Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dumplings 101 At Fraser Mustard (Largest JK SK School in Canada)...

Always exciting times over at TDSB Welcoming Communities working with newcomers. My next project is cooking in East York at Fraser Mustard, with morning culinary classes opened to parents from this largest early learning centre in Canada, and Thorncliffe Park Public School. Fraser Mustard currently schools 650 students with a capacity maximum of 700. There are 24 classrooms with two educators- a teacher and an early childhood educator, a large muscle area and exercise/play area in addition to their gymnasium, and outdoor gardens for hands-on environmental studies. They partner with the Ontario funded Parenting and Family Centres by providing an on-site location for community use and a childcare centre through the Child Development Institute. 

What to cook to kick-start our community kitchen as well as to celebrate Nutrition Month? Dumplings came foremost to mind, for their soul food prominence in many cultures and diversity in flavours, textures, cooking styles and traditional importance. Indian, Muslim and Roma communities make-up the cultural vibrancy of the neighbourhood, and diet restrictions for religious practices, such as purchasing halal meats and no use of pork and beef. At the session, parents tell me they are trying Asian-style dumplings for the first time, and then goes off and skill-fully masters dumpling wrapping in one hour :D. Ashima, the school's facilitator and community coordinator organized the workshops, and Meena, the community's public health nurse was invited to engage on nutrition and health matters. It may have been ambitious to plan preparations for three versions of dumplings- Chinese-style (Jiao Zi), Korean-Style (Mandoo) and Japanese-Style (Gyoza), in less than two hours, but we came together, wrapped and cooked, told stories and ate in bliss! To see the parents take notes on the ingredients and techniques, and to hear them say they will try to make dumplings at home, is my happiness success :D

My happy post for the next four weeks...

The largest Junior and Senior Kindergarten school in Canada!

The predominant cultural make-up of Thorncliffe Park's community.

A bright spacious and full capacity kitchen to run my culinary activities. 

Parents got right down to business after our meet and greets over Korean genmaicha tea (roasted rice green tea). A few parents and volunteers were assigned to each recipe.

It was evident all these lovely ladies cooked at home.

We cooked with Halal ground turkey for the meat recipes. Ground pork works well in this.

Ginger Meat Dumplings (Chinese-Style called Jiao Zi)

1-1/2 lbs. lean ground meat of your choice
1 cup finely chopped nappa cabbage (blanched first, drain and squeeze excess liquid)
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
1 tsp. salt
A few dashes of ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. cooking wine
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cooking oil or sesame oil
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 package of dumpling wrappers (find in Asian supermarket in refrigerated section with noodles) 

Mix meat and/or vegetables together in a bowl. Add salt and seasonings; incorporate well. Then add oil and cornstarch. Chill at least 1 hour for flavours to develop.

We used Halal ground turkey. Ground beef is also delicious in this recipe.

Curry Meat Dumplings (Indian-Inspired)

1-1/2 lbs. lean ground meat of your choice
½ to 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. curry powder
Add ground cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro to taste (optional)
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 package of dumpling wrappers (find in Asian supermarket in refrigerated section with noodles) 

Mix meat and/or vegetables together in a bowl. Add salt and seasonings; incorporate well. Then add oil and cornstarch. Chill at least 1 hour for flavours to develop.

Tofu, Noodle and Chives Dumplings (Korean-Style called Mandoo)

1 pkg (425 g) firm tofu, drain well, mash to bits, but not mushy (use a fork)
3 cups finely chopped nappa cabbage (blanched first, drain and squeeze excess liquid)
1 handful Chinese chives, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked Korean starch noodles (chopped into small pieces)
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 package of dumpling wrappers (find in Asian supermarket in refrigerated section with noodles) 

Mix meat and/or vegetables together in a bowl. Add salt and seasonings; incorporate well. Then add oil and cornstarch. Chill at least 1 hour for flavours to develop.

To Wrap: Assemble dumplings right before cooking. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in centre of wrapper. Wet half the wrapper rim with water, then fold the wrapper over so that the dry edge meets the wet one. Press or pleat along seam to seal shut. Repeat with other dumplings. Cook immediately or freeze (see tips below). Do not refrigerate or they will get moist and stick together and to the plate.

Photo Credits: Ashima Suri

Meena getting hands-on and getting into pro-wrapping territory!

WOW, look at those neat pleats! Master wrappers in just one hour :D!

