Chinese New Year in Tallahassee

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating Chinese New Year with some friends in Tallahassee. This was an awesome weekend. My entire stay there revolved around food. Good food and good friends is all you need. So, Jia was throwing the party at his place and I was told there would be dumplings. I didn’t know how many, but from the facebook event it sounded like they might be scared. This was Chinese New Year and I would’ve gone Hulk if I didn’t get my dumplings. So Gan and I thought we should make something for the party, as we didn’t know what other things would be there. We decided to make asian hot wings and Vietnamese spring rolls.

For the hot wings, I decided to use a base of melted butter and hot sauce. I threw in whatever ingredients I found in Gan’s pantry to try to make them Asian. For the sauce, I mixed 1 stick of melted butter, 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, and a few tablespoons of Sriracha hot sauce. I added chopped thai chili peppers to the sauce. I strained them out in in case the sauce was too spicy.

I’m not sure what kind of seasoning sauce it is, but it’s got a little chef dude and a crab on the label. I’m assuming it’s some sort of fish based sauce. It’s not like fish sauce though (the one with a squid on the label). I think its more like a mixture of dark soy sauce and fish sauce.

I marinaded a package of wings (I’m not sure how much it was, maybe a 5lb pack?), with some chili oil, fish seasoning sauce, and pepper. Gan added some cayenne pepper too. The marinade didn’t really work, since I only put in a few table spoons of each for a large amount of wings. If I were to go back, I’d add a cup of soy sauce and some chopped garlic.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, flip them over, and another 20 minutes. Toss the wings in the sauce and garnish with cilantro.

The wings didn’t turn out as Asian as I would’ve liked but they were delicious nonetheless. It’s kind of hard to mess up cooking wings. Just bake them and experiment with some sauces. From the picture, it looks spicy but it wasn’t at all. The sauce was pretty mild, but if you wanted some heat you could get some pieces with chili. This was my first time making chicken wings, and they came out really well. The insides were juicy and alot of the fat on the skin was rendered out during the baking.

We also made some vietnamese spring rolls. For these, you just need some rice paper and whatever filling you want to put in. We put on lettuce, carrots, cucumber, avocado, and shrimp. All you need to do is soak the rice paper in warm water, throw in a bunch of fillings, and roll. You don’t even need to soak the rice paper for that long. Just get the entire surface area of the rice paper wet then take them out. As soon as you take them out, place them on a cutting board. They’ll seem like they’re still hard but after a few more seconds on its own they’ll soften up and get all sticky.

If you hate peeling and cutting avocados, the way I do it is pretty fool proof. Cut through the avocado along the centerline until you reach the pit and then just rotate the avocado along the blade of the knife to cut around the pit.

Then just twist off the two halves.

Take the half with the pit, strike your knife on the pit so that the knife is lodged in the pit and twist the knife to get the pit out. You could also use a spoon to get the pit out if using a knife scares you.

Then just cut the halves in half lengthwise and you can peel off the skin to get 4 beautiful pieces of avocado. You could also use a spoon to remove the skin.

Our spring roll station. Gan makes a great hand model.


Here’s a video if you’re into that sort of thing. For some reason, it’s not letting me embed the video and it’s 4am so I’m too lazy to figure out why.

All this took only took a little over 1 hour. The wings took less than an hour to make not counting prep time. Gan prepped the vegetables while I made the wings and once the wings were in the oven we had 3 pairs of hands (me, Gan, Amy) to make the spring rolls. You could substitute the shrimp with tofu and make it vegan also. On it’s own, it’s already healthful. You can serve this with store bought sweet chili sauce.

At the party, Jia and Ted made a ton of dumplings and had a lot of filling left over. I was afraid they’d be all gone by the time I got there, but that was hardly the case. Everyone had eaten by the time Gan and I arrived with our food but we still managed to clear the wings and most of the spring rolls. I guess that means they were good!

I think this was a pretty good shot of the dumplings.

Here’s one I made into the typical gyoza form.

I have to give my props the Jia. The dumplings were excellent and the soy sauce braised tofu and eggs his mom made were delicious. That’s one of the foods that really makes me nostalgic and homesick. It’s a simple recipe and prep too. I don’t know what my parents put in it exactly but it’s a bath of soy sauce diluted with water and chinese spices (cloves, star anise, peppercorns, and other things) and you just simmer boiled eggs, tofu, and tough cuts of meat in the bath. On the right you can see Ted’s stir fried noodles also. If you can find them in the picture, there were also some chinese sausages, pistachios, and scallion pancakes.

Here’s round 1 for me. My favorite were definitely the tofu (bottom) and eggs. I think the slices of meat in the picture was beef that was cooked in the same bath. On the top is a piece of scallion pancake.

The food was amazing. This was the next best thing to going home and spending Chinese New Year with my family. The tofu and eggs really made it for me.


Dinner: Impossible

If you’ve ever watched Dinner: Impossible featuring Robert Irvine, I went through a similar scenario today. If you haven’t, watch the ones with Robert Irvine. I don’t like new ones with Michael Symon. His personality doesn’t really fit with the show and it feels fake. Robert Irvine was more entertaining and enthusiastic. It begins like this: I got to lab at 3pm to do some work but when I got there, my professor invites me to my grad student’s (Yash) going away party instead.

