07 February 2006

I am not a vegetarian...

...nor did I marry one, need I say more?

Well actually I do. This gorgeous hunk of beef is from the Ginger Pig, my favourite butcher in London. In fact, it is one of the things I will miss most about London when we leave. Without a doubt, the Ginger Pig's porky products are excellent (please please please try their Gloucester Old Spot bacon before you die. Oh and their sausage roll is a thing of beauty, too), with their products coming from their own farms up North. However, all the other meat is pretty top notch, too. This rib of beef is one example and all my guests were well pleased with the goose I bought for Christmas supper (which left me with a litre jar of goose fat, hurrah!). Poulet Anglais, my favourite chicken breed, is sold there as well.

If I ever have the money to build a house, I will copy their cold room and have animal carcasses hanging there, ready and waiting. Beautiful!

Run, don't walk, to have a look for yourself.

Ginger Pig
8-10 Moxon Street
London W1U 4EW

TEL: 020.7935.7788

A New Year's Tradition

It is 4704, the Year of the Dog and the New Year arrived a week ago. As usual I am late, but I will use my excuse of throwing a party for 45 (for which I did all the cooking) plus cleaning up our flat and dealing with our move (shared efforts with darling S.). I was so busy at our party that I didn't get a chance to take pictures before the hungry hoards descended on the food and devoured everything (and I do mean pretty much everything). I still wanted to share some of my CNY traditions so I made a big plate of dumplings, or Jiaozi, the next day. These survived the party purely because my husband, who’s only cooking duty for the party was to boil the dumplings, got a bit tipsy and forgot that there was a second bag in the freezer. His oversight was our gain the next night when I was too pooped to cook.

Symbolic foods are a large part of Chinese New Year. Fish is eaten, because the Chinese word for fish “yu” sounds the same word as abundance. Jiaozi, a boiled dumpling, are eaten for the New Year because their shape harks back to ancient Chinese money, gold and silver ingots to be exact. Another reason is that the words Jiaozi literally means to sleep together and have sons, a much desired fate amongst Chinese. Prawns represent laughter because of the shape whereas Nian Gao, a sticky rice cake, will bring you both “Year High” or a good year and good fortune as its stickiness ensures that good things will “stick” to you. As my dad hails from the Shandong province in Northern China, I am particularly fond of dumplings, a staple of this region. So here I share my recipe for this New Year’s treat.


For dough
1 3/4 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cold water

For filling
1 lb ground pork (not too lean)
1/2 to 1cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoshing wine (or dry sherry)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup minced green onion
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 cups grated zucchini (2-3 whole ones)
Salt, if needed

For dipping sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp. Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 tablespoons green onion
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon of chili paste or oil (optional)

Special equipment: a 6-inch (3/4-inch-diameter) rolling pin or dowel
A large pot in which to cook the dumplings

Make dough:
Put 1 3/4 cups flour in a large bowl, then add water, stirring with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out dough (including any loose flour) onto a work surface and knead, incorporating some of remaining 1/4 cup flour if dough is sticky, until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

Make filling while dough stands:
Put the ground pork in a bowl, and start mixing a bit of water in, stirring in one direction only. Chopsticks are ideal stirring implements. Continue adding water, the soy sauce and the wine and stirring all the while until the mixture looks a bit sticky. You may not need all the water. At this point, mix in the sesame oil, ginger, green onions, cilantro and zucchini and salt if needed. Fry off a little patty to check seasoning; it should be highly seasoned as wrappers have none.

After the dough has rested, continue kneading 5 more minutes on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be elastic, smooth and not sticky. Roll the dough into an even rope about 15 inches long. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces to form about 30 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball with a rolling pin that has been lightly dusted with flour into 3-inch rounds, rolling from the center to the edges, making the center slightly thicker and the edges thinner. Cover all unused dough with a slightly damp cloth.

Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper or dust with flour. Work on 1 dumpling at a time, keeping the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. Place about 2 teaspoons of filling in the middle of a wrapper. Starting at one end, seal the dumpling together by pleating and squeezing to form a crescent shape. Place filled dumpling on the prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining ingredients until all the wrappers are filled.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add enough jiaozi to cover the base of the pot about 1.5 times, stirring to make sure none stick to the base of the pot. Cover.

When it comes to a boil, add 1 cup cold water. Cover. Repeat. When it comes to a boil for the third time, they are ready to serve.

Note: if you stop it before the third boil, the meat will not be cooked through. Also, if you don't add cold water each time, the jiaozi will fill up with air and explode.

Make dipping sauce:
Combine vinegar, soy sauce sesame, onions, cilantro and chili, if using.

You can freeze uncooked dumplings for later use. Freeze dumplings separately on cookie sheets until firm, then put them in plastic bags. When cooking from frozen, cook exactly the same way.

02 February 2006

My best Christmas pressie!

I have long been a supporter of the "do it by hand until you can do it eyes closed" philosophy of cooking. No mechanical tools should enter into the equation until I can chop like a machine, whip egg whites like a she-devil and knead dough with the other beefy-forearmed bakers out there. I was stubbornly proud of the fact that I could make a Chinese New Year meal for 50 without any mechanical aid. But the more I cooked, the more I realised that I was a bit of a wimp, and my knife skills, while they didn't suck, were nowhere near my dad's food processor-like chopping action.

Then I started to research. And then I started to pine. And then it happened, I fell in love with Babe. Oh, she's fiery all gowned in red and she can dance with the best of them, but in the UK she is also an extrememly expensive date (sort of like me in my younger, singler days, sigh). She is also not the daintiest of creatures and my flat lacks a certain amount space to house something as lovely as she in comfort. So the pragmatic side of me said "No way honey, it just isn't meant to be." But every so often, I'd look her up and pine some more. Then Christmas 2005 happened.

When it comes to giving (and especially receiving) presents, I truly believe in the "It's the thought that counts" camp. The fact that someone has taken the time to go and buy me something, take it home, wrap it up and possibly label it with one of those cute gift tags, well that alone is a pretty big thrill (although I am still perplexed by certain gifts I have received over the years, I nonetheless appreciate the gestures enormously, whether or not the presents finds themselves into my day-to-day living situation).

My darling husband, S., kept asking me what I wanted. I tried to be reasonable and asked for a couple more cookbooks, small stuff in light of our impending move (more on that later). He then went all quiet, so I figured he had found something. Christmas arrived, we went down to my in-laws and had a big present opening all around. And I had a BIG present opening indeed. I thought I would share my latest acquisition with you. Kitchen Aid virgins, turn away now, you may not be able to handle the sheer glory of the stand mixer. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Babe.

Yes, Christmas has long come and gone, but what with 3 weeks of travelling, plus the current upheaval of moving to another country (yup you heard it here first folks, soon I will not be a UK-based blog, but a Singapore-based one. J., CH and company, here I come!), my posting has been non-existant. I know, what else is new right?

Nevertheless, isn't she gorgeous? I have already whipped up a soufflé cake and a big batch of dumpling filling for the New Year and it took me no time at all. Just think what concoctions I'll be able to cook up next. Stayed tuned...