Tofu and Veggie Miso Noodles

January 29th, 2013 :: 10 comments :: permalink

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Every winter in Chicago I find a new favorite food that gets me through my vitamin D withdrawal. Last year it was XOCO , Rick Bayless’s take on upscale Mexican street food. This year, it’s all about Asian food. Dustin and I have been to Slurping Turtle, a local trendy Japanese noodle shop, at least five times in the last month. That’s a lot for us since I usually cook at home. The first time we went, it was still very new and only a few people had heard of it. Now, my favorite noodle dish comes with a 45 minute wait. It only made sense for me to make my own noodles for my impatient days.

The most important part of this dish, the part which also has the most ingredients, is the sauce. Your sauce has to be flavorful otherwise you’ll be eating a bowl of dry noodles and veggies (lame). Once you gather all the ingredients, it’s easy to make.

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INGREDIENTS: 1) 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2) 2 tablespoons miso paste 3) 1 teaspoon honey 4) 1 teaspoon grated ginger 5) 1 cup water 6) 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced 7)1 tablespoon olive oil 8) 1 teaspoon salt 9) 1 tablespoon lime juice 10) 1 Thai Pepper, finely chopped (very hot, optional)
INSTRUCTIONS: Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature until the rest of your food is ready.

 

I’ve had a tough time cooking with tofu in the past. It would break into egg-like pieces that would stick to the pan. Now that I have a cast iron skillet and use firm tofu, the chunks keep their shape and brown perfectly. My veggies are mixed and matched and based on what I have available in my fridge. I do recommend using a green veggie, such as Brussels sprouts or bok choy, for a nice crunchy texture. These are my personal favorites.

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INGREDIENTS: 1) a handful of mushrooms 2) 1/3 cup edamame 3) 2 cups Brussels sprouts 4) 1 block firm tofu 5) 1/2 of a red bell pepper
INSTRUCTIONS: 1) Heat olive oil in a pan and brown Brussels sprouts 2) Remove the Brussels sprouts once they are slightly crispy 3) Cube the tofu and brown it in the same pan 4) Add edamame 5) Add thinly-cut red peppers 6) Add mushrooms and remove everything once browned.

 

I used regular soba noodles, but added shredded zucchini and beets to my final dish to make it a little healthier. In the summertime, I could easily just eat this dish with veggie noodles, but I like my carbs in the winter. The beets are also a bright and beautiful visual touch.

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INGREDIENTS: 1)1 beet 2) Soba noodles 3) 1 zucchini
INSTRUCTIONS: 1)Boil noodles according to instructions and drain 2) Shred zucchini and beet with a spiral cutter

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OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: 1) Scallions 2) Red pepper 3) Sesame seeds 4) Olive oil

Once everything was prepared, I started assembling: soba noodles first, followed by the zucchini and beet noodles, then veggies, my desired amount of sauce drizzled on top, and my optional toppings.

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This dish is full of flavor and beautiful textures. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Happy terrarium

January 16th, 2013 :: 14 comments :: permalink


This year I wanted to make Christmas gifts that were out of the ordinary. I overheard one of my friends at work saying he was going to make a terrarium for his mom. I didn’t even really know what a terrarium was, but decided to do a little research online. There were so many cool designs and each one was unique in its own way, so I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Of course this was only a week and a half before Christmas and I had never made a terrarium before, but a little urgency never hurt anyone. Dustin and I have a different ideas of how well I work under pressure.

To begin, I ordered and scavenged for supplies. Some things, such as the little figurines of people in various poses, were specialized and had to be purchased online. While I waited for everything to be shipped, I painted a brightly colored instruction card, which came out doubly bright due to the psychedelic cold medication I was on at the time.


Most of these terrarium supplies can be found at Joann’s Fabric, Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I used moss, charcoal (to help prevent mold), rocks, potting soil, jars (some terrariums use lids and some don’t) and little HO scale figurines. Since I was crunched for time and it was freezing in Chicago, I didn’t feel like venturing out for moss, so I ordered it from Etsy.


Just a “common sense” note that I learned the hard way: softly place the rocks in your jar. I shattered my first jar when I poured the rocks in. Luckily enough, I had an extra mason jar sitting in the cupboard.

There are quite a few HO figurines to choose from to bring some human life to a terrarium. The figurines are usually used by model railroad hobbyists. Another note: Baby Jesus and nativity scene figurines are hot commodities in December.


Here is the order in which I filled my terrariums. Most of our family lives outside of Chicago, so I used metal pieces from Michael’s (found them in the jewelry section) to keep everything secure. I also carefully filled the jars with damp paper towels once I was finished, to keep the moss alive and in-place while it was being shipped. They all made it to their recipients in one piece.

