I love this time of year.
There's something about spending time with family, visiting friends, and listening to (and singing!) Christmas songs that fills me with so much joy. I love the holiday lights that begin to appear; I love the spirit of generosity that everyone has; and I love the countless opportunities to meet up with those we love - often over food!
I love it all.
Typically, we travel during the holidays, either to Bryan's hometown in California or my hometown in Ohio. This Thanksgiving, however, was a little different.
We didn't hop on a plane the moment we got out of work. We didn't rush from place to place, having no chance to settle. We didn't feel a single ounce of travel-related stress.
Instead, we stayed home. Our new home(!).
We slept in!
I can't remember the last time we had a chance to sleep in and really, really catch up on sleep.
It's been great having the four day weekend to just relax at home. I was able to unpack some more (yes, we're still not done!). I picked up some projects I hadn't had time to finish.
And I cooked.
For the first time in my life, we "hosted" a Thanksgiving meal in our new home! I invited my sister's family over, and we enjoyed a fantastic dinner on Saturday.
In a nod to our families and cultural heritage, I took a traditional American holiday meal and added all sorts of Asian twists to it. It's probably not too different from the meals that many Asian families are having in America during the holidays!
1. Chinese Roasted Szechuan Peppercorn Duck Stuffed with Sticky Rice
As a "twist" on the traditional Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas goose, I decided to bake a bird that was decidedly more Chinese - the duck. The Peking duck is the most famous Chinese duck, but Chinese people just eat a lot of duck in general. Have you ever walked through Chinatown and seen all those ducks hanging in the window?
I'd never made duck before. Actually, I'd never made a turkey before either. I think the only whole bird I'd ever roasted was chicken, and that was over a year ago. Heck, I don't even own a roasting pan. As a result of my lack of experience, I did tons of research before settling on a method that I thought would create the juiciest and most flavorful duck.
Start with a Liberty Pekin duck and generously dry-brine it with a mixture of salt and crushed fragrant Szechuan peppercorns (one of my favorite spices of all times). You want to make sure both the outside and inside cavities are well covered. Using your fingers, separated the skin from the meat. This allows the fat to render more quickly, which helps create a crispy skin. If possible, rub the salt/peppercorn mixture inside the cavity directly onto the meat. This will help flavor the meat a lot.
After letting the duck dry overnight in the refrigerator, pour hot boiling water over the duck. This allows the stretched out skin to shrink and tighten back towards the bird. After allowing the duck to dry, roast the duck upright (using a beer can) for about 1.5 hours, rotating every 30 minutes. Let the duck rest for about 10 minutes before stuffing with Chinese sticky rice. Carve and serve!
2. Duck Fat Taro Home Fries
A holiday meal is not complete without a starch of some sort! Instead of the traditional mashed potatoes, I decided to make duck fat taro "home fries". Taro is a common root used prolifically in Chinese cuisine. We eat it mashed, boiled, sweet, savory, hot, cold . . . the possibilities are endless. Here, I took the rendered duck fat from the roasted duck and used it to pan fry cubed taro pieces. With a sprinkling of sea salt, these fried taro pieces were divine.
3. Stir-fried Chinese Long Beans with Garlic
Vegetables are huge in Chinese cuisine, and you'd be hard pressed to find a meal without them. Instead of the traditional green bean casserole you see at holiday meals, I've stir fried Chinese long beans in garlic and soy sauce.
Have you ever seen Chinese long beans before? They can grown up to three feet long, and resemble American green beans, although they are less crispy but have more "heft" and therefore and withstand longer cooking times.
Of course, no holiday meal is complete without dessert, and I made sure not to skimp on that.
4. Kabocha Pumpkin Mochi Cake
Instead of the traditional pumpkin pie that inevitably makes its appearance during holiday meals, I baked a kabocha pumpkin mochi cake instead. This dessert is inspired by Japan - both in the use of the kabocha pumpkin and also the mochi-nature of the cake.
I started off by roasting a kabocha pumpkin in the oven and mashing the roasted pumpkin flesh. I then used the recipe I had used in round 8 of Project Food Blog (an unusual take on pumpkin), replacing traditional pumpkin with kabocha pumpkin.
The resulting mochi cake was beautifully chewy, with just a hint of pumpkin and sweetness.
5. Eggnog Tarts
One of my favorite Chinese desserts is the egg tart (dan ta), a flaky, crispy crust filled with a delicate egg custard. I modified the traditional Chinese egg tart by adding Bourbon, a key ingredient in eggnog. Optionally sprinkle a bit of nutmeg on top.
I made a butter-based crust instead of the traditional Chinese lard-based crusts, since lard is a bit harder to access.
I poured bourbon-laced egg custard into the mini-pie crusts (borrowed from this post) and then baked until they were done. The resultant egg tarts were flaky, crispy, and soaked up extra bourbon beautifully. Yes, my brother-in-law discovered that these taste even better if you dip them in bourbon. Definitely try serving it doused in bourbon - it's quite good!
My sister is as big of a fan of Totoro and Keroppi as I am, so I knew she would love these cookies. Indeed she totally did. Her favorite were the Totoros (she said the ears were nice and crispy), although in general she loved the green tea (matcha) flavor of the cookies.
I spent many hours this weekend perfecting and executing dozens of these little guys. Despite the fact that it was tedious, time-consuming, and laborious, I had tons of fun. It was so exciting to see the Totoros and the Keroppis come to life as I slowly created them, piece by piece (and yes, there are many steps!).
We had a wonderful time just chilling, eating, and relaxing with family. I think I finally feel reasonably comfortable cooking a large holiday meal. Granted, a duck is probably not as difficult as a turkey. Still, it was a nice challenge and something I'm happy to have tried. Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for sponsoring this post as part of their 24, 24 series for November.
Can't wait until Christmas!
Happy Holidays to everyone!
I was unable to include all the recipes for all these items in this post. Watch out for detailed posts this week and next with recipes and tutorials for how to make all this stuff!
Update - Detailed recipe posts!
Beer Can Oven Roasted Duck
Chinese Long Beans with Garlic
Kabocha Pumpkin Mochi Cake
Chinese Eggnog Tarts
Matcha Totoro Cookies
Matcha Keroppi Cookies
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