All posts by enassar

Szechuan Broth with Duck and Goose Dumplings

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings3
Duck season is almost here and I still had a few teal in the freezer. The kids have been asking me to make some dumplings at home. They love steamed dumplings at Chinese restaurants and wanted to see if I can make a version at home. Not one to shy away from a started looking through a few of my books to see what I want to make. I have made traditional Chinese dumplings at home from Barbara Tropp recipes and was going down the same path but then thought why not make a version that is not easy to find at every good Chinese restaurant in Houston. This recipe from Heston Blumenthal at Home fit the bill. It’s light and refined while still remaining authentically Chinese in flavor, shape and ingredients.

First ting I made was the broth. It’s a pork based broth made from roasted pork ribs and chicken along with onions, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns to give it that distinctive fragrant zing. The meat and vegetables get de-glazed with Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). The stock is cooked as usual in a pressure cooker and strained. This makes a delicious stock but taking it one step further towards refinement it gets clarified into a crystal clear consomme.

Szechuan Broth

Blumenthal uses his ice-filtration method to clarify the stock. The liquid is set with gelatin and frozen then allowed to slowly defrost in the fridge in a colander with cheese cloth. The clear liquid drips into the bowl under the colander. This works great but is very slow compared to the agar filtration method I talked about here. The two methods basically work the same way but agar sets at a much higher temperature than gelatin, so it can be easily broken up and allowed to leak clear liquid with no need for the freezing step. So, I went with the agar method and got my nice consomme.

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The filling for the dumplings has three components: the meat, the cabbage and the Shaoxing jelly. I made the jelly first. This is nothing more than the rice wine simmered and the alcohol flamed off then it is set hard in a thin (about 1/4 inch) layer with leaf gelatin. When fully set I cut it into small cubes and reserved them in the fridge.

Rice Wine Gelatin

The cabbage is Savoy cabbage that is shredded and gently cooked in a good bit of very un-Chinese butter. The meat as I mentioned before is wild duck and some wild goose. I ground it up and mixed it with the cooled cabbage, skim milk powder, egg, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. I actually made double the recipe and made the other half with pork filling instead of the duck. For each wonton wrapper I put a teaspoon of filling and a cube or two of the rice wine gelatin.

Pork Filling-Duck Filling

Duck Dumplings

To distinguish the pork filled ones from the duck/goose ones I shaped them differently. The duck ones were shaped similar to those in the book, sort of like a bundle or parcel. The pork ones had more of an angular shape. At service time I got the clarified broth nice and hot. I adjusted the seasoning and put it to the side.

Duck Dumplings3 Pork Dumplings

At the same time I got my steamer going and started steaming the dumplings a few at a time. They need about 6 minutes or so to cook through. During that time the wine jelly inside melts and each dumpling just bursts with delicious flavor when you bite into it. They were similar to Chinese soup dumplings. When the kids where ready to eat, I plated a few dumplings in a plate on top of finely shredded  green onions. The I poured the hot savory broth all around. The kiddos expectations were very high so I was glad they went for seconds and thirds. They might not think this is better than their favorite dumplings at Jade Garden restaurant but they definitely will do in a pinch.

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings5

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy – 2014) B

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unlikable, desperate, sociopathic and intelligent slimeball of a man. Yet, it’s tough not to keep on watching him like one of those wrecks he films. He is an out of work loner who finds his calling in chasing car wrecks, crimes and mayhem in L.A. getting them on camera and selling them to the nightly news who is ever more desperate for more and more blood. The strength of this movie is in Gyllenhaal’s performance. He teeters on the verge of insanity while clearly being a very smart person. He manipulates those around him and soon starts manipulating the news he films. Good for Bloom, really bad for those involved.

A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor – 2014) B+

This is the story of one man trying to take his slice of the American dream. It’s the 80’s in Jersey and apparently the heating oil business is a rough trade. Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales who is a self made man and wanting to grow. He wants to expand his business, pay his debts and at the same time fight a prosecutor coming after him for fraud. His trucks are getting jacked as well and he’s in a bind all around. He accepts no hand-out and no help, not even from his wife’s “connected” family. Morales is an interesting character and played perfectly by Oscar Isaac but the film is a bit uneven and anti-climactic at times.

The Passion of Anna (Ingmar Bergman – 1969) A

Set in a remote Swedish island with very few characters it is a classic Bergman film. We have a loner, Andreas played by Max Von Sidow, getting over his wife leaving him, a couple who live nearby and their friend, Anna played by Liv Ullman, living with them. It is a bit odd that the movie is called The Passion of Anna but that might be a translation issue since it really is as much about any of the other characters as Anna. A chance meet between Andreas and Anna is what sets the plot into motion and we follow the characters as they hang out, have candid conversations and love affairs.

