I think I got closer to mastering fried tofu

I really like the fried tofu with a tough, almost crispy exterior that you can get in various Chinese dishes. And I’ve tried a range of experiments with tofu in the past, but with little luck in getting it out of it’s natural “I am a squishy sponge” state. It’s been a few years since I’ve attempted, so I tried again recently, and had much better luck, which gives me hope in someday mastering the art of fried tofu.

Josh came back from Texas recently with a range of delicious local sauces and rubs to try on meat. One of them, Frog Bones Sweet Mesquite BBQ Rub, tasted a heck of a lot like BBQ potato chips (specifically delicious ones) and I decided it had possibility to rub on all sorts of things.

Tofu + Frog Bones rub

(That picture is fuzzy. My kitchen has low lighting and my cellphone is several versions behind at this point.)

So I sliced up some firm tofu, dumped a bunch of rub all over it, mixed it up, and let it sit in it for several hours.

Pan tofu

At that point, I cranked the heat up to medium, and pan fried them in, uh, pork lard. The “uh” is there because I feel like, in the US, there is very little overlap between “people who like tofu” and “people who like pork.” Welp, I live in that Venn diagram overlap, and tofu lightly fried in some lard is delicious.

Anyhow, I was pretty light on the lard, tossed them every minute or two, until the edges started to brown. I suspect that using a dry rub (versus using sauces, like I’ve tried before) was really helpful. The high salt content may have helped pull some of the moisture out. I think that, back in the day, since I ate tofu covered in sauce, for some reason I assumed it had to be cooked that way as well. In any case, the rub seemed to work well.

How to get a giant pile of food out of a single pumpkin

I haven’t carved a pumpkin in quite a long time, mostly as, when one lives in an apartment, there’s just no good place to display one. While I do have a balcony, the 15th floor is simply not idea for such things. However, I enjoy having pumpkins sitting around, as they function both as fall décor as well as future food. So I generally get one each fall. With Thanksgiving coming up, there is pie to be made, so I figured it was a good time to hack this bad boy open.

pumpkin halves

Baked the two sides for a bit over 2 hours at 350. Extracted the seeds from the guts, and set aside the juice that had oozed out of the baked pumpkin.

pumpkin remnants

I really wanted to try making pumpkin spice syrup with the juice, but every recipe I found used pumpkin puree rather than juice. So I sorta hacked this one together:

1 cup pumpkin juice (I had just over a cup, but was close enough)
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg

Then, I dumped all of these together and let simmer on the stove just below medium heat for about 10 minutes. The recipes I looked at said not to let it boil, but mine accidentally started boiling and it still tastes fine.

As for the seeds, I had just around a cup or so. I boiled them in saltwater first, as I found a site that recommended doing that to allow the salt to penetrate to the inner seed. Then, I tossed them with 1 tbsp olive oil, a chunk of cinnamon & sugar mixture, along with some nutmeg (just sort of estimated on these). Baked for 10 min at 400, came out pretty tasty.

As for the pumpkin, I ended up getting just over 8 cups worth. 2 cups is already going to pie, the rest is going in the freezer for the time being. Thinking of trying to make some soup, curry, and soufflé, amongst other things.

pumpkin output

All in all, not a bad haul for a pumpkin I spent either $3 or $4 on!

I may have invented a delicious potatoey thing

A thing!

Had potatoes I needed to use up, along with an excess of onion. So I fried stuff and kept adding things to the pan, and the result was good. In this order:

– Fried some breakfast sausage
– When almost completely cooked, added chopped onions
– When onions were translucent, added chopped already cooked potatoes
– Decided that apples would work, so chopped up half an apple & threw that in, sauteed for a few minutes
– Tossed on some chopped up fresh basil
– Decided some maple syrup would be good, so I drizzled that on top, sauteed another couple minutes

Served with salt & pepper, plus a dollop of whipped cream. Was pretty amazing.

