“Marry Me” Homemade Pizza Neapolitana

pizzaneapolitanIn the past, I have mentioned that were it not for a certain muffin recipe, my husband might have overlooked my talents and spent the rest of his days wondering where he went wrong, empty bellied and forlorn. That is a bit of a tall tale, but to hear him tell it, it bears the truth of the ages. Then again, was it the muffins or the cheesecake? I ask with a crooked eyebrow… Who can say, he mutters with an unconcerned smile as he reaches for another.

This story is not, in fact about bride-price muffins, or a cheesecake dowry, but it is rather about a different sort of food laced emotion, a “foomotion”, if you will, and an experience so good I was finally able to say back to him, yes, for this I would marry you again. For many years, my husbands mother made pizza on Thursday evenings for him and his brother and sisters, as a treat to signify the end of another long week and the promise of a few days of freedom before the grind of school and assignments caught up with them again. Rumor has it that the pizza was good, but by the time I met the clan, this particular family ritual had fallen into disrepair, as compelling work and a multitude of grandchildren robbed her of her interest in the glorious secrets and fruits of the kitchen. For a time, my husband despaired, but eventually he decided to take matters into his own hands, and this, my friends, is where  our story truly begins.

His first few attempts at making his own pizza were, like all early tries at something new, hopelessly fraught with disastrous results. To his credit, he did try. He bought all the gadgets and accessories, a pizza cutter, a pizza peel and stone set (the stone broke flying home from where we bought it after customs rifled through our things and repacked in the most half-assed way imaginable, with the stone facing out). Sadly, try as he might, the crust was too thick, too doughy, raw, too soggy, the toppings were uncooked or too heavy, the sauce was icky… the list goes on. After his first few tries I urged him to leave it to the true masters, the Italians, whom I happily claim kinship to through a grandmother whose people are from the southern isle of Capri (near Naples), any time the subject of pasta, parmesan, tomato sauce, marinara, pizza, ricotta, mozzarella, or cannoli comes up. The problem was, I had no pizza making skills either, never having seen such a thing made at home, as we had a multitude of authentic pizzerias and trattorias within a stones throw of my birthplace. (WHAT UP NY!!!) So, the issue hung over us in the air as beautiful pizzas were smugly flashed at us from some of the better cooking/baking blogs out there,  and as we went about the business of sorting out our life as a newly married couple, the idea never quite dead but never a true possibility either. When the cravings for a really good pizza took hold of one of us, we would fight it for as long as we could, then bite the bullet and order awful delivery pizza, mourning our fate to live in a country that has no concept of such a thing as real Italian-American food. For those of you that know my husband, you can probably guess where this is all headed, and sure enough, a few days ago, he decided once and for all that he was going to make as many pizzas as he had to, until he got the damned thing right. At this I sighed, and decided to get on board, but I also smiled, because when we went through the same process with learning how to make the best NY cheesecake, the results were beyond our wildest dreams. So too with this.

He bought some pizza flour, and found a pizza dough recipe by Jamie Oliver, one of my favorite chefs. This is altered from the one on his site, but we couldn’t have done it without his recipe as a jumping off point. His recipes are so good, and I love him for his cheeky fresh take on food and life. We cut the recipe by 2/3 since it was for 6 pizzas, because while we could have finished them all off in a few days, we didn’t want to eat until we hated ourselves… not really.

I made as good a pizza sauce as I could conjure, and then looked around until I found this page, which gave us some great tips on handling the dough, making a crust, and keeping it crispy, for which I will be eternally grateful. Finally, we selected some of our favorite toppings, including fresh basil from my window,basillaid under a mix of 2 local cheeses, and thinly slices onions, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. We baked it all in a super hot oven on foil on an overturned cookie sheet, and viola, the best pizza I had ever had.  It is crispy, chewy, garlicky, saucy, cheesy, light and filling, all at once, and beyond yummy, Just like how I picture the fabled Neapolitan pizzas from the “Eat” section of “Eat, Pray, Love”. Teamwork really does yield the sweetest fruits!

