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Column Tue Feb 09 2010

Enjoy a Roll in the Kitchen on Valentine's Day

Finished Egg Rolls

Valentine's Day tends to bring overpriced flowers, stale candy, cheesy stuffed toys, and a rushed dinner at a restaurant. I love a good romantic gesture, but so many of the things that are pushed as "appropriate" just ring hollow. I've written here for years about how I encourage everyone to stop eating out on Valentine's Day--and I'll reiterate my reasons.

• Your server and kitchen staff are serving you, and not the people they love. A hint of bitterness is going to imbue everything they touch. So they're going to have the philosophy of "if I'm here, I may as well make as much money as possible." Which is going to lead to feeling rushed through dinner and encouraged to vacate the table ASAP so the next reservation can be seated and run through the same cycle.

• Because the kitchen is so slammed, there's a very good chance that the food you'll be eating is not up to par with what you can expect during the rest of the year. You're also more likely to not be able to get the specials because they've run out. And you're also likely to get served a menu with fewer options to choose from in general, which makes the kitchen work faster, but doesn't increase your enjoyment.


• Prices are likely to be a little higher than normal. Why? Well, because they can.

So I've encouraged people to stay home and make a fancy dinner for a lot less money on their own schedule, and just relax and enjoy the company they're keeping. It works for me and has worked for a number of people I've encouraged to try it.

This year I'm suggesting something a little different. I suggest you buy yourself and your date an apron, invite them over, and have them make eggrolls with you. Maybe not the most obvious romance food, right? But, participating in something together can be a very romantic prospect, I believe. And at the end of the night, you'll get 25-50 egg rolls which can be tightly wrapped, frozen, and thawed out when you're home alone and you'll end up thinking about the night you spent together drinking wine and admiring how good your date is with their hands. *wink,wink*

Creating the filling and making a dipping sauce is remarkably easy and can be done ahead of time so all you have to do is roll and fry with your date. I'll let you take a minute to think about all of the rolling, good with your hands, hot stuff, jokes you and your date can make while you do this work.

The good thing about these is that you can make them vegetarian or you can add salad shrimp or ground pork to the recipe. So this recipe can easily be adapted to suit your taste, or the taste of your date easily. And I'll give a couple of different dipping sauces recipes. Sure you can buy a bottle at the grocery store, but if you're going for impressive, why not go fully impressive and make something homemade?

Dipping Sauce Recipes

Spicy Honey Garlic Sauce
6 ounces of jalapeño or finger peppers (finger peppers will be much spicier)
4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water

Remove the stems from the peppers, Remove the seeds if desired. Chop the peppers and garlic into smaller pieces and place them in a blender or food processor with the salt, sugar, and vinegar. Pulse several times until it starts to get smooth. If desired, add a little water to thin the texture of the sauce. Pour the contents into a small saucepan or a skillet. Place it over a medium heat and let it cook for 10 minutes, or until the raw smell has disappeared. Since some of the water will evaporate you may need to add more water or even more vinegar to get it to a dipping consistency.

Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce that will keep in a tightly sealed jar in your refrigerator for about 1 month.


Sweet Chili Sauce
4 limes, juiced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 jalapeño or Thai red chili peppers

Remove the stems and seeds (if desired) from the peppers, Chop them finely. Place everything into a blender and puree until smooth. Add a little water if needed to get the desired consistency.

Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce that will keep in a tightly sealed jar in your refrigerator for about 1 month.


Sesame Soy Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Combine everything in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce that will keep in a tightly sealed jar in your refrigerator for about 1 month.


Spicy Mustard Sauce

1/4 cup dry mustard powder
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine the mustard powder and water. Stir until all of the lumps are removed. Stir in the Dijon mustard and the sugar. You should get a smooth paste. Add more water if desired to get a thinner consistency.

Makes about 3/4 cup of sauce that will keep in a tightly sealed jar in your refrigerator for about 1 month. The mustard flavor will mellow after a few weeks.


Egg Roll Mixture

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 cabbage, shredded
5 carrots, shredded
1/4 pound shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 pound ground pork salad shrimp
(If using ground pork, increase the soy sauce by 1 teaspoon. If adding salad shrimp, increase the rice wine vinegar by 1 teaspoon.)

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is heated add the oil and as much cabbage as will fit. Cover and cook it for two minutes to reduce the bulk. You should be able to add the rest of the cabbage and the carrots. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes, but stir it every minute to prevent sticking. Once the cabbage has softened considerably, add the mushrooms, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and the sesame oil. Keep it uncovered and cook continuously until the mixture seems dry and the liquid has evaporated. Let the mixture cool for at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator.

