Dining Out, Dining In

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Dining out, for me at least, means ordering something on the menu I can’t reproduce in my own kitchen. The more I cook and bake, if in part, perhaps to keep on providing you with fresh ideas for your own table, means the list of dishes I’ll eat out grows smaller. Good for my wallet, especially with the exorbitant cost of childcare. (Seriously, you’d pass out if I told you what we spent in 2016 for our two precious girls.) There are some dishes I just can’t nail – baingan bharta, for example, is one that I will always order in a restaurant because I just can’t do it in my own kitchen. Hummus, too, I just can’t get right, although I recently heard a tip I need to try: run the food processor an extra 2 minutes, to help aerate it. We’ll see if that helps.

Chinese food is another that tends to taste better from a restaurant. But I had good luck with this Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry. It’s from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes from the editors of Cooking Light. This recipe is exactly what you would have at the restaurant. Seriously, it’s spot-on. I’m an admitted broccoli junkie, and I freely admit to making this twice in a 4-day period. Rich, who would never willingly order tofu or request it of his own choosing, gladly ate this dish.

One of the nice features of cookbooks from magazines, like this one, is that there’s a full cadre of writers and cooks to test recipes. This cookbook has been more thoroughly vetted than the current president’s cabinet members. There are eight sections in the cookbook, plus an opening on the “Everyday Vegetarian Kitchen.” I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes here, including Lemony Zucchini Pitas with Quick Pickled Dill Carrots and Spinach and Feta Quiche with Quinoa Crust. I have a feeling they will be as spot-on as the stir-fry.

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This week’s recipe was one of the recipes I’d accumulated during my broken computer hiatus and set aside until it was in season. Now that broccoli has arrived in this week’s CSA haul, I’m so so happy to share this one with you now.

Maybe also because it’s from a mainstream publication, they often “suggest” using ingredients like Uncle Ben’s in the Warm Brown Rice and Chickpea with Cherries and Goat Cheese, or Swanson’s when stock is needed. As I get older, short cuts in the kitchen like that make more and more sense to me, but I’ll leave what brands to use to your best judgement.

I made quite a few substitutions of my own. I never have dry sherry in the house, so I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute. I didn’t have fresh hot pepper in the house and used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead. Although the recipe calls for Broccolini, I used broccoli florets. I also skipped the carrots. I can’t stand cast-iron and never used my wok so I didn’t pack it when we moved, so I used a non-stick skillet. Yes, I am aware I spent time talking about how spot on this recipe is, then followed up by talking about the alterations I made to it. But I know the little tweaks I made wouldn’t change the flavors or texture of the recipe. And that’s what cooking is all about. It’s trickier to do that with baking, though.

Although the header notes say, This dish is mildly spicy; to make it extra kid-friendly, omit the chile from the sweet and sour sauce.” Beatrix, who at least tasted it because it was broccoli, something she will still eat, announced it was “too spicy,” and spat it out. Her loss, because this dish is fantastic.

Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes By the Editors of Cooking Light

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons dry sherry (I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute.)

2 Tablespoons ketchup

2 Tablespoons finely chopped red hot chile (with seeds), such as red jalapeno or Thai chile (I used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead.)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 ½ Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons canola oil

½ teaspoon salt

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

2 carrots, diagonally cut into 1/8-inch thick slices

1 (8-ounce) bunch Broccolini, cut into florets and stems cut into ½-inch pieces (I used broccoli florets.)

2 cups cooked brown rice

Directions

Place the tofu in a shallow dish. Place the paper towels on top, and weight with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Discard the liquid, and cut the tofu into 2 x ¼-inch pieces.

While the tofu stands, combine ½ cup of the water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir half of the garlic into the sugar mixture. Stir in the sherry, ketchup, and chile. Cook the mixture over medium heat until boiling. Remove from the heat; stir in the cornstarch, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the soy sauce.

Heat a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. (I used a non-stick skillet.)

Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil swirl to coat. Add the tofu in an even layer; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes. Turn the tofu; cook 2 minutes. Place on a plate; sprinkle with the salt.

Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the bell pepper; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic; stir-fry 10 to 20 seconds. Remove to the plate with the tofu. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the carrots; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the Broccolini; stir-fry 3 minutes or until the water evaporates. Return the tofu mixture to the pan. Add the sauce mixture; stir to coat. Place the rice on each of 4 plates. Place the tofu mixture over the rice.

 

 

Purple Balloons and Pickled Onions

And then in a blink of an eye, my baby turned two! For Beatrix Louise’s second birthday party we filled the playroom with two dozen purple balloons to match the purple balloons on the invitation, and set up tables topped with play dough and oodles of stickers. I served the kids pizza and a massive pot of boxed macaroni and cheese.

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My father came in from Jerusalem to see his grandchildren. So, in addition to Bea’s friends and family, we also had over some of our older relatives, including Aunt Sydney, who I’ve mentioned is basically our grande doyenne when it comes to food. Although my cousins assured me I could definitely serve her pizza, I took this as an opportunity to make a spread worthy of a small bat mitzvah. We had:

It was from his weekly column in The Guardian; this one focused on quick pickled onions. I actually didn’t use his pickled onion recipe – I love my own too much to cheat on it – but followed the rest of his recipe, coated with allspice and sugar, roasted, and topped with cilantro lime salsa and goat cheese. I kept the almonds on the side, as per Aleza and Sylvie’s suggestion. Nut allergies are no joke.

