Spotlight On: Tofu

Per the request of some readers (eh hem, mom), I wanted to start sharing ingredients I routinely use while cooking. Where to buy them, how to prepare them, good recipes to start with… etc. I thought the most appropriate ingredient to discuss was tofu, notably because I’ve used it for two recipes in the past week, but also because it’s probably my most frequent source of protein. I love tofu, and I think it gets a seriously bad rap as an easily-dismissed “vegetarian” food, that has no use outside of replacing steak or chicken. While vegetarians certainly flock to tofu as a substitute, it’s also a delicious, substantial, and, yes, flavorful ingredient on its own. While I probably eat vegetarian most of the time, I most nights prefer tofu to other options, simply for its adaptability, cost, and quick cooking time.

But, what exactly is tofu? Tofu is really coagulated soy bean curd (I guess you could almost compared it to a really pressed yogurt, to compare soy milk to cow’s milk), which, I know, sounds so appetizing. The soy curd is pressed firmly into a block shape, usually; however, there are many varieties of tofu that alter the consistency and flavor of the final result. One major difference to note is between silken tofu and firm tofu. Silken tofu is not pressed or drained, and thus has a very high moisture content. It’s best applied to dessert recipes, or can be used as a substitute/ almost thickening agent in pies and shakes and all sorts of vegan treats. I’ve never even bought silken tofu (although I’d like to try it), and you should probably bypass it if you’re looking to make a dinner recipe. Firm tofu, by comparison, is pressed. It is usually sold as firm or extra firm tofu, although I from time to time have seen “medium” varieties. Considering most recipes call for pressing the tofu further prior to applying marinades, I see the most value in buying the lowest moisture content variety- extra firm tofu. Extra firm tofu is easily pressed into a dense, sliceable, formed block that absorbs marinade incredibly well and stays together nicely when tossing in a pan. If trying tofu for the first time, I’d go with this variety, as it (in my opinion) has the best texture after cooking. While I could in theory go on for days about tofu and its varying components and varieties, I’m going to direct you to wikipedia if you want more information.

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My favorite place to buy tofu is Trader Joe’s. This is probably because Trader Joe’s is my favorite grocery store for price and varied (and interesting!) ingredients, but I love their extra firm tofu as well as their sprouted extra firm tofu (I especially love that the sprouted tofu comes divided in half, thus creating single serving sizes for this lonely dinner-eater). Tofu is available at nearly every grocery store now, usually located near the dairy section, and always labeled “extra firm” or whatever type it is. I can’t differentiate much between brands, so go for whichever suits your fancy. Usually tofu comes in 4-5 servings, which I think is laughable because I nearly always eat half a block at a time. As a single serving, it’s much less caloric than chicken or any red meat. If doubled up, it’s about comparable calorie-wise. (Of note, this Trader Joe’s brand is a bit more calorie-dense than most other brands).

And in case you’re interested, here’s a calorie and protein comparison:

1/4 block tofu: 9g protein, 80 calories

1/2 block tofu: 18g protein, 160 calories

4 oz. (1/4 lb.) chicken breast: 13g protein, 120 calories

3 oz. ground beef (85% lean): 16g protein, 180 calories

As I’ve prepared tofu time and time again, I have definitely come across my favorite cooking methods. I’ll share a few here, but my absolute, hands-down favorite is pan-fried/ sautéed tofu cubes. When prepared correctly, the tofu is delightfully crisp with a soft interior, perfectly dippable and easily combined in rice dishes of varying ethnic influences, stir fries, salads, and more.

How To: Pressing Tofu

Pressing tofu releases excess moisture from the block, dehydrating the tofu further and thus making it extra thirsty for marinades. Pressing also improves the texture, allowing for a more toothsome, chewy yet smooth inside. I personally enjoy the flavor of tofu plain; however, if using a marinade, apply it immediately after pressing.

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  1. Remove tofu from packaging and drain off excess water
  2. Place a hefty pile (about 3 sheets) of paper towels onto a sturdy surface
  3. Place the tofu on top of the towels
  4. Top with another hefty pile of paper towels
  5. Top with another sturdy, flat surface, such as a small cookie sheet or baking pan
  6. Weigh down the tofu with light pressure, using a small can other 1-2 lb. item
  7. Keep compressed for 30 minutes
  8. Ready to prepare and use!

