Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Chinese New Year Dumpling Party


Even though I'm not Chinese I've been celebrating Chinese New Year for several years now. I like to cook traditional Chinese dishes to honor the occasion, and this year planned a dumpling-making party with some friends. We were each responsible for selecting a type of dumpling and creating the filling/wrapper, and we would meet up to assemble our dumplings together before cooking and eating them.

It was a laid back gathering this past Saturday, with several delicious dumpling options. We had even planned to enjoy some dessert dumplings, but were so full that we put those on hold until the next time we got together.

My own contribution to the dumpling party was my beloved three-mushroom dumplings, but instead of using wheat starch dough and steaming them like I usually do, I made a golden-hued dumpling dough with flour and turmeric as the base. This would differentiate my dumplings from the others.



This mushroom filling is a favorite of anyone who has tried it before, and it's one of the most frequent versions I make. It's easy and delicious, and regardless of the type of dough used and the cooking method, it's a winner.

We also enjoyed some Brussels sprouts and bacon dumplings, which I've also made previously. This time instead of using store-bought wrappers, we made the wrappers ourselves. Although less traditional, it's a very popular choice for anyone who enjoys the perennial favorite Brussels sprout and bacon combination, and a great counterpart to the mushroom dumplings.

Finally, we steamed up some pearl balls, which are basically delectable pork meatballs rolled in raw sticky rice that has been soaked in water overnight. We used gluten-free soy sauce in the filling, and thus yielded a gluten-free dumpling option since it doesn't have a standard "wrapper."

I hope you enjoyed taking a look at some of our creations for Chinese New Year! I truly need no excuse to make dumplings or to a throw a dumpling-making party with my dumpling-loving friends, so even though this holiday has now passed, I think we'll be planning another dumpling-centric get-together very soon! For more ideas on what to make, check out this Chinese New Year Roundup post.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook: Spicy Beef Dumplings


Dumpling. That's probably my favorite word in the whole entire world. It encompasses so many possibilities of flavors, textures, cultures, and more. It speaks of comfort and temptation. I can close my eyes and picture my happy place, and I'm surrounded by them, piles and piles of delicious dumplings in all shapes and sizes.

I'm a little obsessed. This is no surprise. I've shared countless recipes and photos of dumplings over the years on this blog, I've celebrated National Dumpling Day and Chinese New Year even though I'm not Asian, nor did I grow up eating traditional dumplings. My home-grown dumpling comfort came in the form of manti, and it has only grown from there.

I own no less than 5 cookbooks completely devoted to the subject, as well as several others on broader topics that include varied dumpling recipes as well. It's my religion. I love them.

So it should come as no surprise that when a new dumpling cookbook is being released, I'm all over it! The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook features recipes and insights from Helen You, owner and chef of Dumpling Galaxy in New York City's ultimate Chinatown located in Flushing, Queens. I have taken many trips on the 7 train to Main Street station in Flushing to quench my dumpling craving, but have not had the pleasure of visiting Dumpling Galaxy. I will certainly add it to my list for my next visit!

The book is kind of adorable, using imagery of planets and imaginary dumpling-inspired constellations throughout the book's design to play on the galaxy portion of the book and restaurant's title.

Helen hails from Tianjin in Northern China, which boasts dumplings that vary in style a bit from some of their more Southern counterparts. I definitely notice some differences immediately when I read through recipes and notations throughout the book. The first variance occurs in the recipes for the dumpling wrappers. All of my other dumpling books feature a basic wrapper recipe (with some variations for different dough colors) using only flour and water. Here, the recipes differ slightly based on cooking style. The dough for boiled and pan-fried dumplings both include a bit of salt and an egg white, while the steamed version is simply flour and water. While I'm very comfortable making dumpling wrappers from scratch using my tried-and-true recipe, for the purposes of this review I decided to go with it and try the version using the egg white and see how it compares to what I've made in the past.

Shaping the dumplings is also a bit different, and is much more simplified. While there are tons of different ways to shape and pleat dumplings, Helen includes two very basic techniques which will probably be a relief for dumpling novices in particular, and certainly a time-saver for anyone making dumplings from scratch. There's essentially no pleating involved, but rather pinching and sealing, and using your hands to manipulate the dumpling into the appropriate shape.

