Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

Year of the Ox (or anytime) Dumplings

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s long on holidays. When I was in second grade our class performed a short play in which each of us got to talk about one of this month’s special days.

In the next week alone several holidays are coming up: the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. I don’t have room to celebrate them all in this column so I am focusing on the first. I encourage you to do something for every single one, however.

Tomorrow, February 12 (also Lincoln’s birthday!), marks the start of this year’s Chinese New Year. I love lunar holidays. To those of us who measure out our lives according to the Gregorian calendar, holidays that don’t fall on the same date every year offer a welcome unpredictability.

This lunar new year comes on the second new moon after the winter solstice so it can fall anywhere from late January to late February. This year it’s right in between.

As many readers know, there are 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Each is assigned an animal, and the animals repeat in a cycle of 12 years, roughly corresponding to the time it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun. This year will be the year of the ox.

People born in this year (or born 12, 24, 48, or 60 and so on years ago!) will exhibit ox-like characteristics. They will tend to be hard working, dependable, and generally solid.

The Chinese New Year is a time when Chinese families get together. During these reunions family members begin the new year’s celebration, which lasts for more than two weeks, by preparing food together. A special favorite, especially in the north of China, is dumplings.

My dumpling recipe isn’t necessarily authentically Chinese, but it has plenty of Chinese flavor and flavors. I have to admit that I cheated a little; I purchased my dumpling wrappers.

To me dumpling wrappers are like tortillas, something one makes best if one makes them all the time. I have never made them. I hadn’t even made dumplings themselves before starting to work on this article.

I actually strayed further by using store-bought wonton wrappers rather than dumpling wrappers. The wonton wrappers, which like most of the ingredients in the dumplings are available in most supermarkets, are slightly thicker than dumpling wrappers and therefore a little easier to work with.

I hope making and eating the dumplings will give you warm feelings of family and hope for the months to come. Happy Chinese New Year! Here’s to finding something to celebrate every day of the month and every day of the year.

They’re almost ready!

Year of the Ox Dumplings

Ingredients:

for the filling:
1/2 pound ground pork (or ground chicken if you don’t eat pork)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped cabbage (preferably Chinese cabbage, but any cabbage will do in a pinch)
2 scallions (white part only), chopped
1 tablespoon grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small finger ginger, minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pinch sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

for the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil or toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, chopped (white plus some green)

for assembly:
24 wonton or dumpling wrappers (possibly even more, depending on how big they are)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
canola or peanut oil as needed for frying

Instructions:

Combine the ingredients for the filling. Refrigerate them while you assemble the other ingredients.

Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a bowl. Set them aside.

For each dumpling, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of a wrapper. Do not overfill your dumplings! Combine the egg and the water.

Use your finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with a bit of the egg mixture. Fold the wrapper in half to cover the filling, and seal carefully with more egg mixture. Put the filled dumplings on a plate or board, and cover them with a damp paper towel.

Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom, but barely. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add enough dumplings to make 1 layer. (The dumplings should not touch each other in the pan.)

Cook the dumplings until their bottoms begin to brown and then flip them over and brown them lightly on the other side. Reduce the heat to low, add a splash of water (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Watch out for sizzling and splattering when the water hits the oil.

Cover the dumplings. Cook for 2-1/2 minutes. Uncover the dumplings and cook them until the liquid has almost disappeared and the bottoms are crispy. Remove them to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Makes a lot of dumplings.

I made a video of these to send to Mass Appeal so you can see my technique. (I use the word loosely! I used too much oil in the pan.) I also made my beloved key-lime pie as a Valentine treat on Mass Appeal. Here are those videos:

Tinky Makes Dumplings on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Key-Lime Pie for Valentine’s Day

Waffling My Way to Hanukkah

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

At this time of year, as the days shorten and the sun dips lower in the sky, many cultures and religions help offset the weather with holidays that celebrate light. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins at sunset this evening (Thursday, Dec. 10), is one such holiday.

In fact, Hanukkah takes place at what is arguably the very darkest time of the year. This lunar holiday takes place just as the moon joins the sun in getting closest to its darkest time. It lasts for eight days.

Also known as the festival of lights, Hanukkah recalls a time in the second century B.C.  when the Israelis book back their land from Syria and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.

They lit an oil-powered menorah (candelabrum) that was supposed to burn continuously. Unfortunately, they had only enough oil to keep the flame burning for a single day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights, until more oil could be brought to the temple.

Hanukkah celebrates several things: a Jewish victory (not a common thing in world history), the strength of religious faith, and above all the power of light.

I love lighting my menorah each night of this holiday. AI was fortunate to have a Christian parent and a Jewish one. Consequently, our family celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

When I was a child, I saw this as a plus mainly in terms of presents: the month of December was one long series of gifts. (My birthday falls in December, adding to the pile.)

I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts at this time of year. As I get older, however, lighting the menorah and trimming the Christmas tree help me to remember my parents and their families and to celebrate my rich dual heritage. Those activities also brighten my home at this darkening time of year.

