
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 2 T Sugar
  • 1 1/2 t Salt

I turned the container over every day in the fridge. Four days is just about right prior to cooking.

Sunday Morning, 6 AM

We were up early on Sunday, since we were competing for oven space and Claudia wanted to get her crumb cake done before the Sauerbraten went in. She used the recipe from The Oma Way website, opting for cherries instead of apples.

I started on potato salad, washing, slicing and boiling 3 pounds of red potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Once the potatoes were done and drained, I fried 6 slices of bacon in the pot, then pulled out the bacon and sautéed 3/4 cup of chopped onion in the grease. Next 2 T of flour, 2 T of sugar, 2 t salt, 1/4 t celery seed and a grind or two of black pepper joined the onions in the pot. That got good and bubbly, then I added 1 cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of water. That boiled for a minute, then it came off the heat and the potatoes and crumbled bacon were added. A gentle mix, a bite or two, and I added a little more sugar, vinegar and celery seed to taste.

Way back in the late 1970s, it was my habit to visit Altamont, Illinois each year for their Schützenfest. It was there that I first sampled the delicious, hot, gooey, pungent, sweet revelation that is German Potato Salad. Ever since, it has been like the Quest for the Grail to either find or prepare some that is even half as tasty. This batch finally hit the mark.

German Potato Salad

Mrs. Noe had headed out to Sunday Morning Yoga, so I blasted the Polka Jamboree from WDEZ radio while preparing the Sauerbraten. The meat is removed from the marinade, patted dry, floured, seasoned with S&P and browned in a Dutch Oven (one roast at a time). Then 1 cup of strained marinade is used to deglaze before adding 6 chopped carrots, 6 chopped celery ribs, and the spices, onions and garlic from the marinade. The roasts go on top, and the whole thing goes into a 350°F oven, covered, for 4 hours.

This might have given me time to nap, but instead I roasted coffee for the week, and piddled away time with the Internet and reading. :)

When Claudia got home, it turns out that she actually sort of enjoyed the Polka Music, because it reminded her of the dances they used to have a her home parish (St. Mary’s in Kankakee) when she was growing up.

Sunday Afternoon

Once it was time for the sauerbraten to come out, I removed the roasts and veggies from the pot, and added 5 T of ginger snaps and 5 T of flour that had done a few dozen revolutions in the blender’s food processor attachment, thanks to Mrs. Noe. Over low heat, that made a nice roux with the drippings, and the rest of the marinade was added to create the gravy.

I had never made spaetzle, and, in fact, we had a store bought bag ready in case things went South. But it turns out it was sort of fool proof. You beat three eggs, add a cup of milk, and then slowly combine with the dry ingredients (3 c flour, 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t nutmeg). This goes into the hopper of a spaetzle maker, sitting atop a pot of boiling liquid (in this case water and beef broth). You move the hopper back and forth, and let gravity do its work. After about two or three minutes, the little noodles float to the top and you nab them with a spider and reserve them to a bowl, then move on to the next hopper full.

If I were to adjust this at all for next time, I’d maybe add a little salt to the cooking liquid too.

Just before serving the meal, Claudia made an incredibly delicious iceberg lettuce salad with apples and blue cheese, again from the Oma site. I added just a little of the stock/water liquid to the gravy (over heat) to loosen it up, and we were ready for our Oktoberfest.

The wine was a Riesling that Claudia’s sister, Chris, had brought back for us from Colonial Williamsburg. It was the perfect light, crisp accompaniment to this meal. I also had a Brandy Old Fashioned for starters, and at some point Aunt Pat and I may have shared a can of Feldschlösschen Maibock (from Aldi’s yet) that was surprisingly super awesome.

When we were sitting around the table after this meal, Claudia commented that it was like Thanksgiving, she really wanted a nap. I think several of us felt that way.

But we saved room for some of that splendid cherry streuselkuchen that she had made.

Cherry Streuselkuchen

Ein Prosit!

My mother’s family identified as German American to some extent. Her maiden name was “Hirstein.” I took four years of German in high school (and one in college) and asked my grandfather once if he spoke the language. He taught me a little tame profanity.

It’s been many years since I have celebrated my German heritage, limited as it is. This meal was the perfect way to get back in touch with it. I think that’s what the best meals do. They help us to remember.

Eins, Zwei, G’suffa!