How To: Perfectly Pan-fried Tofu

This is my favorite way to prepare tofu, and really very easy. If you’re somewhat impatient, this may be tedious, as it involves flipping to every side of the tofu cube (yes, 5 times). However, it really does cook quickly, and if preparing the rest of your dinner at the same time, you’ll barely notice the process. If marinating, cube the tofu and marinate prior to cooking, then sauté directly from the marinade.

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  1. Cube tofu into blocks (if not already done)
  2. Heat a sauté pan or griddle over medium high heat (or 400 degrees Fahrenheit)
  3. Lightly oil the pan with grapeseed or other high-heat oil
  4. Place the tofu down evenly on the pan- I like to space them into rows so I can easily keep track of flipping
  5. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes per side (the first side may take a bit longer as the pan is still warming)
  6. I usually flip by turning towards me, towards me again, and towards me once more to get all 4 “middle” sides. I then flip all of them to the right, then flip it 180 degrees/ twice over to get the last raw side. Again, it’s easier if you just keep them all lined up. Alternatively, you could just toss frequently, although the sides will not be evenly browned.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and other spices as desire and serve, either plain to dip or with your recipe of choice.

How To: Other Tofu Preparations

I’ve tried a few other methods for preparing tofu, and these are notable standouts (although not winners):

Baked Tofu:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cube tofu, or, if already marinaded, remove from marinade. If not marinated, toss with 1 tbsp. oil
  3. Place evenly on a baking sheet
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping once 180 degrees halfway through baking, until golden brown

This yields a pretty similar product to pan-fried tofu, so, if you’d rather be more hands-free, this may be a better option. I find the final product to be a bit more chewy and lacking in that truly crispy exterior, so if eating plain or in a dish in which tofu is highlighted, I’d spend the extra time with the sauté pan.

Broiled Tofu:

  1. Turn on the broiler
  2. Slice tofu into 1/4 inch slices and marinate… or not. If not, coat lightly with oil
  3. Place the tofu on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  4. Broil for 5-6 minutes, until golden brown, then flip
  5. Broil for another 3-5 minutes, until the opposite side is browned to your liking
  6. Serve

Broiled tofu is quick, and does yield that good, crispy exterior. You lose the creamy middle, and I find it much less flavorful unless marinated because of that. It does make good dippers, though.

Sofritas:

See this recipe!

And finally, in case you want to enjoy your pan-fried tofu, and try out an easy recipe, here’s a delicious way to enjoy them, simply with a bit of Mexican flair.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps with Avocado Cream

Serves 2

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1 block extra firm tofu, pressed

1 tbsp. oil

8 romaine leaves

1 avocado

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Cholula chili pepper sauce

Prepare the pan-fried tofu as directed above. Mix together the avocado, greek yogurt, and seasoning into a smooth cream. Place a dollop of avocado cream on the lettuce leaf and top with 3-4 tofu cubes. Top with just a few drops of chili sauce and enjoy.

I hope something here encourages you to give tofu a try. Any and all questions or helpful facts are welcome!

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“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

In a world without many Chick-fil-A restaurants, Chipotle is my go-to fast-food of choice. Besides the fact that you can almost achieve a “healthy” order if selective at the toppings bar, you can get your food topped with a mountain of guacamole. I nearly always order the vegetarian salad bowl, simply because it comes standard with a mountain of guacamole instead of requiring a surcharge. I appreciate that Chipotle does seem to research the sources of their meat and dairy, but I tend to order vegetarian at restaurants unless I know it’s from a good source. Recently, however, I noticed Chipotle had upped their vegetarian offerings: sofritas tofu as a flavorful “meat” option. I never had heard of sofritas previously, but I love tofu, and it looked enticingly spicy and delicious. The downside: guacamole was now an extra again. But no matter: I’m a gainfully employed member of society; I can spring for the extra topping. I ordered my usual bowl- lettuce, black beans, fajita vegetables, medium salsa, pico de gallo, little bit of cheese, huge glob of guacamole- but added the sofritas as well. The verdict was: delicious! The sofritas really imitates classic taco meat in texture and flavor, with just a hint of extra spice. I knew within a few bites I’d be recreating it at home.

