Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Creamy Chevre Pasta with Spinach and Mushroom

I usually purchase large logs of goat cheese when it's on sale, since I always think there are so many things I want to make with it. I make the one dish, then forget about the leftover chevre as it slowly rots away in my refrigerator. Not this week, though. I didn't use all of it for my white pizza and had quite a bit left, so I thought I'd continue what I started and make this a white album kinda week. 
This dish comes together in no time, and the 'sauce' that is made using soft goat cheese couldn't be any easier. I'm not really a fan of pasta dishes that use goat cheese as a primary ingredient and simply mix hunks of it into the warm pasta. The resulting consistency is very similar to drying paste, and the pasta sticks to itself like mad. Simply reserving about a cup or so of the pasta water and slowly adding it to the cheese until it becomes the consistency you're looking for, works amazingly well. 

You can always use any pasta you like, but I strongly recommend using a cavatappi here. The ridges and hollow center give the sauce a place to go, and the spinach gets tangled into the curly shape of the pasta. It creates a different texture than a normal flat pasta that really accentuates the ingredients.


12 oz cavatappi pasta
10 oz fresh spinach
1 lb cremini and/or white mushrooms, quartered
1 leek, cleaned well with white and pale green parts sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 - 8 oz chevre (soft goat cheese)
1 1/2 cup reserved pasta water 
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated

Fill a large pot with cold water and place it on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil. You can add a tablespoon or two of salt at any time before you add the pasta. While you're waiting for it to boil, prep the vegetables. Add a glug of oil to a large saute pan over medium heat and begin cooking the mushrooms and leeks. Once the mushrooms have released all their liquid and start to sizzle again in the pan, add the sliced garlic. Stir for about 30 seconds, then add the spinach. Let cook till it comes to about this point, (see photo below) then turn off the heat.
You don't want to over cook the spinach since it will continue to cook after the heat has been turned off, and even more once the hot pasta is added. 

By this point your water should be boiling, and you can add the pasta. Cook per brand's instructions for very al dente. When the pasta is nearly finished, remove 1 1/2 of pasta water and set aside. 

Crumble the goat cheese into a medium glass bowl. Add a little of the hot pasta water, 1/2 cup at first, then just a drizzle, stirring all the while till it becomes a consistency you like. Keep in mind, it should be a little thin since you want it to evenly coat the pasta, and it will thicken slightly as it cools. 

Add the drained pasta over the cooked spinach and mushrooms. Pour over the chevre sauce and stir till well combined. Serve immediately with lots of freshly ground pepper and grated parmesan. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

White Pizza with Artichoke Hearts

I've had kind of a rough week so far, starting with my checking on the gorgeous raspberry bushes along side the house to see how they were fairing and discovering nearly all of them were pulled by an over zealous neighbor. The wonderful weather tease we had earlier disappeared with the abrupt plummet back into the 30s. Our little one came down with a fever, which always turns me into a ball of nerves, watching her closely and fretting about the million things that could possibly go wrong. A meal that could comfort my rattled self and that would pique the appetite of my sick little girl were definitely called for. How could I go wrong with a pizza?
The calm I find in preparing my own dough simply wouldn't suffice; I needed something quick and simple to throw together to appease our specific craving. Thankfully, I picked up some fabulous sounding garlic and herb pizza dough, ready to be shaped into whatever form I desired and baked off. I already had some of my favorite prepared artichoke hearts at home, and I wanted some cheeses that would be satisfying, yet not greasy. The blissful combination of fluffy ricotta, creamy chevre, and the salty bite of feta and pecorino were just what this pie needed. And it didn't disappoint. Paired with some heirloom cherry tomatoes simply dressed with garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, this was a meal that hit everything I wanted - crisp thin crust, tender roasted veg, salty creamy cheese, and the sweet with a hit of acid from the salad. Perfection.
Even after roasting the artichokes a bit to remove some of the excess moisture since they were canned, this whole meal came together in under 45 minutes. And unlike the pizza we normally order in, there were no leftovers of this - not even the salad.


