Tag Archives: recipes

Cook the Books! Buns, Hon!

15 Feb

So you know how Sir Mix A Lot’s anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon? (Whip crack!)

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Well, I got buns!  We had a bun party!

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Wait a minute.  For serious, there’s some funny shit out there regarding the 1992 classic Baby Got Back.  Like this:

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And this!

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I LOLed!  One more, well except for my Forgotten Song Friday post about the incredible proliferation of “hilarious” wedding dances to “Baby Got Back.”

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Sir Mix A Lot’s song popped in my head as I was making buns last week.  Maybe cuz I was drinking and listening to early 90s music.  Dude really likes buns.  I’m cool with his kind of buns.  But if we’re talking steamed buns, aka bao, I kinda wasn’t.   I was never a fan of steamed buns. I was mainly exposed to them in NYC when the posse wanted to go out for buns after a night of drinking. No! I’d say! Pizza, I’d say. Then everyone would be like this with their buns.

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And I would be like this, walking back to the long subway ride to Queens..

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The thing I never liked about buns was their sweetness. I always found it to be almost cloying. But Cook the Books is about learning, son, so that’s what I gotta do. Learn! So with much trepidation this past weekend, I made buns. I’d gone two for two on the other dumplings/doughs from Asian Dumplings I’d made thus far, so I thought, what the heck?

Success! And for the first time in Cook the Books thus far, I improvised, taking Andrea’s steamed bun dough and making filled and unfilled steamed buns, and making my own filling. Oooh doggies, did they turn out good!

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It was a bun-erific week, friends, and that’s how I came about improvising a recipe for an item I’d never made before or even ever liked enough to eat very much. It all started early a few weekends ago when I read about NYC chef and author Eddie Huang. Eddie’s a 30 year old former lawyer (Represent!), stand up comedian, and friendly neighborhood weed dealer turned hottest chef in NYC with his house o’buns aptly called BaoHaus. I found out he was speaking in Seattle last week, so Double S headed out last Tuesday night and caught him at Town Hall. He’s just written a book called Fresh Off the Boat that is picking up a lot of steam in the media.

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Eddie grew up in Orlando in the 1980s, with kids at his school making fun of him for his stinky food, amongst many other racist things. He begged his mom to give him white people food. Now he cooks and hosts a show on Vice and writes about race and immigration and assimilation in America. Dude wears some awesome sweaters too.

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Huang loves hip hop too and talked about it a lot.  In Seattle, we saw him with Geo from the Blue Scholars. Although he doesn’t specifically mention his love of Biggie Smalls, check out this shirt.

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Conversate for a few, cause in a few, we gon’ do
what we came to do. Ain’t that right boo? [True]!

I wanted to eat at BaoHaus after I heard him speak. But, man, I don’t live in NYC anymore. So, I had to make these effers myself. Huang makes baos in the Taiwanese style, flat like a tortilla (what Andrea calls unfilled buns in her recipe) then topped with the items of your choice.

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Like this! These are the Birdhouse Baos.

Andrea Nguyen, in Asian Dumplings, makes her baos filled, which is more of a traditional Chinese thing. Huang is hip, no doubt about it. But he’s also traditional. Making Taiwanese buns like he grew up with, like he ate in Taiwan. He didn’t go to culinary school. Doesn’t have the fancy pedigree. Says he learned everything from his mom, just by “paying attention.” As someone else who learned a love for cooking just by hanging out in the kitchen with my parents and grandma, that’s pretty awesome.

So are his baos. He has the Chairman bao, the Jeremy Lin Bao, the Uncle Jesse bao, and–the one I was most intrigued with–the Birdhouse bao, which, according to the BaoHaus menu, is brined fried chicken, cilantro, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, and Haus seasoning salt. Pretty vague. But I understand, man, gotta protect that intellectual property. I carefully combed through the rest of his menu and the internet (All of it! Yep, got to the end of the internet!) for other ideas and hints and inspirations.  I decided to make steamed filled and unfilled baos using Andreas recipe for dough.  I filled some with Andrea’s curried chicken filling, and topped the others with my version of a BaoHaus bao filling.  I was excited!