The first time I made sofritas from a block of tofu, I topped it on a salad with a few toppings and called it a day. It was delicious, but I wanted to really imitate the Chipotle bowl, just to compare. So I set off to make it again… and it only took 3 months! But really, there are a lot of components to a Chipotle bowl, and to the point of not spending tons on groceries, I’ll admit I skipped over a few of my standard bowl toppings, knowing I wouldn’t miss it much. And, at the end of it all, I think the sofritas tofu is really spot on, the toppings a perfect combination, and… this is the kicker… no guacamole required. This was a definite mistake, as I for some reason didn’t buy enough limes, or have cilantro, or have enough garlic, to make my favorite guacamole. After pondering lame versions, I decided sliced avocado would have to do. Not the same, but certainly nothing to be mad about. Avocado in its truest form is pretty darn delicious as well. In total, this is totally something to check out, either at home or at your neighborhood speedy Mexican joint; it really would please vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

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“Chipotle” Sofritas Salad Bowl

Serves 2-3

Sofritas

  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed for 30 minutes
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • pinch of dried red chili flake

1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly

1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly into half-moons

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

1 cup black beans, tossed with 1/4 tsp. cumin and salt and pepper

1 avocado, sliced

1/2 cup shredded cheddar and/or monterey jack cheese

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2-2 romaine hearts)

Dressing of choice, if desired (I went without; strong considerations- chipotle ranch or spicy lime vinaigrette)

To prepare the sofritas, first press your block of tofu for at least 20-30 minutes. Once pressed, whisk together the juice, oil, garlic, and spices to create a marinade. Break up and crumble the tofu with your fingers into a small mixing bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and toss the tofu until evenly covered. Allow to marinade for 30 minutes to an hour (or until you want to make dinner). When ready to cook, heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil. Add the sofritas to the sauté pan and distribute evenly, allowing to cook without stirring for at least 5 minutes or so; this is to facilitate browning the tofu. Once beginning to brown, stir the sofritas and continue to cook until browned to your liking, about another 5-10 minutes. Taste and season as desired, and set aside to cool slightly.

In another sauté pan, heat 1/2 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In the same sauté pan, heat the black beans until warm. Remove from heat and set aside.

To prepare the salad, plate the romaine. If using dressing, toss the romaine lightly with dressing before plating. Next, add the peppers and onions, then a pile of sofritas, then the black beans. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the salad, then add the sliced avocado on top. Then take a fork to it and mess it all up so everything is evenly distributed. Dig in and enjoy!

This makes a pretty big salad- definitely a dinner salad. But it’s intention is to compete heartily with the Chipotle burrito, quesadillas, and tacos! It’s very satisfying, and you won’t miss out on the extra cheese, meat, and tortillas at all. (Of course, if you wanted to be really indulgent, you could add some tortilla crisps to the salad and just go all out).

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How people actually eat salads… a mess of delicious ingredients, available at every bite.

 

 

Vanilla Pudding

I’m not sure if Brian likes vanilla pudding. Maybe he prefers chocolate or will only have chocolate or will have none, of it, thank you. But I love vanilla pudding. Actually, the real intention here was to try out a vanilla pudding recipe in thoughts of eventually making a super legitimately delicious banana pudding. I love vanilla pudding, but banana pudding is AMAZING. I thought it was literally banana-flavored pudding, but it’s actually vanilla pudding with sliced bananas and (usually) vanilla cookies. I’ll get there eventually, but in the meanwhile I had to try my hand at scratch-made pudding in general. Now, when I was a first-year grad student, desperate for some dessert, I actually whipped up chocolate pudding, mexican chocolate pudding, and mocha chocolate pudding a few times. I had no recipe to base it on, besides the forever internet influences, but I knew cornstarch was a thickening agent and pudding was basically milk, otherwise, so I went at the stove with a plan and actually got some really good results. But for vanilla pudding, and my eventual banana pudding, I wanted to know traditionally how it was done. I altered the recipe a bit, cutting some butter and sugar, just to make a tiiiiny bit “healthier” (I mean, pudding is basically breakfast foods, right?), but this still comes out like the classic. Indulgently creamy, cool, and smooth, and really not much more difficult that adding milk to a Jell-o packet, you should definitely try this at home.

