Tag Archives: cooking

Cook the Books October! Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking with Marcella Hazan

29 Sep

Well, I’ve fought it long enough. Fall is, decidedly and unfortunately, here. I get it from the internet that people all over the country love the onset of fall, with its sweaters and its pumpkin flavored everything, but that’s not the case here in Seattle. Now don’t get me wrong. I like the fall, when it’s actually the fall. But here in Seattle, fall means its time to start worrying that because you don’t know exactly what it is that your sump pump does, it will break and you’re doomed. Buzzkill.  And, I mean shit, I spent the entire past Saturday re-organizing my closet. If that doesn’t say summer is over, I’m not sure what does. And with fall, comes more time in the kitchen. You know what sounds good this fall? Italian food. Let’s cook it, shall we?

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And if you wanna cook Italian food, you start with Marcella Hazan. For this month’s Cook the Books Challenge, we’re taking on Hazan’s classic, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

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Marcella changed the way Americans eat Italian food, and in 2010 won a James Beard lifetime achievement award.  All told, she wrote six cookbooks.  And, it must be noted, Marcella Hazan died yesterday, September 29, 2013. Obviously, Meg and I didn’t know this a few months back when we chose the cookbooks for this fall, and Hazan’s classic specifically for this month, but it must be said. And her incredible contributions to Italian cooking must be noted. Rest in peace, Marcella. We, and our plates, are all better off because of you.  Read more about Marcella and her legacy here and here.

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Marcella Hazan, 1924-2013

Do check out this modern classic of Italian cuisine, and cook along with us this October. Cook from Marcella’s classic tome, blog about it, then send us your link (to cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com) by the end of the month, and we’ll include you in our end of the month round-up. Fun! So put on your flannel jammies, pull those tomatoes you preserved last month out of the cupboard, make sure your gutters are clear (If you live in Seattle that is. Nothing says fall in Seattle like worrying that your basement will flood!), and let’s make some pasta!

Cook the Books February! What Did Everybody Else Make? Asian Dumplings Round-Up!

1 Mar

February, man, amirite?  A month that goes on and on, and then all of a sudden it’s over.  Hence this March 1st posted round-up of the bloggers that cooked along with us this past month using Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings!  What a month!

From Local Kitchen

From Local Kitchen

We had a few fewer participant bloggers this month.  People seem to have been a bit intimidated by dumplings as the month began.  I was too!  But, in the end, this month was a real learning experience for me, and it seems to have been as such for most of you other bloggers out there as well.

From Tea Time Adventures

From Tea Time Adventures

For me, dumplings don’t seem scary anymore.  Tapioca starch and wheat starch and rice flour don’t make me just quizzically wonder what the eff they are for anymore when I see them in Asian markets.  In fact, I learned a lot about what I like my dumplings to be wrapped in when I don’t feel like a bready pasta dough dumpling. Dumplings that I can make with these other flours and starches are my favorite find in Asian Dumplings.  I may actually have ended up liking them better than the AP flour based dumplings.  That’s exciting!  I accomplished my main goal of the month, which was to successfully make soup dumplings/XLBs.  I ate a lot.  I partied.  I (OK, really Double S) learned how to fold the heck out of dumplings.  I now know how to steam!  That may not seem hard, but I’d never done it before in a real bamboo steamer.

From Homemade Trade

From Homemade Trade

Check out what everyone made this month!

THE BLOGGERS

Lilly over at Rake and Make is a cook after my own heart!  Why make one thing when you can make three things, am I right Lilly?  Lilly and her friend Flower (with those names, you guys need to be in a band or something!) hosted a dumpling party!  They made Fish and Chinese Chive Dumplings (page 37), Pork and Shrimp Potstickers (page 41), and the Daikon Radish and Smoky Ham Cakes (page 122).  Nice work guys!  And unlike me, as she says, she ain’t afraid of no dough!

God, how 80s is that video?  Love it!  And how many hours did I spend in 4th grade trying t draw that Ghostbusters logo?   Too many.

I also loved LIlly’s idea for adding an egg into those ham cakes and eating them for breakfast.  Brills!  I am a ham head when it comes to breakfast, so I may be copping your style.

