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Help with our "Chinese" feast

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess up front that we are a bunch of white people serving Chinese food for a party. It's something we do more or less annually, and it started in an effort to recreate some of our favorite dishes from Jennie Lowe's in the Bay Area. It's a casual gathering, but served as a dinner, not as a cocktail party.

Anyway, I have part of a menu, but our list is up to probably 14, so I'm thinking that we'll need some additional items, and I'd love some inspiration/suggestions. All of my cookbooks (except my book by Jennie Lowe) are packed, so I'm feeling particularly challenged by this.

The menu so far:
homemade potstickers (tricky, since they have to be cooked at the last minute, but always impressive)
BBQ pork
(anyone know any prepared items that are good that we could add to this? if not, we'll probably just add bowls of popcorn with 5-spice powder or something similar)

beef in oyster sauce
lemon chicken
another pan-fried chicken dish
need a dedicated vegetable dish (although it's not usually eaten much)
usually do something with pork tenderloin that can be cooked in the oven - any suggestions
white and brown rice

I'm thinking about bite size nibbles (mini cupcakes & cheesecakes, marshmallows, lemon bars), or Nigella's clementine cake (maybe one plain, one chocolate?), or the LA Times lemon upside-down cake with Meyer lemons. I'm not sure why I'm leaning towards citrus - perhaps just seasonality, or some odd sense that it's more compatible with the menu?

Drinks are usually some vodka concoction (blood orange martinis, maybe) and Pimm's Cup (we have an English host), and whatever wine is brought/in the kitchen.

I'm definitely open to suggestions, especially for things we can add to the entree category - especially anything that can be done truly in advance or in the oven, since we've pretty much maxed out our burners already (I've been trying to remember how we fit the 2 rices and 3 entrees on 4 burners last year!). Would some sort of soba noodle dish work? Dessert, too. I'm usually a big pastry person, but the whole event is a bit overwhelming, so I'm trying to do something a bit simpler this year. We're obviously not worried about or even aiming for authenticity, just thematic consistency.

Thanks for your input!

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  1. Sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this. To go along with what you have planned, you could do whole cold platter appetizers with the barbecue pork--abalone, jelly fish, cold chicken w/ sesame oil and green onions, thousand year old eggs/salty eggs. Vegetable dish--stir fried pea sprout shoots if you can get them, if not spinach sauteed w/ garlic, or baby bok choy (w/ dried scallions if you can get them). I would not do soba noodles but maybe a lo mein for good luck. I'm not one that HAS to have everything match so your desserts would be fine for me but if you want something that fits the Chinese theme, an easy one would be to make or buy red bean paste in a bun. You could make your own, make a flakey one (the best), or as a shortcut, my mom would just use puff pastry. You could do individual round ones or one big long one and cut. These are one of those things where it tastes so much better than you think it will. Page down this for different ideas (quite a few as you go down):


    Or, coconut tarts:


    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      Agree with chowser: the cold appetizer platter would be great; I might add a steamed whole fish (topped at the end with cilantro, garlic, ginger, chili, chopped green onion, and molten soy and sesame oil), do napa with fermented black beans as a vegetable, and would also keep dessert simple.

    2. Good start ... I've done Chinese New Year almost every year for the last 20 plus years (and like you, just a nice Caucasian girl who loves Chinese food and has visited Hong Kong a few times). A soba dish would be good, dressed with soy, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, chile oil, and green onions. Great at room temperature and if it sits for a bit, it's only better. Spring rolls are always a huge hit, and they can be made and cooked ahead and frozen, and then popped into the oven to heat through. You're right about the pot stickers, I make them ahead, store then on corn starch dusted baking sheets and covered with saran, and stashed in the other 'frig (if you have that option) and then making them at service time, well, for me, that's a fun part, even one gathers in the kitchen to watch and snag one fresh out of the pan! Another is is one called "ants climbing a tree" which is ground pork, cellophane noodles and red pepper sauce flakes in a light sauce, but that would take up a burner (and I've not made it ahead before). Maybe lettuce cups with your pork, finely diced, with a soy/sesame sauce? As for a veggie, maybe steamed bok choy and onion dish, or a broccoli dish?

      1. It looks good and you have some good recs. May I recommend that you delete one chicken dish and replace it with a pork one - assuming pork is not an issue. It is the most popular Chinese meat. (The Chinese character for home is literally a pig under a house!) Also it adds symmetry to the meal having different meats.