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Vanilla Pudding

Based off this recipe

Serves 4

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. honey

2 1/4 cups milk

3 large egg yolks

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium pot, add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, whisking to combine. While whisking, add 1/4 cup of milk to make a smooth paste is achieved. Add the honey and the rest of the milk, while whisking. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

Turn the heat to medium and cook the pudding, whisking frequently, for about 5-10 minutes, until the pudding just begins to boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to constantly stir the pudding. Continue to stir, making sure to scrape the bottoms and sides, for another 5 minutes, or until the pudding has thickened (a way to discern this is if the pudding drizzles atop the pudding without being absorbed into the pudding below). Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.

Pour the pudding through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Once strained, pour the pudding into separate ramekins. You can add plastic wrap to the top to prevent a skin from forming, but I love the skin, so I don’t. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving (unless you want to eat it warm!).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

So, this meal looks remarkably similar to my shrimp and grits post from a few weeks ago. And, I guess in theory, that makes sense, because polenta and grits are remarkably similar. They are, in fact, the same food- corn meal- ground to varying consistencies. Polenta is usually a bit more coarse; however, traditionally, they are really derived from distinct types of corn. But when it comes to grocery store shopping, can you really find a difference? Not usually. The more coarse, deeply yellow corn meal I purchased (from the bulk bins at Whole Foods) is labeled “polenta,” and is what I’d consider polenta to be. Contrastingly, when I make grits, I use a finely ground white corn meal, which cooks quite a bit more quickly and yields a creamier consistency. These are lot of fancy descriptions for ground corn. The biggest difference notable to the consumer is 1) cook time and 2) texture. If you want dinner on the table in under 15 minutes, finely ground corn meal, usually grits, are the way to go. If you want more deeply developed flavors, go with something more coarse and simmer for awhile, usually polenta. However, this can probably be reversed. (I believe some Southerners would turn their nose at the finely-ground, more-quickly-cooked stuff).

I purchased the polenta on a whim, eager to see what the difference really tasted like. I also wanted a classic Italian flavor profile (two Italian dishes in a row!? Too bad I actually made this a couple weeks ago), so I topped the polenta with delicate and bitter greens and rich and savory mushrooms. I pretty much love mushrooms made this way. The rosemary isn’t overwhelming, but does add to the savory-ness (that’s a word now).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

Serves 1 (I eat alone… but this is easily multiplied)

1/4 cup coarse, stone-ground polenta

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 tbsp. butter

1 cup arugula

4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Pinch dried red chili flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the polenta, heat the chicken stock in a pot over medium-high heat until boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat to low, add the polenta, and whisk constantly, until the polenta has absorbed some of the stock and is thickened slightly. Cover the pot and simmer the polenta, stirring intermittently to avoid sticking to the pan. Cook the polenta for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the polenta is creamy. It may seem “done” a bit before this, but cooking longer intensifies the flavor. Once finished, add butter and season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate and plate.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and melt, then add the mushroom. Cook the mushrooms until browning and releasing their juices, about 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and chili flake, and add the fresh rosemary. Mix to combine. Toss the flour over the mushrooms and stir to incorporate. Cook the flour over the mushrooms for about a minute, until the white powdery flour is no longer visible. Add the stock, which should bubble upon contact. Stir to incorporate the stock with the mushrooms, and allow the stock to thicken and reduce. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the liquid is quite thick and adherent to the mushrooms.

Top the plated polenta with a pile of greens. Add the hot rosemary mushrooms above the greens, which will cause them to wilt slightly and soften the flavor. Eat slowly and savor the deep corn flavor with the savory rosemary mushrooms.

I love grits, but polenta is seriously good.

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(Anyone notice my distorted reflection in the spoon of my first picture? Yes, these are iPhone photos. I love VSCOcam.)

