The Zongzi Chronicle

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My father was a man who passionately pursued his interests. A professor of Child Psychology at UC Berkeley in the 1960’s, he remained a staunch conservative during the Free Speech/Anti-War movement. He obsessively followed the stock market. He loved to throw big parties in our home and did so frequently. He daily studied and sang Peking Opera.  He was a collector of classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy.  But if you asked him what he loves to do, he would answer: “Go fish.”

Daddy LOVED to go fishing. When we were young, he brought us to nearly every lake, stream, reservoir, and pond within a few hours drive of San Francisco. I recall his favorite fishing spots: Clear Lake (not clear), and Lake Berryessa (no berries). We had enough fishing equipment in our basement to open a small tackle store.  Each of three daughters had two fishing rods: one for fresh water (closed reel) and one for salt water (open reel).  We also each had our own tackle box; mine was green.  Dad would stay up into the wee hours of the morning poring over his lures and carefully selecting the hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and bait for the upcoming day’s fishing trip.  Mom made roast beef sandwiches: leftover slices of cold roast beef on Kilpatrick’s white sandwich bread with mayo. We caught bluegills and crappie, large-mouth bass and catfish, and occasionally, the prized rainbow trout.  For us kids, Guppies, tadpoles, mosquito bites, and sunburn were the evidence of a successful day of fishing.

I was reminded of fishing with my father when I read about the origin of that holy grail of dumplings, Zongzi. Something about an ancient beloved Chinese poet who drowned himself, and people threw packets of rice into the river to prevent the fish from consuming his body. Grim, I know.  Why is it that all origin stories carry such a heavy dose of morbidity?

Zongzi are delectable packets of sticky rice with a morsel of tender, savory pork hiding in the center, wrapped in bamboo leaf and secured with string.  They are not to be confused with Nuo Mi Ji, or Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf—where the contents are all pre-cooked before wrapping (see my “Not Quite Elven Fare” post from April 2014 ).  With Zongzi, the rice and fillings are uncooked, and require prolonged cooking after wrapping.

My dad liked Zongzi a lot. I LOVE Zongzi. My Auntie used to make them, and periodically she would bring some over and put them in our freezer. When I was young I didn’t think about how they were made, they just magically appeared, like so many other things in life provided by competent, caring adults. However, unlike her pot stickers and won ton, I never helped her–or even once saw her make these.  It is true, that making Zongzi has been near the TOP OF MY LIST of dumplings to make for this (intermittent and highly unreliable) blog for several years. While I like to blame my tremendous inertia and delay on this lack of formative childhood experience, it was in fact my great trepidation of wrapping the darn things.

Well, it’s time to fish or cut bait.

I decided this needed to be a group effort.  I recruited Big Guns: my cousins Jane and Frances (daughters of the aforementioned Auntie), my son-in-law’s mother Jean, and my sister Lisa.

IMG_6844Zongzi Special Ops Forces.  I’m on the right.

We decided to make both Shanghai style (what my Auntie made), and Cantonese style Zongzi.   Shanghai style has rice seasoned with soy sauce so that the rice is brown in color, with only pork in the filling.  Cantonese style has rice seasoned with salt, so the rice stays light in color, and multiple goodies in the filling in addition to pork.

The recipes we used are from:

Zongzi—Shanghai Style.  https://thewoksoflife.com/sticky-rice-dumpling-shanghai-pork-zongzi/

Zongzi—Chinese Sticky Rice Dumpling (Cantonese style).  http://yireservation.com/recipes/zongzi-chinese-sticky-rice-dumpling/.

Recipe:

I will not repeat the recipes here as they are so well represented on their sites.

Instead, here is my commentary:

I did the math so that we had ingredients to make around 50 each of the Shanghai style and Cantonese style.

 

Day before:

The leaves:

You need three bamboo leaves for each zongzi.

We wanted to make 100 zongzi, so I needed #300 leaves.

I couldn’t tell how many were in a pack, so I opened one in Marina Market and stood there and started counting.  There are #100 leaves in each pack, $2.99 per pack, and I bought 3 packets of bamboo leaves.

I needed to soak, clean, and boil the leaves.  This turned out to be more time consuming and tedious than I anticipated.

To soak the leaves, I filled my hotel pan with water and put all the leaf packets in and weighted them down with some plates.  2 hours later I checked them, and I’m glad I did because the water had not penetrated between the leaves—they’re naturally somewhat water repellant and stuck together, and the middle of the leaf packets was completely dry.

So I separated the leaves–ALL 300—then washed them (as recommended in several other recipes and youtube videos), then boiled them in several batches for a few minutes.  This took forever.  I then submerged them in the hotel pan again and let them soak overnight.  In the morning we cut off an inch or two from the stem end—you need to remove enough of the stiff stem so the leaf is pliable. We had to cut them all twice, having not removed enough the first time.

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The rice:  I washed fifteen pounds of Koda Farms Sweet (glutinous, sticky) Rice a few times and covered with water to soak 2 hours before our start time. No need to soak the rice overnight.

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The pork:  I purchased one 5 pound pack of pork shoulder and one 4.5 pound pack of pork belly from Costco.  (Costco sells pork belly?  WHO NEEDS FIVE POUNDS OF PORK BELLY IF YOU’RE NOT MAKING 100 ZONGZI?)  I cut both the pork belly and the pork shoulder into 1 x 2 inch strips, and kept the belly and shoulder separate.  I tripled the Shanghai Zongzi marinade recipe, omitted the 5 spice powder (mine was three years expired), and omitted the water. I then mixed half the marinade with each type of pork the night before.

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For the Cantonese zongzi we added mung beans, dried shrimp, peanuts, Chinese sausage (Lap Cheung), shitake mushrooms, and Salted egg yolks, cut in half.

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Getting started:

Between the five of us, we have over two centuries (!) of cooking experience, yet none of us had made Zongzi before. So, we did what any Chinese-American home cook of a certain generation would do:  We watched youtube videos.  What could possibly go wrong?

These two videos were the easiest for me to understand and follow:

Shanghai style wrapping:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnqnSTv7hRc

In the first video, the wrapping begins at 1:15 minutes if you want to skip ahead.

 

Cantonese style wrapping:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOMzCNftkQE

 

Armed with our newfound knowledge, we sat down and started to wrap.

Wrapping was not difficult and not easy, but it was comical.

In my hands, the Cantonese style of wrapping produced tiny Lilliputian tetrahedral Zongzi so I abandoned it, desiring nice, plump, non-diet sized zongzi, and moved on to the Shanghai style wrap.  I put one piece of pork belly and one piece of pork shoulder in each zongzi.

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Observations on 5 experienced Chinese cooks wrapping zongzi for the first time:

  • There was definitely a learning curve with many do-overs and broken zongzi.
  • After wrapping about twenty, I finally got the hang of it and learned to fold down/close the leaves at a right angle to the base, to get the desired pyramid shape.
  • They did not become more beautiful with time.
  • Mine seemed too small; I think I overlapped the leaves too much, giving me less real estate in the ‘boat’ where the filling goes
  • There is no need to tie them tightly nor loosely, as they did not expand with cooking.
  • There was more than one moment when I felt like I was on a prison labor line.
  • None of us curse.

