January 30, 2004
To celebrate Chinese New Year last week, Jill and I made potstickers, sipped on hot miso soup and drank jasmine tea. It's easier now days to buy the frozen pre-made dumplings at the chinese grocery store (they are actually pretty good) but it's really nice to sit around with family and friends and make rows and rows of dumplings together. It's much like a quilting bee, but better because in the end you get to eat.
How you cook the dumplings changes the name of the dumplings. The default name for a dumpling is Jiao Zhi. Most Jiao Zhi are usually steamed. If they are boiled they are called Shui Jiao (Water Dumpling). If you steam-fry them in a pan they are called Guo Tie (Pot Stick) better known as Potstickers. In Japan Potstickers are called Gyoza. Wontons are another kind of dumpling usually served in soup with a similar filling but are folded differently than how you fold Jiao Zhi. This is how my mom makes Jiao Zhi and how she taught me.
2 lbs of ground pork (with fat please!)
1 head of nappa cabbage
2 Tbsps of finely grated fresh ginger
2 cups of dried shitake mushrooms
2 Tbsps of cornstarch
2 Tbsps of cooking wine or sherry, or chinese rice wine
2 Tbsps of sesame oil
1 Tbsp of salt
Soak the dried shitakes in boiling water and cover for at least an hour, til they are soft and reconstituted. Remove the tough stems and finely dice. If you have food processor this will be much easier.
Shred or finely dice about 4 cups of nappa cabbage. Blanch in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water. You want to end up with about 2 cups of cooked cabbage.
Peel the fresh ginger with a spoon (it really works!) and grate it either with a microplane or I prefer to use a ceramic ginger grater. It does a wonderful job of finely grating the ginger and leaving the fibrous strands behind. There is also a lip that catches all of the juice that is extruded.
Mix all of the ingredients together with the ground pork. You want to make sure you use pork that is not super lean. You want a good amount of fat in your filling otherwise it will be very dry and the wrong texture. Ideally, you should mix the filling by hand for at least 15 minutes. The ideal texture of the pork filling should be very smooth where you can hardly detect one ingredient from the other, much like a bolognese. Many chefs in chinese restaurants mix and throw the meat mixture for a really long time to get this perfectly smooth texture. A food processor would be perfect for this step. If the mixture seems dry or hard to work with, you can loosen it up with some more cooking sherry or water. (My mom also uses dried shrimp in her recipe, but I don't always have that around and actually prefer it without.)
Now you are ready to fold the dumplings. This amount of filling will make about 60-70 dumplings. So you want to get two packages of dumpling wrappers. They are readily available at most grocery stores. If not, you can find them at any asian grocery store. Or you can make them from scratch, but I'll show you how to do that another time. There may be different names for the kind of wrappers you buy at the store. Like I mentioned before, they are all basically the same thing, except for the way you cook them, so some packages may say "Potsticker" wrappers, and some may say "Shui Jiao", "Guo Tie", "Jiao Zhi", or "Gyoza". Even though they all say different things, they are the same wrappers. You want to get any one of these that are round. The square shaped ones are usually wonton wrappers and are usually a bit thinner. If you can only find square ones, you can still use them, just trim off the corners of the square wrappers to get a basic round shape. Usually they will come frozen, so you want to make sure you thaw them first. A half hour or so on your kitchen counter should do. You'll also want to keep the wrappers under a moist cloth to keep them from drying out as you are working with them.
You'll need a small bowl of water to use as "glue" to seal the dumplings. I've seen a lot of recipes that call for an egg wash to use as glue, but this is unecessary.
Start by placing about one and a half teaspoons of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges of the wrapper around the filling with the water.
Bring two opposite sides of the dumpling together and gently pinch the top. (Excuse my ugly pink nail polish.)
Now you want to make a series of pleats on one side of the dumpling to help them sit up and so they'll look good. On the side of the dumpling wrapper that is facing you, make a pleat towards the center of the dumpling and press.
Moving outwards, make another pleat next to the first one and press. You want to make sure you fold the pleats completely over themselves and that the edges of the wrapper line up.
Now repeat on the other side mirroring the first two pleats so that they all point towards the center. You should have a total of four pleats. Seal the rest of the edges shut by pressing together.
