A surfeit of holidays

This week there are 3.5 holidays suitable for celebrating via mass quantities of fancy food. I wish they hadn’t snuck up on me so quietly, as this week is going to be insanely busy with a weaving class, Happy Hooker club, etc. and I will not have time to properly do anything about them.

Today (Saturday, 2 Feb) is Imbolc – the seasonal celebration of the very first hints of spring. Not that it feels anywhere near spring up in the Dakotas yet – the seed catalogs have been here for a month already, and we are several weeks shy of the first spring crocuses and snowdrops even THINKING about poking up through the snow – but it’s still a nice idea. Imbolc is traditionally an occasion for us to think about the first lambings of the year, and be thankful for the milk and meat products thus produced which sustain us through the cold months during which plants will not grow. Thus, an Imbolc dinner party would be a great reason to bring out those fancy cheeses you’ve been saving for a special occasion. 😀 A quick recipe for Yogurt follows at the end.

Incidentally, tomorrow 3 Feb is the Superbowl in the US. More than enough has been said about party foods for this day, none of it especially exciting, so I won’t waste any more time with it here.

Tuesday 5 Feb is Mardi Gras. I spent a lot of my childhood in New Orleans, did the whole parade thing, etc etc. While it’s not celebrated in my current location (except for bars :P), I try to at least make a King Cake each year.  Sometimes I go for the fancy French-style Galette des Rois of almond-filled puff pastry, and sometimes I’ll do just the traditional coffee cake style, filled with cream cheese and cherry pie filling. In the past I’ve used Emeril’s version, but this year I think I will try this one instead.

Thursday 7 Feb is Chinese New Year. Again, not celebrated anywhere near where I live now, but I have fond memories of dumpling-folding parties in college. I offer my favorite potsticker recipe, at the end.

Easy Yogurt

Beef Potstickers with Dipping Sauce

Easy Yogurt

You don’t need fancy machines or electricity to make yogurt – an insulated container works well, or even just a jar. For the simplest yogurt possible, mix 1 cup of plain yogurt (with the least additives you can find) into one liter of milk, and place into a 1.5 liter container. Let sit for 12 hours, in the refrigerator or not. There you go! For flavored yogurt, try mixing in 500 ml of juice concentrate into the finished product.

Beef Potstickers with Dipping Sauce

The sauce and filling can be prepared a day ahead of time, and the assembled dumplings can be refrigerated overnight or frozen up to one month before cooking. If frozen, add 2-3 minutes to the cooking time.

  • 24 potsticker wrappers
  • Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallion
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili oil
  • Filling:
  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound ground beef chuck
  • 4 fresh or canned water chestnuts, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1.5 teaspoons mirin or dry sherry
  • 1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil

To prepare the sauce, place the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in scallion, ginger, sesame oil and chili oil. Cover and set aside.

To prepare the filling, put the mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with boiling water and soak until soft (about 30 minutes.) Drain and squeeze the mushrooms dry. Cut off and discard the stems. Mince the mushrooms caps and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients through the ground black pepper, and mix well. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.

To assemble, place 2 teaspoons filling in the center of each wrapper, moisten the edges with water, and fold up the sides of the dough over the filling to form a flat-bottomed half-moon purse. Press the edges firmly to seal.

To cook: In a small saucepan over moderate heat, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to just high enough to keep the broth simmering. Put 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil into each of two 12″ skillets set over moderately high heat. When the oil is very hot and hazy, add the dumplings to the skillets, flat bottom down. Fry until the bottoms are brown and very crisp, about 2 minutes. Add half the simmering broth to each skillet, pouring it around the dumplings. Cover and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Uncover and let the dumplings fry for 1-2 minutes to recrisp the bottoms.

Reserve half of the dipping sauce, and pour the remaining sauce over the dumplings in both skillets. Bring to a rapid boil, toss the dumplings in the sauce, and remove from heat. Serve the dumplings immediately with the reserved sauce on the side.

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