Thursday, May 27, 2010

"you knew what you had and were thankful for it"

the food: a quick thanks for bounty
the song: "The President's Dead" Okkervil River* 

The school year is quickly winding down, meaning that just like every other teacher and student out there, I am busy. But today I received some really lovely and unexpected gifts that made me slow down.

My class visited the school garden today, which is overflowing with beautiful vegetables just waiting to be harvested. And harvest we did! I'm going to cook some squash to share with the kids, but some of it goes into our dinner tonight, too. I have been really lucky to work in a place for the last 4 years that has a huge organic garden on campus that is available to students and staff. My kiddos have learned a lot in that garden. I will miss that.

Also, check this out! I'm chicken sitting for the weekend and stopped by today to check in on the girls. My payment is eggs. Aren't they gorgeous!? Yay chickens! Such a simple thing, but fresh eggs rock my world.

Anyway, that's all I got today. These little things are especially appreciated during this extra busy time. One week to go and I'm home free! Have a happy long weekend.


*Once school is finished, I'll get more creative with my quotes (like, stop quoting okkervil river every other post). Right now, I gotta go with what I know and love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'baby we go side by side'

the food: Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms
the song: "Tenderoni" Chromeo

I am very excited to share this recipe. Since I found it a few weeks ago, it has made almost weekly appearances in my house and no one has complained yet. It comes together quickly and uses only one pan. I'm always pleasantly surprised with the unique flavors and textures. It provides a nice, different dinner that gives us a break from the usual routine.  

In the past, I haven't been a big fan of stir fry that I make at home. I tend to go too light on the seasonings. I totally dig salty, saucey creations served over rice that someone else makes (Mama Fu's comes to mind). But my everyday stir fry tends to be a little bland. So much so that I swore them off after years of mediocre rice dishes I made for us in college. But this unconventional stir fry has won be back. 

I love brussels sprouts prepared the way they are in this recipe...shaved thin and sauteed with lots of garlic and olive oil. Roasted brussels are still my favorite, but this is so much quicker that I cook them this way more often. I got this recipe from 101cookbooks after searching "tofu" and "brussels sprouts," which I happened to have on hand and was looking to use up. Doesn't that a squeamish eater's nightmare? The combination of flavors here seems a little odd when you first look at it...tofu, brussels sprouts, pecans, cilantro...wha'? But trust me, the unexpected comes together so very nicely that you'll wonder why you haven't always served your brussels sprouts with cilantro.

Along with stir fry, I swore off home-cooked tofu in college as well. Everytime I tried it my tofu turned out slimey and very unappetizing. I realize now that I didn't know how was just learning how to cook in those days, because now I get the perfect tofu everytime. So in this recipe I added the important step of pressing tofu, which is something I do anytime I'm cooking firm tofu. Yes, it requires some thought ahead of time, but pressing tofu is a simple step that provides a no-slime guarantee. I drain the tofu and wrap the whole block in a dish towel in the fridge before bed the night before I plan on making the meal. The next morning before work, I'll switch out the dish towel for a dry one and leave it in the fridge all day. When I'm ready to cook, I have perfect tofu waiting to soak up flavor. 

Serve over rice or maybe vermicelli topped with soy sauce and cracked red pepper. I have been toying with the idea of adding something spicy to the mix (a jalapeno, perhaps?), but it is hard to interfere with a combination this good. This picture is the tofu alone, but it looks pretty with the vegetables mixed in, too.

Caramelized Tofu w/ Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms

adapted from 101cookbooks 

7-8 ounces extra-firm tofu, pressed in a dish towel for at least 8 hours
a big pinch of sea salt
olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (I use at least 2, usually more)
1/3 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, washed and cut into very thin slices
1 cup cremini mushrooms, washed and quartered

Slice the pressed tofu into thin 1-inch segments. Cook the tofu strips in a large hot skillet with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt until golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the sugar. Remove from heat and add cilantro. Scrape the tofu out of the pan and set aside while you cook the mushrooms.

In the same pan, add another splash of olive oil. Saute chopped mushrooms over medium-low heat with a pinch of salt and pepper (and more garlic, if you like), until tender, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms to tofu.

Once again, in the same pan, add a touch more olive oil, another pinch of salt, and turn up the heat to medium high. When the pan is hot, stir in the shredded brussels sprouts and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring a couple of times until tender and bright green. Add tofu and mushrooms back to the pan and stir to combine. Serve over rice or noodles with soy sauce. 


Friday, May 14, 2010

"i swear i have nothing to prove"

the food: What We Eat When We Eat Alone
the song: "Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone" Neutral Milk Hotel

I write a lot about the enjoyment of shared meals- the way food brings out the best in us, eases conversation, and creates memories on multiple levels. There are few things I enjoy more than a leisurely meal with people I love. A few months ago, read What We Eat When We Eat Alone, where Deborah Madison and her artist husband Patrick McFarlin's set out to discover (as the title suggests) what things people do differently when they are only feeding themselves. The quirky illustrations and personalized recipes made it a quick read, which I appreciate since I'm a slow reader. Some stories are embarrassing, some are peculiar, and others are really noble. But they are all personal and charming in their own way.  

