Grandma Doran’s Banana Cake

My grandma, Cecil Doran, was an excellent cook and great at using up bits of this and that. I remember watching her make biscuits, pancakes, sugar cookies, and other favorites without recipes- just dumping and pouring. When she did give a recipe, it was often “a handful of” or a “blue cup of” the ingredients. I loved watching my grandma cook. In fact, I just loved my grandma. She was the kind of person that you loved being close to, with a knack for making  each one feel as if she was her favorite! Even though she has been with the Lord for almost 20 years now, I still enjoy making the few recipes of hers I do have.

I think Grandma came up with this banana cake recipe herself since the ingredients are written in unusual amounts. This is a nice, dense, moist cake. Since I’ve lived in China a while now, I decrease the sugar a bit, but it’s wonderful as written. I served it for dinner this evening when some adoption friends came by and it seemed to make a hit. I hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cup all purpose flour

½ Tablespoon salt

½ Tablespoon baking powder

½ Tablespoon baking soda

½ cup shortening

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup buttermilk (or ¼ cup milk with 1 teaspoon cider vinegar)

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and beat well until the batter is smooth and creamy. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Ermine Icing

This icing used to be called boiled milk icing. I don’t know that my grandma ever made it, but we think it’s the perfect compliment to banana cake. Ermine icing is thus called because it has a soft smooth consistency. It is smoother than buttercream and not as sweet.  I think this unusual recipe might surprise you. In my recipe box, it is called “Red Velvet Cake Icing” because it’s what a “real” red velvet cake should be iced with. It makes a good cake a GREAT cake, in my opinion.

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk

3 Tablespoons flour

Pinch of salt

1 cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk together the milk with the flour and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat stirring continually until the roux is thickened. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap, and cool completely.

When the roux has cooled, beat the butter and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Then gradually add in the roux mixture, beating until very light with all sugar dissolved.

Ice the cake then try not to eat it all at once. This is very hard to resist, actually. We once had a guy eat seven pieces of it after a Sunday night dinner!

Keep refrigerated as this icing breaks down easily and quickly. It is NOT a good icing to take on a picnic!

 

Smoked Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

One day I wanted to quickly make a nice meal for someone that was sick, but I didn’t have my “normal” stuff around the house. I took stock and invented with this recipe out of what I had on hand. My family loves this rich dish redolent of smoked chicken, garlic, and parmesan! Because parmesan is a gift box item and because the dish has about a zillion calories per serving, we only have it for special occasions. I hope you enjoy it! This serves about 12 people, so you may need to cut it down!

1 stick butter + a few Tbs to sauté

3/4 cup flour

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced (or to taste)

2 lbs smoked chicken breast

2 lbs fresh mushrooms

2 lbs fresh broccoli

1 cup parmesan cheese

3 cups chicken stock

1 qt or more milk

pepper and salt to taste

500 g cooked pasta, cooked al dente.

I decided not to insult your intelligence by showing step by step photos since this is a fairly standard uncomplicated recipe! Here are the major players prepped and ready to begin assembly. On this day I didn’t have fresh mushrooms so used canned. Fresh are better. You can use unsmoked chicken, but it really is the smoked chicken that stars in this entree. If you don’t have smoked chicken but have smoked gouda cheese, you could also add a cup of that grated. A few julienned carrots would brighten it up even more, too. Be flexible- have fun!

Slice and sauté your chicken breasts until slightly brown and set aside.

Slice the mushrooms, sauté in skillet until brown. Set aside.

Cut the broccoli into florets, steam lightly (just until bright green). Set aside.

Melt the stick of butter in your skillet, add garlic, then slowly add the flour until smooth.

Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring to keep smooth. Cook a bit to thicken, then do the same with the milk. You have to be careful to cook this slowly on medium heat. If it boils, the milk may curdle. The only difficult thing about this dish is to take your time making it. Don’t let the anticipation cause you to rush! Trust me, it will be worth your while to cook it slowly.