Vegetarian-style got the steam treatment. Tofu mandoos are perfect in this cooking style- healthy on healthy!

Steam, Steam Baby!!!

Steam: Place a cut-out parchment paper in steam basket with holes poked in it to allow steam to escape, on top of a pot with water. Place dumplings in a circular pattern and cover the lid. Bring water to a boil and let steam for 8-10 minutes. Serve hot best with ponzu sauce. The light bright citrus flavour goes very well with the soft texture of tofu and noodles.

Ginger turkey dumplings got the pan. Pan-fry: Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet or wok. When oil is ready, carefully add the dumplings and cook on high heat until golden brown, turning dumplings over once. Add 1/2 cup of water and cover. Steam for about 1 min. to ensure filling is cooked, then uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed. (Pan-fry on medium heat). Serve with red or black vinegar, or soy sauce with a little sesame oil.

Steamed Dumplings with Crispy Bottoms (Japanese-Style called Gyoza) I took it a step further to create a crispy fan pattern- Chinese-inspired): Heat a large skillet with 1 Tbsp. oil on medium high. Lay the prepared dumplings in a circular pattern and let pan-fry for two minutes until golden brown underside. Make a slurry with 2 tsp. potato starch and 1/3 cup water per batch. Drizzle over the dumplings in a circular motion and cover lid immediately. Let steam for 3 minutes. Remove lid and let cook until the slurry on the pan is golden and crisp. Carefully place a plate over top; keep your hand steady on the plate, tip the skillet upside down to remove "crispy dumplings" onto the plate. Serve with soy sauce or not.

I was thrilled the crispy bottom released from the pan intact-- a little admiration over there perhaps :D

Thank you lovely ladies for making this first session a fun success! I'm looking forward to our next morning together--  how about muffin-tin frittatas to pop in a kid's lunch box (Easter is also coming- so eggs are joyful) and healthy snacks to tote or for after school?

Extra Dumpling Tips (also check out my previous Dumplings 101 post):

Pan fry from frozen: put the frozen dumplings into a pan with a little oil and fry the dumplings until they turn slightly brown, add ¼ cup water, set the temperature to medium, cover for 10 minutes turning over once. Pan-fry with a little rice vinegar for a delicious tangy taste.

· If you want to prepare a lot of dumplings in advance, steam the dumplings, wait for them to cool, and then freeze them on a parchment-lined tray. When fully frozen, transfer them to a zip-top bag for longer storage.

· You can then use them anytime straight from the freezer without defrosting, whether you want to fry, sauté, steam, or toss them in soup.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Relishing in Romanian Food...

Hai sa mancam! Let's Eat! Today it's all about Romanian food! Romania is an East European country nestled in the Balkan Peninsula, and a home to a few of my lovely friends. Their most important staple is corn, milled into fine meal used in polentas-- mamaliga and porridges, and potatoes is a close second. A long tradition of vegetable cookery ensues, particularly during Lent with widely grown beans, sweet peppers, tomatoes, squash, asparagus and eggplant. A love that is witnessed on the store shelves and ready-made counter at Toronto's ABC Euro Deli, opened in 1996 by the Milos family wanting to preserve the meal-time memories of home and using traditional hand-down recipes through generations. In their newly expanded location, they continue to specialize in European products extending their product lines and imports with a wide selection of cured meats, cold cuts, fresh meats, sausages, cheeses, pastries, dairy, grocery and hot table items. Funny, it took my friend Mihail living in the homeland itself, to point it out to me :D...

This friendly store located in Scarborough, east of downtown Toronto carries mainly Romanian products but also imports from Hungary, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, France, Spain, Germany, and many more.

Shelves full of pickled vegetables from different kinds of sauerkraut to beans, mushrooms and peppers. Other notables include vegetable spreads, conserves, jellies, jam, snacks, teas, liver pate and various canned foods. 

Lots of grilled red pepper relish often concocted with eggplants seasoned with chiles and garlic.

Pickled fish such as herring and caviar!

So many kinds of pierogies from cheese, to savoury to fruit sweet.  

East Europeans love their pickles!

Pickled whole green tomatoes-- interesting!

Layered cakes and treats seems to be their sweet thing! 

Milka chocolate assortment-- must have been the entire line of flavours.

Love it all, but this is the main attraction... what I really came for :D

Cured, smoked... so many, so little time. Of course I had to get some Romanian salami...

