International Dinner Project: China (Sam’s choice)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ni Hao!

China International Dinner Night is upon us. It was an interesting search for dishes that would push the children’s boundarys a little, but that they’d actually try. I did come across one that was called “Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou” (Red Braised Lion’s Head) and I thought the name might give the kids a kick – but it turned out to be pork meatballs that were arranged to resemble a lions head on a bed of cooked cabbage resembling the mane, and we’ve had a few meatball type dishes lately so that one had to take a back seat.

We watched Sam’s video (We do the videos in secret, and then play them through Apple TV as a surprise for the rest of the family), Ryan came up to me after all quiet and looked up at me with puppy do eyes and said, “I don’t want to do China, ’cause I don’t like sushi.” I said don’t worry buddy, sushi is Japanese – there’ll be no sushi, but there will be defeinitely something fancy called mooncakes! Well, that got his mind racing is all different directions…

Sam was looking forward to International Dinner shopping day, as he knew we’d be going to the Asian Supermarket where the cashier gave him a  handful of candy last time. He spent a long time in the chinese candy aisle while I searched for salted duck eggs, yes, salted duck eggs, I thought I might be overly ambitious with that one… but you never know. It came to the end of our shopping expedition, and I hadn’t found them, so I said, well, we’ll just have to do without and change our plan, then while we were waiting in line at the checkout Sam said, “Dad look! Salted Duck Eggs!” And you know what, right at knee height on a shelf was a pack! Yay… I thought… I’m not that fond (read loathe) of normal eggs (it’s the dry crumbly cooked yolk I don’t like) let alone salted ones that come from ducks!

So with shopping done, it’s on with the cooking…

珍珠球  Zhenzhu Qiu (Pearl Balls)

Ok fine, forget everything I said earlier about meatballs… but this was an appetizer not the main meal so I can be forgiven. Basically it’s a pork, ginger, soy, waterchestnut filled meatball – coated in glutinous rice. Which goes all shiny when cooked and is meant to resemble a pearl aesthetically.

Super simple to make, and quick to prepare – served with soy sauce (although Mum and Dad said they were tasty enough without) these were great!

They all disappeared, Sam was straight into his, now Ryan… there’s a story. He’ll eat rice risotto, he ate the rice we had the next day with a stirfry – but tonight he said he needed it scraped off the meatball because he didn’t like it – I can only think it’s a texture thing when it’s mixed with other food. But once scraped off – he was right into it. Yeah I know… he’s in for a rough night with this country pick! 🙂

Sam’s rating: 10/10

炒饭  Chǎo fàn (Fried Rice)
宫保鸡丁 Gōngbǎo Jīdīng (Kung Pao Chicken)
And plain cooked rice (if we’d remembered the ON switch on the rice cooker)

So, aside from the little uncooked rice booboo (we cooked it and had it the next night) the mains went down well.

Let me just state for the record, Kung Pao chicken may be quite common to many of you, but I’ve never, ever seen it on the menu in a Chinese Restaurant here! I know! Crazy! I remember it from M*A*S*H reruns when I was a kid and Hawkeye was always ordering Kung Pao chicken so I though it was Korean since that was the “police action” they were involved in.

But then last year one late night after a day long photography session in Melbourne, Australia, a local took me to a restaurant that had Kung Pao on the menu (I think we’d been to a couple of bars already, because I can’t remember if it was a Chinese or Korean restaurant). So I ordered it because.. well, I just had too – and I loved it – so when I saw that Kung Pao was Chinese – I was all over that business for the kids.

Kung Pao was simple to make, and we’ll definitely be having that again – infrequently though – the sodium level in that little dish must be crazy high! And on anothe rplus we got to use the Sichuan pepper we bought for Mongolia night again. And although I only used one chilli pepper in the dish the kids said it was a little spicy – I couldn’t taste ti though – I’ll need to make an adult heat version another night.

The chicken is marinated, then deepfried in the wok, then the oil’s drained the chicken’s added back to the wok at the edges, while the sauce is mixed and cooked in the middle of the wok, then right at the end the chicken is pushed back into the centre, the peanuts are added and stirred through and it’s served on rice (ahem… if you’ve got it prepared already – but we had a light fired rice to have it with so the night was saved…)

Mum kindly supplied the fried rice. Thanks Mum!