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In the end, everyone came up with Her Own Method.  This is how they looked before cooking:

Initially I envisioned it would take us two hours to wrap them, and we would cook them in big pots on the stove.  FOUR hours later we finally had them all wrapped, so the early ones went in the pressure cooker, and I cooked them on ‘high’ for one hour.  You can also cook these on the stovetop; recipes I looked at vary between 90 minutes and 5 hours. I would try 2.5 hours and check to see if it’s done.

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This is how they looked after cooking:

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The tasting:

I took a bite.  You know that scene in “Ratatouille” where the food critic takes One Bite, and is straightaway transported back to his fondest comforting food moment from childhood?  Yeah, like that.  It tasted PERFECT, just like I remembered.  The seasoning was right on (thanks, thewoksoflife.com!).  The rice was sticky and soft-chewy with bamboo-leaf fragrance. And the fatty pork belly had transformed into a silky, melt-in-your-mouth experience.

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We made 135 Zongzi in all; enough for everyone to take home and share with family.  Cooked Zongzi should be frozen, for surely you cannot eat them all in one sitting, and you will want to pull one out on a rainy day and be transported back to your childhood.  Simply place cooked Zongzi in a ziplock bag and toss in the freezer.

To eat frozen zongzi:  Place one zongzi on a plate in the microwave and use the ‘auto-defrost’ feature.  Once defrosted, I zapped it on high for 90 seconds.  Cut string, remove leaves, and enjoy!

 

We definitely plan to make these again, and it should go faster next time, now that we are oh so experienced.

I’m going to stash some in my niece’s freezer.

Homemade Har Gow

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Well, after a nearly three year hiatus, here I am again.

I hadn’t intended to stop blogging for this long.

Two weddings, a broken bone, and a couple of graduations later, it is time for another post.

 

My mother was a morning person.  She’d sit at the kitchen table in the pre-dawn hours, reading the San Francisco Chronicle. She must have relished those moments of peace and quiet before her busy day.  Rarely, I’d wake up early and sneak down to the kitchen, attempting to surprise or scare her.  Always, there was a big smile and warm embrace. An anesthesiologist, Mom left home daily at 7am.  Most mornings I’d rush from my 2nd floor bedroom, bleary eyed in my pajamas, to the landing just in time to see the front door shut behind her (I cried).

This meant breakfast was on our own.  Sometimes mom made poached eggs for us before she left, and I’d come down to the kitchen to find a cold poached egg suspended in water in a plastic bowl with a little soy sauce, appearing not unlike the jellies of Monterey Bay Aquarium (which wouldn’t be built for another 20 years). Those poached eggs were dreadful, which pains me to say because I know my mother prepared them with love.  Most days we ate cereal out of the box.  Frosted flakes, Trix, and my favorite, Captain Crunch. Before the days of iPads for kids—in fact, before the days of televisions in the kitchen (there was One B&W TV in the living room, where it belonged), breakfast entertainment consisted of reading the back of the cereal box.  There were mazes, puzzles, and once I cut out a 45 rpm Archie’s song that was embedded in the cardboard box and played it on our little record player.  The entire cast of cereal characters paraded through our breakfast: Toucan Sam, Honey Bear, Tony the Tiger, and, of course, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, who still have the best jingle in town:

 

Weekends were a different matter.  I’d join mom in the kitchen and help her make her version of ‘tsong you bing’.  It was nothing at all like classic tsong you bing, but was instead a delicious savory, eggy pancake with bacon and scallions.  Mmmm. And on special occasions we’d go to Chinatown for dim sum, back when the only businesses on Clement Street were a Woolworth drugstore, King Kold ice cream, and King Norman’s Kingdom of Toys. Then, as now, dim sum was an adventure, where the waiter pushing carts laden with dishes billowing steam would lift up the lid to give you a glimpse of the surprise within. My parents judged the restaurant based on the quality of their har gow.  The har gow should be full of plump, juicy, flavorful shrimp, not mushy or pasty. The skin should be thin, delicate, and translucent, yet still hold together.

 

Having made hundreds of reasonable siu mai, dozens of delicious char siu bao, and thousands of pot stickers, it is time to face my nemesis again.

“Har Gow”.

“Xia Jiao” in Mandarin.

And in my childhood home, “Hoah Joah” in Shanghai dialect.

Sadly, being adept at pronouncing this in three dialects has no bearing on my ability to properly execute this dish.

 

Har Gow

This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s book Asian Dumplings

Line bamboo steamers with parchment paper.  Poke several holes in the parchment paper with a paring knife to allow steam to circulate.

Make the Filling first, then the dough.

 

Filling:
I modified Andrea’s filling, drawing from several recipes.  Classic recipes include pork fat and bamboo shoots. I omitted both. I don’t typically have pork fat on hand. Canned bamboo shoots and I don’t get along (reference my ‘so bad I spit it out’ post from March 2014) so I substituted golden garlic chives.

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I buy shrimp only from Asian markets where it is very fresh (by that I mean high turnover. Pretty sure it’s shipped frozen, then thawed).  My market sells them already peeled and deveined.  Making har gow is labor intensive enough without peeling and deveining the shrimp.

 

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

 

1 bunch golden garlic chives, bottom 2 inches trimmed and discarded.

 

Seasoning sauce:

1 ½ tsp cornstarch

¾ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

1/8 tsp white pepper

½ tsp sesame oil

2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine

Mix above 6 ingredients together.

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Rinse chives and chop finely.  Place in a large bowl and add 1 tsp salt and mix, massaging the salt into the chives.  The chives will soon start to release liquid.  Once the liquid starts to release, place chives in a dish towel, wrap it up, and squeeze all the liquid out.  You should have about ½ cup of chives.

Actually, I have a new toy that I use instead of the dish towel to squeeze liquid out of salted vegetables:  a potato ricer.  I bought a big one, and it fits a surprising amount (a whole head of napa cabbage!) in one squeeze. This is primarily because after you salt the vegetables, the volume decreases quite a bit.  It beats having to buy new dish towels, and it is my very favorite dumpling related toy in the whole wide world, besides my kitchen scale. And tortilla press. And giant steamer.

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Wash the shrimp by dumping them into a large bowl of cold water and rinse well, lift them out and drain in a colander, then dry them in a single layer on a dish towel or a few layers of paper towels. Put them in a dry bowl and add baking soda and salt and mix thoroughly. Cover and place in fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour.  Rinse shrimp again in cold water and dry again on a towel.

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Caution: The following is a rant, file under sub-category: “THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN DECADES AGO”.

