My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.

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Dumplings in March: Takeout Throwdown #1 6

Posted on March 19, 2010 by crankycheryl

At last, we got a group of dumpling-lovers together for our next sampling of the world’s perfect food.  “Why,” you may ask yourself, “does Cheryl try so hard to make this come together?”  It’s simple.  I want to know where the best dumplings in Burlington are.  And if I don’t have friends help me try them all, how can I know?

So here we finally were.  I’m compelled to start by asking a question.  Why didn’t I give Mark a real wine glass?  This is how distracted I get when dumplings are around.

Plus I did not get a picture of the best dumplings we tried at this first concerted sampling of Burlington’s take-out dumplings, but more on that later.

A group of friends came by with samplings from:

  • Pho Hong (though they don’t have real dumplings, they were on the way for Kecia, who brought a sort of wonton-style pho soup, which we enjoyed but couldn’t judge the same way)
  • City Market‘s dim sum selection of pork and vegetarian potstickers, and shrimp siu mai
  • China Garden‘s wontons in spicy sesame sauce
  • Silver Palace‘s shrimp dumplings, which don’t seem to be on their online menu, and vegetarian potstickers
  • Pacific Rim‘s shrimp siu mai, and potstickers.

For good measure, our 8 year-old guest asked that her mom bring Ling-Ling frozen chicken dumplings too.  Though we weren’t planning to sample things from the retail side, it was helpful to have for comparison.

After our visit to Joyce’s, our standards are raised.  Once you’ve gotten a taste for home-made wrappers and fillings with flavor and texture, it’s hard to take mediocrity the same way.  We’ll see how the guests rate their experiences, but I’m sorry that my initial report is that the ones from City Market  (reheated by pan frying/steaming with just a bit of water and oil on the stovetop) fell into the mediocre category.  The vegetarian ones were nearly flavorless, and the meat ones were only slightly better.  I might have enjoyed the shrimp siu mai more, except in comparison to what guests brought.

City Market's Dim Sum Selection x 3

Pacific Rim’s dumplings had a lovely presentation, and were pretty good.  Not super, but good, decent flavor.

Pacific Rim's Shrimp Siu Mai

Pacific Rim's Potstickers

China Express’s spicy wontons looked beautiful, were spicy enough to get your attention, and had filling with good flavor.

Spicy Wontons from China Express

In take-out, you have to account for some loss of texture, and accept that flavors will meld a little more than they would if the food had been eaten fresh.  Crisp vegetables will wilt and fried food can get soggy.  But this did not harm the shrimp dumplings from Silver Palace, which had a filling with nice texture (i.e., actual pieces of shrimp rather than a mushy puree) and a gentle and sweet flavor.  I’ve never before had dumplings in that standard Chinese restaurant white sauce, and doubt that it’s terribly authentic, but it was a nice match for both the delicate wrapper and the fillings.  Really good.  I don’t know how to ask for them at the restaurant since I don’t see them on the menu (leave a comment if you know though, okay?).

And I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of them.  I was too busy poking my guests with chopsticks so I could just eat them up.  And speaking of guests:

Kate & Tracy, plus Tracy's ewok wearing the sweater she knit (I think it's going on Etsy).

Paula taking dumpling notes.

And a gratuitous scan of the room while Greg & Chris were geeking out over computers, art and power equipment (plus check out that adorable Kecia at the end):

And then we had ice cream and oranges and we watched Eddie Izzard on YouTube and everyone went home.


Once guests submit their reviews, I’ll tabulate and let you know what the group says is the best one.  Next month, maybe A Single Pebble for dim sum?  Stay tuned.

Restaurants: China Express, City Market, Pacific Rim, Silver Palace,
Date Visited: March 19
Dumplings Tried: Shrimp Siu Mai, Potstickers, Spicy Sesame Wontons
Dumpling Quest 2010 Official Grades: TBA

Dumplings at Joyce’s: The Quest Begins 5

Posted on January 20, 2010 by crankycheryl

When I was a kid, I wanted to eat. I’m sure my parents will correct me if I’m wrong, but what I remember is sitting still in restaurants because I was scared that I’d miss good food. When I was 6, we went to Mexico to a fabulous and kind of famous place called Andersen’s, where I sat in my own chair and ate squid in its own ink. Did I run around slamming into glass windows and terrifying waitstaff?   Why no. I did not.  I did not hang cameras from straws, or start whining about dessert as soon as I had ordered dinner, and I’m pretty sure I was able to use flatware without jousting.

All of this is by way of explaining why I thought it might be okay to bring my boys along for our first adventure in Dumpling Quest 2010, which took place at Joyce’s Noodle House in Essex, Vermont.  I was forced to conclude that this was untrue, based on the faces of the adults in our group of 11, and the raised eyebrows of the restaurant staff.   I must mention that Cynthea also brought her son, and he was a perfect little angel who ate his broccoli and crab rangoon and drew with crayons, and even was self-contained enough that his mom was able to take these beautiful pictures.

