Pork Soup Dumplings–Valentine’s Day 2016 (part 1)

Valentine’s Day is just another day for the Kims. We don’t buy each other gifts or go out to a nice restaurant, but it does provide a reason to get flowers for our table and make an elaborate meal at home, not that you ever need a reason to do either. This year’s V-day menu was pork soup dumplings (all from scratch), green beans, and homemade tangerine sorbet with candied tangerine peels, with French 75 cocktails to enjoy throughout.

I spotted this recipe for pork soup dumplings in an issue of Bon Appetit about a year ago and saved it as a “someday” cooking project. Then sometime in the new year it popped up again in BA’s daily email, and with my mild success at making pork buns, I thought I would try it for Valentine’s Day. It was also an excuse to buy Asian soup spoons, which I was thrilled about!

There are three components to soup dumplings: soup, filling, and dough. The soup is made with pork skin, pork bones, and a pig’s foot (as well as some ginger, scallions, and Shaoxing wine). The skin contains so much collagen that when you chill the finished stock, it turns into a Jell-o like consistency, or meat Jell-o, if you will. Then you cut the jelled soup into small cubes and add it to the pork filling. As you steam the filled dumplings, the jelled soup melts and that’s how you get the soup inside the dumpling. The soup itself is simple enough to make–it’s like any other stock, but it does require a trip to an Asian market as conventional butchers don’t necessarily have pig’s feet and straight up pork skin you can buy. It’ll also be the best place to get black vinegar and Shaoxing wine, which you’ll need for the filling and dipping sauce. I also recommend making the soup the day before.

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chilled and cubed jelled soup ready to go into the filling

The filling is really easy. You just mix ground pork with some scallions, garlic, ginger, and other Asian sauces like Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and sesame seed oil. And if you already cook a lot of Asian food, you will have most of these ingredients in your pantry. If not, as I mentioned above, a trip to the Asian market will get you those ingredients very inexpensively. Once all those ingredients are mixed, you add the cubed jelled soup to it.

Now for the dough. Compared to pork bun dough, this was a breeze. It’s literally just flour and water. You let it rest for an hour (I prepared the filling while it was resting), and then divide it into pieces to be rolled into dumpling skins. I knew shaping the dumplings would be difficult (18 pleats!), but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to roll out the skins themselves. The dough was very sticky, so even when I got the dough into a nice round shape, it would stick to my countertop when I pulled it up, stretching it out and ruining it. I then added more flour to the dough to prevent it from sticking, but then it would get tough.

On top of that, I could not get a handle on how to get the appropriate thickness. The middle of the skins should be thicker (so they don’t break when steamed), and the edges should be thinner so that when you make all those pleats, the top of the dumpling won’t be tough and chewy. My dumplings were the exact opposite. The middle was way too thin, the edges way too thick. In the photo below, you can see my scrapped skins in the top right corner. And those skins on the top left are not exactly circles.

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Luckily, I had a back-up plan. I told a colleague of mine (who happens to be Chinese) that I was making soup dumplings. She commended me for the attempt, but also advised me to buy pre-made skins just in case the dough failed. So while at the Asian market picking up pig’s feet and Shaoxing wine, I grabbed a package of dumpling skins as well. Or what I thought were dumpling skins (there were so many kinds!). I was glad I took my colleague’s advise because the dough failed me, or more accurately, I failed the dough. But when I tried to pleat the store-bought skins, they didn’t stick! I was surprised and frustrated by this, and ended up using my homemade dough anyway because at least I could get it to close. At that point I lost all patience with trying to roll and shape the dumplings correctly, so I just filled and sealed the dumplings anyway I could just to get them made. I figured however misshapen, they would still taste good. It wasn’t until after I made all the dumplings that Andrew stepped in and told me that you have to wet the edges of store-bought skins with water to get them to seal (an embarrassing display of my ignorance, and frankly, my whiteness).

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my ugly dumplings

With the dumplings finally made, I set about steaming them. That was when I truly discovered why you don’t want the bottom of your skins to be too thin, because all the dumplings broke and lost all their soup. So in the end I just made regular dumplings. They were pretty thick and chewy on top because of how I carelessly shaped them, but otherwise they were pretty good, especially with the dipping sauce made of black vinegar, soy sauce, scallions, and ginger. Served with Chinese style green beans and a strong French 75 cocktail, it turned into a rather nice meal.

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I would definitely make this recipe again, but using store-bought skins (making sure to wet the edges with water, of course). It’s just not worth the trouble making the skins by hand. And despite how much I love making meals entirely from scratch, I’m learning that a good home cook also knows when to cut corners and still keep the integrity of the home-cooked meal intact.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post to get the inside scoop on the tangerine sorbet I made for dessert (pun most definitely intended).