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The amount of cilantro salsa is small, and he recommends doing it in a spice grinder. My own grinder – a coffee grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot years ago – is used so much for cumin that it reeks of the spice. To clean it, I used a trick I just read about (but can’t for the life of me remember where): grind up a piece of bread. And it worked!

For dessert we made a Princess Leia cake, per the birthday girl’s request, plus the frozen banana peanut butter pie, and Needhams, a chocolate-coconut treat from Maine that’s a little bit like a Mounds Bar. But that’s another recipe for another day. Definitely before the third birthday!

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Roast sweet potatoes with pickled onions, coriander and goat’s cheese

Ingredients

Pickled Onions
2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
5-6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 5cm x 3cm chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup soft mild rindless goat’s cheese, broken into rough 2cm pieces
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with three tablespoons of oil, the allspice, the two teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Transfer to a large oven tray lined with parchment paper, and make sure the sweet potato chunks are spaced apart. Roast for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden-brown, then toss in any oil left on the tray and leave to cool.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, blitz the coriander [cilantro], grated lime zest, the remaining three tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt to a smooth, bright green salsa. Use a spice grinder to do this (don’t use a food processor – the quantities involved are too small); if you don’t have one, very finely chop the coriander and mix the salsa by hand.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, arrange them on a platter and dot evenly with the pieces of cheese. Drain the pickled onions, and scatter on top. Finish with a drizzle of salsa and a sprinkle of almonds.

 

Rah Rah Radishes

Our CSA started last week! Unlike in Boston, where Lilli and I drove to the Whole Foods parking lot to pick up our share, now we go to the actual farm in Easthampton to choose our goodies. But even better is the pick-your-own part of the expedition, where you head out to the field with a pair of scissors and cut your own flowers (five floppy orange calendula, this week) and herbs (thyme, oregano and sage) – no limit on that, simply the amount you know you will use that week.20170609_133815.jpg

With so much of the area covered by farms, CSAs are extremely common around here. We went with Mountain View, which I found after some… Googling. (Sorry, Rich is leaning into the dad jokes of late.) Actually, it came recommended by many folks, and it’s won the “Best of” award from one of the local papers for half a dozen years in a row. That’s right, we have so many CSAs that we have an entire “Best of” category covering them. One of the parents from Bea’s daycare remarked that CSAs around here are what people do instead of country clubs. I found that to be a very apt description – minus the blatant discrimination against my kind and others, of course.

We made it to the farm before the start of the weekend, so now our fridge is brimming with lettuces, kale, scallions, and radishes. I “gifted” the bok choy to my cousin Roz; it’s one of the few vegetables I actively don’t care for – too mustardy for me. That’s how I used to feel about radishes, too. As I’ve mentioned, I called them “killer radishes” when I was a little girl. But I had a wonderful moment with them in Jerusalem the spring I turned 21 and have been a convert, nay, a radish evangelist, ever since.

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I got two bunches of radishes, and the magenta orbs found their way on top of a platter of sesame noodles. Tonight we’re having them in Deb’s kale salad, which features dried cherries, pecans, goat cheese, and a honeyed dressing. But today’s recipe is my go-to of late, from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories. She has you roast the radishes and drizzle a dressing of Kalamata olives on top. Roasting does absolutely magical things to radishes – it softens them and completely removes their peppery bite in the process. As Turshen points out, this recipe is vegan, and the dressing works well on many things, including less-than-vegan dishes like goat cheese or on grilled chicken or fish.

The “small victory” here is all about cooking vegetables that are almost always served raw. She suggests spin off recipes, including stir frying iceberg lettuce with finely peeled ginger, garlic and fresh chile, and topping it with soy sauce and fish sauce; braising celery with a few minced garlic cloves and a couple of anchovies, then drizzling with high-quality olive oil and a few squeezes of lemon juice; and endive and radicchio, cut into wedges, coated with olive oil and salt, seared on a hot grill, and finished with wedges of lemon.

But for now, it’s radishes. We’ll see what we get from Mountain View next week!

Roasted Radishes with Kalamata Dressing from Small Victories by Julia Turshen

Ingredients

1 ½ lb. (680) radishes, split lengthwise (it’s ok to leave a little of the stem)

5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

12 pitted Kalamata olives (or other dark olives), finely chopped

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley or chives or 1 tsp finely chopped oregano

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425F (220C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the radishes on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, sprinkle with a large pinch of salt, and use your hands to toss everything together. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the radishes are tender and browned, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the garlic, a large pinch of salt and the vinegar in a small bowl and let them sit and get to know each other for 10 minutes (this quick-pickle moment will tame the bite of the garlic and also infuse the vinegar with the garlic.) Slowly whisk in the remaining 3 Tbsp olive oil and stir in the olives.

Transfer the roasted radishes to a serving platter, spoon over the olive dressing, and scatter over the parsley. Serve immediately.