Post 112 – Ginger Ale Carrots & Plenty of Noodle Salads

IMG_1378The most enticing looking recipes are usually the carb-loaded, sugar-sparkled, cheese-sprinkled ones. Am I right? The most pinned recipes on Pinterest are always the gooey double chocolate brownies, the “easiest, creamiest” mac and cheese, or the “you won’t believe it’s Paleo” chocolate fudge pie. These are the ones we see over and over again. These are the ones that get the most attention. For most of us in our real lives, we can’t eat the gooey-est brownies or the fudge pie every day for every meal and still feel good. Vegetables may not be as glamorous but you gotta eat ’em too.

When picking out recipes for my Cookbook Challenge I try to find recipes that I am 1) interested in eating (duh!) 2) somewhat different from what I would normally make and 3) that add to a balanced diet. I know that last one sounds a little ridiculous, but to be honest I am constantly doing food math equations in my head. I am not an RD (yet?) but I do like to eat a varied and healthy diet as much as possible. When figuring out what to eat for breakfast I often consider what will be for lunch and dinner. Will I be eating chicken? Am I having a salad? Should I lay off the toast for breakfast since I’ll be having a sandwich for lunch? Though I don’t always strike a perfect balance, by the end of the day I like to know that I’ve eaten the important categories in close to the right amounts.

IMG_1379 While I do love many vegetables, they can be easy to leave out of a meal or daily diet plan (for the reasons mentioned above – veggies just aren’t as seductive as bread, cheese, and chocolate). Carrots haven’t always been my favorite, but recently I have come to enjoy them, especially when roasted. Roasting them (like roasting meat) helps caramelize them, turning the crunchy orange sticks into soft and golden-brown carrot fries. This recipe gives them a similar softness and sweetness with the aid of ginger ale. Though the ginger flavor isn’t super strong (perhaps it depends on the brand of ginger ale you pick – next time I might add some fresh ginger too) these carrots are luscious and beautiful as a side dish (I served them alongside the roasted pork. Their bright color might just be enough to catch your eye on Pinterest despite the other tempting options. The recipe comes from a beautiful book out of South Africa. A family friend of ours went there as a Rotary Scholar and helped to write this cookbook with two other young American women and the South African women who farmed there.

Ginger Ale Carrots

7 large carrots, cut in sticks 1/4-1/2 inch thick

2 T. unsalted butter

heavy pinch of salt

1 cup ginger ale

1/2 tsp.-1 tsp. chili powder

1 T. chopped parsley

Heat a sauce pan or large skillet over medium heat and add carrots, butter, salt, and ginger ale. cover and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture is simmering, reduce the heat to low and cook for five minutes. Remove the lid, add the chili powder according to your taste, and increase the heat to high. Allow the ginger ale to reduce to a glaze, stirring frequently for another four to five minutes, or until carrots reach desired tenderness. Pour into a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

IMG_1390Another cookbook full of beautiful vegetable recipes is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Famous for his restaurants in London, UK, this particular book is full of vegetarian fare, but with plenty of Pinterest drool-worthy recipes. I had a hard time picking just one recipe to make from it so I opted for two different noodle salads. Both include a tasty assortment of vegetables and/or herbs that will have you forgetting you’re even eating vegetables. They too would make a lovely side dish or a lighter main meal.

The first has all the flavors of summer and would make a lovely summer meal because it can be served cold and made ahead of time. Soba noodles with eggplant and mango has a nice sweetness, saltiness, and tang plus plenty of fresh herbs for a flavorful, summery taste.

IMG_0794The second recipe is one I have easily skipped in the table of contents many times simply because I didn’t recognize what it was. This dish is called Mee goreng and is apparently a popular Malaysian street food. It is relatively quick to prepare, simple, yet flavorful. I left out or substituted a few of the ingredients simply because I couldn’t find them, but the main flavors are there. I served this dish hot, though I’m sure it would be equally delicious leftover cold the next day.

