Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bratstickers-Fusion Cuisine at it's Finest

This idea came to me last week when I was thinking about how much I love potstickers and have always wanted to make them myself but haven't yet. For those of you unfamiliar with potstickers, they are also called Gyoza and you can find them at most teriyaki places and Chinese or Japanese restaurants. They originated from China but have been adopted by Japan over time. They are basically a round, thin piece of dough with filling inside. They are sealed up, set in a pan with both oil and water, and covered. They are steamed and fried simultaneously until they get soft and crispy. They are absolutely delicious.

As I was thinking about these, I started thinking about the other kinds of fillings that could be used for potstickers and that made me think of how much I love German food. Potsticker filling is basically ground pork, chopped cabbage, vegetables, and seasoning. Cabbage and pork are pretty much the basis of German cuisine. It was a perfect thing to combine into a potsticker. And normally I hate it when people combine two words into one in a sort of cutesy way, like "stoup" or "cronuts" but when you are using Bratwurst in a recipe, and "brat" rhymes with "pot," you sort of have to go for it. It works in this case. So, I present to you:

1 pkg. gyoza wrappers(usually found in the refrigerator section near the tofu at the grocery store. You won't use the entire package. Wrap well and use or freeze. These can also be made to make ravioli.)
1/2 can sauerkraut, not drained
2 bratwurts, casings removed (This would work with traditional brats or chicken brats. Safeway makes a fantastic chicken brat. Try it sometime, you won't regret it.)
1 tsp. caraway seeds
2/3 cup beer of choice, German preferably

Combine the sauerkraut, caraway seeds, and beer in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain well, and place in the refrigerator to cool off so you can handle it with your hands. You don't want to cook the meat at this stage, so let the sauerkraut cool off as much as you can to room temperature.

When the sauerkraut has cooled down enough to handle, place it on a large plate. Add the bratwurst and use your hands to mix together. This will take a couple minutes to combine well.
Take a gyoza wrapper and place a teaspoon of filling in the center of it.(A literal teaspoon, like the measuring spoon, not just a regular spoon.) I preferred to do this for as many gyoza wrappers would fit on a standard-size sheetpan, until there was no more room. I like to do all of one step before moving on to the next. I don't know if it really saves time, but it feels more efficient.
When you have no more room, take a small bowl of water and use a finger to wet one half of the gyoza wrapper's edge. Fold up the wrapper, carefully pressing out any air as you go. Press the edges together firmly. The above picture shows the unfolded and folded wrappers. Don't worry if your edges aren't crimped and pretty like a commercially-prepared potsticker, it will cook just fine.

Continue with filling, wetting, and folding the gyoza until you run out of filling. I only needed some of them for my dinner so I left the rest on the sheetpan and froze them. I packed them up and will have them available the next time I crave them!

To cook the Bratstickers, place about a Tablespoon of cooking oil and a half cup of water in a frying pan. Place the Bratstickers in the pan and cover with a lid or a piece of foil, which is what I did. Bring them to a simmer. Let them simmer until the water evaporates and then remove the lid and let fry in the remaining oil. If you have ever made frozen, commercially-prepared potstickers, you will notice that these will look much different. The dough is thinner and turns almost translucent and you have to be much gentler when turning them over to fry on all sides.
Don't crowd the pan too much because the Bratstickers stick to one another, making it difficult to turn them over. When they have turned nice and golden on all sides, they are done. Remove them to a plate and eat up! You can use a fork, but I tend to eat them with my hands.
As I suspected, these were fantastic! They were delicate, yet crispy, and the German flavors really came through. I was highly impressed with them. I will definitely continue experimenting with potstickers, now that I know they are not that difficult to make!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Lewes, Delaware

 The Location: Lewes, Delaware
2013 population: 2,896; 94.0% white, 2.9% African American. Per capita income: $34,088.

Prior to the European Invasion, Delaware was home to the Lenape Native American tribe. The Dutch were the first Europeans to arrive in the area and settled Lewes in 1631. The city is known as "The First Town in the First State". The city was burned down by the English in 1673, and in 1680, the English rebuilt it and named it New Deale. The city of Lewes was incorporated on February 2, 1818.

