There's nothing like home. Don't get me wrong, we love to eat out. But sometimes the benefits of eating at home outweigh the disadvantages of eating out: you get to decide the menu and you can get exactly what you want whenever you want it and you usually end up paying less. Lately, this is particularly true when it comes to a dim sum brunch.

One of our favorite past times is to try new dishes when we eat out, then try to recreate it at home and maybe even improve it. Our most recent success are dim sum restaurants, those steamed Chinese appetizers that are so popular in larger cities but is harder to find in smaller towns like Champaign-Urbana. True, there are places in town that try very hard, but we've never been quite satisfied with their quality. So instead of driving to Chicago or Indianapolis when we're in the mood for dim sum, we raid the freezer section of local Asian groceries instead.

What about making those dumplings from scratch like a real dim sum chef would do? Sorry, that takes too long and I'm usually too hungry to wait. Besides, the quality of frozen dumplings is so good these days, I can't even tell them apart from those we get at Sheng Yang, our favorite dim sum restaurant in Indianapolis. And amazingly, it it takes only about 20 minutes to heat up from freezer to table — just enough time to make a dipping sauce and a side dish... and we're ready to eat.

When shopping for frozen dim sum, you'll have to make a few stops. Our favorite freezers are at Am-Ko and Far East. Each store has its own selection of goodies and they're ever changing. Some of the stuffing is vegetarian, others have shrimp or seafood in them, and still others have meat. They come in all sizes and shapes— some are big and fluffy, others are small and delicate. If you go on Fridays, Far East might also have some freshly baked Barbecue buns and Lotus Leaf Wraps in their refrigerated section. And the price is right, too; for the cost of one dish in a restaurant, we can get a whole bag of dumplings that'll last for weeks. When we get home, we usually run two steamers at the same time and cram each one full of frozen goodies. The frozen buns come with a sheet of paper on the bottom to prevent sticking, but the smaller dumplings tend to stick to the steamer, so we'll add a sheet or two of seaweed or cabbage before placing the dumplings in the steamer.

While the steamer is working its magic, we'll also cook up a few dumplings Japanese Gyoza style with a frying pan: Heat one tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, add six to twelve dumplings and let the bottom brown. Throw in 1/4 cup of water, then cover immediately. When the water is almost completely evaporated, the dumplings are ready to eat.

For a side dish, we'll stir-fry some baby bok choy with salt and garlic. For a spicy dipping sauce, we like a chili garlic sauce available at most grocery stores. For a sweet and tangy dipping sauce, we usually make our own (see recipe below). Enjoy!

Ginger Dipping Sauce

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and use as a dipping sauce for dumplings:

  •   2 tbsp soy sauce
  •   1 tsp mirin
  •   1 tsp rice vinegar
  •   1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  •   1 tsp fresh ginger, minced