The movie is at times mesmerizing with Bergman’s long takes  and actor closeups as they are having conversations with warm gentle lighting around them. Periodically we are completely taken out of the film as the actors comment about the roles they are playing interview-style talking straight to the camera and out of character! This took me off guard and for a second I thought I was watching a “special release” of the movie. This interesting device is very much like how the film stock seems to burn in Persona and the movie gets reset. It’s like a way of purposely taking you out of his movie and taking control of it again. The final shot is an outdoors wide shot that lingers on Andreas simply pacing back and forth after an argument with Anna.

Life Itself (Steve James – 2014) A

I’ve purposely put off watching this for a long time. I thought it would be too depressing soon after Ebert’s passing. The doc is based on Ebert’s fantastic memoir of the same name.  It is an honest look at the life and career of Roger Ebert complete with an unflinching look at his latter days after disease robbed him literally of half his face and his ability to talk. He lived a full life, was a very smart individual and had his a demons and issues as well. Ebert is a big reason I love the movies I love and was one of the few “celebrities” whose passing actually saddened me. Favorite highlights include his long relationship with his co-host Gene Siskel, his championing of little known film-makers who almost owe him their careers (like Scorsese!)  and his relationship with wife Chaz. Ebert was not just a movie “critic”, he really was his own voice and his own category. No one writes like him today or is nearly as accessible as he was. He rarely “bashed” even bad movies. His love for film was evident and he educated, familiarized and challenged his readers.

Dumb and Dumber To (Peter and Bobby Farrelly – 2014) F-

Since I have an A+ rating here and there I figure an F- is not that wrong. The Farrelly brothers really should quit the film-making business and go enjoy their wealth or maybe open up a fried clams shack. Since There’s Something About Mary they have done two types of movies, garbage and total garbage. This one is total garbage.

Prawn Linguini: Modernist Pasta, Rich Shrimp Sauce


Jamie Oliver is one of the first ever chef/celebrity who I’ve learned a lot from early on and still really enjoy using his books and cooking style as an inspiration. His recipes rarely disappoint and I think his passion is infectious. This is a dish that sounds so 80’s from his Jamie’s Comfort Food book. However, when properly prepared there is no doubt that it falls under the heading “classic”.


The instigator to making this dish was my mom. I asked her what she wanted me to cook for dinner one day so she can take a break and she mentioned shrimp. After looking through a couple of my books she immediately decided on this one upon seeing the picture. After all it combines two of her favorite food groups, pasta and shrimp.

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Homemade pasta, a wonderful food, can be a simple flour+egg mixture and lots of times that’s what I do. The ratio of flour to egg, using whole egg as opposed to yolks or maybe a combination of yolks, whites and even oil and water. I’ve been messing with the Modernist Cuisine pasta dough for a while now and really like it. It has a nice al dente texture when cooked. Due to a the small percentage of Xanthan gum in there it is very easy to work with without sticking or requiring too much additional flour. It is not really “better” than the traditional pasta dough, just different. Actually, I much prefer a classic dough if making filled pasta like Agnolotti for example. This version works very well here when you want a sturdy, snappy noodle that is still tender and rich. It is another process and cooking technique that has its place in my kitchen.  


I include the recipe for the pasta dough in the bottom of this post. It is not a direct lift from Modernist Cuisine, rather it is adapted from the Modernist Cuisine at Home book with a few changes including the incorporation of semolina in the mix. It works very well but I will probably change something next time I make it. That’s the nature of cooking, change, evolve, test and then do it again. There is almost always room for improvement or customization. An  idea could be to include different flours instead of semolina depending on the sauce, like buckwheat or rye or corn flour….

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The other half of this recipe is the sauce, a rich a deeply flavorful one based on shrimp shell stock. I peeled the shrimp and de-veined them. The shells get sautéed in olive oil with onions. These get cooked with saffron threads, wine, canned tomatoes and anchovies for an extra briny kick. The sauce gets pureed and very well strained. This beautiful shrimp sauce is now ready to go into the final dish.


As the pasta is cooking away I sautéed some garlic and very thinly sliced fennel in olive oil. Earlier when I cleaned the prawns, I chopped most of them and some were left whole for a nice garnish. When the vegetables are soft, I added the prawns and a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Last, in goes the prawn sauce. To finish, I toss the al dente cooked pasta in the prawn sauce mixture, plate in warmed plates and garnish with fresh fennel fronds and the whole tail-on large shrimp. Truly a luxurious, delicious and comforting dish.


Modernist Pasta Dough

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

  • 600 gr. All Purpose Flour
  • 30 gr. Semolina Flour
  • 210 gr. Eggs
  • 6.2 gr. Xanthan Gum
  • 120 gr. Water
  • 37.5 gr. Olive Oil
  • 24 gr. Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 6 gr. Salt

Mix in a stand mixer and allow to hydrate for an hour before rolling and cutting.