Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cooking through Japan

I didn't get as many photos of our Japanese cooking adventures, but we certainly did enjoy them, and I'll share a few recipes that we used.  

We actually had some friends over for dinner and did a cooperative effort for our Japanese food.  She made hibachi chicken and sauce (which was DELICIOUS but turns out to be an American invention).  We made some fried rice to go with it.
One of my favorite things about Japanese restaurants is getting those multiple small dishes of the salads/side dishes, so we decided to make a few of those.  We made daikon salad (not sure our radishes are exactly daikon, but they are similar and work well) and sunomono (cucumber salad).  The recipes on that site Japanese Cooking 101 were easy to follow, and they had a ton of recipes.  My boys really loves eggs, and my oldest is a bit picky with things, so I thought the little wrapped omelette (apparently, called tamagoyaki) would be a good one to make.  She even warned in this recipe that it takes a bit of technique to get it right, and I should have heeded the warning.  I don't recommend trying this one for a beginning adventure.  Ours ending up tasting good, but it certainly was not pretty!
We also used my friend Lizzy's recipe to make miso soup.  She does a great job of figuring out what works well for cooking in our part of the world and adapting recipes for ingredients we have available.

Always my silly boy
We happen to have a few good Japanese restaurants.  It was a bit pricier than what we would usually do for a lunch, but it was yummy, and we all enjoyed it very much!

Zeke really wanted to try sushi, but good sushi with quality seafood is not so common in this landlocked country, so we tried an avocado roll. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year Cooking Adventure

Continuing our cooking adventures, we have had a lot of fun preparing for Chinese New Year.  We have a very sweet friend here who gave us some tips and amazing treats!  She and her family are from Singapore and are Chinese, so they have been preparing their celebrations.  She sent us a tray of the treats she made, as well as a couple packets of bakkwa, which is not even available here!  She kindly shared a couple packets that they had brought in from Singapore!

Almond cookies, Pork floss and seaweed German cookies, and pineapple tarts
Here are a few of our ingredients as we prepared to start our cooking!  In spite of being located closer to China now, these ingredients were much easier to find in Los Angeles when we lived there!

We made pineapple tarts, which is a traditional sweet for Chinese New Year.  Pineapple paste is not available here.  I found pineapple jam, but it didn't seem quite the right consistency for what the recipes were describing.  So, we made our own!  That was a bit tedious.  We kind of followed this recipe but had to adjust several things.  We didn't grate the pineapple, in spite of her warnings!  Ezekiel wanted to put it in the blender, but the combo of not ideally ripe pineapples and not a super powerful blender didn't do well.  Ezekiel said maybe we should cook it first, so we pulled out the pressure cooker, which I hoped would also potentially shorten the cooking time (and minimize gas use).  We just cooked it until it came to pressure and then released it manually.  Then, we strained off some of the juice to add in later, and it pureed well.
We also reduced the quantity from the recipe.  I used two pineapples (instead of the FIVE suggested in the recipe), and I still have a GOB of it leftover after making the tarts.  This recipe must be if you are making pineapple tarts for every single person you know!  We cut back the spices we put in as well to be one cinnamon stick, one star anise, and two cloves.  I did not measure how much sugar we ended up putting in altogether because I just kept kind of adding it and tasting.  I did BURN the jam, at one point, and I almost cried, but it seemed to recover pretty well and was just a bit darker than expected.  Zeke actually really liked stirring and checking the jam.    My friend actually gave me a recipe for the tarts, but the dough was similar to this one but without the cheese.  And, obviously, we didn't pull off the cute little goat shapes from that recipe.  I was lucky that mine all basically resembled something like spheres!  :)

 We also decided that it would be really fun to make dumplings.  I found a really great recipe for jiaozi (boiled dumplings) or guotie (panfried dumplings).  Really, when given a choice, how do you NOT choose panfried? :)
The recipe was really clear and descriptive, so it was great for our first time making these!
(As a side note:  These are so similar to momos, which is the name for the local dumplings here in Nepal that I feel a little embarrassed to not have tried making THOSE before I attempted THESE!)

