1108 Peanut Tofu and Veg

This dinner was delicious, you guys.  Even better, it required minimal prep and minimal hand-on cooking time – and the former could be reduced by using store-bought peanut sauce.  Simple, plenty of protein, and full of veggie goodness.  I could use a few more adjectives to tell you how much we liked it, but instead I will tell you that even though this recipe was supposed to serve four, we ate the whole damned thing, compulsively plucking mushrooms and cubed tofu out of the serving bowl long after we intended to stop.

Tofu and Mushrooms with Peanut Sauce
Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, grated
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 pound block extra-firm tofu
2 cups quartered mushrooms (or more if you’ve got ’em)
1 bell pepper, cut into 1″ chunks

Combine the first set of ingredients, then refrigerate for at least an hour or up to five days. Add the tofu and marinate at least half an hour or up to overnight. When you’re ready for dinner, preheat your grill or broiler. Thread the tofu, mushrooms, and peppers on skewers, brushing everything with the peanut sauce. If you’re using the broiler, you can alternately just put everything on a foil-lined baking sheet. Grill or broil, turning once until the mushrooms are cooked through and the tofu is lightly charred, about 10-15 minutes total.

1105 Stroganoff in Theory Only

I COOKED tonight, can you believe it?  I don’t know if it was necessarily successful, but I did make dinner and then I ate it, and I have leftovers that I might eat for breakfast tomorrow.  It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  I was aiming for the flavors of a stroganoff – except with mushrooms and tofu instead of beef.  And I didn’t have sour cream.  Or heavy cream.  Or yogurt of any variety.  As you might imagine, what I ended up preparing bore absolutely no resemblance to stroganoff.

I drained and pressed a block of tofu in the fridge all day, so when I got home, I sliced half of it and topped it with a marinade of balsamic vinegar, sherry, garlic, and a little bit of olive oil.  Half an hour later, those slices of tofu went under the broiler for about 8 minutes on each side – just enough to get crispy – while I sauteed a cup or so of sliced mushrooms in butter and the remaining marinade.  In an attempt to make the sauce thicker and creamier, I added cottage cheese (I know, what was I thinking?!), which got all melty but didn’t make anything that resembled a sauce.  The end result was, well, interesting, but I ate it right up.

What I should have made:
Mushroom stroganoff from Food Network

0914 “It’s Like a Really Fancy Breakfast”

The idea of mushroom crostini had been kicking around my head since we had dinner at Lupa Trattoria.  This is why restaurant meals – cheap or expensive – are worth it to me on occasion: I go home with good ideas that I can’t get out of my head until I’ve put them on a plate. The crostini didn’t quite happen tonight, but the idea led to a really good meal nonetheless.

First, crimini mushrooms, halved and baked in a parchment paper packet with herbs, large sweet cloves of garlic, and a splash of vermouth. I intended to chop these up for the crostini, but they smelled too good to wait. Instead, we ate them over crusty bread with poached eggs, a small salad, and the half bottle of wine we never got around to drinking in SF. Shane commented that it was “like a really fancy breakfast”, and I concur.

Recipe:
Funghi al Cartoccio al Forno from Jamie’s Italy

0813 Sidetrack

Familiar
Photo by Michael Greenlee

We found ourselves in an embarrassing spot tonight. Not literally – there’s nothing embarrassing about Sidetrack except perhaps the size of their burgers – but then I suppose you already assumed that. What is, however, embarrassing is running into your neighbors when out to eat and having to face the fact that after a year, you still don’t know their names. And we couldn’t even blame the ludicrously large beers that Sidetrack has on offer.

25 ounce ciders at happy hour, Sidetrack Bar and Grill
Photo by John Kannenberg

See, people in Ann Arbor are friendly. And this is a good thing! But it also means that a couple of our neighbors introduced themselves within moments of us arriving in town last August. We were in the driveway, it was raining, we had frantic cats in the car, and we just wanted to get inside. Introductions were appreciated, but the timing ensured that we forgot their names almost immediately – and have felt too awkward to ask since.

Regardless, we said hello to MIKE and SHAWNA, whose names were revealed when we got home and Shane peeked at the label on their mailbox, and went about our dinner – fried zucchini, an excellent pair of grilled portabella mushrooms topped with gorgonzola, and some sort of delicious fish dish with red beans and rice.  I had a martini, which felt like the only possible drink that could be consumed while wearing a full-skirted and strappy sundress that belonged to my grandma.

We were reminded again why we kind of really want to move to Ypsi – no trouble getting a table at a restaurant with reasonably priced drinks, easy parking, and friendly people.  After dinner we wandered over to the Ypsi coop, which looked and smelled like coops should – a little earthy, a little like produce, and a little like patchouli.  I know I often say that things are just right, but this evening – the dress, the dinner, the coop – was just right.

