Thursday, 30 January 2014

D is for Dipping Sauce

It's Chinese New Year in a couple of days and, as usual, I'm having my family over for a feast.

Lots of my traditional dishes will be served as we wish each other Kung Hei Fat Choi: cheers, luck and a wonderful future. In China, the (simplified) characters are pronounced Gong Xi Fa Cai.

But I always cheat and buy in a couple of dishes.  It just makes life easier.

One of my favourites is Xiao Long Bao (little dragon buns) which are pork dumplings in soup all in a thin rice encasing.  They're not difficult to make but they are very time consuming.  So I arrange frozen dumplings onto a disk of greaseproof paper in a bamboo steamer and steam as per the packet.  You traditionally serve them with black rice vinegar to cut through the slightly fatty pork, but I use my own dipping sauce.

Another dish I buy in is spring rolls.  Tesco do some great mini ones in the freezer section which can be bunged in the oven.  Much healthier than frying them traditionally.

These are served with the same dipping sauce as the Xiao Long Bao.  This is very simple: just mix up equally quantities of black rice (Chinkiang) vinegar and light soy sauce in a small bowl.  I then chop off three very thin slices from a red chili and float on the top.

And just as I was about to publish, I spotted this on the internet.  Very appropriate given the year!  May the Horse be with you!

© Disney

Saturday, 25 January 2014

S is for Smears

I really like my table to look nice.  I've often put a lot of effort into getting a bunch of people around the table at once, have planned and cooked a meal and would now like to enjoy it with my guests.

But then, as I look at the table, I notice the glasses.  Despite going through the dishwasher, some of them still bear the smears of parties past.

Easiest way to remove these is to fill an ice bucket or a large jug with boiling water and take it to the table (so when the glass is cleaned it's not going to have to be handled again, get greasy finger marks).

Making sure the hot water container is not going to mark any surface (I put mine on the seat of a dining chair), and hold the glass by the stem upside down over the water.  The steam helps lift any smears when wiped with a glass cloth.  This also works for cutlery.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

S is for Sales and Stockings

We all overspend at Christmas.  By the time you add everything up, it's quite frightening how much is spent. In fact, it's estimated that one in three Brits go into debt.  And tomorrow is known as Blue Monday as this is when December credit card bills hit the mat.

But it's really difficult to cut down the spending.  How do you tell the kids that there's no money for all those extras such as crackers on the table?  Do you resort to sending out emails instead of Christmas cards?  It's not exactly festive.

And making your own presents sounds great but when it comes to December and you're trying to juggle everyday life, work and planning, ideals go out the window and panic buying sets in.

To help me keep control of the cash outlay, I buy stuff in the January sales.  While I have to store it for 11 months, if I order things online and keep it in the stout boxes in which it's sent, they can go out of the way in the loft for much later in the year.

Saving up to 70%, I stock up on generic stocking fillers, cards and crackers as all these keep easily and don't take up too much space.  This year, my (adult) base stocking fillers include:
  • Small luxury (scented) candles
  • Themed cookie cutters
  • Festive tea towels
  • Wind up toys
  • Santa stationary
  • Glitzy coasters
  • Earphone holders
  • Bottle openers
  • (Eye) Glasses cleaning cloths
  • Packs of socks
  • Folding shopping bags
  • Key chains
  • Tree baubles
  • Wine foils
  • Retro travel games
Kids get little plastic toys and chocolate (bought nearer the time), as well as the wind-up toys and stationary.

I will then buy an item that is very specific to the recipient and, as per the tradition in my family, I add a net of chocolate coins, a satsuma and a walnut.  Stockings done!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

P is for Packing Up

The twelve days of Christmas finished yesterday and all my decorations are now on the dining room table to be packed away.

I do this for two reasons:

  1. It enables me to clean everything thoroughly before I put it away and make sure that everything goes into the box in working order (broken threads restrung, replacement fairy light bulbs fitted etc.); and 
  2. I can pack everything much more efficiently so my decorations take up less storage space for the rest of the year.

It also means that if I have replace anything beyond repair I can save money doing so in the January sales!

Happy packing.