If you look at the dumpling from a bird's-eye-view it should have a crescent shape. The pleated side will have pulled some of the edge of the wrapper onto its side to help form the pleats and will be longer than the other side. This other side without pleats will be shorter and will form the inner crescent. This helps the dumpling to sit up while cooking which is helpful for steamed or pan-fried dumplings.
You can place the finished dumplings on a lined baking sheet and stick them in the freezer until you are ready to cook. If you have a lot to store, you want to freeze them like this first, making sure they don't touch. Then after they are frozen you can store them in a freezer bag without fear of them fusing together.
Now, you can just drop these in a pot of boiling water like tortellini (They'll be ready when they float), you can steam them, or you can pan-fry them, my favorite. There always seems to be mystery as to how a potsticker is made. I've seen many methods in different recipes that seem complicated (using more than one pan) or that don't seem like they would cook the dumpling completely. It's really pretty easy to do.
Start with a cold non-stick skillet that has a lid, and a few teaspoons of oil, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. A good non-stick, teflon pan is key. Put this over a medium flame. Before the pan gets too warm add the dumplings, fold side up, in the pan. You can put them in a pretty flower pattern if you have the patience. Now the pan should start to sizzle and squeak a little bit. Pour enough water into the pan so that the water level is halfway up the dumplings. Cover and let it cook for about 15 minutes. This method is called a steam-fry. Basically you are steaming and frying at the same time, in the same pan. Keep an eye on it and listen for sizzling noises. This means the water has just about evaporated completely and the frying is beginning.
Check the dumplings to make sure the top edges of the pasta are cooked (they should look just barely transluscent). If they don't look cooked to you, add more water, cover and wait for the sizzle. If they do look cooked, remove the lid to let the rest of the water evaporate and cook a few more minutes just till the dumplings are browned on the bottom. Lift a few of the dumplings to check the browness. Once they have reached a GB&D (Golden Brown & Delicious) state, transfer them to a platter. If you arranged your dumplings in a floral pattern, you can serve it like my mom. See, my mom is fancy, and she does this fancy thing where she gets a platter that is larger than the skillet. Off the heat, she puts the platter upside down over the skillet then flips the entire thing over onto the platter (this is where the teflon coated pan really helps). You end up with this gorgeous platter of a giant golden flower that tastes like heaven. I burned myself badly doing this once, so I rarely do it now, but what a presentation! If you try it, just be very careful.
I like to serve it with a spicy ginger-soy sauce.
1 Tbsp of rice wine vinegar (or any vinegar will do)
1 Tbsp of sugar
3 Tbsps of soy sauce
2 tsps of freshly grated ginger and its juice
1 clove of minced garlic
1 Tbsp of sesame oil
a dash of hot chile oil or chile paste
garnish with minced scallions
Share, manage recipes and trade cooking tips with your foodie peers with Snackster, a p2p recipe trading application. Unfortunately they haven't caught up with the mac revolution yet and it is only available for PC users. Hello, um, which platform is more suited for Snackster than the one that has an Apple as its logo?
January 21, 2004
Is there any felicity in the world greater than perfectly cooked bacon? There is an article in the New York Times today about a bacon and wine tasting. THAT, my friend, is more glorious. The tasters sampled eleven different types of artisan bacons and noted their reactions as they chewed. My favorite comment comes from one of the tasters that called the New Braunfels Smokehouse Pepper Bacon "too conceptual."
Unfortunately, many people don't know how to cook bacon without burning it or themselves. The key to perfectly browned, crispy bacon is to cook it slowly over low heat. If you like cleaning your oven, spread the bacon out on a sheet pan and let it render to your liking. But I don't like to clean ovens. The easiest (and cleanest) method I've found is to put your slices of bacon in a cold pan and set over low-medium heat. Then stick a cover on it. Let it sit for five minutes then come back and check on it, flip, and sit for another 5 minutes. Tongs are essential. A good pair of 12 inch stainless steel tongs are your friend for life. Keep flipping two or three times for about 20-25 minutes or until the bacon is perfectly browned to your liking (I like to pull it off the heat just before the entire bacon strip crisps all over). Yes this takes a bit longer, but think of it as a process. You can sit down and read a book as the gorgeous smells of smokey pork waft in the air, gently preparing your senses for a taste explosion. More of the fat is rendered out with this slow cooking than if you seared it on high heat for 30 seconds, and the bacon is guaranteed to be really crispy without the constant gauging of the burn threshold.