When the sauce is smooth and thick, stir in the parmesan cheese. Add the mushrooms and chicken as you continue heating. After this has sufficiently warmed with all of these things added, taste for saltiness. Since broth, chicken, and parmesan all have salt, it may not need added salt, but at this point add salt and pepper to taste. I enjoy using fresh black pepper in good quantity, but it’s up to you! If it’s too thick, lighten with more milk and/or broth. If it’s too thin, thicken with a mixture of flour and milk.

At the last minute add the broccoli and heat only until warm. Don’t cook it much because you want a nice bright green crispy tender broccoli to offset the thick, rich sauce! Having the broccoli showing off in your alfredo classifies it as health food and makes you feel better.

I serve the sauce and the noodles in separate bowls and let each person mix it to taste. The noodles absorb the sauce quickly and all the “goodies” tend to go to the bottom of the bowl if you serve them premixed.

Serve it  up and dig in! Keep the sides light. Enjoy!

Those bread sticks are a story for another day. Amazing! Hopefully Faith can tell you about those… Yum.

Stuffed Zucchini

Tonight I was experimenting and came up with a recipe which my daughters and I much enjoyed. I thought I’d share it! These make a nice side dish or a vegetarian main dish. (As a matter of fact, this is what I ate for dinner this evening!)

Stuffed Zucchini

Ingredients:

6 zucchini with ends trimmed off

2 pounds fresh mushrooms, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 large purple onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 T. butter

1 t. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices bread, crumbed in blender

1 cup gouda cheese

1/2 cup parmesan

24 cubes feta (optional)

Put the zucchini into boiling, salted water for ten minutes until they are slightly soft. Slice them in half. Scoop out the seeds and save.

While the zucchini is boiling, saute the mushrooms, red pepper, onion, fresh garlic in the butter until most of the water has cooked off the mushrooms. Add the zucchini seeds to this mixture along with the Italian seasoning. Lightly salt, remembering that the cheese is already a bit salty, and grate a hefty of fresh pepper into the mix. Saute for a few more moments.

Mix the bread crumbs (if you use store bought crumbs, use about 1 1/2 cups), grated gouda, and parmesan cheeses in a bowl. Then stir the vegetables into the cheesey goodness.

Spoon this mixture into the scooped out zucchinis. Stick two squares of feta cheese into each one. I thought the mixture needed the salty tang of feta, but since we rarely have it due to its expense here, and only now because it’s left over from my birthday, I compromised on two little cubes in each half. But if you have a fridge full of feta- go for it:) Bake for about half an hour in a 400 degree oven. At the last minute, broil the top until nicely browned. Enjoy!

I know the one on the left looks like a stuffed dill pickle- but I only got the idea of blogging this after they were mostly gone so there wasn’t much choice!

Grandmama Dexter’s Pound Cake

Stacy’s grandmother is said to have been one of the best cooks in the world. I can’t vouch for that, because by the time I knew her she was blind and her cooking skills had deteriorated somewhat- though she kept trying. Not only was she a good cook, but she was also very hospitable. Every Sunday she would whip up a huge meal, just hoping someone would come to her house after church for dinner! And they always obliged.

Most of her recipes were in her mind and cannot be replicated, but her her daughter, our Aunt Net, stood by her side watching carefully and recording measurements to make sure we would all be able to make this famous cake. Grandmama Dexter’s pound cake recipe also comes with a good testimony. She was a hard worker and extremely independent. Though blind, she lived on her own for many years until at the age of about 92 she had to go into a nursing home. Once when we went up to visit her, Stacy shared the good news about Christ with her- that we are all sinners; that God’s standard is perfection (of which every one of us falls short); that we were hopelessly lost and without hope; until God sent His only Son into the world. Jesus led a perfect life and yet was nailed to the cross. As 1 Peter 3:18 said,  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to deathin the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,,,” When she heard this, slow tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks and she said, “I’ve gone to church my whole life and have never heard this.” She repented of her sins, accepted God’s gift of salvation through faith in His Son, and embraced the wonderful grace of God through her Savior.

Grandmama has been with Jesus for about 32 years now, but this recipe for her moist, flavorful pound cake lingers on! We hope that you’ll enjoy it.