The jar above was for my sister. She loves books and reads more in a week than I do in a year (sad!). I liked that the figurine is upside down, since my sister is juggling a new job and a big move to Chicago. Seemed appropriate.


This terrarium with a dancing couple was for Dustin. It feels like we had a whirlwind of a year with an engagement in March and a wedding in August, so I wanted to create a relaxing environment deep within the greenery (cheesy, I know).

I thought about painting the lady to give her a little tan like me, but time did not allow and I had to smile at myself for thinking it was perhaps a bit racially insensitive.


I found decorating to be my favorite part of building my terrariums. It felt like I was creating a little home for each of the figurines and I wanted my gift recipients to feel happy when they looked through the glass to these peaceful little worlds.

You do have to water them periodically, but otherwise they are, in fact, fuss free.

 

Dustin’s Dutch baby (pastry)

January 9th, 2013 :: 7 comments :: permalink

DustinsDutchbabyEvery Sunday, Dustin will make a breakfast creation. He takes this role very seriously. Even though New Years Day was technically on a Tuesday this year, it felt like a Sunday to us so he wanted to cook again. This breakfast was especially important because it was our first meal of the new year. Dustin measured each ingredient to a tee.

The first time he made a dutch baby for me (odd statement, I know), I thought it looked very peculiar. It was monstrously huge and a bit eggy, not the usual sweet American breakfast I knew. This recipe has a little more sweetness to it, which I like.

DustinsDutchbaby_ingredientsThe ingredient list is very simple: Flour, salt, vanilla bean (or liquid vanilla), sugar, eggs, butter and milk. Dustin halved the recipe above for our small serving for two people.

DustinsDutchbab_tipThe cast iron has to be preheated for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30 or so. Deviating from the directions slightly, Dustin dropped room temperature butter into the pan while the batter was mixing in the food processor, a few minutes before pouring the batter into the pan. The butter will definitely burn if you add it to the pan too soon. Just be sure it’s not still cold when you do so, or you’ll cool the pan unnecessarily.

DustinsDutchbaby4Carefully pour the batter into your preheated cast iron and quickly transfer it to the oven. Better yet, try to pour the batter with the pan still in the oven so the pan doesn’t cool as much. I threw in a few raspberries at the last minute, mostly as an experiment to see what would happen. The pastry quickly starts to grow, so the pan you choose should leave a little room for this. When Dustin poured the batter, it was a bit more than 1/4 inch deep across the bottom of the pan.

DustinsDutchbaby5He opted to top our dutch baby with a easy to make raspberry sauce. He heated apple cider, cornstarch, sugar, raspberries and cold water together in a pan. You can also use orange juice in place of apple cider. We just had some cider left over from the Christmas holiday. Here’s a link to the full recipe.

After 4-5 minutes of simmering, the raspberries quickly break down. After letting the sauce cool, Dustin transferred it to the food processor, where he pureed it for about 20 seconds and then strained the puree to remove the seeds.

DustinsDutchbaby6Raspberry sauce, homemade whipping cream, and a squirt of lemon (which is the traditional topping for dutch babies). A sprinkle of powdered sugar was a beautiful final touch.

DustinsDutchbaby7We stayed happy and warm indoors on New Years morning and drank Earl Grey with our sweet pastry. It was a good start to the year.

Our dutch baby was based on a recipe from Alton Brown.

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2012 :: 5 comments :: permalink

Our Irish Wedding

December 24th, 2012 :: 5 comments :: permalink

It’s only been four months since our wedding in Cork, Ireland, but during the whirlwind of preparation and the butterflies, I had forgotten some of the small details of the day. Looking through our pictures makes it feel like it was just yesterday.

That morning I woke up a stressball, something likely expected by most who know me. I immediately started to clean my room and prepare for it to be taken over by our hair and makeup artists and female guests. The weather was rainy, but there were small peeks of sunshine through the clouds, so I knew the sun was in there somewhere. I secretly prayed that the weather would clear up just long enough for us to say “I do.” Thirty minutes before our ceremony, after almost a full day of rain, the clouds opened up and the sun finally revealed itself.

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Natural Beauty

December 6th, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

When I shop for groceries, I read the labels of almost every product I purchase. As time goes on, it gets much easier to shop when you become loyal to a few good brands. With all this concentrated effort toward making healthy choices, I never paid that much attention to my cosmetics or personal hygiene products.

A few months ago, I started to look up some of my cosmetics on EWG, an online database that rates the toxicity of your cosmetics and also tells you the possible long term side effects. It was startling. Some of my products that touted being natural were rated moderate or high in toxicity. Some affected the respiratory system, some the reproductive system, and some even had cancerous side effects.