When you are done with your feast, whatever you do, don't throw the bacon drippings away. After the grease has cooled down, pour it into a container with an air-tight lid and pop it in the fridge*. Don't strain out the bits of bacon either. Think of those delicious bits as extra seasoning. Then use it just like you would butter. You've never tasted pancakes so good that were cooked with a little pat of bacon butter. I also use it to fry eggs, make fried rice, saute vegetables, start soups and chilis, grease cornbread pans, pretty much anything that needs a little punch of flavor. I've even heard of cooks in the deep south using bacon grease to grease pans for dessert cakes. If you're worried about cholesterol, just add a touch of it as you are heating up your vegetable oil, and those little bacon bits you saved will add the nicest hint of salty, smokey flavor without all the saturated fat. But I dare say that a clogged artery is worth bacon.
SPINACH SALAD WITH HOT BACON VINAIGRETTE
6 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1 cup of thinly sliced red onion
crumbled bacon and crumbled blue cheese for garnish
2 Tbsps of bacon drippings
2 Tbsps of olive oil
2 Tbsps of balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp of brown sugar
1 tsp of salt
a few twists of freshly cracked pepper
1 Tbsp of grainy mustard
Place the spinach in a salad bowl. In a skillet, over medium heat, heat the bacon drippings and whisk in the oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the sliced onions and heat til warm. Pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Add crumbled bacon and cheese on top. Toss immediately and serve (spinach may wilt slightly). Serves 4-6.
*I've found no information on how long bacon grease can be kept. Since there is such high salt content, one would think it could be treated as salted butter and keep in the fridge for three months. But just to be safe, toss the unused grease after six weeks. It's also easier to dispose of in the garbage after it has solidified in the cold temperatures. I've heard stories of grandmothers continually pouring bacon grease in a collection tin right next to the stove and using it as she pleases, never throwing it out.
January 20, 2004
Sesame Soba Noodles
This is an easy meal to make cause most people have all of these ingredients in their pantry already. If i'm missing an ingredient or two I can usually find a substitute or just leave it out and it still tastes pretty good. This is also a really tasty and easy dish to make for hot summer days, or in my case, almost any day in Texas.
Prepare ahead of time:
4 cups of cooked, cooled soba noodles
1 large chicken breast, cooked, cooled and shredded
1/2 cucumber, seeded and julienned
1/4 cup of peanut butter
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of chili oil
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
2 tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon of ground or finely minced ginger
1 clove of minced garlic
*you can adjust these proportions to your taste (sweet, salty, sour)
Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce. If sauce is too thick, dilute with water or chicken broth. Arrange noodles on a platter and top with the cooked chicken and cucumber. Drizzle the sauce on top. Garnish with sesame seeds and minced scallions if you have them on hand (i didn't). Toss before serving/eating. Serves 2-4.
January 17, 2004
I know a lot of us survived on instant noodles through college. I did too, because it was cheap and fast, but I can't say I was a big fan of any of the flavors, especially any of the south of the border "picante" varieties. And I never figured out exactly what "oriental" flavor was. I noticed a lot of people did the smart thing, as I did, and would drain the noodles from the incomplex, salty broth before consumption. As it turns out, it wasn't Ramen, the traditional Japanese noodles with soup, that we wanted. It was Mi Goreng we wanted. Had I only known about the broth-free Indonesian instant noodles, IndoMie's Mi Goreng Pedas, or Hot Fried Noodles, I would have been a happier college student. The term Mi Goreng means "fried noodles" in Indonesian and is the same thing as Nasi Goreng (fried rice) except noodles are used instead of rice.
The seasonings in the Hot flavor consist of five small packets of chile oil with dried onions, fried shallots, condensed sweet soy sauce, crushed chiles, and a seasonings packet that I assume contains chicken boullion powder, salt and MSG (Yes, MSG, you only live once). Pretty fancy for instant noodles, eh? Indeed, opening and emptying each of these little packets can be tedious, but it's well worth it. Instead of adding the seasonings to the noodles that are cooking in the boiling water, you add the drained noodles to the seasonings and mix. You end up with a flavorful, spicy, glistening noodle concoction that is supposed to resemble fried noodles. It comes close. Ok, not really, but still very tasty.
