Category: Tofu

Spicy Peanut Noodles

May 26, 2010

Lately, I have been doing a fair amount of catering.  Some of it has been real official catering and some of it has been making food for lots of people on behalf of friends.  Either way, I am always faced with the challenge of how much food to make.  Working as a personal chef for three years and also catering lunches, dinners, and parties – not to mention all the entertaining we do ourselves – has made me a pretty good judge of portions.  I have no formula, I just kind of guess.  (Very scientific, I know.)  If I’m not sure, I err on the side of too much food because leftovers are nice but being hungry because the hostess/chef/caterer didn’t make enough food is not.  Once in a while I am off but thankfully not very often.

My parents came over for dinner last night along with my brother Michael.  Both of my brothers have incredible appetites and if they like something, you had probably better duck for cover.  My brother Alex once went to a wedding where he ate 99 skewers of shrimp with each skewer holding three shrimp.  I do know he did not get sick.  I do not know if anyone else got any shrimp that night.

Anyway, Michael, the baby in the family, also loves food and I always like to send him home with leftovers.  Keeping that in mind, and knowing I was cooking for five last night, I decided to one and half the recipe for these Spicy Peanut Noodles.  Just a pound and a half of noodles.  That should be right for five hungry people with a few leftovers, right?  If I were making this pasta or this one, I wouldn’t hesitate to use a pound and a half of pasta.

I’m not sure what happened to my nice Barilla whole grain spaghetti, but I could have fed about ten people with this dish.  As I said, better too much food than not enough.  Especially if it is a savory dish like this one.  I love Asian noodles of all kinds and these are no exception.  Peanut-y and smooth with terrific bite from the lightly pickled vegetables.  After we all ate our portions, I sent both my brother and parents home with some, and the boys and Randy ate the rest of them tonight.  That is a lot of noodles.  (By the way, my boys – the little ones – inhaled this dish.  Both of them had two huge plates-ful and Graham even had a second helping of tofu.)

I usually scoff at using spaghetti in Asian dishes, but I had some on hand and I like that the Barilla noodles have quite a bit of protein in them.  Their nutty flavor was most welcome in this dish, I just cooked them past al dente so their texture would be right.  No tofu was in the recipe originally, but I liked it here.  I held back a bit of the peanut sauce, brushed both sides of the tofu with it, and baked it in a 375º oven for about 25 minutes.  I also added the slightly pickled carrots because I thought the dish could use an extra bite and a bit of color.

One Year Ago: Greek Pasta Casserole

Spicy Peanut Noodles
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 6

1 pound spaghetti
¾ cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup + 2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. sugar
6 tbsp. soy sauce
½ cup water
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove
12 oz. extra-firm tofu, cut into ½-inch thick wedges
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
2 carrots, peeled and grated

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In a blender, puree the peanut butter with 6 tablespoons of the vinegar, 3 tbsp of the sugar, the soy sauce, water, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, ginger and garlic.  Remove about ½ a cup of the dressing and place in a pie dish.  Put the tofu slices in the dish and turn them to coat with the dressing.  Place dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove and turn the slices over.  Bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a pot of boiling water, cook the spaghetti until tender.  Place the remaining dressing in a large bowl.  Using tongs, scoop the spaghetti out of the water and into the bowl.  Toss to coat the noodles with dressing.  Ladle in some of the cooking water if the noodles seem too dry.

In another bowl, toss the celery with the cilantro and 2 tbsp. of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Do the same in another bowl with the carrots and remaining vinegar and sugar.  Drain if they seem too wet, but allow them each to sit in their liquid for at least 10 minutes.

Serve the noodles in bowls and top them with the celery and carrots.



A Story and a Question

March 8, 2010

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Today – a story and a question.

But first a disclaimer.  This story has to do with me drinking.  Those who know me can tell you I love my wine.  I drink it often but I don’t usually drink too much of it.  I love the way it tastes with food and a glass at 5pm can really help me through the boys fighting/fixing dinner/bathtime/stories/teeth brushing/bedtime part of the day.  Okay, maybe two glasses.

Remember we went to Whidbey Island for New Year’s Eve?  What I didn’t tell you is that I drank a lot that night.  A lot of red wine and then toasted the New Year with a large glass of champagne.  Friends, my advice to you is do not ever end the night with champagne.

