Category Archives: Cooking

Golden Sesame Tofu

Several years ago I posted a recipe I developed for Golden Sesame Tofu, one of my favorite salad bar items from Whole Foods. At $8.99/lb. it’s a little pricey, so I went to the kitchen and experimented. Here is the recipe I came up with. The recipe and photo were posted on my old blog, DianaCooks.com, and since it was a super popular post, I decided to repost it here with a watermarked photograph. (I notice the photo gets pinned a lot on Pinterest.)

I trimmed the first part of the post off because it was irrelevant to the recipe. Enjoy the trip on the wayback machine. ūüėČ

***

OK, recipes. I said I’d start posting them, and here’s something you soy-eating vegetarians will like. Last year, I became addicted to the golden sesame tofu in Whole Foods’ prepared foods case. These rectangular slices of tofu are fried until they’re golden, then covered in toasted sesame seeds and glazed with a slightly sweet/salty sauce with just a hint of heat from hot red pepper flakes. They’re also kind of expensive — something like $7.99 a pound (ETA: now $8.99). Since tofu’s cheap–and so am I–I decided to replicate the recipe at home. It took a few tries, but I think I’ve nailed it.

I’m pretty sure the Whole Foods’ folks fry their tofu in lots of oil, because all six sides are crisp/chewy. I just use a little oil and fry on two sides. I’ve also used a silcone basting brush to lightly coat each side of the tofu with oil, then cooked them on a grill pan. Yum, but it doesn’t give the tofu that chewy coating I like. If you’re watching your fat intake, you can skip the cornstarch dusting and bake the tofu in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes with the sauce, turning the tofu every 10 minutes or so, checking that the sauce isn’t burning (add water if it’s getting too dark). The tofu will have no chew at all, and the sauce will get thick and sticky, but it’s still yum.

Instead of stuffing these slices of tofu in my mouth like I do when I’m at Whole Foods, I pack them in a plastic container and store them in my fridge for lunches. I cut them up into tiny cubes to add flavor interest to salads — when I put them on top of a potluck salad at Easter, tasters asked me about the delicious croutons … umm, I didn’t have the heart to tell them. This wasn’t a tofu-loving crowd. They also make great sandwich stuffers.

Golden Sesame Tofu
Yield: 4 servings

The Whole Foods version has scallions in it. I’m not a huge fan of scallions, so I skip them. The secret here is the cornstarch … it gives the tofu its chewy coating, but you have to sprinkle it over the tofu evenly and with a light hand; otherwise it’ll get gloppy. Since I make this recipe a lot, I put cornstarch in a fine-mesh shaker; it gives me excellent control when I’m coating the tofu. You’ll find toasted sesame oil and mirin in the Asian sections of well-stocked supermarkets.

1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
14-oz. extra firm tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
Canola or peanut oil, for frying

For sauce:
2 tbsp. agave nectar (for vegans) or honey
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Dusting of crushed red chili flakes, to taste

Heat a fry pan over medium-high heat. Add sesame seeds and toast until golden and fragrant, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and place sesame seeds in small bowl to cool.

Remove tofu from package and drain. Press the tofu gently between the palms of your hands to squeeze out water, then wrap the tofu in paper towels, place it on a plate, then put a another plate on top of it. Place a 28-oz. can of tomatoes or a cast iron fry pan on the plate. This will press out any remaining water from the tofu. Let sit for 20 minutes or so.

Unwrap the tofu and slice into eight rectangular slices. To make even slices, I slice the block of tofu in half, then half each half, and then half each quarter. Make sense? Then dust the slices with tofu evenly with cornstarch on all sides.

Heat about 2 tbsp. of oil in your fry pan over medium high heat. Add the tofu slices, but don’t crowd the pan. You might have to fry in batches. Fry until the tofu is a light golden color, approximately 2 minutes, then turn the tofu over to cook another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove to drain on paper towels. If frying in batches, add more oil to the pan. Note: it is normal for the tofu to splatter, so wear an apron if you don’t want to ruin your clothes.

