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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chinese Dumplings 101

Dumpling (饺子)is a northern Chinese dish that used to be eaten only on special occasions. I remember watching my maternal grandmother making them as a kid. She's very skilled at rolling out the skin and usually it takes two to three people wrapping to keep up with her rolling. I was always eager to help, but as a four-year old I didn't have full control of my digits so my dumplings were flat because I couldn't master the skills to make the pleats in the skin. Without the right pleats the dumplings don't have a base shaped like a half moon, which means they can't stand up. Needless to say, I could never roll out a dumpling skin the right way either.

Then years later, I don't remember exactly when, but I think we were already in the States by then, I discovered that I was able to roll out the skin AND wrap a dumpling exactly the same way my grandmother did. My brain had apparently somehow stored away and processed the necessary dumpling-making information and enabled me to put it into practice with my now much more dexterous hands.

My grandmother never had a recipe for making the wrapper dough. She simply poured some flour into a bowl, and added water as she stirred and kneaded with her hand. I used to do that, with varying results, until one day I decided that I needed to standardize things, and life became so much easier after that.

The main difference between store-bought and homemade wrappers are the texture, just like dried packaged pasta vs homemade pasta. When using store bought wrappers, you need to wet the edges with water so the wrapper can stick together. You don't need to do this with homemade wrappers because they're softer. While store bought wrappers are uniform in thickness, homemade ones are thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges so that when you close the dumplings the skin is the same thickness all over.

You can make dumplings with store bought wrapper/skin with good results. In fact, all the Japanese dumplings are made with machine made wrappers. In Japan, dumplings are often pan-fried instead of boiled, and I have grown to love the pan frying way of cooking dumplings after living in Japan. Our favourite dumpling house used to be a stroll from our house, so on weekends we would sometimes take a walk down Omotesando and line up for some dumplings and cucumber salad. I learned how to fry the dumplings by watching the staff while eating at the counter.

Now, let's make some dumplings!

For the dough:
480g All Purpose/ Plain flour
300ml warm water

Add all the flour into a KitchenAid mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook.
Turn the mixer on to the lowest speed and pour the water in while the dough hook turns, like this:

Stop the mixer and scrape down the dry flour into the middle a few times, but do NOT add any more water, even though the dough may look dry.

Keep scraping the dry flour into the bottom of the dough and increase speed one notch, until you get this:


When the dough pulls together into a ball you can dump it all out and knead a few times with your hands and shape it into a ball. Invert the mixer bowl and cover the dough for at least 30 minutes. I usually make the filling during this time.

I used a filling recipe adapted from Harumi's Japanese Cooking for these dumplings.

For about 48 dumplings:

100g cabbage
100g nappa cabbage
1/2 tsp salt
100g Chinese chives
200g ground pork
2 tbsp lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 tsp Maggie chicken stock concentrate
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
15g ginger, finely chopped
50g spring onions, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
white or black pepper to taste
(for vegetarian version, substitute the pork with 150g of extra firm tofu and ten shiitake mushroom soaked and chopped)

  1. Finely chop two types of cabbage in food processor, season with ½ tsp salt and set aside in a strainer.
  2. Finely chop Chinese chives and set aside
  3. In a large bowl, combine pork and lard/shortening by hand.  Add the chicken stock, sesame oil, cooking wine, garlic, ginger and spring onions.  Mix together, then add the chives.
  4. Place a handful of cabbage in a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Add to the meat mixture.  Continue until all the cabbage is added
Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Once the fillings is made, you're ready to make the dumplings.

1. Divide the dough into four parts. Take out one part while keeping the rest under the mixer bowl so it doesn't dry out.
2. Roll this portion of dough out into a sausage shape about 3/4 inch thick.
3. Use a pastry cutter to cut the dough into pieces about 1 inch long

4. Roll one piece into a ball and flatten into a disc.
5. Use a rolling pin to roll from the edge into the center of the disc, then rotate the disc a little, roll again from edge to center.

