Recipe: Chinese Dumplings

Is it any wonder that dumplings are a comfort food for a Taiwanese American girl like me? I have fond memories of sitting with my mom over a bowl of dumpling filling and cranking out dozens of these while we talked and talked and talked some more. She was always lightning-fast at assembling these, and although I’ve gotten better, she still outpaces me by a wide margin. Then we’d sit down with my dad to dinner and jokingly compete to see who could eat the most dumplings (hint: always my dad). Although sweet C is old enough to make these with me, she tires quickly, so I’m looking forward to making similar memories with her once she’s a bit older.

When I first posted pictures of dumplings for Dinner365, I received several requests for the recipe. It would have been easy to simply post the written instructions, but I wanted to do this one justice with pictures and careful testing to make sure my recipe was accurate. So forgive me if you’ve been waiting a while for this one, but I hope that you’ll have a chance to try them out. This recipe is adapted from my mom’s recipe for dumplings.

Chinese Dumplings (makes about 56)

Ingredients for Dipping Sauce

5 Tbsp soy sauce (preferably Kimlan aged soy sauce)

1 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar

1 Tbsp Chinese sesame oil

4 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped

1 pinch of sugar

Ingredients for Dumplings

3 cups of finely chopped Napa cabbage

3 large pinches of salt

5 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated

5 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped

8 oz. raw, peeled, deveined shrimp, finely chopped

1 lb. ground pork

3 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground white pepper

Dumpling wrappers

 

Instructions for the Dipping Sauce:

Here is a picture of what you’ll need.

Don't they look like a happy little family?

Don’t they look like a happy little family?

In the matter of sauce-making, I can be a bit particular about ingredients. The bottle on the left is Kimlan-brand aged soy sauce; I find the flavor has more depth than your standard soy sauce. I use it for everything. The bottle in the middle is labeled “Orient Worcestershire Sauce”. I assure you that this is NOT Worcestershire Sauce of any sort. The giant Chinese characters in the middle decidedly say “black vinegar”. Again, it’s Kimlan-brand, and my preferred option. Finally, you’ve got sesame oil on the right. Any kind of Chinese sesame oil should do nicely. I know all ingredients are not universally available, but if you can find these at your local well-stocked Asian grocery store, all the better.

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and let it sit. And sit. And sit some more. Ideally this concoction gets to sit for at least a couple of hours before you use it so that all the garlicky goodness infuses into the sauce.

Be very, very quiet...magic is happening here.

Be very, very quiet…magic is happening here.

Instructions for Dumplings:

Start with your Napa cabbage.

Portrait of a cabbage and a sharp knife.

Portrait of a cabbage and a sharp knife.

Cut away all the brown bits, and finely chop that puppy until you have about 3 cups. You want to make sure that your pieces are reasonably small so that they fit nicely into the dumpling wrappers. Put your chopped cabbage in a large mixing bowl with three large pinches of salt. Toss the cabbage with the salt, and let it sit for at least 20 minutes.

Chopped up and bathing in salt.

Chopped up and bathing in salt.

While your cabbage is sitting, you can prep your other ingredients, like your shrimp…

Mmmm, shellfish. Come to mama.

Mmmm, shellfish. Come to mama.

And your aromatics…

Garlic, ginger, and scallions, a trifecta of aromatic goodness.

Garlic, ginger, and scallions, a trifecta of aromatic goodness.

After about 20 minutes, the salt will have pulled a lot of moisture out of the cabbage, and it should be sitting in a puddle of water. Reach in there and squeeze the cabbage and dump out the water. Then add the rest of your dumpling ingredients (except, of course the wrappers), and get your hands in there to mix thoroughly.

All ready to go!

All ready to go!

Once you’ve got everything mixed, you can start wrapping dumplings. When you buy dumpling wrappers at the store, you may find them under the name “gyoza wrappers” or simply “dumpling wrappers”. Whatever you do, do NOT buy anything labeled “wonton wrappers”; wontons are made from a wrapper that’s much too thin for our purposes here. These are my preferred wrapper (Twin Marquis brand), and I find them at my local Chinese grocery store in the freezer aisle.

Waiting to be filled.

Waiting to be filled.

On to the filling! To do this, you’ll need a teaspoon and a small bowl of water. Place a heaping teaspoonful of dumpling filling in the middle of each wrapper like so.

Very Vanna White, no?

Very Vanna White, no?

Then, you want to dip your finger in the water, and run it around the edge of the wrapper to wet it slightly like so.

I just realized my hands look like my mom's hands.

I just realized my hands look like my mom’s hands.

