Cheers

It has been 363 days since my last blog post, and I’ve decided, at this nearing-one-year mark, that I will continue this investment in sharing the recipes and random thoughts I deem internet-ready. There have been several reasons for my absence, all more or less justifiable and unjustifiable, like being too busy or having only rare recipes worth sharing. In evidence of my excuses, it is true that I’ve since searched for and bought a house, moved in a specifically wonderful roommate, endeavored into the endlessly demanding world of DIY projects, began growing a garden (which has just nearly failed but not entirely and not yet), spent every dollar I’ve made at Home Depot (approximately), did enjoy several small to medium-sized vacations, and cooked almost everyday… things that didn’t seem especially notable.

But when I first started this blog, its intention was to share all of those recipes that I made everyday. I preferred posting about recipes that utilized prevalent pantry items, or involved maybe only 2-3 “new” ingredients, or featured a skill that was actually much simpler than it sounded. After all, this was supposed to be about dinner for Brian, and he’s barely 21. So! With that all in mind, here I come, ready to share on a probably-inconsistent-but-hopefully-relevant basis some things I find delicious and easy and interesting and filling. I even have a taste-tester with whom I share at least 60% of my meals, so in consideration of his sign-off, I have twice the sample size to substantiate my confidence.

This recipe I’m sharing not because it’s astoundingly amazing or challenging (in fact, like most drink recipes, it’s more of a recommendation), but because it makes use of my first-grown vegetable from my garden, the jalapeno! I’m taking this hobby as a point of learning and interest rather than successful product yield, because I am as expected not overwhelmingly talented at gardening. These jalapenos and the (possible) 2 tomatoes I hope to harvest may very well be the only products of my once-was 12-vegetable planter bed. But I’ve researched garden tactics and read almost every pertinent page of the farmer’s almanac, so I’m already feeling excited for the fall growing season. I can’t wait until I’m the most expert elderly woman tending to the community garden following my 50+ years of eventual experience with raised planter beds.

Below is the simplest drink ever, that’s so surprisingly spicy it mandates very small frothy sips, followed by the coolly cleansing taste of fresh watermelon. On Monday, Brian’s 21st birthday, I’ll allow him to try (as he has never had alcohol ever. Of course).

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Watermelon Jalapeno Cooler

Makes 1 glass

1 cup watermelon, cubed, frozen

2 oz jalapeno vodka

  • 1 whole jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 cup vodka (I used Tito’s)

Add the watermelon and jalapeno vodka to a blender and blend until frothy and smooth. Drink and enjoy!

Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

It may be a week until Christmas, but I’m already kind of done with the cookies. Maybe it’s because everyone’s Christmas parties start back into the beginning of December, or maybe it’s because I joined some friends in a cookie-baking-bonanza that resulted in a whole tin of cookies to myself. I kind of don’t want at all mashed potatoes or stuffing or ham or holiday comfort food. I’ve been jamming on avocados and goat cheese, and I got into my mind that I could really go for an Asian salad. You know the kind, the Americanized version with ginger and wontons.

Well, of course, I didn’t have the ingredients for the giant salad of my imagination (which mirrored that of California Pizza Kitchen fairly precisely), but I did recognize I had a bunch of kale, a threatening-to-die carrot, and maybe some impromptu dressing ingredients. Out of a basic pantry and sad representation of a refrigerator… I created the best dinner I have had in months.

No, really. Admittedly, I freaking love the dumplings from Trader Joe’s. I used to buy the pork gyoza all the time, but somehow hadn’t in awhile… maybe it was a grad school thing. But I don’t eat pork or pigs anymore, and the frozen isle caught my eye (I’ve been excessively lazy recently). I saw Thai gyoza and thought I’d give it a try. The dumplings, while absolutely important, sit atop a salad so flavorful and balanced, that the whole (giant) bowl just satisfies every salty, tangy, savory craving you didn’t even know you had. I was not at all a believer in kale salads; I usually sauté my kale or put it in soups (read: why I had kale in the first place… soup season). But by massaging in the dressing, the kale becomes perfectly crunchy with just the right bite to offset the soft, fluffy little dumplings. I must say, the fresh ginger makes it. Which I totally would not have had if Thanksgiving had not been so recent, but please buy some if you’re making this salad tomorrow (as you should).