I gave up cooking shrimp about 25 years ago. Stir fried shrimp should be about the simplest dish to make, yet mine was always mushy, or overcooked, or undercooked, and never tasted delicious. I marveled that Chinese restaurants made theirs so plump and ‘crunchy’ in texture, and I mean crispy/crunchy meat with a ‘pop’, not a fried coating. As avid a consumer as I am  of reading cookbooks, cooking magazines, and cooking websites, I cannot believe I never came across the solution.  Last week, The Internet told me to brine the shrimp with baking soda and salt.  (To clarify, prior to this, brine shrimp was something we fed to the tropical fish in our home aquarium when I was six.) It works, of course. STACY I am so sorry I didn’t make your favorite shrimp when you were growing up, but now that you don’t live at home, I will make it for you if you come over.  It’s really good. [End of rant.]

 

Cut each shrimp crosswise into 6 or 7 pieces.  I found that cutting the shrimps individually worked better than giving them a ‘rough chop’ because too many of the shrimp came out still attached and stringy. Take about 1/5 of the shrimp and chop it finely into a rough paste. This acts as a binder for the filling (in place of the pork fat).  Mix the shrimp pieces, shrimp paste, chives, and seasoning sauce together.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Wheat Starch Dough

4 ½ ounces (1 cup) wheat starch

2 ¼ ounces (1/2 cup) tapioca starch

1/8 tsp salt

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

4 tsp canola oil

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Mix together wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add oil to the well.  Add the hot water and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon (I just used a fork). If too sticky, add more wheat starch.  If too dry, add a little more water. Transfer the warm dough to an unfloored surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until snowy white, smooth, and resembling Play-Doh in texture. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at least 5 minutes.

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After resting the dough, cut it into 4 pieces and form one piece into a log. Cut each log into 8 pieces.  Take one piece and, using a tortilla press and 2 squares of parchment paper, flatten the dough between the parchment paper into a very thin disc.  I turn the disc and paper 2 or three times to continue flattening so the disc is about 3 inches in diameter. (You can use a rolling pin if you don’t have a tortilla press). Peel off the parchment and carefully remove the disc of dough.

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Using a size 100 disher scoop (holds 2 tsp), place a scoop of filling in the disc. Pleat and press, forming a pleated crescent. Place in your parchment lined steamer. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

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Steam over boiling water for about 6 minutes, till glossy and translucent.

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What really happened:

As readers of my previous posts are aware, I have a love-hate relationship with this dough.  When made correctly, it has a wonderfully malleable, play-doh like texture.  However to get to that texture takes some tinkering.  My hope was that if I used the scale to measure the starches (I did), the proportions would be just right.  Unfortunately I can’t follow instructions and poured in the whole cup of hot water instead of the 14 tablespoons advised in the recipe (16 tablespoons in a cup. 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon. 5 ml in a teaspoon, 15 ml per tablespoon, and 30 cc=2 tablespoons, important if you are measuring out antacids.  I tried to teach these to my daughters, early and often, but they remain blissfully unaware. Parental fail.) Thus I had a messy wet paste and had used up the last of my wheat starch.  Afraid to add more tapioca starch (too bouncy?) I added potato starch by the tablespoon until it came together into a reasonable dough. This dough has no elasticity and breaks easily. I was able to make one tray of har gow but forgot to turn the ends up, so the shapes look more like pot stickers than the traditional ‘bonnets’.  Clearly I need a lot more practice to get these looking like they were made by an adult and not a pre-schooler. Then I got tired and just folded the 2nd tray into half moons.

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Critique

My previous food critics have flown the nest, so DH is my sole reviewer today.

“Wow, these are fantastic”.  “These are so so good”. “Did you make these? Really?”

 

My observations:  This attempt was more successful than my last. I like the golden chives which give a lovely flavor that is not overly intrusive. Omitting the pork fat results in a clean, non greasy taste.  Aside from a little oil in the dough, these have no added fat. The skins held together. Some of the seams were too thick, but overall the skins were thin and translucent. The filling was plump, succulent, and delicious.  I think my parents would have liked them.

 

Wrap up:

I had delusions of grandeur while driving home from the market with fresh shrimp this afternoon.  “After I finish the har gow, I’ll make Madeleines”, I thought to myself.  How presumptuous.  Three hours start to finish to make these, including washing all the dishes, and I was beat.  So I did what any reasonable cook would do and turned on Diana Ross—’Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’—and determined that No amount of Cooking Fatigue will keep me from dessert.

 

In ten minutes I made this:

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Snap. Crackle. Pop.

Calzone

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My friend Kathy and I used to eat sausage mushroom pizza at The Front Room on Clement Street in San Francisco. We were twelve, just old enough to eat unaccompanied at establishments other than Doggie Diner. Sure, there were other pizzas in my life—Giorgio’s, also on Clement. Shakey’s and Round Table, Toto’s and Uno’s. But The Front Room was my favorite.

When I went to college at sixteen, my RA handed me a beer on my second day of orientation. It was just before my first college football game. I decided I didn’t like beer, but I loved football games. And I still liked pizza. Late night pizza runs to Frankie, Johnnie, & Luigi Too! in Mountain View were legendary.

But it was at Ramona’s restaurant in downtown Palo Alto that I found true love.

Calzone.

Big, inside out pizzas filled with yummy, stretchy, cheesy goodness. It was enough food for two, maybe three people—and I’d eat the whole thing myself. One might think I so enjoyed that calzone because my dorm–Stern Dining—reputedly had the worst food on campus. But really, Ramona’s calzone was just that good. And secretly, I loved the dorm food (and usually went back for seconds).

It’s football season, so here is my attempt at homemade calzone.

Calzone

This dough is adapted from James Peterson’s pizza dough recipe from his book Baking.

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3 cups flour

¾ cup barely warm water

½ tsp active dry yeast proofed in 1 tablespoon barely warm water

¾ tsp salt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a bowl. Add the salt and mix, then add the oil. Knead the dough with a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook for 7 minutes until very smooth and elastic. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume.

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Filling:

Marinara sauce—I’m not ashamed to say I used a jar of spaghetti sauce for this. Oh wait. Yes I am. Ashamed.

Italian sausage links—cooked and sliced

Sweet multicolored baby peppers

2 large or 4 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 pounds white button mushrooms, sliced thick

2 pounds Mozzarella cheese

fresh basil

1 Egg, beaten, for glaze

kosher salt and cracked pepper

 

Toss the whole baby peppers in 2 tbsp olive oil to coat. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet, making sure not to crowd the peppers. Sprinkle with salt. Roast at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until soft. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cooled, pull off the stem, slide your finger inside the pepper to open it, and remove the seeds. No need to peel the peppers.

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In a large heavy pot, sauté the onions on high heat in a little oil till they start to brown. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for a half hour till very soft, caramelized, and brown with an almost creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper.

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In a large heavy pot, sauté the mushrooms in a little oil on medium high heat, so that the mushrooms release all their water. Continue cooking until all the water released from the mushrooms evaporates, and the mushrooms are dry and start to brown. Continue cooking until all the mushrooms have nice brown edges.   Wet squishy mushrooms are unpleasant in texture and flavor, so make sure you get them nice and brown. Season with salt.

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yes, that’s vegan sausage in the small dish.

 

Preheat oven to 475 degrees

If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom shelf of your oven and preheat it for at least 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6 equal parts.