pizza1

Ingredients: (For 2 medium pizzas, serves 2-4)

For The Dough:

  • 2 1/3 Cups Pizza Flour, or any high protein flour (plus a bit extra).
  • 1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Active Dried Yeast (make sure it’s not expired/dead)
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup Warm Water (not too hot or you will kill the yeast)

For The Chunky Tomato Sauce: (you  may have leftovers) 20 minutes cook time*

  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic, smashed and minced
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon pepper

*ALTERNATELY: You can make a super easy and delicious marinara/pizza sauce in 3-5 minutes: For 4 medium pizzas, open 2 8oz cans of tomato paste into a sauce pan, mix in 3/4 cup water, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Stir and simmer 3 minutes to blend flavors.

Toppings: All optional

  • Thinly Sliced Mushrooms
  • Cubed Feta cheese
  • Black or Green Olives
  • Thinly Sliced Red Pepper
  • Thinly Sliced Small Onion (Red or White)
  • Thinly Sliced Tomatoes
  • 10-12 Fresh Basil Leaves, washed
  • 3 Cups Shredded Fresh Mozzarella, (I used 1 and 1/2 Cups shredded Tal Haemek, and 1 and 1/2 Cups shredded Na’am Cheese. These local cheeses were an amazing surprise, and were a nice change, I would recommend using them if you can find them, otherwise, mozzarella is just fine).
  • Olive Oil for brushing the dough before adding toppings
  • Cornmeal  to sprinkle for texture (optional)

Method:

  • Add water, yeast, sugar, and olive oil to a cup, set aside for 2-4 minutes.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour and salt, and when the yeast is fizzing happily, add to flour mixture and slowly incorporate. When it all comes together, knead until you have a nice smooth dough that is not sticky to the touch. It will probably look too dry at first, don’t be alarmed. Just keep kneading. Maybe sing a little song… Just keep kneading, just keep kneading… After about 2 minutes of this you should have a perfectly smooth elastic dough that isn’t sticky and that has no dry bits. If not, add either a TINY bit more water or a tiny bit more flour as it needs.
  • Put the dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size. (I cheat by warming my toaster oven for a few minutes then popping the whole thing in there for about 30 minutes, once the heat is off, cuts the rising time in half!)
  • Now make the sauce. (See above for easier faster option) Saute the garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil on a medium flame, being VERY careful not to over-brown it. If it turns dark brown and bitter, you killed, it, start again. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I looked away for that crucial 10 seconds and had to chuck my garlic and start over. If it smells sweet, you are good, if it smells bitter, start again.
  • When it is all just very light brown, add the can of tomato paste. Saute and stir for about 1-2 minutes, caramelizing the sugars inside the tomato paste. Then add can of crushed tomatoes. Stir to make sure that no garlic/sauce bits are stuck to the bottom, then add the balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. It will smell amazing by now, but it’s not ready yet! The flavors need to melt together, and for this, you need a little time.
  • Stir again, then cover tightly, and cook for 20-25 minutes, keeping it on a medium heat. You want to check it and stir every 5 minutes or so. (Watch out, the splatters are HOT!) After 20 minutes, remove the cover and allow it to cook down for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is thick with very little liquid you can turn off the heat, and let it sit to cool, uncovered.
  • Once the dough has risen, take it out and punch it down… don’t be afraid to over-knead, as this is one of the few times working with dough that you actually want to develop a lot of gluten, so have at it! It should be smooth, and elastic, and not sticky, but not dry either.
  • Once it is all kneaded, separate into two halves, and roll into balls. These will be your pizza crusts. You can either use them now, or wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for tomorrow. (A very good plan if you are super busy and just making the dough took up your free time for the evening).
  • 30 minutes to an hour before you are ready to bake your pizzas, turn over a deep cookie sheet on the floor of the oven, so your pizzas will sit about 2 inches off the hot floor of the oven, or use a pizza stone, if you have one.  Preheat the oven. I turned mine up to max, which is around 250 degrees Celsius, or 482 degrees Fahrenheit.  Roll out the dough for each pizza with a rolling pin, and then place on an oiled sheet of tinfoil. You can sprinkle a bit of cornmeal over the oiled foil before placing the rolled out dough on it if you like, I enjoy the added flavor and texture this provides, but you don’t have to, and sometimes it’s nicer without it, totally up to you.
  • Now prepare your toppings, if you haven’t already. (Shred cheese, slice veggies etc.).
  • Doing one at a time, roll out your dough to the size and shape you want (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and about 12-14 inches across) and then roll and pinch the edges to form a crust.
  • Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, this will keep your pizza from getting soggy
  • Then, add a ladleful of thick garlicky sauce to the middle and spread all around evenly, but not too thickly! Lay down a few evenly spaced basil leaves, no more than 5-6. cover with a mix of your cheeses (about 1 and 1/2 cups per pizza), then arrange the toppings you want. If you want, sprinkle cornmeal around the crust and with your pizza peel, slide your pizza with the foil directly onto the cookie sheet, and close the oven quickly.
  • Bake for 6 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and crust is crispy on the bottom. Set a timer, one extra minute could burn up all your hard work!!! Now make second pizza the same way (olive oil, sauce, basil, cheese, toppings, cornmeal on crust).
  • When timer sounds, remove first pizza with pizza peel and let cool for at least 3 minutes, before slicing and enjoying with a tall glass of ice cold beer.

