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Written by Pauline Ng, Chief Editor

It is always fun to cook for an entire family from time to time.  When I say my “entire” family, I mean all 4 generations of the family, including my mother aged 90, myself well over 60, my two grown-up children and their families.  Each of my children has a family of four.  My son is a fine diner and his wife and two kids are heavily influenced by him.  My eldest grandson eats a lot of meat and his sister only eats seafood and vegetables.  My daughter is a great fan of Japanese foods while my son-in-law loves spicy foods, but their eating habits do not seem to reflect on the way their children eat.  Her son is almost a vegetarian.
It is therefore not easy to plan a family meal when you have to make sure that each one of them does find something which they like , for example, my eldest grandson only eats meat while his sister only eats seafood but both of them love vegetables.  So finding something which they all enjoy is important, and there is the need to balance the food value and taste.
Apart from planning the menu, preparing a good cooking plan is also very important.  If the dinner is on a weekday, you almost have to plan in such a way that you can do all the shopping and cooking during your spare time, so make the best use of available time.
Below is my cooking plan for the meal I cooked for my entire family at the Mid-Autumn Festival.  It is almost like a buffet with a range of western and eastern dishes.  The menu is as follows:
  • Japanese crab and sushi
  • Vegetable salad (mixed greens)
  • Pig knuckle and lotus roots soup
Hot dishes:
  • Minced pork and lemon grass wrapped in Romaine Lettuce (half spicy and half not spicy)
  • Salmon floss on rice
  • Rib-eye steak with crispy garlic slices
  • Lasagna (mushroom in tomato and cheese sauce)
  • Lasagna (beef ragout in tomato and cream sauce)
  • Softly fried bean sprouts and spring onion
  • Mooncakes, rice dumplings, ice cream and fruits
Preparation of food may start from the day before especially for dried foods such as dried mushrooms which need to be prepared beforehand.  Some meat need not be marinated, like a good piece of steak, but for pork ribs, it takes a longer time to allow the marinate to permeate into the meat.  When I plan a meal, I would try to stagger the preparation and cooking time so that cooking utensils are available for use at the appropriate time.  For example, I normally select long-hour soup if I need to do a lot of frying right before eating, and I have to make sure that I have sufficient time and stoves for cooking to be done at the same time.  Long-hour soup can be done a few hours before meal time and all you need to do is to reheat it while having appetizers.
In planning the menu, I also need to consider the swallowing ability of elderly persons. For example, my mother cannot swallow food which is high in fibre.  The pig knuckle soup I chose this time was to enable her to eat the almost melting knuckles which she loves.  The very rich soup with bone mallow dissolved into it would also be good for my youngest grandson who does not eat meat but loves to have soup made out of meat.  Lasagna is made in two ways: the one with beef rogout is for meat-eaters and the one with mushrooms for others.  Lasagna is also good for persons with swallowing difficulties.  The heavy cheese content in the lasagna is for everybody as we all love cheese.
For the above menu, I suggest the following cooking steps:
  1. Prepare mushroom
One day before, prepare the dried mushrooms for the soup, i.e. soaking in warm water and when soft, steam with oil, salt, wine, sugar and ginger shreds for one hour. Cool after steaming and keep overnight in the fridge.
  1. Prepare home-made tomato sauce
Also one day before, prepare the tomato sauce for lasagna if you can find really good and ripe tomatoes. Peel the skin of tomatoes, remove seed, cut into small cubes and cook with crushed garlic, finely cut shallots and bay leaves.Simmer for an hour. Add a little salt.Pour into a glass bottle and keep in fridge.It will stay good for 2 days.
  1. Prepare soup
The soup can be cooked in the morning. First boil the pig knuckles in water, ginger and wine for 5 minutes and wash under tap water. Cut lotus roots into slices. Add all ingredients (including knuckles, lotus roots, figs, peanuts and mushrooms) and also 2 slices of ginger.Slow cook for 3 hours.
  1. Prepare salmon shreds
Also in the morning, steam the salmon cuts. Leave to cool and keep in fridge so that all moisture can be dried up. Take the cooled salmon cuts out in the afternoon and remove bones and skin and shred them in fine pieces.Season with salt and white pepper.Return to the fridge in a tightly locked food box.
