Wednesday, March 3, 2021

"Tofu? Really?"

That was my husband's reaction when I told him what was for dinner last night. And the words were accompanied by the kind of face that conveys more horror than eager anticipation. Tofu does not have a good rep in this house. Firstly, my husband has a deep-rooted suspicion that I am trying to turn him into a vegetarian by stealth, so feels the need to stock the fridge with large packs of bacon now and then, just to reiterate his refusal to comply with my apparent cunning plan. if you are a frequent visitor here, you will know that over the years we have turned more to plant-based meals, but that meat still features in our diet, and I don't see that changing. Nevertheless, I do like to 'poke the bear' by occasionally leaving packets of soy chorizo or nutritional yeast around - hehehe!

Secondly, the results of many of my attempts to work with tofu have not been exactly spectacular - we just don't like the texture of it, which to me, often seems to be akin to that of meat fat, not my favorite thing in terms of mouth-feel. I have had wonderful tofu dishes in restaurants where they achieve a great crispy exterior that prevents this, but I have never been truly able to replicate that at home. And there is a general...err... resistance to these efforts having any kind of frequency...

So I was intrigued recently, when I came across a recipe that used tofu, but called for grating it, rather than cutting it into chunks. And, as should have become evident, when culinary curiosity is piqued in this house, there is a usually a visit to the store soon afterwards, and I start experimenting! I was pretty delighted with the result, and the process, discovering that with the tofu I used, you didn't have to grate anything as it just fell apart for me. Having never made this dish before, I made very few tweaks to the original (from Bon Appetit), but I did add more flavoring, since tofu is such a blank canvas, and we like our food flavorful and rich in this house. I also felt that it didn't have enough vegetables in it for my taste, so I upped the quantity of scallions/green onions, and also did a broccoli side (see below), which, together with the tofu, will definitely find a spot in regular rotation here, as it was equally delicious.

All in all, a plate of yummy goodness. It may not have completely converted my husband to the vegan future that he clearly fears his wife envisages, but it did at least ensure that the reaction to the word 'tofu' might not be quite so unfortunate next time round!

Soy and Scallion Tofu
Serves 3
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 16oz block of extra-firm tofu, drained
canola/sunflower oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp aleppo pepper (can be substituted for 1/2 tsp of chili flakes/crushed red pepper flakes)
6 scallions/green onions, green and white parts sliced
4 TBSP soy sauce
2 1/2 TBSP mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 TBSP unsalted butter
cooked long grain rice and sesame seeds for serving

1. Break the tofu into pieces and squeeze over the a bowl until it is as dry as you can get it. If it is anything like mine, the tofu will break up into tiny pieces as you do so. If not, you can grate it to obtain the desired consistency. Once it is broken on, blot it with kitchen towel to make it as dry as possible.

2. Heat oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat until garlic starts to turn golden. Add the aleppo pepper and stir to combine. Stir in the tofu, breaking it up further with the spoon if need be. It should start to crisp up, which is exactly what you want. It will start to turn golden on the edges. At this point, stir in the scallions, soy sauce, miring and butter and continue to cook until the liquid is almost evaporated.

3. Serve over rice, and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top if desired.

Asian-style Roasted Broccoli
Serves 3
Adapted from

1 lb broccoli, cut into small florets
1 TBSP coconut oil, melted
3 TBSP soy sauce
3 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp sriracha
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

2. Line a 15"x11" rimmed baking tray with parchment paper and spray with canola oil spray

3. Put the broccoli florets in a large bowl. Mix together the coconut oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, ginger and garlic. Pour over the top of the broccoli and toss to coat.

4. Spread the coated broccoli over the prepared baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes, stirring half way through. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Mean and Green

Why should red lentils have all the fun? Today's recipe is a revamp of a recent Bon Appetit recipe that makes green lentils into the star of a green curry. Nom nom nom. Note that the quantity of green curry paste indicated below yields a nice spicy curry, not so hot that you can't taste it and break out in a sweat (that would NOT do in our house). So if you want to take the skin off the roof of your mouth, add more (the original recipe called for a 1/4 cup), and if you fear the heat (no shame), then take it down a notch. (If doing the latter, you could always add some lemongrass paste, or some grated lemon zest, just to give it some zing, without the heat). All in all, this is pretty satisfying with some naan bread to mop of the delicious juices.

