Tag Archives: Chinese new year

When cheese pastry meets pineapple jam meets dumplings

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14 February is a super-happy day. It’s the 15th day of the Chinese new year (based on the lunar calendar), and Valentines day. It’s an all-red, all-pink, all-red lantern and tanyuan, all-roses, teddy bears and glitter, kind of day.

Even though it’s way past midnight here, so I’ve kind of missed the boat, this post is for the 15th day of the Chinese new year and Valentine’s Day and Angie’s Fiesta Friday.

Last year, I cooked a CNY feast for, oh, lots of people. It involved, among many, many other things, Beggars Chicken: whole chicken stuffed with savoury delicacies and covered in a clay shell and baked. It was epic.

This year, reeling from Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Australia Day, etcetc, we had a quiet Chinese new year’s eve dinner. To make up for that, I’ve been inventing silly names for everyday dishes. Like Lucky Fortune Golden Dragon bolognese, or Year of the Golden Pig shakshuka (Year of the Golden Pig was 2007, it’s still Mr Gander’s favourite-named year).

It was during this mad, faux-festive period that the cheese pastry pineapple jam dumpling was born.

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Marvellous marbled tea eggs

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Cooking is a funny thing. Sometimes, you slave over a stove for hours, and the masterpiece is eaten in 5 minutes with a ‘that’s nice’. Other times, a minimum of effort creates seriously impressive results.

I like dishes that fall into the second category.

Cue Chinese tea eggs, also known as marbled eggs.

We served this at the start of our Chinese new year feast. They were snapped up like that. Quite a few guests talked about these eggs til the end of dinner, and a couple of them still talked about it when I saw them a couple of weeks later.

Tea eggs, and the momofuku pork buns, were the most popular parts of dinner (the boca negra was a close runner up). Tea eggs were also the easiest thing I made for that dinner, requiring little active time, and being almost fool proof.

The basic idea is to take soft boiled eggs, crack the egg shell (but not to peel the egg), and boil it for a couple more hours in an aromatic mixture of black tea, soy, sugar, star anise, cinnamon, dried mandarin peel and peppercorns.

And that’s it!

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The coloured cooking liquid seeps through the cracks in the egg shell and creates the lovely marbled pattern. The eggs can also be left in the cooking liquid for a few more days. The longer the eggs sit in the liquid, the darker the marbled patterns become. The flavours also seep in, so that a plain boiled egg is transformed into a tasty savoury snack, and a thing of beauty.

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Childhood pork and garlic chives jiaozi (dumplings)

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They say childhood memories can be the strongest memories.

The last time I made dumplings (jiaozi) from scratch was 20 years ago. Yet, when I began to make dumplings last week, I began to remember the scenes of our extended family and friends gathered around the large round dining table, surrounded by flour, dough, and general chatter.

Back in those days, we always made dumpling wrappers by hand. I didn’t even think we could buy wrappers. This was in the days before a supermarket (a proper Western-style supermarket) had opened up in our city, and there were still many, many, many bikes and barely any cars. Whatever we needed came from street vendors, little shops along the road, and the wet markets.

Dumplings were a group effort. Some made the filling – rich with the smell of garlic chives and rice wine, others kneaded the dough and cut it into small blobs. Then, a production line was formed: two or three people turned the blobs of dough into wrappers using those small rolling pins, and as soon as they were rolled out, another two or three people turned them into dumplings.

Soon, rows of neat dumplings would appear in the centre of the table. Plump, supple, prettily pleated into small crescent shapes.

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Halfway through this production cycle, we would stop, boil some freshly made dumplings, and slurp them down with some soy and vinegar. Refreshed, we would return to the second half of our production line.

As children, we of course watched, chattered, played with dough, and generally got under the adults’ feet (literally!). After pestering our parents, we were sometimes given a small lump of dough, and a rolling pin, and were allowed to roll out wrappers. My first few attempts were, well, rustic looking to say the least. The blob of dough grew unexpected horns, tails, legs, and became a myriad of many-sided shapes – any shape except a circle.

When I tried to make dumplings, my childish greed always got the better of me. I over-filled the dumplings and the filling would escape between poorly sealed cracks.

The adults humoured us, and somehow fixed up those wrappers or dumplings.

Fast forward to Sydney.

I was a production line of one. But the chatter, noises, smells, and most of all the small, deft movements of the dumpling makers stayed with me while I made the 50-odd dumplings for our Chinese new year feast. And yes, I added garlic chives to the filling. This time, my wrappers had fewer horns, tails and legs. And the fillings stayed in the wrappers. I’ve joined the adults’ table, figuratively speaking.

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Chinese new year: a feast in words

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“What do we need to do?”

“Wear something red!”

This post begins with festive Chinese food, ends with baklava, and has a soliloquy about photography at dinner parties.

On Saturday night, 12 friends gathered around our 3 meter long dining table for a dinner spanning more than 7 courses. I think I got a bit carried away when planning a menu to showcase the festive food that I have loved since childhood, flavours from other regions of China that I have discovered as an adult, and the sneaky bit of non-Chinese food that I can’t live without.

This year, menu planning had extra challenges. One guest is allergic to anything in the family of shallots, garlic, onion and chilli. Another guest is vegetarian. As with other dinners we’ve hosted, I tried to minimise the number of ‘special’ dishes for these guests. After all, having dinner with friends is much less fun if you are left out, food-wise.

At the start of the evening, I looked at our kitchen, with every bench space and every shelf in the fridge groaning under the weight of food – and the palpable sense of excitement – and the seriously decent alcohol. We were starting the lunar new year on the right footing.

We had fun setting the table. There were, of course, red napkins and red chopsticks. Each guest also got a red envelope with sweets and chocolates (in lieu of money). Scattered around the table were dried chrysanthemum flowers, gold-wrapped chocolates, miniature new year cakes (nian gao) and mixed peanut candy that I’ve found seriously addictive since my earliest days.

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Before I knew it, the all-day cooking extravaganza had become an all-evening eating odyssey.

Here is the menu:

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