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.

Photo Jun 16, 6 56 00 PM

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

Ingredients

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

Tofu

  • 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)

Sauce

  • 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

Directions

  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

Directions

  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.

Photo Apr 01, 6 39 52 PM

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

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  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.

Photo Mar 20, 4 44 06 PM

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  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.

Photo Mar 19, 1 03 20 PM

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  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.

Veggie Fried Rice

veggie fried rice

Rating: 4/5 stars. Throw whatever is in your crisper drawers into this healthy, quick veggie fried rice. Works with brown or white rice!

Ways that #1 is a typical toddler:

  • She’s obsessed with Elmo. (Ugh.)
  • She has never met a dog or cat she doesn’t want to hug.
  • She needs at least three drinks of water between bath and bedtime.
  • She loves to “help” with laundry, meaning that she likes to sit on top of the drier and meticulously place each individual sock into the washer, a process that takes about fifteen minutes per load.
  • She refuses to understand that I only have two hands and therefore cannot simultaneously hold her brother, fetch her a cheese stick, read her a book, and help her put her sock back on.

Ways that #1 is not a typical toddler:

  • She is developing an imaginary friendship with the hawk that nests in our woods, whom she’s convinced is going to take her for a ride someday. (This “friendship” wouldn’t be so weird except for the fact that she also “talks to” the hawk about the mice he likes to eat for lunch… the ones whose half-eaten carcasses we find in our yard on occasion.)
  • She’s a huge fan of vegetables.

That’s right, folks. #1 frequently asks for seconds or thirds of broccoli. She eats her peas before her pasta and sneaks pieces of raw onion and pepper as I’m cooking. Though I’d love to claim the credit for her good habits, I’m pretty sure I just got lucky. Or maybe she was influenced by her in utero tenure in the Bay Area, where fetus-Lily got weekly doses of Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Ethiopian.

All of this to say, I made a major miscalculation when I was preparing this veggie fried rice a few days ago. I wanted it to have lots of veggies, but #1 spotted my peas coming out of the microwave and demanded her portion: “No, not little bit. Lots of peas!” AKA half of them. And there went my rice-to-veggies ratio.

Photo Mar 15, 6 48 38 PM

Time Commitment: This really only takes about 30 minutes. Chop your veggies while you cook your rice. Then everything stir fries up in no time.

Mess: Low mess–a frying pan, something to cook the rice, and a single cutting board

Mom Fails: Not predicting my daughter’s (utterly predictable) appetite for peas

Special Equipment: Due to my limited storage space, I’ve never had a rice cooker. But this would probably be a great place to use yours, if you’ve got one.

Veggie Fried RicePhoto Mar 15, 6 38 35 PM

Feeds 3-4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

Adapted from this, this, and this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 c rice, cooked according to package directions, omitting salt (I used jasmine rice, but any long-grained variety should work–brown or white.)
  • 1 c frozen peas, cooked and drained
  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 1/2 a bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Veggies I might add next time: broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, baby spinach
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp oil (sesame oil is great if you’ve got it, but olive oil worked fine for me)
  • 3-4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • Chili paste or hot sauce, to taste

Directions

  1. Cook your rice and peas according to package directions, but don’t add any salt.
  2. Heat your oil in a large frying pan or wok. Toss in veggies (reserving veggies that cook quickly or are pre-cooked, like peas, spinach, mushrooms, etc) and stir fry for about five minutes, or until tender. Then crack eggs into the pan and push around until cooked.
  3. Add rice, soy sauce, and vinegar and stir fry for another couple of minutes.
  4. Add chili paste to taste and serve.

“Bacon” Cheddar Cauliflower Soup (Guest post!)

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Soup

Note: This recipe is a guest post from one of my [Emily’s] very oldest and dearest friends–reader, writer, and hiker extraordinaire, Jessica. I don’t really have cauliflower in our family’s dinner rotation, but after this post, I’m convinced to give it a try. Enjoy!

Emily asked if I would write a guest blog for The Supper Files. As a reader of Emily’s blog, and a long-time friend,  I’m happy to contribute a post!

Our cooking adventures extend back to high school where our first attempt to make pizza from scratch left us with unleavened crust as we forgot to add yeast to our dough! Fast forward to 2016 and even though we don’t live in the same state anymore, we still bond over cooking adventures. This year we are challenging ourselves to baking a cake each month, as suggested on Food & Wine’s cake baking bucket list.

Besides the trend of monthly cake baking, my latest cooking obsession has been cauliflower. If you are anything like me, you might know cauliflower as that unwanted vegetable next to celery that’s always leftover on any appetizer veggie tray. You may have also arched a skeptical eyebrow at pinterest pins proclaiming cauliflower as the primary ingredient in pizza crust.

Or the idea of grating cauliflower to create imitation fried rice. Perhaps even making twice-baked potatoes…without the potatoes!

