Thursday, December 4, 2008

Celery. Simplicity.

..............Post-post-Thanksgiving. The turkey meat's made its final round as breakfast hash. The veggie barley and turkey stock soup's in the freezer. Even the last scrap of pie crust's vanished.

So, what to eat now?

Reared all over UK, Giant Sous Chef's first greatest American memories involve food. At a healthy six-foot-five, his first traditional Thanksgiving dinner--a nearly jaded 24 year-old--was a revelation. "A holiday," he said, "devoted to eating!"

When all is said and done and eaten, my palate begs for simplicity. Something substantial and flavorful. Something to make quickly, yet savor in piece.
Something that will use up the whopping bundle of leftover celery jammed into my produce drawer. Mocking me with their giant wands.

But, then, a Gourmet mag recipe leapt off the page. One of the main ingredients? CELERY!!! Yay!
Now, (in three weeks) I can avoid cleaning out the produce drawer of poor celery's Dali-esque remains. Of course, this delicious stir fry recipe was in Gourmet's November issue... the one with the big fat Turkey (stuffed with about 3/4 of a cup of celery) on the cover.

I made it in a flash last night using an amazing flank cut of Estancia grass-fed beef. And, if you don't have Chinese rice wine or whole cumin seeds you can sub out Japanese ginjo sake and ground cumin.

See my messy mise-en-place? (pic, left) for...
Cumin Scented Stir Fry Beef with Celery
straight outta Gourmet Magazine, Nov 2008
  • 6 ounce steak such as blade or flank (trim any fat and gristle)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided
  • 2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or medium-dry Sherry
  • 2 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick, leaves chopped and reserved separately
  • Equipment: a well-seasoned 12- to 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch heavy skillet.
  • METHOD and PREP: Halve steak lengthwise if large. Slice across the grain about 1/8 inch thick.

    Toss beef with 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch, and a pinch of salt.

    Stir together rice wine, remaining 2 teaspoon soy sauce, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch.

    Heat wok over high heat until smoking, then pour 1 teaspoon oil down side and swirl to coat. Add beef in 1 layer and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, less than 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl.

    Add remaining teaspoon oil to wok, then add ginger, garlic, cumin, and red-pepper flakes and stir-fry 15 seconds. Add celery and stir-fry 1 minute, then add beef and juices and stir-fry 15 seconds. Stir rice-wine mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry until sauce is bubbling, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in celery leaves. Serve with: steamed white rice

(Spicy serves her stir-fry with BROWN rice, of course!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gotham Eats.

yes, (above) it's an eyeball bender (for foodists!)*

Nothing takes the edge off the hyper-sensory urban experience like phenomenal weather. ("Autumn in New York" is a jazz standard for a reason.) Autumn is New York City's premiere season—moody-hued foliage, pretty girls in boots and knee-length dresses. And, if you're lucky, a lingering Indian summer backdrop for... Gotham Eats.

Snubbing sidewalk cafes with $8 sides of lightly dressed micro-greens, I was in search of my New York comfort foods. The quest brings to mind a few things: Ethnic (cow heel soup, anyone?), Innovative and Dammit, why can't I button my jeans?

In a very quiet section of the city, 379 Grand Street to be exact, Doughnut Plant is making coffee breaks more adventurous. DP is possibly worth a cab ride from midtown at three in the afternoon, especially if you're curious about the Peanut Butter Glaze and Jelly-filled SQUARE doughnut (pic). Innovative! Their most popular one is the Tres Leches, but for purists real moist, rich milk flavor gets lost in translation. There's delectable creme piped into the powdered cake donut, and if you've never had real tres leches cake you would certainly be blown away by such a delight. But it's not true tres leches. (yes, there are two ways to spell doughnut! ...according to the OED.)

