Ginger noodles with tofu (4+ servings)

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I cooked with tofu twice in the last two weeks!  I'd say that's pretty impressive for someone who was once afraid to even try it.  Now that I've discovered the importance of draining it, I'm not so hesitant to cook with it.  This recipe comes from the most recent issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray, which I swear is becoming more meat-laden each month.  (I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a kickback from the Cattlemen's Beef Board, honestly.)  Anyway, it was nice to see this vegetarian-friendly recipe featured in the magazine's $10 Spot section.  The magazine calculates a cost of $9.92 for the entire meal, although it would be slightly higher for me because I used Chinese noodles instead of the fettuccine the recipe called for.

You will need:

  • One 14-oz package of extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and pressed dry in a towel
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dark toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ~1 lb Chinese noodles (I used Nasoya again)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • One 12-oz package broccoli slaw

Directions:

  1. Start a large stockpot of water boiling for the noodles.
  2. Season the tofu cubes with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, and orange zest and set aside.
  3. Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a large rimmed skillet.  Add the tofu in a single layer and cook without stirring until browned on first side (about 3 min).  Turn the cubes and cook for 3 min on each side until all sides are browned.  Transfer to a plate.  (I learned after the first round of turning to count each cube I flipped so that I could make sure I got to all 30 of them each time!)
  4. Add the mushrooms to the now-empty skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned (about 5 min).
  5. When you start cooking the mushrooms, you can add the noodles to the stockpot, as the water should be boiling by now.  My noodles took only 3 min to cook.  Drain the noodles, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.  Return the pasta to the stockpot.
  6. Add the broccoli slaw to the noodles, followed by the tofu and the browned mushrooms.  Pour in the soy sauce mixture and about half the pasta water, tossing to coat.  Add more water if you need to thin out the sauce.  (I think I used only about 1 1/4 cups of water.)  Serve immediately.

I thought this recipe was just about perfect, and Bryan loved it too.  Other than swapping Chinese noodles for fettuccine, the only change I made was to add orange zest to the sauce, and I'm glad I did.  Oh, and I also didn't boil the ginger in the pasta water the way the recipe suggested because that seemed silly.  This meal was filling and really quite healthy, and it tasted like something you could order at a restaurant, only it wasn't overly greasy.  I'd definitely make it again!

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Side dish Saturdays: Crispy sesame-crusted brussels sprouts (4 servings)

I admit: I'm one of those people who thought she hated brussels sprouts. When I was little, my mom used to make them for herself from time to time, and my dad always wrinkled up his nose and teased her about it. I used to laugh at her with him and then started assuming I didn't like them, even though I'd never even tried them. A few months ago -- and I don't even remember what possessed me to try this -- I decided to buy some at market and roast them, and I was happily surprised with the results. I do think they must be nasty if they're just boiled and mushy, but roasted or sauteed, they're delicious. Today's recipe comes from Rachael Ray, although I changed the serving amounts and cook time a bit.

You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 1/4 lb brussels sprouts, stem end trimmed, halved

  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

  • salt and pepper

  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Steps:

  1. Melt the butter and oils over medium heat in a large rimmed skillet. Add the brussels sprouts and pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until golden-brown (about 20 minutes).

  2. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the brussels sprouts are dark brown and crispy. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed, and serve hot.

The original recipe called for a total of 40 minutes of cooking time, but I used only 25-30. The leaves (which inevitably fell off) started to get really black, and I didn't want to get the kitchen smoky by cooking them much longer. If I hadn't trimmed off the woody stem, I'm sure they could have held together better, but then they would have been too tough. Maybe there's a trick with cutting them in half that I don't know about.

Anyway, I really enjoyed these, although Bryan wasn't a fan. (I believe the term "cabbage testicles" was thrown out at one point.) The sesame oil provided a nice toasty background without overwhelming the vegetable flavor. Brussels sprouts are in season in PA right now, so go ahead and give them another try! I'm glad I did!

Speaking of seasonal veggies, I just stumbled on this PDF guide to vegetable harvest seasons in Pennsylvania. Score!

Side dish Saturdays: Red-skinned mashed potatoes (4+ servings)

Rachael Ray's red-skinned mashed potatoes are comforting, filling, and incredibly versatile. This recipe is fabulous. It can be slimmed down by substituting some of the cream for skim milk or for vegetable broth. It can be fancied up with chopped fresh herbs like sage or dill. It can be easily doubled or cut in half.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 lbs red-skinned potatoes (fist-sized or smaller)

  • 1/2 c whole milk (or even half and half -- yum!)

  • 3 Tbsp butter

  • coarse salt and black pepper

Steps:

  1. Do not peel the potatoes, but wash them off if they're a bit dusty.

  2. Cut the potatoes into even-sized chunks. (You really only need to cut them in half. Just make sure the pieces are relatively the same size.) Place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Cover pot and bring to a boil.

  3. Cook at a rolling boil, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

  4. Drain and return them to the pot. Add milk and butter to potatoes and mash with a fork or potato masher.

  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep covered on the stovetop until serving.

You can even add some sour cream if you want. To me, the most important part is not peeling the potatoes. I love the texture and color of the shredded skins after you've mashed the potatoes. It takes me back to Millersville, where they served similar mashed potatoes in the dining hall. Those were the days! My sister always requests this dish when I'm home!

Quesadilla casserole (4 servings)

One of the only things I miss about eating meat is sinking my teeth into the chewy, juicy, cheesy layers of a good casserole. It's tough to find a vegetarian equivalent of that experience, I've found. However, Rachael Ray's quesadilla casserole comes pretty damn close. I am in love with this recipe. I would be happy to make it every week. It's a tad time-consuming to put together, but it isn't difficult. I made some slight changes, which are included in the recipe below.

You will need:

  • 2-3 Tbsp canola oil
  • small onion, cut in half from end to stem and then sliced into thin half moons
  • 2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and 1/2 cup liquid reserved
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed (just rinse under warm water)
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • a few dashes of hot sauce (optional)
  • 3 10-inch flour tortillas (burrito size, I believe)
  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 can enchilada sauce (I used mild red)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray a large, oven-proof skillet with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. In another skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until nice and browned. (I think it took 8-10 minutes.) Remove from heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of the black beans and mash into a chunky paste; stir in the reserved liquid.
  3. In a bowl, combine the remaining black beans, corn, parsley, tomato, and hot sauce.
  4. Place a tortilla in the bottom of the oven-proof skillet and top with 1/3 of the onion mixture. Then top that with 1/3 of the corn mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.
  5. Layer another tortilla on top of that, press it down a bit, and repeat with 1/3 of the onion mixture, the corn mixture, and the cheese. Repeat this step once more.
  6. Pop the skillet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until heated through. The cheese should be nice and melty melty (it's a technical term). If you can, slide it out of the skillet and onto a place so you can cut it into pie-like slices. Top each slice with a drizzle of enchilada sauce.

I was happy with how colorful this turned out! The original recipe doesn't call for tomato, but I think it really added something. Also, the recipe called for more layers, but I was lazy and found it easier to break the mixtures into even thirds anyway. You could stick the skillet under the broiler for the last minute or two, but I hate heating up the broiler to use it for such a short amount of time. I don't think it was missing anything by skipping the broiler step. Also, I doubt I ended up using the full 8 ounces of cheese. I just grabbed a handful or two to top each layer without measuring it. This dish is hearty and satisfying, and I can't wait to make it again. I'd love to make it with fresh corn sometime. This is a great end-of-summer recipe.