Category Archives: Recipes

Kale, kitties and caterpillars…

Last weekend we headed down to Bloomington, where Laurent has some veggies planted. Don’t ask why we couldn’t plant them right here in Chicago. It has proven to be harder to get down to Bloomington than we thought it was going to. You know, life just gets in the way. In my mind it is already Halloween, with all the weekends planned up the fall. So much for spontaneity!  Needless to say, the two other couples Laurent planted the garden with hadn’t made it down much either.

We were greeted with weeds as tall as the tomato plants and entire zucchini plants decimated by these evil looking white armored beetle bugs. Jerks!  That’s ok, I don’t like zucchini anyways!  The ones that did survive could easily yield a half dozen loaves of zucchini bread (with chocolate chips of course).  We were too overwhelmed to pull weeds; they grow back anyways, what’s the point? So we surveyed the rest of the plots. The banana peppers were looking good. They always remind me of my grandma. She used to pickle them and then eat them straight out of the jar, even the spicy ones. The Brussels sprouts were just starting to get little nubs on them.  I remember studying a Brussels sprout plant in my grandma’s garden for a science project in 7th grade; noting the activity of the insects whose entire world was this plant.  Gardens always remind me of my grandma. I remember picking lettuce straight out of her garden, washing it and eating it with just a little white vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.  She used to make whistles out of the scallion greens by just snipping them and blowing into them. I don’t know if I ever mastered that skill. My sister and I would spend endless hours shelling beans in the back yard, amazed by the kaleidoscope of colors the inside beans presented to us. The speckled purple ones were my favorites. Yup, that was the first tangent of this post! Back to this garden.  Pickles were larger than the garlicky monsters in a Jewish deli. We couldn’t find the beets anywhere. There were enough tomato plants to put Ragu out of business! I better find a good tomato sauce recipe fast. Actually one more little tangent about my grandma. Tangents about grandmas are totally acceptable. You wouldn’t want to cut me off now, would you? My grandma actually makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world and she’s not even Italian. She’s Serbian. She walked me through it recently. Two of her secrets are bacon fat, for flavor, and shredded zucchini for texture and nutrition. Maybe I should have brought one of those monsters home! Hope I remember her instructions when we are up to our ears in tomatoes.

The veggies I was most excited about were the chard, kale and shiso. The rainbow chard was untouched by those evil beetles, so we brought it home and sautéed it up with some garlic, shallots and mushrooms. Easy tasty healthy dinner. That’s all I really need.

I love exotic flavors. You can keep your oregano and sage, give me shiso. Shiso is also known as Perilla and is sometimes called Japanese basil. It is a member of the mint family and its flavor is lemony, grassy and fresh. Although it is very distinct, I think it is subtle at the same time. (Just like me! Ha!) When you go to a Vietnamese restaurant and order any of the dishes that allow you to “roll your own” spring rolls, they will bring a platter of sprouts and herbs and noodles. Shiso is usually one of those herbs. My favorite dish to do this with is #13 Bo Nuong Cuon Banh Trang at Hai Yen on Argyle Street.  You can also order “Beef Seven Ways” there. Do it!

This is a nice clear pic so you can see what shiso looks like.

Ok, back to shiso. We harvested a bunch of this lovely fragrant herb and on the way home I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I had used some before to make a lemongrass shiso syrup for my start up syrup company. I am hoping to have Paul at the Whistler try it in cocktails. But what else could I do with it. We couldn’t eat that many spring rolls in one sitting. It is called Japanese basil so I decided to make pesto with it.  I wanted to make it Asiany, but thought it would be good in a more traditional version. I decided to make two versions, one with almonds and shallots and one with ginger, scallions and sesame oil. I think both would be excellent on pasta, either angel hair or buckwheat depending which version you were using. It would also give a fresh spin on fish, choosing your sides to reflect either an Asian influence like bok choy and shitake or a more Italian flair like eggplant and spinach.  You can buy shiso at the Asian grocery store on Argyle.  For the pesto, just throw everything in the Cuisinart and blend until smooth-ish. Unless you soak the almonds, or use sliced almonds, the pesto will be a little chunky, but I love texture.

This is my artsy fartsy picture of shiso.

Shiso Pesto Version 1

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

½ shallot

3 Tbl almonds

½ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Shiso Pesto Version 2

1 ½ cups shiso leaves

2 scallions, rough chopped

3 tsp ginger, rough chopped

2 Tbl almonds

1/3 cup sesame oil

¼ cup olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Few shakes of white pepper

Ok, We’re not done cooking here yet. I haven’t even got to the kale. I love kale. If I hadn’t named this blog “that’s not lettuce”, I would have named it “kale is your friend”. I discovered kale later in life, although I do remember wearing a kale garnish as a brooch once in a younger drunken state!  Now I can’t get enough of it. Like I said, those evil beetles hadn’t touched my beloved kale, so we harvested away. Laurent’s idea of harvesting, though, was pulling the entire plant out of the ground and taking it with us! Ok, that worked. It seems like Ozzie, one of our cats loved the kale as much as I do. He wouldn’t stop trying to eat it.

Bad cat!

Another entity or should I say entities that loved the kale as much as me and Ozzie were about two dozen caterpillars, which we found as we plucked the leaves from the stalks and triple washed them. First I thought they were inch worms, but when they didn’t get all slinky like on me, I figured it out. I don’t think these were “good guys” and got kind of freaked out seeing two dozen of them crawling around in my sink. If anything, it proved the kale was organic.

Bad caterpillar!

Now we had a gigantic bowl of kale. What were we going to do with it? I remember both Richard and Nicole, who I work with, singing the praises of kale chips. So that is what we did. It was super easy and now we have a big Ziploc of a super healthy addictive snack. I’m surprised it actually even accumulated, as we ate at least one whole cookie sheet as soon as it cooled down. Who needs potato chips? (Unless they are Tyrrells sea salt and black pepper, which I ate an entire bag of the other day. Shhhhh. Let’s hope Laurent skips reading this post!)  All you do is toss the kale with a little olive oil and sea salt, lay it on a cookie sheet and bake it in an oven preheated to 350° for about 10 minutes. Don’t crowd it. It will steam instead of bake if you do. Be careful, it will burn, but you also don’t want to pull it out too early, or it will be too chewy. I had a blast trying different spices and salts on it. My favorite was a little bit of smoked paprika. Coming in a close second was a Japanese smoked salt.  I love smoky flavors, as much as I love kale.

So, that was our little mini Bloomington harvest. We did pick squash blossoms also, but I don’t think I did them justice. I’ll have to get some pointers for the next attempt. I’ll leave you with a picture of them, as they were prettier than they tasted.