(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

I’m training (so much of me wants to write “training,” because I feel pretentious acting like I’m Rocky or something really getting ready for the fight) for a 10-miler in May- the Soldier Field 10-miler, in fact- and for some reason, I’m craving red meat like crazy. This could make sense physiologically, like further oxygen demands requiring more iron stores for increased hemoglobin production and so on (or maybe I just “want” the protein), but sometimes cravings are just cravings. I typically go through a serious hamburger phase in the Summer, because the idea of a hamburger on the grill next to some grilled corn on the cob just screams joy and block parties and satiety. Maybe because I want Summer with the entirety of my being, or maybe because of all the running I’ve been making myself do, or maybe because grass-fed beef really is just delicious, I had a sudden idea to buy a pound of meat and make bolognese sauce last weekend. It’s something I’ve wanted to make for awhile, but, to be honest, had always prepared in a semi-homemade fashion. Some part of me, though- probably the part also craving a hamburger- intended to really prepare bolognese. A genuine, from-scratch, heart-felt bolognese, simmered and gently stirred. I read recipe upon recipe, gathering my influences… chopped vegetables here, tomato paste there, milk heated, milk added at the end, simmered for hours, simmered in parts for days… there was a lot to take in. I wanted to make bolognese, and I wanted deep flavors, but I also had a work-night to make it. So I compromised the recipes, leveraged some ingredients and added some others, and ended up with a truly delicious and really not overly complicated recipe. It finishes in about 4 hours, and could be done in two (although losing some of that slow-simmered flavor). It’s full of vegetables and easy on the meat, but profoundly flavored by both. And there are hearty tomato chunks, because don’t we want to know what we’re eating? I also left out the wine, simply for not having any, but I love balsamic so much, and probably prefer the substitution. You can use either.

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(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, minced very finely

2 large carrots, minced finely

8 cloves garlic, minced

4 oz. mushrooms, chopped finely

1 lb. grass-fed ground beef

2 tbsp. Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried parsley, oregano, and thyme)

1/4 tsp. dried crushed red chili flake

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (I used Muir Glen organic)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or 1/2 cup red wine)

1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 parmesan rind

Begin by preparing the vegetables. I actually used a food processor to really break down the carrots and onions. The juices are released more fragrantly, which I think advances the flavor.

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the minced onion and carrots and cook until lightly browning, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. The heat should be low enough that the onions don’t burn, but does allow for light caramelization. Push the caramelized onions and carrots to the edges of the pan and add minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Mix the vegetables together and add the mushrooms. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until mushrooms are just releasing their juices. Add the ground meat to the pan and cook until browned, about 10-15 minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the spices and seasonings.

To the meat and vegetables, add a whole can of tomato paste. Stir to incorporate fully, and cook for about 5 minutes, to really “cook off” the canned flavor. Increase the heat to medium and add the balsamic vinegar or wine. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the liquid has bubbled away almost entirely, and there is just a bit of liquid apparent at the bottom of the pan. To the pot, add the whole peeled tomatoes, using the back of the spoon to crush and break up a bit. Stir to incorporate. Add the chicken stock and parmesan rind and stir. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then reduce heat to very low, about the lowest it can be. The sauce should maintain a weak simmer, with just a few bubbles breaking the surface every few seconds.

Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered over low heat for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The flavors will really intensify and develop as it simmers (I thought there wouldn’t be much difference, but had time to kill, so I let it simmer. I was pretty impressed by how much “deeper” and more complex the flavors were after 3 hours of simmering as compared to one hour).

Remove from the heat and serve, likely over pasta of choice. I love to use pasta and sauce as a topping for a massive pile of greens, so that’s how I served it here. I find spinach or arugula to work best, as the pasta just barely wilts the greens to a perfect texture.

This may be one of very fews forays into Italian for me, but I have my eye on a pasta maker and anticipate much more old-fashioned kitchen fun to come.

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

It’s the first day of Spring! Oh my god. The first day of Spring! It almost was never going to happen. I hear the birds chirping in the morning now. And while I still don my heaviest and puffiest of winter coats, I don’t always have to zip it up to my chin. And sometimes, in the afternoons, I don’t wear gloves anymore. I don’t experience the weather between 2 and 3, when it’s supposedly the warmest, but it looks like it’s almost nice outside. And the sun is effectively fooling me into thinking it is so. There is so much hope in today. Even though the forecast predicted 50 but it never felt much above 35. Tomorrow, though; tomorrow it is supposed to be 60 degrees! 60! This is what Spring is, really. The promise that tomorrow will be 60 degrees. If I were still in North Carolina, Spring itself would be a celebration. Spring is the most beautiful time, I believe, in the South. Summer can just get a little too warm and long. Chicago isn’t quite the same, as Spring usually means a bounce between winter and summer just long enough that you start to wonder if it’ll ever be Spring… until it’s Summer in late June. I’ll take anything, though. Absolutely anything.