But first, here is a Baking 101 Tip: These are the differences various fats make in the tastes and textures of cakes: Butter produces compact, fine-textured cakes which have less height and smaller crumbs. It also adds delicious flavor! Shortening makes cakes tall and light, as well as coarse, dry, and crumbly. Margarine creates moist cakes which are coarse and crumbly, but are not light and have larger air pockets. Oil cakes are moist, tall and light, slightly coarse, with open crumbs.)

Bring all cold ingredients to room temperature before making this cake!

Grandmama’s Pound Cake

Ingredients:
2 sticks butter (2 American size sticks equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs (1 at a time)
3 cups unsifted flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
First, cream the butter with the shortening; then add sugar and cream again. Sometimes I just use butter for the whole deal but the shortening does make for a nicer pound cake “crust” and adds to the rise.
Add the eggs one at a time. This is actually important so though you may just want to dump them in all at once, buck up and exercise some self-control here!
Add the dry ingredients. I’m not going to labor with showing you pictures of that process, but I did want you to see my new baking powder can. Sometimes it’s the little things! Our baking powder comes in tiny packages like this:
It is SUCH a hassle to use these tiny little packages of baking powder! But some friends were moving back to America and among the things they gave us was this can of baking powder:
Now I just keep refilling my can and I am SO happy about this. Yes, I know that this is blurry but sometimes you just have to brag a bit about God’s little daily kindnesses and provisions and this was the best photo I got. Ouch! 😉
Then add milk and extracts; mix until all is well blended. Prepare the pan with shortening and flour.
Pour in the luscious, buttery, velvety batter:
Stick into a COLD OVEN:
Notice- this oven has no bungie cord! Yes, we are moving on up and becoming very classy. Very. Well, yeah, it’s in our living room but….
Then turn oven to 325 degrees and bake for “about an hour”. Here’s the finished product:
OH MY GOODNESS! IT’S A MIRACLE! MY NEW OVEN IS AMAZING!!! Don’t buy that? Ok, ok! I made two cakes that day for my sweet husband’s sixtieth birthday party- one in the bundt pan and one in layers. This was the first time we had used this new oven that we bought used from the same friends who donated the baking powder can to our cause. Apparently, the thermostat is a bit off and my cake scorched on top. I scraped it off, covered it with icing, and it still tasted fine! But it wasn’t beautiful. Therefore, I’m sticking in this photo of the layered pound cake with chocolate icing used for Stacy’s birthday cake. While we usually eat this cake without icing (it makes an amazing strawberry shortcake), I also use it in making wedding cakes. Its moistness, density, and ease of handling create cakes of great structural integrity while the mild but distinct flavors show off many fillings, glazes, and icings to advantage.
Have a bite?
Can you taste the exquisite blend of vanilla, lemon, and almond and feel the smooth, fine texture? Mmmm….Grandmama Dexter would be proud;)
Meanwhile, here’s a bit of eye candy that was distracting me during the party, my grandson Josiah. Now THAT’S yummy!
He’s wearing the straw hat his granddaddy got for his birthday.
Then here’s the bit of eye candy that has distracted me for the past thirty-five years!
In China, men retire between fifty-five and sixty. Many of the “old men” go to the park in straw hats with their caged birds of a morning to chit chat, gamble, and just generally hang out! Our friends couldn’t resist getting Stacy his own straw hat and bird cage. Unfortunately, my photography for this whole post kind of stank- but you probably get my drift!
From China with love!
Pat

Red Braised Ribs (also works for chicken wings or beef)

There are all different kinds of genuine Chinese food. This is a pretty classic recipe, first introduced to me by my daughter-in-love, Rebecca, who is from Anhui Province. But some of my Guangdong friends make it as well. It is a lovely flavorful dish – one of the few Chinese foods I make well!