  1. Prepare pork mixture for lettuce wraps
Prepare all the vegetables for pork wraps: cut lemon grass in very thin rings; cut shallots in fine shreds; squeeze the juice of 4 to 6 small limes; finely cut parsley and basil leaves. Marinate the minced pork lightly with salt, soy sauce, corn starch and sugar.
  1. Prepare bean sprouts
Wash the bean sprouts and keep them in clean water to prevent browning; wash and finely cut green onions and ginger.
  1. Prepare sauces for lasagna
If dinner is served at 7 pm, start cooking at around 4 pm. Lasagna with 3 sauces needs about one and a half hours to prepare especially if you want your beef ragout to be super tasty.Cooking in the oven is another hour, so you can put the lasagna into the oven right before your guests arrive. The 3 sauces are: mushroom sauce (cook finely chopped button mushrooms, soaked and chopped porcini mushrooms and chopped onion in tomato sauce); white sauce (add flour to melted butter and whisk in milk and cream and a little nutmeg): meat sauce (fry minced beef with garlic, shallots and chopped onion; add red wine and fry until the meat turns brown and gives a chargrill smell; add tomato sauce and simmer for 30 minutes).
  1. Bake lasagna
Grease baking tins. Add layers of white and red sauces and pasta sheet and shredded cheese in between one another, finished with one final layer of red sauce and cover with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes or longer.Remove cover and add a layer of cheese for a final touch and bake for 5 minutes until slightly brown.
  1. Cook rice
Start cooking rice when guests are about to arrive. Although it only takes half an hour for rice to be ready, you might not remember to press the button when you are busy socializing with the guests.
  1. Enjoy crabs
Appetizers require no cooking. Japanese crab is so appealing and so nothing else should be served while eating the crab. Sushi can be provided in the event the boys are super hungry.Green salad can be served immediately after but more as a side dish.Let your guests help you with the mixing of the salad.
  1. Cook pork mixture for lettuce wraps
Cooking time for pork mixture for the wraps is about 15 minutes. This can be done before eating crabs or when your guests are busy eating the crabs.Stir fry lemon grass, shallots, and then add pork and a little chicken stock. When almost ready, add lime, parsley, basil leaves. Season with salt, pepper and a little sugar.Fry well and take out one portion.Add chopped red chili pepper and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes.Serve both portions with Romaine Lettuce and Vietnamese fish stock. The leftover of pork mixture is good for fried rice on the following day.
  1. Cook bean sprouts
Stir fry bean sprouts lightly with ginger shreds and spring onions. Season with salt, pepper and a little wine.Serve as a side dish.
  1. Pan-fry rib-eye
Fry two pieces of good rib-eye steak and sprinkle with salt and black pepper while cooking.Rest and cut into slices. Serve with crispy garlic slices. The meat is also good for wrapping in Romaine Lettuce together with cooked or uncooked bean sprouts.
  1. Cook salmon floss
Cooking time for salmon floss is about 20 minutes. The floss can be prepared before the guests arrive and reheat on dry pan before serving. The good thing about preparing right before serving is that you know how much you need to cook.Cooking can be done when soup is served, followed by lasagna.If reheating is chosen, salmon floss on rice can be served when lasagna is served, so that your guests can have choices of different starchy foods. In preparing salmon floss, use a flat pan. Melt small pieces of rock sugar in melted butter.Add shredded salmon and coat them evenly with the syrup and fry for about 20 to 30 minutes until the salmon shreds are dried, fluffy and slightly crispy.Serve individually in a small rice bowl.Put a little rice at the bottom.Top with a layer of salmon floss.Sprinkle with a little sesame seeds and finely chopped green onion and serve.
  1. Time for desserts
You will get so tired by now to do any cooking for desserts.So just use readily available desserts such as Japanese rice dumplings available in boxes, ice cream or simply mooncakes with fruits.
As for wine, for a meal of this nature, Japanese sake will be ideal.  It is also good to have small bottles of red and white wines available for those who find sake too strong.  Assorted fruit juices should be available, as well as tea and coffee.  For me, it is never a problem as I have a full cabinet of drinks of all nature!