Love the ham pieces suspended in gelatin (animal collagen).

The hot table was my next go-to... Schnitzel and cabbage rolls-- I must have them all!

The beef goulash caught my eye! Filled with beef chunks, potato and dumplings (flour and milk), this was one traditional soup that was guaranteed to warm my family's heart and tummies tonight! Yum...

I made off with a hefty dose of goods that was sure to satisfy at my table. The ladies at the counter wasn't sure when I'll leave with my constant hop-skippity-jump back to ask questions and to order some more. Such lovely and patient service with a smile :D.

Dips, sausages, olives, soup, cabbage rolls and schnitzel.

This beef goulash was my favourite of all-- so hearty, flavourful and delightful (dreaming about those slightly yielding dumplings)... I must make this very, very soon. Did I say very soon?

I love cabbage rolls... these ones were filled with pork and vegetables, but they aren't my favourite. Maybe it was the slather of red pepper oil that didn't agree? I adore the Polish ones most bathed in a thin tomato sauce. My Romanian friend Mihail promised to share his version with us as a guest blogger real soon... I'm really looking forward to hearing what he does and finally try my hands on cabbage rolls- maybe change my mind on which cuisine reigns supreme?

Laying out the appetizers including my sublime avocado with red onions and lime for a bit of freshness, and some bread to sop up dip and soup. 

Bean stew and eggplant & mayo serve as side accompaniments or dips with bread.
Olives and pickles for a bit of slick and sour. Rolled Romanian salami (roll-back-of-head
deelish-- tender like ham and perfectly flavoured for easy eating), and chicken calbano
sausage (a bit bland for my taste). Beef goulash was out of this world!

Out comes the main event-- pork and chicken schnitzel and pork cabbage rolls. Served with some mayo.

A nice helping of Romania on the plate right there!

I've actually tried cooking Romanian dishes before. Or shall I say tested recipes? A global cuisine cookbook is coming out (and I'm in it!!) -- although it has been over two years in the making (bless my passionate Oregon friend Julie Cockburn doing this solo), latest I heard, it's going to print! Earlier then, nearing the final development stages, we were asked to test each other's recipes which involves noting anything that is unclear or confusing, errors, or ingredients that are a challenge to come by. I tested four recipes by fellow contributor and native Romanian Dana Burlacu Visternicu and the results were sensational! See my previous post for more on the cookbook and my results.

From Top Right Clockwise: Testing Dana's traditional Romanian recipes of Tocinei
(potato and cheese pancakes), Trout with Sour Cream and Dill served with Corn
and Potato Porridge. And to cap it off with something sweet-- Papanasi
(cheese donuts with sour cream and jam).

Join me in a few weeks to see my culinary and food advocate friend Mihail from Romania feature his cabbage rolls! 
Can't wait!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

West African Jollof Rice and Fried Curry Chicken...

Jollof rice!! This beloved one-pot west African rice delicacy has become the most popular dish outside of Africa. I've read numerous regions in the country vigorously engage in debate over the geographical origins of Jollof rice, with the name derived from the Wolof people. Apparently, no stronger battle has gone on for centuries than the one about who makes the best tasting Jollof rice between Nigeria and Ghana. This competitiveness extends into organized contest shows for famous critics everywhere to taste, assess and meticulously judge the two regionally-cooked dishes. Social media has also been a huge platform for natives from both countries and fans alike to share pictures, videos and opinions over who serves it best.

Similar to red rice in US Southern cooking or called "Spanish rice" in the rest of the country, I have seen photos of this African dish but never tried it. Until, I attended a recent Toronto District School Board (TDSB) newcomers' culinary program at Beverley Heights Middle School with facilitator host Sho Bioseh who is Nigerian. She runs the lunch hour cooking session with a group of grades 6 to 8s, with the majority of African descent from Nigeria and Ghana. The students made Nigerian Jollof rice, and the week before, cooking it up, Ghanaian-style. Too bad I couldn't taste the two to formulate a preference, but I did wonder if the students would start a taste debate. They didn't.

