Throughout this project of mine, Brady has cheerfully eaten at least a few bites of everything I’ve put before him.  Every once in awhile, say with aspic or cold avocado soup or raw ahi tuna, I can tell he’s putting on a brave face.  But then, every so often, I can tell that he’s really excited about what’s on the menu.  This week, I went two for two on that front, first with the pot stickers, and then with this homemade variation on a Chinese takeout classic.

Sweet and Sour Snapper

Sweet and Sour Snapper

1 pound red snapper, boned and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 t. salt
1 T. dry sherry
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 cups oil for deep-frying

Sweet and Sour Sauce

2 T. cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in heavy syrup (drain off and reserve syrup)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 T. soy sauce
2 ounces Chinese pickles (optional – available in Asian food shops)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1 large tomato, cut into wedges

Dry snapper with paper towel. Mix together egg, salt, and sherry. Dip fish in egg mixture, then roll in mixture of flour and cornstarch. Deep-fry fish in a wok over high heat. Drain on paper towels, transfer to serving dish, and keep warm in a 250-degree oven.

To prepare sauce: Mix together cornstarch and water, then combine with reserved pineapple syrup, vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Add pineapple chunks, pickles, and green pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add tomato wedges, and pour around fish just before serving.

Serves 4

There were many reasons I enjoyed this dish.  It only took about 45 minutes to make, the fish was surprisingly light and fresh for something deep-fried, the peppers had that  just barely cooked crispness that is secretly my favorite part of a takeout carton of sweet and sour pork or chicken, and best of all, the sauce was not neon red.  I omitted the Chinese pickles because I could not find them, and the tomatoes because their inclusion in the recipe horrified me, but otherwise, I did just what the ladies of the Junior League of Seattle said to.

The three sauces from this week’s cooking, the sweet and sour sauce, the gyoza sauce, and the sweet and sour plum sauce were a high point, and worth making on their own even if you don’t necessarily have the time to make pot stickers from scratch, or don’t feel like negotiating 6 cups of spitting hot oil.  We used the leftover sauces on some pot stickers and chicken from the freezer section at the grocery store, and were pleased with the results.

It was a fun week of cooking, and I got to make a few recipes that were outside my cooking comfort zone, but surprisingly doable.  Next week, I’ll be cooking a meal from the Junior League of Abilene, Texas’s racily name Best Little Cookbook in Texas, which was a gift from my friend, Alex.  What a Junior League cookbook from Abilene, Texas was doing in a Madison, Wisconsin thrift store, I’ll never know, but I’m glad it found a loving home.

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One of my co-workers went to culinary school before moving into library work, so we often chat about various things that we’re cooking.  The other day, he tells me, he decided to make croissants from scratch, something he hadn’t done since back in the days when he was doing so for a grade.

“I spent 8 hours on the them, and they didn’t even turn out,” he said, wearily.  “They were so ugly.”

There are certain foodstuffs that most people are simply not going to make at home, not when you can easily purchase them at a reasonable price, and not when your own efforts are bound to be bitter disappointments by comparison.

Which is not to say it’s wasted effort, far from it.

You see, I made pot stickers this week, the first of two recipes I’m cooking from the Junior League of Seattle’s The Seattle Classic Cookbook (1983).  I meant to cook both recipes on the same day, but as things turned out, we just wound up eating an entire meal’s worth of potstickers.

It wasn’t pretty, but as it turns out, it was just the thing.

Pot Stickers: Chinese Fried and Steamed Dumplings with Gyoza and Sweet and Sour Plum Sauces

Pot stickers with sweet and sour plum sauce (and awesome chopsticks made from recycled bats donated by Japanese baseball teams)

4 leaves Nappa cabbage, or 1/4 small cabbage
1 t. salt
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
2 green onions, chopped fine
1 t. grated fresh ginger
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sake or cooking sherry
1/4 cup chopped chives (optional)
1/2 pound ground pork
1 package Oriental dumpling skins or won ton skins
2 T. vegetable oil
1/2 cup water

Mince cabbage and add salt. Rub vigorously in hands to squeeze out moisture. Place in bowl and add onions, ginger, soy sauce, sake, chives and pork and mix well.

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the pork mixture in center of each dumpling skin and fold in half, shaping so that top is rounded and bottom is flat. Wet edges with water and seal. Heat oil in frying pan or electric skillet set at 350 degrees. Boil water. Place pot stickers in frying pan so that they are in rows, side by side and touching. Fry until golden brown, and pour in the water. Immediately place lid on pan and steam until water is gone.

Gyoza Sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 t dry mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce

Combine vinegar, hot mustard, and soy sauce until blended.

Sweet and Sour Plum Sauce

2 T. cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. sherry
1 T. Oriental plum sauce

Combine cornstarch and sugar. Add vinegar, water, soy sauce and sherry. Heat in heavy pan, stirring until thickened. Stir in the plum sauce.

