Monday, August 27, 2012

fumbling with dumplings

Recently, I was presented with the challenge of making dumplings for the evening's appetizers.  Well, first off, I could have been rude and just made some sort of strange Czechoslovakian dumpling (read: dough ball), or maybe gnocchi, but that would have sabotaged my evening of eating as well.  Naturally, the man was thinking about dim sum style dumplings.  But what kind?! Scrimps? Mixed meats? Pork? Vegetable!? The choices are endless...but pork it was.  Seemed easy enough.  I sifted through my newly organized spice cabinet - thank god I was having a Type-A kind of day, or else this could've been majorly difficult.  I cataloged basically every Far East ingredient that I could in my head and had myself a nice little brainstorm.  Let's be real here: dumplings are STREET food.  But, as we also know, recreating street food sometimes is one of the most difficult tasks...unless you're Susan Feniger.  (I would move back to LA just to eat at Street on a regular basis and devour multiple orders of kaya toast, but that's another story.) 

Point being, street food is always simple as all get-out.  No fancifying, no upclassing, no nothing.  You gotta stick to your guns on these! Fortunately, I've had my hand in the dumpling-making process on more than one occasion.  But of course, I've ALSO never paid attention to how I was making them (typical) - so I was off to the races. 

That being said, I knew there was only one brain to be picked...well, one cookbook to be sifted through, at least. Irene Kuo, The Key To Chinese Cooking.  Remember this? That happened. If you're strange like me, it's a great read - but also very resourceful for all things in the Chinese culinary compendium.  I don't know why, but I also have faith in old cookbooks like this. Thus far, this hasn't failed me, so I'm sticking with it.  But back to the dumplings!

In true form, there was no planning ahead, so I was utilizing wonton wrappers for the dough instead. Obviously one of the easiest kitchen short-cuts in the world! Next time, I'll be making 'hot-water dough' for my dumplings - the dough that almost every Chinese dumpling is made with, among other things.  The recipe is ridiculously simple, uses only flour and boiling water, and involves hardly any resting time or anything.  I'll definitely be trying it out next time.  Sadly, next time is not tomorrow! Ms. Kuo claims these wrappers are far superior to commercial ones.  Thanks for rubbing it in LADY.

Next, I read about the process of creating "shallow-fried dumplings", and the cooking process seemed A+ to me. 

"Through the combined processes of shallow-frying and vigorous steam-cooking, 
these scrumptious filled dumplings acquire a dual texture: they are fluffily soft on top 
and crunchy-crisp on the bottom."

Seems legit! Cooking-process deal: sealed. Needless to say, these dumplings are easy to make whether or not you decide to make the dough yourself, and cook up in just a few minutes.  Fold away!

Pork, Chive, & Sesame Dumplings
Makes about 3 dozen 

1 package wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil

For the filling:
1 lb ground pork
1 scallion, green and white, thinly sliced
2 T chives, minced, plus more for garnish 
2 T cilantro, minced
1 T grated ginger (or finely minced)
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T soy sauce
1 egg white 
Pinch of salt
A few grinds of black pepper
A sprinkling of toasted black sesame seeds, for garnish

In a large bowl, combine ALL of the ingredients and mix well.  Seriously, get in there with your hands! You can only do so much with a spoon.  Once everything is well combined - this may take a few minutes - place the mixture aside and set yourself up for some dumpling making! All you need is some work space and a small finger bowl of water.  These can be made a few days in advance, and even frozen for quite some time, so don't get overwhelmed by the amount in front of you.  Once you taste them, you'll be glad you have so much!

As far as making the dumplings, you have a few options as far as folding goes. If you have round wonton wrappers, you can make half moons, pleated half moons, or even open face dumplings (like shu mai).  With square, you can simply fold them over into a triangle, fold them twice to make a sort of tortellini shape, or do as I did and make a nice little house looking contraption.  I'm sure there's a name for it - but I'm not sure what it is.  So if you do, kindly let me know! I found this was a good shape because a) it was easy to fold together and b) it makes for easy cooking!  No matter what shape you decide on, ensure that there are no air pockets in your dumplings. 