6. Keep rotating and rolling, until you have a round piece of skin that is thinner around the edges and thicker in the middle. You'll see later that it's ok if the skin is not completely round, because when you wrap the dumpling it will stretch

7. Prepare a tray by dusting it with a layer of corn starch. This prevents the dumplings from sticking to the tray.

8. Take a piece of dumpling wrapper and place a ball of filling in the middle. Fold the wrapper in half and pinch the middle, now you have a semi-circle. Hold the dumpling with your left hand and use the thumb and forfinger of your right hand, squeeze together the right half of the semi-circle. Next, hold the dumpling with your right hand and pinch the left half of the dumpling with your left thumb and forefinger.

Here it is again, start to finish (please excuse the piece of chive stuck to the wrapper):
 9. Stand the dumplings in the prepared tray, until ready to cook. If not cooking immediately, cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge if room is warm. (Dumplings can be frozen by placing the tray into the freezer. Wait until the dumplings have hardened, then you can place them in  a Ziploc bag. But do not place into bags directly while still soft, or they will stick together into a big lump)
10. Heat up a heavy frying pan,  pour some oil into it (enough to cover the bottom in one thin layer). Once oil is hot, but not smoking, place dumplings into pan in a circular pattern. Cook and shake the pan periodically until bottom of dumplings are golden.
11. Pour water into pan so that bottom 1/3 of the dumplings are covered in water. Cover pan with a lid (glass is best so you can see what's going on), and let it steam. Once dumpling skin look semi-transparent, remove lid and let the rest of the water evaporate.

12. Turn off heat. Place a plate onto the dumplings and flip the pan over so dumplings are now upside down, showing off the golden and crispy bottom.

Et Voila!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Week 8, 2015

Feb 16 (Mon)
I baked a rye bread from the Five Minute Artisan Bread book.

and made Oxtail Stew with Tomato and Bacon to dip it with.

Excuse the horrible photo but trust me it's a very nice and substantial dish. I use a pressure cooker to speed things up, but even with that you should cook it for about 50 minutes to one hour so the oxtails can soften to the point where the meat falls off the bones.

Swiss Chard w/ Pancetta, Corn & Cannelini Beans

I used back bacon instead of pancetta for this, and fresh corn. I think all the veggies balance out the bacon, don't you think?
Feb 17 (Tue)
Another tried and true recipe. The OJ makes the dish. I usually skip the radicchio, because very few supermarkets sell it. Which means, this can be a pantry meal, if you keep some frozen fish and grow your own rosemary ;o)

Apple Beet Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing

Never use canned beetroot if you can help it. Fresh ones are so much better, and the peels can be fed to horses. Nothing goes to waste!

Feb 18 (Wed)

Chinese New Year eve is traditionally a time for families to gather and have reunion dinners, but our family never really placed a lot of significance on CNY so most of the time we tend to travel during this time. This year, however, we didn't plan any trips, and since both sets of parents are in Singapore, we had a small reunion dinner. J requested his favourite dishes from Chinese restaurants in the US that you just can't find anywhere else.

Hot and Sour Soup

I've been using this recipe for a long time and the only thing I change is that I use half water half chicken stock. I can honestly say it tastes better than most of the hot and sour soup served in restaurants.
General Tsao's Chicken
I've been making this since our Tokyo days, and you can read my blog post from those days here. I realized that the original recipe that I followed was deleted from for some reason, so I replaced the link with a similar version. Again, I would recommend dipping the chicken pieces in corn starch after coating in eggs instead of mixing the corn starch into the marinade, so you get a crispier exterior.

My mom's family is from Beijing, where it's a tradition to eat dumplings on New Year's eve. So I made pan-fried dumplings. The fillings is made with a recipe in Harumi's Japanese Cooking, and the wrapper is made from scratch. I will write a separate blog post on this with videos to show you how it's done. But here's the final result:
We eat this dipped in Chinese dark vinegar.

I stir fried baby kalian with duck liver sausage and regular Chinese sausages again. The recipe is in this earlier blog post.

Finally, my mom made an eight-treasured rice for dessert. It's a steamed glutinous rice dish with red bean past filling. There are supposed to be eight ingredients, usually a variety of dried fruits and nuts, that have auspicious meanings, but the key is to make it look pretty.