Ezekiel helped me mix the filling, and then we put it in the refrigerator.  I made the first round of dough and dumplings myself last night when they were in bed.  I was glad I tried it without them in the mix first to figure it out a bit.  I have serious respect for this process!  I am actually sore from bending over the counter rolling and forming all these dumplings!
A note on the recipe is that I ended up with enough filling to match almost 3 batches of the dough.  I think we may have been a little skimpy on filling ours because they are easier to fold that way (and my boys would probably just eat the wrappers plain!), but still, it would at least probably make two batches.

We had made our treats for a little party with a few friends who also homeschool, and here is our table of goodies (not the abundance or lucky number of 8 proper for a Chinese New Year feast, but it felt like a significant accomplishment!).

 We were seriously invested in our dumpling-making and had plenty of filling left, so the boys and I made more dumplings this afternoon, and it was really fun having them help make these.  Well, that is after a deep breath or two and letting go of some control. :)  It was messy, and it is just not going to all work out quite "right" with little guys making these, but BOTH boys were excited to help.  Isaiah got to use a sharp knife (with a lot of oversight) for the first time to cut the dough, which was an exciting milestone for him.  Here are a few photos of my little dumpling makers:

So, that made dumplings for snack and dumplings for dinner!  And some to put in the freezer for another time.  Can one really have too many dumplings?  Haven't seen Isaiah eat as much for dinner as he did tonight for a long time!

I doubt this is super authentic or traditional, but to make it seem more like a full meal and since I had a ton of cabbage left over, so I did a quick search and threw this recipe for stir-fry cabbage together.  I was even a bit lazy (and literally finding it about 15 minutes before dinner) and made it even less authentic, I'm sure, by using garlic powder and ground ginger instead of fresh!  It still tasted good.  There is something so wonderful about the combo of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil!  Yum!

Chinese New Year

We have many things to catch up on, but I thought I'd go ahead and post some of our celebrations for Chinese New Year since you still have 15 days to jump in on celebrating! :)
We are studying China for a couple of weeks, and it was fun to be able to time it with Chinese New Year!  So, most of our study this week has revolved directly around the holiday.  The boys have gotten really excited about it, which has been really fun.  Isaiah especially loves "events," so he has gotten really, really wrapped up in this!
The boys dressed in red and eager for our celebration!
We talked a bit about the preparations for Chinese New Year.  Isaiah found it especially fascinating that they believe that they need to get all their cleaning done before the new year, as any cleaning during the new year would clear out the good luck coming in.  He pointed out that, even though we don't really believe in "luck," we could still clean.  Yes, yes, we could! :)
There is also a fun infographic with lots of interesting facts about Chinese New Year, and a friend here had given us some coloring pages and good sheets of information.

We read about the significance of dragons in Chinese culture, which the boys found really interesting.  There is a great article Chinese Dragons Explained on Kid World Citizen.  We watched the youtube video linked in the post of the dragon dance.

We then made a Dragon Paper Craft.  (This site also has some nice printable coloring pages that are free!  Isaiah insisted on coloring a whole stack, and he took the initiative to tape them all to our living room wall!)

I found Paper Cutting Templates and tutorials to make these Chinese characters.  They, apparently, are the symbols for spring (left) and double happiness (right).  Isaiah really liked cutting these out and then seeing the whole character once the paper was unfolded.

 Since I have no idea how to read any Chinese characters, I am really hoping that the things we put up are actually nice saying, such as this one we found at a Chinese market that Isaiah insisted on hanging on our gate.

 We invited some friends over today for a little early Chinese New Year party.  Isaiah was scurrying around the house wanting to do more and more to prepare.  I think my whole house would have been covered in red stuff and tape if I hadn't sent him outside to play!

We certainly didn't do well making them fancy, but we had some shiny red paper that we folded to make red packets for the kids coming to the party, in following the tradition to give money in red packets.  Zeke loves to use the stapler, so he enjoyed his task of closing the envelopes!

 Isaiah heard me say that they often decorate with fresh flowers and was set on getting some.  We went for the next best thing with our felt flowers and arranged them with a few books and our red packets.