0728 Polenta with a Bunch of Veg

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks

I think there are only two things I would change about this dinner.  First, in an attempt to save some calories and fat, I made the polenta with our normal recipe (instead of with whole milk and vegetable broth), and I swapped out the heavy cream in the sauce.  The polenta was as good as ever, but I would use the heavy cream, as the sauce really could’ve used the richness to complement the vermouth and leeks.

Second, there’s basically no seasoning in this recipe at all.  I can understand that as it is prepared in a number of separate steps – blanch the beans and peas and set aside, prepare the polenta and set aside, make the leek-vermouth sauce and set aside, saute the mushrooms – and so the potential for over seasoning is significant.  I skipped the seasoning of the leek-vermouth sauce, as it was flavorful enough on its own, but would generously season the mushrooms, adding more salt and pepper to taste when the beans and peas go into the pan.I might also saute some garlic with the mushrooms, as that might give a bit of oomph to the final flavor.

A bonus addition, if I’m allowed it, would be to skip the shallots and instead add some crispy fried onions when plating.  The flavor is all but lost, and I think this would give a nice bit of extra texture.

Despite all of that, I’m pretty damned pleased with a flavorful and filling vegetarian that looks as good as the magazine photo.

Recipe:
Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks from Bon Appetit
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (for two portions, we’ll cut this recipe down to 1/3)

0726 Mushroom Tart, Sautéed Kale

I’ve always thought that the concept behind  Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee was a strange idea.  It feels like a throw-back to an era when processed food was glamorous – you don’t need to roast your own chicken or make your own gravy or biscuits or even chop your own vegetables to make chicken and dumplings! Just open a couple of packages!

On the other hand, I suppose this sort of show does make cooking more accessible for those who are intimidated by glossy food magazines and too-perfect tv chefs – and that’s a step in the right direction.  I’ve read in a couple of places – and now can’t recall any of them specifically – our culture now fetishizes the chef (or the eater) while at the same time abandoning cooking ourselves.  This NYT article from Michael Pollan is problematic but gets the point across – as a country, we are becoming morbidly obese on processed food while drooling over ridiculously complicated foods prepared on Top Chef or disgustingly huge portions on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  And I quote: “What can possibly be the appeal of watching Guy Fieri bite, masticate and swallow all this chow?”

In this context, anything that will get the average person cooking is a step in the right direction.

I mention all of this because tonight’s dinner would qualify as semi-homemade – an entree from the freezer with a side dish from the garden.  While the Tarte aux Champignons (um, fancy thin-crust mushroom tart with Emmentaler and other cheeses) from Trader Joe’s heated up in the toaster oven, I washed, chopped, boiled, and sauteed a bunch of kale with onions and smoked paprika.  While the kale could’ve used more paprika and/or garlic, it made an earthy counterpoint to the rich cheeses of the tart.  I enjoyed it, but it was all a bit rich for Shane.  A worthwhile experiment, though, and one that somewhat vindicates the semi-homemade style of cooking.  Somewhat.

Recipe:
Sautéed Kale with Smoked Paprika from Bon Appetit

0725 A Day of Improv Meals

Breakfast: sausages, an asiago bagel sliced into four pieces of toast, fried eggs for Shane and slices of tomato for me.  Weekend Edition Sunday and the puzzle.  Coffee.  A late morning attempt at geocaching turned into half an hour of wandering in the woods.  Who knew that we could wander in the woods without leaving our neighborhood?

Lunch: I had intended to riff on this recipe for dinner last night, but we ate at weird hours, and so pushed this back to today.  While I prepped and grilled mushrooms, zucchini, and a purple pepper on our grill pan, Shane picked basil and whipped up a quick batch of pesto.  We spread ricotta on toast, then topped it with pesto or fresh basil, piles of vegetables, and a drizzle of balsamic crema.  Soo good, especially followed by a moped ride downtown, walking around in the sunshine, and froyo from Lab.

Dinner: We picked up more chickens from Back 40 yesterday, but neither of us felt like chicken.  We did, however, feel like end-of-the-fridge snacks: corn on the cob, edamame, asiago from last week’s snack dinner, an assortment of pickles, and homemade beet chips using wee beets from our garden and a recipe from the Spanish cookbook.  They started out as small colorful coins:

Beet Chips Before

And after a short swim in very hot oil, they ended up like this:

Beet Chips After

Not really big enough to dip in the salt-and-peppered ricotta, but totally delicious anyway.  A fine way to end a fine weekend – and also another recipe knocked off of the Spanish cookbook challenge.