Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sichuan Crescent Dumplings

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As a dumpling lover and fan of Andrea Nguyen's books and websites, I have a growing list of dumplings to try making at home, whether traditional or untraditional (Buffalo chicken dumplings, anyone?). I while back, I bookmarked a recipe on Viet World Kitchen called Sichuan Crescent Dumplings. I was intrigued not only by the filling, which is composed of ground pork, scallions, and ginger-infused water, but the spicy sauce served over these boiled dumplings.


Since these dumplings are made with a basic flour-based dumpling dough, they are easily frozen, and since they are meant to be boiled, they don't even need to be shaped any further than folding and pressing into a simple crescent. They are a touch smaller than some other dumplings--a batch of dough yields 40 dumplings instead of the typical 32.


To be honest, when I assembled these bad boys I didn't even eat them that day, I froze them all! I knew they would freeze well, and I had plenty of other dumplings to enjoy including Chinese chive dumplings and three-mushroom dumplings


The main adjustment I made to Nguyen's recipe on her site is that I lightly salted the water I used to boil the dumplings and boiled them for closer to 5 minutes instead of 6. The first batch I boiled tasted a bit underseasoned to me, even with the intense sauce. 


The dumplings themselves were missing a bit of salt (perhaps this could be due to the fact that I use kosher salt and I believe Nguyen uses sea salt), but salting the water for the following batches of dumplings seems to fix this problem. All dumplings after the first batch tasted perfect to me, and the sauce is outrageously good with a nice kick. I used homemade chili oil and included some of the chili sediment as well. 


Sichuan Crescent Dumplings
Makes 40 dumplings; serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Viet World Kitchen)

Filling:
Chubby 2-inch section fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg white, beaten
2 teaspoons regular (light) soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
8 ounces ground pork
1/3 cup lightly packed finely chopped scallion, white and green parts


Sauce:
3 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark (thick) soy sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons Chili Oil (purchased or homemade)
2 cloves garlic, crushed and mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Halve the ginger lengthwise. Put it cut side down on your work surface, then smash the ginger with the flat side of your knife. Give it a couple of good whacks. Transfer to a bowl and pour the water over it. Set aside for 15 minutes to soak.

Meanwhile, make the basic dumpling dough, if you have not already. Set it aside to rest.

Drain the ginger liquid, and discard or save the ginger for another use. (It has about half of its original strength.) Add the salt, pepper, egg white, soy sauce, and rice wine. Stir to combine the seasonings well.

Put the pork and scallion in a bowl. Use a fork to break it up. Gradually stir in the liquid seasonings. When all the liquid has been added, stir the pork vigorously, almost beating it, to create a soft mixture that is slightly sticky. You don’t want to see any liquid visible. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. The filling can be made 1 day in advance and refrigerated; return to room temperature before using. You should have about 1 2/3  1 3/4 cups.

Stir together all the sauce ingredients to dissolve the sugar. Set at the table. 

In the meantime, make 20 wrappers from half of the dough. (Or, make 10 at a time from a quarter of the dough.) Aim for 3-inch-wide wrappers. For guidance, read here (or pages 24-25 of Asian Dumplings) and watch this video on how to form basic dumpling wrappers.

When a batch of wrappers is done, assemble some dumplings. For each one, take a wrapper and hold it in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 2 teaspoons of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper. Then fold and press to create a crescent-shaped half moon.

Place each finished dumpling on a parchment paper-lined baking tray with a good 1/2 inch between each. Repeat with the other wrappers before forming and filling wrappers from the remaining dough. Cover the finished dumplings with a dry dishtowel as you make the rest. 

To cook the dumplings, fill a large pot half way with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Gently drop half of the dumplings into the water, then use a wooden spoon to nudge them to prevent sticking. Cook the dumplings for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until they float to the surface, look glossy, and are puffed up and translucent. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop out the dumplings from the pot, briefly drain, and deposit in a shallow bowl or serving plate. Cover with a large inverted bowl to keep warm. 

Return the water to a boil and cook the remaining dumplings. When they are done, return the first batch to the water to reheat them for a good minute. Serve the hot dumplings immediately with the sauce either in a communal bowl for people to help themselves or divided up among individual rice bowls or large dipping sauce dishes.

These dumplings freeze beautifully!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Los Andes: A Diamond in the Rough

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Sometimes the most fabulous meals are found in the most unexpected places. Right next to Roger Williams Hospital in a sketchy unassuming neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island is one of my favorite restaurants in the entire state, Los Andes, featuring Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine. I have never heard a single negative word uttered about Los Andes. In fact, quite the opposite. Whenever I speak its name, it is met by fanfare from anyone who has dined there before. It also happens to be ranked as the #1 restaurant in Providence on Yelp, even higher than Gracie's which I absolutely adore.


