Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tet, Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras and Valentine's Weekend

With Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day falling on the same weekend what else was there to do but have a three day festival of food and nature in Yosemite.  The first day we celebrated Tet and Chinese New Year, the second Mardi Gras, and on the third day we celebrated Valentine's Day with a snowball fight.

Tet & Chinese New Year Menu
Bang Chung w/ pickled veg
Xiao Long Bao
Seafood Noodles
Braised Pork Belly w/ Egg
Nian Gaw

Tet was kicked off by Bang Chung a traditional Vietnamese dish of mung bean paste wrapped in glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for a long while, then toasted in a pan.  HM made them from scratch using a family recipe.  When it was described to me, I thought it was going to be a starch bomb, in fact it was a beautiful study in textures.  Toasted exterior crunch with a sticky and somewhat chewy glutinous rice interior and then a soft earthy bean paste.  Nothing like what I imagined.  HM pickled some vegetables to go with it and accompanied the whole thing with a side of steamed pork ("fancy pork").

Next came a dumpling course, which was originally sway jiao ("water dumplings"), but we decided to challenge ourselves to make xiao long bao (XLB).  C dutifully made the soup aspic the day before then prepared the filling that evening.  All of us then got to work in our little dumpling sweatshop making the xlb and placing them in steamers.  It was fun playing around with the amount of soup that would be in each dumpling.  We went for some super soupy ones.  They looked great.  After some complications with steaming them, including scorching my lip with some soup from a sample dumpling, we realized that the wrappers were the source of the difficulty.  Next time we'll need to adjust the wrappers, but the flavor was good and the dumplings were full of soup!  We also had a seafood noodle interlude, a recipe from R's mother.  A good balance of seafood flavor and fresh noodles.

The main course was a Vietnamese clay pot pork belly with egg.  It braised for several hours while HM sang La Isla Bonita with J accompanying her on the Spanish sections (which is primarily the words "la la la" and "la isla bonita"). 

                                 Photo by Brett Levin

The pork belly was served with sides of braised bok choy and kong shin tsai, otherwise known as ong chai or water spinach, sauteed with fermented tofu (tofu ru). Dessert was nian gow and fruit, but we were too stuffed for the nian gow.  We ended up eating a bag of mangosteens to end the night.  Just the right amount of sweetness and fruity flavor to refresh us after a huge meal.  We didn't last much longer after the meal (probably because the majority of the night we were drinking mulled apple cider spiked with Maker's Mark).

The next morning, we had blueberry pecan cornmeal pancakes with chicken apple sausage, fruit salad, and real maple syrup.  Cafe au laits from cold brewed ritual coffee.  After a day of snowshoeing a snowball fights we started our Mardi Gras celebration. 

Mardi Gras Menu
Pecan Pralines
Crab & Shrimp Etouffee
Potlikker collards & broccolini
King Cake
Spiced Apple Cider

We snacked on homemade cajun popcorn, pecan pralines and B fixed up some refreshing Hurricanes.  Our friend from Louisiana made his mother's crab and shrimp etouffee.  The etouffee was accompanied by sides of potlikker style broccolini and collards.  Thank you Edna Lewis. 

                                Photo by Brett Levin

The piece de resistance was a King Cake complete with a baby (you don't want to know where that baby came from). 

As luck would have it, our etouffee chef got the piece with the baby.

Because we hadn't eaten enough that weekend, we had a final blowout breakfast.  Freshly made beignets, cafe au laits, nian gow,

and apple bread pudding.

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