Menu: End of School Picnic

This past spring semester, I taught the Gifted and Talented Education program kids at our neighborhood elementary school: we spent 8 weeks on Mandarin Chinese and 8 weeks on Nutrition. At the end of each session we had a dinner party to celebrate, and last week’s event was a combination of the two sessions: together we cooked a nutritious Chinese meal from scratch, using (mostly) whole, close to the source ingredients. I did think that 4th and 5th graders would probably be capable of doing most of the preparation, but for liability reasons, I did most of the work that involved knives, and I left the grilling to my husband. This would be a great menu to prepare with your family – younger kids will get into the rinsing and drying of ingredients, while older kids can measure and mix the dressings. If you prepare for more than 4 people, you can also have them do the math of increasing the recipe amounts.

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. up to 1 day ahead: make bbq sauce, parcook the ribs, marinate
  2. up to 4 hours ahead: cook and chill tofu; blanch and shock asparagus, roast the bell peppers, peel and slice them; mix all dressings and the sauce for the tofu
  3. up to 2 hours ahead: cook and season the edamame
  4. up to 1 h ahead: shred cabbage, salt and set aside; slice cucumbers, salt and set aside
  5. up to 30 m ahead: combine asparagus, peppers, cucumbers, and cabbage with their respective dressings
  6. party time: set all cold dishes out on the table; grill the ribs


Menu: Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day! If you’re tired of the traditional burgers and dogs, here’s a barbecue menu with a Chinese flair. All of these dishes can be substantially prepared in advance, leaving you to enjoy some time relaxing and eating!

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. Prepare the rice pudding.
  2. Prepare the barbecue sauce and marinate your protein of choice.
  3. Prepare the vegetables: cut and salt cucumbers, roast and soak beets, blanch and drain mushrooms, wash and chop cilantro
  4. Prepare the dressings for the cucumbers, beets, mushrooms, and cilantro.
  5. Marinate the beets and mushrooms.
  6. Dress the cucumbers and cilantro just before serving.
  7. Grill your protein.

Menu: Spring Stirfry Supper

Amaranth is back at the farmers’ market – certainly a sign of spring when the leafy greens start reappearing! And “Colleen the Tomato Lady” is back up to her elbows in gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes. I added those ingredients to the fact that I’m starting to clean out my pantry in preparation for our move and came up with a quick ovo-vegetarian meal that used some of the fresh stuff and some of the dry goods I have on hand, namely seaweed and mushrooms. The menu rather breaks the rule that not all dishes should be stirfries (to cut down on last-minute work), but the 2 side dishes can be done ahead, and if you do the stirfries in the right order, everything still works out. In fact, since I’d done most of the prep in the afternoon, this turned into a great after-after-school-activity dinner!

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. Soak the mushrooms and seaweed, then complete these recipes up to 4 h in advance. Both can be refrigerated or left at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
  2. Up to 1 h in advance, soak and pick the spinach leaves off the stem, peel the tomato, and julienne the potatoes.
  3. Complete the rest of the preparations for the 3 stirfry dishes.
  4. Stirfry the potatoes (they will hold their heat for the longest time).
  5. Stirfry the spinach.
  6. Stirfry the eggs with tomatoes – this one is last because there aren’t too many things less appealing than cold scrambled eggs….

Menu: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! What better way to say, “I love you” than by preparing a homemade meal from scratch for your sweetheart? (And if you create it from local, organic, sustainably raised ingredients, you’re sending a love note to  Mother Earth as well!)

the recipes

the strategy

  1. Up to a day ahead: prepare and chill the black pepper edamame, the beans for the rice, and the red bean soup.
  2. Up to 4 hours ahead: prepare the sesame noodles, bring the edamame out to come to room temperature.
  3. Soak the rice, marinate the chicken.
  4. Prepare all remaining ingredients for the chicken, squash, and broccoli dishes.
  5. Start the squash, leaving it to braise while you prepare the remaining dishes – check on it occasionally for doneness.
  6. Cook the rice, leaving it to finish steaming once you’ve added the beans.
  7. Finish the chicken stirfry.
  8. Finish the broccoli stirfry.
  9. While you eat dinner, warm up the soup for dessert.