And, then...there was the knish—Ethnic!—I shared with my transplanted Californian pal Karey who although Jewish confessed she'd never had a knish. Huh-loow? OY! According to Wikipedia:
"Knishes can be purchased from street vendors in urban areas with a large Jewish population, sometimes at a hot dog stand."
Yes, you can buy a knish at many a NYC hot dog stand. They're located in a steam compartment right behind the large bottles of mustard that any honorable street vendor—Ya want muh-stud?— will pump into your knish. At the 2nd Avenue Deli where I got our plain knish (they're supersized), their spicy yellow mustard melded perfectly with the creamy innards of savory potato delicately packaged in a thin, chewy dough glistening with egg wash. Where did we dine on that 77 degree Fall day? The steps of the NY Public Library, of course!

With a bare bones budget, I had to stay focused on things that I've yet to source in Northern California... orbs of golden knish, a cuban sandwich crafted on a flat grill in working-class Queens and...gasp!...Rainbow Cookies. Call them "Tre-colore" cookies or "Venetians," the Italian classic's colorful cakey layers alternating with a thin layer of fruit jam (I like apricot!) and finished with a top-n-bottom chocolate coat has made it's way into Jewish delis, chain supermarkets and Grand Central Station coffee kiosks—all over the 5 boros—but apparently not Northern California. What gives? (I horded a box of Rainbow cookies for ten days across three states.)

Maybe, my trip back home wasn't standard bagel and lox, but it was delicious...and relatively cheap. (I guess I'll hit WD-50 another time!) When I wasn't subway surfing, I spent more on taxis than I did on dinner ...There was even a misty evening spent in Flushing tracking Joe's Shanghai's legendary xiao long bao, aka "soup dumplings" and red bean doughnuts! By the time I reached Connecticut I was having "trouble" with my jeans. (i.e., Get ready for my low-fat holiday cooking posts!)

For more on being Frugal in NYC check out the Times' Oct 12th Travel Section. Next time, I swear, I will go to Brooklyn. And, mangia Italian food. Join me on my next trip to... Om, nom, nom...

P.S. I didn't forget NY PIZZA! I'm a fan of NY's Two Boots, but in a pinch—just up the street or down some steps you can always find a hot slice!
(Late at night...the neon beckons. Salty, chewy, cheesy, greasy and cheap.)
Clockwise from top left: Gabby's in Hollis; neapolitan slice from Penn station's food court; late night sicilian slice.

*inspired by "games" magazine ca. 1980's - can you identify this "eyeball bender"?
post a comment with your answer. Above, pics 2 & 3, 4 & 8: Times Square at night & Union Square Green Market, Day, another Doughnut Plant rush, Jay Z at the 179th Street Deli, a real hole in the wall in Queens.

(storefront menu on hillside ave, nyc)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stripey Bear's Appendage.

stripey bear went back to school...but the other kids made fun of his appendage!
(it's a rose crescent fingerling potato)

Best Fingerlings:
Boil them in a big pot of salted water under fork tender. Then, spread them on a half pan sheet, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and roast them in the oven. Have aggression? You can smash them first with a mallet.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

For all you Muffaletta Freaks—

At the Ferry Building my heart jumped a bit when I saw the big red sign for Boccalone—Chef Chris Cosentino's foray into the Salumeria arts. But, my heart actually started racing when I read the word "MUFFALETTA" under the words "HOT PANINO." (So much for my three mile run and healthy lunch!) The last muffalettas to enter my system had been in New Orleans this past April (served warm and cold), so I had high expectations. I get mad muffaletta cravings, too. I even lodged a grievance at Bi-Rite when they took their cold muffaletta off the deli menu.

For a hot, pressed version, Boccalone's done good. And, I'm kindof a freak about Italian meats. (having spent formative years in an Italian 'hood in Long Island). Boccalone's muffaletta meat was sliced pretty thin, almost shaved, and the three or four minutes under the hot press really brought out the flavour...and the tenderness. The mortadella (with bright green pistachios) was my favorite. Melt in your mouth. And, the Boccalone salame while not my favorite local salami cold was delectable warmed. Oiliness was a slight issue, but the bread wasn't soggy or unpleasant. Not sure what kind of cheese they put in there and another tablespoon of house-made (from house-cured) olive spread (or more piquant spread? what else is in the mix?) would 've given it that Deep South kick. Overall, Boccalone's warm, cured meat is the star. I will return...

