Up until a few weeks ago, it had been a really long time since I had eaten at a California Pizza Kitchen. We had some family in town, which meant a girls only shopping trip was in order! We were probably 20 minutes into the outing when lunch became the next inevitable step. When your shopping has barely begun and the food court kinda sucks you can always count on a CPK to be attached to the mall somewhere. And side note: I have mentioned my love for food courts before on this blog, so when you hear me call one disappointing enough for me to ditch it, you know it’s bad. I think my love for food courts has diminished significantly since moving back to Colorado from Boston though. Boston food courts were the bomb! Anyway, this trip to CPK was the first time I didn’t get a pizza and boy was I pleasantly surprised (I replicated my salad too – coming soon!). My mom had the turkey avocado egg rolls for her meal and was nice enough to share because they were so good that everyone needed to experience it. I decided right away to try these at home even though I felt pretty unsure about how well I would be able to replicate the presentation. Really, the most challenging thing was figuring out how to roll them up properly, but after a quick google session I had it down. This turned into a bit of a hybrid recipe where I used this as a guide for proportions and for folding the wrappers, but I did a bit of a different sauce and fried them because, duh. You could of course bake them though! For my sauce I actually used one of those packets of ranch powder in a spicy flavor because for a reason unknown even to me, I hate buying bottles of ranch dressing. If I absolutely need it for something I’d prefer a one-use option. These egg rolls are such an awesome party food/appetizer that tasted even better than the original, in my opinion. They are similar to the guacamole wontons that I made a while back, but with all of the salad like fillings, it could be substantial enough for a full meal if you’d like (I did!).
In case you didn’t know, I’m one of those people that loves things in miniature. And tiny food is pretty much at the top of my ‘things that are cuter in miniature’ list. A few years ago Paul and I had a daylong obsession with buying these themed sets of tiny plastic food. They came in a little set with maybe 5 different types of food. My favorites were the carnival set with funnel cake and snow cones and a fast food breakfast set that even came with the styrofoam tray and to-go lid. So funny! And the part that really sucked us in was that they came in a mystery box so you didn’t know which set you were getting. We bought one each at Urban Outfitters, opened them right outside the store and I think promptly went back inside and bought two more. I can’t remember what they were called and I can’t find them online, but maybe I’ll dig them up and take some photos when I’m back in Colorado! If you have any idea what I’m talking about, please let me know!
Ok, so tiny plastic food is awesome, but tiny real food is of course, even better. As I mentioned in the mac and cheese bites post, we had a tiny food party when I was home and it was so much fun. We all had at least one dish to make – even our brother put together the lovely caprese skewers! It’s always extra fun when everyone is assembling together. We used the Tiny Food Party book for the skewers, mac and cheese bites, crab cake sliders, and mini chicken and waffles. Yes, MINI CHICKEN AND WAFFLES! Can you believe it? Not only is it the cutest thing ever, but they were really delicious and a lot more convenient to eat. Our grocery store was out of mini waffles, so we just cut regular ones into smaller circles. I seriously can’t get enough of this book. I’m sure you will be seeing it make some more appearances in the future! How do you feel about miniature food? Cute or just annoying??
Don’t you love it when a recipe goes way better than you imagined? I doubt it’s a secret that I love frying things (fried guacamole anyone?), but sometimes it can go horribly wrong. Food falls apart, sticks to the pan, burns, doesn’t crisp up, and don’t forget the inevitable oil splatter wounds. My mom often brags about the FryDaddy that she and her roommates had in college. Of course, the bragging always turns to regret about actually using it and how unhealthy that is…If it weren’t for that, I would probably own one right now. I mean, it would be so much easier and cleaner! I could fry everything…and yeah snap back to the reality of why owning one is a bad idea…
I was really excited to make these mac and cheese bites because it came in as kinda sorta my first request on the blog! And also because I had tried them at a restaurant fairly recently and they were amazing! For as much as I love mac & cheese, I can’t believe I’ve only tried it fried a couple of times. Thanks to Pass the Curds for asking me to do a homemade post on these after I mentioned the Trader Joe’s version! I knew as soon as I saw her blog name that I needed to be subscribed!
We made these as part of a “tiny food party” that we had while I was home. The party has become a really awesome memory for me, but more on that later. I promise I will share the rest of the adorable (and delicious) tiny food this week! Since this was a request, I tried to take pictures of every step! I’ve included the recipe from the Tiny Food Party book because it worked so perfectly for me. We didn’t make their mac & cheese recipe, but I’m sure it’s a good one. Check out the step-by-step below!
First of all, you need to use cold mac and cheese for this. A little planning ahead is necessary, but when is mac and cheese for dinner a bad idea? And for two nights in a row? Even better. Just have to show off a bit here. My sister and I picked mac and cheese topping bar for our birthday dinner. See, we really are obsessed. It was a bit of a throwback to another birthday I had with the same theme. New York deli style, buffalo chicken, southwest, and classic. Amazing selection! (Future post, maybe?)Ok, so your leftover mac and cheese should be nice and cold. Press it into your leftover container with a spatula until it’s really compressed. It should stay together in a cube when you flip it onto your cutting board, like this. Then cut the cube into triangle shapes. I got pretty excited when this actually worked! As long as it’s cold and compressed, the triangles should stay together without a problem. Next, roll the shapes in flour. Once again, I was surprised the flour actually stuck to and coated the bites so perfectly! See? Perfectly floured. Now take a bath in the egg. And finally, roll them in Panko bread crumbs until fully coated. And…keep going until they are all coated in crumbs.Fry them in oil until they are a nice, dark golden brown. Sprinkle parmesan over the top. They turned out perfectly crispy and melty in the middle. It really was more than I was hoping for! And much better than frozen. Just a sneak peek of the tiny food party! It was so fun. I say try this! I really didn’t think it was going to go well – just the idea of getting anything to stick to cold blobs of pasta sounded impossible. I promise, it was so easy and a great party dish!
