Friday, February 16, 2007

Traditional Dumplings for the Chinese New Year

This past weekend celebrators of the Chinese New Year welcomed the Year of the Pig while consuming crescent-shaped steamed dumplings. The dumplings, or jiaozi, resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots and symbolize prosperity and good fortune. By eating the jiaozi at midnight, New Year's participants hope to transfer wealth from the previous year into the next. The dumplings are traditionally steamed or boiled, as described below, but can be prepared as potstickers as well. While the initial celebrations have ended, many days remain in this two-week long Spring Festival to enjoy these tasty treats. For a fun, simple Oscar Night hors d'oeuvre, steam the jiaozi and serve with the scallion dipping sauce. Enjoy!

New Year’s Eve Dumplings
Yield = 30 Dumplings

3 cups minced Napa cabbage
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ lb ground pork
5 scallions, minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
freshly ground pepper to taste
24 round dumpling wrappers

Scallion Dipping Sauce
Yield = ½ cup

¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce or Sriracha
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Toss the cabbage with the salt in a colander set over a bowl. Let sit 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix pork, scallions, soy, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, egg whites and pepper. After the 20 minutes, gently squeeze the moisture out of the cabbage using a rubber spatula, then add to pork mixture. Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: combine all ingredients except the scallions. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Add the scallions just before serving.

Fill a large, wide-mouthed pot with water and bring to a boil. Lightly dust a cookie sheet with flour. Fill a small bowl with water. Lay 5 wrappers on a work surface. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Using your fingertip moisten the edge of one wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper in half. Pinch the center and work toward the outside edges, pressing out air pockets. When dumpling is sealed, place on floured pan and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Repeat with remaining dumplings.
When all the dumplings are prepared, add 8-10 to the boiling water. Make sure none is sticking to the bottom of the pan—use a rubber spatula to release dumplings from bottom of pan if necessary. Boil for 4 minutes, check one, and cook for 1-2 minutes longer if necessary. Times will vary depending on the size of the pot and how many dumplings are being cooked at one time.
Remove dumplings from water with slotted spoon or spider, and let drain and dry briefly before serving. Serve with Scallion Dipping Sauce.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Coeurs à La Crème

Happy Valentine's Day!

Coeurs à La Crème
Yield = 6 individual hearts (4 oz)

1¼ cups heavy cream
½ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
fresh strawberries

Special Equipment:
6 (4-oz) perforated heart-shaped coeurs à la crème molds

Cut a double-layer of cheesecloth into six 8-inch squares. Dampen and wring out lightly. Press one square into each of the heart-shaped molds and set aside.
In a large bowl, whip 1 cup of the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer mixer to a separate bowl and store in the refrigerator.
In the same bowl used to beat the cream, whip the remaining ¼ cup of cream with the mascarpone cheese, the vanilla, lemon juice and Grand Marnier until thoroughly blended. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the chilled whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone cheese mixture. Spoon the finished mixture into the prepared molds and fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the tops. Lightly tap the bottoms of the molds on the counter to remove any air spaces between the mixture and the molds. Refrigerate on a baking sheet for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours.
When ready to serve, invert onto dessert plates, remove cheesecloth and serve with the fresh strawberries.

Note: Coeurs can be prepared up to 2 days in advanced.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Red Velvet Cupcakes

While I wish I could boast to my New York friends to having tasted a Philadelphia pastry shop’s Red Velvet cupcake that rivals one from their beloved Magnolia Bakery or Cupcake Café, I cannot. In fact, the inspiration to make these little treats stems from the cupcake connoisseurs themselves. When a group of my New York friends came to visit last weekend, and described these as “the best cupcakes ever,” I had to test a batch for myself. Indeed, the cake is moist and rich; the cocoa flavor, distinct; and the frosting, when soft and creamy, delicious. Impressive looking yet easy to prepare, these festive cupcakes make a wonderful Valentine's Day dessert. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2¼ cups (9¾ oz) sifted flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon red food coloring (2 1-oz bottles)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened
1 teapoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place liners in 12-cup cupcake pan. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.
Spoon batter into cupcake liners only 2/3 or ¾ of the way full—don’t be tempted to fill them higher: they’ll bake into mushroom caps instead of nice rounded domes, and if they are filled too high, there will not be enough batter for the 24 cupcakes. Bake cakes until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 23-26 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan onto racks; bake remaining cupcakes; cool all completely before frosting.

Frosting: Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.