Whichever way you go, it involves the same process. Lay out a bunch of wonton skins, and place a little less than a teaspoon sized ball of filling smack-dab in the center.  Wet your fingers in the finger bowl and wipe the edges with water.  Fold into your desired shape! For mine, I brought two opposite corners up and squeezed the top edges, followed by the remaining two corners, sealing all of the adjacent edges together.  These sat upright nicely, which made me happy.  Continue with the remainder of your dumplings until finished.  You can save these for later, or per my recommendation - cook them!

To cook these in the Kuo fashion, you'll need a bit of vegetable oil and some boiling water.  Heat up a medium to large skillet over high heat, and swirl in a bit of vegetable oil.  When the oil is hot, place the dumplings in, pleat side up - this occasion is one when you can actually crowd the pan, so get as many as you can! Shake them around a bit to keep them loose from the bottom.  Pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach about an inch high.  It's important to use boiling water here!! If you don't water and oil with spatter all over the place, and most likely you as well.  If you've ever been burnt by hot oil, you know that this is not fun! So take precaution and boil.  With the water poured in, make sure none of the dumplings are sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Cover the pan, and steam-cook for about 5 minutes.  Uncover, and allow any remaining water to evaporate.  Allow them to cook for another two minutes, or until the bottoms of the dumplings are crisp and golden brown.  Remove the pan from heat and transfer the dumplings to a serving platter. 

To serve, place a few dumplings on a plate per guest, or make a whole big platter - whichever floats your boat! Garnish with a few minced chives and black sesame seeds, and you're good to go.  The dumplings are good enough on their own, but you can definitely serve with a dipping sauce - apparently people get all riled up when things notoriously served with sauces are served without. Who knew? That being said, you can serve it with soy sauce, a ponzu, a nuoc cham, or whatever the heck you want!  

note: left-hand chopstick using. difficult.
 On a side note, and no I'm not getting paid, I picked up this AMAZING spicy garlic sauce from The Saucey Sauce Co.  It is so epically delicious for a variety of things, and it does pair famously with these dumpling. True story. If you ever see it on a shelf, pick up a bottle ASAP - you won't regret it!

As for the dumplings - damn these dumplings! Although it WAS the boy's idea, he now grumbles at me for ruining all other dumplings for him in life. Sorry buddy.  That's aight though, because I'm gonna open a dumpling cart! Right next to my taqueria - Tedo's Taqueria. That's right. I'm building an empire (in my dreams). But seriously - the flavors combined in these little pockets of goodness are delightful! Seemingly simple, but actually complex when it comes to taste.  Most dumplings are pretty one dimensional, which is sad...and the only saving grace is that they're fried or minorly crispy on the bottom.  This is not the case with these dumplings! The combination of the various liquids put in the filling give them a nice deep, umami base flavor, while the garlic, chives, and scallions brighten up the entire dish.  As for texture, the wonton skins stay perfectly al dente - not too floppy or delicate, but not hard either - and crispy, golden brown on the bottom. I can only IMAGINE what these would taste like with fresh, homemade dumpling skins.  The chive and sesame seed garnish not only give the dumplings a nice look, but add a nice additional crunch and freshness. I am seriously glad there are three dozen of these!