Ingredients:

3 pounds short rib pieces that can be eaten with chopsticks OR 3 pounds of chicken wing pieces OR 3 pounds of beef stew meat in chunks

1 inch of ginger root sliced

1 small bunch green onion (optional) minced

2/3 cup of cooking sherry

1/2 cup of dark soy sauce 

1 Tablespoon of sugar

1 large piece of cinnamon stick broken into pieces

3 – 4 star anise

1-3 dried Chinese red hot peppers (depending on your personal tastes)(Optional)

1-2 bay leaves (Optional)

Oil

If you’re using ribs, wash well so that you won’t get bone chips in your dish! Add a few Tablespoons of oil to your wok along with your sliced ginger root and green onion if you are using it (I am not). Saute in wok until the oil is aromatic.

Add ribs or other meat.

Stir fry until you can only see a little blood. Then add cooking sherry. (If you’re in China, don’t buy this kind. Really doesn’t have a good flavor!) Stir it up.

Then add dark soy sauce. If all you have is light soy sauce, you may need more of it and you may also need to salt the ribs a bit. But don’t salt the meat if you have dark soy sauce. Give them a little toss to mix the sauce in there well!

Toss in your spices. I didn’t add as much spice as I prefer to this batch as I had some folks at the table who prefer milder food. My personal preference is for two of the hot peppers. If you break them in half, they permeate the dish nicely giving it a little tang but not searing your mouth. Adapt to taste. These little peppers can really give you a zing but they vary from batch to batch. It’s always a good idea to add them slowly unless you don’t care if you get it super spicy!

Add water to cover the meat.

 

Add sugar.

Toss in your bay leaves- just one or two. You can buy them here in China, but I just happen to have a bottle from the states on my shelf.

This is how it looks now. Kind of blah looking…

Cover the pan and simmer for a time.

For ribs, simmer about an hour; for chicken wings (cut in half- remember that you want to eat this with chopsticks…), half an hour is probably enough; for beef stew meat, you might need an hour and a half depending on the size pieces and the toughness of the meat. Chinese beef is usually from water buffaloes and is tough and stringy, so we probably simmer beef for closer to two hours. Every now and then, give it a little taste to see if you need to adjust flavorings. Soy sauce varies greatly in saltiness so you may need to add more of it or salt. You may also decide to toss in more star anise or cinnamon. This is not a science- it is highly subjective based on personal tastes! I prefer chicken wings cooked this way to the other meats, but at this meal we were also serving coca cola chicken wings so made ribs for variety.

After simmering, when the meat is tender, this is what it looks like:

You can see that during cooking I have continued adding a bit of water because we enjoy having extra sauce to put on our rice. If you prefer your sauce thicker, simply mix cornstarch with some of the broth, then stir it into the juices and stir until thickened. We prefer the sauce thinner so that it incorporates with our rice more easily.

This is a classic blend of Chinese flavors and smells wonderful as it cooks! It is usually redder, but that day I only had light soy sauce so mine is lighter. Some of my friends take pieces of pork that are larger- perhaps 5 inches x 2 inches x 2 inches- and simmer them slowly for several hours in a pot until they are tender enough to be sliced without falling apart. At the end of the cooking time, they might peel a few boiled eggs and let them simmer in the juices for a while. They serve these two things together on a platter, cutting the pork into thin slices and the eggs into quarters. Sometimes they even toss some fennel seeds into the mix with the other spices! So you see, this is a versatile and adaptable recipe!

Soon I’ll post a “recipe” for how I make a Chinese green vegetable that makes a nice accompaniment to this dish.

But for now, give this a try! Enjoy!

Pat

Grace and Hope’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

As mentioned before, Grace and Hope have a little business making and selling muffins. They are popular with both ex-pats and Chinese, with one of the favorite flavors being these lemon poppy seed muffins. Though these are called muffins, they could be called cupcakes just as well as they are sweet and cake-y, though dense. I have long held the theory that if it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert, but these muffins have changed my thinking on this!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons poppy seeds (You can use more but they are rare here since we can’t buy them..)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 Tablespoons lemon zest

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup oil

3 eggs

Mix all ingredients. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray or use muffin papers. Fill muffin cups 5/6 of the way full if you want a nice “crown” on the muffins. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes or until golden on top. This recipe makes 18 plump muffins such as those pictured.

