Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vegan Dumplings (Jiao Zi)

Dumplings popped into my mind last week. I don't know why since the next Chinese holiday is pretty far away. Plus it's the hot hot middle of the summer when few people want to eat boiling hot pasta encased meat. But I'm surrounded by Chinese lab mates who miss real Chinese food and usually will go to far extremes to get their food fix. I've even heard of some driving two hours away to check out a new restaurant. Well, I called some of them up and got enthusiastic responses so Dumpling Fest was born.

The first thing to do was have a pow wow with my mom about the recipe. I've only rolled out the dumpling skins but never made the dough or the filling. After an hour long very intense discussion, I have my game plan and shopping list. There were going to be two fillings - one pork and one vegan.

The morning of dumpling fest, I mixed up the dough and let it sit all day to develop the smoothiness (I'm guessing it's the gluten). I made most of the filling before folks arrived. Then we had a rocking kitchen of dumpling skin rollers and dumpling fillers. Once the dumplings were ready to go in the pot, someone was designated dumpling maker and the rest of us chowed down on the dumplings with much satisfaction. For some reason, my dumpling filling tasted a lot more "healthy" and less fatty than my parents. Maybe it was the cut of meat I used or because I added water chestnuts which made the filling lighter and slightly crunchy. I don't know. I just know they were delicious. We didn't get around to making the vegan dumplings so I'll have to do that tomorrow.

Dumplings (enough to feed 5 people)

2 lbs all purp flour (I used Eagle Mills Brand that is a blend of whole wheat and white and it turned out beautifully)
2 cups water

The night before or the morning of the day you want to make dumplings, prepare the dough. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of water. Mix the water in with a spoon or chopsticks. Then continue to add water 1 T at a time until there is no more loose flour in the bowl. You do not want it too wet or it will be difficult to roll out. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for 5-8 minutes. The dough should feel slightly stiff. Place dough back in bowl and cover well with saran wrap or a towel and a plate. Let the dough rest for at least a couple of hours up to overnight. Alternatively, buy dumpling wrappers. Okay, next

Part 1
1.5 lb ground cooked seitan or smoked tofu (I used my meat grinder for this. Stop making that face! I have a meat grinder for my cat! Hmm, I guess that sounded just as crazy. TVP may also work for this)
1/2" ginger minced
2 stalks scallion minced
2 T soy sauce

Part 2
1 head napa cabbage using green/leafy parts only, chopped very fine (the white stems can be reserved for broths or sauteed on their own)
1/3 cup water chestnuts chopped fine (food processor would be great for this and the next two ingredients)
1 cup shiitake mushrooms chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped fine
1 T sesame oil
1 T salt
2 t sugar
black pepper

Mix all ingredients in part 1 together in a large bowl and let marinate for 30 minutes. Add all ingredients of part 2 in and mix well. Test a spoonful (30 seconds in the microwave) and adjust seasonings. Cover and set aside.

Making the wrapper
Take the dumpling dough and knead it a few times. It should become very smooth. Tear off a piece about the size of tennis ball and knead it into a smooth ball. Make a hole in the center and squeeze into a donut shape. Keep squeezing the hoop until the hole in the center is very large. Find a thin spot on the donut and tear the dough there to make one long log. Roll and squeeze the log until it is about the diamater of a quarter. Take one end in your fist and start tearing off bits of dough about 1/2" to 3/4" long. Try to tear the dough off quickly to make a clean tear and to avoid stretching the log. When the entire log is in pieces, roll the pieces in flour and start flattening them.

Once they are all flattened, take a dumpling rolling pin (resembles a french pastry rolling pin but much smaller) and roll into dumpling wrappers in the following manner:

1. Hold the edge of a flattened piece between thumb and index finger (let's call this hand A). Hold rolling pin against the opposite edge of the dough with only the palm of your other hand (hand B). All your fingers should be on top of the pin. Ie. your thumb should not be wrapped around the pin but resting on top.

2. Apply pressure to the rolling pin and roll it up to the center of the piece of dough. You should now have a piece of dough that is really flat on one half.

3. Using hand A, rotate the dough a quarter turn.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the dumpling wrapper is roughly 2.5" - 3" in diameter. Ideally, you want the middle to be thicker than the edges so the filling doesn't fall out.

Finish rolling the rest of the pieces before moving on to shaping --->

Shaping dumplings

Now take a wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Add about 1T of filling to the center. Fold the wrapper in half. Now you can either

1. Pinch the wrapper in 3 places along the edge and then squeeze the wrapper fully shut using the long part of your thumb and the side of your knuckle next to your thumb.


2. Pinch the wrapper slightly shut and then proceed to make pleats. Finally squeeze the edge with the pleats to make sure it's sealed.

Put the dumplings on a floured plate or styrofoam tray. Boil up some water with ginger and left over napa stems. When the water is at full boil, drop in the dumplings. They are done when the float again (5 mins???).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wild Berry Tarts and Peach Tarts

Delaware is a pretty lush state and a large variety of plants thrive here including rambling blackberry and raspberry bushes. This is the peak time for these delicate berries so I spend time on Wednesday picking berries with D. We got some thorns and prickers in our fingers but were rewarded with a large bag of sweet berries at the end. I decided to make some berry tarts but wasn't quite sure what to use a vegan pastry cream. I finally settled on one that used flour and soymilk and seemed to work for several people but once I made it, I was disappointed. It seemed too much like sweet paper mache gloop even after I cooled it. But I didn't have time to make another cream since I was planning on bringing these to a group meeting and the meeting was starting in 30 minutes! So I just slathered in into the tart shells I baked earlier and spread a thin layer of blood orange sauce that I found in the freezer on top before arranging the berries over the whole thing.

