Posted in Cooking with the Kiddies

China Festival Family Style – The Feast

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.
Posted in Cooking with the Kiddies

Cook Book Trials – Week 1

As promised we are cooking exclusively from our 3 new cook books for the next 4 weeks.  The only exceptions will be a few dinners we have at family gatherings at other houses.

Monday – Ricotta Rotini page 104 Healthy in a Hurry

Trying to stick to our routine Monday is Meatless.  The thing I like about the Company’s Coming series of cookbooks are the very clear instructions.  We started with this recipe because most of the ingredient were familiar to our family but we still had one new ingredient: artichoke hearts.  As promised this recipe was done in less than 30 minutes, and that including preparing all the ingredients.  We made one substitution using shredded Parmesan cheese rather than grated but it worked out fine.   My only complaint is that even though it was considered heathy it still had 702 calories per serving.  The serving was a good size but I thought there could be ways to reduce the calorie count.  For example it called for regular ricotta cheese and we used light instead, and the flavour seemed fine.  Not an amazing dish but O.K. for meatless Monday.

Tuesday – Gary’s T-Night Tacos page 9 The Family Dinner

When I was making my weekly menu last Sunday I opened up The Family Dinner I realized that I probably needed to read this book  before cooking too much from it.  I decided to tackle the first recipe in the book as I figured I could ready the 8 pages leading up to Gary’s T-Night Tacos.  This is no normal cookbook – it could more realistically be considered a parenting book.  The Foreward by Harry Karp had a great quote that I think show the focus of this book:

I encourage you to think of family dinner as your child’s nightly dress rehearsal for adulthood, a protected space for him or her to master patience, conversation, an cooperation … one meal at a time.

The foreward is followed by an introduction by author Laurie David and then the recipe we tried.

We are a pretty traditional Taco family so I was not sure how this was going to go.  Our tacos usually come from a kit with ground beef, tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce added.  We have had some luck in the past trying the non-traditional so I thought we would just go for it – and we were pleasantly surprised.  The texture of this recipe is a big softer than I would normally like but the favour was great!  I asked Gord what he thought and his comment was: “Surprisingly pretty good”.  There were many ingredients in these that my kids would not normally eat, eg. avocado, but they devoured them in the tacos.  It wasn’t amazing but was pretty good and probably a make again.

Wednesday – Tarragon-Poached Fish page 91 Healthy in a Hurry

For the next couple of weeks Wednesday’s are still pretty busy for us, until swimming lessons finish at the end of the month.  Because of this I picked a really quick recipe for Wednesday.  This recipe definitely met my criteria.  It took less than 10 minutes to prepare and was very easy to clean up.  This was a nice light fish with a mild flavour.  Again not an outstanding recipe but good for a weeknight.

Thursday & Friday – Thursday afternoon and evening were crazy busy with a visit to the Naturalpath, make up dance classes, and our Family Fit exercise class, so we decided to make it a leftovers night.  Most of the dishes were left over from our Chinese feast last Sunday but the Ricotta Rotini from Monday re-heated pretty well.  Still not a big fan however.  On Friday it was a gorgeous day so we decided to treat ourselves to a hot dog from the Arbor in Port Dover after dance class.

Saturday – Alphabetter Soup page 32 Kids Cooking

Saturday is our kids “Cooking with the Kiddies” day so it was the perfect day to try out Kids Cooking.  I picked the Alphabetter Soup because it looked pretty easy and it wasn’t anything too strange for the kids.  I really like the way this cook book is set out for kids.  The ingredients and tools are listed both with pictures and words.  Then the recipe was divided into Getting Reading and Cooking.  Kaitlyn helped read the recipe using both the pictures and any words she knew or could sound out.  The steps are pretty well laid out and it tells which steps to have an adult do.  We did have one problem as it tell the child to “Open the can of tomatoes and carefully pour them into the pan”.  This is a step that an adult should do – when Kaitlyn was pouring them in the oil in the pan splashed up on her hands.  She doesn’t take too well to pain, like any child would react, and it took her a bit to come back in the kitchen to finish dinner.