I've written a "Ferry Plaza Frugal" list on, but at $8 a pop for a 6-7 inch sub (they don't use a round loaf—wtf?—Neither did Bi-rite or Cafe Amelie) this doesn't make the cut.

Perhaps, I should make another list... Ferry Plaza Treats... or FP Good Eats... or just plain Eat-here-even-if-high-food-costs-suck... Alas, we pay the price for our passions...

Should we make our own muffalettas?
A generous slick of aged olive spread spiked with vinegary red peppers, melt in your mouth meats cut thin and piled tall and a few earthy slices of provolone inside a semi-soft, slightly sweet large round muffaletta loaf.

Do you have a muffaletta story?
Tell me.

Eat well~


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eat. Drink. Vegas.

Fall leaves at the Bellagio...bellissimo!

You don't have to hit it big to eat well in Vegas. With increased fare-friendly access to short-stay travelers, and a cozy desert climate on a city filled with hotel deals, Las Vegas has become an bullseye for the food-centric. Skip the obvious hotspots for now like Sensi, Michael Mina or the high-end Bellagio buffet. In fact, you can even eat on the (relative) cheap. Here are my Top 5 discoveries and ticked-off Vegas Must-Try's... all of them right on the Strip:

5. Nathan's in the Luxor Food Court: Newsflash! New Yorker's you can go home again—in Sin City. Chili dog, limp crinkle fries and an assortment of watered-down sodas in monster sizes. Since the bloated-latter-day-Elvis-look is expected for a weekend of high-rollin', make this your first stop. It's a great warm-up if you plan to drop bigger bucks on a more special meal!

4. Nothing puts the polish on post-modern Vegas like celebrity chefdom. Bobby Flay wins more of my respect at his Mesa Grill brunch. Spicy scrambled eggs seem cliché until you taste: Golden, velvet folds laced with butter and crisp jalepeños. Served with black pepper biscuits and a side of chewy, salty parmesan grits (blessed with big, bad Bobby Love, we spied him at a back table watching the game!). The superfly touch was the white peach margarita. WORD. Definitely try this at home. Try several.

3. Despite my own recent frozen treat-making frenzies, the multitude of gelaterias in the malls, food strips and hotels makes it impossible not to try at least one—even if it is $5 a cup. Lemon and watermelon sorbetti at Cafe Gelato in the Bellagio was a much needed late night snack after a solitary stroll up and down this uber-renowned strip!

2. When adult Disneyfication got me down, I transported myself at Mon Ami Gabi with rude waiters, rare steak, light, crispy frites and crusty warm baguette. This is the way to eat entrecote saignant, snails and sinful frisee and bacon salade.The refreshing 'Frangria' a French wine inspired was a nice girly-booze touch. I wish I'd room for the Apple Tarte Tatin and Bananas Foster Crepe. Or, went back in the a.m. for the waffles and...oui, oui... blueberry French toast!

1. Jean Philippe Patisserie ("the JPP"). Extravagant yet incredibly simple. I had to go twice. Pushing through the hordes checking-in for an off-peak week at Bellagio, the JPP is tucked in the Spa Tower just beyond the botanical garden (under renovation as of this writing). It's the patisserie for anyone who's ever obsessed over quality ingredients. Check out the rice crispy tree and lush chocolate fountain; sandwiches, salads and pastries vie for attention like works of modern art. The standouts for me were Banana toffee crunch gelato and King crab salad served with fresh mango, papaya and a lemon vinaigrette! They even sell their own peanut butter, honey and jams! With its opulent glass flora and the Clooney-Pitt connection, Bellagio is prime Vegas. And, now, there's another reason to go. Pictures don't even do it justice, the Jean Philippe Patisserie needs to be experienced. If I never go again, at least I've gone.

