New Year’s Buffet

Today, the day after all the Christmas festivities, may not be the time to think of more parties and festivities—but for most of history, Christmas day actually started the twelve day period of partying which ended on January 6, the Epiphany or “Little Christmas”.   The commercialization of Christmas started moving the days of celebration to immediately after Thanksgiving and ending them abruptly on January 2.  Now it seems like the stores are decorated soon after Halloween.

I like the idea of partying between Christmas and at least New Year’s, if not Epiphany, since many of us have some days off of regular work and have a little more time to enjoy the fun.  But since Christmas celebrating has been going on so long, I really think it’s a good idea to have a change of pace so I am planning a Chinese buffet

The Chinese New Year actually falls between January 20 and February 20, but the idea of a Chinese buffet on New Year’s Eve appeals to me on many levels.  The flavors are not those of our traditional holiday foods, which are heavy on sweets and light on veggies; the opposite is true of Chinese foods.  The decorations can turn from twinkling lights and evergreens to plain but colorful food cartons, Chinese lanterns and confetti.

New Year’s Chinese Buffet

Egg Rolls with Shrimp and Pork
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Barbequed Chicken Wings
Deep-fried Shrimp Balls with Roasted Salt and Pepper
Asparagus tips with Chinese-Mushroom Sauce
Ham Fried Rice
Fortune Cookies

Although the Chinese New Year is celebrated sometime between January 21 and February 19, I have always enjoyed incorporating Chinese New Year traditions into our New Year celebration. For one thing, a great Chinese buffet for a New Year’s Eve party is a welcome change from the Christmas decorations and buttery excess. A great way to finish this party is to pass around home-made Chinese fortune cookies and read your prophecy for the coming year. These are a little tricky, but really not hard to make and, of course, you can make up the fortunes which can be really fun.

Follow the directions exactly for the best results.

Chinese Fortune Cookies
Makes about 1 dozen

1 egg white
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
Pinch salt
¼ cup sifted flour
¼ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 2 large baking sheets. Write fortunes on strips of paper about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide. Whisk the egg white and flavorings until foamy but not stiff. Sift the flour salt and sugar together and whisk into the egg white mixture. Place teaspoonfuls of the batter at least 3 inches apart; wait until batter has spread out to approximately 2” diameter. Tilt the baking sheet to achieve a uniform and round appearance. Do not put too many on one sheet as you must work quickly while they are hot to shape them. Once they are too cool, it is too late. (You can use any hardened cookies for crumb topping on ice cream.) Bake for 5-7 minutes or until ½ inch of outer edge of the circle has turned golden brown. The center will remain pale. While one sheet is baking, prepare the other. Remove from oven and quickly move cookie with a wide spatula and place upside down on a wooden board. Quickly place the Fortune on the cookie close to the middle and then fold the cookie in half. Place the folded edge across the rim of a measuring cup and pull the pointed edges down, one on the inside of the cup and one on the outside. Place folded cookies into the cups of a muffin tin to hold their shape until firm.

Be careful not to burn your hands—working quickly is really important. It is a good idea to put no more than 2 or 3 cookies on the first sheet until you see how many you can do before they get cold. While making several batches, I found I got much better at it and so could do more at one time.

Happy New Year!

Egg rolls with Shrimp and Pork

½ pound fresh bean sprouts
½ pound raw or cooked shrimp
3 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil
½ pound lean ground pork
4 cups finely chopped celery
2 to 3 medium fresh mushrooms, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold chicken broth or cold water
1 pound egg-roll (won-ton) wrappers approximately 7” square
3 cups canola or peanut oil for frying

Rinse sprouts and refrigerate them in a bowl of cold water for 2 hours.  Drain and pat dry before using.  Shell and devein shrimp (or use frozen, cooked and cleaned shrimp) and cut into fine dice.  Set aside. Pour 1 Tbsp. oil into wok or large skillet over high heat.  Add the pork and stir-fry for 2 minutes.  Add wine, soy sauce, sugar, shrimp and mushrooms and stir-fry for another minute.  Transfer entire contents of pan to a bowl and set aside.  Pour the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil into the same skillet and heat to moderate.  Add celery and stir fry for 5 minutes, then add the salt and bean sprouts and mix.  Return the pork and shrimp to the pan and stir until all ingredients are well combined.  Cook, stirring constantly until the liquid starts to boil.  Give the cornstarch mixture a quick stir to recombine it and add, stirring, until thickened.  Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature.

For each egg roll, shape about ¼ cup of filling with your hands into a cylinder about 4 inches long and an inch in diameter and place it diagonally across the center of a wrapper.  Lift the lower triangular flap over the filling and tuck the point under it, leaving the upper point of the wrapper exposed.  Bring each of the two end flaps one at a time, up to the top of the enclosed filling and press the points firmly down.  Brush the upper and exposed triangle of dough with lightly beaten egg and then roll the wrapper into a neat package.  Cover filled egg rolls with a dry towel.  (Now is the time you can refrigerate rolls, covered, or freeze in single layer and then pack into freezer bags for deep frying later).

Using deep fryer or wok, heat 3 cups oil to 375 degrees.  Place 5 or 6 egg rolls into the hot oil and fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve warm with purchased sweet and sour sauce.

Ham Fried Rice

½ cup defrosted frozen peas
3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups boiled Jasmine rice
1 tsp salt
2 ounces boiled ham, cut into ¼ inch dice. (about ½ cup)
1 scallion, including the green top, finely chopped

Using a 12-inch wok or 10-inch skillet, set over high heat and pour in 1 Tbsp oil.  Reduce to medium heat.  Pour in beaten eggs.  Lift gently with a fork and push to the back of pan until all eggs are spread across the bottom of the pan to cook.  Transfer them to a small bowl and break up with a fork.  Pour remaining oil into pan, add the rice and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until all grains are coated with oil.  Add salt, then peas and ham and stir-fry for 20 seconds.  Return the eggs to the pan, add the scallions and cook only long enough to heat eggs through.  Serve at once.

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