pizzamushroom1

Easy Cheesy Comte and Basil Gouda Buttermilk Biscuits (can be made vegan!)

biscuitblog1So, I have been a very bad girl. No, not in the biblical sense as some of you may be thinking, but rather in terms of my promise to you, to bring you wonderful recipes each week. I do of course have some lovely excuses and stories… you know I would have to. For example, the birthday visit of my super sweet sister for 3 weeks, and the fan-freaking-tastic good time we had traveling all over the place hiking, biking, beaching, eating and wine tasting.

Or, perhaps I’ll tell you the one about how after she left, I went on another hike with G and our dog Bella in a very remote, rocky area, and at the very very end of the trail, deep in the park, I fell and twisted my ankle. I actually was sure it was broken it hurt so much, but then as I was crawling to a big rock to sit on away from all the crawlies in the stream bed, it sort of cracked back into place, and I could actually wiggle it. Whew. OK, so at least it wasn’t broken. It gets better. Our parks don’t really have rangers on duty so G had to call an ambulance, problem was, no one could get to us where we were. To make things worse, I had left my phone behind, and G had about 17% left on his that was rapidly draining as he tried to explain where we were so they could get a GPS lock on us. We saw an ATV trail nearby that might have some traffic, and decided to get there the only way we could, with me riding piggy back as G carried me, army style, over hill and dale. Still no one could reach us and I started to despair, sure I would have to stay the night, knowing that I would freeze my ass off and all manner of creepy creatures would come out as soon as it got dark. Or, even better, the army would have to helicopter me out of there for a mere sprained ankle, and I would spend the rest of my days paying off a massive debt for an embarrassing and unplanned helicopter ride. Please god no I thought, just let me die here instead.

Luckily, just as I was at the peak of my panic attack, a one handed old man with a geriatric poodle in a sweater happened by in his jeep, on his daily trip through the park. G flagged him down and after explaining what happened, the guy, who I later found out was named Eli, and Sally, his deaf, blind and epileptic dog, offered to 4WD me out of there. And so I was saved by a most unlikely duo. The ambulance was waiting at the exit to the park when we finally emerged, 30 minutes later, and after a short exam, they sent me off to get x-rayed and hooked up with crutches, bound for bed for the next few days.

That would be the end of my tale, but then we had the holiday, a weekend away camping at the beach, and finally, I was hit with a most common cold. So here I sit, with a list 5 miles long of things I cooked or baked in the last month and want to share with you, and yet, I’m fighting just to be able to type straight in the clutches of this crappy little head cold. So. Knowing that I had to do something to get back in the saddle, and having no bread or anything else ready made in the house to snack on, I went online looking for the easiest biscuit recipe I could find. I of course modified it, because it was just a bit, well, boring, if you must know the truth.