Then fold the wrapper in half and pinch it all the way around to seal it shut, like so.

Pinchy pinchy.

Pinchy pinchy.

Pay special attention the the corners and make sure those are pinched really tight like so.

Make sure to get the corners really well-sealed, or the dumplings will tend to fall apart while cooking.

Make sure to get the corners really well-sealed, or the dumplings will tend to fall apart while cooking.

Set the completed dumpling on a plate, then lather, rinse, repeat. Once you have several giant plates of dumplings, you can do one of several things.

First, you can cook them. These dumplings can be boiled, steamed, or pan-friend. To boil, simply drop them into a large pot of boiling water, stirring gently to make sure they don’t stick to each other or the bottom of the pan. 5-6 minutes does the trick.

If you have a steamer or a pot with a steamer basket, you can put these in (I like to put them on a sheet of parchment paper in the bamboo steamer basket) and steam them for 7-8 minutes.

To pan-fry them, heat some cooking oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and drop the dumplings in, making sure they don’t stick to each other. Let them cook for 2-3 minutes, getting one side nice and browned and crispy. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan, and cover, letting them steam for an additional 3-4 minutes. Once the water has steamed off, let them cook for an additional 3-4 minutes to crisp up again.

If you don’t plan to eat them all at once, you can put them in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet lightly coated with flour, and stick the whole thing in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, you can put the dumplings in a freezer bag and they’ll keep for a couple of months in the freezer (that is, if they last that long).

So there you have it, Chinese dumplings three ways. I’d love to hear if you get a chance to try them. Yes, they’re a bit of work to assemble, but completely worth it. Serve them with the dipping sauce, a side salad or whatever veggies you have on hand, and enjoy!

 

I'm now super hungry just looking at this. Oh, the perils of writing about food.

I’m now super hungry just looking at this. Oh, the perils of writing about food.

P.S. The three on the left are boiled, the one on top is pan-fried. And if you think I ate only three of them, then you are sorely mistaken. :)

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Boston

I can’t begin to wrap my head around the attack on the Boston Marathon today. The news is on TV, I’m looking at Twitter and news sites, and none of it is sinking in. Explosions? At a road race? Somebody did this on purpose? But it’s the Boston Marathon. THE Boston Marathon. It’s the place so many of us runners aspire to run, and…how does something like this happen?

The footage is so, so awful, and it doesn’t compute at all. The photograph looking towards the finish line from the runners’ perspective…it looks so much like the finish lines I’ve crossed…except for the incongruous ball of flame and smoke.

And the footage showing the explosion from the perspective of the finish line…runners collapsing, runners swerving, and runners, well, continuing to run. I can’t help but wonder how I would react if I were running towards a finish line and something like that happened.

And the cheering crowds, oh, those sweet and wonderful supporters whose enthusiasm carries runners through those last brutal stretches. To think that so many of the wounded and killed were there to do no more than be an encouragement…my breath catches in my chest. Selfishly I wonder how I could ever ask my family or friends to wait for me at a finish line again.

My heart hurts for the beautiful city of Boston, for those dedicated runners, and those amazing supporters, especially the children. And my heart hurts for our greater running community because the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle race for so many runners and like any race, it’s supposed to be filled with joy. What a slap in the face.

But what the cowards who did this seem to forget is that we’re resilient. The city of Boston is resilient. The running community is resilient. Did you see the volunteers and first responders move with incredible speed to help the wounded? Have you heard the stories of kindness and generosity displayed by the citizens of the great city of Boston? Did you hear about runners running an additional mile and a half to the hospital to volunteer to donate blood after having just run a marathon? This whole thing is so senseless and stupid and horrific, but dammit, we are resilient, and we’re going to keep putting one foot in front of another. Didn’t they hear? We’re runners; that’s kind of what we do.

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

The World’s Easiest Roasted Carrots

The other day I made a huge baked brisket for dinner. And when I say “huge” I mean a 9 lb. Costco-sized brisket, y’all, which I recognize is absurd for a family of 3, but that’s totally not the point. I was stoked to try my hand at a simple roasting technique for this meat, but I couldn’t figure out what to serve with it. All day, and I do mean all day, I mulled over what to do, and all I could picture was that sad hunk of meat sitting all by it’s lonesome self on a plate. So of course when C. came home from school, I asked her what vegetable she would like to eat with dinner. Doesn’t everyone get their cooking inspiration from a 6-year old? No? Weird. Anyway, she suggested carrots. Ok. Carrots. Great. We have those. But…what am I going to do with the carrots? I know! Serve them raw! No good. I know! Check Pinterest! So I did, and nothing sounded good. So what’s a girl to do? I know! Improvise! Um…I don’t think I know how to do that.

