Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Golden Dumpling Land

Art and I are doing some side restaurant consulting work down in Sugarland, and when you think about it, considering the expanse of Houston, Chinatown isn’t that far away. So I did some research on dumplings in Houston’s Chinatown and came up with a list for us to try while we are down there. Every trip down involves a stop at Weikel’s in LaGrange for some kolaches and cinnamon rolls, and the use of their excellent pee facilities. There is a certain satisfaction involved in attacking an overfilled blueberry kolache or a pecan cinnamon roll dripping in sugar glaze with an empty bladder. 

So after this recent meeting, we headed east towards the intersection of the Sam Houston Tollway/8 and Bellaire Boulevard, and there on the Northeast corner, just west of the H Mart Asian Grocery, sits an unassuming little joint known as Golden Dumpling House. It looked like we had just missed the Sunday lunch rush, because things were winding down and the staff was taking a break and having a bite to eat. The menu is simple and short, and available in a Chinese and an English version. 


After a quick perusal, we settled on what at first seemed like a reasonable order. In the corner is a serve yourself section for table ware, ice water, sauces (mix your own using soy, black vinegar, and chile oil). There is a humongous rice steamer filled with help-yourself rice congee, so we got a couple of small bowls of that thick rice soup to sustain us until the order started arriving. We got some stinkeye from the dude at the next table who looked like he was straight out of central casting for some Chinese triad gang. Apparently we were violating his space a little, but everyone else was cool with a couple of portly roundeyes invading their turf. The staff was very welcoming and friendly. 

Dan Dan Noodles

The Dan Dan noodles came out first, and it was an exemplary serving, with perfectly cooked toothsome noodles, slivers of green onion and cucumber, a garnish of roasted peanut, and a fantastic sauce that tasted like it was based on smooth peanut butter thinned with sesame oil. There was a nice balance twixt peanut and sesame. There were elements of garlic, chile, mala (Sichuan peppercorn), and vinegar to give the sauce some edge. A really good bowl, and a massive portion for $4.25. Dan Dan noodles can be bland as hell, but these were decidedly not.

Scallion Cake

Next the green onion pancakes arrived (2 at $1.95 each). I have eaten a lot of scallion cakes in my day, and these were an artful version, perhaps the best I’ve had in recent years. They were crisp and flaky, and cooked to a golden brown, with just the right amount of green onion flavor. Grab a quarter and dip it into chile oil, and you have yourself a mouthful of goodness.

Pan Fried Pork and Shrimp Dumplings

Then the dumplings arrived. We got two orders of pan fried potstickers filled with minced well-seasoned pork and shrimp, with little bits of water chestnut and garlic in the juicy filling. The skins are the hand-rolled, thick, handmade style that I love so much, and the bottoms are browned nicely with a steaming glaze in a sizzling skillet. Each potsticker is about 3 to 3 ¼ inches long and about 1 ¼ inch wide. These babies are massive. Unbelievably, 10 of them sells for $5.50. Deal of the century, even if they weren’t as delicious as they are. 

Boiled Pork and Leek Dumplings

We also got an order of boiled pork and leek with vegetable dumplings, which are made from the same pasta dough. These get boiled in stock and are roughly ⅔ the size of the potstickers, so they are still huge. Except that you get 18 of them for $5.25. They completely filled the surface of a large platter, and every one tastes better than the one that preceded it. We ate all we could hold, and I really wanted to eat more. Honestly. But we left with a to-go bag that probably weighed five pounds, and the whole meal for 2 was $26. The amazing thing was that we split up the leftovers when we got back to ATX and we  ended up with enough for a meal the next day for each of us. The dumplings may have been just as good reheated the next day. Which brings up the issue of the constant flow of Asian ladies coming in and leaving with big to-go bags. Turns out that Golden Dumpling also sells frozen version of their dumplings: 40 of the pork and leek boiled dumplings sell for $8!, and 40 of the potstickers sell for $16!. We will return, and with a big ice chest!

Golden Dumpling House
9896 Bellaire Blvd (Sterling Plaza), Houston, TX 77036
(713) 270-9996
11am-8:30 daily, except closed on MONDAY

mick vann ©

Rancho Winslow Fourth 2016....Yee Haw!


Grover's Paradise Pork Ribs

The aforementioned actual paradise...not as hellishly hot

On the Fourth there was the usual convening of family and friends at Rancho Winslow, and I went over early to gumbat and socialize with Princess Di and CBoy, so we could fantasize about someplace not quite as hellishly hot as the middle of Texas in a post El Niño world. A place came to mind, where it was sunny and 62° for a high that very same day, with forested snowcapped mountains on one side and crystal clear, azure blue salt water on the other. I’d tell you where it is, but then you might want to move there before I do. Don’t want another Austin on my hands. There is already a herd of retired Californians up there, and they can’t keep a secret. Loose lips sink ships (which can change a bucolic little town in Paradise into that parking lot that Joni Mitchell sang about in 1970). 

