Superspark

a year in food and life

Spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers April 20, 2010

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 11:08 am

Eek- over a month without a post! That’s just embarassing, especially considering I’ve been cooking pretty regularly.  I’ve even gotten a little inventive, with mixed results.  Most notably, there were the post-Passover charoset muffins.  Dylan is Jewish, if only culturally, and in the years we’ve been together, we’ve had a lot of fun at Seders, mainly because it’s an excuse to get a bunch of friends together and drink a lot of wine.  This year was a little different as we had little time to pull together a Seder nor do we know a single Jew around here. So we missed the social event, but I thought it only appropriate to make my Passover favorites, matzoh ball soup and charoset, the scrumptious fruity, nutty spread that is supposed to represent the mortar used by the Israelites to build walls in ancient Egypt.

I’d never actually made charoset before, but after seeing this Persian version called “Hallaq” in the New York Times, I was sold. Like cardamom? You’ll love this recipe. And although we truly love cardamom in the Superspark household, this bordered on excessive, to the point that Dylan refused to eat any more. Never one to throw away food (the horror!), I subbed our leftover charoset for the banana in banana muffins (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything), creating the world’s first (?!) charoset muffins. Genius! Yeah, they’re still excessively cardamom-y, but it’s tempered by the other ingredients, especially when topped with jam. No lectures on integrating Passover foods into leavened products, please. Around here it’s called being resourceful. :)

So what does that have to do with spicy thai tofu with red bell peppers, you might ask? Well, that was another recent recipe born of resourcefulness. Falling victim to my bad habit of buying obscure ingredients for recipes that never get made, I found myself with a couple of rapidly aging anaheim chiles in hand. It’s awfully hard to find a good way to use them other than chile rellenos, it seems. I was a little skeptical of a tofu recipe I found in one of my cookbooks, but blindly proceeded to buy the remainder of the ingredients to make said recipe. After roasting the chiles (a not completely successful endeavor, as it turns out) and starting to mix the spices, I began to get a little skeeved out by the thought of sour cream, monterey jack cheese, peppers and tofu all in the same dish. Is it just me or does tofu not belong with dairy in a stir fry type dish? Yech…

So at the last minute, my old faithful friend Epicurious came to the rescue with this recipe featuring ingredients salvaged from other recipes. It was super quick and you know what? It was pretty great. It’s not an intensely spicy dish (though a few squirts of sriracha could fix that), but it had a great combination of flavors and textures for a meal requiring so little effort. It’s not exactly fancy dinner party fare, but I’d eat it any night of the week, with lunch leftovers to boot. Now what to do with those anaheim chiles?

Spicy Thai tofu with red bell peppers (serves 4)

Ingredients:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, seeded, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 14-to 16-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained well, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (we subbed lemon juice)
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves (we used frozen)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (we skipped- none on hand!)
1/3 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts (we substituted cashews)

1. Heat oil in large pan over high heat. Add bell peppers, ginger, and garlic; sauté until peppers just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

2. Add tofu and green onions; toss 2 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients. Toss to blend, about 1 minute.

3. Add spinach in 3 additions, tossing until beginning to wilt, about 1 minute for each addition. (We used frozen, adding it all at once instead.) Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle peanuts or cashews on top.

 

Pear parmesan cashew salad October 6, 2009

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized,veggies — superspark @ 8:50 am

One of the perks of pursuing a PhD is that the summers are just a step away from the carefree summers of youth.  Yes, technically we were all still pursuing our research, but the summers always had a very different vibe.   In an anthropology department, all of the professors scatter to their field sites (or sometimes, their summer homes), while the grad students tag along on legendarily debaucherous archaeological digs or other such “work”.  Those of us who were left behind (mostly the more lab-work oriented in the bunch) would come in to find deserted halls and lots of time and freedom to pursue our other interests, such as sunbathing alongside the Charles River with a Diet Coke big gulp in hand (ah, those were the days!)  There was even one grad student in our department (no, not me) who decided to take a summer job at the Gap to supplement her meager income rather than working on her research.

So as I started my post-graduate career, it came as something of a rude shock to find that not all of academia shuts down as soon as classes end in May.  Those of us on the more clinical side may not even notice that it’s summer aside from it being a little warmer as we walk to our cars.  I haven’t had sunbathed with a Big Gulp in quite a while and its been years since I got into a bathing suit.  (Which says as much about my preferred pastimes as my work schedule, I suppose.)  This year it was particularly bad; what with our move from Los Angeles to upstate NY, summer came and went with the blink of an eye, punctuated only by lots of rain and cries of, “Is it already time to mow the lawn AGAIN?”

