Japanese Gyoza – I Just Can’t Get Enough

Pork Gyoza
Pork Gyoza with Cucumber and Carrot Salad

My friend Brian and I dine out together frequently. Whenever we go out for sushi, I try to order gyoza, half-moon shaped dumplings filled with pork, shrimp and cabbage. Without fail, Brian mocks me (he’s a little heavy-handed with the sarcasm, but so am I), saying that I should leave all of the room available in my stomach for the good stuff  – fresh raw fish. He’s got a point. Seafood is the star of those meals. But I consider gyoza to be good stuff too, if they’re made from scratch. Sometimes Brian wins this war, and I forgo the gyoza. Now that I know how to make them at home, I may never order them at the sushi bar again.

Gyoza are cousins to Italian ravioli and Chinese pot stickers, and I like them all. Tasty meat and veg stuffed into a glutenous pouch? I’m all in. I made pork gyoza to accompany Chicken Udon Soup last week. The whole process was really fun, and the gyoza were savory and chewy.

I loosely followed this gyoza recipe on Rasa Malaysia.  First, you mix up a filling.  I omitted the shrimp in the original recipe, adding an equal amount of extra ground pork to save a little cash. I also used regular chives in place of Chinese chives. Then you scoop a small amount of the filling into the center of a gyoza wrapper, which are easily found in Asian grocery stores. Speed up the process by setting up an assembly line. Lay out several wrappers in a row, plop filling into all of them, brush the edges of the dough with water, and seal.

Pork Dumplings
Porky Gyoza Assembly Line

Forming the wrapper into little purses was my favorite part of the recipe. There was something very Zen about giving up the idea that each gyoza had to look exactly the same, that each pleat had to be perfectly spaced. Catharsis by Japanese dumpling. What an awesome side effect!

After all of the purses are crimped shut, they cook for a few minutes in a neutral-tasting oil. Rasa Malaysia recommended using a nonstick pan, since the wrappers are slightly sticky. They look like little lightning bolts.

Pork Gyoza Clock
Gyoza Around the Clock

When the bottoms have browned, add a little water to the pan and cover to steam the dumplings. Oops – I don’t have a lid for that size pan, but a smaller lid did the job. The sound of the water repeatedly  bubbling up and hitting the lid sounded like a bad porno.

Steaming Gyoza
Hot, Steamy Gyoza

Because the water won’t evaporate if it’s covered, I poured almost all of it off after 7 minutes, leaving just a tablespoon or so in the pan. Cook the gyoza a bit longer to recrisp the bottom. Dunk into a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chili paste. Eat as many as you can without spoiling your appetite for sushi, or just treat them as the main event and go nuts.


Lemony Fettuccine Alfredo with Pulled Chicken and Broccoli

Lemony Fettuccine Alfredo with Pulled Chicken and Broccoli
Lemony Fettuccine Alfredo with Pulled Chicken and Broccoli

I have a love/hate relationship with the meal I just ate. I loved eating it, but I’ll hate the amount of exercise it’s going to take to burn it off. Fettuccine alfredo is no joke. Consider its genetic make up: butter, heavy cream, a ton of Parmesan cheese, and pasta. It’s just not funny. It’s hyper-indulgent, but I’m all for eating in moderation (remember, I don’t eat the entire cake at work), especially if the fridge and pantry odds and ends add up to Fettuccine Alfredo.

Items in the refrigerator included all of the aforementioned heart-stoppers. Additionally, I had half of a huge roasted chicken breast left over from another meal, half of a lemon, a fresh, crisp head of broccoli and a whole bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley. With that kind of line up, it felt like the odds and ends weren’t suggesting that I make a creamy, fat-laden, carbo-loaded dinner. It seemed like they were commanding it. If nothing else, I respect the odds and ends and all of their opportunities, so I went for it. I made fettuccine alfredo, thinned the sauce with fresh lemon juice, steamed some broccoli florets, and tossed in pulled chicken.  It was soooooooo damn good. It was ready in less than 30 minutes, and if I had the magical powers to make pasta water boil instantly, it would have only taken about half of that.