We use one of two glazes on these.

Glaze number 1

3/4 cups sugar

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons butter

Cook on stove just until sugar is melted. When muffins are still warm, dip top in the muffins.

Glaze number 2

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Mix and drizzle over muffins once they have gotten cool.

We prefer glaze number 2. Although it has powdered sugar, it is less sweet and “syrupy”. 

If you prefer orange flavoring make as follows:

Substitute orange juice and zest for the lemon juice and zest in the muffin recipe.

In the glaze recipes, merely substitute orange juice for the lemon juice.

If you prefer almond flavoring, make as follows:

Do not add lemon zest or juice to the muffin recipe. Increase the almond extract to 2 teaspoons.

For the glaze, mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of milk.

Enjoy!

Tasty Bars

We were away from home the past two days, spending time with Jeremy’s and Jason’s families for a mini-vacation. While we were gone, a former student of ours who has been living in northern China called to ask if he could come for dinner and stay with us tonight. We were very, very happy to be able to see him again, but since we would not be arriving home until almost dinnertime ourselves, we needed to come up with a super quick meal. Remembering that his favorite Western dinner had been spaghetti, the main dish was easy, and for dessert, we pulled out Chez Dexter’s standard last minute bar cookie recipe. We’ve been meaning to share this with you anyway since it has only six ingredients and takes just thirty minutes from inception to service.

Not only can you whip this up almost in the blink of an eye, but if you try hard enough you can kind of (sort of?) justify it as healthy. I mean, the health benefits of chocolate are almost endless, and nuts are good, right? Brown sugar, oatmeal…this is a veritable smorgasbord of all that is great for what ails you (kind of, sort of…)! And they don’t call these “Tasty Bars” for nothing!

Ingredients:

3 cups oatmeal

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping:

1 cup peanut butter (creamy works better)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Stir the first four together and press into a 9 x 13 pan. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes until set and golden.

Yes, this is our oven. (We are very fancy- we have two! The other one is bigger but  since it only works on the top burner we don’t use it unless we’re desperate.) This one, as you see, is held together by a bungee cord!

While it’s baking, make the topping. Microwave your peanut butter in a bowl for about one minute until it’s very fluid.

Dump the chocolate chips into the hot peanut butter.

Are you starting to feel the love? Now stir vigorously until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. (If you really want to make a mess, go ahead and try zapping your chocolate chips and your peanut butter in the microwave at the same time. It might work- sometimes does. But after having a few bowls full of lusciousness turn into seized up lumps of burnt chocobutter, we’re sold on this less risky technique! If perchance (There’s something so satisfying about being able to stick the word “perchance” into a sentence, don’t ya think?) your chips don’t quite melt all the way, go ahead and give this a little zip zap for a few seconds, but be careful not to overdo it!)

We know at this point some of you are going to want to forget all about that healthy oatmeal base and just eat this with a spoon…

But try to resist…

Go ahead and dump the mixture onto your oatmeal base as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Spread it around.

Good enough!

If you’re going to have this ready in 30 minutes as we’ve promised, sock that puppy into the freezer for ten minutes! In our hot Guangzhou weather, we always stick it into either the fridge or the freezer to set the top.

Love on a plate!

Now what could be wrong with that?

Seriously, five minutes to mix the base; ten minutes to bake it while you prepare the topping; five minutes to spread that on; ten minutes to zap it in the freezer to set it! Six ingredients (all of which are likely staples in your kitchen), thirty minutes to prepare, then you have time to sit and talk with your family and guests as they enjoy the fruits of your labors! Refrigerate leftovers, if there are any….

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

By popular demand, we offer you our recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins! Often when we’ve had weekend events, we’ll make up huge batches of muffins that we serve for breakfasts along with boiled eggs, fruit, and yogurts. We can carry these to any location and save our friends the cost of buying breakfast out. We’ve tried a large number of muffin recipes that can be made cheaply with ingredients we can purchase locally which are not imported. One staple of our preferred muffins is that the recipes use oil rather than butter or shortening, both of which are expensive since they are imported and not commonly used in China. We also try to make less sweet varieties, since we have often heard, “Too sweet! Too sweet!” since most Chinese have not grown up eating desserts or sugary foods.