Happy New Year – Gongxi facai!

The lunar New Year, still the biggest festival in China, will be celebrated on January 26 this year. All over China the trains, buses, and planes are packed as anyone who is able rushes to their ancestral home to be with family for this time. I remember the sound and smell of firecrackers lingering for days in the streets of Taipei – it seemed as though they started at midnight on New Year’s Eve and continued all the way through to the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the new year.For descriptions of traditional New Year foods and activities, just look up “Lunar New Year” or “New Year” in any Chinese cookbook you have: Fuchsia Dunlop has a colorful description of New Year celebrations in Hunan Province in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and Eileen Yin-Fei Lo writes with great nostalgia about the holiday in My Grandmother’s Chinese Kitchen. The children’s author Demi has a wonderful description for kids in Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!

Celebrations usually involve lots of feasting at home and lots of visiting, and more food is served at every home visited. Children are traditionally given a new outfit (red is preferable – the color of good luck and prosperity) and after performing a ceremonial bow (ketou or kowtow) to each adult receive hongbao, red envelopes with cash inside. Just as on Halloween our American kids chant the “Trick or treat, smell my feet” rhyme, the traditional Happy New Year wishes (gongxi facai) have been tweaked into a rhyme by naughty children: “Gongxi facai, hongbao nalai,”  which roughly translates into “Congratulations, may you prosper…now hand over the red envelope!”

If you’re planning on throwing a lunar new year party, consider making dumplings with your guests – if they come to help, you can pass the time making piles of dumplings, then cooking and eating them at your leisure – you do have to wait until midnight to set off those firecrackers, after all! You can find recipes for pork and vegan dumplings along with cooking instructions and even a video of how to wrap them in these posts: Pork & Cabbage Dumplings and Vegetable Dumplings. If you want to serve a more elegant meal, try the Happy New Year Menu or devise your own from the Recipes page, being sure to review the Menu Planning Tips post.

Menu: Happy New Year!

Planning a family New Year’s feast? Consider making Chinese food! Much of this menu can be made ahead, leaving you to enjoy the party, whether it’s tonight or on New Year’s Day. If you want to venture out on your own for menu planning, check out the Menu Planning Tips post, and remember to serve a fish for the finale! The menu below easily serves 4 – you can use it as a base and add some other dishes if you have more guests.

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. Cook the rice for the Eight Jewels rice, then assemble the dessert – you can steam it ahead and reheat or just assemble for now.
  2. Soak the rice for the Basic Steamed Rice.
  3. Prepare all the cold dish vegetables: spinach, daikon/carrots, bell peppers and their dressings/sauces.
  4. Assemble the Red-cooked Pork ingredients and begin to braise.
  5. Assemble the Steamed Fish.
  6. Prepare the ingredients for Chicken with Broccoli.
  7. Start the Basic Steamed Rice.
  8. Start steaming the fish.
  9. Combine the vegetables with their dressings/sauces.
  10. Stirfry the Chicken with Broccoli.
  11. While you eat, steam or reheat the Eight Jewels Rice for dessert.

Happy New Year!

Menu: Chinese Thanksgiving

It’s been a while since I posted a menu, and of course with Thanksgiving on everyone’s mind, where else would I go with this thought? So for anyone who is interested in veering far from the traditional turkey day path and still sticking with the usual ingredients….

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. One day ahead: prepare black pepper edamame, daikon & carrot salad, lotus leaf buns, and almond jello.
  2. Day of: return edamame and daikon & carrot salad to room temperature.
  3. Start the chicken steaming or braising.
  4. Cut the beans and potatoes and prepare the remaining ingredients for those dishes.
  5. Cut the squash and start it braising.
  6. 20 m before the chicken is done, steam the buns, stirfry the potatoes, then cook the beans.
  7. After dinner, cut up and serve the “jello.”

No matter how you’re celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving! Look for recipes for leftover turkey some time over the weekend….