Wonton Gluttony

I stopped in the grocery only to get milk the other day and somehow by the time I got past produce, I had decided to get the ingredients for dumplings. There had been a story in the paper about Chinese New Year, and it was like a time bomb ticking. (I have mostly had to stop calling it Chinese new year, by the way. I had a Korean student a few years ago who confided that it really bugged him when people said Chinese New Year, instead of Lunar, or Asian. It’s a hard habit to break, though)

I had a roommate just after college, Mei,  who was from Shanghai, and she taught me how to shape these little dumplings. The filling she used was pork-based.

Two dumplings, hot out of the fryer.

I made mine last night with fake crab- krab with a k. My frugality bit me here- crab, or krab, is so mild flavored that I didn’t want to spend big bucks on something that would pretty much taste like ginger and onion. Looking back, though, I only used part of the package, maybe 4 ounces, so it wouldn’t have broken me to use real crustacean. If I lived closer to the ocean, I probably would. When Mei taught me to make these, we steamed them to ensure the pork cooked all the way through. Since the krab is already cooked, this is less of a worry. I steamed about 9 dumplings while the rice for the rest of our dinner was cooking, and fried the rest.

Oh my gosh. They are good both ways, but wow. the filling is bright, and the oil was hot enough, and I was eating them quickly enough, that they were better than I’ve had in a restaurant. I wouldn’t fry these for a party, because they’d lose that texture, and it would be a big pain in the ass.  But to make them for me and DH (and we ate an emabrrassing number) wasn’t too bad, frying a few at a time in 1/2 an inch of oil in a small frying pan. We leaned on the counter and talked about our days after he got off work, to the tune of sizzling oil.

Adjust the heat until the oil is hot enough to sizzle- too hot it just burns, too cool, it soaks up a lot of grease.

I didn’t really use a recipe for this filling, although I did google a bit for proportions. You’ll see from my parentheticals that this is extrememly variable. Put in the things that you like- DH didn’t say it, but he probably would have liked this better with chili paste in it. Watch, this will be the blog post that he comments on! It would be great with ground pork, or beef, or salmon, or scallops. Or tofu, if you insist.

Krab Dumplings (this quantity served 2 shameless people)

4 oz flake style krab (or whatever)

 1 knuckle sized piece of fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon minced onion (Traditionally green, but I had purple, so that’s what I used)

2 or 3 drops vietnamese fish sauce

1 splash rice vinegar (or lemon or lime juice)

1/2 package wonton wrappers (use the rest to make Krab rangoon next week)

Finely mince the onion and ginger, shred the krab and mix together. Put it all in a bowl and add the fish sauce (a little goes a long way here- it adds salt and savoriness, but too much and you’ve got 7th grade feet) and a splash of rice vinegar (my rice vinegar is unsweetened, but if you have the sugary kind, use it- I wouldn’t use regular vinegar, because it is way more acidic.)

I like round dumplings, so I use a juice glass to cut the corners off the square wrappers. Keep the wrappers covered so they don’t dry out, and try not to let them touch each other, or they’ll stick. It is surprizing how little filling goes into these. Half teaspoon, really. When you overfill them, they burst, or the liquid leaks out and makes the oil spit and sizzle. 

Now, the girl and I made a video showing how to fill and seal the dumplings, then I discovered I will have to pay extra to upload it to this blog. I balked. Maybe I’ll put it on Facebook.  So, now I’ll narrate the video as if you are watching it. Umm…so take the wonton skin and put a half teaspoon of filling in the center, then dip your finger into the water and run it along the edge of one side. Press together in the center, then dip your finger again and poke in the corners.

Steam: place in steamer basket or colander and put over boiling water with lid. Cook until wrapper is transparent. Some people put a lettuce leaf under the dumplings so they don’t stick, but I didn’t and last night didn’t have any trouble.