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Now, because I like to complicate things, I almost used two different recipes for bao to do a little compare and contrast action. I was going to use David Chang’s recipe for bao in his Momofuku cookbook. I like David Chang, have eaten at Momofuku and own the cookbook, subscribe to his food periodical Lucky Peach and made his ramen. Eddie Huang is not a real big fan. Actually Eddie has lambasted several celebrity chefs, Chang and food network staple Marcus Samuelson. as “culture vultures” who let white foodies experience food and culture in a safe, white approved environment.  Check it here and here.  Eddie has his critics too.  Huang also said that the best bao dough is really simple, like Wonder bread. Baos have been made in China and Taiwan for years. In fact, that’s where Huang’s blasting of Chang comes in. He talks about how celebrated Chang is for his “New American” take on Asian food, and how foodies in NYC came up to him back in the day talking about how the Momofuku bao were the “best invention ever!” Buns are not a new invention. They’ve been here for years.

So, I wanted to keep things simple.  I haven’t liked wonder bread since I was 6. But I will say that Chang’s recipe was much more difficult, calling for crazy stuff like nonfat milk powder. And, what is my ass gonna do with a big ass box of 8 dollar nonfat milk powder? I liked Andrea’s recipe for buns. Nice and simple, like Eddie says. Just AP flour and instant yeast. Can’t beat it! So even though I did wanna combine two chefs recipes who might not want to be combined, I kept it simple.

Steamed Filled Buns, page 95. Unfilled Steamed Buns, page 96. Curried Chicken Bun Filling, page 102.  Briggsy’s take on a Huang Birdhaus Bao.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Andrea’s dumpling dough recipes are hella easy. I whipped these up after an afternoon of gorging on food at the Chinese New Year celebration here in Seattle. As I said, it was a bunnerific week for the old Briggster. Dumplings and buns were in the air. Check out all I ate…before I even set about making these buns!

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So we get home from an afternoon of eating, and of course it was then time to cook. Double S and I had brought along our pal Bawlmer (cuz she’s practically fresh off the boat from Baltimore!) for the day of eating (which would soon progress into a night of more eating and lotsa drinking!), so we had an extra set of hands. Bonus! Less work for me!

I threw together two batches of Andrea’s dough right quick. It came together nicely. I did have to add more water than she called for. I had to add about 7 teaspoons of extra water in each recipe to get the dough to form into a ball, but it easily did in the food processor after the water addition. I love you, food processor!

Instant yeast marinating.

Instant yeast marinating.

Dough rising by heat vent.

Dough rising by heat vent.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Then I got into Chef mode as I bossed Double S and Bawlmer around whilst they rolled out dough, made perfect fried eggs (as seen in my last post), and filled the buns.  You prepare the buns by first rolling the beautiful dough into a log, then cutting it into the number of pieces you want.  I cut enough for medium sized buns, so 16 buns per batch.

Then you use the dumpling roller again (Dayum that thing has come in handy!) and roll the pieces out into 2 1/4 inch discs, again leaving a belly in the center.  I taught my fried egg imagery trick to Bawlmer.  She rolled while I drank!

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By the end, Bawlmer got so into it her hands were moving faster than my camera.  Nice work, hon!

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Then it was time to stuff dem buns!  I, of course, turned to Double S and her delicate lady fingers.  She stuffed the buns while I drank more French 75s.  Thanks for introducing me to these drinks, Meg.  You’ve created a monster!  I had made the curried chicken filling earlier that day. I thought that the filling was a bit bland when I was making it, but hoped it would intensify as it marinated in the fridge. It didn’t. The filling was good enough, but it’s not the way Double S and I make Indian food.  I toasted the spices, ground them in a spice grinder. So I did all I could, but we were all underwhelmed. It ended up lacking a bit in flavor.  I’d tweak the recipe with more salt, spice, and acid if I made it again.