Ideas for next time:
– Shred some sharp cheese on top
– Stick all of this into a tortilla shell, fry burrito-like item a few minutes. Maybe add some egg – I’d say this could make for an interesting breakfast burrito, but I’m not sure that apple & egg would get along well.

Unrelatedly, those plates are Calvin Klein plates I got pretty much brand new at the thrift store.
– Calvin Klein makes plates? Who knew!
– $2 for a stack of 6 of the suckers. Good deal, indeed.

Thomas Maple French Toast Bagels Kinda Reek

thomas maple french toast bagels

So I impulse bought these bagels. Or rather, impulse got them, as I had a coupon for a free bag of Thomas Bagels. And they kinda reek.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty good. I ate a few toasted with brie plus deli ham. Super good combination, highly recommended. However, every time I walked into my kitchen, the scent of maple & french toast would hit me in the face.

My entire backpack would smell from taking one to work, for that matter.

And maybe it’s not such a bad thing, as it’s a really good smell. However, I’m not even sure making the real thing would smell this strong. And that’s with a pan frying all of those smells into the air, whereas these things smell even while trapped inside their plastic bag. So I started thinking too much about what the heck was put into them to make them smell so strongly. And then I started thinking about someone dumping a bunch of perfume into bagel batter. (Bagel dough? Yeah, that’s probably more correct.)

Anyhow, they’re pretty tasty. Just, uh, don’t think too deeply about why they smell so strong.

Oh hey, I made a Megaman cupcake ensemble!

So this is a thing that happened:

Megaman cupcakes

So I have this friend. And he has a birthday. And I offered to make a cake. I wanted to do something Megaman-themed, as he is a fan. So I googled around, seeing what other people have done. One thing led to another, and the above monstrosity came into being.

So this particular 8-bit face required 186 pixels. Meaning 186 cupcakes. I made just under 200, in case I needed backups. Took 2 cake mixes, using tiny cupcake pans, filling each about 2/5 – 1/2 full of batter.

200ish mini cupcakes

I only had 2 pans, so this ended being 9 batches. That was a very long day of baking.

Next, as it’s good to have a plan for these sorts of things, I drew out a diagram of sorts:

megaman head diagram

This made it a heck of a lot easier to divvy up frosting into colors and such. My strategy for that? I did chocolate frosting for the black pieces (plus black food coloring) and vanilla frosting for the rest. Actually, I did a badly botched meringue frosting, after having already failed at making petit fours style frosting. It was a long day, but enough confectioner’s sugar seemed to fix things. Frosted all the black pieces first, set them aside. Then did the white pieces, and began building out the face as I frosted those, then the skin tone, then finally the blues.

Megaman cupcakes at an angle

I was pretty darn happy with the outcome. Probably the most interesting baked item (Items. 186 of them!) I’ve done in a long time. And now I am incredibly sick of baking, and look forward to not doing any for a long time to come!

I actually managed to make a decent polenta!

So I was down in Manitou Springs recently, and happened to eat at a place called the Coquette Bistro & Creperie. Didn’t get crepes, but I did get vegan polenta, which was incredible.

Polenta

It’s buried in there somewhere!

Anyhow, so I decided to try making polenta. I’ve gotten polenta in a tube before, but it’s just not very good. So I got me a package of corn grits. You have to cook it on the stove for 30-45 minutes while it thickens. Thing is, it sputters at you pretty regularly, and it has to be stirred almost constantly so it doesn’t scald the pot. So I used a spoon with a rather long handle to get me out of harm’s way, pulled a chair into the kitchen, and watched an episode of Dexter while I sat there and stirred. So, not too bad.

The restaurant’s polenta had black beans in it, so I’d also made some black beans in advance which I dumped into the pot. And while the restaurant’s polenta was also vegan, I’m not, so I added in a bit of butter.

