Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Zucchini noodles (zoodles) were one of the first things I planned to make when I got my spiralizer a couple years ago. And then I proceeded to spiralize potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets many times for a number of recipes, but not zucchini. As much as I wanted to replace my pasta with zucchini noodles, I just couldn’t—it was a cooked zucchini texture thing.

Even with the suggestion of doing half pasta and half zoodles, I still resisted. It wasn’t until I came across a few recipes where you—wait for it—leave the zucchini raw, that I saw the zoodle light. They wouldn’t be mushy, they wouldn’t be soggy. It would be an al dente experience and I was on board!

Making just a few tweaks to this Pinch of Yum recipe, we’ve got a new summer favorite that’s quick enough to pull together on a weeknight and there are always leftovers for brown-bagging the next day. When packing your leftovers, keep the sauce separate and mix it in just before eating, otherwise the zoodles will absorb the sauce and you’ll lose the creamy sauciness that makes for a truly special dish. Enjoy!

Zoodles and Crispy Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce


Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

One 15 oz. block of extra-firm tofu (I like Trader Joe’s organic)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3-4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed (a combination of green and yellow zucchini looks especially nice)

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish (I like the look of black sesame seeds, but white are just fine)

Spicy peanut sauce:
½ cup smooth peanut butter, preferably natural (or make your own, recipe here)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (then add water to measure 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup tamari (wheat free) or soy sauce, reduced sodium if you have it

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste such as sambal oelek

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile spiralize your zucchini and set it aside.

To make the spicy peanut sauce, place all sauce ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined.

Cut pressed tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add tofu to pan and cook one side of tofu pieces until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn pieces and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the spicy peanut sauce to the tofu and let simmer for a few minutes. Using a spatula, turn tofu pieces, scraping sauce and any brown saucy bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat the simmer, turning, and scraping a couple more times until tofu is crispy brown.

To serve, place zucchini noodles in individual bowls and top each with a ¼ cup of spicy peanut sauce, stirring to coat the zoodles. Top with some tofu pieces, sliced scallions, and sesame seeds. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Red Wine Velvet Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream


With fresh berries being in season, the time is now for this pretty cake, which actually falls into the category of “naked” cake with its exposed layers and minimal amount of frosting (this was a new term for me and my first “naked” cake).

Given the July birthday boy and girl’s suggestion of a buttercream frosted cake for this month’s office birthday treats, I perused many recipes looking for something rather elevated from your typical cake and frosting. After changing my mind a few times, I settled on Red Wine Velvet Cake from the always solid Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. And she’s got a new cookbook coming out soon—I’m so excited!!

With three 9-inch layers, it’s a good sized cake, one that I knew would easily feed my sweets-loving office mates. After making a few cakes lately in the 9-inch pans, a two-layer 8-inch cake seems so tiny! And you can cut slimmer pieces when you have three layers and still feel like you get a big piece of cake. Yes, please!

I followed the cake recipe exactly, but switched up the topping/frosting a bit. Liking the fact that mascarpone cheese was called for in the original cake topping, but heeding the request of buttercream, I decided on a mascarpone buttercream—the best of both worlds. It’s easily one of the most delicious frostings I have ever tasted, and not over-the-top sweet.

The addition of the berries was mine after scrolling through an endless number of beautiful “naked” cakes on Pinterest. Wait until just before serving to add them though. Enjoy!

Red Wine Velvet Cake with Mascarpone Buttercream

From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

16 tablespoons (225 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans

2 3/4 (345 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

2 cups (380 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar

2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups (475 ml) red wine (any variety—I used a blend)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups (115 grams) Dutch cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

Fresh berries for garnish

Mint leaves for garnish

Powdered sugar, for dusting the garnish

Mascarpone Buttercream Filling (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease three 9” round cake pans with butter or non-hydrogenated shortening. Line each pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper. Dust bottom and sides of pan lightly with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, followed by the red wine and vanilla extract.

At this point the batter will look like a somewhat mottled mess, but don’t worry. Mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until mostly, but not quite combined. Remove the bowl from your electric mixer and continue to stir with a rubber spatula until fully combined.

Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans and smooth the batter with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cakes comes out clean.

Cool the cakes on a rack for 10 minutes and then turn each cake out onto the rack to cool completely and remove parchment. Once cakes are cool, if the tops are domed, you can use a long serrated knife and cut horizontally to remove the dome. The cake scraps make for a nice snack while you prepare the frosting. If making ahead, you can wrap the cooled cakes in plastic and foil and freeze.

