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D :: Dumplings

Mmmm… dumplings in steamer baskets, dumplings on pretty plates, dumplings in a bowl of noodles and broth, dumplings in my wok, even dumplings in styrofoam containers from the take-out shop. I love them all. Our go-to favorite are the pan-fried variety, usually with a filling of pork and cabbage. Any dumpling place worth its salt has a guy in the corner making dumplings, and these can be bought frozen to cook at home. It’s our Hong Kong version of the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup-night.

But the swoon-worthy, intellectually-satisfying variety are Shanghai-style xiao lang bao, commonly known as “soup dumplings.” The idea of a dumpling filed with soup–how preposterous! Absurd, even. A trembling, delicate skin holds a bite of minced pork and a mouthful of hot fragrant broth. Served with vinegar and shredded ginger, it is no easy feat to transfer the dumpling from the steamer basket to the mouth without losing the precious, steaming juice and without burning your mouth. But, oh–the bliss.

(How do they do it? It’s all due to the miraculous ability of good stock to gel. The dumplings are filled with meat filling and a cube of chilled stock, which becomes soup when the dumpling is steamed. Simple. Brilliant. )

(The top three pictures were all taken by my brother Chip. See more of his pics here. And sorry, no pictures of the soup dumplings. I always eat them way too fast to even think about a picture.)

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I consider having a weekly CSA farmshare here in Hong Kong a triumph, one of those things I’m secretly really proud of (or not so secretly, once this is published.) But really, all it testifies to is the power of the internet … just a few clicks, an email, a money transfer and voila … fresh organic vegetables at our door.

We opt for the Western/Asian mixed pack, and thus we usually get an assortment of salad greens, tomatoes, bok choy, celery, carrots, eggplant, potatos, and all sorts of squash/winter melons that I never know quite what to do with. But last week, amidst the various greens and dirt-covered carrots, we got ginger. Ginger! Fresh-from-the-ground ginger. Still-dirty ginger. Of course ginger has to be locally grown somewhere, but, wow. This was a gift I did not expect.

The flavor of Hong Kong-grown ginger was familiar … sharp, spicy, warm, pungent. But it was somehow a little fresher, and also completely lacking in bitterness. I know, I’ve never thought of grocery-store ginger as bitter either, but this was so un-bitter that it completely changed how I think about ginger. And the best thing? No fibers, no strings—just crisp, firm flesh, easy to slice or mince as fine as you like.

Immediately upon discovery visions of candied ginger filled my head—specifically, chocolate-dipped candied ginger. Elegant, sophisticated, and completely delicious. I decided then and there that this would be my Christmas present for the Hong Kong crowd, and they would all see me as the pastry chef I used to be. Sigh. This isn’t the first time that Christmas plans have, um, over-reached.

The candying procedure itself was straightforward (I used instructions from David Lebovitz) and it’s basically the same process as candying ornage rind. But after cooking the ginger in the syrup, you have a choice—either to drain the ginger from the syrup, dip in granulated sugar and let dry overnight, or store in the syrup. Of course what I had imagined was the dry version, but I hadn’t thought through the process to the point of letting it dry on a rack overnight. What’s the problem, you say? One word: cockroaches.

Not that we’ve seen any, let me hasten to add, but that doesn’t mean much. We know cockroaches are a reality in Hong Kong, and in an old building like ours it’s almost a given. But I’m as afraid of the chemicals used to kill cockroaches as I am of the little guys themselves, so I’ve developed an obsession about doing the dishes, sweeping and taking out the trash. Truly, I’ve never been concerned about leaving a few dishes in the sink all day, and I’ve certainly never felt a need to sweep after each meal, but this is my new reality. Dirty dishes hardly last 5 minutes in this kitchen, friends. So leaving sugary, candied ginger slices out on the counter overnight? No way.

I drained some of the ginger and let it dry on a rack in the refrigerator, just to see what would happen, but no luck. It’s just too moist in there. (For that matter, the humidity is out of control right now, so maybe they wouldn’t have dried properly on our counter anyway?)

Alas, no elegant, dark-chocolate-dipped ginger for me. What I do have, though, is a whole jar filled with syrupy sweet, chewy ginger slices and lovely ginger-spiked syrup…just right for adding to cocktails, pouring over ice cream, pouring over oatmeal!, or using in salad dressings. And I have these cookies, which are so comforting and cozy I can almost forgive them for not being the confection I wanted.

Chewy Ginger-Chocolate Cookies

(probably my all-time favorite cookies … from a Martha Stewart Living magazine years ago)

  • 7 ounces semisweet chocolate (or good quality chocolate chips)
  • 1 ½ cups +1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (or a couple tablespoons chopped candied ginger)
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined. (Note: there is no electric mixer in this tiny kitchen. A spatula works just fine, as long as the butter is soft enough, but don’t let it be too soft and melty either. A KAF dough whisk is brilliant for this.)