This recipe departs from our normal criteria as it contains chocolate chips, which are NOT inexpensively procured in China. A 12 oz. bag (imported) costs about $6 or $7, so we try to bring ours from America when we come or ask our friends who come over to bring us a bag or two. However, this recipe doesn’t call for many, and to be honest we often skimp on the half cup called for when making them for events frequented by mostly Chinese people, and add a few more when we are making them for “foreigners”(like us). Even though these are sweeter than most that we make, they are very popular with both Chinese and Westerners. Who can resist the combination of peanut butter and chocolate whether they’ve grown up with it or not? We have tried several online recipes for peanut butter chocolate chip muffins and never found one that we loved. So we have “tweaked” this recipe until we think it’s about right. We hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 and 1/2 cups sugar (I use white but I think light brown would add depth)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy both work)

2 large eggs or 3 small ones

1 and 1/4 cups milk

1/4 cup oil plus 1 Tablespoon

1/2 chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Dump all of the ingredients except chocolate chips into a bowl and mix well. Stir the chocolate chips in by hand. Prepare muffin cups by either spraying with non-stick spray or inserting muffin papers. Fill 3/4 full. (I use my handy dandy ice cream type scoop with spring handles that I bought last time I was in America! It rocks and rolls, baby!) Bake for about 30 minutes until a toothpick stuck in comes out clean (except for melted chocolate). This makes about a dozen and a half standard sized muffins.

Take a look at this moist bundle of deliciousness up close! They smell great and taste best right out of the oven. But my girls find that if they microwave them for 15 seconds they can recreate that warm melty yumminess!

There are few jobs that Grace and Hope can do in China to make pocket money- no yards to mow, no babies to sit! Handcrafts pay little since labor costs are so low. They, however, have hit on a niche business by making muffins and selling them. Many of our friends place special orders for the varieties of their choice- banana, cinnamon nut, poppy seed, zucchini, apple, pumpkin (made with fresh pumpkin that they cook and puree themselves since canned pumpkin is rarely available), and the above peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. Sometimes folks that come to our home for study request that the girls make large batches that they divvy up into bags of ten for purchase by individuals in the groups. We don’t have a recent photo or a good one, but here is one taken last year with a mobile phone on the first day of their “business” giving out samples of their wares! Grace is about a foot taller now and both girls have become more young ladies and less little girls. But it does give you an idea of the beginning of their Guangzhou muffin dynasty!

Chinese Dumplings

Making dumplings is a lot of work, but well worth it for special occasions. The ones you buy at Chinese restaurants may be good, but those you make at home are GREAT! Since we have two very special guests, we deemed this enough of an event to warrant our twice or thrice yearly jiao zi making day! Usually we try to have a full crew on deck when we make pot stickers, but today Joy, Faith, Lacy, and Alyssa were at the orphanage, so Grace, Hope, and I were the “team” for this marathon.

When you order dumplings here, usually they have pork plus one vegetable- cabbage, mushroom, or jiu cai, an onion/garlic sort of green stringy herb that I have never seen outside China, because they are less trouble to make that way. But when you make them at home, you can make them to your own tastes. They can be all vegetable, all meat (really not very good as it is too dense and dry!), or a combination. We like ours with a mixture of roughly equal portions pork and veg. In making the recipe below, you can leave out whatever you don’t like and add things you do. The most important point is to make sure that your filling is not wet. Even if you change the recipe, the method of mixing, draining, folding, and cooking will be the same. So adapt this to your family and have fun!

Ingredients:

3 pounds ground pork (don’t buy extremely lean pork or your pot stickers will be like sawdust!)

1 football sized Chinese cabbage

1 pound fresh water chestnuts

1 small bunch celery

1 small bunch green onion

6 cloves garlic

1 thumb sized piece fresh ginger

1 carrot (for color)

3 ears of corn (only because we have them left over in the fridge and we don’t want to waste, do we? “Bu yao lan fei!”)

