Sunday, March 10, 2019

Thai Basil Tofu Stir Fry

I don’t know why I had never tried using tofu as a substitute for ground meat, but now that I know that the texture and flavor are completely fine for everyone in the family, I will be using it often. The recipe below is based on this PBS one by Marc Matsumoto, which I adapted in my usual way.
The dish comes together extremely quickly but you do have to plan ahead because you need to use previously-frozen tofu. Freezing the tofu changes the texture entirely and makes it very easy to crumble it into “grounds” but you need to have it frozen for at least 24 hours and then it takes quite a while to thaw. Matsumoto says he just keeps a block or two of tofu in the freezer and I am going to do the same. Then you only need to plan for thawing time, which can be sped up with a bowl of warm water.

Matsumoto’s recipe is vegan and he recommends a hard-to-find white soy sauce as a substitute for fish sauce. I didn’t have time to go hunting for it, so I just used the fish sauce. All the other ingredients are vegan. I basically used the same method for this dish as I do for all of my other one-skillet ground “meat” recipes—sauté the aromatics, add the ground protein and vegetables and steam until they’re cooked, then add sauce. This differs from Matsumoto’s technique but worked well for me. The recipe is very adaptable to any vegetables you want to throw in, as long as they’re chopped to a size that will ensure it all gets cooked at the same time.

The whole family really went for this dish in a way I did not expect. The fish sauce definitely lends a bit of a funk but they were all over it. I had doubled the sauce portion on my first try because I felt the amount given wasn’t enough. This made it too salty. While mitigated by the plain grain we served it over, I have reduced the salt in the recipe that follows.

1 14-16 oz block extra firm tofu, frozen in its package and then thawed
2 TBSP vegetable oil (with a high smoke point)
1/2 onion finely chopped (original recipe adds the onions later and cuts them in strips—feel free to do that if you like it better, we prefer smaller pieces of onion)
2-3 cloves garlic minced or put through a press or chopped in the food processor
100 g (or two to three large handfuls) shiitake or crimini mushrooms, chopped finely
1/2 head of broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage cut into quite small pieces or chopped super finely in the food processor
1/2 red bell pepper sliced or chopped similarly to the other vegetables
2-3 carrots thinly sliced or chopped similarly to the other vegetables

2 1/2 TBSP fish sauce or vegan substitute such as white soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

Large bunch Thai basil (or to taste). I finely chopped it to ensure distribution throughout the dish and was surprised at how well the flavor carried

With all the extra vegetables, our family of four got two nights out of this amount


  1. Remove the previously-frozen and now thawed tofu from the package. Using a colander, discard the water and then rinse thoroughly, squeezing all the while. The more rinsing and squeezing you do, the milder the flavor. The tofu will naturally start to break up. Keep doing so, tearing and squeezing, until you get small crumbles. Get as much water out as you can and leave in the colander until you are ready to use
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and then add the onion. Sauté until translucent, reducing heat if the onion starts to brown too much (unless you like browned onion better)
  3. Once the onion is soft, add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid
  4. Add the tofu and other vegetables and lower the heat. Put the lid on the skillet and steam for a few minutes until the vegetables are your desired level of tenderness
  5. Add the sauce to the pan and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference
  6. Remove from heat and scatter the basil over the dish, stirring it in if you like (we do)
  7. Serve over the grain of your choice, or even rice noodles

Monday, March 4, 2019

Better-Method 100% Whole Wheat Crumpets

I’ve been making whole wheat crumpets for a few years now based on this Paul Hollywood crumpet recipe converted to using all home-milled wheat flour, half hard red wheat, half soft white wheat. I have been happy with these crumpets, particularly after I realized that I needed to substantially increase the water used to account for the whole grain and especially when I follow my own advice not to fill the crumpet rings too full (that last is a real struggle for me as I want a tall crumpet and frequently overfill my rings). And yet, they still verged on gummy.