The cookbook seems very kid friendly and very well laid out but there seemed to be a lack of creativity in the recipe we tried and in short it was not very good.  I think the problem was two fold.  First it needed more flavour.  Other than a bay leaf there were no spices added and they would have been a welcome addition.   Secondly it called for 4 bouillon cubes in the soup.  We never use bouillon and now I remember why.  It didn’t say which type to use so we used chicken bouillon.  Upon first taste I knew something wasn’t right.  It wasn’t until Gord mentioned it that I figured out what it was – SALT.  It tasted like I was eating pure salt.  It was sooooo strong that you couldn’t taste the flavour of the vegetables.  I went to check the bouillon package and quickly noticed the first ingredient listed is salt – no surprise.  This recipe would possibly have been much better if made with low sodium vegetable broth instead of the water and bouillon, or possibly even just using the water and adding more natural spices.  A very disappointing dinner.  Hopefully the next recipe we try from Kids Cooking will be much better.

Sunday Breakfast – Egg in a Frame page 15 Kids Cooking

Normally Sunday is pancake day but none of our three new cookbooks had a pancake recipe.  Instead we decided to try one of the “Four Ways to Cook an Eggceptional Breakfast”.  My girls had never had them before so we made “Eggs in a Frame”.  Again there was not a lot Kaitlyn could do in this recipe.  She used a cup to create the hole in the center of the bread but Mommy had to do the rest as it was over the stove.  I am starting to think this cookbook is for much older children.

Sunday Dinner – Simple Beef Broccoli page 75 Healthy in a Hurry

Normally Sunday night is our big family dinner and we invite extended family over for dinner.  This week we were suppose to go to a BBQ for my father-in-laws birthday but that was cancelled so we made a dinner we were suppose to have early in the week (but decided to go out instead).  Simple Beef Broccoli was a very easy recipe.  The most time consuming thing was cutting up the meat and veggies.  I purchased a whole steak instead of pre-cut beef stir-fry strips so it took me a few minutes longer to prepare the meat.  Instead of the suggested rice I served the beef over a bed of whole wheat egg noodles.  Sometimes it feels like we eat brown rice every day so this was a nice change and a nice pairing.  We did make one substitution in the recipe.  It called for 2 tbsp of dry sherry, which I did not have and did not want to buy a whole bottle for one recipe.  I found a great website that gave substitutions for different types of alcohol in your cooking.  It called for vanilla extract, orange juice or pineapple juice.  I couldn’t imagine using vanilla in this recipe and I didn’t have orange or pineapple juice so I used apple juice, a staple in our fridge.   The substitution seemed to work fine.

So that was our first week of cookbook testing.  We tried a few recipes from Healthy in a Hurry and Kids Cooking and I am really looking forward to next week and trying more from The Family Dinner.

Posted in Gardening with Kids

Our Garden – Update

So we have done some more work on our garden since my last gardening post and I thought I should give an update.  Everything is growing nicely in the greenhouse an we have had no more falls in the water.

 Mid-April it finally warmed up and dried out long enough for use to plant our peas.  We have planted peas for the past couple of years but never have used a trellis to help them grow.  This year I wanted to do it properly.  I found a great post on the blog My Crazy Life as a farmer’s wife with great tips for planting peas.  She suggested using hog/cattle panels for a trellis.  I headed down to our local TSC with my dad (who is also my handyman) and we found a rabbit fencing that seems like it mike work perfectly.  I will let you know how it turns out.  It cost me a bit of money (around $30 including the posts) but I hope to use it year after year.  This was our first day out in the garden with the girls and we quickly learned that they love digging holes.  I had picked them up kid sized shovels when I was at TSC an they are a huge hit.  A few weeks later the peas are coming up and we just need to make sure they are getting enough water.

This past Tuesday we planted our pickles and our sunflowers in the greenhouse.  We could have planted the sunflowers earlier but we really don’t want them to bloom until the end of August/ beginning of September.  Sunflowers blooming is a sign that school is starting and it really confuses the girls when they bloom too early.

The other great thing I wanted to share are these great gardening sets the girls got from Aunt Kirsten and Uncle Ben for Easter.  They are from Creatology and include a small gardening tote and three tools.  They also gave them the matching gardening gloves which are awesome and were very much needed.  I don’t like them handling the seeds too much and these are great at protecting their hands.  They fit both of the girls perfectly!

Posted in Cooking with the Kiddies

New Cookbooks

This has become the week of new cookbooks, and it is only Tuesday.  This was totally unplanned but very welcome.

Yesterday at the grocery store I made an impulse purchase of Company’s Coming Healthy in a Hurry.  It is still a few months away but I am trying to prepare for cooking for my family once I go back to work. I don’t want to sacrafice our healthy meals for speed.