I can't say instant Mi Goreng tastes anything like the real thing, but it's about ten times better than any Top Ramen that's out there and at the same price so I keep a stash in the back of my pantry for emergency meals. And if you like spice, this brand has got some definite kick. They also have a Regular flavor that is mild, and Satay flavor that is really spicy. And since I am an adult now I try to dress it up a bit with some seared shrimp, fresh scallions and a fried egg to make it a bit more authentic and to round out my meal.
January 9, 2004
Last night we went to see Nathan's blues band, The Leghounds, play at T.C.'s Lounge, over in east Austin.
We chatted it up, sipped on our ice cold beers and got our picture taken about a hundred times by this overly enthusiastic photographer with a snapshot camera.
There is no menu at T.C.'s. They just kind of decide what they are going to serve every night, take it or leave it, so we asked our waiter if there was any food. He said that tonight there were chicken wings for $6 a plate. We were slightly disappointed because Nathan had been singing the praises of T.C.'s fried catfish for days and then ordered the wings anyways. But the wings made up for it. They were crunchy, hot, juicy and tender and served up with some fries, toast and a simple salad drenched in Ranch dressing.
Then after we polished off that plate, we heard them announce that the specials tonight were Chicken Wings and Fish. So we quickly ordered a plate of catfish too. Nathan was right, they were really good. The catfish is really fresh, fried in the same crunchy corn meal coating as the chicken wings, and just perfectly seasoned.
January 8, 2004
I took a small road trip today and on the way back into town I spotted this sign that said Wienerschnitzel. It was obvious that it was a fast food establishment, but I had never heard of it before, so I got really excited and made Nathan, who was driving, turn around. The one time I had true wiener schnitzel was in Germany 13 years ago and it was deelish. "German fast food!" I thought to myself. "What could it be? Breaded veal sandwiches with a side of fries?" Turns out it was a just an american hot dog chain and it turns out I got excited for nothing. They didn't even pronounce wiener with any hint of German flair (VEEnerschnitzel) at all. "Thanks for Choosing Weenerschnitzel" the female voice in the box said. How boringly American.
So I ordered a Deluxe Dog (hot dog with yellow mustard, pickles, onions and tomatoes) and a Corn Dog. The Deluxe Dog was slightly less then boring. I swear the onions didn't taste like onion at all. They just seemed to add a tasteless crunch to the tiny all-beef dog that was lukewarm and flavorless. The bun wasn't even toasted or heated. I started dreaming about the kind of snap Gray's Papaya's dogs have when you bite into them and on that crispy toasted bun, or the crazy but tasty combos at Crif Dogs. The Corn Dog made with a chicken dog was pretty good though. But how hard is it to mess up a corn dog? Nathan thinks they are better than Sonic's, the usual place we get corn dogs. I agree with him because I think Wienerschnitzel batters their corn dogs fresh. But they're not worth the drive all the way out North 183. I mean, they're not Chick-fil-A.
But what Wienerschnitzel does get right are their e-cards.
January 4, 2004
Chocolate Covered Ginger
For Christmas gifts this year I got bulk candied ginger from Central Market and covered them in dark chocolate. I used a combination of Scharfenberger's Semisweet and Bittersweet chocolate. Scharfenberger usually is very strong for most people, but I thought it would stand up nicely against the supersweet, spicy ginger. This combination is heavenly I must say.
The Ginger People, is a store that specializes in ginger products. And they sell chocolate covered candied ginger if you are looking for a party in your mouth but too lazy to make it yourself. The best thing I love about their site is the little illustrations of the ginger people, especially this one of Fred and Ginger dancing.
January 2, 2004
Hambone, Hambone, Where Ya' Been?
I've been forced to re-examine my financial situation and tighten down a bit. Ok, a lot. Sadly this will reflect my food budget, but luckily I know how to stretch the almighty hambone. I've been making soup stock like a madwoman for the past month. I am a stock making machine. But my greatest accomplishment was this past weekend because I really saved some dollars. First I roasted a chicken which gave me two days of meals before leaving for the holidays. I freezed the carcass. Upon my return, while my neighbors I am catsitting for were out of town, I stole the hambone from their leftover honey-baked ham out of the fridge. (Don't worry, I put the leftover ham in their freezer for them to enjoy after they get back.) Two hours later i had some heavenly chicken and ham stock. I spent exactly $1.67 on some winter melon and baby bok choy at the asian market down the street and added some cellophane noodles I already had in my pantry for soup that is fit for even my former, more financially secure self.