Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chinese New Year

Year of The Rabbit,  2/3/2011

新年快樂!  Happy New Year to all my Chinese Friends and Family. I usually don’t make a big deal about holidays. To me, you can celebrate any time you want. Every time you have a good meal is a celebration. Holidays are good for the little kids who don't have to go to school that day.

There is no Chinatown in the city where I live, only a small family owned Asian store. That sort of takes away all the fun for people who love Chinese food. We need large Asian markets and nice Chinese dim sum restaurants here. The closest Chinatown to me is a four hour drive to Chicago.

Anyway, I made a Chinese New Year chicken soup (冬菇腐竹蓮藕雞湯) to bring good luck for my family. I only make this soup once a year because it is hard to get all the right ingredients together. I went to Chicago and got some fresh lotus root, dried mushrooms, dried scallops and dried bean sticks. I also added some fresh carrots for extra flavor. This soup is full of flavor, rich and hearty. We enjoyed it very much. I feel blessed already.


The Chinese believe that every household has a Kitchen God (the Stove Master  灶君) to protect and observe the family. The Stove Master makes reports about the family's activities and behavior. Each year on December 23, lunar calendar, he leaves the family on earth and travels back to heaven and reports to the Jade Emperor on what the family has been up to for the past year. The Jade Emperor would then give out punishment or rewards to the family depending on how they have behaved. The Kitchen God will return to the family on New Year’s Day.

Giving offerings to the Kitchen God is the symbolic beginning of the Chinese New Year's festivities. Although mostly abandoned nowadays in the city, this tradition is still largely practiced in China. In fact, many older Chinese settlers in Chinatown celebrate this tradition to teach their youngsters about Chinese culture. They begin with telling a mythical story about the Kitchen God and cooking some food with sugar and honey.

In order to ensure a good report from the Kitchen God to heaven, on December 23, the family will prepare sweet sticky rice cakes, candies, cookies, sugary tangerines and oranges to treat the Kitchen God, hoping the sweet mouthed Kitchen God would not say anything bad about the family. They also clean the kitchen thoroughly to welcome his return from heaven for the new year. Every family wants to believe they have been blessed with safety, abundant food and good health for the coming year.

This year I made a new recipe for a simple carrot cake that has just the right flavor and texture for a homemade coffee cake. The carrots add color and goodness to the cake. It has a little bit crunch on the top and is moist, chewy inside. Perfect to serve with cream cheese and a nice cup of coffee in the morning or for an afternoon   pick-me-up. I think the Kitchen God would agree this is a good cake.

Homemade Cinnamon Carrot Coffee Cake

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year 2011

First of all, happy New Year to the world. Time goes so fast I can't believe we are celebrating another new year. What happened to last year? I hope people won't ask me about my new year's resolutions because I don't have one. The experts said you should not make a promise you can't keep. Instead you replace some old, bad habits with new ones that are better for you. For instances, you stop going to late night movies on work days. Instead you watch the nightly news and go to bed early. How does that sound? You'll be the judge.

On new year's day my husband and I made ginger cookies. These are our favorite cookies, very gingery and buttery and it is good for you. It is a healthy snack we don't feel guilty eating. I got the crystallized ginger at a local whole food store. If you have a choice get the ones for cooking, they are much cheaper than those for eating. Any organic or natural food store should have crystallized ginger available, I think. You can always make your own crystallized ginger at home.

Leslie's Ginger Oatmeal Cookies  

Makes 24 cookies

You need:

1½  cups all-purpose flour
1/2  cup Quaker Oats Quick-1 Minute Oatmeal
1  teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon ground ginger
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon salt
1  stick I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Stick, soften    
1  large egg
2  tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4  cup unsulfured molasses
1/2  cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2  cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped  


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Baking time:  13 minutes.

Grease 2 large cookie sheets or use nonstick pans. Put aside. Combine flour, oatmeal, baking soda, ginger powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Mix well and put aside.

In a large mixing bowl, first beat together butter and granulated sugar using a mixer. Add egg, brown sugar and molasses, beat at medium speed until thick and creamy, add crystallized ginger into the mix. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed first, then medium speed until well blended. Don’t over mix. Cookie dough may be sticky but will spread out during cooking. They are easy to drop on cookie pan.   

Use a medium cookie scoop and drop dough 2 inches apart on a cookie pan and lightly flatten tops. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, rotating pan halfway through if possible. Cookies are done when edges are turning brown. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes and place cookies on a wire rack to cool completely before serving. Store cookies in airtight container if not finished. Good for 3 days unless put in freezer. These cookies are great traveling snacks. They will calm your troubled stomach. May be I should call them miracle cookies.  

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies