Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Texas (Chocolate) Sheet Cake

This post is going to be short and sweet. Sweet being the important part of the post!

This recipe is another one of my mom's staples, and one I have very fond memories of. Texas Sheet Cake was made regularly for birthdays, work potlucks (you better believe a piece or two was gone before it ever made it to work), summer picnics, and informal dinner parties. Reasons being, it makes a lot and travels well. Oh, and lets not forget, it's a serious crowd pleaser!

You only need a 3x3 slice (or less, but why skimp with something this good?!) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream to satisfy each eager belly.

I hope you enjoy this one as much as my family and I have, for years.

Texas Sheet Cake
from my mom

1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) margarine or butter, divided
1 cup water
8 tablespoons cocoa, divided
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons milk
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts


In a pan, heat to boiling 1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, water, and 4 heaping tablespoons cocoa. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Blend well.

Add sour cream & eggs. Mix thoroughly.

Bake in jellyroll pan at 375 for 15-17 minutes.


In a pan, heat to boiling 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, 4 tablespoons cocoa, and milk. Remove from heat.

Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and chopped nuts. Spread while cake is hot (it can sit as long as 10-15 min before frosting).

I love this cake plain, or served with vanilla ice cream.

More delicious sheet cakes:
- Black and White Marble Sheet Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting, from Baking Bites
- Gooey Apple Sheet Cake, from Tales from a Veggie Kitchen
- Cherry Sheet Cake, from Martha Stewart
- Frosted Chocolate Chip Zucchini Sheet Cake, from Culinary in the Country

Guten appetit!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tuscan Chickpea Soup - Winter Warmth

The winter is not over yet! Spring is near, but there are still plenty of cold nights to warm yourself over a bowl of soup.

I like this recipe because it's filling, without feeling heavy. Considering the ease of work involved and the fairly limited ingredients/spices, it has plenty of flavor. Pair it with a salad and crusty bread, you'll have dinner ready in 30 minutes.

I made a couple of slight adjustments based on other reviewers notes. Most important is to use a fairly good balsamic vinegar. There are occasions to use cheap vinegar, but this is not one of them. I also added the cayenne for a little more kick. It's not spicy, but I thought it added some extra 'umph'.

This one is definitely a winter staple, and I hope you have the chance to try it before the cold weather disappears!

Tuscan Chickpea Soup
adapted slightly from Cooking Light

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
7-8 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water
1 teaspoon minced fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 (15 ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (use a fairly good vinegar)
1 teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the water and the next 5 ingredients (water through tomatoes), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups soup in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Pour the pureed soup into a bowl. Repeat procedure with 2 cups soup. (I used my hand blender, directly in the soup pot - much easier! It also allowed me to puree most of the soup yet still keep some chunks of garbanzo bean for texture.)

Return all pureed soup to pan. Stir in the vinegar and cayenne, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Spoon 1 1/2 cups soup into bowls; sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese.

More warming chickpea soups:
- Chickpea and Tomatillo Soup, from Cookworm
- Chickpea Soup with Spinach, Tomatoes and Basil, from Kalyn's Kitchen
- Chickpea Soup with Moghrabieh (Lebanese Couscous), from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
- Tunisian Chickpea Soup, from The Well-Seasoned Cook

Guten appetit!

Artichoke and Lemon Linguine

Recipes this easy make me happy.

Literally, you cook the pasta, put all other ingredients in a food processor, combine pasta with sauce and serve. Sometimes good things in life, really are simple. When you tinker with something too much, you risk ruining it.

Although, now that I've said that, I am thinking of adding some red pepper flakes next time. Oh well, it's hard not to tinker!

Make this pasta as-is, or play around with the simple ingredients it calls for. Don't skip the parmesan though! This recipe is an easy, quick weeknight meal that you'll be very happy with.

Artichoke and Lemon Linguine

adapted from Technicolor Kitchen

1 package linguine
8 can artichoke hearts – rapidly rinse them to remove any excess brine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, and grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley
Pinch of fleur de sel (salt)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Grated parmesan, to serve

Cook the linguine in a large saucepan of salted boiling water until al dente; drain and return to the pot.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: place the artichoke hearts, lemon zest and juice, parsley, fleur de sel, pepper and olive oil in a food processor and process until you get a smooth mixture.

Stir the sauce through the pasta, and return to heat. Cook until heated through, approximately 5 minutes. Top with parmesan and serve immediately. Serves 2.

More artichoke and pasta recipes:
- Artichoke Pesto Pasta, from Book of Yum
- Artichoke Orzo Salad, from Wasabi Bratwurst
- Salmon Artichoke and Sundried Tomato Linguine, from Daily Unadventures in Cooking
- Sole Fillets with Artichoke Pasta, from Everyday with Rachel Ray

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fried Spring Rolls

Do you ever have cravings for certain types of food? I think most people do. Maybe it's mexican, or could be italian. Since I eat both of those regularly, my cravings usually come in the form of chinese or thai. I wouldn't say I crave fried food, but I will say that sometimes, a fried spring roll sounds utterly delicious. The kind of delicious that only fried can offer.

For this recipe, I'm torn on how to describe it. Basically, they were an experiment by Jill at Hey, that tastes good!, and one that I decided to replicate.

Typically you would not use rice paper wrappers for frying spring rolls. That was the experiment. Jill even called her post 'ugly, but delicious'. That should tell you a lot about why you don't use rice paper.

I almost bought both kinds of wrappers to do a comparison test. But in the end, I decided to try it Jill's way, and then remake another spring roll in the future with the typical, flour wrappers for frying. Plus, using the rice wrappers would leave me with a few sheets leftover to make fresh spring rolls later.

In fact, Jill was right, they are 'ugly but delicious'. Both Tim and I enjoyed them and quickly ate 2-3 each. If you pile them on a plate, as I did, be forewarned that they will stick together.

In the end, I'm not sure I would remake them this way, just because my curiosity is peaked to use the regular wrappers (this was my first time making fried spring rolls). I have to try the other wrappers to decide which is better. But these were fun, different and tasted pretty darn good! Definitely satisfied my fried spring roll craving.

If you are adventurous enough and had some small hands lurking around the kitchen, wrapping and rolling the spring rolls could be a fun project for kids.

Fried Spring Rolls (using rice paper)
from Hey, that tastes good!

8 ounces mixed mushrooms
3 baby bok choy (I substituted ¼ green cabbage head)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 scallions
1 carrot, peeled
A handful of spinach (I didn't use)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin (rice wine)
1/4 pound chopped tofu
1/4 package of rice noodles
1 egg white (not necessary, water holds the paper together just fine)
1 package rice paper wrappers

Soak the rice noodles in a bowl of hot water until softened. Thinly slice your mushrooms and carrots and put in separate piles. Cut the leaves off the bok choy and set aside, thinly slice the bottoms and add to the carrot pile. Slice the scallions thinly and set aside. Cut the spinach and boy choy leaves into strips.

Heat 1 T oil in a pan (wok if you have one - a large skillet works fine). Add the ginger and scallions and cook for a few seconds, then add the tofu, carrots and bok choy bottoms. Cook together a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Once those have cooked most of the way through, add the spinach, bok choy leaves, soy sauce, noodles, and mirin. Cook until liquid is mostly gone and greens are wilted. Pour filling into a strainer, and set aside to cool/drain for a few minutes.

Once cooled, fill a shallow bowl with hot water. Dip one rice wrapper into the water and hold it there until softened. You will know when it’s ready. Lay the wrapper carefully on your work surface, and put a tablespoon of filling in the center.

Pull the bottom half up, then fold over the right side and then the left.Squoosh the filling in as tight as you can, wet the last side with egg white, and then fold over. Set aside, and repeat until all the filling is gone. Heat about an inch of oil in a pan, and when shimmering, slowly drop in the first roll. Let fry for a few minutes, then flip, carefully. It will puff up all crazy but don’t worry. That’s why they’re ugly. Once you feel they’re fried enough, drain on a paper towel and repeat.

Serve immediately with a sweet chili sauce.

Because sometimes you just want it fried:
- Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls, from Sunday Nite Dinner
- Southwest Spring Rolls (omit the chicken for veggies), from My Kitchen Snippets
- Veggie Wontons, from Chef Michele's Adventures

Guten appetit!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lemongrass Tofu

Unfortunately, I'm a creature of habit and ease. I like tofu plain, so it has to be a craving or compelling recipe to put effort into changing it. But every time I do, I remind myself to branch out more often. Tofu can taste so many different ways, and is so versatile in recipes. When I taste it with a new marinade or in a new recipe, I fall in love with it all over again.

This was the first recipe I used from the White on Rice Couple's food blog. Goodness me, it was good! No, not good. Great!

I used to expect to have a couple tofu slices left over for lunch the next day, but Tim and I consume the entire batch every time. This is a regular rotation recipe, and guess what... it's a super easy recipe. So my 'ease' of making tofu has not been disturbed.

For so little effort, you are rewarded BIG with this recipe. Enjoy!

Note: The White on Rice Couple recommends using this tofu in salads, sandwiches or fresh springrolls. Any of those would be delicious. We usually eat and savor ours plain, over rice. Scrumptious. I love that this recipe can be used in so many ways though, and am going to try it in a salad soon.

Lemongrass Tofu
adapted slightly from White on Rice Couple

1 package of firm tofu
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic
5 table spoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 stalks of fresh lemongrass. When chopped should be about 1/4 cup.

Drain Tofu and blot dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Slice into about 1/4 ” pieces.

Wash lemongrass and chop bulbs and remaining of stalk that is tender. Place chopped lemongrass in mortar & pestle and continue to crush pieces till they are small and pulverized. Add 2 cloves of garlic in mortar and crush garlic together with lemongrass.

In large plastic freezer bag, combine crushed lemongrass , garlic, vegetable oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Mix the marinade well, then add slices of tofu in bag. Lay tofu slices in gently on top of each other so that they don’t break. Make sure all marinate coats each slice of tofu.

Let marinade for at least 1 hour or until all tofu slices soak up the marinade.

Heat up frying pan. Do not add oil to the pan because the tofu is well oiled. Fry slices of tofu until both sides are golden brown with a nice firm crust. Remove from pan and blot excess oil on paper towel.

More marinated tofu to try:
- Mandarin Thai Tofu Satay, from Fun and Food Blog
- Sesame Crusted Baked Tofu, from Fuss Free Flavours
- Grilled Marinated Tofu Wraps, from Fun and Food Blog

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Buttermilk Cranberry Scones, for St. Patrick's Day

While visiting Ireland this past summer with my sister, I ate lots and lots and lots of scones. Scones and soup. Despite the fact that we visited in August, it rained and was chilly most days. No matter - more opportunities to duck into the nearest Irish pub for tea and scones. Yum.

Actually, as I think about it, I really like bread products in general - a good crusty olive loaf, banana bread, whole wheat english muffins, biscuits, bagels, and of course, scones! There must be something that causes me to crave carbs, not sure. I just love bread.

Well, what better to make for St. Patrick's Day, than scones?! (nevermind that it also feeds my carb cravings, I'm killing two birds with one stone here)

When searching for a great scone recipe, there were thousands. I liked this one, and this one looked interesting, or how about this? (sorry, you'll have to click on the link to see what I drooled over).

In the end, I settled on a basic Buttermilk Cranberry Scone, since in truth, I've never made scones before. Best to start off easy. This recipe also seemed to fit my mood at the time of baking.

If you're a bit weary of making scones, Pinch My Salt has a great 'how to make biscuits' tutorial that you can read through first. I also followed recommendations to read the complete scone recipe before starting, and to get all the ingredients prepared ahead of time. While Pinch My Salt touched on this too, another recipe explicitly stated: a hot oven is imperative for scones. So start pre-heating your oven asap.

You may be wondering by this point, how did they turn out? Oh, my, good, golly! Delicious. The perfect blend of cakey biscuit with a hint of sweet. And the cranberries, cut in small pieces, were little bursts of flavor. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

I also liked that the recipe is a manageable size. It makes 8 scones, although it would be easy enough to double for more. I didn't have a dough mixer, so I did everything by hand, and it worked great.

For any reason whatsoever, make these!

(I don't know if I should admit this, but after making this recipe the week before, I couldn't get enough and just made another batch. Loooove them)

Note: I made the lemon glaze and drizzled it on half the scones. I thought it made the scones too sweet and took away from their subtly sweet, cranberry flavor. But, that's just a personal preference.

Buttermilk Cranberry Scone
from Pinch My Salt

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used the buttermilk substitute)
1 large egg
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped fine
Finely grated zest from one small lemon- about 2 teaspoons (I did not do this, totally OK)
Heavy cream (optional, for brushing tops of scones)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Add butter chunks and toss lightly with flour; place bowl in fridge.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, and lemon zest; place bowl in fridge.

Get organized: measure out and chop the cranberries; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment; set aside. Lightly dust a counter top with flour. Pour a little bit of heavy cream in a bowl and have a pastry brush handy.

Remove bowls of flour and buttermilk from fridge. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or rub together with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add cranberries and stir to combine.

Add buttermilk mixture all at once to flour mixture and stir until the mixture clumps together. Dump mixture out onto floured counter top and, with floured hands, gather into a ball and knead once or twice to combine everything. Pat into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 8 slices, like a pie, or cut with biscuit or cookie cutters into whatever shape you prefer. Put scones on lined baking sheet and brush lightly with heavy cream (optional).

Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 13-15 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to cooling rack.

Optional Lemon Glaze (see note above): Combine about 1/2 cup powdered sugar with a couple teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and whisk to combine. Adjust sugar/juice amounts to get the consistency you prefer. Drizzle glaze over cooled scones, and allow glaze to set.

More delicious, sweet scones:
- Irish Buttermilk Scones, from Albion Cooks
- Blueberry-Raspberry Honey-Butter Glazed Scones, from Baking and Books
- Strawberry Sunrise Scones, from Baking Bites
- Maple Oatmeal Scones, from Andrea's Recipes

Guten appetit!

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Food Blog

My sister, Christine, has started her own food blog: Chop, Mince & Dice

Oh, how fast these young'ins grow up!

Actually, my sister is a great cook. Has been for a while. She eagerly cooks for friends, her boyfriend, herself and family. When I find a new recipe I like, I usually send it to her. Especially if the recipe has meat - I live through her carnivorous ways, ha, ha.

If you have a chance, check out her blog and say 'hi'. She's got a great first recipe posted: Dark Chocolate Crackle cookies. Chocolate AND freezer friendly. Score.

Her recipes will mostly be coming from her 'girls night' dinners, so fyi - if she happens to spill any of the gossip discussed at dinner, would make for another great reason to read the blog. Those girls are hilarious, and lead quite the interesting lives. (wink, wink)


Friday, March 13, 2009

Patriot Soup

Saint Patrick's Day is nearly upon us. I love the holiday itself, but it's extra special because it's also my brother's birthday (yay!).

To get in a fun, celebratory mood, lets have a bit of trivia...

1. According to legend, St. Patrick used WHAT to explain the holy trinity to pre-Christian Irish?
2. Where was St. Patrick born?
3. In what city and year did the first civic and public celebration of Saint Patrick's Day take place in the USA?
4. What gift do you get if you kiss the Blarney Stone?
5. What does the 4th leaf of a shamrock symbolize?
6. Leprechauns are said to perform which service for fairies?
(answers at the bottom of today's post)

As we all know, any good celebration needs good food and drink. You're in charge of your own drink, but I have a good recipe to share with you...

Patriot Soup. I found this soup in a soup book I bought in Ireland this past summer. Seemed appropriate for the holiday. It's green deliciousness. I added a can of chickpeas to give it some protein and make it our main dish, turned out great. Both Tim and I really liked it, and it's going in my soup rotation. If you're still battling a lingering cold winter this March, give this warm soup a try.

