Savory Coconut Rice and Spiced Golden Tofu

I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, though I am not one for extremes. You won’t find me on a Paleo diet, completely cutting out carbs, or not eating sugar for a month. But there are modest efforts we can all make towards being healthier.

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My effort this year is to eat more home-cooked vegetables and focus on portion sizes (and learn how to make more of my mom’s classic Polish dishes, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve found that the best way for me to stick to proper portions of healthy foods is to have filling grains like rice, balanced well with protein and fiber. And, because I have a day job, to make things that reheat well.

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This savory coconut rice with spiced golden tofu hits all these requirements while packing some great flavors you may not have encountered before. It’s comfort food that you don’t need to feel too bad about. And it’s delicious.

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Savory Coconut Rice with Spiced Golden Tofu

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 4-6 servings

For the Rice:

2 cups basmati rice

4 teaspoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 15 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (use lite coconut milk if you wish)

3 kaffir lime leaves

For the Tofu:

1 package extra firm tofu, rinsed, and with as much water as possible pressed out

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

4 green onion, including half the greens, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3/4 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish

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Wash the rice, and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and dry well. In a large saucepan or french oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Cook for 8 minutes, then add the rice and salt. Stir until well combined, then add the coconut milk, 2 cups water, and the lime leaves. Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat until the rice is simmering. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just slightly liquid-y. Set it aside–the rest of the liquid will get soaked up as you prepare the tofu. Remove the lime leaves before serving.

img_5350Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine the spices, sugars, and salt in a medium size bowl. Throw in the tofu and gently mix until it is evenly coated. Warm the oil in a deep skillet or french oven over medium high heat (it is likely to spatter later so you want something deep). Add the tofu, and let cook for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is golden brown and crispy. Pour off excess liquid/oil as needed to help the tofu fry. When it is almost done, add the green onions, and cook just until slightly wilted. Remove from heat, and stir in the lime juice. Serve the tofu atop the coconut rice. Garnish with cilantro.

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Fudgy Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Of the few activities I enjoy more than baking, one is sharing my kitchen creations with family and friends. So it should be no surprise that The Takedowns, whether they be cookie-, ice cream-, chili-, or otherwise themed, are amongst my most looked-forward-to events of the year. And what an extra special one this was. Not only did I get to spend time with loved ones, sample dozens of other home chef extraordinaires’ cookies, and share my chocolate toffee walnut cookies with all the attendees, I also won first place!

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These winning cookies are deeply chocolate, slightly smokey (from the walnuts–make sure you toast them!), and feature toffee bar bits and sea salt flakes. They are also that rare breed of cookie that taste better after they’ve had a few days to let the flavors meld together. So get to it, and make them soon for your holiday festivities. They’re sure to be a crowd pleaser.

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Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 30-40 cookies

5 tablespoons butter

12 ounces Ghirardelli’s 60% cocoa baking bars

4 ounces Ghirardelli’s 70% cocoa baking bar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

5 1.4 ounce Heath bars, chopped to about chocolate chip size

1 cup walnuts, chopped, and toasted (the toasting is critical!)

Maldon sea salt flakes, for topping

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Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Place butter and cocoa bars in a small or medium bowl and place on top of pot. Stir occasionally, until butter and cocoa are melted together. Let cool slightly (but not completely) while you work on the following steps, continuing to stir every few minutes to make sure it is not solidifying.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

Beat the sugar and eggs in a stand mixer on medium high speed for about 6 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Add the vanilla extract and melted chocolate, and mix on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Use a rubber spatula to fold the flour mix into the batter. Make sure it is evenly distributed. Add the Heath bits and walnuts (make sure they are well toasted!) and fold until well distributed within the batter.

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Cover top of batter with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to harden (or else it will be too difficult to shape into cookies).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using either a teaspoon and your hands or a cookie scooper, shape the dough into slightly smaller than ping pong ball sized mounds. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt flakes. Baked for 8-12 minutes, until tops looks just slightly dried and cracked, but much of the cookies still looks raw. Allow to cool completely.

Unlike most baked goods, these taste best once they have completely cooled, and once they have rested for a day or two–somehow all the complex flavors come together while the cookie retains a deep fudgy-ness. Just make sure to store these in an airtight container (at room temperature).

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Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown 2015: Red Velvet Cheesecake Ice Cream

There are few things in this world greater than a weekend of friends, park time, ice cream, and sweet victory! And there are many things harder than writing a blog post with no current urge to write. But knowing I have no good reason for my writer’s block doesn’t make it any less insurmountable. Perhaps it is this stifling humidity?

In any case, I am thrilled to say that my red velvet cheesecake ice cream was awarded third place in this past weekend’s Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown. And even more thrilled that I got to spend some quality time with my ice cream scooping and transporting BFFs.

Scoopers

But enough about me, let’s talk ice cream. This ice cream is super tangy (from all the sour cream) and refreshing (from the lemon zest), warm (not in a temperature way but in a spice way, from the cinnamon), and rich (from all the cake chunks). There’s really not much else to say than that it comes together like a breeze and you should be making it right now.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Scoop

Red Velvet Cheesecake Ice Cream

Makes about 2 pints

1 slice of red velvet cake

2/3 cup sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup half and half

1 cup sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into small chunks
Ice Cream Masters

Prepare the red velvet cake by removing the frosting. Cut cake into small cubes, place in a freezer bag, and allow to freeze for one day.