Brady and I are lucky to have a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood that is, as one of our friends described it, “much, much better than it has to be.”  It is scrumptious, and the only other Chinese restaurant within delivery distance has a sign written in an unfortunate script that makes the name of the place appear to be “Human Taste.”

At least once a month, we place an order to Chyn King, usually for sauteed string beans and sweet and sour pork, and always for fried and steamed pot stickers.  While their pot stickers are beauty queens compared to my gnarly little dumpling trolls, I was inordinately, giddily pleased when I realized that when I’d finished making these, our apartment smelled exactly like it does immediately after the pot stickers from Chyn King arrive.*

There were a few difficulties along the way.  The grocery store was out of gyoza dumpling wrappers, so I had to improvise with won ton wrappers – I used a 3 1/4″ cookie cutter to trim the wrappers into rounds.  As far as tips for sealing the pot stickers, I don’t really have any, other than maybe use less than a “heaping tablespoon” of filling for each one.  It’s hard, and I was bad at it.

But you know what I am good at?  Making sweet and sour plum sauce.

While the Gyoza Sauce recipe is perfectly good, all we wanted was the plum sauce.  It’s sublime.  As we were eating, Brady said, “What else could we make this week and put this sauce on it?

So, another recipe later this week.  The pot stickers had me both tuckered out and full up, so no room for Sweet and Sour Snapper.   In the meantime, what’s a “more trouble than it’s worth” recipe you’ve made, and did you find the experience in some way edifying?

Off the top of my head, I’d list cinnamon rolls, King Cake, and mole sauce – yet, all were, in some way, well worth the trouble.

___________

* And, as it turns out, we are not the only ones convinced of Chyn King’s greatness.  If you don’t believe us, pop over to their Yelp page where even Felicia “Dr. Horrible/Dollhouse/The Guild” Day has chimed in on the awesomeness of Chyn King.  Oh, L.A.

Cooked_to_Taste_Junior_League_of_Portland“It’s too late to turn back, here we go.  Oooo Portland, oh no.”  — The Replacements

I hope you’ll forgive my overlong hiatus.  During the last week of the Dodgers’s regular season, I got a little obsessive.  We went to two games this weekend, and Potts actually constructed a shrine by the radio consisting of various Dodgers paraphernalia we’ve accumulated over the course of our fandom – bobbleheads, plaques, keychains.  They won that night and clinched the NL West, which means, of course, that now we can’t take it down.

So, this week, you’re getting two meals instead of one.  Both are from cookbooks published by the Junior League of Portland, Oregon, both are excellent work night meals, simple and quick to prepare.  However, the two are separated by about four decades of culinary sensibilities.  I can’t believe I never thought to do this before, even though I have quite a few pairings of old and new Junior League cookbooks in my collection (and more available to me through the wonderful cookbook collection at the Los Angeles Public Library, one of the best in the nation).

The first meal comes from Cooked to Taste, published in 1954.  The book is unique because rather than being a collection of recipes submitted by many League members, all the recipes in Cooked to Taste come from the collection of Harriet Cumming Coe, “a sustaining member, who has long collected recipes and cookbooks, and who has an enviable reputation as an authority on food.”  The result is a collection of tried and true recipes from old family cookbooks, friends and relatives, and recipes that Coe herself perfected over the years.

After returning from the Dodgers game this afternoon, I decided that a nice, light little amuse bouche would be just the thing to clear the taste of Dodger Dogs and beer from our palates.  And I do have a weakness for horseradish.

Horsefeathers

Horsefeathers

Horsefeathers

small inside stalks of celery
1 package cream cheese (3 ounces)
2 teaspoons fresh horseradish
rich cream
pinch of salt

Mix the horseradish, cheese, salt, and enough cream to make a stiff paste. Stuff the celery.

Nothing fancy, but a tasty little bite with just a bit of a kick.  It might also be nice with some fresh chopped chives sprinkled on top for a garnish.

I realized too late that the “feathers” part of the name comes from the celery leaves on top of the stalks.  However, as I’d already chopped those off, I decided that a few sprigs of parsley could be suggestive of feathers if one used one’s imagination.

There were a number of issues with the second recipe that gave me pause.  But I remembered a rule I made to myself when I began this project:  follow the original recipe as closely as possible, no matter what.  If it says to crumble ginger snaps into beef juice, then you do it and you do not ask questions.  Who are you to question the Junior League? For the record, I do not endorse the cooking of salmon in cream, nor the baking of cucumbers.  But as this is Portland week, I figured I should at least give this salmon dish a try.

Baked Salmon

Baked Salmon

Baked Salmon

2 1/2 to 3 pound piece fresh salmon
salt, pepper
dash of thyme
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 bay leaf
4 thin slices onion
3 sprigs parsley
2 large cucumbers

Rub the salmon with the mixed salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic. Melt the butter in an earthenware baking dish. Add the salmon and turn it in the dish to coat with the butter. Add the cream, bay leaf, onion and parsley. Peel the cucumbers, cut them into strips and place them around the fish.

Understandably, I had my doubts as to the deliciousness of this preparation.

