Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cashew Tofu with Vegetables

 I’m always on the lookout for more tasty tofu recipes and this one was a surprise hit. From my perspective it’s a winner because of the ease-to-reward ratio. The kids just think it’s tasty.

I started with this Garlic Chicken and Broccoli Cashew Stir Fry from the Recipe Critic. No idea how I found it; possibly it was referenced on The Kitchn. I immediately chose to substitute tofu for the chicken. Then it was just a matter of tweaking the rest of the ingredients to suit our family’s tastes. For example, I added bit of ginger and rice vinegar to punch up the flavor a bit more and reduced the brown sugar. One of these times I’ll see how it tastes with maple syrup instead of brown sugar—I bet it will be great.  If everyone in the family loved chilis I would have added a diced fresh chili or some crushed red pepper flakes. I reduced the amount of cashews and found that 2/3 is plenty for our family of four.

I used extra firm tofu and that’s probably the best choice, though I do like the tenderness of just regular firm tofu. This recipe is so simple you don’t even have to marinate the tofu, though you’re welcome to make some extra sauce and do just that if you like. I went the route of ease by only frying the tofu on one side in my stainless steel skillet—no worries about leaving the lovely crust in the pan; it all loosens up easily in the steaming stage.

I used broccoli and carrots but any vegetable that can handle being cooked should be just fine, such as cauliflower, bell pepper, etc. I served over rice but if you don’t like rice you could use another grain or just serve on its own. This made enough dinner for the four of us (two are kids) with some left over. That high-protein tofu at Trader Joe’s (the only extra firm stuff they have) is filling!

1 14-16 oz block of extra firm tofu cut into bite-sized cubes
2 TBSP neutral oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated on a microplane or to taste (optional)
1/4 c soy sauce
2-3 TBSP brown sugar or maple syrup
1 TBSP rice vinegar (optional)
1 tsp sesame oil
2/3 c water (or stock of your choice; original recipe called for chicken stock which makes sense when the protein is chicken but not so much when it’s tofu!)
1 large head broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces (I use the stalks and florets)
1 large carrot sliced thinly
2/3 c cashews, toasted if desired
2 tsp cornstarch mixed with an additional TBSP cold water


  1. Mix the sauce ingredients (garlic through the 2/3 cup of water) in a small bowl and set aside
  2. Heat the neutral oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the tofu cubes in a single layer and let fry until they seem well browned on one side
  3. Add the sauce over the tofu cubes and give it a stir, then scatter the broccoli and carrot on top
  4. Cover the skillet and let steam for about 5 minutes or to your vegetable texture preference
  5. Remove the lid, add the cashews and stir in the cornstarch/water mixture. Stir and cook until the sauce thicken a bit. It won’t be super thick but will have a nice viscosity
  6. Serve over the grain of your choice or on its own

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Faux Pho Ga

I do love a good bowl of pho and there is no shortage of places to get it in Seattle. But sometimes you don’t want to have to leave the house for it. Enter Andrea Nguyen and her Instant Pot Chicken Pho recipe. Of course it is appealing to be able to use my beloved Instant Pot to make a flavorful broth. However, I know myself. While I love authentic pho, when it comes to making it at home, authenticity doesn’t work for me. I need to be able to make a big pot of soup one night and then just reheat it on subsequent nights. I know that if a recipe calls for me to have a bunch of extras to add each day I’m not going to make that recipe regularly.

So I wondered if I could make a pho-inspired soup, one that uses Nguyen’s gorgeous broth but fills it with vegetables cooked straight in the broth and used a grain instead of rice noodles that go gummy if you store them in the broth overnight. I was very dubious that this could possibly work, but I was determined to find a way to make pho a more realistic recipe for the dinner rotations.

I decided to use my usual soup vegetables: carrots, kale and in this case, cauliflower. I used my Breville Sous Chef food processor to slice carrots and cauliflower super thinly. The kale I chopped fine as I do for nearly every main course I make. To replace the rice noodles, I chose millet. The obvious choice would have been rice, of course, but we only use brown rice in our household and I feared that it would be too assertive. Millet is mild and satisfying and worked well.