Enter the Serious Eats 100% whole wheat sandwich bread recipe published recently.  I adore this recipe. The end result is tender and tasty and everything you could hope for in a whole wheat sandwich loaf. One secret to it is the 2.5 hour autolyse, in which the bulk of the liquid is mixed with the flour and left to sit. I have long known that whole grain flour takes longer to absorb liquid, but I didn’t understand that this absorption time would also inspire gluten formation, which is then later developed by kneading (or using the food process in the Serious Eats recipe). A lightbulb went on for me and I wondered if my crumpet recipe might be improved by an autolyse. This required pretty radically changing the method in the first part of the recipe. I use instant yeast, which negates the need for dissolving or using warm liquid, which gives me the flexibility I need for doing an autolyse. I follow Stella Parks’ technique in the bread recipe and added all but 2 TBSP of the liquid to my flour so that I would have some liquid to help when I mixed in the instant yeast. I was definitely worried that my mixing technique would fail but it worked beautifully. The only change I made to the timing was to give the mixture and additional 20 minutes or so to rise. After 80 minutes, my dough had indeed risen fully and begun to fall, just as Mr Hollywood says in his recipe.

After the autolyse and first rise, I followed the recipe that I’d modified earlier. I had thought that perhaps with the autolyse I wouldn’t need to use quite so much extra water but I used it all and it definitely needed it.

I did the long, slow preheat of my Baking Steel griddle and then cooked the crumpets at just above medium. This batter was definitely more bubbly and active than any other I’ve ever made and the interiors were not gummy. Though I know it’s sacrilege to split a crumpet (unlike an English muffin), I do it anyway. These ones fork-split easily, unlike the crumpets from previous batches. I plan on repeating this recipe very soon making sure to add even less batter to each ring (one recipe I consulted suggested add a scant 2 TBSP only). Glad I made that batch of lemon curd....

6 oz (175g) soft wheat berries or whole wheat pastry flour
6 oz (175g) hard wheat berries or whole wheat bread flour
12 fl oz warm milk. Use 10 oz at first and hold 2 oz back for after the autolyse
14g instant yeast (or two packets or 4 1/2 tsp)1 tsp sugar
10 oz  warm water (Hollywood recipe calls for 5-7 oz)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Oil for the crumpet rings and griddle

  1.  Mill the flours and add to the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the flours and 10 oz of milk together. I did not use warmed milk—straight from the fridge was fine. Let sit for one hour
  2. Give the mixture a stir then sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the top (alternatively you could dissolve the sugar and yeast into the milk). Using the regular mixer blade (not the dough hook) and keeping the mixer running on low, slowly dribble in the milk. The only reason to do it this way is to give the dough a chance to absorb the liquid without splashing everywhere. 
  3. Once the milk is mixed in, beat on low to medium for up to three minutes until you get a very smooth batter
  4. Cover and let rise 60-80 minutes. I found Hollywood's tip that the dough should rise and then start to fall super helpful. I err on the long side of rising time because the whole wheat dough does take longer
  5. Stir down the dough, then dissolve the salt and baking soda in the warm water. Add the water to the dough and again stir a bit by hand to avoid sloshing. Mix until well blended. Another helpful Hollywood tip is that the batter should be the consistency of double cream. I thought my batter reached that texture, but it was also very springy--my gluten strands were strong. Don't be afraid to add more water as you will definitely get better bubbles with a thinner batter
  6. Cover and let sit 20 minutes. While the batter sits, heat a cast iron griddle on medium-low so it has a nice long time to distribute the heat
  7. After the final rest, grease the griddle and up to 8 crumpet rings . Turn up the heat to a bit higher than medium (I do 5.5 or 6 out of 9)
  8. Use a scant 2 TBSP of batter per crumpet. You can use more, but then it makes it really hard not to get a burnt, leathery bottom on the crumpet before the top is cooked through. Cook until the top is set and you're seeing lots of bubbles. I find that my crumpets need a LONG time to cook, up to ten minutes a side. This is not consistent with Hollywood's recipe but is what I've found all the times I've made crumpets
  9. Either remove the rings before or after flipping and cook just a few minutes on the second side. With the new mixing method, it has been a dream to get the rings off of the crumpets, I’m happy to say
  10. Serve immediately or save in an airtight container or freeze, toasting to refresh, splitting if you are a heretic like me