I wish I was one of those girls that can go cold turkey, but I unfortunately can’t. Instead, I have been slowly transitioning from a lot of my conventional makeup, lotions, cleansers and beauty potions to more natural products. I even stopped chemically straightening my hair a year ago. It has not been an easy process. After a lot of sampling and research, which I’m sure I’ll continue learning from, I’ve found a few products that work well for me.

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Not-So-Sloppy Tempeh Joe

November 5th, 2012 :: 23 comments :: permalink

The last time I had a sloppy joe, I was still watching the television series Alf, playing with GI Joes, and riding my bike without shoes out on the gravel trails of Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was such a picky eater growing up and, as the doctor’s growth charts alerted my mother, slightly underweight. Eating wasn’t my favorite pastime. I would much rather have ridden my bike or played in the fields.

My parents used many tricks to get me to eat. Some of them were bribes, which I think every parent tries. A lot of them were disguising my food as something else. My dad tried the “Close your eyes and you’ll get a big surprise” approach, but that only worked a few times. Sometimes they just flat out gave me what I wanted. I had the metabolism of a gazelle at that point in my life, so why not let me eat a Manwich Sloppy Joe?

Fast forward, many, many years and I am a vegetarian and no longer have the gazelle metabolism. My rendition of a sloppy joe uses tempeh, which is very hearty and has a nice grain like texture, savory veggies and toppings, a sweet tomato drizzle, and a sliced pita bread. Enjoy!

FILLING: 8 oz (1 package) chopped tempeh, half an onion, 1 large pepper or two small peppers, 4 minced garlic cloves, handful of cherry tomatoes, and a pinch of salt.

1. Put a skillet/frying pan over medium heat. Add olive olive oil and peppers. Sauté and let them soften for 5 minutes.

2. Add the chopped tempeh to the skillet (a trick to get the tempeh extra brown is to add a little soy sauce while sautéeing).

3. After the tempeh has started to brown, add the garlic, tomatoes, onions, and a pinch of salt. Cook until everything is wilted.

SAUCE: 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4  teaspoon black pepper & 1/2 cup water.

1. In a sauce pan, mix together tomato sauce, brown sugar, salt, chili powder, black pepper & water.

2. After the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat. Let it reduce for 5 minutes and remove from the burner.

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: Chopped scallions, olives, sour cream & pita bread.

Toast the pita bread and carefully cut it in half from the side. You can add whatever toppings you like. If you want it more traditional, you can stick with cheddar cheese and just the sauce. I, on the other hand, enjoy savory, so I topped mine with the sweet tomato sauce mixture, olives, scallions, and sour cream.

I prefer to have the tomato sauce as a drizzle and not completely submerge the tempeh and veggies. That way I get to see all the healthy veggies I am about to eat.

Looking at all these pictures makes me want to get a second helping. I think I will.

Bread Pudding with Blueberries

July 6th, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

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I have been craving bread pudding for a while and a recent trip to a local farmers market created the perfect opportunity to get all the necessary ingredients. I have only had bread pudding a couple of times throughout my years, but I really like the moist french toast texture and the not-too-sweet flavor. While roaming about the market, Edna (my sister) and I brainstormed how to make our own bread pudding, while Dustin ignored our sisterly rambles and giggles and tried not to get heatstroke.

This was our first time at a farmers market, so everything looked especially appealing. I was sure I wanted to use a fruit of some sort on the bread pudding to add a bit more texture and visual appeal, but with so many choices the decision was tough. I settled on wild blackberries because I still have memories of picking and eating wild berries as a child with my dad in Germany. The berries from the market seemed less tart than I remember.

Edna and I came across the most beautiful pretzel bread and started talking about different ways to use it. We weren’t a hundred percent sure how it would work out, but we wanted to try using the outer crust of the bread as an edible bowl for our pudding. We ended up buying eggs, jam, and an array of veggies and fruits. Our rule after we got home was to eat at least three fruits and veggies a day so nothing went to waste.

The recipe is pretty simple: 4 small breads, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 eggs (beaten), 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup milk, and a handful of blackberries.

The outer crust was just tough enough to keep it’s shape after we carefully tore out the soft, fluffy bread inside. In a bowl we mixed the melted butter, beaten eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and milk together with the pieces of left over bread. Then we let it sit for 5 minutes. We placed the moist bread mixture back into it’s original bread shell and tossed in some of the wild blackberries. Edna poured some of the left over liquid from the bowl on the pretzel bread shell, along with some sugar to make it a little softer and sweeter. Then we put our stuffed pretzel bowls in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Dustin lucked out this weekend and was tasked only with making the whipped cream. Everything came together perfectly and was fairly simple to make. Using the outer shell of the bread as a bowl made for easy cleanup and created another little tasty treat. Who wouldn’t love that? Who?!