White Bean Hummus and Pimento Cheese Dips

I had gone to help Di cook, but fulfilling her role as The Martha Stewart of Manchaca, almost everything was already prepped. I had to throw together some Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce, a spicy green salsa, the pickled onions, and sauté a big wok full of corn. The barbecue sauce was a big hit last year, but unfortunately I just winged that batch from whatever I could find in the cupboard. Anything to prevent the use of CBoy’s favorite, Salt Lick’s “Habanero Sauce”. To me it tastes like a mildly spicy salad dressing; after all, the main ingredient is vegetable oil. You're better than that, CBoy.

Dr Pepper BBQ Sauce                        makes about 3 to 4 cups
½ stick butter
1 large onion, diced
9 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces Dr. Pepper
1 cup chipotle ketchup
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup yellow ballpark mustard
⅓ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ packed cup dark brown sugar
1 to 2 Tablespoons Chimayó red chile powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed

Sauté onion and garlic in butter until softened. Add Dr. Pepper and reduce the liquid by about half of its volume. Reduce heat to a simmer, add all of the other ingredients and simmer 20 minutes or so. Taste it. You might want to stir in a little vinegar or salt. You can also heat it up with gochujang chile sauce instead of NewMex red chile if you want to go that route. If you want it really smooth, whompulate it with an immersible blender.

Babe's pickled onions

Next up were the pickled onions. Another dish with no real recipe, but a sacred icon to me. I first came up with it under the direction of “Babe” Hardy back in my junior and high school days. Suzanne Hardy and I grew up together and her family lived about 4 blocks from mine. The Sunday afternoon lunch at the Hardy household was a tradition. Suzi’s mom, “Babe” was an excellent cook and the meal was always superb. She claimed to be “part Indian” and could out-cuss any sailor that ever lived. Suzanne’s older brothers Don and Mike would always be there, as well as Suzi’s dad, Harold. The chit chat often revolved about Don’s capers from the night before, and more than once Coach Darrell Royal called Babe to personally plead with her to get Don to quit beating up various members of his Longhorn football team. Darrell and Babe were on a first name basis. Don had a rep as the baddest guy in Austin and lifted weights all the time with Terry Todd, famed conditioning coach and weight training author. At night, Don ran with a bad but loveable crowd and tended to step out of line with regularity. With running buddies like “Tank”, “Hands”, the notorious Overton clan, and “Uncle” Jimmy, just to name a few. 

Don would always agree to Babe’s demands, but would never comply. We loved the stories, and he would drag us with him to all sorts of nefarious activities all over town: cockfights in the cedar breaks west of town (not participating, just there to “meet someone”), high stakes card games, seedy bars all over the bad parts of town, transvestite shows at Charlie’s Playhouse on the East side (where they always made Don check his pistol at the door). He drove a sleeper VW Bug with a blueprinted Porsche engine in the back, which was a blast to ride in. Everybody knew Don, and if his little sister and you were his side crew, you never got static from anyone. ID’s were never checked. A sideward glance was never cast our way. Babe would turn in her grave is she knew that Don used to get us that really killer Vietnamese pot that the GIs brought back home with them from ‘Nam. It came pre-rolled in little shorty cigarette packs, and was a guaranteed giggle fest. Ahhhh, Park Lane pre-rolls. The only good thing about the War in Vietnam.

Park Lanes, pictured in a Rolling Stone article from 1970

Don, of course, dated the prettiest gal in north Austin, Arnett Olson. A stunning beauty back then. Her little sister and brother went to school with us. Carla is known from her band, The Textones, and her stellar rep as a music producer, guitarist, and singer-songwriter. Bobby went off to Italy to be a movie star and model, and now does work in the marble industry, but is sliding back into acting: see Tiramisu for Two (Google “tiramisu for two film” and click on the YouTube link….for some reason, the YouTube link doesn’t work when you cut and paste it).

Tater and Egg Salad
After Babe taught me how, I became the pickled onion whisperer, making them every Sunday. Pretty simple really. A couple of hours before the meal, mix together salt, cracked black pepper, sugar, and white vinegar until you get a good balance of sweet-sour, with a little salt and spice on the back end. Sprinkle in some thyme, and submerge a lot of sliced onion in the marinade at room temperature. Let sit. Eat and smile.

