Orange Tofu Tacos with Tomatillo Pineapple Salsa

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With Cinco de Mayo this week, Mexican recipes have been on my radar. Particularly a tomatillo pineapple salsa in New York Times Cooking from an organic farmer who operates just down the road from us in Stillwater, MN.

The only ingredient I was worried might be hard to find was the padrón or shishito peppers. Not sure what either type looked like, I relied on the signs at the best-stocked grocery store near me. No padrón peppers, but there was a good supply of peppers with a sign that said shishito on the bin. The cashier had trouble finding the code for the habanero pepper so she had to call a manager. The manager then told her the other peppers were anaheims. I said no, the sign said shishito. He then broke the news to me that they were out of shishitos and replaced them with anaheims and hadn’t changed the sign. Disappointed, I said I couldn’t use the anaheims, and asked if they could put them back. Sure, they said.

On my way out the grocery store door, I was trying to figure out where to go for the peppers and the produce guy comes running out with the bag of anaheims saying that for the inconvenience of having the peppers labeled wrong, I could have the peppers I had bagged up, at no cost. He said they would make a suitable substitution for padrón or shishito peppers. Not one to turn down free produce, I accepted the offer and thanked him.

Turns out I couldn’t find the right peppers after checking two other stores, so I decided to go ahead with the salsa using my free anaheims. It’s delicious and I’m not so sure it would be better had I found the right peppers.

To incorporate the salsa into a full meal, I pan-fried some tofu and simmered it in orange juice before adding some of the salsa to make a flavorful “meat” for some vegan tacos that had a lot going on. But all the components came together for the best tofu dish I’ve had in years.

The salsa was the only putzy part of the process, but if you make it a day or two in advance, dinner will come together fast enough for a weeknight. The recipe makes a lot more than you will need for this one meal, so feel free to half it. I’ve also found tomatillo salsa freezes well.
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While the tofu is frying/simmering, you can get your taco accompaniments ready, using whatever you prefer or have on hand.
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A few days ago I used up some macadamia nuts and cashews lurking in the back of the freezer and made this macadamia nut ricotta and a vegan parmesan cheese from the awesome Minimalist Baker blog. Great vegan substitutes and believe me, you won’t miss the dairy.

I rounded things out with whole wheat flour tortillas and lettuce, radicchio, scallions, tomato and radish. Avocado would be great too. Enjoy! And happy Cinco de Mayo!

Orange Tofu Tacos with Tomatillo Pineapple Salsa


Salsa recipe from Eduardo Rivera, as published in the New York Times

1 pound tomatillos (about 6 medium)

6 Padrón peppers or shishito peppers), stems removed, or 3 anaheims, cut in chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup diced pineapple

1 habanero pepper, stem removed

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon salt, more to taste

1 cup diced onion

½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Halve the tomatillos and Padrón or shishito peppers (if using anaheims, cut them in big chunks).

Set a skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the tomatillos, peppers, pineapple, habanero pepper, garlic, oregano and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until everything starts to char, 6-8 minutes.

Once charred, transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender or food processor and add 1/2 cup water. Blend until almost puréed. Pour mixture into a bowl and chill for 1 hour.

Stir in onion, cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt to taste.

Orange Tofu
1 pound extra-firm tofu

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup orange juice, fresh squeezed, if possible

Whole wheat flour tortillas or corn tortillas for a gluten-free version

Toppings such as lettuce, radishes, tomato, scallion, vegan or dairy cheese, avocado

Unwrap and place block of tofu on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Put more paper towels on top of tofu place a small cutting board on top. Weigh down the cutting board with a large can or books for 20-30 minutes. After tofu has been pressed, blot it dry and cut it into bite-sized cubes.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the tofu and cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally for even browning. Reduce heat to medium and add orange juice. Let simmer for several minutes until orange juice has mostly simmered away.

Stir about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the salsa into the tofu. Let simmer for several minutes until it thickens up a bit.