I almost forgot to tell the story of the Chinese Rice Wine that was used in the dish, apparently there’s rice wine for drinking and rice wine for cooking, well I found the rice wine no problem, and I assumed it was cooking wine, reading the label (all in Chinese) all I could read was the 14.5% Alc. Vol – So I thought I’d pour a little half shot for Jocelyn and I to taste to see what it was like. I had a sip and offered it to Jocelyn, Sam saw our faces, and asked if he could try, I thought why not – might put him off alcohol for an additional few years. Suffice to say it was definitely the cooking version, at 14.5% alcohol it burnt more like a vodka than a wine – so that will stay in the cooking  shelf for sure!

Ryan again refused the rice, and tentatively nibbled a single piece of chicken, his eyes lit up and he had a couple more pieces, then he said “Can I please have five, because I’m five years old.” So we gave him five more – he finished those and asked for six more… gone.. and some more… so success with Ryan!

Sam’s rating pretty much explains how he felt about the dish.

Sam’s rating: 1000/1000
Ryan’s rating: 100/100 

月餅  yuè bĭng (Moon Cakes)
Fortune Cookies (purists will hate me for this but I’ll explain later)

Pretty much once Sam had chosen China I knew I’d be making Moon Cakes, I’d heard of them, but we’d never had them – I was assuming they were a dessert type dish – luckily I was right. Researching there I found there were quite a few different recipes, so I chose two of the more popular styles that were quite different, one seems more traditional (I’m guessing) the other more simple and modern – please correct me if I’m wrong.

One was a savoury shortbread and flaky pastry layered in the same way as Mongolian Bing Bread, filled with Azuki Bean Paste, which we had already tried when we had Anmitsu for Japan Night – so I knew the taste and quite like it.

The other style of Mooncake seems more traditional a sweet outer golden dough, a pandan coloured lotus paste inner layer and then the famous steamed yolk from a salted duck egg (let’s be clear the egg is salted – not the duck 😉  These were going to be the adventurous ones for those adults that were game enough. I didn’t expect the kids to try them, but they were free to if they were game enough.

We searched high and low for the special patterned moulds for the Mooncakes, but we could not find them, in the end we just used a small patterned butterfly tin that the boys had given Jocelyn one Mothers’ Day, which worked well, except the pattern didn’t really hold to well in the baking.

Our boys are soo different. Sam was all over it and had 2 or 3, and then asked for them in his school lunch until we ran out. Ryan, surprisingly liked the bean paste, but not the pastry, so he hollowed his out. The adults all had a couple each.

Then came the true test (we’re not only pushing the kids culinary boundaries – adult’s boundaries are fair game too.) We all cut oursleves a wedge of the yolked mooncake. The salty flavour worked well with the sweet pastry – but I think it would be fair to say the Azuki bean version was by far more popular.

Sam’s rating: 10/10
Ryan’s rating: 8/10 

Now let’s explain those Fortune Cookies – for a start, you don’t get fortune cookies in a Chinese Restaurant in New Zealand, or in China either, they’re an American phenomenon. The recipe is almost identical to a japanese recipe, and they appear to have been started by Chinese/Americans in California in the early 20th century, so they’re not really Chinese at all, but the kids have seen them on Nickelodeon, and so I thought we could stretch our rules a little, make these and have the kids write their own fortunes to stick inside. So please let us off the hook on this one – some of the kid’s fortunes were quite insightful – and just plain cute!

Here’s a few of them:
When you wake up, no TV
Great things will await you
Try? No. Do or do not, there is no try. (courtesy of Master Yoda – Sam is a Star Wars fan)
Try and get high scores all the time
You might be a wizard
Life is like a railroad, sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down.

These were all straight off the top of their head – I was quite impressed.

Sam’s rating: 10/10
Ryan’s rating: 10/10 


After a brief hiatus – Sam chooses his country

Apologies, we were offline for a week while Ryan got over his illness, which involved a rush trip to hospital, and we thought we’d have a rest last weekend as we were all worn out. Ryan is fine now, and as cheeky as ever. And this week Sam has some fun picking a country, it seems as we eliminate countries they take longer to choose, so I’ve taken the liberty of editing this one a little shorter, so you don’t have to sit through what I did!

International Dinner: Dominican Republic (Ryan’s Choice)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hello WordPress people,

We had to delay our International Dinner a couple of days, partially because of Mothers’ Day, but also because wee Ryan got himself a stomach bug and the poor guy has been unwell the last few days. But in the end we had to cook tonight (because we’d bought some perishable ingredients) even though he still wasn’t quite up to eating – but he did ask us to save the Pan de Aqua, Albóndiga de res and the dessert.

Guanimos (Cornmeal Beef Pockets)

Ahh! Another meal cooked in corn husks – (last one was a sweet for Madagascar Night) fiddly little things. Guanimos are a cornmeal dough, surrounding a dollop of cooked, herbed beef mince, then boiled to finish off the cooking process.