The blood orange sauce really saved the tarts. The sweet and slightly bitter orange flavor punched up the gloopy pastry cream and made a decadent tart. Still I think next time I would use a cashew cream or a vanilla pudding instead of the faux pastry cream.

One thing that finally struck me after making lots of tarts is that the water:butter:flour ratio for pie crusts is as such 1:2:6. So for example 3/4 cup flour: 1/4 cup butter: 2 T water. It's nice to be able to bake sans recipe.

Tart crust (fits about five 4" tart pans)
3/4 cup flour
1 t sugar
pinch salt
1/4 cup Earth Balance
2 T water

Mix flour, sugar and salt together. Cut in butter until pea sized balls form. I do this by hand since I'm missing a food processor. Sigh. Add in water and gather into a large ball. Wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 mins. After chilling divide dough into five parts and pat quickly into balls. In between two pieces of wax paper, roll out each ball until it is slightly bigger than your tart pans. It should be quite thin maybe 1/8". Gently peel off wax paper and drape dough into pans, pressing into the flutes. Cover with wax paper and fill with dry beans. Blind bake at 350 C for 15 minutes. I do this in the toaster oven since it's so bloody hot now.

Tart pastry cream filling is from Vegan Chef.
1/2 cup unbleached flour
2 cups soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice, divided
1/3 cup unbleached cane sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 t. grated lemon zest
1/2 t. vanilla

In a small bowl, place the flour and whisk in 1/2 cups soy milk, and set aside. In a small saucepan, place the remaining soy milk, sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and whisk well to combine. Cook the mixture over medium heat, while whisking constantly, for 5-6 minutes or until thickened. Add the remaining ingredients, whisk well to combine, and cook the mixture an additional 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a glass bowl. Place a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator for several hours to cool completely. Use as a filling for pies, tarts, pastries, or phyllo dough, or as a topping for desserts.

Yield: 2 Cups

Blood Orange Syrup (from Epicurious)
3 cups fresh blood orange juice or regular orange juice
9 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons grated blood orange peel or regular orange peel

Stir all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until syrup is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated up to 2 days. I put mine in the freezer and can pull it out to use directly. It doesn't need to defrost since it won't freeze solid or loose any flavor.

Spoon pastry cream into each tart shell and smooth.
Spoon a thin layer of blood orange syrup on top.
Top with fruit.

The tarts got a bit soggy after a while. I should have probably painted the insides of the tart shells with some jam to prevent that from happening.
The peach tart flower idea is originally from Tartlette who mentions that this can be done with thinly sliced fruit. Yeah right, I thought, probably only by a professional pastry chef. But I was so wrong! The flower was delightfully easy to make and even more fun to eat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Avocado Pie

It's bad when I visit Trader Joe's. I inevitably spend too much money and buy too much food that I can't use up quickly enough. Case in point: avocados. Four to a bag for a dollar each is so cheap, how can I pass up the deal. Only when I forget to use them for a week do I start to regret purchasing such beautiful fruits just to let them go to waste. Fortunately for me, Vegan Explosion posted about an avocado pie. Perfect! I could use these ripe avocados for baking. What more could I ask for?

The recipe was pretty simple but I made some changes. The pie was rich and tasty although I wanted it to be a little more tart and a little more sweet so I'm guessing that means more sugar and more lime. Maybe adding some zest would be good. The 1 T of agar agar powder seems like a bit much to me so I would probably reduce it to 1 or 2 t to have a creamier pie. That said, my pie was probably not so creamy because I replaced the soy cream cheese with silken tofu.
I also did not have soy milk powder so I used 1 cup soymilk and 1/3 cup sugar, simmered it on medium heat until it was reduced to 1/3 cup. But it was still delicious.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Raspberry Lime Tarts and Snowballs

Trader Joe's had stacks of 2 pint boxes of organic raspberries. They were strategically placed at the register so that they gave off a sweet fruity perfume that made your tummy rumble. This coupled with the dozen or so limes that are sitting in the fridge left over from our last theme party makes raspberry lime tarts. Most of this recipe came from Eat Air who apparently got the key lime filling from PETA. I just made it in mini tart form and stuck raspberries on top.

We were on a mini weekend trip to Rehobeth when we passed by a cafe that served Belgium waffles. There's no way we could pass up waffles so in we went. Rehobeth is teeming with international teenagers working minimum wage jobs for the summer. In this particular cafe, it was a Bulgarian girl and a guy named Marcello, who could be from France. They were very cute and friendly but neither knew an iota about making good waffles. Our waffles turned out undercooked, soft on the outside and gummy on the inside. But I didn't know this when I looked in the pastry display case and saw something labeled "Summer Snowball" which looked like this:

This thing was huge and it looked so deliciously light and coconutty. It was about half the size of my head.
Unfortunately, like the Belgian waffles, it was a good idea executed poorly. This summer snowball was nothing more than a custard puff wrapped in an inch thick layer of what tasted like canned icing. So sugary that I had to scrape of most of the icing before I found it slighly edible. Although this particular snowball was a dunce, it gave me ideas on a tastier homemade version, perhaps with coconut whipped cream, choux pastry and coconut custard.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Raw Cheezecake

I tried my hand at some raw desserts - a raw cheezecake and a raw strawberry peach mint cobbler. They were both very good! The cheezecake recipe can be found here
Raw Fruit Cobbler (for 2)

1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts or a combination)
3 prunes
a peach
a handful of mint

Cut up the strawberries and peaches. Take a third of the cut up fruit and blend it until it is liquid. Pour this over the rest of the fruit and mix in the mint. Set aside in the fridge.

Put the pecans in a blender and chop until it resembles coarse sand. Blend in one prune at a time until the mixture starts to come together.

Spoon the fruit mix into small custard bowls and sprinkle the crumble on top.