1 prepared recipe of pizza dough of your choice
1 14 oz can canned artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
6 garlic cloves, minced
~1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
~3 ounces chevre (soft goat cheese)
~3 ounces feta
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Pour a bit of olive 
oil into a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet, and spread it evenly over the pan with your fingers, getting the sides well coated. Place the quartered artichokes on another baking sheet and pop in the oven on the upper middle rack for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Stretch the dough out evenly in the oiled pan, ensuring that the edges have a bit more dough if you like a crusty pizza. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle the garlic evenly over the top. Spread the ricotta evenly over the dough, then crumble the chevre and feta over the top as well. Place the roasted artichoke hearts as evenly or precariously as you like. Sprinkle the pecorino over the top. If you like, drizzle a bit more oil over the intended crust of the pizza. 

Move oven rack to middle position and bake the pizza for about 12 - 18 minutes (all depends on your oven and thickness of crust). Let rest for a couple minutes before slicing. While the pizza is baking, prepare the salad.

for the tomato salad:


1 lb mini heirloom, grape, or cherry tomato, or any small tomato of your choice, halved
1 clove garlic, minced very fine (a microplane works perfectly for this)
scant 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup or more (depending on taste) good quality extra virgin olive oil
couple good pinches of sea salt
several good turns of your pepper mill

Toss the tomatoes in a large enough glass bowl to accommodate them as you halve them. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well in order to fully incorporate the garlic. Let sit for 15 minutes for flavors to develop.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chicken Chili

This chili has been in my arsenal for quite some time now. It's really easy to make, can feed a crowd, and the leftovers are great. It seems that the longer this sits in the fridge, the better it tastes. Of course, it's still delicious the first day. 

Chicken chilies I've had in the past always seemed more like a soup to me - the flavors were kind of there, but the consistency just wasn't reminiscent of chili. Since the chicken isn't ground (nor would I want it to be), there is kind of a sacrifice to the comforting thickness of a ground meat chili. I tried adding some corn meal to thicken the broth, and haven't turned back. Not only do you get a more satisfying viscosity to the liquid, there is fantastic flavor imparted by the corn meal. It works really well with the combination of beans and peppers used in this recipe. 
As far as chilies go, this one is super fast. You don't have to simmer for a long time in order to get nice developed flavors. You can also use whatever combination of peppers look good to you; as long as you have a jalapeño in there, you're good to go.


1.5 - 2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 - 3 large poblano, anaheim, cubanelle, or banana peppers, small dice
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
8 - 10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp Mexican (or regular) oregano
1 Tbsp cumin
Adobo seasoning (if you can't find this in the grocery store, its easy to make your own.)
2 bay leaves
2 quarts low sodium chicken stock
2 cans great northern or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
~1/2 cup corn meal
cilantro (optional)

Add oil to a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Pat chicken thighs dry on both sides and lightly sprinkle (as you would with salt) Adobo on each side. Nestle thighs into pot (you may have to do this in 2 batches to avoid crowding the pan) and cook for 5 - 6 minutes on each side till golden brown. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.

There should be enough residual oil left in the pot, but if not add ~1/2 Tbsp more. Add the onion and peppers, and dial heat back to medium. Add a couple splashes of the chicken stock and scrape up all the browned bits. Cook for about 10 minutes till the onions and peppers are softened, stirring often.  Add the garlic, oregano, and cumin and stir for about 1 minute or so. Add the remaining chicken stock and bay leaves. Place chicken back into pot and cook covered over medium low heat for about 20 - 25 minutes. 

Remove chicken thighs and place on a cookie sheet to expedite cooling. Add the beans to the stock and increase heat to medium. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite size pieces using your hands. Add the chicken back to the pot. Slowly add the corn meal into the chili while stirring constantly, ensuring the corn meal isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot, for about 5 minutes or until chili is thickened. You may want to add a bit more if the chili isn't as thick as you want it, but a word of warning - it takes a couple minutes for the corn meal to swell and thicken the chili, so don't be over zealous.

