Sunday, July 31, 2005

IMBB 17: Green Tea Dumplings

It's that time again: Is My Blog Burning? that is. This month's theme, hosted by the creative A La Cuisine!, is tasteTea, meaning any dish, either a food or a drink, that involves tea and is tasty. I was thinking of coming up with my own interesting Ice Tea recipe, but I really wanted to try cooking with tea. I also didn't really want to make a dessert since I often have bad luck with baking. This of course led me on a hunt through all my cookbooks searching for a recipe that used tea.

Unfortunately, my search only turned up some tips on brewing the perfect cuppa. After browsing around on the internet for some time, I kept getting routed back to a cookbook called Eat Tea, so I decided to head over to Barnes & Noble to check it out. To make a long story short, I bought it.

After poring through all the recipes, I decided on the Green Tea Dumplings, especially as I've been on an Asian food kick lately. I followed the recipe more or less, substituting turkey for pork in the filling because I wanted to share them with Mom who doesn't eat mammals. I also kept the fillings in the fridge overnight where the flavors combined and deepened. And they tasted even better fried.

Green Tea Dumplings

2 1/4 cups Hot Water
1 tablespoon finely ground Green Tea Leaves (easiest in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle)
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 pounds Flour

1 1/2 pounds ground Turkey (or Pork)
1 head Napa Cabbage, cored and finely chopped
1 Egg, beaten
3 Shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Green Tea Leaves
2 tablespoons Ginger, minced
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Sesame Oil

For the Dough: Combine Water, Tea, Brown Sugar and Flour in a blender and mix into a ball of smooth dough. Place in a bowl, cover and let rest 30 minutes.

For the filling: While the dough is resting, mix together the Turkey, Napa Cabbage, Egg, Shallots, Tea, Ginger, Salt and Pepper, Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil in another bowl. Cook a small amount in a skillet to check the seasonings.

Cut the dough into small pieces and roll it out into circles on a floured board. Be sure to roll it out very thinly or else you will end up with monster-sized doughy dumplings (which can be very good as well).

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of Filling on the dough and fold it up, crimping the edges.

Boil the dumplings in salted water for 8 minutes, the drain on paper towels. If you like, heat the oil in a skillet and fry the dumplings on both sides. Serve with Dipping Sauce. Makes about 50 dumplings.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Le Madeleine

Taking advantage of being back in NYC, a few nights ago, the Boy and I went out to dinner and the theatre. (Or, rather, the theatre and dinner so we could enjoy our meal at a more leisurely pace rather than wolfing it down so as to get to the show on-time.) We saw Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof, a revival that I cannot recommend enough. Fiddler has always been one of my favorite musicals and seeing it on Broadway, with such a talented actor was a delight. Fierstein carries the whole show and makes you laugh and cry, playing, singing and dancing the whole way through. The sets are beautiful, making Anatevka look like a town any of us would want to visit. There are stars twinkling in the background and Fierstein completely fills the Minskoff theatre's grand stage. He's only in it until mid-August, however, so if you have a chance, run and get tickets. They're selling fast.

After such an exciting night at the theatre, I was worried dinner wouldn't live up! Luckily, though, it did. We ate at Le Madeleine, a restaurant in the Theater District that's been around forever but that we've never gone to. It calls itself a "modern French Bistro," and it was, for New York standards. By that I mean we never forgot ourselves and thought we were in Paris, but it was good, creative French food and we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

The restaurant is quite dark and, at 10.15 at night, there was easily room for us even though I had made reservations. There's an outdoor garden, but we sat inside, in a small room. Surprisingly, however, even though there are a lot of tables, it doesn't feel crowded and we sat in a small private corner. The service was friendly and attentive (our water glasses were never left empty for long), but not overbearing.

Since it was so late, we didn't want to go for the full three-course prix-fixe. In fact, we were going to only get main dishes, but I had read about their mussels, one of their specialties, so we split an order as an appetizer. These Prince Edward Isle Mussels "Basquaise" were perhaps the best mussels we had ever had. They are cooked in a meaty tomato sauce, similar to a bolognaise, with chunks of spicy merguez sausage and saffron. It was really delicious; I would never have thought of adding meat to mussels. The mussels themselves were plump and sweet.