The vegetables you use is entirely up to you. I had a turnip begging to be employed for good, so I stuck that in, with a can of baby corn. Any root vegetable would cook nicely in this dish, and again, if you are aiming to limit the heat, then go for something that has a sweet taste, such as butternut squash, or sweet potato. 

Green Lentil Green Curry
Serves 4
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 TBSP coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2" piece of ginger root, grated
3 TBSP green curry paste
1 large purple-top turnip, peeled and chopped into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup of green/brown lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
1 13.5oz can coconut milk
4 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 can baby corn, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp fish sauce
fresh cilantro leaves (coriander) and lime wedges to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, ginger and garlic. Cook stirring frequently so that it doesn't stick, until the onion is softened (about 5 minutes). Add the curry paste and continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture is fragrant (i.e making you dribble!)

2. Add the turnip and lentils and stir to combine. Then mix in the stock, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Bring the mixture to the boil, the reduce heat and simmer for around 25 minutes, by which time the lentils should be cooked but not mushy and breaking down. The turnip should also be cooked by this point.

3. Add the coconut milk, spinach, corn and fish sauce, and return to the boil. Once hot, taste for seasoning and add more salt or fish sauce, if needed. 

4. Serve in bowls, topped with fresh chopped cilantro and with lime wedges to squeeze over. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lovely lovely lentils

Am I the only one who thinks lentils get a bad rap? They are so often considered a boring staple in a vegetarian, or flexitarian, diet. No doubt, they are a blank canvas, without much flavor of their own to impart to a dish, but they are filling, low in calories, rich in folates, iron and protein, and the blankness of that canvas, means that they are versatile indeed, and can form the basis of many a dish. Unlike cooking with dried beans, there is none of that planning ahead to soak them overnight, and the "Will they ever cook" uncertainty, even when left bubbling for hours. I am all for canned beans.... However, lentils cook quickly, and what is more, you can easily buy ready cooked lentils in Trader Joes (in the produce department), which will keep in the refrigerator for weeks and make a fabulous salad (click here for recipe). 

And just in case you think that these are the only things you can do with lentils, some bored quarantined Russian has made an imitation of the Mona Lisa with them. Yes, lentils are artistic. I kid you not. Click here for the proof.

The recipe below (adapted from an original in the New York Times) is deceptively simple, but full of rich flavors that lend themselves beautifully to a lentil dish, and make for a comforting dish that is anything but boring. With some garlic bread on the side to mop up the lovely juices, and ward off vampires (bonus), it is the perfect bowl of goodness for a winter's evening. Tasty, easy, filling, good for you - what more could you want?

Lentils Cacciatore
Serves 4

olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and quartered (not the tasteless canned kind!)
3 TBSP tomato paste
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 14oz can crushed/diced tomatoes
3/4 cup red lentils

1. Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or saucepan. 

2. Add carrots, onion and bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook stirring frequently until the onions are softened (5 minutes or so). 

3. Add the capers, tomato paste, garlic and rosemary and cook for a further couple of minutes, stirring to prevent the tomato paste from sticking. (The mixture should start to turn a darker red at this point).

4. Add the wine, and cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated.

5. Add the tomatoes, lentils and 2 1/2 cups of water and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then partially cover, and simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes, by which time the lentils should be starting to break down and be nice and soft. Add the olives and cook for a further 5 minutes. Taste to check seasoning.

6. Serve with garlic bread

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Going back to my roots, yeah!

 I was fortunate enough to grow up in Cornwall, the far south-western tip of the UK. It is England's beach country, beautiful beaches, some surf-pounded, some hidden calm coves, quaint working harbors, jagged cliffs marked with ruins of old tin mines, soggy moorlands with rocky crests, and windy, overgrown lanes leading tiny villages nestled in green valleys {insert wistful sigh}. 

Going back home is a treat, and one that sadly I haven't been able to indulge in for far too long (curse you Covid). But last week my son came up with an idea of an activity for the weekend - making Cornish pasties. (I suspect that his motivation was more directed at satisfying his appetite than soothing my homesickness, but what the heck, I'll take comfort wherever I can get it at the moment! And it isn't often that he wants to cook with his mother, so that was fun too!)

