Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year - Merry Style!

I love chinese dumplings and potstickers, or my personal name for them: lazy sui mai.  Why lazy?  Because I use a dumpling mold instead of mucking about with forming it by hand!  But the funny part is that, I will start out making sui mai traditionally, then get fed up with my ugly attempts and pull out my dumpling maker.  Sad, sad, sad, and lazy!  See, that is where the lazy comes in.  But, it does make pretty dumplings, and makes me look far more proficient than I really am. 

You can find these dumpling makers everywhere, but I like JapanBargain on Ebay.  Free shipping on just about everything, and every japanese kitchen utensil I ever need can be found in their store.  The dumpling maker comes with a handy little spatula, to deposit just right amount of filling.

Before starting, set your steamer up.  Basically, you need something to hold the dumplings up and out of the simmering water.  You could set a plate on top of a cup inside a covered pot of simmering water.  Or buy a steamer plate, again Japan Bargain has these, or use the steamer insert that came with your pan set.  Line the steamer with cabbage leaves, these keeps them from sticking and I also feel it adds an authenticness, but that just maybe my imagination.  Put the heat on low-med to start the water heating, by the time you are done pressing the dumplings, it should be simmering.

Merry's Dumpling Filling

1 lb of skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 lb of shrimp, peeled, cleaned and tails off
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 can of water chestnuts, chopped small
4 tbsp or more of soy sauce
2 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

You will also need: savoy cabbage leaves for the steamer

Dipping Sauce
Sweet Chili Sauce
Soy Sauce
Peanut Butter (optional)

Process the chicken and shrimp until minced thoroughly.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well mixed.

Add about tsp or so of filling on top of a gyoza dumpling skin on top of the dumpling press.  Push the filling down a bit, then squeeze the maker shut firmly, to seal the filling in.  Look at my fat little fingers, they look dumpling like too!!

Proceed as above until all your filling is gone, I was able to make quite a bit, I used about 55 or so dumpling skins.  If you don't have the round skins, you can use square wonton wrappers, just cut them into circles with a cookie cutter, or heck keep them square, just set them on the diagonal in the press.

Place them in your cabbage leaf lined steamer inset, cover and steam for about 12 - 15 minutes, break one open at the end of the first batch to see if you have steamed them long enough.

Take them out, and let them cool a bit, before storing them and freezing them.  What?  Yes, freeze these lovelies so when you have a craving, you can pull a container out and micro them for a few minutes, and soothe that craving!

I mix a few tablespoons of sweet chili sauce with some soy sauce, and that is my dipping sauce.  If you want to kick it up a notch, add a spoon of peanut butter and smooth it all together. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade Fish Sticks

Growing up, I ate alot of fish sticks.  Being asian, I ate them with rice, while everyone else perhaps got mac and cheese.  Then I grew up and started reading labels, and well, I wish I could like them the same way but I can't.  Too much sodium, fat and other ingredients I can't pronounce. 

Making them from scratch is very easy though, I bake them so they are healthier, not quite the same as when I was young, but pretty tasty none the less.  Instead of ketchup I make a homemade tarter sauce which is even easier!

I used tilapia fillets, and sorry, didn't notice where they were from, and (gasp!) even worse, I served these with a side of Ora Ida Zesty Curls, bad bad bad!  Kind of like drinking a diet Coke with your Big Mac!  Oh well, I did it, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.  I also made quite a bit of both, and they were goooooood!!

Homemade Fish Sticks

6 small tilapia fillets, thawed

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 c seasoned italian bread crumbs

2 eggs, beaten

salt, pepper and seasoning of your choice (garlic powder, paprika etc)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a foil covered cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Cut your tilapia or any mild white fish lengthwise into "fingers".  Season with salt, pepper and or seasonings of your choice.  (I used Sylvia's Soulful Seasoning).  Put your beaten eggs in a flat container or plate, season.  Put your bread crumbs in another flat container or plate and season them a little too. 

Dip the fish into the eggs, then into the bread crumbs, pressing the crumbs onto all their surfaces.  Place on the cookie sheet, and do the same to the rest of the fish.

Lightly spray the crumb coated fish with cooking spray, or drizzle with a little oil.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, break one open and see if the fish is opaque and fully cooked.  Try not to overcook.

Homemade Tarter Sauce

3/4 cup olive oil mayo, or mayo of choice
3 tbsp, more or less of sweet relish
1 tsp yellow prepared mustard

Mix, taste, add more relish if necessary, and chill until ready to serve.

Redwork Garden by Blue Ribbon Designs

Redwork Garden, number two in the series

I love this pattern, its not released yet, it will be at the Nashville needlework market.  The designer is Belinda Karls-Nace of Blue Ribbon Designs.  Talk about talented!  Not that she needs any PR from me, but just about everytime she releases a new design or I get a sneak peek (she is my best friend after all!) at one of her class pieces, I just nearly wet myself with delight!  She does such good work!

