Kitchen Adventures: Soup fail

I cannot in good conscience tell you how to make this soup, since I did it entirely wrong.  My version involved:

  • the smoke alarm going off while I was in the shower
  • “cooking” the butternut squash in three different ways
  • splattering boiling soup all over my arms and my stovetop

But boy, doesn’t it look pretty?  It was tasty too, once I started breathing again.

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More when I actually get this right…

Kitchen Adventures: Crockpot style

Things I love: coming home to the smell of something cooking.
Things I hate: anything that could feasibly burn my house down.

I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the idea of crockpots.  I just don’t trust them.  I know that they work for tons of people, but I just can’t wrap my head around intentionally leaving something cooking in my kitchen when I’m so far away.  So in my quest to get over this, I decided to take on a classic crockpot recipe today – with a twist – while I was out and about in the neighborhood.

The results were confidence inspiring and actually amazingly delicious – more so than anything I’ve made this way before.  The recipe is modified from a “Crockpot: the original slow cooker” cookbook I nabbed for $5 outside of Borders once upon a time.

Other than the delicious taste, this recipe wins because it just involves chopping some things up (no braising the meat, etc.), cooks at one temp the whole time, and doesn’t require you to buy tons of things you’ll never use in another recipe.  It’s also adaptable to almost any veggie – you can just use this as a starting point.  Definitely recommend for anyone who’s looking to spice up the old classic this winter!

Beef stew

Asian Beef Stew – Crockpot Style

  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut up – I got mine pre-cut into stew meat sized chunks at the deli
  • 1 head of celery, sliced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced – make your slices pretty thin, my carrots still had some crunch to them!
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (really, can use as little as 1 cup or as much as you want)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup beef broth (look for low sodium and low fat versions)
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce – the one weird ingredient!
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  1. Combine onion, beef, celery, carrots, and mushrooms in a large crockpot (the book recommends the 5-quart version, as though you have multiple sizes just filling your cupboards).
  2. Combine orange juice, beef broth, hoisin sauce, cornstarch, and curry powder in a small bowl – whisk together until cornstarch is dissolved.
  3. Pour into crockpot and give it a good stir – cover and cook on high for 5 hours or until the beef is tender.  When the beef is almost done (go ahead, peek!), stir in a cup of frozen peas and cook for a final 20 minutes or so.

Serve over rice, share, freeze, and enjoy!

This is definitely going in my list of easy favorites.  It has a great warmth to it, between the spiciness of the sauce and the curry.  The beef was so tender and tasty – I’m really looking forward to eating this all week.  Seriously!

What’s your favorite crockpot creation?  Had any major flops you learned along the way?

Kitchen Adventures: Easy Bake Tofu

No lightbulb required!

With Christmas approaching, I pulled out one of my great gifts from last year – a Silpat baking mat.  I wanted to see if this mat could amplify my love for tofu (and if starting cooking before I was starving would give me time to bake tofu for once) and I was not disappointed.  Here are a few steps to perfection:

Easy Baked Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz of firm tofu (I used TJ’s small block, but you could just double this if you were working with a bigger block of tofu)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3/4 tbsp soy sauce (or so – I intended to use more but mine ran out!)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder as desired
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the tofu into thin slabs, about 1/4 or so thick and as wide as you can get them and still have them stay intact when you mix them with the sauce.
  2. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a fork.  Add the tofu and let sit for 5 minutes (or longer if possible).
  3. Place slabs of tofu on a baking sheet (I used mine lined with a Silpat mat) and bake for 10-14 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Enjoy!  I ate mine with spaghetti squash and poured the remaining marinade over the whole dish (bonuses of cooking with tofu: you can stop to eat the ingredients at any time AND you can reuse any leftover marinade safely.)

PS: I do actually cook more than just tofu – proof is here!  For Thanksgiving, I made a new Brussels sprout dish and lots of different egg concoctions.  What have you made or eaten lately?

Kitchen Adventures: Tasty Tofu

Kitchen Adventures: Tasty Tofu

Yes, it exists. I love tofu in any form, but this recipe is the only one I can make and want to eat the tofu raw, and a few pieces usually get sacrificed to “taste testing” before they can reach the pan.

