Dumplings

A Blanket Of Winter

This weekend is Imbolc, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc heralds the promise of spring, but cold weather is still abundant. The days have occasional bursts of sunlight but the nights are cold and dark.

For me it’s a time of in-betweens. One part of me wants to go out and enjoy the brief rays of sunshine while the other part hasn’t had enough winter down-time. I still want to spend a little bit more time snuggled under my cosy blankets and indulging in warm drinks and comfort foods.

One comfort food I love is potsticker dumplings. These delicious parcels of yumminess are filled with a meat or vegetable filling. They are fried and steamed so the bottoms become crispy as the tops steam, producing a flavour and textual taste sensation.

I recently discovered an interesting twist to the classic recipe where a flour and water mix is added during the cooking process to produce an extra crispy crust. The dumplings are served inverted on the plate so they are covered with the crust which is called a skirt or lace.

For this recipe you can make your own dumplings or use frozen ones. Try not to crowd the pan too much as they will take longer to cook. Having said that, I crammed 15 into my frying pan because I didn’t want to cook them in batches! They did take a while to cook but they were delicious. If you do cook them in batches, just repeat the lace recipe for each batch.

Dumplings with Lace

Ingredients
for the dumplings
About 15 homemade or frozen dumplings
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil

for the lace
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons flour
pinch of sea salt (optional)

Instructions
Heat oil in a large, lidded, non-stick frying pan.
Place the dumplings close together and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
While dumplings are frying, make the lace by whisking together the water, flour and salt.
Once dumplings are golden, slowly pour the lace mix into the frying pan. Be careful as it may splatter.
Cover and steam for 5 minutes.
Remove lid and cook for a few more minutes until the water has evaporated and the lace is crisp and golden. Move the pan around to make sure the lace browns evenly.
Cover pan with a plate and carefully flip so the lace is now on top of the dumplings.
Serve dumplings with your favourite dipping sauce on the side.

Cold Snaps And Warm Dumplings

Just as Spring was slowly starting to warm us up, Winter treated us to a final cold snap. I celebrated (because weather, good or bad, should always be celebrated!) by cooking what might be my last stew for the season. I thought long and hard about what it would be and finally chose an all time classic – chicken and dumplings!

I don’t have a recipe for the stew, as I usually just brown off some chopped chicken breasts which I’ve tossed in flour and then cook them in a stock with vegetables such as carrot, celery, mushrooms and parsnip. 

When the stew is almost cooked I add the dumplings. It is these pillowy delights that make this humble dish a truly warm and comforting treat.

Dumplings

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Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
100ml milk

Instructions
Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Stir in enough milk until you have a batter of dropping consistency.
Drop spoonfuls of batter into simmering stew.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through.

The Not So Absent Mother

For Mother’s Day 2014 I wrote about a panda movie.
A year later I explored that movie further.

So it’s not surprising that this Mother’s Day I will be discussing another panda movie – Kung Fu Panda 3.

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Among the many themes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is the theme of fatherhood. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we learn of Po’s history. His parents sacrificed themselves to save him from an attack designed to kill all pandas. In flashback we see Po’s father defend his wife and child so they can get away. We then see his mother place Po in a crate of radishes and then run away, luring the deadly Shen army away from Po and towards her. It is a traumatic scene and I don’t mind saying I cried – a lot. The crate of radishes is delivered to a restaurant owned by Mr Ping, a goose. He finds the hidden baby Po and adopts him, raising him as his son. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po starts having flashbacks about his panda parents. At the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 we see that Li Shan, Po’s panda father, is alive and living in a secret panda village. Li looks up, somehow sensing that his son Po is also alive.

Kung Fu Panda 3 continues this story. Li Shan comes to Mr Ping’s restaurant, looking for his son. Li takes Po home to the secret panda village, much to the sadness of Mr Ping. But being the protective father he has always been, Mr Ping stows away in Po’s luggage and ends up at the secret panda village too. There Li and Mr Ping resolve their differences and accept the fact that they are both Po’s father. So what does this fatherhood journey have to do with Mother’s Day?