Roll one portion into a 8 inch circle

On one half of the dough, layer sausage, mushrooms, onions, peppers, fresh basil, sauce, and cheese. Fold the dough over into a half circle and seal. This seemingly simple task ended up being quite difficult. I think I had too much filling and had trouble getting it to seal well, and they certainly did not look pretty.

Continue until you have formed all 6 calzone.

Brush tops of calzone with egg glaze, then sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked pepper.

Place calzone on parchment lined baking sheet.

 

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Bake for 18 minutes, testing to see that the dough is cooked through. I like to put the baking sheet right on the baking stone; the heat is conducted right through the metal, and there’s no messy and slightly dangerous task of putting the food directly onto the stone.

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Critique:

All the components of the filling were perfect, but they did not come together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Next time I recommend:

Crumble the sausage and fry, rather than simmer and slice. The pieces of sausage were too big and not seared.

In attempting to showcase all the filling ingredients, I layered the filling. This layering of cheese and sauce did not allow adequate melding with the other ingredients, so the flavor and texture was not well balanced. Next time I would dump everything in a bowl, mix it up, and place the all-mixed-together filling on the dough.

This dough was not what I expected—the olive oil resulted in a soft bread rather than the chewy, toothsome texture that I wanted for my calzone. Next time I’ll try a different recipe for the dough.

All in all, a good effort, but not a winner this time around.

 

HOWEVER

 

Today is Big Game

And we are headed for a winning touchdown

in the Cal Zone

 

Beat Cal!

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Vegetarian Kimchi Dumplings

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homebody /home-bod-y/ (noun)

a person who likes to stay at home, especially one who is perceived as unadventurous.

All my life I’ve been a homebody. My childhood was spent sitting in the living room with my nose in a book, unless I was watching Gilligan’s Island or The Flying Nun.

Outdoor activities? Nope. Travel? Nope.

I am the master of finding a reason not to do something fun and adventurous. One might say my life is dull, fearful, and unimaginative. I prefer to call it stable, steady, and secure. (And don’t you go to predictable and monotonous. Just don’t go there.) I’m the antithesis of your Disney princess–I don’t want more than This Provincial Life, nor do I want to be Part of your World.

So it is with wonder (as in, I wonder where she came from?) and bemusement that I’ve watched our youngest daughter take every opportunity to travel, adventure outdoors, backpack, SCUBA dive, and did I say travel? The girl has more stamps in her passport than the rest of us combined.

This time my vegetarian happy wanderer returned from a trip to Cambodia. In a foolish and desperate attempt to keep her in our zip code for more than 20 minutes, I made Kimchi Dumplings.

I made up the recipe for this filling. The dough is Andrea Nguyen’s ‘Extra Chewy wrapper” recipe from her book, Asian Dumplings.

 Vegetarian Kimchi Dumplings

½ block firm tofu

a big handful of bean sprouts

2 green onions, trimmed and sliced

half a small bunch of garlic chives (Jiu Cai), rinsed and chopped

5 dried shitake mushrooms, rehydrated in boiling water

1 bundle of dried bean threads

¼ cup kimchi, drained and chopped

1 tsp oyster sauce (technically not vegetarian. sigh.)

2 tsp soy sauce

¼ tsp white pepper

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp sesame oil

Rinse and drain tofu, pressing down to express excess water, then cut into cubes, put it on a dish towel, and press with another dish towel so that it is fairly dry.

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Boil the bean sprouts for 5 minutes, then cut into half inch lengths.

Mix the green onions and garlic chives, sprinkle liberally with salt and mix. The chives will start to weep liquid. Dump it onto a clean dish towel, add the bean sprouts, wrap it and twist and squeeze the liquid out so that the vegetables are fairly dry. In this instance, I used golden chives because the market did not have the usually abundant green garlic chives. If you use the green chives, no need for the green onions.

Trim the tough stems from the shitake mushrooms and discard. Finely dice (I use the food processor for this task).

Place the dried bean threads in a bowl of hot water until softened, just a few minutes. Take 1/3 of the bean threads, reserve the remaining 2/3 for another use. Using a pair of scissors, snip the bean threads into half inch lengths.IMG_1360_2

All of your above ingredients should be relatively dry at this point. If your ingredients are wet then the filling will cause the dough to fall apart when you are wrapping. Mix the tofu, bean sprouts/chives, mushrooms, bean threads, and kimchi together. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, pepper, ginger, and sesame oil and mix well.

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Wrappers:

I believe it is now time for a commercial break. I have a confession to make: I bought a new toy.

IMG_1398_2  my new kitchen scale

This was inspired by a book I recently picked up: Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. In it he reveals the universal magic ratios for baking and cooking. A good kitchen scale is mandatory for using these ratios. And so I ask you–Did I Have a Choice?

I love this new toy. NO MORE MEASURING CUPS! Zero the scale. Add the empty bowl. Push “tare”. Add your flour. Push “tare”. Add your rice flour. This worked so beautifully, and the dough turned out to have the correct consistency without me fussing and adding more flour or liquid.

Back to the dumpling wrappers:

7.5 ounces (1 ½ cups) unbleached all purpose flour

2 7/8 ounces (1/2 cup) Mochiko Blue Star brand glutinous (sweet) rice flour

½ tsp salt

¾ cup just boiled water

Stir the flours and salt together. Stir in the hot water to form a pliable dough that is yet firm enough to hold its shape well. Add additional flour if the dough is too wet or soft.

Cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for at least 5 minutes and up to a couple of hours at room temperature. Divide dough in half, keeping unused portion covered to prevent drying. Roll half the dough into a log, and cut log into 16 pieces. With your wooden rolling pin, roll out the dough into a disc, and wrap into a crescent pot sticker shape.

 

Pan fry as usual (see Feb 17, 2014 “Auntie’s Special Dispensation” or Oct 7, 2014 “Korean Mandu” post for exhaustive if not wearisome description of this all important cooking method).IMG_0072

Make dipping sauce:  of course you have done this in advance.  keeps in the fridge for weeks.

1 part sugar

1 part rice vinegar

1 part soy sauce

Simmer together until sugar is dissolved, let cool to room temperature.  Pour a little into individual dipping bowls and sprinkle with Korean toasted sesame seeds (which are a nice toasty golden brown, and have a more robust appearance than the white sesame seeds found in your grocery store).

Critique:

Intended vegetarian daughter target audience: “Mama, these are good. They are my favorite vegetarian dumplings so far.”

DH: at first bite: “Uh . . . Is there kimchee in here? They have no taste.”

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT, THEY’RE VEGETARIAN.

Second bite: “Oh, much better dipped in the sauce”.

Carnivorous daughter: “Hey mom, good job! These taste as good as the [purchased, mass produced] frozen ones!”

Could I have asked for a more glowing review?

I guess I’ll stay HOME and make some more.