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We also made the unfilled buns, which were even easier to make. I wanted medium sized rolls, so I cut 24 equal sized pieces, then rolled them out with the dumpling rolling pin to be about 1/4 inch thick.

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Again I got to use my full sheet baking sheet. I’m glad I (foolishly) bought it! When they are rolled out, you brush on some canola oil on half the surface, then fold them over so they don’t stick and are taco like and ready for whatever you want to fill them with. They are then ready to steam.

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The steaming worked out really well.  I bought a cheap bamboo steamer at a neighborhood Asian grocery, and also bought a cheap wok to steam them in.  I have a wok, but it’s cast iron and I didn’t want to ruin the years of seasoning by boiling water in it for an extended period.  All you need is a wok or pot big enough to fit your steamer.

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So my path to deciding what I wanted to fill these with was a long one and relates back to Eddie Huang again.  I started by just perusing the BaoHaus menu. Other baos had what he called “Haus Relish.” After quite a bit of Google searching, I figured out that Haus relish is pickled mustard greens, a traditional Taiwanese side dish and topping for bao. Ok, something pickled! That I can handle. Normally I woulda come up with a plan to pickle some mustard greens, but since I was going to make these in just a few days and because I read that you can get these in the condiment section of Asian grocery strikes, I got them at Uwajimaya in their large and awesome condiment section.

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This was a no preservative version of a pickled green. The sulfur dioxide that was in the other more traditional version (and dried fruits and other things) I found makes me wheeze. These looked like more of a pickled bok choy, but were delicious and perfect as a topping.

I also read that Eddie brines his chicken for 24 hours before frying it. Brining chicken is already something I do, so I was good to go on that.  I did a simple water/salt/sugar brine that David Chang uses for his chicken in Momofuku and brined the breasts for about 8 hours.  For coating for the chicken, I followed a recipe I read from Ad Hoc At Home, making a spicy and salty flour mixture (read: AP flour, kosher salt, lotsa onion powder and garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika) that I also dipped in buttermilk.  I knew I had to have a sauce so I figured I’d see where I was when I was cooking and make whatever seemed right.  I ended up making a sauce with mayo, sriracha, homemade chili garlic sauce, and cornichons with a little cornichon brine.  Why?  Cuz it sounded good to me with chicken.  And it was!

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These were seriously awesome, and I encourage you to experiment with toppings for your baos.  These had a layer of sauce at the bottom, then some fried chicken which I’d fried as a whole breast then sliced, then topped with peanuts I had roasted in a pan for a few minutes and some cilantro.  Holy crap!  Delicious!

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Bawlmer really liked these tacos. Quote: “The steamed buns were fine. But these? These are food truck worthy!” At least that’s what I think Bawlmer said. I was three sheets to the wind.

I really liked these.

I really liked these too.  Oh and my glass is empty!  Garcon!

Wow, this was a helluva bun eating, French 75 drinking, Pandora Hall & Oates station listening party!  By the end of the night, the kitchen was a disaster, I was dancing around showing off my Warrant tee (Heaven isn’t it too far away!), and the next morning (afternoon!) clean up took hours.  Worth it!  Bun party!

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The buns themselves were good too.  Andrea’s recipe calls for less sugar than others I’ve seen and you can tell.  There’s still a bit of sweetness there, and the freshness of the bread is delicious.  So if the sweetness of the bun always turned you off like it did me, check out Andrea’s version.  Meg had a similar experience and she made baked buns amongst other things.  They look great!  You did it again, Cook the Books!

Speaking of Cook the Books, if you’re cooking along with us this month, please send us a link to what you made by February 22nd, to cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com.  I can’t wait to see what everyone else tried!  I’ll be posting a roundup of what everyone did on February 27th,  Now, off to figure out what dumpling I shall make this weekend!  Oh, Double S!  Time to fold some more dumplings!