I hope you enjoy, because I sure did…

Ingredients: (makes 12)

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable (canola) oil
*1/3 cup buttermilk (I used 1/3 cup 1% milk and a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar)
*1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
*1/2 cup shredded Basil Gouda cheese
*1/4 cup shredded Comte cheese
*For vegan biscuits, substitute 1/3 cup coconut cream for heavy cream, and 1/3 cup coconut cream plus 1/2 a teaspoon of white vinegar for the buttermilk, and leave out the cheese.
Method: (takes 8 minutes prep time maximum).
1) Preheat oven to 475F.
2) Set up either an ungreased cookie sheet or large cupcake sleeves.
3) Mix all dry ingredients and cheeses together in a large bowl.
4) Add wet ingredients, and mix until just combined, no more.
5) Gather dough together into a ball, kneading for just a minute until no pieces fall off.  It will be very crumbly, don’t worry, that’s good, it means they will be light and fluffy.
6) Either break apart into 12 equal pieces and place in cups, or roll out gently to 1/2 inch thick and cut out twelve 2 inch circles and arrange on tray.
7) Bake for 10-12 minutes at 475F or until tops begin to brown.
8) Enjoy with butter and pepper for a savory treat, or with raspberry jam for a much sweeter twist.
Please let me know what you think, and I promise more good stuff is on the way!

Crispy Chicken Tenders From the Great Beyond

chicken nugget bites

I’ve made fried chicken before a few times, always with a breadcrumb and flour coating, and always gotten rave reviews. Now I love the idea of fried chicken. But what I don’t love is long frying (and then baking) times, wasting huge amounts of oil, unevenly cooked chicken pieces, and bits of fat, bone, and gristle getting in the way of my fried chicken experience. I mean come on people, this is serious stuff we are talking about here. So I wondered what would happen if I made my own full white-meat fried chicken tenders. Crispy spicy batter, juicy white meat chicken tenders… you know, they are called chicken “tenders” for a reason. They wouldn’t call them tenders if they were some chewy nasty tough-ass bits of shoe leather tasting “chicken product” like the stuff you get in the freezer section, am I right? Yeah, you know I am.

So there I was, searching the web for the ultimate fried chicken recipe with which to make my dreamed up nuggets, and I’ll be honest with you now… lean in… there are hundreds, if not thousands, all claiming to be the best. But you see, I had a second critical criteria. There couldn’t be milk in the batter. Turns out that almost every fried chicken recipe under the sun calls for milk or buttermilk, AND milk is the one thing in a batter that will make it burn before the chicken is crispily (yes I made that word up) cooked through to perfection. Fascinating right?

Unfortunately, or so I thought, Googling “fried chicken no milk” brings up far fewer recipes to choose from, so at first I was worried. then my eye fell on this link, from Mark of the excellent blog “2010, my year with Chris Kimball” featuring  “Batter-Fried Chicken“. (Yes, I am now a fan. He includes the relative cost of each meal. Brilliant!) I clicked on it, read through the page, and my heart leaped… I could see that this might really be something special. For those of you who didn’t know, Chris Kimball is one of the chefs behind “Cooks Illustrated Magazine”, and “Americas Test Kitchen”. The fact that Mark was inspired to write his blog after watching the movie “Julie and Julia” just made it that much better. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Now.

julie-julia-movieStanley Tucci Went to My College!

After making these yummy guys, (and they were AWESOME, juicy, and delicious) I emailed with Mark about how to make them less salty. He tried them that night, and pointed out that the brining time should be cut (at least) in half for nuggets vs. whole pieces of chicken on the bone, and that they would be better cut to about 2x bigger than the size I made them. This makes sense for a few reasons, and while I love bite sized food that you can just pop into your mouth,  these really would be better if you make them a bit bigger. The batter is intense, but wonderful. He got about 30 pieces to my 50 if I understood him correctly) Also, if you have leftovers, which you wont unless you are cooking for 2 and don’t halve the recipe, they can be reheated without drying out. yes, I always make too much. No, I don’t sweat it because I live with a very hungry man.