Lewes Beach was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad. Delaware was a border Union state which made it a close, but dangerous stop for escaping slaves. Safe houses in town could be identified by a single lit candle in the front window.

Feminist Factoid: In 1683, an all-female jury sat on a murder trial, marking what is believed to be the first all-woman jury in United States history.

The Food: Chicken and Slippery Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Green Beans, and Vinegar French Fries

So, French fries with chicken and dumplings might seem a bit too much, but this is actually a recipe I made last summer, and have been sitting on to share with you all until I got to Delaware. My family hosted a fish fry and I took advantage of having a free deep fryer in use to test out a recipe that turned out to be fantastic! I will include the link to the recipe, but write out how I made them because they're super simple. 

If you have ever made homemade French fries, then this won't be too difficult to modify. You need a Tablespoon of white vinegar for every pound of potatoes you use. It's up to you if you peel the potatoes or not, but cut them up into fries and soak them in water and half the vinegar for at least an hour before you will fry them. When you're ready to fry them, take them out of the water, dry them well and drop them in the hot oil. When they're done, remove them from the oil and drain on newspaper or paper towels. Then drizzle the rest of the vinegar and salt and mix them all well. You might think the white vinegar will be too harsh, but it works really well, trust me! My whole family taste-tested them and declared them delicious. I didn't take pictures of it, but if you've ever seen homemade French fries, that's what they looked like.

Delaware is known for its seafood, but I had just done shrimp and don't eat crab. I needed something else. I came across a few recipes for "chicken and slippery dumplings" and I had no idea what "slippery dumplings" were, but was curious about them. These dumplings were more like giant homemade noodles instead of what I know to be dumplings, which are more like biscuits steamed on top of a stew-like dish. I found two recipes and combined them. I will include the links to both recipes and type out how I did mine.

Chicken and Slippery Dumplings
1 (3- to 4-pound) broiler-fryer(I used one large breast and three thighs rather than one whole chicken. I just didn't need that much and it was more cost effective that way. Mine still had skin and bones and that helps flavor the broth.)
1/2 large onion, cut into pieces
1 large carrot, cut into pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into pieces
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 qts. water 
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt 
1/2 cup cooled broth (Or more if needed, I ended up needing a couple extra Tablespoons)

In a large pot, add the water, vegatables, salt and pepper. Carefully add the chicken and cover with a lid. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat down to a simmer. Let cook for at least a half hour or until the chicken is cooked through.
When the chicken has cooked, turn off the heat and remove all the chicken and vegetables from the pot and measure out 1/2 cup of stock to place in the refrigerator to chill for the dumplings. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove skin, bones, and any fat and shred the meat. Set aside to add back to the pot at the end.

When the stock for the dumplings has chilled enough, make the dumplings. In a small bowl, mix the flour and salt. Stir in the broth with a fork and stir until a ball is formed. The dough should be very wet and sticky. Using lots of flour, gently roll out as thinly as possible and cut into large squares.
Bring the pot of stock back up to a simmer and start gently dropping the dumplings in. I took each one and stretched it out as far as I could before setting it in the liquid. Stir them gently and press them down into the stock to make sure they cook on both sides. They need about twenty minutes to simmer before they're done. They will change color from a darker shade of beige to a lighter shade of beige. Once they are cooked, add the chicken back to the pot and heat through. Serve in bowls with the stock, sort of like a soup. If you want, you could take the vegetables from the stock and dice them and put them into the soup as well. I did not do that, but did consider it. You can also thicken the stock if you want, but I opted not to.

These were really tasty! I think using the stock to make the dumplings was an ingenious idea because it flavors it even more than if you'd just used water. I thought the dumplings would break up, but they didn't. They mercifully held their shape. The texture is very delicate but they're also very filling at the same time. This is definitely a fun one to try if you want something a little different from traditional chicken and dumplings.

To go with this, I made Sweet and Sour Green Beans. I was a little wary of using canned green beans, but they turned out to be really good! I cut the recipe in half but depending on how many people you are serving, it's really easy to do more or less. I will write it out how I did it but the link will have the original measurements.