Place all ingredients other than red velvet chunks in a food processor and blend well, until all ingredients are incorporated.

Process the ice cream batter per your ice cream maker’s instructions. When moving the ice cream from the ice cream maker into its freezer container, use a rubber spatula to create a one inch high layer, stud with the frozen red velvet cake chunks, and then repeat, so that all of the red velvet chunks have been placed in the ice cream. Serve on its own–it has all it needs in one delightful package!

Award Time

Shakshuka: A Wallet- and Palate-Friendly At-Home Brunch

As a cash-strapped graduate student, there are few things I miss more about my previous life with a full-time job than the ability to brunch when and where I please. And while it may seem like not having to do any actual cooking is an integral glory of weekend brunch, in this case, it is well worth the extra effort. Besides, when you are cooking at home you don’t have to wait an hour for a table and another half hour for your food. Some might even argue that expending some energy on cooking could help subdue any lingering effects from the previous night’s activities–or so I’m told. And did I mention the part where no one hands you at a check at the end of the meal and you can wear your pajamas for the whole ordeal?

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If you’ve never tasted shakshuka, you are in for a treat. Essentially eggs in a bath of bell peppers and tomatoes, it is a hearty but healthy meal that keep you satiated until dinner time. It hits all the grad student checkpoints: cheap, easy-to-make, and relatively good for you, but I promise you will enjoy it whether you are working towards a degree or not!

Shakshuka Plated

Shakshuka

Recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Makes 2 hearty portions

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons harissa (I prefer a spicy variety)

2 large bell peppers, very finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

5 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped

4 eggs plus 4 egg yolks

yogurt, for serving

pita, for serving

Bell PeppersTomatoes

Heat the olive in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the harissa, bell peppers, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, and salt, and cook until the bell peppers have softened, about 8-10 minutes.

Bell Pepper Fry

Add the tomatoes, let the mixture come to a simmer, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the mixture has turned into a thick sauce. Add more salt and/or cumin if needed.

Tomato Fry

Create 8 little dips in the sauce, and gently place the egg and egg yolk in the dips. Use a fork to move the egg whites around gently to help them cook. Gently simmer for about 8 minutes, until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still custardy.

Shakshuka Pan

Remove from heat and let settle for a few minutes. Plate and serve with thick greek yogurt and toasted pita.

Pile of Shakshuka

Beet Dip Good Enough to Please the Poles

Of all the underrated vegetables in the world (leeks, baby bok choy, fennel, brussels sprouts), I have convinced myself that none is more deserving of the title than beets. Having grown up in a Polish household where every lunch and dinner began with a bowl of soup, I probably had more borscht than every other child on my block combined. So it is embarrassing to admit that yesterday, at the not-so-tender age of twenty-six, was my first time cooking with beets.

Roasted Beet

Before I give up my Polish citizenship, allow me to explain. My mother’s borscht has always been so utterly satisfying and its flavors so perfectly balanced, that I never dared (and honestly, I still don’t dare) to attempt to make the staple dish of the Polish people–a liquid that is almost as ubiquitous as vodka is in the homeland–on my own. What I was waiting for was the perfect non-borscht beet recipe to try for myself. It needed to be something that was at least as good as mother’s cooking, and worth the inevitable pink-dyed everything that would result from working with beets in my kitchen.

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And I have found it. As with all great vegetable dishes, I should have figured out sooner that Ottolenghi was the man to turn to. His beet dip (made with greek yogurt, garlic, a smattering of spices, and, of all things, maple syrup) transcends all the boundaries of vegetables. It passes through so many dimensions that it is at once savory, spicy, and sweet. I put out a hefty plate with dinner last night, and it ended up licked clean. If I had admitted there was more of the dip in the fridge, that would surely be gone as well. I implore you–if there is one recipe from my site you will try this summer, this is it.

Starring Beets

Beet Dip

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Makes about 5-10 servings

2 1/4 pounds beets

3 small cloves garlic, minced

1 small to medium red chile (depending on how much spice you want), seeded and chopped

1 1/4 cup greek yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil (use a higher-quality olive oil if possible)

1 tablespoon zahtar

salt, to taste

green onions, thinly sliced, to garnish

feta cheese, sliced, to garnish

olive oil, to garnish

pita, for serving

In the PinkPreheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets on a roasting pan, and place in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until a knife can easily go through them. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before peeling and cutting into large chunks.

Beets Beets

Combine the beets, garlic, chile, and yogurt in a food process. Blend until a very smooth paste is formed.

Chile Beets

Place the mixture in a bowl, and add the maple syrup, olive oil, zahtar, and one teaspoon of salt. Use a spoon to mix together well. Taste and add more zahtar and/or salt, as needed.

Mixing Beets

Garnish with green onions, feta, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread and watch it all disappear before your eyes.

Plated Beats