I wasn’t sure I was going to share this recipe, because it is so very simple. It’s more of a technique, applicable to multiple spices and variations. But it’s a worthy one, I feel. And with Spring starting today, it just feels right to share a lemony side dish. I guess mostly because it reminds me of Easter, and that’s now just weeks away. These potatoes certainly aren’t a meal on their own, but this preparation- the boiling then roasting- prepares absolutely perfect bites. Crispy, crunchy exterior and a smooth, mashed potato like inside. Tossed in lemon and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, these potatoes are a wonderful side. I also enjoy them plain, dunked in ketchup, so really whatever you want to do is probably fine.

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Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4

6 yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes (ish)

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium pot filled 2/3 full with water, add cubed potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, and boil the potatoes for 4-5 minutes, no more.

Drain the potatoes and add to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes gently to coat. Pour the potatoes onto a baking sheet (best if lined with parchment paper). Roast teh potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until crisping and browned on the edges.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and toss with fresh rosemary. Add additional seasoning if needed. Eat hot, room temperature, or cool; pretty much all ways these taste great.

 

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SPRING. Eat some potatoes.

Chia Seed French Toast with Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup

So this was not my birthday breakfast (see this post), but this was a delicious breakfast from last weekend. Yes, I made French toast again. I wanted to experiment with healthifying French toast a little bit. Not too much; it still needs to be creamy yet crusted and delicious. But I figured the basics of French toast- egg, bread, milk- didn’t need to necessarily combine into an overly indulgent dish. In fact, it takes to these additional healthy ingredients and toppings very well, and I actually found this preparation more filling and satisfying. The blood orange strawberry syrup draws on this lingering-winter, almost-spring produce I’m noticing now, combining the acidic, thick-skinned winter fruits with the delicately sweet spring flora. They’re a match made in heaven; the perfect sweetly tangy topping to the more heavy toast below. I used chia seeds to amp up the nutritional profile, as chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fats and other minerals. I also wanted to see if they’d add a bit of a crunch to the toast (spoiler: not too much, really). Regardless, this French toast was phenomenal, with way less added sugar than the typical preparation topped with maple syrup, and more nutritious as well. (But if you want something more indulgently custardy and traditional, use this recipe).

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Chia Seed French Toast with Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup

Serves 1

2 thick slices (about 1 inch) of country bread, preferably multi-grain or whole wheat

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. chia seeds

Blood Orange Strawberry Syrup, to serve:

  • 1 cup hulled and halved strawberries
  • 1 tsp. blood orange zest
  • 2 tbsp. blood orange juice, freshly squeezed (feel free to eat the remaining fruit)
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Start by preparing the blood orange strawberry syrup. Mix the syrup ingredients together in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low. Allow the syrup to simmer until the strawberries are broken down and it has reduced to about half the initial volume, about 15 minutes. The syrup will be thick with small strawberry chunks, but still pourable. Set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk together the egg, milk, honey, and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into a shallow pan (I use a pyrex baking dish) and toss the chia seeds throughout the mixture. Soak the bread in the eggs, making sure to evenly distribute the chia seeds through the batter on the toast. Allow to soak for 2 minutes, then flip to soak the other side.

Heat a griddle to 350 and lightly grease with butter. Add the French toast and cook for 4-5 minutes. Flip then cook the opposite side for another 4-5 minutes.

Plate the French toast and top with the blood orange strawberry syrup.

 

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Enjoy for a filling yet healthier weekend breakfast.

 

Birthday Pancakes

I’m 26 today! It may be windy and cold in Chicago, but the sun is out, and I’m feeling the love from family and friends here in the city and far away on the East coast. Time to celebrate and start the day the best way I know how: with a mountain of fluffy pancakes.

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Birthday Pancakes (Chocolate Chip and Pecan)

Serves 1-2

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tbsp. sugar

3/4 cup milk

1 tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 whisked egg (sorry that’s inconvenient; double the recipe to make it “normal”

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. dark chocolate chunks

1 tbsp. pecans, chopped finely

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. Add half of a whisked egg, 3/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour over the dry. Using a whisk or a fork, lightly mix the batter until just combined. A few lumps here and there are fine. Set the batter aside to rest for 5-10 minutes. It’s relatively thick batter; it makes them extra fluffy.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Have canola oil, grapeseed oil, or butter available to lightly grease the pan.