Filed under Recipes, road trips

More modified modernized Chinese Cuisine…Aka…What I brought to Landi’s 4th of July party

I don’t know when the last time I ate Chinese food  in a restaurant was. Actually I take that back. We ate at Lao Shanghai last night and it was good, very good. I had not had the same experience at Lao Beijing, where they served tortillas with the Beijing Duck. Tortillas! This was not supposed to be fusion food for Pete’s sake. Lao means “old” in Chinese, “classic”.  We go out for Thai food and Vietnamese food a lot, but rarely do we go out for Chinese food. Laurent being from Taiwan and then living in LA and San Fran during his formative years is not so impressed with the Chinese food in Chicago. He complains that it is mostly old school Cantonese which tends to be heavy and goopy. My experience with Chinese food before I met Laurent was chop suey, egg foo young and bad fried rice at Golden Dragon. (Laurent deemed it inedible when I took him there.) He also informed me that Chop Suey means miscellaneous leftovers, or scraps! Not something you really want to order at a restaurant and it is prevalent on Chinese menus here in Chicago. He also said that he had no clue what egg foo young was!

With the slim pickings for good Chinese food in Chicago, we started creating our own.  We modernized old school classics like Ma Po Tofu and Ants Climbing up a Tree, (which is much more appetizing than it sounds! It is so named as the ground pork on top of the cellophane noodles looks like ants climbing on tree branches.) by replacing ground pork with diced tofu and lightening up the sauce.  Our version of congee, classically a peasant dish consisting of a tiny bit of rice and watered down pork stock, thousand year old eggs and scallions tastes nothing like the MSG laden versions in restaurants.  It took me years before I would even taste it when Laurent made it.  It is now my “go to” comfort food when I am sick. Made with a rich homemade chicken stock and lots of ginger, it is the perfect cold buster.  Again, we skip the pork and double up on the ginger, although we do leave in the thousand year old eggs, as I have developed a taste for them.  Don’t ask; Google it. I am not even going to provide a link because you probably won’t associate with me after you do read about them. They are not as gross as they sound. It’s really more of a texture and visual thing to get used to. Now stinky tofu, that’s another story. I spit that out and am traumatized forever from it. It may smell like a good stinky taleggio, but trust me; it does not taste like one, AT ALL! Shudder! Even Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain can’t handle it. So there.

To figure out how to make these classic dishes, we have a collection of very simple cookbooks from the Wei-Chun Cooking School in Taiwan which are written in both Chinese and English The recipes are easy and clearly written, at least Laurent says the Chinese part are. In all fairness, the English translation is not that bad, I can figure out what “crash into powder and cut into slanting slices” means. The directions are concise and no nonsense, very Chinese.

Don't ask me why it is called Chinese Salad Dressing. Bad translation?

While we may not ever attempt Intestine Rings on Green Onion Fingers or Orchid Ham, even though the picture is quite “beautiful”, we have perfected and modernized Spicy Cold Chicken Noodles. It’s the perfect dish to bring to a potluck in the summer, just ask our friends. They are probably sick of it by now.

You only need a few special ingredients for this dish and you could probably make it without them. It would definitely change the flavor, as the ingredients are very distinct tasting, but, you know what, “whatever”. You will have created a new dish and not known what it should have tasted like, so it’s all good! These “exotic” ingredients are sesame paste and Szechwan peppercorns. I love sesame; Sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame candy. (Damn I should have gotten some sesame candy when I was at the Asian grocery store. It’s like peanut brittle, but better.) You may be saying “tahini is sesame paste, could I just use that?” Yes, you could. I prefer the Chinese sesame paste, though, as it is roasted. Because it is made from roasted sesame seeds, the flavor is deeper, richer and more intense, just like I like it. You know I am not much for subtle. The other ingredient that will give this dish a very distinct flavor is Szechwan peppercorns. I know no substitute for them, although I have used Grains of Paradise before, not that you can find that in the McCormick Spice Rack at The Jewel either!  The recipe calls for Szechwan peppercorn powder which I could not find for the life of me in my pantry or at Asian market. I just ended up crushing the whole peppercorns with a knife steel. I prefer the powder, though, as it more evenly distributes the distinct flavor.  We also use one other specialty ingredient, which is a roasted chili flake. The only English writing on it says Hot and Spicy Sauce; not so descriptive.  It’s sort of scary, as there are peanuts in it too, but they are not listed anywhere on the ingredient list. I do put out the warning when I use this condiment. The only way I find it every time in the store is by the weird black and white picture of the solemn Chinese woman on the front! I like it because it is pure roasted chili flavor. I don’t like the vinegary tang of Sriracha or Tabasco in this application. You can use regular chili flakes or some sort of dried chili powder also.

Beware of the unmarked peanuts lurking inside.

So, finally, here is the recipe, after yet another tangent filled blog post.

The amounts on the veggies are guesstimates. Use as much or as little as you like. There is plenty of sauce. Feel free to sub veggies, use different noodles, sub tahini, use veg stock, however you feel like altering it. Make it yours; we made it ours.

This low brow dish can be plated to look fancy shmancy.

Spicy Cold Chicken Noodles

(section 1)

3-4 oz soba noodles

2 chicken breasts

2 cups of mung bean sprouts

1 English cucumber, peeled

½ bunch of watercress leaves, picked from the main stems

2 carrots, peeled

Small red pepper

2 cups snow pea pods or green beans

(section 2)

3 Tbl minced green onion

2 Tbl minced ginger

1 Tbl minced garlic

2/3 cup cold chicken stock

5 Tbl soy sauce

3 Tbl and 2 tsp sesame paste

3 Tbl sesame oil

2 Tbl lime juice

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp chili paste (depending on what you are using, you may want to start lower and ramp up!)

1 tsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns (reduce to ¾ tsp if you find the powder)

1 ½ Tbl white vinegar

½ tsp salt

Boil the noodles until cooked, drain and rinse under cold water, drain and pat dry.

Coat with a little sesame oil, so they don’t stick together.

Add chicken to boiling water and poach for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Let cool and shred.

Julienne the carrots and cucumber on a mandolin.

Thinly slice the red pepper and snow pea pods on the bias

Mix all the ingredients in section two together to make the sauce. Adjust taste as needed.

Toss together the noodles, veggies and chicken.

Toss with the sauce.

Garnish with sliced green onions or mint or cilantro.

Notes:  The noodles tend to soak up the sauce, so I wouldn’t toss it until you are almost ready to serve it. You may want to use thinly sliced grilled chicken or pulled roasted chicken. The poached chicken has a distinct texture that may take some getting used to.

Thanks for playing “Yen Can Cook” and have a nice day.


Filed under Recipes

My ‘Ode to Cold Brewed Iced Coffee…

Warning: This is going to be a loooong post, as I am crazy passionate about cold brewed iced coffee. Plus it was written while jacked up on cold brew, which will explain some but not all of the rambling! But you will be rewarded with a recipe, a source for instant cold brew, and a list of places that serve it in Chicago. As of yesterday, it ‘tis the season for iced coffee here in Chicago.  So, grab a cold brew, settle in and read on…..

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee….is there any other way? That is a rhetorical question. Or if you insist on the answer, it is “no”. Wait, “NO!” There is no other way to make or drink iced coffee, besides cold brew. I was converted a few years ago at the café. One of our cooks, Cara, said that Stubbs Coffee (no longer in business) made cold brewed iced coffee and it was a million times better than coffee that was hot brewed and cooled down. I was like “Ya, right.”  Rachel, our baker, concurred with Cara and vouched for how amazing it was. Well, Rachel has amazing taste in food and drink and drinks a TON of iced coffee, so I figured I better go check out this cold brew. Cara and Rachel were right. It was absolutely amazing. It reminded me of drinking wine.  You could taste the terroir, the “sense of place”, and all the nuances of the bean.  It tasted of chocolate, of blueberries, of caramel. There was no bitterness, only richness and depth of flavor. It was a completely different animal. I think an amazing tasting would be to cold brew two or three coffees from different origins and taste the nuances. I am confident that they would taste completely different.

