Saturday, January 29, 2011

caramelized tofu and oh-so sweet potatoes

I've decided to skip writing about The Great Bean Flop (i.e. pan-fried broad beans and kale gone wrong), which resulted only in a burnt pan, a dry end product requiring olive oil dousing and later on a whole lot of elbow grease to clean said pan. Instead I'm moving on to a much much more successful tofu-oriented recipe: caramelized tofu, no less! It came off Heidi's blog of course and in one of the listed comments a reader wrote it was the best-tasting tofu she (or he) had ever made, which I assumed had to be a hyperbole. But I kid you not, this is the tastiest tofu recipe I've ever made, and quite frankly, I right now can't think of any tofu I've had ever that I've liked better. Quite a statement, I know! I followed the 101 Cookbooks recipe to a T, apart from adding roasted sweet potatoes to the entire concoction, and her pictures are much lovelier than mine anyways, so I'll let you access that recipe yourself and instead insert here a few musings on tofu.

I recently received an email directing me towards a website railing against the dangers of soy--its a GMO monocrop-produced highly processed food item that is BAD FOR YOU and could HARM YOUR BODY in a number of different ways, the site said. Now I wholeheartedly agree that processed foods filled with chemicals and additives are one of the biggest health concerns facing our society today, but websites like this one bother me for two reasons (well three if you count the fact that this particular one was shamelessly trying to sell me something--vitamin pills--awesome).

First, I wonder how food concerns have become so focused on the health of our bodies as consumers while the health of the environment and the health of say, farm-workers and industrial laborers, are issues that have quietly dropped off the table. Doesn't it seem kind of selfish? Like maybe most people shop at Whole Foods and care about organic or non-GMO only so much as it lets them breath a little sigh of relief that they are perhaps exposed to one or two less cancer-causing agents in their everyday life? This is a reasonable desire on the part of the average Jane, but it makes me sad to think that food safety advocacy has been in part reduced to an appeal to our self-interest, rather than a multi-faceted issue that should be causing alarm and making us think not only about our own consumer-oriented bodies but also the bodies of those who grow our food, and the animals and plants that we want to sustain us.

Second, I am suspicious of anyone who is so all-or-nothing in his/her approach to nutrition and diet--to me these approaches scream of fads and trends that will eventually prove to be unsustainable for various reasons, or just plain wrong, and that a few years down the line will likely be overturned. I still stand by my mother's philosophy that most things eaten in moderation (including chocolate and ice-cream) are okay for you. I don't plan to eat soy products for breakfast lunch and dinner, but I also don't think that an occasional tofu stir fry is going to make me infertile. Bottom line, as a student immersed in the world of scientific inquiry, I am all too familiar with the limitations of most scientific "randomized trials" and very wary of all those who cherry-pick findings and warp them to suit their championed cause. Just because a study has been peer-reviewed, doesn't mean it can't be misinterpreted and inaccurately yielded by the crazies. So I'm going to eat some tofu. and some bread. and chocolate. and I'm going to try to buy as much of it local, package-less, pesticide-free and farm-animal friendly as I can. and put it in re-usable cloth bags. and then I'm going to try to stop worrying about it all for long enough to enjoy what i'm cooking and make it tasty and pretty. and that's my soy rant for now.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More soup! Fava beans and rosemary get cozy

We're still sick. Thankfully the malaria-like fever, chills and body ache part is over; now it's more just like the worst head cold ever. Fun times. But I'm well enough to potter around the apartment and I've had enough of Amy's soup so I made some of my own. I had mushy leftover giant fava beans that I'd overcooked and were unfit for an other recipe (post on that debacle soon to follow), so I turned them into soup. The laziest soup (if it can even be called that) I've ever made because all I did was mush them a bit more, add some chicken stock 'till it was spoon-able consistency, throw in some rosemary and black pepper, and heat it all up. Drew thought the rosemary flavor was too strong, but I kinda liked it like that. Maybe because my taste buds are currently severely impaired. Either way, it gave me mild comfort to be eating soup that was not out of a $3.89 tin can.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Apples and Pinenuts

