Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fiesta Bean Salad

Yes, this salad DOES taste as good as it looks.  A perfect blend of bright, spicy and refreshing, this Fiesta Bean Salad quells your hunger without leaving you feeling dragged down.  As the temperatures flirt with the 80-degree mark over the next few days, this is the perfect dish to enjoy outdoors--for an Easter barbeque, for instance.  Or a picnic in the park! :)

Recipe Notes:
  • It's spicy!  If you prefer milder dishes, I suggest draining the Ro*Tel® and/or using the mild variety.  Throw in some lime juice for flavor and acidity.
  • Purple hull peas are similar to black eye peas...but different.  Give 'em a try if you've never had them, but if you insist on skipping out you can certainly use more black beans.
  • The recipe as given to me by a co-worker was for a black bean dip, which is made similarly--but with three undrained cans of black beans.

Fiesta Bean Salad  (Serves 6-8)
Adapted from a co-worker's recipe

10 oz. can Mexican Ro*Tel® tomatoes, undrained
2 avocados (firm works best)
15 oz. can corn, drained
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can purple hull peas, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, sliced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Tortilla chips for serving, if desired

Place undrained tomatoes in a large mixing bowl.  Dice avocados, placing in bowl with tomatoes as you dice them (the acid in the tomato juice will help keep the avocado cubes retain their green color, so stir them up and get 'em coated!).  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  May be served immediately or chilled for several hours to allow flavors to blend.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Drury Lane: I've Been There

In search of a quick and easy bake sale item you can make a few days in advance?  Jumbo muffins certainly fit the bill and are easily customized for endless flavor variations.  The combination of a pudding-enriched cake mix base and minimal mixing produces a muffin with a texture that stands the middle ground between cupcake fluffiness and muffin sturdiness.  It's the best of both worlds!  

Bake sale tips: 
  • These can easily be made ahead of time.  Wrap cooled muffins individually in plastic wrap, then stash in a plastic zip-top bag or other container and freeze.  When you're ready to package for the bake sale, unwrap muffins and allow to come to room temperature (thawing wrapped muffins can be messy if your freezer puts out as much frost as mine!).   Believe me, baking 141 muffins in one sitting is NOT something you want to attempt.  
  • Four jumbo muffins fit very nicely on a paper, plastic, or styrofoam plate (about 9").  Wrap the whole deal in plastic wrap (you may need to overlap two sheets), then place on top of another plate to seal the deal!  Plastic wrap doesn't like to stick to paper or foam plates, so the extra plate keeps your wrapping from blowing away during transport and/or during the sale. 
  • "Variety is the spice of life."   I baked up three batches of each flavor, then packaged muffins in groups of four--some same-flavor, some variety packs.  Guess which ones sold first?

Basic Muffin Recipe  Yields: about 12 jumbo muffins

3 eggs
½ cup oil
6 oz. plain yogurt
¾ cup water
1 box cake mix
1 small box instant pudding mix (not sugar-free)
Mix-ins for desired flavor (see below for variations)

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place paper liners in 12 wells of two jumbo muffin tins.

Mix eggs, oil, and yogurt together in a mixing bowl until blended.  Stir in water (or other liquid, if using).  Sift cake mix and instant pudding mix together, then add to liquid mixture.  Mix on low speed until blended, about 30-45 seconds.  Blend in mix-ins by hand.

Portion batter into prepared muffin tins.  Bake at 375°F for 24-27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

 Banana Walnut Muffins
Banana cake mix
 Vanilla pudding mix
Replace water with mashed ripe bananas
Mix-in: 1 cup chopped walnuts

   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Blueberry Muffins
White cake mix
Cheesecake pudding mix
Mix-in: 2 cups blueberries 

   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Chocolate Chip Muffins
Devil's Food cake mix
Chocolate pudding mix
Mix-in: 1½ cups chocolate chips 

   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

 Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
(Yields only 11 jumbo muffins)
White cake mix
Lemon pudding mix
Mix-ins: 3 Tbl. poppy seeds AND zest of 1 lemon

   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meatless Fridays: Macaroni & Cheese

Today I'm bringing you an 'oldie but goodie' recipe for macaroni and cheese.  Hearty, comforting and universally pleasing, macaroni and cheese makes a great meal any time of the year--not just when you're going meatless.  You can never go wrong with a big ole' bowl of mac 'n cheese, whether it's "from the box" or a gourmet four-cheese creation with an ingredients list that would make you go cross-eyed.  This recipe, however,  is pretty basic and easily committed to memory thanks to the number 2! 

Macaroni & Cheese (Serves 4-6)

2 cups macaroni (about 8 oz.)
2 Tbl. flour
2 Tbl. butter
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese (I used a Cheddar Jack blend)
¼ tsp. onion powder
tsp. cayenne pepper
⅛ tsp. black pepper
salt to taste, if needed

Boil macaroni in salted water according to package directions.  While macaroni cooks, heat 2 Tablespoons flour in a medium saucepan until melted.  Add flour and stir, cooking until mixture is combined and thickened.  Continue cooking for another minute to cook out the raw flour taste.  Gradually add milk to pan, whisking as you add.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Add seasonings, and adjust for salt if needed (depending on how salty the cheese is).  Stir in drained macaroni until evenly coated.  Serve.  (If you're hankerin' for some bubbly crusty cheese action, you can bake this in a greased casserole at 350°F for about 30 minutes.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cupcake Hero Voting Open

Now's the time to head over to I ♥ Cuppycakes to cast your vote for March's Cupcake Hero Caramel Champion!  All the entries look absolutely mouthwatering, so choose carefully because you can only vote once.  Any votes for my "Pot of Gold" cupcakes would be greatly appreciated!  Voting closes on March 21st @ 11:59pm EST, so you better skeedaddle! Click HERE to visit the poll.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cat Head Biscuits

 (Image Source: Link)
No, no, NO.  It's nothing like that!  We're not talking about  'making biscuits' either.

Chances are, many of you have never heard of Cat Head Biscuits before.  Truth be told, I'd never heard of them either--until the April/May issue of Cook's Country arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago.  The name alone piqued my interest, and I knew instantly these biscuits would be a 'must try.'  Hailing from Appalachia, Cat Head Biscuits are incredibly soft and fluffy biscuits, so named because they're "as big as a cat's head."  That's a rather interesting yet accurate description.  And boy, they're not kidding.  Observe:

 Holey moley that's one big biscuit!  As you can see, it maxes out at the limit of my thumb to index finger gripping ability!  

With such a generous size, Cat Head Biscuits are best for sharing...not that you'd want to. Now these aren't the type of biscuit you'd want to make a breakfast sandwich out of because they're almost too soft and delicate to withstand being manhandled like that.  (Wait--what kind of complaint is that?  "My biscuits are too soft!?!"  One could only hope to be so lucky.) You probably wouldn't want to try eating this one in the car on your way to work either, unless you happen to like losing biscuit morsels in every nook and cranny of your vehicle.  Not that I would know anything about that. ;)

Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Cat Head Biscuits (makes 6 giant biscuits)
From Cook's Country April/May 2010

1½ cups all-purpose flour*
1½ cups cake flour*
1 Tbl. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
8 Tbl. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and softened
4 Tbl. vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
1¼ cups buttermilk

*3 cups White Lily® flour may be used in place of the all-purpose and cake flours

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425°F.  Grease a 9-inch cake pan.  Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.  Rub butter and shortening into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in buttermilk until combined.

Use a greased ½ cup measure or large spring-loaded ice cream scoop to transfer 6 heaping portions of dough into prepared pan, placing 5 around pan's perimeter and 1 in center.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.  Serve.  (Biscuits can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cupcake Hero::March (Caramel)

 It's Cupcake Hero time again!  I missed out on last month's contest, so I'm eager to get back in the game.  This month's ingredient is caramel, and I've decided to do a two-fer by combining the theme ingredient with something in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  Caramel Irish Cream, anyone?
Pot of Gold Cupcakes:
 Dark chocolate cupcakes flavored with caramel Irish cream, filled with caramel cream cheese and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream.  

Be sure to visit I ♥ Cuppycakes in a few days to check out all the delicious entries and cast your vote!  Please vote for mine?  *bats eyelashes*

Novelty candy = Instant rainbow!  (Each strip in the pack makes 2 rainbows)

Pot of Gold Cupcakes  (Makes 12)

cup milk
cup caramel flavored Irish Cream liqueur (such as Bailey's®)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
¾ cup sugar
cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
cup Hershey's Special Dark® cocoa
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

¼ cup caramel apple dip
¼ cup cream cheese, softened

1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 pack Airheads Xtremes rainbow candy belts

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a muffin pan with 12 liners.

Whisk milk, Caramel Irish Cream, and vinegar together in a large bowl or 4-cup measuring cup; set aside for a few minutes to curdle.  Add sugar, oil, and vanilla extract; beat until foamy.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add to wet ingredients in two batches, whisking until mixture is nearly smooth (small lumps are okay).

Pour batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each cup about ¾ full.  Bake at 350°F for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer to rack to cool before proceeding.

Assemble the filling:  Mix the caramel dip and softened cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth.  With a small paring knife, carve out a cone from the top of each cupcake (don't throw away those cake scraps; you'll need them to cap off the cupcake).  Fill each cupcake with about 2 teaspoons caramel cream cheese.  Trim a bit off the points of the reserved cupcake cones and replace them on top of filling.

Prepare topping:  Beat heavy cream and powdered sugar until medium-to-stiff peaks form.   Divide whipped cream among cupcakes.  Cut 6 rainbow candy belts in half crosswise to form 12 pieces.  Form each piece into an arc and place atop those whipped cream clouds!  Keep assembled cupcakes chilled, and serve within a few hours (cream will begin to break down if left too long).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day!

That's right, folks!  Today, March 14th (3-14) is Pi ( π) Day.  For those of us needing a refresher: 
π : The number which represents the relationship between a circle’s diameter (its width) and its circumference ( distance around the circle).  π is an irrational number, an infinite and non-repeating decimal.  Oh yeah.  π is forever.  Neat!

Here's a small sampling of π's value:
3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209 7494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651 3282306647093844609550582231725359408128481117450284102 7019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461 2847564823378678316527120190914564856692346034861045432 6648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920 9628292540917153643678925903600113305305488204665213841 4695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738193261179 3105118548074462379962749567351885752724891227938183011 9491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798 6094370277053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056 8127145263560827785771342757789609173637178721468440901 2249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290 2196086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837 2978049951059731732816096318595024459455346908302642522 3082533446850352619311881710100031378387528865875332083 8142061717766914730359825349042875546873115956286388235 3787593751957781857780532171226806613001927876611195909. . . 
And it goes on and on forever!  Most of us know π's approximate value as 3.141592654 (okay, so that's how many I've got memorized) or 3.14, but there are folks out there who know π to a kah-razy number of digits!  Visit the Pi Day website to learn more about π and see it to 1 million(!) digits.

The good folks over at ScienceBlogs™ are teaming up with Serious Eats to host their second annual Pi Day Pie Bake-Off  (three:  the number of times I've used the word "folks" thus far).  Up for grabs: a $314 Grand Prize.  Three category winners will also be selected: Judges' Pick, Most Photogenic, and Best Concept Pie.  Category winners will receive this shirt courtesy of mental_floss.  Best of luck to all!

The competition promises to be fierce, with all contestants hoping to top last year's winning pie: the Spicy Pie Bacon Squared.  So the question remains:  how can I top BACON without actually using bacon??? can't actually be done (owing to bacon's awesomeness), but I think I've come pretty darned close.

You may remember from earlier this year when I posted CakeSpy's Cookie Cake Pie (under the fitting title "America, THIS is Why We're Fat").  Well I decided to use that concept for my Bake-Off entry, but passing on the convenience products I relied upon in my previous attempt.  May I present:   

Celebratory Cookie Cake Pi 
Cream cheese frosting (complete with sprinkles!), vanilla confetti cake, chocolate chips, and peanut butter cookie.  All nestled in a rich and tasty cream cheese crust.  

Recipe notes:
  • Don't be intimidated by the length of the ingredients list; the pie comes together in no time!
  • You can use the same bowl to mix up the crust, cookie, and cake layers if you wipe the bowl clean in between--no washing needed!
  • The cake portion uses the reverse creaming method, which can be applied to nearly any standard cake recipe.  You'll love it once you've tried it!

Celebratory Cookie Cake Pi (serves 12)
Original concept by CakeSpy

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter, softened
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbl. sugar

Peanut butter cookie layer:
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Confetti cake layer:
cup sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup butter, softened
1 egg white
¾ cup milk
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
2 Tbl. rainbow sprinkles (jimmies work best)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Food coloring, if desired
Rainbow sprinkles (any kind)

Preheat oven to 350°F and have ready a 9-inch pie plate.

Combine crust ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Stir together until a soft dough forms.  Roll dough out between two sheets of waxed paper to an 11-12" circle.  Fit dough into pie plate.  You can flute the edges at this point, if you're fancy like that.  Wipe bowl clean.
Combine cookie ingredients (except chocolate chips, though no one would complain if you decided to throw them in at this point) in bowl.  Stir until smooth and combined.  The batter will be thick and cohesive.  Pat cookie dough in an even layer over pie crust.  Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.  Wipe bowl clean.

Combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl.  Mix on lowest speed of a handheld mixer to homogenize.  Add softened butter and continue mixing on low to medium speed until mixture appears sandy.  Add egg white and continue mixing until incorporated.  Combine milk and extracts in a measuring cup.  Add to flour mixture in two aliquots, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl if needed.  Blend in rainbow sprinkles.  Pour cake batter over chocolate chip layer.

Bake in a 350°F for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake portion comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting (cake portion may sink slightly during cooling).

For the frosting:
Combine cream cheese and butter in a clean mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract.  Blend on low speed until sugar has incorporated.  Increase speed to medium and continue beating until fluffy.  Blend in food coloring, if using.  Spread evenly over cooled pie.  Top with rainbow sprinkles and enjoy! :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meatless Fridays: Vegetable Lasagna


Results may vary.  
Item not as pictured.
See below.

Oooh, pretty.

And...the *not* so pretty.

Even after a 30-minute post-oven wait, this lasagna is still a bit on the loose side.  Oozy food tends to not photograph well.  After an overnight chill, however, it slices much prettier but still lacks the vibrant coloring of the magazine cover version (I've been making the original version since 2004, and my previous attempts at the recipe always yielded more colorful results). 

For today's edition of Meatless Fridays, I'm merging my two favorite lasagna recipes:  Pioneer Woman's "The Best Lasagna Ever" and Better Homes & Gardens' "Mile High Lasagna Pie."  The former boasts an impressive 2.5 lbs. of meat and massive amounts of cheese, while the latter is vegetarian all the way.  In this mosty tasty creation, I've swapped out all that meat for a bounty of vegetables: carrots, zucchini, spinach, and mushrooms.  This one fills a 9x13x2-inch casserole TO THE BRIM, so use caution and place a foil-lined baking sheet under it--just in case.  To my delight, it didn't overflow.  This time.  You've been warned.  One more thing: yes, this IS one of those recipes that dirties every dish, pot, and pan you own...

