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Goubuli Baozi (Dogs Ignore)

sharpeiface

Baozi are unlikely to be ignored by anyone, let alone a dog that would be able to sniff the savory meat filling inside. Nevertheless, this post is about Goubuli Baozi (天津狗不理包子), which apparently means “dogs ignore” in Chinese, or just Baozi (包子), the rather addictive chinese buns filled with meat (or many other things – egg custard, red bean paste, vegetable curries) and steamed. I haven’t made them in a very very long time, and our freezer was getting empty of any “quick dinner” food. It was time to try them again.

I have a copy of Barbara Tropp’s famous “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking” at home, so I ended up using her recipe and directions as a guide. But there are a million recipes for them online, and many of them don’t differ at all or much from Tropp’s recipe. Here’s one that was quite close.

Ramps in the english garden

Ramps in the english garden

I did make one seasonal substitution. Rather than using a combo of leek and cilantro, as recommended in Tropp’s recipe, I went for a combo of onion and ramps…since they are still growing like mad in the English Garden. They’re beginning to flower, though. So the leaves are not quite as tender and delicate. Still, enough to make do. Like any dumpling, you can choose your ingredients and flavorings as you like – garlic, ginger, onions, cilantro – the herb mixture should be to your taste.

The only really tricky part of making Baozi once you have the dough proofed (which admittedly does take quite awhile), is the folding part.

Cutting up dough

Cutting up dough

You chop the dough up into appropriately sized chunks and then roll out the chunks a bit, pressing the edges of the circles down, leaving it a bit puffy in the middle.

Folding Baozi

Folding Baozi

Once you have a circle approximately the size of your palm – or a bit bigger, you spoon in about two tablespoons of filling and then carefully – and here is where the tricky part comes in – pleat it closed. Here’s a super short video that shows you how you should hold your baozi as you fold.

It takes a bit of practice and mine certainly weren’t perfect. Apparently each one should have 15 pleats and should resemble a chrysanthemum flower.

Baozi model?

Baozi model?

Although mine were probably closer to the Sharpei up there.

Baozi waiting for steaming

Baozi waiting for steaming

Please, don’t count the pleats.

Really, at the end of the day the thing that matters the most is simply how they taste.

Finished Baozi

Finished Baozi

Make sure you steam them right before you eat them. And steam all of them – it’s best to re-steam them after they are frozen as opposed to freezing them raw.

Make a bit of sauce to go with them – some soy sauce mixed with a bit of chili and sesame oil, a little vinegar and some shreds ginger.

Serve with some spicy sour cucumber salad.

Baozi and salad

Baozi and salad

Three or four of them make a nice meal with a salad…depending on how gigantic you make yours….these were each about the size of a small fist.

Gè bǎo (个饱) – Bon appetit!

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Dumpling Disaster

Har Gow Dumplings: steamed shrimp filling, rice dough

Har Gow Dumplings: steamed shrimp filling, rice dough

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes disaster strikes in the kitchen and no matter what tricks you pull out of your sleeve, there is no way to save the mess you have created. Although I bet it doesn’t happen to my sister Amy. Ever. 😛

At the gym a couple days back I was on the elliptical machine watching the tv screen in front of me. There was a Chinese cooking show on – and this was before work and before I had eaten breakfast. So there I was, staring at the screen, mouth watering as the chef showed off a perfect pair of Har Gow dumplings – beautiful plump steamed shrimp dumplings with a translucent rice-dough wrapper, flecks of green scallion peeking through. And suddenly that was exactly what I wanted for dinner.  And yes, I could have just biked over to the restaurant near Rosenheimerplatz that does Chinese dumplings, but because I am enjoying cooking again in my own kitchen, I decided i would try to make them.

Dumplings are pretty easy to make normally – at least if you cheat and buy the dumpling wrappers already pre-rolled and cut for you. We had a fun evening a few weeks ago in NYC with one of our clients – a colleague and I went over to her place and I did a little dumpling cooking lesson for four of us on a Sunday evening. I had shopped a few hours before in Chinatown, something I had been aching to do while I was in New York and finally got the chance.

