1208 Gyoza

Inspired by the success of last week’s recipe from Dinner: A Love Story and also wanting to do something different with those dang fresh ham steaks, tonight we took on gyoza:

Photo by Robert Banh

This was my first time making stuffed dumplings, and it was a lot easier than I thought! The filling was a mixture of ground pork, green onions, ginger, water chestnuts, Chinese five spice, and soy sauce – tasty, but not overwhelmingly flavorful. Next time I think we’d include garlic and a chili or two to give it a bit more of a kick. The trickiest part seemed to be getting the right amount of filling into the center of the little wonton wrappers so that they wouldn’t tear but also wouldn’t have too much (admittedly unappetizing) wonton wrapper left over.

Instead of frying the gyoza as directed in the recipe, we steamed them for about 8 minutes per batch of 9, all that our steamer basket could hold. The frying would’ve also imparted more flavor, but as I mentioned the other day, we’re trying to be healthy, and the calories omitted for the oil allowed us another gyoza or two each. Shane whisked up a simple dipping sauce of three parts soy sauce, one part vinegar, and a bit of sweet chili sauce to taste – and we dug in!

On the whole, this was a successful enterprise – instead of the 36 gyoza mentioned in the recipe, we ended up with more like 50: enough for dinner, lunch tomorrow, and a quart bag tucked away in the freezer for a quick dinner sometime soon.

Pork Dumplings from Dinner: A Love Story


1127 Thai at Opart

Two days of awesome Asian meals in a row! This afternoon we headed into Chicago to have dinner with the newly betrothed Kim and Paul, who took us to Opart Thai in Lincoln Square for dinner.

Opart has a number of things going for it: it’s BYOB, it’s affordable, and it’s supposed to be one of the best Thai places in the city. These more than make up for the fact that we weren’t sure how to pronounce its name: is it Au Pair? Op-art? Opart? I’ll tell you what it is: tasty.

I tend to go for the old familiars when ordering Thai: Pad See Ew, Tom Ka Gai, or Pad Thai. After yesterday’s success at trying something new, however, I ordered the Miang Sa-Wan which, coincidentally, sounded the most like Shane’s lunch from yesterday. It was an awful lot like it, except that instead of crunchy-crispy rice, it had peanuts, hot peppers, and a lot of lime to compliment the cured pork. Shane opted for the Gaeng PIa Dook – a catfish red curry – which I didn’t try, as I was already pushing the limits of ingestion with my dish and the crab rangoon that we split.

But the best part? The fact that from the time we sat down until we left – heck, basically the entire 12 hours we were awake in Chicago – we barely stopped talking except to catch a breath.

1126 Laotian at Bamboo

I can’t say that I’ve had much Laotian food. In fact, I’m not sure that I’d had any before today. But oh my goodness, that’s got to change.

After a really nice evening at the farm, we hit the road first thing this morning and drove to Rockford, arriving just in time for lunch. Jenn suggested Bamboo – they don’t get there often, it’s in the absolute opposite direction from all of the Black Friday shopping, and it’s sort of the polar opposite of the turkey-and-stuffing options available at most of our normal Rockford haunts.

I’m easily overwhelmed by menus at Asian restaurants, a fact that was compounded today by road-weariness and a persistent Thanksgiving food coma. I definitely did NOT want something heavy or something fried, so I settled on the Laotian Spicy Green Papaya – more properly known as Tam mak hoong: shredded unripened papaya, fish sauce, anchovy paste, and a few other things I can’t remember at the moment. The waitress was skeptical.

“Have you had the papaya salad before?”

“No, but it sounds good.”

“OK, I just wanted to make sure because it’s not sweet – it has fish in it.”

“Yes, I know.”

Shane was also concerned that it would be too fishy, but I was firm in my choice, and glad of it when a beautiful, funky, and fresh salad was presented to me.

Som Tam
Photo by tim7423

Even better, however, was Shane’s lunch: Nam khao. It wasn’t just good – it was crazy good – a nutty, crunchy rice salad studded with cured pork eaten by hand out of lettuce leaves. I got lucky – Shane had a few too many appetizers and wasn’t able to finish, so I scooped up bite after bite, trying to figure out what and how exactly it was made.