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Oven-Baked Falafel

A year or two ago, I tried and liked the Serious Eats falafel recipe. I would make and fry big batches and then freeze them to use for my work lunches. However, I fell out of the habit of making it because the pan frying was so tedious and they always fell apart quite a lot so I ended up with scorched bits in the pan. In the end, the reward wasn’t worth the effort. When I saw a new recipe on smitten kitchen I decided to give it a whirl. Like the Serious Eats version, this uses soaked but uncooked chickpeas. In fact, the recipes are super similar so it may be that my pulsing technique is what made the difference, that or the use of onion (I omitted scallion in the Serious Eats recipe as I dislike them intensely). I hoped that it might stay together better and it did. However, many people in the comments said that the mixture was too wet for them so I was extra careful and drained my soaked chickpeas very well. I also made no attempt to avoid pulsing the mixture into a purée—most people who had issues with the falafel balls falling apart reported that things worked better when they processed the mixture more.

Optimistically, I had made a double batch thinking I would freeze it for lunches. Then we spontaneously were invited to the house of some friends to meet their gorgeous new cat, so I offered to bring dinner—the mixture I’d had resting in the fridge all day, storebought pita and hummus (instead of making tahini sauce) and some broccoli to steam. Because there were 8 of us all wanting to eat at the same time, and because I wanted to spend my time visiting and petting the kitty, we opted to form the mixture into patties and bake them. Success!

I know that I will make this recipe much more frequently if I can do it with a fraction of the effort. I made a second double batch today so that I could freeze it and I did fry three patties as a test to see if the result was worth it. I won’t like to you: fried falafel has a crunch that oven-baking cannot match. However, that crunch is going to be dimmed significantly by freezing and re-heating and the baked result is quite nice. If you’re going to eat the whole recipe right away, by all means fry them up. But if you’re planning for the future, save yourself some time and splatters and bake them. What follows is the doubled version as I know I won’t be making less than that.

You certainly may shape these into the traditional balls but I find that I greatly prefer a more patty-like shape as it is more pleasing to bit into, especially in a sandwich.

*You need to build in enough time for the chickpeas to soak at least 8 hours and for the processed mixture to rest at least half an hour before cooking*

1 lb dried chickpeas, rinsed and picked over
4 qt water
3 TBSP kosher salt
Combine water and salt in a large container to dissolve the salt. Then add the dried chickpeas and let soak for at least 8 hours.

Most of a bunch of flat-leaf parsley washed and dried well. You can also use a mixture of cilantro and parsley
1 large onion
6 large cloves garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground coriander (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp cayenne, chipotle, New Mexico chile powder, or to taste


  1. Rinse and then drain the soaked chickpeas very, very well. I leave them to sit over the colander while I prep the rest of the ingredients
  2. If you want to save a bit of effort, wash and dry your herbs and then put them in the food processor bowl. Pulse until chopped. You can also finely chop by hand, but it seems silly to me not to let the food processor do the work. However, you will get a better result if you process the herbs first on their own before adding the rest of the ingredients
  3. Add the onion, garlic, salt and spices to the foood processsor and pulse a few times then add the well-drained chickpeas
  4. Pulse well until you’ve got a reasonably homogenous mixture. Test it by making a ball between your fingers. If it won’t hold together at all you should pulse some more. The end result looks kind of a like a paste and kind of like cooked couscous. When you’ve got the right texture,  scrape the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour. I’ve left it overnight with no issues
  5. When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and generously oil two half-sheet pans. Use an oil with a decent smoke point—olive oil is not your best choice here
  6. Remove the mixture from the fridge and form into balls or patties. I use my large cookie scoop for this and flatten the top a bit. Place the patties on the sheet pans. I got 27 patties about 2 inches across
  7. Bake for 15 minutes then turn the patties over and switch the positions of the baking trays. Bake for an additional ten minutes. They should be nicely browned on top and bottom
  8. Remove from oven and serve or cool and then tray freeze and bag up for future meals

