Monday, December 31, 2012

Baked Tofu "Croutons"

For our family Christmas party this year, I brought a salad. I bring a salad so often when I go to dinners, I felt very boring. But, many people commented that they liked it, so I guess it wasn't as boring as I thought. When I bring a salad to a party, I tend to put things in it that aren't just the standard garden variety(i.e. lettuce cucumber, tomato and croutons). The items I add certainly aren't unusual by today's foodies' standards, but might not be what many folks would put in their dinner salad. I'm not trying to be eclectic or trendy. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, I eat A LOT of salad. I eat one most days, so I need to change up what I put in it for it not to get boring. Second, sometimes when I go to a potluck or dinner party, depending on where and if it's meat based, there's not a lot I can eat. So, I add some things to my salad offering to make it the tiniest bit substantial, just in case.

There are a couple of characteristics I am aiming to achieve when I assemble as salad: a good variety of color, and a mix of textures. There is a salad I've gotten a bunch of times at John Harvard's restaurant that looks good on paper, but I'm always disappointed when I eat it. It's got red lettuce, hummus, lentils, feta cheese and roasted red peppers. It comes with pita bread. Not a bad combo for a pub. But, the issue I have with it, is that everything in it is soft and mushy.  It needs one crunchy thing and it would be SO much better. I smartened up and started ordering it with a few nacho chips instead of pita bread. This isn't ideal, but it gets me by. They could keep the red peppers fresh instead of using roasted, and add some toasted almond slivers for a better mix of textures.

As an example, the salad I made the other night included: red leaf lettuce; edammame beans; toasted sunflower seeds, shaved carrot, chopped red cabbage, garbanzo beans and feta cheese. I made a white whine vinaigrette for it.

I much prefer to add the dressing and toss it into the salad prior to serving it vs. everyone pouring some on top of their salad. The flavors can't blend well that way. I also find red leaf lettuce to be a good choice for a basic salad. It is versatile and takes on dressings well.

Recently I've been baking tofu more often. I've tried a couple of different versions, and there are many concoctions. I liked this basic one for the purpose of salad "croutons". I cook it longer than the recipe calls for so it comes out somewhat crunchy and I think it makes a good salad topper.

I'm not 100% sure this is exactly the recipe I used, but I do remember it was really simple.

1 block of firm tofu, pressed for an hour and cut into 1/2" slices
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tblsp melted earth balance (you could use canola oil)
a generous sprinkle of garlic powder
2-3 tblsp nutritional yeast

1. Mix the soy sauce, Earth Balance, and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Lay the tofu slabs in the dish and marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Dredge each piece of tofu in nutritional yeast.
4. Bake for at least 30 minutes, turning halfway through. For drier "crunchier" tofu, bake for 45 minutes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cashew Chili

It's happened again. Our dining room has been overtaken by a seemingly harmless, yet actually quite bothersome everyday object - MAIL. I can barely see or use my cute writing desk as one of the mail heaps has landed there. That pile has also cascaded to my desk chair and also to the floor next to my desk. And, of course, the dining room table is the home of many small mounds that I have moved around and "organized" into some groupings that made sense to me at some point - magazines to be read, catalogs to be looked at, items that need to be addressed, etc. I try to keep up with it daily - putting unwanted items into the recycling bin, shredding pieces that I don't want in the trash, but I go away for a week and/or let it get away from me for even a short time and BAM! I'm completely overwhelmed by mail.

I have a pretty high tolerance for domestic disorganization, but there's something about mail clutter that really gets under my skin. I think it's because I didn't ask for most of that mail. I order one thing on line or donate money, and the next thing you know I'm getting a catalog from that company and several other "related" companies or funding requests from similar non-profits to the ones I gave to. I got a catalog this summer from Restoration Hardware that was enormous. It rivaled the Sears Catalog of days of old. That one I used to look forward to, the Christmas one anyway, so I could peruse the toy section looking for wish list items to send to Santa. The reaction I had to the Restoration catalog was very different. I was extremely angry and I wanted to pick up the phone and call to let them know just how irritated I was that they would send me this giant book that I now had to dispose of. I have never bought anything from that store in my life, and more importantly, it is a huge waste of resources. This made me never want to buy anything from them in the future.  I didn't end up calling them, but I still feel as annoyed by their delivery.

