kiss my grits

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Hello, WordPress world. My but I’ve missed you. Offline life has completely taken over for me and it’s been nearly a year between posts. Never my intention to let things go so long. But here we are (thank you that … Continue reading

wakame wha’?

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Those bloggers in the Cooking Through the Alphabet gang are wild folk. First, they tested me with T for Tofu (I jumped in late); next, U was assigned to udon. With V came vanilla beans, which seemed a simpler ingredient. … Continue reading

ethnic, exotic, and tofu

I very much enjoy ordering authentic dishes at ethnic restaurants. With young kids in the house, I often play it safe when making meals. I’d rather they enjoy healthy, basic homemade fare (lean steaks and burgers, grilled pork chops, mildly seasoned chicken, etc) than refuse to eat the curries, stir-fries, and highly flavored stews (think jambalaya, cioppino) that I love. These dishes are lots of work and I’m the only one who would truly enjoy the meal. The “exotic” entrees remain restaurant fare.

True, kids learn to eat a broader variety of foods only when they’ve been exposed to this broader variety. Yet my experience has been that my girls (and husband, too) like basic and plain. While they’ll give new foods a taste, they won’t eat what they don’t like (and why should they?) and they don’t like complex and highly flavored dishes.

Tonight’s meal, then, was all about me. I had tofu in the fridge with an expiration date coming up, so decided to shake things up by whipping up Cauliflower and Tofu with Tikka Spices. The recipe came from Deborah Madison’s This Can’t Be Tofu! and I won’t bother to offer it here as I made so many changes along the way (didn’t have the right ingredients on hand, was fast and loose with measurements) that what I served was an approximation of the recipe.

Instead, I’ll offer this “formula.” I roasted and ground cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds along with whole cloves, grated my nutmeg, then added a bit of ground turmeric, curry powder and Szechuan pepper as well as minced fresh garlic. I had cubed firm tofu, then combined it in a plastic bag with the spices, shaking it to coat. (Shake-and-bake!) The coated tofu was sautéed in olive oil with just a touch of salt. Steamed cauliflower was added to the sautéed tofu along with a can of coconut milk (key ingredient–can’t have the dish without) and a handful of cashew pieces. I also tossed in a bunch of stale kale chips that were sitting on the counter. A handful of chopped fresh basil finished it off. At the able, the dish was served with whole milk Greek yogurt for a refreshingly cool contrast.

The coconut milk and spices were fantastic together and made this curry what it was. Any protein or veg could be used and the individual spice amounts can be varied to taste, so plenty of room for variations on the theme.

Did my kids like it? Nope. My husband? Not really. But I loved the fragrance, textures, and flavors of my meal. Bonus: I have leftovers in the fridge that will taste even better tomorrow. It was for sure more work to roast and grind spices, etc, but I’m glad I made the effort. It was better than what I’d order at a restaurant (less greasy) and I enjoyed turning out something different come mealtime.

Tomorrow night I’ll be serving up simple again. But there’s another can of coconut milk in my pantry and a package of tempeh in my refrigerator, so maybe I won’t wait so long to serve up “exotic” fare again.

block of tofu

cauliflower (and tofu) curry in cast-iron

dolma, donuts, and maple syrurp soda OR a culinary mashup

After dropping my daughter off at an across-town playdate, I couldn’t resist driving down Central Avenue–a street known for its ethnically diverse hole-in-the wall (read: authentic) restaurants and grocers. Thinking I’d spot somewhere fun to stop right away, I was sorry to see that Central Ave, much like the suburbs, is now peppered with chains. I have Applebee’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s in my neck of the woods as well, so I drove a bit further until I saw a sign for Filfillah Restaurant. Advertising gyros, schawarma, and other Middle Eastern fare, it seemed a good spot to try.

While divey from the outside, the inside was clean, polished, and handsome. Even better, the service was first-rate: The charming and gracious (and handsome) staff went out of their way to serve. After finishing my order of finger-licking good dolma, I hopped over to the cash register to grab a napkin to clean said fingers. Soon after I’d sat down again, a server appeared at my table with an entire napkin dispenser. (Either he was being genuinely gracious or figured I was a mess of an eater.)

The dolma were adorable. I’d last had them ten or so years ago when I’d developed a recipe for these lamb-stuffed grape leaves for a client. Filled with pine nuts and currants and served with a cool tzatziki, Filfillah’s version was lovely.

pretty dolma and dip

I also ordered a Jerusalem Falafel Wrap, which promised falafel, eggplant, feta, and tahini all wrapped up in lavash. Wow–this sandwich blew me away. I wish I could better describe the distinct flavors; the best I can do is say that there was just enough salt, lots of savory, and plenty of hints of “I need another bite.”

amazing Jerusalem falafel wrap–so so good

I was given a container of housemade baklava upon leaving, with my server apologizing for “inconveniencing” me by making me wait for him to come to my table to take my order. (I think I waited about four minutes after entering the store to have my order taken.) These guys take customer service seriously.

