Honey-Sesame Tofu

Yup, tofu.

I think tofu gets a bad rap. It comes off as being bland and uninteresting, but you’re not really meant to eat tofu all by itself. You should at least throw some soy sauce on it or something. You can totally do that. In Japan, I used to get a little container of tofu that came with its own packet/compartment of soy sauce. Combine them: instant snack/light protein. No big deal. If you like soy sauce. I suppose you could do it with ponzu sauce too, if you’re so inclined (I would, I like ponzu better than soy sauce).

Anyway. If you’re going to cook tofu, serve it with a sauce or something. It’s tastier that way, I promise. There’s no reason for tofu to not be good.

There’s also no reason to be scared of tofu (unless you’re allergic to it, then you’re totally justified in not going anywhere near it). Tofu is pretty easy to deal with. You do want to drain it of liquid though, as much as possible. To do this, I usually slice it into eighths on the short side and then place those slices on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. I cover the slices with more paper towels and place another baking sheet on top, weighing it down with whatever heavy stuff I can find (usually canned goods). Then I leave it there for an hour or two or until the paper towels are wet. It takes time, but it doesn’t take much effort, and it leaves you with a firm tofu that’s ready to absorb some flavor.

For this meal, I used this recipe. And I discovered why I don’t usually roast tofu in the oven. The texture was awful, rubbery and chewy at the same time. Way, way overcooked. Normally, I just take my eight tofu slices, dredge them in a little flour, and pan sear them until they’re browned on both sides. OR, if I’m putting the tofu in a stir-fry, I cube it and throw it into my pan for just a couple of minutes to get it hot and coated in sauce. Tofu just shouldn’t be cooked for extended amounts of time. It looses all of its silkiness.

The good news is that the sauce was really good. Like, really good. It went well with the roasted carrots I served with the tofu. And also with the forbidden rice on the side. So while I would never cook tofu the same way, I’d make this sauce again. If tofu just isn’t going to do it for you, it would probably be good with chicken or pork too. It was worth trying out the recipe.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5. Mostly for the sauce and for potential. I’d never had tofu that just turned me off so much though. But because I think the texture issue could be fixed just by cooking the tofu correctly, I’d be willing to give the sauce another try.


Slow-Roasted Pork with Apple Relish

Most meals, I can count on at least one thing that Miss H will like and eat without complaint. Cheese will always get eaten (unless it’s mozzarella). Bread and noodles will also be devoured without complaint. Certain vegetables like carrots and edamame. Sweet potato fries (or any fries, really). Greek yogurt. Any kind of fruit.

We ask her to try everything, within reason. When we had kale and artichokes with salmon on Monday, we encouraged her to try the vegetables, but we didn’t push it. They were a little weird, and I’m not sure she would have liked them anyway (although who knows – Miss H loves kale chips and marinated anything so one would think they were right up her alley). We did, however, encourage her to try the capers, because she has really liked them in the past, and all she needed was a reminder of that.

And then there are some nights when she eats everything on her plate without complaint. Usually those are leftover nights, because she gets a sandwich or noodles or something totally benign. Every once in a while, though, there is a meal that takes a little coaxing but ends with a clean plate.

Like this one.

The sure things on this plate were the egg noodles and the roasted parsnips. The pork was iffy, because Miss H does not always trust proteins. And the apple relish was a wild card. On paper, she should like it: fruit, lemon juice, fun to pick up and eat. In reality, you never can tell, especially with little specks of green (dried parsley) all over the apple pieces.

Then you go and get proved wrong, because Miss H took one taste of those apples and ate them all up. She went through the noodles and parsnips first and then agreed to eat a couple bites of pork. She wasn’t sure about the apples at first, but once she realized the green on the apples was parsley, she decided to give them a try. The husband and I were kind of surprised but also kind of not. The apple relish was quite sour because of the lemon juice, which accompanied the pork quite well but wasn’t fantastic by itself. Since I know Miss H likes sour, I figured the real challenge would be getting her to try it.

She eventually cleaned her plate, with help from daddy, who is always willing to eat leftover meat.

We liked this meal, obviously. The relish and the meat made a nice combination, although I’d serve the meat with more of the juice from the slow cooker, which was sweetened by apple cider. The parsnips made a nice accompaniment. If I were to make the meal again, I’d go with mashed potatoes (to catch all that delicious juice) rather than noodles, but it was still fine as it was.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I could see adding this to our rotation, especially in the winter. A juice, flavorful pork shoulder is always welcome at our table. The apple relish, though a little odd at first, went nicely with the pork and added some freshness to the meal. Easy to make and very tasty.

