XLB Dumplings

Review – XLB (Portland, OR)

XLB – Portland, OR

Visit Date – 3-18-18

Dim Sum Curiosity

When Anna and I decided to visit Portland, we made an effort to seek out places to eat with food we couldn’t get at home.  Asian cuisine is a favorite of ours, but what we get at home is a bit less than authentic.  Being the research guy that I am, I went to work.  That research led me to the excellent Marukin and the even better XLB.

Dumplings (at least the Asian variety) are not a staple of East Tennessee’s restaurant culture.  When I was a kid, there was a place that did Dim Sum on Sunday mornings, but that restaurant has been gone since I was in my

XLB Dumplings

XLB Soup Dumplings

teens.  Television being what it is, Anna and I were curious to try more of this (outside of our area) quite popular food niche.  This led us to XLB.  XLB is known for one thing – their soup dumplings.  Soup dumplings are a tricky thing – protein and gelatinized stock are mixed together and wrapped up in a thin dough before being steamed.  Soup dumplings are XLB’s focal point and they do them excellently.  All of the rave reviews led us to their door to sample their wares.

When you walk in, you place your order at the counter before seating yourself.  Servers bring the food out to you as soon as it is ready.  We decided to go with one order of the soup dumplings, one order of

Shanghai Sausage and Shrimp Noodles

Shanghai Sausage and Shrimp Noodles

Shanghai Pork and Shrimp Noodles, and Chili Shrimp Wontons.  After beverages and tip, we still came out for less than $50. The location is clean and open.  We sat near the back at a long table and enjoyed the atmosphere.  The food came out quickly and we dug in with gusto.

Time to Eat

For the record, the soup dumplings were fantastic.  Blindingly hot inside, but thoroughly delicious.  The wrapper was soft but chewy.  Hot pillows of deliciousness.  The noodle dish was likewise excellent.  Large perfectly cooked shrimp and sausage with noodles cooked correctly.  The wonton dish was also exceptional, though the one dish we would likely skip the next time around in favor of trying something different.  The wontons came in a black bean sauce and were very different from the fried wontons I am used to at home.

We kept coming back to the dumplings though.  Amazing and full of flavor.  If only you could take them with you!

Summary

We devoured every single dumpling and most of the noodles.  Sadly, we still left a bit of the wontons and the noodles behind.  For the price we paid, we were beyond pleased with the meal.  Our friend Caitlin who accompanied us announced at the end of the meal that this would now be on her list of places to go on a regular basis.  I cannot blame her, if we lived anywhere nearby we would be regulars ourselves.

Definitely one of the best meals I have enjoyed – at any price.  Next time I am in Portland, I know where one of my meals will definitely be.

Soup, with garnish

The Beer Cheese Soup Story

Get the recipe here.

History:

Several years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner.  I do not remember where we were, but my wife ordered a cup of their beer cheese soup.  She was less than impressed, and in the course of the conversation that followed I mentioned that I could probably make a better one.

I should probably watch what I say, as I’ve spent the intervening three or four years dodging my wife’s requests for a pot of beer cheese soup.  At some point along the line I wrote down some ideas, but nothing really ever came of it.  Adding insult to injury, I actually enjoy a good beer cheese soup and every time we saw one while out eating I would get comment about the soup I had yet to create.

Finally, I broke down.  I decided to give it a shot.  I think I pretty much nailed it on the first go around.  The wife was happy, I was happy – though the boys were decidedly uninterested.  I think they will come around though, given some time for their tastebuds to adjust.

Aside from a few slight adjustments to beer quantity (we wanted a more beer forward soup) and the addition of worcestershire sauce (I forgot it entirely in my first batch), this soup is entirely as I made it the first time.

Notes and Thoughts:

We wanted a soup that was beer and cheese forward, but also thick and hearty.  By using a roux that gets added a bit at at time, it is possible to tailor the soup to your preference.  Using bacon fat to cook the vegetables adds flavor and depth to the finished product.  The shredded carrots add a sweetness that balances the beer nicely.  The leeks work perfectly in this soup.