Mascarpone Buttercream Filling (From this Southern Living recipe)

1 pound powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature

Beat sugar and butter on medium-high speed until thick and creamy, about 4-5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Add mascarpone and mix on low speed just until combined. Do not overmix or the mascarpone will start to break down and the frosting will become too thin.

To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake stand or platter and frost the top with 1/3 of the buttercream. I found this easiest do by fitting a disposable piping bag with a ½ inch plain piping tip and making a generous piped edge around the perimeter and then fill in the center and spread with an offset spatula for an even frosting thickness. Repeat with the other two layers. Swirl the frosting on the top layer to make it pretty.

Store cake in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving. Right before serving, top with a pile of berries and place some around the sides of the cake too. Stick a few mint leaves in as well. Sift powdered sugar over the berries right before cutting the cake (it tends to eventually dissolve on the berries, so don’t do it until the last minute).

Cut into somewhat thin wedges and serve (with three layers, your pieces don’t need to be large). Makes about 16 servings.

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Garlic Scape Soup


Garlic scapes are one of the most unusual, yet beautiful, items you’ll find at the farmers’ market. Fleeting, too, as they’re only around for a few short weeks in early summer. They can be used in a variety of ways—in stir-fries, pesto, scrambled eggs, and even replace a utensil in this Grilled Mushroom Satay with Garlic Scape Skewers I made a couple years ago.


With a lovely bunch of scapes on hand, today I decided on soup. A pretty puréed soup full of healthy ingredients and mild garlic flavor. Potatoes give it body and some fresh spinach helps keep the vibrant green color, although the addition of the milk dilutes it a bit. Garnished with fresh thyme from my herb garden and a sprinkling of pistachios to maintain the green color scheme, we had a light, but delicious lunch.

Originally thinking this would need to go through a fine mesh sieve after puréeing, it didn’t. I discarded the thicker last few inches of each scape and this resulted in no fibrous pieces remaining after pureeing. Was it smooth as silk? No, but darn close. Enjoy!

Garlic Scape Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Garlic scapes, cut into 2 inch pieces, to measure 2 cups (cut off the end from the flower bulb on up and if the other ends seem fibrous, cut off a few inches there as well)

½ a large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium to large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

A couple handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

4 cups good quality vegetable broth/stock (homemade is ideal)

1 cup milk of choice (whole, low-fat, cream, almond, evaporated, etc.)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped pistachios for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add scapes and onion, sprinkling with a little salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until scapes and onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, thyme leaves, and spinach; add another small sprinkle of salt. Cook for an additional minute or two. Add stock/broth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, with lid slightly askew, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup until very smooth (alternately, purée in a blender in small batches, venting the lid to let steam escape, and return to pot). Place pot over medium heat and stir in milk, cooking until heated through, but not boiling. Add sherry vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved thyme and pistachios. Makes 4-6 servings.

Tiramisu Cupcakes

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When I asked our three February birthday people at the office what they’d like for the monthly party, two deferred to the third, who responded “anything chocolate or coffee/chocolate.” That sent me in search of recipes and I settled on King Arthur Flour’s Tiramisu Cupcakes, plus a couple other coffee/chocolate treats, but the cupcakes were the stars.

Who doesn’t like a boozy dessert? Tiramisu, but in the form of a cupcake—a very vanilla cupcake, with a Kahlua espresso soak and a creamy amaretto mascarpone frosting dusted with cocoa. Yes, please! Homemade tiramisu without the need to hunt down a decent package of lady fingers (or figure out how to make your own!).

The recipe reviews are what sealed it for me—they were all great. And they were right. These are a special cupcake. Unique with the “soak” that provides that boozy bite in the middle of a really vanilla cake, and the frosting—oh, the frosting! A not-too-sweet, whipped cream-mascarpone cheese mixture spiked with amaretto (almond liqueur). Wow!

The original frosting recipe called for Instant Clear Jel, which, conveniently, you can order from King Arthur Flour. It’s actually modified food starch, which is chemically processed and not something I want in my food, so I used less processed corn starch. It still keeps the frosting, which contains a lot of whipped cream, from deflating. Arrowroot powder might work as well, but I didn’t want to chance it. Next time I make these at home, I’ll try it and will update the recipe if results are good.

Don’t skimp on the soak. After making a smaller test batch, I told myself to use more of the soak mixture. When I made the larger, “for real” batch, I thought I had used more of the soaking liquid (brushed each cupcake many, many times), and I was worried it was too much liquid (afraid they’d be soggy), but the cupcakes could have used even more of it, so be generous.

