Attempts at a Slow Carb Life

A few meals from the last two months:

Shrimp and zucchini "noodles"

Shrimp and zucchini “noodles” – an only somewhat successful first attempt at replacing pasta with pasta-like substances. Fortunately, we like both zucchini and shrimp. Unfortunately, this was a pretty lame dinner. Next time I’ll try NomNomPaleo’s version.

Adventures in Low(er) Carb Eating

Orin asked, “Is this breakfast food?”. I said, “Today it is.” Mustard tofu with sauteed kale, mushrooms, and onions. I had this breakfast pocket on the brain.

Dinner, SELMA-style

Post vacation dinner, SELMA-style: fried eggs over pulled pork, shredded cheese, and a coarse salsa made from garden excess. I discovered exactly how many successive pulled pork meals I can stomach. The answer? Five.


Springtime Tofu

I’ve been in a cooking slump since starting my new job a couple of weeks ago.  We’ve been busy, or we’ve been out of town, or Shane has had something going on and I’ve foraged for big salads or Plum Market takeout.  This dish was the rare exception to the slump.

A Very Green Dinner

I’ve been really into marinated broiled tofu this winter, but I think this dish marks a turned corner for me.  The tofu is baked instead of broiled, and battered instead of marinated, both of which give it an entirely different texture: chewy and nutty, sweet and savory, ripe for pairing with steamed veg and a salad.  The pistachio crust gives it a vegetal nuttiness – but roasted almonds are just as good, as we discovered over breakfast the other morning.  That’s right: I may not be able to muster a real meal for dinner most days, but I did get out of bed and get this tofu in the toaster oven before my shower the other morning.  So maybe the slump’s all in my head.

Pistachio-Crusted Tofu from FatFree Vegan Kitchen – I omitted the soy sauce marinade, and would recommend reducing the breadcrumbs by half in order to get more nuts, less filler

1129 Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu

I have mixed feelings about this dinner. It was good – and smelled even better – but it wasn’t a knock out, and I’m not sure how to fix it.

For one, the original recipe called for the tofu to be tossed in cornstarch, fried, then set aside for most of the recipe.  I don’t love the texture of fried tofu – or the extra fat from the oil – so we sliced it, gave it a good dose of olive oil cooking spray, then broiled it – so it had better texture but not much flavor.  Perhaps a ginger-y marinade would fix this?

For another, there was too much liquid.  The original recipe called for 28 oz diced tomatoes in liquid plus 1/4-1/2 cup water or broth.  I used fresh tomatoes but only had about a cup on hand, so I supplemented with a couple of diced peppers.  This meant that I added significantly less liquid to the pan than called for, and it still was a bit wet.  I’m not sure where the liquid is supposed to go, as everything in the recipe is full of its own moisture and certainly doesn’t need any extra.  I’m also wondering if coconut milk might be a nice substitute?

Finally, the seasoning.  Adding more of everything that originally called for – plus a teaspoon of red pepper flakes – gave the recipe a nice heat, but we both found ourselves salting generously.  Perhaps more salt and the coconut milk previously suggested would help?

Regardless, this was a fast and healthy dish, and made enough for dinner for the two of us and three lunch portions when served with steamed Jasmine rice.

Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu
Adapted from Whole Foods, presented as I made it.  See above for suggested modifications.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained, and pressed for at least a few hours to extract extra moisture
2 yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 generous tablespoon garam masala
1 generous teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers – I used green and red
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
1 (1-pound) bag frozen green peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tofu into 1″ pieces, then slice again into bite sized triangles.  Spread on a broiler-safe pan lined with tinfoil, then spray evenly with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.  Place under preheated broiler for about 8 minutes on each side, or until golden and a little crispy.

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onions and ginger and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Add spices, tomatoes, and peppers and simmer for 5 minutes. Add water or broth, peas and tofu, reduce heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon over rice and serve.

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.

1106 SO Into this Dinner

Early on in our time in DC, I discovered Teaism on an overcast and lonely afternoon of wandering around downtown. Just a few blocks off the Mall, Teaism became a go-to spot for us if we were in the city and needed lunch after going to the Portrait Gallery or one of the other Smithsonians. On this particular day, however, I fell in love with their bento boxes.

Lunch at Teaism

The contents varied from trip to trip, but the upper right hand corner remained constant: sticky rice with a nutty savory seasoning called furikake, which I loved enough to pick up a jar that then sat unused – until today.

A Damn Good Dinner

Dinner tonight was marinated and broiled tofu – worlds better than last night’s – and a packet of Trader Joe’s brown rice with furikake. Salty, savory, and so damned good. My marinade was a bit of this and that – all measures are approximate, and you should absolutely adjust as suits your tastes:
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 large clove garlic, pulverized by whatever means you see fit
Vegetarian alternatives to fish and oyster sauces are apparently available at ethnic food stores, but I haven’t tried them, so I make no promises. All I know is that if you marinate tofu in this stuff for half an hour and then broil it for about 8 minutes on each side, it will be all you can do to not EAT IT ALL UP.

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

1022 Happy mouths, happy friends.

@ Jolly Pumpkin
Photo by ryanbmolloy

I’m really having a hard time figuring out the best part of tonight. Was it the red chile tofu sandwich at Jolly Pumpkin? The trio of dips split by a trio of friends? The fact that I successfully ate something other than oatmeal or soup? Perhaps it was Shane’s walleye, which he later said he wished he could just eat forever without stopping. If walleye become an endangered species, you can blame him.

Photo by surlygirl

Or was it Laurie’s first visit to Zingerman’s? We were plied with anchovies, cheese, and four or five kinds of ham, culminating with jamón ibérico. Jamón ibérico! $200 per pound! Cue the sounds of angelic delight. And then we went Next Door and tried chocolate studded with cacao nibs, and were told that we were basically making more chocolate in our mouths as we ate.

