Saturday was the beginning of fall break, and it started out gray and chilly--a dumpling sort of day. Anyone who knows me pretty well knows that I love gyoza--Japanese potsticker dumplings. They are very easy to make, and great party food. Plus, they are not so bad for you, as you use only 2 tblsp oil and can use a lean cut of pork, or substitute ground turkey, chicken, or tofu (though the taste will not be the same). I thought the Bradburys (my family-away-from-family) would like dumplings, so I decided to make them for lunch. I went out and bought round dumpling wrappers from the local asian-food shop.
Equipment: 1 large non-stick pan with lid
-round rice-flour dumpling wrappers
-filling: 1 bunch scallions, 1 knob ginger root, 1 peeled carrot, ~2 lbs pork (I usually use ground pork, but that was not available so I used two packages of "stir fry pork" and cut it into 1/4" dice), and the leafy part of the Napa cabbage.
-sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 tblsp hot sauce, 2 tblsp sweet/sour duck sauce.
Instructions: Finely chop the cabbage and scallion (white part and as most of the tender green part), grate the ginger (peel it first w/a vegetable peeler), shave the carrot into thin strips, dice the pork (or not if using ground pork), and mix it all well in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper (not too much salt as there will be salt in your sauce).
Prepare your dumpling wrapping station: 1 small bowl of water. Dumpling wrappers. Plate. Get another person to help you. Put a dumpling wrapper on the plate. Dip your finger in the water. Run your wet finger around the inside edge of the dumpling wrapper to make a 1/2" wide damp area. Put a small amount (~tblsp) of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and pick it up, holding and pressing the wet edges together. Crimp the edges of the wrapper together, pressing firming (to make a fan-like shape, see photo). Add a touch more water if the edges are not sticking. Don't worry if your first efforts are ugly. The important thing is that the filling be contained (no holes). Cover the wrappers if you take a break--they dry out quickly. There will be enough filling to use the whole package of wrappers, plus a little left over.
Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
Cooking: This is easier with a non-stick pan, or better yet, a multi-tiered bamboo steamer. I will assume you do not have a steamer (since if you do you probably know how to make dumplings already). Heat 2 tblsp canola or peanut oil in a large non-stick pan. Adjust heat to medium-high. Add as many dumplings as will fit, leaving 1" of space between dumplings. Immediately jiggle pan and loosen dumplings with a spatula to prevent sticking. Continue jiggling pan frequently for 2 min. to heat dumplings through and coat with oil. Add 1 cup water and cover pan. Steam for 4 minutes, or until dumpling skin is translucent and dumplings have puffed slightly.
Transfer to plate/serve to hungry person(s) and make another batch.
These really are easiest to eat using chopsticks, as forks tear the dumpling skin and the filling spills out.
When I had finished making the dumplings, and had managed to snag a few for myself (they disappeared very quickly), the sun came out. Cindy and I went to the Cornell Orchards and bought apples, paw-paws, and cider (Cornell cider is THE BEST I have ever tasted). I bought some cider and apples for my parents, whose arrival was expected that afternoon. On the way back, we decided to stop at the Plantations Arboretum to see if the chestnuts had dropped. A few weeks ago we saw a woman poking in the leaf litter under these trees, and we asked her what she was doing. She seemed shy and a bit reluctant, but admitted that these were indeed the edible type of chestnuts. "Are they good?" we asked. She paused. "Yes. They are good to eat." She was looking for nuts very earnestly in the pouring rain. We resolved to come back when more nuts were ripe.
Many more nuts had fallen when we went back, but it looked as though a few other people had hunted for them. The husks are too spiny to handle (you'd need thick leather gloves), but the shiny brown nuts easily popped out when we prodded and squished the husks with our feet. Most of the husks on the ground had been similarly squished. The nuts were pretty small, but we gathered about 3 cups of them. Back at the house, I scored the shell of each nut at its pointy end and graded them into larger and smaller batches. Last night we roasted them on a cookie sheet, for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. They were delicious. Because they were small, the skin was thin and peeled off easily. They were sweet and had a flavor reminiscent of pistachio nut and winter squash. The flesh was somewhat mealy, but in my experience with chestnuts the flesh is always somewhat mealy.
Note: I should point out that these are chestnuts from the Chinese Chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima). Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are not for human consumption. Always be SURE of the identity of the tree (if possible verify with an expert) before eating any of its fruit.
The rest of the weekend was really nice. Parents finally arrived after taking "the scenic route" (i.e. getting impressively lost) and we had a late dinner at Moosewood (mmmm dark chocolate ricotta mousse). Sunday I woke them up early, plied them with coffee, tea, and fresh pastries from Ithaca bakery, and whisked them off to Taughannock Falls for a morning hike on the gorge trail. We stopped at the farmers market for a good while, and then to the Bradburys for a luxurious brunch. Peter is the consumate brunch chef. We had pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, fruit, coffee, tea, cake, and leftover dumplings. Then everyone digested as I drove to Watkins Glen. My father and Becky took hundreds of photos. It was a brilliant day.