Tofu Stir Fry

tofu stir fry

Teaching brings an unusual kind of balance to my life. Take any individual day, and my life doesn’t seem to have any balance at all. During the school year, I’m out the door by seven, and I barely even pause to eat between then and when I get back home. My life is a whirlwind of teenagers and papers and undecipherable scribblings on the whiteboard. But just when I think I can’t grade another essay or write another reading quiz… voila! Vacation! Balance comes to the force. I go from full-time teacher to the equally full-time task of being a stay-at-home mom. And so when I take the long view–semesters or years rather than days or weeks–I think my work-life balance is just right.

The problem is that I’m not nearly as good a homemaker as I am a teacher. You need someone to teach an English class? I’m your gal. Love it. Can do it all day. You want to talk about symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye? About the futility of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby? Shall we dissect a poem or practice writing essays for standardized tests? I’ve got you covered. Keeping up with laundry and clearing up Toymageddon in the living room, on the other hand? Errr, no. I’m currently surrounded by building blocks, stuffed animals, and partially-folded stacks of clothes. The dishes from lunch aren’t done, although I did wipe down the oatmeal chunks and smoothie dribbles from the dining table–my major accomplishment of the day! I could tackle the rest of the straightening right now, I suppose, but then when would I write this blog post?

What summer vacation buys me, you see, is the opportunity to prioritize things other than schoolwork. I begin every break from school with an unrealistically ambitious list of goals. This summer I’ve got a giant reading list, about fifteen different house projects, a tiny backyard garden (can we say that six plants counts as a garden?), a couple modest exercise goals, some longstanding writing ideas, and prep work for a new course I’m teaching in the fall. Of course, most days I chuck all that out the window in favor of playground trips, finger-painting extravaganzas, and afternoon naps, but it just feels really good to be able to choose my own priorities for a couple of months. Maybe one of these days I’ll even finish folding the laundry.

I am happy to report back on at least one concrete accomplishment of summer break thus far: I’ve checked off my reading list a collection of David Foster Wallace’s essays called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Highly recommend. As a disclaimer, I haven’t read and probably never will read DFW’s giant masterpiece, Infinite Jest. I’m just not that into sprawling postmodern novels. (Sprawling Victorian novels, on the other hand…) But these essays are gold–funny, playful, and packed with insight into the American notion of fun. The titular essay is about the author’s trip on a luxury Caribbean cruise. Whether or not you’re planning to take a cruise this summer (or in your lifetime), this essay will make you think twice about your own notions of relaxation and how it’s being sold to you. Wallace isn’t particularly kind to middle America in this collection, but then again, he turns his incisive observations towards his own neuroses just as frequently–Exhibit A, his hilarious fascination with his cruise ship’s Vacuum Sewage System, or Exhibit B, his “boviscopophobia… the morbid fear of being seen as bovine.”

Also, how did I not know that this book has not one but two essays about tennis? I kind of wish I’d saved them to read during Wimbledon next week! If you follow tennis at all, you’ll love these; the essay about Michael Joyce, in particular, is a great snapshot of the tennis world in the mid-nineties. FYI, I skipped the essay on television (too much has changed in the world of TV since 1990) and on David Lynch (not my cuppa), and unless you love critical theory, you might skip the little piece on post-structuralism as well. But there’s still more than enough here to enjoy.

Back to what I was saying about getting to choose my priorities. Yet another goal on my list for this summer is to try some new recipes. Here’s one that I ran across and just had to attempt, as I’ve always loved the General Tso’s Tofu dish from the Chinese takeout place around the corner. I was thoroughly impressed with the outcome of this tofu stir fry, but I’m pretty sure this is not going to go into my typical weeknight dinner rotation, as it involved multiple pots and pans, three mixing bowls, two cutting boards, a gallon-size Ziplock bag, a cast iron skillet, and even more kitchen paraphernalia. At one point I actually said aloud, “Man, this is complicated!” But I’m definitely going to return to this as a special occasion dish.

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Time Commitment: The Minimalist Baker lists twenty minutes to make her General Tso’s Tofu. HAH! Not even close. My slightly edited tofu stir fry took about an hour. It would have taken even longer if #2 hadn’t gone to bed early, giving me a little extra concentration to devote to a cooking project.

Mess: This made a Deepwater Horizon-level disaster zone of my kitchen. If I looked carefully I probably could have found some oil-covered ducks somewhere in there.