        Also a simple tofu soup perhaps? Just chicken stock with tofu and scallions and a sprinkle of sesame oil on top of each bowl.

        1. I would try some dry-fried green beans for your vegetable side. You could make them ahead and (shh!) re-heat them in the microwave for serving. No one would know the difference. Everyone loves green beans, and they are simple to prepare and good. There are a ton of recipes out there. Broccoli could also work.

          For an oven dish, maybe you could do a red-cooked dish with pork? You could have that going in the oven at a slow simmer. But that might be redundant with the roast pork.

          As for soba, I may be wrong, but I thought that was Japanese?

          1. The day after Thanksgiving my husband and I host (and cook) a Chinese banquet for 30-40 people. I started when I had a 4 burner electric stove! I will post the recipes in separate segments. I have a great recipe for a braised chicken with chestnuts which is a good make ahead dish. I have a great recipe for steamed cold mussels served on their half shell with shredded lettuce and a five flavor sauce. All the components can be prepared ahead and just assemble it for service. Another suggestion is Bon Bon Chicken which is a cold shredded chicken served on a bed of cucumbers with a sesame paste sauce.
            For my parties we have homemade ice cream for dessert. Why don't you consider a sorbet? Also I am a big fan of refrigerator cookies. I usually prepare the dough in advance-marking each cylinder with the width of the slice, the oven temp and length of time to bake.
            Have a great time!

            3 Replies
            1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

              (Begin preparations for this dish 5 hours in advance)

              ½ brimming cup Chinese dried chestnuts
              2 cups hot water
              2-½ lb chicken
              2 T rice wine
              6 T soy sauce
              1 T black soy sauce
              2 T packed light brown sugar
              9 quarter-size slices fresh ginger lightly smashed
              3 cup vegetable oil for deep-frying
              3 large scallions, green and white parts, cut into 2-3 inch lengths and lightly smashed

              1. Put chestnuts in heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover bowl and soak chestnuts for 2 hours. Drain, and then pick the remaining pieces of red skin out from the folds of the chestnuts. They are hard so be sure to get them all; you may have to use a toothpick.
              2. Using a heavy cleaver, cut the chicken into squares about 1-½ inch across. Begin by removing the wings, thighs, and legs, cutting them into segments. Then turn the chicken on its side and chop it into two below the rib cage. Chop the back and breast into squares.
              3. In a large bowl, mix 4 T soy sauce with the ginger and scallions. Toss the chicken pieces in the mixture to coat them evenly; cover and set aside at room temperature to marinate at least an hour. Stir the chicken occasionally to redistribute the marinade.
              4. Combine 3 T soy sauce, hot water, rice wine and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar
              5. Drain the chicken or it marinade.
              6. Heat a wok or deep heavy pot over high heat until hot. Add the oil and heat it to the point at which it gives off a dense haze, 350° on a frying thermometer. Fry the chicken pieces in 2 batches, allowing the oil to reheat between batches. Lower the pieces gently into the oil. If you are using a wire implement such as a Chinese mesh spoon or deep-frying basket, first dip it into the hot oil so that the wire will not stick to the chicken pieces during frying. As the chicken fries and foams, stir gently with a pair of cooking chopsticks or long- handled wooden spoon to separate pieces. When chicken is a deep golden brown, after l minute for the first batch and 30 seconds for the second, remove the pieces to paper towels to drain.
              7. Put the chicken into an earthenware pot or a heavy heatproof casserole. Add the seasonings, liquid, and drained chestnuts. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer, and then cover the pot. Simmer 30-40 minute by which time the nuts will be tender and succulent. Lift the lid occasionally to check the simmer and stir the stew.
              8. Carry the hot stew from the kitchen covered so that its full aroma is unleashed at the table. Serve with rice or pot-browned noodles.

              1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                FIVE FLAVOR MUSSELS

                1 lb fresh mussels
                ½ head lettuce

                Seasoning Sauce:
                2 T catsup
                1 T black vinegar
                1 T soy sauce
                ½ T sugar
                1 t sesame oil
                1 t minced scallion
                1 t minced garlic
                1 t minced ginger
                1 t minced chili pepper (optional)

                1 T dry sherry
                2 stalks scallion, smashed
                2 slices ginger, smashed
                5 cups water

                1. Clean and beard mussels. Rinse in cold water.
                2. Place Mixture in pot and heat until boiling. Add mussels, cover, and simmer over low heat for l minute. Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute. Then remove mussels and refresh in cold water. Drain and open mussels. Remove the remaining beard. Place mussel on half shell.
                3. Finely and shred the lettuce and arrange on a serving platter. Place the mussels on top of the lettuce.
                4. Mix together the Seasoning Sauce and pour over each individual mussel.