Full recipe follows.

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Raw Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

June 26th, 2012 :: 12 comments :: permalink

What a busy few weeks. There have been work and personal engagements, planning for a wedding, and my sister just moved in with us for a month or two. I have still been cooking as usual, but haven’t had time to document as much as I’d like. I also need to add getting in shape to my list, because it’s crunch time (pun intended, love puns) with only a month and a half to go until our big day. I just signed up for CrossFit and a few boxing classes. I let you know how all that goes. I think I have fairly healthy eating habits, but Dustin and I both have trouble resisting our sweet tooth. Last week I was really craving something decadent, but didn’t want the guilt afterwards, so I decided to make a raw chocolate cake with raspberries.

A lot of raw recipes use nuts of some type as a base. You start this recipe by grinding 1/2 cup of almonds in a food processor. In our pre-processor days, I would grind the almonds in a plastic bag by hitting them with a blunt object. I do not recommend that method!

I combined the ground almonds with 2 Tablespoons Cacao, 1 Tablespoon agave, and 1 Tablespoon coconut oil. As you mix all the ingredients, the agave and coconut oil help the mixture stick together. For that reason, agave and coconut oil are staple ingredients in many raw desserts.

Pat this mixture into a 2 -3 inch mold to make a perfect circle. Make sure to apply some pressure so it creates a solid base. This will be the crust for the cake. I used a little coconut oil on the metal molds so the crust wouldn’t stick. Keep the crust in the mold for now so the next ingredients layer up nicely.

Place fresh raspberries on top of the crust.

Next is the most important part, the chocolate topping. Whisk 1/2 cup cacao powder, 1/2 cup agave and 1/4 cup coconut oil. The mixture isn’t terribly fluffy, but will firm up once it’s in the refrigerator. Drizzle the chocolate on top of the raspberries. It creates a very pretty mid layer.

Then top with a few more raspberries finish things off.

With the cakes still in the mold, put everything in the refrigerator for around 20-30 minutes. If they are still a little soft, then give them a bit more time.

Dustin and I straight up devoured every single bite. Part of me wondered how something so good could still be (mostly!) healthy for me, but there is no disputing the ingredient list. With our sweet tooth completely satisfied and our bellies full, we decided to reward ourselves again with a Sunday afternoon nap. It was a good day.

Banh mi meets the cabbage wrap

March 30th, 2012 :: 6 comments :: permalink

I’ve only had a Bánh Mi on a few occasions and every time it was from Whole Foods. They are pretty good, depending on who is behind the counter that day, but I wanted to see if I could make one more to my liking. I’m all about flavor and heat, so I wanted to add more of a kick than I’ve tasted in one of these before. I considered many sandwich vessels, mostly different breads, but once I spotted bright purple cabbage in the store, I wanted to figure out a way to use it.

Most vegetarian Bánh Mi’s are served with tofu. I eat tofu every once in a while, but I’m not a huge fan of the texture. I decided to make mine with paneer (a firm type of cheese used in many Indian recipes). It doesn’t have a strong flavor to me, but has a nice crispy texture if you stir fry it.

I mixed lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, salt, and ginger in a food processor, which made a bright green paste. It smelled awesome. I’ve never used fresh lemongrass before, so there was bit of a learning curve there. I had to experiment and make a couple of guesses about which part of the stalk would be the most useful, but figured it out in the end. Once the paste was made, I separated it into two bowls. In one I added my paneer and in the other I tossed some chicken for Dustin. Both bowls went into the refrigerator for a bit to soak up all the flavors.

While I waited, I cut tons of peppers for that heat and carrots for a crunch. In another bowl, I mixed vinegar, salt, and sugar, then dropped in my veggies and let everything sit for about 30 minutes.

I quickly pan fried the paneer and the chicken in separate pans. Who knew that being a vegetarian would double the cooking and clean up time? I toasted some regular Italian loaf, spread on some lemonaise, then topped it with the paneer (or chicken) and my spicy peppers and carrots.

Although I didn’t try the chicken Báhn Mi, it had an awesome smell. I’m sure chicken does a great job at soaking up all the flavors. Finally, I used the beautiful bright cabbage with my paneer and few edible flowers to make a dramatically more colorful Bahn Mi wrap. The cabbage gave a nice crunch and balanced out all the flavors in the toppings. I’d say this was a successful experiment and though I can’t decide which version tasted the best, the cabbage wrap was clearly the most eye appealing.

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