Photo Jun 16, 6 56 06 PM

Mom Fails: Various and sundry. I forgot to add the dried red chilies in the final minutes of sautéing the tofu. Whoops. That little bit of added heat would have been delicious. Also, Minimalist Baker pressed her tofu for ten minutes, which I also did, even though ten minutes seemed a bit short to me. Should have gone with my instincts, as my tofu was still kinda mushy as I fried it. And finally–yes, ANOTHER fail–don’t be like me and decide to chop your tofu into tiny little cubes. All that means is that you’ll spend thirty minutes trying to flip over teeny tiny squishy tofu bits in an effort to get them to fry evenly. It was annoying, and it didn’t really work. 1-inch cubes will be fine.

For Kids: Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t manage to get the chilies in there, because #1 loved the tofu! We were out of lemon, though, so she refused to eat the broccoli. Apparently now she will only eat broccoli when it has lemon juice spritzed over it. Toddlers. Sheesh.

Tofu Stir Fry

Serves 3-4

Adapted from The Minimalist Baker’s General Tso’s Tofu


  • 1 cup white or brown rice, cooked according to package directions


  • 1 12-oz package extra firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp Sriracha sauce (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 5 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil, for frying
  • 4-5 dried red chilies, optional (depending on your spice tolerance)


  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp water

Stir Fry

  • A few glugs oil (sesame or otherwise) for sautéing
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 2 broccoli crowns, cut into one-inch florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • Other vegetables, if desired


  1. Before you begin, press your tofu to get out excess water. Sandwich the tofu in a clean towel (or between a healthy amount of absorbent paper towel) and set something heavy on top–a heavy bowl, a cast iron skillet, etc. Let the tofu press for 20 minutes or so, as you chop your veggies, cook your rice, and…
  2. Whisk together your sauce: combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. Return to your tofu. Cut it into approximately 1-inch cubes. Then place the cubes into a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle with soy sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, and maple syrup. Toss gently to coat.
  4. Place the coated tofu cubes into a gallon-size Ziplock bag. Add 5 Tbsp cornstarch to bag and shake gently until cubes are coated and kind of pasty looking.
  5. Heat oil in medium frying pan. Fry tofu cubes on all sides until golden brown. Once you’ve started this process…
  6. Begin sautéing your vegetables in a wok or large frying pan.
  7. Once your tofu is looking brown and slightly crispy, add a few dried red chilies to the pan, if desired. Cook another minute.
  8. Once your vegetables are cooked to your liking (mine took about eight minutes), add the sauce and tofu. Cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly and coated all elements of your stir fry.
  9. Serve tofu stir fry hot, with rice.

Tortellini Spinach Salad

Tortellini Spinach Salad

I’m going to come right out and say it: salad and I have had our issues. I mean, I love salad. We have a relationship. But… it’s complicated.

You ask some people what they’re having for lunch (or even for dinner–heresy!), and they’ll say, “A salad.” Like… that’s it. Salad. I’m not one of those people. For me, a salad isn’t a meal. Salad and a sandwich? Sure. Salad and garlic bread? Yup. But just a salad? Incredibly unsatisfying, no matter how many sunflower seeds and garbanzo beans I plop on top. I think there’s just something in my DNA requiring that a meal involve some carbs.

Which leads to the issue of ingredients. I like diversity in a salad. Salad bars are my gold standard for this–I can add a couple kinds of greens, lots of raw veggies, maybe some berries, various beans and seeds and cheeses, and top it off with some croutons. But I can’t recreate that experience at home; I’d constantly have a half-eaten can of moldy kidney beans in my fridge, or an almost-empty bag of slimy spinach. And when I did make a salad, I’d be prepping ingredients for half an hour.

And then there’s the issue of the dressing. Can we all just agree that store-bought salad dressings are, in general, pretty awful? I get a salad at a restaurant and love it, but when I recreate the same salad at home with a store-bought dressing, it’s just yucky. About 95% of salad dressings I’ve ever bought taste like nothing but salt and preservatives. (Rob and I have found our guilty-pleasure dressing with this Nebraska-based salad dressing. You can’t get it in Tennessee–except via Amazon–so we ask my parents to bring home a couple of bottles every time they go to Nebraska to visit family.)

So those are the problems. But here’s the part where I launch into apostrophe.

Ah, Tortellini Spinach Salad, you have redeemed the salad experience for me. I can have you for dinner and feel neither gluttonously overfull nor piteously underfed. Your perfect mix of spinach (healthy!), tomatoes (healthy!), onions (healthy!), and processed carbs (delicious!) delights my tastebuds. I salute your limited ingredient list, your simple preparation, your sharply flavorful homemade dressing! Tortellini Spinach Salad, from these glorious beginnings I foresee a long and delectable love affair.

Time Commitment: About twenty minutes. There are literally three steps to this recipe. This salad is weeknight dinner gold.

Mess: Minimal–cutting board, sauce pan, and a pretty salad bowl for serving

For Kids: This dressing isn’t incredibly kid-friendly, so I always reserve some tortellini, cherry tomatoes, cheese, and spinach for #1 to eat, dressing-free.