I have the flu. It is horrible. Netflix and Amy's no-chicken chicken noodle soup are helping me get by, but still--it's a doozy. However, before I got sick I managed to try out a brussel sprouts recipe from 101 Cookbooks that was quite tasty and simple--something I think would make a perfect side dish for a Thanksgiving meal or Sunday dinner. I love the way the apples give an extra crunch and sweetness to an otherwise ordinary brussel sprouts dish. It's funny how brussel sprouts have gone from being my least favorite vegetable as a child to now one of my favorites. Taste buds change over time I guess, but I think it might also have something to do with the fact that nowadays, more often than not I eat my brussel sprouts with a healthy dose of olive oil...and olive oil makes pretty much everything taste good! Though apparently no amount of apples or olive oil were going to keep away the nasty flu bug this time.

olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon maple syrup (I used honey instead)
1 apple, diced
8 oz (give or take) brussel sprouts
1/3 cup toasted pinenuts, chopped

Sautee garlic in olive oil and pinch of salt over medium heat, then add maple syrup. Stir for 30 second and add apple, sautee for another minute. Transfer apple-garlic mixture to another bowl and in same pan, heat a bit more olive oil and then sautee brussel sprouts to your liking (I like mine golden brown). Mix apple mixture back in and half of the pinenuts. Stir, then serve, sprinkling remaining pinenuts over each serving. Eat immediately (brussel sprouts don't sit out well).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Delfina pizza leftovers' new best friend: roasted romanesco broccoli

We know how good roasted cauliflower is, so why not try roasted romanesco broccoli, which is actually a variant of cauliflower? That's what I put with my leftover Delfina pizza for lunch today, and it was delicious. Toss some of these gorgeous vibrant green florets with olive oil, salt, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes and bread crumbs, throw in the oven at 400 for about half an hour, et voila--crunchy, addictive veggie bites. Yum.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cheaters never (only sometimes) win

Cheating is in my mind pretty much never justified in life. And as a general rule, I believe that home-made, fresh, if slightly more labor-intensive food is better than the frozen pre-packaged short-cut alternatives. However--I make a few exceptions, and one of those happens to be for pasta sauce. I am sure there are those out there who could argue that their great grandmother Nonnie's tomato sauce recipe is better than any store-bought sauce on the face of the planet (and having been recently to the Italian Club's pasta sauce competition in North Beach I'd be hard pressed to argue otherwise), but at the end of the day, making tomato sauce at home is a lot of work when there are so so many yummy ones out there to be purchased, many of which now contain less preservatives and unnecessary additives than in days gone by (albeit at a monetary price).

So when I saw a recipe for NOPA restaurant's giant lima beans with stewed tomatoes and oregano pesto, I made the executive decision that it would be okay take some liberties (ie short-cuts) with the preparation of a dish from one of my favorite SF restaurants in the name of time management. In using a favorite Trader Joe's tomato sauce and opting out of the oregano pesto (in favor of fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil over the finished product) I discovered I had on my hands a recipe for one of the simplest and most tasty one-dish meals I could imagine. True, this is probably my very favorite kind of cuisine--Mediterranean-inspired and full of flavors that invoke hearty comfort food that isn't actually all that bad for you--but either way, it's delicious. I'll be making it again and again. And again.

Cheater's version of NOPA beans:

large white lima (also called butter) beans (avoid canned if possible!)
4 or 5 kale leaves, chopped into small pieces
favorite tomato sauce
feta cheese
toasted breadcrumbs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Soak lima/butter beans overnight. When ready to cook, cover with water about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 1-1.5 hours (till softish but not mushy). Drain water and salt. Mix with favorite tomato sauce and chopped kale and pour into baking dish. Dot with feta cheese and bake at 425 for about half hour (till feta starts browning). Take out and plate, sprinkling liberally with breadcrumbs and chopped parsley. Add final drizzle of olive oil and serve.