Not hard to make, but fiddly when it comes to wrapping them up – and watch out – they’re hot to unwrap, even after a 10 minute cooling period.

Sam did try this, but he wasn’t that keen on it, I think it was the cornmeal outer he didn’t like.

Jocelyn loved hers, mine was good once I took the Dominican recommendation of having it with sauce.

Sam’s Rating: 6/10
(We’ll see if we can get Ryan’s rating if he’s up for food tomorrow, he asked us to save it)

Pan de Agua (Water Bread)
Albóndigas de res (Dominican Meatballs)

I’m surprisingly having some great success with breads and doughs with these dinners and the Pan de Agua was no exception. A simple dough, with more yeast than I normally use in a bread. I again used the car-rising technique, even though it’s getting wintery here, and the sun has a lot less warmth – it worked just fine.

The dough made eight perfectly browned little bread rolls, perfect to sop up meatball sauce with, or even if you’re an eight-year-old boy, a meatball sub.

Speaking of meatballs… they were simple enough to make as well, browned in the frying pan, then fresh peppers, tomatoes, onions and herbs added in with some water to make a rather delicious sauce, in which the meatballs finished cooking. Everyone loved this, and Ryan likes meatballs, so will await his verdict. I think we’ll be making this again, it didn’t take long to prepare of cook, and gave us a good dosing of veges as well.

Sam’s Rating: 10/10 (Bread)
Sam’s Rating: 10/10 (Meatballs) 

Sam decided the best way to experience all the flavours was to create a slurry of raspberry, pumpkin and cream!

Flan de auyama (Pumpkin Flan)

This was probably the most time-consuming meal this week. But I thought the kids might find it interesting that their dessert was made with Pumpkin – but I wasn’t going to tell them until afterward.

So the pumpkin gets boiled and mashed, and evaporated milk, and sugar added along with some spices, then reduced down until theoretically it will gel/set when chilled.  I did something wrong, looking at a few other recipes, others had more cornstarch than I used. I think we might try it again, as it was quite delicious, and I think I should be able to sort out my setting problem.

It did set, but was a bit soft, and stuck a little to the molds, I could have made it more like a flan, but I thought the boys might appreciate individual desserts, it always seems more special that way. The texture we ended up with was more of an icecream texture, than a mousse texture as it should have been. But Jocelyn and I finished ours off quick smart. We served it with a dollop of cream (Sam loves cream – strange for a boy with a dairy allergy) and a raspberry coulis.

Now Sam, he had a couple of tastes, and asked what was in it… I said “What do you think it is Sam?”

“Is it chocolate? It’s very chocolatey Dad.”

I told him it wasn’t chocolate, and to keep eating and I’d tell him when he’s finished. He kept on at me, so I told him pumpkin, by the look on his face I could tell that was the wrong answer, so I backtracked and said I’d read him all the ingredients. So I read out all the ingredients, making sure the sugar and raisins were mentioned first, then I used the American term for the pumpkin we’d used, “Squash” he was more content with ‘squash’ than pumpkin, so that was good.

Sam’s was right though, while chocolately wasn’t the right word, it was very creamy, and despite only one quarter cup of sugar it was sweet, so the cream and the acidity of the raspberry coulis helped to counter the sweetness nicely.

Sam’s Rating: 10/10

Let’s hope little Ryan gets better soon, he said on Monday “This is the worst day EVER!” after he’d vomited for the third time. He’s had a normal temperature now for the last 48 hours, so it’s just getting his stomach used to food again… it just came on so quickly – he was fine when we went ingredients shopping on Saturday – even polished off his lolly bag that afternoon. Fingers crossed.

International Dinner Project: Sweden (Sam’s choice)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Pinnbröd (Swab Bread)

Pinnbröd! Strangely enough, this is actually something familiar to me. Well, me, and anyone who was a kid in the 80s and went to Cubs, Scouts, Brownies or Girl Scouts. We knew it as damper.

Basically, (and the recipe looks pretty much the same to me) it’s a simple dough wrapped onto a stick and cooked over a flame. The boys opted for the BBQ rather than the gas stove top. What I did forget though, was that these things take a little while to cook, and our boys aren’t the most patient, Sam toughed it out almost all the way though.