I took Advil before going to bed and woke up feeling a little rough but not terrible.  Here is the thing with me and hangovers though.  I usually wake up feeling as described above but as the day wears on, things get worse.  I start feeling more off and by the late afternoon, I am a bit of a mess.  On Whidbey, we all ventured off to go to the park, only to find it closed for renovation, so we went into the darling town of Langley.  All ten of us (four adults, six kids) piled into a coffee place.  I drank water.  We walked around the town.  I eyed lots of benches longingly.  No one would notice if I just laid down, right?  Jen steered me in the direction of a new gourmet food shop which, because of the holiday, was closed.  I peered in the window at all the gorgeous food and thought, “I must feel really bad if I’m thankful this place is closed”.

Why am I telling you this story?  Well, because eventually we ended up in this adorable shop which is part grocery, part clothing, part toy, and part kitchen gear store.  (It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does.)  They always have an eclectic selection of cookbooks and, even in my state, I pulled down a new-to-me one called New Vegetarian.

Because I have so many, a veg cookbook has to have some really innovative and interesting recipes for me to want it.  With this book, I immediately saw three or four recipes that I was dying to try.  So, of course I had to buy it.  If I was in the middle of one of the worst hangovers in my life and was moved to want to cook – this had to be a special book.

I brought it home, put it on my overflow shelf and promptly forgot about it.

End of story.

Now the question.  Why do they only sell buttermilk in large quantities?  Yes, once in a while I can find a pint of it, but usually I am stuck with a quart.  Just about any baking recipe that calls for it uses somewhere around ½ a cup.  That leaves you with 3½ cups.  Yes, I could make pancakes but I don’t really like pancakes (don’t tell anyone).  Yes, it’s inexpensive so I could really just pour it down the drain but – ugh! – I hate that kind of waste.

And here is where the story and the question magically weave together to make perfect sense in this post.  While paging through my fun new book that I forgot about, I found this recipe.  Not only did it include some of my very favorite spices, it calls for a full two cups of buttermilk.  Because I seem to have misplaced my brain lately, I can’t remember why I had an almost-full quart of buttermilk in the fridge, but there it sat – just waiting to be used in this delicious and unusual entrée.

This is one of those “use what you have on hand” recipes.  I bought the cauliflower and zucchini because I happened to be at the store anyway, but really any vegetable you love would be great here.  The only advice I’m giving in this post is to drink champagne as your first beverage of the evening, not your last.

Is this post weird?  I just went to type the name of this recipe which is “Tofu-Cabbage Karhi” and realized that I added no cabbage to my recipe.  I know I can be absent minded in the kitchen, but did I really leave out a title ingredient in this dish?  But no, on closer inspection, the recipe was wrong – no cabbage was called for.  So I changed the name.

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Tofu-Cauliflower Karhi
Adapted from New Vegetarian
Serves 4

I had some toasted coconut on hand from another recipe, so that is what is garnishing this dish.

12 oz. extra-firm tofu
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 small zucchini, julienned
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
2 large red jalapeños, seeded and diced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger 2 cups buttermilk
½ cup chickpea flour 1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp. tumeric
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
½ cup chopped cilantro

Cube the tofu and set aside.  Place a large cast-iron skillet over high heat and, when hot, add the oil.  Add cumin and mustard seeds.  Be careful as the mustard seeds will start to pop.  Immediately and the shallot, and stir.  Add the tofu to the pan and cook until golden on each side, then turn over.   Add zucchini, cauliflower, jalapeños, and ginger and stir, cooking until the vegetables are slightly softened and golden in spots.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk ½ cup of the buttermilk into the chickpea flour to make a paste, then gradually whisk in the rest of the buttermilk.  Whisk in the vegetable stock, tumeric, coriander, and chili powder.  Pour the mixture into the pan of sautéing vegetables and tofu.  Bring to a simmer, stirring, and cook oer low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, adding water or stock if the sauce becomes too thick.  (DT: I probably added at least another cup of liquid.)  Add the salt and brown sugar and stir well.

Just before serving, sprinkle in the lemon or lime juice and the cilantro.  Serve over rice.



Vegetarian, Healthy, Not Spa Food

January 22, 2010

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When people ask me what kind of food I cook, the first thing I say is “vegetarian”.  Then I usually say something like, “I make healthy food but not spa food.”  What does that mean exactly?  I think I mean that yes, the food I cook is healthy in that I use a lot of vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins.  I cook with a minimum of oil.  I make a salad almost every night.  But my food can also be hearty (see: lasagne) and have more cheese than anything you would ever see in a spa.  If I’m going to make enchiladas, I do soften the tortillas in oil – I just don’t make them very often.

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I think this dish kind of sums it up.  If you are a meat and potatoes person, this soba noodle dish might look like spa food to you – there is tofu in there after all.  But the fact that you brown the tofu in oil and that you add sesame oil as a flavor enhancer might get you kicked out of a spa.  I don’t know for sure – I don’t frequent spas, although I would like to.  So in a nutshell, “healthy food with lots of flavor and mostly good for you”.  How does that sound?