Friday, August 17, 2012

macho gazpacho

There are many a dish that could be considered perfect for summer – the epitome of summer no less.   With all the great ingredients we have, how could there not be a plethora!? To choose just one as the standout would be culinary blasphemy, I think.  But I would like to say that the following should at least be up there in the ranks, considering the ingredients that go in.  And it only tastes better at the height of summer! Simple, easy, and sadly, often overlooked.  Gazpacho! First of all, it’s a fun word to say. Second, there are so many variations on this that it’s unbelievable.  It’s like the Italian mama’s ragu – everyone has something different, but all are equally delicious.  You can make it with fruit, spicy it up a bit, puree it until it achieves a velvety texture, or leave it rustic and chunky.  This following recipe is a standard gazpacho.   Nothing fancy, no mussing it up.  Just straight forward ingredients combined to knock your socks off.  And perfect for vegetarians, vegans, and raw foodists alike! (As long as you leave the scrimps off ‘namean.)  

Overall though, gazpacho is a very traditional dish, originating from Andalusia in Spain - it's thought to be of Moorish/Arabic origin.  Standard peasant food. Originally, gazpacho didn't contain any tomatoes or peppers, but thanks to our buddy Chris Columbus, these were finally added post exploration. Clearly, this dish has been around for ages - and for good reason!  It’s delicious! Perfectly refreshing, and healthy for a hot summer day.  You can take it as an entrée, or a nice little pre-meal shooter.  Either way, you’ll be satisfied.

if that's not a beautiful tomato, I don't know what is!
This, by the way, is my mother’s recipe.  It’s pretty epic.

ZCook’s Gazpacho
2 English cucumbers
2 bell peppers
4 plum tomatoes, or the equivalent
1 sweet onion (about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
~3 cups vegetable juice (fresh, V8, whatevs)
2 T olive oil
! T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar, plus more to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Optional: 1 jalapeno, minced (for heat!)

Greek yogurt/sour cream/crème fraiche
Grilled shrimp

Roughly chop the first four vegetables into about a one inch dice.  Next, place each vegetable (separately) into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Make sure not to over-process.  It’s important to not pulse EVERYTHING together just for the ultimate texture and look of the dish. 

Combine all in a large bowl, and mix in the garlic, jalapeno, vinegars, lime, vegetable juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix well, taste for seasoning, cover, and chill.  The longer it rests, the better it tastes – although it tastes delicious immediately as well! 

When ready to plate, you can either create an assembly line for guests, or do it yourself.  I like to place a small dollop of Greek yogurt on top, followed by some sliced avocados, a touch of olive oil, and fresh ground pepper.  If I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll add a few grilled shrimp.  Epic!

So simple, yet so delicious.  The extra step up processing everything separately really does make a difference in this soup - so don't skip it!  All of the flavors come together from letting it sit together, but somehow the separate processing procedure allows each ingredient to shine through.  In future batches, an addition of a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce could add some nice smokiness and heat - I may just have to try that out! Overall, a great summer dish that is sure to please everyone!

Friday, August 10, 2012

bringin' radishes to their roots

I'm pretty sure the Holy Trinity of the food world is flour, water, and yeast.   I mean think about it: three simple ingredients that come together to magically make that risen delight that everyone loves (or loves to hate, you carbophobes!).  Bread brings people together.  You break bread amongst those you want to welcome.  But, alas, this post is NOT about bread.  I'm just getting y'all revved up.  It's about Holy Trinity II.  Is that a thing? Maybe not, but I'm going to make it one.  Radishes. Butter. Salt.  Simple as that.  Yes, I know, there may be other trifectas that could lay claim to HTII, but this combination is taking the spotlight for the moment.  If you've never tried it (oh, the humanity!!), rush out and do so ASAP.  Fresh, raw radishes, with the best butter you can get (Plugra - go big or go home people), plus some good sea salt.  It's utterly delightful! The following recipe is essentially an homage to this combination, with the addition of a few other ingredients.  Get the widest assortment of radishes you can find, because it will make for an eye-popping final plating!

A few things before you get started - the almond cream takes a bit of time to make, but can be made ahead.  I know that not everyone has agar agar lying around the kitchen, so if NEED be, the almond cream (as well as green almonds) can be omitted.   It does give this amazing whisper of an almond flavor to the dish that's almost imperceptible, but it's definitely there.  You could sprinkle the base of your plates with a bit of almond meal for the flavor, but it will add another textural component to the dish.  But hey, this is cooking. Play with it!