It's these overwhelmed times that spur me into action. To my right is a pile of instructions on how to go paperless for several businesses I'm newly associated with. After that, I will go to the Catalog Choice site and ask them to stop delivery of all the catalogs I am currently receiving. This is a great non-profit organization that is there to help us with reducing clutter, helping the environment and protecting privacy. I believe in their cause and donate money to them regularly. I first used them to put a stop to credit card solicitations. I used to get at least one a day. Here's the site and I highly recommend you use them. They make it very simple.

I need to get back to cleaning up, but first I will leave you with a new chili recipe I tried, given to me by a friend at work. Her dad made it and won a chili competition with it! It's not a chili with a lot of heat, but still has a lot of flavor. The cashews and the raisins are meant to "take the bite out of the tomatoes", I'm assuming from an acidity perspective.

Cashew Chili

2 to 3 cups cooked kidney or pinto beans (I just used one can of each)
2 medium onions (the recipe calls for 4, but I thought this seemed like a lot)
2 red or yellow bell peppers chopped (the recipe calls for green, but I don't like the flavor, nor can I digest them)
1 carrot chopped (this was an addition I made, not necessary)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 or more cloves garlic, mashed
1 tspn dried basil
1 tspn oregano
1/2 tspn chili powder
1 tspn ground cumin
1 quart canned tomatoes
freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 to 1 cup cashews, chopped
1 handful raisins or 1 tblspn molasses
1 tspn sea salt
1/4 cup (more or less to taste) cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

1.  In a big soup pot, over medium high heat, stir fry the onions, peppers, celery and garlic for a few minutes.
2. Add the basil, oregano, chili powder and cumin and stir constantly for a couple of minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and juice. If whole tomatoes, break them up with the back of your spoon.
4. Grind in black pepper and add bay leaf. Stir in cashews and raisins and salt. Add carrots, if using.
5. Bring the soup to a simmer and stir it now and then for about 20 minutes.
6. When the chili is at desired consistency and vegetables are tender, start adding vinegar a little at a time, tasting along the way and adding more as necessary.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Orzo Feta Salad

When was the last time you had someone over for a cup of tea? Asked a friend or neighbor to take a pause in their day and come by for a short visit to sit down at the kitchen table and chat for a bit over a mug of English Breakfast? Yeah, I can't remember either. Never? I've had people over for dinner and served tea after. I've had a friend by for a drink. But, I can't recall asking someone to stop by for a cup of tea. Is this a lost form of socializing? Has meeting up at Starbucks for a latte become the modern-day version of this simple social gesture? (I am making some assumptions here. Maybe tea invitations are still happening regularly, but just not to me?)

A scene in a book I was reading recently got me to thinking about this and I was feeling bereft of shared tea drinking in my life. I'm not sure why I find this troublesome. Perhaps it conjures up scenes from my childhood and makes me nostalgic. Or maybe it represents to me a slower pace of life that I'm craving. Whatever the reason, it is something I want to fit into the regular rhythm of my days. Coincidentally, today my friend Tricia was telling me about a social call she had recently with her sister-in-law's 101 year old grandmother. Can you guess what they did? This wise woman said to her, "a friendship isn't sealed until you've drank a cup of tea together".

This post seems to warrant a recipe for shortbread cookies or something of the like, but I'll direct you towards 101 Cookbooks for that. If my memory serves me correctly, Heidi has many things in this category. I put this salad together recently and want to record it before I forget about it.

Orzo Feta Salad

1 cup dried whole wheat orzo
Water for cooking the orzo
1/2 medium cucumber diced small
small handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
4-6 sundried tomatoes (in oil) minced
1 big handful of baby spinach, chopped coarsely
1/8 cup toasted pinenuts
1/4 cup crumbled feta, or more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
the juice from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

I wanted to keep it simple, but you could add olives and/or fresh basil.