Naturally, as a food writer, I celebrate the season with food. The main food associated with Hanukkah is oil, in commemoration of the miraculous oil that burned for so long in the temple.

Olive oil, a mainstay of Middle-Eastern cuisine and life two millennia ago, was the oil used in the temple in Jerusalem, but one may use pretty much any oil one likes in cooking Hanukkah treats. For frying I often choose a neutral oil like canola oil.

The most popular Hanukkah recipe is for latkes, potato pancakes. I’ve posted several latke recipes here over the years. This year I decided to make my latkes slightly differently—in the waffle iron.

I got the idea from Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. Her most recent cookbook features hash browns prepared this way. I reasoned that hash browns and latkes aren’t really all that different.

I call my creations (drum roll, please) … WaffLatkes.

To be frank, the Wafflatkes can’t QUITE match the crispiness of the fried version of this dish. They are pretty tasty, however, and the waffle pattern is fun. They’re also exceptionally easy to make and lighter than traditional latkes.

Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy the light and the yumminess….

WaffLatkes

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten (you may need another one!)
chopped fresh chives to taste (optional but tasty and colorful if you have them on hand)
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
canola or olive oil for greasing the waffle iron

Instructions:

Wash the potatoes well. Grate them with a box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Wrap the potato shreds in a dish towel. Carry it to the sink, wring it out, and allow the potato pieces to drain while you get out the rest of the ingredients and maybe drink a cocktail or two.

In a medium bowl combine the egg, the chives (if you’re using them), 2 tablespoons of flour, the salt, and the pepper. Stir in the onion and potato pieces, followed by the olive oil.

If the batter doesn’t seem to hold together at all, stir in a little more flour and/or another egg. Don’t worry about making it perfect, however. Wafflatkes are allowed to be a little ragged.

Brush your waffle iron with oil. Preheat it to a medium-high setting. When it is ready plop small spoonsful of batter onto its quadrants. Flatten them a bit if you wish. (The waffle iron will do this for you, but I tend to become a little paranoid.)

Cook the little cakes just a little longer than you would normally cook waffles, making sure they are golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately as they come out of the iron—or pop the first ones into a 300-degree oven until you have finished cooking the rest. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

And now the video, Tinky Makes WaffLatkes

A Memorial Spread

Monday, June 29th, 2020

I just realized that I haven’t posted anything here this month … so here is a quick recipe from my next cookbook, Pot Luck. The book will share essays and recipes I have created over many years, as well as a few new recipes (because I keep coming up with new ideas!).

This particular recipe is new to me, but it goes with an older story. It was inspired by my late neighbor Harrison Parker. Harry was a larger-then-life figure with a heart of gold and a wealth of arcane knowledge at his fingertips. He was the official historian of my town, Hawley, Massachusetts, and he was active in local politics. He died 20 years ago, but he was so famous in our county that people still ask me whether I knew him.

My book includes an essay I wrote after his death that highlights many of his contributions to our community and to our immediate neighborhood. It also mentions one of Harry’s less endearing habits (one to which all of his neighbors were accustomed!).

Harrison was inclined to show up at our houses just as we were sitting down to cocktails in the evening. He would happily sit down, request a drink, and share the news of the day. He almost always stayed through dinner.

Harry didn’t want to take complete advantage of his hosts so he frequently brought a small appetizer as an offering … either a chunk of cheese or a tin of smoked oysters. He loved to construct little cocktail sandwiches of crackers, cheese, and oysters.

His sandwiches aren’t really a recipe … so a couple of weeks ago I created a smoked oyster spread in his honor. I’m sure Harry would have loved this spread if he had had a chance to taste it!

I made this recipe for my friends at Mass Appeal. See video below!

Smoked Oyster Spread à la Harry

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese at room temperature (leave it out for at least a couple of hours so it really softens)
1 can (3 ounces) smoked oysters, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
a bit of the oil in which the oysters are packed
1 tablespoon chopped chives

Instructions:

Place the cream cheese in a bowl, and mash it well. Add the other ingredients in order. Serve with celery or buttery crackers. Makes about 1 cup.

Making a spread is serious business! Thanks to Peter Beck for taking the photos for this post.

Art Week at Home: A Divine Dip

Sunday, May 10th, 2020
I’m not really cross-eyed, but this was a selfie, and I was trying to keep both eyes on the camera. Sigh….

I was scheduled to teach a hands-on cooking workshop today for Art Week, a culture-filled annual event here in Massachusetts. Obviously, no one will be coming to my home to cook and tell stories this afternoon, but I’m sharing one of the recipes we were planning to make as part of Art Week at Home.

I wish I could do the cooking online, but the internet here is weak. So please just pretend that you’re with me, singing and cooking and telling stories around my great-grandmother’s old oval table. I’m going to walk you through one of the recipes I planned to make today.

In this crazy time, I am grateful every day for the natural beauty around me. Each time my dog Cocoa and I walk down the road, it seems to me that we observe a new sign of spring … another flower in bloom, another tree starting to bud, another tuft of grass springing up greener than the one before it.

We actually had a little snow yesterday, but it has fortunately departed, leaving everything even greener than before.

