Chinese 5 Spice Pork Dumplings with Braised Bok Choy

It's officially fall! My favorite time of year :) I'm one of those strange people who loves and craves change, so the transition seasons (fall and spring) bring me great joy. I also grew up in Vermont, so the brilliant display of red, gold, and fiery orange leaves that dazzle the Northeast from September through November may have biased me a bit. Washington maples just aren't the same.... 

Other things that I like about fall are:
- Cozy afternoons sipping tea and knitting up wool Christmas presents
- Not having the kitchen turn into a sweatbox every time I turn on the oven
- ALL the fall flavors and foods (particularly pumpkin spice and butternut squash)
- The crisp, fresh air, especially in the early mornings

What are your favorite things about fall?

This dumpling recipe isn't specifically fall-inspired, but it is more of a chilly weather comfort dish. And if you make the dumpling wrappers yourself (which I hope you do), plan on spending a few hours in the kitchen. This is a great recipe for a rainy fall or an especially dark winter day

A few months ago (maybe closer to a year!) Noah and I took a dumpling making class at a Korean restaurant down the street. I wish I could remember all the dumplings we made, but alas, I lost the recipe packet :( It was super fun, though, and I promptly filled our freezer with all sorts of different dumplings in the following weeks. This one - a Chinese 5 spice pork dumpling - is one of our favorites. The pork is lightly spiced with star anise, cinnamon, cloves, sichuan pepper, and fennel and the wrappers are speckled with ground up black sesame seeds, which are more for visual appeal than taste. Once you get the hang of rolling out the dough, filling the wrappers, and folding them, this production goes surprisingly fast. Or you could enlist some friends and have a dumpling making party! To speed things up a bit, use pre-made wonton wrappers, but only if you absolutely need to. The braised bok choy is super easy to throw together and a great side dish for these flavorful dumplings 

// Chinese 5 Spice Pork Dumplings with Braised Bok Choy // makes about 30 dumplings
Homemade dumplings do take time to make, but they are 100% worth it. I like to freeze extra on a baking sheet and then stash them in a ziplock bag in the freezer for nights that I don't have time (or want) to cook. You can save time by using pre-made wonton wrappers, but I highly encourage you to try making your own wrappers at least once :) 

For the dough:
2 cups (9 oz) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, ground (optional)
3/4 c (6 oz) hot water

For the filling:
1 pound ground pork
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded napa cabbage
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest

For dipping sauce:
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil

For the bok choy:
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 thin rounds fresh ginger
1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in 1 cup hot water (save water)
6 baby bok choy, thoroughly rinsed to remove dirt and sand from crevices. If bok choy is super sandy you can cut them in half and reduce cooking time
2 tablespoon sliced green onions to serve

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and black sesame seeds (if using) and mix until well combined. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and slowly add the hot water. Mix water into flour with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms. Knead the dough with your hands several times in the bowl, then transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Kneed dough 8-10 times then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let sit on counter for at least 20 minutes

2. In a large bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and mix well. Test seasoning by cooking about 1 teaspoon of filling in a skillet. Adjust seasoning as needed

3. After the dough has rested for 20 minutes, it's time to make the dumplings. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Divide the dough into quarters using a knife or bench scraper. Keep extra dough pieces covered with plastic wrap while working. Roll dough out using a hand-crank pasta machine or Kitchenaid pasta attachment. You could also use a good old rolling pin. I used a Kitchenaid attachment and rolled my dough out to the #4 setting, but use your judgment on how thin you want to go. Err on the thicker side or else your dumplings will fall apart. Also make sure you flour your dough and surface liberally to prevent dough from sticking together. Once you have four long sheets of dough, use a circular biscuit cutter or rim of a drinking glass to cut dough into circles. I used a 3-inch wide biscuit cutter. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of pork filling (more or less depending on side of circles) into center of wrapper and gently flatten filling, leaving space along edges to seal. Dap water along edges of wrapper, then fold dough in desired dumpling shape. I used the pyramid method found in this video, bit feel free to be creative! Place completed dumplings on parchment-lined baking sheet until ready to steam