Recipe from “Real Simple: Dinner Made Easy.”

Baked Chicken Parmesan

Oh, sweet homemade marinara. You make so many meals better.

Classic chicken parmesan is a simple dish of breaded (and fried) chicken topped with red sauce and mozzarella, served over pasta. Pretty basic, really. I do away with traditional frying and oven “fry” my chicken breasts because – well, there are many reasons why. Healthier, easier, less mess to clean up. You do have a tendency to end up with a soggy breading since you’re slathering the chicken with a layer of marinara during baking, but you could get around that by serving the sauce separate and just broiling the chicken with the mozzarella enough to melt the cheese. It turns out delicious either way.

Oven-frying chicken is one of my favorite ways to cook it. I start – always – by marinating the chicken in something. Buttermilk is my favorite, but I’ve used Greek yogurt with success. This time around, I used pickle juice, which would have been better with a plain chicken dish but still went mighty well with the marinara and mozzarella. Marinating the chicken for a couple of hours (4 at the most) keeps it moist and does add a bit of flavor to the meat.

When I’m ready to bake, I make the coating: panko breadcrumbs, a healthy amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garlic powder, and salt. Maybe a little pepper. Set the bowl next to a baking sheet lined with foil and with a baking rack placed on it. The chicken comes out of the marinade and straight into the coating. I turn it over a couple times to make sure it’s completely covered, and then it goes over to the baking sheet. I spray the chicken with cooking spray before putting it in the oven, but that’s not really necessary. Just helps crisp it a bit. At 400 degrees, it’ll take the chicken between 25 and 35 minutes to cook, depending on how thick the breasts are. I live by my meat thermometer, which gets rid of the guesswork.

For this meal, after 20 minutes of cooking, I added marinara and mozzarella, then baked for another 15 minutes. Perfectly done. And delicious.

Unless you ask Miss H, in which case it was just okay. She ate half of the serving I gave her, carefully separating cheese from chicken and the mostly just eating the chicken. Miss H is not a fan of mozzarella. She prefers a more flavorful cheese.

What she did like was the side dish, a salad of mache and grape tomatoes dressed with a homemade Italian dressing. Mache is one of the few greens I really like, it being mild in flavor and texturally pleasant. I don’t like bitter greens, so when I do feel like having salad, mache or baby spinach is what I usually go for. It had been a while since I had mache, so I went with that.

And boy did Miss H like it. Though, to be honest, she probably liked the dressing the most. Miss H has a definite liking for sour foods, or pretty much anything with vinegar. The dressing had a little white wine vinegar in it, which I figured she would like if I could just get her to try the mache. She refused at first, no surprise. One thing we do to get her to try something for the first time is ask her just to lick it. It’s less scary than putting the whole thing her mouth. So I held up a little piece of mache doused with dressing and had her lick it. And the next thing I knew, all of her mache was gone, and she was dabbing up the leftover dressing with her finger.

Rating: 5 of 5. Oven-fried chicken is a staple with us, something I used to do a lot but hadn’t done recently. It was actually one of the first real meals I learned how to make out of college, so it’s something I can do without even thinking about what I’m doing. The Italian dressing was obviously a hit and will definitely be made again whenever we want a simple green salad to go along with a more complex main dish.

Kale and Artichoke Salmon Packets

I love cooking salmon in foil packets. Super easy, fairly fast (with almost no hands-on needed), absolutely delicious. If I make salmon 3-4 times a month, I cook it in a foil packet at least once. Sometimes twice.

It’s also one of the easiest clean-ups ever. Salmon goes in foil, foil is wrapped up, packet is placed on foil-lined pan in case of leaks, everything goes into the trash after dinner. It’s great.

Normally, for a salmon packet, I just top the salmon with butter and lemon slices and serve a vegetable side dish alongside it (broiled asparagus goes perfect, especially if you dare to have Hollandaise sauce!). Every so often, we like to change it up, and since kale was on sale, this seemed like a natural choice for this week. I still did the butter and the lemon slices and added shopped kale and halved artichoke hearts to the packet. Cooked in the oven at 425 degrees for 18 minutes, they came out a little more done than I like my salmon (I like it very pink) but still not too done.