My Nam Khao (Lao rice salad) at Precita Park
Photo by Gary Soup

The secret? The rice is made with coconut milk, then rolled into a ball along with curry paste and other seasonings and DEEP FRIED. Once it cools, the rice ball is crumbled up – crispy bits and all – and tossed with the rest of the ingredients. It was unlike anything either of us have ever had – and we can’t wait to get more of it.

1122 Ramen

Like many middle-class middle Americans, I first encountered ramen noodles my freshman year of college. They were cheap, more appetizing than most of the cafeteria food, and could be prepared in one pot or, in a pinch, in a electric teakettle. I was vegetarian at the time, so I stocked up on the mushroom and tomato flavors whenever they went on sale – 10-15 cents per meal seemed about right, especially when I was making around $5/hour at my part-time job.

Maruchan for Days
Photo by C. Strife

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that ramen is meant to be eaten as a soup. See, I’d been boiling the noodles, draining almost all of the liquid, and then tossing the noodles with the sodium – I mean, flavor – packet, just like you do with macaroni and cheese. I didn’t realize that ramen should arrive in a velvety broth, nor that you could – and should – add in meat, vegetables, and basically anything else you like. Thanks to Tampopo and Tomukun, I have seen the error of my ways. I know to concentrate on the three pork slices, and that I should slurp my broth, even if it goes against my dad’s food rules.

Chilli Beef Ramen - Wagamama Filnders Lane
Photo by avlxyz

Tonight was my first attempt at making if not real ramen at home, then at least good ramen. I made a rich broth on Sunday by simmering beef and pork bones with vegetable scraps all day, so that provided the foundation for the soup. Into the warming broth went a handful of homemade pork meatballs, a thinly sliced onion, some ginger, and shaved sunchokes. When the meatballs were just cooked through, I added a packet of ramen noodles – but not the flavor packet.  We both added more seasoning at the table – pickapeppa sauce for me, and sriracha for Shane – to give the soup a bit of heat and funk.

All in all, a simple and delicious dinner, and one that I anticipate we’ll be making again soon – perhaps with different veg? shrimp instead of/with the meatballs? a fried egg?  The options are endless.

1110 Tomukun Noodle Bar

A nice dinner out with friends tonight.  We hadn’t managed to connect with Juli and Dave since August – while we’ve been gone a fair amount, Juli travels even more often – so it was lovely to meet up over big bowls of steaming broth and noodles at Tomukun, a noodle bar just off of Central Campus.  I had lunch with Shana there in early June and have been dreaming of their butter corn ramen ever since – especially after Shane went with his mom during Art Fair and tried their pork buns.

Pork Buns, Tomukun, Ann Arbor
Photo by dianaschnuth

A whole season passed before we made it back to Tomukun, which is just a damned shame. We were both famished, having exercised after work and avoided any snacking so as to fully enjoy the bowls of wonderful ahead of us.  I feel like we might’ve been negligent dining companions, so focused were we on getting to the bottom of our bowls.  Shane had the pork buns and the duck ramen, which he enjoyed but not as much as the butter corn ramen, which inexplicably neither of us ordered.  I had the kitsune udon – literally “fox noodles” – and while I have no idea what foxes have to do with my dinner, I did thoroughly enjoy the sweet broth, fish cake, spongy fried tofu, and slurpy noodles.  We returned home full, happy, and warmed from the inside out.

Try it at home:
Momofuku Pork Buns from Momofuku for 2
Kitsune udon from Epicurious

0112 Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Clementines and Chili Sauce

Shane isn’t a fan of citrus + meat, so this recipe, also from the November 2009 Bon Appetit, was a bit out on a limb for us. It also highlighted a problem with the way I approach recipes – but, in the end, everything worked out just fine. Shane is a methodical cook – in the best sense of the word. He reads recipes closely and diligently prepares his mise en place. I am much more likely to skim a recipe, estimate the time I have for each step, and only prep the first few steps before starting to cook. My approach worked fine for last night’s recipe – the halibut needed 8-10 minutes in the pan before anything else went in – but tonight I made a total mess of the kitchen, crashing around in the tiny windows between steps.

Despite my poor preparation, everything came together in the end, and in about half an hour we were filling our plates with sticky, delicious stir-fry.  The pork was perfectly cooked, and the clementines were sweet with just a hint of salt and heat.  Shane was uncertain about eating the skins, and I wished for more greens on my plate.  A solid recipe, but not as tastebud-blowing as the previous two.

Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines and Chili Sauce from Bon Appetit