We went with easy to find and consistent cheeses.  You could try something else, but for us, this combination worked out perfectly.  I would be tempted to substitute a gruyere for the gouda, but that might be a bit down the line.

I highly recommend using a good prepared mustard vs. using dry mustard.  We are partial to a brand out of Asheville called Lusty Monk (specifically their Burn in Hell Chipotle mustard) but any good mustard will do.

Check your butcher section at your grocery store for some good bacon.  Our local superstore usually has thick cut bacon by the pound.  You could certainly go for a nice artisanal bacon, but it’s certainly not necessary.

For the beer we went with Sierra Nevada Porter.  Sierra Nevada is distributed pretty much all over the United States, and their Porter is usually pretty easy to get ahold of.  Besides which, it happens to be a damned fine example of the style and finishing off the six pack is an enjoyable experience in itself.

The worcestershire sauce is a great addition to this soup.  I forgot to add it, and while the soup was excellent I think the worcestershire sauce would make a big difference. So do not be like me, add the L&P.

Serving:

We served this with a loaf of our Herbed Rustic Loaf and a glass of a nice red blend.  Had we been thinking, we would have tried it alongside the Sierra Nevada Porter that we used in the dish, but we did not think of that until well after dinner.  I highly recommend the crusty herbed bread mentioned above.  The herbs and salt paired fantastically with the soup.  If you could find a bread bowl to use for this recipe, I would recommend using that paired with the Herbed Loaf recipe.  It would make the soup a fantastic meal.

Herbed and Salted Loaf

Herbed Loaf

Soup, with garnish

Beer Cheese Soup Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

1lb thick cut bacon – sliced and diced

2 leeks – diced

1 medium Poblano pepper – diced

3 carrots – peeled and grated (fine grate)

4 cloves garlic – chopped

1 tbsp good prepared mustard (I recommend Lusty Monk Burn in Hell*)

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp sweet paprika (get a good Hungarian one for Pete’s sake)

1 tbsp dried thyme

Dash Cayenne

1 Turkish Bay Leaf

(2) 12oz beers (Sierra Nevada Porter recommended)

1qt Chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1tbsp chicken base or similar (Better than Boullion)

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce (L&P recommended)

Salt and Pepper to taste (white pepper preferred)

20oz Heavy Cream

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

6oz Gouda* – shredded

6oz sharp cheddar** – shredded

chives (for garnish)

olive oil (for garnish)

reserved bacon (for garnish)

Mise-en-place:

Dice up your bacon and get it going in a heavy bottomed dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat.  While that is cooking, get your leeks and your Poblano diced (and remember to ALWAYS wash your leeks well). These two ingredients will go in together.  In another bowl, you can add your chopped garlic and shredded carrots.  Measure out your spices and have them ready to add together as well. Ditto for your cheese.

Method:

Add bacon to a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Stir frequently.  When bacon begins to brown and foamy, remove from pan to a bowl lined with paper towels to drain.  Reserve the cooked bacon for garnishing later.

Add leeks and Poblano pepper to pan.  Cook until vegetables wilt and have released most of their liquid.  (about 5 minutes)

Add in the carrots and garlic.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Put the bay leaf and your spices into the pot.  Toss in some salt and grind in some fresh pepper.  Stir.  The heat will wake up your spices.  Enjoy the aromas!

Pour the 2 beers in.  Stir quickly to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  That fond is pure flavor and you want it!

Return to a simmer and reduce soup by 3/4.

Add chicken base, worcestershire sauce, and chicken stock.  Return to a simmer.

Reduce by half over low to medium heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

While the soup is simmering, make your roux.  Add flour to melted butter and whisk over medium heat.  You want your roux to thicken a bit, but not take on too much color.  More color = more flavor.  I recommend a tan roux.

Add cream and return to a simmer.  Adjust seasonings for flavor.

