Year of the Dragon 2012

Eventhough my son and I had venture to Chinatown for his field trip earlier in the week, we were all still excited to head back for the Chinese New Parade and usher in the year of the dragon.  We did some of the usual, but got a late start due to soccer games earlier in the day.  No time for market viewing and pet stores.  We headed straight for dinner at, you guessed it Oriental Pearl.  My son and I tried to suggest a new place, but somehow this one seems to be part of the tradition (see last year’s blog entry) and my husband wanted to stick with it.  Maybe next year.

bringing the bird

This year we ordered a few new things which had fun presentations.  The assorted dim sum with shrimp balls, pot stickers, shu mei and egg rolls came with this lovely bird carved from a carrot.  Funny thing is they must now have too many birds as after we admired it and had it on the table a few minutes, they whisked it away.


smells the same
really, they're mushrooms

This year there were more parade goers than in the past.  We walked by a few of the usual shops such as what my kids call, the “stinky dried fish”  store.  We took our annual photo.  Then we looked in another window and saw these enormous mounds.  We giggled because they looked like dung, but are in fact mushrooms.


We found a new place to stand and watch the parade were it was a bit less hectic and away from Portsmouth Square where there’s lots of fireworks and smoke bomb activity.  Although we still had our sparklers.  And of course had egg custards.  This time after the last dragon we hit the Chinatown Bazaar.  You could spend hours looking at all the wares from teapots, to stuffed animals, to tiaras, to magnets and on and on.  My daughter bought a hat and my son chose two tiny ceramic owls to commenmorate the evening.  Gung Hay Fat Choy!



Happy Chinese New Year – Beef with Lettuce Cups Recipe

We’d been celebrating Chinese New Year the entire month of February.   Making dishes for other blogs and articles, we had been eating lots of yummy recipes so I could take photographs, like this.  See below for the lettuce cups recipe.

lettuce cups

Of course the grand finale of our Chinese New Year celebration was the actual parade.  This year as the past three, was a spectacle of sights and sounds of dancing dragons, decorative floats, music and firecrackers.

Like year’s past, we arrived early and walked the streest of Chinatown; snacking on a pork bun, buying poppers and sparklers, visiting the pet shop, stopping at the fortune cookie factory and people watching. 

A dried fish stand
I paid 50 cents to take this photo of the factory

Before the parade we had a great dinner of dim sum and seafood.  One of the dishes was a seafood nest.  The nest was potato strings all weaved together like a nest (th seafood sat inside).  I had wanted to take a photo to show you, however the waiter was so quick to break (oh gasp!) and serve the dish, I wasn’t quick enough. 

Ellery and her carrot flower

The evening ended for us a bit early (the parade wasn’t quite over) as the crowd was getting a bit rowdy (more than I remember in the past).  There were many more fireworks and smokebombs in the crowd.  Our ears had heard enough, our bellies were full (we had a custard cup on the walk back to the car) and we were happy to help usher in the year of the tiger.


Beef-Filled Lettuce Cups

Lettuce cups are a fun excuse for kids to eat with their hands. If you’re looking for the flavor without the mess, you can simply have children eat the beef mixture out of a bowl with a spoon or fork. This also works as a salad when entertaining by shredding the lettuce and mixing with the beef to be enjoyed with chop sticks out of individual Chinese take-out boxes. For vegetarians substitute diced firm tofu for the beef.

Makes 3 cups beef mixture or 16 to 18 filled lettuce cups

2 teaspoons expeller-pressed canola oil

2 tablespoons minced organic red bell pepper

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 pound organic lean beef

¼ cup fresh organic mushrooms (portobello, crimini or shiitake), chopped

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves

2 teaspoons organic low-sodium tamari

1½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

16 to 18 organic butter lettuce leaves

2 tablespoons prepared plum sauce (optional)

In a large frying pan or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, shallot, and garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add beef, breaking apart and stirring, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Drain off excess fat and liquid from mixture.

            Stir in the mushrooms, cilantro, tamari, allspice, ginger, and lime juice and cook until beef is cooked and mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes.

            Serve beef mixture in a large bowl alongside lettuce leaves. To eat, spoon beef mixture into leaves then top with ½ teaspoon plum sauce (if using).

Pack Perfectly. To pack and take to a family dinner or pot luck, put beef mixture in one container and layer cold, crisp lettuce leaves in another.


I Say Granita, She Says Benicia

While on the way to school this morning my daughter exclaimed “I didn’t get Benicia!”.   Benicia?  I had no clue what she was talking about and neither did her brother (he’s usually pretty good at deciphering).  She continued to kind of talk to herself about falling asleep early the night before.  She moved on and forgot about the question. 

