Night Five: Palaak Tofu

Okay. I’ve been putting this one off all week because I wasn’t able to come home at 1 or 2 to do the prep required for this dish, considering it only takes 3-4 hours to cook. Note to self: select crockpot recipes that take 8 hours. The end.

I think that with a few tweaks this dish could be really good. Recipe adapted (but not enough) from A Year of Slow Cooking.

It tastes better than it looks

Palaak tofu
one bunch fresh spinach, washed and de-stemmed
one bunch chard, washed and chopped (I also discarded the stalks, but lots of folks eat those, too)
14 ounces extra firm tofu
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (to mitigate the sodium)
1.5-inch piece ginger, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 t cumin
1 t turmeric
1 T coriander
1/2 t chile powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 T cornstarch
1 T butter

Squeeze all the moisture from the spinach and chard. Put in crockpot. Put onion, garlic, and ginger in crockpot. Drain and rinse garbanzos.

Assemble your spices and dump in the crockpot.

This is not nearly enough spice

Add the water and stir.

Drain your tofu as much as possible and cut into one-inch square (ish). Toss it in a baggie with the cornstarch until coated. Melt butter in skillet and add tofu. Fry on medium until it has a nice, golden-brown crust.

Place tofu on top of spinach/chard mixture and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Serve over rice, and maybe with some naan, if that’s how you roll.

I really liked this dish and how light it was. I was busy playing Wii with Harrison, though, and jacked up the rice (it’s always something, isn’t it? I should have just put it in the steamer instead of cooked it on the stovetop). Matt doesn’t like garbanzo beans, but he really liked the tofu and said he’d like to try a curry with cauliflower, tofu, and potatoes in the crockpot, so in that regard the experiment worked. Harrison had to be threatened with revocation of weekend Wii privileges if he didn’t try a piece of tofu; he ended up having a pb&j tortilla roll-up (normally I wouldn’t make him an alternative dinner, but this was both new and an experiment, so I cut him some slack). Laurel had crackers with Laughing Cow and almond butter (not together). Matt and I both liked the multigrain naan I served on the side (which was good since the rice was practically inedible).

My major criticism of this recipe is that, as written, it is far too conservatively spiced. If I make this again, I will a.) double the spices and b.) cook it for an hour less than I did (I turned it off at 3 hours, 45 minutes). I’d also use even more spinach/chard because it cooks down so much.

Night Four: On strike

Okay, not really. Just exhausted. It was a whirlwind day of dissertation work, rating project work, more dissertation work, a really intense (and awesome) dissertation defense (not mine, sadly), and more dissertation work. I’m knackered. So, we went to Amaya’s for dinner, where I had a couple of cheese enchiladas and probably too many tortilla chips. I was starving!!! Matt, because he doesn’t like to be told what to do, ordered a beef fajita taco on the side of his cheese enchilada plate. Rebel.

Night Three: Penne alla vodka

For a few moments there, I was thinking of renaming this blog, “How can I fuck up dinner tonight?” But fear not, because it turns out that the taste of slightly scorched garlic isn’t that bad.

Tonight was supposed to be palaak tofu, but time constraints conspired against me. Laurel’s 18-month checkup was today and I stupidly scheduled it for the middle of the afternoon (effectively killing any productivity on either side of lunch). I had arranged for our sweet new babysitter (who was only available until 4:30) to come hang out with Laurel while I got dinner started, but I only had half an hour before the Cling-on appeared. I doublechecked the palaak tofu recipe and saw that it had to cook for 4 hours in the crockpot and the prep would probably be at least half an hour, so I punted and went with the penne alla vodka.

So, I quickly diced up the garlic and threw it in the skillet with the crushed red pepper and the olive oil, but I had the heat turned up too high and the garlic started to scorch a bit while I was opening the cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Everything went well otherwise, although my sauce came out looking a bit more … visceral and less creamy-beautiful like it does on picky cook’s site. I also had to cheat because I didn’t have 3/4 cup fresh parmesan, so I supplemented with grated or, as we call it in this house, “shakey cheese.”

The kids prefer naked noodles (Laurel just likes to put the penne on her fingers like you do with pitted olives at Thanksgiving), but I did give Harrison a dish of sauce for dipping and I saw him dip into it a bit. The parental verdict was positive: Matt said it tasted like his baked ziti and the most resonant note for me was the garlic, but it didn’t ruin it for me. I wanted it to be creamier, so next time I will make sure to have enough fresh parm on hand.

Since I was pressed for time, I wasn’t able to take a ton of photos, but I like this one:

And here’s a shot of one of last night’s tragic potatoes:

So, if I were to travel back in time and give Past Me some advice for this week, it would be this: Slow down, plan ahead, and remember that behind every supermom is a really fantastic babysitter and/or mother’s helper.