Tortellini Spinach Salad

Serves 2-3 as a main dish or 4-6 as a side salad

Adapted from Three Boys Unprocessed

Ingredients, Salad

  • 2 cups frozen tortellini
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • Up to 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)

Ingredients, Dressing

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried minced garlic
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp mayo
  • salt and black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


  1. Cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain, return to pot, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and place in refrigerator or freezer to chill while you make the salad dressing.
  2. Place all salad dressing ingredients into a prep bowl and whisk vigorously. Adjust levels of salt, pepper, and other spices to taste.
  3. Toss dressing with chilled tortellini and other salad ingredients in a large bowl.

Make-Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Make Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Some nights you just need a magic wand and some kind of Potteresque spell, like “Accio Pizza.” Time is short, little ones are needy, and by 5:00 you’ve already had a long day. Mondays are those nights for us. I get home from work around 4:30. #1 has her toddler gymnastics classes (ADORABLE!!) at 5:45. That leaves, let’s see, approximately 45 minutes for me to prepare and serve dinner before we have to hit the road.

Alas, I don’t have a wand. (But for real, how great would it be to use “Petrificus Totalus” when you’ve got to put tights on a squirming two-year-old? Or the Impervius Charm to keep tomato sauce off her shirt on spaghetti nights?) I do have a modern form of magic, though: refrigeration. Things that can go straight from the freezer to the oven seem downright miraculous when you’ve got eighty things to do before you head out the door.

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And thus I present to you make-ahead buttermilk biscuits. I usually make a double batch (or a 1 1/2 batch) of these when I have extra buttermilk left over from some other baking extravaganza. We can eat some immediately, and then I freeze the unbaked leftovers for those hectic Monday nights, lazy Sunday mornings, or any other time I just need a biscuit. These are soft, fluffy, and buttery–perfect for eating with gravy, making breakfast-for-dinner sandwiches, or giving a hungry kid a quick energy burst for gymnastics.Photo Apr 01, 11 33 49 AMNot that this particular kid needs much of an energy burst. But she will sit still to eat biscuits. That’s its own special kind of magic.

Time Commitment: 30-40 minutes, but only 15 minutes when you’ve got some of these stored in your freezer.

Mess: I kind of hate scraping up dough from my countertops. But for biscuits, it’s a labor of love.

Special Equipment: I use a food processor for this, but you could go old school and use a pastry blender.

Make-Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits Make Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Adapted from Chef John’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8 large or 12 small biscuits


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into thin slices and chilled until firm in freezer
  • 3/4 – 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • Melted butter or buttermilk for brushing (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
  3. Add butter to food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
  4. Transfer flour/butter mixture to a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 3/4 cup buttermilk. Stir until just combined.
  5. If your mixture isn’t holding together into a soft dough, add in another 1/4 cup or so of the buttermilk.
  6. Turn dough out onto a well-floured counter top and pat to about 3/4-inch thick.
  7. Cut your biscuits. Gently re-combine and re-pat your dough until you’ve used it all.
  8. Transfer biscuits to your baking sheet. Brush with melted butter or buttermilk (optional), and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Make-ahead option: Instead of lining your baking sheet with parchment paper, line it with wax paper. Use this baking sheet to freeze unbaked biscuits for a couple hours, until fully frozen. Then place biscuits in a freezer-safe baggie and store them for up to a couple of months. No need to thaw before baking; you’ll just have to add an additional 2 or 3 minutes to the bake time.

Ethiopian Kik Alicha

Ethiopian Kik Alicha

Rob and I have history with Ethiopian food. When we still lived in Pasadena, Rob took me to LA’s Little Ethiopia (which is like, all of one block) for my first experience with Ethiopian cuisine. I’m ashamed to say it now, but at the time I was not impressed. Driving out to West LA made me grumpy, our food was room temperature, and the spongy, slightly sour bread (injera–which I now love, by the way) weirded me out. After we moved to the Bay Area, Rob somehow convinced me to try again, and LO! I was immediately converted by this amazing restaurant just a few doors down from our church. I wanted to visit every Saturday. In fact, during the third trimester of my pregnancy with #1, we did visit just about every Saturday. (Rob knew better than to say no to me when I was pregnant and sweating through a California summer.) #1 was born with berbere spices coursing through her veins.

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So for our fifth anniversary, how did we celebrate? We took a drive down to Atlanta for some Ethiopian food at a little hole in the wall we visit every time we happen to find ourselves in that neck of the woods. Or when we just can’t go another day without Ethiopian food and are willing to drive two hours to get it, because COME ON, Chattanooga, get with the program!

Photo Mar 20, 4 43 59 PMAnd behold, it was very good.