1. Boil water and cook the orzo. When it's done, rinse it with cold water to arrest cooking and cool it off quickly. You don't want it to melt the feta when you add it to the salad.
2. Put cucumbers, tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, feta and pinenuts in a salad bowl.
3. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder and salt & pepper to taste.
4. When orzo is done, add it and the dressing to the other ingredients in the salad bowl and toss together.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Honey Lime Vinaigrette

I'm trying to recall the last novel I read that left it's mark on me in the recent past. I've read many that I've liked just fine, and were entertaining enough to keep me turning the pages, but nothing that's lingered with me for days or weeks or months after the final page. I remember many years ago finishing To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time and I immediately wanted to start reading it all over again. What was it that made me want to do that? I should read it again and see if I feel the same way more than 20 years later.

One character that has stuck with me is Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain. This book is told completely from the perspective of a dog. I'm well aware that this sounds really hokey, and I'm not sure a non-animal lover would get very far with it, but I found the dog-narrator (dogarrator?) extremely  endearing and I think of him often. I have found authors that have descriptive or storytelling styles that I like. Richard Russo and Geralidine Brooks come to mind. I also will turn to Anita Shreve if I'm in a reading rut and looking for a story to get me on track.

I recently joined a book club, and so far I've been to two meetings. I finished both books, one of them being one I recommended, and they both fell in the category of "meh". Two or three stars out of five. The books were Breakfast with Buddha and Little Bee. Again, entertaining enough that I finished them and it didn't feel like a chore, and in Little Bee there was some descriptive language I enjoyed, but I didn't like any of the characters in either book. I am, on the other hand, enjoying the book club itself. It's a great group of women, and if the book isn't a winner, then we move onto eating and chatting.

The way this book club works is whomever is hosting is responsible for making dinner or getting takeout for everyone, and we meet mostly on Sunday evenings. We meet monthly-ish, but cut back a bit in the summer. We've decided our next meeting will be a Friday night in a bar with outdoor seating to shake things up a bit. I hosted our last meeting and had a really evening. There were only five of us and I made Mexican Rice Bowls (see previous post) and a spinach, mango, pepita salad to go with it. I made this dressing which was a good companion to the salad and I will definitely make it again.

Honey Lime Vinaigrette

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black (or white) pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil

1.  I put all ingredients besides the oil in a jar with a tight lid, shook it to blend it. Then, added the oils and shook it up again.  You could also use a blender.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Granola - Cooks Illustrated

Recently I was at the register in the work cafeteria paying for my lunch when I became conscious that I was avoiding using any of the quarters in my change purse. This isn't something new. In fact, I've been doing it for almost 25 years. First, it became a necessity in college. In order to do laundry on campus, one needed quarters.* Then, for many years, I lived in apartments without a washer or dryer, so there were evenings spent in the laundromat. (I vaguely remember when at first, I thought that would be an enjoyable task because I could hang out and spend a relaxing evening reading, etc. while getting all of my laundry done at once. Oh, how naive that was.)
Then, I upgraded a bit to an apartment that had a washer and a dryer in the basement, but that still required quarters to operate. For a period of time, I got in the habit of going to the bank and buying rolls of them to have on hand, and that felt comforting to have a solid supply.
These days, I am still merely a renter, not an owner and therefore I can't classify myself a "big girl". But, we do have a washer and dryer all to ourselves that do not require precious coin to run and I can do laundry to my heart's content. I must admit, that still feels pretty liberating to me. When I need to wash something other than necessities - my place mats, for instance, it no longer causes me stress.
So, why am I still hoarding quarters? I spend a lot of time in Cambridge and I often drive there. Parking at the meters requires -guess what? They have yet to turn over in most parts to machines where you can use any kind of currency or credit cards to pay for parking. I can't count how many times I've searched under the seat of my car hoping some quarters had found their way down there because I desperately needed some to fill my meter and didn't have any of the necessary currency in my wallet. It's difficult enough to park in Cambridge or Boston without adding this element to it.
So, maybe there will come a point in my life where I can throw caution to the wind and use quarters without hesitation, but for now, I'll continue on this way of life. I will also continue eating the same breakfast most mornings. I keep intending to start juicing with the very expensive appliance taking up valuable real estate on my kitchen counter, but alas, here's another recipe for my old stand-by: granola with rice milk, a bit of yogurt and some fruit.

