Totoro cake and cooking adventures

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It’s only been a little over a month since my last post! I’d say that’s pretty good for me =)

I don’t know if this counts though since I’m not really going to post any recipes. But I had a bunch of pictures on my phone so I figured I’d post them.

The top picture is from my friend’s birthday. She loves Totoro, so I thought I’d try to make a Totoro cake. I’m really not very good at baking though so I was pretty nervous. I found this video and recipe so thought I’d give it a try but at the last minute I decided I didn’t want to attempt making the blueberry lemon cake, so I went with Funfetti instead. I mean, who doesn’t love Funfetti cake? I used plain buttercream for the stomach and eyes, the blueberry frosting recipe from the link for the rest of the body, and plain black frosting for the eyes and v’s on the stomach. I also had a couple friends help me with baking the cake, making the frosting, shaping the cake, and decorating the cake. So really I didn’t do a whole lot.

The bottom panel of pictures is from a cooking competition my church had between the family groups. Each group had to use chicken, kale, and strawberries to make an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Technically we only needed to use one of the ingredients in each course, but I thought a) it would be more interesting and b) our team would would get more creativity points if we used all three ingredients in all three courses.

Our group split into three team, one for each course. For the appetizer we made mini chicken tacos with shredded kale, cheese, and a strawberry salsa. For the entree we made Hmong stuffed chicken wings – that is, de-boned chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, rice vermicelli noodles, shredded carrots, onion, Hmong/Thai peppers, and kale (this was a substitute for cabbage), seasoned with salt, pepper, and oyster sauce. This was served over a bed of garlic/cilantro rice with a side of sweet and spicy Hmong pepper sauce (traditional Hmong pepper sauce (Hmong/Thai peppers, cilantro, green onions, fish sauce, lime) with pureed strawberries). And finally, for dessert we made chicken and buttermilk waffle cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese frosting topped with a popcorn chicken and maple glazed kale chip garnish. All in all I thought our team did a really good job with everything and even though we didn’t win the competition, we had a ton of fun cooking together.

Anyway, I don’t have much else to say. So I’ll end it with the rest of the random pictures from the cooking competition that I had on my phone.

Wonton Theory, part 1

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Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just disappeared. I don’t mean like getting kidnapped or anything, more like if I just decided to pick up in the middle of the night and run away without telling anyone. I start to wonder a) who would notice and b) of the people who noticed, who would care. I know that I probably come off sounding depressed or something, but it’s something I think about occasionally. Sometimes I sort of wish I could disappear for a while to find out… but most of the time I think I’m probably better off not knowing.

Ok, I’ll talk about something less depressing now. So the wonton theory. I came up with this theory awhile back after making Nutella wontons. It goes like this: anything that tastes good with some form of grain/starch (noodles, rice, bread, potatoes, etc) would taste good in a deep-fried wonton skin. I guess in reality this post is not actually “part one” because I’ve already tried this with Nutella, Nutella and banana, bacon/cream cheese, and samosa filling. But this time I had some friends to help me. Plus, a friend recently purchased a deep fryer so that made the actual step of frying them much much easier.

This time around we made one batch of “regular” wontons (ground turkey + napa cabbage), one batch of “chicken alfredo” wontons, and one batch of “poutine” wontons. I didn’t really measure anything so sadly I can’t post a real recipe, but I can at least talk about what went into each of the “fusion” wontons.

Chicken alfredo: this usually comes in the form of chicken, broccoli and white sauce over pasta (often fettucine). So to make chicken alfredo wontons, I used small pieces of chicken and broccoli with just enough alfredo sauce to cover everything (if you use too much, they’ll be soggy). For this I ended up using packages of pre-cooked, grilled chicken, bottled white sauce, and the tops of two crowns of broccoli.
Verdict: theory still holds.

Poutine: poutine is a dish that originated in Canada that consists of fries topped with cheese curds, gravy (usually a poultry gravy, i.e., chicken or turkey), and maybe some kind of meat. To make poutine wontons I stuffed the wonton skin with mashed potato, 1-3 cheese curds (depending on the size), and a sprinkle of bacon bits. After frying, dip in gravy (used turkey gravy this time) before consuming.
Verdict: theory still holds.

As of now I’ve tried 6 or so different kinds of wontons (not counting regular wontons), and so far the theory still holds. Some ideas for the future include: taco wontons (filled with ground beef and cheese, served with salsa, sour cream and guacamole), lasagna wontons (filled with ground beef, red sauce, ricotta and mozzarella), and apple pie wontons (filled with diced apples cooked in brown sugar and cinnamon, dusted with cinnamon sugar after frying). If anyone has other creative ideas for things that would be delicious in a wonton, I’m open to suggestions!

Caprese Pasta Salad

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I walked into my friend’s office today. I noticed that her officemate’s calendar was on September. I thought to myself, “That’s odd, it’s not September yet…” I proceeded to chat with my friend for a few minutes when I noticed that her calendar was on September too… and then I realized. It is September. Crazy!