Radishes, Butter, & Almonds
Serves 4
(Adapted from Quay)  
20 green almonds
1 C milk
2 watermelon radishes
2 black (Nero Tondo) radishes 
4 cherry belle radishes
8 French breakfast radishes
4 purple breakfast radishes
4 hailstone (white) radishes
8 small white turnips
12 baby red onions
Almond cream (recipe follows)
Assorted microgreens (I used Hong Vit radish and purple radish)
~3-4 T butter, melted
Sea salt

If you're note as crazy as I am, you can just pick up a bunch of assorted Easter Egg radishes - a great color combo!

First, shell the green almonds and cover them with milk so they don't discolor.  Place in the fridge until ready to plate.

Next, prep the vegetables.  You want to make sure you bring out the best of each radish, color-wise, so the dish turns out like Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat! That being said, the watermelon radishes should be peeled and thinly sliced (~1/4 in) to showcase their namesake.  Same goes for the black radish, but forego the peeling! For the remaining radishes, cut the greens and peel the base if need be.  Depending on the size, you can cut some in half, or in quarters.  This is a really simply dish, and the best part is the plating, so do what you please! Repeat with the turnips.  For the onions, simply slice of the ends and peel off the outermost layer.  

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil - remember, this will help flavor the vegetables, so ensure it's got a nice salty kick to it!  Cook all of the vegetables until just fork tender.  Cooking time will vary, depending on the size of each vegetable, whether it's sliced or whole, etc. - between a 30 seconds for the sliced radishes, to four minutes for the whole vegetables. The onions should need no more than a minute and a half.  Once the vegetables are cooked, drain them.  Brush with a bit of melted butter and sea salt, and get ready to plate! When you're just about ready, drain the green almonds as well.

To plate, place a dollop or brush the base of your dish with a bit of almond cream (this will need to be reheated if made well ahead).  Divide the vegetables and green almonds evenly between four plates and scatter them on and around the almond cream.  Top with a few microgreens, and get ready to dig in! I finished mine with a bit of black lava salt....basically because I wanted to use black salt and thought it would look cool.  Kind of nature-esque and dirt-like.  Taking the radishes back to their roots, y'all!

Almond Cream
3.5 oz toasted almonds
2 C milk
1/8 oz agar agar powder
Fine sea salt

In a food processor, pulse the almonds to a relatively fine grind. Set aside.  In a small saucepan, heat up the milk, bringing it nearly to a boil.  Just before the milk is about to boil, remove it from the heat, and add in the ground almonds. Stir and keep the pan over the lowest heat possible for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat completely and allow to sit for another 20 minutes.  Next, pour the milk through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into another small pan.  Whisk in the agar agar powder, and reheat the milk to about 195F, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and allow the almond milk to set.   Once it has set, place it in a blender and blend until smooth.  Taste, season with sea salt, and blend once more.  Place in the fridge until ready to use.

Que c'est délicieux! A treat for sore eyes and bored tastebuds!  This dish is a great representation of that combination I was speaking of earlier, but sensualized. Seriously.  You know in olden days movies when they put a silk stocking over the lens when they shot a woman to make her more 'appealing'? That's what just happened with this dish.  The spiciness of each radish and turnip is brought down by the gentle cooking, and is rounded out by the faint taste of red onion and almonds.  A gentle kick of spiciness is brought in by the microgreens, but not enough to overpower the other flavors of the dish.  And we all know what butter does.  The final sprinkling of sea salt gives the dish  a perfect amount of crunch.  Perfect. Delicate. Ambrosial!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

