Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cooking: Chinese New Year, Lent photo dump

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year went well.  My husband and I both cooked for New Year's, he in Metro, me here.  It's our version of spending time together.

I had to make red bean sticky cake (nian-gao).  It's traditional, it's nostalgic, it's good.  It's pretty much mochi, with sweetened red bean paste mixed in.

Traditionally, the cake is cooked by steaming it, but my I don't have a pot big enough to fit a pie pan.  (Also, I don't have a pie pan.)  It also takes 2-4 hours to steam.

My mom came up with a baked version of the sticky-cake.   She makes this cake by feel, but she sent me the approximate recipe:

Red bean cake
one can WEI-PAC  sweeetend red bean paste
one box Machiko  KODA FARMS
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C oil   ( either veg, corn,  or canola)
2 and 1/4 C water

Mix all together.  Line 13x9 pan with regular aluminum foil, oil the foil.(don't flour it) Pour in and bake at 400F for 35-40 minutes.
Do not preheat the oven.

After the cake is done, sprinkle some water on the top and put a damp kitchen paper towel on the top.  Cover it with aluminum foil and let it cool.  The cake top is dry after you you bake it.  Putting the damp towel on top and covering it will make the top of the cake soft.

I made the cake last year, and it didn't turn out so well.  It glued itself to the pan, and the only way I could get it out was to cut out the middle of the cake, leaving the bottom and edges stuck to the pan.

This year, I changed the recipe.  Instead of the oil, I put in one egg, and instead of regular aluminum foil, I used non-stick foil.

Here it is out of the oven. (I sampled a piece of the corner):

The top came out drier than I liked.  It is NOT supposed to be this cracked looking.  Not even the damp paper towel trick worked to smooth it out.  Otherwise, the texture was fine, and luckily, the cake is supposed to be served upside down.

The cake did not stick to the foil at all, and the result was a pretty reddish cake:
I am spatially challenged, and cannot cut cakes into equal sized 10ths.   Otherwise, success!

My husband make the cake per the recipe, and he said that his came out just fine.  Next year, I am going to have to tweak the recipe again.  Maybe bake it in a water bath?

Noodles are another traditional food for New Year's--the long noodles are supposed to represent long life.  A third traditional food is fish--in Chinese, the word for fish is a homophone to the word for surpluses.  (There are other foods too, but I decided that three dishes were enough for me!)

For the noodles, I made otsu--a spicy soba noodle and tofu dish, from a recipe I found from 101cookbooks.  I made a simple steamed fish, the recipe found here,  and I got to use the steamer on my rice cooker for the first time!

Here's the plate, with a side of steamed spinach at the top:

A couple of days later,  I realized that my meal was Lent friendly, too!

Chinese New Year was Sunday, that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.  It's nice when lunar calendars match up, no?

Ash Wednesday

For Ash Wednesday, I made another Dr. Ornish dish, chickpea stew:

Besides chickpeas, it has green and red peppers, diced tomato, zucchini, onion, and the orange bits you see?  That's sweet potato.  It was served over a bed of basmati rice, with a side of cucumber mint yogurt, and a dessert of orange slices baked in a syrup of orange juice, honey and cinnamon.

I probably had too much fun making this than was proper for an Ash Wednesday.

A New Year Thought

I have been a very fortunate individual this past year.

I was doing laundry while cooking on Chinese New Year.  I had two bags of laundry, so I was carrying one laundry bag in one hand, detergent in my other hand, and the second laundry bag I hung over my wrist.  When I returned to my cooking, I noticed that my wrist was a little red.  And then I noticed something else--this was the first time in a year that I was staring at my wrist with a knife in my hand.

You see, last year at this time, I was not in good spirits.  Last year, what I decided to give up for Lent was thoughts of cutting myself--I was only mostly successful.  It was not a good winter.   Now, the same time, one year later, and I had not thought about self-harm once--not even once! the entire winter.  In fact, I was doing so well that I hadn't even noticed that I had not been thinking of harming myself.  How cool is that?

A concluding photo, from Chinese New Year day:  a two pronged icicle.

A closer look at the point where it splits:

(The penny remains.)