Reading through more of the recipes, I was a little surprised to see Helen's use of sweet cooking sherry in place of what I've grown more used to in dumpling recipes, a traditional Shaoxing rice wine, but alas Helen has an explanation for this in one of her recipe notes. Shaoxing wine is more traditional in Southern China and is not really used in Northern China, where she grew up. So using the sweeter sherry is a more appropriate choice for her slew of dumpling recipes. Even with years of dumpling-making experience under my belt, I learned something new about regional Chinese cooking that I can now use in my dumpling adventures.

Her technique for cooking pan-fried dumplings is also a bit different, and finishes the process with a slurry instead of plain water for the pan-steaming process. This results in a thin and crispy crust in the bottom of the pan. I'm sure you could pan-fry the dumplings either way depending on your preference, but super crispy dumplings are my absolute favorite, so I'm definitely on board with trying this out.

Recipes range from classics to vegetable based recipes, creative variations as well as desserts, and finally a chapter devoted to sauces, sides, and a handful of Northern Chinese specialties to serve with your dumplings as desired. Some recipes that are particularly enticing to me include Pork and Mushroom Shumai, Eight-Vegetable Dumplings, Pork and Pu'er Tea Dumplings, Chicken and Broccoli Dumplings, and Crab and Chive Dumplings.

One recipe in particular stood out to me as perfectly appropriate not only for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration, but also convenient timing for any and all NFL playoff viewing opportunities. The intro even comments on pairing it with an ice cold beer. I'm talking about the pan-fried Spicy Beef Dumplings, infused with a combination of chile oil and fresh ginger and balanced with a bit of sauteed onion, scallion, and sesame oil among other aromatics.

The spicy beef filling is incredible. The smell alone will make you drool, even before cooking it or tasting it.

I'll be honest, I struggled a bit with this dough recipe. I prefer weighing ingredients if given the option, but was not offered any weights and decided to stick to the recipe and just use the volume measurements (even if I could technically convert it myself). The 2 cups flour to 3/4 cup water and 1 egg white yielded a VERY wet and sticky dough. I added probably an extra 1/2 cup of flour little by little and worked it into the dough to yield something I could actually work with and knead. Even then, the dough was still pretty soft compared to other dumpling dough I've made. The other recipe I usually use also calls for 2 cups/10 ounces and so I weigh out the 10 ounces and mix it with 3/4 cup water. Adding 3/4 cup water PLUS an egg white increases the liquid, and if the flour is measured differently from person to person (some pack more into the measuring cup than others) it will yield varying results. I managed to balance it out with some extra flour in this case. It was certainly fixable, but just something to be aware of.

The recipe is supposed to yield 24 wrappers and thus 24 dumplings. I divided half the dough into 12 pieces, but found these dumplings to be sloppy and frustrating to assemble because the dough was quite soft and the wrappers were really large compared to what I'm used to. The edges actually flopped over (again, this is probably because of the softer than usual dough).

Larger dumplings--too much dough to filling makes them kind of floppy looking and awkward in my opinion

For the other half of the dough, I divided it up into 16 (which would have yielded 32 dumplings if I had done this for the whole batch). This is more in line with the size dumplings I usually make, and the result is a lot neater and more composed looking. This is perhaps more of a personal preference, but I do think the slightly smaller dumplings are just easier to assemble, and even with the slightly softer dough I didn't really have any challenges with this half.

The slightly smaller dumplings have a better shape to them

Onto cooking the dumplings! As I mentioned earlier, Helen's technique of adding a slurry is a bit different than the way I normally pan-fry my dumplings, but I was intrigued and followed her instructions (with the exception of cooking more dumplings in one slightly larger pan than she specifies--10 versus 6). I cooked mine a bit longer than the recipe states to ensure a nicely browned bottom, but otherwise found this to be a great alternative to what I've done in the past. The thin and crisp pancake is a treat! It still feels like a bit more work than my other method, but it's a fun presentation.