Green Salsa Meets El Molino

The salsa recipe I made comes from my upcoming eBook, Old Mex, New Mex, and Tex Mex:
Favorite Recipes of Regional Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas

Fire-roasted Green Chile Salsa with Tomatillo and Avocado
Yields about 1 quart

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 to 6 jalapeño chiles, to taste
Vegetable oil
½ teaspoon comino
1 teaspoons salt
½ cup packed cilantro leaves and stems
2 medium avocados, halved and pitted, flesh scooped-out
2 teaspoons lime juice
¼ cup rich chicken stock

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. Place the tomatillos, onions, garlic and jalapenos on a rimmed baking sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment or foil. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, flipping over while broiling, until the exteriors are moderately charred or blistered and the insides are half-cooked.
3. Remove the chile stems and core the tomatillos, and then place the tomatillos, onions, jalapeños, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until almost smooth. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and add the cumin, salt, cilantro and avocado. Pulse until the avocado is pureed into the mixture.
4. Whisk in lime juice and chicken stock. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings if desired.
For reduced piquancy, cut the chiles in half after roasting and using the edge of a teaspoon, scrape out and discard the seeds and inner ribs. You can use any type of fresh chile to make this salsa. It is wonderful made with Hatch green chiles, or with pequíns.  This stuff is green salsa crack. You cannot stop eating it. Very tasty on some El Molino Totopos, but a damn good way to ruin your appetite for the groaning board to follow.


THE Kevin O's Texas Caviar

Jill's Avocado Tapenade

Sausage stuffed, bacon wrapped jalapeño platter, 2 minutes after setting it down......

So, the appetizer counter contained a pile of sesame crackers with a pimento cheese dip, and there was also an excellent white bean hummus.  We had THE Kevin O’s version of Texas Caviar, with black eyed peas, corn, black beans, and red onion in a sweet-sour dressing. First time he had ever made it, and we all loved it. BTW, Sarah and Kevin have moved back to South Austin from Ohio, so it was good to welcome them back to the area. Di made a colorful and ripe fruit plate of juicy pineapple, blueberries, and strawberries with a sour cream-honey dip. Jill brought an olive and avocado tapenade that vanished quickly, and Grover had a big platter of bacon-wrapped, sausage-stuffed jalapeños. I missed the initial unveiling, and this is the aftermath only a few minutes later. They almost vanished immediately. Good eats.


The fruit plate and sour cream dip

CBoy had gotten up before the crack of dawn to start the fire for some slow barbecued tri tip and hot links, while Grover was slow smoking pork ribs and chickens across the back pasture. Rancho Winslow and Grover’s Paradise are back fence neighbors. My Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce was there to slather on any of the ‘cue, should the urge strike. My sweet and sour pickled onions were in a bowl, next to a free-range, artisanal pickle platter, with the featured attraction being Kevin’s (as opposed to THE Kevin O) amazingly good spicy pickled okra. I love pickled okra. Kevin makes badass pickled okra.

Pickled Okra and Free Range Pickle platter

CBoy's Trip Tip BBQ

Sausage....yummm, sausage

CBoy’s tri tip was juicy and deeply smoked with a spicy, crusty bark. The sausage was divinely juicy and spicy, and Grover’s ribs were perfectly smoked: not fall apart, but just toothsomely tender enough to have that bite the barbecue judges prefer, with a wonderful porky flavor. The chicken had that deep, dark, lacquered crispy skin you crave, with succulent flesh. The barbecue slate of the menu couldn’t have been any better. Kudos to the boys for their hard work.


Ribs, before slicing

Jill brought a big pot of luscious and meaty pinto beans (apologies...missed them with my camera, but not on my plate!), and Di made a big bowl of chunky potato and egg salad with mustard. I sautéed a huge skillet of corn with butter and lots of garlic, Parmesan, and New Mexico Chimayó chile powder. Di also made her acclaimed marinated salad, as well as a really good slaw. It was a feast of groaning board proportions, and so good that most folks had at least two plates full.

Sauteed corn

Di's Legenadary Marinated Salad

Leave it to Robert “Empty Leg” Abraham to push back from his second plate (or was it his third?.....hell, it could have been his fourth), asking about what was for dessert. Nancy Barnes, Diane’s mom, usually brings an assortment of excellent handmade desserts, but she didn’t want to have to get out in the heat and deal with a crowd, so she begged off. Robert is typically the first to the dessert selection, and was completely crestfallen when he realized in the midst of his meat sweats that Nancy was absent, along with her desserts. Truth be told, he got a little snippy about it, reminding anyone within earshot that there were always desserts afterward, and …what the hell!? He had to make do with a plate of fruit, and I scrounged him up two different types of cookies that were making the rounds, white chocolate macadamia and coconut. Store-bought, but really good. And they managed to shut Robert up…….

Happy birthday, America!

mick vann ©