Monday, July 28, 2014

Friends and Potstickers

There's an Asian market close to my home and I love poking around there and shopping for all kinds of ingredients. Some become instant favorites, such as jasmine rice, and others are more aspirational, like the packet of dumpling wrappers that ended up sitting in the freezer for several months.

I've made potstickers once before and blogged about it too- but I basically winged it with the filling. And I occasionally buy a bag of frozen vegetable dumplings to add to soup or to serve as an appetizer with a stir fry.

This time I got lucky- I mentioned the lonely dumpling wrappers in the freezer to my dear friend who happens to be Chinese American, born and raised in Queens, NY. She suggested that we get together and make dumplings together- and we got together yesterday for our dumpling party.

My friend showed up with her family and a large grocery sack of supplies. Then we got down to business- and here's the recipe she taught me. Her method is as simple as can be, the filling is raw and comes together in minutes.

The wrappers: I'm happy to make dumplings "from scratch" but I have no intentions of making the dumpling wrappers from scratch. We used 2 packs, each with 40 wrappers- one was Nasoya brand square wrappers (found next to the tofu in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets) and the other was Twin Dragon round wrappers that I found in the Asian store.

We used a large bowl to mix together the filling:

  • 1 package crumbled firm tofu (drain the tofu well before crumbling it)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 3-4 green onions, minced
  • 4-5 shiitake mushrooms, minced (these are found in most grocery stores)
  • 1/2 cup (or so) minced preserved turnips. These are very salty on their own but add wonderful flavor to the filling. They can be found in Asian stores.

We seasoned the filling with

  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Wash your hands well, then get in there and mix the filling together well. 

Then it was time to make the dumplings. Set out a small bowl of water. Put a teaspoonful or two of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the water, wet the edges of the wrapper and press them together firmly to make a semi-circle or triangle (depending on the shape of the wrapper). Keep making dumplings and setting them on a plate.

Cooking the potstickers: Then fire up the stove and heat up a wide and shallow saute pan. Add 2 tbsp. oil and place dumplings in a single layer in the hot pan. Once the bottom of the dumplings is browned, add 1/3 cup vegetable broth and cover the pan. 3-4 minutes later, the broth will have evaporated and the dumplings will be steamed through. Use a spatula or tongs to gently remove them.

Serve the potstickers right away with a dipping sauce:

  • Soy sauce
  • Honey
  • Ginger-garlic, minced
  • Scallions, minced

This was just so much fun- we were all crowded into the kitchen, I was making dumplings at a furious pace while my friend expertly cooked them, then as a new batch emerged, everyone grabbed them and gobbled them while trying not to burn their fingers. The potstickers were crisp and tender, and the taste was spot on.

We made 80 dumplings and managed to eat over 60 of them between 4 adults and 3 little girls. What a perfect way to spend the evening. I'll really glad to have learned my friend's family recipe and I have no doubt it will become a fun family tradition in our home too. 

Did you do anything fun this weekend?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Travel Diary and Nutty Cookies

The Fourth of July holiday was coming up and Lila had a whole week's summer break from daycare. I decided to take a few days off myself and we planned a week long mother-daughter vacation in Minneapolis with my sister and her family.

As we packed our bags, the excitement was mounting. It would be a vacation of many firsts.  The first trip where Lila would be really able to anticipate, understand and remember what was going on. The first time she would be visiting her aunt's home. A first visit to a theme park. The first time Lila would be away from her daddy and doggy for any length of time (those two stayed back to put in long hours at work and to catch up on sleep, respectively.)

And as simple as it was, flying out to see family for a week, every bit of the vacation was new and fresh and magical as I saw it through my toddler's eyes. Even the airport train zipping to our concourse through the massive and headache-inducing Atlanta airport made her squeal in delight. Weary travelers standing next to us could not help smiling at that.

The upper Midwest was cool and pleasant compared to Georgia at this time of year. Minneapolis in summer is dreamy- there's no trace of the (in)famous wintry shroud, the skies are blue, the lakes are bluer, there are fresh, green spaces everywhere you look.  Oh, and criss-crossing freeways everywhere too- I'm glad I don't have to drive in that city.