                1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                  BON BON CHICKEN

                  1 set boneless chicken breast
                  1 large or 2 small cucumber

                  Seasoning Sauce:
                  1/3-cup sesame paste*
                  ¼-cup oil
                  3 T soy sauce
                  3 T vinegar
                  2 T sugar
                  3 T hot water
                  1 T sesame oil
                  2 cloves garlic
                  1 T chili oil
                  3-4 scallions
                  1 t dried chili peppers, broken up

                  1. Poach the chicken until done, about 1/2 hours. Remove cooked meat and cool. When completely cool tear into shreds.

                  2. Peel cucumbers, split lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and cut into thin slices.

                  3. Place cucumber on bottom of serving platter. Spread out. Then add chicken strips in mound on top of them. Refrigerate.

                  4. In the jar of a blender, put the garlic and scallions. Blend until minced. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Be aware that the spiciness will increase somewhat.

                  5. Pour on top of chicken when ready to serve. At the table, thoroughly mix the sauce into the chicken and cucumber before serving.

                  *Sesame paste is available in Asian grocery stores. It is different from tahini in that the sesame seeds are toasted so that it is darker in color.

                  The recipe makes enough for 2 as an entrée by itself. As a course in a Chinese dinner it will serve 6. The sauce recipe is more than enough for the amount of chicken in this recipe and will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. If it is too thick when you go to use it again just add a little hot water to thin it.

                2. instead of another chicken dish, how about a shrimp dish instead? i like shrimp with black bean sauce or for a more chinese-american dish, honey walnut prawns.

                  as for desert, i've always liked lychees and maraschino cherries on ice.

                  1. Thanks to everyone for their insight and/or support. I guess I could have pointed out that we aren't big seafood eaters, which explains the lack thereof!

                    Some good ideas, here, though. I'll keep them in mind as I continue mulling over the menu.


                    1. Chicken wings as an app would be fun. Some honey, soy, scallion, ginger, 5 spice would make a nice marinade.
                      Also, I looked up Jennie Lowe on Amazon, but didn't turn up any hits. Is it a locally available book?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Westy

                        The title is Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok. It's out of print, but available used from a bunch of sellers on Amazon. This is the most prominent listing, but I think there are less expensive copies out there. One of the things that I loved about it when we got it is that there's an index of basically any ingredient called for, with a recap of which brands are "best" and how to prep the veggies. It's also nice and precise, which is helpful when you aren't experienced enough with the cuisine to rely on instinct. Instructions like "saute X for 2 minutes, then add Y and cook for 1 minute more" are nice when you're starting out.


                      2. Not a light fruit dessert?
                        I've come to adore a canned oriental fruit cocktail, with almond dessert. It's like an almond flavoured jello, can be made in advance, and kept in the fridge, easy to serve, and light and refreshing and not too sweet. If something else to go with it, some bakery made almond cookies, (I haven't yet been able to make those almond cookies just right) or a light ginger cookie.

                        PS, or you can make your own exotic fruit cocktail....

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: violabratsche

                          That reminds me: chilled canned lychees or chilled fresh rambutans (or long-an, whatever they are in English rather than Tagalog).

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I think lychees, rambutan and longan are all different fruits. Lychees are larger and have a scaly, leathery skin (and my favorite), rambutan have that crazy spiny shell that looks like some sort of anemone, and longan are smaller, brown and have a sweet and slightly musky flavor. But really, I love them all and wish the season for fresh fruits wasn't so short!

                            I'd second the suggestion for a light fruit dessert-- just plain canned lychee, nice and cold, with a little syrup on top! Maybe a tuile or something crunchy on the side! Heavenly!

                            1. re: chococat

                              Of course. I was offering three similar alternatives. Just couldn't remember if long-an had an English name.

                          2. re: violabratsche

                            I think the secret to the flakiness of almond cookies is to use lard. If you're interested, I can post my favorite recipe.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Please post! An old family friend used to supply us annually but has since passed and her daughter won't release the recipe! I was going to try Pichet Ong's, but I'm stalling over the almond flour....