Chocolates at Zingerman's

Happy mouths, happy friends.

1011 Braise and Broil

Tonight’s dinner was all improv, all the time.  I bought an ambercup squash at the market the other weekend with the intention of Trying a New Vegetable – and then it sat neglected on the windowsill until tonight, when I needed something to go with the tofu that I’d also bought the other weekend with the intention of Trying Something New with Tofu.  Are you sensing a theme here?

Using a modification of my previous recipe, I marinated a block of extra-firm tofu, then peeled and cubed the squash, which went into the new enameled pot on the stove along with an onion, butter, and apple cider. I had in mind cubes of soft sweetened squash, but ended up with a bright orange mash – which was just fine. The tofu took about 20 minutes under the broiler in the toaster oven, and then we had an excellent dinner full of fall colors.

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/8 cup tamari + more to taste
1/8 cup oyster sauce
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/16 cup vegetable oil

Whisk together liquids and taste – it should be salty and sweet, with a bit of funk from the fish sauce. I bet the marinade would be killer with a bit of grated ginger and garlic, but I had neither handy. Adjust to taste – these are rough measures. Slice the tofu into triangles and place in a large flat container, then top with the liquid. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the broiler and spread the marinated tofu on a broiler safe pan in a single layer. Broil about 10 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

For the squash:
a knob of butter
1 medium yellow onion
1 small winter squash (butternut or ambercup are beautiful, others would likely work as well), cut into cubes
1 cup apple cider
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a medium-sized pot or saucepan with a tightly-fitting lid. Sweat the onion in the butter for a bit, then add the cubes of squash and toss around to coat. Add the cider, cover, and simmer until the squash is soft. At this point you could puree it, add stock, and make a simple soup – or just mash it up with a heavy spoon for a sweet and textured side dish.

A Week of Bachelor Eating

I could tell you all of the pathetic meals I dreamed up while Shane was gone.  We hadn’t totally restocked the fridge, and I wasn’t totally in cooking mode yet.  I went to Ferndale for a half day, and then had houseguests for three nights.  My meal planning went something like this:

  1. Open the fridge.  Stare at the contents.
  2. Open the crisper drawers.  Move a few things around.
  3. Open the cabinet.  Stare at the contents.
  4. Return to the fridge.  Complain to the cats that I didn’t want to eat anything in the fridge.

And so it went for nearly a week while Shane ate his fill of schnitzel and weird vegetable terrines, with the occasional good meal sandwiched between a lot of odd conference food.  One night I had yogurt, a pear, and peanut butter toast for dinner.  Another night my Couchsurfers treated me to dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had excellent, if overly mustardy, pulled pork and we split two desserts three ways:

Roadhouse Dessert

After the Roadhouse dinner, I was determined to get my ass back in the kitchen, so I pressed a block of tofu overnight and made this:

Proof that I did cook at least once while Shane was gone

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, one crushed, the other thinly sliced

Press the tofu in the fridge overnight to get rid of excess moisture. Slice into 8-10 slices of roughly equal sizes, then marinate in the remaining ingredients for 30 minutes to one hour, then broil until cooked through and golden, about 10 minutes on each side.

For the sprouts:
1-2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, halved, stem end removed
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter, then add the garlic and saute until golden. Add your sprouts and cook over medium heat until a little golden and a little wilted. I find it’s helpful to cover the sprouts to help them sweat a bit. Yum yum.

I also had a great squash idea, involving one acorn squash and some leftover pancetta:

green tomato, acorn squash, other squash all home grown
Photo by burtonwood + holmes

Preheat your oven to 375. Take a small acorn squash. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. It’s probably safest to cut off the top so that you have a flat surface and the squash doesn’t rock around. Place your squash halves on a baking sheet and add a spoonful of brown sugar to each half. Top each half with a thin slice of pancetta, then place in the oven. Forget about it for an hour or so until your house smells amazing. The pancetta will be crispy, and the interior of the squash flavorful from the rendered fat and the brown sugar. You might want a pinch of salt, but that’s about all you’ll need.

Long story short: I’m glad Shane’s home and that we can go back to eating like civilized people.

0830 Pan-Fried Tofu and Kale

Sweet Chili Lemon Tofu with Wok Steamed Kale and Quinoa
Photo by sysadmnling

We’re leaving for vacation on Wednesday, so I harvested aggressively on Saturday to minimize the inevitable waste from a week-or-so of neglect. This resulted in nine pounds of tomatoes, six plus pounds of potatoes, a beautiful orange pepper, and a giant bag of kale, among other things that were tossed in the compost pile or left to their own devices. Jackie and Leah both enthusiastically recommended this recipe, which seemed like a great way to use up a giant amount of kale without requiring much additional grocery shopping.

Shane worked from home today, so I emailed him mid-day to ask for help with a bit of prep – pressing the tofu and making the marinade – so that we could eat right after work. Instead he surprised me by making the whole meal!  While I made myself a drink, he fried up the tofu and kale, gave the too-thin rice noodles a quick stir around in the cast-iron skillet, and plated everything with a drizzle of the dipping sauce.

I insisted on eating with chopsticks, but quickly dispensed with the idea of dipping in the dipping sauce – the noodles were too fragile, and we kept having to move the bowl back and forth between us to avoid dripping on the table.  Shane spooned sauce over his dish and seemed much happier with that solution.

With the right noodles – we only had very thin ones on hand from another recipe – this recipe might be a keeper.  Also a keeper?  My husband.  For real.

Pan Fried Tofu, Kale, and Stir-Fried Noodles from Vegan Yum Yum