It’s worth it to note that I am a cook who derives much of my cooking inspiration from other people’s recipes. I use recipes as a starting point, and modify (sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little) according to my tastes and whatever ingredients I happen to have around. I’m not good at coming up with recipes completely off-the-cuff. So this carrot business had me completely flummoxed. As I mentioned when I started this Dinner365 project, part of my motive was to push myself towards cooking more by instinct (aka. actually knowing how to cook versus always cooking by recipe). So this seemed like a good place to start. Anyways, I looked around my fridge and my spice drawer and actually came up with something that worked and tasted good enough that my child asked for seconds, thirds, and fourth. True story. It’s ridiculously easy (Iron Chef material I am not), but it worked, so I am perhaps a tiny bit irrationally proud of myself for coming up with it on my own. On with the recipe!

The World’s Easiest Roasted Carrots

Ingredients

12-15 whole carrots, peeled and cut into 2 in. chunks

1/2 sweet onion, chopped into 1-2 in. pieces

olive oil

Worcestershire Sauce

garlic powder

salt

freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. If you’re already roasting a hunk of meat in the oven like I was, then it’s your lucky day, no preheating necessary! Put your carrots, onions, and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil into an oven-safe baking dish big enough to spread your veggies out into a single layer. Add about 4 glugs of Worcestershire Sauce, 4-5 shakes of garlic powder, 2 large pinches of salt, and run your pepper grinder 8-10 times over the whole thing. Toss it all together to coat the veggies and spread them out across the dish. Throw it in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the edges of the veggies start to brown up nicely. And that’s it.

This recipe is forgiving enough that a little more or less of any one ingredient won’t hurt a thing. Some nice sweetness from the carrots and onions, some nice savoriness from the seasoning, and it’s really, really tasty for something so easy. Enjoy!

Roasted Carrots

Yummy carrots with brisket and couscous.

 

 

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Things That Make Me Happy: Easter Egg Dying

I realized recently that I don’t post a lot of pictures here (part of the drawback of remaining semi-anonymous, I suppose). And since I promised to post Dinner365 recipes to the blog, I realized that I really, really need to take more pictures, both of food and life in general, with my camera as opposed to my phone (I’m in the dark ages and haven’t upgraded my iPhone 4 yet, so picture quality is sketchy). I like taking photos, so why not make it a point to do it more often? Anyways, this past weekend, I got some shots of our Easter Egg dying session that made me happy with their bright, albeit artificial, colors. We didn’t do anything Pinterest-worthy, just your run-of-the-mill Paas kit. But there’s something really lovely about the pop of color; it somehow gives me hope that warmer weather really is just right around the corner.

Our blank canvas.

Our blank canvas.

Making Invisible Designs

Making Invisible Designs

Invisible crayon coming to life

Invisible crayon coming to life

DSC_4301

Even if there are none in sight outside, a girl can hope, right?

Dying eggs takes focus, people.

Dying eggs takes focus, people.

DSC_4320

She made this one for me!

Tell me you could have resisted arranging them in rainbow order. Because I couldn't!

Tell me you could have resisted arranging them in rainbow order. Because I couldn’t!

Hope you had a wonderful Passover/Easter/Spring weekend, too.

 

 

 

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Feminist in the Making

It’s no big secret that I’m a feminist (loaded term, I know, but I’ll deal with that another day), and I’ve written before about my specific problems with how our culture markets to young girls. But up until recently, I wasn’t sure if sweet C. had noticed the problems herself let alone understood why they were problematic. Two incidents over the past couple of weeks confirmed that she’s very much starting to get it.

The first conversation we had was during bed time snuggles (seriously, bedtime conversations are the best). That night, I had an overwhelming urge to tell her how absolutely loved she is. I held her tight and told her that her family cherishes, values, and loves her so deeply. I told her that we support her no matter what. I told her that she is brave and kind, and I told her that we’re so proud of her. I told her that there are so many things she’s going to experience and accomplish, and that it’s important for her to continue to be brave because the world needs brave, strong girls. She nodded and was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “But Mama, how come in the stories we read, there are only brave boys and not brave girls?” (Sidebar: we do make a point of finding books for her featuring strong female protagonists, but yeah, she’s got a point.) What followed was an amazing conversation about how yes, there aren’t nearly as many stories about brave girls, and no, it’s not fair at all, and yes, you’re right, we shouldn’t forget about Merida, and did you know that that story was written by a woman who wanted to see more stories about brave, strong girls? (Thanks to Melissa Wardy for that detail!). C. loved the idea of crafting a new kind of story, and she immediately wanted to jump out of bed to write her own story about a strong, brave girl. We’ve started that project, and we’re going to continue working on it together. Score!