Fry:  I use my smallest cast iron skillet, about 6 inch diameter, and heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil til it shimmered.  I was going to check the temperature with my thermometer, but then the boy got upset with me because I told him he spelled Jurassic wrong, and all hell broke loose. Fry a couple at a time until they are goldn brown and delicious, place on a paper towel to cool. DH thought any dunking sauce was gilding the lily, bless his heart, but I used a little orange sauce (from a bottle- I’m not perfect)

Asian New Year is February 3 this year- I love stretching out the holiday season, and I can justify this better than having a big groundhog celebration. Happy New Year to you!


Zupa means soup

Last week I made some “Zupa Tuscana,” a complete ripoff of one of the soup choices from Olive Garden. For those of you not addicted to breadsticks, this is a potato and kale soup, with chunks of sausage. My home version was with homemade stock, and I actually went out and bought kale for it, something I swore never to do after having a glut of it two summers ago when our CSA would bring 2 or 3 bunches of it a week.
The soup was pretty good, got a thunbs up from DH, who is not usually a soup lover, unless that soup is called chili, and smothering a burrito. I decided to make it again, but make it less…soupy. I wanted it to have a mashed potato vibe… I believe there’s and English dish called bubble and squeak, which is mashed potatoes and cabbage (English food!? Too ethnic?) which I have read about, but never tried. The name is interesting, anyway.

 So, I peeled and sliced some potatoes, set them up to boil with boullion to cover.

For two potatoes, two cups of broth were about right.

I’m out of homemade stock, and Better than Boullion is a good substitute. If you’ve never tried it, do. The name is accurate, it is better than boullion.

I then sliced some kale into thin strips, and put it in when the potatoes were almost tender. After a week in the fridge, the kale was a little the worse for wear- what was too gross for the soup went into the compost bucket, with a little leaf for the hermit crabs. Once the potatoes were all the way tender, I  mashed them without draining off the broth. I added some pre-cooked  Italian sausage at this point. No photos of those- I tried, but they all came out weird. I usually fry up a batch of Italian sausages at one time, and put the extras in the freezer.  

 The texture of the soup is somewhere between soup and side dish- serve in a bowl rather than a plate. With unlimited breadsticks, if you have them…mmmm, wish I had unlimited breadsticks.

ramen cabbage salad

I had extra napa cabbage left after I made kimchee, so I decided to make ramen noodle salad. I know- Michael Pollan says, “eat food that comes from plants, not food that was made in a plant.” but honestly we eat a lot of ramen at our house. We watched a documentary about how they make it, and it is really disgusting- the noodle part isn’t so terrible, but then it flows through a bath of oil to flash fry. Bleah. Not a foundation for a healthy diet. Still, it’s pretty good in this salad. Sources on the interwebs vary on whether the noodles are there to add crunch or if they should soften. I think it needs time to marinate, so the noodles soak up the flavor and soften. I put in radishes, green onions, carrots and whatever veggies I happen to have that would work with coleslaw.

Chopped veggies before the ramen and dressing have been added.

1 package of Ramen noodles with flavor packet
1/2 head of napa cabbage (or regular)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
shredded carrots, radish, brocoli stem, or whatever else you want                                                                                                   

In a jar with lid, shake up oil, vinegar, and flavor packet. Chop up napa cabbage and other vegetables and mix with dressing in a large bowl.  Break up the noodles and stir in with the veggies. If you like it crunchy, eat right away, or if you’re like me, let sit several hours or overnight- this is one of those that gets better the longer it sits. Top with sunflower seed or almonds for crunch and protein.

Kimchee update: There are bubbles rising up in the jar. DH worried that it was the source of the funky smell…but no, something else in the house smells funky.  I think it was the trash- the jar smells fine. I am a little scared to taste it- is it too hot? Not sour enough? I know, I’ve just got to be bold and try it…

Sashiko Baby Quilt

I have been reading a lot of quilting books lately- my natural inclination when I learn something new is to start with books. I’ve gone through a good portion of the shelf in the library, and probably need to buy this one, “Japanese Country Quilting” because I have checked it out three times, now.

Introduction to sashiko embroidery/quilting.