Tonight when I was making dinner my daughter asked “Do we still have Benicia?”  Again with the Benicia.  When I told her we were having salmon, veggies and rice she got quite irritated with me and said “for dessert!”  It took me a minute.  “Ohhhhhh.” I said “Do you mean Granita?!”  She laughed and said “It’s not called Granita, that’s silly.  You know that blood orange stuff.”  Okay, Got it.   

I’ve been getting a head start on making some of my favorite Chinese New Year  recipes so I coul d get some photos for articles and blogs and had made the granita a few nights ago.  Granita is an icy dessert; made quite simply with juice, water and simple syrup.  It’s a light and refreshing finish to a meal by itself and can also be served over vanilla ice cream.  You can make this with any citrus, although I usually use tangerine because of the good luck factor during Chinese New Year.  This time I couldn’t pass up the blood oranges.  I love them and they’re not always in season.  It was delicious and so pretty (fun pink for Valentine’s idea too).

Citrus Granita

This recipe was inspired by pastry chef Andrea Mautner of Restaurant TWO in San Francisco (such a bummer it’s closed). While attending a cooking class she prepared a wonderful dessert with this as one of the “elements.” I thought this simple icy treat would be perfect for a Chinese New Year celebration, because one of the symbols for luck is tangerines, which are given to children during the holiday.   

Makes 8 (1/2-cup) servings

Juice of 5 to 6 blood orange or other citrus (about 1½ cups)

¾ cup Simple Syrup (see note below)

¼ cup water

 Combine citrus juice, Simple Syrup, and water in a bowl. Pour into an 8-inch-glass baking dish or pie dish. Freeze for about 2 to 3 hours, until frozen.

            Once fully frozen, scrape granita into flakes with a fork. They may melt easily and be a bit slushy. Granita can be eaten as a slushy now or refreeze for another hour. It will become icier.

Spoon into tall, old-fashioned ice cream glasses or mini ramekins. Serve immediately or return to freezer until ready to serve. Fluff with a fork again before serving.

 Tip. Clear the Freezer. Be sure you have a level space to set the granita to harden before walking over to the freezer with the liquid.

 Kids Korner

This will melt quickly. If kids aren’t eating it fast enough, serve along with straws to get all of the juice. Or spoon over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt for an old-time Creamsicle reminder.

Note to Make Simple Syrup:

Heat equal amounts (1 cup each) of turbinado (raw) or white sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature.


Fat Tuesday, with Organic Jambalaya and Citrus Corn Muffins Recipe

From Lisa Barnes

Before having children my husband and I always managed to celebrate Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday in the local southern restaurant/bar. We love New Orleans – the people, the jazz, the food, the food, the food….  We haven’t been in a few years (pre Katrina) so we use any excuse to celebrate and bring attention to the great city at our house. Unfortuantely some of our favorite cajun restaurants are gone from San Francisco. If anyone can make a suggestion in the Bay Area, please let me know.

Fat Tuesday at our house will start with my kids and I making festive feather masks and donning our colorful beads. Next we will sit down to one of our favorite meals of jambalaya with corn muffins.  Every night at the dinner table my family has a ritual. Each person (no matter how young) shares three things they are thankful for, along with telling everyone the favorite part of their day. For Fat Tuesday we will be especially thankful and remember the people who lost their family, friends, homes and jobs, and who continue to struggle in the areas hit by Katrina.

Years ago I bought a souvenir cookbook on one of our New Orleans visits. It is very well used with stains and dog eared pages, but it still works great. I changed a favorite jambalaya recipe to one that is child friendly and not too hot (although you can make adjustments) for my own book. Enjoy!

Organic Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya Recipe

Jambalaya is an easy one pot meal to make for the whole family. In the South this is considered a major comfort food.  For a spicier meal, substitute a Cajun Andouille sausage. This one is less spicy, for little mouths, and more health conscious than authentic Jambalaya recipes. But there are plenty of flavors from all of the fresh ingredients. Serve with citrus-corn muffins, below.

2 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil
½ pound organc chicken-apple sausage, cut into ½ inch slices
1 small onion, chopped, about ½ cup
1 large organic red bell pepper, chopped, about 1 cup
1 clove garlic, minced
1¾ cups organic chicken broth
3 medium vine ripened tomatoes, or 8 ounces of Pomi tomatoes, drained and chopped
¼ cup Pomi tomato sauce
1 Bay leaf
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon chopped, fresh oregano
1 cup uncooked short grain brown rice
1 large (3/4 pound) boneless, skinless organic chicken breast, cut in 2 inch strips

In a large, heavy stockpot heat oil over medium-high heat.

