This party is from the book, “Come for Supper? the memoirs of a reluctant hostess“
It was my first attempt at writing. I self-published a few copies of the book to give out to friends and family, testing the waters to see if it would be worth the added effort of seeking mass distribution. In all honesty, it didn’t go over very well. I soothe myself with the delusion that my friends and family were probably hoping it was a book of my own recipes and when they discovered it was world cuisine were possibly disappointed or uninterested. I couldn’t ever bring myself to ask them. And they have never mustered the courage to tell me, so I could be all wrong about that, but licking my wounds I buried the remaining copies I had purchased in a small, unmarked grave in the back yard, under a tree, next to the cat; without much pomp or circumstance and certainly no fanfare, I patted the dirt over the heap and piled on some rocks, and every little once-in-a-while I wander out there with a little bouquet of kitchen scraps, lay them on the heap, and just sit and ponder its short, unfulfilled life. Sigh.
The book may have been a failure, but the suppers inside of it weren’t. This is one of the parties from inside its pages. It was one of my kids’ very favorite parties I ever threw while they were still living at home. It is also one of the favorites of my cooking club group, who helped me test some of the recipes in the book.
It’s like an “Asian fondue” party! Everyone cooks their own food — which is a reluctant hostess’s dream party, right? All you have to do is collect some equipment, do some grocery shopping, do a little slicing, dicing, and chopping, mix up some sauces, set up tables, toss a CD in the player, and decorate. Voila! (– or however they say it in Chinese).
So now, imagine yourself invited to my house for Chinese. You come knocking on my door and can hear Chinese music playing faintly, and can also smell what smells like dinner cooking (in reality it’s just chicken broth and hot peanut oil). You’re dressed in your best Asian get-up (complete with a coolie douli hat?) and are eager for me to turn that knob and invite you warmly inside. When I do, you find me decked out in a green t-shirt with Chinese scribbles across it, my hair tied up with chopsticks, and wearing flip-flop house slippers on my feet. Inside the house there are paper umbrellas hanging upside down from the ceiling over the lights, and little paper lanterns strung about. Some little Chinese fans scattered on the tables and around. Vases of bamboo set around as gifts for guests to take home after the party.
Some of my other guests have already arrived and are wearing red silk dresses, tank tops with black leggings, and one is wearing a white Gi, tied with a yellow (beginner’s) belt. There is laughing and mingling as everyone crowds into the kitchen to pour themselves a drink. Your options are hot Green, Oolong, or Jasmine tea, Bubble Tea, a shot of sake, or a cold imported Chinese Tsingtao beer.
The music that is playing sounds a little bit like a Chinese version of Manheim Steamroller, so you ask, “What is this playing?” and I answer, “It’s Twelve Girls Band!” Hmmm…nice choice, right? My daughter turned me on to them.
And when everyone has arrived we take our places around the tables. Each has been set up with a wok in the center. The wok at one table is filled with a steaming hot liquid bubbling inside. On either side are platters of raw ingredients, meats on one side and veggies on the other. At each place setting around the table is a bamboo mat, with a small platter centered on it. A set of chopsticks lays across it, and each is flanked by several small cups of sauces of various colors.
At the other table is the hot peanut oil wok. The platter to one side is egg roll wrappers, little cups of water, and a bowl of filling , and on the platter on the other side are various raw meats and veggies and a bowl of tempura batter. The guests sitting at this table get to fry their supper. Their place settings are the same.
I gather my guests to the tables and we join hands as I play an audio version of the Lord’s Prayer being spoken in Chinese, from YouTube, and then we pray the same prayer together in English.
I explain to everyone how we’ll select a meat or veggie from the platters using the fondue forks, and then plunge our selections into the hot broth to cook. After a minute or so we can bring the morsels to our personal platters and spoon on whichever sauce we’d like to try. After half an hour or so those seated at the broth wok will take their personal platters and trade places with those seated around the hot oil wok to make egg rolls and tempura things. And then, when everyone has had a chance to try everything, I toss a bunch of noodles into the broth wok and in a few moments serve a small cup of noodle soup to each of my guests.
Of course we all sit around the woks and cook and eat until we are so full we can’t breathe, and that’s when I suggest we leave those tables and gather in the living room for games. I have several set up to choose from: Go, Mahjongg, and Chinese Checkers (even though I’ve been told Chinese Checkers aren’t really Chinese – although if you turn my game tin over to the underside it says, “Made in China” which is good enough for me. Of course everyone is welcome to refill their drinks, and those who are up for learning a new game can sit down to it. Those who know already how to play are encouraged to teach others, and those who are not into new and complicated games can play Chinese Checkers. We all had a set of those at home when we were kids, right? Easy. Only trouble is Chinese Checkers is over in a short time and boring after a while, so for a backup activity I have a Chinese movie all ready to go.
