A Special Chinese New Year Q &A with Jennifer Che, Founder of Tiny Urban Kitchen
By Kane Carpenter
Jennifer Che’s rise to blogging stardom came not out of filling the internet with copious amounts of spam, but a combination of gorgeous photography, tasty recipes, a healthy dose of life, and even a dash of a love story. Che’s award-winning blog, Tiny Urban Kitchen, takes its readers on a culinary adventure from the family-owned pizza joint around the corner to Michelin-star restaurants in food hubs such as Japan.
However, when it comes to Chinese New Year, Che’s Ohioan roots (she moved to Ohio with her Taiwanese parents when she was very young) mean she has a unique perspective on the occasion.
“[My family] celebrated Chinese New year a medium amount,” said Che, via phone interview. “We weren’t rigorous about the customs because of where we lived, but we did do the red packets, clean money, and hot pot.”
Che began to explore the culinary arts seriously after graduating from college. As a result of having to cook her own meals, she resorted to long phone conversations with her mother – who taught Che how to cook recipes that had been a staple of her household growing up.
“Growing up in Ohio, there were no Asian supermarkets,” said Che. “So my mom started to teach herself how to teach herself to make Taiwanese dishes, which I how I got to experience dishes like homemade dumplings, man tou (steamed flour buns), and ba-wan (Taiwanese stuffed, translucent dough).”
The creation of Tiny Urban Kitchen was a few years in the making. Che, who attended law school at night and worked during the day for some time, felt a void – an enormous amount of free time – when she graduated. With so many hours in the evenings without anything to do, Tiny Urban Kitchen was started as Che’s personal blog, a way to log all of the recipes her mother had taught her.
In 2009, Che decided to go public with her blog and bought a URL, found advertisers, and began to take better photographs of her adventures. The name of the blog, Tiny Urban Kitchen, was inspired by her urban condo’s tiny kitchen.
In 2010, Tiny Urban Kitchen won the prestigious Project Food Blog competition which was the first-ever interactive blogging competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers competed in ten challenges that tested both their culinary and blogging skills. At the end of the competition, Tiny Urban Kitchen was crowned the Project Food Blog winner, received $10,000 and a special feature on Foodbuzz.com for a year.
So, what does Che think are the keys to a successful blog?
“It’s probably a combination of your content – which has to be of high quality –, excellent photography, good writing, and recipes that work,” said Che. “Also entering contests, contacting media, advertising all helps, too.”
A Special Chinese New Year Recipe by Jennifer Che
1 head Napa cabbage (about 1.5 lbs)
4 bunches of Chinese chives
16 oz firm tofu
4 lbs ground pork
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper (white or black)
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger root, finely grated
2/3 cup soy sauce
4 eggs, beaten
1 T sesame oil
2 T Shaoxing rice wine
4-5 T corn starch
Commercially available dumpling wrappers (enough to make ~250 dumplings)
a small cup of water for wetting the wrapper
additional optional ingredients
vinegar (either black or rice)
hot chili sauce
Making the Filling
Using a food processor (in batches), finely chop the Napa cabbage and Chinese chives. Alternatively, chop and then mince by hand. Separately, add salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and corn starch to the ground pork and mix well. Combine the vegetables, tofu, beaten eggs, and the ground pork mixture, using hands to thoroughly mix together if necessary.
Wrapping the Dumplings
[Please look at the photos, going counterclockwise, for a step-by-step visual]
Add a small, teaspoon-sized dollop of pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Moisten the outer edges of the wrapper using your index finger. Bring together opposite ends of the wrapper (as if you are making a half moon), and press together. For the simplest dumpling, simply fold the remaining edges together to make a half moon shaped dumpling. This type of dumpling is good for boiling, but not as good for pot stickers.
For a potsticker style dumpling (which can stand on its own with a flat bottom), press together the remaining sides, leaving a small loop, which you then flatten into a pleat. Repeat on the other side. Alternatively, start on one side and form multiple pleats down the entire edge of the half moon. The dumpling should be able to stand on its own. Place the finished dumplings, flat side down (pleat side up), in one layer on a piece of foil. If freezing, freeze the entire tray until the dumplings are frozen. Then remove them and pile them individually into a freezer bag.
Pan frying dumplings to make potstickers
You will need to work in batches here, since each pan can only pan fry one layer of dumplings at once.
Add 1-2 T of vegetable oil to a nonstick (e.g., cast iron pan) pan and heat to medium high heat. Once the pan is really hot, place the dumplings (either fresh or frozen) in one layer (flat side down) inside the pan. You should hear significant sizzling. Let the dumplings cook for about 2-4 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Add about ½ cup of water (or enough that there is about ¼ inch of water in the pan). Cover, and reduce heat down to medium. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until all the water evaporates and you begin to hear that sizzle sound again.
Serve hot, with soy sauce, optionally mixed with black vinegar, sesame oil, hot chili sauce, chopped ginger, garlic, and/or scallions (it’s really up to personal preference!).