Old Vegas Lives. But, don't eat there.
(please click pic to enlarge)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Foodies Protest the end of Summer...

... with Ice Cream!

When you're born in summer (like me!), ice cream and frozen treats are in your Top 5. In fact in my family, it's not a birthday cake unless it's ice cream cake. (Mine had a crab piped on it.) Sooo, recently…

I've become obsessed. And, reading David Lebovitz’ The Perfect Scoop isn't helping. Lebovitz is an enabler. And, my sister is the pusher…

It all started with the gift of ice cream machine. In July, an innocent little package arrived from my sister for my birthday. It sat in the box for over a month until I bought David’s book, and I started off making some gelato…

NOW, I go out of my way to buy organic heavy cream and obsess over cacao content. I arrange my schedule to account for canister freezing and custard chilling times. I catch myself at work wondering things like, How do you really clean a fine mesh sieve? (Seriously, does anyone know?)

But, after early forays into gianduja gelato, blueberry and vanilla frozen yogurts and Vietnamese coffee ice cream, I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Despite all the straining, stirring and sweating, there was something missing. To feel like an ice-cream-making success, I needed to reach a point where obsession became taste revelation…French-style Chocolate Ice Cream is it. For Lebovitz’ recipe, I turned to my all-time favorite California chocolatiers: Scharffen Berger semisweet 60% & bittersweet 72% and Guittard dutch-process cocoa. (My kind of summer triple-play.) The results were surprising yet when you think about it obvious. Creamy, custardy, soft yet dense, California-style intense chocolate flavor... fruity acidity and that dark choco bite...trademark Scharffen Berger. (Made lickable!) Devour with waffle cookies.

Here's some Frozen Fun Trivia...Straight from Spicy's Archives:
The first time I had gelato? Circa 1991 in NY's West Village at Rocco's—Italian pistachio with a lacey millefiori cookie. Favorite Italian ice flavor? Rainbow. (Old school. There's one called Blue Hawaii that’s captured my niece's generation.) Best Sorbet I've ever had? Pear-Chardonnay at Gelato Classico in SF's North Beach. Most unusual ice cream I've ever tasted? Bubblegum. I think it’s disgusting. Most unusual ice cream I've ever heard of? American Cheese! (A highlight from kuya’s trip to the PI.) What kind of ice cream I'm making tomorrow? Guinness Milk Chocolate.

Have you been making ice cream, too? (Or, sorbet? Or, a dish of slushy granita?) Let's share some favorite recipes...Please leave a comment for the Spicy Browngirl...

(Look! We're holding ice cream cones!)
(actually, i think we're eating frozen bananas)

other photos (from top down):
Triple-Cali-Chocolate Ice Cream, Spicy's 9th Birthday Cake from Carvel,
Vanilla frozen yogurt made with Straus Yogurt and served with Frog Hollow Farm Peaches,
Rocco's on Bleecker, NYC

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


If everyone had the same taste...

...there would only be one flavor.

Sometimes, I get homesick for loud brownfolk. Homesick for a world where aunties arrive, competing for loudest entrance to a room. A world where the dining room seems to tilt as one more pot of pancit noodles or another platter of plantain fritters is added to the table.

(we get excited about karaoke; we are, afterall, ASIAN)

When I can't fly back home to my NY, I head straight down to SoCal where my "California" cousins have been calling San Diego home for over 30 years. Of course, when we get together, there is plenty of eating going on. Witness the edible carnage at a lazy Sunday afternoon bbq in Temecula...

(we get excited about meat marbling, too)

But, for the brown and down, meat—beef, fish or pig!—is not officially eaten in Filipino homes until a bowl of sawsawan is prepared. Loaded with salt, tang and kick, the sawsawan is essentially a condiment. Yet, so much more. Think of it as a dipping sauce that makes use of all those tiny bowls that come with a full dinnerware set. And, you thought those were for ice cream! Well, think again.