So after that 45 minutes, I dumped it into a greased bowl, let cool for 10-15 min, then dumped on a cutting board. It totally congealed and held its shape. So I sliced it into bars, and pan-fried it with some olive oil. Came out pretty amazing, and I made way too much so now I’ve got polenta in the freezer as well.

As for the vegetables, I chopped up onions, red pepper, garlic, kale, shredded some carrots, and stir-fried these in olive oil. At the end I topped it all off with cilantro, a bit of basil, shredded romano, and almonds.

homemade polenta

Came out really good, I was quite pleased. Wish I’d been able to figure out a version of the carrot-based sauce that came with the original meal, but it was still good without that. So I’ve actually been eating the leftovers for breakfast lately, and I’ve got two more brick in the fridge that I need to fry up, not to mention another whole chunk in the freezer to eat eventually.

Sweetened Potato Pancakes of Joy!

So one of the best things ever is impuse-buying food from the discounted section of the grocery store. It satisfies whatever hunter/gatherer part of my brain desires novelty, and makes my wallet happy because if it’s not good, no big loss. One of the other best things ever happens to be latkes/potato pancakes.

Potato Pancake Mix

Course, these are not latkes, per se (as far as I know, I don’t claim to be an expert!). But, they do satisfy the requirements of containing potatoes and being pancake-shaped.

So the process is relatively easy – dump in a bowl, mix in some water, watch it all get fluffy.

Potato Pancake Mix in bowl

So the recipe says this makes like 20 of them. Or something close to that. I could look at the box to check, but it’s way over there and I’m way over here. Anyhow, I guess mine are “jumbo sized” cause I only made like 14 of them. Still a decent number.

Potato Pancake mix frying away

So these fried in oil for a bit, then I flipped them and kept frying. I really like the fact that I don’t have to touch a grater when making these. My knuckles fear graters like nothing else. Course, there’s something to be said for eating potatoes over potato flakes, but convenience and lack of blood in your food is a nice thing as well.

Potato Pancakes!

These were quite tasty! Checked the ingredients, and there’s an interesting range of spices including paprika, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I wrote down the ingredient list, actually, so the next time I feel like shredding potatoes I can toss in a few bonus flavors. So the package has got you eating these with sour cream, but I didn’t have sour cream. I did have yogurt, which shares similarities to sour cream, but I think the only flavors I had were like blueberry and key lime pie, and I wasn’t quite ready for that kind of gastronomic experimentation. So I dumped some chunky applesauce on these, which worked quite well. And in conclusion, though I’m not sure I’d necessarily buy these full-price (I mean, have you seen how cheap potatoes are?) I would totally get this again should I have another encounter with it in the discount bin at King Soopers.

Packaged Food Oddities

I’m not sure who decided it was a good idea to package these bay leaves with that particular lid, but I’m pretty sure these suckers are getting out through those holes!

Bay Leaves

And, this was a fortune I recently got, last time I went for Chinese. I’ve, uh, never had a cookie hit on me before.

Fortune Cookie

Bizarreness!

Nutella Cookies from Pinterest

Oh hey, it’s been forever since I last posted here. See, January’s kind of a crappy month – I feel lucky if I can manage to get out of bed every day, much less do something productive like writing. Pretty sure it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, though this hasn’t been confirmed in any medical sense. I got a lamp to try some light therapy, and that plus the fact that it’s almost March means I’m more inclined to actually go do things. Like, I guess, write here.

Anyhow, I’ve got all these blasted pins on pinterest, all of which I’ve added after fully vetting that their linking content is actually a thing I’d realistically try making. Meaning I pin things that look good, have ingredients I’m apt to have around, and don’t look like they’d take too much time. So, along comes this pin for some Nutella cookies, and considering there’s three ingredients, I figured I’d have a go.

Nutella Cookies from Pinterest

I mean, the pin claims they’re the best cookies EVER, so I’ve gotta try making them, right? Turns out I don’t have a cup of Nutella. Cleaned the jar out, and was left with around 2/3 cup. But, you know, Nutella’s pretty powerful stuff, so I decided to wing it. Added the egg and the cup of flour, and added a second egg for a bit more liquid – figured the egg would just make them a bit more fluffy.