It turns out that cold brewed iced coffee is less acidic than regular coffee.  It has 60% less acid than hot brewed coffee. Why, I don’t know. That might be a question for Neil or Jake at Crop to Cup. Want to weight in here guys?  Because of this fact, it is the only coffee I can drink. I had to ironically give up coffee when I owned the café, as the acid was killing my stomach and had me doubled over in pain; not conducive to a morning rush at all.

It also happens that “cold brew”, which I am now officially shortening it to, has more caffeine than regular coffee.  Tangent- I guess the grammatically correct way of describing this method of brewing coffee would be cold brewed iced coffee. But since when am I ever grammatically correct? I incorrectly and some would say obnoxiously call it “cold brew ice coffee”, dropping the “ed” on brewed and on iced. I overheard someone say how it was their pet peeve when people said “ice coffee” That is should be “iced coffee”. Whatever. Hope they don’t read this blog! They probably don’t. Ok, back on track. Cold brew has a ton more caffeine in it. Again, why, I don’t know? Jake? Neil? I can attest to this in a few ways. #1- that even Rachel, the caffeinated chef, couldn’t drink it after 3:00. Wow! Potent stuff! #2 – it gets me so jacked up, it is not even funny. I am talking head buzzing, heart pounding, talk a mile a minute, jacked up.  Maybe it is because I don’t drink it that often, I don’t know, (Neil? Jake?)  But watch out when I do. I end up writing super long blog posts that barely stay on subject! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Jeff, if you are reading this, you should not drink three of these either!

Now, the big question is, where do you get this amazing drug?  That’s the hard part, at least in Chicago it is.  Not many places cold brew ice coffee. Why? Because it is time consuming, a batch needs to “steep” for 12-24 hours, it takes up a lot of room, we used to have six eight quart containers steeping at one time at the café, and your yield is half that of hot brewed coffee, which equals double the food cost. So, if you do find it somewhere, be ready for a higher price tag. Believe me, it is worth it. Once you taste it, you will seek it out and never go back to the regular stuff, or iced Americanos for that matter; just not the same.  It’s funny, I love Chicago, but it is so behind in so many ways. We are finally catching onto the coffee culture, but cold brew, not so much yet. Cold brew is a given in places like Austin (that place is sooo cool.) and Seattle and Portland. You can also find it many places in LA and NY. It’s funny, when I ask if places cold brew, they usually look at me funny, which either means “Yes, of course, is there any other way?” Or”What the hell does that mean? “

Ice Coffee at Chava Cafe

Ok, where to get it in Chicago.

Café Asado – This is the best ice coffee I have found in Chicago. They roast their own beans and know what a good cup of coffee should taste like. And they are not in a hurry at all. Good coffee takes time, you know.

Floriole –  Everything they make tastes amazing and they do everything the right way. It doesn’t matter how long something takes to prepare at Floriole, just so it tastes good. Rachel is now baking and consuming cold brew at Floriole  🙂

Chava Café –  It is a super cool, modern café that serves amazing food, one of the partners was formerly from  Nomi. This is not your standard café fare. Whenever I head up north, I stop here for my fix.

Southport Grocery – Not only do they sell lots of great local artisan products and serve a great breakfast and lunch, they also make cold brew. Get one of their amazing chocolate toffee scones to go with it. You won’t be sorry.

Buzz Killer Espresso –  They feature a rotating roster of bean roasters from all over. Cool looking shop, They also brew Rishi tea also (my fave). But no decaf in sight! I guess hipsters don’t drink decaf anyways!

The Grind – Always packed coffee shop in Lincoln Square that also serves pastries from local businesses.  I have been stopping here on my way to work. My boss can see it is my eyes when I have sucked down one of their potent cold brews. And then I clean the entire shop while chattering away the entire time. (She has learned to block me out!)

Coffee Studio – Andersonville’s modern coffee shop that is serious about their coffee drinks. They were in Bon Appetit touted as one of the best boutique coffee shops. Their cold brew was seriously excellent. Great rich flavor. It is what cold brew is all about.

Miko’s Italian Ice– The little walk up windows in Bucktown and Logan Square cold brew their ice coffee and have been doing it that way for at least a decade. You can get an amazing Italian Ice here or a cold brew ice coffee.

Believe it or not, Caribou also cold brews! I have not had an ice coffee from there, as of yet, but my hubby told me about it. Nice to know if you are in a pinch.

The Knock Box in Humboldt Park used to cold brew. I don’t know why they stopped. It is a cute unpretentious café that makes for a great atmosphere for hanging out.

Places I wish had cold brew, Lovely Bakeshop, Star Coffee Lounge, and Ipsento. We use Ipsento’s beans. They roast them on site and I think they are one of the best roasters in town. They are not fancy or hip, but their coffee is damn good.

Please let me know if I missed anyplace. I would love to add places to my excel list!

Ok, I’m not done blogging yet! Here is where I tell you how to brew this wonder drug yourself!  It’s super easy. It is just messy and there is no instant gratification, as it takes 12-24 hours to steep. Now they sell a cold brew toddy maker for $30, but it is totally unnecessary. You need no special equipment at all to do this at home, except a strainer and some coffee filters. A French press makes it easier, but you don’t need one. I don’t have one.

Yes it is half decaf. Told you this stuff jacks me up!

Ok, here goes, dump 1 cup of coarse ground coffee into a container, pour in 4 cups of water, stir, let sit for 12-18 hours, filter through a coffee filter and strainer, pour over ice, enjoy!

Unstaged photo. I am just very messy.

Really, It is that easy.  I will say, it is very messy. The filtering process is not pretty. You get lots of silt. That is why I use a coffee filter in a strainer. You sort of have to stir it up. It is not a fast process. But you waited 18 hours for this damn coffee, you can wait a little longer! The yield for a 4 quart container is about 2 quarts, after filtering.

Alternate filtering method; double strainer

So how much does this cost to make at home. Ooohhh, I’m not so good at math, I’ll have to run the numbers by Laurent, the math whiz hubby, who counts in Chinese under his breath! It’s funny to listen to.  With Laurent’s fancy math, accounting for ice taking up 30% of your glass, etc., etc., home brewing ends up costing $1.00 per 16 oz glass. This is definitely not as cheap as hot brewed coffee, but cheaper than getting one out.

Oops, I drank half of it before I could take a picture.

Here is another alternative. Cold Brew concentrate from New Orleans.  New Orleans is king of cold brew ice coffee from way back when. Laurent was just there recently on business. I made him bring me some of this stuff home. I had read about it on the internet. It is cold brewed coffee and chicory. It comes in a container that lets you measure an ounce. It is the same type of container that is used to package gasoline additive or sanitizer, so don’t store them close to each other or you could make a fatal mistake one bleary eyed morning! This stuff is pretty good, not as good as freshly steeped cold brew, but not bad at all. And it’s not messy. And it is cheap. A 500 ml container is $5.50, plus shipping. The math whiz computed this to cost about .30 per 16 oz glass, if shipping cost $5.00.  Super cheap and not messy at all. Go for it!