Luckily, we were in our own room, and it was a slow Tuesday, so all relay races, chopstick drumming, and screechy whining took place in a fairly contained space.  It didn’t hurt that we had a super-nice waiter (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get his name).   Kind, tolerant of my boys, knew the menu up and down, wasn’t fazed by our anarchistic tendencies in ordering, and completely professional.  Give that guy a  raise, Joyce!

The menu is huge, but we were there for dumplings.  We agreed that folks would get what they wanted, but that we would share a few orders of whatever dumplings we could.  I had printed up copies of a dumpling judging matrix, and we ordered and ordered away.

We tried pan-fried and steamed versions of pork dumplings.  (Don’t these boats make you want to sail away to the land of carb-y goodness?)   To me, this, the pan-fried pork dumpling is the cornerstone of the dumpling world.  Joyce’s were wonderful, with a filling of finely chopped (not ground) meat, and delicate but perceptible vegetables and flavor.

We also had vegetarian ones that looked like those above, but with green wrappers.  The filling in these was a mild chopped fresh vegetable mix, spinach and bamboo shoots, and I’m not sure what else.  Z. ate four of them.

And Szechuan Jiao-Zhi, which seemed to be boiled versions of the pork ones in the picture above, but in a spicy sesame and vinegar sauce:

There were entrees and side dishes too: eggplant and tofu and noodles and roast pork.  I couldn’t help trying it all, though I was trying to stay focused on the job.  This was no easy task, what with the piles of dumplings in front of me, and with my children crawling underneath the table from one end to the other, and Z. using his special chopsticks to move the bubbles in his bubble tea from one cup to another.  Or E. making incredibly sad eyes as we waited for the food to arrive while he was staaaarrrrrvvvvving.

Then Joyce herself came out to say hello, and asked what we had ordered.  She and I talked about dough and wrappers (they make their own, a fairly uncommon commitment), and she asked why we hadn’t ordered the steamed buns.

She went back to the kitchen to order some for us, and brought them out herself, then removed the lid and showed us how to score the top of the bun and pour just a little vinegar into the top.

When we tried them, though we were stuffed, we knew why she insisted that we do.  The thick but still delicate wrapper was wonderful.  The filling was both rich and well-balanced, though my taste buds were by then too overwhelmed to pick out all the flavors – pork, maybe leek?   The splash of vinegar done just that way was a new and wonderful way to treat the morsels.  These were definitely the meal’s high point, and I wished I had started with them.  They’re lovely enough to warrant their own close-up.

But then, after the 8th or 9th absolutely last warning to my boys, we ordered fried bananas for dessert, while I forced boys into seats, where they fiddled with fortune cookies.  The bananas came with ice cream, the boys calmed down, and we all dug in, agreeing that since they had an outer and an inner layer and were fried, that they too would qualify as dumplings.

It was a great meal.  With bubble teas and entrees and everything, it ended up costing about $35 a person (we counted the three tykes as one whole person for math purposes).  Several in our group had heard mixed reviews about Joyce’s before, but after such warm hospitality and delicious food, I suspect we’ll all be back.

Restaurant: Joyce’s
Date Visited: January 19
Dumplings Tried: Steamed & Pan-Fried Pork, Steamed & Pan-Fried Vegetable, Szechuan Spicy Jiao-Zhi, Steamed Little Buns, Steamed Vegetable Buns
Dumpling Quest 2010 Official Grade: A-

Vermont friends, where should we go next?  A Single Pebble, Zen Gardens?

In Praise of Neighbors and Momos 2

Posted on March 09, 2009 by crankycheryl

We have an awful lot of good cooks here at Burlington CoHousing, but there are a few with big, big fan followings.  And when either of the Nepali families signs up to cook, a big crowd is especially guaranteed.

momoLast Friday, some friends and Crankygreg and I had planned to get together.  And then I saw that a Nepali meal was scheduled, and that sounded even better.  And then Ming walked through the kitchen a few days before and said she was thinking about making momos, but they’re so much work for a crowd.  I told her I adored those delicious dumplings, but of course they were too much work and she definitely shouldn’t do it.

It’s fair to say that dumplings and I have had a lifelong love affair.  My parents started bringing me to dim sum restaurants in Manhattan at a very young age, and I’ve never stopped thinking that they were the perfect food.  And momos are an especially special dumpling – wonderfully flavored, wrappers made with homemade dough, and served with the so-yummy tomato achar.

