Foodie Tuesday: The Not-So-Great Pretender

Unskilled as I am at so many culinary things, my well-intentioned fakery in attempting to prepare favorite treats from various delicious cuisines is not only highly unlikely to ever be quite accurate in its representation of the real deal but also just plain goofy and messy. I apologize to any purists out there, but I’m not above stealing ideas from everywhere I’ve ever found foods to love. And often, putting my own twisted twist on them, too. Perfect accuracy may, after all, be slightly overrated.Photo: Korean BBQ

After a recent delicious trip to a Korean BBQ house here in north Texas, I got good and hungry for a host of tasty Asian-inspired treats I hadn’t had in a while. I particularly wanted to revisit a recipe I hadn’t made by hand in many, many years: Jiaozi, or potstickers. And of course, I wandered off on my usual tangents. Making the wrapper dough wasn’t my best skill even when I was supervised by my teachers in my Chinese language, culture, and cuisine workshop back in college, and I had it in mind to attempt a gluten-free version on top of that, this time around, so instead of getting a nicely malleable dough in which to wrap the filling and practice my dumpling pleats—the one part of the wrapping that I was reasonably good at doing, thanks to Mom’s early training of me in the arts of tender lefse dough handling and pie crust edge crimping—I got falling-apart dough that was more easily squeezed around the filling in highly abstract, squishy-squashy little dumplings.

Pretty, they were not. I will attempt to revise the dough with the addition of egg binder next time and report back. But I got my poor little raggedy jiaozi to hold together just enough to fry and steam them, and the ingredients were at least agreeable enough to taste passable in the event, so I will keep trying. Meanwhile, I give you these little wounded stegosaurs:Photo: The Homeliest Jiaozi

The Homeliest Jiaozi this Side of the Yangtze

Make jiaozi wrapper dough: 3 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour + 1/4 tsp salt + 1 1/4 cups cold water [+ 1 egg, probably, for future reference]. Knead well into a nice elastic dough, wrap and refrigerate to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Make filling: cook 1/2-1 cup minced meat (I used lamb this time) with 1 T minced fresh ginger, 1 tsp finely grated lemon/lime zest, 1 tsp minced fresh jalapeño, 1 handful sugar snap peas sliced crosswise into small rings, 1/1 rib celery (minced), 1 tsp minced shallots, good splashes of Tamari, rice vinegar, and dry Sherry, and a small splash of toasted sesame oil. Drain and cool the mixture slightly.

Divide the wrapper dough into 60 pieces, starting work with 1/4 of it at a time and keeping the rest chilled until ready to prepare dumplings. Roll each little piece into a ball and then into a flat circle, about 3″ in diameter. Put a small spoonful of meat filling on the wrapper, pull the sides into a half-moon shape around it, and gently pleat the curved edge, sealing it with water, egg wash, and/or a fork’s tines. Or, if your dough behaves like mine did, pull it up around the filling and squeeze the sorry-looking little objects into submission.

Pour a little cooking oil (I used avocado) into a large, flat pan, place the dumplings curved side up in the oil like little half-moon sailboats with just a little space between them, and put the pan on medium heat. As the bottoms of the jiaozi begin to brown, pour a little broth or water over them (just about 1/4″ or so), cover the pan, and let them steam gently for a few minutes to firm up, watching that the heat doesn’t get too high, or the liquid will cook away completely or break the dumplings into mush. At this point, the jiaozi can be refrigerated in a covered dish to be finished later. I put mine in a microwave-proof small casserole that still allowed them to sit on their flat bases in one layer, pouring the remaining steaming liquid over the top, so that I could finish steaming them and, if needed, crisping their little bases, when I was about to serve them for lunch the next day. Or you can, of course, keep on with the steaming and crisping for immediate eating.

Serve them hot, with a saucy little blend of Tamari, vinegar, and a few hot pepper flakes or added crushed fresh ginger on hand for dipping them.

