Cook the Books February! Dinner Party!

26 Feb

It’s the most wonderful time of the month!  Cook the Books dinner party time!  When Meg and I decided to do this whole Cook the Books thing, we said we would reward ourselves with twelve new cookbooks (natch!) and a fun dinner party every month.  And we are!  The dinner parties thus far have been a real highlight of the month!  Meg and I look cool cuz we look like we know what we’re doing by the end of spending a whole month with a cookbook.  Our awesome partners get to be rewarded for spending a whole month with us being all up in a cookbook’s business, listening to us refer to authors by their first names, and being made to fold dumplings till their fingers bleed!  Thanks Double S!  This month’s party didn’t disappoint!  Here’s what we did with Asian Dumplings.

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We had a new venue for February’s dinner party: Casa de la Briggsy and Double S!  And with dumplings, we had a new format for our party.  It mostly involved cooking and prepping and folding and stuffing and worrying and steaming and frying whilst we drank, joked, partied, listened to music, took entirely too many pictures, and caught up.  Partay!

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The menu:

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Meg and I met at our very important and incredibly business-like office to hash out the deets earlier this month.  We wanted to try a wide array of dishes.  At first we very vehemently said we weren’t gonna go overboard.  We did it anyway!  We chose dishes from almost every chapter of the book that we hadn’t made yet.  Sorry, Chapter 4 (Rich Pastries) and Chapter 7 (Legumes and Tubers), we didn’t feel like touching you!

  • Fried Wontons, page 69.  Topped with Sweet and Sour Sauce, page 217.  Me!

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  • Cantonese Char Siu Pork and Vegetable Spring Rolls, page 79.   Meg!

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  • Shanghai Soup Dumplings (XLBs!): page 59.  Me!

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  • Thai Tapioca Pearl Dumplings, page 149.  Meg!

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  • Beef and Orange Rice Rolls, page 157.  Topped with Sweet Soy Sauce, page 217.  Me!

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  • Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken in Banana Leaf, page 173.  Meg!

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  • Banana and Coconut Sticky Rice Packets, page 212.  Me!

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 The music? 

Why, Hall & Oates Pandora station, thank you very much.  This is the station that keeps on giving.  Yeah, I love yacht rock, 70s adult contemporary music, and top 40 hits from the 80s! This station has it all: Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, The Eagles,  Don Henley, Elton John, the brothers Doob, Crowded House, Bruce Hornsby (and the Range!), and more!

Plus little gems like this, which I’ve been known to sing to Double S:

And this.  I love this song.  It takes me right back to some awesome memories of childhood.   Fact: I love it so much it made my second mixtape to Double S.  That’s gotta mean something, right?

But what this party was all about, music-wise, was the Huey Lewis.  In fact, Double S scrawled the following on the back of an envelope, uttered by yours truly at the close of the night: “God, I love Huey Lewis.”  Guilty as charged!

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Oh, that’s just me, pretending to smoke a dumpling rolling pin. Sorry, Andrea!

You think you know Huey Lewis, huh?  You like “Power of Love.”  You like “Heart of Rock and Roll.”  Yeah, yeah, the heart of rock and roll, the heart of rock and roll is still beatin’ (thump thump) in Cleveland!  And let us mot forget that Mr. Lewis not only was on the soundtrack to Back to the Future, he also judged the Battle of the Bands competition.

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But, do you know “Heart and Soul”?  I love me some “Heart and Soul.”  Mainly for the line “Hot lovin’ every night.”  Who can resist?  Woah oh!  Woah oh oh oh!  And for the word repetition, which make me exponentially more likely to sing along.  You know what I mean.  Huey starts the action at two o’ clock this morning (mornin’)!  And then later, things get hot and hectic (hectic).  Enjoy!

Meg’s awesome partner Jen and I then sang a bit and did some air guitar.  We were the jokers who went to the Eagles concert and the dueling pianos bar way back when.  Then I believe I talked about keytars.  Not sure anyone was still listening.  Huey is the man, though.  Looking at his pictures, I think my childhood estimation of his coolness led to my current penchance for sleeveless shirts and Ray Bans in the summer.  Huey!

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The chatter?

OK, we didn’t JUST listen to and talk about Huey Lewis.  We also talked about dogs.  The weirdos and the politics at dog parks.  The nature of consent when it comes to dog humping at dog parks and how many times until it becomes problematic.  Answer: Three! Our code name for our pup Mozy when we want to talk about her when we don’t want her to know we are talking about her and getting her riled up.  Answer: Debbie Gibson!  You know, like, “what is Debbie Gibson doing?”  “Oh, she’s chewing on her Kong.”  Debbie!

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We then all processed how Meg was having a moment with Mozy.  Look at these two!  So in synch with one another!

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We proceeded to talk about the midwest and Seattle.  Jokes were made about partner swapping due to Meg and I loving the midwest whilst our loving partners prefer the coasts.  Soon Meg, soon…

The food?

The food was delicious!  It was a different kind of dinner party from the one we had celebrating our month with Dorie in January.  With the food for last month’s party, all we had to do was finish it at the party, by heating it up or giving it its final time in the oven.  Not at this party!  The party took place entirely in our dining room/kitchen because we were folding and pleating and stuffing and steaming throughout the party.  You kinda have to, and it’s pretty fun!

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The drinks were flowing as we ate six courses.  I think I drunkenly called it a progressive dinner party minus actually going to other people’s houses for each course.  Then I realized that was the point of a progressive dinner party and trailed off.

Anyway, Meg will tell you about what she made over at Grow and Resist, but needless to say, her courses were awesome.  I’ll break down what I made here.  When I was planning what I wanted to make, I picked things that I hadn’t yet made that month and that intrigued me.  Here goes!

The wontons! 