Keep in mind that because the alcohol in both the soak and the frosting isn’t cooked off, these should be adults only cupcakes. And all the adults at the office birthday party gave them rave reviews. Enjoy!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Tiramisu Cupcakes

Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

Cupcakes
1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

Soak
3 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua

2 tablespoons espresso powder

3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup hot water

Frosting
2 cups heavy cream

4 teaspoons corn starch 2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup amaretto liqueur

1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature

Garnish
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust tops of frosted cupcakes.

To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk into the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again, to be sure everything is incorporated.

Scoop the batter into paper-lined cupcake pans. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and place the pans on a rack for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the cupcakes out and return them to rack to cool completely.

To make the soak: Mix the espresso powder, liqueur, and sugar into the hot water.

Using a fork, poke the tops of each cupcake two or three times. Sprinkle or brush a small amount of the soak over each cupcake, and allow it to soak in. Repeat until virtually all the liquid is used.

To make the frosting: Beat the whipping cream until medium peaks form.

Whisk together the powdered sugar and corn starch and slowly add to the whipped cream, along with the amaretto.

Gently and briefly whisk in the mascarpone cheese by hand until the frosting is thick and creamy (this shouldn’t take more than 4 or 5 passes with the whisk); more than that and the frosting will get grainy.

Pipe the frosting over the cupcakes, then dust with cocoa. Keep refrigerated. I think the cupcakes taste best if they are removed from the fridge about 1/2 hour before serving.

Yield: 18-24 cupcakes (I got 18, but the original recipe said 24).

Homemade Peanut Butter

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Way back when I was a kid, the peanut butter in most households was Jif, Skippy or Peter Pan. That was pretty much it. Except if you were my family, then it was the natural kind that you had to stir to incorporate the oil. It wasn’t very common back then either, but once again, my parents were ahead of their time when it came to healthy eating. And I hated it!

I wanted nothing more than to have Jif or Peter Pan peanut butter like “normal” kids. Even Skippy, which wasn’t as good, was better than that natural stuff in my kid mind. I remember being over at a friend’s house and for a snack we had white bread (which we never had in my house either), toasted, with Jif peanut butter. I was in snack heaven!

My how our tastes changes as we grow up. I wouldn’t eat those name brand PBs filled with sugars, added oils (often hydrogenated) and preservatives now under any circumstances.

For years, I’ve purchased the “natural” peanut butters where the short list of ingredients was peanuts and salt. My adult taste buds loved the pure peanut taste that wasn’t masked by sweeteners and other oils. Trader Joe’s was my brand of choice. Just open the jar, pull out a butter knife and use your brute force to stir it up so the separated peanut butter and peanut oil were mixed together. Then keep it in the fridge. Only bad part was once you got down to about the last quarter of the jar, you had pretty hard peanut butter that was a pain to spread. I never thought much about it, but the stirring and bottom-of-the-jar hard PB kind of sucked. That’s just what you need to accept when you want “natural” peanut butter, right?

Then one day my co-worker Jill asked if I make my own peanut butter. Make my own peanut butter? Whhhaaatttt?!? I had never thought of it. Why had I never thought of it? A quick google made me laugh at how easy it is. Dump a bag of roasted peanuts in a food processor and turn it on. That’s it—after a few minutes you have your “natural” peanut butter with just peanuts and salt, or if you buy the no-salt-added, just peanuts. Put it in a jar, pop it in the refrigerator and you have silky smooth, no-oil-separated peanut butter whenever you have a hankering. Thank you, Jill!

I usually buy the 50% salt Trader Joe’s peanuts which gives the perfect level saltiness for my taste. And it never separates or becomes hard, even near the bottom of the jar. Who knew? And it’s cheaper than buying a jar of the same amount of peanut butter. I haven’t bought a jar of peanut butter since.
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A few people at work, besides Jill, have been as surprised as I was about this making-your-own-peanut-butter thing, so I thought it would be worth sharing in a blog post. I should note, this works equally well with cashews or almonds. But don’t thank me; thank Jill. Enjoy!
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Homemade Peanut Butter

  • Servings: 1 16 oz. jar
  • Print
I’ve used this in baking too–in cookies and bars–with good results

1 pound roasted peanuts (unsalted, lightly salted, or salted)

Salt, to taste (if peanuts are unsalted and you want salted peanut butter)

Put the peanuts and salt (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about a minute and stop it and scrape down the sides (be warned, it’s really noisy at first!). Process for a couple minutes more, until it is to your preferred consistency. You may need to scrape down the sides a couple times. The amount of processing time will vary on the power of your food processor—the right time will be when it looks right to you.