While the tofu is frying, stir together the agave nectar/honey, soy sauce, gingerroot, sesame oil, mirin and garlic together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place tofu in glass container to hold. Pour sauce over tofu and turn to coat. Dust tofu with toasted sesame seeds and turn again to coat. Season with crushed red chili flakes. Can be served warm or chilled. Will keep for about 5 days refrigerated.

The waffle iron

Last night before bed, O asked me if I’d get up early and make waffles before school. Waffles are a weekend ritual around here; I have made them so many times that I don’t need a recipe and can pretty much eyeball the ingredients without measuring tools. O was giving me his Big Blue Eyes look when he asked, so of course I said¬†I’d jump out of my warm bed a little early so he could be sent off to school with Mom’s good cooking¬†in his tummy.

I go to bed before anyone else around here. As I was saying my goodnights last night, I noticed the smell of meat coming from our kitchen. Not surprising since my husband likes to eat late. What was a surprising was that he was cooking hamburger in our waffle iron. Or, I should say, he’d attempted to cook hamburger in our waffle iron. I say “our” waffle iron because it was a wedding gift we received from our friends Chris and Melanie seventeen years ago, a gift that we’ve often remarked has been the most-used wedding gift in our household.

I bit my tongue as I watched my husband (sheepish expression on his face) chisel bits of burger out of the iron. Then I said goodnight, too tired to observe his cooking escapades any longer.

So…I get up this morning, eager to make my son happy, and bounce into the kitchen. The waffle iron is still out and looks surprisingly clean. I plug the appliance in to heat up while I gather ingredients, and that’s when I smell … meat. Then I hear sizzling coming from the iron, which I can only assume is sizzling meat.

Undaunted, I smooth waffle batter over the heated iron and tell myself I’ll do what Julia Child used to do with her first cr√™pe of her¬†batch … toss it out. I’m confident this¬†first waffle will absorb any beefy flavor leftover on the iron, and the remaining waffles will be fine.

Except, as you can see, they weren’t.

The timer went off and as I lifted the top of the iron up, the waffle pulled in half. Normally the waffles just slip out of the iron as easily as silk slips across skin. But not this morning. I reached for silicone tongs, hoping that a little force would help the remnants un-adhere. No dice.

My son walks out into the kitchen, takes one look at the mess, and says, “Oh, Dad was trying to get the hamburger out with steel wool last night.”

As my friend Gwen said after seeing the picture above and hearing how my husband attempted to clean the iron, “Well, who doesn’t like waffles with old hamburger, bits of steel wool, and Teflon dust in them? Maple syrup is for the weak.”

I’ve left the waffle iron on the counter, waffle still adhered, with a note that says, “Please order a new waffle maker AND a George Foreman Grill.”

I’m beginning to think there’s something to this whole “Mercury is in retrograde” business everyone’s talking about.

 

 

Project Chicken (Coop)

The old coop, before — summer 2014

Looking at the coop straight on, summer 2014

We have an old chicken coop in our backyard. For a couple years I’ve been itching to raise some chickens but two things have held me back: the state of the coop and my son’s reluctance.

This year, the planets aligned. O and his friends are always looking for schemes to earn pocket money, so they all agreed to clean out the coop for me. And because we’ve been through some tough times with our pets in the past couple years, O has grown to understand that animals and pets have shorter lifespans than their owners. The thought of losing a few chickens to predators–a very real possibility around here given that our property borders a habitat teeming with coyotes, fishers, raccoons, and hawks–isn’t as horrific to him as it would have been a few years ago. Plus, that has been motivating him to research the best ways to secure our coop.

It goes without saying that our coop needs a lot of work, so much so that I considered buying a prefab coop. The prefab coops I like, however, are a couple hundred dollars so I figure it’s better to do some DIY on the structure we have in place.

Today it’s overgrown with vines and we need to do some serious tree branch pruning. The structure is very sound. There’s a wooden floor inside, along with nesting boxes. We’ll¬†replace the chicken-wire covered window openings with real shed windows that open for ventilation, and build a door. The structure doesn’t have electricity but we can run an extension cord from our garage. As for the outdoor enclosure that’s currently fenced with chicken wire … I’m not so sure. It would be nice to have a completely enclosed run, but our neighbor doesn’t have one and they have only lost one chicken in the last couple years. Other to-do items: the coop will need scraping and painting after the windows and door are installed and the coop has been cleaned out.