Also yesterday Kaitlyn brought home from school a cookbook we ordered through the Scholastic book order: Kids Cooking.  I am hoping this will help give ideas for our Saturday Kid friendly meals.

Finally I was very excited to receive my copy of The Family Dinner in the mail today.   I won it at a twitter party last month and am very excited to try it out!

My goal is to cook exclusively from these three books for a month starting next Monday.  We have our big China party on Sunday so we won’t start until after  that.  Check back in June and I will post my thoughts.

Posted in Family Adventures

Great Wolf Lodge Vacation

Thursday morning we woke up at the Embassy Suites in Niagara Falls and went to sleep at Great Wolf Lodge Niagara Falls.  Everyone was up very early in morning, and I mean 5:00 am early!  Michael was not feeling great and when he woke up everyone else was up shortly after.  When we had checked into the Embassy Suites  I was pleasantly surprised to learn it included a breakfast buffet.  When we went down to breakfast we saw that it wasn’t your typical continental breakfast but a full buffet.  Bonus!  We had a great seat right by the window overlooking the falls.  The only problem was that the sun was very bright coming in the window, but that was our sacrifice for the amazing view.  Most of us ate very well, except my non-breakfast eater Eileen.

While I packed up the room we let the kids rest in the hotel room.  Gord went for a run along the falls, I wish I would have brought my running stuff!  At noon we checked out of the hotel and after a quick Timmies run we went to Great Wolf Lodge.  All the kids were asleep in the car so Gord went and checked us in.  We were lucky and our room was available.  We had booked a Kids Camp Suite for our family.  Gord and I had a queen bed and the girls had bunk beds in their own room within our room.  Michael slept in our playpen which we brought from home.  They said they may have playpens available but couldn’t guarantee one so we brought our own.  The room was perfect, and our location in the lodge was awesome.  We were on the ground level so we never needed to use the stairs or elevator unless going up to the lobby.  It took us only a minute to get to the waterpark or arcade and we were right across the hall from the Cub Club.

Things we loved:

  • Great waterpark for all ages.  Eileen loved the little kids section (Chipmunk cove) and once Kaitlyn got over her inital fear she went down every waterslide she was able to, and there were only three she was too small for.  Michael even sat on my lap when we went on the lazy river.
  • So much to do.  Our inclusive package included a colour-your-own T-shirt for the kids, and arcade tokens.
  • Few line ups during the week.  On Thursday and most of Friday we rarely had to wait in any lines – and if they did they were very short.
  • The animals in the lobby – Kaitlyn’s most used phrase was: “Go see animals!”
  • The breakfast and lunch buffet were great.  There was a lot of selection and the kids loved being able to reach their own food at the kid-high buffet.  I am not normally a fan of buffets but if it had to be a buffet it was a pretty good one.
  • The service was very good.  The only person I saw who wasn’t polite and smiling was the good who made up our room, and she wasn’t rude just not overly friendly.  We found that overall all the service in the Niagara Falls area was very good.
  • Minigolf! My girls loved the minigolf course.  Kaitlyn said it was her second favourite thing after the waterpark. It was a pretty easy course and perfect for kids.
  • The best place to eat was right in the waterpark.  This made it very difficult to find a table.  They needed to have some tables reserved just for people eating.  It was very humid in there if you didn’t have a bathing suit on but that didn’t bother us as much.
  • We purchased the all inclusive package for the kids.  This also included a plush for each of the kids, but it wasn’t a Great Wolf plush – just a generic elephant.  It would have been nice to have a souvenir that said “Great Wolf Lodge” that they could have to remember their trip.
  • Free Wi-Fi sounds like a good thing but it was soooo slow.  I had planned to blog in the evenings when the kids were asleep but is was to slow to do anything.
  • VERY busy on Saturday.  As we were leaving on Saturday at about 1:30 we went by the lobby to say goodbye to the animals.  It was a zoo – and I don’t mean the animals. The line up to check in was crazy.  We were very happy to be leaving at the time.  I am not sure if they are that busy every weekend or if it was because it was Mother’s Day weekend.
Would we go back? Definately.  On Sunday we were driving to Mother’s Day dinner and when Kaitlyn was asked why she was so glum she replied: “I wish we were at Great Wolf Lodge”.  I don’t know if we would get the the inclusive package again – I would have to price it out to see what would be the better deal.  We would also do everything in our power not to go on a weekend.  This will be difficult when I go back to work.  Has anyone ever been in the summer?  Would be interested to know how busy it gets in the summer.
A great family vacation!