So it was good news indeed when Ming said that she had resigned herself to making them for the 40-person crowd last Friday.  (And this after all the cooking and celebrating she had done to celebrate the recent Tibetan New Year.)   Her husband Pemba was making his special miso soup, and there would be salad, and fruit, and I checked to see if it was okay that I bring up a cake to share since we were celebrating a friend’s birthday that night.

Between you and me, I don’t know how BCOHO meals remain the secret incredible meal-deal of Burlington.  $4 per adult, $2 per child for amazing food like this.   You and your friends and family could come too – as long as you sign up 48 hours in advance so that the cooking team has time to prepare.  (If you’re interested in the schedule you could leave a comment and we can email offline about it.)  We’re used to accommodating vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free folks, even soy-free folks, the chocolate-averse, the anti-nut, the anti-pepper.  Seriously – you should think about it.

For those of us who live here, it’s simply amazing that on the even-numbered days of the month, we can breeze into the common house at 6:00 and find it filled with great smells and even better food and friendly neighbors.  And unless we’ve signed up to help, we don’t even have to clean up after.

So, because you weren’t here or even if you were – here are a couple of recipes for the meat momos and their delicious sauce.  For vegetarians, Ming made some that were filled with tofu and greens (boy choy, I think), and seasoned with turmeric and garlic and salt (I think).  I’d ask her for the recipe but I think I’ll wait until she’s had time to recover.

Dim Sum for Christmas 1

Posted on December 29, 2008 by crankycheryl

siu-mai

When I was growing up, my family didn’t really seem to know what to do for Christmas.  My parents were not church (or synagogue) goers. I’m an only child, and for just the three of us to celebrate always seemed like an awful lot of bother for very little payoff.

My favorite childhood Christmases were hosted by my parents’ friends who lived then, as they do now, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (rent-controlled, three bedrooms, eat-in kitchen, 2 bathrooms, doorman – and you don’t want to know how cheap the rent still is).  Fellow rabble-rousing political organizers, they would host huge day-long open houses – great parties filled with a noisy collection of friends and neighbors and droppers-in, food everywhere and a real Christmas tree and gingerbread house and people draped all over the furniture, eating and laughing and arguing.  We kids would run up and down the staircases between floors, radiators hissing, the elevator cranking past us, our stockinged feet slipping on the black and white marble floors.

Years passed, my parents divorced and I began to host Christmas myself in order to avoid having to choose who to spend it with.  But, remembering the comparison of small boring holidays and the fun boisterous gatherings of my younger years, I always wanted a whole collection of people around, and so developed “Cheryl’s Christmas Home for Wayward Jews” a habit of collecting friends without somewhere else to be.  I’d usually make a roast something with potato something and an orange vegetable and a green vegetable and pie and whatnot.  Until I got bored, and stumbled onto the tradition of tackling a new cuisine for each celebration.  This evolved into an appetizer and dessert potluck in which I’d find recipes and pass them out to invited friends, family, neighbors, and assorted holiday orphans.

Over the years, we tried Spanish tapas, Greek meze, and Swedish, Turkish,  Mexican, Belgian.  All of which were delicious, with some remarkable failures resulting from untested recipes.  My father still berates me annually for giving him a shrimp tapas recipe with a horrible mistake that resulted in a dish like a seafood saltlick.

In these years of hosting, I’ve learned a few things.  One is to relinquish control early: people will show up late, or not at all, or with extra guests.  As the host, you make sure you’ve got some protein, some produce, dessert, wine.  Then no one keels over when some critical item is forgotten.  And I always try my best to remember that the real point of this is the coming together – family, friends, welcome strangers and guests.  Hospitality, warmth, welcome are what matter more than any plan or any food.

Last year, our first in cohousing, I helped put together a giant tamales and Mexican appetizer feast.  (I have neighbors who are still clearly remembering the tamale-making, and now suffer from Post Tamale Stress Disorder and so run the other way when I start talking about the holidays.)  And this year, it was dim sum.

I found great recipes on About.com, and of course recruited my parents to bring some Five Spice favorites.  The magic of this sort of meal planning is that it’s easy to make sure your bases are covered – plenty for vegetarians, for gluten-free-folk, for those who don’t like spice.  But then as the guest list grows, the planning leaves my control.  Though I had stacked the planned menu with my own favorites, people had their own agendas.  One neighbor announced she was going to bring ginger flavored meringues; another had a surprise guest in town from Nepal who wanted to make and bring “momos” (wonderful meat dumplings).

So, the menu:

So we had over 50 convivial people gathered – neighbors and relatives, friends and friends of friends, grandparents, small children, visitors from afar.  All eating happily, toasting each other, dipping dumplings, trying new tastes, complimenting and congratulating each other on this warm and delicious celebration to mark the darkest time of the year.

For next year, I’m thinking of food from Provence.

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