The end result exceeded my wildest hopes. The children were instantly smitten, especially when they added a generous dollop of hoisin sauce to their bowls. My husband had hoisin and Sriracha, and I went for a squeeze of lime. These are the types of condiments I can handle on a nightly basis. And thus, faux pho was born. I am not claiming it’s as good as authentic pho. I’m only asserting that my family enjoyed it and it’s the kind of recipe I can easily repeat with things I always have on hand.

For the broth
1 4lb chicken (approx), giblets removed. We used a super high quality chicken from the farmers’ market. You could add the neck and gizzard to your broth but not the liver.
1 heaping TBSP coriander seeds
3 whole cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 inch piece of ginger, sliced thickly and smashed a bit (I did not peel)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thickly (around 10 oz, mine was slightly under)
7 to 7 1/2 cups water, just off the boil
1 small apple, peeled (I did the first time but wouldn’t in future), cored and in medium chunks
3/4 c cilantro leaves and sprigs packed very tightly—you want to be generous with the cilantro
2 1/4 tsp fine sea salt (I used the same amount of kosher salt and seasoned more later)

For the soup:
Broth and chicken from the above
4-6 cups additional water
1 cup millet
3-5 carrots (depending on size) very thinly sliced
1/2 small head cauliflower very thinly sliced
1/2 bunch kale or other greens, finely chopped
1 1/2 TBSP fish sauce, or to taste (mine was a bit strong so I used less than I expected)
Soy sauce to taste (optional and not in the original recipe)
More cilantro (optional)


  1. Turn the Instant Pot to Sauté mode and press the More button to get a stronger heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and cinnamon stick if using. Sauté for a few minutes until the spices are fragrant
  2. Add the ginger and onion and stir frequently for a couple of minutes until they too are fragrant
  3. Add four cups of the just-boiled water to stop the cooking, then add the chicken (breast side up), cilantro, apple, salt and remaining water. The chicken should be mostly covered
  4. Put on the Instant Pot lid and make sure the vent is set to Sealing. Use the Poultry mode at high pressure (here I differ from Nguyen who says 10 minutes at low pressure for a chicken that big, which makes me very nervous. Hip pressure cooking says 20-25 minutes for a chicken that big at high pressure. I did 20 this time but will try 15 next time. 10 might be enough, but not at low pressure) for 15 minutes
  5. When the cook time is done, unplug the Instant Pot or turn it off and let rest for at least 20 minutes. After that time the pressure had still not gone down in mine so I did a quick release but I think it would have been better to wait for it to drop on its own
  6. Nguyen wants you to remove the chicken and soak in cold water for 10 minutes because she’s going for a silky texture on the chicken. For regular pho this would be important, but in my soup this was an unnecessary step that was messy and tedious—I will omit next time. Instead, just remove the chicken to a bowl or cutting board and let it cool til you can handle it
  7. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth/muslin into a medium large pot and put on the stove at medium-high heat. The solids can be composted
  8. When the chicken is cool enough, cut or shred it into bite-sized pieces
  9. Add the additional 4-6 cups of water to the strong broth you made. I know this may be considered heresy but the broth was still plenty flavorful and a whole chicken makes a lot of soup
  10. When the broth is at a boil, add the millet, carrots and cauliflower and bring back to a simmer
  11. Simmer until the millet is cooked through, then add the chicken pieces and kale
  12. Taste and add fish sauce, salt, soy sauce and/or a bit of sugar to taste
  13. Serve with sriracha, hoisin sauce and limes as desired

Monday, January 8, 2018

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

It’s so interesting to look at how my cooking has evolved over the years, and as we’ve become a family of two then three then four. These days I am all about simplicity and leftovers. I still pride myself on making wholesome, delicious food, but I just don’t have the time for or interest in elaborate meal prep. Enter the recipe makeover. There are recipes the family has loved, but that have fallen out of favor because they’re just more labor intensive than I prefer. I’m finding ways of incorporating the elements we love while dramatically simplifying the prep.

Today’s case in point is the 2010 recipe for Bee-Bim Bop. So tasty and yet so fiddle to prepare all the bits separately. In addition, we really do not buy large cuts of meat often. I am much more apt to reach for high-quality ground beef, chicken or pork I can get at the farmers’ market, both because of the friendlier price tag for that high quality and better environmental report card, and because ground meat allows a little meat to go a long way. The Teriyaki Turkey and Ground Vegetables recipe (which I more often make with chicken since I can get that more easily at my market) calls for 1 pound of ground meat and feeds our family of four for three nights. The original bee-bim bop recipe calls for 1 pound of steak but it wouldn’t be satisfying to try to spread it over that many nights, but with ground beef instead and the same cooking method from the teriyaki turkey and ground vegetables it’s easy.