Cornish pasties are a traditional lunch that wives would make for their husbands who were off to work down the tin and copper mines or China Clay quarries in centuries gone by. It's a pastry shell wrapped around goodies all cooked within to beautiful perfection. Originally, the pasty was designed to have savory treats like meat and vegetables in one end, and something sweet in the other half, so that a hungry worker, eating from one end to the other, would get a whole meal in one package, including dessert. Nowadays, they are generally all savory. The most traditional filling is as shown here, with root vegetables, potatoes and beef. But these days, you can get all sorts of things inside pasties. In Cornwalls well-touristed harbor towns, pasty shops do a roaring trade, and people can be spotted chomping away on their wares on benches along the quayside, while cheeky seagulls wait in hope of dropped crumbs. 

This is by no means a quick supper, but it is a fun activity and way easier than it looks - the contents are all cooked in the oven within the pastry, so the only prep revolves around lots of chopping, and making the pastry. Even the latter could be skipped if you're in a hurry, and have some ready prepared pastry handy. The key is making sure that the veg is chopped uniformly and small; hard lumps of uncooked potato are no-one's idea of a good time. 

Whatever you choose to put inside, have fun with it, get the kids involved, and, if you are anything like us, make a HUGE mess in the kitchen, before enjoying the yummy fruits of your labor!

Cornish Pasties
Makes 6
Serves 4-6 people, depending on appetite :-)

For pastry:
3 1/4 cups AP flour
8 oz cold unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten

For filling:
12 oz skirt steak
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large (or two small) purple-topped turnips, peeled
1 large rutabaga, peeled
whole nutmeg
salt and ground white pepper
olive oil

1. To make the pastry, put the flour in a large bowl, season with a pinch of salt, and rub in the butter with thumb and fingers until it looks like coarse crumbs.

2. Add 3/4 cup of water and use your hands to quickly incorporate it into the flour mixture. Bring the mixture together until it makes a smooth, but not sticky, dough, adding a little more water if needed. Be careful not to overwork it, as it will make the pastry tough.

3. Preheat the oven to 400F (220C). 

4. Cut the steak, potato, turnip and rutabaga into 1/3" cubes, no larger! It takes time, but it's worth it! Mix together in a large bowl and grate some nutmeg over to taste. Season with a large pinch of salt and some ground pepper. Drizzle in a little olive oil to moisten.

5. Cut the pastry into 6 equal pieces and then roll each into a ball. On a surface dusted with flour, roll each out into a circle, roughly 8" in diameter, an 1/4" thick. You can make the circles more exact by cutting them with a 8" baking tin.

6. Take some of the filling mixture and squeeze it together in your hands to compact it a little. Put each handful of filling over one half of each circle, leaving a 1/2" border around the edge. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the filling, and brush the edge of each circle with beaten egg. 

7. Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together then crimp them from one end to the other. You can do this however you want - the simplest way is to use a fork to seal the edges. But you can be as fancy as you like!

8. Brush each pasty with beaten egg and cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Humble no more!

 The cabbage. A humble beast indeed, relegated to the domain of fart jokes and weird restrictive diets. Well, I have discovered the pinnacle of cabbage heaven, and it isn't in the form of a watery soup that claims to help you lose pounds in 24 hours (fair enough, if you are that way inclined, it may still give you...err... some wind in your...err... sails, but it will be worth it, I promise!)

This is a deceptively simple dish in terms of ingredients, but the combination and cooking method creates such a deep, rich flavor and texture, that it is more than sufficiently grand to serve as a vegetarian main dish. It takes little time to prepare, but some time in the oven, so plan ahead a little. Again though, I promise you it is worth it!

Melting Cabbage
adapted from
Serves 4 easily

1 head of green cabbage (about 2lbs)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large onion, halved and sliced
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 TBSP tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp dry mustard powder
Chopped fresh parsley and prepared mustard to serve

