Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Yau Gok--Crispy Coconut Peanut Puffs

*Disclaimer*:  If you are looking for an exact recipe, you will not find it here.  This is a venue to help you search for other recipes online; combine, modify, and revise recipes to cater to your needs; and provide you with more of the experience of making a particular dish rather than just the ingredients and directions.

Boy, I had some time finding recipes online for these.  I had always called these Gok Tsai in Cantonese but I couldn't find a recipe under that name for the life of me.  I don't even remember how I came about some recipes, but, I finally found some recipes under the name Yau Gok, or Yau Gok Zai.  You can also try searching under some variations on Crispy Coconut Peanut Puffs.  Also try adding "Chinese New Year".

Once again, I want to warn you that I do not have an exact recipe here.  In fact, I don't even remember the exact recipe.  Find some recipes online and come back here for some tips =).

Here's the dough:

Most recipes call for lard.  I'm sure butter or shortening is a fine substitute.  I don't know pastry doughs well enough to say whether a liquid fat (i.e. oil) works or not.  However, I used coconut oil =)!  I wanted the subtle flavor of coconut to also be in the dough.  I'm guessing, like any pastry dough, you don't want to overwork it.  But make sure that it's incorporated enough that you can roll it out.  You can see in the picture above that there are still bits of coconut oil (the white flecks).

If you're in a rush, you can use pie dough =).

Next, the filling:

This is just a mixture of peanuts (lightly ground), coconut flakes, sesame seeds, and sugar.  There's really no way to go wrong with the filling as long as you like the taste =).  As you can see, my peanuts are very roughly chopped (some are ground fine, others are still in halves).  Also, most recipes call for unsweetened coconut flakes.  I didn't have any unsweetened, so I used sweetened.  You should also use toasted sesame seeds.  If you don't have them pre-toasted, it's really easy to toast them in a pan on the stove.  Just put them in a dry pan and toast them over medium or medium-low heat until fragrant.  Only takes a few minutes.

Lastly, add sugar to taste.

Now, to assemble:

Roll out the dough...
Only roll out a portion at a time.  Most recipes say to roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness.  I have no idea exactly what that means =).  I rolled mine out to about the thickness of medium thick felt.  I wish I could have rolled them out thinner, so if you can, try to do so.  My dough had too much elasticity.

Use a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut out rounds--approximately 2 inches in diameter.  I didn't have any cookie cutters so I used a glass.

Keep the dough rounds under plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.

Once you cut out as many as you can from one piece of dough, just roll up the scraps and roll them out again.

Put a little filling into the center of a round of dough.  Most recipes say about 1 tsp or so.  After you make a few you will get the hang of how much filling you need.

Fold in half and seal the edge.  (You can seal most of it to see if you have too much or too little filling.  Leave a space to remove or add filling before sealing all the way.)

Now crimp the edge.  As you can see, I don't have pictures of how to crimp (darnit =).  But it's not hard.  Start on on end and fold, and fold, and fold until you get to the other end.


And here they are all finished!!

(Keep them under plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.)

Ready the oil!

Make sure you have a few inches of oil.  Head the oil over medium heat.  I'm not exactly sure what temperature to use.  A trick that I've learned is to use a wooden chopstick.  Stick it in the oil until the chopstick touches the bottom of your pot/saucepan/wok (what have you).  When bubbles form from the contact point the oil is ready.  When you think the oil is ready, you can pop a puff in to test.  It should bubble like this...

At this point you can drop in (lightly) a few more.  Make sure not to crowd the puffs.

Flip them occasionally to ensure even browning.  Take them out just before the level of brown-ness that you want.  They will finish browning out of the oil.  If they start to brown too quickly, you can turn the heat down.


Drain on paper towels.


Look at this texture!

The last tip that I will add is that next time I might add some form of sweetener to the dough.  The dough to filling ratio was such that it wasn't quite sweet enough for my taste.

Now, go makes some!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Potstickers, Part 2

*Disclaimer*:  If you are looking for an exact recipe, you will not find it here.  This is a venue to help you search for other recipes online; combine, modify, and revise recipes to cater to your needs; and provide you with more of the experience of making a particular dish rather than just the ingredients and directions.

You've made potstickers, but how do you cook them?  Well, you've come to the right place!

From this... this!

It's not hard.  You can probably find directions online, or on the package of your favorite store bought brand.  Here are the basic principles first, and then some tips.