Driving home, I impulsively pulled into Heights Bakery as I’d passed it many times before without stopping and it looked like a gem. It was old-school all the way with baked goods laid out under glass on pale pinkish-rose food-service trays. I bought donuts for the family (vanilla sprinkle for youngest daughter, chocolate sprinkle for the oldest, and cinnamon-sugar for Mr. foodforfun), then filled up the box with what I wanted to try. An apple fritter made the cut as did a cinnamon twist, blueberry-filled crispie, and date-filled bear claw. I’ve tried a bit of each (save what I bought for my loved ones–had at least that much self-control) and have since drifted off in a carb-infused coma.

a simple package

delish old-school donuts

My final food fun for the day was following up on a brainstorm that had come from a piece in the local paper’s Taste section. Angry Trout Cafe had been reviewed as serving up excellent housemade maple syrup soda. Why couldn’t I make the same drink? I have that soda maker, remember? I whipped up a batch of soda water, then played with maple syrup amounts until I liked what I tasted. (1 cup soda water, 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, dash lemon juice, smaller dash vanilla extract) Definitely a drink I’ll make again. Cool, crisp, refreshing–perfect for the heat wave this summer has brought.

I hadn’t expected to try authentic Middle Eastern food today, nor did I think I’d enjoy crazy-good pastries and make my own maple syrup soda. This is why I love food: It’s always fun to see what tasty little surprises each new day brings.

bison grilling

A few years after college, I decided–for a variety of reasons–to go vegetarian. I was good about subbing legumes etc. for meat, so felt I was doing the right thing by my health. But, on the advice of an acupuncturist (go figure), I eventually parted with my vegetarian ways. I still remember how difficult it was to take the first bites of a pork chop after a few years off. It got easier somewhere along the line and I now very much enjoy animal proteins.

That said, I also try to eat lots of veggies, whole grains, etc. (And dessert–must save room for dessert.) So, I enjoy animal protein in relatively small quantities. Then there’s the source: After watching Food, Inc (sensationalistic for sure, but influenced my buying habits just the same), I stay away from meats sold by corporate farms. Our beef comes from a friend and I like to find chicken, pork, and the like at farmers’ markets. It costs more, but when you don’t eat much of it, it’s worth the splurge.

On a recent farmers’ market trip, I paid the big bucks for a one-pound package of ground bison. I’ve enjoyed this meat before as it’s leaner than beef and has (to me) a more interesting flavor. It went into our freezer and was there today when I asked my usual “what’s for dinner?” question.

I pulled the bison to thaw earlier in the day, then (gently) mixed it with a packaged seasoning along with a slug of red wine and Worcestershire sauce (love Worcestershire). I made six patties from the one-pound package–not quite fast food quarter-pounders. They grilled up spectacularly well with loads of flavor and not a lot of fat. My girls had no qualms eating bison and my husband is always happy to see red meat on the table.

As someone who has studied nutrition and loves all things food, I try to keep meals varied and healthy. It follows, then, that I should be doing more with vegetarian fare. And occasionally I do. But it was plenty fun to grill up bison tonight.

lined up on the grill

bison patties

plated up

tofu on the table

Before kids, I ate an über-healthy diet. No meat, lots of veggies, regular intake of fatty fish, legumes, and whole grains. I still had the sweet tooth I do now, but figured that my overall low-calorie and nutrient-rich diet more than balanced any high-fat, high-sugar indiscretions.

Then came kids. Pregnancy threw my body for a loop as I was completely turned off all vegetables. Bizarre. I also developed ravenous protein cravings and anything whole-grain had WAY too much flavor. Having food issues when pregnant isn’t uncommon and it’s temporary, but each pregnancy still threw off my healthy-eating groove and it takes work to go back. I’m glad to love fresh produce and whole grains again, but returning to occasional meatless meals has yet to happen.

Which is why tonight’s supper was so much fun. I bought tofu a week or so ago, thinking it would be good to cook with again. I found a recipe in my collection I had clipped from an old Vegetarian Times and set about to make Barbecued Tofu. I was trying to use up an overabundance of zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers, so subbed those in for the veggies called for in the recipe. I made a few other tweaks and this is what I came up with.

barbecued tofu and sweet brown rice

The flavors were good, though a homemade barbecue sauce would have made it even tastier. My husband dutifully ate a serving, though his preference would have been something more meat-and-potatoes. And while I would love to report that my girls gobbled it down, they weren’t thrilled with tonight’s meal.

It’s on me to finish the leftovers (of which there are plenty–this recipe makes a lot), but I don’t mind as this dish is versatile. It’ll be tasty stuffed into pitas, wrapped in tortillas, tossed with pasta, or served over mixed greens. But tonight, alongside brown rice, it made a warm, comforting, and über-healthy meal.

Barbecued Tofu

  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package firm tofu
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 each zucchini and yellow summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F. Coat large baking sheet lightly with olive oil.

Drain tofu; pat dry on clean kitchen towel. Cut tofu into bite-size pieces.

On baking sheet, toss together vegetables. Drizzle with some of barbecue sauce. Toss to coat, adding sauce as needed. Add tofu to baking sheet; drizzle with sauce as needed. Roast, stirring gently once or twice, 20 minutes or until vegetables are desired doneness. Season with salt and black pepper. Makes 8 servings.