Har gow — shrimp dumplings — dipped in soy sauce with chili paste are tiny flavorful umami bombs.
Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch has a cool recipe for homemade har gow. Making the shrimp filling is quick and easy but making the dumpling wrappers from scratch is a bit challenging. From making the dough to forming the wrappers, the process is somewhat tedious. If you don’t have the luxury of time, you can use Asian-store-bought dumpling wrappers instead; but if you do, I assure you that your efforts will be rewarded with tasty homemade dumplings.
Making the filling
8 ounces medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 Tbsp minced bamboo shoots
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp rice wine (optional)
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp ginger, grated
1 tsp cornstarch
1 egg white
Mix the ingredients for the filling thoroughly. Set aside.
Making the wrapper
1 1/4 cup wheat starch (wheat starch is different from wheat flour)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (tapioca starch is the same as tapioca flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp canola oil
In a medium bowl. combine the wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt. Here is an important note: wheat starch is different from wheat flour but tapioca starch is the same as tapioca flour. I got my wheat and tapioca starch from the local Asian store.
Add the boiling water and canola oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. Transfer the dough while it is still hot onto a clean surface dusted with wheat starch. Knead until smooth, adding a little more wheat starch, if necessary. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Use your palms to roll each part into an 8-inch log. Cut each log into 8 pieces. Place the pieces, together with the rest of the dough, in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep them moist.
Flatten each piece of dough into a round dumpling wrapper. Cut 6-inch square sheets of parchment paper. Place a piece of dough in between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a knife or the bottom of a flat pan press down on the dough to flatten the dough. Then using a rolling pin or the round end of a wooden spoon, roll out the dough further to make it larger and thinner. Rolling it too thin makes it too fragile and easy to break. The round dumpling wrapper should be at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
Peel off the parchment paper. Place the wrappers in a separate bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep them moist while you continue working on the rest of the batch. Alternatively, keep the wrappers in between two sheets of parchment paper.
Making the dumpling
Working with the wrapper to make the dumpling is the trickiest part. Rolling the wrapper to get the right thickness — neither too thick nor too thin –- is key but wrapping the filling requires a certain technique, which can only be learned and mastered through practice. Form each dumpling wrapper into a cup with overlapping pleats on one side. Dennis learned pleating rather quickly; I honestly didn’t and made unpleated cups instead. The important thing to remember is to form the wrapper into a cup that you can fill. If you go the pleated route, remember to leave about 1/3 of the circumference of the wrapper without pleats.
Spoon about a teaspoon of the shrimp filling into the pocket and keep the filling from touching the open edge of the wrapper. Close the wrapper by pressing the edges of the wrapper together, forming a half circle.
I recommend making the wrappers in the whole batch first and then make dumplings.
Place each dumpling in a steamer and make sure to leave enough space so that they do not get too crowded. I steamed half a dozen dumplings in an 8-inch bamboo steamer,
Set up your steamer and bring the water to a boil. Steam the dumplings over high heat for 7 minutes. Let the dumplings rest for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy with your favorite tasty beverage. Dennis prefers a tall cold glass of Diet Dr. Pepper while I prefer a glass of tasty pinot noir.
Char siu baos are Cantonese buns, bao, filled with a barbecued pork filling, char siu. They can either be steamed or baked. I personally prefer the steamed variety either as a snack or as part of dim sum with Chinese tea. The bao filling can either be savory like char siu pork or it can be sweet like a Lotus seed bun made with sweetened Lotus seed paste.
Siopao is the Filipino char siu bao, which can be filled with pork, chicken, or even salted eggs. When I was a kid growing up, I always enjoyed tasty siopao with a cold bottle of soda as a tasty snack after school.
How do you make homemade char siu bao? First make the char siu or barbecue pork filling and then the yeast dough. Place the filling inside the bun and steam them. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings.
Making the char siu pork filling
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp canola oil
salt and ground white pepper to taste
2 scallions, chopped white and green parts
1/2 pound char siu, homemade or store-bought, diced (click here to find out where to buy store-bought char siu pork)
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
Combine sugar, salt, white, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the char siu pork and stir well. Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the pork is heated through.
Add the Shaoxing rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. Add the wine and cornstarch mixture to the warm pork and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the mixture has come together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature before using.
The filling may be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.
Making the yeast dough
1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour
Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
Combine sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. Keep stirring as a ragged but soft dough forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes. You should not need additional flour if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic.Press your finger into the dough and it should spring back with a slight indentation remaining.
Place the dough in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise such as an oven and let it sit for around 45 minutes until the dough has nearly doubled. You can refrigerate the dough if you do not need it right away but make sure that it is covered well with a plastic wrap.
Forming and steaming the bao
Lightly dust your clean work surface with flour. Cut the dough in half and roll into a foot-long log. Cut the log into eight pieces.