Cook the Books! Dumplings Two Ways!

6 Feb

Ok, so I’m a dough wimp.  I wish it wasn’t true.  I’ve tried to be a good person and use dough. I’ve tried making bread for our house.

Success I tells ya!

Editor’s note: It looks better than it tasted. It was really dense.

I tried to make a sourdough starter and I pretty much did, but then I was bad and let it die or remain on life support in the back of my fridge.  I have memories of my dad rolling out fresh pasta on our home pasta maker when I was a kid.  I kinda successfully made ramen noodles from scratch.

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Shit, my grandpa was a baker.

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Still, I kinda can’t handle dough.  Once I have it all made and ready for me to make something out of  it, I get scared and want to run away.  The end product seems to never work out, I whine.  It’s usually more that I’m lazy.  And then after that mess and with flour everywhere, it’s like: why bother?  With bread, it’s easy to give up.  I live in Seattle, good bread is everywhere!

But the reason I chose this month’s book for the Cook the Books challenge, Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen, was to get over all of that.  I started slow, cuz I’m chicken.  I made samosas.  They were easy to make, forgiving, and delicious.  Finally I decided to bite the bullet and make some dumplings.  This past weekend I made Andrea’s basic dumpling dough, and then made two different kinds of dumplings. And I gotta say, nice work, me!  Mission accomplished!  Here’s what i made:

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Basic Dumpling Dough, page 22.  Extra Chewy Dough, page 23. Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings, page 31-32.  Kimchi Dumplings, page 44-45.  Tangy Soy Dipping Sauce, page 215.  Korean Dipping Sauce, page 215.

If you’re like me, a dough wuss that is, Andrea’s Basic Dumpling Dough may change your life.  I have never made an easier dough.  Remember how I said it took 4 days to make a loaf of sourdough with homemade sourdough starter?  Eff that shit!  It took me about 4 minutes to make this dough.  How awesome is that?  Answer: Really awesome!

Seriously.  Put regular old AP flour in your food processor.  Meanwhile, boil a small amount of water.  Let it cool for a few minutes.  Turn food pro on and then put hot water in through tube.  Let the food pro do its food pro thing.  And…done!  Seriously, the dough was so easy to make it was almost laughable.

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So then you bag and label your dough.  Since I was making Korean kimchi dumplings (mandu) too, I made two versions of the dough.  For the dough for mandu, I used the recipe for extra chewy dough, which just substitutes some of the AP flour for sweet rice flour.  This makes the dough extra chewy, Andrea says, which is preferable for these Korean dumplings.

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Then on to fillings.  I made the pork and napa cabbage filling exactly as written, using some quality pork from Blue Valley Meats out of Walla Walla, WA.  Good stuff.  Oh, and definitely get your hands on some Chinese chives if you can.  Scallions just don’t replicate the taste.

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For the mandu, I couldn’t decide whether to make the kimchi filling or the meat filling.  Backstory: I love kimchi!  Seriously.  I get dirty looks at Korean joints cuz I ask for the kimchi banchan to be refilled too much.  I make my own kimchi too.  If you want to make your own, may I recommend the recipe I posted?  So good.  Double S and I eat the kimchi mainly in the form of kimchi stew (kimchi jigae), which I regularly make.  It’s basically a big, spicy, steaming bowl of kimchi, tofu, scallions, beef, chicken broth and spices.  I decided to take the flavors of that stew and make a dumpling out of it.  I did so by following Andrea’s recipe for kimchi mandu but substituting pork for zucchini.  Why?  Cuz it’s February, homie.  It ain’t the season for zukes!  It’s a crime to buy limp looking zucchini at the grocery in February when soon (wishful garden thinking alert!) they will be coming out of our ears.  And cuz zukes are kinda tasteless flavor sponges, and I was already using another tasteless flavor sponge, tofu.  I wanted the inside of the dumpling to taste like my kimchi stew.  So I made dumplings two ways.  Yes, I am kinda crazy.  Who else takes something they’re afraid of and decides to make 64 of ‘em on their first try?  That’d be me!