Warm your tortillas in a damp tea towel in the microwave or, in batches, over low heat in a medium pan.

Place orange tofu mixture on warm tortillas and add toppings of your choice. Makes 3-4 servings.

Mom’s Baklava

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Way back when I was in high school, my mom made a mysterious dessert with a funny name that was unlike anything that had ever graced our kitchen . Dessert nirvana I tell you. But wait, it was full of walnuts, how could that be? I don’t like walnuts; at least not the big chunks found in brownies, fudge or cookies. Odd how you can dislike something when it’s one size, but fall in love when it’s chopped finely, mixed with cinnamon and sugar, suspended between butter-soaked, paper thin layers of pastry, and infused with golden honey. Swoon.

Yes, that dessert totally foreign to my adolescent self was baklava. Mom was so ahead of her time—making baklava in Fargo, North Dakota at a time when a Norwegian or Swedish treat was as exotic as they came. She doesn’t remember where she got the recipe, but I’m glad she did. It’s the best baklava I’ve ever tasted—no other version I’ve had has even come close over the years. Maybe it’s sentiment, but I doubt it; Mom’s baklava is just the best!

If you haven’t worked with phyllo (or filo) dough before, don’t be intimidated. It takes a little patience and diligently keeping the sheets of dough covered with a damp tea towel while you work with one sheet at a time, but it’s not difficult. Have everything ready and prepped before you open the package of thawed phyllo and you’ll breeze through this.
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A bonus as desserts go, baklava has the super food factor with walnuts and cinnamon involved. It keeps unrefrigerated for about 5 days and I imagine it would freeze well. If you’re truly walnut averse (no matter how finely they’re chopped), almonds, pistachios or a combination of the two would work too. Enjoy!

Mom's Baklava

We’ve been making this recipe for decades and I have no idea of the source, so let’s just credit my mom, Annette, the best mom ever!

1 lb. (16 oz.) walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound phyllo dough, thawed

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

12 oz. honey

Butter a 9×13″ baking dish and set aside.

Place walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until walnuts are finely chopped. Alternately, finely chop walnuts and mix with sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Trim phyllo to fit baking dish (mine just needed about an inch trimmed from the short end).

In the prepared baking dish, place 1 sheet of phyllo; brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat to make five more layers of phyllo; sprinkle with one cup of walnut mixture.

Place one sheet of phyllo in baking dish over walnut mixture; brush with butter. Repeat to make six layers. Sprinkle one cup walnut mixture over phyllo. Repeat layering two more times.

Over final sprinkling of walnut mixture, place a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat to make six layers.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

With a sharp knife, cut layers just halfway through, in strips about 1 1/2″ inch wide the long way. Then cut halfway through on the diagonal, to make diamond shapes.

Bake 1 hour and 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Shortly before removing pan from oven, in a medium saucepan, heat honey until hot, but not boiling. After removing baklava from the oven, spoon hot honey over it evenly. Cool in pan on wire rack at least 1 hour. Cover and leave at room temperature until serving.

To serve: With sharp knife, finish cutting through the layers. Transfer to a platter (can place each piece of baklava in a cupcake paper to make things a little neater). Makes about 24 servings.

Note: Keep phyllo dough under a damp, clean tea towel to prevent drying as you work with it.

 

 

Vegan Pastrami Cups with Scallion Mozzarella, Dates and Lemon Zest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of us living in the Twin Cities are so fortunate to have the country’s only vegan butcher shop in our vicinity. The Herbivorous Butcher opened in NE Minneapolis a couple months ago and they’ve been cranking out their handmade, small batch, non-GMO, vegan meats and cheeses to crowds ever since, and those crowds aren’t just made up of vegetarians. According to brother and sister owners Kale and Aubry Walch, omnivores are a huge part of their business.

Before the bricks and mortar location opened, the Walch siblings sold their products at farmers’ markets. It was at one of those markets I up picked their holiday ham (complete with yummy glaze) to serve for Thanksgiving and it was delicious! Everything I’ve had so far has been good, but their pastrami, which reviewers absolutely rave about, hasn’t been in the butcher case when I’ve stopped in. That is until last Saturday.