Sweet and Sour Green Beans
1(15 ounce) cans green beans, drained, 6 Tbsp. juices reserved
1 1/2 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 Tbsp. flour
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until well-browned. Add onion and cook until translucent. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes more.
Pour the vinegar and reserved green bean liquid into the pan. Add sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and stir in the green beans. Continue cooking at a low simmer until beans are hot.
The sweet and sour were perfectly balanced for my tastes. The bacon added a salty element to it. They were really tasty! I have a lot of leftovers of everything so I'll be eating this all week, I think!

This marks my 50th and final blog post for this project. I decided to save Delaware, the first state in the Union, for my final state of this project. I have enjoyed working on this project far more than I ever thought I would when I started out on it. It has been a journey of sorts, across this country, exploring different recipes, new ingredients, and cooking techniques. I have tried out things I never thought I would, and spent vast amounts of money on items I never thought I would ever cook with. I feel like I always had a healthy respect for the culinary traditions of this country, but now I have an even deeper knowledge of them.

What we eat is so deeply personal, and we all have different reasons for what we will and won't eat. So many groups of people have come to this nation and left their mark on what and how we eat. The people who were here first absolutely still have an influence as well, thankfully. The United States has always been called a melting pot. I think this is true, to an extent. Cultures from around the world have found their way here and blended together to create the greater American culture. But the closer you look, and the more you study, the more you see how much those cultures still exist as their own separate entities. I like to think of America more as a patchwork quilt. Each culture has added its own square to the greater tapestry, but remains distinct from all the others.

When I decided to try out this project, I was coming out of a year of mourning the loss of a dear loved one. I needed something to get me back out into the world again. Something fun to focus on. My love of food, history, and writing blended together into the perfect project for me. It has taught me to enjoy the cooking process more, and to not mind taking large amounts of time to work on a dish. It has taught me to love and respect every region of this nation, and the people who live there. It has shown me that we are all far more alike than different. We all love food and need to eat. Food is one of the basics of life, on the bottom tier of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Food, cooking, and eating binds us all as a nation, a world, and as a species. Cooking is more than just sustenance. It is art. It is expression. It is ritual. It is how we show people we love them. It is also history. It connects us to the past, gives us something to revel in in the present, and gives us something to look forward to in the future.

I am thankful to all the people who read this blog each week. I had family members, friends, and coworkers all reading along with me and sharing ideas with me. It was a coworker who led me to the amazing concoction that is Kuchen(South Dakota). Part way through this project, my grandmother started giving me some money each month to help pay for supplies. I told her she didn't have to, but she insisted, saying that reading these posts were fun because they reminded her that she could still learn new things, even at her age. One of my aunts shared the posts with all the people in her apartment building, and another one plans on printing them all out now that I've finished, and making them into a book for herself. I am humbled at the reaction people have had to what to me, seemed like a simple project when I started out. Thank you, everybody, for reading this blog and supporting me. It is your support that helped me keep going during times when I didn't feel like doing it. If I had stopped to wait till I felt like doing it, I most likely would have quit. I am very glad that I kept going!

I am going to take a well-deserved break, and do a deep clean of my kitchen, but I have decided to try out another project after this. I will be doing the same format, but with countries around the world. I will move it to every other week instead of every week, to better fit into my schedule. I already have the list of countries, and am very much looking forward to working on it! Stay tuned and make sure to look out for my posts on Sundays!

Chicken Slippery Dumplings Recipe

Authentic Delaware Chicken and Dumplings Recipe

Sweet and Sour Green Beans Recipe

City Map

City Pic

City Stats

Vinegar French Fries Recipe

City History

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

The Location: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
2013 population: 39,412; 75.9% white, 14.3% Hispanic. Per capita income $46,661.

The first signs of life on Hilton Head Island date back 15,000 years, though not much is known about the peoples who lived there at the time. More recent tribes include the Escamacus and the Yemassee. The first recorded European to make contact with the native peoples of the island was Francisco Cordillo, a Spanish explorer, in 1521. The island has changed hands over the centuries, to various European occupiers.

By the 1700's, the island was used as land for plantations and growing cotton. The oldest structure still on the island, is the Baynard Mausoleum, built in 1846. During the Civil War, the Confederacy built several forts on the island, while the Union built an army hospital there. The Union also conscripted many male slaves from the island to fight on their side, and with their wages, they were able to return to the island after the war and buy land and homes there. The town of Mitchelville was the first town in the United States built solely for freed slaves.

