Monthly Archives: December 2012

Turkey potstickers

Things I learned while making potstickers for the first time:

  1. Homemade potstickers are totally worth it–if you’re patient.
  2. If the ground pork at the supermarket looks questionable, ground turkey makes a fine dumpling substitute.
  3. Supermarket round dumpling wrappers are convenient, but finicky as hell. They will tear at the least provocation. Be gentle, or go to an Asian grocery store for honest-to-goodness potsticker wrappers.
  4. Don’t do this on a weeknight. Make a stir-fry or something instead. Otherwise you will be lonely, exhausted, and cornstarch-covered at 11 PM.
  5. Don’t do this alone. Enlist your friends. Have a potsticker-pleating party. Save the wine for afterward.
  6. Speaking of pleats: they don’t have to be flawless. The goal is to seal the filling in and create a flat bottom for the pan, not to replicate the greasy perfection of your favorite Chinese restaurant. If you can pleat the perfect crescent dumpling, you are more impressive than I.
  7. Overstuffing is death. Think torn wrappers, gummy fingers, and raw meat everywhere. Don’t be like me–measure your filling.
  8. You can freeze the dumplings before cooking, using the old baking sheet-to-zip-top bag trick. If you’re cooking the potstickers straight from the freezer, be warned: they will spit and spatter something fierce. Act accordingly.
  9. The secret to great homemade potstickers? A nonstick pan. Who’da thunk.
  10. As with so many things in life, these are best fresh from the pan. Soft on top, juicy in the middle, crusty and dark on the bottom. I believe the verdict from my dinner guests was “addictive.”
  11. My friends will eat as many potstickers as I can put in front of them. There is no limit. See point 10.

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Baked tofu and vegetable egg rolls

Well. Seems like everything else this year, Christmas snuck up on me from behind, tapped me on the shoulder, and darted away. I was busy eating egg rolls. I hope that’s a good enough excuse.

To be honest, I needed these egg rolls. The past few days have been exhilarating, and overwhelming, and about three different kinds of emotional. Two of my dearest friends from college got married–to each other, no less–and so I spent the weekend in Virginia with our closest cadre of friends, drinking too much and staying up too late and feeling deeply, radiantly happy every time I looked into their faces. We’re all scattered across the country now, and when we all saw each other it was as if no time had passed. And yet. There are weddings now, and graduate degrees, and careers forming, and the slow realization that we’re settling into places and identities without each other. This process of cutting a path through the thicket of adulthood, knowing that I’m doing it so far away from many of the people I love, is starting to become very real.

So I came home and made egg rolls for Christmas. The recipe is an odd one, out of a stained and dog-eared old cookbook on my parents’ kitchen shelf, written by an American woman intent on introducing Chinese Buddhist vegetarian cooking to the masses. The filling is a cornstarch-thickened melange of carrot and celery and baked tofu, chunky and chewy and rather unlike any other egg roll I’ve ever had. My family has made these egg rolls, in one form or another, since I was a preteen, and so they taste familiar to me, and soothing, and comfortable. Now, on my own, I’ve adjusted the flavors in marginal ways, changing an ingredient or two to suit my tastes and compensating for errors in the original directions. But I haven’t strayed too far. In at least one aspect, I keep coming back to where I’ve been.

Belated Merry Christmas, everyone.

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December minestrone

It is soup weather, with a vengeance. The days are dark and clouded over, and even here in seasonless California the rain is blowing in. I can smell the damp on the sidewalks, hear the squeaking of wet shoes on marble lobby floors, feel the cold tickle of raindrops in my hair. We need the rain, I keep reminding myself. But it’s easy to resent it. And even when it’s clear, the air is cold and sharp.

This is the time of year when it suddenly becomes easy to sink. I’ve been bouncing along on sunny days and long walks, and now suddenly I’m back to sitting indoors, feeling myself go limp. Even as I type this, I’m fighting a powerful urge to crawl into bed and sleep–not because I need to, but because it’d be so much easier than anything else I could be doing. This is the time of year when sweets are everywhere, and more tempting than ever, an easy way to keep electricity running in my veins without actually nourishing myself at all. I could keep exercising, and watching what I eat, and using valuable energy on staying conscious of my well-being. Or I could put myself into a sugar coma and sleep through the winter.

Now is the time when I need other kinds of comfort, fortifying kinds. So, soup. I’ve been craving brothy, vegetable-filled bowls lately, and nothing fits that bill better than minestrone. I almost feel embarrassed putting a recipe up here–minestrone is best when it’s cobbled together from whatever bits and pieces seem appealing. There are a few non-negotiables: tomatoes, garlic, some kind of beans, some kind of pasta, a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of fluffy Parmesan. But the substance of it changes with the seasons. In summer, I love a water-based minestrone, with corn kernels and fresh tomatoes; in winter, I want something heartier, with broth and greens and tomatoes from a can.

This recipe is the best approximation I can give of a pot of soup I made last weekend, as the prelude to a dessert party. I had a perky bunch of Swiss chard, and it seemed a shame to set the stems aside. So I diced them and tossed them in with the mirepoix, where they stained everything a delicate pinky-red. The finished soup was deeper and sweeter than usual, but still with that same tomato-beany-cheesy minestrone soul. Even with all manner of baked goods waiting to be sampled, the pot of minestrone got cleared out in record time. Clearly I wasn’t the only one needing winter nourishment.

december minestrone

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Sweet-and-smoky spiced nuts

My friend Victoria lives in Texas. Audrey and I always get feverishly excited when she comes to visit us. Not just because she’s a delightful, uproariously hilarious person–which she is–but because whenever she comes, she brings each of us a pretty paper box full of candied pecans.

These are a serious indulgence, my friends–candy-sweet and nutty-rich, wrapped in a crisp, lacy skin of beaten egg white. Pop one in your mouth, and the candy coating shatters and crackles between your teeth, giving way to buttery pecan crunch. They’re almost ladylike, in a way, wrapped up in sugary white lace. Every time she visits, Audrey and I make a pact to share one box and put the other one away for safekeeping. And every time, we end up plowing through both boxes in a matter of days.

Victoria’s pecans popped into my mind the other day, as I was considering what to make as a birthday present for my boyfriend’s pecan-loving mother. It’s speeding towards Christmas, and something spicy and sweet seemed appropriate. I rifled through the spice cabinet, and unearthed a tin of smoked cinnamon that Sam’s mom had given me as a gift. I decided to make a batch of candied spiced pecans, using her gift as the basis for my gift. And what a great idea that was.

If the Texas-style pecans are ladylike and sweet, these are gutsy, dark, even a little sexy. Not candied, exactly–there’s much less sugar, for one thing, so the coating is equal parts sweet, salty, and smoky. If the candied pecans make me think of white lace, these spiced pecans make me think of bourbon. I made up a pretty paper box for Sam’s mom, and some little bundles for my coworkers. I had planned to toss the leftovers into a salad–maybe with some bits of pear and blue cheese–but then they disappeared too, within a matter of hours. I guess some things don’t change.

sweet-and-smoky spiced pecans

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