If you're using ground pork, place the skillet back over medium-high heat and add the ground pork. Stir constantly with a fork or wooden spoon to break the pork into tiny pieces. Once it is cooked through, drain off the oil and remove the pork from the skillet. Stir it into the vegetable mixture and let it cool together.

If you're using salad shrimp, let them thaw if they're frozen. Place them in a colander at room temperature and let them drain for 15 minutes. Stir them into the vegetable mixture once it has cooled.

This mixture should be enough to get you 25 vegetarian egg rolls or 40-50 meat-filled egg rolls.

Once you've got the mixture made and your sauces are ready and your date has arrived, pour yourselves a tasty beer, a fruity white wine, or even a Red Zinfandel if you're serving one of the spicier dipping sauces and prepare to get to rolling.

You'll need:
• 1/4 cup cold water with 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed in
• 1-2 packs egg roll wrappers (usually come in packs of 25)
• A large pot for frying. A stock pot or Dutch oven will work well as well an electric Fry Daddy or similar device. If you can control the heat you want to set it around 350-degrees F or over medium heat.
• Tongs for adding egg rolls to the pan
• Paper towels for draining
• Peanut or Safflower oil (may take as much as 1 quart depending on the size of your pan. You want about 1 1/2" of oil in the pan before you add anything to it.

The egg rolls actually fry better if they're cold than if they're warm. So you may want to plan on making the egg rolls, eating dessert, and then making the main course. But if you're impatient, you can fry the egg rolls without refrigerating them first.

Step 1

Place 1 wrapper in front of you as if it were a diamond. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the mixture about 2 inches from the point nearest you.

Step2

Fold the point over the filling.

Step3

Wrap it tightly away from you until the tip is covered.This should be one complete roll and no more. If you're not even with the side points, then place the mixture closer to the tip on the next roll.

Step4

Fold one side point tightly toward the center. You don't want extra wrapper on the outside edges.

Step5

Fold the other side point toward the center and hold with your finger tips. You should have no extra wrapper on the sides, and the tips shouldn't stick out past the roll.

Step6

Tightly roll the egg roll away from you until you have 2-3" of wrapper left at the tip.

Step7

Dip your fingertips in the cornstarch mixture and paint the exposed point. You can do just the edge, but I had better luck painting the whole tip.

STep8

Roll the egg roll away from you until the seam side is down. Press any edges that seem exposed. Place this seam-side down on a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet. Once you have a complete tray of egg rolls prepared you can either place them in the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes to 4 hours, or you can fry them immediately.

Heat your electric fryer to the desired temperature (if you have a choice), or place your Dutch oven or thick-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the oil so you have at least 1 1/2" of oil in the pan. You know your oil is ready to cook by either measuring the temperature with a frying thermometer until it is 350-360 degrees F. Or you can place the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If bubbles begin to form around the wood handle, then the oil is heated enough.

Once your oil is heated, use tongs to slide a few egg rolls into the oil. The oil temperature will drop slightly with each added egg roll and the egg rolls will bust if they stick together so only add a few at a time. You'll want them to cook on the first side for 90 seconds before you flip them over to second side for another 90 seconds. Use tongs to remove them from the oil and place them on a few layers of paper towels to drain. They will darken as they cool.

Repeat with the rest of the egg rolls until they're all cooked.

To keep your egg rolls warm, you can place the paper towels on a baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven that is at it's lowest setting. The paper towels may turn lightly brown along the edges, but you shouldn't have to worry about them catching fire.

Once the egg rolls are all cooled, you're ready to toast yourself, your date, and eat several while sipping your beverage of choice and laughing. Since you're unlikely to eat your entire batch of cooked egg rolls, you can divide the leftovers in half and store them in a plastic zipper bag in your refrigerator for a few days or the freezer for up to 3 months.

To reheat them you can either place them on a tray in your oven or toaster oven set to 400 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until they've crisped and are warmed through. Or you can add a small amount of oil to a skillet and cook them for 1-2 minutes on each side until they're crispy on all sides and cooked through. Either way, they'll be almost as delicious as the day you made them.

 

maris / February 9, 2010 11:53 AM

Well, you sold me on this idea! Making pizza is another fun one for Valentine's Day. You'll make a fantastic mess in the kitchen and who doesn't love it when their date volunteers to do dishes?

Bobby Blens / February 10, 2010 12:04 AM

What a great recipe, will you be sharing any more for us before the big V-day?

-- BOBBY

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