All it takes is mixing a few items together:
2 tbps Mirin (a sweet Japanese seasoning made from rice alcohol – keep this in your cupboard for tons of recipes!)
1 tbsp sesame oil (hint: you can get this cheap at the Christmas Tree Shop! I use it basically every day.)
1 tsp Tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp Teriyaki sauce (I used the low sodium version)

Optional:
Salt
Pepper
Chopped garlic

Cut up the tofu into small cubes and pour the sauce over the top. If you have time, try to marinade for an hour or two, stirring every once in a while. If you’re in a rush, just let this sit while you prep everything else.

You can either add the extra sauce to the pan after, or use it on a side dish – I threw mine, along with some extra Mirin and Tamari, over some asparagus I was cooking at the same time. Incredible!

What’s your favorite way to give tofu some flavor?

Kitchen Adventures: Autumn in a nutshell

An acorn squash shell, to be exact.

My obsession with simply-cooked acorn squash has me buying them in multiples every time I go to the store.  Settling down to one for dinner (or as part of dinner) is the perfect way to end a blustery fall day.

All it takes is a small acorn squash, goat cheese, and brown sugar.  Start by cutting the squash in half, and scooping out the seeds and the pulp with a spoon.  Then put both halves of the squash cut-side down in a small microwave-safe casserole dish (mine is about 10″ across) with 1/2 inch or so of water in the bottom.  The goal is to give the squash enough water to steam, but not so much that it will take a long time to get hot.

Cook on high for 5 minutes, then poke the outside of the squash to see if it’s soft.  My small squash tonight took 15 minutes to cook fully, but it’s a good idea to check every 5 minutes and then just add more time to the clock if it needs more.  The inside should be bright orange-yellow and the outside should be tender when poked for it to be done to my standards.

Remove from the dish, top with goat cheese, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of brown sugar.  And voila – you’ve got dinner!  This is also really good reheated the next day, but I’ve only made it that far once and have succumbed to eating the whole thing every other time.  If it’s all you eat for dinner, you might be hungry later – this dish is only worth 3 PointsPlus (aka super healthy).

What’s your favorite fall food?

Kitchen Adventures: Mini muffin, mega delicious

In my flurry of cooking last weekend, I made some awesome mini muffins to snack on all week.  I know that I’m never really going to get over my sugar cravings in this lifetime, so I figured it was time to find a way to indulge in a healthier manner.  This was the perfect balance.

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The recipe I used is here, with the following changes:

  • I didn’t have quick oats, so I chopped up whole oats in a food processor before starting
  • I forgot to buy vanilla yogurt so I used the plain Greek yogurt I had around, along with an extra tsp of vanilla and a tbsp of brown sugar to balance it out, overall
  • Mini chocolate chips are amazing and I ate many of them.  That’s all.
  • I think this could have stood to have another banana added.  It didn’t have a lot of banana influence, if you ask me.

This made 45 mini muffins, though it was supposed to make only 36 – maybe I let it sit too long as I used my one muffin pan or maybe I wasn’t filling them enough, but I don’t really mind either way.  More to share!  They are not super sweet, but they’re tasty, healthy (>1 pointplus each!) and easy to make – win!

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Kitchen Adventures: Quinoa with Tofu and Basil

Or should I say basil with quinoa and tofu?  Basil is clearly the star of this dish, and the delivery of a massive amount of fresh basil from the Ward’s garden (thanks, Sarabeth!) inspired me to go this route in the first place.  This is by far the most complicated dish I’ve ever made without having to go to the store on the way home – a major accomplishment in my book, unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

This dish is perfect for a summer night like last night – it’s refreshing, light, and doesn’t involve too much time over the stove.  And the way I portioned it, it makes six servings that will last me for lunch and dinner the rest of the week.  Less time cooking later, more time enjoying those late summer evenings!  What’s your go-to summer meal?  Here’s how mine came together (inspired by this post):

Quinoa with Tofu and Basil

  • 1 cup of uncooked quinoa
  • 1 pack of tofu (I used Trader Joe’s Extra Firm High Protein kind – better than I expected!), chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange would work), cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 20 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
  1. Start by cooking the quinoa – put 1 cup of uncooked quinoa along with 2 cups of water in a pot, and heat to a boil.  After boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  If quinoa doesn’t seem soft by that point, add a cup of water and continue to simmer until water is absorbed – repeat as needed.  When soft, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking, heat oil over medium heat and then add tofu, stirring until lightly brown (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add onion and garlic to the pan with tofu – stir.  After about 2 minutes, add in peppers and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and basil to tofu and vegetables – then mix together with quinoa.