Dumpling party!  From Rake and Make

Dumpling party! From Rake and Make

Sarah at Eat Locally Blog Globally made gulab jamun, a rose water scented Indian pastry.  Sarah commented on the breadth of this cookbook, and I agree.  Andrea doesn’t just give you the basics, but dessert dumplings, sweets, pastries, and the like.  Sarah lives near many Asian grocery stores in Toronto and, although she can get a lot of these dumplings near her home, was inspired by the end of her gulab jamun experience to try to make some herself, without fear!  Nice work Sarah!  I definitely suggest giving the more challenging recipes a go, even if  you, like Sarah and me, live near restaurants and shops to buy these ready-made.  I found a lot of the dumplings and doughs to be so much better than the pre-made store bought stuff.

Um, how good do these look?  By Eat Locally Blog Globally.

Um, how good do these look? By Eat Locally Blog Globally.

Kaela at Local Kitchen made Chinese potstickers.  Kaela, your photos are indeed the bomb.  Kaela has an issue with ground meat.  Don’t worry, Kaela.  We all have our issues.  Her adaptation of the pork dumplings was a keeper.  Who wants boring ground pork when you could have Kaela’s braised pork cutlets in your dumpkings?  You have to cook the pork first, obvs, but her recipe sounds really flavorful.  Bust out your dutch ovens everybody!  And I gotta admit, Kaela, I’m intrigued by this Bastian Schweinsteiger character and the inside joke!  With a name like Schweinsteiger, it’s gotta be good!

A beautiful spread of dumplings, by Local Kitchen.

A beautiful spread of dumplings, by Local Kitchen.

Angela and J.K. at Tea Time Adventures made baos!  Adventurous indeed!  Nice work, you guys!  They made baos two ways, too: char siu pork steamed baos and vegetable and tofu baked baos.  Nice!  They also ate dim sum while they cooked.  Now that’s my kind of cooking project!  Can I be invited to your next party?  Sweet!  Angela and J.K. also mention gaining a newfound respect for the men and women who make these dumplings all day at the little dumpling counters and shops and restaurants all over the country.  Heck yeah.  Oh, and I love the veggie backdrop on your blog.  Gorgeous!

A gorgeous veggie baked bao, by Tea Time Adventures

A gorgeous veggie baked bao, by Tea Time Adventures

Cynthia at Mother’s Kitchen made the pork and shrimp potstickers.  Cynthia used the lazy day method and bought her wrappers and had a fine time with it.  That’s a fine way to do it sometimes!  Cynthia didn’t like Andrea’s extensive directions, but I thought they were helpful for people who may not have any idea how to make dumplings and may not know that oil will splatter when water is added.  Anyway, the lazy day method is fine. We can’t make homemade dumplings everyday!

Lazy day potstickers, by Mother's Kitchen

Lazy day potstickers, by Mother’s Kitchen

Cyn at River Dog Prints used the Cook the Books Challenge as an excuse to update her kitchen tool collection.  Great idea!  She got a tortilla press and a bamboo steamer, and also improvised and didn’t buy the dumpling rolling pin but instead had the ingenious idea of using the handle of an old meat tenderizer.  Nice work!  I updated too and got the tortilla press!  Aren’t they fun?  Cyn ate local and supported a farm out of Newtown, CT, with her purchase of lamb, and made the spicy lamb dumplings.   I liked Cyn’s post because she made a dumpling that I would not have thought of when I first picked up this book.  And tomato sauce!  Glad you had fun, Cyn!

I want dumpkings in tomato sauce!  Spicy lamb dumplings, by River Dog Prints

I want dumplings in tomato sauce! Spicy lamb dumplings, by River Dog Prints

Karen at Prospect the Pantry went to town on Asian Dumplings!  I am impressed, and that’s a real compliment because I love going to town on new cookbooks!  Karen made pork and napa cabbage water dumplings, steamed veg dumplings, pork and shrimp potstickers, chicken soup, chicken stock, and curried chicken bun filling.  Karen hit up her local Asian grocery, and with the help of Andrea’s photos found all her ingredients.  Sounds like me, Karen!  I’m the one in the Asian market with my phone, google image searching stuff to find what I need!  Karen talks about how even if you don’t make a wrapper again from this book, consider the tasty filling.  Agreed!  Karen has plans to use her favorite steamed vegetable dumpling filling with some cellophane noodles in the future.  Good idea!  And Karen, seriously, how good was that chicken stock?  That is seriously going to be my go to from now on.  Did you get to try making the other wrappers?

Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings, by Prospect the Pantry

Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings, by Prospect the Pantry

Sarah, over at Cook Can Read made the pork and napa cabbage water dumplings.  Sarah was so excited about dumping making!  But also intimidated, so she used wrappers from the store!  Then disappointed for underestimating herself!  I agree Sarah, you can totally do this!  And hey get your husband to do it!  Double S was my dumpling folding sous chef all month.  Hooray for supportive partners!  Sarah also mentions how awesome it is to freeze up a big batch of these bad boys then whip them out on a weekend night.  What a treat!  They froze so well, didn’t they?

Making water dumplings, by Cook Can Read

Making water dumplings, by Cook Can Read

Aimee at Homemade Trade made Spiced Pineapple Filled pastries.  I like how Aimee cut the making of these little beauties down into multiple days.  Great way to get it done on your schedule.  And Aimee, although drooling over all the great options in Andrea’s cookbook, made a recipe with what she had on hand.  May I learn to be more like you, Aimee.  And your pastries look just like the ones in the book!  I love when that happens!  Can’t wait to hear how they turn out with your jam this summer!

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Spiced Pineapple Filled Pastries, by Homemade Trade

Julia over at What Julia Ate had a good time and felt triumphant with this month’s book.  Triumphant!  I like that, Julia.  She made baos and pork and napa cabbage water dumplings.  As a self-described resident of the sticks, Julia was pleased to learn how to make these little balls of goodness that she can’t get in her neck of the woods.  And I agree, Julia, good way to put it.  Even though Andrea’s instructions look realy long, the thoroughness is appreciated when you’re first getting started with filled pastas.  And with Julia we have another blogger who adapted the recipes to use what she had. Go Julia!

What did Julia eat?  This bao!  By What Julia Ate

What did Julia eat? This bao! By What Julia Ate

And finally, Mary over at Come Play in the Kitchen did such a good job with her dumplings that one of her kids thought they had ordered take out.  Nice work, Mary!  Mary was quite intimidated when she first picked up Andrea’s book, but after reading through it and making the Steamed Vegetable Dumplings, she was a believer and added Andrea’s book to her “Must Have” list.  Mary is an almost vegetarian.  Andrea’s book was great in that it has so many veggie recipes, or recipes with just a bit of meat for flavor.

Veggie dumplings, by Come Play in the Kitchen

Veggie dumplings, by Come Play in the Kitchen

Oh and let’s not forget my partner in crime in Cook the Books, Meg at Grow and Resist.  Over the month, Meg made Meat and Chinese Chive Potstickers, Nepalese Vegetable and Cheese Dumplings, Spiced Lamb Dumplings and Spicy Roasted Tomato Sauce, Baked Filled Buns with Char Siu Pork Bun Filling, Cantonese Char Siu Pork and Vegetable Spring Rolls, Thai Tapioca Pearl Dumplings, Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken in Banana Leaf.  Hell yeah, Meg!  And here you were scared at first!  They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Check out Meg’s review of the cookbook here.  Spoiler alert: She liked it! She really liked it!

And so did I!  I chose this book and I was not disappointed.  Like with January’s book Around My French Table, I tried to make or taste something from almost every chapter. Here’s what I made.  Memories!

Spicy Potato Samosas, page 115.

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Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings, page 31 and Kimchi Dumplings, page 44.

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 Steamed Filled Buns with Curried Chicken Filling, page 95 and 102.

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Steamed Unfilled Buns, made Baohaus Style, page 96 and here.

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Shanghai Soup Dumplings, page 59.

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Fried Wontons, Crab Rangoon style, page 64 and 69 and here for the filling.