If you like, tear off a handful or two of cilantro and add to chili. Stir well and serve immediately. A squeeze of lime and some Mexican crema are lovely additions.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Not Without Salt's Chocolate Chip Cookie

There are probably as many chocolate chip cookies in the blogosphere claiming to be 'the best ever' as there are people willing to eat them. I've tried my fair share, but none of them have been memorable enough to prevent me from resorting to the recipe on the back of the chip bag instead of pulling it out. These have changed all that. I was so beguiled by this one, that I read it over and over, wrote it down, read that about a dozen times, daydreamed about it at work, that I now have it down verbatim and I've only made them twice. This week.
I pulled this recipe from the wonderfully written blog Not Without Salt by Ashley Rodriguez. She shares classic and simple recipes paired with beautiful prose on her passion for food and glimpses into her ever-evolving family life. I urge you to check it out, and suspect you may find some inspiration there, as I have. 

There are a few characteristics of these cookies that I must share with you, since I learned the 'hard' way. Do not be tempted to scarf these soon after they are out of the oven. You will be missing out on the true potential of this cookie. I've found that they are best consumed once they are completely cooled, and in my opinion, they reach their peak the next day after being sealed away in an air-tight container. I know, I know, this goes against everything we've grown up with - there was nothing better than a warm chocolate chip cookie out of the oven. Well you see, that is because the quality of those cookies were flat out inferior, and we could only imagine how good they'd potentially be by devouring them quickly once they were freshly baked. These cookies defy all that.
For one, the best bittersweet chocolate 'you can afford' is called for. That means there is none of the emulsifiers that are found in chocolate chips that hold the shape of the chocolate together. You will get it everywhere if you dig in too soon. This is not a bad thing, yet you'll be rewarded for your patience if you let them cool. There is also a high ratio of brown sugar (nearly 2 cups!), and I pretty much adore anything that calls for lots of brown sugar. The butter and egg amount is the same, yet there is quite a bit more flour than in other recipes. I was a little dubious when I first made these, since the texture of the dough wasn't the super creamy scoopable stuff I was accustomed to - I had to work it a bit with my hands to get it into a roughly golf ball size. Since there are huge chunks of chocolate, you end up molding the dough around them. In other words, this dough is basically a vehicle for the chocolate. Yet this conduit is the tastiest one I've ever had - instead of falling short of the chocolate, it marries with it beautifully and gives these cookies real depth.
Enough of my waxing, on to the recipe! You can find it here, but I have also provided it below if you'd rather scroll down than click. I have made subtle adjustments, but all in all it is the same recipe.


2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
1 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
12 oz chocolate, the best you can afford, cut into roughly 1/2 inch chunks with a serrated knife. (I tentatively used bittersweet, worried it might not be sweet enough, but I will never use any other - it made a magnificent cookie) 
1/2 tsp good quality sea salt (I used Maldon's), to sprinkle atop cookies before baking

Cream butter and sugars on medium high speed till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl a couple times during creaming. Continue mixing and add each egg one at a time, ensuring the first is fully incorporated before adding the second. Scrape the bowl, add vanilla, scrape bowl again. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda in separate bowl. Slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients with mixer on low, leaving behind a smidge. Pour chocolate bits into the remaining flour and toss. Remove bowl from mixer and add the chocolate and flour mixture and combine by hand (literally) till just combined and there are no more streaks of flour.

Shape into golf ball sized rounds, sprinkle with a whisper of sea salt (if you like - if you're hesitant, just try it on a few - you may love it) and bake @ 350 degrees for 12 minutes. I baked 6 at a time, since I wanted perfectly round cookies that hadn't butted up against their neighbors. Keep a good eye on these as well - after reading another blog's post of this recipe, they recommended pulling the cookies from the oven as soon as the edges were golden brown, which was actually a bit shy of 12 minutes. Of course it all depends on your oven, so keep an eye on them.

