Monday, June 29, 2015

Spicy Pan-Fried Noodles with Tofu


It's rare that one dinner gets made twice in two weeks at our house--or even twice in a month. I'm too fond of variety (and of trying new recipes) for that to happen very often. But every once in awhile a dinner recipe comes along that makes me want to make it EVERY. DAY. Like these spicy pan-fried noodles with tofu: 


I gave these a try a couple of weeks ago on a Friday when our family was gathered around the TV for our semi-monthly Family Movie Night. It's kind of a shame I was in the kitchen cooking during part of the movie, because it was Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the Second Dimension. I may have mentioned before that Phineas and Ferb is, in my opinion, the greatest kids' show of all time. I've actually thought about getting on Twitter just so I could stalk follow Dan Povenmire, one of the show's creators. Anyway, since I made this delicious meal to the sounds of the movie in the background, I now associate the tantalizing blend of lime, brown sugar, and Sriracha with the voice of Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz (AKA the best character in the best kids' show of all time).

Fast forward two weeks to our next Family Movie Night. I had been craving these noodles so much since the Phineas and Ferb movie night, I decided to bend my usual rules and make them again. Now I'm going to associate their taste with a combination of Dr. Doofenschmirtz and Judy Garland's Somewhere Over the Rainbow, because this time around we watched The Wizard of Oz. So that's a weird mental picture. 

Regardless, I stand by my fortnight-long craving for these spicy noodles and tofu. They are absolutely restaurant quality, like something you'd get at Pei Wei (and then order every time you go there from here to eternity, like I do with their honey-seared chicken). For little ones or picky palates, the spice level can be adjusted by scaling back the Sriracha. I also realized after making this twice that it happens to be vegan. So there's that, too, if that floats your boat. Or if it doesn't, forget I said it and enjoy this meal for the spicy-sweet deliciousness it is!


Spicy Pan-Fried Noodles with Tofu
(Adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

1/4 c. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. Sriracha, adjustable to taste
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil, divided
14 oz. extra-firm tofu, pressed as dry as possible and sliced into 3/4 inch cubes
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1 1/2 inch long matchsticks
1/4 c. shallot, minced
16 oz. cooked Udon noodles*
2-3 c. green cabbage, thinly sliced

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, Sriracha, minced garlic, and 2 Tbsp. water. Set aside.

2. In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add tofu, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until golden brown on all sides, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Off the heat, add another 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan. Return to heat and add sliced carrots, cooking and stirring occasionally 3-5 minutes or until tender and browned in spots. Transfer to bowl with the tofu. 

4. Off the heat, add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan. Add shallot and return to heat, sauté about 1 minute, then add cooked noodles. Saute 2-3 minutes until noodles have browned in spots. Stir the sauce and carefully add it to the pan. Toss well to coat and cook and stir until the sauce reduces to a sticky glaze, about 2 minutes.

5. Return tofu and carrots to the pan. Add sliced cabbage and toss until heated through. 

Serves 4.

*To make preparation faster and easier, consider using microwavable steam-pack noodles such as these:


Microwave while carrots are cooking in the skillet--voila! Instant cooked noodles!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nacho Libre Party!


If you've ever seen the movie Nacho Libre, you know it's a hilarious, bizarre, and addictingly quotable piece of filmmaking. My husband and I have been bandying lines from it back and forth for years (in our best Mexican Jack Black impressions, of course), such as: 

"Get that corn outta my face!" 
"Chancho! I need to borrow your sweats!" 
"Beneath the clothes we find the man, and beneath the man, we find his...nucleus."
"I believe in SCIENCE."  

It's a totally uniquely stylized movie with cool scenery, endearing characters, and even a great soundtrack--AND it happens to be one of the few movies we own on BluRay. So since it had been awhile since either Anthony or I had seen it, we decided it needed to be an event shared with friends. Thus was born the idea for.... "doodle deedle doodle dee!" (Nacho Libre inside joke)...a Nacho Libre movie night! I thought I'd share some of the details of this fun event here on the blog in case you, too, have been saying to yourself, "Hey, I haven't watched Nacho Libre in awhile. Why don't we center an entire party around it?" Read your mind, right?