For main dishes, we were boring and both ordered the same thing, but we weren't disappointed. A Spice Crusted Duck Breast, it was meltingly tender, perfectly cooked to medium-rare so it was bright pink inside the dark spiced outside. I'm not sure what the spices were, but there was a significant bite to it. It was served with a little pile of spinach, and exquisite endive marmalade that I ate plain, only putting it on one piece of duck, and a savory dried fruit bread pudding. I was curious how a fruit bread pudding could be savory, but it was spicy and the dried fruit blended right in, adding a chewiness to the soft bread pudding.

We also had a half-bottle of an unmemorable Shiraz--the only bad part of the meal.

All in all, this was a delicious restaurant, one to which we will certainly return. My only problem? It seems a little gender-confused...

(Madeleine is a feminine word, meaning La, not Le.) And that's the French lesson for the day!

Le Madeleine
403 West 43rd Street
New York, NY

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Uncle Wiggly's Stir-fried Turkey and Scallion

Dr. Biggles over at MeatHenge is having a contest : Uncle Wiggly's Goodtime Cooking Contest - Version Weekday, to be more precise. What this means is that Dr. Biggles is on a quest for easy meals he can serve his family on weeknights. A worthy cause, no?

Very often, our easy meals are pasta, often with a heavy meat sauce--the Boy's specialty. Or I'll make a frittata using up whatever left-overs are floating around the fridge. But it's too hot here for a heavy pasta and, well, with EoMEoTE coming up, I just wasn't in the mood to write about eggs.

I've been playing with Mom's wok since I came home and realized that stir-fries are always fast. The most time-consuming part of a stir-fry is cutting everything up! Even then, it won't take more than ten minutes of prep and the actual stir-frying is only about five minutes.

This can be a meal in itself, with a nice side of rice to preserve authenticity. If you're craving vegetables, make a quick salad on the side.

When creating this recipe, I used Grace Young's delicious book, The Breath of a Wok, for inspiration.

Stir-fried Turkey and Scallions

1 pound skinless, boneless Turkey thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes (Chicken works as well)
2 1/2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon very dry Sherry
1/2 teaspoon Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Cornstarch
1 tablespoon cooked, canned Soy Beans (you can also use Black Beans)
2 cloves minced Garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons minced Ginger (or to taste; we used a lot of ginger)
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
4 Scallion, cut into 1-inch chunks + 1 Scallion, chopped
1/3 cup good-quality Chicken Broth

In a medium bowl, combine Turkey, 1 1/2 teaspoons Soy Sauce, Sherry, 1/4 teaspoon Brown Sugar, Salt, Pepper and Cornstarch. Mix well, preferably with your hands. The Turkey will be slightly sticky. In a small bowl, mash the Soy Beans, then mix with the Garlic, Ginger and the rest of the Soy Sauce (1 teaspoon) and Brown Sugar (1/4 teaspoon).

Heat a flat-bottomed wok (or skillet) over high-heat until smoking. Swirl in Vegetable Oil and add Turkey mixture, spreading it evenly over the bottom of the wok. Let cook for 1 minute, allowing the Turkey to brown. Then stir-fry, lifting the Turkey with a spatula, for another minute. Add the Bean mixture, 4 Scallions and Broth and stir-fry for another minute until the Turkey is fully cooked and the sauce is thickened. Add the final chopped Scallion. Serve quickly over rice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Chez les Ploucs: Bordeaux, Part 2

The only truly bad thing about Bordeaux was Hotel Alton, the hotel we had booked ourselves into and where we stayed the first night. It was rather far out of center city, accessible only by a bus a bit of a hike from the hotel. It was also down a small side street and took us hours to find it, schlepping all our luggage, when we first arrived from the train station. And there was no air-conditioning. After we checked in, we learned we could cancel the reservation and only stay the first night, so we promptly took a bus into the city, found a charming hotel only a few blocks from the Palais de Justice and then explored until dinnertime.

When it was time for dinner, not only were we hungry, but feeling grungy and a little cranky, if I may say so. We checked out the menus of a few Michelin-recommended restaurants, all of which sounded tasty, but not quite the comfort food we were craving. As we were beginning to get frustrated, we stumbled upon Chez les Ploucs, a noisy, affordable restaurant where the waiters wear blue overalls and the tables have red-and-white checkered tablecloths. There was a noisy party going on in the back room, but a table for two was waiting unoccupied under a giant boar's head in the front, so we sat down and ordered aperitifs.

For an aperitif, I usually order a kir (white wine and creme de cassis), but I'm usually willing to try new drinks if they don't sound too sweet, so I was intrigued by the house specialty, a Plouc. Rather similar to a kir, it was red wine, creme de cassis and armagnac--perfect, especially after such a long day. The Boy ordered a glass of Porto Rouge, but he wished he had ordered a Plouc. We're still trying to work out the proportions to make our own!

