Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fish Dumplings


I recently celebrated my birthday with some delicious grilled cheese, as well as one of my all-time favorite treats: dim sum.

I particularly love going out to dim sum when I visit New York City, but I also love making all different kinds of dumplings at home. I occasionally use store-bought wrappers, but generally prefer to make my dumplings completely from scratch (including the dough) whenever I am able.

My recent birthday dim sum feast included my absolute favorite crispy pan-fried vegetable dumplings, delectable steamed pearl balls, baked sesame-crusted pork buns, and boiled jade dough-encased fish dumplings.

As you can see, I offered a selection of dumplings all cooked with different methods to provide some variation and give me stove-top some balance.

For the most part, I stuck to the fish dumpling recipe in my beloved Asian Dumplings cookbook, but I opted to finish the dumplings with a bit of added flair reminiscent of a Chinese steamed whole fish dish which is topped with julienned ginger and scallions, then drizzled with hot oil to create a nice sizzling effect, and finally a touch of soy sauce. This adaptation was inspired by the fish dumplings recipe in my very first dim sum cookbook.

The filling is very delicate and heightened with ginger and sesame oil, among other classic Asian flavors. Because it's so pale in color, this is the perfect opportunity to make colorful dumpling dough. Really, any color would help showcase the mostly white filling, but this green spinach-infused dough creates a classic look.

Never having eaten fish dumplings in the past, I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. They were far better than I imagined, equally delicate in flavor and texture, with a bit of a pop from the ginger both within the filling and in the finishing "sauce."

It's easiest to boil these dumplings, although technically you may steam or pan-fry them as well.

Now that I've finally gotten a taste of these fish dumplings, I will definitely be adding them into my circulation of dumplings to make in my kitchen. I love how they contrast so many of the other traditional ones I typically make, such as pork and cabbage, pork and chive, and of course any number of the vegetable based fillings.

Fish Dumplings
Makes 32 dumplings
(Slightly adapted from Asian Dumplings)

2/3 pound mild-tasting white fish fillet, such as cod or sole
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock or water
1 1/2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)

Spinach Dumpling Dough:
10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 lightly packed cups coarsely chopped spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
A generous 1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon canola oil
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine slivers
2 tablespoons scallion (green part only), finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce

To make the filling, cut the fish into 1-inch chunks, discarding any bones you discover along the way (bevel-tipped tweezers will help, if you have them). Put the fish in a food processor.

In a small bowl, combine the salt, white pepper, chicken stock, soy sauce, wine, canola oil, and sesame oil. Mix well to create a seasoning liquid, and then pour about 2 tablespoons of the liquid into the food processor. Run the food processor, pouring the remaining seasoning liquid through the feed tube. Grind to a coarse paste, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

Return the paste to the bowl and mix in the ginger and Chinese chives. To develop the flavors, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. You should have about 2 cups of filling. (The filling can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Return it to room temperature for dumpling assembly.)

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.

Liquefy spinach and water in a blender for about 90 seconds, or until there is an intensely green, smooth mixture. If needed, pause the blender to scrape down the sides. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. When the spinach comes to a near boil (look for foam all around the rim), turn off the heat. Stir to blend in the foam, measure out 3/4 cup. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the spinach 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 spinach 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.

Before assembling the dumplings, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you plan to refrigerate the dumplings for several hours, or freeze them, lightly dust the paper with flour to avoid sticking.) For each dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling (I made mine into tortellini style shapes). Place the finished dumpling on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other wrappers, spacing the finished dumplings a good 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheet. Keep the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel as you form wrappers from the remaining dough and fill them with the remaining filling (I yielded some extra filling--this always seems to happen with recipes from this book--but I froze it and plan to make another half batch of dough to finish it up in the near future).

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

To cook the dumplings, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add half the dumplings, gently dropping each one into the water. Nudge the dumplings apart with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together and/or to the bottom of the pot. Return the water to a simmer and then lower the heat to maintain the simmer and gently cook: a hard boil can make a dumpling burst. Cook the dumplings for about 8 minutes, or until they float to the surface, look glossy, and are puffed up and a tad translucent. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop up the dumplings from the pot, a few at a time, pausing the spoon’s motion over the pot to allow excess water to drip back down before putting the dumplings on a serving plate. Cover the plate with a large inverted bowl to keep the dumplings warm. Return the water to a boil and cook the remaining dumplings. When done, return the first batch to the hot water to reheat for a minute or two. There is no need to reboil (my pot was large enough to gently boil all the dumplings in one batch, but please use your judgement).

