Monthly Archives: January 2014

Shrimp and baby bok choy stir-fry

This was the ostensible main course for our Christmas Chinese food feast. Delicious though the potstickers were, they do not a meal make; so to fill us out, I made a simple stir-fry of ingredients that looked good at the store.

I used to half-ass my stir-fries. It’s seductively easy to just dump a bunch of ingredients in a pan, stir until the slowest-cooking thing is cooked, and dump the whole mess onto a plate. But that way lies mushy vegetables and funky-textured meat, and after a while I wondered if I simply couldn’t stir-fry as deliciously as my favorite greasy takeout spot. It made me sad–and a good deal less frugal–to surrender to my laziness.

So over the past year or so, I’ve made an effort to be more deliberate. I’ve started thinking in terms of how quickly vegetables and proteins cook, how high I can take the heat under my pan, and how saucy or sticky I want the final product to be. I’ve learned when to add liquid to the pan, and when to let the heat and oil do the work. I discovered velveting over the summer, which has totally changed my relationship with meat in stir-fries. I’ve begun to relish the process of meticulously laying out a mise en place, and then tossing things into a hissing hot pan one after the other. And, surprise surprise, my stir-fries have gotten a lot better.

This was one of the best ones I’ve made. Not much to it, really: a pound of shrimp, a heap of baby bok choy torn into leaves, snow peas, aromatics, and a handful of toasted cashews. I decided I wanted a light sauce, no cornstarch, just soy sauce and rice vinegar and chili-garlic paste. I prepped the veggies lazily while the shrimp marinated in their cornstarch and egg white slurry, then poached the shrimp and stir-fried everything together right before we wanted to eat. It was the perfect unfussy dinner dish, with perfectly tender veggies and plump shrimp in a delicate but spicy sauce. As usual, I was too lazy to make rice; as usual, I wished I had.

shrimp bok choy stir fry

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Gluten-free dumpling wrappers, and pork and tofu potstickers

Gluten-free potstickers. Oh, man, were these good.

Continuing our newly created tradition, Sam and I invited friends over for homemade Chinese food on Christmas. With an army of willing hands (and plenty of wine) at my disposal, it seemed like an ideal time to make potstickers. One of the friends who came over is newly gluten-free, and I wanted to make something special she could eat. Homemade potstickers are a treat to begin with, and made with fresh wrappers, they’re downright indulgent.

Right from the get-go, I knew I wanted a wrapper recipe that didn’t require flour blends or stabilizers. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but given that I’m not gluten-free, I didn’t want to buy a specialized flour mix or a big bag of xanthan gum and have the rest of it go to waste. Fortunately, I found a recipe that relies on only rice flour and tapioca flour, both of which I’ve been meaning to buy anyway. Rice flour–the regular stuff, not glutinous rice flour (which doesn’t have gluten either, incidentally)–is great for dredging and battering fried foods, while tapioca flour or starch is considered the “gold standard” thickener for fruit pie fillings. I knew any leftovers would not go to waste.

gf potstickers round

I’m not going to kid you: this is a lot of work. The dough itself comes together lickety-split, but the process of forming the wrappers and folding the dumplings takes a while. This is where throwing a party and enlisting friends comes in handy. I had four people rolling balls of dough, flattening them with the bottom of a bowl, filling them, pleating them, and laying them out nicely on a baking sheet–and the whole process still took at least a couple of hours.

You’ll notice in the original blog post that Andrea Nguyen’s wrappers are perfectly smooth and thin; ours were shaggy and uneven, and many of our dumplings ended up looking more like stegosauruses than potstickers. It was very much a process of trial and error, as we learned that larger wrappers are easier to fill and pleat, but much harder to eat. I highly recommend keeping the wrappers on the small side, and covering any dough you’re not using with a towel to keep it moist and workable.

gf potstickers formed

For the filling, I adapted my trusty turkey potstickers recipe, using a mix of ground pork and crumbled tofu left over from making hot and sour soup. I started off doubling the wrapper recipe, which wasn’t quite enough to use up all the filling; I tried to make another full batch, but had only 1/2 cup of tapioca flour left, which worked out to 2/3 of a recipe. As it turned out, multiplying the original recipe by 2 2/3 gave us the perfect number of wrappers for our filling–I was astonished how well it worked out. I’ve included the larger numbers in the recipe below.

So how did the wrappers actually turn out? Not quite like ordinary potsticker wrappers, but phenomenally delicious in their own right. As they fried, they scented the kitchen with a wonderful sweet-toasty rice aroma, which I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. I actually thought it was easier to gauge doneness with these, since the dumplings started out opaque white, then turned translucent and slick when done. I got impatient with the first batch that came out of the pan–here’s me trying to pick up a hot potsticker with my fingers, and failing:

gf potstickers dropping

When I finally managed to let one cool enough–barely–to bite in, I was so happy I started dancing. The crust on the bottom of the potstickers was harder and crisper than with a wheat wrapper, and the tops were sticky and chewy and dense. The filling turned out pitch-perfect: it had that familiar fatty pork flavor, but the tofu made it light and almost fluffy. I mixed up a dipping sauce of tamari, rice vinegar, and scallions, then sat back and watched the dumplings disappear. Gluten-free and gluten-eaters alike, our friends gobbled them up–even the stegosaurus-looking ones.

I set aside some of the dumplings to freeze, as per usual: I popped the baking sheet they were on into the freezer, waited a couple of hours for them to harden, then slipped them into a plastic bag. The next day, I cooked a few straight from the freezer for lunch. They were just as delicious as they’d been the day before, when the wrappers were fresh–only now, they took minutes to make. In my book, that makes them an unqualified success.

gf potstickers dipped

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Green tea walnuts

Hey, happy New Year, everybody!

As usual, the end of 2013 rattled right up and then whizzed right by. It feels like none of us got any time to breathe over the holidays. And yet we did–I know we did. The Saturday before Christmas, Sam and I cleared our calendars, strapped on our hiking boots, and hiked up the steepest hill around. It was slow going, and it hurt a lot, and I could feel my lungs and my head clearing as we made our way up. I have a photo on my phone from the summit, 2,800 feet above sea level, on a day as dry and blue as December in California can ever be:

IMG_0100

And I made green tea walnuts, too, on New Year’s, with some of my leftover matcha. The idea wormed its way into my head weeks ago, when I stopped for lunch at the Imperial Tea Court at the Ferry Building. They had a sign advertising green tea walnuts, with a bright red sticker over it saying SOLD OUT. But I knew I had green tea powder on hand, and a single egg white in the freezer, a trusty recipe for spiced nuts to riff on. So it was just a matter of finding a free hour in the chaos of the holiday, and sitting down to make something crunchy and a little sweet.

My go-to spiced nuts recipe seems very much like a Christmas treat; these green tea walnuts, on the other hand, feel like a January thing. They’re slightly sweet, like the others, but also a little bracing, with layers of bitterness from the green tea and the walnuts. The matcha stains the walnuts a subdued forest-green color, just enough to signal what the flavor is. Somehow, eating a handful of these makes me feel like I’m healing myself; because of the bitterness and heft of the walnuts, I can’t just eat these mindlessly. Tasting each one is a deliberate act.

I’ll admit, I had to warm up to these. I’m not usually crazy about walnuts, and the walnut flavor here is deep, so at first it put me off. But the more I eat these, the more I like them. And my friends who love walnuts, loved these; in fact, they were happy to gobble up half the batch before Sam had time to photograph. So here they are, as a New Year’s offering–something nourishing for these post-holiday detox days.

green tea walnuts

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