We were in no mood to eat salad this past summer, not even my favorite salads of the fruit-nut-cheese variety.   Now fall is another story.  Fall is when the Northeast is at its best, with leaf peeping, apple picking, and lots and lots of pie.  As you pull out your slow-cooker and turn to soups and comfort food, may I remind you that salads can be decidedly autumnal, too? I’m thinking of this particular combination with crisp pears, salty parmesan, and crunchy cashews from Jamie Oliver, via Serious Eats. I won’t lie- it’s not going to make you forget about the luscious berries and stone fruits that you enjoyed just a few weeks ago, but it might just remind you that fall has its little joys, too.

Pear, Parmesan, and Cashew Salad (serves 4)
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients:
2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly
5 ounces greens, a mixture of arugula and mesclun
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, or to coat
Shaved Parmesan or Piave cheese
Handful unsalted cashews, crushed roughly

1. In a large salad bowl, add the greens. Pour a gentle stream of olive oil 3-4 times around the bowl, just enough to coat the sides well. Do the same with the lemon juice. Add a good pinch of salt for each person.

2. Add the pear slices, then toss the greens gently until evenly coated with the oil and the acid. Taste and adjust the oil/acid/salt ratio. Top with the cashews and shaved cheese. Finish with fresh black pepper.

 

Butternut squash soup with miso and ginger September 22, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 5:02 am

butternut squash and miso soup

Having finished bemoaning the local delicacies of our new town in upstate New York,  I am now proud to share some of its finer culinary features.  Our first “Yowza!” came when we visited our local supermarket, Wegman’s.  I had been to another Wegman’s once before and while it was nice, it was nothing to write home about.  But our local Wegman’s (appropriately dubbed the “yuppie Wegman’s” by one of my co-workers) is another beast entirely.  There’s a tea bar, about 10 different “stations” ready to make you whatever you’d like to eat, a whole Le Creuset wall, and a giant natural foods section.   But the real star for my is the produce department- I had never once found galangal in our Los Angeles supermarkets, but it’s here.  Same for all sorts of other exotic fruits and veggies and I, for one, am excited to try my hand at cooking them in the years to come.

The other tremendous culinary find in our town is the Public Market, a huge pseudo-farmer’s market unlike any I’d visited in California.  The California ones tend to be frequented by young, liberal affluent types (not unlike…ahem, myself), but this particular one in upstate New York draws everyone.   Rich and poor, young and old, every race- everyone swarms to the Public Market on Saturday morning, making it decidedly chaotic and just a little unpleasant.  Were we to go at 5:30 AM when it opens, it might be a little more peaceful, but for now, we’ve been braving the crowds. And why is it so crowded? Bargains, people.  I haven’t seen such low prices since trekking around Eastern Europe a few years ago.  Piles of eggplant, summer squash, peaches, and tomatoes being sold a rock bottom prices.  It’s pretty amazing and inevitably leads to a complete glut in our crisper.

This past weekend at the market, I spotted the first winter squash of the season and so it seemed only appropriate to pull out this recipe from last year that I never got around to blogging.  It’s a modern spin on the traditional butternut squash soup, something to make it a little more interesting.  My version is a slight tweak on this recipe from Apartment Therapy- The Kitchen for sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. So embrace the falling leaves and the cooling air and warm up with a cup of soup inspired by fall’s most beloved veggie, the butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Ginger (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced – about 1/4 cup
1 butternut squash – peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons light miso (we used dark)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper

1. Steam the butternut squash chunks (by putting them in a metal colander or strainer sitting over a pot of boiling water) for about 20 minutes or until soft. (You may be able to skip this step by cutting the chunks very small.)

2. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Raise the heat a little and add the ginger. Fry until the ginger is fragrant. Add the squash and miso and continue frying a bit, then add the broth or water. Bring to a simmer then cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

3. Return to the heat and warm, whisking in the milk and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, whisk in a little extra milk until you get the consistency you want.

 

Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette September 3, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 4:59 am
beet salad
I had to laugh when I read the ongoing series of posts about getting picky eaters to eat vegetables on Cheap Healthy Good earlier this summer.   Although I now love food enough to not only cook it, but spend my precious free time writing about it, I was an extremely picky kid and would still categorize myself on the picky end of the spectrum.Let’s just say the summer I first went to sleep-away camp at around age 10 was a momentous one, culinarily.  At this no-frills camp, meals were served family style and if you didn’t like what was offered, you didn’t eat.  There were literally no alternatives.  A picky kid can hold out for a meal or two, but envisioning a whole month of hunger will make even the pickiest eater fold.  Among my discoveries that summer?  That spaghetti was still edible even when sullied with sauce rather than served plain with just a pat of butter.  My parents thrilled to find out that I was now willing to eat an egg on occasion, although only scrambled.
Luckily I seem to have gotten over my most egregious aversions .  Well, not all of them-I still eat mostly vegetarian not so much out of ethical reasons but out of a distaste for meat.  But I am now happy to eat nearly any fruit, vegetable, or grain.  Almost any.  Beets have still proven to be my bugaboo, much to Dylan’s dismay.  An avowed beet lover, he made me some sort of beet and goat cheese appetizer as part of my birthday dinner the year we started dating and while it was palatable, it certainly wasn’t the thing that won my heart.  In the nearly five years since then, I’ve choked down beets maybe once or twice and only when out of politeness, I really felt I had no choice.
So something very strange must have been in the air earlier this summer when I picked up a bunch of beets at the farmer’s market, thinking that they might make good baby food for Maddie.  Turns out that supposedly only small beets are good for babies  (and let’s not even get into the staining issues!), so the beets were left for our consumption.  The old, super-picky me would have clearly tossed them or just let them rot in the crisper, but the new open-minded me noticed this recipe on Healthy and Gourmet and thought it actually sounded kind of interesting and appealing.
I’m happy to report that I’ve had a beet breakthrough. The recipe was delicious and choosing some fun, candy-striped beets to use made it all the more enjoyable.   While I haven’t touched a beet again in the 2 months or so since I made this dish, I would happily eat it again.  So I’ll call that progress…
Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette (serves 4)
2 cups peeled and cubed beets (about 5 whole beets)
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss beets with two tablespoons and spread evenly along the bottom of a well greased baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey and grated ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about three minutes until juice begins to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour over roasted beets and serve.
 

Chana punjabi May 8, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 9:43 am

chana-punjabi

We’ve just passed the one month mark in the countdown to our big cross-country move.   That means that instead of picking out a few new recipes to try each week, buying new ingredients, and planning menus, we’re starting to think about clearing out the cabinets.   Some things are going to pose more of a challenge than others.  For instance, I’m dreading the day that Dylan decides to pull out those cans of smoked oysters that have been sitting silent in the back for years.  Is there any hope that the expiration date will save us from having to eat them?  And what of all of the unusual flours and powders bought to try to replicate an Irish soda bread I once tasted at Whole Foods? I don’t think that tapioca flour has made it into anything since then.

If only everything were as easy as cans of chickpeas. If only my pantry were filled with them, rather than with half-eaten bags of marshmallows and potato starch. This recipe for chana punjabi, found on the Wednesday Chef, would be my go-to dish, a low-maintenance staple to turn to at the end of the day, just as good leftover as hot off the stove. You don’t need to have a deep love of Indian food to appreciate this simple, flavorful meal. Although nearly all of the ingredients are pantry staples, it has a fresh, bright taste with complex flavors.  Dee-lish. Do as the Wednesday Chef suggests and double the recipe- it’s a lot of chickpeas, but I doubt you’ll tire of it.

Chana Punjabi (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and add onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

2. Purée mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and place over medium heat. Add paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

3. Cover and simmer until sauce is thick and chickpeas are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir pan about every 10 minutes, adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro, adjust salt as needed and serve with cooked rice, if desired.

 

Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts April 22, 2009

Filed under: food,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 8:10 am

shredded-brussels-sprouts-with-tofu

Having a baby does not do wonders for the brain.   Between the sleep deprivation (which is, thankfully, largely a thing of the past for me now) and having your attention pulled in every direction, a new mother’s memory is like a sieve.  Or swiss cheese, to use a metaphor more appropriate to this blog.  There is evidence that it’s a hormonally-induced amnesia and there have also been arguments made that it’s an evolutionary adaptation that allows parents to focus on their children’s survival, letting the less important stuff fall to the wayside.  I’m even heard it said that the memory loss common to new mothers is adaptive in that it makes them forget the pain of childbirth, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be willing to go through it all again.  That one always seemed a bit far-fetched to the biological anthropologist in me.

Adaptive or not, the memory loss and intellectual slugishness are very real and being hyper-organized can only take you so far in combating it, or so I’ve learned.  There remain those little tell-tale signs that part of your mind is always somewhere else.  Like trying to take a drink of a bottle of water without taking the cap off first (did that yesterday).  Or losing your keys- yeah, I know everyone does that but I swear I never did until I had a baby.  Or perhaps less commonly, trying to caramelize tofu using bulgur.  WHA???