2013-01-28 22.11.24

So I am going to give you the recipe Mark provided from Cooks Illustrated Magazine, along with my variations, and his suggestions for the best “fried chicken nuggets” ever. These are a great appetizer/snack for Superbowl Sunday, and will make any day that much better!

Ingredients: (For 3-4 hungry people for dinner, or as snacks for 5-7)

Brine:
1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 chicken breast pieces (the tops of 2 whole chickens, or 4 chicken cutlets)

Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch (cornflour, NOT cornmeal)
5 teaspoons pepper (Yes, that’s right, FIVE)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (used pepper flakes as I had no cayenne)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups cold water
1 liter vegetable oil ( I cut it from the original recipe by 2/3 and it made about 4-5 batches no problem)

Method:

1) I started with the full white meat breasts of 2 chickens. (4 pieces total). After cleaning and cutting up the pieces, (I had around 50 nugget sized pieces of chicken. Go for 30 pieces (15 pieces from 2 chicken cutlets) like Mark did unless you want them bite sized and plan to eat them all in one sitting. I brined them for an hour (too long for nuggets!), as the recipe called for.

2013-01-28 20.54.24

2) Mix up brine, then brine for 30 minutes in refrigerator. Set a timer, and drain right away. Pat dry.

3) Mix up batter by combining flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, cayenne, baking powder, salt, and water. Whisk until all lumps have gone. Add chicken pieces to batter and mix them around, coating each piece completely.

Fry Batter

4) Heat oil until the end of a toothpick bubbles happily.

5) When oil is hot, using a fork, add pieces one at a time, first allowing excess batter to drip off each piece. Do not overcrowd! I fit about 10 per batch for the smaller ones, I’d say 6-7 per batch of the bigger ones.

6) Set a timer for 6 minutes for each batch of smaller ones, 8 minutes each batch for the bigger ones. After about 3 minutes in the oil, break them up, make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom or each other.

7) When they are a  deep golden brown, take them out and lay them on paper towels to crisp up and dry off.

2013-01-28 22.12.05

8) Keep warm in preheated oven while you make the next few batches.

Nuggets

9) I served with mayo and ketchup because they has so much flavor on their own they really didn’t need much, but you can serve with whatever dipping sauces you like best, be it BBQ, honey mustard, spicy mayo, the possibilities are endless.

Homemade Jalapeno Poppers, The Last Bastion of The “Restaurants Do it Better” Misconception

Best Superbowl Appetizer

I remember the first time I ever had a Jalapeno popper. I was 16, cutting study-hall (read: we don’t know what to do with you kids so sit here and do your homework) so that I could hang out with the seniors down the street at what was one of the best deli’s in West Hampton Beach. I had never heard of such a thing before, and that first bite revealing the creamy melty interior was otherworldly. I could see the layers of orange cheddar, white cream cheese, and green jalapeno, and was just blown away by how well it all worked together. It was hot and cheesy, with just a mild spice and the perfect creamy crunch. I was in love.

Game Day Jalapeno Poppers

I have always craved brilliantly conceived and executed appetizers because they were delicious, (think Fridays’ stuffed potato skins, Friendlys’ Mozzarella sticks, and Outback Steakhouses’ 3 cheese fries with that insane dipping sauce…) but even more so because it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing people could do at home. No one I knew had a deep fryer yet, (this was in the 90’s before the food culture revolution when the only place you could buy such a thing was on the late night TV insomniacs shopping channels) so it just seemed like a non-starter. A moo point.

moo pointThank You Joey Tribbiani.