Monday, December 3, 2018

Garlicky Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a modified version of Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe for Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitake from Every Grain of Rice. Most of the recipe is directly hers but I used the dried shiitake variation because that’s what we’ll likely have on hand plus a few other little tweaks, namely the shape of the bok choy.
I always love bok choy in a restaurant but have struggled to cook (and eat!) it at home because of the different cooking time seemingly needed for the stalk and the greens.
However, in a time when other green veg was hard to come by at the farmers’ market, I picked up some full-size bok choy and decided to give this recipe a whirl. I almost left out the mushrooms, thinking that the smaller members of the family would soundly reject them but I was completely wrong. In fact, I thought that most of my dinner would be a bust with the youngest as I had planned to cook some farro to accompany the bok choy and baked tofu and she historically has never cared for it. (My other daughter and I adore its squeaky nuttiness). But, lo, not only did both kids gobble up the bok choy and beg for more mushrooms, but the youngest also proclaimed how much she loved the farro. Just goes to show it pays to keep re-presenting things over time because tastes change.
Back to the shape of the bok choy. While I appreciate the lovely presentation of a quartered bok choy stem, it is nearly impossible to pick up and eat and little mouths struggle to manage. So this time I blanched the whole bok choy stalks (baby this time) and then shocked and drained them before cutting them into bite size chunks prior to stir frying. It’s going to be much easier to get those forkfuls into our happy mouths.
I also use less ginger than Dunlop suggests, just because that’s my personal preference. Finally, Dunlop’s recipe calls for potato flour, which surprised me in the US edition, because I know from experience that this really should be potato starch in our parlance—potato flour exists and is a whole different thing.

6-9 dried shiitake mushrooms
Dash of Shaoxing wine
Slice of ginger
4 bunches baby bok choy or 2 bunches regular
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp potato starch mixed with 1 TBSP water
3 TBSP oil (a variety with a high smoke point—I used a bit less oil than this)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Peeled and sliced ginger to taste (though because I keep my ginger in the freezer, I just grated some)


  1. Prepare the dried shiitakes: cover them in hot water and leave to soak 30 minutes. Then drain and cover with fresh water. Add a dash of Shaoxing wine and a slice or two of ginger. Simmer at least 20 minutes and just leave them there until you want them. Just slice or halve them as desired before you start your stir fry
  2. Pull the bok choy stems off the base as you would with stalks of celery and soak them well in cold water (I had a lot of grit in the bottom of my basin that I’m very glad we didn’t end up eating!). After 15 or so minutes of soaking, carefully lift the bok choy out of the basin and leave the grit behind
  3. Bring a couple of quarts of water to a boil then add a tsp of salt and a splash of oil. Add the bok choy and cook a minute or two until the leaves are wilted. Drain and rinse with cold water then drain again
  4. Cut the blanched bok choy into bite-sized pieces or the shape of your choice
  5. Stir the sugar into the potato starch/water mixture and set aside
  6. When you have all your ingredients sliced or chopped and are ready to start stir frying, heat the oil in a seasoned wok over high heat. We have an induction range so woks don’t work well; I use our 12-inch skillet or cast iron pan. Swirl the oil around then add the garlic and ginger. Cook very briefly, just until you can smell them, then add the mushrooms and bok choy. Stir them around a few times then add the starch mixture and salt to taste. Stir once again to combine and then serve

Monday, October 29, 2018

Instant Pot Pork and Hominy Soup

Yet another cheat in which I convert a regular recipe into an Instant Pot recipe. I write it down because I want to remember how I did it and what success I had. The original version of this soup doesn’t really take that long if you’ve got your carnitas ready to go, but the IP version only takes 10 minutes at high pressure, which is definitely a savings. The time savings of doing the carnitas in the Instant Pot combined with the shorter cooking time of the soup makes it overall a faster dish to get on the table.