I picked up a pound of the thinly sliced, seasoned “meat,” and, not really sure what one makes with pastrami besides sandwiches, I figured I’d better stock up on good bread. But after a visit with my friends Google and Pinterest, I had lots of other ideas. And from those ideas came these piquant morsels of goodness—spicy, salty, sweet, and citrusy, a happy flavor explosion in your mouth. Plus, they’ll look super pretty on an appetizer platter at your next dinner party.
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For those of you who don’t have the Herbivorous Butcher to provide your vegan meats, not a problem, just use vegan packaged deli slices or pepperoni found at your co-op or supermarket. If vegan mozzarella isn’t available, vegan cream cheese would work or use a regular cheese like fresh mozzarella that’s soft enough to mash and mix with the sweet wine or honey and scallions. Double or triple the recipe for a potluck or large gathering. Enjoy!

Vegan Pastrami Cups with Scallion Mozzarella, Dates and Lemon Zest

Inspired by this Food Network recipe from The Kitchen

12 small slices vegan pastrami (or other vegan “meat”), each about 3” squareish/roundish

3 oz. vegan mozzarella

1 tablespoon sweet white wine, or honey for a non-vegan version

2-3 scallions, thinly sliced, using mainly the green parts, reserving a little for garnish

Pinch of salt, if your cheese isn’t salty

Two medjool dates, pitted and thinly sliced

Zest of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line each cup of a 12-cup mini muffin tin with a pastrami slice, overlapping to fit, if necessary; then top with a second mini muffin tin, pressing the pastrami slices into the cups and compressing them. Turn the muffin tins over and place on a baking sheet upside down. Top with a cast-iron pan for more compression. Bake for about 12 minutes, then remove the cast-iron pan carefully (double up on the hotpads!). Bake for an additional 12 minutes. Remove from oven and lift the top upside down muffin pan off to expose inverted pastrami cups. Let the cups cool completely, then gently remove them to a platter.

Meanwhile crumble cheese into a medium size bowl and mash a bit with a fork. Stir in honey/wine and scallions until smooth. Taste, and add a pinch or two of salt if needed. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag (or make a piping bag by cutting the corner off a zip-lock bag). Pipe cheese mixture into pastrami cups. Top each cup with several slices of date and sprinkle with lemon zest. Garnish with remaining scallion slices.

Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

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Whenever I see a photo or recipe for stuffed pasta shells, I think of my late Great Aunt Betty. Betty was my grandma’s youngest sister and lived in the far-off land of Los Angeles with her husband and kids. We took a family road-trip to visit them the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, along the way camping in the mountains of Wyoming, a hotel night in Las Vegas, and on the return trip home, driving through California’s wine country and a stop in San Francisco, a city that stole my young heart.

In LA, we stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Tom and they and my cousins took us unsophisticated Midwesterners sightseeing to the worldly locales of Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Tijuana, Universal Studios, and beautiful sandy California beaches. But the best memories from that trip aren’t the roller coasters, bargaining at Mexican market stands, movie sets, or the Pacific Ocean. Me being me, aside from getting to spend time with extended family, the best memories are of the food Aunt Betty made. Specifically her stuffed pasta shells and Napoleons. This 14-year-old was uber impressed with both and we got the recipes so Mom could make them back home. The wonderful flavors are forever imbedded in my mind.

Recently  I saw a recipe for stuffed pasta shells on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks, and thought back to Aunt Betty and her recipe. It wasn’t vegetarian, so maybe Heidi’s version could take its place? Yes, indeed!
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I’ve been cooking with whole wheat pasta almost exclusively for years, but have yet to find a source for whole wheat or whole grain jumbo pasta shells, even after searching ginormous supermarkets, my co-op, and online. Ultimately I opted for a package of unique (non-whole wheat) lumache giganti found in the Italian section at said ginormous supermarket. In retrospect, regular jumbo shells would have been better vehicles for stuffing, but I love the way these “snail” shells cook to a perfect al dente that held its toothsome bite even after baking.