Overall, we felt this has potential. The artichokes should definitely be chopped, not just halved. I wasn’t impressed with the kale; maybe less of it would have been better. I served the foil packet with roasted potatoes, which were tasty (and a sure win for Miss H) but not the best side dish for this meal. What would have been best would have been taking the salmon out of the foil, skinning it, and dumping everything over a heap of Israeli couscous or rice. That would have been great for catching all the lemony, buttery juice that just got lost in the foil packet.

I also wonder how it would be if I cooked it at a lower temperature for a longer time. Usually, I do my foil packets for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. In the higher temperature, the kale was beginning to brown and not in a good way. Higher temperatures make for faster cooking, but I think you also run the risk of overcooking everything. Something to think about for next time.

As for Miss H, she likes salmon, especially if we make a little sandwich of it for her. She also ate her fair share of potatoes, but she wasn’t interested in kale or artichokes, not that I blame her. After opening up the foil packets, I topped the salmon with a small spoonful of capers, which MIss H absolutely loves – probably the brininess that gets her. She’s got a super big sweet tooth, but she’s also a big fan of sour, vinegary things. A rather successful dinner from her point of view.

Rating: 3 out of 5. We liked the idea of this, but the details need a little tweaking. Chopped artichokes would be a good start, along with a better side dish. Since salmon foil packets are already in our regular rotation, it’s nice to do something a little more interesting than just lemon and butter. We’ll try it with the changes and see if it works any better.

Taken from “Real Simple: Dinner Made Simple

Menu Plan: January 23 – 29

I have good intentions to write a blog for every meal I make, but obviously, it doesn’t happen. I have two (three?) things I want to share from last week that I might or might not get around to sharing. Best laid plans, and all. I thought it might help if I share our menu plan.

I do a weekly menu plan, starting with Monday and going through Sunday. I ask the husband on Friday or Saturday what he’d like to have, and we brainstorm meal ideas through the weekend. We like to try new things or old things done in new ways. We also try to stick to what’s in season or what’s on sale for the week. Menu planning is probably the best thing I started doing as a homemaker, because it really does save on money and waste, in addition to keeping us from facing another night of not knowing what the heck we’re going to eat. It also keeps our meals varied so that we’re not eating the same thing every week. And it puts to use all of my cookbooks and Pinterest pins. Menu planning, for the win.

We diversify our meals each week. Wednesdays and Saturdays are leftover days. Weeknights, I try to keep it simple, so Sunday is for something more involved or adventurous. Each week, we have a beef dish, a poultry dish, a seafood dish, a pork dish, and a vegetarian dish.

So, here’s this week’s menu plan.

Kale and Artichoke Salmon Packets (from “Real Simple: Dinner Made Simple”), Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Parmesan, Salad with Italian Dressing, Garlic Bread

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Apple Relish (from “Real Simple: Dinner Made Simple”), Roasted Parsnips

Honey-Sesame Tofu, Carrots, Forbidden Rice

Enoki-Dokie Burger (from Bob’s Burgers Burger Book), Sweet Potato Fries
(Back-up plan: Sympathy for the Deviled Egg Burger, in case I can’t find enoki mushrooms.)

Poultry Pot Pie

This may be one of my favorite recipes. I’ve made it so many times over the past six years, which is when I first started making pot pies. And surprise! I’m actually going to share the recipe with you, because it is one I’ve sort of developed on my own. It’s a combination of a number of other recipes, from which I took my favorite things and put them together to make the ultimate go-to recipe.

I call it a poultry pie because I throw whatever I’ve got in there. Chicken, turkey, duck – it’s all good. It’s perfect for using up leftover Thanksgiving turkey. In fact, I freeze 2-3 baggies of leftover turkey meat each just to use for meals like this. It’s why I do a 15-pound turkey even when it’s just the three of us for Thanksgiving. Turkey pot pie is perfect for the winter, and it’s meals like this that make me think it wouldn’t be so bad to have longer, colder winters. Fortunately, even warm(ish) Texas winters benefit from the occasional pot pie, so I still don’t have to put up with snow just to satisfy a pot pie craving.