My Secret Weapon

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When my mother married my father in Chicago in 1950, she did not know how to cook. Unlike her older sisters, she never learned the requisite homemaker duties taught to Chinese girls—how to cook, how to sew, how to keep up Chinese family traditions. She said she was treated like a boy—which was a great honor for a girl back in 1920’s China—and her father indulged her, so she never had to learn. I like to think she was his favorite. Mom did become a wonderful self-taught cook, and we always had a home cooked dinner on the table at 5:30pm. (Happy coincidence that Star Trek re-runs were on from 4-5pm? I think not.) But she didn’t use the oven.

My auntie, otoh, knew how to do everything. Auntie lived on Balboa street, just around the corner from my San Francisco home. She was a fabulous cook. She hemmed every pair of pants that needed shortening, sewed on wayward buttons, and knitted every sweater I wore through high school. It was at Auntie’s table that I learned to use chopsticks, and it was at Auntie’s table that I first folded won ton and kuo-teh (pot stickers). It is Auntie’s special dispensation that is referred to in my very first blog post. But she didn’t use the oven.

When my physician-mom took call, which was often twice a week, Dad would take over dinner and we’d have freezer-stocked ground beef patties with ketchup, plus Chinese take-out. And you know those biscuits in a can? He liked to cook them one of two ways: (a) pan fry them in a little oil for several minutes on each side. Inevitably, a couple of them would burn. (b) snuggle them together in a single layer in a large flat bowl and steam them in a wide pot. Both (a) and (b) would be placed on the table next to a dish of sugar and we would dip the pan-fried or steamed canned biscuit in the sugar and take a sweet chewy bite. Notice there is no oven involved in the preparation of aforementioned biscuits.

“Mom, why are the cakes on the dim sum carts steamed?”

“Because we don’t have ovens in China. We have to cook cakes on top of the stove.”

Ah, I see.

Which brings me to Baked Char Siu Bao. I don’t know when the Baked Bao was invented, but I do know there was NO SUCH THING when I was a little kid. All Char Siu Bao was snow white and steamed. And procured from Chinatown, because there were NO RESTAURANTS on Clement street yet. When they started appearing in take-out dim sum shops on Clement, we went ballistic at the first bite–So! Good!—sticky sweet golden brown bun with a nice chew, filled with bits of char siu and sweet onion.

So here is my version of the Baked (in an oven) Char Siu Bao.

Except

There’s no Char Siu.

Instead, I use my Secret Weapon.

Like the Blade of Isildur, the Sword of Gryffindor, and the FSNP (Famous Spock Nerve Pinch), everyone needs a secret weapon. My secret weapon is kalbi jjim, or Braised Korean Short Ribs.

In its original form, this Short Rib recipe, served with steamed rice and vegetables for a family dinner, is The Most Amazing dinner you will ever serve.

When cooked ‘for a crowd’—see below—this becomes a weapon that can be wielded in times of fear and trembling, turning an ordinary tailgate/vacation/potluck/party into something sublime.

Not to mention, it makes awesome filling for baked baos.

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Korean Braised Short Ribs (Kalbi jjim)

4 pounds English Cut Short Ribs with bone, (3-4 inch lengths)

5 cloves garlic

5 thick slices fresh peeled ginger root

¼ cup brown sugar

1/4 cup Black soy sauce (also called double black, or mushroom soy, available in Asian groceries)

2 tbsp regular soy sauce

2 tsp black pepper

1 cup wine (I use Chinese cooking wine, any will do)

½ cup water

Sometimes I add a squirt of sriracha, or a big spoon of leftover jam/jelly from the door of my fridge, or 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Or all three.

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Trim short ribs of excess fat. Slash meat across grain down to bone about 3 to 4 slashes per rib. Place, meat side down, in large deep pot over high heat and brown 3-4 minutes. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, and simmer for 2 ½-3 hours, adding more water if it gets too low. Taste to check that it is fall apart tender; if not, cook another 30-45 minutes. Remove meat from broth, and pour broth into tall measuring cup, adding ice, or place in refrigerator till all fat solidifies on top. Discard fat. Return broth to the pot and turn heat to high, uncovered, allowing sauce to reduce until syrupy (watch closely or it may burn). Add meat back to the sauce and reheat over low-medium heat, tossing to glaze.

Serve with steamed rice.

For a crowd:

Costco sells boneless short rib meat in strips, about 4 pounds to a pack. Select well marbled meat.

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Cut into 2 inch chunks and cook as above, though I omit the browning step because I’m lazy and have not found it to make a difference.

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Remove the meat from the broth to a large bowl, cover and put in the fridge overnight.

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I now exclusively cook this in my pressure cooker for 45 minutes.

Pour the broth into a large measuring cup and put it in the fridge overnight.

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When you are ready to serve, remove the big white disc of fat from the top of the broth and discard.

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Pour the broth into your pot and boil on high, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, until it is reduced to a syrupy sauce.

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Add the cold cooked kalbi and gently warm on medium low, tossing in the sauce to glaze before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds and a bit of flat leaf parsley or cilantro.

Homemade Kalbi Bao Recipe

This is adapted from the “Baked Filled Buns” recipe from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings cookbook.

Dough:

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

¼ cup (half stick) butter

2 tsp rapid-rise dry yeast

2 ½ tablespoons warm water

1 large egg

2 ½ tablespoons sugar

2 ½ cups flour plus more as needed

You will also need

1 egg, beaten, to glaze the buns before they are baked

2 tablespoons honey mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water, to glaze the buns after they are baked

Melt butter with milk in a small saucepan, and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Stir yeast with warm water (I add a big pinch of sugar) and let sit a few minutes until it is foamy.

Whisk together the milk mixture, yeast, and egg.

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Stir flour and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the milk/yeast mixture and blend well with a wooden spoon (or in my case, the kitchenaid mixer). Knead by hand for 5 minutes, or with the dough hook in your stand mixer for 3 minutes, adding flour as needed so that the dough is smooth, elastic, and not sticking to the side of the bowl or your work surface. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place about 45 minutes, till doubled in volume.

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Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Punch down dough and cut in half. Take half the dough (keep the other half covered to prevent drying) and knead it a few times. Roll the dough into a 12 inch log. Cut into 8 pieces for large and 16 pieces for small buns. Take one piece and flatten it, then using your dumpling rolling pin, roll the disc into a 2 ½ inch circle, leaving the center a bit thicker than the rim.

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Kalbi Bao filling: also adapted from Andrea Nguyens book—except I used diced kalbi in place of char siu.

Flavoring sauce:

1 tablespoon sugar

pinch of salt

dash of white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon rice wine

Mix above together and set aside.

2 cups diced kalbi

2 green onions, chopped

1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water

Heat 2 tsp oil in a skillet. Add kalbi and green onions, tossing until onions are wilted, about a minute. Add the flavoring sauce and cook, stirring till heated through. Add cornstarch mixture and cook another 30 seconds, stirring constantly until the mixture comes together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. This can be done the day before, refrigerate overnight.

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To form buns, place a scoop (about 2 teaspoons) filling in the center of your dough round. Gather the edges of the dough, pleating as you go, to form a ‘closed satchel’. Pinch and twist the dough closed at the end. Place bun pleated side down on the parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.   Cover buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, brush the top and side of buns with beaten egg to form the shiny glaze. Bake small buns for about 14 minutes and large buns for about 18 minutes, until they are golden brown. Cooked buns sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Brush warm buns with the honey glaze which also softens the crust.