Party starts at 6:30pm (3.5 hours)
Potluck party
Limited counter space (2′ x 3′)

Spring rolls
Dark chocolate chip walnut cookies

From there, I walked home and drove to Sweetbay and Oriental 88 to pick up groceries. By the time I got home, it was 4pm. That gave me 2 hours to make everything if I take into account half an hour to change and drive to the party.

I started by making the cookies. Here’s the recipe I used:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup walnuts
1 cup dark chocolate chips

cookie ingredients
Here’s a picture of all the ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cream butter, sugar, and eggs
Add the rest of the dry ingredients (minus walnuts and chocolate chips) and mix well
Gently fold in walnuts and chocolate chips
Separate dough into 12 balls
Bake for 14 minutes (16-18 minutes if you like your cookies more cooked)

creamed butter and sugar
I don’t have an electric mixer so this is what I do. I just use a coffee mug or in this case a jar to cream the butter, sugar, and eggs. That extra effort and love makes my cookies that much better.

cookie dough
Butter + sugar + eggs + cocoa powder = yum
This equation took Pythagoras 17 years to prove. You can look up the proof on Google. It’s very complex and long, you probably won’t understand it. All you need to know is that it is delicious.

cookies before baking
You could eat these as they are, but these babies are going into the oven and will come out even better.

cookie dough
Who wants to lick the bowl?

Cookies done! If you give one of these trays to a girl, she will forgive any offense.

cookies close up
Are you drooling yet?

Once the cookies were in the oven, I started making the samosa filling. Really, you can put anything in a samosa. Potatoes and green peas are a good base and add spices to taste from there. Some people may like bold spices but others may not be able to handle it. Mine is pretty mild compared to traditional savory Indian samosas. Here’s what I used:

1 can of diced potatoes
1 diced yellow onion
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup of green peas
1 tbsp oil

Heat up some oil and drop some mustard seeds in there
Add onions once the seeds start popping (It may be better to take the seeds out from the oil before adding onions and then putting them back in once the potatoes goes in. Otherwise, the seeds will burn like mine did).
Add the rest of the spices
Add potatoes and peas
Stir mixture well until potatoes and peas are cooked

I finished the spring roll filling and wrappers before I started wrapping and frying the samosas. I only managed to finish 7 and I didn’t have time to take pictures of the process. The only way that was happening was if I had an extra pair of hands. I didn’t get too many pictures of the spring roll making process either. I’ll do those in another post.

For the spring rolls I used:
1 package firm tofu
1/2 head of cabbage
1/2 cup carrot strips
1 bunch green onions
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce

*If I had more time or ingredients, I would’ve added some mushrooms and sesame oil.

First drain the tofu and cut into 1 cm cubes.
Fry those in 1 tbsp of oil until the sides get textured. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce. Set aside.
In same wok/pot, add 1 tbsp oil.
Fry shredded cabbage and carrot strips. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper.
Once cabbage and carrot strips are cooked, add green onions and remove from heat. Add tofu back to vegetables.
Drain vegetable filling on paper towels before wrapping.

spring roll filling
Draining the vegetables on paper towels.Not shown is the tofu cubes. See how much water comes out from the cabbage? By draining them, your spring rolls are less likely to tear from the water during rolling. Also, they stay crunchy longer because there is less water in the filling.

wrapping station
Rolling station. In the upper left is a mixture of corn starch and water to seal the roll.

deep frying spring rolls
Everything tastes better deep fried. Deep frying is tricky without a proper thermometer. If the temperature is too low, oil will seep into the food. If it is too high, the outside will burn quickly. I usually set it the heat to medium and adjust based on the rate of items I am placing in the oil.

spring rolls on cooling rack
I took one of the grills from the oven and placed it over the sink to drain the spring rolls.

spring rolls
Finished product. Mine stayed crispy for about 2 hours or so. If you heat them up in an oven, they will crisp up again.

I didn’t manage to finish all the samosas so my mission failed, but considering what I made in 2 hours, I think I was pretty efficient. I made good use of the little counter space I had. I ended up using my dresser, computer desk, chair, and microwave as extensions of my workspace. I got to the party on time too. My grad student didn’t arrive until at least 20 minutes after I did, so I could’ve finished frying the rest of the samosas. So if I analyze how I spent my time, I spent 1 hour shopping, 2 hours cooking, and a half hour in transportation. I had food and cooking utensils scattered all over my tiny apartment and McGuyvered my way through this challenge. Move over, Michael Symon. I’m eying your job.

potluck 1
potluck 2
There was 10 people at the party and these pictures were taken AFTER everyone had eaten. Needless to say, we had a lot of food. Hyung brought bulgogi and fried rice. Peng brought the seafood casserole. Yash and his wife brought samosas with tamarind sauce. Brett and Michelle brought lasagna and cookies. I think Gaurav and his wife brought some sort of milkshake that was really good. I wouldn’t mind drinking that milkshake every morning. My professor bought calzones and pizza. I didn’t want my lab mates asking why I was taking pictures of the food so I sneaked a few pictures in while everyone wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about making bulgogi, but good thing I didn’t. The samosas my grad student’s wife made were way better than mine. I was actually embarrassed when he tried one and had his wife try one. He said it was really good but it’s nerve wrecking when an Indian person is trying your samosa! Like always, my cookies were a hit and I I think everyone liked the spring rolls too. There were only 5 or 6 left and Peng took all of them home. I’m guessing that means he really liked them!. Everything was delicious and I had two platefuls of food. Today was an unexpected surprise but I had a ton of fun cooking and socializing at the party.

Love and Peace,