 I have hesitated admitting I’m learning to quilt, actually, because I already knit and garden. Quilting makes it the little old lady trifecta. (A thousand pardons to any of you reading this who do all three and don’t think of yourselves as little old ladies. Just wait until you take up geneology, and start using phrases like “a thousand pardons.”)
I’m working on a baby quilt which is kind of a pattern sampler of Japanese stitches in dark blue.  The quilt itself is whole cloth, instead of being patchwork. It is pale blue on top with a yellow flannel backing. My greatest hope is that the baby-to-be-named-later chooses this as his favorite blanket… For hand quilting, it hasn’t taken as much time as you’d think, and it is certainly easier to rip out when I make mistakes. When I have tried to machine quilt, it just goes too fast, and I lose control.

Some of the dozens of traditional patterns in the book.

The next step will be to sew on a binding, which is pretty much my favorite part of quilting.

I have another baby quilt in mind, and actually have the fabric for it. Ack! I’m a quilter! 

Ferment with me…

Got a new book the other day- “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz. I got it with yogurt in mind, but it has a ton of stuff on pickled vegetables, too.

Yeah, it bugs me too, that they divided fermentation after the T, instead of between the N and the T.

A couple of years ago we had a glut of cabbages from our CSA, so I decided to make sauerkraut. I’m a white American, but I don’t have childhood memories of kraut- either my parents had it growing up and hated it, or it was considered “too ethnic” by both sets of grandparents. Anyway, I had a ton of cabbage, and all of the instructions I found online called for a ton of cabbage. The problem is, I wound up with a ton of sauerkraut…I didn’t know I didn’t like sauerkraut… yeah, I know, too ethnic.
Now, there’s a Mexican restaurant in town that serves pickled cabbage as a side. I learned it was called cortido, and it is essentially…Mexican sauerkraut. Too ethnic? No!

The recipe I found at the library made only a quart of it, which was just right.  The ease of the recipe inspired me to get this book- Wild Fermentation, for more recipes. I started a batch of Kimchee this weekend, which is like… Korean sauerkraut.  It has napa cabbage, radishes, carrots, onions and jalapeno peppers. The veggies are soaked in brine, and the spices are minced, then we drain the brine off and stirred in the spicy paste, then jar, cover with brine and let sit at room temperature for a week.

Minced jalapeno and garlic- see how fast my knife goes? No, it's just that I can't focus with my left hand.

 I’m very excited- just a few days for it to ferment, and I can try it.

I have a friend who loves pickles- only a week until we can try it.

 The cookbook has a ton of other ideas- I am thinking about sour dough and yogurt and a ton of other naturally fermented stuff. Not beer, though. Beer’s gross.

Just Right

Finished the hat this afternoon- the girl is happily wearing it now. Can’t prove love through material things, I know, but there is love in every stitch. I hope she can feel it.

Just in time for icy weather...

Pink and Pink

About half of a hat- there is a way to make the color changes less obvious, but I haven't learned it yet.

I am cruising along on the girl’s two toned striped hat. I actually did a swatch, which I hate doing, but I really hate finishing a project and discovering it is too huge or too puny. So, I actually measured the girl’s head, made a little swatch, measured, counted and multiplied.
I cast on last night just before we put in Hot Tub Time Machine- and knit about 4 inches up the hat by the end of the night. HTTM is a good knitting movie-not a good movie…a good knitting movie is one where it is brightly lit and not mysterious. Everything in the movie was telegraphed- no inferences needed to be made. I was never wondering who the obnoxious guy might have to have sex with in order to ensure that Jacob would be born. I knew before the characters did which beverage needed to be spilled on the Hot Tub control panel. Anyway, this is devolving into a review of a bad movie, instead of a hat pattern.

I decided to make uneven stripes, in a fibonacci pattern, because I am pretty nerdy: a fibonacci sequence adds the 2 previous numbers to get the next one in the sequence. The first pale stripe has 1 row (which I forgot to do- oops) the next has 2 rows, the next, 3, the next 5, the next 8, and so on. Actually, I plan to stop at 8 and go back down. I think an uneven stripe is more visually interesting than even stripes, but I also likethere to be a pattern in the chaos. 

