Katie, Des and I get together every few months. We make dinner, drink wine, catch up, and usually post a few funny only to us statuses. They’re some of my favorite nights. This month was my night to host. Hosting means you put together a menu including an appetizer, entrée, sides and dessert. You get the entrée ready before anyone arrives (in theory), then you drink wine and cook, and finally drink more wine. Good times are had by all. I’d been wanting The Land of Plenty cookbook for a while, so this was my excuse to buy it. I immediately felt in over my head.
So, there I was, right? Looking through my new cookbook. I knew I was going to have to buy ingredients. And I’m not a newbie at Lucky Market, so I knew the challenge was in front of me. The store’s huge (which is a good thing) and most of the stuff’s in another language. SOME of the items are also in English. Challenge accepted.
Picking a menu was a hard decision, too. I ended up googling recipes for some of the better reviewed ones, as well as reading the book for suggestions. I finally decided on:
Zhong Crescent Dumplings
Entrees and Side
Traditional Dan Dan Noodles
Spicy Cucumber Salad
Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce
Lemon Poppy Seed Amish Friendship Muffins with Ice Cream (to kill the burn)
One of the things the book suggests is making a lot of “convenience” items on your own. I’m on board with this. Hell, I prefer making my own bread! The first one was fresh ground pepper. How hard could that be? And whole black pepper was one of the easiest things I found. First you roast it, then you grind it up. Here’s the problem:
- My little food processor couldn’t grind peppers
- My mortar and pestle made my arm hurt
- Even after I got it mostly ground there were pepper husks in the pepper that I couldn’t get out
Innocent enough. Whole pepper.
Commence dry stir frying. This is going so well!
And commence grinding.
Um, little food processor, did you not get the memo? I said, “GRIND!”
Several more minutes of this. Including several attempts at using gravity to my advantage (the Shake Weight people might be interested), nothing. Nada. Damn it.
So then I descend to the cavities of my torn apart basement in search of my mortar and pestle. This is the simple answer, right? After much digging (and finding my cork screw – eureka!), I find it!
Commence manual grinding.
Or wait, are they hulls? I never know what I’m talking about. Anyway, so I had no clue how to get those things out of there. And I don’t own a sifter. I mean, who REALLY sifts flour? (Although, at one point I did have a sifter for powdered sugar for cinnamon candy. More on that another day.)
So while I was at Wal-Mart I decided I never wanted to endure the mortar and pestle again, so I bought this. Excuse the background mess. I was simultaneously trying to get my basement ready for the carpet layers. Lots going on. So bad at focusing.
We have sifting! I feel so segragatory.
My friends. Two and a half hours later, I’d like to present to you: Fresh ground, roasted black pepper!
And now we’re on to make “Strange Flavored Peanuts.” This is the actual name of the recipe, not something I call it. They’re kind of like honey-roasted peanuts, except the sweet flavor is also mixed with black pepper (the afore-made black pepper) and chili powder. You make a simple syrup, raise the temperature and cook it until it’s at one of the candy stages, add the seasonings, stir in the peanuts (unsalted, roasted). Mix them, then let them harden.
Here are the seasonings (I think salt, chili powder and pepper are all that’s in here).
And here’s the syrup, brought to the almost-appropriate stage. Kinda cool looking, huh? Then you add the seasonings shown above, stir like hell, and add in the peanuts. Re-stir like hell.
You’re supposed to mix them in the pot until they’re cool. I got bored. Quickly.
So I dumped them out on a cookie sheet (with short sides).
Onto the salad. This salad was simply called, “Spicy Cucumber Salad.” I made it primarily because everything else in the meal was going to be spicy, and the recipe noted it as “cool.” But I think she meant (and I probably didn’t read closely enough) that it’s cool in temperature. But the “spicy” still meant spicy. Plus, it was way over-salty. Next time? Half the salt and just a few of the dried peppers. And I think it would have been perfect.
My two cucumbers. Don’t you wish it were summertime?
Since they were organic and organic cucumbers remind me more of homegrown, I decided to slightly peel them. (Homegrown cucumbers seem to have thicker skins.) Then I cut them into about 2 inch long pieces. You know, approximately, since I don’t know measurements.
Oh, and Mom test: Make sure you taste a bite of each cucumber. I’m sure this is a good test for ALL fruits and vegetables, but I ALWAYS do cucumbers because they seem to have more of a propensity to be bitter. I’ve ruined one too many salads by not testing.
Then I cut each piece into quarters, and cut out the seeds and middle.