And, so long as you have this, or just a normal bottle of Sriracha, you are totally ready to go.

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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

Serves 1 hungry person (per usual); easily multiplied

Thai Peanut Dressing

½ tbsp. canola (or other mild-flavored) oil

½ tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

1 tsp. natural peanut butter (peanuts and salt)

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp. sriracha

2 inch ginger knob, peeled and grated finely, juice included, stringy remnants discarded

Dash crushed red pepper flake

Salad and Dumplings

2 cups organic curly kale, chopped finely

1 golden carrot, peeled and minced/ chopped finely

½ tbsp. canola oil

5 Thai vegetable (or shrimp) gyoza/ dumplings (from Trader Joe’s)

2 tbsp. roasted and salted peanuts

Sriracha to serve

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the kale and toss, with your hands, massaging the dressing into the kale leaves. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients (time is your friend).

Use a food processor to finely chop the carrot (or your own determination and knife) and add to the greens. Toss.

In a small, non-stick sauté pan, prepare the gyoza according to package directions, which I’ll include here. Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the gyoza to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is browning. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and quickly cover with a lid. Steam for 4-5 minutes until the gyoza are softened and cooked through.

Sprinkle the peanuts over the top of the salad and place the gyoza on top. Drizzle Sriracha over everything.

Absolutely dig in.

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Real question: should this blog be titled “Sriracha to serve”? Seems that’s at the end of every recipe. Also, I hate how dinner time in the winter means it’s pitch black outside. Try taking a good photo in your dark, poorly lit living room… sigh. At least dinner is good.

312 Chili

312. Like, the area code. No, actually, like the delicious wheat ale from Chicago’s local Goose Island Brewery. That’s right: beer is in this chili. This isn’t anything earth shattering; people have been putting beer in chili for awhile now. In fact, there’s probably not much that hasn’t been in chili, you know? Like, maybe wine? But it’s probably been done. Anyways, beer in chili is new for me. And I must say, I probably won’t go back. It adds this sort of subtle hoppy hint at the end of each bite that rounds out the spicy, vegetable-heavy flavor. It’s kind of like sipping a beer with your chili, but not nearly as strong, and without the intoxicating side effects. (The alcohol is mostly cooked off).

I love that chili is a total grab-bag. I had a sweet potato to use, so in the chili it went. I wanted lots of vegetables to bulk it up, so I chopped up several cups and sautéed away. Heaping spoonful of minced garlic? Of course. Spicy diced tomatoes, any variety of bean you favor… all of it goes in. The best part is that all of it goes in the crock pot. Which anyone will tell you is the answer to your dinner prayers. It magically both requires less work and imparts more flavor. And now that I boldly italicized crock pot, I can’t stop thinking that it’s a very, borderline inappropriate sounding word. It’s probably an insult if used correctly. Anyways, what I’m offering up today (after much delay and anticipation, I’m sure), is beer. in your chili. in your crock pot. waiting for you for dinner when you come home. I know; what a comeback.

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312 Chili

Serves 6

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 carrot, diced

Several cloves of garlic, minced (or used the pre-minced garlic, which has revolutionized my life)

1/4 lb. grass-fed ground beef (amp it up or ignore it all-together, I just had some in my freezer)

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

2 tsp. cumin

1 1/4 tsp. oregano

1 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. cayenne*

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

1/2 bottle of 312 (or other beer that you like, I guess)

1-2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 15 oz. can black beans

2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (I did one fire roasted with green chiles, one plain)

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

In a large sauté pan*, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, peppers, and carrots and sauté until translucent and softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the ground beef if using and cook until browned. Mix together the spices in a small bowl and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir to coat evenly. Add the can of tomato paste and mix thoroughly, cooking for about 3 minutes or so until well combined. Deglaze the pan with half a bottle of 312 (or other beer, fine. and drink the rest). Allow the beer to boil and reduce for about 5 minutes.

In a large crock pot, add the diced sweet potato, both cans of beans, the cans of diced tomatoes, and the tomato sauce. To this mixture, add the sautéed vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Cook the chili on low for 6-8 hours.

My favorite toppings include diced avocado, cheese, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), and, of course, crackers. Nothing like saltines in chili, for some reason.

Delicious, easy, warm food for an entire week (or I guess for a large-ish family). So glad it’s time for chili again.

*You’ll notice I didn’t include chili powder. Well, I didn’t have any (and also couldn’t find any at Trader Joe’s where I was shopping… who stops at 2 stores?). But! I found this handy guide for how to make your own. And I found the chili, in result, to be even more flavorful this way. Maybe it’s the smoked paprika?

*Eh hem. I’m sure there are raised eyebrows at my offered crock pot recipe that involves using a sauté pan. But hear me out. Sautéed vegetables are 100 times better in this recipe, and the browning earned from the cooked tomato paste and deglazing with beer is well, well worth the marginal effort. I mean it’s seriously 15 minutes at the stove for a tremendous result. You have 15 minutes. The crock pot does the rest.

Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

I’m here to hyperbolize today. For one, zucchini is not pasta. For two, this is not a homemade arrabbiata sauce. For three, this isn’t a literal ton of goat cheese- more like 1.5 ounces. Whatever. It’s not hyperbole to say that the American summer drowns the population in zucchini. And when zucchini are 89 cents at the grocery store, or you have a sweet, farm-fresh zucchini hook-up, you start getting creative with recipes. Zucchini pasta is actually definitely not new for the Internet. I’ve seen a few recipes here and there, and I always imagined a mushy-textured bland delivery vessel for watery sauce. I just wasn’t that interested, I guess. But I have a bunch of zucchini, and I saw this recipe for a shaved summer squash salad. “That looks good,” I thought. And then I thought about blanching the zucchini, because do I even like it raw? And then things snowballed. I was adding Sriracha to my bowl and cooling off with a ton of goat cheese and freaking out about how I was going to blog about this dinner thisveryminute. And, check it out, I totally am. That’s right, I finished this meal 30 minutes ago, and I’m so pleased with it I have to write about it right now.

This dinner takes approximately 5 minutes to make, sets you back pretty much negative calories (cheese doesn’t count on top of vegetables), boasts nutrition stats like a Flintstone vitamin, and, yes, is incredibly delicious. It probably should be served with something substantial- some protein or something- just because alone it really is a bowl of vegetables. I’m not sure of the staying power, is what I’m saying. Anyways, when it’s too hot to cook in your apartment, and you’re overloaded with zucchini, and you just want a nice dinner that’s healthy and is something new, try this. Or, even, disregard all of that. Just try it.

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Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

Serves 1 

1 zucchini, sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler

1/2 cup of green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic

2 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dash red chili flake

1 – 1.5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

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Heat a pot of salted water to boiling.

In a bowl (I used my serving bowl), mix the red pepper and eggplant spread (Trader Joe’s has an awesome one) with the Sriracha and spices. Set aside.

Slice your zucchini into threads with a vegetable peeler (it doesn’t take that long- I promise. Alternatively, you could use a spiralizer if you have one. That’s cool). Rinse, trim, and chop your green beans into acceptable-sized pieces. Add the green beans to the boiling water. 2 minutes later, add the zucchini. Blanch for 3 minutes. Drain the green beans and zucchini through a strainer.

Add the zucchini pasta and green beans to the sauce. Stir to coat. Crumble a ton of goat cheese all over the top. Enjoy!

Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp

This is my 52nd post for this blog. I didn’t realize the 50th was the 50th, and also missed noting the 51st, so here: I’m calling out my 52nd. My posting frequency has slowed some since the beginning, in part due to an exhausted schedule, in part due to more nights out on warm evenings. I have all of these things I wish to spotlight, and I keep pushing back recipes thinking they’ll be more fitting for another time. But I intend to keep this going, even if slowly, in expectation that with time I blog all I have to share. I am kind of curious if eventually I’ll run out of ideas, like maybe the 203rd post, and have to stop. Or does taste and experience change enough to keep a continuous fodder for this small, insignificant space? Maybe it’s more likely I run out of steam before I run out of ideas. Who’s to say.

I’m also very nearly approaching the time at which I can no longer say “From a Chicago Kitchen,” which makes me sad. I doubt I’ll change it; I’ll just take the route most Suburbanites take, who say they’re Chicagoans in a greater-Chicago perspective. I hope whatever kitchen I have next has good lighting.

Anyways, this recipe is a great one, I think, for the beginnings of summer. I probably prepared it a few weeks ago now, so I’d expect pineapples would be even more ripe and delicious. I admit I didn’t make my own Teriyaki sauce- I’ve never had a very comprehensive Asian pantry to make things from scratch on a whim- but I certainly didn’t just toss the shrimp with something out of a bottle. There were a few bottles involved! I also ran out of Sriracha (the most terrible of crimes), but I’m including it in the recipe because of course it should be included.

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Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp

Serves 4

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 pineapple, prepared and chopped into 1 inch. cubes (about half of the fruit needed)

1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 cup brown rice + 2 1/4 cups water

1/2 + 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce, divided

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp. Sriracha

1 tbsp. corn starch

1 tbsp. coconut oil

Dash red chili flake

Prepare the shrimp and toss with 1/2 cup pineapple cubes and 1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce. Allow to marinade for 15-20 minutes.

Cook the brown rice according to package directions, usually 1 cup of brown rice to 2 1/4 cups water, cooked for about 30 minutes. Fluff and set aside.

Using a blender, mix together about 1/2 cup of pineapple cubes, 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, corn starch, and Sriracha. Blend until the pineapple is completely pureed into the mixture. Set aside.

In a large wok or non-stick skillet, melt coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the marinated shrimp (pineapple included), red bell pepper, and an additional 1 cup of chopped pineapple.  Cook the shrimp for about 3-4 minutes per side, until they are opaque. Once the shrimp is cooked and pineapple warm, pour the Teriyaki pineapple sauce over the shrimp. Stir frequently until the sauce coats the shrimp and thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve rice and pineapple Teriyaki shrimp alongside each other. Be cautious with seasoning the rice- there is enough salt in the sauce without any additional salt added. Top with additional Sriracha as desired (you should always desire more Sriracha) and enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Salsa

It is my genuine belief that if summer in Chicago was a year-round experience, literally the entire population of America would live here. It is absurdly, catch-you-when-you’re-not-expecting-it beautiful, on days when you’re touristing, on days when you’re just walking through the park, on days when you’re stumbling for coffee, even on days when you’re commuting home from work. Contrastingly, though, a full year of Chicago winter would make this place the most desolate waste land south of rural Alaska. I guess that’s why Chicagoans are the only ones who really understand the gravity of the change of seasons for this city. I feel wasteful, napping this gorgeously sunny and clear 75-degree day away, but how can you possibly experience enough, when you stay out late in the cool-but-temperate evening drinking beer at a summer festival bright and loud from happy party-goers? As long as you drive with the windows down, I guess, to and from the places you need to go.

When you’re feeling especially pressed for time, or eager for socialization, dinner is pushed far down on the agenda. My recipes of late promise to be quite quick, not because I don’t find cooking “worth it,” but rather because I’d rather be enjoying this perfect season before it passes. I don’t know the punishment for spending June indoors, but I assume it’s fierce. I’ve actually been grilling out much more often than I ever have, which is an awesome development. Maybe one day I’ll create a grill-worthy recipe, since I’m definitely a novice in that territory. For now, I want to share this salsa, which is the easiest thing ever to make. It’s actually ridiculous that I always buy salsa, when it takes almost no time to pull together and is exponentially more fresh and delicious homemade. It’s great with chips, of course, but also really good on top of the giant salads you’re supposed to be eating now.

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Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 2 cups

5 roma tomatoes, quartered

1 small yellow onion, quartered

2 jalapenos, seeded and halved

1 red bell pepper, quartered

5 cloves garlic, whole

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup cilantro

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse and chop vegetables (hold lime and cilantro for later) and toss on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the top and mix the veggies with your hands to coat fully with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and the vegetables are just browning.

Add the vegetables to a large food processor (or add to a large bowl and use an immersion blender). Blend the vegetables to a just chunky puree consistency. Add the lime juice and cilantro and blend again briefly. Taste and season appropriately (you may prefer an additional dash of salt). Store in a large mason jar. Or with a massive pile of chips. Or on top of a cheesy quesadilla. Or as the dressing for your mock-Chipotle salad. In any way, enjoy. This should keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

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Delicious serving suggestion.

Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Oh, yeah. If you’re going to describe something as hot and cheesy, you’re probably not referencing mushrooms. You’re probably drooling over some mac ‘n’ cheese, or a pizza straight from the oven, or even a cheeseburger hot off the grill. Mushrooms are little fungi that have no clout with the hot and cheesy comfort foods of America. Not to say they don’t have their place- mushrooms can totally top that pizza or cheeseburger or even swim along side the melted cheese in your pasta. People respect them; they’re just not really that excited. But stuffed mushrooms deserve their place among the dinner parties and maybe even BBQs of your future. They’re poppable and flavorful and oh-so-endearing. The stuffing components have expansive, varied potential, but this recipe comes together in seriously 16 minutes and is a great place to start. I, in fact, invented this recipe on one of those I-haven’t-shopped-in-2-weeks-what-now kind of evenings, so you won’t find fresh herbs or obscure components this time. Not that they wouldn’t be delicious… but let’s keep things simple for now.

I used little button mushrooms for this recipe, because they’re what I always buy at the grocery store- they’re super versatile. But if you wanted a more substantial mushroom, you could easily up the ante by using adult creminis, which are portobellos (gasp!). I personally enjoy the ratio of filling to mushroom here, and also believe the diminutive size of these snacks to be a positive rather than an annoyance. To speak further to the possibilities here, you can of course adjust the amount of hot sauce you add to these to heat things up even more. Wow; it’s getting hot in here. All this mushroom talk… Just wait ’til you hear the compliments coming your way when you bring these to that block party next week.

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Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 2 (or multiply for limitless servings)

10 baby cremini mushrooms, rinsed and de-stemmed

1/4 cup hummus (I used original, but play around with the flavors)

2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 tsp. hot sauce

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. bread crumbs, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the mushrooms by rinsing and gently removing the stem (save for stock or toss it). In a small bowl, stir together the hummus, Parmesan, hot sauce, and spices until well blended. To easily fill the mushrooms, add the filling to a zip top bag and push into one corner. Snip the corner to make a 1/4 inch opening. Squeeze the filling into the mushrooms (about 1/2 tbsp. per mushroom). You may have a bit left over, depending on how much you add. Feel free to overflow these a bit; they’ll stay stable in the oven. Top the stuffed mushrooms with a sprinkle of bread crumbs.

Bake the mushrooms in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden and juuuuust starting to release their juices. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve.

These are an awesome quick dinner, a great appetizer, a perfect pot-luck accompaniment, and just an all-around good time. So easy, so good; you should certainly multiply this by about 10.

Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

When you’re living in a big city, you without intention are exposed to new ideas and cultures and references on an almost daily basis (depending on how much you go outside). One of the fantastic things about Chicago is its diversity, and the fact that the variability in culture penetrates even the most “gentrified” neighborhoods. Because even though I live in a high-rise full of more-often-than-not wealthy-ish older white people, I’m also steps from 4 Asian fusion, 1 upscale Mexican, 1 classic American, 1 Swedish brunch, 3 chain, and countless other restaurants. One of these includes a Vietnamese sandwich shop, known most for their banh mi sandwich. I coincidentally lived very near a Vietnamese sandwich place last year as well, so I’ve essentially passed by this delicious delicacy on an almost daily occasion for 2 years now. I don’t know why, but I’ll say it: I’ve never had a classic banh mi sandwich. Cue shame.

Now, in actuality, banh mi refers to a type of bread, not a specific sandwich. But in the westernized United States, it almost always refers to a baguette-type sandwich with roasted pork, pickled vegetables, chili sauce and/or mayonnaise, and cilantro. Variations come off of this base model, usually exchanging the pork for other meats or, in this case, vegetarian soy products (tofu!). Basically, this sandwich is a dream of beautifully combined products that promise to sooth and challenge all parts of your palate. But, probably, you’ve been passing it by, either literally or figuratively, without knowledge of its potential power over your sandwich cravings. I’m here to remedy that problem, by offering up a means to make this sandwich at home. I promise it is worth the (marginal) trouble to prepare each component, as it really takes about 45 minutes of time and is worth every second of the 2 minutes you’ll spend wolfing it down. Again, this is a tofu variety, which is quite easy to prepare, but you could certainly go traditional by preparing some pork or chicken (the same marinade can apply).

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Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

Makes 4 sandwiches

2 small baguettes (I used take and bake varieties, which freeze well)

1 cucumber, sliced

4 stalks green onion, sliced

Cilantro, chopped

Glazed tofu:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

Pickled vegetables

  • 5 small carrots, julienned
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Sriracha cilantro mayonnaise

  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped

First, press the block of tofu (per this post) for at least 20 minutes. Once the tofu has been pressed, slice the tofu thinly into 16, 1/4 inch slices (or, slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices). Whisk together the tofu marinade, then dip each slice of tofu into the marinade and allow to marinate in a large pan for 15-20 minutes.

While the tofu is pressing, prepare the pickled vegetables. Thinly slice, or julienne, the carrots and bell pepper and place in a dish (ideally that can be covered for later). Bring the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, and S&P to a boil, until sugar has dissolved in the liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables and allow to rest in the liquid for at least 30 minutes. You can store the remaining vegetables in the pickling liquid for several days (if these sandwiches will be prepared as “leftovers” as well later… a good idea).

Next, prepare the sriracha cilantro mayonnaise by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and mixing well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Next, heat a griddle to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the tofu to the pan (if using a sauté pan, this may require two batches). Heat the tofu for 3-5 minutes, until the first side is crisped and brown. Flip, then sauté the second side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Now, time to prepare the sandwich! Split the baguette in half and then slice longitudinally to make 2 sandwiches. Spread about 1 tbsp. of sriracha cilantro mayo on one side. Top with 4 slices of glazed tofu. Pile on as much of the pickled veggies as you’d like, then top with fresh cucumber, green onion, and cilantro.

Eat the sandwich! Bits will certainly fall off as you eat, but relish in your unstable sandwich, should-be-take-out glory. I absolutely loved these sandwiches for lunch the next day, prepared the night before then eaten cold. Once all the components are prepared, it’s quite quick to put together. I’d imagine if you used meat you could just hold onto some extras for leftover sandwiches as well. Now I’m off to try the sandwich shop next door, just to compare…

 

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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.