Vegetable Lasagna (Serves 10-12)
Adapted from PW and BH&G recipes

29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
12 oz. can tomato paste
2 Tbl. dried parsley
2 Tbl. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

8 lasagna noodles

2 Tbl. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups finely chopped carrot
2 c. finely chopped zucchini
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
12 oz. fresh baby spinach (I've used frozen before, depending on cost)

3 cups lowfat cottage cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbl. dried parsley
1 tsp. salt

1 lb. mozzarella cheese (sliced or grated)
additional grated Parmesan for the top

In a large saucepan, combine crushed tomatoes (undrained), tomato paste, 2 Tablespoons parsley, basil, salt, pepper, onion powder, and red pepper flakes.   Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil lasagna noodles according to package directions.

Heat 1 Tbl. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add carrots, zucchini, and HALF of the minced garlic.  Cook and stir about 8 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender.  Transfer vegetables to a bowl and wipe skillet clean.

Heat remaining  1 Tbl. olive oil in same skillet; add mushrooms and remaining garlic.  Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and their liquid has been released and evaporated.  Gradually add spinach to skillet.  Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until spinach is wilted.  Remove with a slotted spoon to another bowl, making sure to drain well.

In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated Parmesan, 2 more Tablespoons parsley, and 1 more teaspoon salt.  Stir together well and set aside until time for assembly.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease a 9x13" baking dish with non-stick spray.  Arrange 4 cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of pan, overlapping if necessary.  Spoon half the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles.  Spread evenly.  Cover cottage cheese with half the mozzarella cheese.  Spoon spinach mixture on top of mozzarella, then cover with half of the tomato sauce.  Repeat layers using carrot/zucchini mixture, and ending with sauce.  Sprinkle top generously with extra Parmesan.

Bake in 350°F oven for 40-45 minutes (PW recommends 20-30 minutes, but this is never enough for mine), or until top is hot and bubbly.  Let stand 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tasty Kitchen: Butter Chicken


Judging by the name of this dish, you'd assume it would be migh-tee tasty.  And you'd be right.  Slap the word 'butter' in front of pretty much anything and you've got yourself a recipe for success.  "Butter Chicken" is a fairly generic recipe name, and you wouldn't know until you looked at the ingredients list that this recipe has origins in Indian cuisine.  (Edited to add:  I just found out this dish is also known as Murg Makhani--thanks, Faith!)  This dish is one of my favorites to order at our local Indian restaurant, but at $16 a plate I thought I'd give a homemade version a shot.  It's quick and simple to make, but be sure to plan ahead as the chicken will need an overnight soak in the marinade.   

And the verdict?  Yum.  Double yum.  I'd make this again, for sure--but not without a few changes.  As written, the recipe is a wonderful intro for someone unfamiliar with Indian cuisine and its range of spices.  Butter chicken is flavorful yet mild...and obscenely decadent.  When I make this again, I plan on increasing the amount of spices (probably by at least 50%) and reducing the amount of cream.  Against my better judgment I added the entire amount, when half would probably have sufficed.  (I like to make new recipes as written the first time so I can offer valid opinions.)

The recipe comes to us from Lillieknits, a member of Pioneer Woman's Tasty Kitchen recipe sharing community.  Click HERE to view the recipe and a gorgeously photographed step-by-step tutorial by PW herself. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Girl, Paula: Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf

 Meat (ha!) the antithesis of anything from my "Meatless Fridays" feature:  The Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf.  

This week's My Girl, Paula! theme is "Anything Goes," making this smorgasbord of ingredients a logical choice.  Want mayo, ketchup, and mustard?  Sure, throw it in.  Cheese?  Yup.  Bacon?  Absolutely.  French fried onions too?  Why not!  Far from being your everyday meatloaf, this monster of a meal packs a huge flavor punch--and the calorie count to match.  Lighten it up a bit by choosing a lean ground beef (or ground turkey), turkey bacon, light mayo, and/or reduced-fat cheese.  Your pants will thank you.

