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.

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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.

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.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Appetizers for dinner, why not? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with dinner, so sometimes it’s good to break it up with something unexpected. Like breakfast for dinner or dip and chips for dinner or empty the fridge dinner or appetizers for dinner. We don’t do it often, but it shakes things up. In this case, an appetizer in the form of a dip came to the table and made a simple, easy dinner.

Even better, this is a spinach and artichoke dip that’s made in the slow cooker. It takes about 15-20 minutes of prep (depending on how trimmed you want your spinach), but then it’s two hours of throw it in the Crockpot and make sure it doesn’t burn. The recipe says to cook it on high for 2 hours, but I think my slow cooker runs hot. I did it on high for 30 minutes to get the cream cheese melted and the spinach wilted, and then turned it over to low to finish for 90 minutes. At the end of two hours, we had a creamy, cheesy dip that smelled delicious.

And it was delicious. I served it with pita chips and carrots, and then a couple days later, I found water crackers in the pantry that went wonderfully with the dip leftovers. It was a fairly light meal in terms of amount of food eaten, but sometimes that’s just what you need after a warm winter day.

The only catch was that Miss H refused to touch it, likely because of the prominent ribbons of unidentifiable green (spinach, ahem) that ran through the creamy cheese. I don’t think she’s ever had artichoke in her three years of life, and I’m not sure how much she’d like them if she tried them. Also, if you’ve never seen a spinach and artichoke dip before and it suddenly appeared on your plate, you might think twice about eating it too. I know I did the first time around, and I wasn’t even a toddler. No amount of explanation of its cream cheesy goodness would convince her to try it, but that’s okay. Maybe next time.

Rating: 4 out of 5. Nice change from the usual dinner fare, and super easy to make. Also, it was very tasty, and I’d definitely double it up (or even triple it) for a party. It kept as leftovers really well, so that’s a bonus. Will make again. This might end up being my spinach & artichoke dip go-to.

Honey BBQ Meatloaf & Coleslaw

Meatloaf is comfort food. We don’t eat it often in this house, but every once in a while we get a craving for it, or the opportunity presents itself, and I put meatloaf on the menu.

This time, it was because of cabbage. We had half a head of cabbage left over from the pork & udon soup, and I decided that coleslaw would make good use of it. We tossed around a couple of ideas of what to make to go with coleslaw, and eventually we agreed that meatloaf was something we wouldn’t mind having.

I have a few different meatloaf recipes, but this Honey BBQ one is a recent winner, possibly because it is so easy to make. Another of my favorite recipes requires chopping up mushrooms, grating cheese, putting together a lot of herbs and spices, soaking bread in milk. This recipe is much more simplified and still tastes really good. It’s not a show-stopper, but it gets the job done in a satisfying way.

I do double the recipe, because we are a leftover-friendly household, and I often make it the day before a leftover day. It’s extremely tender and tends to fall apart, but I think an egg would help hold it together better. I might try adding one in the next time I make this. (Spoiler: I will totally make this again.)

Best of all, Miss H loves this meal. Roasted diced potatoes? Yes. Sweet, vinegary coleslaw? Yes. Meatloaf doused in BBQ sauce and honey? YES. Kid cleaned her plate in no time at all. On nights when dinner doesn’t meet her fancy, the meal can last an hour. Tonight, she was done in half the time. Comfort food for the win.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I love the flavor, I love how juicy and tender it is, I love the leftovers. But it does have a tendency to fall apart and be a little liquidy. Still, a keeper in this house. We should eat meatloaf more often. The coleslaw, however, is a go-to recipe and gets made often throughout the year. Such a good way to use up cabbage.

Salmon with Miso Glaze, Roasted Cauliflower, Forbidden Rice

I know what attracted your attention there. Forbidden rice. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I am not a fan of plain white rice. Even after three years of Japan, I never got used to eating it. I like it but not all by its lonesome. White rice needs a friend, like a sauce or a raw egg or something. The more friends you add, the better it gets (mmm, stir-fry). But even then, white rice doesn’t bring much to the party. I like something a little more exciting.