One of the more poignant scenes in Kung Fu Panda 3 is when Li takes Po into his home. There, on what appears to be an altar, is a drawing of baby Po in his mother’s arms. There are two red candles burning, a vase with a sprig of bamboo and sticks and stones holding the drawing in place. Po gingerly reaches for the drawing while his father talks about the panda he calls the love of his life. Po’s mother was “the total package.” She was smart, beautiful and had a tremendous appetite. She was also brave. She sacrificed her life for her baby. Considering Po is a master warrior and saviour, that is a very important sacrifice.

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Kung Fu Panda 3 shows us how alike Po and Li are, but what it also shows us is how alike Po and his mother are. Po and his mother share one key, one very important trait – the gift of self-sacrifice. Through the three movies Po is never afraid to sacrifice himself for the safety of others. Yes, most of the other characters are warriors and therefore happy to lay down their lives in battle as well, but Po does it in a way that is innocent, filled with trust and imbued with grace. It is reminiscent of his mother, who leaves a vulnerable baby in a crate of radishes and hopes and trusts that he will survive. When Po sacrifices himself it is not as a warrior bested in battle but as a spiritual being who is happy to die so others may live.

Although she is not named, the spirit of Po’s mother hovers around the movie. The film is imbued with her maternal spirit, her love and the tragedy of her loss. The power of her sacrifice is reflected again and again through Po, her self-sacrificing, warrior saviour son. For a character that has only had minimal screen time, Po’s mother is one of the most powerful characters in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. I know I’m not the only one who hopes we find Po’s mother alive and well in Kung Fu Panda 4.

In Kung Fu Panda 3 we learn that Po’s birth name is Little Lotus. In honour of his name I have made lotus seed steamed buns. They would make a great Mother’s Day treat 🙂

Lotus Seed Buns

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Special Equipment
2 large bamboo steamer baskets with lid

Ingredients
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup caster (granulated) sugar
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup lotus seed paste
lotus leaf tea for serving

Method
Place the yeast, 2 tablespoons of warm water, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour into a bowl. Whisk with a fork until lump free. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes or until frothy.
Sift the remaining flour and baking powder into a separate bowl. Add the remaining water, sugar, yeast mix and melted butter to the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. Using your hands, mix the dough until it comes together. You may need to add more water to get a smooth dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in size.
Cut 6 pieces of baking paper into 10cm (4 inch) squares.
Divide the lotus seed paste into 6 and roll into balls.
Remove the plastic wrap. Punch down the centre of the dough.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth. Divide dough into 6 balls.
Roll a ball of dough into an 8cm (3 inch) disc about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Place a lotus seed ball in the centre of the disc. Wrap the dough around the filling to enclose, making sure the bun is sealed.
Place the bun seal side down on a square of baking paper. Repeat with remaining dough and paste.
Fill a wok or shallow frying pan with enough water that it touches the bottom of your bamboo steamer but doesn’t touch the food. Bring the water to a simmer.
Put 3 buns in each steamer basket. Stack together and cover with the bamboo lid.
Place baskets in the wok. Steam for 15 – 20 minutes or until the buns are puffed and cooked through. Check often to make sure there is enough water in the wok and top up as needed. Repeat with remaining buns.
Serve warm with tea.

A Halloween To Remember

From the film Dracula (1979)
Dracula and Lucy discuss the sound of howling wolves.

DRACULA:
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sad music they make.

LUCY:
Do you think it’s sad?

DRACULA:
So lonely, like weeping.

We named our first two dogs for a bat and a wolf – the animals Dracula turns into in the novel. We named our pack WolfChild – as they were our Children of the Night. A year later, near Halloween, two more WolfChildren joined the pack. They made beautiful music together. Then one of our wolves left the pack far too soon for his journey to the Underworld. This year he was followed by first by one, and then another of our wolves as they too journeyed into the Underworld. We are left with only one wolf, our original bat.

When I think of my musical wolves I feel sad, lonely and constantly like weeping. The time will come when I, like Lucy, will not feel sad at the sound of howling wolves, but that time is not now. It is Halloween – a time for tricks and treats and honouring the dead.