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Slice cabbage in half through the root, and then cut each half into 4 wedges, keeping the root attached.
3. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in an ovenproof skillet (about 10" diameter at least) over a medium heat, and add four of the cabbage wedges, cooking them until browned, then turning to brown the other side (should take 3-5 minutes per side). Remove from the pan and season with salt and pepper before doing the same with the other four wedges of cabbage.
4. In the same pan, add 2TBSP olive oil, the sliced onion, garlic and cumin seeds, and saute until softened and starting to brown. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for another two minutes until the color is starting to darken.
5. Add the broth, mustard powder, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and ground black pepper, and increase the heat to bring the mixture to the boil. Once the mixture is bubbling, return the cabbage wedges to the pan, slotting them in carefully in a single layer, which should fill the entire pan. Push them into the sauce.
6. Transfer to the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and using tongs, turn each cabbage wedge carefully. Then return to the oven for a further 30-45 mins. Time will vary slightly depending on the diameter of the skillet - if it is a very large skillet, do not overcook, as the sauce may dry out. You are looking for the cabbage to brown slightly on top, and 'melt' into the sauce.
7. Serve with chopped fresh parsley sprinkled over the top and some extra mustard on the side.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Satisfying a Growing Carnivore

 Child #3, who has been stuck at home with his parents for much of the last year, must surely be looking forward to a visit his siblings for the holidays. Nevertheless, there are downsides (and not only the inevitable queue for the bathroom). You see, Children #1 and #2 are now both vegetarian, so upon their return, there will be even less meat consumed in this house (although I do note that, in preparation, their father has secretly stocked up on bacon). So in honor of the one remaining carnivorous offspring, we had a last hurrah of sorts: his choice of meaty deliciousness, before the plant-loving siblings return to the fold.  His request was for Sweet and Sour Chicken, so being a fabulously generous parent, that is what he got :-)

Sweet and Sour Chicken in the Slow Cooker
Serves 4 easily
Adapted from

1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 onion, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick rounds
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1" chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1" chunks
6 TBSP soy sauce
3 TBSP honey
3 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 TBSP white vinegar
1 1/2 TBSP tomato paste
3 tsp sambal oelek (chile paste)
1 1/2 TBSP fresh grated ginger root
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 cup pineapple juice
sliced green onions and toasted sesame seeds to serve

1. Add chicken and next four ingredients to the slow cooker.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, sambal oelek, ginger and garlic until combined, then pour over the chicken mixture and mix together until everything is coated.
3. Cook for 4 hours on low heat. Remove the chicken and pull apart into bite-size chunks, then set aside.
4. Mix together the cornstarch and the pineapple juice and stir into the vegetables in the crockpot. Cook for a further 30 minutes on high, or until the mixture thickens slightly.
5. Stir the chicken back in, and serve on a bed of rice, with green onions and sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Who needs a warm hug?

That is an unfair question, because right now you can't have one. Unless it is from one of the people you are living with, and, since you've been stuck with only them for company for the last six months at home, maybe a warm hug from that particular section of the population isn't exactly what you need.... Ahhhhh... {insert wistful sigh}

Anyway, best not drop any further into that rabbit hole, lest we start discussing our housemates'/family members' more annoying habits, and how lengthy forced proximity to them makes us all have more aggressive thoughts than we are probably used to... 

In the absence of warm hugs from those whom we now only see on screens or hear on the phone, I offer you this plate of warm fuzziness, in the shape of a lemony, parmesany, comforting plate of risotto. For me, this was a particularly satisfying dish, not least because as well as being most comforting to the taste-buds and tum, it also contains zucchini, and let's just say that one of those family members with the annoying habits didn't even notice while he gobbled up a plateful. Gastronomical delight, when accompanied with successful subterfuge is a satisfying thing indeed! Now go forth, and don't tell them about the zucchini!

Lemon and Zucchini Risotto
Serves 4
Adapted from BBC Good Food

2 TBSP butter
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 zucchini, one coarsely shredded, one chopped
7 oz arborio rice
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
36 fl oz vegetable stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 TBSP mascarpone
olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Saute until translucent and just starting to brown. Add the garlic and continue to saute for a further minute. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a separate saucepan until boiling, and then leave on a low heat with the lid on.
2. Add the shredded zucchini and the rice, and stir to coat with butter for 1-2 minutes.
3. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper and a couple of ladles of the hot stock.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture starts to catch on the bottom of the pan, then add another two ladles of stock. Keep doing this until the rice is tender (should take 20-25 minutes).
5. Stir in the mascarpone and the parmesan. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
6. Place a lid on the pot and leave off the heat, while you prepare the last zucchini. Heat some olive oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat, and then add the zucchini. Saute until browned, and season with salt and black pepper.
7. Serve the risotto topped with pine nuts, a little more parmesan, plus the sauted zucchini (for those whom it won't disgust so much they run screaming from the table...)