Friday, December 31, 2010

Chicken, Spinach and Shitake Potstickers

It's New Year's Eve and instead of thinking about celebrating with champagne, I've been making Potstickers for New Year's Day. Potstickers are a lucky food because they look like the shape of Chinese gold ingots. I usually make Pork with Chinese Cabbage and Scallion dumplings  But, I decided to use spinach instead as any greens help bring in paper money like the American dollar - that's one of the main kinds of luck to try to bring in by eating special foods on New Year's Day. I have heard that in some countries chicken isn't considered a lucky food as chickens scratch backwards, but for the Chinese, it is one of the foods traditionally served - especially whole for Chinese New Year to symbolize family togetherness. I also wanted a less fatty meat than pork.  I often mix pork and chicken anyway so that it lowers the fat content of the dumplings. For these dumplings, I used minced chicken breast and Shitake mushrooms. It's a combination I often used for a stir fry as in the photo and it turned out to be a wonderful filling for dumplings. The only difficulty I had was having to make the dumpling wrappers from scratch as I haven't located an Asian market nearby yet - the recipe is included below and it actually easier and more fun to shape than the store bought ones. And, I had to chop the chicken myself as I couldn't find it already ground but with sharp German knives, I enjoyed that too. I am going to serve these dumplings pan fried, which symbolizes gold along with a whole fish and stir fried broccoli - fish is another lucky food for New Year. Dessert will be a big bowl of tangerines - also a lucky food. If you like, you can steam them or boil them and then they are considered Silver. I'm giving you my grandfather's secret method of making Potstickers - he used chicken broth to steam them and they are so much tastier than when you just use water. I've also included the traditional dipping sauce recipe although my sons love Thai Sweet Chili Sauce the most. These dumplings are great - I hope you try to make them. Chinese New Year is a chance to do it all again (Feb. 3rd) and the menu will be much more extensive. Happy New Year!

Chicken, Spinach and Shitake Potstickers

1 pound of spinach, stems removed, washed and chopped finely
1 large or 2 small chicken breasts ground or minced fine - about 1/2 pound
6 Shitake Mushrooms - rehydrated in a small amount of boiling water, stems removed and minced finely
1 small onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
14 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Oil and 1 cup Chicken Broth for cooking

In a small frying pan and using a small bit of oil, cook onions and garlic until onion is soft. Mix with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and seasonings together in a large bowl. Use 1 rounded teaspoon per wrapper. Place in center of a round Gyoza or Potsticker wrapper bought or made from scratch (see below). Wet around the edges if using the store bought kind. Pinch together in the middle (or you can seal all the way around and make flatter half moons if desired) and then pleat the edges on the side facing you - 3 times on each side to toward the middle make the Potsticker stand upright and curve inward. Place on a sheet of wax paper until all are filled.

In a large frying pan with a lid, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil, heat for a few minutes over medium heat and place Potstickers in - as many as possible without touching. Let the bottom brown and then pour in 1/4 cup chicken broth if using store bought wrappers and 1/2 cup of chicken broth if using homemade wrappers. Cover and steam. When the broth is mostly absorbed, take off lid and recrisp the bottoms. Remove to a serving plate and put in a warm (200 degree) oven until all the Potstickers are made. Serve with dipping sauce recipe (below).

Dumpling Dough

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup warm water

Mix salt with flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of the the water and using your hands, mix water in adding more water if necessary until dough gather into a ball. Knead dough until it is shiny and holds together. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest of 1/2 hour.

Cut dough into 4 sections and roll into 6" logs. Cut each log into six equal pieces and cover them with a damp towel. Roll out one piece at a time with a rolling pin until you have about a 3 1/2 inch circle. Fill as directed above.

Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
slivered fresh ginger and/or finely sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce or chili oil - optional

Five Element Analysis

The wheat in the dumpling wrappers brings in the Wood Element as does the chicken and spinach and rice wine vinegar in the dipping sauce. The onions, garlic and ginger or green onions add some Metal Element and the soy sauce and sesame oil represent a small bit of the Water Element with the Shitake mushrooms enhancing Water and also the Metal Element because of its' wonderful Umami flavor. The Fire Element is only found in the chili paste or chili oil or the Thai Sweet Chili Sauce if you use that, so Fire is an element that needs to be enhanced and an Earth food needs to be added to balance out the meal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Linzer Cookies

I try to make one new cookie every year and one that I have never tried to make yet is Linzer Cookies. I wanted to make the cookies as close to the flavor of the real thing as possible. Most recipes I looked at made what appeared to be a rather simple sugar cookie or shortbread cookie with jam. I just knew they were missing something. When I checked out numerous recipes for Linzer Torte, I figured out what was missing. There is an extraordinary combination of spices in German and Austrian pastries - something I couldn't quite identify - like in Stollen. What I discovered was the combination of vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon and cloves. When I added them to the Linzer Cookie dough, I knew I had hit the jackpot! They smelled just right.

Now traditional Linzer Torte dough is usually made with ground hazelnuts, but sometimes almonds or walnuts are used instead. I decided to use almonds, mostly because I had used hazelnuts in my Russian Tea Cakes and I wanted a different flavor in the cookie tin. I found a special cookie cutter for Linzer Cookies at a cookware store, which made things a lot easier. It had a special little lever that allowed for the bottoms to be cut and then when released cut the top cookie with a little cute tulip cutout in the middle. If you don't have this special kind of cookie cutter, just use a regular round one about 2" wide and then cut out the middles of half of the cookies with a tiny cookie cuter. When the top and bottom cookies are sandwiched with raspberry jam in the middle, it looks like a little stained glass window. They are now going to be a staple in my Christmas cookie repertoire. Merry Christmas!

Linzer Cookies

2/3 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extraact
1/8 teaspoon cloves
rind of one lemon, zested

1 jar seedless raspberry jam or jelly (you can use strawberry, blackberry or currant too) mixed with 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add ground almonds, the egg and vanilla and mix together until combined. Then add in flour mixture until just mixed through. Form dough into 2 balls and flatten on plastic wrap and chill the dough wrapped in plastic for one to two hours. When ready to cook, remove from the refrigerator and roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper until the dough is between 1/8" and 1/4". Using a round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can. Place on ungreased cookie sheets about 1 " apart (parchment paper or Silpat is helpful). Use a smaller cutter to cut out the center of half the cookies. Add centers back to the remaining dough. Make more cookies from the rest of the dough.

In 350 degree oven, bake cookies for about 10 - 12 minutes or until just starting to get brown on the edges. Do not overbake. Transfer to a wire rack or a cool plate.

When cookie are cool, put about 1 teaspoon of jam on the solid cookie bottoms and place cutout cookie on top so that you can see the jam below. Sandwich all the cookies. Store covered in the refrigerator. Cookies are even better after the first day.

Makes about 2 dozen

Five Element Analysis

Once again it is obvious that sweet cookies belong to the Earth Element, but because these cookies are made with ground nuts, they have more Water Element in them than usual for a cookie. The wheat flour as always brings in the Wood Element and the little bit of lemon juice emphasizes this element even more. The raspberry jam adds some wonderful Fire as does the lemon zest and the spices and vanilla bring in the Metal Element. Who knew that these cookies would be so balanced?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Every Christmas since I can remember, I have made Molasses Ginger Cookies. They are my absolute favorite. I include them in all of my give away cookie tins and it is usually the recipe most requested. This year I am in Germany and I couldn't find any molasses. I did find Zuckerrubensirup which is similar, but it is much lighter - more like dark corn syrup. I also couldn't find brown sugar, so I used just regular granulated sugar and the the cookies ended up being much lighter in color as well. I compensated by adding a lot more ginger. I also added just a pinch of white pepper to jazz things up. It's a common ingredient in Pfefferneuse cookies here in Europe. The good news is that they still crackled on the top with that wonderful sprinkle of sugar and they tasted heavenly. This is the one cookie that makes it smell like Christmas for me and this recipe variation is going to be a keeper.

