Sunday, June 28, 2009

I say tomahto…

Tomatoes v1

We have been enjoying the produce of our small vegetable patch this summer.  Every March, when we plant ours, I especially look forward to gorging on home-grown organic tomatoes and it doesn’t get much better than these purple heirlooms (next to my all time favorites – figs!). 

Tomatoes 013-crop v1

This is a traditional Srpska Salata - Serbian Salad.  Sliced tomatoes, green pepper, red onion, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.   And Husbie says KISS - Keep It Simple Sam! 

Tomatoes 025-crop v1

Who can resist Insalata Caprese?  A perfect stack with thick slices of mozzarella and basil leaves nestled between sliced tomatoes and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil:

Tomato mozzarella stack v1

 What do you do with a mango, a tomato and a jalapeno pepper?  Why, you make Salsa!

tomato mango salsa 008 v1

To balance the sweetness of the mango, I add red onion, lemon juice and lots of cilantro:  You can never have too much cilantro, if you ask me!

tomato mango salsa 004-crop v1

Tomato Mango Salsa on grilled salmon – refreshing summer fare:

Tomatoes 004-crop v1

Cherry tomatoes in potato salad:

Potato and tomato salad v1

On whole grain bread with melted feta cheese and oregano – bringing out the Balkan in me!

Tomatoes 014-crop v1

By now, I’m battling the birds and the stinkbugs.  The netting I have cast seems to be keeping the birds at bay, but the stinkbugs have struck overnight.  They are my biggest enemy during tomato season because they suck the Dickens out of the fruit and leave disease and rot behind.  We refuse to use pesticides and one year my daughter and I went out to do battle with our tweezers.  Yes, tweezers!  Stinkbugs aren’t fast, you see, so it was easy to pick them off and stomp them in the ground…as you can imagine, it was sooo time-consuming.  Needless to say, we lost the battle after a couple of days. 

I thought about spraying vinegar…nah, it’ll kill the plant.  My next means of attack is per Husbie’s suggestion – the vacuum cleaner!  Brilliant!  I can see myself with the suction hose, grinning from ear to ear, as those suckers enter the bag, never to pester my home-grown tomahtoes again!  I’ll let you know if it works! 

Basil detail 


Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Daring Cooks make Chinese dumplings and potstickers

Dumplings 1

This is the first official challenge for the Daring Cooks and what a way to begin – one of my family’s favorites – Chinese dumplings, or potstickers (also known as Gyoza in Japan).   I have made them in the past using store bought wrappers -  until now!  The dough comes together in seconds and rests for about 15 minutes.  Once you have the chopping for the filling behind you (I won’t lie, it takes some time to chop the veggies), it’s easy to roll, fill and pleat the dough. 

Thanks to the remarkable Jen Yu at use real butter for organizing our challenge and also to the amazing duo, Lis and Ivonne, for founding this ever-growing group of fearless bakers and cooks.

The Daring Kitchen logo 

I have been a follower of Jen’s blog ever since I read this post at ‘use real butter’.  It was my first encounter with a food blog and it blew me away.   Jen is multi-talented, humorous, insightful, intelligent and always honest.  Her posts and photographs have awed and inspired me and some have even made me cry. 

Of Chinese decent, Jen’s recipes are not limited to specialties of the Far East, but encompass many drool-worthy non-Asian delicacies as well.  Her generosity in sharing her family recipes is well-noted and her instructional photos and detailed commentary make every step look easy.  In a couple of words: Jen rocks!

Now for the dumplings:  The whole point of Jen’s challenge is to make the dumpling wrappers from ‘scratch’ and to roll the dough with a rolling pin by hand.  This way, the wrappers will be uniform and the thickness consistent.  The ‘skin’ should be delicate and not dominate the dumpling.  I found the dough very easy to make – two ingredients in all - and a breeze to roll out. 

I was fortunate to have my dear friend, Chantal, visit from Provence on dumpling making day!  Cooking with Chantal is always a fun-filled affair and I look forward to every opportunity.  Chantal’s expert chopping techniques are evident here:


Chinese Dumplings/Potstickers

Jen’s instructions are here.   

Pork filling:
1 lb (450g) ground pork
4 large Napa cabbage leaves, minced
3 stalks green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced (if dried - rehydrated and rinsed carefully)
1/2 cup (75g) bamboo shoots, minced
1/4 (55g) cup ginger root, minced
3 tbsp (40g) soy sauce
2 tbsp (28g) sesame oil
2 tbsp (16g) corn starch


Shrimp filling:
1/2 lb (225g) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb (225g) ground pork
3 stalks green onions, minced
1/4 cup (55g) ginger root, minced
1 cup (142g) water chestnuts, minced
1 tsp (5g) salt
3 tbsp (40g) sesame oil
2 tbsp (16g) corn starch

Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly by hand. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to a day, but preferably within an hour or two).

We added finely chopped Chinese chives to the pork dumplings.  I happened to have some growing in a pot outside – fancy that Jen?  They are a little different from regular chives in that they have a flat surface similar to grass and have a garlicky aroma.  We added several blades for good measure!Chives

Dough: (double this for the amount of filling, but easier to make it in 2 batches - or just halve the filling recipe)
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for work surface

Make the dough: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).  It will NOT be a soft bread dough.

Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a lightly floured surface, cut the strips into 1/2 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side (see images in post for how to fold pleats). Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

My daughter loved the dumplings so much that I had to make another batch the following day.  Instead of the shitake mushrooms, I added a finely chopped red pepper, and water chestnuts instead of the bamboo shoots.  Dynamite!


Dumplings at attention:  it doesn’t take long when there are four hands  – Chantal rolled and I filled and pleated the dough. 


To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.

To steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of Napa cabbage leaves or on a well-greased surface in a steamer basket with lid. Steam covered for about 6 minutes.

To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Carefully add 1/2 cup hot water and quickly cover tightly with lid. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve with dipping sauce.

To freeze: Assemble dumplings on a baking sheet so they are not touching. It helps to rub the base of the dumpling in a little flour before setting on the baking sheet for ease of release. Freeze for 20-30 minutes until dumplings are no longer soft. Place in Ziploc bag and freeze for up to a couple of months. Prepare per the above instructions, but allow extra time to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked.

Dipping sauce:
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste – we added Sriracha hot chili sauce
minced ginger to taste
minced garlic to taste
minced green onion to taste
sugar – just a pinch

For potstickers, the bottoms must be golden!  Yuuummmm!