Dumpling Works Episode 1: The Right Grind

From these hands: dumplings

From these hands: dumplings

As some of you may or may not know, since moving back to the Bay Area, I’ve been talking to my good friend Matt about starting up a dumpling company.  Now, as of yet, our plans a still in the, well planning stages, but one thing we have made forward progress on is our recipe.  Flavor-wise, we’re pretty close.  We’re focusing on a pretty basic pork dumpling – pork, cabbage, garlic chives, ginger, garlic, soy and sugar. The thing that we’re doing differently than other times we’ve made dumplings, is grinding our own meat. So we’ve been experimenting with the different sizes of the grind trying to figure out what grind will give us the meaty and firm texture we want in a dumpling. Given Matt’s book learning, he’s taken to salting the pork before we grind it which not only adds flavor, but changes the texture of the meat. I think it dries it out and firms it up a little bit.  In our first or second trial, we thought we’d figured it out: going with a large grind in order to maximize the chunky meat bits in the dumpling.  However we found that while the individual chunks of meat were satisfying, the filling as a whole just wasn’t holding together very well after cooking (boiling).  Perhaps too much cabbage?  Perhaps the cabbage was not dry enough?  Not enough mixing? Too much mixing? Did we need to add cornstarch?  In taking a scientific approach we realized that there were so many variables. How could this be? It’s not rocket brain science surgery!  I remembered that in my (vast) dumpling making experience, I would get my ground pork from a butcher in Chinatown and it was rather small grind, but the filling held together quite well even when I added a whole host of other ingredients and hand mixed it like crazy.  So,  keeping all the other ingredients proportionally consistent we decided to change course and try the small grind to see if that would impact the way the filling would hold together.  This is what we discovered…

 

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Nicaragua = surfing (tried to) + eating (nailed it)

Thanks to Rubes for immortalizing the moment.  Now I can quit pretending I know how to surf.

I got up on one! Thanks to Rubes and his water treading skills for immortalizing the moment. Now I just need to figure out how to make the wave look more giant.

A mere week and a half ago – plus a few days and add a few more days depending on when I actually post this and when and if you read this – I found myself in Nicaragua along with nine other fellows to help our buddy, Chris A (aka White Chocolate),  celebrate the big 4-0 in style… Nica style.  And by Nica style, I mean we spent a week in Miramar, Nicaragua at an awesome surf camp run by the great folks of Surf Tours Nicaragua.  It was kind of funny because with the exception of three of us, none among us would remotely consider ourselves “surfers” – unless you count the internet.  But, we were game to try and over the course of several days with expert instruction provided by Greg, Carter and Hector everyone pretty much succeeded in getting on at least one solid wave and having a boat load of fun – while avoiding serious injury. Also, we were  pretty much in bed by 10 pm each night. Yup, this is 40.

Fortunately, when we weren’t flailing – I mean shredding the sick swell – we were lying in hammocks on the covered deck overlooking the beach, watching the waves and discussing the beach break as if we knew what we were talking about. Okay maybe that was just me.  All in all, it was an awesome time – totally relaxing and punctuated by good food and many Toñas.  The staff at the camp  cooked consistently solid and tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinners (upon which the overwhelming fan favorite, Salsa Lizano, was liberally applied).  But there were  a few meals in particular that blew my flip flops off.

One evening we made the five minute walk to a neighboring woman’s house where she had set up a several tables under a roof in her front yard to accommodate the 16 or so of us hungry for dinner. She cooked nearby in her outdoor kitchen and with just two cooking fires, she prepared a feast of lobsters, rice and tostones (green plantains).  It was la bomba! Check the photographic evidence below.