Once done the boys drizzled “Runny Honey” on them and polished them off. Ryan, “I love them!”. Both boys finished their pinnbröd with no complaints. I always found it to be a rather heavy bread, but the boys were happy – onto the next round!
I almost forgot to add, little Ethan absolutely LOVED his pinnbröd, he finished it in record time and said his favourite word “more, more”

Sam and Ryan’s rating: 100/100 (yeah I know, but it shows their enthusiasm…)

Kroppkakor (Potato Dumplings)
Raggmunk (Potato Pancakes)

Potatoes seem to be the vegetable of choice in this course. Now let me state o from the outset, I am not a big potato fan. I’ll eat ’em if they’re on my plate roasted, or chipped and I love hashbrowns, but potatoes, if they’re mashed, I can only manage a few mouthfuls of before I start to gag. So this one was going to be as much a challenge for me as it was for the boys…

Raggmunk, is a grated potato pancake, it’s a pretty straightforward recipe, and quite easy to make. Which earns it big points because it’s pretty tasty too, I think upping the potato to batter mixture would make it ever better, but that may just be my love of hashbrowns talking. They were supposed to be served with lingonberry jam, but I couldn’t find any in time for tonight. But they were nice enough without it anyway.

The Kroppkakor was going to be more of a test for everyone though, and not just in the eating department, making them was a little difficult as well. The potatoes and boiled and mashed, all pretty straight forward to start with, then they’re mixed into a potato-type dough. But that’s were things got messy and fiddly, no matter how much flour I added that thing just kept getting wet and sticking everywhere. Which made me a little grumpy because I hate difficult dough… but eventually we got they, well, we got to a point where I could make them into workable balls. Next was making the salt pork and onion fillinh and sautéeing that up.

Then it was just a matter of filling the balls, sealing the filling in wthout it sticking to everything under the sun, and dropping them into boiling way. I’m quite a fan of dumplings lately, but these were quite different, so would be interesting to try. We were so focussed on getting the Raggmunk and Kroppkakor to be cooked, ready and hot at the same time that we forgot about the steamed veges. So tonight we had a vege free night – if you don’t count the potatoes and onion (is onion a vege?)

So, how did the boys go? Welll…. they both tried everything… however, Ryan struggle with the dumplings, and Sam struggled with the potato pancakes. Ryan did eat almost a whole dumpling when we promised him a little fizzy (soda/pop) drink, so it wasn’t a big struggle for him – he just preferred the pancake. Sam polished of his dumpling, saying that he likesd the filling more than the potato outer, and he made an honest attempt on the pancake.

Again, this is the most involved little Ethan has been with a meal. He loved the dumplings, infact, so much so, he ate just the filling (we had left overs after we ran out of potato dough).

How did Mum and Dad do? Well, we loved them, the potato pancakes were nice and light, the potato was barely noticable (which is why I said earlier that they could be a bit more potato heavy – so I think we may try them again with a bit of an alteration to the recipe.)

As for the Kroppkakor, to say we liked them would be an understatement, raved over them would be a better description, “these are really nice!” Jocelyn mumbled to me through a half full mouth. The potato casing offset the saltiness of the pork nicely, we both had seconds, and I think I had thirds as well…!

If they weren’t so fiddly and time consuming to make I’d guarantee I’d make these again… maybe for special occasions only, not regular everyday meals though… unless I get faster at it.

Sam and Ryan’s rating overall: 10/10 (they both rated their favourites)

Kanelbullar (Traditional Swedish Cinnamon Bun)

When my cousin found out we were doing Sweden, she said you have to make Kanelbullar, they’re in all the bakeries over there. So being the obliging cousin I am – that’s what we did – plus – I knew it’d be a hit with the kids.

Looking at the ingredients it is very similar the Netherland’s Kerststol and Greenland’s Kalaallit Kaagiat – albeit without the fruit. They are all up in the same portion of the globe and I imagine there’s a bit of cross-pollination of  foods. So with the dough I knew what I was doing – it all went rather smoothly, getting the spirals onto the oven tray without the falling apart was not too difficult, but the dough is very soft. Jocelyn worked hard putting together some make-shift paper rings so when they rose they didn’t just blob out – and those paper rings did the trick wonderfully.

The recipe called for pealr sugar, which I have never seen in the stores here, but a little research seemed to say that the Dutch Vruchthagel that we had was the exact same thing, just with a bit of colouring – so that would have to do!

The verdict? Well let’s just say the 100/100 rating got blown out of the water this time round! I can honestly say I was impressed by these, they came out nice and soft and spongy, sweet and very moreish. We had another helping with out coffee, later once the kids had gone to bed. And the boys both took one to school in the lunchboxes. Surprisingly enough we found out today both boys has a Swedish student in their class!

Sam and Ryan’s Rating 1000/10

I knew very little about Swedish food going into this, but I can now say they eat very well, would love to try that lingonberry jam that we couldn’t find, it sounds interesting, so I’ll be keeping an eye out as specialty stores.