The major difference this time with the soup is that I threw in 2/3 of a large head of cauliflower I had from the farmers’ market that I didn’t have another plan for. I always want to make our more food vegetable-forward. In the past I’ve added ground kale to this soup, which is good, but as I had the cauliflower I had a hunch that small florets of cauliflower would nicely echo the texture and color of the white hominy and indeed it did. I think I will always do this in future.

My mother-in-law makes this soup with pork tenderloin, which is way less fatty, of course, but pork butt is easier to come by at the farmers’ market (at a reasonable price) and it’s nice to be able to use some of the meat for tacos and the rest in a soup.

1/2 recipe carnitas, liquid defatted and reduced by 1/2 to 1/3 (freeze the rest of the meat and glaze to use for tacos. I am freezing some of the cooking liquor to use for beans, as well)
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
1 can tomatillos with liquid, chopped (optional)
2 large cans hominy, drained and rinsed
1/2 to 2/3 large head cauliflower, washed and cut into florets roughly equivalent in size to the hominy
8 cups low sodium or homemade chicken stock or water or a combination
12 oz green salsa or to taste (we use Trader Joe’s salsa verde these days)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
More lime juice as needed for brightness
Salt to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in the same base of the Instant Pot on sauté mode (use the Adjust button to make it go to the Less setting so the onion won’t burn) add the onion. Cook over until very soft and golden
  2.  Add the pork to the pot and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook for a few minutes so that the pork is lightly browned in spots
  3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant
  4. Add the tomatillos (if using), hominy, cauliflower, bay leaves, remaining stock/water. 
  5. Use the Soup mode or Manual and set to 10 minutes at high pressure
  6. Release the pressure carefully using quick release (you don’t want to overcook the cauliflower)
  7. Add the jar of salsa (it is already cooked so will taste fresher if you don’t cook it again; feel free to add earlier if using raw salsa), stir and taste to adjust seasonings. Serve. Freezes very well and adds comfort to a cold or rainy night

Monday, October 1, 2018

Instant Pot Squash Soup

This is simply my regular Roasted Squash Soup updated to the red lentil variation and adapted for the Instant Pot. I’ve not managed to convinced my youngest child about squash or sweet potatoes (except in baked goods or pie) but the older one really loves this silky soup. So every autumn I make a batch for her and freeze it in lunch-sized portions for her to take in a thermos all winter. I like to think of it like sending a hug to school with her.
I like to roast the squash first though I wonder if you could get a reasonable result without it. I suspect that you would need to increase the cooking time and though the red lentils wouldn’t need that I doubt it would hurt them since the goal is a smooth puréed soup.

2 TBSP olive oil
cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (I use my mini chopper or a garlic press for this)
1 onion OR 2 leeks, chopped (if desired--I think I might often season only with garlic)
1-2 tsp ground coriander (I feel this is the secret to the tastiness)
1-2 tsp ground cumin (I prefer to add slightly less cumin than coriander)
1-2 tsp smoked paprika OR
1/2-1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder depending on your spice preference
1/8-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (I don't want a sweet soup, but I love adding a dash of cinnamon to savory dishes like this soup and chili)
3-5 large carrots, chopped or sliced into rounds (or an equivalent amount of smaller carrots)
1 roasted red, yellow or orange pepper, chopped (optional--last time I didn't use any)
Flesh of 2 small, or 1 medium or large roasted squash, in large chunks
1 cup dried red lentils, picked over and rinsed
8-10 cups water or stock or enough to just cover the rest of the ingredients by about 1 1/2 inches
Salt, pepper to taste
Champagne or cider vinegar to taste