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I’ve made these twice: once at home, and once as part of a dumpling class I taught. In the class, they disappeared immediately. They are ridiculously delicious.

For Korean tacos: I make the ‘for a crowd’ version at least one day before. Once the meat is completely cooled, preferably refrigerated, cut into a dice. When you are ready to serve, heat up the meat and keep warm while assembling tacos.

Korean Taco Recipe

Corn tortillas

Cooked short grain (Asian) rice

Chopped Kalbi jjim

Vegetarian version: Tofu

Teriyaki Mayo

Shredded daikon and carrot slaw, well drained

sweet pickles, slivered –sometimes called bread and butter pickles, from the pickle aisle in the grocery store.

Diced avocado

Toasted salted seaweed squares , cut into strips

Sriracha sauce

Sesame seeds

To assemble each taco, heat a tortilla in a dry frying pan over medium heat on both sides.

Layer ingredients in the order above

To steam rice:

Place 2 cups of uncooked rice in a nonstick 2 quart pot. Add cool water and stir to wash. Drain and repeat. Add enough cool water to come up 1 finger digit (phalanx) above the surface of the rice. Bring to a boil, then turn to simmer (lowest setting), cover tightly, and leave it alone for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let sit another 5 minutes, then fluff with a rice paddle.

To make teriyaki mayo: mix 2 parts mayonnaise with 1 part bottled teriyaki sauce.   I like to use Veri-Veri teriyaki by Soy Vay.

To cook tofu:

Buy one block firm tofu. Rinse and cut into small squares. Place on 3 paper towels and press 3 more paper towels on top to gently press out the water.

Add to hot frying pan with a little oil and add 1 clove minced garlic, ½ inch minced ginger, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp dark soy, 1 tsp regular soy, 3 stalks green onions, chopped finely, a couple dashes of pepper. Stir fry till tofu is coated and glistening. Add ½ tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp cold water to thicken.

To make slaw:

Julienne 2 large or 3 medium peeled carrots and ½ pound piece of peeled daikon. I use the julienne disc of my food processor for this menial task.

Mix together: ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, 2 tsp salt, and ½ cup water. Stir to dissolve. Add the carrot and daikon and allow to pickle for at least 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes if vegetables are not submerged. This can be made the day before. Drain well before adding to taco

Lettuce Wrap variation: omit the corn tortillas, and wash and spin dry green or red leaf lettuce. Use the lettuce as the vehicle in which to mound your lovely taco filling.

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Above photo I took at another cooking class where we used flour tortillas instead of corn, and guac’d the avocados.

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And this one substitutes sheets of seaweed for the tortilla, one of the courses for a fancy dinner party.

I have made Korean tacos for a tailgater at the Rose Bowl, in cooking classes, at work for Nurse’s Day celebration, and illicitly in a room at Yosemite Lodge.

More than one person has told me “this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life”.

I nod and think: “secret weapon, indeed.”

And I didn’t use the oven.

Orange is the New Black

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On the wall in my office is a sign that says: “I only wear black because they haven’t invented a darker color yet”.  Truth be told, I only wear black because I cannot match any colors. Not at all. I once wore a new black skirt for a full year before my daughter asked me “why are you wearing black shoes with that blue skirt?”   This is why I stubbornly cling to black, and have no intention of wearing orange.  I’ve no current plans for a felony conviction nor Buddhist monkhood.

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I do, however, have some favorite orange things. In no particular order:  Campfires. California golden poppies. The Lorax.  Sunsets. Oompa loompas. Fred and George Weasley’s hair. The Golden Gate Bridge.

And Orange food?  So many GREAT orange foods.  Do you remember the Sunkist Orange TV commercial from the 1976? Talk about a great visual, you could practically smell the orange scent (like in Soaring Over California.  But I digress.)  Click the ‘watch now’ on the first one:

http://watchongadget.net/sunkist-oranges-1976-tv-commercial

I like papayas. (I think that mangos are sweet . . .)  Orange sherbet. Ripe apricots. Pumpkin pie. Tobiko. Sweet potatoes. Velveeta. ORANGE SODA.

Which brings me to a confession: When my kids were young, there were days that I made an All Orange Dinner: Kraft Mac & Cheese, carrots, canned mandarin oranges, orange jello, and Cheetos. I’m not proud of that.

But this is a dumpling blog—so let’s consider the orange dumpling.  I did actually make orange empanadas last Halloween—I went to all the trouble of making carrot puree for the crust, filled them with butternut squash and bbq pork and peas—but in the end you couldn’t even tell they were orange in color after baking.

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Which brings me to shrimp dumplings.  (Now THAT was a contrived intro if I’ve ever seen one.)  I based this on Andrea Nguyen’s recipe for Har Gow and instead of forming satchels and steaming, I formed half moons and boiled the dumplings. (spooked by a previous attempt, see ‘nemesis’ post).

Boiled Shrimp Dumplings (Adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings recipe for Har Gow)

2/3 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined.   (I buy from my local Chinese market, where the seafood is very fresh, and they are already peeled and deveined. Saves loads of time). Dump the shrimp in ice water for a good rinse, then drain and pat dry on paper towels.

Garlic chives—Jiu Cai or Gau Choy, available at your Asian market—purchase golden for a uniformly pink/orange dumpling, or green for that lovely contrasting color.  I used about half of a bunch of garlic chives. Andrea’s recipe (and other traditional recipes) call for bamboo shoots, but the canned bamboo shoots ruined the filling (see “My Nemesis” post) and I prefer the chive flavor.

½ tsp salt

1.5 ounces pork fat or fatty bacon. (I’m sure this is amazing but I left it out)

1 ½ tsp cornstarch

¾ tsp sugar

1/8 tsp white pepper

1 ½ tsp rice wine

1 tsp sesame oil

Cut the bottom 3 inches off the garlic chives and discard.  Wash the chives well in a large bowl of cold water and drain, shaking off excess water.  Holding the chives in a bunch, cut across in ¼ inch lengths.  Place chives in a bowl, sprinkle liberally with salt, and mix, squeezing to release the water from the chives.  Place the weeping chives on a clean dish towel, wrap, and twist over the sink, squeezing out the liquid so the chives are fairly dry.

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With a sharp knife, coarsely chop the shrimp, keeping many pieces fairly large, as you want to showcase the beautiful shrimp in the dumpling.

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Mix in chives, salt, pork fat, cornstarch, sugar, pepper, wine and sesame oil. Refrigerate while you make the dough.

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Wheat Starch Dough

1 cup + 2 tablespoons wheat starch

½ cup tapioca starch

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water

4 tsp canola oil

Mix wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt in a bowl.  Add hot water and stir vigorously. Once it starts to hold together, add the oil and stir, working in the oil.  If the dough is dry, add a bit more water.  If the dough is too wet, add more wheat starch. Knead until fully mixed.  The dough should be firm and pliable, not crumbly or soft and pasty.