There are many variations of Jollof Rice. Most common ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, and red pepper spice. Beyond that, nearly any kind of meat, fish, vegetable, or combination of spices can be added. Sho shares with me that Ghanaian-style rice is spicier, tends to use perfume rice such as Jasmine and often includes smoked fish like mackerel; Nigerian-style uses parboil long grain rice, and a pureed tomato and pepper mixture to cook the rice. Due to time constraints, the students made a simplified Nigerian version-- no tomato and pepper puree.The tomato paste in the recipe was omitted as the can's content was molded- it must have had a small hole in it. Even without it, and the rice not cooked thoroughly (lunch time was over), it was just absolutely deelish- so aromatic and boldly flavourful served along fried-to-crunchy curry chicken drumsticks... Sooo goooood that it hasn't left my mind since. Talk about a MUST this weekend at my house!

Jollof Rice with Fried Curry Chicken

Culinary lunch program at Beverley Heights

Facilitor host Sho's simplified recipe for Nigerian Jollof Rice.

Deep-frying curry-cooked chicken drumsticks.

Stir-frying onions, tomatoes and spices in oil before adding the rice and water to cook. 

No tomato paste and rice needed some more cooking, but just so delicious!

My first attempt at Jollof rice combines ingredients and techniques from both Ghana and Nigeria, and my own adaptations to my family's taste. I used Jasmine rice and a pureed mixture of green and red peppers, and tomatoes. I added the spicy part at the end (my youngest does not fancy spicy- yet so forewent cooking with the red pepper powder). Finely chopped leftover jalapeno peppers served at the table for garnishing heat. 
Here's what I did:

Jollof Rice and Fried Curry Chicken Drumsticks
Makes 8 to 10 servings

To cook the chicken:
12 chicken drumsticks
6 cups water, or enough to cover
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
potato starch for battering cooked chicken
Oil for frying

To cook the rice:
1/2 cup oil
2 red onions, (I hear the red onions gives the best flavour, not flat tasting like yellow onions)
1 green pepper, core and seeds removed
1 red pepper, core and seeds removed
4 - 5 tomatoes (I used 1 tomato, and three cups leftover grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 bay leaves (I added a few more as I had broken pieces)
1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. paprika powder
2 Tbsp. chicken seasoning powder (chicken bouillon for stock)-- Knorr is popular
2 tsp. red pepper powder or/ 1 or 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
salt to taste
4 cups Jasmine rice, wash and rinse until water runs clear to prevent stickiness; drain

Bring a heavy-based large pot of water to a boil. Add curry powder, salt and pepper, and chicken (I added some chopped red onions too). Bring back to a boil, then lower heat to a medium boil for twenty minutes until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken legs onto a plate to cool completely. Pour stock into a big bowl and let cool in fridge. I used the same pot to cook my rice- I gave it a rinse and wiped it down.

Rough chop one red onion, both peppers and tomatoes, and add into food processor. Add two cups of the cooled curry broth to facilitate blending. Pureeing until finely chopped or smooth. Fine chop remaining onion and set aside.

I used my mini food processor and blended until finely chopped in two batches.

Add oil to hot saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the fine chopped onions until translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir, letting it cook for five minutes (this cooks off the bitterness in the paste). Pour in the pepper-tomato mixture and stir well; add your spices and mix to incorporate. Cover and let it hard simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Stir in the rice. Pour curry chicken broth just enough to cover the rice. Place the lid and cook on low simmer undisturbed for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the fried chicken.

Place one cup of potato starch in a shallow dish (this thin coating gives the chicken crispiness). Coat each cooled chicken drumstick evenly. Shake off excess starch. Heat oil in pot until hot. NOTE: A wooden skewer inserted in centre of oil should have tiny bubbles shooting up its side to indicate oil is ready. Fry chicken in batches until golden crispy, or cook longer until brown-golden and crunchy. Remove cooked chicken onto paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Remove the lid off rice after 20 minutes. Give it a stir, by lifting the bottom of rice contents upwards several times. Close lid and cook another 20 minutes. Depending on rice type it can cook fast or longer- check every 20 minute interval. Jasmine rice finished in 40 minutes total. Cook's NOTE: Bottom of rice touching pot may be burnt. That's ok. Some like to eat that crunchy part, and is why cooking must be done on low heat. Don't add more water or the rice will cook up mushy. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Voila! Jollof rice- my way with fried curry chicken drumsticks!
Beautiful and delicious, however next time I will use parboil long grain rice for a looser texture.

We served finely chopped jalapeno peppers on the side and for a dash of colour.

Nom Nom! 

Thank you for the inspiration to the lovely Sho and my friends over at Beverley Heights, 
for sharing your tasty food culture with me! Hope to cook with you all again!