  1. Use the sauté mode in the Instant Pot. Add the oil and sauté the garlic and onion/leeks (if using) until soft but not browned. It’ll smell wonderful. You might want to use the lower sauté setting on the IP so the garlic doesn’t burn
  2. Add the spices and cook another couple of minutes. I don't know if the flavors are really better using this technique, but I like to do it this way to let them bloom in the oil.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients. Close the Instant Pot and set to Manual for 10 minutes on high pressure. I suspect this is more than is really required. It’s possible that even 5 minutes at high pressure would do the trick but you want to make sure the carrots are nice and soft
  4. Puree the soup. I have an immersion blender, which makes things much easier, but you could do this in batches in a blender. However, if using a regular blender, I'd be tempted to make the soup a day ahead and cool without pureeing. Puree the cold soup and then simply reheat.
  5. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings. Cider vinegar was a great addition this last time.
  6. This soup goes especially well with Drop Biscuits. Sauteed greens are an excellent side dish. I sometimes plop them in my soup bowl. It also freezes extremely well for winter lunches. My kids like little strips of prosciutto or crumbled herbed feta as toppings

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mexican-Style Pickled Carrots

Our family absolutely loves a family-run Mexican restaurant in Centralia, Washington called La Tarasca. The handmade tortillas are the fluffiest you could ever hope to find, the adobada tacos a marvel of flavor and the refried beans silky and delicious. We parents have also always liked the pickled carrots they provide when you sit down but it wasn’t until our most recent visit that the kids, now 11 and 6, decided to give them a try. Despite a little bit of spiciness, which they’re usually sensitive about, both of them were hooked. Given that winters are long and boring in terms of vegetables for the lunchbox, I thought that the kids might enjoy some home-pickled carrots. I used this recipe from Kevin’s Cooking as my baseline with very few changes. I like the idea of making them myself because then I can adjust proportions of things to our tastes. For example, I halved the jalapeño in deference to the kids’ palates. As much as I would have liked to use Mexican oregano and will try to do so in future, I couldn’t get any from the stores near me easily so used the more widely available Turkish oregano and it was fine. I liked Kevin’s recipe because I thought the idea of par-cooking the vegetables was wise and this was validated by the end result. Everyone in the family thought these were great and I’m making them again today, this time a full batch instead of a half. I’m also going to throw in some cauliflower since I’ve got it and I think it’ll do well with this treatment. It takes the recipe more in the Italian giardiniera direction but I’m ok with that.
Of course, I’ve thought about doing this in my Instant Pot but I really don’t see that there would be a value-add.

INGREDIENTS for two quart-jars of deliciousness
2 lb carrots or mixed carrots and other vegetables like cauliflower cut into 1-inch chunks, peeled if desired. I use organic carrots and scrub well rather than peel
1 jalapeño pepper, with seeds and ribs removed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 medium onion, sliced he specifies white but I’m going to try a red onion this time
5 cloves garlic, smashed (or to taste, more if you love garlic like we do)
1 1/2 c white vinegar
1 1/2 c water
1 TBSP oil (not sure this is really necessary)
6-8 whole bay leaves (we use greasy bay so use more leaves)
10 black peppercorns
2 tsp oregano, preferably Mexican
I tsp kosher salt


  1. Place vinegar and water in a large saucepan that will fit all of your vegetables along with the garlic, oil, bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano and salt
  2. Bring to a boil then add the remaining ingredients
  3. Bring back to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer and simmer 15 minutes
  4. Remove from heat and let cool completely
  5. Divide the vegetables and pickling liquid into as many jars as you need and refrigerate. The pickled vegetables are ready to eat after 3 hours but the flavor will continue to improve