(this was an enormous bowl of sawsawan made by my cousin's husband who does the equivalent of "keeping kosher" by "preserving pinoy." Romel's sawsawan is composed of chopped fresh tomato, white onion, jalapeños—seeds included, pickled peppers, probably a couple whole garlic cloves, lemon juice, vinegar and soy sauce.)

Sawsawan, usually a "sour accompaniment," is delicious with any grilled, broiled, baked or fried meat. It can be as simple as a bowl of patis. Or, a side of soy sauce, calamansi juice and a few dry red chilies. How 'bout a small dish of bagoong with chopped green mangoes?

With warm, steamed white rice and a meat of choice, sawsawan makes a meal more personal. Perhaps, you're partaking in a host family's favorite sawsawan. Maybe, your little dipping bowl transports a solitary meal to a place called Home. If you want to get REAL, eat with your hands*: Squish together mounds of meat and rice, dip and enjoy. A friend once wrote that her perfect lover would relish the scent of patis on her fingers and seek out her vinegar kiss.

Sawsawan. Flavor. Try it.

(it's guaranteed to empty your rice pot!)

*Kamayan: "Eat with your hands"

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Strawberries (Happy Bastille Day!).

Today at work I had a fried chicken craving. I announced it to the first person I saw in the hallway, but he couldn't help me. Then, I told Julie. And, she was glad to bend my ear:
"Bakesale Betty's," she said. "They have chicken sandwiches, and they only have one kind. But, it's really, really good. Don't tell anyone you're going. You'll be buying sandwiches for the whole office!"
She went on to passionately described the coleslaw-stuffed, fried chicken on a roll concoction at Betty's.
This is what I lovelovelove about the Bay Area. It's what brought me here. Eighty percent of the nations produce grown an hour away, and nearly everyone's everyday passion for food. I used to think that I tended to gravitate toward "foodies" or whatever people who stock four different kinds of paprika like to call themselves, but after ten plus years in the Bay, I know I can't get through even the simplest meal—pizza, a bagel, a packet of oatmeal even—without hearing some kind of strong opinion about food.

Transplant or local, like a rite of passage, nearly everyone in the Bay has had an artichoke, knows what aioli is (and how to make it!) and can tell you the difference between wild and farm-raised. Food crazy is in the air, the water, the food. The whole, organic food. Whether you happened upon your food passion as a waiter or a food snob or both, we love our food. Especially, OUR food. Bay Area food. Which brings me back to Bakesale Betty's...

The drive from Emeryville was a little under ten minutes (with the speed bumps). As I pulled up to 50th and Telegraph, I could already see the line about twenty deep at the door. Magically, a parking spot opened. Then, I fell in line noting the lunch crowd hunched over bare ironing boards serving as cafe tables.

(all pictures courtesy of my fellow yelpers)

Almost immediately, someone filed behind me, assessed the waiting line and muttered with conviction.

"It's so worth it," he said to himself. "So worth it."

"Yeah, there's a wait," I said stating the obvious.

"Have you ever been here before?" he asked.

"No. This is my first time."

"Really? Wow."

He thought I was a tourist.

"Where are you from?"

I explained the fried chicken craving. It's so worth it, he said again. And, he went on to passionately describe his morning ritual of Betty's pear-ginger scone, coffee and a fried chicken sandwich—he saves it for a few hours until lunchtime—that he eats at work in Martinez.

"You drove here from Martinez?" I asked.

He said yes. Then, he said, Is that far? But, he didn't seem to mind. Especially, if it meant he could get Betty's fried chicken sandwich in his stomach. Passion. For food.

The line moved fairly quickly, and before I knew it I was wide-eyed inside the shop. A mound of ginger cookies and a whole pie brimming with berries welcomed me like a grand dames on silver stands. The air buzzed with the yammering, hustling staff—about a dozen people including Betty clad in her signature blue wig!—assembling and stuffing pastry boxes and filling and calling out orders. The air was just slightly sugary.

I ordered two chicken sandwiches, a ginger cookie and a strawberry shortcake (yet another craving I've had since strawberry season went into full swing). The single-file line pressed through the door with ravenous eyes.