IMG_1389IMG_0792Though the poor lighting doesn’t show it (I need to get better at my food photography skills!) these salads are made with two different types of noodles. I have included a photo of the packages below so you can get an idea what to look for if you aren’t familiar with different types of noodles. Soba noodles are made with buckwheat (and often wheat as well though gluten free 100% buckwheat ones are available) and the Mee goreng is made with fresh egg noodles (not to be confused with dried egg noodles – lo mein is more what you’re looking for here).

IMG_1398Both noodles have a nice chew to them and take on any flavors you put on them (though the buckwheat has more of a nutty flavor that some people don’t like).

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1/2 cup rice wine or rice vinegar

3 T. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 cup canola oil

2 eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice

8 oz. soba noodles

1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced

1.5 cups basil leaves, chopped (Thai basil if you can, but in smaller amounts)

2.5 cups cilantro leaves, chopped

Start by preparing the dressing. Dissolving the sugar and salt in the rice vinegar either by warming it slightly on the stove or in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly. Finish the dressing by adding the garlic, sesame oil, and lime to the vinegar mixture.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium and shallow-fry the eggplant in batches, flipping the pieces as they brown. Remove to a colander, sprinkle with a bit of salt and let sit to drain.

Bring a medium saucepan to a boil and add salt. Cook the soba noodles according to the packaging, drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Combine the noodles, dressing (you may not need it all), eggplant, mango and fresh herbs. Toss and serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

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Mee Goreng

adapted from Plenty

2 T. canola oil

1/2 onion, diced

14 oz. firm tofu, drained and squeezed gently dry

4 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 oz. bok choy, cut into large chunks

9 oz. fresh egg noodles such as Nasoya

1.5 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 T. reduced sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup water

Set a wok or a large pan on medium heat with the canola oil. Once hot, add the onion and saute for a minute or so to soften. Meanwhile cut the tofu into 1/2 inch strips. Add the tofu and green beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to give the tofu some color. Stir gently so as not to break up the tofu too much.

Next add the bok choy. Once wilted, add the noodles (you will not boil them before) and spread them out carefully using tongs. You want the noodles to get a lot of heat, almost to fry. Mix gently, cooking the noodles for about 2 minutes. Now add the spices, soy sauce and water and cook until the noodles are soft, carefully scraping the bottom to keep the noodles from sticking too much. Taste, adjust to taste with more soy sauce, hot sauce, or water and serve.

Tip: The noodles will clump together a little if you don’t help to break them up. I cut the noodles in half with a knife before adding them to the skillet since I found them to be particularly long. I found this helped with the clumping a little.

Happy vegetable eating!

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Post 103 – Thai Red Curry or Things my mother taught me

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It is my mom who taught me to love color. Thanks to her, bright splashes of blues, greens, purples, and oranges or swirls and stripes of different hues often catch my attention. Mom is a quilter and the quilts she has made over the years range from beautiful seasonal-inspired designs to teddy bears and rainbows (no really – my sister’s quilt was a rainbow log cabin design and mine was based on fabric with teddy bears on it).

Besides that Mom has been a teacher for over twenty years. The colorful pins, earrings, and necklaces that she wore to school when I was growing up, seemingly to entertain her young students, were really because she enjoyed the colorful accessories herself. Mom also wore her fair share of, ahem, we’ll call them creative teacher sweaters, many of which probably inspired the ugly Christmas sweater parties people have today (sorry Mom). Mom taught by example and the colors she wore and the fabric she spun into quilts taught me all I needed to know about color.

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My mom also taught me to never follow a recipe twice. Actually she might have taught me to never follow a recipe. I resisted for years, but now unfortunately I think I’ve picked up on this particular habit. Oh that says 2 tablespoons of sugar. I think it really means eyeball 2 tablespoons or maybe don’t worry about measuring at all and it’ll come out just fine!

This explains why sometimes the recipes I give here can be a little bit vague. I can’t promise the accuracy of this one. You can thank my mother.

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Now when making recipes I am free to experiment (in most cases) and think outside the pages of the recipe. I start my dish based on a few recipes that I’ve researched ahead of time, but often I throw all caution to the wind and add whatever the heck I want.