tomfoolery: a play on sweetness

Well friends, it's been too long - but I'm back in action! Things have been getting all sorts of crazy, but as always, in a good way.  Heck, even my fishmonger and veggie guys were asking where I've been - so that might be a sign that frankly, it has been too long!  Needless to say, I'm glad to get back in the kitchen to experiment.  I've had a hankering to hit up the farmer's market for SO long, especially since summer is close to reaching it's peak, and finally I was able to.   And I was on a mission.  It's corn time, baby!  We all know my love for corn.  Corn pizza? Check.  Corn Ravioli? TRIPLE CHECK. Corn for life.  There's nothing like corn in the summertime either - especially if it's JUST picked off the stalk.  Barely cooked - maybe let it sit in the hot sun for a minute, that should suffice - no butter, no nothing.  Absolute perfection! Unfortunately, NYC is no Mitten State, so there aren't many stalks to be picked from in my general vicinity to get them just that fresh, but these guys at the market are the next best thing! 

Of course, everyone and their mother had some sort of corn: yellow, white, bi-color, you name it.  No varietal differentiation, but there probably aren't enough crazies like myself for that to make much of a difference.  Either way, all I want to see is that the corn has bright, plump, shiny kernels that pop when you stick your thumbnail into it.  Yes, a trick my mother taught me.  Peel enough away to get to the top of the ear, and prick it with your thumbnail. If it doesn't even come close to exploding, put that ear down! *Sidebar Trivia* Why an "ear" of corn? Well, it's not that exciting, but it comes from an old Gothic word "ahs", which meant husk of corn. Boring right? I like to think it came from the fact that Arcimbaldo used corn as an ear in this picture:

To each his own.  On we go! I finally found some beautiful ears of bi-color corn, fortunately none with caterpillars still inside, and was ready to make something delicious out of it.  I picked up some hot peppers, mint, and parsley root, and was ready to look for one more component from my fishmonger - something sweet (as sweet as seafood can be) to mingle nicely with the corn and other ingredients.  Alas, as I rounded the corner, I was confronted with my worst crustacean enemy, and my mouth's best friend - langoustine!  The guys with the devil eyes.  Sorry buddies, you can snap all you want at me, and have spiky claws, but I'm way bigger than you.  Fortunately, their friend, Mr. 15-pound-lobster, was in a separate area - otherwise, there may have been a SERIOUS situation/throwdown at hand.  I highly doubt the rubber bands would stop that lobster's claws from breaking loose.  

my nemesis. look at those devil eyes!
Back at the apartment, I turned on some jams and was ready to get cooking!

Poached Langoustine Tail with Sweet Corn, Parsley Root, & Vanilla & Star Anise Butter
Serves 4 as little bites

For the vanilla and star anise brown butter:
1 stick butter
1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds scraped out and reserved
1 star anise pod, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle

For the parsley root puree:
1 1/2 cups parsley root, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup almond milk (or whole milk, if you prefer)
1/4 t salt, or more to taste
Fresh ground white pepper

For the corn:
3 ears of corn, husk removed, silks saved, and kernels cut off
1/2 jalapeno, finely minced
1/3 cup mint, finely minced
2 T olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

For langoustine:
4 langoustine
Lots o' water

To start, make the vanilla anise brown butter - the longer the flavors infuse, the better.  And don't worry, you will NOT be using all of this. Barely any really. But, if you're a breakfast person, I can guarantee this will be the most delicious thing you've ever put on your toast. Period. I also kind of want to make ice cream out of it...but that's another day.  In a tall, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter over high heat. Boil the butter until it begins to caramelize - it will start to foam as well.  When the foam and butter begin to turn light brown, remove the pan from heat, and skim any "scum" off the surface.  Gently pout the butter into a stainless steel bowl, being careful not to pour in any of the milk solids at the bottom.  Next, whisk in the vanilla bean pod and seeds and the star anise.  Set aside in a warm place until ready to use.  If you're making this way ahead of time, strain out the vanilla bean pod and star anise pod after about an hour.