Decor:

In my book, a fun party starts with a fun invitation. I found this hard-core luchador postcard on Zazzle, an online custom retailer that sells absolutely EVERY customized product you can dream. You could type "Striped Donkey Prom Queen" into their search engine, and it'd be like, "Your search yields 2,000 results!" Order this Lucha Libre postcard here.


Of course you can't have a Lucha Libre postcard invitation without getting a little creative with your wording to reflect the Nacho Libre theme. I tried to work in some quotes from the movie:


Surprisingly, no one actually wore stretchy pants. 

Oh, well! On to the decor! I've always been enamored with the colorful flag banners I see at Mexican gatherings, so I figured this occasion called for finally laying down 5 bucks to get one. Amazon just called this one "Medium Plastic Mexican Banner" for us gringos, but apparently these are actually called papel picado. Either way, it was worth $5 to bring a festive touch over our buffet spread in the kitchen.


Amazon also came in handy for ordering a serape table runner that added some color to the dinner buffet:



Papel picado + serape table runner + food + Anthony giving me his best Nacho Libre face. Nailed it, honey.

In addition to our dinner buffet spread, we also had a dessert table:



I had seen crepe paper printed with the Mexican flag on Oriental Trading Company's website, but couldn't bring myself to pay shipping for it, so I decided to make my own version by lining green, white, and red crepe paper around the border of my kitchen table. Some double-stick tape held it in place on the surface and I let the edges hang down for a little flare. P.S. Yes, I know the Mexican flag also has an eagle on it. I'm just not great at drawing eagles on crepe paper. 




Another area I had fun decorating was a wall plastered with luchador promo posters. Googling "vintage luchador posters" gave me some images to play with, which I printed, mounted on construction paper backing, and hung for a quick way to cover a large space.


Finally, as I said, I really can't overemphasize the quotability of Nacho Libre. One of my husband's favorite is when Nacho is serving some kind of disgusting slop to his fellow friars for breakfast and one of them has this to say:


So, yeah, that had to be placed in the bathroom. Keepin' it classy.

Activities:

Since Nacho Libre is a pretty family-friendly movie, we let our kids be a part of the evening and invited our friends' kids, too. While the grownups gathered over sangria and Mexican beer, the kids had a chance to create their most awe-inspiring luchador masks. I found these coloring page printables on a site called First Palette:




This dude means business! Are you trembling in your bright red lace-up luchador boots?

For the adults, a friend at the party looked up this awesome site that generates a luchador name based on your actual name. I have no idea what matrix it's using, but my luchador name is El Lobo Mas Macho--the more macho wolf. Sounds about right. 

Food




Last but not least, the food! The premise of our Nacho Libre party was that it would be a nacho dinner, so I set out to create an all-star nacho buffet. Ingredients:

Chips (the Lord's chips, obviously)
Nacho cheese sauce in the Crock Pot
Veggie-ful Salsa Chicken
Spiced black beans
Regular salsa
Mango salsa
Olives
Avocados
Sour cream
Tomatoes
Sriracha

A Mexican salad rounded out the dinner.


If you were wondering about that fabulous-looking dessert in an earlier image, here it is again. This thing was a masterpiece of cookie crust, white cake, and confetti frosting. Thank God for Pro's Ranch Market, our local Mexican grocery store.


After all that food, all I can say is "Chancho! I need to borrow your sweats!"

In the end, after the movie was over and the last guest had gone home, I would say it was a fun time dipping into the world of Nacho Libre, made even better with friends. I'll leave you with one more quote that sums it up:


"My life is good! Reaaallly good!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Zucchini Cheddar Fritters



Tomorrow marks the halfway point of my summer school chemistry class, which I (perhaps foolishly) figured I could "knock out" over the summer and put behind me as I progress in my nutrition degree. Whoa, did I have another thing coming. As it turns out, "Fundamental Chemistry" is no hippety-hop down the primrose path of the periodic table. The last four weeks have been a brain-bending blur of memorizing chemical nomenclature, struggling to recall math principals I haven't used since high school, and spending my mornings doing things like decompose potassium chlorate. Gradually my comprehension has caught up with the material and I finally feel like I get most of what we're doing......for now. 

