Chinese almond cookies, with a Valentine's Day twist
Delicately scented tea eggs, for prosperity
Rice noodles and shrimp, for long life and happiness
My childhood, from a culinary standpoint, was a vast wasteland of pot roasts, pork chops, pizza, and casseroles, with the occasional Pillsbury cinnamon roll or piece of peanut butter toast thrown in for variety. Vegetables were boiled or steamed, bread was white, and cakes came from a box mix. Let's face it: Like many American kids, I grew up with exactly zero food-related traditions. A deep and enduring love for Utz potato chips is as close as I come to a cultural identity.
So if I want any food-related culture at all, I need to look elsewhere, which I frequently do. Enter the Year of the Tiger and my very scaled-down version of a Chinese New Year's feast. One thing that I love about this holiday is the symbolism of the food - dishes represent things like prosperity, luck, long life, happiness or good fortune. By the same token, the wrong dish may bring you bad luck or worse, so I fervently hope that my research didn't lead me astray!
As soon as I saw Jaden Hair's recipe for Chinese tea eggs at Steamy Kitchen, I knew I had to make them. I was immediately taken by the beautiful spiderweb pattern that the egg developed after steeping overnight in a broth of black tea, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, orange peel, and Szechuan pepper.
First you boil the egg and then crack the shell carefully with the back of a teaspoon:
Then you simmer the eggs in the broth:
After steeping overnight they're ready to peel:
Little yummy egg soldiers, ready to bring me prosperity!
Of course it wouldn't be a New Year's meal without a long noodles dish and its hopeful promise of long life. I was inspired by a crab cellophane noodle dish at Rasa Malaysia, but I ended up making some changes, as crab is very expensive, and I wanted rice noodles. I also included shrimp, which I read sounds like the word for "happy" in Chinese, and is therefore on the "allowed" list of New Year's ingredients. (You may rest assured that I researched my ingredients, especially after reading the dire warning against ever serving squid on New Year's at Steamy Kitchen!)
Shrimp & Rice Noodle Stir Fry
adapted from Rasa Malaysia
adapted from Rasa Malaysia
8 oz rice noodles
2 eggs beaten
6 oz baby shrimp
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 stalks scallions, cut into 1-2 inch lengths
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
few pinches of white pepper
salt to taste
Make the noodles according to the package directions, and set aside. Lightly saute the shrimp in sesame oil until opaque, set aside. Meanwhile, in a wok or deep skillet over medium high heat saute the onions and garlic in oil until fragrant. Add the noodles, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and white pepper. Saute for a few minutes. Push the noodles aside to make a well. Add 1 tbsp oil and the beaten eggs. Let cook for 10 seconds and cover with the noodles. Wait another 10 seconds and then stir to break up the egg and distribute it. Add the shrimp and stir. Remove to a bowl and garnish with the scallions. Add white pepper and salt to taste.
Now for the Chinese almond cookie. After reading a lot of recipes, I settled on the one I found at Diana's Desserts, with the addition of a 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Instead of AP flour, I used whole wheat pastry flour, and I think it made a huge (positive) difference. Make sure to cut the butter into the flour by hand as directed for a crumbly cookie on the inside, with a nice crunchy bite on the outside. And the egg wash is not optional - do it. Since New Year's and Valentine's Day both fell on February 14th, I decided to make little hearts with almond slivers for fun:
The recipe yielded a lot of cookies, but luckily I have some nice neighbors who deserve treats (Don't worry, Poppa Trix had his fair share!!):
And remember all that bread I made during the snowstorm? Well, even with all the shoveling hunger we had worked up we still didn't manage to finish it all before it went stale, so for breakfast we had French toast and scrambled eggs, with yummy Canadian maple syrup from Mardi of Eat, Live, Travel, Write. The batter was eggs, half and half, sugar, and a pinch of vanilla powder (thank you Silvia!):
This was a perfectly delicious - and gut-busting - Valentine's Lunar New Year celebration. Gong Hey Fat Choy, Gong Xi Fa Cai, Happy New Year, and course Happy (what's left of) Mardi Gras!