The next day, the surf wasn’t so good (as if that really mattered to us amateurs) so the whole surf camp took a field trip to 1) Volcan Masaya – an active volvanoe 2) the town of Masaya, home to an artisan marketplace (aka souvenirs) 3) an amazing lunch at Bakus restaurant located above Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in extinct old volcano crater – not that the location mattered because we were all entertained by the copious amounts of meat and a DVD of  this year’s Billboard Music awards (Nikki Minaj giving a faux lap dance to Lil’ Wayne should be required lunchtime viewing) 4) swimming, chilling and participating in a hold our breath underwater contest in the fresh pristine waters of the lake.  Then we drove back that evening (eight of us in the back of the surf truck driven Carter -aka Carlitos the Heartbreaker) through the most torrential thunder and lightening storm just to make things more exciting. Que buen dia!

The next day, a few of us woke up early and took the boat to try our hands at spear fishing.  Okay, I’m going to chalk this one up to the poor visibility caused by river run off from the rain storms because basically we didn’t see shit.  Well, except for PK whose spear “misfired” when he had his target in sight (so much subtext there) and our guide and surf camp head honcho Greg who did see a trigger fish well enough to shoot through the eye!  The rest of us had no luck so we trolled a bit and ended up catching three pretty good sized fish, two of which were Spanish mackerel.

Later that evening, Greg made fresh sashimi with the mackerel.  Oh. My. God. So fresh, buttery, and melt in your mouth delicious. Que ricissimo!

All and all, it was a great trip hanging with the fellas.  And of course we all had our wives to thank for being the type of wonderfully supportive partners who held it down on the home front so we could surf (kind of), eat ridiculously well (or not – do cheeze puffs and skittles have any nutritional value, Chris A?) and chill in such a beautiful part of the world.

Sunset view from the deck: pretty ideal.

Sunset view from the deck: pretty ideal.

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Pupusas at Los Cocos

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusa.  Just say it. “Pupusa”.   I don’t know if onomatopoeia would quite qualify in this instance, but doesn’t the word “pupusa” just sound like something bursting with savory goodness?  Indeed these Salvadorean treats rank up there with some of my favorite foods for a number of reasons.  Basically they’re fat tortillas (corn usually) stuffed with any number of ingredients (beans, cheese, pork or chicken, a even flowers -loroco) and fried on a griddle so the outside becomes nicely browned and crisp while the inside corn meal and fillings remain soft and moist, like a tamale.  The best part is when a bit of the cheesy insides ooze out onto the hot the griddle and add another layer of delicious crispy crust to the pupusa. They’re then served with a tomato-y hot sauce and a nice vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw, the acid of the sauce and salad perfectly complementing the rich savoriness of the pupusas.  They are supremely satisfying both to the palate and the stomach.  They will fill you up.

My first taste of pupusas was not in El Salvador but in Guatemala, when I was a young lad many many years ago doing the young lad backpacker thing down in Central America.  I was studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango  and one day I was searching for a late afternoon snack in the parque central .  I sampled a pupusa (not even that fresh of the griddle) from one of the food venders who’d set up shop. Mind blown.  And then when I crossed over into El Salvador and encountered more and different varieties of pupusas, what was left of my mind was blown further.  Living in SF – still as a young lad – I was ecstatic to find that I could find fresh and delicious pupusas at such favorites as Panchitas and El Zocolo.

But eight years living in NYC, meant a long hiatus from great pupusas.  Sure, I could occasionally get some good ones at the Red Hook Ball fields (at least before they became over run by hipster foodies), but there were few Salvadorean restaurants that I was aware of where I could indulge to my heart’s content.  Then a few months ago, we moved back to the Bay Area and I’ve been reunited with delectible pupusas once again.   We live in Oakland, just a stone’s throw away (or a nice bike ride) from Los Cocos, one of the sole Salvadorean restaurant in the Fruitvale district, a neighborhood where Mexican taquerias predominate (not a bad thing, just stating a fact).  I first ate at Los Cocos years ago with my friend Matt and when we feasted on pupusas and incredibly flavorful caldo de pollo (chicken soup). So, it was a real joy to bring Shef and K to this spot a couple months ago when we were newly arrived to Oakland. It was just as I had remembered it – decorated with Salvadorean tchotchkes, the air inside hazy with cooking grease.  In other words, perfect. K got her first taste of pupusas and it’s fair to say, she loved them.