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Chinese Chive Dumplings, page 145.  I didn’tt tell you guys about these.  I threw them together last week, my first time using wheat starch.

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Double S was at work and I folded these myself. See, I told you I have monster hands!

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Beef and Orange Rice Rolls, page 157.

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Banana and Coconut Sticky Rice Packets, page 212.

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So as I told you in my last book review, I want to review the Cook the Books cookbooks using five criteria: layout, aesthetics, ingredients/supplies, additional information provided, and the recipes themselves.  Here goes!

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LAYOUT

The layout of Asian Dumplings was clear and easy to follow.  Her chapters are divided according to the nature of the dumpling itself: filled pastas, thin skins, stuffed buns, transformations of rice, and so on.  Each chapter starts with a master dumpling dough recipe and the rest of the chapter builds on that master recipe.  The chapters also gradually get more difficult in techniques and/or ingredients used, so its easy to read her comprehensive intro and then just get started with filled pastas.   Her final chapter, called “Sauces, Seasonings, Stocks, and Other Basics” is a can’t miss.  I really liked and used all of her dumpling sauces, and seriously?  Her chicken stock recipe in this chapter is the shit!  So good.

The index is also comprehensive.  All recipes are referenced by name, and you can also look up individual ingredients, which is helpful.

And for a book like this, you know it’s gotta have some detailed instructions on dumpling folding.  I felt, and most of the bloggers up above agreed, that although Andrea’s instructions are long and detailed, that they are needed when you first start.  We looked at the instructions carefully as we got started.  I’d usually read them to Double S multiple times as she folded.  Then, after  a few dumplings were made, we got the hang of it and didn’t have to consult the instructions again.  Success!

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Then there is the introduction.  Intros to cookbooks really give you a sense of what you’re gonna get.  Is this book going to be an avant garde one for the experienced home chef, or is there going to be some hand holding?   Andrea holds your hand a little in this intro, and I think that was helpful because a book like this can intimidate many home cooks.  I read this introduction before I started cooking anything and found its guidance very helpful.  If you want to get into dumplings, which I did, I used this intro as a primer.  I made sure my cupboards were stocked and took the opportunity to get some utensils I wanted, like the tortilla press and the dumpling rolling pin.  But as many pointed out in their posts, and as Andrea herself says, these extra tools aren’t necessary.  I used a wine bottle to roll out my samosa dough.  Tea Time Adventures made a rolling pin from a dowel.  River Dog Prints used the handle of an old meat tenderizer.  Hack your own tools to make your dumplings, I love it!

Finally, and this is a critique I had with Dorie’s book too, it would have been helpful if Andrea would have put a heads up right at the top of any recipes that takes multiple days.  I was better this month at reading recipes all the way through before I started, but I still realized just a few hours before our dinner party began that I needed to soak the sticky rice for 5-12 hours.  Put that info at the top, Andrea (and Dorie!)!

AESTHETICS

Asian Dumplings was another lovely cookbook to look at.  A lot, not all–but a lot, of the recipes are accompanied by photographs.  But since the book is divided into chapters that contain the same or similar types of dumplings, there is always a photo of the kind of dumpling you are making in every chapter, which is helpful.  Only the fillings are different, and the fillings are not what you’re stressing about when it comes to dumpling making.  Nice job, Andrea and Ten Speed Press.  I love Ten Speed Press!

And as you can see from all of the participants’ lovely photos, the dumplings turned out to look like what the photographs showed.  Look at Homemade Trade’s pineapple pastries, sitting right next to the photo in Andrea’s book!

A treat of spicy pineapple filled pastries for friends, by Homemade Trade

From Homemade Trade

INGREDIENTS/SUPPLIES

You need some ingredients you might not have to make a lot of the more difficult dumplings in Asian Dumplings.  However, if you want to make simple water dumplings, what a lot of people think of when they think dumpling, I bet you have almost everything you need in your cupboard and fridge right now.  Andrea makes that clear, as she does a good job trying to demystify dumplings. Plus, once you know how to make the dumpling itself, you can improvise, like a lot of the rockstar bloggers did above.  Use what you have!  Use what’s in season!