Tried sprinkling some powdered sugar on top in that sorta lazy “don’t feel rolling these into balls and powdering them the proper way” kinda manner.

Unbaked Nutella Cookies

Baked for 7 minutes, and took them out when they had that “I kinda want to leave them in a bit longer but know that if I do, they’ll be super hard” look to them.

Nutella Cookies

So yeah, they weren’t too bad. Nice and soft, and remained soft even after cooling. Not too sweet either. At the same time though, nothing too special. I suppose it’s a drawback of a recipe with three ingredients, you can sort of imagine what the flavor of those ingredients combined would be. They were, well, Nutella in cookie form. Not as intense as they’d be if I’d used the whole cup, of course, and a bit fluffier than in the pinned photo thanks to that second egg.

These reminded me of a recipe for peanut butter cookies I made back in the day with two ingredients, peanut butter and sugar. Which seems awesome on the one hand cause, hey, two ingredients, how simple is that? But the resulting flavor is also just that – simple. Think I prefer to put the extra effort out there to get a cookie with more complex flavor. Like, in terms of a Nutella cookie, I bet some variety of sugar cookie with straight Nutella as filling would be a bit more pleasing than these. Actually, I bet these would be great for kids, come to think of it. Kids don’t really seek out complex flavors (some are actively turned off by them) and in terms of a baking project, three ingredients is about as kid-friendly as you can get.

So I finally made some minestrone soup

minestrone soup

I’ve been wanting to make minestrone soup for awhile now, actually. I eat the Campbells canned version on occasion, and while I enjoy it, it’s really salty and I figured homemade would be better. I’ve also been known to enjoy Olive Garden minestrone, so I figured that would be a good starting off point. And thus I found this imitator recipe to try.

Since I have a slow cooker that I try to use for as many things as possible, I decided to use the recipe more as a loose set of guidelines rather than following accurately. So, I started by gathering together all of my non-seasoning ingredients into the following pile.

ingredients

I didn’t really use exact proportions, but to summarize, here’s the above ingredients in list form:

-Can o’ kidney beans
-Can o’ diced tomatoes
-olive oil (used a few dollops of it)
-a mix of pinto and northern white beans
-some leftover broth (which was still in the process of unfreezing when this photo was taken)
-cilantro (the recipe didn’t call for it, but I had it, so hey)
-green beans
-onion
-zucchini
-celery
-carrot

One of the reasons I deviated a bit from the recipe here is also because my slow cooker isn’t particularly large, and there were a great number of plants that needed to be shoved in there. So, when chopping up the vegetables I just used my best judgement as to how much to use, so proportions would be even and such.

chopped vegetables

And, for fabulous efficiency everything went straight into the same pot.

pot

While the recipe called for basil and parsley, turned out I had neither. Luckily I’d added fresh cilantro earlier, and I also swapped in rosemary as well. They’re similar, right? Right?!?

seasonings

So, I guesstimated when adding all of those in, and cranked up the slow cooker to go, setting it on high for 2 hours and 50 minutes.

slow cooker

The shells would come in near the end. The advantage of adding the shells in later (aside from the obvious “no ginormous squishy shells” benefit) is that any seasoning can be adjusted at that time, since the shells will still need to cook in there for another 30 minutes anyhow. This is especially important with salt, as I have a habit of putting in far less salt than I actually want due to trying to avoid putting in too much salt!

soup!

Anyhow, the resulting minestrone soup was pretty good. I’m glad for the variety of beans, and the seasonings seemed to work themselves out well. Also, while the soup cooked, it made the apartment smell like the inside of a Subway for some reason. Bonus? Next time I think smaller shells might work out better – I only had medium ones and went with that. I could also see the addition of potatoes to this being tasty as well.

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