You can buy these ready made sometimes but I like her version because it's not too sweet, and she even made her own red bean filling. Here's a detailed recipe I found online. I haven't tried it, but the instructions are pretty good, so you can get an idea of what it is. I'll post my simplified recipe if I make it again.

Feb 19 (Thur)

Chinese New Year day! I went to walk Istria first thing in the morning and brought along Cherry Garcia. She just turned seven!

I worked up an appetite after walking and grooming Istria, and feeling nostalgic, I wanted to make some traditional home cooking styled dishes and the first thing that came to mind was scallion oil noodle (葱油面). The Crystal Jade La Mian restaurant in Singapore has a pretty good version, so I set out to replicate it.

Another dish I really miss having is scallion braised pork chop (葱烤大排). In Shanghai, scallion is used generously in a lot of braising dishes. Another one of my favorite is braised river carp. It's impossible to find fresh water fish in Singapore, so I'm settling for pork chops. I scored some kurobuta bone-in chops from Isetan and did recipe searches online. I combined a few recipes to come up with one I thought was the best. 

In Shanghai plain noodles are sometimes served with a topping, so I'm using the pork chops as topping for my scallion oil noodles. The recipe below is for both dishes, since the scallions need to be fried in oil for both dishes. Don't skimp on the scallions. They look like a mountain before cooking, but will shrink a lot. What's more, they soak up all the pork flavors so you would be wishing you had used more scallions, trust me!


6 pork chops, bone-in, but not too thick, about 1cm is the best
at least 250g spring onions, cut into half or leave as is
1/2 - 1 cup cooking oil

5 slices of ginger
2 tsp Chinese cooking wine
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce

3 star anise
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
corn starch

For noodles:
1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1/4 c small dried shrimp, chopped
2 Tbsp Maggie Seasoning sauce (optional)
250g thin white Chinese noodles

- Wash pork chops and dry with paper towel
- Use the back of a kitchen cleaver to hit the pork chops all over, until tender
- Place pork chops in a bowl and sprinkle with cooking wine and salt. Add ginger and soy sauce. Marinate for at least 3 hours   
- Soak shrimp in some warm water and cooking wine.
- Remove pork chops and dip in a dish filled with corn starch to coat both sides
-  Heat some oil in a wok until very hot but not smoking. Add all the spring onions and deep fry in oil, remove before turning yellow. Fry pork chops one or two at a time, until surface turns white.
- Pour out most of oil and reserve (this is for the noodle), leave just a little in the wok.
- Stir fry shrimp a little bit, until fragrant. Remove and set aside.
- Heat up a little more oil, add ginger from the marinade and stir fry until fragrant
- Add star anise, pork chops, most of the spring onion and light soy sauce. Pour some water into the wok until pork chops are almost completely submerged.
- Cover and cook on high for ten minutes.
- Add sugar to taste, may need more (Shanghainese dishes always have a sweet undertone)
- Add dark soy sauce for colour, but don’t make it too dark.
- Reduce the sauce on high heat uncovered, but leave some to pour over rice or noodle

- Cook the noodles according to instruction. Rinse in cold water
- Place noodle into bowls and toss with scallion flavoured oil, season with salt and Maggie        seasoning. Top with some browned scallions and shrimp.
- Place a pork chop on top of noodles and serve.
Feb 20 (Fri)

In anticipation of all the eating ahead, I rode Istria at a clinic with horse trainer extraordinaire A. Due to Istria's girth gall, I had to ride bareback, which I think earned me two more pineapple tarts.

Our friends J&M invited us to their house in the afternoon and her helper made a really wonderful Mee Soto dish from scratch!

It was absolutely delicious. I've shamelessly asked J to invite us back for some more =oP
They hired some lion dancers to bless the house with good fortune. I've never seen lions so up close before. At one point the lions were spitting out little toys for all the kids to grab, so it was great fun for everyone.

At night we went to T & A's house for more eating. They adopted one of the dogs from SOSD after I fostered him for a little and basically brought him to their house so the kids could fall in love with him. Since my dogs knew their dog, they went along too.

A even found the drink that matches my manicure!

We had another round of Lo-hei

And ate ourselves silly again with barbecued Korean beefs and burgers, scallops in butter sauce, and the sweetest corns.

