Walker’s coworker invited us over to dinner at her house with her parents to celebrate Chinese New Year passing. It was a very typical Chinese feast. Her family is from Dongbei, and though Americanized Chinese food has all the same flavors in the same styles of dishes, Chinese food is actually incredibly diverse. Dongbei is very close to Beijing both in dialect and in cuisine, so Walker and I enjoyed hearing a northern accent and eating northern food for the night.
Several dishes ranging from guiyu (the first syllable gui is similar to the word for expensive and therefore brings wealth) to the traditional jiaozi or dumplings (which are said to have looked like pieces of gold, and are also signs of coming wealth) to my personal favorite, hongshao niurou, done up Dongbei style… All I can say is I was good and properly stuffed.
The father was drinking baijiu, a 45% alcohol (not proof) booze made from rice, and the rest of us stuck to beer and orange juice. Though none of us were brave enough to join the father in his baijiu drinking, in Chinese feast tradition, we each raised a glass to the important figure heads at the table – once to the father, once to the mother, once to the daughter, and once to the daughter’s husband. All in all, I drank more orange juice than I thought was possible, and was thankful every minute that it was orange juice in my glass and not anything more potent.
After dinner, we joined all of China in lighting fireworks. For about $15, we got a giant box of fireworks, which weren’t the type you can light at home in the states. These were real high flying, huge explosion fireworks. Don’t try this at home kids. Oh and did I mention we were lighting them with the smoldering end of the husband’s cigarettes or his lighter?
But for me, going empty handed to dinner is insulting to the hostess, and so that afternoon I went about making what I had read were traditional cookies to serve at Chinese New Year. They are the almond cookies that used to be served after a Chinese meal at a restaurant, before they were replaced by the American creation, fortune cookies.
In China, almonds are used with sweeter dishes, instead of savory like we are used to in the West. Though I’m not sure of the traditional recipe, I found an ingredient at the store the other day called Almond Powder, which is produced in Hong Kong. It’s extremely fragrant and has a similar consistency to corn starch, and so even though the recipe I had found at Simply Recipes had called for almond flour (I don’t have a food processor and the stores I went to did not carry any), I decided to try to substitute. I ended up substituting so much that the original recipe is no longer recognizable as such, but it was perfect for our ingredients, and the cookies just disappeared. In fact, on the way to the dinner, Walker couldn’t keep his paws off of them, and ate three cookies in the cab.
These cookies, like so many other dishes eaten at New Year celebrations, symbolize coins and wealth. With all of the money shaped food that Walker and I ate, the year of the tiger should be a very fortunate year! Let me share the wealth with you.
Chinese Almond Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen
Scant 1 cup of almond powder, lightly packed (alternately use almond flour and 1 tsp of almond extract)
1 cup of salted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Heaping 2 cups of flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1-2 tablespoons of milk, to be added slowly at your discretion to achieve desired consistency
60 whole unsalted almonds
1. Cut the butter into the almond powder using an electric mixer or squeeze small pieces of butter between your (cold) fingers, until you have pea sized pieces of butter, all coated with the powder. Add in one of the eggs, reserving the second for later, and a tablespoon of milk (if using almond extract, do not add in the milk). Mix until just combined.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda into the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just forming a loose dough.
3. Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill. I skipped this step because my kitchen is just as cold as my fridge, but if it’s warmer where you live, let the dough set up a bit.
4. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat your last egg for an egg wash and lay out near your baking sheet.
5. Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls about a half-inch wide. Place them on the sheet about and inch apart and then press them down slightly with your palm to make a coin shape.
6. Place a almond onto each cookie and lightly press it into place, then paint the surface of the cookie with the egg wash.
7. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the edges just being to tan. Cool on the sheet on a wire rack.
I hope you all are enjoying the year of the tiger! 新年快乐！