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Roll dough into 1 1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, which you only need to do if you plan to transport them. Otherwise, eat warm, and preferably with a cold glass of milk.  Yields: 2 dozen cookies.

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We’ve been home for almost three weeks now (and by home I mean both Kansas and Minnesota) and I could talk about so many things we’ve done and seen …

  • thoroughly explored the grass in my parent’s lawn (grass! imagine!),

grass

  • visited farmer’s markets, garage sales, and thrift stores (such different shopping than the fancy malls and wet markets of HK!),
  • many summer meals on the patio (need I say bbq? I am from Kansas City, after all …)patiodinner
  • bbqboyvisited with old friends, welcomed new babies and met a new fiancee
  • connected with lots of family (our son has the good fortune of three great-grandparents still living)
  • some wobbly first steps, cheered on by Great-Aunt Cheryl
  • a new friendship between Leo the Good and Finn the Brave … it had a rough start (Leo is a Very Big Dog) but curiosity and a shared love of balls won the day. finnleo1

I could tell you all about that. But what actually brings me back to the computer, what I really want to tell you about, is this: slab pie. Pie baked on a flat, rimmed baking sheet, which just happens to be The Best Baking Idea I’ve seen in a long time.

slabpiewhole

Turns out, it’s not a new idea (is anything ever truly new?) … as soon as my father-in-law saw what I was doing, he said that his mom had made something similar, with apples, when he was growing up.  They’d never found the recipe, so I think my discovery of slab pie just gave me favored daughter-in-law status (never mind that I’m the only d-i-l.)

slabpiecut

For those of us who like a higher proportion of crust to filling than the standard pie gives, who love handheld desserts, who love rustic deliciousness—this is heaven on a plate. And for those of us who have only a countertop oven that won’t fit a regular pie pan, this is no pie-in-the-sky—this is pie on earth. In Minnesota, in Kansas, in Hong Kong, wherever you are.

We made it with raspberries, but that’s only because we went and picked six pounds of berries today. Smitten Kitchen, where I found this epiphany, used sour cherries. I’m already thinking about peaches when we go back to Kansas, and then apples and guavas this fall in Hong Kong … Seriously, folks, slab pie is reason enough to invite friends over, to go on a picnic, to find a potluck.  You can use the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, this one from Martha Stewart, or just run with the basic idea.  1 1/2 times the recipe for your favorite double-pie-crust + 1 times the filling of your choice will fill a 15″ x 10″ x 1″ pan nicely.  Bake at 375 for 45 min-1 hour, or until the crust is brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Once it’s cool, make a powdered sugar glaze flavored with a bit of vanilla, almond or lemon. Slab pie indeed.

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A few blogs I read post occasional “seven quick takes”–short thoughts not really worthy of a full posting all by themselves. I’ve got this running list of things I’ve been wanting to share, so in the spirit of some mental “spring cleaning,” I’m doing my own quick takes. 

1. We have never been so thankful for our apartment building as we have this past week … a week that has literally drowned us in rain, everyday, all day. Coinciding, as it has, with Finn’s growing skills in walking and thus Finn’s growing desire to walk further than the few steps it takes to cross our living room, we have been visiting our building’s indoor playroom multiple times a day. We take his walker with us, and between the walk from our door to the elevator, and then down in the lobby (mirrors! shiny things! doormen!), and then laps around the playroom, he gets quite a workout. I have also resorted to using the stairwell when he really needs a change of scenery. We’ll get off on the 10th or 11th floor, and then he starts climbing. He’s panting by the time we reach the 18th floor, but he gets upset when I make him turn off into our hallway. (This is, incidentally, how I got to enjoy our church’s long Good Friday service. We sat in the back, near the balcony stairs. He climbed those stairs at least 15 times and was thus both quiet and happy.)

 2. Last week we got Finn his own little table and chairs, and he’s quite taken with it. We still eat meals at the big table, but snacks, coloring (with new crayon rocks!) and other little games take place on his table.  

new table

3. Just because I haven’t mentioned new restaurant discoveries doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. A couple of note: Hansung, Co., on Kimberly Street in Kowloon. This is Korean diner home-cooking, in a stylin’ but simple atmosphere. And even though we’d never had it before, our noodles with pork and kimchi tasted like comfort food. 

hansung co.

Also, Initial, a coffeeshop in a designer-clothes store, also in Kowloon. Beautiful design, if a bit contrived (old, barn-wood floors, white-washed walls, eclectic furniture with lots of peeling paint, etc. Totally believable and appropriate in Vermont, but this is Hong Kong. And those clothes cost a LOT of money.) But–here is the latte I ordered, and while I’m not normally one for cutesy garnishes, this made me smile.     

latte art

4. Sunday’s prayer of confession at church was convicting and comforting all at once, in light of my little elevator-rage last week. (Which is, I suppose, what church should offer: both the diagnosis and the cure.) 