Feb 21 (Sat)

My riding buddy G is taking part in a dressage competition at another club for the first time, involving transporting her horse across the island. I went to support her by helping her plait the horse and bringing lunch.

It was such a scorching hot day. I was so glad I wasn't the one who had to warm up under the hot sun.

Since she will need lots of energy I made some high protein food: mashed avocado with yuzu salt, and my favourite Egg Salad

My tarragon had died a few weeks ago so I used baby fennel fronds instead. Everyone liked it and G won 1st place in her class. I would like to think the food gave her the energy and stamina she needed to win ;o)

There was another Lo-hei with my fellow SOSD volunteers in the evening. The eating never ends...

Feb 22 (Sun)

Another clinic with A

Some serious eating at H & A's house for dinner. H co-owns and runs one of Singapore's best small plates restaurant Lolla and he likes to think of his friends as having the capacity to eat double portions whenever we are at his place. This was no exception.
H made a huge pot of eight treasured rice (similar to claypot rice, not to be confused with the sweet version my mom made), sautéed Carabineros prawns, water chestnut and kailan, pork soup and A made ngoh hiang with H's mom's recipe. The ngoh hiang was pan fried instead of deep fried, which made me feel less guilty to down five pieces.
This was my first plate. I lost count after the second bowl of rice. Carabineros prawns have very sweet and firm flesh, but the best part is all the juice that comes out of the head when you rip it off. I made sure the rice caught all the juice so there was no wastage.
Ten more days of Chinese New Year, but I think I need to slow down with the eating, or Istria will be protesting against a heavier load on her back =o(

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Week 7, 2015

Feb 9 (Mon)

Spent 3 hours making more than 200 pineapple tarts.  Assigned dogs to handlers for the pack walk on Wednesday at SOSD. Then went to the Polo Club to let Istria out to stretch her legs and eat some grass. After that I was completely pooped so I didn't cook.

My mother in law made a stir-fried rice cake dish. The ingredients she used is not traditionally Shanghainese, but it was still pretty yummy. I'll post a recipe when I make it again with nappa cabbage and pork, the usual ingredients.

Feb 10 (Tue)
Shrimp Curry with Yu Choy and Kabocha

I always use fresh coconut milk whenever possible in Thai curries. I used a mild green curry paste for this. The starch in the kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) thickens up the sauce nicely. It's comfort food for me

Feb 11 (Wed)

I've seen this bottle of fermented red rice sauce (红糟酱)at the supermarket a few times. I went on line to find out what it is, and as far as I know, it's some kind of fermented red rice combination. I found a chicken recipe using it and tried it out. The smell was very pungent when it was cooking, the resulting dish looked a little scary, and I can't make up my mind about whether I like it or not. The taste is hard to describe. I thought it was not very strong, while J thought it was too strong. My in-laws, on the other hand, seemed to like it a lot. It's not something I either really love or hate, so I guess I'll make it a few more times until I use up the bottle of sauce.

Here's the recipe if you want to give it a go:

Fermented Red Rice Chicken and Chinese Veggie

1 whole chicken, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 spring onion
4 slices of ginger
5T fermented red rice
3T water
1.5T light soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
34g vermicelli, soaked in hot water until soft, drain

1. Heat olive oil in pan and add chicken, stir fry until meat turns pale.
2. Add spring onion and ginger, stir until fragrant.
3. Add fermented red rice and the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer for 8 min.
4. Uncover pan and cook on medium heat until juice thickens, about 2 min. Add vermicelli and cook for 1 more minute.

Feb 12 (Thur)

Turkey Burger with Tomato Jam and Salad

There's no ground turkey in Singapore so I used ground chicken. It's a healthy gourmet burger that's easy to make and delicious.

Feb 13 (Fri)

Friday the 13th, not a good day. I had to ride a different horse today since Istria has to rest for three days after the vet treated her girth gall. I had a choice between two naughty geldings and I randomly chose one. He was misbehaving and testing his limits from the get-go, but nothing too hard to handle. Just when I thought he was going nicely he saw an opportunity to throw a big "spook" and gave a huge buck. I flew over his head and landed with a thud to my head. Luckily nothing hurt and I got back after dusting off myself on and finished the lesson.
See me fly off at the far end of the arena in the first half of the video

I resumed my day, went to the stores, picked up my new car, but by the time I got home in the afternoon I had a huge headache. Spent the whole afternoon in bed trying to sleep it off, and cancelled dinner with friends.