Soon I’m going to try an Indian version of the same concept with pork or chicken using the Indian-Spiced Simmer Sauce posted by 101 Cookbooks using some cashew cream to thin it out a bit. I have a feeling it will work super well and be a recipe I’m much more likely to turn to than Butter Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala, great Instant Pot recipes for those notwithstanding.

Back to today’s recipe. I am taking the marinade from Bee-Bim Bop, stretching it out with some chicken stock and reducing the sugar quite a bit. After whisking that together, all I do is sauté some onion in oil, add ground beef, then stir in my ground veggies of choice, usually broccoli and/or cauliflower, carrots and sometimes peppers. Once the veg is steamed and tender, add the sauce and serve over rice. Sometimes I’ll cook up the omelette from the bee-bim bop recipe, chop and scatter that in, too. Cook once, eat three times and the family still has smiles at the repeats.

3/4 c. soy sauce, low sodium or regular ok
3/4 to 1 c. chicken stock (water might also work)
2-3 TBSP sugar
1/4 c. oil of choice
2 TBSP sesame oil
1/4 tsp black pepper

2 TBSP sesame seeds (optional)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Veggie & Meat Mixture
1-2 TBSP oil
1/2 to 1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1-2 stalks broccoli, washed, peeled and cut into regular chunks
1/2 head cauliflower, cored, washed and cut into regular chunks
3-4 carrots, washed and cut into regular chunks
2-3 eggs made into an omelette with a dash of sesame oil and then rolled and sliced into strips (optional)


  1. Whisk together marinade ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high then add the onion and sauté until soft
  3. Add the garlic and cook for a minute then add the ground beef. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the beef is cooked
  4. While the beef is cooking, put the first vegetable in the food processor and chop finely, then add to skillet when beef is cooked
  5. Repeat with remaining vegetables, stirring well after each addition
  6. Place a lid on the skillet and let the veggies steam for 5 minutes or so
  7. Remove list, verify that vegetables are tender, and then add 2/3 to 3/4 of the sauce, stirring well
  8. Let the mixture cook for a minute or two to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning. You may need a bit more soy sauce or some salt or sesame oil
  9. Serve over rice or the grain of your choice, passing the extra sauce

Monday, November 27, 2017

Vegan Mint Meltaways

I’m always looking for more recipes in my holiday lineup that are naturally gluten free so that my uncle-in-law doesn’t feel left out (especially since he loves sweets). I knew I had to try it when I found this “faux-rango” recipe. My great-aunt Florence, a Washington native, used to send my family the Frango gift packs every year and we loved her for it. We sometimes buy a box around the holidays but we often have so much sweet stuff around it’s really not worth the extra trip to Macy’s. But I’ve always loved the mint chocolate combination.
The best thing about these candies is the ease with which they come together, easier than a non-vegan recipe for sure. I had never enrobed chocolates before and I did find that my 72% chocolate was not quite as fluid as I would have liked and I probably needed another ounce or two of it to really get smooth coatings on each candy, but it was still pretty simple and the results were lovely. I think the centers are so luscious because of the coconut oil. I used Trader Joe’s brand and I think it is not refined, however, I didn’t notice any coconut flavor in the end result.
I converted the measurements to weight rather than volume for my own convenience and I also added a scan 1/4 tsp of table salt to the filling; I feel the slight saltiness is what makes a Frango center really stand out. I haven’t tried them out on my uncle-in-law yet, but my 10 year old gave me an entire paragraph extolling the virtues of them and my 5 year old summed it up by saying “they’re gooder than delicious”. I’ll take that and make these a yearly tradition!
Note that, though the recipe is super simple, it does take time. You need to pre-soak the cashews and then there are three different chilling periods. Perfect for a lazy weekend to make you feel accomplished. I bet they’d be really great alongside a cup of cocoa.