Night Two: Crockpot baked potatoes

Oh, friends, I drink from the cup of bitterness tonight. I had such high hopes for these potatoes, as one of my favorite things to eat is a potato with just a skosh of butter (okay, like a tablespoon, who am I kidding?), a sprinkle of cheese, and a dab of salsa. Alas, it was not to be this night.

The internet (a pox upon it!) told me that I could wash the potatoes, pierce them with a fork, wrap them in foil, put them in the crockpot, and cook them on low for 10-11 hours, which is precisely what I did. One potato (of the five) turned out beautifully (it was the one on top). The other four were waaay overcooked, the flesh an unappetizing taupe, and bitter to the taste. Matt dutifully took his potato, which he then proceeded to pretend wasn’t on his plate, ate his steamed broccoli, then had some chips and salsa after I angrily confiscated the untouched potato. The children didn’t touch theirs (I gave Laurel the perfectly cooked one). I am hungry and wanting pop tarts.

Night one: Greens and Mushroom quiche

I had to rearrange the order of the menu this week because the palaak tofu only cooks in the crockpot for 3-4 hours, and I wasn’t going to be able to come home in the middle of the afternoon to do the prep. So, that one will come tomorrow or on Thursday. So, I chose to do the easiest one on my list: the quiche.

Of course, it wasn’t super easy because my darling girl turns into a Cling-on every evening right around dinner-cookery time:

Even through tears, the Cling-on has a smile(ish) for the camera.

I cut up the chard, spinach, and mushrooms:

Tossed them into my pre-made crust (I don’t do crust; it’s a failing):

Suitable for vegans!

Added about a quarter-cup of shredded swiss and a quarter-cup of shredded cheddar/monterey jack. Poured 1.5 cups half and half into a Pyrex and added two eggs:

Not suitable for vegans!

Added 12 turns of the peppermill and 4 turns of the salt mill (because cheese is already salty) and just a peeeensch of nutmeg. Tossed it in a 375 oven for 40 minutes, which was too long because when it came out, it looked like this:

Not burnt, but the cheese on top shouldn't really be that brown.

It was a bit soggy and very not pretty:

But it was taaaasty. I only had one slice (about 250 cals) because I’m really cracking down on my calorie intake. My husband had two slices and said, “It tastes like a salad with scrambled eggs.” Next time I will be more aggressive in squeezing out the greens before putting them in the pie in hopes that it won’t be quite so soggy.

A week of vegetarian meals

This week, I attempt to serve my family meatless dinners. Partly because I feel like we’ve gotten into a food rut, partly because we simply need to eat better (dinner tends to be my biggest meal of the day, which is problematic because I usually have already eaten most of my calories for the day by the time 7pm rolls around). My friend Kelli told me that she and her husband were implementing a “no sweets, spirits, or meats except on days that start with ‘S'” plan, hence this experiment.

This calls for creativity on my part, as when I was “vegetarian” in the past, I fell back on pasta dishes, Taco Bell bean burritos, and Boca burgers far more often than I care to admit. This week’s menu includes:

Monday: crockpot palaak tofu (plus chard), served over rice and with multigrain naan bread
Tueday (baseball practice night): crockpot baked potatoes and steamed broccoli, fruit
Wednesday: penne a la vodka, maybe some multigrain bread, salad
Thursday: spinach, chard, and mushroom quiche, salad
Friday: crockpot beans and rice, fixins

I plan to blog each night’s meals, so stay tuned! And wish me luck.

Baked Birthday Box

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Baked for Christmas, and even since then, I’ve been plotting the best way to thank her for such an outrageously awesome gift. The cookbook has yielded some very delicious treats; the brownies alone may have cemented my reputation as the English department’s best baker (grad student division).

My sister-in-law’s birthday was April 11, and so, as a gesture to honor her 38th birthday (she’s five months older than I!), I baked a bunch of goodies from the cookbook and mailed them to her in Scottsdale. (I sent one to my brother, too, who turned 33 on March 3.)

Included in the box are the Baked Brownies, Monster Cookies, Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti (recipe below), and Raspberry Crumb Breakfast Bars (recipe below).

They have a whole jar of peanut butter in!

I was really keen to make the biscotti, as that is uncharted terrain for me (along with macarons, a gap in my baking education I hope to bridge soon). My father-in-law is a big fan of biscotti, so there’s a baggie of them in the freezer awaiting the trip to Arizona for his birthday next week.

Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti
unwittingly adapted from Baked.
1 1/3 c sugar
1 1/4 t baking powder
1 1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon (I included this by accident; too stupid to explain, but it didn’t hurt the flavor at all)
4 large eggs
2 t vanilla extract
3 1/4 c flour
1 c pistachios
1 c dried cherries
1 large egg white

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and the sugar mixture together until the color is uniform and the mixture is thick. Add the vanilla and beat for 5 seconds. Add the flour in two batches and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl and mix for a few seconds more. Add the pistachios and cherries and beat until just combined.
    Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet and shape it into a log about 16 inches long, 3 1/2 inches wide, and 3/4 inch thick. Use an offset spatula to smooth the surface of the dough. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until firm, but not browned. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes.

    Lower the oven temperature to 325.
    While the log is cooling, whisk the egg white and 2 T water together and use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash onto the top of the log.
    Cut the log into 3/4-inch slices with a serrated knife, set them on the baking sheet cut sides up and down, and bake for 25 minutes.

    Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the individual biscotti to a rack to cool completely. The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

The cookbook says the recipe yields 24, but I think I got 16 or 17 biscotti.

And just to mix things up a bit, I made these Raspberry Crumb Breakfast Bars. Really tasty, and maybe not too fattening? Not too sweet, and really appropriate for dessert (or breakfast). I had to borrow a food processor for this one, as I only have a wee 3-cup one that would not have been up to the task of grinding the crust.
For the crust and crumb
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 c rolled oats
3/4 t salt
3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the raspberry filling
1/4 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 T grated lemon zest
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T all-purpose flour
1 lb raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Make the crust and crumb

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment. [ed. note: I did not find this useful. In fact, I found it kind of dumb and a waste of parchment.]
    Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the butter and pulse until loose crumbs form.
    Reserve 1 c of the mixture and set aside. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hands or the back of a large wooden spoon to push the crust into an even layer in the bottom of the pan. The crust should touch the sides of the pan. Bake until golden brown, 12 ro 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool. Keep the oven on while you make the raspberry filling.

Make the raspberry filling

    In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour together.
    Add the raspberries, lemon juice, and butter and use your hands to toss gently until the raspberries are evenly coated.

Assemble and bake the bars

    Spread the raspberry filling evenly on top of the cooled crust. Sprinkle the reserved 1 cup crust mixture evenly on top of the filling.
    Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges.
    Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Yield 24.

These were super tasty.

Menu for a Spring fete

We held our annual Easter Eggstravaganza this weekend, albeit a scaled-down one because I keep getting in trouble with my husband for over-inviting to our parties (I tend to invite a broad range of folks assuming that at least half of them will decline; this has backfired on me more times than I care to admit and we almost always wind up with a house stuffed full of people with no place to sit. I mean, I am mostly a more-the-merrier person, but I always feel like a bad hostess when I can’t give all of my guests my undivided attention.). So, we invited a small handful of families over for an egg hunt and conversation for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon.

Of course, I did not scale the menu or amount of food down to suit the number of attendees; I still made enough to feed a hungry batallion of graduate students. Next time I have a party at three in the afternoon, I will cook accordingly (i.e., not very much at all).

The menu comprised:
tortilla chips and salsa
multigrain chips and curried pea dip*
spinach and artichoke quiche on whole-wheat crust
roasted asparagus with olive oil and balsamic vinegar*
smitten kitchen lemon bars
a big bowl of luscious strawberries with a bowl of brown sugared-sour cream, brought by Sally*
mimosas, two kinds of tea, lemonade, limeade (I made the mimosas, Abby and Ran brought the teas and ades)

*indicates gluten-free items; one of my friends was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and I wanted there to be something she could snack on.

The two most popular dishes were the curried pea dip and the lemon bars (always a crowd-pleaser). I had had the dip back in 2006 at an ’05 Moms Halloween party but hadn’t really thought of it since. But for this party I wanted some bright new spring flavors (I’ll allow that lemon bars don’t really constitute “new” flavors, but they certainly are sunny!), so I scrounged up the recipe and made a few adaptations (well, one, really; the original calls for curry powder, which I’m a total snob about. I chose to mix up my own spice blend instead).

Curried Pea Dip
3 cups peas (I used frozen and thawed them in the fridge for a day)
1 tsp coarse salt
2 scallions, diced
approx. 1.5 tsp garam masala

For the garam masala, I mixed together the following:
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp fenugreek (kesoori methi) leaves
a fingertip each of cloves, nutmeg, ground ginger root, cinnamon
a sprinkling of garlic powder

Load it all into a food processor and start pureeing. While pureeing, drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve in a brightly colored bowl with multigrain or pita chips, or carrot sticks. Prepare to be amazed when your guests devour it!

I’ve linked to the lemon bar recipe above, so I won’t reproduce it here; I made the thicker layer version but used 6 large eggs instead of extra large. The edges here look burned but they weren’t, just nicely caramelized. Delish!