So, you know me. I had to at least try to recreate Ethiopian goodness at home. I’ve tried a couple of recipes, actually, and while I’ve never pulled off restaurant-worthy wat, this delicious kik alicha comes pretty close to my best Ethiopian experiences.

Time Commitment: The yellow split peas have to simmer for a while, so this takes close to an hour. I really need to try this in the pressure cooker, as I bet I could cut the total time in half. I’ll keep you posted!

Special Equipment: If you have a food processor, you can use it to purée your onions. Otherwise you’ll just have to do a very fine mince, which is kind of a pain.

Mess: If you use your food processor, you’ll have to wash it, obvs. Otherwise it’s a one-pot meal.

Ethiopian Kik AlichaEthiopian Kik Alicha

Adapted from Veggies by Candlelight’s recipe

Serves 4


  • 2 onions (I used sweet onions)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed and sorted
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • salt, to taste


  1. Purée onions and garlic in your food processor, or finely mince them.
  2. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until the liquid is gone and they are just turning brown.
  3. To the same pot, add in split peas and cover with three inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes or so, or until peas are tender. You may need to add some more water along the way.
  4. After cooking, stir in tumeric, olive oil, and salt.
  5. Serve with injera or (shortcut for lazy cooks!) storebought naan.

Deepest Darkest Cocoa Brownies

cocoa brownies

Rating: 5/5 stars. This recipe makes a 13×9 pan of thick, moist, incredibly chocolatey cocoa brownies. Bonus: they’re non-dairy!

I have terrible news. In my attempt to ameliorate #2’s eczema, I have done the unthinkable: I’ve (temporarily) given up dairy. This was not an easy decision for me. I’m not really a big milk-drinker, but cheese, ice cream, and butter are all high on my list of favorite foods. But I’ve now gone ten days without dairy, which is definitely some kind of record for me. #2’s eczema is… perhaps mildly better. Maybe. Which could also be due to the warmer temperatures we’ve been enjoying. But I’ll probably keep up the experiment for a while longer and then reintroduce a bit of dairy to see what happens.

One of the hardest days of this experiment was Wednesday, the day we have advisory groups at school. Advisory at our school is synonymous with snack time. Any actual advising that happens take place over boxes of Dunkin (or if you’re lucky, from the fabulous Chattanooga-based Julie Darling Donuts), bags of apples, Tupperware of homemade cookies, jugs of juice… students take their snack-bringing duties very seriously. And woe be it unto the student who forgets their day to bring advisory snacks. Last Wednesday, one of my advisees brought giant Sams Club containers of both mini-cinnamon rolls and mini-brownies. We also had leftover mini-donuts and Pringles from previous weeks.

Of course I had to check the labels. And of course everything had dairy. And so I spent my day staring at heaps of brownies that I couldn’t eat. It was five periods of pure torture.

That got me thinking–wouldn’t it be pretty simple to make dairy-free brownies? No crazy changes would be needed, especially because I can still eat eggs. So I started doing some investigating, and then some baking, and I wound up with these decadent chocolate treats: Deepest Darkest Cocoa Brownies. They don’t have the delicious papery topping of your typical boxed brownie, but there exists no chocolate craving these fudgy brownies can’t satisfy.

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Time Commitment: The directions here are ridiculously simple. These clock in at 45 minutes to one hour, almost all of which is baking time. I took closer to an hour because of all the “help” I was getting from a certain little someone.

Mess: This whole thing comes together in one good-sized bowl–for me, in the bowl of my stand mixer.

Mom Fails: Pro tip: put your little one’s hair in a ponytail before giving her chocolate-covered beaters to lick.

Deepest Darkest Cocoa BrowniesPhoto Mar 19, 9 11 10 PM

Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s fudge brownie recipe

Makes a 9×13 pan, about 20 brownies


  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 c dutch-process cocoa, like this amazing valrhona cocoa from Amazon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c + 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 c semisweet chocolate chips, optional (My Guittard semisweet chips are dairy-free, though they’re made on equipment that also makes milk chocolate. That’s good enough for me, but you can also find strictly vegan chocolate chips, if needed.)
  • Sifted powdered sugar for dusting, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
  2. Beat together eggs, cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso/coffee, and vanilla until well combined.
  3. Add oil and sugar. Mix again.
  4. Add in flour. Mix again until batter takes on a thick, sludgy consistency. This batter is stiffer than your typical boxed brownie batter. Never fear–they will be tender and moist after baking!
  5. Fold in chocolate chips, if using.
  6. Smooth batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center looks firm but still moist. You can stick a knife into your brownies to check done-ness, but you actually want to take these out before the tester comes out completely clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack, then dust cocoa brownies with powdered sugar. Slice, then serve.