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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Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts


A few years ago for my birthday, Pete gave me 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, a cookbook I’d had my eye on for a while. Full of mouth-watering recipes layering spices and ingredients, there’s a huge section of both vegetable and legume curries to satisfy any vegetarian, plus biryanis, spice blends and pastes, and it starts with a detailed primer on curries. There’s also a large chapter called “Curry Cohorts,” that in addition to rice recipes, contains delicious curry accompaniments like coconut noodles, lentil pancakes, and all sorts of heavenly Indian breads from naan to roti to parantha.

After making a few recipes, I found several more I really wanted to try, but they called for fresh curry leaves. What!?! I had heard of curry powder, but never curry leaves. After searching large grocery stores and the co-op, I finally found them after checking several Asian food stores that, unfortunately, weren’t conveniently located for me.  Eventually, the book was set aside, and has been gathering dust.

Recently a Whole Foods Market opened up near our house and I had to check it out. Impressed with the variety of produce that includes items not found in other stores near me, I was so surprised and excited to see fresh curry leaves. Time to dig out 660 Curries again.

Fresh curry leaves


With my stock of fresh curry leaves, I perused the book to decide what to make. For a weeknight when there wasn’t a lot of meal prep time, Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts was deemed the ideal recipe. It had a manageable list of ingredients, some intriguing flavor combinations, and called for fresh curry leaves!

The combination of sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles piqued my interest, and smelled wonderful after being combined in the food processor. Not used to potatoes and tomatoes together, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this dish, but we weren’t disappointed. The sesame-peanut blend will release the most amazing aroma into your kitchen while cooking, and once combined with the rest of the ingredients, will morph into a delicious scent that makes it hard to wait until supper is ready.

The cookbook suggests this as either a side dish or stuffed into fresh pita. Since this was to be our main course (actually, our only course), and I didn’t have pita or naan (which would go so perfectly), I cooked up some brown basmati rice and served the potato dish over it. Gradually growing on me from one bite to the next, this spicy, hearty meal won me over and will definitely be made again . And I had plenty left over to take for lunch the next day (which I thought about and, even dreamt about, all night!). Enjoy!

Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts

From Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons raw peanuts or roasted peanuts (if salted, reduce salt later in recipe)

4 medium-sized cloves garlic, peeled

3 dried red Thai chilies or cayenne chiles, stems removed (I used about ¾ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes, and submerged in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning (I didn’t peel my potatoes and skipped the bowl of water because I cut them up at the last minute, quickly, while the sesame-peanut mixture was roasting)

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt (use only one if both your tomatoes and peanuts already contain salt)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley if you are cilantro-averse)

12 medium to large-sized fresh curry leaves (if you can’t find curry leaves, this dish will still be delicious)

Combine the sesame seeds, peanuts, garlic, and chiles in a food processor and pulse to form a gritty, sticky, mellow-smelling blend.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Scrape the sesame-peanut blend into the warmed oil and roast the mixture, stirring, until it starts to release it’s own oils and loosens, turning crumbly and nutty brown, 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the potatoes, if they were in water.

Stir the turmeric into the sesame-peanut blend and cook for a few seconds. Then add the potatoes, tomatoes, (with their juices), 1 cup water, and the salt. Stir once or twice, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fork-tender and the sauce has thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and curry leaves and serve. Great as a side dish, stuffed inside a pita, along-side warm naan, or over brown basmati rice. Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

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.

Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter and Parmesan


A couple weeks ago I featured a pasta dish with some of the fresh herbs I’m growing. One I didn’t use then was sage. Having not done a lot with sage other than almost burn the house down during my first attempt at making a sage brown butter sauce, lessons were learned and I was now ready to ease back into that sage/butter combination, but with a lot less butter.

Initially a bit concerned with the amount of sage in this recipe, there was no need to be. In fact, the quantity I include below could even be increased if you’d like. Using a modest amount of butter adds to the creaminess of the finished dish, but doesn’t make it overly rich. The addition of the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano adds a comfort food factor, with no heaviness.

Fresh greens, either from your garden or the farmers’ market, dressed with homemade vinaigrette, would be a wonderful first course. Enjoy!

Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter, and Parmesan

Adapted from this Mark Bittman recipe

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces pasta, such as ziti or penne, preferably whole wheat

3 to 4 ounces Italian sausage, chopped (I used Trader Joe’s Sausage-less Italian, one link)

2 tablespoons butter

About 20-30 small to medium fresh sage leaves

½ cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Zest of half a lemon

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; generously salt it. Cook pasta until it is tender, but not quite done.

While pasta water heats, brown sausage in a small pan until done. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta over medium heat. Add butter and sage leaves. Cook until butter turns nut-brown and sage shrivels, then turn heat down to low.

When the pasta is just about done, scoop out about ½ cup of the cooking water.

Drain the pasta. Immediately add it to the butter-sage mixture, stir in the sausage, and raise heat to medium. Add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water and the lemon juice; stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until some of the water is absorbed and the pasta is al dente.