So what makes Los Andes so special? Could it be the fantastic staff? I have dined at Los Andes on three occasions over the past year, and at each of these meals my server has been exceptionally knowledgeable, even in one case offering us useful tidbits of info about Peruvian cuisine, such as the fact that asparagus is a national staple and therefore included on the majority of menu items at Los Andes.

The specials from a recent visit...

The staff is also attentive and professional, and I'm pleased to say that during each and every visit to Los Andes, the friendly manager (possibly owner?) has approached our table every time to ensure that we are enjoying our meal. This is rare in many restaurants, and I'm so thrilled to see such an importance placed on customer satisfaction. On one particular occasion, a friend and I occupied our table for nearly three hours, catching up long after we finished our meal, and not once did the staff interrupt us or ask us to vacate our table. They continued to fill our waters, and we tipped them really really well :)


Another thing I love about Los Andes is the incredible menu. Everything I have tried has been exceptional and also exceptionally priced considering the quality of the food and creativity of the dishes. I find it hard to resist some of the specials whenever I sit down for a meal at Los Andes. I've only ordered a couple items off the standard menu, but everything I've tried has been outstanding. The prices are a serious bargain for the portion size and quality. I ordered a lamb dish last fall that was priced somewhere around the mid-twenties range for an entire rack of lamb (one pound of meat per order). Now that's a steal!

The famous Ceviche Martini!

I also really love the ambiance. A large fish tank separates the bar from the main dining room. Live South American music is another feature at Los Andes on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

There are so many items on the menu that I can't wait to try, and yet I often get sidelined by the incredible-sounding specials, so I have yet to make a dent into the actual menu. The first time I visited Los Andes there was a rack of lamb special on the menu that my friend and I couldn't resist (so we both ordered it!). It was served with yucca gnocchi, tomatoes, spinach, and asparagus in a curry sauce. The rack was served whole (an entire pound for each of us) and was sliced in between the bones just enough to make it easy for us to dig in while still maintaining the integrity of the lamb. It was absolutely fantastic. The lamb was cooked perfectly, and the flavor of the gnocchi and sauce was a wonderful, yet unexpected, compliment. Please forgive the quality of the photo, as it was taken with my iPhone in a very dark restaurant!

Rack of Lamb with Yucca Gnocchi

On my second visit to Los Andes, I dragged my big fancy camera with me and took some better pics! I started with a Caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail featuring cachaça (a sugar cane hard liquor), sugar, and lime. It was delicious and refreshing.

Caipirinha

Our appetizer was the Calamare al K'allu, which is an excellent standby and is tossed with queso blanco, choclo, mint, tomatoes and garlic butter and finished with an aged balsamic reduction. We are famous for our calamari in Rhode Island and the version at Los Andes makes this Rhode Islander proud.

Calamare al K'allu $7.95

My entree was the standard Paella (they also often feature a lobster version on their specials menu), which includes chicken, chorizo, squid, Prince Edward Island mussels, little neck clams, shrimp, and peas. It's not the best Paella I've ever had (it doesn't have the traditional texture you get from a true Spanish Paella since it's not served out of a Paella pan), but the flavors are fantastic, and it's an excellent option for any seafood lover. It's also VERY well-priced for a seafood entree, which typically can cost an arm-and-a-leg at many restaurants.

Paella $15.95

My friend ordered the Pollo a Los Andes which features strips of chicken breast, sautéed with chorizo, cherry and banana peppers, onions, tomatoes, finished in a garlic-wine broth, served on a bed of steak fries topped with mozzarella cheese and scallions. She absolutely loved it and says she would order it again next time. I'm seriously intrigued myself and will have to add it to my long "to do" list of dishes to try in the future!

Pollo a Los Andes $11.95

My most recent visit to Los Andes began with a cocktail off the specials menu, the Mango-tini. It's sweet, tropical, and a fantastic start to the meal. Definitely can't go wrong with this one, and I love the duel-color of the drink as well.

Mango-tini $10

For an appetizer we shared the famous Ceviche Martini, consisting of fresh diced tilapia, squid, shrimp, and Prince Edward Island mussels. It's not only extremely acidic (as any ceviche worth it's weight in gold needs to be) but also fairly spicy, which just sets it apart from other ceviches I've tried. The ceviche is easily one of the most popular dishes on the menu, and rightfully so. They even have a version of it you can order as your entree.