This particular dish was inspired by a meal I enjoyed this weekend at a Thai restaurant. It was also inspired by all this snow! The warm and bright colors will brighten up all that white stuff outside and the smooth creamy coconut milk and curry will take the chill off your cheeks when you come in from the cold. This isn’t the American comfort food of yore, but it will certainly make you quite cozy in this winter weather.

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Mom also taught me to be grateful (and with all this snow I am reminded of how very grateful I am!). Especially when you are feeling down or bored, remembering all the wonderful things that you have can give you some perspective. (However, I don’t recommend using social media to soothe your sad soul or you will likely find yourself comparing your life to the glamorous snapshots of all your friends and acquaintances. I speak from experience, my friends.) On this snowy day in Boston (wait are those more flakes I see coming down right now?!) I am grateful for so many things, my wonderful mother included.

Thai Red Curry with Basil and Tofu

As with many recipes you can certainly substitute and play around with the ingredients. Change the vegetables, switch the tofu out for chicken, swap soy sauce for the fish sauce. Or better yet don’t even follow the recipe!

1 14-oz can coconut milk (I used full fat, but you can try light)

2-3 T. Thai red curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand)

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce)

1-2 T. brown sugar

1 acorn squash

1 red pepper

1 zucchini

1 14-oz package of firm tofu

Fresh basil (Thai basil if possible)

splash of lime juice

Start by prepping your vegetables. Peel and remove the seeds from the squash and dice into 1-inch cubes, cut the zucchini into half moons, and dice the pepper as small or big as you like, keeping the pieces even so they cook at the same rate. In a large saucepan or cast iron skillet dump your first six ingredients – coconut milk through the squash. Over medium heat bring to a gentle simmer, lower the heat and cover the pan. Depending on how well done you like your vegetables you can add the zucchini and pepper and at this point too. Or you can let the squash get a head start and add the other vegetables after about 10 minutes of cooking. Drain your tofu and gently squeeze to remove excess liquid. Dice and add to pan with the other vegetables. Simmer, covered on low for another 10-15 minutes or until the tofu is warmed through and the vegetables reach your preferred doneness level. Garnish with a splash of lime juice and fresh basil. Serve over rice.

If you are making this with chicken, you can add the chicken pieces in raw – just make sure to let it cook long enough to cook the chicken all the way. With shrimp add 3-4 minutes toward the end as you don’t want the shrimp to get too tough.

Enjoy and stay warm!

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Post 77 – Coconut Curry Chicken

I love going out to eat. I love the wonderful flavors and new dishes you can find when leaving your home and I love not having to clean up afterward. Nonetheless sometimes a Saturday night in with take-out can be just as nice after a long (or short) week. Get comfy, wear what you like, and just relax on the couch when you’re done (and hope someone else will clean the kitchen – 😀 ).

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This Coconut Curry Chicken tastes like it came from your favorite Thai restaurant, yet it takes so little time and effort to prepare at home. I love Thai and Indian food, but too often when I see recipes that call for curry powder, I rule it out because I don’t have it in my spice cabinet. Turns out actually I do. I stumbled upon a recipe explaining that curry is simply a term for many variations of a spice blend, one that you can easily make at home if you already have all of the spices. The coconut milk adds a wonderful richness and its own unique flavor and the spice blend takes care of the rest. Then you just toss in your protein (chicken, shrimp or tofu would all be equally delicious) and whatever veggies you want and let it simmer away until everything is cooked. This recipe also happens to be gluten free and can easily be made vegan by switching to tofu. Delicious, easy, and adaptable always make for a great recipe.

Don’t be intimidated by what seems like a long list of ingredients. If you’re really lazy you can just buy “curry powder” and add it to your liking, or follow this recipe to make your own.

Serve over rice to soak up all that yummy sauce!

Coconut Curry Chicken

adapted from Simply Recipes

1 can coconut milk, light or regular depending on preference

3/4 lb. chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

Mixed vegetables – I used the following:

1 potato, washed and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups chopped kale

fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced

(could also try with peppers, onions, snow peas, mushrooms)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. coriander

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

dash of allspice

1/2 tsp. turmeric

3/4 tsp. salt

a few grinds of black pepper

1 cup (low-sodium) chicken or vegetable broth

cilantro, for garnish

 

Start by prepping all of your ingredients, though you can also easily do this in the process of the cooking. Chop your chicken, carrots, potato, ginger, and kale. The main thing is to cut the potatoes and carrots the same size so they cook at the same rate, and not too big so that they don’t take too long to cook. Measure your spices into a small bowl and mix.