The second conversation was as we were driving past the Schottenstein Center on Ohio State University’s campus. I pointed it out to her and told her that the OSU basketball teams play some of their games there. She observed the building as we drove by, mentioned that Daddy likes to watch basketball on TV, then said “Mama, why are there only boys playing basketball on TV? Why don’t we see the girls playing basketball on TV?” Yet another great conversation ensued where we discussed how it’s not fair to the girls, and yes, girls are also really good at basketball, and what can we do to get more girls playing sports on TV. As a result, she is going to write to the President of ESPN asking him to make a change.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about these interactions. For one thing, it confirms that kids really do notice the inequalities that exist, and it confirms that adults must tackle the responsibility of talking very specifically about the inequalities and explaining them, lest our children begin to draw their own conclusions about the relative worth of boys versus girls. I don’t ever want her to see the inequality and decide that it means that girls just aren’t good at sports, or that girls can’t be strong and brave. I want my daughter to understand that girls are being represented unfairly, that this is unacceptable, and that each of us has the power to change that for the better.

Her very astute observations also tell me that even as a parent who is highly aware of the media’s misrepresentation of girls and the pervasive marketing of a hypersexualized “girly” culture and as a parent who works daily to make sure my daughter defines her self-worth on who she is rather than what she looks like, I have so. Much. More. Work. To do. We need to seek out more stories about strong girls. We need to actively seek out girls playing sports on TV. We need to do so much more to show her examples of the amazing women out there who do not conform to what the media so desperately wants her to believe is normal. This is the only way that she in turn will continue to be empowered to tell her own counter-cultural stories. In other words, my work here is not even close to being done.

This battle is exhausting, and it is disheartening that in the year 2013 we still have to fight it. But for ourselves and for our children, we have no choice but to be relentless.

 

 

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Recipe: Shrimp and Grits

Half of my family may be southeast Asian, but the other half of the family hails from Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. In other words, I know where my love of Southern food comes from. If you’ve been following Dinner365, you’ve probably noticed my cooking swings wildly around continents, most recently spending several days in Asia before veering right into Shrimp and Grits. “Shrimp and Grits” looks weird, no? Shouldn’t it be “Shrimp ‘n Grits”? But that sounds very colloquial (maybe rudely so?), especially from a girl whose pedigree is East meets South meets grew up in a British colony now add 12 years in Ohio. Anyways.

I first had Shrimp and (‘n) Grits while visiting my sweet friend, K. (hi, K!), while she lived in Knoxville, TN. She said, “You have to try this,” and she was right. She picked them up from a restaurant, brought them home in steaming take-out boxes which filled the house with rich, delicious aromas, and we dove in, scraping every last grain of cornmeal out of the corners of the boxes. I’ve tried to make Shrimp ‘n Grits since that night, but they never turned out quite right until this week, and I assure you, there was a similar amount of scraping and plate-licking at my house. So without further ado…

Shrimp and Grits (adapted from a Bobby Flay recipe)

Ingredients for the Grits

4.5 cups of water

3 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 cup of stone-ground grits or coarse ground cornmeal (I used Red Mill Course Ground Cornmeal; whatever you do, DO NOT use corn flour)

6 Tbsp butter

6 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Ingredients for the Shrimp

6 slices of bacon, chopped

1/3 cup finely diced white or yellow onion

2 large cloves garlic, finely minced

3 tsp lemon juice

Tabasco sauce

2 scallions, whites and greens, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add grits/cornmeal, salt, and pepper, and cook partially covered over low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the grits from sticking to the pan, until water is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese until they are melted and thoroughly incorporated. Cover to keep warm while preparing shrimp.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp, and remove bacon to a paper-towel lined bowl. Remove all but 2-3 Tbsp of bacon grease from the pan. Over medium heat, add garlic and white/yellow onion to the grease, sauteing until fragrant and slightly softened (4-5 minutes). Add shrimp, and quickly cook until shrimp turn opaque. Add lemon juice, 5-6 shakes of Tabasco sauce, stir and saute briefly to distribute flavors. Finally, add bacon and scallions; give it a quick stir, and let it cook for about 30 seconds more just to slightly wilt the scallions (I like the scallions and bacon crisp still).

Serve yourself a heaping portion of grits, top with a heaping portion of shrimp, and dig in!