Tiny Mac and Cheese Bites (from Tiny Food Party, which is a new favorite book)
Like I said, we haven’t tried this mac and cheese recipe, but it sounds good to me! We didn’t have bacon in ours – let me know if you’ve tried that!
For the Mac
1/2 pound small elbow macaroni
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbs flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated fontina cheese
2 tsp dry mustard
2/3 cup cooked crumbled bacon
2 green onions thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 qt cooking oil
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
Make the mac and cheese, pour in a greased 8 by 8 baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oil to 350. Cut chilled mac and cheese into triangles. Put flour in shallow dish, eggs in a 2nd shallow dish and panko in 3rd shallow dish. Dredge triangles in flour, dip in eggs and then toss in panko crumbs. Fry in small batches for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, season with salt and pepper (I only sprinkled with parmesan).
Appetizer night is probably my all time favorite way to eat. I was prompted to make egg salad sandwiches after Paul and I shared one from a convenience store…it was terrible. We were in a rush! Maybe it’s not fair to say it was disgusting because it didn’t really taste like anything. It was like eating a sponge. Anyway, I promised Paul that I would make some awesome egg salad (mostly because he wasn’t as disgusted by it as I was and I needed to prove that I could do better). We saw a picture of a really delicious looking open-faced egg salad sandwich only to scroll down and realize that it was made from fake eggs…sorry, not really our thing. I copied the look, but used real eggs and added stuff that sounded good to make it more ‘gourmet’. I did a basic (chunky) egg salad recipe with some lemon, chopped mint, paprika, plus a little cayenne, I think. Ah, so simple, but so much better! We cut up a baguette and created a spread of egg salad, burrata, tomatoes, and avocado. We were two happy eaters!
I gave myself a pretty big pat on the back when I thought to make these guacamole wontons. I got a giant pack of wonton wrappers at the Asian market last month and have barely made a dent in the stack. I really didn’t need to buy such a large pack, but they were so much cheaper than the regular grocery store ones! I couldn’t resist. Plus, they are just so versatile. They are definitely one of my favorite ingredients to improvise with. This is probably because it’s nearly impossible to screw up a wonton idea. I’m pretty sure you could stuff a wrapper with anything and it would be delicious fried, baked, or boiled. So, one day I had a sudden inspiration to fill them with guacamole. I was fairly confident that it would be a hit. Cinco de Mayo seemed like the perfect day to try out this festive appetizer. Just like most of my improvisations, these are incredibly easy. I mashed up an avocado, just slightly. I kept it pretty chunky because I didn’t think a super creamy filling sounded as appetizing, but maybe I’ll experiment with it some day. Then I just mixed in a little bit of red onion and jalepeno that I had chopped up for a salsa (more on that later + sneak peak pic below), squeezed some lime and added salt and pepper. I made a separate batch of quac for chips and left the tomato chunks out of the wonton filling. Maybe tomatoes would be good though, I dunno! This is obviously a very scientific recipe. Fry em up and enjoy! Once I bit into these I immediately though, duh, why didn’t I think of these sooner?! The crispy wontons and creamy avocado work so well together. I think when I have a craving for the cream cheese wontons, I might just make these instead. It’s just as good, but doesn’t make you feel sick (and ashamed) afterword. And in case you think warm guacamole sounds really weird, all I can say is, it’s not. Convincing enough?
On my way home last night I wandered around Trader Joe’s feeling pretty lost for dinner ideas. We only have like 5 TV channels, so some weekend mornings I watch PBS cooking shows, which I’ve actually been enjoying a lot recently! Super informative and no commercial breaks! The last couple of times I’ve remembered to watch all involved puff pastry. Julia Child made an almond pastry one morning and Hubert Keller made beef wellington last weekend. I was pretty set on buying some puff pastry, but when I called Paul for suggestions he reminded me that we have lots of meat in the freezer. We will be leaving Boston pretty soon too, so I decided to improvise rather than buying more meat. I came up with four combinations and they were all delicious. Paul loved them. Like, really LOVED them. These would be a great, easy thing to throw together for an impromptu get together or a any type of entertaining, really. Or just dinner for two. I’ve listed my filling ideas below! They are all basically different combinations of spinach, cheese, mushrooms, and pork (in various forms).
Mushroom based: brown some mushrooms in butter and garlic. Let them release their moisture so that the pastry doesn’t get soggy. Start by filling a pastry square with the mushroom mixture. This will be great on its own. For some more variety and flavor add mozzarella, then either bacon crumbles, or small cubes of sausage. Or go for it all if you’d like!
Pork Based: I used a filleted pork loin that I had precooked and frozen. Defrost and cut into small cubes. Pile them onto a square with a chunk of mozzarella and some of your mushroom mixture. For a nice cheesy crust, sprinkle a little mozzarella on the top of the pastry.
Spinach Based: Chiffonade some spinach leaves. Similar to the mushroom based pastry, layer mozzarella and bacon, or sausage cubes.
Cheddar Based: If you have extra scraps of pastry after cutting your squares, use them to make cheddar and bacon pastry straws. Place thin slices of cheddar in the middle of the rectangle and then twist. They are great with or without bacon!
Have fun experimenting with different ways to fold your pastry squares! They don’t have to look perfect when you put them in the oven. The puffiness helps make any fold look lovely!