A wishing tree invites you to write a
wish and tie it onto a branch
Armed with a toddler each, my sister and I managed to squeeze in a lot of fun into one week. So here's my list of Top 6 things to do with a pair of toddlers in Minneapolis in summer!

The Diego Rescue Rider ride
at the Nick theme park
1. Go to the Nickelodeon Universe theme park inside the ridiculously huge Mall of America. Themes parks are so not my thing, Lila has no idea what Nickelodeon is, but this was a special experience and she thoroughly enjoyed it- even the fast and bumpy rides that left me queasy. They have a discount for toddlers on Tuesday.

2. Play in the sun and sand at Lake Calhoun's tiny beaches.

3. Go berry picking and later enjoy some fresh berries and ice cream.

4. Walk around the Centennial lake promenade, then rent a paddle boat and get up close to the ducklings.

5. Explore the huge indoor playground at Edinborough Park; this is a perfect rainy day activity.

Minnehaha Falls

6. Go see the spectacular Minneahaha Falls and dip your toes in the cold, gushing water of Minnehaha Creek.

Apart from these excursions, we enjoyed the things that are perpetually fun for the kids: walking to the local playgrounds, exploring the public library, coloring and painting, watching a few cartoons, swimming in the pool at the apartment complex, all while enjoying the excellent meals that my sister made.

Among all these child-centric activities, my sister and I did manage to make a trip to a huge fabric warehouse called SR Harris, packed floor to ceiling with fabrics and notions. I could have easily bankrupted myself there so it was a good thing Lila demanded that we leave after a couple of hours.

And we ate a hearty brunch at the French Meadow Cafe- their huevos rancheros were terrific.

I am such a homebody and loathe to travel, but I am so glad we went on this trip. It was a fantastic bonding experience all around.
A fountain overflowing with plants
at Minnehaha Falls
Before my trip, I gathered up some small gifts to take with me. I never know what to get my brother in law, so he got the food gift, which experience tells me is usually welcomed and relished. I'd already made biscotti, brownies and candy for them. At quite the last minute, I started looking for a recipe for something new to make and hit the jackpot with this cookie recipe from Alice Medrich. Her cookbook Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few years- I won it in a giveaway in St. Louis.

The recipe I fortuitously found is called Right-Brain Nutty Butter Cookies. Medrich calls them right brain cookies because they are cookies for cooks, not bakers. You can get away with less-than-precise measurements and the recipe welcomes the tweaking and "little bit of this-and-that"ing that cooks tend to do. The basic recipe is for a shortbread and there are no eggs involved. The entire cookie dough comes together in a couple of minutes in a food processor. The cookie is dead easy to make and requires basic pantry ingredients.

But do plan ahead- Medrich notes that the cookies are significantly better if you make and refrigerate the dough 2 days prior to baking. And the cookies themselves taste better the day after they are baked, they last for a month in an airtight container. How perfect to take along on a trip!

I'll tell you exactly how I made this batch of cookies. Look for Medrich's excellent book for the detailed recipe and all the variations. She's a truly gifted dessert chef and I should use this book more.

Nutty Butter Cookies
(Adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts)

1. Start with 1 box deluxe mixed nuts (8.75 oz). These have cashews, almonds, brazil nut, hazelnuts and pecans, they come roasted and salted in a small canister in the snack aisle of the supermarket.

2. Pulse the nuts (all the contents of the box) in a food processor to a coarse chop. Dump them out and set them aside.

3. To the now-empty processor bowl, add and pulse to mix:
1 cup + 1 tbsp. flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt (or not, if nuts were well-salted)

4. Add 1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter (cut in chunks and softened beforehand) and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Process until a cookie dough forms.

5. Pulse in the chopped nuts.

6. Divide the dough onto two pieces of plastic wrap and pat into 2 logs. Wrap and refrigerate for 2 days.

7. Preheat oven to 350F. Slice the log into 1/4 inch thick cookies and bake on parchment lined sheets for 12-14 minutes. Cool on the sheet. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

These cookies were a hit. My brother in law said they reminded him of cookies from Karachi bakery, which is apparently a celebrated bakery in Hyderabad. In any case, they are rich, tender morsels, slightly sweet and pretty much guaranteed to please. I'm glad to have one more food gift in my repertoire.

Have you been traveling this summer?