Forbidden rice is exciting. It’s called forbidden rice because, supposedly, it was so out-of-this-world fabulous that it was reserved for the emperor. You could call it black rice, because that’s what it is, but that’s boring. Forbidden rice is a much more fitting name. While “beautiful, lovely, delicious black rice” fits, that doesn’t slip off the tongue as easily. Still, forbidden rice is all those thing. It has a slight nuttiness to its flavor, subtle but adding just a little more to the plate. Paired with roasted cauliflower and miso salmon? Oh, yeah, that’s the good stuff.

Let’s talk about the salmon. We eat salmon three times a month around here, because we all really enjoy it. Even Miss H, though she prefers her on a sandwich. I cook it a couple different ways, but I don’t often do it with a glaze. But this salmon with miso glaze recipe is one I’ve done a couple times, and it’s nice when we want a little variety with our salmon. It also helps to use up miso, which you buy in a one-pound container but you only use a tablespoon or two of it at a time. It lasts a while in the fridge, but not indefinitely, so you can get a lot of use out it. And it’s nice to have several different recipes to try out so you’re not eating the same thing over and over again. (I have plans for the rest of this container. Oh, yes, I do.)

There is no way to talk about miso that makes it sound appetizing to someone who has never tried it before. “Fermented soybean paste” isn’t going to turn anybody on. And once you have tried miso, it’s not that easy to describe it to somebody who has no idea what you’re talking about. Salty? Yeah, it’s salty, but that’s not all it is. There’s really nothing else like it, and it’s not a flavor that everybody enjoys. If you do try it, take it a little at a time. It’s a big flavor, you don’t need much.

Miso-glazed salmon and forbidden rice go really well together, it turns out. The roasted cauliflower really didn’t stand a chance against that combo. It’s a reliable standard in this house, and it’s used to playing back-up to bigger, bolder flavors.

Rating: 4 (will make again). This is already in my recipe book as something I’ve made more than once already. It’s not something we eat once a month, but when I have miso in the fridge, this recipe makes nice work of it.

Also, sorry no pictures, but none of them turned out. My dining area doesn’t have the best lighting for pictures, unfortunately. Eh, I’m a writer, not a photographer.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms in Cream

Source: The Kitchn (How to Make Roasted Pork Tenderloin)

Sometimes, simple is best, and this is very simple. We do pork tenderloin every once in a while, and this is generally how I cook. Seasoning can be as simple as just salt, pepper, and garlic granules. It’s really good with some Dijon mustard rubbed into it, especially if it’s left to marinate for a while. This time, I didn’t have any mustard, so I added some Worcestershire sauce. And too much salt. I also overcooked it a little. Oops. Can’t be perfect all the time.

I served this with some leftover mashed potatoes that had been made with all sorts of delicious and fattening things: butter, milk, and cream cheese. Probably also a splash of heavy cream, but I really can’t remember. I don’t usually add heavy cream to my mashed potatoes, so maybe not.

Heavy cream definitely went in with the mushrooms though. This pork tenderloin benefits a lot from a little sauce, and I had a feeling that the mashed potatoes would too. So while sautéeing the mushrooms, I added a splash of red wine and let them simmer in that for a few minutes. Then I added a half-cup of heavy cream and let that thicken up a bit. It did not get as thick as I would have liked, but it was too late to add flour, and I was out of Wondra. So the “sauce” wasn’t very sauce-like, but it went well with the potatoes and added a nice creaminess to the mushrooms and the meat.

The toddler does not like mashed potatoes, but she ate a few bites with the sauce. She used to love mushrooms, but that is so 2014 and she doesn’t eat them anymore. The pork she will dig into if she has ketchup to go along with it. Ketchup would not be my first choice for this pork, but I’m an adult so what do I know.

Rating: 4 stars. This is not a remarkable dish, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fairly simple weeknight meal. Pork tenderloin goes a long way, and it’s very easy to cook, which is why I like it for weeknights. Also, the toddler likes it, so that’s a bonus. The mushrooms weren’t quite as I wanted them, but they were still a very nice addition on the plate. And the mashed potatoes were leftovers from a previous night, but that just means they didn’t go to waste.

Would I make it again? This is my go-to recipe for pork tenderloin, so yes I would. Not sure I would do the mushrooms quite the same way, but it’s something I’d play a little with to see what works best for us. Mashed potatoes are like a blank canvas for me – I use whatever I have around, be it cream or random cheeses or cream cheese or even buttermilk. Whatever works. All three of these components work together, but they’d work with other foods too. Which is why simple is such a good thing.