Basic Principles:

Basically, what you want to do is crisp up one side of each potsticker with some oil in a pan over medium heat.  Then add some water and cover.  Let the water boil off (approximately 6 minutes or so).  Then let the all sides of the dumplings crisp up, if desired.  Some people just like one side crisp.  I like crispy things so I like to crisp up all sides.  That's it!


1) You can cook these from frozen!!  So, when you get in the mood, have a jiaozi making party and freeze a bunch.

2) Preheat the pan.  You want the potstickers to start crisping up once they hit the pan, especially if you are cooking them from frozen.  You'll want to find the right heat for your stove.  My stove tends to run a little high once it gets above Medium-Low.  Medium and just under is perfect for my range.

3) Finding the right amount of oil takes some experience.  Most directions say 1-2 Tbsp. which is exactly right.  You want enough oil that the dumplings don't stick, but not so much that it'll splatter during the last crisping stage.

4) Make sure the bottom of each dumpling has a nice crust on it before adding water.  This will keep the potstickers from living up to its name--i.e. sticking to the pan =).  I try to keep track of the first and last ones I put in the pan so that I can check that the first ones don't burn, but that the last ones still have a nice crust.'s hard to tell in this picture but that's a good enough crust to add the water.

5) Knowing the right amount of water will also take some experience.  Most directions say about 1/2 cup.  You're not making soup so don't add too much water, but I would err toward the side of too much water than not enough.  You do want to make sure that the jiaozi is thoroughly cooked.

...don't forget to cover.

6) You can cook until the water has cooked off.  If you have erred on the side of "too much" water let the dumplings cook for at least 6 minutes.  It doesn't really matter (unless you're picky about overcooking).  When you think they're done and there is still water in the pan, you can take the lid off and let the water evaporate.  If you're too impatient or if there's a lot of water left, you can pout it out, but that takes some doing.

7) Now that the jiaozi are thoroughly cooked, you will want to leave them there to re-crisp side that crisped up when you first started cooking.  (They will have gotten soggy from the water.)  Keep a good eye during this step because the dumplings can burn quickly.  Once the water has cooked off (or you've poured it out) give it about a minute or so and then check to see if you need to unstick the potstickers before they continue to crisp up.  Use a spatula or something similar to just gently unstick them from the pan.  If they're sticking too much, give them a little more time and try again.  They should unstick easily, even if they are sticking some.

They are read to eat now!!  If, however, you like things crispy you can crisp up the other sides too.  This is where it was important to have enough oil, but not too much.  Just turn the potstickers to let the other sides crisp up.  They will stick at first, but should be easy to move once they've crisped up.

Then, enjoy!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Potstickers, Part 1

*Disclaimer*:  If you are looking for an exact recipe, you will not find it here.  This is a venue to help you search for other recipes online; combine, modify, and revise recipes to cater to your needs; and provide you with more of the experience of making a particular dish rather than just the ingredients and directions.

Aka jiao zi, gyoza, dumplings.  No matter what they're called, they are delicious.  And surprisingly simple!  (Although time consuming.)  Everyone should try this at least once.  This is also a great project to do with a friend (or more).  My housemate joined me in making these dumplings and it still took us a whole afternoon.

Searching for a recipe:

I like searching for several recipes using different keywords.  For this try searching "potsticker recipe, Chinese/Asian dumpling recipe, jiaozi/gyoza recipe" as well as "Chinese/Asian dumpling wrappers recipe, jiaozi/gyoza wrapper recipe".

So, first the dough:

Most recipes out there that I've found call for a 2-1 ratio of flour to hot/boiling water.  You will want to play around with the proportions depending on the climate, weather, and sometimes just because.  Make sure you have enough water that all the flour incorporates, but not so much water that the dough is distinctly sticky.  I mixed the flour and water with a spoon first and then used my hands to finish it off (I ended up using 1 1/2 cups flour and about 3/4 hot water--this made enough to make 64 dumplings, but still didn't use up all our filling).  Knead it a few times to incorporate everything and then cover (either with a damp cloth or plastic wrap) and let sit for about 30 minutes (or however long).

While the dough rests, you might mix your filling (I did):

There is no "one way" to make the filling.  Nor is there "one recipe".

I made one with pork.

And one vegetarian.

The base for the pork filling was pork and shredded cabbage.

The base for the vegetarian was edamame (slightly chopped), black beans (regular black beans--not specific Asian ones), and cabbage.  I also added an egg as a binder.  Not sure it did much good, but worth a try.