Recipes

 

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Recipe Discoveries

Last week was not great. It was busy at work. I was distracted and annoyed. Unproductive. This weekend I was able to pull myself together a little bit. I caught up on a few (of the many) things I’ve been putting off, got some rest, finished a book, and spent some time in the kitchen trying new recipes with a good measure of success. So when you’re feeling a bit low and uninspired, these recipes can help pick you back up.

Mango Margaritas

I don’t recommend making these every time you’re feeling low, but they certainly can help celebrate the start of the weekend, particularly when you’ve had a hard week, and especially when you share them with good friends. As I mentioned in the Momofuku Pork Buns (part 2) post, margaritas are a great way to use up the leftovers of that mango puree from mango pudding. I loosely followed my girl, Ree Drummond’s recipe, using mango puree to taste in place of the jarred mangos (and adding very little, if any additional sugar). I love the lime zest and sugar rim–it announces a party in looks and taste. And party we did.

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Spicy Tomato Soup

Barbara Lynch’s Spicy Tomato Soup from Food 52 is a simple soup to make on a lazy weekend or a busy weeknight. The ingredients are minimal and the method is easy. It does require blending and straining, which is a bit of a hassle, but definitely worth it to get a good homemade tomato soup and skip the preservatives and sodium of the store-bought kind.

Warm Lentil and Potato Salad

Smitten Kitchen recently posted this recipe. I’ve been waiting for a new lentil recipe to catch my eye so that I can use up the dregs of all the lentils in my pantry. The dressing is a vague cross between the dressing in your traditional potato salad and a German potato salad, containing dijon mustard, shallots, capers, and cornichons. I knew I would love this recipe based on those ingredients alone. It’s another simple dish to throw together, although you have to use a number of pots, and will most likely have to go to the store to pick up those capers and cornichons and a few other things. However, you will come away with a great (healthy) work lunch for a few days to help get you through another busy week.

Potato Chip Cookies

Yes, these are a thing and they are just as good as you want them to be. This is another Food 52 discovery (seriously, if don’t subscribe to them already, do so now). I’m not much of a cookie baker. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t find cookies to be all that exciting–to eat or make–but the whole game changes when you add crushed potato chips. This recipe does not disappoint, and I have 15 coworkers who can back me up on that. And this photo…

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My only regret is that I didn’t come up with this idea myself.

Korean Cooking: Sundubu

I was a late bloomer when it came to Korean food. My first taste of Korean BBQ was in college, and I didn’t have bi bim bap until after I graduated. Then I started dating Andrew (who’s Korean in case you don’t know) and he showed me how varied and wonderful Korean food is. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with kimchi jjigae before I fell in love with him. I consider my late introduction to Korean food to be one of the greatest food tragedies of my life, second only to my extremely late discovery of shabu, which Andrew also introduced me to. Seriously, where would I be without him?!

Eating Korean food is one thing. Cooking it, however, is intimidating. It’s a lot of unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. Last year, when I spent Thanksgiving with Andrew’s family, I helped his mom in the kitchen to try and learn a thing or two. Joanne Kim is a force in the kitchen when it comes to Korean food. Not once did she reference a recipe. I can barely make oatmeal without using a recipe. She cooks with the grace and ease of any professional chef. So comfortable in the kitchen, measuring through experience rather than metrics, multi-tasking with the practiced steps of doing this a lifetime.

Watching her that weekend taught me that Korean food is 100% approachable. It’s really not difficult–you just need a few key ingredients. She even sent me home with some of them: a large bottle of fish sauce and a large container of crushed Korean red pepper. Despite this head start, it still took me a year to attempt my first Korean dish.

Cue Sumi Lee. She is one of Andrew’s best friends. A complete sweetheart, she gifted me with this cookbook…

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…and wrote this lovely inscription:

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If you know me personally, you know that I took full advantage of my wedding registry to get a bunch of kitchenware I didn’t want to buy myself. Included in that were stone bowls to be used specifically for Korean cooking. These are individual serving bowls that can be heated directly on the stove, enabling you to serve food that is practically boiling. Two of the most common types of bowls are dol sot and sundubu. Dol sot is used for bi bim bap (mixed rice bowls) and sundubu for soup.

While I’ve been wanting to make bi bim bap for a long time, I wasn’t ready to attempt that dish for a midweek dinner, so I decided on sundubu, a spicy soft tofu soup with pork, kimchi, Korean pepper, garlic, onion, and egg (sundubu means soft tofu). It’s a pretty simple recipe and the ingredients are not hard to find, especially if you live in a metropolitan area or near a Korea town. You also don’t need any special stone bowls to make it, but it certainly makes it more fun.

When I told Andrew I was going to make sundubu, he was very skeptical. He didn’t think I could pull it off and wondered why we couldn’t just go to one of the million Korean restaurants in San Francisco instead. Well, I’m happy to say that I proved him wrong. Isn’t that what marriage is all about? Here are photos comparing my sundubu and Maangchi’s.