The boy and I both loved this meal (I'm embarrassed to admit we finished off the whole pan), and I have no doubt that the more labor-intensive version is even (if possible) better. If you'd like to go that route and be an honest NOPA foodie, the recipe can be found at this website:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ode to leftovers

Sometimes leftovers are better than the original meal. We all know this is true for certain dishes like curry or mole--overnight the vegetables and meat marinate and fully absorb all the spices, making the meal infused with richer flavors the next day. But personally I enjoy a lot of the meals that I make better the next day. This might be partly due to the fact that I'm always more hungry at lunchtime than dinnertime (a remnant of my Botswana lifestyle where the main large meal of the day happened in the afternoon), but I think it's also because many dishes just get tastier after the ingredients have had a night to get settled in together. This was certainly the case for the baked pasta I made last night. I followed a recipe for a cheese and spinach whole-wheat pasta casserole, flecked with toasted almonds and lemon zest, from my favorite blog, 101 Cookbooks, and as we munched on it last night, felt slightly disappointed. It was good, but certainly not show-stopping.

However, I re-heated it for lunch today and found it much more exciting. The cheese had somehow gotten oozier, the spinach and pasta had a deep lemony aroma from the grated lemon zest, the toasted almonds were still crunchy, and overall the individual ingredients had melded together just right. So this blog entry is a shout-out to the deliciousness of leftovers! The actual recipe can be found on Heidi Swanson's blog at and my oh-so-cool lunch bag can be found at Monterey Bay Company, my all-time favorite store.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

visualize whirled peas

Soup is really one of the greatest things to eat in winter time. It warms you up, there are endless varieties and so many tasty toppings to add, and best of all, its designed to be eaten with a spoon out of a bowl, my personal favorite modus operandi for eating!! Recently, I've taken a hard line against canned soups, given all their extra sodium, packaging, costliness, and given how easy and fun home-made soup is to make. As I wait in anticipation for an immersion blender to blow open my soup universe, I'm temporarily content making chunky soups or ones easily puree-able by hand. The split pea soup recipe that follows was inspired by a posting on my favorite cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks, and by a lonely little bag of split peas that had been sitting in my cupboard for months now. It required virtually no effort but made for a very satisfying lunch the next day.


olive oil
chicken or veggie stock
dried split peas
salt and pepper
toppings (mine included Fage nonfat plain yogurt, olive oil drizzle, pumpkin seeds and toasted whole-wheat tortilla chips)

Sautee shallots in olive oil, until soft. Add dried split peas and enough water to generously cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat 'till simmering and cover. Every now and then check on peas and add more water if its looking dry. Cook until peas are mushy, blend peas (a big spoon works if thats all you have) and add a bit more water until its the consistency you like (I personally like very thick soup). Warm through and serve, seasoning with salt (or not if youre like me), pepper and other assorted toppings. Eat immediately!

Monday, January 17, 2011

opening night for the bird: rosemary garlic chicken performs

I am venturing into new territory--preparing chicken as a solo feature. Normally, I don't cook meat. If I'm cooking for people who need some protein and don't eat tofu, I'm willing to chop up some meat and toss it into a stew or curry where I admit, it offers little value other than its protein nutrition. In these meals, cubes of chicken or beef remain disguised by soupy goodness that holds the real flavor. Stand-alone chicken kind of scares me--it means you actually have to cook the meat properly and figure out a way to balance bringing out its own natural flavor and infusing it with additional, palate-pleasing tastes. To be honest, I'd rather just order a chicken or steak dish once in while at a restaurant where I know it will be cooked to perfection, and I don't have to deal with any gross meat juices or finicky roasting thermometers. But what can I say, the boy likes his chicken, and I'm getting annoyed at the outrageous prices Bi-Rite charges for their pre-made meats. So, I'm going out on a limb and re-visiting some of the meat-as-a-star-player recipes that I posted into my recipe book back in my more chicken-friendly days.