After removing from oven, let the cookies rest for 2 minutes on the sheet so they can set. Place on a cooling rack and test your patience by waiting at least till they are cool to the touch before housing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

SoyRizo Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans

Soy Chorizo - I could go on and on about how much I love this stuff. It elevates simple soups, chilies, stews, hashes, tacos, eggs... pretty much everything, to something amazing. Plus the guilt factor is reduced since its vegan and gluten free. My family is neither vegan or gluten free, but I guess it's kind of a bonus when I throw something together that happens to be and I can feed a crowd without worrying about leaving any one out. 

This soup comes together super fast, and freezes well - up to 3 months in an airtight container. Perfect for when my ~2 year old is running around the house yelling 'shoop shoop shoop!' and will not wait for me to make a soup from scratch (sort of), and I refuse to keep canned soups in the house... unless it's for the one meal I use them for. But I'll save that one for another post. 


1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into about 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, small dice
2 celery stalks, small dice
2 peeled carrots, small dice
2 cans low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 12 oz package Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
1 quart water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
squeeze of lime juice (optional)

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 8 - 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes till vegetables are softened. 

Remove soy chorizo from casing and add it to the pot. Increase heat to medium high and stir well, breaking up the sausage to a fine crumble. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cumin, smoked paprika and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the stock and water, add the sweet potato and black beans. When the soup starts to simmer, cover and dial heat back to low and let it go (stirring occasionally) for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. 

Serve with a wedge of lime and your favorite tortilla chips or crusty bread.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spring Roll Salad

I adore fresh spring rolls, and coming across a recipe for a spring roll salad in Vegetarian Times magazine was like a revelation. All the things I love about the rolls - the thin and delicate rice noodles, the fresh herbal hit of cilantro, chunks of tofu... and the peanut sauce! Lots of simple and great flavors happening in the classic spring roll, yet I never made them at home since I never felt like bothering with the 'roll' part. Wrapping all those ingredients in a temperamental rice paper wrap seemed like too much of a hassle. When I saw the recipe for a spring roll salad, I was almost kicking myself for not thinking of it myself. And then I promptly made it.
The recipe was pretty good, but it didn't really have the flavors I was looking for. It calls for mint and cilantro, but I prefer only cilantro since it doesn't overpower the other ingredients. The dressing was not my favorite either. The recipe's version was not very balanced. Even though there are chopped roasted peanuts garnishing the salad, there wasn't enough peanut flavor for us. 

If you happened to check out and/or make the salt & pepper tofu from last week, you may be wondering what to do with all that extra peanut sauce... or not. The recipe does make a pretty large batch, and we really use a lot of it with salt & pepper tofu, but I always have some left over. This salad is pretty much the perfect way to use that left over sauce, and with just a couple additions it really changes the flavor profile to it. And it is so perfect for this salad. It ends up making the perfect amount to dress it, and really gives the vegetables that extra punch of flavor, as well as playing up their delicate taste.
This salad is definitely going to be repeated a lot in our house, especially during those hot and humid days when using the oven is out of the question. It's really easy to change it up and use up some veg in your fridge, or other herbs you may prefer. Cilantro seems to be a hate it or love it thing, so if that is the case, Italian parsley, basil, and/or mint work here as well. Cashews or almonds would be great (especially if there are any peanut allergy things happening), and other nut butters can be used in lieu of peanut butter for the 'peanut' sauce. This salad can feed a lot of people if used as a side, or easily feed a family of four as a main dish. I feel that it tastes the best at room temperature, but its still great cold. It would be a colorful and healthful addition to any up coming cookouts.


