Oxen and hearts

  • Dumplings, almost ready. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Dumplings with dipping sauce. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Filling the dumplings. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Pieona plate. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Writer Tinky Weisblat with her Valentine Key Lime Pie. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Tinky Weisblat with dumplings. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

  • Wonton dumplings sizzle in the pan. For the Recorder/TInky Weisblat

For the Recorder
Published: 2/11/2021 9:38:34 AM

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s long on holidays. When I was in second grade, our class performed a short play in which each of us got to talk about one of this month’s special days.

I was assigned Feb. 7, which is the birth date of Charles Dickens.

I don’t recall what I said about the author, but I do remember having fun. Today, as a food writer, I’m always looking for things to celebrate in the kitchen. And I am once again having fun with February’s many opportunities.

In the next week alone, several holidays are coming up: the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. I don’t have room to celebrate them all in this column, so I have chosen the first two.

I encourage you to do something for every single one, however. Friday, Feb. 12 (also Lincoln’s birthday), marks the start of this year’s Chinese New Year.

I love lunar holidays. To those of us who measure out our lives according to the Gregorian calendar, holidays that don’t fall on the same date every year offer a welcome unpredictability.

This lunar new year comes on the second new moon after the winter solstice, so it can fall anywhere from late January to late February. This year it’s right in between.

As many readers know, there are 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Each is assigned an animal, and the animals repeat in a cycle of 12 years, roughly corresponding to the time it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun.

This year will be the year of the ox.

People born in this year (or born 12, 24, 48, or 60 and so on years ago) will exhibit ox-like characteristics. They will tend to be hard-working, dependable and generally solid.

The Chinese New Year is a time when Chinese families get together. During these reunions, family members begin the new year’s celebration, which lasts for more than two weeks, by preparing food together.

A special favorite, especially in the north of China, is dumplings.

My dumpling recipe isn’t necessarily authentically Chinese, but it has plenty of Chinese flavor and flavors. I have to admit that I cheated a little; I purchased my dumpling wrappers.

To me, dumpling wrappers are like tortillas, something one makes best if one makes them all the time. I have never made them. I hadn’t even made dumplings themselves before starting to work on this article.

I actually strayed further by using store-bought wonton wrappers rather than dumpling wrappers.

The wonton wrappers, which like most of the ingredients in the dumplings are available in most supermarkets, are slightly thicker than dumpling wrappers and therefore a little easier to work with.

For Valentine’s Day, I took a break from the usual chocolate. I asked myself what I myself would like this Valentine’s Day if I could have anything. The answer was something most of us aren’t going to get anytime soon: a tropical getaway.

I decided to share a taste of the tropics with those I love by preparing my favorite tropical dessert: key lime pie (which is believed to have origins in Key West, Florida).

Bottled key lime juice is available at many supermarkets and I recommend purchasing it for this recipe. Small, round, yellowish citrus fruits, key limes have a distinctive flavor that is different from regular limes and also from lemons.

I use key-lime juice in beverages and marinades as well as for pies.

As you consume this smooth pie, I hope you’ll picture yourself sitting next to the Gulf of Mexico watching the sunset. And I hope eating the dumplings gives you warm feelings of family and hope for the new year.

Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Valentine’s Day.

Here’s to finding something to celebrate every day of the month and every day of the year.

Year of the Ox Dumplings

For the filling:

½ pound ground pork (or ground chicken if you don’t eat pork)

1 egg, beaten

½ cup finely chopped cabbage (preferably Chinese cabbage, but any cabbage will do in a pinch)

2 scallions (white part only), chopped

1 tablespoon grated carrot

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small finger ginger, minced

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 pinch sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon cornstarch

For the dipping sauce:

3 tablespoons soy or tamari

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil or toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon chili oil

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon minced ginger

1 scallion, chopped (white plus some green)

For assembly:

24 wonton or dumpling wrappers (more or less, depending on how big they are)

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

Canola or peanut oil as needed for frying

Combine the ingredients for the filling. Refrigerate them while you assemble the other ingredients.     

Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a bowl. Set them aside.     

For each dumpling, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of a wrapper. Do not overfill your dumplings. Combine the egg and the water.

Use your finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with a bit of the egg mixture. Fold the wrapper in half to cover the filling, and seal carefully with more egg mixture. Put the filled dumplings on a plate or board, and cover them with a damp paper towel.     

Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom, but barely. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add enough dumplings to make 1 layer. (The dumplings should not touch each other in the pan.)     

Cook the dumplings until their bottoms begin to brown and then flip them over and brown them lightly on the other side. Reduce the heat to low, add a splash of water (about ¼ to ⅓ cup). Watch out for sizzling and splattering when the water hits the oil. Cover the dumplings. Cook for 2 ½ minutes. Uncover the dumplings and cook them until the liquid has almost disappeared and the bottoms are crispy. Remove them to a serving platter.

Repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve with the dipping sauce. Makes about 24 dumplings.

Valentine Key Lime Pie

½ cup key-lime juice

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks (use the whites in another recipe; you won’t need them here)

1 8-inch pie shell with a graham-cracker crust whipped cream as needed festive Valentine sprinkles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl whisk together the juice, condensed milk and egg yolks until they are smooth. Pour this mixture into your pie shell, and place the pie in the oven.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The pie won’t necessarily set, but you don’t need it to. After removing the pie from the oven let it cool to room temperature; then cover it and place it in the freezer until a few minutes before you are ready to eat.

Remove the pie from the freezer, and adorn it with whipped cream (either all the way across the top or just around the edges, depending on how much additional fat you want to absorb) and serve.

If you have leftover pie, store it, covered, in the freezer.  Just before serving, garnish each piece of pie with sprinkles if desired. Serves six.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, tinkycooks.com.

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