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So after you’ve got your two ziplock bags of dough and your two bowls of filling marinating in the fridge, it’s the final countdown.

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I’ll give you a minute with that one.  Hey, who else is pumped for the return of Arrested Development on Netflix this spring?  Me!  I’m about to do a re-watch of the run of the show.  Excited!  Speaking of Netflix, anyone else mainline House of Cards this past weekend like Double S and I did?

Anyway, now you gotta put your money where your mouth us and actually make these ‘effers.  I did something different from what I usually do: I actually read the instructions for making the dumplings multiple times and did so before I was faced with a bunch of flour and hopelessness in my kitchen!    And it worked.  Yay me!

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You can do this as a kind of assembly line.  I was working with Double S.  Try to have at least one other person helping when you make these.

I worked with one batch of dough at a time.  First, I halved the dough.  Each half will make 16 dumplings  Then you roll that half into a 1 inch thick log.  Kinda like pretzel rolling!

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Then, divide each half of that into half.  This makes it easier to try to cut equal pieces of the dough.  You want to end up with 16 dumplings total.  I needed quite a bit of flour to keep everything from sticking.

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Take each final piece and lightly smash it with the heel of your hand and make sure it’s lightly dredged through the flour to keep things from sticking.  Once you have that done, do the same to the other half of the dough.

Now you have 32 nice little pieces of dough.  Then you move on to the next station in the delicious assembly line.  Here’s where I used my handy dandy new tortilla press.  I followed Andrea’s lead and covered each side of the press to avoid stickage.  Don’t use regulation plastic wrap.  That didn’t work at all!  Andrea suggested a piece of a Ziploc bag covering each side of the tortilla press, and that worked like a charm.  Thanks again, Andrea!  Press down and get your 32 pieces flattened out.  Put them on a sheet with parchment paper.

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After that is done, you need to do a second rolling to get them to the proper diameter.  Each dumpling recipe states how big the finished product should be, both of these were to be about 3 1/4 inches in diameter.   The 8” tortilla press I have almost made them that diameter, but they still needed a bit of rolling. For this, I used my handy dandy new dumpling rolling pin.  Andrea’s directions are great here.  She says you should visualize a quarter sized section in the middle of the dumpling that you want to keep that thickness.  It will hold the filling.

Then use your hand and the rolling pin to roll about a half an inch of the outer part of the dumpling or so to get to the proper size.  They kinda look like fried eggs while you’re doing this!  And that image actually is kind of helpful.  The “yolk” being the quarter sized area you want to keep a bit thicker.  This worked perfectly.

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Flour was everywhere, but I didn’t even care cuz it worked!

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When you’re done with the pressing and the rolling, place the finished rounds on parchment paper.  They tend to stick, so dust with a bit of extra flour.  After this, you’re ready to fill them.  As I said, my hands are like this when I try to make something intricate:

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Monster hands!

Whilst Double S has delicate lady fingers.

Wow, is that video encased in amber from 1999 or what?  Holy crap!  The pants alone:  Khakis!  Wide legs!  Cargos!  And the hair.  What was with the extreme parts, ladies?  Oh, and wrist bands for no reason!  Flowers on everything!  A few additional observations: 1) My gf at the time introduced me to Luscious Jackson, and wow did I remember them as cooler looking than they look here.  2)  I’ve ridden NYC buses and currently ride a Seattle metro bus every day.  Funny: They’re just like this!  3) The lead singer really looks like she now writes a blog about either: a) knitting, b) gluten free and/or vegan baking, c) attachment parenting, or d) all of the above.

Back to my dumplings!  Because Double S is awesome, she filled 64 dumplings that night.  You should have seen her, trying out all of Andrea’s suggested folds: the big hug (which looked like a butt to yours truly!), the half moon, the pea pod, and yes, even the pleated crescent. Can I get a What What for Double S?