Took it outside to the porch to enjoy.

So, this was my ‘ode to cold brew ice coffee. (It’s my ‘ode, I’ll grammatically slaughter the words however I like, thank you!) Really, give it a try. You won’t believe the difference. And now I’ve given you three ways to get your fix on.  You will become addicted, I promise.

Here is the info in an organized manner for you people who can’t follow my rambling! You’ll get the hang of it, as you read more of my blog. Or you’ll just nod and say “yes dear” like Laurent has learned to do!

Cold Brew Ice Coffee Recipe

(I usually triple the recipe)

1 cup coarsely ground coffee

4 cups water

Put coffee and water in container. Stir.

Let steep 18 hours, more or less.

Filter into clean container through a strainer and coffee filter or a French Press. May need to filter twice.


Go to and order your cold brew with chicory for easy breezy beautiful  instant iced coffee.


Stop by one of these fine establishments in Chicago.

Café Asado  – 1432 W. Irving Park – 773-661-6530

Floriole  –1220 W. Webster – 773-883-1313

Chava Café- 4656 N. Clark – 773-942-6763

Southport Grocery – 3552 N. Southport – 773-665-0100

Buzz Killer Espresso –1644 N. Damen – 773-366-8377

The Grind – 4613 N. Lincoln – 773-271-4482

Coffee Studio – 5628 N. Clark – 773-271-7881

Miko’s Italian Ice – 1846 N. Damen and 2234 N. Sacramento – 773-645-9664

Caribou Coffee – for locations

Have a great ice coffee season.


Filed under Cafes, Recipes

Quinoa Kick…..

Yes, I am on a quinoa kick. It started with having the breakfast quinoa in LA at Huckleberry Café. Then it moved onto my formulating a breakfast quinoa recipe. I have made Bruce Sherman’s bacon quinoa recipe from the November 2009 issue of Food and Wine. I am officially quinoa obsessed!  I have to make up for the years and years I lived without it.

Once we finally rolled out of bed this past weekend about 10:30, Laurent and I spent a good hour drinking tea and coffee on the couch before I realized I was starving… I was craving breakfast, even though it was noon. So…I racked my brain. We didn’t have any potatoes, but we had eggs. I had a “eureka moment” and thought we could have eggs over quinoa, similar to the dish I had at Huckleberry Café in LA in January. Oh, I was excited now. We barely had any food in the fridge, except for an eggplant that was at the end of its life, that for some odd reason I refused to make anything with, some green beans, a few leaves of chard hanging on in a big bowl of water, some lovely shiitake and  four eggs. Ok, I told Laurent let’s get busy making breakfast. I made quinoa; Laurent started chopping, dicing and julienning.

We heated up the cast iron skillet and we were in business. First ingredient into the sizzling skillet was some prosciutto we found in the back of the fridge that we had forgotten about. It’s cured. It lasts forever, right? Prosciutto is instant flavor. You just need a little bit and it wakens up any dish. It is bacon’s subtle cousin.

Then in went the shiitake mushrooms. Oh how I love shiitake. They are just so elegant and sophisticated, so much more nuanced than cremini. We threw in some garlic and green beans and then the chard.

That poor little eggplant still didn’t get used. I’m sorry little eggplant. Nothing personal. Oh boy was I excited now. I think I already said that, but the feeling was overwhelming once those veggies hit the skillet. This mix of a little bit of this and a little bit of that looked so good sizzling in the skillet. We stirred in some quinoa and we were in business.

Time to cook the eggs. I never thought cooking over easy eggs was that hard, until Laurent told me that it was so difficult to make them. Power of suggestion. I froze up and messed them up for the longest time. I also tend to play with them and poke and prod them before it is time to flip them, so they get mangled and stuck to the spatula. I just blocked out his little voice in my head. (Laurent also tends to mean “in a restaurant” when he says something. He just forgets to add that phrase.  I reminded him that I was making four eggs, not enough to feed a Sunday brunch crowd with an hour wait!) My eggs turned out just fine thank you.

Time to eat.

Oh boy… was good! It was full of an array of textures;  grainy quinoa, crunchy green beans, crackly prosciutto, tender cremini, ribbon-y chard, plus the runny yolk of the eggs. We of course said how great it was and then went on to pick it apart. A lovely game we play of how to make it better next time. Number one, the quinoa should be cooked with chicken stock to give it more flavor, or ok vegetarians, even vegetable stock would make it better, especially if you add some bacon to the pot! J The veggie mélange (oh how I love that word) needed some shallots added to the mix and some more garlic. The dish in LA used roasted garlic, which would be lovely, but who ever has that lying around the house for a lazy last-minute Sunday breakfast? This mélange also needed some fresh herbs, such as thyme, which is my all time favorite herb. This refined herb would go perfect with the sophisticated shiitake and the subtle prosciutto. So….you probably want the recipe now, right? Let’s call it quinoa scramble.  Use whatever you have in your fridge. Think of it as a delightful way to get rid of a few mushrooms, that knub of zucchini, or even a lonely little eggplant!

Quinoa Scramble

Serves 2

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups liquid, preferably chicken or vegetable stock (water in a pinch)

Handful of green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces

2 pieces of prosciutto or bacon, julienned

Handful of mushrooms, sliced

1 small shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

3 chard or kale leaves sliced into ribbons

Cook the quinoa in the stock for about 15 minutes or until absorbed and you see the tails.

Heat a cast iron skillet, or whatever kind of skillet you have, over medium heat . (Do not preheat Teflon too long, it’s toxic!)

Add a little olive oil to the pan.

Sauté prosciutto until almost crispy.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until starting to wilt, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and green beans and sauté about 5 minutes until green beans lose some of their crunch. And they are almost the texture that you like them.

Add the chard and sauté until wilted, about 3-4 minutes.

Mix in as much quinoa as you wish (You will have leftover quinoa)

Cook eggs to your liking.

Put the scramble on the plate, top it with the eggs.

Wah-lah…breakfast is served!


Filed under Recipes

Just for the halibut…….

Ok, I just had the most amazing dinner….at home. And boy was it easy, especially easy, since I didn’t make it! You know, we are always looking for quick, easy, healthy things to make for dinner, but we get stuck in a rut. For awhile, when I wasn’t working, I would go through magazines and cut out recipes I wanted to try and put them in a binder. I did this because I knew that once I looked through that Cooking Light or Eating Well, I was not going to remember what was in it and what looked so exciting to me. Also, leafing through six to ten magazines sounds romantic, but does not make for a quick dinner at all. I only did this for two months, though, so we were back in the same “what’s for dinner” boat.