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Mine

 

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Maangchi’s

Not bad for a white girl, eh? I used the recipe from the cookbook, but you can also find it on Maangchi’s website. Before embarking on your own sundubu (if you choose to do so), here are a few things to note:

  1. The website recipe calls for a kelp and anchovy stock. The cookbook recipe does not. I used homemade vegetable stock I had on hand (because I’m that kind of person), but regular store-bought chicken stock will do.
  2. The recipe has you cook the sundubu directly in the stone bowl. My bowls were too small to cook in, so I made the soup in a regular pot and transferred the soup into my heated sundubu bowls for serving. It worked just fine.
  3. I am not a tofu aficionado. I don’t even really like it except in this soup. So I did not really know what to look for when I was shopping for it. The package said soft tofu, but it ended up being firmer than I wanted and not the really soft, creamy tofu that you want for sundubu. The soup still turned out well, but the texture was off. So if you are making this, be mindful that not all soft tofu is the right kind and look for the softest you can, preferably in a tube.

Happy (Korean) cooking!

Paella Party

“The world of food is a world of love, and of giving.” –Jacques Pépin

There’s no better way to sum up why Andrew and I have kicked off our series of dinner parties. It’s our love language and favorite way to show our love to our friends. I imagine that at some point these dinner parties will stop being a post-wedding project and will just become our way of living, hosting our friends all year round, over and over again. Lord knows I have enough cookbooks, food blogs, and Pinterest pins to get us through a lifetime of dinner parties.

Our kick-off dinner was last week with our friends Jim and Leila:

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Andrew has been friends with Jim since high school. Leila is Jim’s vibrant Brazilian wife who loves paella. We’ve told them for years we would have them over for paella without actually doing it. Every time we got together with Jim and Leila, Leila would practically shout at Andrew, “When do I get paella?!” So we got them over to our place for dinner to fulfill our promise.

Paella is one of Andrew’s signature dishes and he’s been working on his technique for years. One year I took him to a First Class Cooking class where you go to a chef’s house (Emily Dellas), drink wine, and make dinner with eight strangers. You make great food in a relaxed setting and learn all sorts of cooking tips. We went to the Spanish themed dinner and made gazpacho, a roasted red bell pepper salad, paella, and churros. For Jim and Leila, we had this same menu sans the salad, just to simplify things a little.

Every time we make gazpacho, we follow the recipe from First Class Cooking exactly. It has actually become one of our go-to recipes for a simple dinner on hot nights. Quickly pan fry some white fish and call it a meal. Unfortunately, I only have this photo of the recipe to share. Less than ideal for cooking from, but it’s worth the squinting!

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This is what the finished gazpacho looks like. The olive oil added lightens the color and gives the soup a bit of richness and a lovely creamy, smooth texture. Be sure to add the oil as you are blending. Don’t dump it all in and then blend. Otherwise, the soup won’t really emulsify and the liquid will separate a little. It won’t hurt the flavor, but you’ll lose the creamy texture, which is really what turns a mediocre gazpacho into a great one.

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Andrew’s paella recipe is a compilation of many sources and practice. He starts with the ingredients from Gordon Ramsey’s recipe (because he loves Gordon), except he uses arborio rice and nixes the chicken–it’s all seafood and sausage for him! He essentially grabs whatever seafood looks good at the market. This time he threw in some fried soft shell crab, which we never made before, but will definitely make again because it was absolutely delicious. We used this recipe and it turned into a gorgeous pile of fried crab goodness:

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For the method of cooking the paella, Andrew sticks with Emily’s recipe (again, sorry that it’s just a photo–I have no idea how we lost the originals!). But rather than use oil infused with saffron, Andrew infuses the stock with saffron like Marco Pierre White (which is also where Andrew got the idea to use arborio rice). Since Andrew uses sausage, the sausage provides enough oil for the dish. He also covered the paella at the end with foil to steam the seafood and retain moisture.

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This was the best paella he’s made yet:

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While Andrew took center stage making the starter and main dish, I finished the meal with churro rounds. Rather than use Emily’s recipe from the class, which was a little too labor intensive than I wanted to deal with, I made Mexican Chocolate Churro Rounds rounds from Food52. The recipe is not that complicated, and you will most likely have all the ingredients in your pantry already (hint: you don’t actually have to buy Mexican chocolate to make this). Although, I do recommend making a test batch before serving it to company just to get the hang of it. My first batch was okay, but the second batch turned out much better:

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Serve everything with four bottles of wine (i.e. one bottle per person) and you got yourself a successful dinner party. Stories will flow, laughter will follow, and bellies will leave full.

Last night we had another dinner party and made Vermicelli bowls with beer can chicken and creme brulee. I hope to have that post up later this week. Stay tuned!