This recipe caught my eye because below it, I have written out several variations provided by the recipe source that require several substitutions but essentially are the same preparation technique. Perfect, I thought--if the rosemary-garlic chicken works out, then I have four new chicken recipes that I basically know how to cook!

The rosemary-garlic chicken did in the end turn out nicely--the glazed sauce ensured that the chicken breasts were not dry or tasteless as I'd feared--and were super easy to make. Chicken's opening night in our Mission kitchen got positive reviews (from the two resident critics), so I'm thinking that one of the substitute actors--lemony goat-cheese chicken, curried chicken, and coconut chicken--may be featured pretty soon. Tonight's recipe (served with sauteed kale and roasted root vegetables) is as follows:

4 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves
1tbl olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sherry vinegar ( I used red wine vinegar which turned out fine)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbl fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbl unsalted butter

Use rolling pin to pound chicken between two sheets of wax paper until they are of uniform thickness. Heat oil and garlic in large skillet over medium-high heat until oil shimmers and garlic browns. Add the chicken breasts and cook until golden, 3-5 minutes on each side. Add the salt, pepper, vinegar, chicken broth and rosemary. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 3 minutes longer or until chicken is fork-tender. Remove the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Increase heat to high and boil the sauce until thickened or syrupy, 3-5 minutes. Whisk in the butter and pour the sauce over the chicken.

p.s. I'm not quite sure how I ended up writing about cooking chicken as if it were a stage production, except I'm wondering if the fact that I saw Black Swan in the theaters this weekend has something to do with it...apologies. :)

Friday, January 14, 2011


I had a delicious meat chili at a friend's house the other night and got inspired. Digging through my recipe book I found what I was looking for--a vegetarian chili recipe that calls for, among other tasty ingredients, espresso..and chocolate! Mmmm. As much as I love a hearty carnivore-type chili once in a while, If I'm gonna make a whole pot of it, I'm gonna go veggie. I've made this recipe once before but it turned out way better this time, largely because I stewed real black beans ahead of time instead of using canned, and I think maybe also because I used Trader Joe's fire-roasted canned tomatoes rather than just the plain old ones. The recipe called for assorted toppings such as sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped green onions, shredded cheese, sliced jalapenos and shaved bittersweet chocolate--I opted for cilantro, Fage greek-style yogurt (healthier and tastier than sour cream), Trader Joe's corn salsa and home-made whole wheat (baked not fried!) tortilla chips. Drew got half a Bi-Rite Diestel turkey meatball thrown into his too, for good measure. :) The recipe is as follows--be forewarned, it makes a LARGE amount of chili!

1/2 cup olive oil (or high heat tolerant oil, preferably)
5 large onions, chopped
1/4 cup instant espresso powder (or 4 Barrel ground espresso, if you live in a coffee snob household)
1/4 cup of chili powder (adjust depending on how spicy you want it)
1/4 cup ground cumin)
1/4 cup dried oregano leaves
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/3 cup honey (the good kind!)
6 large garlic cloves, minced
7 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed, drained (or equivalent amount of fresh black beans)
2 cups of water
1 tbl salt
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
large pinch of ground cinnamon

Heat oil in heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Mix in espresso powder, chili powder, cumin and oregano. Cook 1 minute. Mix in tomatoes, honey and garlic. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 30 min. Add beans, 2 cups of water, salt, chipotle chili powder and cinnamon. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until mixture thickens slightly, stirring often, about 30 minutes. Season with salt. Ladle chili into bowl and serve with toppings. Great the next day and several after, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Night: Pete's Chicken (Kasane, BW)

We ate it all before I realized I should have taken a picture...anyways, it turned out like a mild Indian curry, a nice balance of sweet and savory flavors. Very easy. Served over cous-cous, alongside some roasted cauliflower with thyme and pinenuts.