So last year we had a Chanukah party and it was nice. I spent the entire night in the kitchen making latkes and sufganyiot, which were yummy, but it did not make for a fun party experience for Karen. This year, Chanukah fell late, which meant that part of it was on "that other holiday" on December 25th. Needless to say, this meant endless possibilities.
Sure, I wanted to make sure to do fried food, for we can't void traditional cholesterol-filled heart-attacks-on-a-platter type holiday food. But also, I really sort of wanted a traditional Jewish Xmas. The goyim reading this are saying "what's a traditional Jewish xmas?" Simple! What are about the only two things you can do on December 25? Go to a movie, and go to a Chinese restaurant. Though, this year, it turns out, you could also go to Tower Records as they were open that day. But I digress.
So hey. Why not do a traditional Jewish xmas Chanukah party?? So I set out to make Chinese food. Heck, most of it's fried anyway, right? :-D First, I had to hunt down recipes. And seriously, I didn't want recipes for REAL Chinese food. I wanted good old-fashioned Chinese-American bastardizations of real Chinese food. Sure, it's a parody of the real thing, but seriously, who wants the real thing when they can have greasy, fried, American versions of a delicate cuisine? So I couldn't use just any Chinese cookbook. Nope. I called in the big guns. I called my friend Nechama at the College Park Chabad, and consulted with her. Every year she hosts a Chinese Shabbos for the students there, so I figured by now she probably has a clue how to cook it! She lent me all of her cookbooks, advice on how she alters things, calculations for making 12x the recipes (not that I did that, mind you), and a long list of what brands of specific ingredients I would want to look for to ensure proper hechshers. Eli and Nechama also gave me a gazillion pas yisroel fortune cookies and a bunch of chinese zodiac placemats. Yay for them!
And so... off to the market went I. Armed only with a shopping list and a vague clue of what hoisin sauce is (hoisen means pants in Yiddish, apparently, but it turns out that hoisin sauce is not pants sauce), I braved five grocery stores in search of all appropriate ingredients. It turns out, you see, that Chinese food is ridiculously simple to make, but you have to already be stocked up on some of the basic ingredients. For example, I didn't know that there was a difference between soy sauce and premium soy sauce. Or sesame oil and toasted sesame oil. Little did I know that there were so many kinds of Chinese Cabbage and that I'd never be quite certain that I'd really found Napa Cabbage after all. Who would have thought that there were 50 brands of Hoisin sauce and only one was kosher? How was I to know that yes, I really should have looked for black rice vinegar even though I already had white rice vinegar?
Ultimately, I found all the basic ingredients. If I didn't have Napa Cabbage, I certainly had something that worked just as well. The real fun was the Asian Market. I went there in hopes of finding a sticky wok as the wok I had purchased had a teflon coating which is apparently less than optimal. Who knew? They had all sorts of interesting things, very few of which were kosher, several of which were kosher, but I skipped all that and went to the kitchen supplies aisle. No wok. Several rice cookers, but they were industrial sized so I didn't get them. But what they did have were beautiful porcelain bowls and serving plates/trays. I really wanted to get a bunch of bowls, but at 5 each and knowing that we needed at least 15 of them...that wouldn't work. Next time. But I did get a large serving tray and two smaller serving plates. The huge tray was $24.95, which I thought was reasonable, and the two serving plates were $14.95 each. Anywhere else they probably would have been nearly double that. They were nice heavy porcelain with a beautiful blue and white pattern. So I'm happy. Plus I got 80 sets of chopsticks for $1.03 including tax. Yay for me. Four more stores and I had most of the basics and it was time to start cooking.
First I set out to make fried wontons. I made a bunch Sunday night (50 or so) to see if they would work. They were great. They were all gone by Wednesday morning. Someone was snacking on them. Ahem. I was a bit confused because really I didn't know what a fried wonton was. I kept mixing it up with fried dumplings which look somewhat different. But eventually I realized why I was so confused and I moved on from there. Monday night I folded about 80 or so wontons so that I'd be ready to fry them fresh on Thursday. (After the 50 I folded incorrectly on Sunday, it appeared that I figured out how to fold them correctly and they were much easier to fry once I folded them correctly)
Tuesday night after working late, going to a meeting, and working some more, I made egg rolls. Yum. There was one problem though. I doubled the recipe for the filling, but it only produced the number of eggrolls that the single recipe said it would produce (20). And they were small eggrolls, so I couldn't depend on people eating just one. So I vowed to make more on Wednesday. I would have made more right then and there, but I was tired, cranky and had a seriously bad migraine.