Today felt so much like a Monday. I suppose Labor Day does that. Hopefully that means that on Friday it won’t feel like Friday and then I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I feel like some people come back from vacations refreshed and ready to get back to work. I always come back from vacations feeling like I need another vacation.

We had a Labor Day barbecue at James Madison Park yesterday. It was really nice. The park was right by the lake and the temperature finally cooled down. The last couple weeks have been gross and hot and humid, but yesterday was 70’s, dry and breezy.

There was so much food at the barbecue. A couple of the guys grilled burgers and hot dogs. There were a couple of different kinds of pasta, veggies, chips, and a bunch of desserts. A friend made these amazing peanut butter nutella cookies. So good. But dangerous! I was eating one and my friend made me laugh. I inhaled some of the cookie dust and started coughing up a lung.

I made a caprese pasta salad. It was a really simple recipe, but it was really good. I loooove fresh mozzarella. And thank you to my roommate for letting me use her olive oil and balsamic vinegar!

Recipe from Once Upon a Recipe

Ingredients
2 lbs uncooked pasta (I used rotini)
1 lb grape tomatoes
1 lb fresh mozzarella balls
3/4 cups olive oil
8-10 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
basil
salt
pepper

Cook pasta. Drain, rinse, and let cool.

Slowly heat the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flake over low heat for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors infuse. Let the oil cool.

Mix the pasta, oil, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, and mozzarella balls together. Add salt, pepper, and basil to taste. Mix well.

Refrigerate for several hours and serve cold.

Bacon Rangoon (aka Bagoons?)

So I have this theory. I don’t know if I’ve written about it before, but here it is: I believe that anything that tastes good with some form of carb (bread, noodles, rice, etc) would taste good wrapped in a wonton skin and deep fried. So far I’ve tested this theory with nutella, nutella and bananas, samosa filling, and peanut butter and chocolate.

I have plans on eventually trying:
– Tex-mex: ground beef with taco seasoning and cheese inside, served with salsa, sour cream and guacamole.
– Italian: meat sauce, cheese (some combination of mozzarella, parmesan and/or ricotta). Kind of like a deep-fried ravioli I suppose.
– S’more: chocolate and marshmallow inside, dusted with graham cracker crumbs

Anyway, this time I decided to try something like crab rangoons, but instead of imitation crab meat, put bacon. All in all it turned out really well, although in the future I’m not sure I would use this folding style for wontons. When I was deep frying them, any air caught on the inside would cause them to balloon up and look mildly ridiculous. Folding them in half into triangles is much much much easier.

With them, I also made a dipping sauce. I really wanted to fit both secret ingredients in (see previous post for explanation), so I was trying to think of how to incorporate chocolate. I randomly thought of mixing ranch, chili powder and cocoa powder together. I ran this past a friend, and he thought it needed more of a kick, so I subbed in sriracha sauce for chili powder. When I tried it, I had absolutely no concept of what it would taste like, but it turned out to be pretty good. The ranch and cocoa powder offset the spiciness of the sriracha well, and none of the flavors was too overwhelming (although some people thought it was too spicy…). Sadly, I didn’t measure anything when I made it… but the proportions are mostly based on personal preference anyway.

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients
9 strips of bacon
2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
~38 wonton wrappers
oil for frying (a lot)
ranch dressing
sriracha sauce
unsweetened cocoa powder

In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, garlic powder and paprika. Chop the bacon into small pieces (I used kitchen scissors and cut them into ~1 cm squares) and add them to the bowl. Mix until spices and bacon are evenly spread through the cream cheese.

Place ~1.5 teaspoons of mix in the center of the wonton wrapper. Use water to wet the edges and fold in the style of your preference.

In a pot or a deep fryer, heat oil. Deep fry the wontons in small batches. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place in a dish lined with paper towels to drain some of the extra oil.

To make the sauce, combine the ranch, sriracha and cocoa powder and stir with a whisk until well combined. I think I used about 1/4-1/3 cup of ranch, 1-2 tbsp of sriracha, and 1-2 tsp of cocoa powder. But I really don’t know because I didn’t measure at all.

Caprese Salad Bites

This past week has been really great but also just really exhausting. I flew out of Madison early last Saturday and went home for the weekend. Spent a couple days at home with the family, then headed into Cambridge to do three days of go live support.

One might ask, what is go live support? Basically, when a hospital installs the software, a bunch of us will go out to make sure things go smoothly. We take 12 hour shifts (6am-6pm or 6pm-6am) and roam the hospital helping doctors and nurses use the software, reporting any issues we find. It’s pretty tiring, but at the same time it’s really rewarding to see the software in use and to help end users directly.

Anyway, the go live went really well, but either way spending 12 hours on your feet is pretty tiring (especially for three days straight). Usually when I go on go lives, after my shift is over I eat dinner, do a little work/answer emails and stuff, then go to bed at like 9 or 10pm. But this time I was in Cambridge and I actually know people in the area. So each night (Tuesday-Thursday) I met up with different people.

