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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Korma-Inspired Skillet Dinner

As I mentioned in the Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry recipe, I have taken the wonderful Indian Simmer Sauce and Instant Pot Chickpea and Cauliflower Korma recipes from 101 Cookbooks and turned them into my own one-skillet meal. The first time I thinned the sauce with cashew cream but this time I didn’t bother. I also make it with ground chicken instead of chickpeas and I have to admit that it was extra delicious with the meat version. But given that our family got 12 servings from 1 pound of high-quality, local ground chicken, I feel good about this and there is always the chickpea version to fall back on (hence the vegan and vegetarian labels).
I basically used the Simmer Sauce recipe as written in 101 Cookbooks so it’s not worth replicating here, though I’m pretty sure I used the stove instead of the Instant Pot since I had time as I don’t always love onions cooked in the IP. I also mostly used the Korma recipe, too, but again didn’t use the IP since I was using it for rice. It is such a treasure to have jars of simmer sauce in the freezer becuase it makes dinner come together so easily! As always, I chopped the vegetables fine in the food processor as I favor a more uniform texture better for ensuring good veggie consumption by all family members. I found the sauce a little sweet as it was because I hadn’t used cayenne, so I added a few generous shakes of ground turmeric to help give it a slightly more astringent flavor. I also shook in a bit of extra garam masala. 
This high reward, low effort meal is in the rotation for sure. Feel free to swap in additional vegetables too. I might have added some carrots or pepper. Cashew cream would be fine if you had some and really wanted the mixture to be saucier but we found it worked well without it. Toasted cashews would be a nice addition to the vegetarian chickpea version.

2 TBSP neutral oil
1 small onion, finely diced or minced in the food processor
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced or crushed
1-inch piece of ginger, finely grated (microplane) or to taste
1 lb ground chicken or 2 c cooked chickpeas (or a 14 oz can of chickpeas drained and rinsed)
1 average head cauliflower finely chopped or ground up in the food processor to pea-sized pieces
Other vegetables chopped small enough that they’ll get tender such as carrots or peppers. Peas might also be nice
2 c Indian Simmer Sauce (see above for recipe link)
1 14 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if desired
Cilantro, optional
Extra garam masala and ground turmeric, optional

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat
  2. Add the onion and cook, stirring, til the onion is soft
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook briefly until they smell fragrant
  4. Add the ground meat (if using) and sauté until it’s cooked through. If using chickpeas, they can go in after the veg
  5. Stir in the ground cauliflower and other veg and cover for 5 minutes or so to steam
  6. Stir in the simmer sauce and tomatoes and cook until the flavors have blended or until your rice is ready. I let mine simmer for 20 minutes or so partially covered
  7. Taste and add garam masala or turmeric as needed
  8. Serve over rice or any other grain or with naan

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Homemade Crunch Bars

This is so easy it doesn’t even really need a recipe but I want to remember what I did for next time. I’ve become disenchanted with Easter. I’m tired of the “worthy”, slightly less chemical-filled options like yogurt-covered raisins and freeze-dried fruit that the Easter bunny often brings and yet I’m unwilling to embrace fully the typical Easter candy, especially the chocolate, which is usually terrible.

Somewhere I saw a reference to making homemade crunch bars and I decided to investigate. When I found out it’s just crisped rice cereal and melted chocolate, I figured it was worth a shot. The great part about making it myself is that I can use ingredients I can live with, like whole grain rice cereal and dark chocolate while still making something the kids will like.

I started with Food52’s recipe and made it my own by halving the recipe (at least for my test batch), doubling the dark-to-milk chocolate ratio and making them cute-as-button by putting them in a mini muffin tin lined with Easter bunny wrappers.

Not sure yet how the girls will like them, but if nothing else I’ve found a tasty rival to Trader Joe’s Nutty Bits. They’re the perfect need-a-little-something-sweet after dinner treat and they took less than 5 minutes to throw together.

1 1/2 c crisped rice cereal, whole grain if desired
4 oz milk chocolate, broken up or chopped
8 oz dark chocolate, broken up or chopped (or any mix of chocolate bars to make 12 oz)
Kosher or Maldon salt, if desired


  1. Line a 24-cup mini muffin tin with wrappers of your choice and set aside
  2. Measure out your crisped rice cereal and have it ready
  3. Put the broken or chopped chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl large enough to add the cereal. Heat at 50% power for 2 minutes, then stir. If it’s not totally melted, continue heating at 50% power in 30-second bursts
  4. Stir the chocolate well when it’s fully melted, then add the rice cereal and stir until it’s fully coated. Add more or less cereal depending on your preferences 
  5. Scoop the rice and chocolate mixture and put into the muffin liners. It should make almost exactly 24
  6. If desired, sprinkle the tops with a bit of kosher or Maldon salt
  7. Freeze candies until set. Store in the fridge or freezer (at least that’s what Food52 says. I’m going to see what happens if they’re kept at room temperature. There’s nothing that will spoil)

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