By the way, I am writing this pattern in case anyone is looking to make a hat just like this- but I have to say I’m more of a believer in making up your own pattern design. Once you know how to do a basic hat, (and this one is about as basic as you can get), you can do anything you feel like. Also, this is not remotely a copyrighted pattern- I learned how to make a basic hat from “Stitch and Bitch”http://www.amazon.com/Stitch-N-Bitch-Knitters-Handbook/dp/0761128182/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294612345&sr=8-1, a long time ago. I made so many hats I  memorized the pattern, changed it, added stripes, etc. Now, for the first time I am writing down how to do it, while I am doing  it.

Stripey Hat pattern

Knitpicks bare fingering weight, dyed in 2 hues of the same color.

 size 5 needles, 6 st. per inch for a 21″ hat. Main color- approx. 120 yds, contrasting color, approximately 80 yards

Cast on 108 stitches, work in 2×2 ribbing for 1 inch. Increase evenly around to 120 stitches and switch to cc. follow the fibonacci sequence for the light colors, but knit 4 rows for the dark stripes every time.

Continue knitting, following the fibonacci pattern, until 7 inches up from the cast on row, place markers every 12 stitches. On the next row, knit 10, then knit 2 together before the marker, then slip marker. Continue each row this way, switching to double pointed needles or 2 circulars, whichever you prefer. Once you get to the final 10 stitches, cut off the yarn, thread it onto a tapestry needle, and stitch through the remaining stitches.

Seed Catalogues

Seed catalogues have been piling up in the mailbox, and on the coffee table for a couple of weeks now. Pinetree Garden Seeds was the first to arrive, and has the most post-it notes, but Nichols’Garden Nursery is running a close second. I love Nichols’ emphasis on herbs, but also love Pinetree’s multiple pages of gadgets. Leaf Claws? does anyone need leaf claws? Not really, but fun to read, as the days get longer, and I can start calculating when I can plant early things like sweet peas or potatoes, or sugar snap peas. Territorial is good too- they have 29 varieties of garlic- with a brief discription of each, teliing aboout growing requirements and flavors. 29, really? Do most of them just taste like garlic? I’d have to wait to get them in the fall, though, because Territorial only ships garlic bulbs in the fall, so I probably won’t order- delayed gratification is bad enough when I send off a check and order, and don’t get seeds for a couple of weeks. High Country Gardens is my favorite for perennials for the dry west- the nursery is based in Santa Fe, and they are really great about explaining what grows here, and why. I should probably order something from them this year, to stay on their mailing list. This sounds crazy- don’t most people want to get off mailing lists? All of these companies have a web presence, if you don’t have catalogues clogging your mailbox.

My stack of magazines, with sticky notes. Time will tell if Asparagus seeds make it on to the order.

As Promised, Dyeing Tutorial

No, not the death kind of dying, yarn dyeing. I have some desperately soft wool and silk blend that I made a sweater for myself with. Knitpicks has what they call “bare” yarn, white and ready for dying. I just wanted a white sweater (it’s like a sickness- how inconvenient are white sweaters? but I have a bunch already and must have more!) but I had quite a bit of yarn left over after my sweater was finished, just waiting in the closet for a project. A striped hat for the girl is just the project it was waiting for.
Step one: find the ball of leftover yarn. This was surprisingly easy.

This handy dandy tool is a niddy noddy, perfect for winding a ball into a hank. The loop is roughly 1 yard, so I can keep track of how long it is.

Step two: unwind it from the ball and into a hank or long loop. Tie the ends together and also loosely tie loops around it, to prevent it from getting tangled. Don’t tie it too tightly, or it will tie dye, and that’s a different tutorial. If you order bare yarn from Knitpicks (www.knitpicks.com), it comes packaged this way, so there’s no need for this step. If you are over-dying another color, make sure you are using “protein fibers” like wool or silk. Cotton, linen or other plant fibers (hemp anyone?) use a different process. I have over-dyed light yellow with blue to make a funky green, but the process is kind of hit or miss. If you feel confident with color mixing, go for it. Or if you only paid a dollar for the yarn…
Step 3 Soak yarn with a drop of dish detergent in the water. The detergent breaks the surface tension, and lets the yarn really get soaked, so the color will penetrate more evenly.
Step 4 Prep materials: Since I am working on this with my daughter, we are going the low poison route- I have used commercial acid dyes before, but I don’t want to be concerned with the safety of doing it inside with a ten year old. We are going to use neon food colors, white vinegar, and a pyrex dish with lid. We have also used Kool Aid before, but the colors aren’t as mixable, and the cost adds up, believe it or not.