Later on, these things started becoming available to the mainstream, and I’m going to upset a lot of food supply marketing people when I say this… you don’t even need one. All you do need is a medium sized pot at least 4 inches deep and some frying oil, vegetable works just fine. You can even go out and buy a frying thermometer, which I recommend if you are going to be making doughnuts or other temperature sensitive fried foods, but really, all you need to know is this. Get your oil hot enough so that after you put the food in, it rises to the surface after about 30 seconds. If it sinks and stays down, the oil is too cold. If it never sinks, the oil is too hot. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. You see, easy.

I had been dreaming about these little monsters for ages, and literally couldn’t remember the last time I had a good popper other than that first time, when I started going off about them to my husband. He was unconvinced of their goodness and you just can’t find anyone out here who has even heard of them, so I promptly went online to see if it was possible to do at home. Guess what?!@! IT IS! I found this recipe at blogchef.net and modified it because the crust didn’t seem substantial enough, but you are free to try it his way. I also made a bigger batch since we bought too many Jalapenos and also, we just can’t ever get enough of a good thing.

hot peppers!

Ingredients: (serves 4-8 depending how many everyone wants)

  • A big bag of Jalapenos, we used about 7-10 that were each about 8-10 inches in length. I think it would be cool to use the smaller ones and much prettier, but this was what we had.
  • 16 oz plain cream cheese
  • A nice big block of either good quality shredded sharp yellow or white cheddar (I recommend Cabot), or shredded manchego cheese, which was what I used since I can’t get the former here. Anywhere from 1 cup to 1 and 1/2 cups should be enough.
  • A large container of seasoned bread crumbs, working with about a cup at a time.
  • Plain white flour (at least 1-2 cups, working with about a cup at a time).
  • Whole Milk (2% or 3% is also fine (at least 1-2 cups) working with about a cup at a time.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Kitchen Tools:

  • A large metal slotted spoon for removing poppers from oil
  • Paper towels
  • 2 pairs of Latex gloves for working with!!! Those oils can BURN your face and eyes… but that story for another time (remind me to tell you sometime about the great chili fiasco of 08′).

safe hands1

Method: (prep time 45 minutes)

  • Wearing latex or rubber gloves, use a knife to carefully slice off the stems, cut the Jalapenos in halves, and cut out the pith (white parts) and all the seeds.
  • Cut Jalapenos to the sizes you want, we experimented with longer ones, and more bite sized ones, as you will see in the photos. Both were great, depends on your personal preference.
  • Once that is all done, carefully discard gloves.
  • In a bowl, mix up cream cheese, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon milk if your cream cheese is too firm. Ours comes fresh from the dairy so it’s already very creamy and easy to mix. (Alternately, you can layer the melty cheese on top of the cream cheese stuffed peppers, you will see why this might be a better idea in a minute).

2013-01-20 20.20.54

  • Put on your second pair of gloves, and stuff peppers with cheese mixture. If you are layering on melty cheese, do that now as well.

2013-01-20 20.42.51As you can see, we mixed it all together, which made them explode a little in the oil, so next time I’m going to try it with the layering. I think its also better for the textural experience, I like to see those threads of melty cheese stretching on for days when I bite in to something cheesy.

  • This part is important, dip each popper in milk, then roll in flour, and let it REST for 10 minutes.

2013-01-20 20.52.00Fun Fact: That’s G’s hand doing the dirty work!

  • Now, you are going to set up 3 bowls, one with milk, one with flour, and one with breadcrumbs, and prepare a surface to lay the poppers while you are working.

2013-01-20 21.08.50

  • After they have sat for 10 minutes, dip each one again in milk, then roll in flour, then back in milk, then roll in breadcrumbs. It will get messy, but doing the flour twice gives it a real nice crunchy coating.

2013-01-20 21.08.58

  • Once you have breaded the very last one, it’s time to FRY!!!!!!
  • Pour oil into pot until it comes up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.
  • Heat oil over high flame until a toothpick tip held in the oil bubbles happily.
  • Now you can gently add your first popper to the oil. If it sinks and then comes up to the surface after about 30 seconds, you can add more poppers until there is no room left. I had to do 3 batches. 1 dinner plate full of poppers per batch, or about 10 poppers per batch.