It's finally time to eat! And oh my gosh, are these dumplings delicious! I know I may have been a bit critical with my dough issues, and will likely make some tweaks in the future (as simple as weighing the flour), but the resulting dumplings are absolutely fabulous! The beef filling is juicy and so flavorful. It's perfectly seasoned, and just excellent. These are not actually too spicy on their own, but the raw garlic sauce is super pungent and definitely elevates the spice factor. You could also add some of the chile sediment from your chile oil (if it's homemade chile oil) when you make the filling to make it spicier as well.

Although I personally have some concerns about the dough recipe, it's simple enough to tweak by adding more flour, or using less water, to result in the proper texture. I have experience making dumplings from scratch, but am by no means an expert, and am still always improving and learning and developing new skills in my dumpling adventures.

I am very pleased by the variety and detail in The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook. There are several enticing fillings I look forward to trying, and am happy to learn some new techniques which will hopefully improve my overall dumpling repertoire. I've also learned a bit more about Northern Chinese style dumplings, which will further expand my dumpling universe. If you're an avid dumpling fan, this is another great cookbook to check out, particularly if you are a fan of The Dumpling Galaxy. I hope to visit Helen's restaurant on a future trip to Flushing's Chinatown.

The recipe below uses the measurements in the book, but I've added a few notes in italics to share my own experiences in case you'd like to make adjustments on your own.

Spicy Beef Dumplings
Makes 24 large dumplings (or 32 medium dumplings)
(Adapted from The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used about 2 1/2 cups instead--in the future I'd prefer to weigh the flour to yield more consistency)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 egg white

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chile oil, store-bought or homemade
1 pound ground beef
3 scallions, finely chopped, white and green parts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I didn't actually measure this, but just cranked out a generous amount with my pepper mill)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Raw Garlic Sauce, for serving (optional) (recipe follows)

Mix the dough. Add the flour to a wide mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Stir in the water and egg white with your fingers. The flour will look shaggy, like biscuit dough; as the dough comes together, run an open palm around the edge of the bowl and fold the flour into the center until it forms a rough clump (my dough was very wet using the original measurements, so I worked additional flour into the mixture until it was no longer sticky and gooey--probably an extra 1/2 cup or so).

Coat your work surface with a fine dusting of flour, and turn the dough out of the bowl. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough until it's smooth to the touch, not tacky, with no cracks or pockets of flour. Put the dough back in your work bowl, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and rest for 15 to 30 minutes. While it relaxes, prepare your filling.

In a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 9 to 10 minutes, until they turn soft and translucent. Stir in the chile oil, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, use your hands to combine the beef, scallions, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, sesame oil, pepper, and salt, and mix until well blended. Gently fold in the onions and mix until fully incorporated.

Lightly dust your work surface with a little more flour and remove the dough from its bowl. Gently knead it until you have a satin-smooth dough that forms a clean ball you can easily push into.

Form your dough into a log, dusk a dough scraper with a little flour, and cut the dough into four equal sections (I usually like to work with the dough one quarter or at the most one half at a time, and cover the rest of the dough until I'm ready for it). Roll each section into a log and chop it into six pieces for a total of twenty-four balls of dough, each about an inch in diameter (I preferred cutting it into 8 pieces each, yielding 32 balls of dough). Toss the balls with a light coating of flour and cover with a lightly moistened towel.

Gently smash the balls of dough into flat disks, then lightly roll and Asian-style rolling pin across them to flatten them out a bit more. Hold one disk by its edge and firmly but gently roll your pin from the disk's edge to its center. Roll the same edge a few more times, using more pressure at the edge than at the center. Use your other hand to turn the dough disk and reveal a new edge of the disk; roll again. Continue until all edges are rolled out and the wrapper is about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.

Holding a wrapper in your palm, add about 2 tablespoon of the filling to the center of the wrapper, then lightly pat down the filling to get rid of any air bubbles.

Fold the dumpling into a half-moon, pinching it shut with your thumbs and index finers, then press the center of the dumpling while pulling on the corners to push out any air bubbles and shape it into a curved crescent. Inspect the dumpling for any holes and pinch them shut. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, vinegar, and 1 cup of water until combined to make a slurry. Brush the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high heat, until the oil starts to shimmer. Add 6 dumplings with the sealed edges lying flat in the pan (I set my on their bottoms as opposed to on their sides), spacing them 1 inch apart, then slowly pour in just enough of the slurry to come one-third of the way up the dumplings. Partially cover the pan, leaving a small gap for steam to escape.