I Know It’s Not Tuesday, but…

…I’m still hungry. Must be about time to fix dinner! Meanwhile, this week I did serve a second round of those tuna cakes that had I made a couple of weeks ago and posted about this Tuesday, so I thought I’d update you on that.Photo: Tuna Cakes with Peanut Sauce

Having found our first servings a tiny bit bland and dry as I’d fixed them, I thought perhaps they ought to get a little saucier with us, so I served them with a Thai-inspired peanut sauce, and I do think that was a good upgrade for this batch. Peanut sauce is a staple of numerous delicious dishes, not least of all my favorites among them, satays and salad rolls (sometimes called fresh rolls or spring rolls, on restaurant menus). My little version of the sauce for the occasion was a quick-fix variant that used the goods I already had in my pantry and fridge, and they’re common enough ingredients that I suspect you can easily whip some of this up, too.Photo: Tuna Cakes Redux

This Week’s Peanut Sauce

Powdered peanuts! How did I manage without that little container o’ goodness before? It’s mighty handy stuff. Never mind that it’s made by squishing most of the oil out of peanuts, so you can flavor and thicken dishes with peanutty protein with a lower calorie count and a friendlier fat profile, it’s just plain tasty. So, to make my peanut sauce, I put some peanut dust (doesn’t that just sound so much more interesting?) in a dish, about 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup’s worth, I suppose, and added Tamari, lime juice, raw honey, toasted sesame oil, and cayenne pepper until I liked the blend. I should have thinned it a little with my fridge-handy stash of homemade broth, some apple juice, or some water, but as thick as it was it still moistened the tuna cakes and heightened their flavors pleasingly, and will likely be used on a repeat occasion or ten when I’ve got other fish [cakes] to fry.

The juicy factor was not hurt, either, by my decision to serve coleslaw packed with pieces of bright, sweet clementines and topped with sesame seeds along with the main dish. Light, quick, easy, and not at all heavy, this is a meal that would be welcome any time of year, I think.Photo: Clementine-Sesame Slaw

Foodie Tuesday: Freshness, with a Hint of Asia

For cold-weather refreshment, try a composed salad of roasted beets, fresh pears and sugar snap peas, dried apricots, ginger, rice vinegar, macadamia or avocado oil, elderflower syrup, chopped roasted salted peanuts or almonds, mint, and black pepper.

Served over Pad Thai noodles seasoned with a little tamari, it becomes a more filling meal. When you add a lovely piece of grilled or poached salmon (how about poaching it in—mmm—coconut milk?) or a succulent roasted duck breast to the plate, it becomes more elegant and yet more satisfying to a hungry guest.

Sake on the side might be a dandy tipple, or perhaps some apple cider (still, sparkling, unfermented or hard) is more to your taste.

Photo: A Hint of AsiaAnother version:

Salad of carrot-shred “noodles” dressed simply with lime juice, ginger syrup and a little avocado oil and sprinkled with plain sesame seeds.

A half-and-half mixture of Pad Thai rice noodles and bean threads, cooked in broth (my homemade chicken broth, in this instance) and dressed with a sauce of blended peanut butter (no additives but salt, please), fresh mint, Thai basil, and cilantro leaves, minced fresh ginger and a sparking of red chile pepper flakes. A little fresh lime juice squeezed over the top, and there you have it, a meal ready to eat that’s a fair sight fresher and zestier than, say, the MRE goodness our military friends get served. This combination works fine on its own as a light meal, or can have quickly cooked prawns or roasted chicken or fried tofu added for a boost in flavor, texture and protein as well.Photo: Fried Rice & Wasabi Eggs

Of course, there’s the old standby as well: fried rice is always easy and tasty. In the photo above, it had toasted almond slices and (barely visible) tiny shrimp, along with soy sauce and sliced water chestnuts, honey and shallots, and peas as tiny as the shrimps. It might be accompanied by something unique each time just to shake things up a tad and keep that sense of freshness humming. Wasabi-deviled eggs are a simple and welcome textural and flavoring pizzazz, along with the ubiquitous garnish we love, sushi ginger. As always, the ingredients I keep on hand may not vary widely, since we have our household favorites and limitations just like anyone else does, but it’s amazing how many variations can be made from different groupings and proportions of them and techniques for the dishes’ and meals’ preparations. Some things never really change!