NOTE:  The consistency of this dough has to be just right.  Work the dough with your hands– it should be like malleable playdough. Not too dry–It needs to be moist enough to hold together without crumbling when you flatten a small amount into a quarter size disc. And not too wet, or it will fall apart as well.  I know this because I’ve made this dough several times and did not get it right the first three times.  Let’s just say there was cursing involved. I made it again today and added wheat starch 6 times before I got the right consistency.  PERSEVERANCE. The wrappers turned out great, for the first time.  You really have to work the dough with your hands and get the right feel.

When made properly, this dough has a fabulous texture, and is a pleasure to have in class.

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Cut parchment paper into 4×4 inch squares.  You only need 2 squares, you can re-use the same paper for each wrapper.  Let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying.  Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Form one piece into a log and cut into 8 pieces.  To flatten the dough into a disk, you can either roll it with a rolling pin between 2 squares of parchment paper, or use a tortilla press.  To use the tortilla press, place the parchment on the press, then a round of dough, then place a 2nd piece of parchment on the dough and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.  Use the tortilla press to flatten into a disc.

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Careful readers of my blog will notice these pics are recycled from an earlier post.

Place 2 tsp filling (or less) into the disc, then fold in half and pinch to seal.  This dough does not stretch—it will break if you use too much filling, so do not overstuff.  Place dumpling on baking sheet lined with wax paper, and proceed with the rest of the dough and filling.  These can be covered loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerated for a couple of hours.  If you (a) made the dough too wet, or (b) the filling is too wet, the dough will stick to the paper and you will have a hard time repairing the dumplings.   I do not recommend freezing these.  I once made too many and froze them. When I cooked them frozen, then the skin overcooked and dissolved before the shrimp cooked through.  When I thawed them first, on a parchment lined baking sheet, the moisture from freezing/thawing caused the dough to become soggy and stick to the parchment and I had a hard time repairing the dumplings.

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Make Scallion oil: 1 bunch of scallions, trimmed, washed, and thinly sliced 5 tablespoons vegetable oil Heat oil and scallions until scallions are wilted.  Let cool and place 1 tablespoon of scallion oil onto each of 2 serving plates and spread it around with the back of a spoon

Make dipping sauce: 1:1:1 soy sauce/sugar/vinegar, bring to a boil then let cool — or any type of chile or Asian dipping sauce you prefer.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Gently place 16 of the dumplings in the water and bring back to a boil, then turn down to medium so the water is not boiling too vigorously, which can break the skins.  These cook quickly, just about 3 minutes. Pull one out and cut in half to make sure the shrimp is cooked through, then remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared scallion oil plate.  Spoon one tablespoon of the reserved scallion oil over the top of the dumplings and serve immediately with dipping sauce.  Repeat with the other 16 dumplings.

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Observations:  This dough turns from opaque to translucent.  However, if you wait for the skin to turn fully translucent before removing from the pot, you will overcook them and the skin will dissolve.  The skin continues to turn clear after cooking.

Critique:   These are Uber popular, everyone loves them. “Wow!” “How did you make these?” “These are SO GOOD!”

Unlike many of the other dumplings I’ve made, these required several attempts to get them right.  The dough was MOST uncooperative.  I overcooked them several times, to my great dismay as I watch the skins dissolve while trying to plate them. In the end, they are definitely worth the multiple tries, and are now part of my standard repertoire.   And did I mention?  Equally delicious whether I’m wearing a little black dress, or my Slytherin Robe.

More Recipes for Orange Food:

The following are some of my favorite non-dumpling orange recipes.  They have never failed me.

Mrs. Shumpert’s Sweet Potatoes

My first Thanksgiving away from home, I was invited to Paul Shumpert’s house for dinner in Marietta, Georgia.  His mother made a fabulous dinner and served these yams.  I have made them for Thanksgiving every year since then, 34 years.  They are the best thing on the table.  True story:  I once brought them to a pot luck at work.  The recipe was disseminated, and for several months and even years after, I had total strangers come up to me in the hospital and tell me “I made your sweet potatoes. They are amazing.”

4-5 large Jewel yams (about 4 pounds) (orange flesh, pinkish brown skin)

¾ cup sugar

½ cup milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

Topping:

1 ½ cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup melted butter

2/3 cup flour

¾ cup brown sugar

Peel yams and cut into large chunks. Boil for approximately 20 minutes, till tender to a fork. Drain but do not rinse. Mix together milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add butter and milk mixture to hot yams and mash together till smooth. Pour into 9×13 pan.

Mix topping ingredients together. If it’s a little wet, add more flour till crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the yams. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Orange chiffon cake

My cousin Frances brought this cake to a family event a few years back, and she was gracious enough to share the recipe with me. One of the best food compliments I’ve received was when my friend’s teenage daughter took a bite and said:  “Well, that’s just a little taste of heaven, isn’t it?”  This cake is one of my most reliable recipes; perfect every time, not temperamental. It rises beautifully and has great loft, tenderness, and flavor.  Make sure you turn the cake upside down as soon as you take it out of the oven, and let it cool perched upside down on the neck of a champagne bottle.  I’ve actually never made the accompanying frosting since I’m a plain cake kind of gal, but it looks easy and delicious.

For the cake:

2¼ cups cake flour

1½ cups sugar

1 Tbsp. Double-acting baking powder

½ tsp. Salt

½ cup vegetable oil

5 large egg yolks

¾ cups fresh orange juice

2 Tbsp. Freshly grated orange zest

2 tsp. Vanilla

8 large egg whites

1 tsp. cream of tartar

For the whipped cream frosting:

2 cups well chilled heavy cream

3 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur

2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest

¼ cup sugar

¼ tsp. Orange-flower water

Making the cake:

Into a large bowl sift together the flour, ¾ cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a bowl whisk together the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and the vanilla; then whisk the mixture into the flour mixture, whisking until the batter is smooth. In another large bowl, using the electric beater, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are foamy, add the cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar, and beat the whites until they hold stiff glossy peaks. Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan (with removable bottom) and bake the cake in the middle of a pre-heated 325°F oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Invert the pan immediately onto a heavy wine or champagne bottle and let the cake cool completely in the pan upside down. Once cool, run a long thin knife around the outer, bottom and tube edges of the pan and turn the cake out of the pan onto a serving plate.

Notes: do NOT grease the pan or your cake will not rise.  Turn it over immediately after removing from the oven and let it cool upside down; this stretches out the cake so it’s light instead of dumpy.

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Making the cream frosting:

In a large bowl, chilled, with an electric mixer beat together the cream, the Grand Marnier, the zest, the sugar, the orange flower water, and a pinch of salt until the mixture hold stiff peaks. Spread the frosting on the top, and side of the cake. Garnish the cake with orange sections if desired.

Pumpkin bread

I don’t recall where I got this recipe; I’ve made it for over 30 years.  It’s another ‘perfect every time’ recipe, and turns out consistently moist, flavorful loaves.