Whisk roux into soup a bit at a time.  You may not need it all, so do not add all of it at once.  After each addition, whisk soup thoroughly to incorporate.  Continue to simmer so the roux will activate and thicken the soup.  Add roux to desired thickness.  Aim for just shy of your ideal, as the cheese will provide a bit of thickening as well.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

Bacon cooking. Drool on!

Garnish:

Ladle soup into bowl.  Drizzle olive oil over soup.  Sprinkle chives over soup.  Place some bacon on top.  Serve with Crusty Herb Bread.

Notes:

* If you can find this brand and mustard, get some.  Lusty Monk is consistently awesome.

** I use Boars Head Gouda and sharp cheddar since it’s easy to find and consistently good for the price.  This combination just works great and is easy to get ahold of.

Black Bean Soup, Served

Black Bean and Chorizo Soup

Get the Black Bean and Chorizo Soup Recipe here.

About the recipe:

As I write this, it is the beginning of January 2018, and the East Coast is in the grips of a huge winter cold front. Outside my door, it is a whopping 8 degrees fahrenheit. This makes it officially Soup Weather.  I should preface this recipe by pointing out that I am not a soup person, by and large.  My wife can (and will) happily eat soup year round.  I tend to be much more picky about when and what soups I will indulge in.  With that being said, this is one soup that I will devour anytime I make it (summer or winter).  A few years ago I made it during the dog days of summer for our housewarming party and had nary a leftover despite the heat.

This soup is packed with flavor while also being easy to make and relatively hands off once you get the initial prep and cooking done.  I like doing this recipe in the oven both for consistency as well as ease.  Once you get the soup to a simmer, you just pop it in the oven and check it occasionally.  No muss, no fuss.

Recipe Notes:

I highly recommend searching out a smoked ham hock to use for this recipe.  I have made these beans in the past and skipped it, but I am here to say that the soup is much superior with it added.  With the smoked ham hock meat shredded and added back into the dish, you get small bursts of smokey goodness that come as a surprise every time.

Also, if you’re in a pinch, you can skip using the veggies and go with a couple cans of Rotel.  It is nowhere near as delicious as when you make this recipe with raw ingredients, but if you are ever trying to get dinner on the table for a couple of kids it will do.

Speaking of kids…  This is a dish that my wife and I have employed to great effect in feeding our two children.  For one, they love chips.  Using tortilla chips for a bit of crunch in this recipe helps make it kid friendly around here.  Adding chopped spinach in as well ups the nutrition factor and gets some much needed (and otherwise avoided) greens into the boys’ diet.  If your children are anything like ours, I recommend chopping it into fairly small pieces so they can’t pick it out.  The spinach disappears behind the cumin and pork flavors that dominate.  You can always cut back on the amount of Poblano you are adding to the dish although we had no issues using a medium sized one that we thoroughly deseeded.  Depending on the brand of chorizo you use (Johnsonville is easy to find in grocery stores and easier for spice intolerant folks) you can also control your spice level.  Keep in mind,  the broth from this soup holds most of the spice, so up the bean to broth ratio for the kiddos.  If you are preparing this without the spicy concerns, feel free to ramp up the heat with the pepper of your choice (we like adding a tabasco off our bush).

My wife points out that a nice homemade creme fraiche would be a nice addition to this meal

As always, season as you go and taste, taste, taste.  It’s your dinner, make it the way you like to eat it.

Recipe Tweak:

At some point, I would really like to try this using Spanish chorizo.  Spanish chorizo is a harder sausage than its Mexican cousin.  Rather than the ground product this recipe calls for, with Spanish chorizo you would slice this up and add it early on.

Leftover Possibilities:

This another one of those really flexible dishes.  You can reheat it and eat it again as a soup.  Alternatively, you could use the beans (heated, drained) as a side dish for something else.  Personally, I like to puree them and mix with some melted cheese to make a helluva good bean dip.

If you are making this in the summer, you could drain the beans and mix with avocado, fresh diced tomato, serrano chili, olive oil, and some lime juice for a delicious pico de gallo.