I've posted a prior entry for a granola recipe that is very similar. But, this one comes from Cook's Illustrated test kitchen and it's become the one I make regularly. The only difference is that this one adds a little more fat (oil) and sweetener, but it makes the texture and taste a little better.

*I'm sure my mother is chuckling to herself thinking that I never actually did my own laundry on campus given the amount of it I brought home during visits, but had I possessed enough quarters, I probably wouldn't have brought any home :-)

Nut and dried fruit granola
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups nuts, chopped coarse (the recipe called for just almonds. I like a mix of cashews and almonds. I find walnuts to be a little too strong tasting)
2 cups raisins or other dried fruit, chopped ( I use golden raisins and dried coconut)

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk maple syrup, brown, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and nuts until thoroughly coated.
3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across the sheet into thin, even layer (about 3/8 inch thick). Using stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cauliflower Soup

I just partook in one my my favorite simple pleasures in life - eating toast with butter and jam (or in this case, toast with Earth Balance and jam). It was comforting and satisfying on this cold winter's night. But, now, I have to partake in the unpleasant part. I have to go get my iPhone, open the My Net Diary app, and log my calories. A little backstory...
It's probably been a couple of years now that I've had a desire to increase my core strength. As a runner and a cyclist who has never put any focus on strength training, I'm starting to feel a need to make my middle body stronger. I've been doing yoga at least once weekly for almost a couple of years now, and while that has helped some, it's still not enough. So I have spent nights over the last many months meandering around different gyms, but not having any idea what to do and having a hard time having any motivation towards trying. Then, recently, I talked with a couple of different people who went to this place called Fitness Together. They each at one point had been in a similar frame of mind (and body), but found the inspiration and direction they needed to get some results. It turns out Fitness Together is pretty much in my backyard. I cut through the gap in my fence, walk through the cemetery, cross Broadway, and there I am. It just took me longer to type that sentence than it does to get there. I went and had a consultation, handed over my credit card and I am now the proud owner of 16 personal training sessions (actually 15 since I had my first one this morning).
So, let's get back to my toast. As part of the process, I have to track my calories, so we can see my protein intake, etc. When Mike broke this news to me, I felt a sense of dread. Make me do lunges or push-ups. That kind of pain is manageable, but making me hyper aware of each bite of food I swallow wasn't really what I was in the mood for. I know I need to do this though. In fact, I'd been thinking about doing it anyway, knowing that my food intake is more than what it should be lately based on my activity level. I do not want to be some calorie obsessed junkie sitting at the lunch table saying things like, "Do YOU KNOW how many calories is in that buffalo fried chicken pizza you're eating?" But, it is creating a deeper sense of nutrition awareness for me and I will likely keep doing it for longer than just my required week.
If you're curious, the answer is 240. One piece of oatmeal bread (110), one tablespoon of earth balance spread (100), and one tablespoon of apricot jam (30). Whatever the number attached to it, it was delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite.
In addition to my toast, I also had some cauliflower soup. A friend had sent me a recipe, looking for an alternative to the cup of cream that was in it. I tried adding some potato. I want to do a version with cream, just to taste the difference, but in the meantime, I enjoyed this. It's very simple - so few ingredients, and I am in love with cauliflower these days. The hardest part was taking the roasted cauliflower out of the pan and into the soup pot without eating it all first.

Cauliflower soup
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, sliced into 3/4" "steaks"
1 small onion chopped
1 large or 2 small potatoes (russet or yukon gold), cut into good sized chunks
2-3 cups veggie broth
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Heat the oven to 380.
2. Lay the cauliflower, onion and potato in a baking pan, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Roast until golden brown, turning once half way (I think I cooked them for a total of 40 minutes).
4. In a soup pot, add 2 cups of the broth and all the roasted veggies. Simmer together for a bit and then puree. Add more broth or water until it's at the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.