Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas Cooking for the Parents

Unfortunately, FedEx held my parent's Christmas present hostage for an extra few days. Which means my intended, pre-planned gift ended up late.

I know that Christmas is just a date dictated by some religious script my family doesn't even celebrate, so to us a day is just a day, and that it is the thought that counts. But I still wanted to do something special on the day of. After-all, a holiday should be set apart from the prosaic hum drum of every other day. So I decided to cook my parent's dinner.

I used my summer of cooking experience, failures and successes, to cater the dinner specifically to my parent's tastes. It was my small, subtle way of trying to show that I can be a considerate and dong shi daughter, and not the stubborn bull head I think I always come off to be. The dinner wasn't just about flexing my muscles and adding another post to the blog. No, this dinner was purely my way of trying to show my parent's I love them. Something that, in the end, shouldn't just be expressed during an arbitrary holiday.

So maybe this wasn't a Christmas dinner. It's just a simple dinner, cooked by a daughter for her loving parents, simply because she should. Because she loves them so much, every day of the year.

And now let me put the mush on the back burner and proceed with the actual cooking.

Cooking a full on, complete dinner is actually pretty exhausting. And consuming. And when all is said and done, I feel like I've put in a Prince's feast-amount of effort for a scanty 3 dishes. Not that 3 dishes is scanty in its entirety, it just feels that way after my body feels like its been climbing Mt. Everest.

Aaah, and there goes the mush and back with the dramatic sass. Which do you prefer?

Still though, I was pretty proud of what I turned out with.

~Jennifer's Christmas Dinner Menu~
1. Appetizer: roasted chick peas
2. Main dish: Chinese eggplants with tofu
3. Main dish: spaghetti squash.

1. Roasted Chickpeas

The recipe was easy enough. And this might be the first time I've worked with cooking chickpeas and nothing disastrous following suit! There are a number of different combinations and spices that you can work with for the chickpeas, both sweet and savory. Since my spices were limited at home, considering I brought all my spices back to Berkeley with me, I decided to use olive oil, garlic and salt.

Difficulty: 1
Willingness to make again: 3 (honestly, it is easy enough. But raw chickpeas in salads are good enough for me)
Over-all: 4-5
1. I think I cooked them too long because they came out really crunchy
2. Next time if I do want to try them, hopefully I'll have more spices to work with. The garlic flavor wasn't as strong as I would have liked.
3. I also am curious to try the chickpea+honey+cinnamon combination one of these days.

2. Eggplants

The only thing I did different this time was that I added onions, peanuts and stringy tofu as well. I figured it would give the dish some extra texture. Also, there is no such thing as too much tofu. It may make me sound like a broken record player but that doesn't make it any less true!

Also, check out my kickass double skillet action. I decided to roast my eggplants in a separate pan while slowly frying up the tofu and onions in the other. Once my eggplant was soft enough, I added them with everything else and continued frying one gigantic skillet of eggplant stir fry.

Difficulty: 5
Willingness to make again: 8
Over-all: 8
1. Accidentally dumped in way too much sesame oil. Wasn't able to add enough soy sauce to combat it. Luckily the dish still didn't turn out too salty and I love the taste of sesame oil. In the end, my parents seemed to like it. Hopefully it is coming from a true place and not a pitiful one.

3. Spaghetti Squash!

This was my experimentation dish. I bought a giant spaghetti squash after hearing great things about it from my friend Maya. Spaghetti squash as a vegetable is pretty cool. Hulling it out is fun, and it comes out with SO MUCH content. It's a great college food. Cheap, huge quantity and easy to cook. Can't wait to eat it back in Berkeley.

Since, again, I am short on seasonings,  I decided to keep the squash simple. It also would leave less room for disaster or weird flavors that would turn off my parents.

Here is the process for my squash:
i. cut the squash in half and baked it for an hour (cutting the ginormous squash made me feel like the Hulk. It was a formidable challenge, but I did it!)
ii. Hulled out the squash
iii. Seasoned it with olive oil, salt, garlic, and crunchy peanuts.

Admittedly, making spaghetti squash is easy but requires a lot of manuel labor. It actually is pretty fun though.

Difficulty: 4
Willingness to make again: 10
Over-all: 7.5
1. I think I put in way too much olive oil this time
2 Next time I am definitely going to experiment with different spices.

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