Shrimp and Grits

Swoon-worthy Shrimp and Grits Deliciousness

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Recipe: Pesto Spinach and Chicken Pasta

I’ve spent the last week puzzling over which recipe I should post first from Dinner365, and I finally decided I just needed to jump in and start with an easy one. Before I do that, though, I think it’s important for me to say something about my food philosophy. Is that a thing? Do people have food philosophies? I do. It’s really quite straightforward. I’m an omnivore. I like to try new things. I think food is fun and an endless source of enjoyment as well as a means by which I fuel my body. I prefer foods made from whole ingredients without chemical additives and preservatives. I prefer foods grown or produced locally and organically. BUT. Nothing is off-limits. There’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” food, and I refuse to assign a moral code to what I eat. Is there food that has higher nutritional value? Sure. Is there food that is chock-full of chemical glue holding together a small handful of identifiable ingredients? Sure (although around our house that kind of edible substance doesn’t usually get the esteemed label of “food”). Do I eat from both categories? Absolutely, but much, much less so from the second category, and I hate to cook with highly processed ingredients because I just don’t think it tastes as good. And finally, do I understand that I have the tremendous privilege of being knowledgeable enough and well-off enough to make those distinctions and choices? 100% yes. Not everybody has this choice, and we should all be appalled. Our food system is terribly broken, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to help people get access to higher-quality, more nutritious food. *exitsoapbox*

Given all of that, the food you’ll see me post will be all over the map, and I hope that my foodie contributions in my little corner of the internet inspire you to cook more, enjoy food more, or simply try something new. Oh, and P.S., for the most part my recipes aren’t going to read like recipes. They’re going to read like we’re chatting on the phone, and I’m telling you how to make the recipe. Now, on to the recipe. This is an adaptation from my friend J’s recipe that she made for us one summer while our families were vacationing together in St. Petersburg, Florida (hi, J!). It’s ridiculously easy and delicious, and it has since become an absolute staple in our house.

Pesto Spinach and Chicken Pasta (Day 50 of 365)

Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 lb. pasta of your choice (a short pasta with curls is a good choice because the twists and turns catch the pesto nicely)

Roughly 1/2-3/4 cup of pesto (I buy mine at Costco, but you can certainly use homemade)

Roughly 1/2 cup heavy cream

A couple of good handfuls of baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

 

Directions:

Get your water boiling for pasta, and while it’s heating up, cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces, and season it with a little salt and pepper. Start your pasta cooking, and boil it according to package directions. In the meantime in a large saute pan, heat up some olive oil over medium heat (I don’t measure my oil, and I usually use a good slosh of oil in the pan). Saute your chicken until it’s no longer pink, then add your pesto to the chicken. This is going to be to your personal taste. Some people like a lot of pesto; some people like less. Eyeball it, and if it’s not enough, you can always add more. Once your pesto is nicely coating the chicken, add your heavy cream. Again, some people like a creamier sauce, others not so much. If the sauce seems a little dry, you can add some of the cooking liquid from your pasta to thin it out. Let your sauce simmer for a bit, then toss in the baby spinach. Stir, and let the spinach wilt a bit, then taste your sauce to see if it needs salt of pepper. Season to taste, then turn off your heat, drain your pasta, and toss the pasta with the sauce in the saute pan. Top with a little parmesan cheese, and dinner is served.

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© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.

Dinner365

If you follow me on Twitter or FB, you’ll know I started a photo-a-day project this year. It sort of happened on accident. I photographed my dinner on January 1st, and January 2nd, and on a whim, I decided I would photograph every dinner I ate for the rest of the year. And thus, Dinner365 was born. People have asked why I’m doing this, and I think that’s a good question. For me, the point is to force myself to *really* pay attention to the food I’m cooking. I want to be more versatile in the kitchen, relying more on instinct and my palette than I currently do. I want to keep things interesting and fresh in the kitchen. And, of course, I want to document the process.

60 days later, I’ve missed a few pictures (typically when we’ve eaten out and when I’m absolutely starving), but I’m actually really enjoying this process. I ADORE food. I read about food; I watch TV shows about food; I eat a great deal of food; I like to share food; and most of the time, I enjoy cooking it. The natural progression seems to be that I should now photograph it and/or write about it, too. A number of friends on FB have asked me if I’m going to blog this project, and although I can’t possibly blog every meal, I am going to start posting some recipes. If I’m doing something that’s delicious and works for us in our busy household and kitchen, I certainly want to pass that along to you. With luck, the posts will come once a week, but if you see something in my Twitter or FB feeds that you’re especially interested in, let me know, and I’ll try my best to get it online.

© 2013, OneShoeOff. All rights reserved.