2013-01-20 21.15.21

  • Fry each batch for 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove one at a time with a metal slotted spoon, and place directly onto paper towels to dry and crisp up.

See how they exploded a bit? I think that’s because the Manchego was mixed in, rather than layered on top of the cream cheese. But boy did they taste AMAZING!!!

  • Remove any stray bits from the oil, repeat temperature test, and fry the second batch. I use my digital oven timer and they come out perfect in 3 minutes and evenly cooked every time.

I promise, if you are faced with the option to do these yourself or buy the processed frozen ones, TRUST me, do it yourself. Homemade  is almost always better. I left a plateful uncooked to freeze so that I can wow my chef sister with them the next time she comes to visit, the great thing about these is you can do all the work one day, then freeze them until you are ready to serve for a dinner party or Superbowl Sunday, and then just fry them right up on the spot! YUM! They were delish, with a mild heat, that you only really noticed when they started to cool down, but by then, well, they were all gone. 🙂

*Update: My cheffy sister came to visit for the weekend and sample some of the recent goings on in our kitchen (saved in the freezer for her imminent arrival). This meant sampling Asian chicken dumplings with their insane garlic scallion sweet and spicy dipping sauce, chocolate cream cheese glazed cinnamon buns, my husbands first amazing attempt at a classic new york cheesecake with a cookie crust and a creamsicle twist, herbed squash on toast with ricotta and onion marmalade, and of course, our beautiful Jalapeno poppers experiment. The poppers went into the oil frozen this time, and by 3 minutes the outsides were a gorgeous brown, but the insides were still a bit cold, so I would recommend frying for a full 5 minutes with the timer set. We just popped them into the toaster oven to finish warming the insides, on the highest heat for about 5 minutes, which did the job splendidly. Make sure that the oil is HOT when they go in, and resist the temptation to remove them until they bob up to the top and have been floating on the surface for about a minute. Salt generously when they come out of the fryer, (5 or 6 shakes over the whole thing) and serve. Watch out. they are hot inside!!! I went to bed with the smell of cheesy jalapeno in the air and dreamed of poppers dancing, dipping and swirling through the ether.

Popperjoy

Asian Chicken Dumplings

DSCN8042

I think that, like me, most people have an unusually deep and abiding love for foods that are bite sized. This could mean a few little bites if you are dainty and delicate like my fashion designer sister, or eaten whole, “Homer Simpson” style  if you are like my husband and just want to get it in there already. kungfupanda2_clipdumplingwarrior_sml

I fall somewhere in between so can luckily maintain some small shred of decorum assuming I’m not eating because I’m unhappy because I eat. Eating should make us happy, and bring us to places we have never been before, and these wonderful little guys really do that for me.

The really cool thing about them is that you can get the whole family in on the action, and trust me you are going to want to because these things take teamwork.  That isn’t to say that you can’t make them on your own, but honestly, if you grind the meat, make the sauce, and make the dough all by yourself, why should you share? I should warn you now that these dumplings are so good that I have been held at chopstick-point over the last one. The good news is, this recipe makes so many of these little guys that it wont even come to that. That is if there’s only 2 of you. Otherwise, good luck.

war

Ya see? 🙂 6 each, and fight to the death over the last one.

Just kidding, the recipe actually makes 36 so you can serve 6 people, but this is a good way to fake out the family. We were cooking for two people, so we actually ended up freezing almost half of these for next time, which is awesome, because you don’t want to have to put in this much effort every single time you want a dumpling… am I right? I find that 7 just about makes a meal for me, with G leaning more towards the 10-12 mark. I’d say they keep in the freezer for up to 3 months if you pack them properly, between sheets of baking paper, evenly spaced, and over a thick dusting of flour.

Now, I like to steam mine, and G got me this fantastic steamer from my favorite store in Jerusalem. If you don’t have a steamer, you can pan sear then boil them, or fry them, as you like, there is almost no wrong way to cook a dumpling.  My advice, if you plan to do this as often as we do, get a steamer. It’s really worth it.