46g cashews, soaked in cold water for at least 2 hours, then rinsed
105g (1/2 c) solid coconut oil (you really don’t want it melted)
40g (1/2 c) cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
3/8 c maple syrup
1 tsp peppermint extract (or to taste)
Scant 1/4 tsp table salt
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I use 72% cocoa which is a nice contrast to the sweet centers; the original recipe called for 6 ounces but I increased it. If you have leftover just re-melt and mix with milk for drinking chocolate)
Crushed candy canes for garnish, optional


  1. Make sure you’ve soaked and rinsed your cashews. Prepare a loaf pan by lining it with parchment or plastic wrap. Use whatever size pan will give you the shape and thickness of candies you like
  2. Put all the ingredients up to (but not including) the bittersweet chocolate into the bowl of a food processor. The original recipe specifies a small one so I used my small bowl but a regular size bowl might also work
  3. Pulse to combine then process until mixture is completely smooth, stopping to scrape once or twice. I probably processed for 2-3 minutes
  4. Scrape the mixture into your prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours until it is completely solid
  5. Lift the candy center out of the pan using the parchment/plastic wrap as a sling to help you. Then cut into your desired number of squares and place on a lined baking tray. I cut mine into 24 pieces and used Silpat instead of parchment. 
  6. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and freeze at least 8 hours
  7. When you are ready to coat your candy, break up your chocolate into small pieces and place into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on 50% power for 1.5 minutes then stir. Put it in for up to another 1.5 minutes in 30 second increments at 50% power, stirring between each interval. You want the chocolate to be completely melted
  8. Crunch up some candy canes and have in a little bowl ready to sprinkle on the coated candy
  9. The original recipe says to take out the melt-away centers one at a time for enrobing but that is not practical for me. Instead I set my baking tray on top of another baking tray that I had covered in ice cubes, which kept them plenty cold. Instead of using a separate lined plate, I just put the coated chocolates back on my Silpat-lined and nicely chillled baking tray
  10. Using a fork (or whatever you find easiest), take a center and swirl it in the chocolate to get it thoroughly coated. Remove and let the excess drip away as best you can, then place on your tray and sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Repeat. Note that I had to re-heat my chocolate a few times to keep it as liquid as I wanted it. You may or may not need to do this
  11. One final time, refrigerate the candies for at least an hour before serving. You can eat them cold or at room temperature, though they’ll melt much faster at room temp

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Simple Cranberry Sauce

An old Cook’s Illustrated recipe that keeps on working for our family. There are so many more creative cranberry sauce recipes out there, with orange or horseradish or whatnot, but this is the one we like. Not just for Thanksgiving! My kids love it stirred into steel cut oats or spread on pancakes.

3/4 cup water
1 c granulated sugar (evaporated cane sugar, whatever you like)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 (12 oz)  bag cranberries, picked through

  1. Combine water, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring a few times along the way
  2. Stir in the cranberries and bring back to a boil
  3. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer until about 2/3 of the berries have popped open and the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon—use your eyes and nose here; when it looks right it is. This will take about 5 minutes or so
  4. Remove from heat and pour into a non reactive bowl. Let sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature to thicken fully then serve or refrigerate or freeze

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Best Chocolate Ice Cream

I like chocolate ice cream ok, but usually as a vehicle for mix-ins like nuts or mixed with coffee flavor. However, The Kitchn’s recent post on chocolate ice cream made me want to try my hand at a batch. Whoa this stuff is good, and it’s egg-free in case you need to be mindful of that.

I didn’t make any changes to the ingredients or proportions, but I have clarified the instructions because the first time I made this recipe, the ice cream took ages to get to soft serve consistency and then melted much faster after hardening than I would have expected. I attribute this to two things: I didn’t let the dairy mixture simmer long enough and I didn’t cool the base enough before churning. This time I was more careful in both areas and the end result was better. The sweetened condensed milk, an ingredient I never use, really did a great job of adding a malty note to the ice cream and should not be omitted.

We are serving with white chocolate mint magic shell and gluten-free shortbread for family birthday dinner and expect no complaints.