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Get out your favorite skillet – I used my new cast iron one – and heat over medium. At this point you can basically throw everything in and bring it to a very slight boil, before turning it down to simmer and letting it cook for about 20 minutes or until your chicken is cooked through and your potatoes and carrots are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more broth if you want to thin it out or even water if the flavors are too strong for you.

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Serve over hot rice and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!

Post 71 – Peanut Butter Tofu Stir Fry

Now I know what you’re thinking – Peanut butter and tofu? Yuck! So maybe you’re not into tofu, but really why not? If it’s a texture issue then I totally understand. If it’s a flavor issue, that is a whole other story – tofu can be any flavor you want! If you can’t get over the idea of eating tofu and peanut butter together than fine. Just think of this dish as a Thai peanut sauce served over your favorite meat and veggies.

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The first time I remember making the original version of this dish I was headed to a concert in Yellow Springs with my sister, Chelsea. I don’t remember what concert or how long ago it was, but I do remember the warm feeling of summertime happiness and the delicious peanut butter noodles with veggies that would be our picnic dinner.

Now thanks to Sam’s love for peanut butter and my wonderful influence exposing him to so many new foods, (Tofu! Who would have thought?) this recipe has morphed into one of our go-to dinners. We cook up a pot of brown rice and serve it up with this peanut buttery comfort food. The best part – this recipe is totally adaptable. Use whatever veggies you want, sub out cooked chicken for the tofu, and even switch out honey for the brown sugar if you so choose. Whatever you may change, maybe you’ll find this dish makes it into your menu rotation.

Peanut Butter Tofu Stir Fry

Adapted from Ellie Krieger

1 14-oz package extra firm tofu

your choice of veggies (asparagus, onions, bell pepper, mushroom, carrots, snow peas, broccoli)

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (or crunchy if you’re into that)

1/4 – 1/3 cup soy sauce (to taste, depending on saltiness of PB)

1/3 – 1/2 cup warm water (again, to taste and depending on consistency of PB)

2 T. rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)

2 T. brown sugar

1 inch fresh ginger (or more) minced or grated

juice of 1/2 a lime

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

To start, prep your veggies by chopping them into even sizes. We used asparagus, carrots, and mushrooms though we used to always use onions and red bell peppers. Keep in mind the texture of the vegetables when choosing what size to cut. For example carrots are crunchier than mushrooms so they will take longer to cook. If you are using both carrots and mushrooms, consider cutting the carrots smaller, add them to the pan to saute first, or enjoy the extra crunch!

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Heat a large skillet over medium heat with a splash of canola oil. When hot, add veggies and cook, stirring every now and then until almost to your desired tenderness. They will cook longer when the tofu and sauce is added so unless you like soggy veggies, don’t cook them too long. You can add them one at a time if you need one to cook longer or add them all at once.

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While the veggies are cooking, drain, lightly squeeze and cube your tofu.

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Prepare the sauce by mixing peanut butter, soy sauce, water (start with the minimum and add more later if needed), vinegar, brown sugar, fresh ginger, lime juice, and crushed red pepper flakes. When the veggies are cooked to your liking, add cubed tofu and cook for a few minutes, stirring every now and then, until the tofu is warmed through, about 5 minutes.

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Peanut butter sauce with fresh ginger! Yum!

Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in your peanut butter sauce. Cook for just a few minutes, just long enough that the sauce starts to bubble. If it is too thick add additional water, carefully stirring it in so as not to splash. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

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Post 42 – There’s More to Life Than Food

Happy Friday. I hope you get to relax this Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping to bake up some nice peach cobbler, maybe see friends, and go blueberry picking with Sam. The cats are hoping to take it easy.

Lewis the cat

Lewis the cat

Magellan wants to relax in the sink.

Magellan in the sink.

Have I told you that I have GERD, also known as acid reflux?