Add sausage, onion, pepper and garlic. Stir together and cook 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in broth, tomatoes, bay leaf, and spices.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in rice. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken, cover and simmer 5 additional minutes until chicken is cooked and rice is tender. Let stand, covered 10 minutes. Remove Bay leaf before serving.

One to watch and wash!  A one pot meal is a great time saver. All the ingredients can be prepped beforehand (even the night before) and then added when ready. Only one pot means one pot to watch when cooking and only one to wash when finished.

Organic Citrus-Corn Muffins Recipe

This savory muffin is inspired from a spa recipe. These muffins make a great accompaniment to family soups and salads, as well as the perfect healthy snack for active toddlers. You can bake these in adult size or mini muffin tins. If using mini tins, reduce baking time to 10 -12 minutes.

1 tablespoon grated organic orange zest (about 2 medium oranges)
2 cups unbleached flour
½ cup organic cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large, cage- free, organic eggs
½ cup organic light brown sugar, packed
½ cup mashed organic banana, (about 1 large banana)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease 12 cup standard muffin tin or 24 cup mini muffin tin with vegetable oil. Using a small knife or zester, remove zest from oranges.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, brown sugar, banana and zest. Mix well.

Using a rubber spatula, fold wet buttermilk mixture into flour mixture. Be careful not to over mix, as muffins will be tough. Spoon batter into muffin cups, about ¾ full.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins are brown on top and pick test (see below) is successful. Remove muffin tin from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Turn out muffins onto rack to cool completely. If muffins stick to pan, run a dull knife around edge of muffins and pan to release.

Makes 18 large muffins or 36 mini muffins.

Get picky! Keep toothpicks or small wooden skewers on hand to check muffins and other baked goods for doneness. Simply insert pick in center, and when comes out clean, muffins are done.

See also Lisa’s Quick Organic Snacks For Kids
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, Williams-Sonoma: Cooking For Baby, Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry [Avail. March 2009], and lives in Sausalito, California.
Image Credit: |

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Gung Hay Fat Choy! (with Organic Long Life Noodle Recipe)

From Lisa Barnes

Last night our family celebrated Chinese New Year in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Even in past years of rain, this has become a family tradtition.  This was named one of the top 10 parades throughout the country – what’s a few raindrops?  This year was clear and crowded.  We met my cousins, who oddly enough have lived in the Bay Area 35 years and never been to Chinatown.  It was quite a spectacle of sights, sounds, tastes, and colors for all ages.  It was fun to see my kids showing my family around and telling them which foods were their favorite (egg custard, shrimp hargow and lomein) and which store fronts they like to see (the fishmongers and produce stands).

This year we walked into a store that had a variety of brightly colored bulk bins.  Bins usually mean candy.  And while they did have a section of the western sweets, the majority of items we had never seen, let alone tasted.  There was the typical dried mangoes and papaya, but it didn’t stop there.  Bright green balls called “green plums”, lacey shredded cuttlefish, dried lychees and shaved octopus tentacles were some of the offerings.  My son was begging for the dried fruit peel.  Not one to squelch culinary curiosity, I bagged some (along with mangoes and prunes) and paid.  My cousins couldn’t believe he would want to try it.  And no, he didn’t like the fruit peel (I don’t blame him), but I appreciated him trying it and wanting to experience something new.  I think that’s what fun and interesting about introducing children to new cultures, customs, holidays and foods.

My new book Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry [Avail. March 2009] gives ideas, tips and recipes for children’s snacks, drinks and party foods.  As part of the “merry” section there’s lots of good reasons to celebrate from birthdays and New Years (western and Chinese)  to simple “snow days”.  Here’s a noodle recipe for getting your family  into the Chinese New Year spirit.  Happy 2009!

Long Life Noodles

Fireworks, lantern festivals, dragon dances, parades, and lots of food are all part of this special occasion. Both symbolic and delicious, noodles make a great food for sharing during Chinese New Year. There are many options for noodles that could work besides rice noodles; try Chinese egg noodles, udon, or soba for a variation. The peanut butter lends a bit of sweetness your child will enjoy.

Makes 8 to 10 (1-cup) servings

8 ounces rice noodles
2 teaspoons expeller-pressed canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup julienned organic carrot (1 large)
1 cup julienned organic red bell pepper (1 large or 4 mini)
¼ cup chopped scallions (about 3)
2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
1 tablespoon peanut butter
½ cup organic vegetable broth
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant and soft, about 1 minute. Add the carrot and bell pepper and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender but not soft, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, scallions, tamari, peanut butter, broth, and lime juice and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and heat until hot, stirring to combine with vegetables and sauce.
See also Lisa’s DooF-a-Palooza
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, Williams-Sonoma: Cooking For Baby, Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry [Avail. March 2009], and lives in Sausalito, California.
Images Credit: Lisa Barnes |

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