Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chinese New Year Recipe Roundup

Chinese New Year is right around the corner; January 31st to be exact. In honor of this celebration, I thought I would share a roundup of some of my favorite Chinese or Chinese-inspired recipes featured on Mission: Food. You definitely don't need to be Chinese to celebrate the New Year, and if you're anything like me, a Chinese food-lover, you will appreciate a great excuse to nosh on some yummy Chinese dishes and celebrate with friends and family.


Dumplings (Traditional and Non-Traditional):


Monday, January 27, 2014

Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef


Happy almost Chinese New Year! At the end of this week, we will be beginning the year of the horse. Although I'm not Chinese myself, I do love representing Chinese food and culture whenever I can because it's definitely one of my favorite ethnic cuisines. On Wednesday I plan on sharing a roundup of Chinese and Chinese-inspired recipes from my blog in honor of the occasion, but before we get to that, I wanted to add another Chinese recipe to the mix.

One of my go-to Chinese cookbooks is Every Grain of Rice. I love that the recipes featured in the book are authentic Chinese dishes as opposed to Americanized imitations. I also love that most of the recipes are vegetable-centric, and the one I'm sharing today is no exception.

Although it't not vegetarian (it contains ground beef), the main ingredient here is definitely celery, which maintains a delicious crunch in this quick stir-fry. Utilizing a lot of flavor and spice from Sichuan chili bean paste and ginger, this is great way to cut down on the amount of meat in your diet while still giving it a cameo.

I actually doubled the recipe when I made it, using 8 ounces of beef and a TON of celery, and served it with brown jasmine rice and some stir-fried Swiss chard. It was a very satisfying meal, light on the calories (I cut down significantly on oil) and high on flavor.

Check back on Wednesday to see photos and links of other great Chinese recipes you can create to celebrate the impending year of the horse!

Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef
Serves 1 (or more as part of a larger meal--should be served with rice)
(From Every Grain of Rice)

11 ounces (300 g) celery
3 tablespoons cooking oil (I used a lot less)
4 ounces (100 g) ground beef
1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
Light soy sauce, to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar

De-string the celery sticks and cut them lengthwise into 3/4 inch (1 cm) strips. Finely chop the strips. Bring some water to a boil and blanch the celery for about 30 seconds to "break its rawness." Drain well.

Heat the oil in a seasoned wok over high heat. Add the ground beef and stir-fry until it is cooked and fragrant, pressing it with the back of your wok scoop or ladle to break it apart. Then add the chili bean paste and continue to stir until you can smell it and the oil has reddened. Add the ginger and stir-fry for a few moments more to release its fragrance, then add all the celery.

Continue to stir-fry until the celery is piping hot, seasoning with a little soy sauce, if you wish. Finally, stir in the vinegar and serve.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Dumplings


The Creative Cooking Crew is starting off the year with a challenge for which I spent months begging! I wanted so badly to have a dim sum/dumpling challenge, and I can't think of a better way to start off 2014! There are of course different kinds of dumplings from cultures all around the world. That's one of the things I love most about dumplings, their incredible versatility.

I have shared countless dumpling recipes on my blog over the years, and one of my points of pride is my insistence on making them completely from scratch, including the dough, where many people usually opt to use shortcuts. In my humble opinion a dumpling is so much more than just its filling, and therefore making a really fantastic wrapper elevates it beyond the norm.

Instead of making a traditional dumpling from one of many cultures around the world that have delicious variations, I decided to make an Americanized Chinese-style dumpling (Asian fusion, if you will). I'm not gonna lie, I was mostly inspired by the NFL playoffs (and my beloved New England Patriots who are headed to the AFC Championships this upcoming weekend!).

Buffalo chicken dumplings have been on my list of "things to make with Buffalo chicken" for a really long time. It seems fitting to finally marry my love of dumplings with my undying love for Buffalo chicken (which anyone reading my blog should be VERY much aware of by now).

The recipe is very simple. The filling begins with the most basic components of Buffalo chicken: chicken, celery, and hot sauce. The blue cheese finds its way quite easily into the form of a dipping sauce. You can certainly use store-bought blue cheese dressing, but it really is so much better when made from scratch as I've done here.

I also opted to pan-fry these dumplings although for a brief instant I considered steaming them. The crispy, chewy crust that pan-frying yields is reminiscent of the awesome crunchy skin of a properly made Buffalo chicken wing (there's nothing worse than chicken skin that isn't crispy enough).