~4 ounces thin rice noodles

1 package firm or extra firm tofu, drained and cut into small bite sized cubes

1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled into thin ribbons with veg peeler

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into fat matchsticks

1/4 of purple cabbage, thinly sliced

1/2 cup cilantro (or basil, parsley, mint, or combination of these) coarsely chopped, 
plus extra for garnish

1/2 cup roasted peanuts (or cashews, pistachio, etc), coarsely chopped

for the dressing
1/2 recipe of peanut sauce

juice of half a lime

2 - 3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

Fill a tea kettle or medium pot with water and set over high heat. Place rice noodles in large glass bowl. Once water is boiling, remove from heat and pour over the noodles. Let sit for 3 - 5 minutes, carefully stirring every minute or so. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prep the vegetables, herb(s) and peanuts (or other nut). You can increase or decrease the amount of any of these ingredients to your taste. This recipe calls for a pretty balanced mix of ingredients, but is still very good if you change the ratios (except on the dressing) so if you prefer to tip the scales with the noodles, you can prepare a double batch. Or, if you are wild about cabbage, use half a head. Add all the ingredients (except for the nuts) to a large bowl. 

Prepare the dressing by combining all ingredients and mixing well. The consistency should be thin, yet with a bit more viscosity than a vinaigrette. Add the cooked noodles in with the other prepared ingredients. Pour over the dressing. Toss gently yet thoroughly, taking care to ensure the noodles are mixed in well with the other ingredients (they tend to want to clump together), while not breaking up the tofu.

Garnish with nuts and  extra herbs. Serve room temperature or chilled. Lasts up to 3 days in a tightly sealed container - mix well before re-serving. 

This recipe has been adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Strawberry San Francisco

This dessert is near and dear to my heart, for many reasons. For one, it was the only time my mother would allow us to eat our strawberries with sugar; best yet, brown sugar, which I used to stash bags of under my bed circa 1985. It also is a tie to my mother's waitressing days, and she worked in some of the best restaurants (in my opinion) in the area. This dessert is from Ray Radigan's, a supper club in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Don't ask me where the name came from - I have no clue how San Francisco ties into it. 
If you've ever driven into Wisconsin from Illinois on Sheridan Road, you know that there is not much to look at. There isn't much diversity as far as businesses go; mechanics, auto parts stores, fast food chains, hotels, bars, and the occasional restaurant. Once you hit a stretch of pseudo-rural drive, Ray Radigan's is like a beacon in the disguise of a traditional supper club. They haven't changed their ways much since opening in 1933 - great in-house dry-aged steaks, lobster thermidor, and a schnitzel of the day are some of the classics they still serve. The atmosphere may not compare to some of the nouveau supper club throwback places that pop up from time to time, but it is a classic and simple place that if you live near, you simply must check it out. Just like you must try this dessert.
One of the great things about it is that you can really make it to suit your tastes - we always have. Traditionally it consists of perfectly ripe strawberries, sour cream, and a sprinkling of light brown sugar. Thats it. I've used creme fraiche, greek yogurt, and good old sour cream. I usually use greek yogurt lately, since it is always in the fridge. You can add as much brown sugar as you want - completely up to you, but it is easy to go overboard. Start with a little, and go from there. This is also really lovely with some reduced balsamic vinegar drizzled over it in lieu of the brown sugar (or with it, if you're a junky for it like me). Its also a dessert that can be made elegant enough for (last minute) guests, or you can simply pile some sour cream in a bowl, sprinkle a healthy portion of brown sugar on top, and dip whole strawberries in it for a meal, er, snack. 
Strawberry season is upon us in some parts of the country, and will be in full swing here in the MidWest before we know it. This is a wonderfully simple and fun way to enjoy them, and you can try many variations. The classic tangy, thick, creamy dairy paired with the molasses-y subtle crunch of the brown sugar is my all time favorite, and what I recommend when trying it for the first time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pretzel Roll with Limburger and Vidalia Onion

This post is not only a tribute to some amazing Wisconsin products, but also celebrates one of my favorite things - the sandwich. More specifically, a cheese sandwich. I know that last month was all about the grilled cheese, and I saw some really creative and inspiring versions, yet I still crave an old fashioned cold cheese sandwich any day. Its faster, portable, and ridiculously satisfying. 

