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Kitchen Shrink: Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year enliven February

The docile Year of the Sheep rears its shy wooly head as it wrings in a period of calmness and tranquility less than a week after steamy Valentine’s Day. The Eastern Chinese sheep or goat is a beloved symbol of harmony, mild-mannered determination and imagination.

This Chinese New Year will be one of many changes in romantic relations for Sheep people, including singles getting hitched. Whether you’re a Sheep person or were born under another Chinese zodiac sign, you can still celebrate love and Chinese New Year with traditional customs and dishes.

The Chinese New Year is like a celebratory combo plate — a blending of family reunion, gift giving, reverence for ancestors and an attitude of gratitude. The holiday is shrouded in sweet and sour rituals and superstitions revolving around a gustatory orgy during the 15-day hoopla that kicks off Feb. 19.

The feasting begins on New Year’s Eve, the delicacies including prawns for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters for a fine life (and high-octane aphrodisiac boost), and a raw fish salad to herald a year of good luck and prosperity.

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On New Year’s Day, the family enjoys “jai,” a vegetarian medley of lotus seed to hedge the odds for producing many male offspring, dried bean curd for the fulfillment of wealth and happiness, and bamboo shoots to wish members of the household good health.

Other traditional foods are a whole fish to symbolize togetherness, a chicken for prosperity, the presentation including its head, tail and feet to represent completeness, and uncut noodles for longevity.

For your just desserts, homemade fortune cookies dipped in bittersweet chocolate make us all a little more passionate. Customize these treats with creative, romantic or fun Confucius-inspired wisdom tucked inside. Oddly, this novelty confection does not have Chinese roots, rather a Japanese immigrant lays a solid claim to its creation, while it has been popularized by Americans.

Now try your luck at baking a batch of fortune cookies. Here are some kitschy messages you are free to use when concocting your from scratch treats:

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“Only you can make my heart crumble.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere tonight.”

“Where there is love there is life.”

Homemade Chocolate Dipped Fortune Cookies

Ingredients

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unbleached flour

1/2 cup super-fine sugar

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1 teaspoon almond, vanilla, lemon or orange extract

Pinch of salt

8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

1/3 cup of chopped toasted almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios

Method: Print messages on strips of colorful paper (3 inches long by 1/2 inch wide). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with lightly greased parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites and extract until frothy.

In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients and add to the egg whites. (For less doughy cookies, add 2 tablespoons of cold water). Drop 3 or 4 circles of batter about 4-inches in diameter, well-spaced on each cookie sheet. Bake one sheet at a time until golden, about 5 minutes. Lift each cookie with a spatula, flip upside down and transfer to a flat surface. Place the fortune paper strip in the middle of the cookie, then fold in half.

Transfer the cookie to the rim of a juice glass, and pull the pointed edges downward, one inside the glass, one outside. Let cool.

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Break chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl over a pot of gently boiling water. Stir until melted. Dip the bottom end of the fortune cookie in the chocolate, coating the tip. Sprinkle the chocolate portion with desired chopped nuts and place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about one hour. Gung Hay Fat Choy!


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