January is almost over, and the Cook the Books challenge has been so fun so far! We’ve got people in different states participating! We’ve got people who looked all over for citrus zesters and 2/3 inch pastry tips! I learned more about French music than I probably needed to. This was my favorite choice from my French dinner party mixtape.
Double S sported out an outfit that probably broke the record books for the most stripes worn in a single outfit, because French people wear stripes we think! Meg introduced me to French 75s and now I wanna drink a lot of those.
I whisked so much I think I have le carpal tunnel syndrome. I remembered that the French drop their h’s when saying words like “hamburger” and I lol-ed. I laughed, I cried, Around My French Table was better than Cats. What can I say?
In January, Dorie Greenspan took us on a tour of French cuisine, updating it, modernizing it, demystifying it, and personalizing it for us along the way. French food and technique form the basis of much of modern fine dining. Dorie showed us some of those techniques, and definitely made me a better cook along the way. And the month isn’t over! Stay tuned for my final review of the book on January 29th, and Meg’s round-up of the all the bloggers who participated in the challenge, which should be up on the 30th. And hey, maybe I’ll even wring one more recipe or two out of this book before I put it on the shelf for awhile! Maybe crepes!? Why the heck not! But for now, onward and upward!
This month we’re going to take a journey (I’m making it sound exciting, aren’t I?) through years of traditions and technique, and through quite a few countries. For February, the Cook the Books Challenge book of the month is Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas and More, by Andrea Nguyen.
First things first, Andrea knows her some dumplings. She’s a cookbook author, food writer, teacher, SAVEUR contributing editor, and active blogger at Viet World Kitchen. Besides Asian Dumplings, she’s also the author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors, which was published in 2006, and Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home, which she published in 2012. Check out her blog! You can click on the Asian Dumplings link at the top and be taken here, where you’ll find even more dumpling recipes, her list of dumpling classes (if you live in the Santa Cruz or San Francisco area, you’re in luck! She has some upcoming classes!), and helpful dumpling related videos. Like this! Take it away, Andrea!
I like her little dance at the beginning AND her Simpsons reference!
Dumplings are hot right now. There’s no denying it. Odds are there’s a dumpling food truck in your town you’ve been meaning to check out, or a column in your city’s food blog hyping dumplings, or a pesky friend at work who really wants you to eat dumplings. The New York Times is talking about them. Esquire is calling them a food trend. Blokes in the U.K. are jabbering about dumplings, alright guv’nor? And there are dumpling food trucks popping up too. In New York City, you might find several Rickshaw dumpling food trucks out and about. In Durham, North Carolina, of all places, you’ll find the very popular Chirba Chirba dumpling truck. Portland, of course, has the Dump Truck. Seattle doesn’t have a dumpling specific truck, but hey, we do have one of the only three US locations of Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, which is a foodie destination for Xiao Long Bao, holder of a few Michelin stars, and was once named one of the best restaurants in the world by the New York Times. But hey, no big whoop.
So I chose Asian Dumplings for February because I love going out for dumplings. But I have never made a dumpling. I watched my parents make egg rolls in my youth. I grew up eating German potato dumplings for Thanksgiving and I participated, but still. I wanna learn how to make spring rolls! I wanna learn how to make samosas! I really want to learn how to make xiao long bao, aka soup dumplings! I wanna learn how to make Korean mandu! I wanna learn how to make pot stickers! Do you? Join us! You will? Sweet!
Ok, so the book itself. It’s pretty great, you guys. The introduction is 19 pages of essential information. I’d highly recommend reading it as soon as you get the book. It’ll make you excited and less concerned that you don’t know how to make dumplings. In it, Andrea tells us a little about her background. She first started folding wontons when she was a little girl. Cute! She later spent a year in Hong Kong and really began to experiment with dumpling eating and dumpling making. There were no cookbooks or blogs (duh! It was the 90s! All we had were books!) dedicated to dumpling making, so, luckily, Andrea polished her recipes and wrote this book in 2009. I like how Andrea demystifies dumplings right off the bat. She tells us in the introduction that your dumplings don’t have to be folded a certain way and don’t have to look pretty. So throw away your worries about how the heck you’re gonna fold a perfect dumpling!
Andrea also tells us about which regions recipes in this book will come from,which is East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, and she mentions the great influence of Chinese cooking techniques and traditions on all of these dumplings. Although we’re talking about a huge chunk of land here, Andrea stresses that dumplings are simple. Here’s her definition: “For the purposes of this book, Asian dumplings include savory and sweet dishes that are made from balls of dough, or are small parcels of food encased in pastry, dough, batter, or leaves.” In other words, there are endless possibilities here! Don’t be overwhelmed! Try what excites you! Here are some of the types of dumplings Andrea will be teaching us to make:
So I think the most overwhelming thing staring us in the face for this month is the actual making of the dumpling wrappers. Well, my fears were assuaged as soon as I got further into Andrea’s introduction. She talks about how the wrappers are of course much more delicious if made at home than if bought at the store, and she also promises us that they are easier to prepare and to work with than you might think. And this leads me to tell you about the most helpful part of her introduction, the “Essential and Handy Equipment” section. Don’t skip over this one, folks. She mentions some tools that will make things easier, so I went out and got them.
Yep, a wooden dowel rolling pin, a steamer, and a tortilla press. Although Andrea promises that the skinny, lightweight rolling pin will make producing nice delicate wrappers much easier, I was afraid of my own laziness when it comes to dough, so I got a cast iron tortilla press as well. This one, to be exact. Hey, yeah, you’re cooler than me and maybe you won’t need one. But dough and pasta rollers and all of that scare me and often make me give up and just go flop on the couch and watch my stories. So I nipped that potential in the bud, yos! Andrea tells us more about working with a tortilla press here. Cheat away!
Then there’s the ingredients. Like Dorie rightfully told us in Around My French Table, most of the ingredients for the simpler items here can be found at any grocery store. She points out and describes, in case you need it, the ingredients that might take more time to find, like banana leaves, dried shrimp, dried mushrooms, fish sauce, and various flours and starches. In the dough, the flour is a key variable. Andrea uses regular old AP flour, bread flour, rice flour, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca starch/tapioca flour, and wheat starch. She provides photos of the types of flours and recommended brand names, which is helpful when you’re browsing a huge Asian grocery store.
If you’ve been out for dumplings, and dear lord I hope you have, you know that the dipping sauce can really make the dumpling, and that each dumpling has its own set of traditional or expected sauces used as an accompaniment. Don’t worry, Andrea has a whole section on sauces and chutneys.
Ok, so here are the details if you want to join us in dumpling making in February. First, get the book and make some dumplings! Fun! Then, write about what you did, and send us a link to your post: firstname.lastname@example.org. For this month, please send us your link by February 22nd. Meg and I will then ooh and ahh and marvel at what you all made! Then, on February 26th, Meg will post her review. On February 27th, I will post my review and a roundup of all the posts of all the participants. Non-bloggers, please post what you did on my February 27th roundup. For more info, click here! Fun will be had by all!