Hilton Head Island is one of the coastal areas of South Carolina known for being home to Gullah culture. Gullah is a combination of English, Native American, and West African cultures, most of which revolve around the cultivation and harvesting of rice. The land in South Carolina is particularly conducive to growing rice, and West African nations were renowned for their rice, so slaves from those nations were particularly in high demand. Because of the way rice was grown and harvested, the slaves were granted a lot of "free time," with which they preserved their culture, which they have passed down along the generations, where it remains intact to this day. It is not only known for its culinary, musical, and artistic elements, but is also its own dialect of English as well.

During the World Wars, Hilton Head Island was used as a lookout for German and Axis submarines, and as a military base. The city itself was not incorporated until 1983, and today the island is mostly used as a vacation destination.

The Food: Shrimp and Grits, and Blueberry Peach Cobbler
Full disclosure: I assigned this menu to the state of South Carolina completely randomly. The dishes are so Southern that I had to use them at some point in time, and South Carolina became the location assigned to them because all the other states had been chosen for other things. I had no idea that Shrimp and Grits was a very important dish in Gullah culture, or that Hilton Head Island was part of it too. I was very lucky to have paired them up, and it makes me look far more clever than I really am!

Shrimp and Grits:
I looked at a lot of Shrimp and Grits recipes and most of them called for cheese of some sort being added to the grits. This is a pretty common way of making them. However, I am one of those old-school believers in the "You don't mix cheese and fish" rule. It just didn't sound good to me, personally, so I looked for recipes that didn't have cheese in it, and came across a couple good ones. I ended up using them as a base, and to find the proper proportion of dried grits to liquid, but basically invented the recipe from there. I also had a good conversation with a coworker that left me with some ideas to build on as well. Unfortunately, it's one of those recipes without proper measurements. I will, however, include the links to the recipes so you can study those if you'd like!

So, you may be asking yourself right about now, what is a grit? Here is a handy explanation of just exactly, what a grit is:

Grits are also known as polenta. Polenta is the Italian version of grits. Grits are just the more humble version...To make my grits, I started with the liquid I was going to add to them. I started with chicken stock and added a handful of shrimp shells I had frozen after another one of my blog meals earlier this year that involved shrimp. I think it was my gumbo, another Southern delicacy! I threw in a bit of onion and a couple garlic cloves and simmered it for a while. It ended up smelling really shrimpy! I was a bit nervous because it was sooo shrimpy. I love shrimp, but sometimes it can be too shrimpy, you know what I mean?

I used 1/4 cup of grits, which was an adventure to find at the store. Hint: Don't go to the breakfast aisle to look for them. They only seem to carry instant, and as we all know, those are an abomination before the Lord. So, I looked very carefully on the pasta aisle, but they only had tubes of the already cooked kind and that isn't what you want either. It was also not available in the bulk section of my store. Where did I finally find it? The baking aisle...with all the small bags of specialty flours and grains. Go figure!

Anyway, I added the grits to the boiling stock, which I had strained and measured to one cup, and it wasn't enough liquid. Thankfully I had more chicken stock so I threw it on the stove, turned it on high and squeezed in some lemon juice to flavor it. You have to add boiling liquid to the grits to properly cook them. Bit by bit, you pour in more liquid and stir well, until its as thick or thin as you want it to be. Grits can be creamy and soupy like Cream of Wheat or it can be thick and chewy like oatmeal. Sometimes people add cream or milk to it, but I didn't. I just added the stock and mine were more creamy and soupy.

For the shrimp, I had purchased frozen, already shelled and deveined shrimp. I thawed them out and threw it in a frying pan with olive oil and some roughly cut garlic. I would have taken more time to chop the garlic properly but I was on the phone when I was cooking so I couldn't spare an extra hand. I squeezed in lemon juice and sprinkled salt, pepper, and some cayenne pepper and just sauteed it all until it was cooked through. To serve, I poured the grits into a bowl and dumped the shrimp on top. And that was it!
The grits probably took close to a half hour to cook, so make sure to know that going into it. The shrimp only takes a few minutes so don't do that till the very end. I looked at some videos online of how to cook Shrimp and Grits, and most of them have gravy involved. None of the recipes I found had gravy, but that might have been a fun addition. Next time!