We basically mixed all these together until it looked right.  Then (to both) we added green onions (chopped), cilantro (chopped), chopped garlic, grated ginger, a little cornstarch, and seasoning--sesame oil, sherry, soy sauce, rice vinegar.  Honestly, we eyeballed it all.  The green onions, cilantro, garlic, and ginger were pretty easy.  Sesame oil is usually pretty strong--at least toasted sesame oil is (that's the stuff you find at Asian markets and "Ethnic" sections at grocery stores.  It's nice and dark)--so you only need about 1-2 tsp.  Sherry isn't quite the right taste, so if you're using sherry don't use too much (just a touch more than 1-2 tsp).  You can also use some Asian cooking wine; if so, you might use a little more.  Recipes usually call for about 1-2 Tbsp of soy sauce.  And rice vinegar is pretty mild as vinegars go, so you can use about the same amount as the soy sauce.

Here's a trick to test taste (obviously you don't want to eat raw meat or eggs).  Just take a Tbsp or less and fry it up in a pan.

Now, time to roll out the wrappers:

I found some good tips for rolling out dumpling wrappers from the blog Asian Dumpling Tips (not an affiliate of The Occasional, Accidental "Chef").  The author suggest using a tortilla press to start the flattening process and also highly recommends using an Asian rolling pin (about 3/4 inch in diameter--much thinner than the Western rolling pin).  This blog even has a post about how to make your own Asian rolling pins!!  Since we had neither, we had to improvise, but more on that later.

Remember that I said that the amount of dough I made was enough for 64 dumplings.  To be that precise, divide your dough in half; divide each of those into half (you have fourths now).  If you made a smaller batch of dough you'll probably want to work with fourths.  With my amount of dough, we divided it into eighths (dividing each fourth into half).

Now, take each portion and roll it into a snake.  Since you're going to divide this into equal portions, it doesn't really matter how thick or thin you roll out your dough snake.  But, to aid in the flattening, don't roll it out to any thinner than your thumb.  (Also, if you roll it too thin, it will be really, really long. =)  Divide your dough snake into eighths by dividing it in half, then each half in half again, then all the pieces in half once more.  However, you might want to make your end pieces a little longer to make up for the fact that the ends taper.  Take each lump of dough, coat with flour as needed to keep from being sticky, and flatten it once with your palm.  It'll look a little like the picture below.

Now it's time to flatten some more =).  This is where the tortilla press comes in.  See the recommended blog above for more tips and information.  For our purposes, we used a cast iron pan, but any heavy, flat-bottomed (clean) object will do--like a pan, or even a baking dish.

Just flatten them out, and lightly coat them with cornstarch.  Cornstarch acts like flour to keep the dough from sticking, but won't dry it out like flour (not sure how that works, but that's what I've read).

<-- They should look something like this.

My housemate asked me if maybe this step could be skipped, but I think it does make working with the rolling pin easier.

Here is where the Asian rolling pins come into play.  Visit Asian Dumpling Tips for directions on how to make and use Asian rolling pins.  The basic idea is that you want to roll out the dough rounds both so that they are bigger and so that the edges are thinner than the middle (sort of like a bulls eye).

Honestly, just roll them out thinner.
I think we rolled ours out a little too thin (at least for my taste).  I like having a little thickness and bite to my dumpling wrappers.

Also, our centers did not end up being any thicker than the edges.

Now it's time to (w)rap (nn-ts kk-ts nn-ts kk-ts ;):

There is an amazing pictorial guide on how to wrap dumplings at Use Real Butter (also not an affiliate).  I'll just give you the guidelines here and you should definitely visit this site for more details.

First, get a small bowl or container of water.  You will need this to seal the dumpling (the dry cornstarch does a great job of keeping the wrapper from sticking to each other, but also to itself).  Put some filling in the middle of a wrapper.  After wrapping a few you will start getting a feel for how much filling you need.  I think it will hover right around a Tbsp.  Next, wet the outside of half of the wrapper.  Fold the whole thing in half but only seal the middle.  Then just pleat from the middle to one corner and then from the middle to the other corner.  Seriously, go visit the site and this will all make sense.

And there you have a wrapped dumpling!

Stay tune for Part 2 where I will talk about how to cook dumplings.

If you are not cooking them right away, you have a few options.  If you know you will be cooking them soon (say, within the next week) you can store them in the refrigerator.  I just left them on the plate and covered them with plastic wrap.  Make sure that they aren't too crowded because they will start sticking to one another as well as to the plate.  Also, if you have a moist filling (like my vegetarian filling) the moisture will also soften the dough make it more prone to stick.  None of my dumplings broke drastically; they just need a light touch when you transfer them from plate to pan.