I thought it would be fun to have a bit of an appetizer course, so of course I decided on wontons.  I used Andrea’s recipe for the skins, which turned out great.  The recipe wasn’t too difficult to put together either, even though I had to use the dreaded pasta maker.

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Meg and I did a little experiment.  I made these wontons using Andrea’s recipe, and Meg made her spring rolls using store-bought skins.  Both were good and worked perfectly as an appetizer course, but we all preferred the homemade skins.  The texture was better and they fried up nicer.  Here, you can see the difference.  Both were awesome with Andrea’s sweet and sour sauce.

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Oh and because I am from the midwest, Chinese food to me growing up always started with crab rangoon. Meg and I bonded over that.  She’d seen her fair share of crab rangoon during her time in Iowa City. Meanwhile Double S and Jen looked at us with hesitation.  But everyone liked these!  The rangoon filling worked great with these wontons.  For my filling I used cream cheese, scallions, ginger, sour cream, Dungeness crab, scallions, and soy sauce.  I basically adapted this recipe.  

I liked this recipe. Andrea’s fillings looked good too, I just kinda had to make crab rangoon.  Recommended!

The Shanghai Soup Dumplings!

OK, so as soon as I chose this cookbook I knew that i would have to make soup dumplings.  I love soup dumplings.  I first had them at Chinese New Year in NYC’s Chinatown way back in 2003, and I have proceeded to eat them all over the country.  I’m often not satisfied.  None compare to those first scaldingly hot, soup filled pockets of deliciousness I had ten years ago.  These didn’t either, but they were quite good and I could see how a few modifications could make them kind of amazing.

Now, fair warning, these take awhile.  Mainly because I really tried to make these good.  I made homemade stock, Andrea’s chicken stock recipe on page 222, which was seriously the best chicken stock I’d ever had.  I used drumsticks and chicken necks we had in the freezer.  Once your stock is finished, you use some of it for these dumplings.  You reduce it with some more ginger and scallions and a bit of smoky ham.  Once it’s cooled, you make it gelatinous with agar agar.

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This was awesome.  Check it!

Making the stock.

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Done!  Best stock ever!

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Day two!  Reducing stock!

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Then, you add agar agar powder and pour the stock into a 8×8 pan.

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Then an hour later, you have solidified stock.  Epic!

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You then mix the stock into the pork mixture and stuff the dumplings.

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The filling of these soup dumplings tasted delicious.  But I wanted more soup.  I’m wondering if you could make the dumplings slightly bigger and add more of the solidified soup and a bit less of the meat mixture.  Would the soup leak out?  Has anyone else made these?  Inquiring minds, people!  But these were a crowd pleaser.  Impressive, and Jen said they were her favorite course.  Yes!

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The beef and rice rolls!

These were my least favorite thing I made this month.  It may partially be my fault.  I added too much orange zest. And shocker!  They tasted very orange-y.

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But I don’t regret trying to make these and here’s why.  Learning how to transform rice was effing sweet.  I made rice sheets, and I couldn’t have been prouder of myself for doing so!  Backstory: I started making these very early Saturday morning and wanted to give up before I even got started.  I was cursing myself for choosing to make these.  The starches get everywhere are a bitch to get off your clothes.  The batter looked so watery I was sure I did something wrong.  I wanted to call Meg and suggest we order pizza for the party instead.  But I persevered and tried just cooking the batter for shits and giggles.  And victory!

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You make these sheets by poaching the batter.  You pour the very watery batter into a square pan, then place the pan into a vessel filled about halfway with boiling water.  Cover and let poach for five minutes.

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Andrea says to make extra batter to practice because these can be tricky.  I didn’t have a problem.  Even the first sheet peeled off like a champ!

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I had to call in Double S to get a shot of my victory peel!

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I’m psyched to try rice sheets in other dishes.  Double S and I have bought rice sheet noodles at several different Asian groceries in our area, and these were far better, fresher, and you don’t have to spend the time peeling the sheets apart.  Give these a shot!

The banana and coconut and sticky rice packets!

This was my first time working with banana leaves.  You can find them in the produce or frozen food section of your local Asian grocer.  I chose this dessert because I just am effing in love with coconut.   In this recipe, you use coconut cream and fresh ripe bananas.  You mix sticky rice with coconut cream and sugar, top it with a banana and steam.

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Hey Briggsy  Don’t you think you should have thought ahead and read the recipe in its entirety like you reprimanded yourself for last time, so you would have seen that you need to soak the rice for at least 5 hours?  No!, says my face in this picture.

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These were good, but we agreed that they could have used some kind of sauce.  This is not an overly sweet dessert as is, so a little bit of extra coconut sauce for the top, after you open up the package, would have been welcome.

What a month!  We already have next month;’s cookbook picked out, but we’re not completely finished with Asian Dumplings and Andrea Nguyen just yet.  Stay tuned! Tomorrow, Meg will be posting her review of Andrea’s book, and on Thursday I will post the round-up of all the bloggers who cooked along with us this month.  What did these crazy home cooks make?  I can’t wait to find out!

8 Responses to “Cook the Books February! Dinner Party!”

  1. growandresist February 26, 2013 at 10:25 PM #

    Oh my goodness! What a fun night! And, I’m so glad you linked back to your story about the Eagles concert and the dueling piano bar….god that was funny.
    Love Cook the Books dinner party night!

  2. Lilly Warner (@rakeandmake) February 27, 2013 at 12:48 PM #

    You guys are amazing and hilarious. My boyfriend also loves to play Huey Lewis at mealtimes… hmmm.
    You really went for it, as you should since you’re the hosts of this challenge, but I am still super impressed. I am inspired to try the harder stuff now, maybe not all at once like you guys, but eventually! 😉

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