Just beyond the glass partition where the staff made sandwiches, it was a tremendous scene. Not one but two (3 gallon cap.) metal bowls stacked with freshly fried chicken breasts, a third bowl heaped with an even fresher cabbage slaw flecked with vibrant pickled red onions and hands, very fast hands, inserting chicken and slaw, chicken and slaw into a delicate yet substantial torpedo roll.

(the chicken sandwich is $7.75; they also have chicken pot pie and sometimes egg salad sandwiches, I hear)

The price for such a great lunch spot tip was getting a fried chicken sandwich for Julie, too. But it was a pleasure in itself to watch her eat the damn thing in about fifty-five seconds.

"You saved my life," she said. "This is the only thing I eat fast. Uh, well, this and In-n-Out."

The chicken was incredibly moist, and the slaw was laced with sweet (champagne?) vinegar dressing instead of traditional mayo. Bakesale Betty's quenched the fried chicken fiend in me, for sure. Or, for now. I even got to try a delicious "bakesale" good—the strawberry shortcake.

Betty's famous shortcake mounds, layered in sugared strawberries and a heap of dense, whipped cream sure was tasty. But, I wouldn't say it surpassed my friend Anne's strawberry shortcake— Anne employs the big guns: thick strawberry puree, irish-secret-recipe shortcakes the size of your head, creamy light dollops—

But, I wouldn't want to get into every little detail from cream to crumb though. I wouldn't want you to think I was a food-obsessed, crazy, FTW, all-passionate Bay Area foodie.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It gets cold here (in May!). Then, we roast things.

But. first, another quick trip to NOLA*...

Southern Strawberries Juleps!

- crushed ice

- strawberry pureé
- Southern Bourbon, like Knob Creek
- simply syrup
- mint

Juleps are deceptively simple: Muddle mint (but not too much), a few strawberry slices and tsp sugar, 2 tsp still water. Add a handful of crushed ice, strawberry pureé, simple syrup and bourbon, to taste. Cut with still water as needed. Garnish with mint and fresh strawberry slices. A smooth, sweet taste of sun-drenched Southern goodness. Positively enjoyable!


More comfort food from the chilly city by the Bay

... with Ella Bella Farm Provence Sea Salt.

The micro-climate known as the San Francisco Bay Area has many surprises like eighty-five-degree beach weekends in April while March's lions still extend their paws into Spring. Long-lines at ice cream shops in February. Cashmere, denim and Uggs in May!

When the sun disappears and the skies threaten rain, I roast chicken legs in my heavy iron skillet. Aromatics and herbs that hint at summer and spring and a simple gravy (roasted root veggies, light stock hit with an immersion blender) to warm the bones. Pan-roasting chicken is all about the sear. Start off with fresh, free-range birds and make sure to give it some good brown color before it goes into the oven.

For a more hand-held affair, smoke up the house with an indoor grill. Beef-n-Brie sliders on toasted Ciabatta bread unites local grains & artisan bakers, humanely-handled beef and French brie.

(You can even add caramelized shallot!)


So, what else do you do when the weather runs cold in the Bay Area?
Turn on the heat and cuddle up to that stack of magazines by the bed. Open up the "off-limits" bottle of Cabernet Franc, and shop for cookbooks online. You can even don your favorite pashmina and walk off (up steps, stairs and hills of SF) all that gooey brie.

Still hungry? How about another not-so-heart-healthy cold-weather snack?

Roasted Asparagus and Crimini Mushroom Dressing
with Toasted Double-Cream Gouda on Levain Bread

(Look delish? Send me a comment and I'll tell all: technique & recipe!)

*Check out my previous posts and pics from New Orleans.


Cooking with E Luv.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Do you know what it means to Miss New Orleans?"*

Here I am again. Decatur Street.
Always my first stop in the Quarter.
Licking my white-sugar-coated-cafe-au-lait lips.
Inhaling the Mississippi at night.
It begins.