Patriot Soup
from Best of Irish Soups

Sorry for the delay, here is the recipe:

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley and chives
4-6 ounces chopped onions
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 leek (green part only), washed and sliced
8 ounces frozen peas
2-3 leaves of green cabbage, sliced thinly
5 cups vegetable stock
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
8 ounces potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1/4 stick of butter
cream and/or finely shredded carrot - for garnish (optional)

Over medium heat, saute onion and leek in the butter for about 2 minutes. Add the stock and all the ingredients, excluding the peas and cabbage, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Then add the chopped cabbage and peas. Bring back to a boil. Cover and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

With a hand blender, process the soup to desired consistency.

Serve in white bowls (yes, it actually says that in the recipe!) and top with a swirl of thickened cream, sprinkled with shredded carrot. Accompany with home-made brown bread or scones, or potato bread.

As an extra tip, the book says: The white part of the leek is delicious sliced, lightly cooked in olive oil or butter, and added to mashed potatoes.

Answers to trivia questions:

1. The shamrock
2. Wales
3. Boston, 1737
4. The gift of eloquence
5. Luck (A 4-leaf clover occurs once for every 10,000 3-leaf clovers)
6. Make their shoes (Leprechauns are themselves male fairies)

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Zucchini Spears with Parmesan Cheese

This is my quick, go-to side dish 2-3 times a week. We both love it.

My mom made it a lot for us while growing up too, probably because of how easy it is and cheese makes everything taste great (especially for kids!).

I also find that sometimes I focus on the main dish, and forget about buying anything for a side dish. However, I always have a zucchini in the refrigerator. Every time I'm at the store, I pick one up automatically, knowing that I'd be making spears sometime during the week. And voila, I'm saved. A side dish is ready in 10 minutes (2 minutes to prep, 8 to broil). These also go with almost everything - italian, mexican, fish, etc.

Next time you're at the market, spy the zucchini's and pick one up for spears this week.

Zucchini Spears
from my mom

1 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons grated parmesan (use more or less, as desired)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Preheat broiler on high, and place a rack in the upper 1/2 of your oven. (If you place the rack on the top level, the spears with brown faster but not cook as much and be a bit crunchy. If you place it one level below the top, the cheese will brown while also mostly cooking the zucchini. We prefer the latter best, but it's up to you!).

Wash, then cut the ends off zucchini. Cut in half crosswise, then slice each half vertically into quarters, creating spears. You should end up with 8 spears.

Place zucchini in a baking dish, skin side down (I cover my pie plate with foil because the excess parmesan makes a mess).

Drizzle zucchini with olive oil, be sure to smear the olive oil around on the zucchini and coat the exposed spears as much as possible. Sprinkle zucchini with pepper (salt as well, if desired), then sprinkle spears evenly with grated parmesan.

Place in oven, under broiler, for 5-8 minutes, until browned. (We like ours extra crispy, so I sometimes leave them in for 10 minutes.)

More quick zucchini recipes to love:
- Roasted Zucchini Spears with Garlic, from Simply Recipes
- Zucchini and Tomato Gratin, from Pinch My Salt
- Zucchini with Toasted Almonds, from Smitten Kitchen

Guten appetit!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crispy Southwest Polenta Hash

While I was at my mom's house visiting for a few days, I wanted to cook them dinner one night. It's always a bit of a dilemma to cook for my mom's side. My mom eats everything, and is easy to please (love ya, mom!). My sister, whose currently living with my mom, is also vegetarian. My mom's husband and my brother, who was also at the house, are meat and potato types (No meat? What do you mean, 'no meat'?).

Whatever I cook, it has to be hearty enough to take the place of meat and not leave the boys feeling like they got jipped at dinner.

I really liked Mollie's recipe for Southwest Polenta Hash for two reasons. I can continue to hone my skills at polenta making, and it involved a southwest twist. My mom's husband is from Houston, so he's usually happy with black beans, salsa, etc.

Beans were a good substitute for the protein needed, and the polenta seemed like it would be cooked in a way that was filling. It was! And, it was delicious. It made quite a lot, and all of it was eagerly eaten. Another happy table, thank goodness.

It does come out a bit dry, if served on its own. I really encourage you to serve it with salsa. We used a pico de gallo salsa from the store, but try my cousin Skye's fresh salsa recipe (yum!).

