February 7, 2016

The missing one

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It's Lunar New Year's Eve, and as is customary, I'm spending it with family at grandma's.  Except it's no longer grandma's... since she passed about 2 weeks ago.  This was my first family gathering since then, and it definitely felt a little weird to be in that apartment without having her around.  Since grandma's funeral is in exactly one week, we had the rare pleasure of having Brazilian Uncle for dinner tonight.

Dinner started with the usual Chinese charcuterie platter, and Last Minute Uncle cooked his usual braised beef shank while his helper whipped up a range of veggie dishes and what not.  There was also a big pot of store-bought Buddha jumps over the wall (佛跳牆), although this Taiwanese-style soup was never anything I would get excited about.

My focus, of course, was squarely on the dishes that mom prepared.  And her contribution always starts with her version of the perfect ten (十全十美).  It's a labor-intensive vegetarian dish that is prepared over the space of at least two days, and I wrote about it a few years ago.  Mom almost always serves it cold so that some of the ingredients could retain their crunch.  This year, though, she decided to use only nine ingredients instead of ten.  Hair moss (髮菜) has become increasingly expensive over the years, and she would need to use a pretty big amount for it to be noticeable in the final mix - something she felt wasn't exactly worthwhile this year.  Of course, not using hair moss is also more environmentally friendly, as its harvesting promotes desertification in the parts of China where it is found.

I guess it's just as well that the dish is missing one ingredient, since grandma is conspicuously missing from the table.

Next up from mom is her famous braised sea cucumber stuffed with minced meat (海參燒肉).  She generally uses sea cucumbers from Indonesia, but as she puts it, every single one is different in terms of texture and consistency... so it's really hard to get a uniform texture each time after braising.

This time the texture of the sea cucumbers turned out perfectly - not overcooked so that they started to liquefy and turn mushy, but soft and wobbly enough to have that Jell-O-like feel.  The minced pork and ginger stuffing, however, did not turn out perfect.  Mom didn't use enough starch in the mixture, so it wasn't as perfectly soft and tender.  But hey, none of us were complaining... My Foodie Wannabe cousin actually inhaled an entire sea cucumber by himself.

Stir-fried diced smoked chicken with green garlic (大蒜炒燻雞腿) is a dish that mom came up with around a decade ago... or so she says.  Every season before Lunar New Year, dad would go and buy a bunch of smoked chicken drumsticks from 桂來標, strip the meat from bone, and dice it up into almost a powder.  He and mom would do the same with winter bamboo shoots and green garlic, then stir-fry the whole lot.  Chili peppers were added at the request of Sporty Cousin.

This is the killer dish every year, because there's nothing better than having a pile of this over steamed rice.  Never mind all the other dishes that came before... THIS is the dish that gets me full - thanks to all the rice.

A few of my friends sometimes would marvel at a chef's knife skills when we dine out.  Check out dad's knife work.  The old man's got SKILLZ!

For dessert, Last Minute Uncle bought a Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)-branded eight treasure rice (八寶飯).  I say "branded" because I very much doubt it was made in-house at Din Tai Fung, and it's more likely that this was pumped out at a factory.  Basically, this was crap.  Mostly glutinous rice and not a lot of goodies like red bean paste and runner beans.  A waste of calories that I didn't bother to touch.

Knowing Last Minute Uncle's sweet tooth, mom made her longan and jujube soup (桂圓紅棗湯) - with fresh lotus seeds.  After the base was made at home, mom added more sugar - twice - to get to the sweetness that Last Minute Uncle would find appetizing...

It's always good to family at times like this, and treasure the time that we still have left together.  Here's wishing everyone good health and a peaceful Year of the Monkey.

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