Ginger Crinkle Cookies

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks or 160g)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light flavored molasses or Zuckerrubensirup
2 3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground ginger (buy this one fresh for best flavor)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of white pepper - about 1/8 teaspoon
Extra sugar for rolling - about 1/3 cup in a small bowl

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and molasses and continue to stir until evenly mixed. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and stir until just mixed thoroughly with no dusty flour at the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Make balls with the palms of your hands about the size of walnuts or a generously rounded tablespoon. Roll in granulated sugar and place on an ungreased baking sheet (I used parchment paper and Silpat liners are even better). Bake at 350 degree for 8 - 10 minutes until the crackle on the tops are obvious and they are just barely beginning to set in the middle if you want them chewy. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing to a wire rack or plate.

Five Element Analysis

Cookies are always going to belong to the Earth Element as they are so sweet, but these cookies have a lot more Metal Element to them because of all the pungent spices. The Wood Element is represented by the wheat flour and the black pepper adds just a hint of fire. I think these cookies are best with a cup of tea, which would bring in even more Fire. There's not a lot of Water Element in this cookie so maybe they would be a good dessert after a big bowl of soup and then there would be room to eat a lot more of them....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eggless Banana Cookies

I usually bake a lot of cookies for Christmas, but this year I find myself in Germany and I'm having a little trouble locating the right ingredients for my usual assortment of cookies. I buy gift tins and fill them with at least 5 or 6 kinds of cookies. I think it is much nicer to give personalized gifts like this. I only buy presents for birthdays. Maybe the grocery stores I have been going to haven't been big enough but so far I did find something resembling molasses, but can't find corn syrup or Cream of Tartar. My best source for baking supplies was in the Netherlands when I was visiting my friend there last month. So here's what I will be making: Russian teacakes (using ground hazelnuts instead of my usual walnuts as I don't have a food processor), Molasses Ginger Cookies, Chocolate Crinkles, Almond Butter Cookies (see previous post for the recipe) and Eggless Banana Cookies - today's recipe. I got this recipe from an incomplete set of recipe cards that my mother got at a garage sale. I don't even know what happened to the card as I memorized the recipe years ago. What I like about it most is that it doesn't use eggs, which means that you can eat the dough if you are so inclined. It always made my kids happy to have one cookie dough that they could lick the beaters. It's actually a rather homely cookie - a little more cakey than most. So for Christmas, I top it with multicolored sprinkles. This is my son Alex's favorite cookie and I have to admit I love it too. It's a great one for kids to make as it is so simple and it tastes like banana cake. It's good with chocolate sprinkles too. It also freezes well so you can always pull it out and make a few fresh cookies - I used to do this after the kids got home from school. Hope you enjoy this recipe too!

Eggless Banana Cookies

1 cup softened unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Multi colored sprinkles

Cream together the butter and sugar (can be done by hand, with a hand mixer or a stand mixer or a food processor). Then add the mashed banana and vanilla extract until well blended. In a separate bowl - mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Then add to banana mixture, blending in 1/3 of flour mixture at a time.If you can't wait to eat the cookies, turn the oven on to 375 degrees and place rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Press sprinkles onto cookie dough and place in oven.Bake for about 10 minutes or until the bottom edges become lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before removing to a wire rack and cooling completely.

If you want to save them for later, wrap in plastic wrap. The dough should be about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place in freezer and slice into 1/2 inch slices when ready to bake. No need to thaw them - just put slices in the oven. They actually turn out a little prettier this way.

Five Element Analysis

I will never claim that cookies are a balanced meal although they certainly make life a lot sweeter. Because they are so sweet, they obviously belong to the Earth Element and when made from a tropical fruit like bananas become even Earthier. The wheat flour brings in some Wood and the vanilla extract adds some Metal and the sprinkles give just a touch of Fire whimsy. When served with milk, you add more Metal and with hot chocolate, tea or coffee you bring in more Fire and clearly the other elements need to show up some other time and at a regular meal.