Our dogs are buried in the backyard. Three little graves testifying to the fragility of life and the call of death. They are constant reminders of what we have lost and confronting reminders of what will happen to us all. But they are also comforting. When I look at their graves I remember their lives and their deaths. The pleasure and the sorrow. I remember them playing and running around the yard and I remember laying them in their graves and covering them with dirt. They are always with me and yet they will never be with me again.

Not long after Wolfy, our first wolf passed away, I saw a post on a pug forum about Shelter Pups, a dog charity in the USA that custom makes small stuffed dogs and cats based on your own photos. We knew straight away that we wanted one of Wolfy. Little Wolfy arrived on Halloween 2013. When our next two wolves, Wally and Furghy, passed away, we had little versions of them made. They are in our bedroom where we all slept, watching over us. We also had one made of our remaining wolf, Batty. But she won’t be introduced to the world until she passes away, which we hope will be a very, very long time away.

The Little WolfChildren

IMG_2142a  little wolfy

Wolfy Maynard WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

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Wally DennyCrane WolfChild and his Tribute Doll

IMG_3014 little furghy 1

Furghy Fergie WolfChild and her Tribute Doll

Death and food are intimately linked. In honour of the decreasing howls of my Children of the Night I am sharing a recipe for Hush Puppies. These feature corn which is an ancient symbol for birth, death and renewal – appropriate food for mourning and Halloween.

Hush Puppies
Some stories say these fried cornmeal treats were used to “hush puppies”.

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Ingredients
vegetable oil for deep frying
1 + 1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup buttermilk (more or less may be needed)
extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method
Heat oil in a large saucepan to 180C / 350F.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, egg and oil. Add the spring onion, corn, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Stir in half the buttermilk, adding enough buttermilk for a loose batter that is still thick enough to drop.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook, turning them over halfway, for 3-4 minutes or until they are evenly coloured and cooked through.
Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt to taste.

A Very Sheepish Year 

The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on Thursday, February the 19th, 2015. That’s the easy bit! As for what animal it is, that’s the confusing bit. It’s either the Goat, Sheep or Ram. It is the only confusing one of the Zodiac. The confusion comes from the translation of the Chinese character for the 8th animal of the Zodiac which is yáng 羊

Yáng is used interchangeably for sheep, goats and, even more confusingly, some antelopes such as gazelles. To distinguish between these animals, the Chinese add a character in front of the yáng character. As the character on the Zodiac wheel is just yáng, it is up to you what animal you choose. This is what the Chinese do. Some parts of China are celebrating the Year of the Goat, some are celebrating the Year of the Sheep, while others are celebrating the Year of the Ram. The Eastern countries that have adopted the Chinese Zodiac have made a choice of which animal they believe represents the 8th Zodiac. Some have chosen the goat, others the ram or sheep. In the West, there is still debate about which animal should be celebrated. To the best of my knowledge, no-one is celebrating the Year of the Antelope 🙂

Whether you are Team Goat, Team Sheep, Team Ram or Team Antelope you must try these delicious Chinese Lion’s Head Meatballs. The meatball is supposed to resemble the head of a lion while the cabbage is its mane.

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Ingredients
for the meatballs
500g ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine*
peanut oil

for the broth
peanut oil
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1 + 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar
4 large Chinese cabbage leaves (wombok)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Instructions
For the meatballs:
In a bowl, mix together the pork, egg, cornflour, spring onion, salt, soy sauce and wine. Form into 4 large meatballs. Flatten slightly so they are not completely round.
Heat peanut oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
For the broth:
Heat peanut oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer over high heat. Fry the spring onion, ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and sugar and bring to the boil. Carefully place meatballs in a single layer in the stock, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Place a cabbage leaf on top of each meatball. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through and there is no pinkness in the middle.
Serve one meatball covered with a cabbage leaf in each bowl. Ladle with stock and drizzle with some sesame oil.

* you can substitute Chinese rice wine with pale dry sherry or dry white wine.