Cauliflower Fried "Rice"
Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

Dear reader, I was skeptical too. All these posts for uses of cauliflower seemed downright blasphemous! Replace the beloved potato with cauliflower? In any recipe–why would you? Well, as a vegetarian, our diets can stack up heavy on the carb side if we’re not too careful. Why is that a problem you ask? Too much of the wrong types of carbs can result in unwanted weight gain and other problems. Granted carbs are just about in everything and my motto is all things in moderation so to help with the diet balancing act, enter the wonderfully versatile cauliflower. And who couldn’t use more cruciferous veggies in their life?

One of my new favorite cauliflower recipes is this Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower soup, adapted for a vegetarian diet from Iowa Girl Eats.

Time Commitment: I haven’t timed myself making this, but on average, it seems every recipe I put my hand to takes about an hour (including prep, cook time and clean-up).

Mess: While this soup can be made in one pot, the messiest part will be grating the cauliflower, which brings me to:

Special Equipment: If you have a food processor, that will make your cauliflower shredding job SO MUCH easier. I use the blade for shredding cheese and my cauliflower florets are sliced up in no time. Otherwise you can use an actual cheese grater (mind your fingers), or toss in a blender and pulse a few times.

Serving Suggestions: Serve with your favorite crusty bread and a side salad.

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Soup

IngredientsJessicaCauliflowerSoup

  • 8 slices veggie bacon, chopped (I use LightLife’s Smart Bacon)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt & pepper
  • 4+ cups shredded or grated cauliflower (1/2 large head-1 large head), personally I don’t think you can add too much!
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 c hot water + 2 “chicken” bouillon cubes= 2 c “chicken” broth
  • 2 c milk
  • 3-4 dashes hot sauce
  • 2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • Toppings: green onions, bacobits, and sour cream

Directions

  1. Whisk together flour and 1/4 cup chicken broth in a small bowl then set aside.
  2. Saute bacon in a large soup pot over medium heat until crisp. Add celery and garlic to the pot then season with salt and pepper and saute until vegetables are tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add cauliflower and onion powder  to the pot then stir to combine. Add water then place a lid on top and steam cauliflower until tender, stirring a couple times, about 5-7 minutes. Add remaining chicken broth and milk then turn up heat and bring to a boil.
  4. Slowly whisk in flour/chicken broth mixture while stirring, then turn down heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until soup has thickened. Puree soup in blender then return to pot (you may also use an immersion blender instead).
  5. Turn off heat then stir in 2 cups cheddar cheese a little at a time until smooth. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and/or hot sauce if necessary. Serve topped with bacobits, green onions, and sour cream.

Mississippi Mud Pie

Mississippi Mud Pie

Rating: 4/5 stars. Don’t let the multiple layers of this Mississippi mud pie scare you off. This rich, decadent dessert is actually fairly simple and will easily serve a dozen.

Coming off yet another rough week at work, I desperately needed some therapy baking this weekend. I don’t want to be too depressing,  so suffice it to say that our school seems destined for tragedy this year. And somehow when terrible things happen, I always find myself wishing I had some snacks to share. Maybe some cookies. I know that sounds ridiculous. Cookies can’t fix it; nothing can. But there’s a reason that we bring food when someone has died. Food is essentially human, essentially social, essentially alive. In the face of tragedy, we cling to those things. Earlier this year, my classes watched this Kevin Young poem, “Ode to Gumbo.” It’s about food and grief and sharing and remembering. Kevin Young makes those connections much more eloquently than I can; it’s well worth four minutes of your time.

And so Friday night after the kids were in bed, this Mississippi mud pie was my therapy. I turned on a podcast, preheated the oven, and lost myself in counter-top-loads of Oreos and butter. The pie looks fancy, but it’s actually not that hard, and it makes a massive amount of dessert. Over the course of the weekend, we fed this to my parents, ourselves (Rob and I had two slices each… I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the stressful week), and about eight parents from our kids’ church group. Like manna from heaven, this pie held out to the bitter end. I thought we were going to be left with one final slice after everyone left, too, but at the last minute somebody snatched it up. So I guess that means it was a hit.

Photo Feb 27, 12 12 08 PM

Time Commitment: 1 hr 15 minutes. I’ve simplified Mississippi mud pie to the barest, quickest essentials. This took about 45 minutes of active time then 30 minutes to bake the filling. Afterwards it does need to cool for an hour or two before you put on the final topping, but that phase takes less than five minutes, so I won’t bother counting it.

Mess: Fittingly, I suppose, Mississippi mud does not score well in the mess category. It requires a food processor, and the crust-making process left Oreo dust EVERYWHERE. On the other hand, the filling can be entirely assembled in the pot you use to melt the chocolate and butter. (Obviously if you choose to make real whipped cream rather than use Cool Whip, the mess factor ticks up yet again.)