I'm also celebrating a cheese that is unfortunately fraught with stigma - which is so, so wrong. Limburger is commonly known as being some odd foodstuff that one's grandfather would eat, and everyone else in the family avoided it like the plague. Let me tell you - if you haven't had it yet, you've been missing out. Yes, limburger is stinky - but aren't all super delicious and flavorful cheeses stinky? Its a good stink, and once you taste it you'll forget all about what you used to think about Limburger. 
Some of the best Limburger is still made here in good old Wisconsin. I used Henning's Limburger, make in Kiel, WI, which is located between Milwaukee and Green Bay. It was a bit difficult to find, but on Milwaukee's East Side there is a wonderful Italian grocery, Glorioso's on Brady, that has a great cheese section. It literally takes up nearly a third of the store. Limburger is super affordable too, and I think it holds up to the fancy and extremely pricy French cheeses I've tried in the past. Another amazing Limburger that fames from Wisconsin is made in Monroe from the Chalet Cheese Co-Operative . There is a wonderful article in Gastronomica's spring issue that discusses the changes in cheese culture in the US, and a section of it compares the production of Limburger made at Chalet Cheese to the tradition of American modernity. It is definitely worth checking out.

After scoring my 2 blocks of this wonderful stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth cheese, my plan of serving it on some fragrant pumpernickel went out the window when I noticed these ridiculously good pretzel rolls on my way to the check out. These rolls are made in good old Milwaukee, and are truly a perfect pairing with Limburger.
Soft on the inside, with a deeply brown and caramelized exterior and the perfect amount of salt. Slathered with a good grainy brown mustard, some thick slices of sweet Vidalia onion (the season for these is almost over!), and several slices of pungent Limburger, there really is no better Milwaukee style lunch. Well, if you pair it with Lakefront Brewery's East Side Dark, then you really have something magical.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Salt and Pepper Tofu with Peanut Sauce

Some days I am too exhausted, or feeling a general lack of creativity in the kitchen that prevents me from turning out something 'fun' for my (almost) 2 year old to eat. And when I'm alone with her, I prefer something that doesn't keep me tied to the stove/practically makes itself. 

This is a meal that is super quick to whip up, leaves enough leftovers for lunch the next day, and is a favorite of my daughter's because it has 2 of her favorite things: roasted broccoli, and a thick, creamy dipping sauce. For some reason my daughter has decided that as far as most vegetables go, they will not pass her lips unless they've been roasted. Which is perfectly fine with me, since it is so insanely easy to prepare them this way, and I don't feel that any of the nutrients are getting leeched out into a cooking liquid. 

Unfortunately I am a sucker for thick, creamy, Americanized peanut sauce, and always order extra when eating at one of the Thai places in our area. This recipe is the closest I've come to recreating it at home, and we all love it. It may not be for you, but keep in mind that the recipe provided is super adaptable to your tastes - I make it differently every time depending on what I'm in the mood for, or what it will be accompanying. Just keep a spoon nearby in order to repeatedly taste it as you go along - making it your own is the fun part.


for the salt & pepper tofu
1 package firm or extra firm of your favorite tofu
salt and pepper
1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or coconut

for the peanut dipping sauce
6 Tbsp of your fav peanut butter
1 1/2 tsp mirin
2 Tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tsp Bragg's liquid aminos or 2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
2 1/2 tsp sriracha (or to taste)
3 Tbsp low fat coconut milk
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp lime juice (optional)
1 inch nub of  peeled grated ginger (optional)

for the roasted broccoli
1 bunch (2-3 heads) organic broccoli
extra virgin olive oil mister/spray
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place a silicone mat or piece of parchment on a baking sheet. Rinse broccoli and separate heads into large bite size florets and peel stalk with a knife, ensuring to remove all of the tough fibrous exterior. Slice the peeled stalk into coins and place on lined baking sheet with the florets. Mist/spray with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in oven on middle rack and roast for 20 - 25 minutes, stirring halfway through roasting time.