Foodie Tuesday: By the Beautiful Sea

Certainly one of the particular pleasures of this summer’s travels was for a coastal native like me to get back to the water’s edges and indulge in quantities of fresh seafoods of the kinds I have always loved. Not a bad opportunity, either, to develop some new affections in the vast ocean of seafood options. So yes, of course I ate fish, shellfish, seaweed, and other delectable dainties from the depths as often as I could manage. Spending time in the familiar haunts of Stockholm and the Pacific Northwest, I was swimming in deliciousness.Photo: Chinese Sushi in Stockholm

There were, in both locales, a few much-needed refueling stops for Asian seafood treats, since both places are rich in the resources and have long since embraced the influences of those also-rich cultures to make fine use of the wealth, so sushi and Lee’s sweet walnut prawns were on the agenda from the beginning. I can’t think of any kind of sushi that makes me happier than delicate, pristinely fresh salmon—an ingredient introduced to sushi culture by Norwegians, I gather, so I guess I feel a certain genetic impulse to put this meeting-of-cultures on my plate—nigirizushi. So my partner and I devoured salmon nigiri in quantity on the trip, but I also happily tested a few different sorts of makizushi, like Ichiban’s Salmon Lemon Roll, a refreshingly simple kind of maki.Photo: Dungeness Mac & Cheese

There were those variations on crab mac & cheese I mentioned before, and if anyone puts together two such huge addictions of mine as macaroni and cheese and Dungeness crab had just better get out of my way when I catch sight of the table. The versions I had this summer did nothing to slow me in my pursuit of such treasure, but as the aforementioned components both loom so large in my heart’s and stomach’s affections, neither did they hamper my continued mental tweaking of said dishes, and as I looked upon the photo for this post, I was moved further to contemplate joining my crab M&C lust with that for the classic and justifiably ubiquitous pairing of browned butter and sage, so you can expect to hear some groans of overindulgent happiness coming out of my kitchen sometime in the not too distant future when I get around to embracing that inspiration.Photo: West Seattle Fish & Chips

Fish and chips are, of necessity, a part of my seafood pilgrimages as well. As with these other treats, fish and chips have so many fantastic varieties possible, even before you get to the chef-specific fiddling of seasonings and sides, that it’s almost a pity there’s no way to eat every kind on offer. Will it be cod today, pollock or plaice, halibut? Salmon? Smoked cod? So many choices, so little time. I like a good light, crispy beer batter, but most end up being too doughy and heavy-handed in reality for my complete approval, so I’m more drawn to crunchier versions, whether they’re crumb- or cornmeal-based or spring from a dreamily delicate application of tempura. One of the standouts on this journey was when my parents took the two of us to a local shop in West Seattle, where we not only shared massive servings of fantastic, moist and tender and crunchy-coated wild cod but were given cabbage slaw (in a vinegar dressing) as a gift side dish by a beautiful and kind-hearted proprietress. Between that atmosphere of generous hospitality and the snappy-crusted fresh fish, the place won my vote as favorite in this summer’s fish-&-chips derby.Photo: Scallop & Mango Ceviche

I managed to go in entirely new directions on occasion, as well. Probably the favorite such dish that comes to mind just now would have to be the scallop-mango ceviche my sister and I shared when we went with my husband to a venerable but still terrific restaurant on Alki, that long and lovely public beach in West Seattle where Elliott Bay provides the blue and sparkling underpinning to a grand view of downtown Seattle’s waterfront. Beloved company and glorious weather were guaranteed to make it a worthy event, but the ceviche did its part very well indeed, too. It was a relatively simple melange of diced bell peppers and red onion and scallops and mango in a very light lime-cilantro dressing. If I had any desire to change the dish in the slightest it might be to eliminate the green pepper from the mix since it was just a tiny bit strong compared to the sweet scallops and bright mango, yet not quite piquant enough (as the onion was) to serve as a complementary spark. But let’s be honest. Did that slow down my eating or diminish my enjoyment of that refreshing little appetizer? No, it most certainly did not. If I replicate the dish someday, there will probably be no green bell pepper, and for that matter, I’d be more likely to pop in a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for the spice than to add raw onion, but that combination of tender scallops and juicy mango was just the sunny splash the day required and also provided useful ideas for my future culinary machinations. Enough said.Photo: Shrimp Pizza al Forno