To Heidi’s quick and simple tomato sauce I added some dried herbs for a little more depth and also sautéed some onion and spinach to include in the filling. Both Pete and I had to really hold ourselves back from eating till our bellies burst. A stuffed shells recipe that even outdoes Great Aunt Betty’s. Next time I might tackle Napoleons! Enjoy!
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Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks Stuffed Shells

 

Zest of one lemon, divided

Sauce:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more if you like lots of heat

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 28-ounce and 1 14-ounce can crushed red tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

Filling:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ large yellow onion, chopped

3-4 big handfuls fresh spinach, chopped

1 15 or 16 ounce container good quality ricotta cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup grated mozzarella

Additional:
About 25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells or lumache giganti (if you can find them)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

A couple tablespoons sliced scallions, green part only

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and sprinkle half the lemon zest over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook only about 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano and marjoram and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, in a medium sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach and cook several more minutes until spinach is wilted and soft. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the ricotta and salt and mix to combine. Stir in the mozzarella and remaining lemon zest. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions the boiling, salted water until barely al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta mixture, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the parmesan, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve hot.

Colcannon, with a Twist

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It’s getting to be that time of year when one starts thinking of what Irish dish to make for St. Patrick’s Day. A couple years ago I made these Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Frosting. You have my guarantee if you bring a batch of these babies to work on St. Patrick’s Day (or any day, really), your co-workers will gobble them up in no time and beg you to bring them again. They are amazingly good, and no one would ever guess they’re vegan.

Several years ago, in the early days of my blog (before I had a decent camera), this Shepherd’s Pie with Irish Soda Bread was our hearty St. Paddy’s Day meal, and made for some delicious leftovers.

This year I got an early start with another savory concoction and gave it a little twist to make it a full meal. Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish mainly consisting of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale (or both), along with lots of butter!

I dialed the butter back quite a bit to make this version a little less artery-clogging and used some low-fat buttermilk to give it more buttery flavor without the butter. My intention was to use both kale and cabbage, but at the grocery store I saw the most beautiful bunch of rainbow chard, which I decided to use in place of the kale. I grabbed a head of pre-wrapped organic cabbage and went home to get cooking.
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Well it turned out my head of cabbage was actually a head of organic lettuce. Grrr! Opting not to go back to the store and make an exchange, I decided to make my colcannon with just the rainbow chard—no cabbage this time.

Now for the twist that makes it a full meal: I threw the Colcannon into a casserole dish and made four indentations, each just the right size to cradle an egg. About 15 minutes in the oven and dinner was ready. Firm whites and runny yolks atop this buttery potato-chard creation—such a splendid meal that, at least in our house, will not be relegated to just St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!

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Colcannon, with a Twist

2 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, washed, but not peeled

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 bunch rainbow chard or kale, hard stems removed, cut into thin ribbons

3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs

Cut potatoes into quarters and place in a large saucepan and cover with water. Sprinkle the tablespoon of salt into the water. Cover pan and bring water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook potatoes 15-20 minutes, until tender.

Drain potatoes and let them sit in the pan on the still hot, but turned-off burner, allowing them to dry a bit.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 3-quart casserole with cooking spray or lightly oil or butter it.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, add chard or kale and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add green onions and cook another minute or so. Add the milks and cook until milk is hot, but not boiling.

Pour milk mixture over potatoes, and, using a potato masher, mash until potatoes and milk mixture are thoroughly combined. Add salt & pepper, to taste. Dump it all into the casserole dish and make four impressions evenly spaced. Crack an egg into each impression. Bake about 15 minutes, until whites are set, but yolks still runny. Makes 4 full meal servings.

Warm Potato Salad with Arugula

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Pete is an experienced cross-country skier and racer who loves the sport as much as I love running. He’s had a blast skiing races when it was cold, but not bitter cold, and been miserable during a race or two with double digit below zero temps.