We had just bought a ton of veggies, but I had no inspiration, so I asked Laurent to bring home some fish. He came home with the most beautiful halibut I have ever seen. It was pristine white, smelling of nothing but clean. The halibut cost $20 at Whole Foods, but was well worth it. That breaks down to $10 a person for a restaurant quality dinner.  We leisurely leafed through some magazines for inspiration, since Laurent had gotten off of work early. We came up with Broiled Tilapia with Frisee-Apple Salad and Mustard Parsley Sauce from the April issue of Cooking Light. Well, we had no tilapia, no parsley, no frisee, or any mint or sour cream, like the recipe called for, but that didn’t stop us!

It was time to get cooking.  Laurent brushed the halibut with olive oil and then salt and peppered it. He seared it and then broiled it for seven minutes. He said when he took it out, it still felt a little loose, and he was tempted to cook it a little longer, but resisted and just let it rest. Smart move.  He was probably remembering when he put the ribeye back in the oven “for just a minute more” and then kissed the perfect medium rare goodbye and the evil eye from me hello! The halibut was cooked perfectly. I don’t know if I have ever had a better piece of fish in my life. The halibut was moist and flaky. The taste was mild and pure ocean, clean, clean, clean.

The side veggie was choy, some sort of choy. Not bok choy, some other choy. The best choy I’ve ever tasted. I don’t even have a picture to show you because I was not planning this blog. And all I wanted to do was have a nice dinner. Once we took a bite, I said “I need to go get my camera, this is amazing.” My blog isn’t known for its amazing photos unfortunately, although I would love to change that. So, you got one picture, before I devoured my dinner!

Anyways….Laurent had gotten this choy at H Mart in Niles. You have to go there. It is a huge Asian Market with a mind-boggling array of beautiful exotic veggies, fish, seafood, a dozen kinds of kim chee, a food court, rice cookers, etc.  Laurent said the veggie choices were amazing. He wants to get fresh bamboo next time and some semi dried sliced octopus. So this member of the choy family had smaller, greener more texture-y leaves than bok choy and greener smaller stems, which I like. I don’t love the watery cabbage-y stems of bok choy. Give me green and leafy any day. So Laurent just sautéed the choy with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. That was it. That is all this whole dinner took, was olive oil, salt and pepper.  Really. The choy had great, complex flavor and texture. It was almost fennel-y in taste, but, at the same time still had a deep green kale like flavor.

The only other accompaniment was some arugula and green apple tossed in; you guessed it, olive oil, salt and pepper. The fish, when plated, was dolloped with a mixture of yogurt, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of Thai basil. I haven’t used Thai basil in a while. I forgot how fragrant and distinct it was, fennel-y, peppery, biting. Not at all mellow like Italian basil.  It added so much to the dinner even in such a tiny dose.  The yogurt sauce added just a hint of flavor to the perfect fish without being overwhelming. I can’t imagine having used the sour cream, like it called for. The yogurt was light and creamy and tangy. The mustard added a little bite to enhance the mild fish.

After dinner we said, “We need to cook fish more often.” It is quick, easy, light and healthy. Dinner was literally done in ten minutes. How much faster can you get than that?

So, what a great dinner and inspiration for a  blog post, all impromptu, passionate and straight from the heart;  just like I like it. Because you never know when you are going to be inspired.

Here is the link to the inspiration for our halibut dinner in the April issue of Cooking Light. The recipe is actually written quite complicated, whereas it was a very easy preparation. Here is my interpretation!

Brush fish with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Broil for seven minutes or until done. It will be a little loose, just let it rest. You can always pop it back in the oven if it isn’t cooked enough.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Throw in a little olive oil & then the choy variety of your choice. Add salt and pepper. Sautee briefly, until wilted.

Toss some arugula and sliced apple with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Mix 2 Tbl yogurt, 1 Tbl mustard (any kind you like), a squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tsp of chopped herbs (whatever kind you have on hand). Dollop this on the fish. Use the leftover on a salad the next day like I did. Yum!


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Oatmeal who?……

When I started this blog, my goal was for each post to be about whatever I was passionate about that week. Yes, I am that fickle and my mind changes that frequently, actually even more so, but that is another story all together.  My post, in the beginning were all about eating out, as that is what I enjoy the most. I don’t know if I am “nesting” or what, but lately I have noticed that at least every other post is about cooking at home; Nothing fancy, mostly simple comfort foods. I have been leaning towards eating better, to be really conscious about what I am consuming, so no mornings filled with pastries, lunches of ham, bacon & pork loin sammies (hey, that would be a “cubano” and sounds really good right now. I confess, after writing this I broke down and went to 90 Miles for dinner and had fried pork! Look for that post soon.). So…. I have been cooking at home more. It also has to do with the ol’ pocketbook. But, one of my favorite saying is…everything in moderation, which goes for eating in and eating out. So, this week, it was all about eating in. Actually, breakfast is all about eating in for me, at least during the week. I OD’d on oatmeal over the winter and wanted to try something new and exciting for breakfast. That’s so me, always wanting something new and exciting.  I had been making a few quinoa dishes as I was curious about the grain, this super protein, this Inca equivalent of gold. It is actually a seed, not a grain, and a closer relative to spinach and swiss chard. You learn something new every day.  In my recipe search I came across recipes for breakfast quinoa. Jackpot! I made some alterations & bingo, breakfast is served. If quinoa was used to sustain Inca armies before going into battle, then it was good enough for my Tuesday breakfast! My creation: Quinoa cooked in almond milk with sunflower seeds, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup, and topped with dried cherries. Oatmeal who? I have been eating this for about three months now and have never looked back, although I have looked forward, more on that in a minute. This was so easy to make for breakfast. It was quick, nutritious, tasty and full of texture. I am all about the texture. The quinoa, the sunflower seeds, yum. More cafes need to add breakfast quinoa  to their repertoire. Come on cafe owners, get adventurous, how many different ways can you make oatmeal? Not that many, as is proven by café menus all over the city. The easiest was to make this dish is to cook the quinoa ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. That way  you’ll have the base for three days worth of almost instant breakfast. Recipe will follow. I promise.

I just have to tell you about my other even quicker breakfast discovery right now, before I explode! I had clipped this recipe from Food and Wine magazine over a year ago! Talk about procrastination. I wish I had made it earlier, as I love it. It is like nothing I would have ever imagined. First, do not be scared by this…. The recipe is from the “well being” section of Food and Wine and the group of recipes  is titled Detox Diet: The Cure for Holiday Excess. It is from the December 2008 issue. The recipes are by Adina Niemerow who is a holistic chef and nutritional counselor in San Francisco. We had first tried the raw avocado and kale salad recipe from the same article and it was amazing, so I decided it was time to try this apple nut breakfast porridge. The few ingredients I was missing had been on my grocery list long enough. For some reason, maybe because it is called porridge, I thought this recipe would be cooked. It is not. It is basically a raw mixture of granny smith apples, almonds, ginger and white figs pulsed in the food processor and topped with goji berries and flax seed. Talk about a texture bomb! This is it. Texture, texture, texture, texture, texture from the apples, texture from the almonds, texture from the figs, texture  from the goji berries, texture from the flax seeds. I love it. Quick and easy, too. Like I said, I thought I was going to have to cook it after I pulsed it in the food processor. Nope. It was done. It took all of five minutes to make. Breakfast was served, again.  I can’t tell you enough how refreshing, tasty, good for you, satisfying, easy, this “porridge” is. You open the lid of the Cuisinart and you get hit with the smell of freshly grated ginger and apples. Mmmmmm…The figs add a touch of sweetness and then the flax seeds add more texture and nuttiness, as do the goji berries. Oatmeal? Oatmeal who?