While the broccoli is cooking, drain the tofu and cut into about 1 inch square cubes. Heat the 1/4 cup neutral tasting oil over medium high heat. Dry the cubes well on both sides with clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Place all tofu in pan and let cook till golden brown on first side before flipping (about 4 - 7 minutes). Once tofu is browned on 2 sides, remove to paper towel lined plate and set aside. 

While the tofu is frying, add all the ingredients of the peanut sauce to a glass bowl and whisk together. If you like it really spicy, add more sriracha. A bit more tang, more rice wine vinegar - this is where it gets fun and you can make this completely tailored to your tastes. If the balance is good for you, but still seems a bit thick, add more coconut milk. 

Serve tofu alongside broccoli with lots of peanut dipping sauce on the side. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Vanilla Chai Cookies

I recently made a batch of vanilla sugar and was just itching to use it. I was patient and waited 2 weeks (almost) so I'd end up with a nice potent batch. Remembering my fondness for vanilla chai lattes, I figured a cookie version of this would be a lovely homage to them. 

I made several batches of these little buggers until I arrived at what I was tasting in my mind - vanilla at the forefront, with warm chai spices and a hint of black tea, all carried within a crisply shelled yet chewy cookie. 

One nice thing about experimenting, was that with the same exact batter, 2 distinct cookie aesthetics and textures can be obtained. Whether you want a traditional sugar cookie texture and appearance as shown above, or a craggy shelled and gooey centered cookie as pictured below...

the only thing needed is a pint glass in which the bottom has been spritzed with canola oil, and dipped in vanilla sugar. To get a more traditional sugar cookie, simply press down on each round mound of dough till it is about equal with the width of the glass, as well as reduce baking time by a minute. That is it! I must admit, I was a little astounded at the difference this made. I loved them both, but I do lean towards the craggy and extra chewy variety. 

Another bonus about this recipe is that there is no special equipment needed - just a couple of bowls, a nice sturdy spoon, and a little elbow grease. No waiting for butter to reach room temp either - its melted!

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
4 Tbsp vegetable shortening, melted
3 bags of your favorite chai tea
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 Tbsp milk or low fat coconut milk
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vanilla sugar for rolling the cookies before baking

Preheat oven to 350 and make sure there is a rack in the middle position in the oven. Place butter and shortening in a small saucepan over medium low heat until the butter is just melted. Open the chai tea bags and empty the contents into the warm melted butter. Set aside.

Whisk together flour, soda, powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, lightly beat the egg and stir in sugar and light brown sugar. Pour in the melted butter, shortening, with the steeped tea leaves. Add the vanilla and stir well. 

Add a 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Continue this until all ingredients are mixed together, taking care not to over mix. Measure out the vanilla sugar into a small bowl.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment, or silicone baking mats. Roll about 2 dozen slightly smaller than golf ball sized balls - I believe this is roughly under 2 Tbsp of dough per cookie. If you have that size disher (#40 I believe), by all means, use it to portion out the dough. It is still essential to roll the dough into a pretty evenly round ball.

Working with 8 balls of dough at a time (these bake up in 3 batches), roll them in the vanilla sugar and place on the cookie sheets leaving plenty of room in between. Here is where your cookie appearance choice comes into play - for a craggy top with squidgy inside, let them be. For a smoother, more traditional sugar cookie appearance and texture (crisp edges, chewy center), lightly spray the bottom of a pint glass with canola oil and dip the bottom in the vanilla sugar. Gently press down on each ball till it is even with the edge of the glass. Bake in the oven for 12 - 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking time. Just a heads up, the flattened balls will bake up slightly faster than the unflattened, so keep an eye on them.

Remove from oven and let cool on tray for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool enough to where you won't burn your tongue when housing the cookies. These cookies probably won't last very long anyways, but be advised that they really don't last long. I've found that even in a very airtight container they only are very good for a couple days. They start to get crisper as time goes on. If any one knows a way to prevent this (should I not be using melted butter?!), please let me know!