Ceviche Martini $7.95

I elected the Pollo Loco off the specials menu for my entree, which our server described as a Bolivian lasagna, featuring pan-seared chicken thigh topped with herbed goat cheese, lobster meat, and sweet plantains, another pan-seared chicken thigh, topped with prosciutto and finished in the oven (no actual pasta, just layered chicken thighs). It's served over mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and drizzled with a sweet Malbec wine reduction. Holy moly. This is chicken outside of the box like you wouldn't believe. There's a reason it's called "Loco" because there is so much going on in this dish, but it all works so beautifully together! Between the tangy goat cheese, the sweet plantain, the salty prosciutto, the sweet Malbec reduction, and the creamy, decadent mashed potatoes, it's a symphony of flavor and I just can't get enough.

Pollo Loco $21.95

My dining companion on this most recent visit was my sister, who also ordered a dish off the specials menu. Her's was the Salmon Salvaje featuring fresh grilled wild Sockeye Salmon, basted with a cascabel panka pepper chili glaze, served over vegetable chaufa rice, and grilled asparagus. I tasted several bites of her dish, and just loved the sweet glaze on the salmon (which was cooked to perfection by the way) as well as the vegetable chaufa rice, which is a Peruvian fried rice. It's featured in some of the other dishes in the menu, and it's so good.

Salmon Salvaje

Although we were quite full, we decided to peruse our dessert options, which included chocolate cake, mango mousse cheesecake, Limoncello cake, flan, yogurt cheesecake, and tres leches cake. We settled on the Limoncello cake, which was absolutely light as air, featuring the distinct flavor of Limoncello. Although we shared a slice, in retrospect I could have easily finished it on my own since it was so light!


I'm so glad to have discovered Los Andes over the past year. I am already anticipating my next visit, and wondering what I will select off the menu (there are just too many delicious options!). I hope if you're ever in the Providence area you will consider having a meal at this diamond in the rough. Although it's located in a less-than-prime location, the line is out the door during peak hours, and after a taste from the menu, you'll be coming back for more!

Limoncello Cake

Los Andes Cevicheria and Churrasqueria Andina
903 Chalkstone Ave
Providence, RI 02908
(401) 649-4911
losandesri.com

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tomato Bulgur Pilaf

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The end of summer is the height of tomato season, and rightfully so, this month's challenge from the Creative Cooking Crew is to create a dish featuring this beloved seasonal ingredient. There are so many ways to utilize tomatoes in cooking, from making it the star of the show to giving it a memorable cameo. The recipe I actually planned to feature for this month's challenge is on hold until my local farm has yellow heirloom tomatoes ripe enough for sale, but I'm still hoping to share that recipe later this month.


In the meantime, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes featuring fresh tomatoes. As an Armenian, I have eaten a lot of rice pilaf in my day, but I particularly love pilaf made with bulgur wheat--specifically coarse or extra-coarse bulgur which somewhat mimics the size and shape of rice. I love the flavor and texture of this bulgur, but what really takes it over the top is preparing it using fresh tomatoes and all of their juices as the main "liquid" for absorption in pilaf preparation.


The easiest way to do this is to grate halved fresh tomatoes on a box grater (seeds included) until you are left with just the skins for disposal. This juicy tomato pulp is then simmered with softened onions and a little extra boiling water before adding the bulgur, reducing the heat, and allowing it all to meld into one of my favorite summer side dishes featuring grains.


This pilaf is surprisingly light for a starchy side dish, and it really showcases the flavor and color of the fresh tomatoes. I've seen other Armenians make pilaf with bulgur, but often use finer bulgur (so not my favorite in this preparation) and chunks of tomato that seem more like an afterthought as opposed to a true counterpart to the bulgur.


Coarse and extra-coarse bulgur (#4 or #5 bulgur) can be purchased in many Middle Eastern markets and can be found either pre-packaged or sold by weight; it's often labeled as Pilavlik Bulgur in Turkish which essentially translates to bulgur for pilaf. Store your bulgur in the freezer to keep it fresher longer.


Head over to Foodalogue on August 29th for a full round-up of recipes!


Tomato Bulgur Pilaf
Serves 6

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cups grated tomato* including juices and seeds (about 4 to 5 tomatoes)
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups coarse or extra-coarse bulgur wheat (#3 or #4 size)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the grated tomato, bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes. Add the boiling water, stir, and then add the bulgur, stirring again to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the mixture starts to bubble, lower the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

*To grate the tomatoes, cut them in half (trimming the stem portion) and grate them with the cut side against the large holes of a box grater until only the skin is left in your palm. I recommend grating them directly into a bowl to catch all the juices, and then measuring the yield in a large measuring cup.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Great White Cupcakes with Strawberry "Chum" Filling

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HAPPY SHARK WEEK!! I have been OBSESSED with sharks ever since I was around age 8 and saw Jaws for the first time (yup, my parents let me stay up late and watch it). Since then, I have collected and studied shark books and watched Shark Week religiously before it was ever trendy. I hosted "shark parties" to watch Jaws while noshing on festive dishes before it was ever a fad.