Mom Fails: I totally thought I’d blown it when my Oreo crust came out of the oven looking all cracked and hole-y. I thought my pie was going to crumble into a chocolate-flavored heap when I unmolded this thing. But once I baked the filling and chilled the whole thing for a while, it actually held together perfectly. Also, always line your springform pan with foil before baking with it. Just… always do it. Every time. There’s nothing worse than scorched butter on the bottom of your oven. I speak from experience here.

Mississippi Mud PieMississippi Mud Pie

Serves 12

Source: Diethood’s Mississippi Mud Pie

Ingredients

Crust

  • 35-40 oreos (one 14 oz box)
  • 1 stick butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c sugar (the original recipe called for 1 1/4 c, which was just a bit too sweet for me)
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract (you could substitute some cold brewed coffee here, if you want to intensify the chocolate flavor)
  • 3 eggs

Topping

  • 1 8 oz tub Cool Whip–I used the “Extra Creamy” variety  (or, if you have the time, 1 cup whipping cream + a bit of sugar and vanilla extract)
  • Optional: chocolate sauce or toasted pecan pieces for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wrap the bottom of your springform pan with aluminum foil if you want to prevent some messes down the road.
  2. Make the crust: Using a food processor, pulse Oreos until a smooth, consistently small crumb forms. (This will take several minutes.) Add melted butter and pulse a few more times. Reserve 1/4 c of the Oreo mixture for the topping. Push the rest into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan to make crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Melt butter and chocolate in a small saucepan, whisking continually. Remove from heat. Stir flour and salt directly into the pot. Then add sugar, vanilla, and corn syrup. Stir until combined. Finally, add in eggs, one at a time, and stir.
  4. Pour filling into crust and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is slightly crackly, like a brownie. I
  5. Cool on a wire rack for 1-2 hours.
  6. Spread Cool Whip over the brownie filling. (If you have time, real whipped cream would be delicious here.)
  7. At this point, you can refrigerate the pie in the springform pan, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for at least a day.
  8. To remove the pie from the pan, first run a knife around the edges; then slowly unmold.
  9. Top with reserved crumb mixture. You can also use chocolate sauce and/or toasted pecans, if desired.

 

Spinach Fritters

spinach fritters

Rating: 4/5 stars. Enjoy these crispy spinach fritters with pasta or rice and a bit of tomato sauce.

Twenty-three miles; eighty minutes; seven accidents. That was my drive home today. I have no idea what sort of insanity struck the good people of Chattanooga between the hours of 3:30 and 5:00 PM, but I would have been happy to stay out of it, thank you very much. It was like I drove through a blip in the space-time continuum that took me back to Los Angeles, circa 2008, where my daily commute took me past Dodger Stadium, Staples Center, and the LA Coliseum. If there was any sporting event going on in the city, I might as well just stay at work until 8, because otherwise I’d just be camped out on the 110 through downtown.

After today’s harrowing drive, I arrived home to a dog that needed to go out, a baby just waking up from a nap–hungry, of course!–and a daughter with one thing on her mind: finger-painting. It was A LOT. I honestly thought we were going to have to resort to cold cereal for dinner, but then I looked at the directions for these fritters and decided that they looked both feasible and–obviously–healthier than the cereal option. So I took the dog out, fed #2, and set #1 up with her finger-paints. 30 minutes later, I had spinach fritters with some pasta and tomato sauce ready to go exactly as Rob walked in the door. I WIN, FREEWAY CHAOS.

Photo Feb 24, 6 27 09 PM

Of course, in the meantime, #1 painted half the table and then coated her forearms with orange paint, giving her a kind of creepy tanorexic look. No recipe is easy enough to forestall finger-paint-related fiasco, I suppose.

Time Commitment: You can easily toss together these fritters in 30 minutes. You should, however, keep an eye on what your children are doing during that time.

Mess: The fritters themselves are very low mess: one bowl, one pan, one cutting board. But of course, you have to serve the fritters with something, unless you’re one of those people who gets full on nothing but spinach and onions (in which case, no offense, but I hate you).

Mom Fails: This recipe is pretty idiot-proof. Good thing, too, because LONG DAY.

Spinach Frittersspinach fritters

Source: Rachael Ray’s Spinach Fritters

Makes about 16 two-inch fritters

Ingredients

  • 16 oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 an onion, minced
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 c shredded or crumbled cheese (I used cheddar, which was good, but next time I might try this with some parmesan or feta)
  • Oil for frying

Directions

  1. Beat eggs lightly in large bowl. Mix in all other ingredients (except oil).
  2. Pour a couple glugs of olive oil into a frying pan over medium heat. Fry fritters by heaping tablespoonfuls until browned. Flip and do the same on the other side.
  3. If your fritters look a bit greasy, you can set them on a plate lined with paper towel for a few minutes before serving.