Warning: You must check your teeth after you eat either of these dishes, before you leave the house. Let me tell you, those little quinoa seeds and those flax seeds lodge in between your teeth and make for a not so pretty smile! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Quinoa Base

1 cup quinoa (I like to mix red and white. It’s prettier)

2 cups water

Rinse the quinoa in a strainer. It helps rinse the hulls off.

Cook the quinoa for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. You’ll see that the seeds acquire these little squiggly “tails”, sort of cool! Cool this down and store in your fridge for up to 4 days.

Breakfast Quinoa

1 cup cooked quinoa

¾ – 1 cup almond milk

Handful of sunflower seeds (raw, hulled and unsalted)

¼ tsp vanilla

¼ tsp cinnamon

1 Tbl maple syrup or honey or agave nectar

Handful of dried cherries

Put first six ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cook until liquid is absorbed, about 7-8 minutes, depending on how thick you like it.

I add the cherries to plump up when it is almost done.

Transfer to a bowl (as all proper recipes would say) and sprinkle with more cinnamon

See how, easy was that? I forced myself to put measurements on the vanilla, and cinnamon, etc, but I don’t even measure, just add the ingredient to taste, a little splash of vanilla, a few shakes of cinnamon, etc. Most people may want more maple syrup. I just don’t like it so sweet.

Apple- Nut Breakfast Porridge

2 Tbl coarsely chopped raw nuts, almonds, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts, soaked overnight and drained

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

2 dried white figs, coarsely chopped

¼ tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp dried goji berries

½ tsp flax seeds (she called for ground, I use whole seeds)

In the food processor, pulse the nuts until the size of corn kernels.

Add the apple, fig and ginger, and pulse until chunky.

Transfer to a bowl and top with goji berries and flax seeds.


What’s your favorite oatmeal substitute?


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Laura’s Quick and Easy Flexitarian Chili

Now I know that this is probably not great timing for a chili recipe, maybe I should have posted it closer to the Super Bowl, whenever that was….but hey, I write about things when I am inspired about them, when I discover them, when Laura finally sends me the damn chili recipe I had been asking for for three months! (Ok, ok, she sent it to me, last month, but I got caught up writing about other stuff and just finally made it last weekend. I confess.) I was afraid that it wasn’t going to be as wonderful as I remembered it. Maybe it was just Laura, not the recipe that worked. Oh, I better insert right here, that Greg helped make the chili the night I had it at Laura and Greg’s house, because I KNOW that if I didn’t mention it, that would end up in the comments, with the author being Greg!

And let’s face it….it’s not summer yet, so I am going to write about chili, darn it.

First of all, I love the title of Laura’s chili and as you will see, when you read the recipe, you can make it almost any way you like. I did not change the way the recipe was written as that is part of what I love about it. Laura is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s pretty laid back when it comes to cooking. One of those people that I admire, who will substitute this is she doesn’t have that, or that if she doesn’t have this. I strive to be more like that in everything I do, to improvise more. I’ve started reading a blog called The Improvised Life to try to help me along. Speaking of texture….

I have never liked veggie chili, always felt like it was missing something. Now that is not a slam to “vegematarians”, as I like to call them. Veggie chili never had veggies in it, just beans, minus the meat. What it was missing, was not meat, it was texture. Laura’s chili has all three, the requisite beans, veggies and texture, brought on by ground beef, ground turkey, or bulgur wheat. Genius. Bulgur wheat, I would have never thought of that.  Bell peppers and corn add to the texture and of course qualify as veggies. I must have been channeling Laura when I threw in a can of hominy as a replacement for one of the cans of beans. Woohoo! I was living on the edge! It was a success also, as it added a whole other layer of texture. I love my texture.

Laura’s chili has beer in it, also, how can that be bad?  Although, Laurent stole the one I had open on the counter waiting to “deglaze” the pan with. Good thing we has more in the fridge. I used a Lagunitas IPA, my favorite beer, and Laurent’s too.

Laura’s chili calls for hot sauce and bbq sauce.  I had just bought a bottle of Co-op Hot Sauce at The Empty Bottle Farmers Market which I added to the chili. More like a few dashes, as opposed to 3 tablespoons, which was the range that Laura suggests. I was playing it on the safe side. It actually could have used more. I love this hot sauce. It has big flavor, along with the heat. It always helps to use good ingredients when you cook; it adds complexity, freshness and flavor. This was also a chance to check out Smoke Daddy’s BBQ Sauce, another local product. Can’t wait to use it on BBQ ribs in the summer. Remember it’s not summer yet, sorry to remind you. It snowed last weekend, remember? I’m just rubbing that in to justify blogging about chili at the end of March, when it would have probably been more appropriate in February!

Well, I guess I should stop rambling and get on with posting Laura’s Quick and Easy Flexatarian Chili Recipe. So here it is. It truly IS quick and easy and flexatarian along with being very tasty and my new favorite chili recipe in the world! Thanks Laura!

Laura’s Easy, Quick Flexitarian Chili

2 Tbls. olive or veg oil

1 large onion (any kind), chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 chopped bell peppers (a mix of red, yellow, and/or green is good)

1 bottle beer

2 cups broth (beef, chicken, or veggie)

2 – 15 oz. cans drained beans (any kind)

1 – 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes–don’t drain (or equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes or, if really desperate, 1 6 oz. can tomato paste)

1 1/2 Tbls. chili powder

1 Tbls. ground cumin

2 oz. (2 squirts) barbecue sauce

Hot sauce (somewhere between a dash and 3 Tbls.)

A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce (optional–particularly good in the veg version–although I think that Worcestershire has anchovies in it, making it not vegetarian…hmm, maybe that’s why it’s so good.)

1 cup frozen corn

1 lb. ground beef


1 lb. ground turkey


1/2 cup bulgur

Sauté onions and garlic (and ground beef or turkey, if using) until golden in a chili/stock/soup pot.  Remove onions/garlic/ (and beef/turkey, if using) from pan, but do not wash pan.  Add peppers to pan and sauté very briefly at high heat (I like to get them to brown a little while still staying crunchy).  Pour in beer and scrape bottom of pan to loosen any brown bits.  Add onions/garlic/ (and beef/turkey, if using) back to pan.  Add everything else (including bulgur if using) except corn and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add in corn and let chili simmer until corn is done.

Serve with sour cream, grated cheese, and chopped cilantro.  Enjoy!


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Instant Soup…(aka crock-pot stock)….

Wait, don’t worry, this is good, healthy, nourishing instant soup. Really. Nothing fake about it, no weird powdered spice packets to add, no freeze dried tofu. I could eat this soup everyday. It takes about seven minutes to make and is the most satisfying, quick and easy lunch or dinner ever. There is a little upfront work to do, but once that is done, depending on how much you do, that part could be over for weeks. I would tell you what’s in it, but it changes every time. It actually changed from the pictures I took, as I was making it.