When you've got an urge for a southwest dinner, or have a difficult group to please, give this one a try.

Southwest Polenta Hash
from Mollie Katzen

The Polenta
1 3/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal (polenta)
1 cup cold water

Pour 1 3/4 cups water into a medium-sized saucepan, add the salt, and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, place the polenta in a bowl with the cold water, and stir until it is completely moistened.

Turn heat under the boiling water down to a simmer, and spoon in the wet polenta. Stir with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until very thick.

Turn the polenta out onto two dinner plates, spreading it into a thin circle all the way to the rims of the plates. Let it cool. It will become very firm.

Cut the polenta into cubes or dice, and proceed with the following recipe.

The Hash
2 tablespoons olive oil (and possibly more)
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
(Polenta pieces from above)
1 heaping cup minced onion
1 3-inch jalapeno, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon minced garlic
A dozen sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)
1 cup cooked black beans (canned OK), drained

Heat the oil in a large skillet (or two smaller ones) over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt.

When the oil is very hot, add the polenta pieces in a single layer. Sauté them for a good 15 minutes, loosening and turning them about every five minutes with a metal spatula, to keep them from sticking. They will crumble somewhat, and that is desirable! (It makes a crisper result.) Don't move the pieces any more often than every five minutes, because they need a chance to "sit with the heat" in order to achieve texture.

When the polenta is looking golden in color, move it over to one side of the pan, add a little additional oil, if it seems necessary, and add the onion, jalapeno, and chili powder. Sauté these in the side of the pan, until they become soft (8 to 10 minutes). About 5 minutes into this step, add the garlic.

Mix the vegetables and polenta pieces together in the pan, still over the heat, adding the cherry tomatoes (if desired). Cook for another 5 minutes or so, then stir in the black beans until they're heated through. Be careful not to break the beans as you stir. The dish looks nicer if they remain whole.

Serve hot, with or without salsa.

Mollie's helpful tips:
* You can make the polenta as much as a few days ahead of time. Wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. It needs at least an hour to cool and firm up--preferably longer.
* Butter is optional. It flavors the olive oil nicely, but is not essential. So if you prefer to keep this dish dairy-free, just skip it and slightly increase the olive oil.
* The jalapeno adds a bit of heat. If you want to get a milder flavor, remove the seeds before you mince it. Wash your hands after handling this or any other hot pepper.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thai-Style Tofu and Vegetables

If Mexican is my favorite food type, Thai would be second. After living in Japan, I know that many of the asian cultures share foods. While there are Thai curries, there are also Japanese curries, Indian curries, etc. Almost every Thai restaurant will have fresh spring rolls, similar to the Vietnamese versions, and probably some wok fried dishes.

But I love the thai flavors and styles the best. Coconut milk, pairings of savory and sweet, and the spicy 1-2 punch they give to their dishes. I eat it up.

When I saw this easy recipe for Thai-Style Tofu and Veggies, I had to make it. Smelled so good while cooking, and when I added the coconut milk, I could barely wait to taste it!

Un-forrr-tunately, it smelled better than it really tasted. It was good, I had no problem finishing my dish. But it wasn't wow-ing, and could be described as a little bland. I had higher expectations. But, if you're looking for a super easy, coconut milk, thai dish, this could fit the bill. Good for weeknight fast dinners. Just not if you're having company.

Thai-Style Tofu and Vegetables
from Food & Wine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced (add an extra garlic clove)

1 large jalapeno, thinly sliced crosswise with seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 large shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced (I didn't use)

2 cups small broccoli florets

1 medium carrot, thinly sliced crosswise

3 canned plum tomatoes, chopped

1 1/4 cups light unsweetened coconut milk

1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves

Lime wedges, for serving

In a large skillet or wok, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion along with the ginger, garlic and jalapeño and stir-fry over moderately high heat for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, then add the shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrot and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, tofu, water and soy sauce to the skillet and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until the vegetables are al dente, about 4 minutes. Stir the chopped basil into the vegetables, transfer to plates and serve immediately with lime wedges.

Guten appetit!