                              1. re: smalt

                                Almond cookies (I've used both shortening, butter and lard and prefer the lard--it gives a flakiness the others don't--though the cookie dough itself is pretty bad w/ lard. The lard makes very delicate cookies that fall apart pretty easily):

                                1 c. shortening or lard
                                1/2 sugar
                                1/4 c. brown sugar
                                1 egg
                                1 tsp almond extract
                                2 1/2 c. flour
                                1/8 tsp salt
                                About 5 dozen blanched whole almonds
                                1 egg yolk
                                2 Tbsp water

                                Cream lard and sugars until fluffly. Add egg and almond extract, beat until blended. Sift flour, salt, baking powder and add to mixture. Shape dough (1 tbsp) into balls. Place 2" apart. Press down (I like to use a cup dipped in sugar to press ball down) gently to make 2" cookie. Press almond into center. Beat yolk and water. Brush over top. Bake in 350 deg. oven 10-12 mins until lightly browned.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Hey chowser. I know this is an old post, but i'm planning on trying these this weekend (for a chinese themed potluck) and it seems you listed baking powder in the instructions but not in the ingredient list. If you have your recipe handy, can you tell me how much baking powder you use? Thanks a bunch!

                                    1. re: LukesBride

                                      Thanks for bringing this up. I haven't made these in a long time and need to do it again. I have problems getting good lard. It's 1 1/2 tsp baking powder.

                                    2. re: chowser

                                      These were FABULOUS! They were about a million times better than the ones served at my local Chinese buffet. They were a huge hit. Thanks for the recipe chowser!

                                      1. re: LukesBride

                                        Glad you liked it. Did you use butter or lard? When I had a good source for lard, they were amazing but I use butter these days because I can't find it anymore.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          I used lard. I don't know anything about good lard and bad lard.... i just bought the first box of lard i saw at the grocery store and it turned out great.

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Prather Ranch at the SF Ferry Building has genuine leaf lard which you can refrigerate for weeks or freeze for months. You can also make lard at home but it's a lot of work..I even used beef fat from a prime rib roast as the pastry dough fat for a meat pie and it was delicious!

                                  2. re: violabratsche

                                    I agree that having a fruit or light dessert is most authentic, but if you want to do a real pastry dessert, I think fusion is the best way to go. If you were considering cheesecake squares, maybe lychee flavored cheesecake? Longan bars? Most fruit can easily be incorporated into basic recipes, especially if you can buy the juice canned at an Asian supermarket.

                                    Anything almond flavored could also work, even something traditional like a financier would work with the flavors, despite being a little untrue to Chinese cuisine.

                                  3. How about making some chow mein or chow fun? They are both easy and cook very quickly. It would round out your menu as well as adding another starch without adding much prep time.

                                    1. Just out of curiousity, have you made the upside-down meyer lemon cake from the LA Times before? I saw it when it came out and was tempted and am wondering how it is.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: karykat

                                        I haven't made it, although I'm thinking about making a test version today... In re-reading the recipe, it seems a little heavier than I really like my desserts, though.

                                        1. re: cyberroo

                                          If you do make it (and there are certainly lots of recipes crying out to be tried) do let us know how it goes.

                                      2. Just want to thank everyone again for the input. My almond dessert at Thanksgiving was pretty neglected, and I'm usually the one eating all of the almond cookies when we go out, so I've been staying away from those flavors, but lots of interesting ideas.

                                        1. Since cooking Chinese food is a favorite I could make a list as long as my arm.
                                          The only thing that I'd add is Crazy Coconut Pie. Its custard and coconut and there is no crust. It can be served hot, cold or room temperature and I like to top it with a little whip cream. Very yummy.

                                          Another nice one would involve mangoes, making either drinks or dessert....

                                          1. Instead of soba noodles, how about cold sesame peanut noodles? (If you do a search on 'peanut noodles' here, you'll get some pretty good posts. I think my mom's version is a mixture of sesame paste, peanut butter & red chili flakes in the sauce.

                                            alternatively, our family does sort of a stir fried rice noodle dish for big parties. It's got shredded pork, chinese mushrooms & celery. It can be cooked ahead and reheated in the oven. the rice noodles are a lighter texture than chow mein.

                                            for dessert, i could see why thematically you'd go with citrus...how many chinese dinners end up with sliced oranges?! In general, chinese dishes tend to be greasy or have pretty strong sauces, so ending the meal with something in the citrus family helps round out the meal & cleanse the palate a bit. on the other hand, if you're into pastry, what about some sort of mini custard tarts (kind of a take off on the egg custard tarts you can get for dim sum?) or, if it's just too much to deal with, there's always red bean ice cream or green tea ice cream.