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Double S got the folding down to a science!  As the dumpling folder, her observation was that the dough was very easy to work with and sealed really easily.

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Once we had it down, we got moving on the rest of the dough.  Whilst Double S was doing the more intricate job of folding the prepared dough rounds into dumplings, I got started on the rest of the dough.  Cutting it into 32 pieces, flattening it on the press, and rolling it out to a fried egg approximation.  You must do those three steps before filling the dumplings, to get the right thickness.

Make sure you have parchment paper and flour.  The dough can be sticky.  Also, cover what you’ve made with a towel so they don’t dry out.  Success!

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We did find the mandu dough, in which I used the rice flour, to be easier to work with.  While Double S finished up folding the last batch, I made the sauces.  Easy peezy!  Earlier that day I had hit the Asian groceries in my nabe.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the Chinkiang vinegar or the Shaoxing rice wine I needed.  But I got all the flours for my next dumpling projects!

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Tapioca starch, wheat starch, glutinous rice flour.

I will get over to Uwajimaya to get the recommended stuff that I couldn’t find.  Andrea does a great job of recommending specific brands and packages.  It really helped!

Then, on to the cooking.  Andrea says that either of these dumplings can be boiled, steamed, fried, or pan fried.  We decided to boil the majority of them, and then pan fry some to see how that turned out.

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The cooking process was easy.  Andrea’s directions were spot on.  And most importantly, not a single dumpling came apart while cooking.  Victory!

So how did they taste?  Awesome, thanks for asking!  Seriously.  We loved these dumplings. We had been eating a lot of dumplings lately in restaurants and we both agreed, these were better.  Why?  Its gotta be because of the fresh dough.  The fillings were good too—quality ingredients.  No mystery meat here!

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Oh and the sauces.  They were so good.  If you, like us, have these dumplings as a meal, you may want to round out your meal a bit.  We were craving something fresh to go along with the dumplings, like a small salad or something to cleanse the palate.

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So our goal was to have some leftovers and we sure did!  Andrea has good recommendations for storage.  We froze these up like berries in the summer, individually, on cookie sheets in the freezer first so they didn’t stick.  Then into Ziplocs.  Worked like a charm!

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After the meal was over, we had a bit of a dumpling debrief, where we talked about what we’d do differently next time.  First, if you are making two or more different kinds of dumplings, it may be easier to make each kind of dumpling its own shape.  Since we boiled some and pan fried some, we never knew which one we were eating until we bit into it.  This only matters if you want to dip the dumpling in the sauce that was made specifically for it.  Second, if you are going to pan fry your dumplings, make sure your oil isn’t too hot to start.  Ours got a bit overcooked because the pan was too hot.  This made the dumpling itself a bit too hard.  Three, the prettiest dumpling shapes prior to cooking were the half moon and pea pod, while the big hug shape stood up best to cooking.  Double S liked them because she thought they looked like a restaurant’s dumplings. Four, if you want your kimchi dumplings to really taste like kimchi, you may want to add some traditional kimchi spices to your filling, like kochukaru and gochujang.  See my kimchi post for more info.  We felt that the taste of kimchi was pretty muted in the dumplings.  Fifth, the dipping sauce recipes are top notch.  We wouldn’t make any changes to them.    What a great dinner!

Ok, so, have you made any dumplings yet?  I’ll be posting a big round up of recipes on February 27th, so send us a link to your dumpling post by February 22nd, to cookthebookschalleneg@gmail.com.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t play along last month.  Join any time!  For more information on 2013′s Cook the Books challenge hosted by yours truly and Meg over at Grow and Resist, go here.  Check out Meg’s blog, too.  She’ll be cooking up some dumplings and writing her review at the end of the month as well.

I’m loving this cookbook so far.  Give it a try; dumplings are easier than they look!  Happy cooking!

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