For the more complicated dumplings, you mainly need some flours and starches to be able to get started.  Andrea’s book is so helpful in that she shows photos of these flours and starches, and also provides the brand names of her recommended varieties.  I really relied on this and was thankful that Andrea did it. Since I had read her intro, I was able to find the starches I needed no problem.  And if you’re a real noob to Asian cooking, Andrea’s introduction breaks it down.  She has pictures and descriptions of any and all of the out of the ordinary ingredients. The only items I had some difficulty finding were some ingredients for the dipping sauces: the Chinkiang vinegar and the Shaoxing rice wine.  Both had easy substitutes, but hell!  I wanted to try the real thing.  I ended up finding the Shaoxing rice wine in the actual liquor/wine section of my local Uwajimaya.  Thanks for the heads up, Meg!

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED

So what else do we learn from this cookbook, if anything?  Dorie gave us veggie buying tips in Around My French Table.  In Asian Dumplings, Andrea starts each chapter with some information on each kind of dumpling.  I found this especially helpful in chapters like “Transformations of Rice,”  when she discussed starches and flours that I was unfamiliar with and tells us where and why these flours were used.

You’ll also find within the pages of the book other helpful tips.  How to host a dumpling party, which is really something you should do.  We just had a ton of fun doing it.  Pop on some tunes and crack open some beverages, then put your friends to work!  Is it a weeknight but you really want a dumpling?  Andrea chimes in with “lazy day tips” when she can.  I used her tip on hand mincing meat when I made my beef rice rolls, and was wielding big cleavers like a champ.  Awesome.

RECIPES

OK, so how did these suckers taste?  This book is cool in that even if you don’t love the filling, you learn how to make the dumpling and then you can fill it as you desire.  For example, I thought the kimchi dumplings didn’t taste enough of kimchi.  But I learned the concept and how to make the dumpling.  Then one afternoon as I came home on the bus, eureka!  I realized I could spice up the mixture with additional kimchi seasonings.  The book got me thinking like that, which is exactly what I wanted in this yearlong blog challenge.

Also, my least favorite thing I made was the beef and orange rice rolls.  But my most favorite thing I learned how to make were the rice sheet wrappers that encased these rolls.  Seriously, folks, these were a revelation.  I love making Thai noodle dishes, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do with my newfound ability to make rice sheets. These were so fresh and soft, unlike any dried rice noodles I’ve bought at any Asian grocery, fresh or dried.

Look at me!  I'm in love!

Look at me! I’m in love!

My horizons have been broadened by this book as well.  When the month started, I wondered if I would get tired of eating dumplings.  All I had made at that point were the basic dumplings at the beginning that used all-purpose flour.  As the month progressed, I realized how much I liked dumplings that didn’t use traditional AP flour.  I loved Meg’s Thai Tapioca Pearl dumplings.  I felt like I could taste the filling more, and the textural experience was new and exciting.  Seriously, if you didn’t try any recipes using rice flour or tapioca starch or flour, give it a shot.  We actually used the leftover rice sheets to make a noodle dish a few nights ago, and yep!  Success!

Overall, Asian Dumplings isn’t a cookbook you would bust out everyday or that you would use on a weeknight after work.  The dumplings take too much time for that.  But the book does teach you the skill of dumpling making.  And after spending a month with it, Asian Dumplings is a book I will return to.  Something that I thought was difficult has been demystified. It will be fun to return to this book on a Saturday when I want a cooking project, or for a dumping party for friends who love food, or when I want to stock my freezer with frozen dumplings.  And yes, I made soup dumplings, so this month’s Cook the Books was a success for me!

Happy March!  Join us this month as we explore sustainable fish with Seattle’s own Becky Selengut in her book Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes From the Pacific Coast.  Meg introduced the book here.  And don’t worry, East Coast friends!  Becky suggests plenty of sustainable substitutes for any fish you may not be able to get!  If you want to cook along, send us your link by the weekend of March 23rd-24th, to cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t cooked along with us yet.  Join us anytime!  Me? I’m hoping to get some oysters this weekend.  Yeah, it’s gonna be a good month!