Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil

Sichuan Wontons in Chili OilMy Little Dumpling
Most people when they are learning to cook start off simple. Scrambled eggs. Roast chicken. Pancakes. The first things my daughter taught herself to make were pork dumplings.

To be fair, dim sum and all other Chinese dumplings are basically her favorite food. So, it makes sense that this is what she would want to know how to make. And, this is pretty much her M.O. She finds something that she is interested in, become obsessive about it, and then sets off to master it. And, once she has, she moves on to the next thing. Her current obsession? French Macarons. And there is now almond flour on every surface of my home…

As luck would have it, our cookbook club was cooking through a Chinese cookbook at the time she wanted to learn about dumpling—and there happened to be a wonton recipe that we decided to try. So I figured it would be a fun day of bonding with my daughter and teaching her a new skill. Little did I know I was about to be schooled…

Making the filling for the dumplings is fairly uncomplicated. All you are doing is just mixing the ingredients together. The difficult part of making dumplings is in the folding of the wrapper. They can be tricky and it takes some practice to get it right. The first few that I produced were misshapen and scary and the filling kept squishing out. My (at that time) ten-year-old daughter’s? Perfect. So perfect, in fact, she had to show me and my many years of cooking experience where I was going wrong. I have no idea where she learned to do it, but apparently, my daughter is a dumpling prodigy. And I, a mere mortal, bow to her greatness.

We did end up having a great time working together and the dumplings were so good. The best part was sitting down after it was all done to devour them with spicy chili sauce…

Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil 
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking
by Fuchsia Dunlop
Yields 4 servings, about 15 to 20 wontons

Ingredients
For the wontons
1/2-ounce piece of ginger, unpeeled
5-ounces ground pork
1/2 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chicken stock
3 tablespoons finely sliced spring onion greens
7-ounce package of wonton wrappers
Flour for dusting

For the dipping sauce
4 tablespoons light or tamari soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
5 tablespoons of chili oil, including sediment
3 heaping teaspoons of crushed garlic
2 tablespoons of finely sliced spring onion greens

Directions
Make the wonton filling
Crush the ginger with the flat of a cleaver or a rolling pin and put it in a cup with just enough cold water to cover.

Place the pork, egg, sherry, and sesame oil in a bowl with 1 1/2 tsp of the ginger water and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Mix in the stock, 1 tablespoon at a time. Finally, add the spring onion greens.

Make the wontons
Fill a small bowl with cold water. Take a wonton wrapper and lay it flat in one hand. Use a butter knife to press about 1 teaspoon of the pork mixture into the center of the wrapper. Dip a finger into the cold water, run it around the edges of the wrapper, and fold it diagonally in half. Press the edges tightly together and lay on a baking tray that has been lightly dusted with flour.

Place a large pan of water on high heat and bring to a boil.

Prepare the sauce
While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the sauce. Set out three or four serving bowls. In each bowl, place 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoons of the chili oil, and 1 heaping teaspoon of crushed garlic. Stir the ingredients to blend.

Cook the wontons
When the water has come to a boil, drop in the wontons. Stir gently to prevent sticking. When the water returns to a rolling boil, pour in a small cup of cold water to calm it down. Allow the water to come to a rolling boil and repeat this one more time. When the water has come to a boil for the third time, the wontons should be cooked through (slice one open to make sure).

Remove the wontons with a slotted spoon, drain well, and divide them between the prepared serving bowls. Scatter each bowl with some of the chopped spring onion greens. Stir everything together and serve immediately.

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These sweet, delicious signs of early summer have arrived in the market, and we can’t get enough of them. They’re only at their peak for about a month—so, don’t hold back!

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I used to think that the people who got to travel overseas for work had it pretty good. Not only did they go to other countries and experience other cultures, they got to do it on the company dime. I had a very “Pan-Am” picture in my mind. I now realize international business travel is not as fun or glamorous as it sounds. Though I have not personally experienced it, my husband has, and does, and is currently in Asia. I get to experience it from the other side, and I think I like my side better.

I will admit that I do get a little jealous knowing that he is enjoying maid service and a quiet hotel room—while I am fighting to get the kids to take a shower while loading the dishwasher. And if he is enjoying a gourmet meal while I am dishing up some mac and cheese that’s cool ‘cause he’ll be ready to jump back in to the fray once he gets back, right?

For the next two weeks, my main squeeze will be traveling. During that time, he will be on six different flights and visit five different countries. While that may sound jet-setting, there will be very little down time (sightseeing and maybe jewelry shopping for his awesome wife). His days will be filled with meeting after meeting, and his nights with client dinners, drinking and the occasional Karaoke event. That kind of fun can wear on a guy. He will arrive home exhausted and wrung out with plenty of laundry. For a couple of days after his arrival, he will not be functioning normally—which is fantastic because that next morning, we have to be on the road early for a softball tournament.

Ah, the glamorous life…

Right now, he is in Singapore. Tomorrow it’s Hong Kong. For me? I think I’ll have one of these in his honor…

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I notice that I’m not a big New Year’s Eve party kind of gal anymore. Sure I like a good party as much as the next person, but there is something about New Year’s Eve that turns me off more and more as I get older. (Older being the key word in this statement.) That said, I did throw some epic New Year’s parties in my youth. You know the parties I mean… bodies strewn over the furniture the next morning, car in the pool, dog on the roof, and conspiratorial smiles every time the subject comes up among your friends.
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This year, I will be lucky if I am awake to ring in the New Year on the East Coast. Sad I know, but it’s been a busy holiday season, and I’m too pooped to party. Throw in a nasty cold that came in my stocking (Thank you, Santa.), and my excitement for New Year’s Eve can best be described as lukewarm.

I will at least make an attempt at celebrating with one of these. A token acknowledgement, but there is still enough of the twenty-something partyer in me that I can’t just let it go altogether.

Happy New Year!

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I have always wanted to be one of those people who doesn’t stress out around the holidays. Visions of me sitting in front of the fire wearing velvet and sipping egg nog while I gaze contentedly at the wrapped presents under the tree have taunted me for years. And, alas, this year was no different.

It started out well. By December 13, I pretty much had all of the presents wrapped and ready to go with only a few stragglers. It was an incredible feeling but I wasn’t sure what to do with my time, which is always dangerous. (This is when the dreaded impulse buys occur…the “Just one more little one” syndrome.) Things were going so well that I tempted fate by thinking to myself that this had been the easiest Christmas ever. I should have known better.

First our TV blew up, which is bad enough in itself, but when the kids are home on winter break it’s disastrous. So we braved Best Buy on the Sunday before Christmas. This is not an activity for the faint of heart. I had moments when I thought I had been dropped in the middle of the Hunger Games.

And then, we found out the dog has an infection. Awesome. Not only does the dog feel horrible (which makes the rest  us feel horrible for her,) but we have to follow her around with paper towels. Sigh.

So forget it. I accept defeat. I will no longer seek Yuletide perfection, for it is obviously unattainable. Instead I will just sit back and revel in the insanity and drink 5 or 10 of these.

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