The dark pink wound up taking about 60 drops of neon pink dye. Yes, we counted.

Step 5 Mix color: the girl wants pink and red stripes, which I will interpret as pink and dark pink, and just use different concentrations of the same food color. I mix the dye in a measuring cup, keeping track of the number of drops of dye. Two cups of lukewarm water and a slug of white vinegar are about right for dyeing 75-100 yards of yarn. Part of the fun of this is experimenting with the kids, and you could probably turn it into a science project by tracking the amount of vinegar it takes to get maximum concentration. Or, you could just have fun and make a mess.
Step 6 The microwave: put the lid on the bowl and put in the microwave for about 5 minutes. It will stink like vinegar.
Step 7 Let it cool off. Really, seriously, take the lid off and walk away from the boiling water. Ask me how I know this.  Seriously, have some tea and fudge, and just wait until the yarn isn’t boiling hot anymore.

After 7 minutes in the microwave, the water was still kind of pink, so I added more vinegar and put it back in for 2 minutes.

Step 8: Using a chopstick, or spoon, move the yarn to one side and see if all the dye has been taken up. It always astonishes me to see the water turn clear. If there is still lots of dye in the water, microwave a few more minutes, and if it isn’t dark enough, mix more dye solution and add, then microwave more.  If you want to play with varegation, drop some dye directly onto the yarn, otherwise, mix it with water.

Step 9: pull out of the dye bath and rinse with lukewarm water. Don’t run the faucet directly over the yarn, but dunk the yarn in clear water, to get rid of any dye that hasn’t been taken up. Hang it up to dry, away from the cat.

Because of the rinse, your shower probably won't turn pink. Probably.

Make sure it is entirely dry before winding into a ball, or it might get mildewy.  It will still smell kind of vinegary until you wash whatever you knit with it. For some people that is a deal breaker…and the only advantage to using Kool Aid is that the yarn smells fruity instead of like vinegar. Colors will lighten up when the yarn is dry, and you can always re-dye if you are not happy with the results.

No New Projects! Well, maybe just one…

As part of my resolution to be more organized this year, I decided not to start any more knitting projects during the month of January. I knit compulsively, and I still have about 3 long term projects that I will just never finish, unless I really work on them exclusively. For example, there is a short sleeve sweater in a very thin bamboo yarn, on ridiculously skinny needles. I timed it today, and it takes me a full ten minutes to knit one round of this thing. The pattern is knit in one piece, from the top down to the waist, and I am about 10 inches down from the collar. Did I mention that the color is kind of band-aid pink? When I started I thought it would be subtle and natural-looking. Now, I just don’t know. No pictures…
There is a pair of brown socks, very easy ribbing pattern that I have memorized. That is my portable project, for meetings, and car rides. No pictures of them either. My camera is in the car, and it’s just too cold to go get it. I’m also in my pajamas.
The third major project is a circular afghan. Afghans are big, if you hadn’t noticed. and the thing about knitting in a circle, is they get bigger every round. It just takes for ever. Right now, it has a radius of about 12 inches. Not really big enough for an afghan yet. I don’t expect to finish it during my self-imposed ban on new projects, but it’ll maybe go to a 16 inch radius?
There’s also a hat that will take maybe half an hour to finish up on, and it’s charity knitting, for the preschool silent auction.

Now, the girl asked me today for her own hat. Red and pink stripes. And I have this really pretty wool and silk blend, that we could dye. And she’s due for a hat- the one she has been wearing constantly I made about 6 years ago. For her brother. So, she’s totally due.

 No new projects. But watch for a dying tutorial…