Thursday, March 13, 2008


Dudes! I love, love, love dumplings. A and I have been known to visit our local Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant and consume a meal consisting entirely of momos—steamed veggie momo appetizer, pan-fried chicken or lamb momo entrees. I get a little pouty at our favorite sushi restaurant if there are no gyoza out on the little boats that carry food around the bar. I’d like to try making my own dumplings sometime, but I don’t know why it never occurred to me to check out Trader Joe’s frozen dumpling offerings in the meantime. I guess because…what would I do with them? Dumplings for dinner is fine for the occasional eating-out treat, but it would make me feel like a college student to sit down to a big bowl of convenience-food dumplings at home. But dumplings floating in homemade chicken broth chock-full of wholesome, colorful veggies? Sign me up!

I am a fan of many Asian soups, from udon to pho to won-ton to tom kha gai, and while it’s not authentic to any one cuisine, this one sort of reminded me of all of my favorite restaurant versions at once. But unlike eating in a restaurant, I could adapt it however I liked. Usually it drives me crazy to read Epicurious comments from people who modify the recipe so much it bears no resemblance to the original: “I substituted lime for the lemon, pork for the chicken, and spinach for the arugula, then added some peanut butter and Fontina cheese. It was great!” But after I scrolled through the comments on this recipe as it was originally published in Gourmet, it did seem that this was a flexible, forgiving soup that might benefit from a bit of dressing up. Taking the advice of many cooks who thought the original was on the bland side, I added some garlic and fresh ginger, and a few red-pepper flakes for spiciness. A hates regular frozen peas, so I used fresh sugar-snap peas instead—I love them, and I figured they were big enough for him to avoid if he wanted, though he ate them happily. I though the soup was sufficiently salty already, but A drizzled some soy sauce on his bowl before eating, and also commented that chili sauce, like Sriracha, might be good with it, too (he likes the salt and spice, that boy). Thinking wistfully of pho (there’s only one Vietnamese restaurant in Pasadena; its sign says, “The only Vietnamese restaurant in Pasadena!”), I sprinkled some cilantro on my serving and thought it was a great addition.

We used Trader Joe’s frozen pork gyoza, which were fabulous (I’ve got the chicken variety sitting in the freezer right now, so you can bet I’ll be making this recipe again soon, so I can compare them). The original recipe called for 3 cups of cabbage, which I gamely went along with even though I don’t like cabbage. It was fine, but there was a bit too much for me, so in the future I’ll only use 2 cups. I’d also love to try totsoi or baby bok choi leaves instead. I used a mixture of shiitake and cremini mushrooms—I got the shiitake at the farmers’ market and they were gorgeous, but at $4 for about a cup, I needed to supplement them with a cheaper mushroom. Both kinds worked fine.

In short: I highly recommend this recipe. It’s quick and easy (except for all the vegetable-chopping; I’m so bad at julienning carrots, but can’t bring myself to buy the bagged shredded kind; someone buy me a mandoline already!), it tastes great, and you can do just about anything you want to it without messing it up. But mainly, you get to eat dumplings for dinner.

Update, October 2015: You know what's an excellent replacement for peas here? Shelled edamame! 

1 (16-ounce) package frozen Asian dumplings. such as potstickers or gyoza (about 20 to 24)
5 cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken broth
2 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage or other greens
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (or another brown mushroom, such as cremini)
1 cup shredded or matchstick (1/8-inch thick) carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, or to taste
½ cup frozen peas or fresh snow peas or sugar-snap peas
½ cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
red pepper flakes, soy sauce, chili sauce, and/or cilantro to taste

1. Cook dumplings in a 6- to-8-quart pot of boiling unsalted water, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Remote pot from heat and keep dumplings warm in hot water. (Or you can follow the package directions to pan-fry and steam the dumplings, if you like.)

2. While dumplings cook, bring chicken broth to a boil in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot. Add cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, ginger, and garlic and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add peas and cook 2 minutes. Stir in scallions, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if desired, and boil until all vegetables are tender, about 1 minute.