O is having a sleepover tonight and the boys have their first paying job, clearing out some of the brush and branches around the structure. Our plan is to have a coop ready for chicks mid-spring … that gives us the fall, winter, and early spring to get it into shape. As for chickens, I have my heart set on Araucanas, the chickens that lay pastel-colored eggs. Word is they’ve got friendly dispositions, are good layers, and are cold-hardy.

Do you own chickens? Any advice? The one thing that’s creeping me out is the thought of snakes getting in the coop to eat eggs. I don’t mind seeing them out in the open, but I’ll seriously freak out if I’m gathering eggs and put my hand on a snake! An acquaintance has told me, however, that her chickens kill snakes … around here, the snakes are too small to be a real threat to eggs.

 

 

 

 

Cooking, knitting, staying warm

Homemade Potato and Pea Samosa

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stranded_hat

Still here. For some reason, I haven’t been able to log in to WordPress. I’m pretty sure it’s because my web host has been under a hacker attack.

The arctic chill has me spending a lot of time in the warm kitchen. This week I’ve made potato and pea samosas, hamburger buns, pop tarts with cinnamon filling, wild rice pilaf, and a potato-crusted quiche for my Paleo husband. Tomorrow I’m planning on a parsnip soup, a recipe I follow from my oft used copy of Jane Grigson’s Good Things.

And I know at least one of you can tell what I’ve been knitting. ūüėČ

I had my last physical therapy session last night. My improvement in range of motion has been dramatic. Now all I have to do is get off the blood thinners, and I’ll feel like I can put this latest medical drama far behind me.

Last weekend I finished refashioning a skirt I picked up at the thrift shop a couple years ago–a beautiful plaid Talbots skirt. I’m happy with the results, and it looks great with my newest knit cardigan, which I’ve yet to show off here. As soon as it warms up, I’ll have the resident photographer set up a shoot outside.

Cheese and potato soup

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It’s Boxing Day in the UK. And if you’re in the U.S., it’s another opportunity to hit the shops for some good deals on stuff that didn’t sell for Christmas.

I’ll be staying in, thank you, and enjoying some hearty winter fare.

One of my favorite winter soups is inspired by a soup I used to order years ago at a takeout place in nearby Concord, a cheese and potato soup that was thick, rich, and delicious. I once asked the owner how she made it, and she told me she used to throw in kitchen odds and ends: a bit of cheddar, the rind from some Parmesan. That might sound disgusting and a tad bit coy, but I know what she meant. My best soups are often made up of leftovers.

Here’s my version of that fantastic soup, which you can rustle up with pantry staples and whatever is lurking in your cheese drawer. I’ve used Emmentaler here, a Swiss-style semi-hard cheese that adds a touch of sharpness to the soup. Try cheddar, Gouda, mozzarella, fontina, or Gruy√®re, too!

Cheese and Potato Soup

Serves 4

2-oz. unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium baking potato, peeled and chopped
1 32-oz. container chicken or vegetable broth, preferably reduced sodium
4-oz. shredded cheese
salt to taste
garnish, if desired

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add onion once butter is melted and cook gently until the onions are translucent, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Add potato to saucepan and toss to coat with butter and onion. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add broth and turn heat up to medium. When soup begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until potato falls apart when pierced with a fork.

4. Using a stick blender or upright blender, puree soup in batches until completely smooth. If perfection is an issue for you, strain to remove any remaining chunks of onion or potato.

5. With the soup off the heat, stir in the cheese. The residual heat should melt it into the soup. Taste for salt; I use about a teaspoon of kosher salt, but you may like less or more.

6. Garnish with parsley or chopped chives. Serve and enjoy!

Another snowy day

English toffee

Knitted teddy

 

Around noon we got the automated call: schools were being let out early because of the impending snow storm. Yippee! I’ll let you wonder if I’m being sarcastic. My brother Matt was up here last weekend from Rhode Island and brought the tail-end of a cold with him, which I’m now valiantly fighting off. It’s, unfortunately, leaving me very sluggish and unmotivated to work. No production, no pay: the glamorous life of freelancing!