Roll each piece into a ball and flatten each piece gently into a small disc using your palm. Using a small rolling pin (either a 1-inch wooden dowel or the end of a wooden spoon like what I used, would do) roll the edges and only the edges. There should be a small bulge at the center of the dough, which the Chinese calls the belly.
Place a generous tablespoon of your char siu pork filling in the center of the dough, right on the belly. Wrap the filling by pressing and pulling the edges of the dough.
Gather and pull the edges up and twist the top to fully cover the filling.
Cut 2-inch square wax paper sheets and use these to line the bottom of each bun before steaming them. Steam up to 4 buns in an 8-inch bamboo steamer. Make sure that there’s around a 1 to 2-inch space in between buns inside the steamer. A bamboo steamer is definitely not a must; a regular steamer will work, too.
Boil water in your wok or a large pan and place the steamers with the buns in your wok or pan. Steam for around 15 minutes. Make sure that the water does not come in contact with the buns.
Remove the lid before you turn off the heat to avoid condensed water from dripping back to the buns. Continue steaming the rest of the batch.
You can pretty much put anything inside your bao. You can make your own barbecue pork from pork loin and your favorite barbecue sauce. You can even make good ol’ Sloppy Joe if you want and make it your bao filling. But as Dennis cleverly pointed out, it has to be called Un-Sloppy Joe because it isn’t sloppy anymore. The fact that the filling is conveniently contained inside the bun actually makes baos a really cool snack.
Let me know what interesting tasty fillings you come up with for your bao.
True to Dennis’s genuine love for all things chocolate and all things peanut butter, we made a chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter frosting for his birthday.
Okay, I’m actually using the pronoun “we” here very loosely. It was more like “he” rather than “we”. Dennis made his first two-layer chocolate cake from scratch and I was the assistant pastry chef and food stylist. We used a basic chocolate cake recipe from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food and a chocolate butter icing recipe from The Joy of Cooking. We tweaked the icing recipe a little to make a decadent chocolate and peanut butter frosting instead. The chocolate cake recipe is a great versatile recipe that can be used to make cakes in any format from sheet cakes to cupcakes.
For the chocolate cake, makes one 9-inch one-layer or multilayer round cake
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, softened
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1-1/4 cups boiling water
For the chocolate and peanut butter frosting, makes two cups of frosting
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Making the cake
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.
Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, and shake out the excess. Lining the pan with parchment paper makes removing the cake from the pan much easier.
Coarsely chop the unsweetened chocolate. We used the Venezuelan chocolate El Rey Bucare that has 58.5% cocoa. Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. The metal bowl should be big enough so that it sits on top of the pot without touching the water.
Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside the melted chocolate.
Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy. Beat the butter either by hand or in a stand mixer. Beat in the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Then beat in the eggs, one egg at a time. When fully blended, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixture and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then stir in the rest of the dry ingredients. Gradually pour in the boiling water until completely blended. The batter will have a thin liquid consistency.
Pour the batter equally into the two cake pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. The cooled cake can be kept in the pan and stored if you are not using the cake the same day. Just make sure that it is tightly covered.
The recipe can also be used to make a sheet cake or cupcakes. For a sheet cake, prepare a half-sheet pan as mentioned above. Pour the batter, smooth the top, and bake for about 20 minutes. For cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes. The recipe makes around 24 individual cupcakes.
Making the icing
Melt the chocolate the same way as previously. Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat. Add the unsalted butter, stir in the milk and the vanilla extract. Blend by hand or use a stand mixer. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add the peanut butter and mix until well blended.
Add more sugar, if needed, to thicken the consistency. According to the Joy of Kitchen, confectioners’s sugar icings tend to thicken on its own if left undisturbed for a few minutes. Also, it thickens if stirred over a bowl of ice water. Add more peanut butter if you prefer a more peanut buttery taste.
Make the icing just before using.
Assembling the Cake
Place the first layer on a cake pedestal. Using a carving knife, trim the top of the first layer to make it flat.
Evenly spread a generous layer of the icing on top of the cake using a metal spatula. Then place the second layer on top of the frosting.
Generously coat the cake with the frosting using a metal spatula. The recipe for the frosting makes 2 cups, which we found to be just enough for a two-layer 9-inch cake. If you prefer a cake more lavishly coated with frosting, adjust the ingredients proportionally to yield more.
The cake was amazing. Rich and moist. Dennis’s birthday, too was equally amazing. Sweet sixteen.
For my birthday this year, Dennis graciously offered to bake me a tres leches cake. I’m actually very proud of Dennis and very proud of myself, too since I feel responsible for converting him. You see, Dennis is, or rather was, a strict chocolate only for dessert person. He loves chocolate and chocolate alone. But I have successfully managed to convince him that there is so much good stuff besides chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate, too. But I also love carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake and I love tres leches.
Tres leches or Pastel de Tres leches is “three milk cake” in Spanish. It is a sponge cake or butter cake soaked in, you guessed it right, three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. The cake is very popular in many parts of Latin America. A popular variation is adding cajeta or sweetened caramelized milk, which makes it cuatro leches, or “four milk cake”.