The thing is, I’ve never seen or used rice dough wrappers, only wheat dough. So naturally I figured I would just whip those up as well. When I looked up the recipe, they seemed pretty straightforward, and theoretically I could even buy the flour for the dough pre-mixed – it is a combination of tapioca flour and wheat starch. But when I went by the Chinese grocery to get it, they only had tapioca flour…and rice flour…no wheat starch. Hmm…

So I did one of these:

Dilbert: cooking substitutions

Dilbert: cooking substitutions

I bought rice flour instead of wheat starch. I have to admit…I don’t know how *bad* this is. What part of the grain is the “starch” – and how different is it from “flour?” I should have googled it to figure it out and I didn’t. Anyway…I got home and mixed up the dough and things really seemed to be ok. You need to roll the dough out into cylinders and then let it rest for a bit, which is what I did while I mixed up the shrimp filling. See, here is the dough…resting:

Dumpling dough: nice little innocent looking pillows

Dumpling dough: nice little innocent looking pillows

And indeed, everything proceeded according to plan. The filling done, I began the process of making the wrappers. Rice dough is nice and soft and as long as you have TONS of flour on your rolling pin and counter top to prevent the stuff from sticking to everything, you’re fine. TONS. They were a bit tricky to get perfectly round, but I did manage for the most part:

Dumpling wrappers: they look right, no?

Dumpling wrappers: they look right, no?

You scoop a tablespoon of shrimp filling into the middle and then wrap them up, pinching and pleating as you go. The dough was very delicate – much more so than store-bought wheat wrappers – which made it difficult, but not impossible. In the end I had a steamer full of the dumplings ready to go. They were a bit homely looking, but this was my first time so I figured for the next round I would get it right and even if they weren’t as beautiful as the ones I had seen on TV that morning, at least they would taste good.

I lined the steamer with ramps – I have them in my refrigerator anyway, so I figured they would impart a bit of a garlicky scent to the dumplings and keep them from sticking to the bamboo steamer.

Bamboo steamer filled with ugly (but tasty?) dumplings

Bamboo steamer filled with ugly (but tasty?) dumplings

And turned on the water to boil….cleaning up a bit as the dumplings steamed their way to a beautiful glossy finish. I hoped.

About seven minutes in I lifted the lid to take a peak. HORRORS! It looked like a huge mess of melting wax on top of chunks of shrimp.

I threw a pan on the stove quickly and dumped a tablespoon of oil in and cursed the fact that I don’t have a gas stove and would need to wait a few minutes for the thing to heat up. Meanwhile, I grabbed the dumplings off the steam and when the pan was hot, tried to spoon them out of the steamer and into the pan to saute them instead – maybe by frying them I could hold them together somehow.

Not to be. I ended up with a huge mess:

Utter disaster: dumplings do not look like this normally

Utter disaster: dumplings do not look like this normally

The ramps were no longer separable from the dumplings and the dough was a gluey mess that refused to fry up into anything resembling a dumpling. Sooo….lesson learned. In the end, they *were* eaten – bits here and there dunked into a bit of soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil…but my fantasy from that morning was far from realized.

Second try to come soon. Wheat starch…where the hell do I get wheat starch? 🙂

 

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Poison in the garden

Poisonous - Lily of the Valley (Maiglöckchen) along the Isar

Poisonous - Lily of the Valley (Maiglöckchen) along the Isar

Every year I hear a stray story about someone dying from eating plants that they thought were wild ramps (Baerlauch) that they picked in the English garden here in Munich. Generally what they have picked is apparently the flower known as “Lily of the Valley” which is a fairly good foil for ramps. At least if you have a stuffed nose. And they are highly poisonous.

But I had never actually seen Lily of the Valley in the English garden, which blooms later than ramps (in German they are called “Maiglöckchen” or “May bells” and indeed they bloom in late April/early May while ramps come out in April or even March), so I thought it was a lot of hogwash. Never say never. Last night I was running along the Isar in an area I rarely run in and had to stop for a moment to rest (jetlag killing me, better today.) And lo and behold – Lily of the Valley, right there next to a tree. I wasn’t actually sure – because they really did look a lot like wild ramps. So I stepped closer, sniffed, grabbed a leaf, tore it and sniffed, and realized that though the flowers hadn’t bloomed yet, there were buds there, and they had to be lilies.