This dish was really interesting. The grits were soft and slightly chewy. They were highly flavored from the stock I used. The shrimp were also highly flavored and blended well with the grits. They were just slightly spicy which went well with the grits too. The only issue I had was texture. It was all very soft and I wish there had been some sort of crunchy element to it. I'm not sure what I'd do to adjust that, but I'll keep thinking about it. The flavors were almost bordering on too strong, so I might cut back on the salt next time. The lemon works really well in this, so don't skip that!

Blueberry Peach Cobbler:
This is another quintessential Southern dish, and I actually managed to find one of my own recipe cards for this one! Unfortunately I don't know the original source. A couple notes: It's really difficult to find peaches in Seattle this time of year. And by really difficult, I mean impossible. It's also difficult to find them in frozen form at an affordable price. And by also difficult, I mean impossible. So, for the second time in this blog project, I willingly turned to canned peaches. I did manage to find some that were not steeped in corn syrup, so I went with those. I drained and rinsed them well and continued on with the recipe as it is described. For the blueberries, it was pretty much the same story, though I did manage to find affordable frozen berries. I measured out the 10 ounces it called for and let them thaw out before making the cobbler. And for the buttermilk, if you don't have any on-hand and don't want to buy a pint just for the amount you need for this, try this: Mix one Tablespoon of lemon juice in a one-cup measure and fill up the rest of the cup with regular milk. Mix well and let sit for about five minutes. The lemon juice will sour and thicken the milk and it will simulate the buttermilk perfectly.
Here is the recipe:
6 large peaches, about 3 lbs., peeled and cut into thin slices
1 pt.(10 oz.) blueberries
1/2 cup sugar(I reduced this down to 2 Tbsp. and it turned out just fine.)
1 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. lemon juice
Pinch nutmeg
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, frozen
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. sugar combined with 1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 2-qt. casserole dish by coating with cooking spray.(I used butter.) Set aside.
Place the peaches, blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and nutmeg in a large bowl and combine well. Transfer to the casserole dish.
For Biscuits-In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture so that you start with very small pieces.(This sounds like an ingenious idea until you try it out with the three-sided grater and half of it gets stuck inside and pretty much melts before you can get it out again. I did the best I could and placed the plate of grated butter back in the freezer for a couple minutes, but I wasn't able to get all of it out of the grater. If you have a single sided grater, I would recommend using that instead.) Rub with fingertips until fully incorporated. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.(I found I needed a little more buttermilk than it called for when I mixed it.)
Drop the batter on top of the fruit to cover as much as possible. Brush with the milk and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the top.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the biscuits are done and the fruit is bubbling.
Makes 8 servings
309 calories, 5 grams fat, 5 grams fiber

 I found mine needed almost ten more minutes to bake until the cobbler was fully baked. To test them, you have to lift one up and look at the underside. If it's baked all the way through, it's good. If it's still wet, you need to cook it longer. Because of this, the tops of the biscuits were a bit hard. I wonder if I had left the milk and cinnamon-sugar to the very end and let it cook for just those last ten minutes, if it would have helped soften it at all. It might not, but it's worth a try for next time! If you eat ice cream or whipped cream, this definitely is something you'd want to eat it with. This was so good I ate two bowls of it last night! And it makes a lot so it's good for sharing with others. The original name of the recipe is Peach Cobbler with Light Biscuits, but because the blueberry ended up being the dominant flavor, I changed the name to reflect that. The canned peaches seem to have worked just fine in this dish, so it was a good choice that was also comparatively affordable.

I highly recommend both of these dishes. They required a bit of work but weren't difficult to prepare at all. Shrimp and Grits is a true Southern dish. Southern cuisine, I have learned over the course of this project, is one of the most blended cuisines I have ever seen. English, African, French, Caribbean, Native American, and Latino all blended together into something unique and so very American. It is the perfect embodiment of the term "melting pot". Do give it a try sometime!

City Map

City Stats

City Pic

City History1

City History2

City History3

Shrimp and Grits History

Gullah Culture Video1

Gullah Culture Video2

Shrimp and Grits Recipe1

Shrimp and Grits Recipe2