In a large sauce pot, bring about 4 cups of water to a boil, with a hefty amount of salt - maybe 3-4 tablespoons.  When the water has come to a boil, place in the chopped parsley root and cook until fork tender - obviously the cooking time depends on your chopping size, but it shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes. Strain the parsley root and transfer to a blender or food processor.  Give it a quick few pulses, then slowly add in the milk.  Process until smooth, and season with sea salt and fresh ground white pepper.  If you're really ambitious, you can pass this through a sieve or tam to make a more velvety texture.  Keep warm until ready to plate.

hello, friend. I've missed you.
On to my favorite component - the corn! You should have about 2 cups of corn, depending on the size of the ear.  It doesn't much matter either way - the more corn, the merrier! Set aside about 1/2 cup of fresh corn.  In a small saute pan, heat up about 2 T of olive oil until shimmering.  Toss in the corn and saute for just a couple of minutes, just until the yellow color has brightened a bit - remember, corn this fresh doesn't need much! Transfer the cooked corn to a small bowl, and stir in the jalapenos, mint, and fresh corn.  Season with a bit of salt and set aside.

Optional, but frankly I would do it: Fried corn silk.  Yes, that pesky silk that gets all over the place when you husk corn? You can cook it! It makes for a nice little crispy, toasty, popcorn-esque nest.  Totally cool.  I made this component while the water was coming to a boil.  I don't have a deep fryer (thankfully) so I used a small pan filled with about 2 cups of grapeseed oil, which came about 3-4 inches up the side of the pan.  Prepare a bunch of paper towels to allow the silk to drain before you start frying.  Heat the oil to about 375F.  Separate the silk into four little piles, frying each individually.  Drop the silk in and swirl around with a fork so it gets a bit tangled up.  Cook until golden brown, remove to the paper towel, and repeat.  Sprinkle each with a bit of sea salt. 

Finally, for the langoustine! Vegetarians, skip forward.  If you have live langoustine, you can either get after it and stab them right in the head and risk them lashing out at you, or you can be a bit more humane and place them in the freezer for about 15 minutes to put them in a coma first.  Whichever you prefer.  When ready to cook, bring a LARGE pot of water to boil, with a large amount of salt - you want it to taste like the ocean.  After the water has reached a rolling boil, gently place in the langoustine.  Let cook for two minutes, and remove to cool.  Once they are cool enough to touch, twist off the tails of each langoustine.  Save the heads and claws for yourself (yes, sometimes it's okay to be greedy) - most people just discard, but there's a bit of sweet meat in there to enjoy, you just have to work for it! Carefully cut along the sides of each tail with kitchen shears, gently removing the tail so it comes out in one piece. 

sans corn silk
To plate! This is the fun part.  If you've decided to make a little nest, place that in the center of your serving piece.  Spoon a bit of parsley root puree into the center of the silk nest.  With a spoon, scatter the corn on top, and around the corn silk, topping each with one langoustine tail.  Brush the tails lightly with the vanilla star anise butter, serve, and enjoy.  

Watch the eyes of your guests light up! This is a fun, whimsical dish, but those factors don't lead to a lacking of flavor and quality.  There are so many minute forms of "sweet" without actually being "dessert sweet" that really make this dish fun.  Obviously the parsley root puree has almost a haunting, earthy sweetness - like the sweetness of a carrot, and the corn lends a sugary starchiness from, well, being corn.  Although vanilla and mint themselves aren't sweet, the flavor associations made with both ingredients trick your mind into thinking so.  And let's talk about that corn silk! It's pretty funky as a thought, but the flavor is awesome,  Perfectly crunchy, and super toasty - not fried tasting at all.  It tasted like the smell of fresh popped popcorn. Thankfully, the flavors aforementioned are kept in check by our good friend capsaicin.  With all this sweetness trickery going on, of course I had to add something to cut through.  Jalapeno saves the day! Altogether, this dish was one thing: scrumptious.

On a final note: just make that butter. You can thank me later.