After a slow start, I got into the swing of dumplings. Like I mentioned, I had been fairly nervous because of my perception that ingredients would be difficult to find (they weren’t) or that the dough would be tricky (it wasn’t) or that they wouldn’t taste as good as I hoped (wrong again!)
If you haven’t popped over yet, Briggs did a great review of our monthly Cook the Books! Dinner Party-you really should check out. Many crazy plans were hatched. The details are a bit hazy, but all of them were funny. Spandau Ballet, and first slow dances, were discussed. I think we might have decided to start going to casino concerts. Or some such things. I know we made brilliant, fool-proof business plans.
Cantonese Char Siu Pork and Vegetable Spring Rolls/Guangdong Chunjuan (p.79) Earlier this month I made Char Siu Pork (p.224) to make baked buns and the recipe made a lot, so I ended up freezing the remaining pork in batches. I was super happy to just pull it out the day ahead of time. As Briggs mentioned, I went with store-bought wrappers instead of making them. I could have made them. I should have made them, especially knowing that Andrea’s dough recipes have been surprisingly easy. Comparing Briggs’ homemade wraps versus the store-bought wrappers, it was clear that homemade is hands down better. Yes, the store-bought were fine in a pinch, but in the future homemade is the way to go. The filling was great though. It tasted exactly like I expected a (good) fried eggroll to taste and that was exactly what I wanted. Score! Chock full of tasty pork morsels, shredded carrots and cabbage, some celery, a few scallions and paired with homemade sweet and sour sauce (p. 217), they were great. Note: while writing this I got a text from Briggs’ partner stating: “Your eggrolls f&#ing rock! My brother loved ’em too! Briggs is still raving.” So, now I’ll say they were more than great….they rocked the house!
Thai Tapioca Pearl Dumplings/Saku sai mu (p. 149) These trippy little translucent dumplings are a popular street snack in Thailand. They looked interesting and sounded either delicious or disastrous the kind of thing you really just have to go for. The dough was made by soaking tapioca pearls in hot water so that they would expand. Then mashed into a dough. It looked like chunky Elmer’s glue, pasty powdered sugar, or spackle. At any rate, I was certain it wouldn’t work. Well, I should have learned by now to trust Andrea. They worked perfectly. A bit sticky, but they came together, were stuffed with a tasty pork mixture, steamed till they became translucent, chewy-ish little round dumplings, coated with garlic oil, and wrapped in lettuce (overwintered in our garden! yes!) along with some mint and cilantro. I thought they were fantastic and super fun to eat! It called for some thinly sliced hot peppers that I forgot to bring, but I think they would be great added to the garlic oil as well for a little kick.
Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken in Banana Leaf/Lemper Ayam (p. 173) I was really curious about cooking something in a banana leaf and chose to make an Indonesian version. Lemper Ayam is spicy chicken mixture that is surrounded with sticky coconut rice and wrapped in a banana leaf. The chicken has fantastic flavors of coconut milk, garlic, shallot, cumin, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal. The galangal and kaffir lime leaves gave the dish an amazing flavor. I loved it. For the recipe, I substituted macadamia nuts for the candlenuts because it was easier to find. I probably could have found it at the Asian market that I went to, but was already a bit overwhelmed looking for galangal, as nothing in the produce section was labeled and I only knew it looked a bit like big ginger. After a bit of google-image comparison, I found the hidden-last-remaining-but-enormous galangal root. No worries! I love the flavor and it is safely tucked in my freezer till later, along with the extra kaffir lime leaves (like next month! They are featured in many of the Good Fish recipes as well.) I loved these packets of yumminess…the flavor combo was really unique. I might up the spice next time and use pork. I am a bit off chicken at the moment, but that is a post for another time.
I am so happy Briggs wanted to include Asian Dumplings. I love dumplings of all kinds, yet it might not have occurred to me to make them. I certainly wouldn’t have tried to make dough without a bit of a push.
Recipe/writing style: At first glance, the recipes seem long. My brain is pretty stress-addled and I find it nearly impossible to focus on much of anything for more than a nano-second. I felt a bit stressed looking at the length and wondering if I would be able to actually read a full recipe. (Note: The only thing I’ve found lately that I am actually able to fully read is Tales of the City– all 8 volumes. But nothing else.) Under normal circumstances in my life this wouldn’t be hard for me and I am certain that you won’t have a problem with this, but with my Dad so ill, I am completely preoccupied. It is hard to have a complete thought, much less read a paragraph. Sucks, but it is just where I am at the moment.
However, Andrea’s directions are perfect! They are long, but with something I was so unfamiliar with cooking, I was grateful. Follow her directions and I promise you will be turning out of all sorts of kick ass dumplings.
- Did the recipes taste good? Yes! Everything I made and tried was great! Absolutely spot-on perfect flavors. The sauces were simple and top-notch.
- Would I use it again? Yes! There are so many things I didn’t get to try. The recipes are easy to make and impressive.
- Is it reliable? Yes! Even when I was leary about the way a dough looked or if I was folding something correctly, everything turned out really great!
- Does it use real food? Yes!
- Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Yes!
Other: I appreciated all the extra information that Andrea adds to the book. It is full of useful tools, pictures of items that might be difficult to find by name, ingredients, descriptions, and pictures of proper folding techniques. She also has a very thorough website that includes a lot of how-to videos.
I know I mentioned last month that I don’t like being told what to do Well, that apparently only applies to situations where I already feel somewhat confident. When I am clueless, like I was about dumplings, I am glad I was told what to do. I really appreciated her clear, informative instructions. Nothing in the book is complicated, but for many people it will be something brand new to attempt. Her very clear, step-by-step instructions ensure success.
I have been thinking about how to incorporate dumplings into a day-to-day routine. With some advance planning I imagine they could be incorporated into your life in many ways.
- Having a pantry with the items you need is key.
- I found it helpful to have a batch of the char siu pork already made and frozen in smaller sections so that I could take it out and use when I wanted it. For us, this was a good one to have on hand as we used it for several different fillings.
- Freezing. Spending a little bit of time making several types of dumplings on the weekend and freezing them (uncooked). Pull them out when needed.
- Practice. Once you get the hang of the technique, they don’t take long at all to fill and shape so I can imagine making these on a weeknight. Fillings can be made a few days ahead of time. The basic dough only need a 15 minute rest before using. It is do-able. Deliciously do-able.
- It would probably be a fun activity to do with older kids. It would have been a disaster with our 5 year old, but I think it would be a fun way to get kids engaged in interactive dinner preparation.
How was your dumpling month? Briggs will have the Cook the Books! February Wrap-up posted on Friday I think! So make sure to pop over and see what everyone made!