Thursday, September 28, 2006

One Last Attempt

Lou and I made one last attempt to get more soup into the steamed pork dumplings by using another form of solidified liquid-ice. Perhaps if it had been frozen soup stock, it would have worked, but a small cube of ice seemed to dilute the flavors of the aspic too much. We also can't deny that the solid form of liquid as ice is no replacement for aspic. As we were working on consecutive buns, the ice rapidly melted in those that were waiting to be steemed, impermeating the dough of the buns and compromising their form, while aspic, which is not solid, but jelled, at refrigerator temperature, only "melts" into a liquid when heated by the steam.

While trying to solve the problem of too little liquid, we also worked on the dough itself. We determined that Yank Sing's dough was rolled to a thickness that was half that of our own. We therefore took great pains to roll our dumplings so thin they were almost transparent. The dough luckily was quite easy to work with so we had no problems with breakage. Even Lou was able to handle it with ease.

To summarize our conclusion, we like the flavors of the recipe for Shangai Steamed Soup Buns from the February, 2005 issue of Gourmet, which can be found on However, the next time we make them, we will double the amount of aspic, halve the amount of the meat filling, and use less dough than prescribed for each dumpling. Then we'll roll it as thin as is humanly possible, thin and delicate enough to pop in your mouth, alowing the soup to flow.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Getting the Soup into the Buns

After our recent defeat in the Dim Sum arena, Lou and I decided we needed to invest in more R&D so we went to Yank Sing for lunch. We of course ordered two steamer baskets of the Shanghai pork dumplings and began our analysis. Immediately, we realized we just didn't have a large enough aspic to pork filling ratio. There was an abundance of broth with a very small amount of pork. I'm not sure why I didn't do the calculation earlier. Sometimes it's best to fully analyze a recipe's ratios before trying it out. In this case, the 1/2 cup of aspic, which admittedly sounded low, equates to only 1 teaspoon of broth per dumpling. (There are 8 tablespoons in 1/2 cup and 3 teaspoons in one tablespoon- 24 teaspoons for 24 dumplings) Perhaps the ratios in the Gourmet recipe I was using are authentic, but they are not adequate for what we are trying to accomplish. Yank Sing had about 2 teaspoons in each dumpling with about 1/2 the amount of pork. What to do now? Unfortunately, we mixed all of the aspic I made into the pork, so we cannot re-apportion the filling. Perhaps we can save it yet. I'll have to do some investigating.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shanghai Soup-less Buns

One of our favorite places for lunch is Yank Sing and our favorite dim sum is their signature dish-Shanghai pork dumplings, also called Shanghai stuffed soup buns. They are sealed dumplings filled with seasoned ground pork and miraculously, soup that pops in your mouth when you bite into it. The key to getting the soup inside is stuffing the dough with a cube of aspic, a jelled, concentrated broth made from simmering pork and chicken bones. The aspic itself takes some time not only to cook, but also to jell, so I took the opportunity of being at home for a few hours over the weekend to make it. After 4 cups of liquid was condensed to 1/2 cup, I strained and chilled the aspic. Today, I had thought the tough part was already done in the preparation for soup buns, but I was thrown for a loop. We mixed the ground pork with the seasonings and using a method from the February, 2005 issue of Gourmet that I kept for this sole purpose, I cut up the aspic and combined it right into the pork mixture. After the tedious job of hand rolling a few of the dumplings and stuffing them with the pork and aspic, we decided to do a trial steaming of 6 of the dumplings to make sure we weren't rolling the dough too thick or putting too much or too little filling in them. A 10 minute steam revealed some beautiful, fragile dumplings that were similar in appearance to Yank Sings. We dipped them in vinegar and placed them on our tongues anticipating the signature pop of the dumpling followed by a flow of rich broth to all corners of our mouths...and there was nothing. No flavorful elixir flowed from these buns. We were both disappointed. It was a failure, but not a complete one. We still have more filling so tomorrow we plan to try using more of the pork mixture in each bun. It's all trial and error, but luckily along the way, we've got plenty to eat.

Friday, September 15, 2006

E. coli Across Eight States

The recent bagged spinach scare reminds us of the potential dangers of a centralized food supply. Tainted food could be devastating to the health of individuals not just across a few counties, but across states. According to the attached article from, so far due to this particular E. coli contamination, "Twenty people fell ill in Wisconsin. There were 11 cases in Utah, five in Oregon, four in Indiana, three each in Idaho and Michigan, two in New Mexico and one in Connecticut."

In addition to the superior taste, nutritional content, and quality of local, sustainably grown vegetables is the cleanliness of the product and the safety in knowing where and who your food came from. I think I'll buy some spinach at the farmer's market this weekend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Breakfast Casserole

This post is for members of the Clem family who recently asked for the recipe for my breakfast casserole.

When you have friends or family in town and need a quick, filling breakfast that can be prepared ahead (in case you need to nurse a hang-over), this is it. In my own experience, I've found it also goes wonderfully well with Bloody Mary's and Mimosa's and perhaps a side of potatoes, which are also great for that "day after" kind of breakfast. It's nothing fancy, but I've found the taste and hominess of the dish makes up for what it lacks in looks. If you're looking for an eye-catcher, finish the meal with my Cinnamon Nut Coffee Cake from the August 7, 2005 posting made in a fancy bundt pan.

Like the Cinnamon Nut Coffee Cake, the breakfast casserole is a dish my mom often made, but I've embellished it with additional veggies and herbs and have adjusted the egg/milk mixture ratio. Most importantly, I use good quality aged cheese. This past weekend, I first made traditional white bread in the breadmaker for the basic casserole and used some store bought sliced wheat bread for the other. On the wheat bread variation, I added fresh spinach and basil, then sprinkled freshly grated parmesan over the vegetables and added grated Swiss cheese instead of cheddar. Here's the basic recipe, feel free to embellish as you like.

Breakfast Casserole

12 to 14 slices white bread, crusts removed
1 stick of butter, melted

6 ounces cooked ham, cubed (more or less)
6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 green or red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
fresh ground black pepper
6 ounces aged cheddar cheese, grated

6 Eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1 teaspoon paprika

Using a pastry brush, butter a 13X8" casserole dish with a little of the melted butter. Then, after removing the crusts from the bread, brush one side of 6 to 7 slices with the melted butter. Place the buttered side down in the casserole, in one layer, cutting the seventh piece in half if necessary to fill in on the ends. Layer the ham and then the diced vegetables over the bread. Salt and pepper the vegetables. Then sprinkle with grated cheese. On top of the filling, place the remaining 1/2 of the bread slices on one layer buttered side UP, again cutting one in half to fill in on the end of the pan if needed.

Beat the eggs with the milk, salt and paprika and poor the mixture over the bread slices. Cover the casserole with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator over night.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes until lightly browned on top and the egg has set. Let cool slightly, then slice, serve and sit back and enjoy the company.