It’s kind of embarrassing and I just developed it in the past year so I don’t talk about it much, but I mention it now because it has literally caused me a lot of pain this past week. Everything, everything has been setting off my symptoms and my “Erin Eating Everything” philosophy has turned into Erin eating a very limited diet in small portions and not too late at night.

Sigh.

As much as I love to eat, I am starting to develop a new motto –

There’s more to life than food.

When you work with food, it’s hard not to spend all your time thinking about it and planning for it, but I need to keep reminding myself there are other ways to entertain oneself other than eating or spending time in the kitchen. The problem is the kitchen is the place where I am at home, where I am my best self. My mind is focused, my hands are working, and the rhythm is right.

More than that, being in the kitchen stimulates all the senses. My eyes absorb the natural beauty of colorful foods and dishes.

Purple potatoes

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Orange carrots

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Red onions (in this case pickled)

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A colorful medley of vegetables

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My nose knows by the aromas that waft from the pans when to turn the heat down and when to turn it up. My ears listen for the bubble of the boiling pot, the sizzle of melting cheese or onions hitting the hot oil. My hands are touching all the time, squeezing for freshness or firmness or doneness. My taste buds, of course, get the final say.

Yet I keep trying to tell myself –

There’s more to life than food.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from food writer M.F.K. Fisher:

“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? […] The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”

When I write about food, I write about more than just food. I write about gratitude, triumph, sadness, and the amazing people that make up this world, but somehow it always comes back to food.
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Post 20 – Sesame Tofu Noodles

Moving is a funny thing. We packed up all of our stuff in a bunch of boxes and bags (we have a lot of stuff!), put it in a truck, drove across town, and took all of the same stuff out of the truck and eventually out of the boxes. Why did we move again?

Friday was a long night. On the plus side we got to put our crazy Tetris-style truck-packing skills to the test (high points for the close fit, low points for speed) and let me just say it took serious strategy to load it all so that everything fit. Luckily we made it out of our old apartment just in time for the eight-man cleaning crew to cover up all the holes we’d poked in the walls and hide the cats’ wall scratches.

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I won’t bore you with the details of moving, but with the help of a few strong friends, we moved into our new apartment much quicker than we moved out of the old one. To temporarily quiet our sore moving muscles, we took ourselves out to dinner Saturday night followed by ice cream, using the last of our waning energy to explore our new neighborhood on foot. When the Sunday sun came through our windows, we finally got down to the business of unpacking and settling in.

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I, of course, started with the kitchen. Though not everything found an immediate home, I found some ways to decorate and store some of my odd appliances thanks to Sam’s creativity, and I soon had things in working order in time to cook some tasty food for dinner.

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For the first meal cooked at our new home, we wanted something cool and refreshing because it had been a wicked hot weekend. This noodle salad is exactly that, though if it is too hot, you may not be excited about chopping. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find some pre-chopped veggies. If not, you should probably just grab a cold beer and think through your best options. It’ll help you cool off.

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This recipe comes from Whole Foods, though I tweak it a little. While their recipe calls for packaged baked tofu, I prefer to save money and bake my own tofu following this recipe. Just be careful to keep an eye on it as the sugar in the marinade tends to burn. If you make your own tofu and use extra veggies this makes a very large salad that would work well for a picnic, a potluck, or just dinner for a few nights.

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Sesame Tofu Noodles

Adapted from Whole Foods

1/2 cup reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

4 T. toasted sesame seeds (really good, but optional. I forgot them for this round)

2 T. honey or brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 + 1/2 T. sesame oil

sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 lb. soba or rice noodles

1 bunch thinly sliced green onions

2 small carrots, thinly sliced or shredded (I sliced mine thin and cooked them briefly for less crunch)

1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 6-oz package baked tofu cut in 1-inch cubes or baked tofu (see above)

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

 

Whisk together soy sauce, sesame seeds, honey, garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes in a small glass. Prepare the tofu marinade if baking your own and follow the directions for the recipe.

While the tofu bakes, put a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Slice and chop all of your veggies. When water boils, cook noodles according to package directions – about 6-8 minutes for soba. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss noodles with veggies, soy sauce mixture, and tofu. Serve immediately or refrigerate for another time.