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet, and then add the oil. When it is almost smoking, add the ginger and scallion and stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce. Drizzle the mixture over the finished dumplings. Serve hot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mushroom-Gruyère Grilled Cheese for National Grilled Cheese Day!


April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Day. It's also my birthday.

Those are two wonderful reasons for everyone to celebrate! I'm very proud to share my special day with one of my ultimate comfort foods. Grilled cheese is so much more than toasty bread stuffed with American cheese. It can be more sophisticated than that, which is evident by the sheer number of gourmet-style grilled cheese shops and food trucks springing up across the country.

I recently received a review copy of Grilled Cheese Kitchen, authored by the owners of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, Heidi Gibson and husband Nate Pollak. Heidi has won seven grilled cheese championships, so the girl knows her stuff. I was thrilled to read some of her secrets within the pages of this new cookbook.

Mac 'n' Cheese Grilled Cheese

The book begins with useful notes on perfecting your grilled cheese, including multiple methods for grilling--or rather griddling--your sandwiches (my favorite is the easiest: using a panini press) to notes on selecting the best breads and cheeses to help your sandwiches shine.

Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Grilled Cheese

In addition to chapters on both Breakfast and standard Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, there are also sections dedicated to Soup, Mac 'n' Cheese, and Pickles, Spreads, and Sides. All of them are drool worthy. The Mac 'n' Cheeses have easily stolen my heart, but in honor of today's holiday, I knew I needed to start things off by making one of the grilled cheese sandwiches instead.

Hawaiian Grilled Cheese

I opted for the Mushroom-Gruyère Grilled Cheese. It features three varieties of mushrooms, sauteed leeks, roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and two delectable cheeses, all griddled between slices of artisan bread enhanced by the addition of thyme-infused butter. Now that's a grilled cheese worthy of a holiday!

Grilled Cheese Birthday Cake!

Using premium ingredients is really key for making a stellar grilled cheese. Some of the specialty cheeses called for in recipes may be a bit more challenging to source, but overall, most of the ingredients can be found at well-stocked supermarkets and specialty food shops.

Bacon and Jalapeno Mac

I headed to my local Whole Foods to source all of my ingredients, including fresh-baked bread and a great selection of cheeses. They had a mushroom mix that already included the mushroom varieties I needed for my grilled cheese. I just supplemented with an additional handful of creminis to yield the correct total weight of mushrooms (6 ounces) and I was ready to rock and roll!

I'm happy to see that for such a guilt-inducing food, many of the recipes in this book are considerably light in regards to added fat. The Mushroom-Gruyère Grilled Cheese recipe, for example, makes two sandwiches, and only uses about 1 tablespoon butter, and less than 1 tablespoon olive oil. Obviously, the cheese is also fattening, but it's not an obnoxious amount of cheese per sandwich. It's really well-balanced.

In my particular case, the bread I used was pretty large, cut from the center of a rounded boule-shaped Italian bread. I ended up only eating half of one of the grilled cheeses as a single serving. The other half was easily reheated in the toaster oven later to crispy perfection (flipped halfway through).

Also because my bread was on the bigger side, I required a bit more than 1 tablespoon of butter to get decent coverage on the exterior of my sandwich. Even with that said, I used a very thin layer spread almost from edge to edge. It also took me a bit longer to cook my sandwich and it's components. It might be because I have an electric oven/stove-top as opposed to gas, but just use your judgement and be patient. Even if it takes a few minutes longer, the effort will be worth it!

This grilled cheese is absolutely fantastic! The bread is golden and audibly crunchy, the cheese is stretchy and gooey, the mushrooms boast a great umami flavor, the leeks provide mild onion notes, while the tender potato adds a bit of earthiness. Although this sandwich is inspired by a mushroom ravioli dish, it reminds me more of potatoes au gratin with lots of mushrooms.

In any case, this is an excellent vegetarian grilled cheese that is incredibly satisfying. It's worthy of National Grilled Cheese Day, and even more so, it's worthy of being eaten on my birthday!

I'm so excited to try out more of the recipes in Grilled Cheese Kitchen! The Green Eggs and Ham Grilled Cheese is pretty high on the list, along with the Hawaiian Grilled Cheese and the Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Grilled Cheese, among so many others. If you love grilled cheese (and soups and macaroni and cheese) as much as I do, please check out Grilled Cheese Kitchen.