I'm spending tonight alone. The husband is visiting his dad, who just got out of the hospital today. May has been rough on our family...the father-in-law is the 4th relative who has been in the hospital this month. Thankfully, it seems like everyone is recovering, comfortable back at home. I'm glad the husband is able to be with him, and I'm so very relieved that the father-in-law is home.

When it comes to feeding myself, I have two go-to meals that can be ready in about 15 minutes. Option One consists of a carb (pasta, couscous, white rice), a vegetable, and cheese. Lately my choice for a quick lunch has been pasta with frozen broccoli, a bit of olive oil, lots of salty cheese, and pepper. So simple and quick, but so satisfying. It gives me the feeling of mac and cheese without actually eating an entire pan of mac and cheese. Because I'll do it. Really...don't tempt me.

Tonight, though, I went with Option Two.

Egg sandwiches might be my perfect food. I've been eating them since I was a kid. Back in the day, my mom made them with a slice of cheese and Miracle Whip. I loved them then, and I love them now. I'm tempted to say that I'd order an egg sandwich over a breakfast taco, which is pure heresy for an Austinite. Tonight I made it just a little fancier with some sliced tomatoes and a layer of pesto. Oh, and the tots are a guilty pleasure that I keep in my freezer for just such an occasion. Hey, nobody's perfect.

The funny thing about this solitary food is that I'm not sure why I don't make egg sandwiches for dinner. Ok, so they aren't appropriate for a dinner party, but I'm certain the husband would enjoy them. But for me, they are personal and I guess I don't feel like sharing. Egg sandwiches remind me of eating at home. I made them a lot in my first apartment and I still make them anytime I get the chance to feed just myself.

Throw in a few episodes of Law & Order* (now streaming on Netflix...which I appreciate even more since the show got canceled today) and you have a pretty good Friday night for me. Don't say I didn't warn you that some aspects of the solitary meal can be embarrassing.

P.S. Does this remind you of my grilled cheese post? Like I said, May has been rough. There's a reason they call it comfort food.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"his mama taught him that"

the food: No Bake Strawberry Pie...and margaritas
the song: "Whatta Man" Salt-n-Pepa*

I am very rarely on top of things enough to post a timely recipe. But today I have a good one for you, and it's just barely in time for Mother's Day. I really love this strawberry pie, which I got from an issue of Domino magazine (R.I.P.). The first time I made this pie, was several years ago for my in-laws. It was my first time to cook for them and it also happened to be the first time they saw the house the husband and I had just bought together. Hellooooo pressure! Thankfully everything turned out fantastic, including the pie.

Tomorrow I'm making Mother's Day brunch for the husband's mom (not a part of the in-law duo that test-drove the recipe for me) and I'm pulling out the ol' strawberry pie recipe again. For the main course, I'm making a mushroom asparagus strata loosely based on this recipe. Lots of cheese and eggs, so the strawberry pie will be a nice, light compliment to the heavy main course. It's oh-so-springtime and the perfect dessert to make when strawberries are $1.50 a pound.

As I was making this pie tonight (which has to chill for 8 hours) the husband spotted the blender and the strawberries and suggested "how about fresh strawberry margaritas?" Be still my heart. Am I the luckiest girl or what? So we continued (no) baking, chopping, and cleaning house while sipping margaritas. I can tell you right now that makes everything better.

Happy Mother's Day! And a huge thank you to all four of my moms. It takes all kinds, and I'm so lucky to have four amazing, strong, unique women to inspire and guide me. Hug your mama. And make her this pie.

No-Bake Strawberry Pie
recipe from Domino magazine  

2 lbs. fresh strawberries (about 4 pints), tops removed, plus 4 strawberries, reserved
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
5 TBSP cornstarch
3 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs
8 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBSP confectioners sugar

Place 2 pounds strawberries in a blender and blend on high until pureed, about 10 seconds (do in two batches if necessary). Combine milk, sugar, and cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and whisk until dissolved. Add the strawberry puree and the lemon juice. Cook on high heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbling (about 7 minutes). Remove from heat.

Place graham cracker crumbs in a 10'' x 1 1/2 deep pie plate. Drizzle with melted butter and mix until all crumbs are moistened. With the back of a spoon (or your fingers), press evenly into bottom and sides of the pie plate to form a crust. Pour strawberry filling into crust and cool completely (about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, place heavy cream in a mixing bowl and, with an electric mixer, blend on high until stiff peaks form. Add confectioners sugar and blend another 10 seconds. Using a spatula, spread the whipped cream over the filling. Slice reserved strawberries, add to the top and serve.


*To be fair, the husband's mother did not teach him how to make margaritas. She did, however, teach him to be respectful, which in this case it meant making me a fruity drink. Also, he knows my name is not Susan.