Traditionally these little guys are made with pork, but I make them with chicken and they are really quite wonderful. You should use ground chicken from the store, but I’m super forgetful and always just buy the breasts so I had to chop my own meat the last few times I made these. Talk about a labor of LOVE. I don’t suggest you do the same, unless you have someone who will really appreciate the effort when all is said and done.

So here they are; I wish you luck my fellow food warriors, I hope you enjoy these as much as we do 🙂

dumplings2

Ingredients: for 4-6 servings

For Filling: (modified from “Asian”, 2003 Barnes and Noble books)

  • 1 1/4 pound ground chicken breast
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage, bok choy, or bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (don’t go overboard)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

For Dough: (makes 36 dumplings)

  • 2 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup slightly warm water (1/3 cup boiling water + 2/3 cup room temperature water)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (or hot chili sauce and 1 teaspoon light brown sugar)
  • 1 large chopped garlic clove
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or mirin

Method:

1) Make dough: I got the dough recipe here.  Add salt and oil to the warm water. Stir till the salt has dissolved completely. In a deep bowl, pour in plain flour. Add the warm water mixture slowly and stir. Add a little water at a time so that you can judge how wet or dry the dough is. Stop when it looks slightly sticky. Just continue stirring (or using your hands when it gets too sticky) till the dough comes together in a large, clumpy ball. As long as most of the dough clumps together, it’s time to stop. Don’t worry that it looks lumpy and dry. Seal the bowl with cling wrap and allow to relax for about 10 – 15 minutes.

(You can mix together the filling ingredients now, just blanch the bok choy in boiling water for 10 seconds and drain before adding to the rest)

2) Now, start kneading. You will notice that the dough no longer looks as lumpy and dry. As you knead, it will become elastic and shiny. If you find that it’s too dry, add a little more warm water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour. Throw the dough onto your work surface in between kneads to improve the structure. Really slam it down, and enjoy the satisfying THWACK noise that it makes as you smack it silly.  Those of you who have made breads by hand will be familiar with this routine.

3) The dough is ready to be rolled into wrappers as soon as it is smooth and pliable.

making the wrappers

4) This is the tricky part. Pinch off 36 little dough balls, about the size of a Godiva truffle, no bigger. Make sure they are all even. Now, smoosh them down until they are about the size of a silver dollar. G did this part, then handed them off to me and I went around the edges flattening them out more. You want them to be thinner on the edges where the dough will all come together, and thicker in the middle where the filling will sit. Once the edges are all flattened out, have your assistant spoon  1 1/2 tablespoons into each wrapper as you hold it out like a square.

20130117_213103

Don’t let the filling touch the sides, if it gets wet it won’t stick to itself so you have to be really careful here. Have the person in the house with the most nimble fingers do this part.  Now carefully bring together 2 opposite diagonal corners and seal them, then bring together the other two. you should end up with a cute little ball/purse looking shape. if there are openings, pinch them shut and bring them up to the top with the other corners.

Breathe, wipe your brow, and repeat 35 more times, spacing them a few inches apart. 🙂 TEAMWORK!

dumplings spaced

It’s a really good idea to flour a piece of baking paper to lay them on while you work, otherwise they might stick to the surface and then they will rip when you pick them up.

Once they are all done, you can cook them, 14 at a time. I lined my steamer with cabbage leaves so that they wouldn’t stick…

2013-01-17 21.47.24Getting ready to steam their little butts off

you can also use lettuce but I like how the cabbage holds its form and doesn’t bleed flavor or color onto the dumplings. The steamer goes over a wok or pan of boiling water, like so:

steamer

Again, you can pan sear them for that lovely brown color for 2-3 minutes then boil or steam for 5-7 minutes, or just deep fry them, but I really like this method where you just steam them, and it’s a bit healthier. Steaming for 8-10 minutes is more than enough, make the dipping sauce while they cook, then its time to EAT!

2013-01-17 22.13.56