Then cut into “matchstick” pieces. Again, whatever that means. And salted to let them sit for a few hours (I believe to pull out some of the juices?)
After a few hours of chilling, then soaking some of the water out (I used multiple paper towels), it’s time to throw the rest of the cucumber salad together. This involves stir frying dried peppers and the ground pepper I ground the night before.
Stir fry until the peppers turn a deeper shade of red.
Then mix in the cucumbers and stir around. This is a very quick stir. You don’t want the cucumbers to lose their crunch.
Finally, back to the bowl for more chilling in the fridge. Looks delicious though, right?
Dumpling sauce – So simple, SO GOOD.
Next come the dumplings. These bad boys were AWESOME (in my opinion). They were an appetizer, so they were SUPPOSED to be done before Katie and Des got to the house, but I had an awful time organizing my time. So I was still cooking them after they arrived. Here’s the dipping sauce. Which is made up of:
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed and mixed with
- 2 teaspoons cold water
I personally doubled this recipe because it didn’t seem like it would be nearly enough. I’d recommend the same.
Then the fun begins. Mix together the
- A piece fresh ginger, unpeeled (I forgot to buy fresh ginger, so I used dry, even though it recommended against it)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- fresh ground black pepper, to taste (I used my freshly made stuff)
- 1 pound ground pork (they actually had this at the Asian market!)
So what you’re supposed to do is soak the ginger in water. I skipped this step. I mean, it’s dry ginger. Not much is gonna happen with it. So I mixed everything above together. The result should be a pretty pasty filling. Add a little water if it’s not pretty mushy (I can’t remember how much water I added).
And then you can buy dumpling wrappers, or make your own. I made my own because I couldn’t find them. The dough’s really easy it’s a mix of water, flour and salt. You have to roll the wrappers out pretty thin, and you want these bad boys to be really small (otherwise the center won’t cook in the time listed). If you make them bigger, you just have to boil longer.
So fill the wrappers with filling, fold over, and I used a fork to seal the dumpling. Then you bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of dumplings and stir so they don’t stick together. When the water comes to a boil add about 1/2 a coffee cup of cold water. This kills the boil. Wait for the pot to come back to a boil a second time, and do the same thing with the cold water. When the water comes to a boil for the third time, they’re done. Pull them out with a slotted spoon. I dropped them right into a bowl, and served the dipping sauce on the side (which is just as good dumped over). I’d make and eat these again and again and again.
The pile of Zhong dumplings. And this was AFTER we’d eaten on them for a reasonable amount of time. SO. GOOD!
Dumplings with sauce drizzled over them. Seriously, I think I could open a restaurant serving just these and stay in business.
The rest of the meal is very poorly documented. Mostly because it was chaos in my kitchen, and I should have had everything pulled out and waiting. But my kitchen’s so damn small. And the dumpling fiasco was pretty intense. So, I didn’t take pictures of anything else. Mostly I drank wine and acted as sous chef. Good times were had by all. Here’s my lone prep picture:
So here are several shots of the complete meal. I feel like we were brilliant that night!
Starting from the bottom-middle, and rotating clockwise: Dan Dan Noodles, Katie’s plate (I realized late I wanted to take a picture), Michelob Ultra Light (times two), dumpling sauce, peanuts, dumplings, cucumber salad, beef in fiery sauce. I decided to blow up this picture.
The cucumber salad. The peppers were definitely way too hot to eat. And the salad itself was really salty. But if I had used about half (or less) of the salt, I think it would have been a perfect complement to everything else spicy.
Dan Dan Noodles (which have pork as the meat – but only 1/4 a pound). So good. But of course, I love noodles. In fact, we’re going to Noodles and Company tomorrow for lunch. I can’t wait!
Here’s the beef in fiery sauce. It was REALLY good, too. We used flat iron steak instead of flank steak, which I think is considered an upgrade. But I suggest you do the same. I forgot about rice until way late. And this dish definitely needed rice. When I froze the leftovers, I froze them over rice.
Don’t you feel like this could have been served at a fancy restaurant for like $15? Nice!
All in all, the dishes were easy to prepare, but somewhat time-consuming or confusing. The recipes have a story attached to them, so it can get kind of confusing what you’re supposed to be doing. The food was delicious. And aside from the letdown of cucumber salad, the meal was delicious. I ate Dan Dan noodles and dumplings the next morning for breakfast. And the next night I had the beef in fiery sauce over rice with dumplings.
Thanks, Katie and Des, for being patient and helping with this meal! I can’t wait to try more from this cookbook!