Although the Chinese do not eat dessert (or take beverages) as part of their meal, they do snack on sweets between meals. Their sweets traditionally consist of fruit or almond cookies. So I have a big fruit platter set up in the kitchen with cut up melon, bananas, oranges, apples, strawberries, grapes, berries, and whatever else is in season at the grocery store, along with a platter of crisp Almond cookies, and those yummy rice krispy type treats made with sesame seeds that they serve at my favorite Chinese place on main street, plus a big pile of Fortune Cookies (which also are an American invention, but at least from China Town in San Francisco). My sister has this fun little tradition of adding “…in the bathroom” to the end of all Chinese fortune cookie fortunes, which makes them kind of funny, so I of course suggest we do that. And everyone reads theirs, and we all laugh, because we’re supposed to. And it’s a little awkward, so we refill our drinks and grab some dessert, and head out to the family room to play our games or watch the movie.
What is the movie, you ask? Well, you have your choice: I have China Cry for the Christian crowd, who possibly wants to be inspired by a flick about faith, or I have the Karate Kid for all of us who remember that from what, the 80’s? I have a Bruce Lee flick, and a Jackie Chan. Or, I also have the Season One episodes of Better Late Than Never, with Henry Winkler, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw, and William Shatner saved on my DVR for anyone that missed that and wants a good laugh. (They are probably available on Hulu or Netflix too, and the NBC website).
(In the book I also suggested that a host of this particular supper may want to invite some missionaries from their church who have returned from China and would have interesting stories to share, pictures, and treasures that we could touch and pass around. I also suggested that we could talk as a group about going in on a donation to support a missionary we know, or give a donation to an organization that gives out Bibles in China, or give a money gift to a couple adopting a child from China).
When we’re ready to call it a night, I hand out fireworks (just sparklers and party poppers and the safe backyard varieties) and we all wander out to the front yard to end our night with a BANG! But not too big of a bang because all the neighbors are sleeping. Shhhhh! I have little red goodie bags also hanging in the trees and ask everyone to go look for one by flashlight and take with them before they head to their cars. They have little trinkets from the dollar store in them, a chinese jump rope, some small candies, and a few shiny new quarters – because that’s what they do in China. There’s kisses and hugs all around, as engines begin starting and lights start flipping on, and one by one the cars drive away. And that’s when I turn and contentedly wonder back inside with a heart full of memories and a sink full of dishes to wash.
MONGOLIAN HOT POT
You’ll need a platter of meats and a platter of veggies, cut up and ready to cook fondue style.
Meats: Scallops, Shrimp, Chicken breasts (cut into strips), Beef (flatiron steak cut into small strips), Pork (loin, cut in small strips or pieces). Place meats on a platter with partitioned wells (like a serving set for tacos) would be ideal. This way the meats won’t mingle and contaminate each other in their raw state. I cut my meats and wrapped my platter in plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator the morning of my dinner. Be sure to clean cutting surfaces with warm, soapy water and Clorox wipes between meats and when finished.
Veggies: Carrot coins, cut on the diagonal and then in half, Celery slices, cut on the diagonal and then in half, Snow peas, Cabbage leaves, Broccoli florets, Green pepper slices, Zucchini-cut on the diagonal and then in half, Mushrooms (straw or shitake), Green onions, cut on the diagonal.
Additional ingredients for the soup: bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, and noodles (I don’t really care for the traditional cellophane noodles, so I substitute Ramen or thin spaghetti), garlic cloves, and a smidgen of honey. I also like spicy Thai peppers and cilantro but not everyone does so ask your guests before you add these to the pot, as they can easily be added to individual bowls of soup instead.
Add chicken broth to a shabu yaki, (or electric wok, or an electric skillet or large fondue pot). Fill to about an inch or two below the rim. Place in the center of the supper table. Be sure to wrap the cord securely down a table leg so no one accidentally trips on it and pulls the hot pot over. Plug into a power source and set the temperature dial at the boiling point (about 215 degrees F).