So, the lesson of the day, Walloping Teaspooners, is that odds and ends can be a bitch on your waistline if you eat like this every night, but it’s not going to hurt too much to partake in the good stuff every once in a while, especially if it means that you’re using up ingredients that you have on hand. Worried about getting to much of the good stuff? Are you swiftly outgrowing your drawstring pants? Stop keeping heavy cream in the house!

Lemon Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes

Lemon Ricotta Pie
Lemon Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes

While browsing through the newspaper yesterday, I was taunted by a gigantic piece of French Silk Pie in a Baker’s Square advert, and I’ve been obsessing about pie ever since. Cherry, banana cream, and Dutch apple, running rampant through my thoughts. Brainwashed by creamy chocolate custard and perfectly piped whipped cream. Thankfully, I work in a test kitchen, so my pie fixation didn’t hinder today’s productivity. I celebrated National Pie Day by making Lemon Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes, and by eating it for dinner.

Before today, I’d never had ricotta pie, but I’m a cheesecake lover and knew that a tangy ricotta custard would have a similar flavor. More importantly, there was an unopened container of ricotta languishing in the fridge, left over from lasagna experiments a couple of weeks ago. Remember my love of odds and ends? I practice that love at work, too. Even though I really wanted chocolate cream pie today, I  took care of that lingering ricotta cheese instead, and ended up with a darn tasty new pie recipe to add to my arsenal.

Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes
Slice of Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes

The texture of this pie is slightly granular from the ricotta. I’m thinking that pulsing the cheese in a food processor instead of creaming it with a mixer would produce a smoother, more refined custard, but I actually didn’t mind the roughed up texture. It really differentiated this pie from a typical cheesecake. Bitter lemon zest was offset by a traditional, sweet graham cracker crust. Pretty red grapes tossed with a bit of brown sugar and lemon juice made a great accompaniment. After all, cheese and grapes are a classic combo. Wine and brie, anyone?

Happy Pie Day 2012, y’all.

Lemon Ricotta Pie with Red Grapes

Serves 8.

1-1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
3 eggs
1 lemon, zested and 2 tablespoons juice reserved
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Stir together the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, and melted butter. Press firmly into the bottom and sides of a 9 in. pie plate. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until the crust is fragrant and lightly browned. Cool shell slightly.

Lower oven temperature to 300°.  With an electric mixer, cream ricotta and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add lemon zest, vanilla extract, cornstarch, and salt and mix until well incorporated. Pour into crust. Bake 37-40 minutes, or until the center of pie jiggles only slightly.  Cool at least one hour.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice and brown sugar until the sugar dissolves. Toss with grape halves. Spoon over the top of the pie. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Udon Soup

Chicken Udon Soup
Chicken Udon Soup

I’ve learned something important about cooking for people who cook for a living. They’ll happily eat almost anything, as long as they don’t have to participate in the preparation of the food. Almost ANYTHING. Peanut butter and jelly on rye bread, with caraway seeds. Flattened bags of Funyuns dust. Plain carrots that have been boiled to mush.    If someone else is cooking it, the professional chef in your life is eating it without complaint, even if the food is under salted or slightly overcooked . On the converse, if you put a little effort into making a decent dinner for the pro-cook, you’ll be lavished with praise and appreciation, and possibly even offers to scrub the dishes post-feast.*

I cook for Jon, the chef in my life, more often than he cooks for me. I’ll never say that the meals I make are better than his, and he’s much better about keeping the kitchen tidy while cooking is in progress. You might refer to me as Hurricane Beth when I make dinner, because the apartment is getting wrecked. Regardless, he is always appreciative of a home-cooked meal, and even though I always ask for his honest opinion, he rarely critiques my food. I’ve recently gotten over his compulsion to dump a pint of hot sauce all over everything, many times before even tasting a dish. I used to assume meant that the food-du-jour was flavorless and unsatisfying. Now I know that Jon just enjoys sweating at the dinner table and the colonic effects of super spicy foods. We all have our pleasures in life…but I’ll start to worry if I see him stirring Sriracha into cereal milk.