Chop the chocolate and pecans and mix in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pour about a teaspoon of oil or butter onto the griddle and spread with thinly.

Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pour the pancake batter onto the griddle. Use the bottom of the measuring cup to swirl the batter into a circle (the batter will be thick). I was able to make 4 5-inch pancakes. Sprinkle the chocolate and pecans onto each pancake, and press them lightly into the batter.

Allow the pancakes to cook for about 3 minutes, until the batter is just bubbling (since it’s so thick, it won’t be as obvious as usual, especially with the pecans and chocolate covering the top). Once the underside is done, flip the pancakes and cook another 3 minutes, until golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Top with a pat of butter, some sifted powdered sugar, and, of course, maple syrup. This was incredibly filling, but oh-so-fluffy and delicious. An indulgent breakfast for a newly 26-year-old, starting this year RIGHT.

Spicy Honey Soy Glazed Tofu Stir Fry

That title is a mouthful. And this dinner is a delicious mouthful! Easy puns. Tofu and vegetables, stir fried together in a sumptuous saucy glaze, are such a great, easy-yet-satisfying, healthy dinner. They don’t, however, photograph well. So while the images below may not entice you suddenly to purchase these ingredients and throw this together, I promise it’s actually one of the more delicious things I’ve made. The glaze is just the perfect combination of salty, sweet, and spicy, and the vegetables take to it perfectly, smothered yet crisp. I happen to love tofu, especially when pan fried, but I’m sure another protein would fit in this meal nicely as well. I thought about plating these components on a bed of rice, but, honestly, it’s really not necessary.

I loved this combination of vegetables because of their contrasting components, textures, and flavors, but, as a stir fry, substitutions are easy and not discouraged. Sometimes I think it’s fun just to browse the produce section and choose something different, which is why you won’t find snap peas or broccoli in this recipe. Whatever you want to try this week, whatever you’d like to experiment, pour this sauce over it and it’ll work out.

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Top left and clockwise: red pepper, bok choy, radish, carrots, cremini mushrooms

 

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Inside the mason jar: sauce that is amazing

 

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My favorite way to prepare tofu: lined up on a griddle, flip x 6

 

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Spicy Honey Soy Glazed Tofu Stir Fry

Serves 2-3

1 block extra firm tofu, pressed

2 tbsp. grapeseed (or other high heat) oil, divided

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 head bok choy, trimmed from the base and washed

5-6 medium radishes, sliced thinly

1-2 medium carrots, sliced into thin rounds

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced

Spicy Honey Soy Glaze:

  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • Pinch of red chili flake
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. diced shallot
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Before cooking, prepare all of your ingredients and have ready. To prepare the tofu, open it from its package, drain the excess water, and place on a plate covered with a few paper towels. Top with more paper towels and weigh the tofu with another plate or medium-weight kitchen object. Let press for 15-30 minutes. Dice the tofu into about 1 inch cubes, depending somewhat on the size of the block (mine ended up more rectangular). Chop all of the vegetables according to the ingredients list.

Add the glaze ingredients to a mason jar and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside for later use.

I prepare the tofu separately, so that I can easily brown each side (which I find difficult in a standard sauté pan). You definitely don’t have to be so regimented- you could just as well brown in a sauté pan until seared to your liking- but I like every side to be crispy. So, either in your largest sauté pan or on a griddle, over medium-high heat or heated to 375 respectively, heat 1 tbsp. oil and place the tofu cubes in rows. Allow to cook for 1-3 minutes per side (I find the pan heats up over time, whereas a griddle is more consistent) until a light to medium brown is achieved. Once to tofu is sautéed, set aside.

In the same large sauté pan, wok, or other pan, heat the remaining tbsp. of oil over high heat. Add the carrots and bell pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just softening. Add the bok choy and cook for another 2 minutes, until the leaves are just beginning to wilt. Add the mushrooms to the pan and allow to brown, cooking just until the juices are releasing, about 3 minutes. Add the radishes and toss (I add at the end so they maintain some crispness). As the juices from the mushrooms boils off, add the tofu to the pan and mix. Lightly (lightly!) season with salt and pepper. Next, add the spicy honey soy glaze to the pan. It will bubble violently and thicken, so stir vigorously until all vegetables and tofu are coated evenly. Remove from heat and serve.