Making tres leches at home requires a bit of a time commitment. You need to bake the cake and then leave the cake refrigerated overnight to let it soak in the milk glaze before topping it with whipped cream. The recipe is taken from Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Note that the measurements are very precise, for instance, it’s 6 3/4 ounces cake flour, not 7 but 6 3/4 ounces by weight. Dry ingredients are by weight. Liquids are by volume. Note also that the recipe calls for a standard mixer. It will make things easier but a big bowl and some brawn will be fine, too.
For the cake
vegetable oil to coat the baking pan
6 3/4 ounces (by weight) cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces (by weight) sugar
5 whole eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the milk glaze
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-half
For the whipped topping
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces (by weight) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Making the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.
Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly.
Do not panic if there appears to be a very small amount of batter. It will rise and it will soak in the milk glaze later.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.
Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.
Making the glaze
Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake.
Refrigerate the cake overnight. The tray will feel very heavy because of the milk glaze. Really heavy.
Making the whipped topping
Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick. The topping can also be made without a standard mixer. It can be done with just a large bowl, a whisk and a lot of stamina. It’s more difficult but it can be done.
Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
For a more festive tres leches, add some color by sprinkling candy sprinkles generously over the whipped topping.
It may appear daunting to make tres leches at home but let me assure you that the rewards are great and tasty. It’s creamy. It’s moist. It’s sweet. It’s seriously delicious.
Just for You is the place-to-be for tasty big breakfasts: fried eggs, ham, home fries and their freshly baked cornbread. I love my cornbread sweet rather than savory, but not too sweet and I love it moist with a little bit of gritty texture. Just for You’s has all these wonderful elements. Enjoy it with a generous spread of butter or with their sweet strawberry jam. The corncakes are equally good, too. They have that melt-in-your-mouth, buttery and gritty goodness that I love. And a visit to Just for You is never complete without indulging in their puffy beignets. So delightful.
Inspired by Just for You’s cornbread, I ventured out, bought myself some corn meal and made my own cornbread. And there’s no better way to enjoy a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven piece of cornbread in this cold winter than to pair it with a tasty bowl of hearty homemade chili. For that, I solicited Dennis’ help to make his mom’s homemade chili, the chili he grew up with in chilly Ohio.
1-1/4 cup yellow corn meal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup fat-free milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish. You can use a pyrex dish, a non-stick baking pan or you can also use a muffin pan to make corn muffins.
Combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Combine the milk, oil and egg in a separate bowl. After mixing them well add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and pour into your baking dish. Note that the original recipe called for a cup of flour to a cup of corn meal but for a grittier texture I added a 1/4 cup more corn meal and used 1/4 cup less flour in this recipe.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Mom’s Homemade Chili
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder or freshly minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin (optional)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Great-tasting chili is very much a cook-until-the-way-you-like-it sort of comfort food. So feel free to experiment with the spices as you wish.
1 to 1.5 lbs of extra lean ground beef
1 can black beans
1 can red kidney beans
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1 medium to large size onion diced
1-2 green or red bell peppers chopped
Worcestershire sauce (start with 1 Tbsp and then add more to taste)
Cooking time is 2-4 hours. Slow cooking is best.
Brown the ground beef in a large stew pot over medium heat. Don’t thoroughly cook the meat but only up to a point when most of the fat has come out. If you prefer a finer texture break up the ground beef completely but if you like a chunkier chili, as I do, break it up in larger bite size bits.
Extra lean beef (less than 5% fat) is recommended, which is the healthiest choice. If you do use extra lean beef there is no need to drain the fat out. Otherwise, drain the beef fat using a colander and return it to the pot. I think it’s a smart idea to give up the beef fat so you can indulge in butter with your bread later!
Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, and peppers to the browned beef and mix well. It will be pretty thick but there is no need to add water here as there will be plenty as the vegetables continue to cook. Add the Worcestershire sauce and chili spices and mix well. Let this cook and come to a slow boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the red kidney and black beans to the mix and stir well together.
Now, here’s the fun part, or well, at least Dennis thinks so. Take a break and let it simmer for about an hour while stirring it occasionally. Come back and taste the chili. If you think it needs a little more oomph add more Worcestershire, salt, chili powder and perhaps more garlic powder or freshly minced garlic. Cook for another half an hour on low heat and stir well occasionally. Continue adding more salt and chili powder if you prefer but remember to stir everything well. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Great-tasting chili is truly a season-to-taste slow cooked meal. Chili powders have different levels of potency so feel free to experiment.
Enjoy a bowl of chili with a piece of warm cornbread or some saltine crackers on a chilly winter day. Some folks love red onions or grated cheddar with their chili but I love it just the way it is with some sweet cornbread.
For breakfast, scramble some eggs in butter and top it with chili and a piece of cornbread.
By the way, I don’t think I have found the best chili in the city. San Francisco doesn’t really strike me as a city for chili but maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?