2 eggs

1/4 cup corn starch

Salt and pepper to taste

Soy sauce to taste

3 pounds of wrappers

First, chop everything into very tiny pieces.

If we had a food processor, this would probably be easy, but we first rough cut with a knife, then chop into small pieces with the chopper. This is the da bai cai or Chinese cabbage. We did the same thing with all the other vegetables!

After chopping the veg, we add salt to “sweat” them, removing excess water which will ruin the dumplings. The round white things above the bowl are fresh water chestnuts. You haven’t lived unless you’ve tried these! They are crunchy and slightly sweet. Yum!

Then we sweep up the mess, which, as you can see, is considerable!

While we’re working we’re watching “Pride and Prejudice”- the six hour BBC version with Colin Frith! It’s a good way to pass the time while we do all of this chopping!

After an hour or so, we drain the veg pressing down well to get the water out, then press between layers of a clean towel to make sure it is as dry as possible. All of those pics were too blurry to use! Oh well.

Mix in the meat.

Break your eggs into a separate bowl first in case they’re spoiled, like this one. One out of every three eggs we open in the summer is bad so we are very careful about this!

Add the two eggs.

Pour in the soy sauce- probably around 3 Tablespoons, but we didn’t measure.

Salt to taste.

Add enough corn starch so that the mixture is not watery. Wet filling disintegrates the wrappers. At this stage, we make a little patty of the filling and quick fry it in a dry skillet to make sure we have the flavorings right. We really don’t want to go to all the trouble to make these, then wrap them up only to discover later that we left out the salt!

Prepare trays by flouring lightly. Have small bowls of water so that you can moisten the outside edge of the wrapper to make it seal better. We buy our dumpling wrappers at the wet market. You can buy yours at an Asian food store in the freezer section.

Insert about a teaspoon of filling into each small sized wrapper. Leave room around the outside to seal well.

Seal firmly into a crescent shape. Then you’ll “pleat” the edges. Sorry, our photos of the pleating process are blurry so you’ll have to look at the pics of the completed dumplings and “wing it”!

Grace is intent on her jiao zi making!

Nice little work crew we have here, huh?

Observe the “pleating”.

Here are the trays of wrapped dumplings. Yes, we got carried away in our proportions and have enough for an army! Take note how many we made and adjust the recipe accordingly!

The chopping and wrapping procedures took us all the way to the proposal segment of “Pride and Prejudice”.

If you are steaming your potstickers in a bamboo steamer, be sure to grease it well. Otherwise, you will understand very thoroughly how they got their American name.

Arrange your dumplings in the steamer in such a way that they don’t overlap.

Put your steamer in a wok and add water until it shows around the bottom edge.

The second method, and the one my family prefers, is a combination of steaming and pan frying. Start with a skillet with enough oil to barely cover the bottom.

Add dumplings to hot oil and begin to fry.

When they have begun to brown lightly, pour water into the hot pan- about 1/3 of an inch.

Immediately, put the cover on so that you catch all that nice steam.

Halfway through the cooking process, we like to turn them over to make sure they get brown on two sides. My Chinese friends don’t turn them- they just brown the bottoms.

We feel very blessed to have a three burner stove. The burner on the left is made especially to hold a wok. The front burner on the right is perfect for a frying pan; and the back burner is for a soup pot. Most Chinese stoves have only two burners, so we have the luxury variety. Isn’t this a nice shovelful of dumplings cooking? 😀

Sometimes the wrappers break, and we wouldn’t want to put those on the table, would we? Oh, here’s a volunteer to take care of that for me. Thank you, Grace! You have a servant’s heart.

You know they are done in either cooking method when the wrapper becomes translucent  and you can see the outline of all the nice veggies inside. We let them stay warm on the stove and cover them with saran wrap because they dry out so quickly.