“Forgive us, most gracious God, for what we have done to bring pain to those we love, to those who need us to reflect the love of your Son into their lives. We repent of our hard and unkind words, our careless and thoughtless deeds, our lack of compassion and reluctance to put the needs of others before our own wants and desires. We confess our sins and need for you. In the forgiveness of your cross, grant us your Spirit as we worship you this day. Amen.” 

 5. And lastly, I’ve updated our flickr page with new photos from May and new videos from December and January. (Yes, I’m that far behind. We’re working on it, though. Thursday is a public holiday, so we’ve got big plans to video Finn in this particular stage of learning to walk. Everyday he’s a little less like a drunken sailor. I’ll try to post it before he runs his first marathon.) 

That’s all!  Hope you folks back home are enjoying your three-day weekend.

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She’s pretty and hip, too. And did I mention a little sassy? A fabulous dining companion, if I do say so myself.  

Allow me to introduce this newcomer to our kitchen–she’s so … shiso. (You didn’t think I was talking about myself, now did you?) Shiso–a saw-toothed, heart-shaped herb–is getting terrific press in our place. Seems like everyday I try her out in some new dish and everyone raves (and by everyone I mean Matt and I. Finn is more into flinging food than raving about it these days …)  

We first encoutered shiso in Vietnam last Christmas, as part of the HUGE bag of greens that accompanied our Vietnamese omelet. Those Vietnamese love their greens, I tell you–there were entire branches of basil and mint, and I’m pretty sure a whole head of lettuce was thrown in as well. But after we first bit into a shiso leaf, we spent the rest of the evening picking meticulously though the bag, finding every one we could. Mind you, we didn’t have a name at that point. It was more like the search for “the best green leaf I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

shiso

Shiso is full-bodied, almost meaty; pungent in a rocket-mustardy way, astringent like mint and basil, a little citrusy, a little woodsy, maybe even a little musty. If you eat a lot of Japanese food you’ve probably had shiso, tucked under some tuna in what looked like a garnish, or sprinkled over sashimi. 

We use shiso in several ways so far. As whole leaves, we add it to the green arsenal for summer rolls (along with basil, mint, cilantro and spinach), fry it in tempura, or tuck it into salad greens. Rolled up and slivered–(do you know this trick, good for basil or mint or any other leaf you want thinly sliced? Take a stack of leaves, roll up tightly, then slice as thin as you can. Voila–herb confetti.) So, as herb confetti, shiso is lovely on:

  • sliced tomatoes, as a change from the ubiquitous basil, 
  • sliced cucumbes, dressed lightly with rice vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds, 
  • salmon-potato salad, with a creamy wasabi-lime dressing, or 
  • tuna nicoise, with lots of capers and olives.   

Clearly my bias is to pair shiso with light, fresh, flavors, or to help balance out the richness of seafood. I imagine it would be lovely with citrus (perhaps on a grapefruit-shrimp salad?) or come fall, with a heavier mushroom dish.  

Do invite shiso over to your house to play; don’t be shy, she’s friendly too.

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Lots of new things today, this day of Resurrection: new clothes, new friends over for lunch, new episode of The Wire.

Deviled eggs.

Chocolate.

Trumpets.

Lilies.

Hope your Easter was as blessed as ours. 

looking...

looking more ...

Yay!

more pictures at our flickr site.

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I am in love. Given some recent posts, you might think that I was talking about my son, or possibly my husband. But actually, it’s Sichuan food. Specifically, it’s dan dan noodles and ma pa tofu, and even more specifically, it’s the versions of these items served at a tiny place called Gather Kitchen just off the Jordon exit of the MTR. 

Known for being fiery hot, (in fact you can often recognize Sichuan restaurants by the string of chili peppers hanging outside the door), Sichuan food has a depth of flavor and earthiness not always present in other regional Chinese cuisines, along with the all-important and totally unique Sichuan peppercorn.  The Sichuan peppercorn imparts a sensation technically known as mala, but described by my husband as “a really good tasting 9-volt battery.” It’s tingly, sizzling, slightly numbing, vaguely citrusy and totally addictive. 

Gather Kitchen rendered our meal with plenty of heat (though I suspect they toned it down for us) but they (thankfully) did not skimp on the mala. And we (again, thankfully) had ordered cucumber salad and a large bottle of San Miguel to help tame that delicious fire. 

My new favorite Chinese food blog, Appetite for China (I love the tagline: 1.3 billion people must be eating something right), has recipes for both the dan dan mian (noodles in a peanuty broth with a minced pork topping, garnished with cilantro) and the mapo tofu (squares of silky tofu in a minced pork-chili-garlic-ginger sauce–tastes like, in Matt’s words, “the soul of food”). Enjoy! 

dan dan mian

dan dan and cucumber salad

mapo tofu

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