3. Divide dumplings evenly among 4 soup bowls with a slotted spoon. Ladle soup over dumplings. Season with soy sauce, chili sauce, or cilantro if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Ever sit there at Thanksgiving, digging your fork into a second (or third; who am I to judge?) helping of stuffing (or “dressing,” as some call it), and think “I wish I could just have stuffing for dinner whenever I wanted to!” Well, you can. Throw in some veggies and sausage, and suddenly it’s a main course. Call it a bread pudding or a strata if you will, but to me it’s stuffing. Of course, you can throw anything you want into stuffing, and November cooking magazines are rife with exotic variants containing everything from bacon to pineapple. But I like this recipe (which I’ve had for a couple of years, and can’t remember where it came from) because the flavors are still reminiscent of the traditional (to my family, at least) Thanksgiving sage stuffing, though it has a much more rustic texture. It’s comfort food without being bland or decadent. With a nice green salad on the side, it’s a cozy Sunday-night supper. And no need to roast a turkey!

¾ pound peasant-style white bread
½ pound sweet Italian sausage links
1 tablespoon butter
½ pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped carrot
¾ cup chopped celery
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1½ teaspoons minced fresh sage
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
7 ounces chicken broth

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Trim crust from bread. Cut bread into 1½-inch cubes. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until lightly toasted.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

4. Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices.

5. Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes. Combine bread cubes, sausage, and mushrooms in a large bowl.

6. Heat same skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add onion, carrot, and celery; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add parsley, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper; sauté 1 minute. Add to bread mixture.

7. Combine egg and broth, stirring with a whisk. Add to bread mixture; toss to coat. Spoon into a 9-inch-square baking dish coated with olive oil. Bake 45 minutes or until browned.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1½ hours

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Did you eat creamed chicken growing up? Doesn’t it sound like one of those terrible 1950s cafeteria dishes? And certainly, it may not be fancy; it may be white and bland and a little gloppy. But I seriously love it, in that comfort-food way. It was one of my favorite meals as a kid; my mom would make it as minimally as possible, usually just chicken and mushrooms and white sauce. The adults would eat it over toast, but I abhorred soggy bread, so I just had my creamed chicken in a bowl, with buttered toast on the side (many pieces of buttered toast; I loved buttered toast).

I started making this slightly thinner, more colorful version in my early, post-college days of cooking for myself. As per the recipe (which may be from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, but I’m not sure), I’d pour it into a baking dish, cut refrigerated Pillsbury biscuit dough into quarters, and arrange them atop the creamed chicken to approximate a poor woman’s potpie. It was nifty, and actually pretty tasty. But now I try to avoid dough that comes in tubes, and A claims he doesn’t like potpie (I think he’s wrong, but one step at a time), so I hadn’t made this recipe since I moved to California. I still crave creamed chicken, however, especially when I’m sick or the weather is cold. When I was in Minnesota for Christmas, my mom confessed a similar craving, and so we whipped some up for dinner one night, and it was so good, I’ve been wanting more ever since. Eventually I decided to just override A’s protests (ah, the perks of being the menu planner, grocery buyer, and chef!) and make creamed chicken whether he liked it or not. I thought about going whole hog and just making a potpie by draping frozen puff pastry over the top, but I wanted leftovers, and wet puff pastry makes terrible leftovers. Besides, if I just served the creamed chicken in bowls (with some bumpy rolls on the side), it was easier to persuade A that it’s really just a creamier version of chicken-noodle soup, sans noodles. And it is, basically. And it’s delicious. A agrees.

When I used to make this recipe when I lived alone, I’d just poach a few chicken breasts to get the necessary meat. Now, I’ll either use the same method I use for chicken-noodle soup (boil a raw cut-up chicken to make broth, then when it’s cooked and strained, pick the meat off the bones and save it), or I’ll just save some meat when I roast a chicken for a recipe (chickens are so big nowadays, neither A nor I can finish a breast in one sitting, so any leftover pieces of meat get stripped from the breast and saved in the freezer until I’ve accumulated enough).

You can gussy this up however you like. I used to use frozen veggies (the ol’ corn, peas, and carrots mixture); now I use fresh ones (carrots, green beans, celery). My mom uses canned mushrooms, though I prefer fresh. I’ve used both dried and fresh thyme; you could even try a different herb. You can add more broth to make it soupier, or more milk to make it creamier, or less liquid to make it thicker. You can add a pastry crust, use the nifty cut-up biscuit method, serve over toast or biscuits, or eat with a spoon. This is humble food; I won’t judge you.