How to describe my favorite soup…it is basically whatever you have in the fridge that you want to use up, so it doesn’t go bad, because you really shouldn’t have bought broccoli, kale, asparagus and cauliflower, even though you swore you were going to use it all up in a week, but ended up going to lunch instead of eating broccoli at home, and then ordered pizza one night and ok, I’ll meet you for brunch on Sunday. I also usually add miscellaneous goodies in the freezer that I keep on hand just for this soup in case I was good and used up all the veggies in the fridge but am still craving this soup.

It all starts with home made chicken stock (or veggie if you must). I would stop reading right here if you are not willing to make home made stock. I don’t think there is anything more disgusting than canned or boxed chicken stock. How does it get that thick? Why is it so “flavorful”? How come it is dark yellow and not clear? I will admit that I keep a box in my pantry for emergency use, but would never EVER dream of using it in this soup, because this soup is great and healthy and light and nourishing because of the home made stock. Ok, tangent/tantrum over.

Stop groaning about making your own stock, this is accomplished much easier that you think. It is super easy if you have a crock pot. If you don’t have one, go to Target, they start at $20 or the thrift store and get one (if Martha from Soup n’ Bread hasn’t snagged them all!)  Or I bet your mom has one you can steal borrow. So crock pot stock is great because you don’t have to find two to three hours you are going to be at home so you can put the stove on. We have a six quart Rival crock-pot we got as a wedding gift ten years ago that stayed in the box for the first five years! Anyways… those damn tangents….put an onion, a few carrots, a few stalks of celery, all cut up, some parsley, if you’ve got it, some whole black peppercorns, about a tablespoon, a bay leaf, if you have one, and chicken bones in your crock pot, fill it with water and press six hours and walk away. When you come home, wah-lah, it’s chicken stock. Ok, details, details. I know you must have them…. Chicken bones, we get ours at Paulina Meat Market for .79 a pound, sold in five pound bags. We use about half the bones for one batch of crock-pot stock. It’s very convenient. The bones come frozen, so just put the rest back in your freezer.  Or if you are ambitious you can start another batch right away. We usually make back to back batches of stock.

We get about a three quart yield from our six quart crock-pot. We buy quart containers at the Asian grocery store. They come in sleeves and are great for freezing stock, leftover soup, sauce, etc. So, strain your stock and don’t worry about skimming the fat. When you freeze the stock it will separate and when you microwave it to thaw it, you can just spoon it off before it is totally thawed. Tip: Don’t fill the quarts all the way to the top; leave a little room for it to expand when it freezes. Ok, food safety issues here. You have to cool your stock down to 40 degrees in four hours. We use a quart of frozen stock and use it as a giant stock ice cube and mix it into the very hot steaming stock. It does the trick! You just have to run a little hot water over the quart container and the frozen stock should slide right out.

See that wasn’t that hard, was it? Now you have these quarts of delicious, nutritious chicken stock in your freezer, ready to be made into instant soup. Boy, wasn’t that a long tangent to get to the title of this blog, wasn’t it?  Maybe I should just change the title!

So, when we are starving or sick or lazy, most often lazy, we defrost a quart of chicken stock in the microwave, put it in a pot with some of the usual suspects, if you have been reading my blog, you know what those are from the Mapo Tofu post (sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine and rice wine vinegar), and some ginger. That is to season it. Then we add in all the goodies from the fridge and freezer.  Today we added tofu, roasted corn and edamame (both frozen from Trader Joes, kept on hand for occasions like this), asparagus, and kale, that I was keeping alive in the fridge in a bowl of water. We didn’t end up using the smoked chicken we had in the freezer because I am rationing it. We are almost out. Laurent has to fire up the smoker and make some more of this delicious crack. This is our Asian version of instant soup, but we also make a Mexican version and alter the flavorings by adding lime juice, canned diced tomatoes, cilantro, leftover rice, and avocado.  The beauty of it is you can make it how ever you want, with whatever you have on hand, whenever you want….IF you have those magic quarts of home made chicken stock in your freezer!


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Mapo Tofu mumblings…recipe writing ramblings….

When I mentioned in my LA post that we had perfected making our own version of Mapo Tofu at home, Shayna asked for our recipe. Well, if you cook like my husband does, you don’t necessarily cook from a recipe. So, this weekend, and a month and a half later, sorry Shayna,  it was time to get out the pen and paper and measuring spoons and transcribe our version of mapo tofu once and for all, so it could claim internet fame! I have written a few recipes before, and I am trying to perfect the art. And let me tell you, it is an art form. This goes hand in hand with developing recipes, which is another art form.  I will never take a printed recipe for granted again. There are recipe testers out there, people’s whose jobs it is to test a recipe before it goes into a cook book or in the food section of a newspaper. I’ll take that job. I love tweaking!

So, first of all you have to decide who your audience is. I am guessing the people reading my blog are foodies and have done their fair share of cooking. I am also assuming that Shayna, who asked for the recipe, must know what the heck mapo tofu is. (I will explain that in a minute!)  If she is interested in the recipe, she must have cooked Chinese food before. Again, I am just guessing this all. So, Shayna, please comment about my assumptions and let me know once you have made the recipe. Another point is that everyone has different taste. I tend to make a recipe the way it reads first to see my results, and then tweak it to my liking.  Recipes are really are just guidelines. Everyone stirs differently, everyone’s idea of medium heat is different & everyone has different equipment. I can now look at a recipe & say, “Hey, I don’t think that is going to work. I should adjust this right away.” The more you cook, the better you get at this.

So, the burning question, “What the heck is this Mapo Tofu anyways?”  Well, I will start by telling you this. It was an acquired taste for me, as were a lot of the Chinese foods my husband ate and prepared. Now congee, xian fan tuan,  and mapo tofu are some of my favorite foods. What all these dishes have in common is that they are peasant food. It is cheap food that uses very little meat and then layers other inexpensive ingredients to add bulk and sometimes a very pungent spice to add interest.

Traditionally mapo tofu is a Sichuan dish that uses ground pork, soft tofu, fermented bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns and a chili infused peanut oil.

When I finally did acquire a taste for this dish, whenever we got it in a restaurant it was always oily, heavy and way too spicy. So we started playing around with our own version, which is not authentic, by any stretch if the imagination. We do not use Sichuan peppercorns or chiles or pork for that matter. Our impetus was not to recreate the dish authentically; our goal was to make a version that suited out tastes for a lighter, more modern, less aggressively spicy and less oily dish.

Our version also happens to be vegan for some reason, maybe our vegan friends. We have served it as an appetizer at parties hosted by vegan friends by hollowing out what we call “puffy tofu” & putting a little rice, a little mapo tofu & a cilantro sprig. It was well received, to say the least, and saved the day, as we had not perfected any other vegan recipes.

I am going to take this opportunity to push buying a rice cooker if you don’t own one. We did not have one for a very long time. I called my husband a “bad Chinese’ for not owning one! I do not know how to cook rice without one. Why would you want to? It can be such a hassle. With a rice cooker, you measure, dump it in & push a button. We have a tiny Salton rice cooker that makes 3 cups of cooked rice that we got at Bed Bath & Beyond for $14.99! It works, I love it! Who needs a Zojirushi with “fuzzy logic”, whatever that is, for $150? Paying that much for a rice cooker in my mind is “fuzzy logic”!