Last night I made a Japanese-inspired dinner, complete with cucumber sesame salad and pork gyoza, which were super tasty. Jon ate several spoonfuls of Chicken Udon Soup before adding in chili paste, which for me was akin to winning Bronze in the Olympics. (The day he doesn’t add any hot sauce at all will be Gold.) This clean, delicate soup is the kind of food that fortifies your soul on a cold day. Shiitake mushrooms, pulled chicken meat, star anise and ginger…the whole is so much greater than any of its parts. I snagged the recipe directly from this month’s Cooking Light Magazine, but you can get it right here. And you really should get it. Slurp up this soup as soon as you can.

*This is in no way guaranteed, but if you do receive an offer that involves dishwashing, respond with an unrepentant and enthusiastic “YES!” Failing to do so may decrease, or completely eliminate the likelihood of this offer in the future, in which case you have no one to blame but yourself, fool.

Handy Endive and Orange Salads

It’s absolutely pronounced “on-deev.” It’s also absolutely one of the fastest ways to add something refreshing and light to a table full of party-friendly finger foods. See that dirty plate? It’s messy because a lot of these suckers had been gobbled up before they got their photo opp.

Endive Salad
Handy Endive and Orange Salads

It only takes a few minutes to make a plateful of these appetizers. They’re creamy, crunchy, and fresh all at once. No exact measurements here – it would be a waste of time to scale out the ingredients in these handheld salads. Just eyeball it, taste the first one you make, and adjust from there.

Handy Endive and Orange Salads

Toast some walnuts and let them cool down. If you’re using walnut halves, give them a rough chop so that they’re less enormous.  Cut the rind and pith off of a few oranges.  Supreme the oranges, if you’re feeling fancy,  and cut each segment into bite-sized pieces. Wash up a couple bulbs of endive and carefully tear off the outer leaves. If you’re rough with it, the leaves might crack in the center instead of separating at the root, so wear your kid gloves, okay? Arrange the leaves on a platter. Fill each leaf with a few bits of juicy orange, a sprinkling of crunchy nuts, a few small plops of goat cheese, a sprinkling of fresh minced chives, and a bit of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil to finish them off.

Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas

I worked a damn long day today, and by the time I got home, I needed a new word for hunger. It had been at least six hours since I’d eaten any cake at work, and for me, six hours without food is a long time.  And I kind of turn into an unreasonable bitch when I’m hungry. I needed dinner, and I needed it fast.

Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas
Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas

Here I am, one measly hour later, and I’ve already cooked the meal, taken some shitty photos of it, eaten it, and started this write-up, and it’s all thanks to  odds and ends. Everyone has odds and ends, even if your grocery list isn’t a list at all because you order take out 7 nights a week. Odds and ends are the things that you currently have on hand: last night’s leftovers, veggies on their last edible day, the salsa that you didn’t eat with your tacos at lunch. You get the idea. It’s making something out of  what you have on hand instead of planning a meal, trekking to the grocery store, spending extra cash, cooking, and FINALLY getting to eat. Sometimes you just need nearly instant gratification.

So here are some of my odds and ends.

Odds and Ends
Cilantro, Shallot and Garlic, Salsa, Sour Cream, Cooked Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, Spinach, Extra Sharp Cheddar

The chicken was left over from a dinner I had last week, and there’s nothing better than having cooked protein on hand. The cheese scraps are from the deli, but haven’t made it onto a sandwich yet. There was a few tablespoons left at the bottom of a jar. Not pictured: flour tortillas left over from my New Year’s Eve gala. And yes, there was food that was both tortilla-appropriate and gala-appropriate. If you’d like to be invited next year, start being nice to me now.

A little chopping, a bit of heat underneath a saute pan, and Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas were plated and ready to go.  Inner mean-girl sated, and no one got hurt in the interim. Could these have benefited from the crunch of a red pepper? Sure, but I’m fresh out of red peppers. Would black beans have made a nice, fibrous side dish? Yes, but I only have garbanzos, and I’m basically never walking to the grocery store just for beans.  Besides, this isn’t about planning or having the perfect meal. It’s about loving those odds and ends!

