Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kitchen Tales: A Valentine's Day Chinese New Year Dinner Party

So, this past Sunday's/Valentine's Day/Chinese New Year feast was AMAZING! Just a recap, I had quite a few things on my menu: baked mini egg rolls with sweet and sour sauce, sesame chicken, orange chicken, steamed broccoli and almond cookies (at first). I've never been afraid of cooking Asian cuisine; however, cooking it for a group of 6 people (3 of whom I didn't know), I was a tad nervous. But I must say, you get into a groove quickly.

Starting around 3:30pm on Saturday afternoon, I started making any and all the sauces from scratch. Since I've made the eggrolls with sweet & sour sauce before, I wasn't too caught up on it. However, making a homemade orange and sesame chicken sauces was a bit frightening. And as a side note, I must say that corn starch has become a new friend. My extensive knowledge and exposure to corn starch was from Thanksgiving, when my mom would use it for gravy. The sauces used a lot of similar ingredients, rice wine vinegar, sugar, soy, etc. So, it made the process more of an assembly line...which was also helpful in the timing of everything. By the time I was done with the sauces, the apartment smelled like my very own, personal Chinese restaurant.

Moving on to the chicken, I started marinating it in soy sauce and corn starch. I did fry the chicken but not in an actual flour-based batter in a deep fryer. It was more of a stir fry process. The chicken was not as I would have seen in take-out boxes, but it still looked nice and crunchy and yummy. I split up the chicken into two batches since the marinade for the sesame chicken was a bit different than the orange chicken. But it didn't really affect the overall taste from sharing the same pan. When the chicken was done, I popped it in the oven on a basic warm temperature to start dessert.

After consulting with D about about dessert, we made the executive decision to nix the almond cookies in case of allergies or dislike of almond flavor. Instead, we would make homemade fortune cookies in both traditional and chocolate flavors. I reviewed the recipe online and thought I had everything I needed. Which I did...except eggs. At this point, I didn't have time to run to the store again, and Denise was cleaning the apartment to get ready to meet her friends whom were coming into town.

Hurriedly, I called Chantel to pick up some eggs before coming over, except she had to run to Target and other errands when she got off work at 4pm. Which wouldn't work since she wouldn't be able to make it to the apartment in time for me to make the batter, cook, form and cool the cookies before the party started. So, we decided to do a light angel food cake, with frozen strawberry puree and chocolate sauce. D ended up rushing the final cleaning and getting ready so she could pick up the angel food cake before meeting her friends at the train.

The last thing I had to do was make the mini eggrolls. I encourage you...DO NOT BE AFRAID TO MAKE THEM YOURSELF! I bought wonton wrappers at the store, and they're usually right above the celery, carrots, snap peas, etc. Use pre-cute slaw mix for the base and add your other veggies/proteins of choice. I used the slaw mix, red pepper, scallions and mushrooms. Then you just wrap the veggie mixtures in the wontons, pop in a well heated oven and bake! Voila! While the eggrolls baked off, I just threw some fresh broccoli in the steamer. I set the serving burea and set the table.

Overall, the entire dinner party was a success, and we all had a good time. And minus a slight breakdown over the sesame chicken not tasting the way I wished, everything cooked perfectly with easy clean-up. The guests loved the food. They all commented on the freshness of the taste, which made me feel like I was truly on my way of mastering my most-loved Chinese dishes. It truly is noticeable when the food hasn't sat in a box in the fridge and was then reheated in the microwave. Do I wish I could have tried making the fortune cookies? Yes, but I will have to save that for another time.

The biggest "Oops!" of the night was when I discovered we were out of diswasher fluid tablets and couldn't run the dishwasher full of dirty pots and dishes before the dinner party guests arrived. But hey, if that's the biggest of our problems for the night, it wasn't too bad.

The picture below is for your taste buds' viewing pleasure. Let the drooling begin...

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