Understandably, I had my doubts as to the deliciousness of this preparation.

Bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the fish is tender and the center bone can be pulled out easily.

Discard the bay leaf, onion slices, parsley and garlic. Serve in the baking dish.

Long story short, it was fine.  I mean, it wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the way the cream coagulated on top of the baked salmon (just scraped it off), and I still have no idea why the recipe called for cucumbers, but it tasted like plain old baked salmon, which was more than I’d dared hope for.

On the other end of the spectrum, the green beans recipe I selected for a side dish was amazing.

Until about two months ago, I was not a fan of green beans, and for this, I blame the 1950s.

For this was the decade which gave us the ubiquitous and uniformly awful green bean casserole, cooked to mush and doused in Campbell’s soup.  I loathe the stuff.  And whether in casserole form or not, all the green beans I’d eaten in my life had been cooked to a limp, soggy, grayish-green mess.  Even if they’d once been fresh, you’d never have known it.

And then, two months ago, I went to a vegan Chinese restaurant where they served sauteed long beans, which were bright green, al dente, studded with garlic, and bursting with flavor.  I ate something like five plates of the stuff, and renounced my views on the poor, misunderstood green bean.

Since then, I’ve been scouring my Junior League cookbooks for a green beans recipe, but to my dismay, nearly every one involved canned green beans, which should be eaten by no one.  So, when I found this one in, of all things, a cookbooks from the 1950s, I was very excited.

Sauteed String Beans

Sauteed String Beans

Sauteed String Beans

2 pounds fresh string beans
boiling salted water
6 tablespoons butter
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Cook the beans in the boiling salted water until tender. Drain. Saute the beans in a skillet with the butter, adding salt, pepper, parsley and garlic. Sprinkle the lemon juice over just before serving.

These taste like a million bucks, and Brady even remarked, “You know, I really don’t like green beans, but I like these.”

You will, too.

from portlands palateHaving eaten my fill of Portland, circa 1954, I turned to From Portland’s Palate, published in 1992.  While the focus of Cooked to Taste was very much home cooking, Portland four decades later was a city very much aware of Alice Waters, the idea of eating locally and seasonally, and the idea that this kind of food could be elegant, gourmet fare.  However, they’ve also not lost sight of their home kitchen roots.  In the introduction, the editors write that Portland cooking possesses “a unique blend of cosmopolitan flair and small-city friendliness.”

Ever since Phoenix week, when I made a jicama salad with honey mustard dressing, I’ve been very bullish on the idea of making my own salad dressing, and this looked like a nice one.

Spinach Salad with Basil Dressing

Spinach Salad with Basil Dressing (a little blurry)

Spinach Salad with Basil Dressing (a little blurry)

1 bunch spinach, torn into pieces
1 small avocado, cubed
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces feta cheese (1/2 cup), crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

Dressing

2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (packed) or 2 T. dried basil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 t. granulated sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine spinach, avocado, onion, feta, and nuts.

Dressing

In a food processor or blender, add garlic and pulse 4 to 5 times. Add basil, pulse to combine, then add vinegar and sugar. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil until emulsified. Season with pepper.

Pour dressing over salad and toss well. Serve immediately.

Note: A mixture of spinach and red leaf lettuce adds festive color. Consider jicama root as an addition to this salad.

This is a terrific salad, and the garlic gives the salad a bold, spicy tang.  I lightly toasted the walnuts before adding them to the salad, which added a pleasant warmth as well.

Since autumn, which made a brief appearance two weeks ago, seems to have tentatively returned, I thought this pumpkin soup seemed appropriately savory.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Ward off the first chill of autumn with this seasonal soup.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Curried Pumpkin Soup

1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup butter (1/2 cube)
1 t. curry powder
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 t. salt
2 cups half and half
Sour cream
Fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute diced onions in butter until softened. Sprinkle in curry powder. Pour mixture into blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan and add chicken broth, canned pumpkin, salt and half and half. Heat through over medium heat. Do not bring to boil or soup will curdle. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chopped parsley flakes.

This soup and salad, served with toasted French bread and a bottle of nice red wine, not only makes for a supremely satisfying, elegant dinner, you can also get the entire thing made in about an hour.  I can’t remember the last time I had a meal that felt this put together on a work night.  In the future, I might do a combination of half and half and milk to make a lighter, thinner soup, but even as is, it’s silky, surprisingly complex, and absolutely lovely.

Starting next week, I’ll be turning my attentions to the cuisine of the cities which currently have teams engaged in postseason MLB play.  Because, let’s face it, that’s where my head is going to be anyway.  During last year’s World Series, Brady and I made Philly cheesesteaks for a week, and it was awesome, even though we hate the Phillies and wish them nothing but quick, brutal humiliation at the hands of the Rockies this week.

I also hate the Rockies, just not as much as the Phillies.  Come to think of it, I also hate the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Dodgers, Angels, Twins, and Tigers (however that shakes out), Cardinals, they can all live.

Preferably in that order.