Alot of designers come and go, they release a great pattern that's a hit, but are unable to follow up with anything else, sort of like some music artists.  Not to say their one hit wonders aren't any good, but sometimes they only have one design in them.  Belinda is the Beatles version of needlework designers, she's got hits overflowing out of her.  Go to her website, (link above) and take a look at all of her designs, its amazing that this much talent is contained in one person.  I think aliens are communicating with her in her sleep, how does she come up with all these beautiful pieces?  She also stitches them all herself, on 40ct linen.  Yes, you can believe what you just read 40CT LINEN, amazing. 

She is also a phenomenal instructor.  I have said this before and will be saying it to my grave, she truly sets the bar at what you should expect from a teacher when you attend her classes.  None of this nonsense where the instructor gives you the patterns, turns on a dvd about it, then sits in the back and works on her personal stuff and gets irritated when you ask a question.  You get a binder with complete perfect instructions, not those copied crappy pages that are barely legible with written in corrections, oh did I mention she also sheetprotects each page, and photos?  Photos of every step of the finishing instructions.  She doesn't just stand up there and read to you how to complete each stitch, she knows you can read and follow a diagram, that's not where she instructs you, she teaches you how to easily make cording, or finish a pin pillow, scissor fob or needlebook with hidden seams.  She teaches you how to construct a round box using the needlework piece you just stitched.  Her class atmosphere is fun and relaxed, no one is looking around to see who the best stitcher is, she doesn't create a Stitch Nazi brigade. 
She is available to answer your questions in class and out.  She will sit with you at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Stitch with you at night and share chocolate and drink wine.  Is there any wonder that she is one of the most popular instructors on the needlework retreat circuit?  If you ever have an opportunity to take one of her classes, or even just meet her, take it.  You won't regret it, will totally change your view in regards to needlework designers.

Here is a link to her 2012 teaching dates  Some are already full, most have waiting lists.  If there is a retreat that is full, put yourself on the wait list, or ask if there will be a second class.  Most of these retreats will have to offer a second class due to Belinda's popularity.  She also has a blog where you can see all the other great stuff she does for herself and for gifts, OMG, what can she NOT do!!  Samplings from a Blue Ribbon Girl

I truly do hope you will, at the very least go to her website and take a look at her designs.  If your local shop doesn't carry them you can email her.  Heck, even her freebies are awesome!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The REAL Quick and Easy Trivet (or snack mat)!

The other day, I was shopping at my local quilt shop, and picked up a pattern that was the hottest trend going on in our little quilt shop community, Quick and Simple Trivet or something like that.  So excited to find this, it would use up those odd pairs of fat quarters that aren't enough to use with anything, or are so unique they don't blend well, or the ones that I ask myself, 'why did I buy those'? 
So, got this pattern home, looked it over, and realized, wow, this isn't either quick or easy.  Disappointed!!! 
Then I applied my ninja Merry creative brain power to it and realized, if I cut out a kajillion steps, this really WOULD be quick and simple. 
For your sewing pleasure, the my own REAL quick and easy trivet pattern!  Except, I am using these for snack mats.  The rectangle mats are okay, but geez, everybody is using those, and I want to be different.

8 x 9 inch Hexagon template, (9 x 9, point to point, 8 x 8, flat edge to flat edge) 
or any size that suits you, make it smaller for a coaster, or bigger for a placemat
Make your own hexagon template

10 x 11 inch piece of center focus fabric
10 x 11 inch piece of cotton batting, or batting of your choice
12 x 12 inch piece of backing fabric

Layer the focus fabric and batting, place the template on top, and cut out.

Layer the cut out fabric and batting on top of the backing fabric, with the backing right side down.  Using a 1 inch ruler, cut around, with an even 1 inch allowance, just like the picture.

After cutting out the backing fabric, pin the three layers together, then turn up the backing edge about 1/4 inch and iron, do this all the way around.  Now you are ready to sew!

Turn the folded edge over onto the facing fabric and sew down, do this close to the outer edge, then top sew again, this time a little closer to the inner edge.

Pardon my drunken sewing line :)

Press it, front and back and Voila!  You are done!

I hope this made sense, if you wish for it to be a heavy duty trivet, instead of batting, use insul-bright, or several layers of timtex or skirt-tex, something to help protect your table from a hot pan.  Since mine will be snack mats, I chose not to do that.  Even so, mine is still way less complicated than that pattern I bought!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

White Texas Sheet Cake

While cruising along Pinterest, I came across a post of a recipe for Texas sheet cake Grammy's White Texas Sheet Cake .  This type of cake is pretty popular over most of the south, and I grew up on my Aunt Bessie's chocolate Texas sheet cake, so to find a white cake recipe was interesting.  My husband prefers white cake over chocolate (crazy, I know!) and the great appeal of Texas sheet cake is that its fast and easy and you don't have to wait for it to cool before frosting.  Its tough to capture the smell and taste of this cake in a picture, so I guess that means you must make it!!

