China Festival Family Style – The Feast

Published May 22, 2011 by Mrs. Malo

We couldn’t have a chinese festival without chinese food – and I don’t mean American Chinese food – real chinese food!

One of my favourite shows on T.V. is Ann & Kristina’s Grocery Bag.  This was my first stop in the search for a good authentic chinese cookbook.  They reviewed The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, and it didn’t get the A&K stamp of approval.   My next stop was the local public library.  They only had one Chinese cookbook: Cooking Chinese by Deh-Ta Hsiung.  I put it on hold and decided to give it a try.  While I was looking for cookbooks I also came across The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee.  This book is a look into the world of Chinese restaurants – American Chinese restaurants.  I am not finished reading it but so far it is fascinating.  The world that most of us know of Chinese food is not at all similar to the food actually eaten in China.  Fortune cookies aren’t even Chinese.  This is a fun read that I am going to sign out again this summer as an easy read at the cottage.

So back to the dinner.  Cooking Chinese by Deh-Ta Hsiung was the perfect cookbook four our feast.  It had 50 recipes to choose from and each was broken down into 3 steps.  Some ingredients were a bit exotic but most I could find in our small town.  The most helpful part was the back of the book where there was a page entitled “The Chinese Meal”.  I was trying to make this dinner as authentic as possible so this was a huge help in my planning.  I first learned that in an informal dinner all foods are placed in the centre of the table with everything ready to eat.  A lazy susan is a asset.  To make my life a little easier in my preparation I decided to make a 4 course dinner, more like a formal Chinese dinner.

As suggested our first course consisted of both cold dishes and hot dishes:

  • Chicken with Mustard Sauce (cold)
  • Spicy Beef (cold)
  • Vegetable Salad with Spicy Dressing (cold)
  • Hot and Sour Cabbage (warm)
  • Vegetarian Egg Rolls (warm)
All these dishes turned out very well.  I was nervous about the egg rolls but they were delicious and everyone wished I had made more.
It was interesting to learn that soup was never served as the first course.  Drinks are usually not served during a meal and clear-based soups are used in their place.  I decided to serve the soup between the first and the main course.
  • Wonton Tang Soup
  • Tofu and Fresh Vegetable Soup
As I was trying to make this as authentic as possible I didn’t take any shortcuts and made my own Chinese stock.  This was used in the Wonton soup to  great success but in the Tofu and Fresh Vegetable Soup I substituted vegetarian vegetable broth to meet the needs of our vegetarian guests.  It was lacking a bit of flavour but we think this was because of the substitution.  As with the egg rolls I was very proud of myself with the success of the wontons.
We took a short break after the soup course so I could get the main course ready.  If I was to do this again I would definitely have 2 woks.   My wok broke a couple of months ago so I borrowed my aunt’s electric wok.  It was awesome to use but it was our bottle neck.  I was grateful for my warming drawer so all dishes could be served warm.
  • Stir-Fried Shrimp with Snow Peas
  • Kung-Po Chicken
  • Cantonese Beef
  • Red, Green, and Yellow (ie. tomatoes, cucumbers and eggs)
Most of these dishes turned out excellent.  My favourite of the entire day was the Cantonese Beef – awesome!  The Red, Green and Yellow wasn’t my favourite but I think it was just ingredients that my pallet didn’t like together.
Chinese don’t normally have desert but that wasn’t going to fly in our house.  The cookbook did give a recipe for Almond Junket, also known as Almond Float.  Basically this is jello type cubes served with fruit salad.  It was not a big hit, but probably an acquired taste.  Of course we had to have Jasmine tea with our desert.  When I was doing my grocery shopping I came across Hello Panda Chocolate cookies.  I am not sure if these are really Chinese but I found them in the asian section so we are saying they are – and they were a hit with both the adults and children.  Even though they are not Chinese I did pick up a box of Fortune cookies.  We had fun with them but we made sure everyone knew that they are an American invention.
A couple of notes about our dinner.  I have to give a huge thanks to my amazing husband.  He stopped at an Asian grocery store when he was in the city to pick up some of our more unusual ingredients an it was a frustrating experience for him to say the least.  After much searching we did have two recipes with ingredients missing but we didn’t seem to notice.  In the Spicy Beef we didn’t add the rock candy and in the Hot and Sour Cabbage we were missing the Sichuan peppercorns.
And finally you can’t have a Chinese feast without chopsticks.  We had normal bamboo chopsticks for the adults but I wanted to find something a little easier for the kids to avoid frustration.  My favourite online kitchen store, Golda’s Kitchen and great one piece chopsticks that were perfect.  The only problem I have now is that my kids want to use them everyday.
An awesome dinner and I definitely am looking into purchasing Cooking Chinese by Deh-Ta Hsiung.  I don’t think I will make all those recipes in the same day again but can definitely add a few to our weekly meal plans.
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