Along with it's crisp and chewy wrapper, these Buffalo chicken dumplings feature a truly stellar juicy Buffalo chicken filling with bits of vibrant green celery. The spiciness is tame for any of you who aim to burn off your taste buds, but the Buffalo chicken flavor is perfection. If you're looking for lava-hot dumplings, add more hot sauce.

Check out the round up of dumplings from the Creative Cooking Crew on January 27th at Foodalogue. Oh yeah, and GO PATRIOTS!!!

Buffalo Chicken Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
(Dough and Assembly from Asian Dumplings)

8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast or thighs
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot sauce, preferably Frank's Red Hot (or more if you want them seriously spicy)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

10 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Vegetable, canola or peanut oil, for pan-frying
Blue cheese dressing, preferably homemade, for serving
Celery sticks, for serving

To make the filling: first mince the chicken by pulsing it in a food processor until it's fine with small chunks but not a puree. Transfer the minced chicken to a mixing bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients to the mixing bowl. Stir in one direction for about 2 minutes or until all ingredients are uniform and liquids are completely absorbed by the meat. Refrigerate the filling until needed.

To make the dough: place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log and cut into 16 pieces (cut in half, then cut each half in half, and so on to create pieces that are even in size. The tapered end pieces should be cut slightly larger). If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portion of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking).  Hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand and scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping a 1/2-to-3/4-inch border on all sides.

To make "pleated crescent" shapes (as photographed), make the first pinch between index finger and thumb, then fold over the front edge to form the first pleat and press it against the back edge. Continue pleating the dough in this fashion until making the final pleat and then settle the dumpling on a work surface and press the edges to seal well.

Alternatively, to make "pea pod" shapes, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you to meet the top edge and pinch together to seal well. Place on your work surface and press gently to steady the dumpling and make it sit flat. Fold the sealed edges of the dumpling to make a series of pleats from one end to the other.

Place finished dumplings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and dough, spacing out dumplings about 1/2 inch apart. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (about 1/3 cup water). The water will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the water is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp.

Serve with blue cheese dressing in a communal bowl or in individual dipping sauce dishes, along with some fresh, crisp celery on the side. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Unofficial Girls Guide to NY: Weather Up Cocktail


There's no better way to celebrate a new season of a popular television show than with a swanky cocktail inspired by said television show. I recently had the pleasure of checking out The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, the authors of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. Although it's not my absolute favorite show on television, I would definitely call myself a fan. Girls has made its mark in the industry, setting an example with its edgy look at the life of twenty-somethings in the Big Apple.

Although it's not a dedicated cookbook like The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, the Unofficial Girls Guide to New York takes a look at each New York City borough through the eyes/lens of HBO's Girls. It highlights some of the memorable spots visited by the girls on the show, from Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where Hannah and Ray work to The Foundry in Long Island City, Queens where Jessa and Thomas-John celebrate their surprise wedding.

With approximately 30 recipes, it's certainly not a cookbook but rather a fun guide for any fan looking to discover the ins-and-outs of the New York City featured in Girls. As a former resident of the Big Apple, I always love learning more about my beloved city, and to see how it is featured in television and film, it's especially thrilling.

As a food blogger, I was equally excited to see what recipes are featured in the book to add to the full-on Girls experience. I was most anxious to recreate the famous Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity, but it's been averaging about 10 degrees in New England so I thought it would be best to hold off for better weather. Instead, I thought a warming cocktail would be perfection, and also perfect timing for celebration of the the 3rd season of Girls, set to premiere on HBO on January 12th (less than a week away)!

The Weather Up Cocktail caught my attention. It hails from Weather Up in Brooklyn, NY. This signature cocktail features both fresh lemon juice and an orange peel garnish, which is perfect for winter since believe it or not it's actually citrus season. Aromatic Amaretto and cognac are the alcoholic components of the drink, giving it a decidedly warm orange hue.

I honestly loved this cocktail and will happily add it to my queue of cocktails for any night that requires them. The warm almond scent of Amaretto tinged with tart citrus is a refreshing mix that not only warms your throat but sets you up for a perfect evening enjoying award-winning television, perhaps this upcoming Sunday? A night watching Girls kick off its new season will not be the same without this cocktail in hand. Trust me.

Weather Up Cocktail
Makes 1 drink
(From The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York)

2 ounces Amaretto
1 1/2 ounces cognac
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
Orange peel, for garnish

Chill wine glass in advance.

Pour Amaretto, cognac, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.

Pour into chilled wine glass and garnish with an orange peel.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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