Then we pour a mixture of half soy sauce and half Chinese brown vinegar into our bowls and enjoy this feast! We would have taken photos of the girls eating them but they had been at the orphanage all day and felt pretty bedraggled and worn out. But we can assure you that  more than a few “Mmmm’s” were heard around our dinner table. And, yes, we do have leftovers! But that’s ok. Typically, Chinese people might take cold dumplings in a baggie with them for travel, for a quick lunch, or even for breakfast. We won’t have to cook tomorrow, and that’s a very good thing!

Dumplings really aren’t hard to make, but they do take time. If you want to make them for a group, it’s fun to have a “party” so that the guests can help chop and wrap their dinner. They’ll love learning how to make these for themselves, and the process gives lots of time for fellowship around the table! Or, if you don’t want to have a party, just break out the six hour of “Pride and Prejudice” and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

This recipe comes with a couple of fun family stories!

When I was pregnant with Jason, I was on bed rest for a number of weeks so friends at our church brought our family meals. One dear lady not only brought dinner once a week, but she brought jars of homemade soups to use for lunches along with homemade pimento cheese and the most wonderful loaves or rolls of whole wheat bread. Week after week for months she came, with her bounty to keep us fed during this difficult time. What a precious gift from the Lord it was to have a sister in Christ who showed His love to us in such practical ways. This recipe is from that friend in Austin, Texas, whose kindness has provided a wonderful memory for our family of the continuing grace of God in our lives! I’ve lost track of Donna Wilson, but God has not. I pray that He is continually rewarding her for her kindness to us and to others in the Body of Christ!

The second story regarding this recipe happened in 1990- the year our family took a 3 week, 5000 mile trip hauling a pop-up camper to see all the major national parks out west. (When we got home, I said I was going to write a horror story called Three Weeks in a Pop-Up, but that’s  a story for another day!) As I remember, our entire trip cost about $1000, so you can tell that we traveled very frugally, even for 1990! Participants on this trip included Stacy and me, plus our five oldest children ages 11-1, and my mother-in-law. (And she is NOT the reason the trip was a horror story. She was a lovely lady and I loved her very much.)

This was an exciting trip for our children, as you can imagine. What kids would not be thrilled to see Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or the big trees at Sequoia? We knew that they would want to have souvenirs of the trip, but souvenirs just weren’t in the budget. So for months before we left, our four older kids made loaves and loaves of this bread and sold it, hot out of the oven, to friends and neighbors to earn their own souvenir money. Joy was 11; Chad was 10; Jeremy was 8; and Jason was 6; but they could all make this bread by themselves from scratch, which should show you how easy it is! They pooled all the money they made from baking/selling bread, then split it equally and used that money to purchase mementos of that monumental journey. Most of their purchases have gone the way of the tee shirts of yesteryear, but memories of mixing and kneading the dough, pulling fragrant hot loaves of bread from the oven, and carrying them around the neighborhood in their little red wagon live on!

Enjoy this healthy, delicious treat! And don’t forget to make precious memories with your children as they grow!

Ingredients: 

2 cups hot tap water

3 packages or scant 3 tablespoons yeast

½ cup honey

2 teaspoons salt

1 lightly beaten egg

½ cup oil

6-8 cups whole-wheat flour

Mix the honey and salt into the hot water; then add yeast; stir; let sit until foamy. Stir in the egg and oil. Add 2 cups of flour and stir until all lumps are out.  Add another 2 cups and stir well. Then add one cup at a time until you have a light but not-sticky dough. Flour the shelf lightly (or use your dough hook on your mixer); knead dough for about 10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Add more flour to the shelf if the dough is sticking.

Put dough into a greased bowl; flip it over so the top is oily; cover with a clean towel and let sit about an hour until doubled.

Grease bread pans. Don’t use oil but rather use shortening or butter. Shape the bread into loaves and put into the pans. Let rise about another hour until doubled.

Preheat oven to 375. When loaves have risen, put them in the oven for about 35 minutes. To see if they are done, thump the top with your flat hand. If it sounds hollow, it’s probably cooked through. When done, remove from oven; butter tops; and remove from pans. Let it cool- or eat it right away while it’s hot- it’s up to you!