Eating at Los Cocos (with Matt again) a few weeks later, I asked Rosa the cook and owner of the restaurant if I could make a short vid of her cooking pupusas process.  She said, “sure!” So, this is the result.  Please enjoy and go find pupusas near to you because this vid will make you hungry.

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C’s Chile Verde

Pork and green chili stew = happy

Hey Everybody! Long time no blog. Yeah, life has a way of taking over when one isn’t blogging. And also, one is kind of lazy. But one – okay me, well I’m back and I’ve brought with me an actual cooking video. As we find ourselves firmly entrenched in fall with winter on the horizon, I give to you the gift of chile verde. It’s a spicy and savory pork and chili stew – I prefer the Spanish spelling when naming the dish, the Anglo spelling when talking about actual chilis. It’s the perfect meal to keep you warm and satisfied on the inside and happy to be alive. Yeah, it’s pretty powerful stuff. Also, it’s bien rico (rather, extremely delicious).

I first encountered chile verde as a wee lad growing up in San Jose, CA when my parents took my sister and I to our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Burro.  Now having experienced a lot of good (and terrible – in NYC for sure) Mexican food, I’m not sure El Burro would necessarily hold up as a great Mexican restaurant. But there’s something about that dimly lit cavern of a restaurant – with it’s big leather bucket seats,  the pictures of bull fighters and rustic country scenes on the walls and the tortillas chips served with the most watery and bland (in retrospect) salsa – that holds a special place in my heart.  I remember my dad would always order the chile verde which consisted of tender cubes of pork served in a sea of really hot (temperature-wise) mildly spicy green sauce.  In between mouthfuls of chorizo enchilada (my go to dish at the time) I remember tasting the stewed pork and thinking, “not bad, not bad at all!”  Since those formative years, chile verde has become one of my go to dishes both when I order it, say stuffed inside a chimichanga or as a stand alone stew that I love to cook myself.  So, what follows is my version of chile verde,  a recipe that I’ve kind of developed over the last few years through trial and error and tasting of other versions of chile verde. For example, I used to not use tomatillos but after eating chile verde with tomatillos,  I now find them to be a a vital ingredient imparting the necessary acid or tartness that counter balances the spiciness of the chili and the richness of the pork.  So without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients: (as usual amounts are approximate)
1 head of garlic
2 mid sized onions
5-6 poblano chilis
1 1/2 lbs of tomatillos (can use tomatillo salsa)
1 1/2 pounds of potatoes
3-4 carrots
4 lbs of pork shoulder meat
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Oregano to taste
2-3 tablespoons of vinegar (for marinating the pork)

This is how I do it:

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C’s Carnitas!

A carnitas taco with homemade tomatillo salsa. Bien rico!

Roast pork of any sort is the bee’s knees. And by bee’s knees, I mean one of the greatest developments in the history of food – if you dig on the pig. So the Mexican style roast pork known as carnitas – literally “little meats” in Spanish – with it’s tender and crunchy bits is like the bee’s knees on steroids. Because good burritos and tacos were always readily available back in California, I never really had any need to make carnitas myself. But then I moved to NYC where the Mexican food was sorely lacking. Things have changed in the last few years.  There are better Mexican options and of course the Puerto Rican style pernil so prevalent in many of the Spanish American joints in NYCwill do in a pinch.  But I’ve found that when I have the craving for the moist, yet crispy morsels of savory pork, the best solution is to do it myself.  It’s so easy.  All it takes is a bit of time.  So without further ado, I present to you my version of carnitas. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
3-4 lbs of pork shoulder meat (cut into 1-2 inch cubes)
1-2 tbsp of white vinegar
1-2 tsp of salt
1-2 tsp of cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp of paprika
1-2 tbsp of dried oregano

This is how I do it:

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