Serve it hot or cold, with grated Parmesan on top as desired.  (1 serving = 1/6 of the total = 7 PointsPlus)

You can adapt this to whatever you have around the house – tomatoes, squash, tempeh, etc. – the same basic recipe is a great start to any veggie and quinoa stir-fry.  Enjoy!

Want more quinoa?  Check out my quinoa and cheese recipe here!

Kitchen Adventures: Lemon-Almond Muffins

This recipe from Cakelove was a true adventure and included more than a few touch-and-go moments.  I looked up the recipe at Porter Square Books, bought the materials at the grocery store next door, and came home to see what I come whip up.  The final result was tasty (all the office muffins were gone in a day) despite making all these mistakes:

  • Assuming that I would be ok without a paddle mixer.  Making due with what you have is lovely, but the chemistry isn’t quite the same in a traditional mixer, as I found out this day.
  • Using the wrong sugar on purpose.  I figured that if I had to buy raw sugar anyway, I should use it up!  But again, chemistry was not entirely on my side.
  • Making a double batch without measuring the bowl – good for the stomach but not if it doesn’t fit into the mixer!  (Hint: IT DOESN’T!)
  • Not softening the butter – melted is not the same, and you have to watch that stuff!
  • Using half as much butter.  After I doubled the recipe, I just could not bring myself to use a second stick of butter.  You have to draw the line somewhere!

With all that said, don’t these things look delicious?

Muffins in progress

Fresh out of the oven!

Lemon almond muffin adventure complete!

Check out the recipe here; good luck with your own kitchen adventures!

Kitchen Adventures: Matzo Brei

My awesome Grandma Boo Boo has moved up north, finally deciding that the sunshine isn’t worth being so far away from the rest of the fam, and I couldn’t be happier.  Now we can have all sorts of collage dates, movie review sessions (she sees all the hit movies well before I do) and book clubs in person – and she can pass on her awesome yiddish wit and cooking skills in person.

We started that off last month at what Kat calls “the Grandma summit” because I got to see both grandmas in one place for the first time in years.  It was fabulous and together, we kicked off a new era of family cooking with the Boo Boo led version of matzo brei.

Never heard of it? It’s also called matzo fry, sometimes, and is basically the Jewish version of french toast.  It’s the perfect brunch food for passover, easter, or any time of year!

Grandma Boo Boo’s Matzo Brei

  • 1 box matzo
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • canola oil
  • maple syrup or honey
  1. Break up the matzo into 2-inch pieces or so – not too small!
  2. Scald 2 cups of milk in a saucepan until it just begins to boil.
  3. Pour hot milk over the matzo and let sit until it’s cool – this is the important part!
  4. Only when the milk and matzo are cool, add in the six beaten eggs and stir/ fold it in gently so the matzo is coated but doesn’t break.
  5. Warm up a frying pan with a few tablespoons of oil (Boo Boo says to be nice and generous).  When hot, add in the matzo mixture and let sit.  Don’t scramble it as you go – just let it settle and brown.  When one side is brown, cut in half and flip each piece (or flip it all together, if you have the skillz!).
  6. When lightly browned, remove from pan and top with maple syrup or honey and enjoy!
Have questions?  Let me know and I’ll pass them on to the master chef herself, in the red hat here.  Love you, Boo Boo!

Grandma Summit 2012 - the first of many!

Rocking the broccoli casserole

When I think of winter-time family gatherings, I think of board games, cider, and broccoli casserole.  My friend Cody once called this dish a hillbilly’s perfect dinner, but if being a hillbilly is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Broccoli Casserole

Ingredients:
  • 20 oz frozen broccoli, thawed
  • 1 can reduced fat cream of mushroom soup
  • 3 tbsp light mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese (usually around one block)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 gloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 bag ruffled potato chips – actual amount needed depends on the size of your pan
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Thaw/defrost the broccoli so it’s not frozen when you start.
  3. Stir everything other than the chips together in a bowl, mixing well.  Spread into a casserole dish – any size you want, depending on the surface area you want to leave for the chips.  (We did it in a huge pan so basically every other bite had chips on top).
  4. Top with crushed potato chips.
  5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes – let rest for 5 minutes when done, as this comes out of the oven really hot!

Does your family have any crazy recipes that show up at group gatherings?  Anything with potato chips on top?