4 oz high-quality dark chocolate in medium sized chunks (we used Theo 70%)
2 oz high-quality milk chocolate in medium sized chunks (we used Theo milk chocolate)
2 c. whole milk (I bet 2% would work too)
1 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. sugar (we used evaporated cane sugar)
1/4 c. sweetened condensed milk
3 TBSP cocoa powder. The Kitchn specifies Dutched but that’s ridiculously hard to find these days so I used regular cocoa powder and it was fine


  1. Get an ice bath and strainer ready for the base.
  2. Melt the chocolate in whatever method works for you. I like to do it in the microwave on 50% power for two minutes, stir and then another 1- 1/2 minutes. Set aside
  3. Coming the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high unit it reaches a boil. Immediately lower the heat and let simmer two minutes
  4. Remove from heat. Add one ladleful of heated mixture to the melted chocolate and whisk in. It’s the same idea as bechamel, where you don’t want the flour and butter to seize up. Add three or four more ladlesful, one at a time, whisking after each incorporation. When the chocolate/dairy mixture is very loose, go ahead and add the rest of the dairy and whisk well until incorporated
  5. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl sitting in the ice bath and let cool thoroughly. The original recipe said 20 minutes but I think it’s better to use a temperature goal. I cooled my mixture to 68 degrees F, stirring three or four times during the initial 20 minutes and topping up the ice bath with ice once or twice. The cooler the base, the easier to churn into ice cream. However, the original recipe specifically counsels against putting the base in the fridge for hours or overnight becuase the chocolate could then become grainy. I can attest that doing it this way leads to a delightful smooth texture in the finished product
  6. Once the base is chilled, churn in an ice cream maker according to its instructions but know that you’re very likely to need to churn longer than usual. I usually churn 20 minutes and I went up to 30 this time. I had a very nice soft-serve consistency after 30 minutes
  7. Harden in the freezer for at least four hours and then it’s ready to serve

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Italian Sausage and Broccoli Pasta

Because we try to make meat an accent to our meals rather than the centerpiece, I find that end using a lot of ground meats mixed with whole grains, vegetables and sometimes pulses or beans. (For examples see Teriyaki Ground Turkey with Vegetables or Lentil Barley Soup with Italian Sausage, which I most often make with ground beef these days, or Shepherd's Pie). This recipe is no exception.

My inspiration was a recipe on I loved the idea of a one-pot meal I could make in my Instant Pot. However, because I always use whole wheat pasta, I have never been completely thrilled with the flavor, though my kids were immediate fans. Cooking the whole wheat pasta with all the other ingredients gave it a slightly dusty quality I wasn't fond of. However, given my experience making kale pasta every Saturday night I knew it would be pretty easy to convert this recipe away from the Instant Pot. I am definitely satisfied with the conversion. The dusty flavor is gone and the kids gobbled it up at least as fast as before with many sweet compliments. It's still quite simple to prepare so the switch from one pot to two is worth the extra dish. This will definitely go into our rotation of favorites.

1-2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 to 1 lb Italian sausage (chicken or pork, mild or spicy, whatever you like)
2-3 cloves garlic
1 large head broccoli cleaned and separated into floret; cut the stem into 1 inch pieces
3 small to medium carrots
2 c or 1 small can tomato sauce (or diced or crushed tomatoes--i just use homemade sauce)
1/2 lb whole wheat orzo pasta
Salt, pepper and smoke paprika to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the italian sausage when the pan is hot. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the sausage is lightly browned and has rendered any fat
  2. While the sausage is frying, prepare the other ingredients: mince the garlic finely, finely chop the broccoli and then the carrots. I do all of this in my food processor, one ingredient at a time. I chop it all finely enough that there aren't any big veggie chunks in the finished product, but use whatever size you find most appetizing, adjusting the cooking time if you have bigger pieces
  3. Start a pot of water to boil. I try to use a smaller ratio of water to pasta but do whatever works for you. If your stove is really slow and/or you like to use lots of water, set the pot to heat first thing
  4. Once the sausage is browned, lower the heat to medium and stir in the garlic. Let cook a minute or two, then add the broccoli and carrot and stir well
  5. Cover the skillet and let the vegetables steam for 4-5 minutes, or until soft
  6. Stir in the tomato sauce/canned tomatoes, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Partially cover, turn the heat to low (I did 3 on our 9 level stove), and let simmer while the pasta cooks
  7. Once your pot of water has come to a boil, add 1 tsp kosher salt if desired and cook pasta according to package directions
  8. Drain pasta and add to skillet. Stir well to mix all ingredients together. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper and smoked paprika as desired. Serve as-is or with freshly-grated Parmesan