Pamela Wright, instructor at the Adult School of Montclair

The idea of this column is to inspire people to make home-cooked dinners. Truth is, sometimes we all need the inspiration to try something different and increase our repertoire. I know how easy it is to get stuck in a rut of my tried and trusted family-pleasers: fish pie, lasagna, meatballs, stir-fry etc. So, in a effort to broaden my horizons, I decided to go back to school and learn something new.

Principally, that meant me overcoming one of my deepest culinary dreads: my fear of the failed dumpling. I love eating dumplings, but nightmarish visions of soggy, mushy messes has meant I have never tried cooking them.

School was to be my inspiration. As a distraction to the elementary school tours that have dominated my past week or so, I went to the High School and enrolled in the Dumplings and Dips course at the Adult of School of Montclair.

Amongst other things, our teacher, Pamela Wright, patiently taught us how to make Shanghai soup dumplings.

Now, I’ve attended many a class that has taught me how to cook, how to prepare ingredients or how to run a kitchen, but I have never before been taught how to eat. Because these delicious dumplings contain soup, eating them is quite an art, and that meant that Pamela had to give us a lesson in how to physically consume them. First, holding the steaming hot dumpling in a Chinese soup spoon, you nibble off the top, slurp out the piping hot soup (trying not to scald yourself, of course) before adding some black vinegar and ginger sauce and chomping on what’s left. This is one dish that is impossible to eat with any semblance of elegance. As I proved four or five times…

Char Siu Bao Chinese Barbecue Pork Buns

The evening was busy and we also made Chinese barbecue pork buns, Tibetan beef dumplings and fast pot-stickers. The soft, fluffy, barbecue pork-filled buns were delicious hot out of the oven and I’m happy to share Mark Bittman’s recipe for the pot-stickers with you.

Spending an evening in a seat of learning meant that I learned a few new techniques, too. I was taught how to peel ginger by scraping it with a spoon, (much better way than hacking away with a knife) and I learned how to crimp and seal dumplings.

With that under my belt, I’m going to start experimenting with different fillings: the possibilities are as endless as you want them to be. I’m thinking shrimp, peas and shallots for a light spring dumpling. For those avoiding meat – cabbage, shititake mushrooms, tofu can all be used. You can make a large batch and freeze them, they take minutes to cook which means you won’t have to worry about what’s for dinner for a few nights.

Now that I can crimp confidently, dumpling wrappers will definitely be on my shopping list, you can buy them from East West  just outside of Baristaville.

Sometimes we need to go back to school to get inspired. The Adult School of Montclair offers a wide range of cooking and other courses that are both affordable and convenient. Its future is at risk due to lack of funding so if you support it, please sign the online petition. Even better – go take a class and get inspired!