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Soba Noodles Previously on Dana Treat: Soba Noodles with Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Ginger
One Year Ago: Lemon Bars

Soba Noodles with Vegetables, Crispy Tofu, and Toasted Sesame Seeds
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 4

8 oz. package soba noodles
1 Asian or Bosc pear
Vegetable oil
12 oz. package extra firm tofu, patted dry, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 carrots, cut into 1½-by ¼ inch sticks
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced thin
4 scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. Tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted lightly

In a large pot, bring salted water to boil for noodles.

Peel and cut pear into matchstick pieces.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil over moderately high heat.  Brown tofu on all sides, working in batches if necessary.  Transfer tofu to paper towels to drain and season with salt and pepper.

Add carrots to skillet and sauté, stirring, until just tender and start to brown.  Transfer carrots to a bowl.  Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and then add mushrooms, scallions, ginger, and pear and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender.  Remove skillet from heat and add carrots.

Cook noodles in water until al dente.  Drain noodles in colander and immediately rinse with cold water.  Leaving them in the colander, toss the noodles with 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil.

Return skillet to moderate heat and add ¼ cup water, tamari or soy sauce, vinegar, and remaining teaspoon sesame oil.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, until hot.  Add noodles, tossing to combine and adding more water if necessary, and cook until heated through.  Season noodles with salt and pepper and serve warm topped with tofu and sesame seeds.



Something for Balance

December 21, 2009

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And now, a break from all the sweets.

The scene: My birthday, July 26th.  The year: 2003.  The setting: London and environs.

We had moved into our little flat just weeks before and were still figuring out life in a new country.  Cooking for me was a real challenge because all of our kitchen equipment (including all my cookbooks) were 6 weeks behind us on a freighter.  Without my recipes, and without a computer in the flat, I was unmoored in our little kitchen.  Night after night I would attempt to make things for us drawing on my not insignificant experience.  But there was a lot of pasta boiled in the three tiny saucepans available to me at the time.  I am a much better and more innovative cook now and I would be much better off these days in that same situation.  But I have to say, I would still be lost without my cookbooks for a significant length of time.

For my birthday that year, my 33rd, we decided to do a bus tour and see some of the sites nearby the city.  There was a hotel that hosted these tours within walking distance of our flat and we chose a day touring Stonehenge and Bath.  I remember, quite clearly, that I was wearing a wool sweater and a jacket (in July) and thinking that Seattle had nothing on London in the weather department.  I remember being truly awed by Stonehenge, in spite of the fact that you are no longer allowed to get too close.  I remember being utterly charmed by the lovely town of Bath with its ruins of Roman baths.  Would you think the cultural experience wasted on me if I told you what I really remember was the restaurant where we had lunch?

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Demuths is a vegetarian restaurant and, even if the food had been bad, it was a most welcome site for sore eyes.  Is is quite possible to eat extremely well as a vegetarian in London, but you have to know what you are doing and the places to go (three words – Middle Eastern food) but I hadn’t figured all that out yet.  And so, a menu of unlimited choices was enough to make me emotional.  And then the food was delicious.  Everything was light and fresh with none of the heaviness that I had already wearied of.  Best of all, they had a cookbook which I snatched up in 14.5 seconds.

Our meals at home dramatically improved after our day away.  Just days later that unbelievable heat wave hit – the one where so many people died in France.  For the first day or so, our flat was tolerable but it soon became torture to do anything but sit, and even that induced sweating.  Sandwiches and salad were the only things we wanted to eat and I was so thankful that this new treasure of mine had so many choices.

Smoked tofu was something I had never tasted before our year in London but I found it everywhere there, even in the most basic grocery stores.  I put it in everything and even just ate it by itself.  As I was doing my shopping in a very veg-friendly store the other day (PCC for the Seattle people), I was shocked to find some from a B.C. company.  The first thing I thought of was this salad.  We’ll see how things go this week, but I may even credit this super nutritious and flavor packed salad with breaking me out of my cooking funk.

For many of you, the coming week brings turkeys, and roasts, and hams.  It brings mashed potatoes, gratins, and green bean casseroles.  It brings puddings, cookies, pies, and cakes.  And next week brings champagne and big dinners, and possibly even things like chips and onion dip in front of back-to-back football games.  I won’t blame you if you put this salad away for now.  But January resolutions are right around the corner.  If eating healthier is on your list, bookmark this recipe.  No deprivation here.  Lots of flavor, lots of protein, and lots of texture.  I made up my own dressing because the original was too “spa” for me.