4. Combine dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve

5. For the bok choy, combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, sriracha, sugar, and ginger in a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or pot. Drain shiitake mushrooms and add to pot along with two tablespoons reserved shiitake water. Bring broth to a low simmer over medium-low heat then add bok choy. Cover and cook for about 7-8 minutes or until boy choy are tender. Remove bok choy from pot and place on a plate. Turn heat up to medium-high and reduce broth for 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened and intensely flavored. You can add a bit of cornstarch at this point if you want a thicker sauce

6. While broth is reducing, steam dumplings for 8 minutes. You may need to oil the surface of your bamboo or metal steamer to prevent dumplings from sticking

7. Pour reduced sauce over bok choy and top with green onions. Serve dumplings with dipping sauce. Eat!

Chinese 5 Spice Pork Dumplings with Braised Bok Choy - Traveling Fork

Loaded Salmon Nicoise Salad

Salmon Nicoise salad may be my favorite salad ever. And that's saying a lot because I eat a lot of salads (check some of them out here, here, and here). But in order for a Nicoise salad to be worthy of this fame, it has to be loaded. Like in I-can't-fit-anymore-on-this-plate loaded (just look at these pictures!). For me, the fun and flavor of Nicoise salads comes from its toppings. Lots of toppings. My personal favorites are roasted potatoes, dilly bean, cornichons (aka gherkins), hard-boiled eggs, olives, feta, avocado, and of course, wild salmon. You can really let your creativity shine when it comes to toppings, though. Fresh or canned tuna is traditional, I think, but any other protein would work just as well and don't limit yourself on the veggie opportunities. Great creative!

Speaking of creativity, I've been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's new book - Big Magic - on tape and loving it. It's about finding and embracing your creativity (whatever that means to you) and living life to the fullest. It's not cliche, I promise. I have always thought of myself as an adventurous person willing to take measured risks and not one to really go along with the crowd or bow down to authority. After college I bought a one-way ticket to Maui, lived there for a few months, and then traveled the world for six years while working on a small cruise ship. I definitely haven't walked the typical path. But over the last few years, I feel life has been a become a bit boring and monotonous. Grad school will do that to you. Don't get me wrong, though, I love what I'm doing for work and I couldn't ask for a better partner, but I also feel like the adventurous side has taken a bit of a backseat. Noah and I talk about it all the time and we have some plans in the works for breaking out of this rut that I'm super excited about (more to come soon, hopefully!). But if you're like me, and need some inspiration to help you take hold of your creativity again, I highly recommend checking out Big Magic.     

Ok, that was a tangent, back to the salad. I really don't feel like I need to say much more about this salad other than it's crazy good and incredibly filling and satisfying. Please do use wild salmon if you can to help support the fishermen. Friends don't let friends eat farmed salmon. That's it. Enjoy! 

// Salmon Nicoise Salad // makes 4 large or 6 small salads
You can either plate these salads on individual plates or make one huge platter to share. If you're sharing just be sure your guest don't steal all the goodies. Also, as I mentioned above, the toppings are totally customizable. Pickled and roasted veggies work great. I've also done goat cheese and herb-marinated feta.  

For the potatoes:
1 pound baby potatoes, any kind will do
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the salad dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced red onion or shallot
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the fish:
2 lbs salmon fillets, bones removed
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Oil for the pan

For the lemon, butter, caper sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup capers
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of salt

Salad and Toppings:
2 heads red bibb lettuce, washed and torn into pieces
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and cut in half
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onions
1 avocado cut into slices or formed into roses
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup cornichons
8 tomato wedges or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup mixed olives
24 dilly beans
Lemon wedges
Parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°. If using larger baby potatoes, cut in half. If using smaller ones, leave whole. Toss potatoes will olive oil, garlic, and salt and place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 35-40 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Set aside until needed

2. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients. Set aside until needed. Prep toppings as needed until potatoes are done

3. Reduce oven heat to 250°. Place salmon filets on a lightly oiled baking sheet and season evenly with salt. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for ~40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 135-140°. Remove from oven and let cool slightly

4. When fish is almost done, melt butter in a saucepan. Whisk in lemon juice, capers, and salt. Remove from heat

5. To assemble salad, divide lettuce among number of plates you're using. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of dressing over lettuce. Top salads evenly with potatoes, eggs, red onions, avocado, feta, cornichons, tomatoes, olives, and dilly beans (I like to make small piles of each ingredient). Place salmon on top and spoon 1 tablespoon lemon, butter, dill sauce over fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley. Dig in!