2/3 cup butter

2 and 2/3 cup sugar

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

2 cups canned pumpkin

3 1/3 cup flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two 8 x 4 loaf pans

Cream butter and sugar, beating till light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices together.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well.  Add Pumpkin and water and mix well.  Add the remaining flour mixture and mix well.

Pour batter into 2 pans

Bake 65-75 minutes, till toothpick comes clean.

Homemade Sticky Rice

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On the rare occasion that I set foot in a jewelry store, the proprietor will generally take one glance at me, then carefully ignore my presence. They’d rather tend to the nervous young man and his girlfriend, or perhaps re-polish, for the third time, the mirror behind the earring display. Not that I blame them. Lacking any talent or genetic affinity for bling, I wear no earrings, necklace, bracelet—heck, I don’t even wear my wedding ring (a consequence of washing my hands over 30 times daily). My only adornment, not counting my reading glasses, is a stretchy black elastic hairband around my wrist (when not in my hair). Not that I don’t appreciate jewelry. I just never learned to accessorize. And so my favorite jewels, are, of course, edible. Specifically, Jeweled Rice. More specifically, eight jeweled rice, or Ba Bao Fan—a sweet steamed sticky dessert rice. I’ve never made it, but my Auntie made the best Ba Bao Fan. In modern times, jeweled rice also has a savory version (I just made that up), so I decided to wrap my savory jeweled rice in small bundles, a smaller “dumpling size” than Nuo Mi Ji (see previous “Not Quite Elven Fare” post). This rice is delicious all by itself, wrapped or not—HOWEVER, once again, if you are preparing a dumpling extravaganza for guests, and want to offer little bits of everything, I highly recommend this more labor intensive, and more delightful, method of serving the rice.

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Homemade “Jeweled” Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf

1 bunch (7-8 stalks) green onions, washed and thinly sliced

3 Chinese sausages (Lap Cheong), thinly sliced

1/4 pound Chinese barbecue pork (char siu, available from the deli in your chinese market), diced

7 large dried Shitake mushrooms

2 cups uncooked sweet (sticky) rice

1 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tsp hoisin sauce

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 can (15 oz) Swanson’s chicken broth

6 Dried Lotus Leaves—they are often found near the dried mushrooms in your Chinese Market.

Soak mushrooms in water overnight, or bring to a boil in a pot of water, turn off heat, and let soak 1-2 hours until hydrated.

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Meanwhile, wash the rice and put into a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

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Cut off and discard the tough stems from mushrooms. Finely dice the mushroom caps.

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Saute Chinese sausage, barbecue pork, mushrooms, and green onions together for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and pepper.

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Drain the rice in a fine mesh sieve.  Mix uncooked rice together with sausage mixture.  Place mixture in a shallow heatproof dish.

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Prepare a pot for steaming, bringing at least 2 inches of water to a boil in the bottom of the steamer. Place the dish of rice in the top of the steamer. Boil the chicken broth, and carefully pour over rice. Cover the steamer and steam on medium-high heat for 12 minutes. Uncover the steamer, and with a spatula, turn a section of rice over once, repeating till you’ve turned all the rice. Steam for another 13 minutes and rice should be cooked all the way through. Remove from steamer and let cool to room temperature.

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While the rice is cooking and cooling, prepare the lotus leaf: (The following is copied verbatim from my “Not Quite Elven Fare” post and edited a bit. Aforementioned subsection of post in turn is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings book. Is plagiarizing oneself a punishable offense?) Cut each lotus leaf down the middle into 2 double-layered fans. You will have 12 pieces of lotus leaf in total. Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them; I use a large roasting pan. Submerge the leaves completely by putting a plate on top. Remove from water, rinse and shake off excess water. Use scissors to cut off about 1.5 inches of the pointy bottom. To separate the double layers of each piece, cut each piece in half where the leaf was folded by the packing company. Then trim any excessively ragged edges. You should now have 24 pieces of leaf, each one representing one quarter of the original whole leaf. Stack with the darker side facing up so that when you wrap the packets, the darker side will color the outer layer of rice a rich brown.  For each packet, use 1 piece of lotus leaf. If the leaf is pretty intact, no need to cut it. If it’s a bit more distressed, cut in half and overlap them. (You should have enough leftover pieces because some will need to be discarded and you won’t have enough rice for 24 packets.)

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Arrange them, darker side facing up, on your work surface with narrow ends pointing toward you. Take a scoop of rice, about 2 tablespoons (I use a food scooper, MUCH easier) of rice, and wrap as in the photos. Steam over boiling water for 15 minutes, until heated through and soft. If you are not steaming right away, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days.

 

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Critique: I made these for three different dumpling dinners. The first two dinners, they were overwhelmingly pronounced “my favorite!” — in competition with pot stickers, egg rolls, shrimp dumplings, and Sheng Jian Baozi, the previous favorite. At the third dumpling extravaganza dinner there were several leftover and not one guest said it was their favorite. Go figure.

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Proper attire while consuming these goodies would include one or more of the following: locket, diadem, time-turner, resurrection stone, elven brooch.

You may want to steer clear of the One Ring.

 

Non-Dumpling observation:

Can I just comment on Ruth Reichl’s gingerbread? Ms. Reichl is, of course, the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine. I found her new-ish novel, Delicious! to be just that, a delicious treat of a read. Her gingerbread, which is the centerpiece of the story, is more of a ginger cake. I’ve made it twice and brought it to work. It has wonderful complexity of flavor, and when I mentioned to my friend Michael that I was going to make several different gingerbread recipes to find the best one, he simply said: “you can stop now”. I agree with him.

Buy or borrow the book. Get the recipe.

 

Shameless promotion of another non-dumpling recipe:

Phil came over for dinner, and when I asked him what he wanted, he replied “fried chicken”. I’ve never made fried chicken. I’ve stir fried, pan fried, oven fried, and otherwise cooked chicken several times a week for the past 30 years–but never the dreaded deep frying of the gallinaceous bird. So I decided to try my hand at Chicken Karaage, that wonderful flavorful morsel residing in your friendly neighborhood bento box. I made this recipe up.

Homemade Chicken Karaage

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoon sugar

¼ cup wine—I used leftover champagne from New Year’s eve

potato starch for dredging

canola oil for deep frying

Cut each chicken thigh into 4-6 pieces, depending on the size of the meat—you want chunks about 2×2 or 2×3 inches.

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Mix soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and wine together till sugar is dissolved, then add the chicken, mix, and let marinade for a few hours. When ready to cook, pour off the marinade and discard, then dry the chicken on paper towels. Pour about a cup of potato starch into a large bowl and add the chicken, stirring to coat.

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Heat canola or other vegetable oil in a heavy pan—I use my flat bottom wok and pour about an inch of oil—heat until hot, then place chicken pieces in a single layer, don’t crowd. After 3 minutes turn and cook the other side. Remove after another 3 minutes and drain on paper towels. Repeat, frying in batches till all the chicken is cooked.

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Serve with bottled Thai chile sauce.

Shatteringly crispy. OH MY GOODNESS. This was really good.