Increase the heat to high and cook for 2 minutes for cast-iron (1 minute for nonstick). Lower the heat to medium for 2 minutes for cast-iron (3 minutes for nonstick). Then lower the heat to low for 2 to 3 minutes for cast-iron (3 minutes for nonstick) (in general I probably cooked mine a bit longer on medium because the bottom just wasn't browning enough--use your judgement).

Cook until the water has evaporated, leaving a paper-thin disc of golden-brown starch on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and slide a thin, flexible spatula around the rim of the pan to loosen the edges of the starch disc, and carefully slide the spatula underneath and flip the disk onto a plate in one piece, crispy side up. Serve immediately, then clean the skillet and repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve immediately with the Raw Garlic Sauce, if desired.

Raw Garlic Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup
(From The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook)

14 to 16 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of cold water. Transfer to a glass jar or plastic container and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days to let the flavor mellow. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cape Malay Chicken Curry


Although A Cooking Safari with Mickey is one of my least favorite Disney cookbooks, due to its minimal size and lack of depth, it does contain some recipes of dishes I love from the Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge. I can't recommend the book because even at its cheaper-than-Amazon price in the parks, it's still way overpriced for what you actually get--a total of 26 recipes, which is the least robust of any of my Disney cookbooks.

You may recall that one of my favorite dishes from the buffet at Walt Disney World's Tusker House Restaurant was the Cape Malay Chicken Curry, a South African dish of stewed chicken with spices and tomatoes. Fortunately for me, this recipe is one of the 26 in that cookbook.

You will find many recipes for Cape Malay Chicken Curry on the internet, and I'm sure they are all wonderful, but I feel extra special making the version provided by Disney since it brings back a wonderful food memory from my recent trip.

Mine was less tomato-y than the version at Tusker House. I would imagine using canned crushed tomatoes would yield a far more tomato-heavy sauce that replicates the Tusker House version better, but I used seeded chopped fresh tomatoes and although it wasn't as red, the general flavor of the curry was fantastic.

I also simmered it uncovered rather than covered for the most part because the sauce became very thin once the tomatoes broke down, but once it reduced uncovered it was the perfect consistency.

I served my Cape Malay Chicken Curry with jeera rice, an Indian cumin-scented basmati rice. It's simple to make: just toast some cumin seeds in oil or ghee prior to adding your dry basmati rice and boiling water or broth. It adds a bit of fragrance and flavor and just elevates the rice to something worthy of pairing with this curry.

Cape Malay Chicken Curry
Serves 4 to 6
(From A Cooking Safari with Mickey)

2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Coarse salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
2 green chilies, seeded and finely sliced (I minced 1 1/2 seeded jalapenos)
1 teaspoon crushed garlic (I used about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (I used about 1 tablespoon)
1 to 4 tablespoons Madras curry powder (all curry powders range in flavor and spiciness because they are spice blends--I used 2 tablespoons in my version)
1 tablespoon flour
3 to 4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (I seeded mine before chopping)
3 tablespoons cream of coconut
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro, for ganish
Rice pilaf or couscous, for serving

Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken (in batches if necessary) and sear until browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and add onions, cooking until lightly brown and tender. Add chilies, garlic, and ginger; cook 2 minutes. Add curry powder and cook 1 minute.

Whisk in flour and stir over medium heat until mixture slightly thickens. Stir in tomatoes, cream of coconut, and chicken stock; return chicken to pan. If sauce is too thick, stir in more chicken stock.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. (I would recommend simmering for about 5 to 10 minutes covered and then remove the lid and simmer uncovered for the remaining time, or longer, if sauce becomes too thin and needs to reduce to thicken).

Taste and adjust seasonings. To serve, garnish with cilantro and serve with rice pilaf or couscous.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Walt Disney World: Tusker House Restaurant


Winding down my Walt Disney World blog posts, today I'm sharing one of our favorite experiences from our trip. Whispering Canyon Cafe and Tusker House Restaurant were probably our two favorite meals from our visit, not only for the fantastic food, but for the overall ambiance and fun interactions.