Learn to use them up, and you’ll  love them, too. They can make dinner time on a hectic day a breeze, and they can help you save your hard-earned coin, too. Do you have tricks for using up the little bits of things in the refrigerator and pantry?

The Girl and The Goat Sauteed Cauliflower

Sauteed Cauliflower with Pickled Peppers, Pine Nutes, Parmesan, and Fresh Mint
Sautéed Cauliflower inspired by The Girl and The Goat

It may not look like much, but this is the best vegetable I ate in 2011, or rather a damn fine recreation of the best vegetable I ate last year.  A few weeks ago I had an amazing dinner at The Girl and The Goat, run by Top Chef’s Stephanie Izard. The menu was fantastic, filled with oddities like Crispy Duck Tongues and Sweet and Sour Cod Cheeks (we ate both of those delicious things, and a lot more). A friend who had dined there before recommended that we order the cauliflower, saying it was one of the best dishes she had eaten at The Goat. It took some convincing, but the cauliflower made it onto our roster of food, and at the end of the night, after we’d eaten 11 or 12 plates of amazingness, the cauliflower was my very favorite dish. It’s an unlikely combination of sauteed cauliflower, pickled banana peppers, pine nuts, Parmesan, and fresh mint. Talk about a  sleeper hit. The Girl and The Goat is taking vegetables to a new level.

I anxiously recreated the sautéed cauliflower after watching Chef Izard’s how-to video. It takes a little bit of  planning to make this side dish, but it is so worth it. Remember last week’s One-Word Wednesday? Those pickled peppers went into tonight’s cauliflower. I also mashed together a compound butter last night, full of roasted garlic and breadcrumbs. If you do those two things in advance and let them hang out in your fridge, the cauliflower dish comes together in a matter of minutes. And if we’re being honest, why wouldn’t you want pucker-inducing veggies and savory butter on hand at all times? Think  of all the other stuff you can put them on! It’s condiment nirvana! And those two items make a truly special side dish that you’ll want to eat again and again. Thanks to The Girl and The Goat for a new vegetable inspiration!

Sauteed Cauliflower inspired by The Girl and The Goat
Sautéed Cauliflower with Parmesan, Pickled Peppers, Pine Nuts, and Fresh Mint

Amazing Sautéed Cauliflower

Adapted from The Girl and The Goat

Makes about 4 servings, but I just ate all of this by myself, so you’ve been warned.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 head cauliflower, sliced into bite size pieces (If making an entire head, double all ingredients, but don’t crowd the saute pan or the cauliflower won’t have a chance to get nice and golden brown. It will steam instead.)
1 tablespoon roasted garlic and breadcrumb compound butter – see recipe below
1/4 cup pickled peppers, chopped and divided – see recipe below
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 walloping tablespoon torn fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and cook until shimmering. Add cauliflower and butter. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally (or tossing, like Stephanie does in the video) until cauliflower is just cooked, about 4-5 minutes. Add half of the peppers, cheese, mint, and pine nuts and stir to incorporate. Top with the rest of the peppers, cheese, mint and pine nuts and serve.

Easy Pickled Peppers

Makes about 1 quart of pickled peppers

3/4 pound peppers (I used a mix of Anaheim and banana peppers)
6 Cloves of Garlic, slightly crushed
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 1/2 Cups White Vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Slice peppers into rounds about 1/4 in. thick. Put into a quart-sized jar. Add garlic cloves.
In a saucepan, bring water, vinegar, sugar, salt and crushed red pepper flakes to a boil. Pour hot liquid over peppers in the jar. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 8 hours. Refrigerate for a week for the best flavor. The waiting is the hardest part! Peppers will keep for several weeks if refrigerated.

Roasted Garlic and Breadcrumb Compound Butter

1 stick (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 head garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the top off the head of garlic. Cover with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until garlic cloves are tender. Cool slightly.

In a small bowl, mash butter, garlic cloves, and breadcrumbs together until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.