None of my marathons have been run in those temperatures, but I have run half marathons and 10k races in sub-zero temps and it certainly takes a lot of the fun out of the experience, so I can totally relate to Pete stressing about Saturday morning’s upcoming Vasaloppet USA ski race. The overnight low is projected to be -17 F.

A few years back, Pete skied a 35k race when it was -14 at the start and still below zero when he crossed the finish line. Afterwards he said never again in that kind of cold—it just wasn’t fun. This time, he’s skiing a 40k race, so he’s going to be out there for hours and he’s questioning whether he should just skip the race.

Knowing the pressure he’s feeling, plus the fact that Pete loves potatoes, I decided to make a potato-centric supper tonight because what eases stress more than a little comfort food? And what’s more comforting to a potato-lover than a warm potato salad?

Knowing what I had on hand, a little Googling led me to this Food & Wine recipe. I added some Trader Joe’s Italian Sausage-less Sausage as a protein to make a full meal, and voilà, no one’s even thinking about Saturday, at least for now. Enjoy!
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Warm Potato Salad with Arugula

Slightly adapted from Paul Virant’s Food & Wine Recipe

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard or other grainy mustard

2 1/4 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1/2 small sweet onion, thinly sliced (1 cup)

2-3 handfuls baby arugula

A couple servings of cooked veggie sausage or your protein of choice

Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch wedges. Scatter the potato wedges on 1 large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 25 minutes, until browned and crisp, tossing again about halfway through the cooking time for evening browing.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the mustard and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the onion and arugula. Top with the dressing, toss again and serve right away. Serves 4-6 as a side and 2-4 as a main course.

Spicy Tortilla Soup

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Sometimes when paging through a not-so-new-to-me cookbook, I’ll stumble across a recipe that sounds so amazingly good it’s hard to believe I haven’t made it before. This is especially surprising when it’s a vegetarian version of a dish that has always sounded tempting on restaurant menus, but wasn’t meatless.

Going through the fabulous Robin Asbell’s Big Vegan, a collection of over 350 recipes chock full of vegan deliciousness, which I’ve had for several years, Tortilla Soup with Mock Duck and Chipotles caught my attention. Chicken tortilla soup started appearing on restaurant menus about the time I became a vegetarian so I’ve never had it. After reading this meatless recipe the other day, it seemed reminiscent of those restaurant versions, so I had to try it and the timing was perfect—just before Super Bowl Sunday—perfect game day fare! Hearty, healthy (but tastes sinful), and oh so yummy. Double or triple the recipe for a Super Bowl crowd. Enjoy!
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Spicy Tortilla Soup

Slightly adapted from Robin Asbell’s Big Vegan 

Six 6-inch corn tortillas

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1 ¼ teaspoon salt, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 10-ounce can mock duck, torn into small bite-sized pieces

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pinch ground cloves

1 quart vegetable stock, homemade if you’ve got it

1 small sweet potato, cubed

1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon chipotle chili in spicy adobo sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

Garnishes:
Tortilla strips

1 lime, cut into wedges for serving

Sliced or diced ripe avocado

Sliced scallions

Shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Stack the tortillas and slice them into ¼ inch wide strips. Place the tortilla strips in a medium bowl and drizzle with the grapeseed oil. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and toss until tortilla strips are evenly coated with oil and salt. Place strips on a large baking sheet and spread into a single layer.

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until the strips are crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Remove strips to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, in a stockpot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the mock duck, garlic, cumin and cloves. Stir and let cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Add the stock, sweet potato, quinoa, chipotle and oregano. Cover and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt (if using homemade stock with no salt) or ½ teaspoon of salt if using salted stock. Reduce the soup to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until the quinoa is curled and sweet potato is tender.

Ladle hot soup into bowls and top each with tortilla strips, avocado, scallions and cheddar. Squeeze lime juice, to taste, over soup. Makes about 4 servings.