In true Merry style, I did fiddle with this recipe to use the ingredients I had on hand, in general, its a pretty forgiving recipe, and I also cut it in half, as no one in my household needs to eat an 11 x 17 sheet pan full of frosted cake!

To make the original cake, go to the originator's website:  take a peek around her website while you are at it, lots of great recipes there.

A White Sheet Cake - Merry Style

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups white flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp soda
1 egg
1/2 contents of vanilla bean (scrape out the bean, use the innards!)
1/4 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup butter
3 tbsp evaporated milk
3 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 contents of vanilla bean (use the other half of the bean used for the cake)

Preheat oven to 375, butter and flour an 11 x 7 inch sheet pan.

Melt butter and mix in warm water in large bowl.  Whisk in sugar, flour, salt, and soda, whisk well, then whisk in egg and vanilla.  When all ingredients are mixed well, pour into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Make frosting, and pour over warm cake.

Heat butter and milk together until hot, pour into bowl with powdered sugar, salt and vanilla, mix until smooth, pour over warm cake.

Basically, this is a melt, mix and pour kind of cake, don't get technical with it, this cake has been made for generations and generations, and its usually turned out very well.  Use your stove to melt the butter, or melt it in the microwave in your mixing bowl, it would be really tough to screw this up, so go for it!!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Merry Spring Rolls

I love spring rolls, so fresh, light and filling.  Usually I only have these whenever I see them on the menu somewhere, then I asked myself one day, why?  Make them yourself!  I make lumpia, or filipino egg rolls, why not spring rolls?  So I did.

They are not difficult to make at all, and go together quickly once you prep everything and are ready to roll.

You will need:

Spring Roll Wrappers
Mung Bean Thread Noodles, or cellophane noodles or Sai Fun
boiled shrimp, shelled and split
shredded carrots
green onions, white part chopped, green part sliced lengthwise
baby spinach
cilantro leaves
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
sriracha or garlic chili paste
fish sauce or patis, if you have it, if not, don't worry
peanut butter (optional)

First, soak your noodles in hot water.  My new Keurig came in very handy for this, one shot of hot water and a little soak and I was good to go.  Do this first before anything else, they need a little tub time to soften up.

Shred your carrots, slice the green part of your green onions lengthwise, and remove any stems from your baby spinach and cilantro.

Boil your shrimp until just done, remove shell and split down the middle until you have two exact halves.

At this point, if necessary, use a pair of scissors and cut your noodles. Just put your kitchen shears into the cup or bowl they are soaking in and cut them a few times. This will make them a good length to work with, otherwise, they are very very long. Drain the noodles, rinse with cold water, then with your hands squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Briefly dip your dry spring roll wrapper in water, until it softens up a bit, then place on a plate.

The residual water on the wrapper and on the plate will continue to soften the wrapper up so you can roll it.  By the time you put your filling on it, it will be ready.  If you wreck your first wrapper, congratulations, we all do!  Just dip another one and keep going.

On the bottom half of the wrapper, lay down a few spinach leaves, then a layer of shredded carrots, then lay down some noodles.  Lay a few pieces of green onion on top.  Place the shrimp, pink side down in a row above your veggie noodle pile.  Cover with a few cilantro leaves.

Lay the bottom of the wrapper over your veggie noodle pile, then lay the sides over.  Now carefully start rolling it all up.  Handle this with a firm by gentle hand, the wrapper is stronger than it looks, but it can tear if you are too rough.  Just keep rolling....

See how pretty the shrimp and cilantro look through the wrapper, keep rolling, you are almost done!

Tadaaaah!  You are done.  See?  Mine all look different, just like siblings in a family!  The cool part is that you can just eat the uglies!!

The dipping sauce is very simple.  Starting with a two tablespoons of honey, I whisk in about a teaspoon of rice vinegar, half a teaspoon of soy sauce, a few drops of fish sauce (optional), and a tiny bit of sriracha, which is a spicy hot garlic chili paste, you can use hot sauce or leave it out if you wish.  Whisk this all together until smooth, then taste and add ingredients until its sweet, spicy, tangy and salty enough for you.  Some people, also add a little peanut butter, and that adds a different flavor.  I will make my sauce and put it into two bowls, adding peanut butter to one, and the chopped white part of the green onion to the other.

Substitutions, make them any time you don't have the particular ingredient.  No cilantro?  Use mint.  No spinach?  Lettuce works!  No noodles?  Add more spinach or lettuce or carrots.

As always, make this recipe your own, be adventurous!