10 ounces mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen (e.g., carrots, corn, peas, green beans, celery)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped mushrooms
¼ cup butter
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 cups chicken broth
¾ cup milk
3 cups cubed cooked chicken
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
If making potpie, 1 package refrigerated biscuits or 1 puff pastry crust

1. If vegetables are frozen, cook them according to package directions and drain. If they’re fresh, you’ll probably want to blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until they’re tender. (Unless it’s celery—try sautéing that with the onion and mushrooms in the next step.)

2. In a saucepan, cook onion and mushrooms in butter over medium heat until tender. Stir in flour, salt, thyme, and pepper. Add broth and milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in drained vegetables, chicken, and parsley; cook until bubbly.

3. If you’re making creamed chicken, you’re done. If you want potpie, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and pour the creamed chicken into a 2-quart baking dish.

4. If using refrigerated biscuits, cut them into quarters and arrange atop chicken mixture in baking dish. If using a pastry crust, place it atop the chicken. Bake about 15 minutes or until crust/biscuits are golden.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes

Monday, March 03, 2008


Even though grilled-cheese sandwiches are one of my favorite foods and the very first thing I ever learned to cook (at the tender age of four or five), I don’t have any accompanying fond early memories of tomato soup. Campbell’s cream of tomato reminds me of college, when A would insist on having it with the grilled-cheese sandwiches that were still, at the tender age of twenty, one of the only things I knew how to cook. (Other college “cooking” memories: Kraft macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, “Classic” flavor Suddenly Salad, and some sort of Lipton garlic pasta dish that came in a pouch and doesn’t seem to be in production anymore. Gack.) We’ve since graduated to the Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Tomato Soup that comes in a carton and doesn’t taste like chemicals, and we’re happy with it. It would never have occurred to me to try to make my own tomato soup, especially since every tomato-based soup I’ve ever made has tasted pretty much like…tomato sauce. Fine and all, but something I want to toss some spaghetti into, not something I want to dip sandwiches into and slurp up with a spoon.

But then I read this post at the Smitten Kitchen, about the America's Test Kitchen recipe for tomato soup, and my mouth watered. It actually sounded as though it would taste like tomato soup—but better than any tomato soup I’d eaten before. So I made it, and it wasn’t too hard, and I sat down with my grilled-cheese sandwich and took a spoonful of soup and…tomato sauce, pretty much. No competition for the Trader Joe’s boxed stuff, and ten times the effort.

But it wasn’t unpleasant, and there was nothing else to eat for lunch the next day, so I brought it to work and—pow! I could taste every layer of flavor: the sweet caramel of the brown sugar, the roasty tomatoes, the oniony shallots, the savory chicken broth, the little splash of silky cream (it really doesn’t need much), the shot of brandy. This stuff was great! I ate the rest of the leftovers over the course of the week, put the recipe in my file and made it again a few months later. Again, we sat down to eat it and—disappointment. I couldn’t understand it; had I messed up the recipe somehow? Was I misremembering how good it had been? But again, I ate the leftovers the next day, and again, I was reminded how much the flavor had deepened in just 16 hours. I know many leftovers, particularly soup, do actually taste better after sitting around for a day or two, but I’ve never noticed such a dramatic change before. I fed skeptical A leftover soup (and more grilled cheese) for dinner a few days later, and he had to admit I was right. This is an awesome, awesome soup. But from now on, I’m making it a day before I plan to eat it. Which, yes, is a little inconvenient, and pretty much relegates this to weekend meals--but take that as a testimonial of how good this soup is, that I'm willing to be so inconvenienced by it.

If you like tomato soup at all, you owe it to yourself to make it from scratch. The recipe may look a little fussy, what with roasting the tomatoes and pushing them through a sieve and all, but it’s those details that elevate this above tomato sauce and make it tomato soup. (That, and the cream, of course.) I promise, it’s not too hard. And if you don’t like it right away when you taste it, try again the next day. It’s worth the wait.

Now, if only someone could develop a grilled-cheese sandwich that improves with age...

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
1–2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

2. Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in a bowl. Set a strainer over the bowl of juice; with fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Reserve 3 cups juices total from bowl, discarding any extra. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

3. Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

4. Using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender, puree mixture until smooth. Add cream to taste and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and pepper.

Serves: 4
Time: 90 minutes