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 


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