Eight years have passed since my last trip to New Orleans. My Uncle Sidney's not up in the loft at his store. That same trumpeter doesn't stand on the corner of the Square anymore.*

I can't help but wonder who's left and who's stayed (despite all the documentaries about it!). All I want is to throw money around because I can't help build houses. And, stay...

I'm eating my beignet. But, I still miss New Orleans.

*(with a nod to Jazz great Louis Armstrong.)

*(Uncle Sidney has been displaced to a condo in Gainesville; I still miss that trumpet.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'd Rather be Jazzfestin'.

As our Big Easy holiday ends, we linger on thoughts of crawfish (Acme's Craw Puppies!) and bumpin' and jazz... Big. Easy.

Come back soon for adventurous tales of eating and drinking along the Mississippi.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chicken Breast Dumplings... and a Spicy Wontons EXTRA!

When the first cold rains come through the Bay Area, I spend a day making dumplings. The kitchen table transforms into an assembly line centered around an enormous stainless-steel bowl of dumpling filling-- traditionally, a ground pork, shrimp, gingery-oniony mixture. Beside the bowl I set up the filling station: wonton skins piled on a cutting board and draped with damp paper towels to keep them from drying out, a wet hand-towel for cleaning the raw meat off things, teaspoons (one for scooping in, one for scooping out!), egg-white... I stack a few Billie Holiday albums in the player, crack the window for air and to listen to the rain, and then get to work...

Filling with just the right amount and effectively crimping (the seam will not open when steamed, boiled, fried or attacked by small, vicious beasts) dumplings by hand takes practice. Especially if you want a fancy scalloped crimp like you see in dim-sum houses. Something seemingly simple enough for children, can be a baffling and annoying practice even if you choose to follow the "How to fill wonton wrappers" directions on the back of many packets of skins. These "How-to" drawings, also explained (uselessly, to me, at least) in Chinese are the biggest step-by-step line drawing hoax known to the human race... unless you want your dumplings to resemble a burrito.

Improving dumpling skills, winter after winter, requires practice. However, the volume of the task is all but a glaring excuse to fix-up a dumpling-filling-fete!

I've been to at least one "all-day dumpling-fest," in New York in my very early twenties: Half-sheet-pans filling up with dumplings, bottles of wine being consumed rapidly, cigarette smoke lingering in from the fire escape, bursts of laughter over failed crimp-n-twist techniques... And, a jar of Nutella being passed around (for eating not filling!). Three girls of Asian persuasion (2 Korean, 1 Filipino) including myself, managed the evening's effort never questioning how the growing mound of pale-yellow dumplings would be consumed.
If you're Asian, you make enough to feed your family-- blood and extended-- even if they're thousands of miles away. If they are far away, you freeze.
This year I attempted chicken breast dumplings. A friend had left me a Kitchen Aid sausage attachment, and I was eager to grind my own meat. Chicken breast extruded right into a big stainless bowl with the rest of my dumpling filling mix of green onions, garlic, S&P and drizzles of toasted sesame oil. (A bit healthier than the traditional pork; much more substantial than veggie versions.)

Once again, armed with teaspoons and little bowls of egg white, we filled and crimped, filled and crimped... The silky wonton skins stuffed with slippery raw meat, the skins-edge dotted with egg white and sealed, with a simple pattern, from the tines of a dessert fork.

When the last dumpling was filled, it was nearly midnight. Exhausted, I tossed the dumplings in freezer bags lined with parchment paper. Ready when we are... for soup, pan fry, ravioli or a gently steamed snack.
*Make and freeze your dumplings in November, December and January, then have them available through the rains and just in time for Chinese New Year!
While delicious and simple on their own, chicken breast dumplings don't have as much natural salt as pork or the subtle brine of shrimp, so be sure to put out every Asian condiment on hand: Spicy sriracha sauce, hot chili oil, ponzu, toasted sesame/shoyu/lime/sesame seeds and more!

The Mother of California Chinese Cuisine Cecilia Chiang schools us in Wrapping Wonton's on a Winter's Day... topped with a Sichuan sauce.