Tuesday I went to my friend’s apartment in Kendall Square. We hung out, watched a movie, and made these Caprese salad bites as well as the white wine sangria (next post). Wednesday I met up with friends from my old church youth group and had dinner in Burlington. Thursday I met up with friends from college and went to a brew pub in Cambridge. Each day I didn’t even get back to the hotel until almost 11pm, which means I didn’t get to sleep until close to midnight. That combined with getting up at 5am everyday for work meant this trip was even more exhausting than normal go lives.

And then of course there was this weekend. But I’ll get into that in the next post.

These Caprese salad bites were quite delicious and simple to make. And healthy, too.

Recipe adapted from Dainty Chef

Ingredients
Grape tomatoes
Basil leaves
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Toothpicks
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Pepper

Cut the grape tomatoes in half, and the mozzarella cheese into bite-size pieces.

Assemble by spearing a piece of cheese, then a basil leaf folded in half, then a grape tomato half (flat side down) on a toothpick.

When you’re done assembling them all, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bruschetta

Today was a good day. I managed to catch up with a bunch of different friends, both with friends here in Madison and with friends from school. It was a huge blessing because lately I’d been feeling isolated even though I’d been spending a lot of time surrounded by people. To state the obvious, having quality conversations with people > spending a lot of time with people.

Something that came out of having these conversations was the somewhat painful realization of how much self image is still a struggle in my life. Whether it’s related to body image or personal self worth, it’s become pretty clear that I still have a long way to go.

Time and time again the Bible tells us who were are. We are created in His image (Genesis 1). We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). We are children of God (1 John 4). We are friends of God (John 15). We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5). We are sinful people, justified by grace (Romans 3). We have been set free from sin (Romans 6).

It’s also pretty evident that as Christians we are not supposed to live by the standards of this world. That we’re free from the rules of this world (Colossians 2). That our minds should not be set on earthly things, because we are not citizens of this world (Philippians 3). That we’re to seek the approval of God and not man (Galatians 1).

And yet, why is it so hard to put that into practice? Why do scales still make me uneasy? Why do the words and actions of people around me still have the ability to make me feel utterly worthless? Why do I work so hard to gain the respect and approval of my coworkers?

While I’ve definitely made progress in overcoming these issues over the past 4-5 years, I know that I am far from being “fixed”. There is still a lot of growth ahead. I am a work in progress.

Anyway, that’s been on my mind lately, today in particular. The only way that any of that is remotely related to bruschetta is that I happened to make bruschetta today. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the recipe. It was pretty good. The only complaint from a certain food critic friend is that it “tasted too healthy”. So here it is!

Ingredients
8 roma tomatoes, diced
3 tbsp minced garlic
6-8 basil leaves, chopped
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt
pepper
1-2 french baguettes (I used one, but ran out, so two would probably work better)
parmesan cheese, shredded

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, garlic, basil, 1 tbsp olive oil, and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for 30 min – 1 hour to let the flavors soak in.

Slice the baguettes into slices ~1 cm thick. Brush lightly with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until crispy.

Top each slice with a generous spoonful of the tomato mix. Be sure to drain as much of the liquid from the spoon before placing on the bread so that the bread doesn’t get too soggy.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Samosa Wontons

So I have this theory that anything that tastes good with some form of carbohydrate (pasta, bread, rice, etc) would taste good deep-fried in a wonton skin. So far I’ve tested this theory with pork and chives (classic dumpling filling) and nutella/nutella+banana.

Today I tried a new filling to further test the theory. I made samosa wontons* by filling wonton skins with the filling found in samosas (an Indian appetizer).

Ok I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Gnight everyone!

Edits: It’s now Sunday and I got a little more sleep and I remembered some notes I wanted to add about this recipe. First, instead of using canola oil, I used peanut oil. It’s a bit more expensive, but it has a higher smoke point, so it’s better for deep frying. Second, I used a deep fryer instead of a pot this time. The difference is there’s a temperature setting and it’s a little deeper than most frying pans. It took a weirdly long time for the samosas to turn golden brown though. I think next time I will try peanut oil in a pot/pan.

*These were for the same potluck in the last post. I thought it was pretty hilarious that I ended up making samoas and samosas. Very different but so similar in name.

Recipe adapted from Roti n Rice

Ingredients
6 medium potatoes (~1.5 inch diameter from the thickest cross section, ~3 inches in length)
1 cup frozen peas
2 sweet onions, diced
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp ground mustard
4 tsp garam masala
4 tsp coriander powder
1-2 tsp chili powder (depends on how spicy you want it)
Peanut oil
Salt
1 package frozen or refrigerated square wonton skins

Peel and chop potatoes in half. Cover with salted water and boil for approximately 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. When cooled, chop into small pieces (~1/2 cm cubes).

In a frying pan heat some oil. Add onions and fry until soft and translucent. Add cumin, mustard, garam masala, coriander powder and chili powder and mix well.

Add peas and potatoes and stir until the spices are evenly spread out. Season to taste with salt.

Assemble wontons by putting a spoonful of potato/peas/onion mixture in the middle of the wonton skin and fold the skin diagonally. Wet the inner edges of the skins and press together.

In a pot or deep fryer, pour 1-2 inches of oil. Fry the wontons until golden brown.

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