Recipe Notes:
  • I found this to be a tad on the salty side, even with the salt omitted.  Blame it on the bacon, I guess.
  • I placed 2 slices of bread on the bottom of my loaf pan to absorb the excess oil.  It worked, but the bread was hopelessly stuck to the meat.  Squishy, grease-soaked bread ≠ yum. 
  • The recipe calls for a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.  As you can see, this produces a very squat meatloaf!  I'd go for an 8x4x3-inch loaf pan, if you have it.  Or shape it into a loaf as directed and bake on a broiler pan.

Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf
Recipe by Paula Deen (Link)

1 lb. ground chuck
10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
8 oz. package sharp Cheddar, grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup bread crumbs, toasted
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 Tbl. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. salt (not really necessary considering the bacon and cheese)
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
cup ketchup
2 Tbl. prepared mustard
1 (2.8 oz) can French fried onions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck and next 8 ingredients, mixing well.

In a small bowl, combine the ketchup and mustard.  Stir ¼ cup ketchup mixture into meat mixture, reserving remaining ketchup mixture.

Press meat mixture into a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan, or shape into a loaf and place on a rack in a broiler pan.  Spread remaining ketchup mixture over loaf.  Bake 40 minutes.  Top with French fried onions; bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Meatless Fridays: Hot & Sour Tofu Soup


Tofu.  The very thought of consuming it sends many a Westerner running for the hills.  I'm not sure how tofu earned itself such a bad name, but consider this:  someone who has never consumed meat products might experience the same reaction when confronted with a bowl or wormy, bright-red ground beef.  It all comes down to familiarity and the proper preparation of ingredients.  I'm all for tofu--when it's treated as "TOFU."  None of this masquerading as scrambled eggs or faux meat business (that's all fine and dandy, but I suspect it's bad experiences with these types of creations that has scared people off from trying tofu).

Here's a very tasty soup that pays proper respect to the humble hero of the protein world.  Based on Chinese hot and sour soup, it's packed with flavor--and tons of veggies.  The ingredients list looks long, but I promise you this is a very quick dish to put together. Normally I would make a soup like this with baby bok choy instead of the sugar snap peas, but the baby boks were looking pretty sad and wilted the day I went shopping.  And why the carrot flowers?  Well...why the heck not?  They're a really cute addition to the soup, and the scraps leftover from cutting make tasty snacks for the chef!

Hot & Sour Tofu Soup (Yields: 4 main /8 soup course servings)
Adapted from 365 Vegetarian Soups by Gregg Gillespie

3 Tbl. olive oil
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
¾ cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 small)
1½ cups chopped green onions (about 8 or 9)
½ cup sliced carrots
1 quart vegetable broth
3 Tbl. soy sauce
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbl. cornstarch
3 Tbl. water
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
½ lb. sugar snap peas or baby bok choy, sliced
14 oz. pkg. extra firm tofu, diced
handful of chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the oil in a soup kettle or Dutch oven, and sauté mushrooms until their liquid has been released and evaporated.  Add diced red bell peppers, green onions and carrots, and sauté until tender.  Add vegetable broth, soy sauce and crushed red pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover lightly, and cook for about 5 minutes.

Blend the cornstarch with 3 Tablespoons of water.  Blend in vinegar and sesame oil.  Stir into the hot soup until incorporated, and then add the tofu and snap peas.  Again cover, and cook for about 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

Turn off the heat.  Add cilantro, if using.  Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rethinking the Biscuit

Tough biscuits weighing you down?  Get out from under that sad rain cloud and give these KAF Guaranteed Biscuits a try.  If you think you need butter, shortening, or biscuit cutters to make tender, tasty biscuits your family will devour--think again.  The clever use of cornstarch and heavy cream in this recipe assures light and delicate results, and their square shape means you can avoid overworking the dough through repeated re-rolling.  There's a reason the folks at King Arthur Flour have place their "Guaranteed" stamp on this recipe; even biscuit novices like me can have biscuit success.  Hockey pucks no more!