Also, a note about the pie crust: I do a single crust on my pot pies. Double crusts are better, yes, but single crusts are easier and healthier. I don’t do a layer of crust in the pan, just on top of the filling. This makes things a little messier but does not effect taste. Often, I counter the messiness by making individual pot pies, which are much easier to deal with anyway. They’re a cinch to heat up for leftovers, and they freeze fantastically. I usually get 4 6″ ramekins and 2 4″ ramekins (all generously sized) out of one batch. The adults get one of the larger ramekins, and Miss H gets a small one.

Speaking of Miss H, she likes pot pies, for the most part. What she eats depends on her mood. Sometimes the meat, sometime the veggies (but not the mushrooms), sometimes the potatoes, always the pie crust. The recipe I use for the pie crust is one from Julia Child, and it is the best pie crust I have ever had. I’ve been making it for four years, and it’s comes out perfect (almost) every time. The times it has not come out perfect has been from my own error. I love this pie crust. I could eat it by itself. So could Miss H.

Anyway. Pot pie. Here it is. Feel free to play with it. Add onions or celery if you like. Parsnips would be a nice addition. The husband occasionally gets nostalgic for frozen peas. Sometimes I leave out the corn. And I’d really like to try it with sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.

Poultry Pot Pie
6 servings

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 2 cups shredded cooked poultry
  • 1 disc of uncooked pie dough (~12 ounces)
  1. Heat oven to 400.
  2. In a saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the potato and carrots and saute until tender.
  3. Stir in the flour until blended. Gradually add broth. Bring to a boil. Simmer, cooking and stirring for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in corn, cream, and seasonings. Stir in poultry.
  4. Spoon into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish or into individual ramekins. Roll out pie dough to fit over top of the casserole(s). Place over the filling and trim, seal, and flute edges. Cut slits in pastry to vent. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 45 minutes for a large casserole or 30 minutes for ramekins. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Shrimp Pizza

Shrimp is awesome on pizza. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. You might be surprised.

Pizza is a fun, easy weeknight meal, especially when you have pizza dough in the freezer. The pizza dough recipe I use (another favorite from Julia Child) makes 2-3 dough balls, depending on how I break them up. A small-ish pizza is usually all we need for the three of us.

Or, if you don’t have a dough ball in the freezer – like I didn’t this week – use naan. Or any other flatbread. Works just fine and adds a little variety to the world of pizza. We used naan this week, and we really liked it. But then, naan is a a nearly perfect food and is awesome all the time. Miss H could live off of it if we let her.

So, shrimp pizza. Is it really that weird? Maybe the years of living in Japan skewed my perception. Seafood pizza is not unheard of there.

For our pizza, I made marinara sauce, which is super simple. Throw a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in a saucepan (or 2 cans, if you want to have lots of leftover sauce to use in more delicious ways). Add herbs to punch it up a bit. This time, I used garlic powder, oregano, and thyme. Basil and bay leaves are also good additions. Toss in a little black pepper if you like, and if you’re in the mood for some heat, a pinch of crushed red pepper. Simmer for an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. Throw in some brown sugar, a tablespoon or two depending on your taste. Finish it off with a tablespoon of butter. Season as necessary. Boom, marinara sauce that is to die for and goes with just about anything.

Seriously, it does go with just about anything. I took some to a playdate once after I had mistaken it for a jar of raspberry jam. We all had a laugh, but the joke was on us because it was still tasty on my homemade bread. Marinara for the win.

Take your piece of naan and turn it upside down so you have a slightly flatter surface. Slather on some marinara. Top that with precooked shrimp (saute in butter for 2-3 minutes), sliced grape tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella slices. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Done. Pizza. Seafood pizza. Better than it sounds.

Miss H, however, would disagree. She has a shrimp aversion. Put fish in front of her, and she’ll dig right in. Shrimp? Nope. She also does not like mozzarella cheese for some weird toddler reason. Put any other cheese in front of her – including a nice, pungent blue or a tangy goat – and she’ll devour it. Mozzarella? Uh-uh. Granted, it’s the blandest of cheese, and she likes a strong cheese flavor, so maybe she’s got a good reason for it other than that she’s three and likes to be troublesome.

Also, more fresh mozzarella for the rest of us.

Rating: 4 out of 5. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. It’s super messy, because the naan soaks up the sauce and gets a bit soft and soggy if you let it sit too long. But it’s pretty super fresh out of the oven. Would definitely make again.

Inspired by this recipe from Babaganosh.