Tusker House is located in the Animal Kingdom within the fictional village of Harambe in Africa, and is known for it's African-inspired buffet and character meet-and-greets with Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Mickey.

The atmosphere is great. The entire buffet area is very open, and designed like an open-air market with food stations around the perimeter, an island of buffet carts in the center with desserts, and beautiful, colorful fabrics stretched across the ceiling filtering in light.

The dining area is separated into several smaller dining rooms, each of which with fun African decor that is consistent with the rest of the themeing.

The stars of the show are the characters who visit each table and interact with guests, signing autograph books, posing for pictures, and even leading a parade around the dining room, showing off their dance moves.

Goofy busting a move!

This is probably the main draw for a meal at Tusker House, but as a foodie, I'm particularly drawn by the incredibly diverse buffet. Let's take a closer look.

Breads: Herb Focaccia, Moroccan Multigrain Bread, Mealie Cornbread, Cluster Oat Rolls, Jalapeno Cornbread, Pita Bread, Whipped Butter

Spicy South African Preserves: Blatjangs, Mixed Fruit Chutney, Hummus, Tabouleh, Whipped Butter

Mixed Greens, Ranch Dressing, Italian Dressing, Coconut Curry Vinaigrette, Chermoula Vinaigrette, Olives, Cucumber, Broccoli, Tomato, Housemade Pickles

Fruit Salad, Toasted Couscous Salad with Craisins, Grapes

A closer look at the Couscous Salad

Spiced Beet Salad, Black-Eyed Pea Salad, Trek Power Salad

Brown Gravy, Whipped Mashed Potatoes, Collard Greens, Roasted Vegetable Couscous

A closer look at the Roasted Vegetable Couscous

Oven-Roasted Red Skin Potatoes, Tandoori Tofu, Oven-Roasted Rainbow Carrots

Spicy Green Coconut Curry, Basmati Rice with Lemon, Cinnamon, and Cardamom, Cape Malay Curry Chicken

A closer look at the Spicy Green Coconut Curry

A closer look at the Cape Malay Curry Chicken

Whipped Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Chicken Drumsticks

Corn Dog Nuggets, Macaroni and Cheese, Corn Medley

Spit-roasting meats on the "Wall of Flames"

Mojo Pork Shoulder

Sweet Plantains, Spit-Roasted Chicken, Mealie Pap, Pigeon Peas and Rice
It's nearly impossible to try every single item on the menu, as much as I'd like to try. I did manage to try quite a few dishes, and particularly fell in love with the Cape Malay Curry Chicken and the Peri Peri Salmon (which I didn't get a photo of on the buffet, but it's pictured below on one of my plates). I don't think there was a single item I tried that I didn't like. Everything down to the mashed potatoes and gravy, both couscous dishes, plantains, and even corn dog nuggets (which I can't resist regardless of my age), were delicious. Food-wise, this meal at Tusker House was the highlight of the trip, especially since you can eat as much as you want!

My first plate

My second plate (notice the second helping of Cape Malay Curry Chicken--sooooo good!)
Let's take a peek at dessert next! By this point I was beyond full, and only managed to try a few bites. I didn't get photos of all the desserts. I believe there was a variety of cookies that I missed, but you get the picture :)

Mango Cardamom Fruit Tart, Pecan Chocolate Tart

Passion Fruit Spice Cake, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Banana Bread Pudding with Vanilla Anglaise

The bread pudding is truly phenomenal (and I know a thing or two about bread pudding). It's pure comfort, and I really wish I had more room to enjoy it after this gluttonous experience. I also like the freshness of the mango-cardamom fruit tart to balance it all out.

Tusker House definitely stands out as a premiere character dining experience. If you're an adventurous foodie and looking to mingle with Mickey and friends, this is probably the best combination of food and festivities on Disney property. The price of a meal at Tusker House ranges depending on the season (popular times of year may cost more). We paid $45 per adult and $27 per child in early December, but it also includes basic beverages and a whole lot of personality.

Tusker House Restaurant
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Osceola Pkwy
Orlando, FL 34747
(407) 939-3463


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