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East meets West ideas: menu planning for the Holidays

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I need suggestions.

We are going to visit my in-laws in the States for Christmas (they live in Staten Island) and I'm going to be doing most of the cooking. My mother-in-law's kitchen is a very basic chinese kitchen: no oven, no fancy equipment, no chefs knifes (just a Chinese cleaver). They eat just Chinese food.

My children are used to mediterranean food, I do cook some chinese but it's always tweaked to meet their taste: duck confit potstickers as example.

My parents in law are used to my cooking and they happily try anything I make but I alway make stuff that is going to be liked by everybody: risotto keeps my father in law craving for rice at bay.

I've been out of the States for some years now so, I'm sure, I'm not even aware anymore of food products available. I'm a little undecided if I should post this here, in the Consumer forum or in the NY cooking.

I do need a little bit of brainstorming. Keep in mind that:

- We are going to be eating out sometimes and visiting friends

- I'm on holiday and don't want to spend too much time cooking

- I've two small children that make everything a little more difficult.

My ideas:

For lunch some pastas or risottos and a side dish or two we are set.

I'm very picky about my peeled tomatoes. Any brand that you find particularly good?

Is Fresh Direct stock good?

For dinner I'm sure I'd be more than happy to be eating some NY strips and Rib eyes...some crabs and lobsters.

But I can already see me struggling for Christmas cooking and shopping.

I could do a Capon stock and tortellini/dumpling in stock. What's your favorite brand of wonton skins?

A braised duck maybe. Do you have a favourite?

Any favourite Trader Joe's product that you suggest?

Basically, I need shortcuts because I don't have the time to explore the market, I have a limited kitchen and I'd like to do my shopping wisely.

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I find Fresh Direct's quality to be very good, in general. Here and there, something's not great, but most of the time it's as good as you'll find anywhere else in the area.

For all things Italian, you could head to Eataly on 23rd and Broadway - they have an excellent selection of canned tomato products, pastas (both dried and fresh) and a very good produce and meat and fish selection. Their prices aren't always the best but they're actually not bad for most things. Some items are quite pricey, but a decent value for the quality. Their Piedmontese beef is expensive, but excellent quality.

When it comes to duck, I haven't noticed a variety of brands, necessarily. Most prepackaged ducks are very similar (if not the same), but you can get different varieties by going to the Chinatown meat markets on Mott btwn. Hester and Grand, or in the butcher dept at Eataly, or by going to one of the specialty butchers like Ottomanelli on Bleecker. But I'm sure you don't want to run around that much... I've found that the meat markets in Chinatown have the best fowl selection outside of a specialty butcher - lots of different types of birds and all good quality. Other than what you'd find there, most supermarket chickens have been bred for large breasts and no flavor.

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Frankly I would kill for in-laws who cook Chinese food. And since they live in Staten Island you should be glad they still have a kitchen.

Wow I would eat duck potstickers in a heartbeat, confit or otherwise. When I come to the east coast I like to take advantage of the seafood that I can't get in CA or in your case Europe. That means certain kinds of fish but above all the bivalves known as quahogs or east coast hard shell clams. I would happily eat the in-laws' clams in black bean sauce and whip up some linguini a la vongole for them in return. Oh, and Prince Edward Island mussels aren't too shabby. But I wouldn't want the kids whining, "oh maman, not moules marinieres again!" Moules risotto? Clam pizza?

I can't see how a simple crispy skin roast duck wouldn't satisfy everyone for a holiday meal. Of course I never turn down any invitation to xmas dinner, but then I'm a NY Jew who secretly longs to go out for Chinese on Dec 25. I too don't want to cook when I come east for a vacation, but luckily the variety of reasonably priced ethnic food is astounding in NY and a great opportunity for kids to taste new things.

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