The color green is my theme these days. It’s a color of hope and renewal. It’s a theme indoors as well as out. Spinach is coming into season, bringing with it vitamins and minerals and that gorgeous deep color.

I eat spinach and cook with it a lot … in quiches, in quick sautés, in salads, in scrambled eggs. Like the cartoon character Popeye, I feel “strong to da finich ‘cause I eats me spinach.”

A few years back, I devised an onion-dip recipe loosely based on my mother’s formula for French onion soup. I love commercial dips and dip mixes, but I feel a little queasy when I read some of the ingredients on their labels. I don’t like to put foods in my body that I can’t pronounce.

My dip contained only normal foods. And caramelizing the onions for it made my house smell delicious.

With spinach on my mind, I recently decided to add a little spinach to the onion dip. The addition was a success. The spinach adds vitamins, a hint of flavor, and a lovely green color.

The recipe takes a while, between caramelizing the onions and letting the dip’s flavors meld in the refrigerator. Most of this time isn’t hands on, however, so you’ll have plenty of leisure to do other things while you’re cooking. Just make sure to keep your nose active while you’re caramelizing the onions.

Make the dip early in the day, and honor your mother with it by evening. My mother isn’t with me anymore, but I love to remember her on Mother’s Day. Making a dip inspired by one of her recipes gives my family a delicious way in which to enjoy the memories.

My Mother in 1968


Spinach and Sweet Onion Dip

If you happen to have fresh parsley and/or dill in the house, you may add sprigs of them before blending the dip at the end.

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, cut into thin slices, with each slice cut in half (sweet onions are best, but any onion will do in a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 generous splash dry sherry
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 teaspoon sea salt and three grinds of the pepper mill)
1-1/2 cups sour cream (half of this could be Greek yogurt if you want to be healthier, and if your onions are really huge you may increase the amount to 2 cups)

Instructions:

Combine the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts stir in the onion slices. Cook them slowly over low to medium-low heat, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes or so, until they are reduced and turn a lovely golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour and may take as long as an hour; they will be ready when they are ready. Add a little water from time to time if burning seems likely.

When the onions are almost ready stir in the mustard, and continue to cook, stirring, for at least 5 minutes. Add the sherry and the spinach and cook, stirring, until the liquid disappears and the spinach wilts.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the vegetables and remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

Place the vegetables in a food processor and combine them briskly; then add the sour cream and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor, an electric mixer will do, but you will have bigger chunks of onion and spinach. My food processor is broken so I used my mini-chopper. I had to chop the vegetables a little at a time, they were chopped.

Place the dip in the refrigerator, covered, and let the flavors meld for several hours. At least an hour before serving taste it on a neutral cracker to see whether you want to add any additional flavors (more salt and pepper perhaps?). Bring the dip to room temperature, and serve it with raw vegetable strips or chips. Makes 2 to 3 cups.

Cut into wedges or slices. Serves 6 to 8.

A Summer Spread

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Summertime … and the food is easy!

I’m busy getting ready for my annual summer concert. This coming Sunday, pianist Jerry Noble and I will celebrate the 100th birthday of George Gershwin’s first big hit, “Swanee,” with a concert of songs by the composer and his brother Ira.

So naturally I want to name everything I cook after a Gershwin song. I recently made a blueberry crisp I dubbed “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Really, just about anything with fresh local blueberries makes me feel rhapsodic.) I’m contemplating a pork dish called “Porky and Bess.”

And every simple appetizer can be called “Summertime.”

My most recent venture into appetizers is a chipotle pimento cheese spread. I lived for many years in the American South, where pimiento cheese is a staple. Last year in Virginia, I discovered chipotle pimiento cheese in a grocery store. I thought adding the smoky flavor of chipotles (which are basically smoked jalapeños) to pimiento cheese was a brilliant idea.

Unfortunately, the product from the grocery store suffered from the same problem that much pimiento cheese encounters: it had too much mayonnaise. I consequently concocted my own chipotle version, which is (in my humble opinion) pretty perfect.

The recipe below needs some mayonnaise in order to smooth out the spread, but you shouldn’t end up with more than 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the stuff. If you’re unfamiliar with chipotles in adobo, look for them in small cans in the Latin section of a supermarket. If you’d like to see me make it on TV, follow this link.

Enjoy the summer spiciness … and do come to our concert if you’re in the neighborhood!

Ingredients:

4 ounces roasted red peppers (a.k.a. pimientos), drained (reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid) and roughly chopped
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, seeded if you like them mild, coarsely chopped
several turns of the pepper grinder
1 tablespoon roasted-red-pepper brine
1 to 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the chipotle can
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
mayonnaise to taste (start with 2 tablespoons)

Instructions:

Place the pimientos, the chipotles, the pepper, the brine, and the adobo sauce in a mini-food processor. Whir until combined. Toss in the cheese, and combine again. Add mayonnaise until the spread achieves a silky consistency.

If you don’t have a mini-food processor, beat the heck out of the mixture with an electric mixture.

Chill the cheese blend for at least 1/2 hour. Serve with crackers or vegetables. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.