Mushroom-Gruyère Grilled Cheese
Serves 2
(From Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

1 tablespoon salted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick
2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small leek, trimmed and tough green tops removed, halved lengthwise and carefully washed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 ounces (55 g) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, brushed clean, and cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick
2 ounces (55 g) cremini mushrooms, brushed clean and cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick
2 ounces (55 g) oyster mushrooms, brushed clean and coarsely chopped
4 slices rustic artisan bread such as levain, sourdough, or white (each about 1/2-inch thick)
2 thick slices Italian-style fontina cheese, preferably Fontina Val d'Aosta
2 thin slices Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and half of the thyme and set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper until the potatoes are evenly coated. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast until cooked through and starting to brown in spots, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the leek and a pinch of salt and stir well. Cover and cook, stirring to prevent sticking, until the leek is very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add all of the mushrooms, the remaining thyme, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Saute until the mushrooms have released their juices, are tender, and are just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over low heat.

Spread the thyme butter on one side of each bread slice, dividing it evenly. Place two slices, buttered side down, on a clean cutting board. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the sauteed leeks on each. Layer a slice of the fontina, half of the potatoes, half of the mushroom mixture, and a slice of the Gruyère on top. Finish with the remaining bread slices, buttered side up. Be careful handling the uncooked sandwiches; there is a lot of stuff that may fall out as you move them. If it does, just tuck the fillings back inside.

Using a wide spatula, place both sandwiches in the pan, cover, and cook until the bottoms are nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the second sides are browned and the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes longer.

Cut the sandwiches in half, if desired, and serve immediately.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli


It can be really challenging to make good food choices when your body is cravings foods that are by nature not healthy choices. That's particularly challenging when you consider yourself to be a foodie, but also when you are a woman, with a woman's metabolism, who tends to see-saw around the same weight, when you really wish you could buckle down and shed some pounds.

I'm not always the most motivated person when it comes to weight-loss. I think my diet is usually pretty good, and I rarely eat fried foods (they are considered a rare treat). But I love carbs. I struggle to cut down on carbs, because I do love them, and can't picture a life and a diet without some of my favorites carbs somewhere in the mix.

Enter one of my favorite cookbooks from America's Test Kitchen: Comfort Food Makeovers. The incredible cooks and recipe testers at ATK have done a wonderful job finding ways to cut fat and calories, while still retaining lots of flavor. The key is not to cut out all the fat, but to find ways to replace certain unhealthy ingredients, but keep some of the ones that will help the dish shine.

I've made a few recipes from this book over the years (Pork Lo Mein, Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Enchiladas), and have never been disappointed. They are not going to taste exactly like the full fat versions, but for someone who is trying to make some better food choices to help kick-start their weight loss journey, this is a good place to begin. I will never cut out all of the foods that I love, but I'd like to create a bit more balance so I can still occasionally cheat without absolute guilt.

This pasta with chicken and broccoli is a great example of how to enjoy comfort food while still cutting some bad-for-you ingredients. There is no butter or cream in this dish, yet a bit of flour and chicken broth helps create a thick sauce with lots of flavor from tons of garlic, chili flakes, and more. Lean chicken breast makes the dish more filling, and gloriously tender-crisp broccoli adds some much needed vegetables into the mix. There's even a bit of cheese to help add flavor and creaminess to the sauce.

This ATK version has managed to cut 300 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturated fat from the original recipe. I will happily consume those extra calories elsewhere. This is a satisfying and delicious pasta dish that proves you can still eat some of the things you love while watching your calories. It's just about finding some balance and cutting out the really high fat ingredients in favor of some alternatives.

Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli
Serves 6
(From Comfort Food Makeovers)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all visible fat, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, patted dry, and sliced 1/4-inch-thick
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound campanelle (or other short pasta with nooks and crannies, such as rotini or cavatappi)
1 ounce Asiago or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped basil

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

Add onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, and remaining 1 teaspoon oil to fat left in skillet, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Uncover, stir in flour, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and simmer, covered, until tomatoes are softened, about 2 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in cooked chicken; cover until needed.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add broccoli and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender but still crisp in center, about 2 minutes; using slotted spoon, transfer to large paper towel-lined plate.

Return water to boil, stir in pasta, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Stir in chicken mixture, cooked broccoli, Asiago, and basil. Cover and let sit for 1 minute. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Nutritional Info per 2 cup serving: 480 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 69 grams carbohydrates, 32 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, 950 mg sodium


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