Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Highlight #135: Dumpling party and other food for Chinese New Year

I threw a dumpling party this past weekend in celebration of the Chinese New Year. In the spirit of doing everything the old fashioned way, we started with nothing more than flour and rolling pins, including my mom's 20 year old one, which we brought to the states when we moved from China all those years ago. It's a good thing that we did too as I wasn't able to find another one like it here in Atlanta, neither could J in Singapore. Apparently, dumpling wrapper rolling is out of style outside of the mainland. What's the difference you ask? Well, look closely and you will see that the darker colored one, the proper tool, is tapered at both ends like a large French rolling pin, but only much smaller. This is especially useful for rolling perfectly round individual dumpling skins. It allows one to turn the half formed skin with one hand while rolling the dough easily with the other hand. What it achieves is a perfect wrapper that is thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges. So when the dumplings are formed, the closed edges, where two layers meet together will approximate the thickness of the center. Quite genius, don't you think?

Before we started with the dumpling work, I fed our visitors some classic dishes both from my hometown and from the less spicy northern parts where dumpling making originated. Here is a cold glass noodle dish heavy on the red hot chili oil that is the trademark of my hometown Chongqing, boasting the spiciest food in Sichuan. Naturally, I did not give it the dose that would kill the guests. But it was still representative of the flavor. Chongqing is now no longer officially governed by the Sichuan provincial government as it has been declared a self-governing city like Shanghai, which is a way the Chinese government controls wealth distribution to ensure that industrial cities like Chongqing and Shanghai are able to flourish without being dragged down by the surrounding much poorer regions. Regardless, the cooking is still Sichuan all the way through.

From the northern party of China hails this this Bang Bang chicken heavy on the sesame paste. It may look like a satay peanut sauce type of dish, but it really isn't. Instead of sweetness, it's fragrant from sesame and savory from soy.

A bit of watercress served a lighter accompaniment to the heavier meat dishes.

One of my favorite things to cook this time of year is this stir-fried roast pork with garlic chives. The garlic chives's raw pungency turns into a sort of garlicky sweetness when cooked and cuts through the richness of the meat very well.

Here are some snack type stuff in the tradition of my mom, who considers snacking absolutely necessary before the New Year feast. From the bottom, we have glazed soy beans, spicy fish cakes, and stewed peanuts.

I love making this five spice ribs at home. The mix of spices perfumes the entire house as the meat slowly tenderizes in the pot. For my spice challenged husband, this is one of those Sichuan dishes he absolutely adores without suffering.

After some food, we got the dumpling making under way and everyone had much fun getting dressed in flour.

Of course, there were some that skipped the hard work and joined my husband for beer instead. :)

Not all our dumplings came out looking pretty (see foreground vs. background), but we had lots and lots of them and they all tasted awesome.

Here they are all lined up and ready for cooking. Thanks to everyone who contributed and made this evening memorable.

The next day it was off to mom's for more food. Like I mentioned earlier, we couldn't start the eating without some traditional snacks. While head to tail eating has recently became the trendy thing here, we have always eaten all parts of animals in China. In fact, my mom's favorite cold dishes are all some sort of parts. :) Here are stewed pig ears. One of the best things for the complexion according to mom, the doctor.

Also up were slow braised tripe. My favorite for its super tenderness (after long cooking) and it's ability to hold on to the sauce like a sponge.

Mom also made a glass noodle dish (I guess great minds think alike). But she enriched hers with an extra dose of kelp to help us all detox from too much drinking. :)

Also available were these new year sausages that really made me miss my grandma, who always made them when I was growing up. She'd start the process a month before and smoke them in a make shift smoker constructed out of large refrigerator boxes. It was all so fun for us kids.

Dad made his famous dish of four happiness meatballs and fried pork nuggets. My mom always sent him to fry outside in the cold so as to avoid creating too much smoke in the house. He was so glad that this year he gets to do it in Atlanta as oppose to in the frigged air of Cleveland or Baltimore like the past years. :)

Here are about half of the things that we got to cook in the dual hot pot. The other half that couldn't fit on the table were laid out all over the kitchen counter...

Here is a close up of the hot pot. The light colored side contains a seafood based broth punched up with dried scallop essence. The other side is pure Chongqing ma la. Bright red from tons of fried sichuan chilies, spicy soy bean paste, sichuan peppercorn and about ten other spices and larded up with beef tallow, it pretty much numbifies everything it touches and coats one's mouth with a nice layer of pure fatty goodness. Even the husband got really into it despite the pain, which dad was kind enough to help him calm with extra beer.

We finished things off with a plate of my mom's homemade fried pumpkin mochies. Can I just say awesome! Nothing beats having the family together and eating homemade food. Happy year of the ox to all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow - that is a lot of good tasting food. Happy New Year!