I kept running after that, wondering if I would see ramps anywhere close by and indeed, about 200 meters later, there they were. A deeper green in color, and a shinier leaf, a little larger as well, but still easy to believe someone could mistake one for the other if your nose is not working. You don’t even have to reach down to grab a leaf of ramps and sniff – the garlicky scent hits you like a wall when you get anywhere near them.

Edible - Wild Ramps (Baerlauch) along the Isar

Edible - Wild Ramps (Baerlauch) along the Isar

The only thing I would actually worry about…would be if the patches of the plants were actually mixed in with one another. That could be very very dangerous. Didn’t see that, however. Still, if you didn’t know…grabbing one for the other could kill you. Don’t go out picking with a stuffed nose…

 
 

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Ramps Growing Wild

Spring Harvest: Ramps and Sicilian Tomatoes

Spring Harvest: Ramps and Sicilian Tomatoes

By now it is commonplace: in April riding my bike through the English garden with the scent of “Baerlauch,” or “ramps” in English, in the air. The park is absolutely carpeted with the stuff and I want to get off my bike on every trip through and abscond with huge handfuls of the stuff.

But I can barely keep up with using it, so I limit the collection to a couple times each season. Today was one of those days. The weather here is absolutely miserable, but I am soooooo happy to be in Munich after the last two months of travel misery. (I am such a complainer, I know). I feel like a freaking ping pong ball with the trips back and forth between Munich, New York, and last week Walldorf. I think in the last two months I have managed to cook (and be) in my own kitchen fewer times than I have fingers on one hand. Pathetic. And Tuesday I’m off again, which already makes me a tad bit miserable. Thankfully, the end is in sight. One more stint for 7 days in New York and then I am done – at least for awhile.

Anyway, after about a 5 minute picking session in the rain my plastic bag was bulging with fresh ramps. What to make? Usually I make a lovely aromatic loaf of bread, which when toasted in the morning and spread with some butter and eaten while drinking a fresh cup of bitter hot coffee…wow, almost nothing better to wake up to, at least if you don’t like sweets in the morning, which I don’t.

But there was plenty in my bag and it seemed like a nice chance to try a new dish. I had some rice in the cupboard from quite awhile ago – a venetian black rice – which is quite classically cooked in a similar way to a risotto, although it is not quite as creamy.

Black Ventian Rice

Black Ventian Rice

And I had some seafood as well – a small piece of salmon, a handful of shrimp and squid.

Ingredients for Seafood Rice

Ingredients for Seafood Rice

I took my time making dinner. Chopped everything up first, which I don’t always do, but I wanted to see all the spring colors coming together on the plate. Then a nice slow saute of the vegetables: garlic, a shallot, a chilli, the ramps, a couple baby corn cobs, a handful of parsley, grated lemon zest, tomatoes from Sicily, which are just now coming to the market and taste so good (even better in a month!). Then the rice, like risotto, allowed to mellow in the vegetables for a few minutes before being doused with some broth and wine and slowly cooked to a plump finish.

Venetian Black Risotto with Seafood

Venetian Black Risotto with Seafood

Heavenly. One more night tomorrow to cook something (ramps with scalloped potatoes?) and then onto the plane.

 
 

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The White Sausage Bus

Really, I had no idea this thing existed. I wouldn’t have even known it does had I not gone out for a little walk run this evening. I went for a hop skip and a jump over to the English Garden just across the way to pick some ramps (baerlauch) to use in something this weekend. Actually, I was prompted to go ahead and do the little walk because I had just downloaded a new app (for me) that many people seem to be using – “RunKeeper” – really really nice. It tracks how fast you run/walk and maps out your route, and offers you coaching, etc. if you want it. I think I am going to use it steadily for a week – running, walking, biking – anything I am doing physically – just to see the benefits.

Anyway, getting off track.

Has anyone seen this thing before (sorry about the glare, the photo was the best I could do at that time of day…)?

Weißwurstexpress

The "Weißwurstexpress"

So just in case you can’t make out the idea yourself…every Saturday and Sunday, apparently this monstrosity drives around Munich between 10:30 and 1 pm. I guess I shouldn’t be so critical. And while you drive around, you get a city guide telling you what you’re looking at as well as a nice Weisswurst breakfast (I guess the standard sausage, pretzels and beer). In fact…I wonder if you can rent this thing out. Maybe it’s time for a tour of Munich finally….

 

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