Last among today’s reminiscence revels is shrimp pizza. Americans might not be quite so familiar with this sea creature as a great pizza topping as other nationals have been, but once tried, it’s kind of irresistible in its own way. My spousal person and I derive much of our fondness for the item in question from multiple happy visits in years past to a kind of down-at-heel looking pizzeria in the central train station in Stockholm, where a couple of swell Italian brothers fired up their (too-) well-kept secret wood oven and made the perfect Neapolitan crusts, lightly scorched and melting underneath a little light San Marzano tomato sauce, a nice gooey coating of fresh mozzarella, and heaps of candy-sweet pink shrimp with (unless my slightly lachanophobic husband remembered to forbid it) a dash of oregano over the top. Alas, the brothers have since packed up their oven and gone off to greener pastures, but in a bit of serendipitous sorrow on the afternoon of our discovery, we wandered down the hill from “our” apartment in the opposite direction to a restaurant we hadn’t revisited in quite some time and discovered that they, too, made a dandy version of this pie. Theirs is embellished with a little prosciutto and some mushrooms, which prove to be perfectly friendly companions to their little coral-colored shellfish pals on pizza.

What does all of this prove? Nothing you didn’t know already. I am an avid pursuer of food. Seafoods of many spanking fresh and tasty sorts rank high on the list of favorites among my food loves. And travel combines the increased access to those things that a coastal kid stranded inland in Texas craves at times with the splendors of the travel itself, that immersion in a different culture that suits me as much as it does my taste buds. Ahhh, so.

Foodie Tuesday: When in Doubt, Bring Leftovers Out

Non-chef that I am, I’m not really all that often full of impressive inspiration when headed into the kitchen. Lack of super-skills aside, my more impressive store of laziness usually wins the day, and if there’s nothing spectacular lurking in fridge or pantry that simply cries out to be doctored up and consumed, what’s much more likely to occur is that I’m faced with a modest selection of bits, bites and bobs that require a small amount of creative re-combination or even disguise to avoid boring us all to starvation.

And there are those items best made in large quantities anyway, or at least larger amounts than needed for a single meal for our household-of-two. You’ll never catch me making chili or lasagna or any other labor-intensive concoction in a two-serving batch when most of them taste better with the passing days for their fridge lifespan and the rest can be frozen in smaller packets for time beyond

So the pulled pork lying in wait in the refrigerator might dress up as crispy-edged carnitas redolent with cumin one day, to be served with an array of good Mexican side dishes, and then appear as a chopped topping with cheese and vegetables and hard boiled eggs for a big chef’s salad, and finally, become glistening barbecue pork, sauced with a sweet and spicy Memphis-style stickiness and served up with buttery roasted sweet potatoes and creamy coleslaw. Yesterday’s leftover fried chicken gets broken down into chopped meat and chopped crispy skin; the meat gets tossed together with an equal amount of leftover rice and stirred up with salsa and cream, topped with shredded cheese and then the skin ‘cracklings’, and it all gets baked up into a simple Tex-Mex fried chicken casserole that’s hearty and heartwarming enough nobody even complains that it’s YMCA (my Oz compatriot John’s loving title for leftovers as Yesterday’s Muck Cooked Again).photoAnd of course, roasts and chops and steaks are easy as, well, Steak-and-Guinness Pie to deal with any old time. Besides the infinite variations on a casserole possible, there are the omelets, quiches and frittatas, the sandwiches and salads, and the curries and stir-fries. So many ways to spell deliciousness without excessive slavery over the hot cooker. As witness, a quick variant of teriyaki beef that goes neatly atop a cold sesame noodle salad, steaming fried rice, or on a marvelous glossy heap of citrusy wok-fried snow peas, yellow capiscum, celery, carrot flowers–when you cut 5 or 6 v-shaped grooves lengthwise down the sides of whole peeled carrots and then slice them across, you get nice little folk-arty orange flowers to throw in the pan–and finely julienned fresh ginger.photoJust hot up the sliced leftover steak in a hot skillet or wok with a mixture of appropriate Asian flavors that suits your mood and the occasion and blends the sweet, the sour, the spicy and the salty to your taste, and there you have it. The solution to your empty-stomach problem in the blink of an eye. The steak here was glazed with a mixture of soy sauce, raw honey, ginger juice, lime juice, and a couple of drops of toasted sesame oil for mellowness, and finished with sesame seeds for a little delicate crunch. A little hot oil or hot sauce at the table for those who like a hit of zing on top. No fuss. Lots of flavor. If you ask me, the only thing to add is your chopsticks, then your