Scrape the peanut butter into a jar and refrigerate. Unless you rarely eat peanut butter, it will keep longer than it takes for you to use up the jar. Makes a 16-oz. jar.

Creamy Sriracha Potato Salad

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Scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches have been the extent of my culinary adventures lately as I recuperate from total hip replacement surgery. Until my appetite and agility return and I dive back into cooking escapades worth sharing, here’s a potato salad recipe I came up with last month. A little creamy, a little tangy, and subtly spicy. I hope you like it. Enjoy!
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Creamy Sriracha Potato Salad

½ pounds Yukon gold potatoes

1 cup sliced radishes

¾ cup sliced scallions

¼ cup sour cream or plain Green yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon dill pickle juice

1-2 tablespoons sriracha sauce (depending on how much heat you’d like)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ cup chopped parsley or dill

Cut potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Place in a pan and cover with water and throw in some salt. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and cook potatoes until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and dump into a large serving bowl. Add radishes and scallions and toss.

While potatoes are cooking, combine sour cream, mayo, lemon juice & zest, pickle juice, sriracha, olive oil, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth and creamy.

Pour dressing over potato mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle in parsley or dill and toss again. Cover and chill for a couple hours before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.

 

Yeasted Belgian Waffles

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Waffles didn’t used to be a food that excited me. They just seemed a little blah compared to their pancake and French toast cousins. But then I discovered the Belgian waffle. Of course I had heard of Belgian waffles before, and it’s rather ironic I hadn’t had one given my 50 percent Belgian ancestry, but for some reason they had never made it onto my plate.

My interest grew after seeing a New York Times Food recipe for yeasted waffles. Certainly yeast would automatically take them out of the blah zone. And the Belgian waffle seemed to be thicker and lighter than the more conventional round variety. Then I saw a recommendation for the All-Clad Belgian Waffle Maker on Heidi Swanson’s website 101 Cookbooks, and I plunged into the waffle world.

From Amazon (it was the cheapest), I ordered the smaller two-square version of the four-square model Heidi swore by and lo and behold, I received the four-square one. I looked back at my order to check and it clearly showed the two-square listed and the two-square price, so I had somehow been blessed by the waffle gods with a bonus. It was around $150, which may seem pricy for a kitchen gadget with only one use, but it’s substantial, easy to use, and should last for many years.

My parents coming to visit for the weekend was the perfect time for a first foray into the yeasted Belgian waffle-making ranks. It’s nice you can mix the batter the night before, cover the mixing bowl, and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to go the next morning. Just whisk in the eggs and baking soda.

Served with warm, pure maple syrup, fresh raspberries and Field Roast Grain Meat Company’s Smoked Apple Sage Sausage (my favorite veggie sausage with breakfast), this was a truly scrumptious family meal. Everyone had seconds on the waffles and I think Pete may have even had thirds.

If you have leftover waffles, which we did, just toss them in a zip-lock bag and freeze. Warm them in your toaster and they are damn close to freshly made. My Belgian waffle breakfast sandwich was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had, leftover waffles, homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, sliced tomato, an egg over-easy then topped with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. I’m craving this again as I type and I can truly now say Belgian waffles excite me. Enjoy!

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waffle

Yeasted Belgian Waffles

Slightly adapted from this New York Times Recipe

1 ¼ cups milk (I used skim)

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus more for the waffle iron

1 tablespoon organic sugar (15 grams)

1 teaspoon sea salt (5 grams)

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

2 cups all-purpose flour (240 grams)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (90 grams)

2 large eggs

¼ teaspoon baking soda

In a small pot over medium heat, combine milk, buttermilk and butter until melted and hot but not simmering. Stir in sugar and salt; remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water and yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add warm milk mixture to yeast and stir. Whisk in flours. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled in volume, 2 to 3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat waffle iron. Whisk eggs and baking soda into waffle batter. Using a pastry brush or paper towel, lightly coat iron with melted butter.

Cook waffles (using about 1/2 cup batter per waffle, or per manufacturer’s instructions) until golden and crisp. Butter the iron in between batches, as needed. Serve waffles immediately as they are ready, or keep them warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve (on a wire rack set on a baking sheet). Makes about 12-16 waffles.