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…



Manu’s Handmade Pasta

This is how you roll it...

This is how you roll it…

A couple months ago, Shef, K and I made the momentous move back from Brooklyn, NY to the Brooklyn of the Bay Area aka Oakland, CA.  At least that’s the comparison made by NYC- centric foks.  I’ll be honest.  There’s a fair smattering of hipsters and quite a healthy foodie scene here but I would say that’s a national trend and not just a Brooklyn thing.  Anyway,  a few weeks in, to help ease us into West Coast living, our good friends Matt (whom you might remember from such hits at sourdough baby, wood oven pizza and belated Chinese New Year) and Arlie invited some of their good friends (Manu, Simba, Cree and Dan) over to our place for some dinner.  But these weren’t just any friends and this wasn’t just some dinner.  The guest of honor (or rather chef of honor) was Manu who, being Italian, brought with her the requisite skills of making pasta – by hand.  See, in my limited world view, all Italians know how to make pasta, just like all Chinese people know how to fold dumplings. Thankfully in this case, my ridiculous cultural expectations proved correct because Manu brought with her some real knowledge and skills.  In fact, she instructed us in the production of TWO types of pasta: orecchiette and pici.

Both pastas are so simple to make and when cooked are exponentially better than dried pasta.  Now, I understand why the term al dente (to the teeth) has been used to describe the way pasta should be cooked. There’s something about the fresh, hand worked dough, the thicker noodle and shorter boiling time that results in pasta that has that balanced, dense, springy but totally cooked texture.  It has real substance. It  requires you to actually pause and chew so you can really appreciate the pasta, the sauce, the company around you and the witty conversation that erupts between bites. No wonder the slow food movement started in Italy.  Part of that slowness must surely have to do with  the preparation.  Making pasta by hand -especially by amateur hand –  is a rather labor intensive process so it was great to have friends over who could throw down like they were in the old country. The next night when I made the orecchiette and pici by myself with the leftover dough, it took a lot longer. But again, the end product was ridiculously good. Now, I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m tooting the horn of homemade pasta. Hallelujah!

Made all of these "little ears" with my own hands.

Made all of these “little ears” with my own hands.

Here’s Manu’s recipe for the orecchiette:
semolina flour
that’s it!

And here are the ingredients for the sauce she made for the orecchiette (quantities are dependent on how much pasta you’re cooking):
broccoli, kale (though if you can find it you should use rapini or broccoli rabe)
Italian sausage
olive oil

And this is how she does it:

Here’s Manu’s recipe for the pici:
2 parts white all purpose flour
1 part semolina
pinch of salt
that’s it!

And here’s Manu’s recipe for the sauce she made for the pici:
ripe tomatoes
1 green tomato for extra acidity
olive oil
bread crumbs fried in olive oil

And here’s how she does it.


Adam and Alicia’s Latke Fest!

Latkes: deep fried and delicious... and nutritious because there was a little bit of zucchini in them.

This past weekend was a weekend of good eating.  Chief among the the good eats were the latkes at Adam and Alicia’s apartment for Latke Fest 2011 (Hebrew calender 5772). The call came later then usual (we were all secretly worried that perhaps there would be no call at all) but when the call came, we answered.   According to Adam, this was the fifth annual latke get together.  Unfortunately, there was no duck fat frying as there was last year. Instead, Niels brought figs and parmesan wrapped in prosciutto – not the most kosher of appetizers –  but delicious nonetheless.  The latkes, as usual, were divine.  Fried to golden perfection and served with the requisite sour cream and apple sauce they were a crispy, savory and mildly sweet delight, I sense G-D him/herself was beaming down in approval.  Oh yeah and there was matzo ball soup and Katie made these ridiculous macaroons half dipped in chocolate that were like mounds candy bars for rich people (hmmm… candy for the 1%). I left that night with the cholesterol of an eighty year old man. Holiday food kicks ass!  Check out the vid for a sense of what I’m talking about.  Unfortunately you can’t smell the deep fried goodness, which on second thought is probably a good thing for your clothes.


Memorable Meals in India: Part 3a – Camel Trek Lunch

Tourists of the desert: Shefali and I show off the latest look from the Thar desert. Okay, maybe not so glamorous but we did avoid major sunburn.

As I mentioned in the last post, one of the more touristy and totally worth it things we did in Rajasthan was an overnight camel trek in the Thar desert outside if Jaisalmer.  It was basically like backpacking except with camels doing all the hard work of carrying all of our stuff and also doing all the walking. Oh don’t get me wrong.  We’re still hardcore.  I mean it was really hot – being the desert and all. We had to drink a lot of warm/hot plasticky water that had been  roasting in the sun, not to mention having to reapply sunblock like seven times. Also, riding camels is really hard on the groins.

Shefali and I with our camel trek guide/ cook extraordinaire: Amaan

Fortunately, we had an excellent guide named Amaan who prepared all of our meals and was generally, a very upstanding young man. And by young I mean he was only 20 or 21 and newly married at that. Please enjoy the following video of my our amazing camel trek lunch prepared by Amaan and eaten by us.



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!

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: