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!

Ginger Apple Kale Salad

It’s funny to me that one of my more recent recipes on this blog is for kale salad, and that I’m posting about it again today, because I’ve had it exactly one other time since December, and it kind of ruined it for me until… today, really. It might have had a bit to do with being somewhat hungover, and having an idiotic yet strong craving for a cold kale salad with lentils and lemon vinaigrette, which is quite possibly the most absurd “craving” and subsequent hungover meal I’ve had. About halfway through I succumbed to overwhelming nausea, pushed away my plate, and vowed that kale should be cooked, always. I both remember enjoying kale salads and being nauseated by them, so I waffled on whether this idea for a ginger-spiced kale salad, sort of autumnal in quality, would be a point for delicious or never-ever-again.

Thankfully, it turns out it was delicious! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m one week into whole 30, so this salad meets those restrictions. I probably owe a bit of justification for following this trendy plan for a month, and to do so I’ll say I’m much more interested in the psychological motivation of whole 30 than the dietary changes. I’ve never had issues with food in the past, but I do understand the willingness to try to change food behavior, and for that, I complete this experiment. If I do end up “feeling” differently on this diet, then, I suppose, I’ll have to decide what that means. For now, though, I’m doing what I can to still eat as much delicious food as possible. Even if it’s mostly veggies.

The biggest drawback to whole 30, to me, (besides no bread) is how meat-centric meals can become. As most of my meals are vegetarian, I sometimes just grow tired of eating meat. It’s just a little too much, occasionally. This salad follows a day of turkey bacon and taco salad, and I was more than ready for something lighter and crisp. And, if I’m getting points for appeasing people, this salad is actually raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, and whole 30 approved. Everyone can eat it! Except maybe some people on Coumadin… Ha.

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Ginger Apple Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

1 large bunch kale, sliced into ribbons

2 apples (I used Gala), diced

1/4 cup roasted pecans

Ginger Apple Vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. apple juice or cider
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 in. knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • S&P, liberally

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Add the kale and massage the dressing into the leaves, using your hands, for several minutes, until the kale has softened and is coated in dressing. Separate into bowls then top with diced apples and pecans. Enjoy!

The dressed kale keeps well in the fridge overnight, so feel free to make that part ahead and add the toppings when serving!

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.

Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Pumpkin. Not spice. I’m going the savory route with pumpkin this time, because, as you all should know, pumpkin is delicious without cinnamon as well. Just as other squashes seem to work with both salt and sugar, pumpkin really blends well with earthy spices like thyme and rosemary. I’ve made barley risotto before (it’s my favorite way to make risotto), but I felt inspired to add a new twist. This inspiration is likely derived from having bought all of the pumpkin things from Trader Joe’s, including cans of pumpkin puree. (Another side note: if you haven’t bought their mini ginger snap pumpkin ice cream sandwiches, just… please. Do it). This risotto skips a bit on the traditional ingredients, side-stepping a lot of the Parmesan and butter. In fact, it quite easily could be made vegan if you felt so inclined. Rather than compromising creaminess, however, the pumpkin amps up the rich and smooth and luxurious factor of this risotto so much the additional dairy is really not necessary. I actually made it once with Parmesan and once without, and I didn’t notice any difference at all. But, of course… I do still recommend topping with an inordinate amount of goat cheese.

Goat cheese on everything.

That should be my new blog name.

I actually made this risotto twice within a week, which is basically unheard of for me because 1) every recipe gives me leftovers, so I usually move on following the fourth plate and 2) I have to contend with the dying-by-the-day vegetables in my refrigerator, rarely allowing me to repeat a meal (living alone has its challenges). But! My friend and I were having our sort-of-weekly TV night, and I promised this risotto as we’re both pumpkin and goat-cheese obsessed. It did not disappoint. With a nice side of steamed or roasted vegetables, this is a perfectly impressive yet straightforward dinner for you, your guest, or your lunchbox.

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Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Serves 2-3

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold) or olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 cup pearl barley

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 – 2  1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, warmed

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese- optional

2-3 oz. goat cheese (chevre)

In a small pot, warm the stock to just below boiling. Keep warm over low heat.

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the barley and stir to toast for about 2-3 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and pepper, and mix. Deglaze the pot with the balsamic vinegar and stir vigorously. Lower the heat to medium low.

Add about 1/2 cup of stock to the barley. Stir the barley regularly. Once the barley has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of stock. Continue to add stock, stir, and add stock until the barley is fully cooked, usually in about 25-30 minutes. You may not need all of the stock recommended; you may need a bit more (have more at the ready). It depends on the barley, cooking temperature, and risotto gods.

Once the barley is softened and cooked through (it retains a chewy texture but should not have any bite), add the pumpkin puree and Parmesan cheese (if adding). Stir to mix thoroughly and taste. Re-season as needed with salt and pepper.

Add the pumpkin risotto to bowls and top with 1-2 tbsp. of freshly crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkle of oregano. Devour.

 

 

 

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Life as a single-person household.

 

*You’ll notice these pictures seem to lack onions and carrots. That’s because the second time is when I added those vegetables, and I really enjoyed the variety in texture. I’d advise adding them, but it’s up to you.

 

Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Ah! It’s been a whole week, and I haven’t had one moment to talk about dinner. Sunny, warmed up, Spring- and Summer-time Chicago is a demanding experience. People are always doing everything, preferably outdoors, at any and all hours, and yes, of course, you should go also. You should take your dogs on epic 2-hour walks down the lakefront, stopping to sprint and roll and tackle in the middle of dandelion-spotted verdant grass inherent only to the Midwest in late Spring. You should stare longingly at Lake Michigan, willing it with your mind to be warmer, knowing that regardless you can’t really swim in that bacteria-laden pool. You should run outside, in the morning, afternoon, or night, relishing the angles of the sun on the skyline and the dusted rooftops as the sun sets. You should certainly eat tacos on the sidewalks, with at least one margarita on the side. And yes, absolutely enjoy a happy hour flight down the street. You can feel the depths of winter siphoning out of your veins, and you can almost, almost forget it happened (maybe not this year entirely). But on those rare nights in, probably on Wednesday, you still need to eat dinner.

Gnocchi is responsible for the best meal of my life, hands down. Traveling Florence with my best friend way-too-many years ago, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the main streets. We had a carafe of water and a glass of wine; I ordered gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and she ravioli. I’m certain she enjoyed her meal immensely, but I will never ever forget the pillowy, unbelievably cloud-like texture of the gnocchi I had that day. The tomato cream sauce was light but flavorful, just enough to coat the little dumplings of joy. I haven’t tried homemade gnocchi (yet), so returning to the US I’ve been accepting but somewhat disappointed in the gnocchi offerings. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying this Italian classic, but I should definitely try my hand at my own version.

Regardless, this gnocchi is really most about the accompaniments. The gnocchi is still, of course, soft and flavorful, but the balsamic reduction and vegetables and kale are perfect for an almost-summer dinner that still warms you up. It’s absurdly easy, also, so don’t let the word “reduction” fool you. It really just means “heat for awhile then serve.”

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Serves 3-4

1 lb. gnocchi

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

6 cups kale, washed and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flake

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. It should be reduced in about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water, salted, to boil.

In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and sauté until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have softened, browned, and just releasing their juices. Season with salt and pepper.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a separate pan add 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and stir. Cook the kale until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flake to the kale and stir.

In the large pot of water, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 minutes, or according to package directions.

Add the balsamic reduction to the vegetables and mix. Once the gnocchi has cooked, add the gnocchi to the pan as well. Stir thoroughly so all of the gnocchi and vegetables are coated.

To your serving plate, add a serving of garlic kale. Top with the balsamic-coated gnocchi and vegetables. Enjoy.

 

 

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Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

It’s been warm for the past two days, which would be exciting if the weather channel didn’t have that 10-day-forecast of anxiety available. So while it broke 50 degrees (60 yesterday!) for three days in a row, I know it’s fleeting, with promises of colder, rainy weather later this week. I also had no opportunity to enjoy a spare minute of warmth with travel and working late, so I’m hardly feeling like Spring is around the corner. It’s nice wearing a different coat, though, and not freezing walking to my car. But, man, everybody is talking about the weather these days. Maybe because we’re all desperate for it to change. Onto other topics- salad. Vegetables in salad. Spring vegetables in salad. Because agreeable weather or not, it seems as though lighter, brighter vegetables are finally coming into season, and that is something to truly enjoy. My grocery list is now just a list of various vegetables, with Greek yogurt and eggs tacked on to the end. It’s my favorite. So I wanted to use these vegetables in a way that would truly spotlight them. Vegetables don’t need to be relegated to the side of the plate, shadowed by a hunk of meat and barely seasoned. They can and should be the center, the flavor of the dish! This salad is absolutely bursting with veggies, which may or may not seem natural to you, but it tastes so cohesive and delicious. Holding the asparagus, broccoli, and radishes together are the quinoa and a quick and easy lemon vinaigrette. I’ve been eating this for lunch all week (with a side of Greek yogurt- yum [by the way, some Bonne Maman jam swirled into Fage is the. best. snack/lunch side. ever.]).

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Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups chicken stock

2 stalks broccoli, chopped into small florets

12-15 asparagus spears, chopped into 1 inch segments

3-4 spring onions, chopped into 1 inch segments

4-5 radishes, sliced thinly into rounds

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chicken stock

Lemon vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dash of freshly cracked black pepper

Romaine lettuce, sliced/ chopped

Goat cheese, crumbled, to serve

Hard-boiled egg, diced/ crumbled, to serve

To prepare the quinoa, add to a hot pot over medium-high heat. Toast the quinoa for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Stir to fluff and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables. In a large sautee pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Sautee the asparagus and broccoli until softening and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and allow to boil, steaming the vegetables. Continue to cook until the liquid has boiled off, about another 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon vinaigrette. Add the cooked broccoli and asparagus, as well as the radish rounds and spring onions. Mix to coat. Add the cooked quinoa and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To serve, add the chopped Romaine lettuce to a plate. Top with the spring vegetable quinoa salad. Sprinkle on goat cheese and/or a chopped hard-boiled egg for additional protein to round out the meal. Serve with a small side for a complete lunch.

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This isn’t exactly dinner, necessarily; but would be a great side or main lunch component. The lemony spring flavor and fresh, bright vegetables are so inviting with the nutty quinoa holding everything together. This is how I like to eat salad.

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!

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.

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.

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

My first post on this blog is for a winter vegetable soup. It’s incredibly delicious, but, to be honest, I came up with that recipe in a I-must-use-up-these-last-vegetables-in-the-fridge scramble. Winter vegetable soup was merely a creative and convenient derivation from my truly favorite soup recipe. This one. I’ve made this soup hundreds of times, and while I initially made a few tweaks here and there, I now never stray. It is my go-to soup, my easy weeknight dinner, and my absolute favorite way to eat a sweet potato. It’s perfect as a meal: a giant bowl, steaming hot, served only with a spoon. It’s wonderful as a side to a grilled cheese sandwich (dipping not optional) or a flavorful salad (pecans, goat cheese, and cranberries anyone?). It’s probably even fine as a snack, although I can’t say I’ve ever eaten a bowl small enough to qualify. This recipe is gluten-free, vegan optional, vegetable heavy, definitely healthy, and deeply satisfying. But it tastes indulgent, creamy, and wonderfully complex. Seriously, I could talk about this for way too long. Make this soup, ASAP. Before you get buried in 3-6 more inches of snow and have to dig your car out at 6am and have to work until past sunset and have to run inside on the treadmill because it’s too cold to be outdoors for more than 2 minutes. Make this soup before you forget why winter is sometimes delightfully cozy and warm.

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 1

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 2

 

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 2-4

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 inch cubes

1 large carrot, diced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika or chili powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp. milk, cream, or coconut milk

Toasted rosemary breadcrumbs (optional)

  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

In a medium saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté until onions are translucent and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add diced garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add diced sweet potato and spices and stir. Cook spices for about 30 seconds, then add 2 cups vegetable stock (this is an approximation; vegetable stock should be just below covering vegetable mixture). Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooked through, take the soup off the heat. Theoretically, this soup could be eaten chunky; however, I prefer a smooth and creamy soup. Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsp. cream or coconut milk and blend.

To prepare breadcrumb topping, melt butter in a small frying pan. Add breadcrumbs, chopped rosemary, and salt, and heat until breadcrumbs are browning and toasted. Sprinkle atop soup alongside some smoked paprika.

Other toppings for this soup could include diced avocado, fresh green onions, greek yogurt or sour cream, or croutons. Or, you know, an entire grilled cheese sandwich. Most importantly, though, make sure you have a bowl and spoon big enough to dive in.