Hot Pot is like fondue. Guests are seated at the table with plates and samplings of sauces. Each uses chopsticks (or fondue forks), takes meat and veggies from the platters, and cooks in the boiling broth. They bring their cooked morsels to their individual plates and dip in their choice of sauce (recipes below) before eating. Once everyone has tried everything and is near being full, noodles are added to the pot, along with the additional ingredients (mentioned above), and then everyone is served a bowl of soup.
NOTE: After my supper I wrapped up all my leftovers and the next day made the best stir-fry ever with all the meats and all the veggies, and what was left of the sauces. If you prefer, this would also be a great idea for your Chinese Supper. Instead of making ‘hot pot’ as above, place all of your ingredients out on the table in the same manner, but replace the broth pot with a hot wok and a little peanut oil instead of broth, and let your guests make their own little “stir-fry” concoctions that they cook themselves. Kind of like a self-serve Mongolian Grill at home.
SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch or tapioca starch
1 cup water
2/3 cup rice vinegar
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
½ teaspoon of red food coloring
In a saucepan dissolve the cornstarch in the water, add the remaining ingredients. Heat over medium high heat until sauce boils and thickens.
2 cups plum jam, jelly, or preserves
1 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 teaspoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons wine vinegar
Mix jam and applesauce in saucepan. Bring to boil. Combine ginger, cornstarch, and soy sauce, vinegar. Stir into jam mixture. Cook stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Cool. Refrigerate until serving time. Bring to room temp before serving.
½ cup dry mustard
4 Tablespoons peanut oil
4 Tablespoons water
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
½ cup white vinegar
Mix mustard and oil in small bowl. Gradually add the 4 Tbsp. of water, stirring constantly to form a smooth paste. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in saucepan. Gradually add the cup of water and vinegar. Blend thoroughly. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens. Gradually add to mustard mixture, stirring constantly until blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temp.
1 cup pineapple juice
½ cup packed light brown sugar
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, simmer to blend flavors.
GARLIC GINGER SAUCE
2 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup water
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup soy sauce
Mix all ingredients. Use as a dipping sauce.
1 small can cling peaches in heavy syrup
¼ teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon water
Drain pieces and reserve juice for something else. Mash peaches with a fork or potato masher until well crushed. Add mustard, ginger root, vinegar, and Chinese Five Spice. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to sauce, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, continuing to stir, until thickened. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
Bottled Soy Sauce (try Kikkoman, which is slightly sweet, and La Choy which is more salty)
EGG ROLLS (this recipe was given to me by my Japanese/American friend, Cyndi)
1 (16-oz) pkg Jimmy Dean regular sausage
Shredded or chopped Napa cabbage (a green cabbage will also work)
½ pkg of bean sprouts (approx. 2 cups)
¾ cup grated carrot
Grate about 2” of ginger root on top
Mix together by hand. Lay one egg roll wrapper on work surface and place a heaping spoon of the meat & veggie mixture in the middle. Fold the wrapper as shown on the packaging. Get a little water on your fingers and moisten the final corner of the wrapper so that it will stick and seal the roll. They must be cooked fairly quickly after they are made as the wrappers will become soggy if wrapped up and stored in the fridge for very long. And they can’t be fried and kept for very long either, as they lose their crunch. They should be the last thing you put together for your meal, moments before your guests arrive. Or, let your guests make these themselves, just as with hot pot above. Have the meat mixture and egg roll wrappers (and small cups of water) ready for each guest to assemble on his or her own.
Set up an electric wok with enough peanut oil for deep frying (again fastening the cord down a table leg so it isn’t accidentally tripped over). Oil temperature should be about 360 degrees F. Consult your owner’s manual. Drop a few egg rolls at a time (not more than 4 or it will cool the oil too much) into hot oil and turn once in a while during frying so they cook evenly, until golden brown. Lay on the rack or drain on paper towels. Serve with soy sauce, hot mustard, or sweet and sour sauce.
TEMPURA: You can also mix up a batch of tempura batter and let guests batter their Hot Pot meats and veggies instead and fry them. When I had my Hot Pot party I set up a soup table and a fry table. I sat the girls down around the soup (Hot Pot) and the men around the wok. I intended to have my crowd eat for a while at each table and then switch, but the men liked frying and didn’t want the hot pot, so they ended up frying egg rolls and tempura things and passing to us, and then just had a small bowl of our noodle soup at the end.
½ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons cream sherry
2 Tablespoons grated daikon (Japanese radish)
2 Tablespoons peeled and grated fresh gingerroot
Combine first three ingredients. Just before serving, stir in daikon and ginger.
((( Or just use a boxed mix. That’s easiest! )))
So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.