Wednesday night was the fun night. I folded a few more wontons because I still had filling hanging out begging to be used. My plan was to make lo mein, more egg rolls and kung pao chicken if I had time. It didn't really work out that way. Whooops. Well, first thing... grocery stores all closed very early on the 24th. And I got off work fairly late that day. So I had a few more things I needed to pick up and I was barely able to do that. I never did find raw peanuts. Can you believe it? I could not find a single raw peanut. Fortunately, Laura saved the day. She had raw peanuts. So I drove over to her house to get them. And while I was there, I picked up a gazillion of those mustard packets from Chinese Restaurants at her place. I had forgotten to buy Chinese Mustard, so I was somewhat desperate. (note to self: Apparently, according to my mother, next time that happens, I just need to mix dried mustard powder with water to the desired consistency and voila! chinese mustard is born)
When I got home from my expedition to Chez Bodner, I had kung pao on my mind because of the peanuts, so I decided to skip the lo mein temporarily and make the kung pao. Fabulous, right? So there I am, 11 pm on Christmas Eve. And I'm cooking. I should mention that Seth was working overnight, so he was no help whatsoever. I needed a couple egg whites, which shouldn't have been a problem. We always have eggs in our fridge. I'd even double checked. Ahem. What I hadn't realized was that we had an empty carton in the fridge. Argh! I might remind you that it was eleven o'clock on x-mas eve! Jon and Laura had of course asked me 90 times before I left their house if there was anything else that I needed, but I continually said no, I was set, I'd been to the grocery 80 gazillion times and there was no possibility that I needed anything else. Jon and Laura, of course, had two dozen eggs in their house. No way was I driving back to Bethesda and keeping them up even longer. Fortunately, 7-11 saved the day. They had 2 cartons of eggs left. I bought them both, despite the fact that I only needed about 4 eggs. Just in case.
So all is now right in the world. It's now midnight. But who cares about sleep anyway? I'm ready to battle the strange scary world of chinese food.
And so. The kung pao. First thing you're supposed to do is heat the oil up until it is very hot, and then throw in the chili peppers (which have been slit down the side to allow for maximum flavor) for a few seconds until they slightly blacken. Then there are a bunch of other steps. Well. I turned my back ever so slightly too long and the oil got ever so slightly hotter than I'd really hoped. But I couldn't tell this just by eyeballing it. And anyway, what do I know from Chinese food anyway? So in went the peppers. And up when the cloud of smoke. It did not take a few seconds for the peppers to blacken. They blackened (and NOT slightly) instantaneously. And a huge cloud of smoke immediately spread throughout the entire house. The beauty of this, of course, is that it was smoke infused with chili pepper oil. fun, no? No. I speak from experience, the answer is NO. Ouch. My eyes were burning. My throat was killing me. I couldn't get a full breath of air into my lungs because it hurt too much. And then I panicked. I called Seth, horrified at my predicament. He, of course, is smarter than me (sometimes) and told me to stop being a dufus and to go get my inhaler. Duh. I was even so stupid I asked him what the inhaler was going to do for me. Hello? Moron. My lungs were closing up. Even Seth could tell from thirty miles away. Obviously the inhaler was going to help.
Well, disaster averted, I got back on my merry way and make a quadruple recipe of seriously awesome kung pao chicken. Then I got tired, and I did some cleaning and went to sleep. It was 6am. Seth got home around 8 ish. I got up around 8:30 and started cleaning. at 10am the phone started ringing and didn't seem to stop until about 4pm. Company was to start arriving around 3pm. I still had LoMein to make, as well as chicken with glazed walnuts and beef with broccoli. Plus the egg rolls and wontons needed to be fried, but I wanted to do them at the last minute. Well...the Beef with broccoli never happened, but that's okay. I made a quadruple recipe of chicken with glazed walnuts and a double recipe of Lo Mein (which was about 3 pounds of lo mein, so it seemed like it would be enough).
I'd guess somewhere around 14 people came. I made 10 pounds of chicken. 3 pounds of lo mein. 24 egg rolls (I never did get around to making more). 80 or 90 fried wontons. Fried crispy noodles. And a triple recipe of rice (which turned out to be exactly as much as I needed...about 12 cups of cooked rice). Robin and Mark were the first to arrive and Robin helped me fry the wontons while I made the rice. The egg rolls couldn't be cooked right away because I had frozen them and not taken them out early enough, so they needed to thaw somewhat. All in all, it was great. After a few more people arrived, I decided that it was "you snooze you lose" so I put all the food out. And boy, did it go fast! I had set someaside for latecomers, but when I turned back around, it had disappeared! It was amazing. Not a morsel left. Not a crumb.
Anyway, the beautiful thing about THIS party was that I actually got to spend time with people. After the intial whirling about getting food finished, I was out of the kitchen for the good part of the day. I basically had nothing left to do, so unlike last year's latke extravaganza, I was able to talk to a few people, eat a little, and generally enjoy myself. And all was right in the world. We were glad to see people, as there were several people that we hadn't seen in some time that were able to come. All in all, I had a great time. Seth had to leave around 7...there were only a couple of people left at that point...but he had to get to work. The Felds were the last to go around 7:30 and just around 8ish, kmelion called to say she was in Silver Spring! She popped on over and we got to chat for a bit, while I was making some more food because I knew Ellen was going to stop by for some leftovers, but there weren't any! I really enjoyed finally getting to meet kmelion , and she was kind enough to bring me even more floating wicks! I now have absolutely zero excuse for not using oil for my shabbos candles. So this Friday, this is it. I'm taking the plunge. I'm doing it. I'm lighting shabbos candles with oil, never to look back again! :) Eventually Ellen stopped by. More chatting ensued. Eating of chicken ensued. And around 10:30 or so, Ellen left and I took kmelion back to her aunt's house. Sometime around 2am I zonked out. Completely. And frankly, I think I deserved it.
Whew. Now that I know what I'm doing... next year will be a snap!