 

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And, as always, top with sriracha. It may not be the most beautiful, but this is better than take-out. Much, much healthier too.

Buffalo Quinoa Burgers

So this is a new experienxe, blogging on my phone from a coffee shop (my favorite- Ipsento in Bucktown). I forgot my iPad, so it’s especially inconvenient. But I have this Nutella Mocha here, and I’m not thinking it’s so bad. I made these burgers for the first time a few weeks ago, and actually made them as “bites,” which was directed according to the recipe I was following. They were absolutely delicious, served atop a bed of butter lettuce and other salad accoutrements (Is that possibly spelled correctly? Will spell check function appropriately on my phone?). However, these quinoa bites were kind of unproportionately inconvenient to prepare and make, requiring three rounds of pan sautéing and individual dips into buffalo sauce. I thought to myself: hey, this would be way easier as a patty, still served with ranch and crispy greens, but also with a delicious toasted bun!?! And it was so. I tweaked the general recipe some, adjusted the buffalo sauce proportions, and improvised my own “ranch” dressing (quotes because I’m not sure if it’s real ranch without mayonnaise or buttermilk). These burgers turned out phenomenal- perfectly crisped edges, wonderfully buffalo-sauced, and cooled just a touch by the ranch on top. To be honest, while I ate these all week simply with sauce and arugula, my favorite serving style was with a buttered, toasted bun and a runny egg on top. But, in all fairness, that’s always the best way to serve anything.

These are a great spin on a classic weeknight meal, and, I think, tastier than buffalo chicken. The quinoa just absorbs the flavor better. Top as you like, always with a fresh roll (toasted).

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Buffalo Quinoa Burgers

Based off of this recipe

Serves 6

Homemade buffalo sauce

  • 1/3 cup hot sauce of choice (I’ve used Frank’s and Cholula)
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • Dash of red chili flake

Quinoa burgers

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup cannellini (or other white) beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup homemade buffalo sauce

Homemade ranch dressing

  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon, squeezed)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried thyme, oregano, and parsley)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

Soft, fluffy buns

Arugula or other greens to serve

To prepare the ranch dressing, add all ingredients to a blender, mason jar, or bowl. Blend, shake, or whisk accordingly until all ingredients are combined. Place in the refrigerator to cool until ready to use.

To prepare the buffalo sauce, melt butter in a large bowl. Whisk together with extra virgin olive oil. Whisk in the hot sauce and spices. Set aside for later use.

To prepare the buffalo quinoa burgers, first prepare 2 cups of cooked quinoa. To make approximately 2 cups of cooked quinoa, heat 1 cup of water to boiling in a medium pot. Add 1/2 cup of dried quinoa to the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer. Simmer quinoa for 10-15 minutes until opened and soft.

In a large bowl, mix the two cups of quinoa with 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs. In a food processor, blend the cannellini beans to a puree. Add the pureed beans to the bowl with the bread crumbs and quinoa. Add the egg, whisked, and 1/4 cup of the prepared buffalo sauce. Stir thoroughly to combine until the mixture is wet but firms into clumps in your hand (think hamburger patty consistency). Add more bread crumbs or buffalo sauce as needed to get it right.

In order to make the 6 patties, I try to level the quinoa mixture in the bowl with a spoon. Score the mixture with the spoon down the middle, then score 3 lines perpendicular to the first. Grab the scored area to form the patties.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the buffalo quinoa patties and cook for 5 minutes per side, covering the pan (except to flip). Remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Drizzle the remaining prepared buffalo sauce over the patties. The buffalo quinoa patties will easily keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. Alternatively, you could cool the patties then freeze.

To prepare your burger, toast the buns in butter on a sauté pan (or toast then butter). Add your buffalo quinoa patty and top with a good spoonful of ranch dressing and your greens. If you want to throw a fried, over-easy egg on there, I’ll applaud you for your good taste.

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Look at that egg, the yolk begging to drip all over the burger, the plate, and your face. If you like buffalo-style anything, I promise you’ll love these. And better, you can enjoy them all week… or anytime, really.