I'll write another post on our cooking adventures for this week, but here is just one to show our table with a few treats for the party (dumplings with dipping sauce, pineapple tarts, a tray of traditional treats that a very sweet friend gave to us!, and some oranges).  The small red thing sticking out of our candle is our best attempt at fireworks.  It shoots off sparks, kind of like a sparkler but bigger.

While we ate a few treats, we also watched the Chinese New Year Parade 2014 from Hong Kong, and then we took a minute to pray for China.

Each kid made a simple paper lantern and took home copies of coloring pages from our friend.

The boys are thoroughly enjoying the holiday, and it has been a really fun way to learn a piece of Chinese culture!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cooking through Africa

The late fall and holiday season got a little wacky for us with school, and there were some things I wanted to adjust anyway from last semester that just weren't fitting for us.  I feel like we are finally hitting a groove with some things for school again, and it's exciting!  
(I'm still going to try to post some highlights of our fall and holiday season, mostly for the grandparents that keep an eye on us here :), but we're moving on with new things...)

One of the things that we started with a new season is our geography and social studies lessons.  We had started out this year using a curriculum because I wanted one of the subjects to be a bit more automatic since I've been piecing together most things myself.  But, it just wasn't turning out to be a good fit.  I decided that to finish out the year, I just wanted to do some units on a few countries/regions and have some fun introducing culture and some basic info on them.  It's been more work, obviously, but it's been so much more fun because I LOVE this!  

One of the things I really wanted to incorporate with these units is cooking some foods from the cultures we study.  My younger one seems to really enjoy cooking.  And, he and I both love eating. :)  I have always loved trying different foods, and I think food is such a fascinating part of cultures.  As a kid, one thing my mom did with us that I really loved was to have special nights where she found recipes to cook from a culture (not as easy to do before the internet in small town Midwest America!), and then we prayed for that culture as we had a special dinner.  

So, I'll make some posts specifically about our cooking adventures, which we are loving so far!
For our first unit, we studied Africa.  There are SO many cultures in such a large continent, but for the sake of time, we honed in on a few.  Our business has an office in Kenya, so we spent a bit longer studying Kenya to start off the unit.
We ground up some corn grits to make corn meal and cook ugali, a staple in Kenya and many other places in the region.  We found several recipes with varying ratios of cornmeal and water, but the directions all seemed basically the same and seemed to kind of be based on adding cornmeal until you have the desired consistency, which can be a little challenging when you don't know what consistency is desired. :)  Here is one sample of directions for making ugali.  We can't get white cornmeal here, so we used yellow.

We also made some greens and a simple vegetable curry to complete our meal.

The things we read said that you scoop some ugali from a common plate and use it to scoop up the other things on your plate.  My older son is not a fan of stickiness on his hands, so he is merely posing and chose to use his spoon.  :)

We read the book Mama Panya's Pancakes, so, of course, we had to make the recipe for pancakes that was in the back of the book.  It was an easy recipe, so my son could basically make the batter himself with me just helping him read the recipe.

One of our pancakes
A little silliness ensued when we were eating the pancakes!

After Kenya, we moved on to West Africa for a week.  My cousin and her husband are in Senegal, and we talked about that country, but the traditional meal (while super interesting) seemed a bit ambitious for us to pull off.  We also studied Nigeria and spent some time praying for the situations there, so we opted to focus our meal on Nigerian food.  Fufu is a staple in West Africa, which can be made from a variety of starches.
We made our fufu from taro, which is readily available here right now.  The recipe for the fufu was actually a Ghanian recipe, but all the sites we saw talked about fufu of various kinds being a staple in many countries in that region.

We made some groundnut stew to eat with the fufu.

The next week it was on to Southern Africa, and we mainly studied and cooked from South Africa.
It seems that a dominant aspect of cooking in South Africa is barbecue.  Meat is rather expensive here, and I confess I don't really know how to use our grill, so I'm not sure we did justice to our main dish, but we made some borewors, a traditional sausage.  I have no idea where to buy sausage casings here, so we just formed them into more of links by hand and cooked them that way.  

For dessert, we made malva pudding.  It was delicious.

Showing off with his completed mea
The recipes we tried all turned out well, and my son and I are having a great time on this first installment of our food tour!  Can't wait to keep our taste buds traveling. :)