And right by my side since childhood, sharing a love/obsession for sharks is one of my very best friends, Allen. He and his wife have hosted a couple Sharkapalooza parties to date in honor of Shark Week, and this year's party was definitely the best one yet!


From the decorations to the themed menu and even to the fun party favor bags (which each contained shark water bottles and gummies) and the duo of Mega Shark Slip N' Slides, every detail was fitting of the world's most majestic and fearsome predator, the almighty shark. They even played videos in the background from previous Shark Weeks while the entire Jaws soundtrack played as well (my iPod takes credit for that one, haha).

Chomp chomp chomp!!

In honor of this occasion, my contribution to the party was in the form of dessert. Specifically, I created Great White Cupcakes with Strawberry "Chum" Filling, or Chum Cakes for short. I used a simple but wonderful cupcake recipe adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook which utilizes an unusual method for mixing the batter that is supposed to prevent overmixing. The result is easily one of the best basic cupcake recipes I've ever tried. Between the springy and moist texture to the delicious buttery vanilla flavor, these cupcakes are perfection.


The filling is simply strawberry, sugar, and lemon juice thickened with a bit of cornstarch to hold it all together. Finely chopped strawberries in a sea of glistening blood red sauce is strangely reminiscent of a miniaturized version of chum if you really think about it :) Or maybe you don't want to think about it... in any case, it tastes better than actual chum, of that I'm sure.


Creamy blue buttercream is the final element, and although it errs on the sweet side (as does all American-style buttercream), I never frost my cupcakes too heavily. The ratio of frosting to cupcake is just right, like Goldilocks. It's ample to cover the filling and create a bed for some shark cupcake toppers in case you want to go all out.


These cupcakes were a huge hit at the party, and I definitely plan on making them again, whether or not they are for Sharkapalooza in future years or simply for a summery treat. The basic cupcake recipe is one to hang onto, but especially with the not-too-sweet filling, and the buttery frosting, it's a combination fitting the title Great White, in honor of the ocean's most fascinating creature.


As I mentioned earlier, the decor and menu for this party was so much fun! I couldn't resist sharing lots of photos from the event. It's not too late to host your own party in honor of Shark Week since it still continues through Saturday. Let me know if you try these cupcakes or any of the other ideas featured in the photos! I hope you all have a JAWSOME Shark Week ;-)


Duuun dun. Duuun dun. Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun....



I volunteered my snorkel equipment to help decorate the mantle :)



Life Preservers (made from mini powdered doughnuts) and party favors!



Customized rice crispy treats from a local bakery

Shark cake pops, also from a local bakery

Shark fins and slow swimmers ;-)









My nephew Alex playing with Bruce, the mechanical great white shark!


Duel shark Slip-N-Slides... because one is not enough.


Posing with the hosts in our Shark Week shirts!

A Jaws poster serves as a "guestbook" that people can sign

Great White Cupcakes with Strawberry "Chum" Filling
Makes 1 dozen
(Cupcake recipe adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook)

Strawberry "Chum" Filling:
1 cup chopped strawberries (about 1/4-inch dice)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cupcakes:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Buttercream:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
Blue liquid gel food coloring, as needed

To make the filling: Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir occasionally for about 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture thickens. It will actually become a more vibrant red color once this step is achieved. Cool the filling completely in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the cupcakes: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 cupcake cups with paper liners.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the milk and vanilla; set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until thoroughly combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the cubed butter a few pieces at a time, mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Turn the speed to low and gradually add the milk and vanilla, then mix for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, incorporate any ingredients hiding at the bottom of the bowl, making sure the batter is completely mixed.

With a large ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 minutes.

To make the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to beat until smooth. Add the vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons of milk, and a couple drops of the blue gel food coloring and beat until smooth. If the frosting is too thick, add a bit more milk. If you desire a darker blue color, add another drop or two of the food coloring. Continue to beat until smooth.

To assemble: Use a melon baller or paring knife to scoop or cut out the center of each cupcake about 1-inch deep and 1-inch wide. Use either a piping bag or small spoon to fill the cavities with the strawberry filling. Transfer the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a decorative tip and pipe frosting on top of the cupcakes to hide the filling.

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