Come dinner time, it was frozen leftovers to the rescue again. This time it was some extra gnocchi and pasta sauce I had frozen a while ago.

Feb 14 (Sat)

Dutch Baby

I made Dutch Baby for breakfast with an old recipe that I've been using for years (the recipe photo on the website is again taken by yours truly). It's super easy and fool proof, even if your oven can't get up to the high temperature called for. You also don't really need a cast iron pan, a glass pie dish works just as well. It does deflate very fast after you take it out of the oven, so make sure your table is set and your coffee is ready when you take this baby out of the oven.

J and I don't usually celebrate Valentine's day, or any other fake Hallmark holidays for that matter. I was going to just cook dinner and eat at home, but when J went for his cooking lesson, my friend L who owns the cooking school invited us to her place. Dinner at L's place is not to be missed, because there is always plenty of amazing food. Since this year V-day is so close to Chinese New Year we combined the two. One CNY tradition in Singapore that I've never heard of before moving here is the "Lo-hei" or "Yu Sheng". It's basically a salad consisting of shredded vegetables and salmon sashimi. Diners are encouraged to toss the salad with chopsticks while saying auspicious things such as 步步高升(better and better),恭喜发财(prosperity),年年有余(abundance). L ordered our favourite healthy Yu Sheng from Chef Shi Erh, which is light and crunchy with a very nice dressing that is not too sweet.

the salmon is all hidden under the crackers, which are supposed to be golden nuggets

The tossing part is always fun. The higher you toss, the better new year you'll have, but you also have to make sure they don't all end up on the table. L bought extra long chopsticks for this occasion. I think we did a pretty good job tossing, despite the fact that nobody knew too many auspicious phrases to say while we tossed.
We had appetizers made by her chefs and some dumplings made by a friend's helper. My favourite was the seafood skewer on lemongrass sticks made by chef Alfie. The texture is similar to otak, but a much nicer version.
Main dish was a hot pot, which is always nice when you have a large group. The soup gets tastier and tastier as more things are thrown in the pot.

Whenever we eat at L's house there's always always tons of dessert. A made her famous PBJ cake, we had four kinds of pineapple tarts to taste and compare, and L brought home some choux and eclairs made by chef Louis. We were spoiled for choices

Feb 15 (Sun)
I had a really good jumping clinic today but it was so tiring because we were under a very hot sun at 10am. Luckily my mother in law made wontons so I could just eat when I got home. Shanghai styled wonton is very different from Cantonese style. The skin is white, with no alkaline agent in it, and it's thicker. We usually put veggie in the filling as well as meat and sometimes shrimp. Most of the wonton wrappers in Singapore are either yellow or are too thin, but I finally found the right kind in a supermarket I rarely go to.
The soup for the wonton usually has seaweed, Zha Cai and dried shrimp skin in it, with a drizzle of sesame oil and a dash of white pepper.

We went to the Botanic Garden for a picnic today. I was supposed to cook these dishes as our V-day dinner, so they're not exactly picnic friendly, but the chicken was already marinated so it had to be cooked.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

If you get tired of Thomas Keller's simple roast chicken recipe I shared on week 1 or just want some variety, this is THE recipe to try. I highly recommend marinating the chicken for one full day, and cook the whole recipe, or even increase the number of chicken if you have more than six people eating. The chicken has a pretty nice intense flavour after cooking so you don't really need the sauce. It is a very nice BBQ sauce however, so you can always save the extra for other uses.

Roasted Potato Okra Salad

This is one of the best roasted veggie recipes I've tried. I always use fresh corn whenever possible and it's much nicer than frozen.

We brought our dogs with us, but I had forgotten how much attention Yuki gets whenever we go out. In the end we had to tie her away from us so people can go and pet her, or take photos without interfering with our eating.

I think I should bring her to SOSD's annual fundraising and set up a petting booth ;o)