So I’ve been finishing up holiday projects, stuff that needs to get done by … oh my gosh, is Christmas next week? The top photo is the first batch of English toffee. It has been tested liberally, thus why I’m feeling sugar-sick. I’ll be making several more batches over the next couple days and sending packages off to friends or delivering goodies in person. The recipe is from the Cooking for Engineers blog and it has never failed me. This batch was made with milk chocolate instead of semi-sweet; I’ll be making future batches with the darker stuff.

The bottom photo is my first effort at knitting a teddy bear, and I have to say, it turned out quite well! When it’s completely finished, I’ll post details of the pattern. I’ve been putting off sewing the back to the front, though … must get cracking on that. I’ll be tying a red tartan ribbon around the bear’s neck and sticking this cutie in O’s Christmas stocking.

My 12-year-old is unabashedly fond of stuffed animals. He would probably kill me for saying this, but my favorite parenting moments involve walking into his bedroom in the morning and finding Taffy (a Bernese mountain dog), Goldie (a huge golden retriever), Softener (a mixed-breed stuffie), or Nordie (a wooly mammoth I bought in Norway many years ago) snuggled into his arms while he sleeps. The sight reminds me he’s still my little boy.

What are you up to today? Are you getting snow where you are?

Cheesy kale chips

Kale chips

 

A few years ago, when I was feeling really terrible, I went on a raw vegan diet. Don’t laugh. I know the science behind raw foodism is complete bonkers, but I felt like my body needed lots of fresh, raw vegetables at the time and considering I don’t like meat much at all and eat tons of veggies, adopting the diet wasn’t such a struggle. Weight I’d been carrying around since the birth of my son dropped away, my skin glowed with health, and I felt terrific!

Then I got diagnosed with colon cancer.

The cancer was slow-growing, meaning it had been inside me long before I adopted a raw food diet, but I often wonder if that year-long foray into eating fresh, raw organic food helped in any way. Maybe it slowed the growth of those cancer cells so they didn’t invade the tissue around the tumor, which would have given me a wholly different prognosis.

Or maybe the diet didn’t do a damn thing.

A month ago I started transitioning back to my vegetarian diet — lots of leafy green veggies, salads, colorful squashes, some starch, and the occasional taste of nightshade fruits (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and red peppers). I avoid gluten as it irritates my digestive system post surgery, and I’m now off caffeine (thanks to Dandy Blend) and have cut back severely on sugar (slowly getting used to stevia in my morning Dandy Blend.) I am thinking of giving up dairy, too, except that I love cheese. I would marry cheese if I could.

One treat I loved when I was eating “raw” was kale chips. I discovered cheesy kale chips in a gourmet market over in Concord. They were something like $7 or $8 for a medium-size bag and I’m pretty sure I ate the whole bag before I got home. I looked at the ingredients and decided to make my own recipe since I grew tons of kale and owned a dehydrator.

Kale chips are seriously delicious. Even though I eat real cheese on a regular basis, I think they still taste very cheesy. After about an hour of dehydrating, they fill my house with such a mouthwatering smell, I start lifting the lid to nibble on the small bits that are almost dry. (That’s why the tray above looks a little sparse.)

A couple tips: you really need a heavy-duty blender to make the cheese sauce. We have a Vitamix, which turns the nuts into a creamy butter. I don’t think a regular blender would work. You do not need a dehydrator, though. I’ve made successful batches of kale chips with my oven set at 175-200 degrees F. However, it seems to take longer to crisp them up in the oven.

Cheesy Kale Chips

1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight and drained

1 red pepper, chopped roughly

2 tbsp. lemon juice (I cheat and use bottle juice sometimes)

1 tbsp. nutritional yeast (do not confuse this with baking yeast, which makes bread rise. Nutritional yeast is used by vegetarians/vegans as its rich in Vitamin B12 and has a slightly cheesy flavor.)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

Kale, approximately 12-15 oz. (I buy the prewashed kale at Whole Foods for $2.99 and use about 3/4 of the bag)

Combine all ingredients except the kale in the mixer jar. Blend on high speed until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Place kale in a large bowl big enough so that you can toss and mix it around. Pour the sauce over and rub it into the kale. I spend about five minutes giving the kale its cheese bath.