We keep all of our grains and various bulk goods in see-through bags in a large bin and yes, my addled mind mistook bulgur for a nice coarse-grained brown sugar.  It was only after about 10 minutes of sauting, with no hint of the “sugar” melting and caramelizing that I caught on to the fact that something might be wrong. Looking wretchedly at the skillet upon what looked like a pile of tofu absolutely caked and coated with sugar, bemoaning what seemed to be shaping up as a particularly unfortunate meal, I finally tasted a chunk of the tofu. Surprisingly unsweet, yet with a distinctive crunchy chew. A quick look in the gain bin confirmed that I had, in fact, substituted bulgur for sugar.

Some cooks might abandon the meal right there, but I decided to persevere as though the tofu were not entirely coated in bulgur and I can safely say that the dish dramatically improved once the sugar was added and it caramelized. In fact, it was pretty tasty and a nice change from the strictly savory dinners that we usually have. Let me suggest, however, that adding bulgur will not improve the dish, so one might consider leaving it out and sticking to the original recipe. Just a thought.

The original bulgur-free recipe can be found here on Serious Eats and was based on this recipe from the wonderful 101 Cookbooks.

[As if to prove my own point, it ‘s taken me over a week to sit down and concentrate for long enough to write this post. When I tried to return to finish it just now after several days away from blogging, though I remembered that I was writing about maternal forgetfulness, I couldn’t for the life of me recall which draft I had actually been working on…sigh.]

Caramelized tofu with brussels sprouts (serves 4)

Ingredients:
1 block of extra-firm tofu (about 16 oz), cut into thin 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, ends trimmed off, and cut into 1/8-inch wide ribbons
Salt to taste
cooked rice for serving

1. Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil. Add the tofu with a pinch of salt and cook until lightly browned, then add the garlic and pecans and cook until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about one minute.

2. Lower the heat and stir in the sugar, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat and add the cilantro, then transfer to a warm plate.

3. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and stir and scrape to combine with any pan residue. Season with salt and cook, stirring only occasionally to promote browning, until there are golden bits and the sprouts turn a brighter hue.

4. Put rice on plates, transfer brussels sprouts mixture, and top with the tofu.

 

Warm butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini April 10, 2009

Filed under: food,salads,veggies — superspark @ 1:12 pm

chick-pea-and-butternut-squash-salad1

When last I wrote, of drama and mashed potatoes, we were about to put an offer on a house among other momentous events. Well, dear readers, we now have a new home. Or to be more precise, we are under contract, as they say in home-buying lingo. We are waiting for the inspection, shopping mortgages, and dreaming about painting Maddie’s new room something other than the bizarre acid green that it currently is. Our tentative moving date is the first or second week of June, which leaves us just about two months to wrap up our Southern California lives, pack up our teensy-tiny apartment, and haul everything cross-county. (Speaking of which, has anyone ever driven cross-county with an infant? Is it as bad of an idea as I think it is?)

So here on Superspark, you may see some unusual, pantry-emptying recipes in the weeks to come. For instance, what will come of those canned oysters that have been sitting on the shelf for years? (If it’s up to me, they’ll quickly find a home in the trash, but I’ll let Dylan reserve the right to eat them if he so chooses. Canned molluscs, not my thing.) And what of the huge jar of preserved lemons I made last year? (Also the trash, in all likelihood- they didn’t turn out so hot.) How about the approximately 25 lbs of whole grains that we’ve stashed away or the giant, half-used vat of black bean paste? Oh, the possibilities!

Tahini is another one of those ingredients that often goes unnoticed and untouched for a long time in our house. There’s a great spinach salad with tahini dressing recipe that I’ve written about and love, but aside from that, I don’t have any “go-to” recipes with tahini. So I was hoping that this might turn out to be a classic, something that I’d want to make again and again to use up the remainder of the tahini in the house.

Weirdly, I had bookmarked the recipe multiple times in various spots, never remembering I’d seen it before: once from Smitten Kitchen, once from A Veggie Venture, once from Everybody Loves Sandwiches, and finally from Orangette, where it seems to have originally entered the blogosphere. With such a pedigree, it seemed like a no-brainer, sort of like the uber-popular roasted shrimp with broccoli recipe that the whole blogging world seems to have embraced.  But for all of the hype and hubbub, this recipe didn’t do that much for me. I mean, it was good enough- I like chick peas, I like butternut squash, and tahini is nice, but the build-up had been a bit much.  I might make it another time, but I wouldn’t particularly miss it if it never crossed my lips again.  For me this was an instance in which the sum of the ingredients was no greater than their parts, unfortunately.

If you were to recreate anything from this meal, incidentally, let it be the simple velveted chicken we had alongside the salad.  Learn how to “velvet” here (read on until the bottom) and even those who eschew the lowly boring chicken breast will become converts.

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing (serves 4)

Ingredients:

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice (I skipped this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice (if using), olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

2. Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning.  You may need to add more water to thin it out.

3. To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.

 

 
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