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One Year Ago:  Holiday Cookies and Ultimate Ginger Cookies

Smoked Tofu, Le Puy Lentil, and Spinach Salad
With Thanks to Green World Cookbook
Serves 2

I encourage you to make this salad your own by finding the right balance of ingredients.  Below is how I made mine.  If you can’t find smoked tofu, any of the flavored types of tofu you find in your store would taste great.  Just be sure they are very firm.  Wasabi paste is something I always have on hand in my refrigerator.  It comes in a toothpaste looking tube and keeps forever.  The dressing will still be delicious without it, however.

For Salad:
1/2 cup Le Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
10 cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
2 small handfuls bean sprouts
1 small avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. roasted and salted sunflower seeds
4 ounces smoked (or other flavored) tofu, cut into fingers

For Dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider
1 tbsp. Tamari or other soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. Wasabi paste
4 tbsp. Grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water.  Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender to the bite but not mushy, about 25 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, bring the apple cider to a boil and cook down until it has reduced to about 2 tablespoons.  Set aside to cool.  Once cool, pour into a bowl along with the soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi.  Whisk well and then slowly add the oil, whisking the whole time.  Taste and adjust balance of flavors to your liking.

Place a bed of spinach down on each of two plates.  Scatter some of the lentils over top.  (You will have some lentils left over.)  Add the tomatoes, bean sprouts, tofu, avocado and sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the plate.  Lightly pour the dressing on to taste.



Asian Coconut Noodle Soup

October 2, 2009

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Sometime in my past, early childhood, I fell in love with noodle soup.  It was Campbell’s of course because that’s what noodle soup was in the suburbs in the 1970′s.  My mom would make me a bowl and I would eat it very carefully: broth first, then chicken, then the beloved noodles.  I thought it was the most delicious thing in the world.

Then I discovered Top Ramen.  More noodles and none of that pesky chicken!  (I never liked meat, even as a child.)  It was the first thing I ever made for myself and I would make it as often as my mom would let me.  I ate Top Ramen and Cup of Noodles into my early 20′s when I realized how unhealthy and fattening those two products are.  There was a noodle soup lull in my life until I met Randy who introduced me to pho.

Pho is a Vietnamese soup that uses rice noodles and various cuts of meat.  In the Northwest, most places will have vegetarian option made with tofu and often various vegetables.  Pho is the only food that Randy introduced me to rather than vice versa and I am eternally grateful.  A bowl of pho comes to your table relatively plain.  It is up to you to flavor it up with lime, chiles, cilantro, Thai basil, bean sprouts, Sriacha, and other types of hot sauce which are usually provided for you.

I have tried without success to make my own pho at home – I just can’t get the flavor of the broth right.  I have a terrible sneaking suspicion that the broth at my local joint isn’t actually vegetarian in which case {plugs ears with fingers} la la la!  I can’t hear you!

Ahem.  Anyway, just because I can’t master pho doesn’t mean I don’t make noodle soups.  I make lots of them actually and this is a favorite.  Sweet potato may seem like an unlikely ingredient in an Asian soup but it’s sweetness and texture is most welcome here.  The original recipe calls for a whole head of Napa cabbage which is just too much for me.  I just put in a bit and add tofu to make the soup even more filling and healthy.

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One Year Ago:  Some talk about weight and Fruit and Spice Granola

Asian Coconut-Cabbage Soup with Lemongrass
Adapted from Food and Wine
4 Servings

Ingredient notes:  Napa cabbage is the elongated one with the ruffle-y leaves.  For this soup you will want thin rice-stick noodles, the ones that are about angel hair width, not the Pad Thai noodles.  5 tablespoons does sound like a lot of soy sauce, but you will want at least that much and possibly more.

About 14 cups water
6 oz. dried rice-stick noodles
1 tbsp. peanut or canola oil
1 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
2 stalks lemongrass – top third discarded, tough outer leaves trimmed, minced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
10 oz. extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch dice
5 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt
6 leaves Napa cabbage, thinly sliced cross-wise
1 -14oz. can “lite” coconut milk
Juice of one lime, plus lime wedges for serving
1 large bunch cilantro, tough stems discarded, tender stems and leaves chopped

1.  Bring 8 cups of water to a boil.  Remove from the heat, add the rice noodles and let soak until the noodles are softened, about 4 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

2.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Add the ginger and lemongrass and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 6 cups of water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the sweet potatoes, tofu, soy sauce, and crushed red pepper and season with salt.  Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 7-10 minutes.

3.  Add the cabbage and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Stir in the lime juice and cilantro.  Add the noodles and stir until heated through.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with lime wedges.



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