If you plan to store them for longer, freeze them!  You will want to freeze them individually--put them on a non-stick, freezer-safe surface, maybe a plate lined with foil/wax paper/parchment paper/what have you and place in freezer until frozen.  Once they are frozen, you can transfer them to an airtight, freezer-safe container (like a plastic zip top bag).  You can cook them straight from the freezer, making freezing a convenient option.

And now you have homemade dumplings full of ingredients that you chose yourself.  And you have bragging rights having made your own dumplings.  Bring these to your next potluck and impress your friends!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Accidental Gourmet: Chicken Piccata, Butter Sherry Pasta, Green Bean in Cream Sauce

*Disclaimer*:  If you are looking for an exact recipe, you will not find it here.  This is a venue to help you search for other recipes online; combine, modify, and revise recipes to cater to your needs; and provide you with more of the experience of making a particular dish rather than just the ingredients and directions.

So, every once in awhile I'll come home and I have no idea what to have for dinner.  (Okay, so maybe that's more often than not. =)  And every once in awhile I will whip up something pretty good (if I do say so myself).  Tonight was one of those nights.  And because I started this blog, I thought I'd start sharing these "accidental" gourmet meals =)--which brings me to the first of the series, "Accidental Gourmet".

Chicken Piccata with Seasoned Butter Sherry Pasta and Green Beans in Cream Sauce

So, I decided I wanted chicken for dinner, and the other day I saw a video online about Chicken Piccata.  Apparently, "piccata" just means "pounded" (which I think I already knew).  Basically, you just take a piece of chicken and pound it flat.  Usually, you do this by covering a piece of chicken breast with plastic wrap and pounding it with a meat tenderizer or hammer.  I, however, discovered after defrosting my chicken (I know...frozen chicken...but it's so convenient!!) that it was already soft enough that I could get the same effect just by mashing it with a fork.  I seasoned both sides with a little salt and pepper and then dredged it with some flour (I literally did all this on the cutting board.  Saved me from dirtying another dish).  I cooked this in a skillet on medium heat with some olive oil.  I'm not sure how long it took, but it was pretty quick.  Faster than it takes to boil water.  (I know because I was boiling water on another burner.)

I had some leftover pasta which I thought would go great with the chicken.  So after cooking the chicken I poured a little more oil into the still hot pan (maybe about 1/4 tsp) and added some butter to brown slightly.  Then I added some Sherry and let the alcohol cook off.  I added the pasta to coat.  Then decided to add some garlic salt and Mrs. Dash (don't judge =).  And--voila--a pasta dish.

Now the green beans.  The story behind tonight's creation is that I have been craving green bean casserole (a holiday staple).  I didn't have any this year =(.  So I decided to make a "fakeout" green bean casserole on the fly.  I cooked up some frozen green beans (oh so convenient =) and proceeded to make a beschamel sauce as the base of the cream sauce.  It's easy (especially if you don't mind some lumps =).  First make a roux (fat and flour).  I took a scant Tbsp of butter and melted that in the same skillet (still warm on the stove).  To that I added about a Tbsp of flour and mixed that together.  Then I added some milk.  I think I added maybe about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of milk.  It will start thickening as the roux and the milk combine.  Add more milk if the sauce seems too thick.  It's harder to thicken the sauce if it become too thin so added a little at a time.  For flavor, I used a scant 1/2 tsp of "Better Than Boullion" vegetable stock base (amazing product).  I mixed in the green beans and topped with some crisp french onions and I had my fakeout green bean casserole.  It doesn't taste quite the same (nothing else tastes like cream of mushroom soup), but it was delicious; maybe even better than green bean casserole.  And definitely fancier.  You could serve this at a dinner party.

And that is how you make Chicken Piccata with Seasoned Butter Sherry Pasta and Green Beans in Cream Sauce (aka fakeout Green Bean Casserole)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sweet Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Filling

*Disclaimer*:  If you are looking for an exact recipe, you will not find it here.  This is a venue to help you search for other recipes online; combine, modify, and revise recipes to cater to your needs; and provide you with more of the experience of making a particular dish rather than just the ingredients and directions.

Everyone needs to learn how to make these!!  It's fairly simple (only mildly finicky =), delicious, and gluten free to boot (apparently, "gluten" is a word that refers to something specific.  The world "glutinous" when describing this rice flour is only an adjective referring to the sticky quality of the rice/dough).  I had never made these before and it literally took me about 2 hours from deciding to make them to eating them freshly cooked.

