Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wontons, Two Ways

Last week I showed you how to make wontons, today let's talk about how to eat them. Wontons are typically served in one of two ways, in a soup or tossed with a spicy sauce. The latter is actually a famous traditional Sichuan street food called hong-you-chao-shou, translation: wontons in red chili oil.

The ubiquitous wonton soup from Chinese takeout restaurants are, in a word, subpar. Those wontons are usually factory made, with poorly made fillings, and the soup is very one dimensional in flavor, heavily remedied by salt and MSG. When you make wonton soup at home, the results are very different. Tender and meaty homemade wontons bathed in a fresh and brothy soup that is light in body and rich in flavor--it's comfort in a bowl.

In a spicy sauce, wontons take on a whole new personality. They become more complex and bold in flavor and are deliciously savory. In this Sichuan classic, wontons are usually sitting in more chili oil, but in my recipe I use less.

A word about the recipes I'm about to share with you... Wontons are similar to a fast food meal in our house (in regards to time, not quality) and the recipes will reflect that. What I mean by this is, because they're so easy and fast to make, it's my go-to when I need to whip together a meal in limited time. As a result, there are certain "cheats" I've developed in my wonton recipes all for the sake of efficiency (or is it just laziness?)

For example, using chicken stock and water for my wonton soup base allows me to make a meal in less than 20 minutes. Are there ways to make the soup base that will yield even more depth of flavor? Of course! But that usually requires ingredients I may not readily have on hand and more time, and the difference of me going from hungry to hangry.

So keep that in mind and perhaps see this as an opportunity for you to experiment with the recipes. Maybe you always have dried shiitake mushrooms in your pantry, they would be great in the soup!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Homemade Wontons

You've probably had wonton soup when you've ordered Chinese takeout, but did you know that wontons can actually make a filling and delicious meal on their own? They can be enjoyed in a soup or with a spicy Sichuan style sauce. I'll be getting to that later this week, but first, let's talk about making the wontons.

Wontons are very simple to make and at home, you can make them with leaner meat and incorporate some leafy greens to make them more healthy yet just as tasty. You can find wonton wrappers (also called "wonton skins") in Asian supermarkets, usually in the refrigerated or frozen section. The filling traditionally uses ground pork, but ground chicken or turkey can also be used and you'll barely notice a difference.

[ packages of wonton wrappers/skins ]
When incorporating greens into the filling, my go-to is watercress. It's small and easy to manage (so not a lot of cleaning and prepping to do) and it's light in flavor and loaded with nutrients. Since the filling can only accommodate about a handful of the veggies, I usually just toss extra veggies into the pot when I'm boiling the wontons. The more greens, the better! Of course, if you're less of a veggie-lover than I am or just don't have any greens on hand, just omit the watercress.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

5 Under $25: Accessories That I'm Loving for Spring

Spring is [supposedly] officially here, but here in the Northeast the weather still has been quite chilly. Every day this week I've been looking at gray skies and I'm still using my winter coat. Sigh. While I can't control what's going on outside, I'm certainly trying to have spring in full swing inside the house. It's a good thing that Whole Foods has been stocked with fresh tulips, they're my favorite flower to have in the house every spring and they bring such wonderful color and life into the home.

Updating your accessories is a great way to update your wardrobe or home for a new season; it's the small touches that often make a huge impact. Here are five accessories that I'm loving right now and they're all fast, affordable, and effective ways to take you into spring!

1. Lemon Zip Top Clutch (ASOS, $23)
This little clutch just simply makes me smile :) I love lemons! This pop of citrus livens up any outfit. The playful shape and design is perfect for a fun and casual weekend.

2. Yellow Wire Bin (Crate & Barrel, $16.95)
As much as I'm loving lemon yellows this season, I'm also loving wire bins. So, this one's pretty much everything I could ask for. Wire bins are perfect for organizing and storing anything, without the bulky appearance of solid and opaque containers. I especially love using them for storing bathroom accessories and also fruits and veggies. The see-through wire structure allows me to see everything at once (no more lost or forgotten items at the bottom of a bin) while still neatly corrals otherwise loose things, big and small.

3. Raspberry Dish Towel (IKEA, $4.99/Set of 2)
One of the quickest ways to bring a home into a new season is by updating the textiles. Bedding, curtains, pillows, towels... just introduce a pop of color or a fun pattern and your home will immediately feel as fresh as spring. Updating your dish towels is an easy and affordable way to do this. These raspberry prints from IKEA are adorable and--if you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do--they'll keep you happy with the thoughts of warmer and sunnier days to come.

4. Mini Bud Vases (CB2, $1.95 and up)
While bud vases are nothing new, I'm particularly fond of miniature ones. I also love the ones with shapes that feel organic, like the low glass bud vase pictured above that reminds me of a river stone. These tiny vessels are understated and elegant; a sprig of anything (even leafy herbs from the kitchen!) will appear elevated and precious. And at such an affordable price, I would scatter these all around the house--on a nightstand, in the bathroom, on my desk, next to the kitchen sink, the list goes on!

5. Kastor Vase (CB2, $16.95)
I often have fresh cut flowers in the home, but after they fade away, I usually have to put away the vase as well. What I love about this multi-faceted vase from CB2 is that its sculptural shape allows it to stand on its own as a decorative piece even without flowers. I find its shape equally geometric and organic, and the small opening essentially makes it a large bud vase. A few stems of your favorite blooms or simply a single leafy branch in this vase makes just as a strong statement as a full bouquet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Easy Easter Dessert: Mini Bird's Nest Cupcakes

In front of my cousin's house there is a little pine tree in which a red-breasted robin faithfully lays her eggs each year. The nest would always be low enough for us to peek inside and, over the course of a few weeks, we would watch the eggs hatch into nestlings and the featherless chicks grow their wings, until one day we'd find with bittersweet surprise that the nest is once again empty from their newfound flight.

The robin's beautiful blue eggs always reminded me of the candy coated chocolate eggs that are sold in stores around this time of the year. So for this Easter, I'm making these mini bird's nest cupcakes that are perfect for celebrating this holiday of new life and the promise of spring. Plus, I think they're just adorable!

These mini bird's nest cupcakes are super easy to make. If you're lazy resourceful like me, you can buy pre-made mini cupcakes from pretty much any supermarket bakery. If you want to make the cupcakes yourself, you can go the cake mix route or--if you've got both the time and the ambition--make everything from scratch. If you're making the cupcakes yourself, you do have more flavor options. I personally really like the pairing of lemon cake with vanilla frosting, it's light and refreshing--perfect for the season of spring.