Place the kale on your dehydrator trays. (It’s okay to crowd it — after an hour or two it will shrink up and you can rearrange everything.) Dehydrate at 135 degrees F for four to six hours until crisp and crackly. Test often. ūüėČ

If you try cheesy kale chips, let me know what you think.

 

Meyer lemon marmalade

From this:

chopped lemons for marmalade

to this:

lemon marmalade

The recipe is easy: chop up lemons finely. I used Meyer lemons, available only from November to early January. Remove as many seeds/pips as possible, as well as the thick membrane that runs down the center of the fruit. This is the messiest part of the job!

Measure the chopped fruit into a heavy saucepan and add the same amount of water. For example, if you get 3 cups of chopped fruit, add 3 cups of water. Bring mixture to a hard boil and cook for 25 to 30 minutes until peels are soft. Remove from heat. Measure out a like amount of sugar … again, if you got three cups of chopped fruit, measure out three cups of sugar. Add sugar to pan and return to heat. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the marmalade thickens and sheets off the spoon instead of drips. If you use a thermometer, this can be around 217 – 222 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat immediately and spoon marmalade into clean jars. Refrigerate.

Now before you yell at me for not sterilizing my jars … I get roughly four jars of marmalade from five lemons, all of which will be devoured by next week. Lemons are extremely acidic, which means they’re a poor host for botulism, and I store my jars in the refrigerator. If you plan to give your marmalade away or store it for awhile, then I would advise you to consult with a proper preserve-making handbook.

Enjoy the fruits of January!

Stinging nettles

Every spring I keep my eyes peeled for patches of stinging nettles but rarely have any luck finding them. We had a small patch in the side yard of our old house one year, but in following years the nettles never re-emerged. Now those of you who know stinging nettles as a noxious weed are thinking, “What on God’s green earth does this woman want with those dreadful plants?!?”

Why, I want them for dinner!

Several years ago I swooned over a some nettle soup I was served at a foraging dinner in Boston. First off, the color was lovely; you all know how I feel about green food. The soup happened to be delicious, too — it tasted slightly of spinach, and with a shaving of nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, the humble soup sent me to Nirvana. I could hardly believe the flavor came from a plant most people consider a nuisance, even though I’m well aware how delicious foraged foods can be.

Stinging nettles are easy to identify. They tend to grow in lush patches and their dark green serrated leaves look distinctive to me, but if you’re not sure, give the stem a light pinch and ow! Feel that nasty sting? A sure sign you’ve got yourself some nettles.

Last week I was biking over to Lexington and I noticed great patches of stinging nettles:

Autumn nettles

This ground was barren throughout the spring and summer, but now in late fall, it’s teeming with nettles. When I got home I did a quick Google search and learned that stinging nettles frequently emerge before winter, and that their tender young growth dies off with the first hard frost.

So yes, later that day I was back over in the patch with my scissors, gloves, and plastic bags. I picked enough nettles to make a huge batch of nettle pesto. Oliver, a picky eater, devoured it when swirled through a plate of pasta. I did not enlighten him that the green stuff did not come from my garden.

Does the pesto sting going down? Good question! Before using nettles in a recipe, you must blanch them in boiling salted water for a couple minutes to remove the stinging hairs/chemicals on the leaves and stems. Two minutes seems to do the trick, then I give them a cold water bath to keep the leaves bright green.

I don’t have a formal recipe for my stinging nettle pesto, but here’s a general guideline.

Ingredients:

One plastic bag filled with stinging nettles (including stems and leaves)

1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts — I avoid pine nuts since most originate in China and I avoid buying food from China)

2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Wear gloves to place the stinging nettles, stems and all, into the water. Cook for about two minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water. Now you can take your gloves off. Strip the nettle leaves off the stems; toss out stems. Squeeze water out of leaves and place them in a bowl of a food processor.

2. Add the nuts, garlic and cheese to the bowl and process. While the processor is running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until you have a pesto that meets your consistency requirements. (I like mine a little chunky — you might like yours smooth and silky, which may require lots more oil.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Go forth and serve!