Famished, we both opted for a three-course prix fixe. Meat-heavy and only 15 Euros, it was a perfect choice. We both started with a Salade Landaise, a salad with thick pieces of smoked magret de canard, a small pile of frisee and small toast points smeared with foie gras. As neither of us are really salad-eaters, this was an ideal salad for us--twice as much meat as lettuce and the meat was deliciously warm and juicy so it served as dressing for the leaves that clung to it.

Next I ordered the Tranche de gigot d'agneau a la creme d'ail, a thick slice of roasted leg of lamb with a garlic cream. It was served with home-fried potatoes and a non-descript green vegetable. The lamb was tasty and well-cooked, the meat sweet, and the garlic cream a perfect dose of spice. The potatoes were tasty and the vegetable forgettable, but they were the standard sides so we weren't too disapointed.

The Boy had the Cassoulet de grand-mere, a white cannelinni bean stew with sausages and a duck leg. It had been cooked for hours and all the tastes now combined together to form what really did taste like something my French grand-mother would make, if I had one.

For dessert I chose the Pain perdu--toujours pas trouve!, the French version of French toast which is always served as dessert. Pain perdu literally means "Lost Bread" and the joke was that it had "still not been found." I have to admit--it was because of this play on words that I ordered the Pain and I wasn't disappointed. It was served warm, thickly sliced, with raisins.

The Boy's dessert was Tarte aux pommes, an unspectacular but still good apple pie.

Our wine was a bottle of Bordeaux (surprised?) for only 12 Euros, though they also served even cheaper carafes of house wine.

Chez les Ploucs
10, Rue des Faussets

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Bordeaux, Part One

As promised, I will recap various highlights of our European Adventure. After leaving La Rochelle, we continued down the coast of France to Bordeaux, known for--guess what?--red wine. Actually we tasted some very good white wines from the area as well, which are often sweet and rather unknown in the States. Needless to say, the highlight of Bordeaux for us was, by far, the wine.

Renting a car for a day proved to be too much hassle so, rather than drive out to a few vineyards, we made our own wine-tastings in town, visiting liquor stores with free wine-tastings out front and going to wine bars where we ordered a glass of the highlighted wine or whatever else struck our fancy. The only rule we made ourselves? It had to be from the Bordeaux area.

That proved to be even easier than we'd imagined. The wines of Bordeaux are divided into various sections: The Cotes, which comprise Graves, Sauternes, Medocs, Cotes de Bourg, Cotes de Blaye, Cotes de Castillon, Cotes de Franc, among others.

The best wine-tasting we went to was actually in a cave in center city. To enter, we descended in a tired old elevator to the basement--a dark faintly musty room. We gingerly entered, allowing our eyes to grow accustomed to the light, and looked at the list of tasting opportunities: all comprised of three wines, with each tasting levels relating to the price of the tasting. As we discussed whether we wanted to do this and which level we wanted, we heard a man call in French: "Come in, come in, it's safe. I don't bite."

We walked awkwardly in, asked for the cheapest tasting, chose all reds and entered the cave, filled with battles. The woman in charge of the tasting poured us full glasses of three reds and gave us long descriptions of each, pausing long enough between sentences to allow me to translate to the Boy. In the end, I decided I liked the Haut Medoc best--a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon--perfectly smooth with just the slightest hint of acidity. Unfortunately, our suitcases were too full to pick up a bottle for ourselves.

The other great thing about Bordeaux was how proud of their wines they were and how affordable good wines were in restaurants, at least one of which I'll write up in the next few days...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Back in NYC

My profound apologies for this enormous silence. We've been travelling France and Italy and internet cafes were sparse, so there just wasn't time for blogging! But we took notes and will slowly do write-ups of the places we visited, so please stay tuned for that.

The other news is that I'm back in New York, having arrived yesterday afternoon. It's strange being back in an English-speaking country and living with my parents, but nice to have a stocked kitchen and all the wonderful stores and the Union Square Greenmarket. There are also new restaurants to try, old ones to visit and the new enormous Whole Foods in Union Square. So there will be many write-ups and such.

Sadly, though, the nature of this blog must now change. After living in France, my cooking has definitely been influenced, both because of the ingredients and what I ate in restaurants. I'm excited to see where it leads now I'm in the States and I'll have to try and adapt everything to pounds, ounces, cups, etc. So, we'll always love Paris...

...but onto New York!