So, here is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it for what it has become, not what it was supposed to be. Feel free to tweak it to YOUR liking, add more broad bean paste for a more intense flavor and spiciness, sub out the tofu for ground chicken. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended. Make it your own.

Timing wise, start the rice in your rice cooker. Once that pops, in about 20 minutes, start the Mapo Tofu, which will only take about 10 minutes.  In that time, the rice can rest and continue absorbing or whatever it does in those completely necessary extra ten post-pop minutes.

Mapo Tofu

1 cup fried tofu, cut into ¼ dice

7 oz extra firm tofu, drained

½ cup chopped straw mushrooms

1 ½ Tbl broad bean paste with chili (you can add more for a more intense flavor & spiciness)

1 Tbl chopped ginger

2 Tbl chopped garlic

2/3 cup veggie stock

1 Tbl oil, canola, veggie or light flavored olive oil (told you it wasn’t traditional)

1 tsp sugar

½ Tbl soy

½ Tbl rice wine vinegar

½ Tbl rice wine

½ Tbl sesame oil

(We call the 4 ingredients above “the usual suspects” as they are in all Chinese food)

“The slurry” – 1Tbl tapioca starch or corn starch mixed with ¼ cup water

Chopped scallions or cilantro for garnish

Heat cast iron pan or wok on medium high heat

Add the oil and then the broad bean paste, sauté for 15 seconds

Some of it will stick to the bottom of the wok. This browning is good, just make sure it doesn’t burn too much. You want to develop flavor, just not burnt flavor!

Add garlic and ginger, sauté until translucent, about 30 seconds

Add hard tofu and stir, sauté for about 2 minutes

Add stock, the “usual suspects”, straw mushrooms and extra firm tofu

Stir this all to incorporate, being careful not to break up the tofu too much.

You don’t want to obliterate it, you want to have larger pieces of it in the finished product, but this is all to your preference, of course.

Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.

Add 1 Tbl of “the slurry” (You will have to mix it first as it will have separated and settled.)

Cook until this thickens, about 15 seconds or until the mixture returns to a simmer.

Check for desired consistency. If you want the sauce a little thicker, add another tablespoon of “the slurry” & incorporate. We usually add 2 tablespoons total.

Once desired consistency is achieved, remove from heat, break up tofu to desired size.

Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro or scallions.

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Milling around appetizers and more…..

New Years Eve. I never much cared for the holiday until nine years ago when we were invited to a party by a foodie friend. The jist of it was that each couple cooked a course. We ate from 7:00 in the evening until 2:00 in the morning and now it is my favorite holiday ever! Oh my gosh, the excitement of NYE starts New Years Day, even before that first cup of coffee, when we start planning what we are going to make the next year. This is a serious “competition”. On the surface that is not what it is all about, but underneath it all, that is what drives us! Everyone pulls out all stops. Provencal fish soup with saffron rouille; cucumber kimchi with Asian pear, Korean chile, pine nuts and chives; strawberry black pepper granita; crushed potato cakes with arugula, black caviar and crème fraiche.

One year Seth, culinary school alum, constructed a whole medical themed “milling around” appetizer course, lobster bisque in syringes, tuna tartar with tobiko in Petri dishes, breadsticks in beakers. I will never choose the “milling around” appetizer course after that! Tough act to follow. We’ve come a long way. For foodies, there were quite a few obstacles to overcome, lactose intolerance, veganism (shudder), aversion to gelatin. That usually meant making two versions of a dish, such as Seth “meat is my middle name” Deysach always has to do, papradelle with braised lamb shank, wild mushrooms and veal demi glace for half the crew and papradelle minus the lamb shank and veal demi glace for the rest of the crew. Yes, we have come a long way, with everyone now at least being fishatarians, thank goodness. I think Laura’s lobster poached in five pounds of butter seven years ago might have been their downfall.

Yes, this party has evolved…courses are now served on matching dishes courtesy of Searah and Dawne and their addiction to shopping at CB2! Here is the exact email with photo included! No kidding!

“And I just wanted to let you know that we have the following dishes (so you can plan your plating!)…
24 Orange Apostrophe-shaped plates (very small)
14 Round white “bread” plates
12 Medium sized white appetizer plates (with rounded corners)
20 Large white dinner plates (with rounded corners)
16 Clear straight-sided double old-fashioned glasses (not good for hot)
20 Smallish White Oval Bowls

I have to say, I am a bit of a wine snob and was appalled that people spent days making their dishes and would bring Yellow Tail Chardonnay to quaff, or should I say swig. I talked everyone into handing over $25 per person and finalizing their dish by the day before, that was the hardest part, and I now pair all nine courses with appropriate wine, with Greg’s help, the bigger wine snob of the group!  We aren’t drinking gewürztraminer (as it starts at $17 a bottle, but we aren’t drinking liters of wine anymore either.) Last year was the most amazing, when Damien of Candid Wines paired our entire menu from his portfolio. Even the Yellow Tail die hards were swooning!

This year was a smaller group, eleven people instead of the normal eighteen. The emails, eighty in total, started flying on December 7th, to be exact, with everyone claiming their course. Searah always makes dessert and mignardise; those after dessert sweets that you eat at least four of, even though “you can’t eat another bite”. She has mignardise tattooed on the back of her neck, so no one argues with her. Plus she went to pastry school, enough said. I think this year was the best dessert yet, salted caramel pots de crème with chocolate sesame tuilles. Heaven!

Since Mr. Meat was absent this year, we took over the entrée, smoking duck and salmon days before the big event. These wonderful smoky meats were plated with roasted corn arepas, which I had been testing for weeks, a sour cherry sauce and topped with a slaw of shredded napa cabbage, Brussels sprouts & julienned beets in a creamy mustard dressing. Phew, a mouthful, a yummy one, though.

Cullen took a different strategy to impress. He went rustic and hearty, with a simple yellow winter vegetable soup of sweet potatoes, rutabagas, apples, carrots & paprika. This may have been understated, but talk about impressive. This is my new winter staple and it can be yours, too. The recipe follows.  It’s warming, comforting and simply delicious. Oh ya, I forgot to tell you, the secret weapon in it is butter. Mmmm…. Mmmmm… good. Thanks Cullen.

Actually I want to thank Laura, too, for inviting us to this wonderful celebration of good friends, good food and great style. I can’t think of a better way to spend NYE.

“Yellow Winter Vegetable Soup”

Serves 8-10 (or 15!)

3 carrots, coarsely chopped.
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped.
1 rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped.
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped.
10 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 stick of butter, softened.
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.

6 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. paprika

Place the carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and apples in big pot and cover with chicken stock.  Stir in the salt and pepper.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook until vegetables, are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain and reserve the stock.  Return the cooked vegetables to the pot.  Add the butter, nutmeg, rosemary.  Roughly mash veggies with a potato masher until chunky.  Return the stock to the pot and bring to a low simmer.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into individual bowls.  (ed. note.–where else would you ladle it???)

Garnish with green onions and paprika.


Filed under Foodie Fun, Recipes