There are different names for this.  I think if you Google "glutinous rice dumplings" you should get some good recipes.  In Cantonese they're called "tong yuen" (I don't know how close that is to the exact Cantonese pinyin).  Apparently, they're called "tang yuan" in Mandarin (totally just cheated and looked it up =).

They can have different fillings: from Red Bean Paste, to Black Sesame, to Peanut.  I made the Peanut ones because that's my favorite.  But I also think it might be the easiest to make (unless you have already made Red Bean Paste or a Black Sesame Paste).

Searching for a recipe:

For this recipe you will need to search under the Chinese names "tong yuen" or "tang yuan".  For more specific filling recipes try "black sesame/peanut/red bean tong yuen/tang yuan".  Don't forget to experiment with any filling of your choice =).

First, the Dough:

A little blurb about Glutinous (or Sticky) Rice Flour.  It's an interesting consistency.  When raw it won't gum up into a dough like Wheat Flour does.  It's more fine, like Cornstarch.  But it still has enough stick to it that it's not "ooblecky" as Cornstarch.  The dough turns out to be something between the consistency of Cornstarch with water and a Wheat Flour Dough.

Most recipes call for an approximate 2 to 1 ratio of Rice Flour to water.  I used about 1 cup Rice Flour to 1/2 cup water.  You will have to play around with it.  The hard thing about this dough is that on both sides of the "perfect consistency" (i.e. too dry or too wet) the dough does similar things.  Whether it's too dry or too wet the dough will break apart when you try to flatten it out.  To test the dough, take a small piece of dough--about the size of a shooter marble (if you don't know how big that is, just think the size of a quarter, but 3-dimensional).  Try to flatten that out into a 1.5 - 2 inch circle.  If it cracks and breaks easily, it's either too wet or too dry.  Now, try to isolate the feel of the dough in your hands.  At first, you might just try adding a little water or a little flour to see what it does.  Eventually, you will be able to intuit whether it is too dry or too wet.  Note that it still won't be easy to form that circle because the of the finicky nature of raw Rice Flour, but when it's the right consistency, it shouldn't break as easily.

Now, the Filling:

I am going to talk about the Peanut Filling.  As I noted above, there are other fillings you can use--Red Bean, Black Sesame.  In fact, you can even think outside the box.  My mom used to put M&M's in it =).  YOu can use chocolate, maybe make an almond filling ( that I've  thought of it, that sounds delicious!).  This time I made Peanut Filling, which is delicious.

I combined a few recipes that I found through Google.  It's mostly about your own preference on taste and texture.  I ended up using about 1/2 cups of peanuts, ground.  I used a coffee grinder, which was perfect for my purposes.  I added 2 Tbsp of creamy peanut butter; and then I added 1 Tbsp powdered sugar.  After tasting it, I decided it needed a little more sugar, especially because the dough isn't sweet at all, so added another Tbsp of powdered sugar which turned out to be perfect.  My Filling turned out to be more solid than gooey.  If you prefer it gooier, you might use less ground peanuts and more peanut butter.  Just experiment to find your perfect mixture.

The Assembly:

So, it's pretty simple.  Take a bit of dough, about the size of a large gumball (the kind you used to be able to find at the giant gumball machines at malls).  Flatten it out.  I discovered that the best shape is sort of like an oval.  Flatten it to about the thickness of a thin pancake (not a crepe, a thin pancake).  Now take some Filling (I just used my fingers--if your filling is creamier than mine, you might need to wet your fingers so they don't stick; or try to use a spoon).  The amount of Filling is up to you.  I think I used just about 1/4 tsp.  It was enough that when I folded the dough over, the farthest ends just met.  Then seal it all around (sort of like jiaozi/gyoza/potstickers).  Now, smooth the corners to either direction and take the whole thing and roll it into a round ball.  And there you have it.


Now it's time to cook!  No matter what Filling you choose, this is the traditional way of cooking tong yuen.  Bring a pot of water to a boil (how much depends on how many you're cooking) and add slices of ginger.  Drop in the dumplings and cook until they float.  Add some brown sugar, either directly into the pot, or in your bowl (I find about a Tbsp of brown sugar in my bowl is just about right), fish out the dumplings, and you're ready to eat!

If you haven't eaten them all by now, you can freeze the rest.  It's simple.  I put them on a paper plate.  You can probably line a place or baking sheet with wax paper, foil, parchment paper, what have you, and freeze them.  Once they're frozen, you can take them all and store them in a plastic bag.

To cook from frozen, you just need to give them a few minutes after they float.  3-5 should be enough.

Good Luck!  This will be a great hit at your next dinner party, or even just a "last minute" dessert for a night alone (like it was for me =).