Stir in cheese and lemon zest; the sauce will become creamy. Thin it with a little more reserved pasta water if necessary. Season liberally with salt & pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Sprinkle with more cheese if you’d like.

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce
With us having prime growing weather lately, my patio herbs are going nuts and needed a good trim, so dinner featuring fresh herbs was a no-brainer. Tangy Greek yogurt and whole wheat pasta seemed like good vehicles for an herby dish and what’s not made better by buttery garlic and onions?

This meal comes together quickly so is perfect for a week night. Add a glass of chilled rosé and any stress from your work day will melt away while you recharge with a fresh and light supper, ideally al fresco. Enjoy!
Basil and Mint

Lemon Thyme

Fresh Herbs

Penne in Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Inspired by this Food.com recipe

10 oz. penne pasta, preferably whole wheat (I love Trader Joe’s organic)

2 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, cut in small dice

¼ teaspoon salt (plus more salt for the pasta water)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup Greek yogurt at room temperature (I used 2%)

½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil and lemon thyme (parsley and regular thyme would work too)

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pot of generously salted water to boiling. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine and the olive oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 3-4 additional minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining tablespoon of butter or margarine and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it melts.

Toss drained pasta with yogurt. Add onion-garlic mixture and pepper to taste. Mix well. Stir in fresh herbs. Transfer to a serving platter. Makes about 4 servings.

 

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce
Even though Buffalo wings had become bar food standards before I turned vegetarian, I’ve never had them. The smells of blue cheese dressing (I can’t stand blue cheese) and Buffalo sauce combined turned me off completely, as did chicken wings in general.

Then 25 years or so after I’d written off Buffalo anything entirely, a recipe for veggie balls in Buffalo sauce, served with ranch dressing instead of the dreaded blue cheese, popped up in my newsfeed. The recipe’s Buffalo sauce had a high butter to hot sauce ratio and I ended up not liking the butter overload and upset stomach that resulted.

Resolved to avoid Buffalo sauce for the rest of my life, I reluctantly decided to try it again after reading rave reviews of the Buffalo “wings” at a newly opened vegan restaurant in St. Paul. Having a few days left of our recent vacation, Pete and I enjoyed a weekday lunch date at J. Selby’s, which as far as I know, is the only vegan St. Paul restaurant. Based on those reviews, we started with the Buffalo “wings,” which were made from cauliflower. So delicious, and we both had to exercise restraint in order to not finish the entire order before our entrées arrived. With vegan meaning no “real” butter, there was neither a butter overload nor an upset stomach—yay!!

"Cheddar" Cauliflower

Battered Cauliflower

At home in my fridge’s crisper was a head of orange, also called cheddar, cauliflower and thoughts of making my own version began to percolate (the color doesn’t change the taste–it’s the same as white cauliflower). After looking at several recipes, I adapted one from the Frank’s RedHot Sauce website, mainly because their hot sauce was supposedly the secret ingredient in the first ever Buffalo Wings to come out of Buffalo, New York.

Baked Cauliflower

This recipe called for less butter than the ill-fated one referred to earlier, and to make it vegan like J. Selby’s, I replaced that butter with a combo of vegan margarine and non-hydrogenated shortening.

White or brown rice flour could be substituted in place of the wheat flour for a gluten-free option. I include a recipe for ranch dipping sauce, but if you want traditional blue cheese, go for it (while I stifle a gag).

Of course, these crispy, spicy, cauliflowery nuggets will make an awesome appetizer at your next party, but they also will stand in just fine in place of dinner while you absent mindedly eat the entire batch you made to test the recipe on a Tuesday night after work. Don’t ask me how I know. Enjoy!

Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower

 

Buffalo Cauliflower with Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

Adapted from this Frank’s RedHot Sauce recipe

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (substitute brown rice flour for gluten-free)

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute rice flour for gluten—free)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup water

1 medium head white or orange (also called cheddar) cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

½ cup Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce

2 tablespoons vegan butter, such as Earth Balance, melted

1 tablespoon non-hydrogenated shortening, such as Spectrum Organic, melted

Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet or line it with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Whisk in water and continuing whisking until very smooth. Dump in your cauliflower florets and stir until evenly coated.

Using tongs, move cauliflower pieces to prepared baking sheet, shaking off excess batter into the bowl as you do so (I had some batter left over). Make sure florets are evenly spread out on baking sheet, in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes, until coating is golden, rotating baking sheet at about the 10-minute mark for even browning.

Meanwhile, mix Frank’s RedHot Sauce together with the melted butter and shortening.

Remove florets from the oven and drizzle with sauce mixture and toss with a spatula to evenly coat. Return to the oven for about 10 more minutes, until cauliflower begins to crisp.

Remove cauliflower to a platter and serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing. Makes about 6 appetizer servings.

Cool Ranch Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, regular or vegan

1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use vegan Earth Balance Mindful Mayo)

¼ cup milk of choice (skim, almond, soy, etc.)

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (I used a combination of chives, garlic chives, and parsley)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk yogurt, mayo, milk, lemon juice, and mustard together in a small bowl. Stir in herbs, salt, and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.