In the meantime--and when you're in an intensive 8-week chemistry class, there's not a whole lot of meantime--at least cooking serves as a stress reliever. And it's especially a boost when what I'm cooking takes wholesome ingredients and turns them into something delicious. Which is its own kind of chemistry, right? Making these zucchini cheddar fritters the other night was a simple pleasure that went a long way toward shaking off some of the stress of summer school. Their soft-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside texture, plus the yin-yang balance of sharp cheddar with mellow zucchini is is one of those food gestalts that is more than the sum of its parts. My only concern is whether to call them fritters or pancakes. Or pitters or francakes.

Well, it's been a nice little break--now back to molecular mass and stoichoimetry! Maybe someday I'll be able to share about the chemistry of cooking. After all, that's the best kind.


Zucchini Cheddar Fritters
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 c. grated zucchini
1/2 c. grated onion
1 1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste
Additional vegetable oil for pan-frying

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add 2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil and mix with a fork. Texture should be slightly lumpy.

2. In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onion, and cheddar. Stir in eggs, paprika, garlic powder, and flour mixture until evenly distributed. Season with salt and a few grinds fresh-cracked pepper.

3. Heat additional vegetable oil (about 2 tsp.) in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Once oil is hot, scoop batter by 1/4 cups into skillet, smoothing the tops to flatten to about 3/4 inch height. Cook 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook 3-4 minutes on the other side. Repeat with any remaining batter, using additional vegetable oil if necessary.

Serve with ketchup, sour cream, or any other dipping sauces you enjoy! 

Serves 4-5.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lemon-Dill Orzo with Chickpeas and Artichokes


I have a friend who used to say in the summer that she had "broken up" with her oven. It's a mental image I've carried with me for years. I always picture this friend engaged in a painful split from Mr. Kenmore Oven. She tells him she can't take the heat. First he wheedles, then he sends flowers, makes promises--he even bakes cookies. He writes love letters to prove his emotional range. She resists, ignoring him each time she walks through the kitchen, flaunting her new-found relationship with no-cook meals in his shiny metal face. But we know where this cat-and-mouse game ends when fall rolls around. Every year she comes running back to his warmth--how could she stay away when he's SO HOT??--and the sizzling romance resumes. (Are you rolling your eyes at the oven puns yet?) 

Awful oven puns aside, I get what my friend means. The to-oven-or-not-to-oven question is a seesaw many of us who love to cook tend to ride as seasons change. It seems counterintuitive to heat a metal box to 450 degrees in the middle of your house when every other effort you make all day is to stay cool. So while June hasn't started off too terribly here in the Phoenix area (no temps soaring over 110--that's what we call moderate), I still feel the pull to keep the oven off and serve something closer to air-conditioned room temperature.

When we tried this vegetarian orzo salad last night, it hit the non-piping-hot spot. The recipe does, admittedly, use the stovetop to boil the orzo, but 15 minutes on the range beats a lasagna in the oven for an hour, and the end result is a refreshing blend of cool flavors perfect for a warm day. It's packed with:

  • Chickpeas for fiber and protein (see my ode to the nutritional value of chickpeas here)
  • Feta for a non-fatty cheese indulgence (the Pasta Salad Code of Ethics states that every pasta salad needs a cheese indulgence) 
  • Artichokes for veggie goodness including additional fiber and Vitamin C
  • Fresh dill, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil to add flavor without overdoing it on calories and fat (in keeping with the ideology of the Mediterranean diet).

Put them all together and you have a quick, light one-dish dinner or a hearty potluck side. So, sorry, Mr. Oven. Like my friend, I'm off for my annual summer fling without you. Or at least a few days' break...you know I still need you for cookies.



Lemon-Dill Orzo with Chickpeas and Artichokes
(Adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. uncooked orzo
1/2 c. sliced green onions
3/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
1 14-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
5 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), drained
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. cold water
scant 3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. minced garlic 

Directions:

1. Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. In a large bowl, combine cooled, rinsed orzo, green onions, feta, artichoke hearts, dill, and chickpeas.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt, and garlic. Drizzle over pasta mixture and toss gently to coat.

Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Serves 5-6 as a main dish, 8-10 as a side dish.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Avocado Feta Salsa


Today I have a recipe to share that is near and dear to my heart. (At least, it passes near to my heart on its way down, but I also mean it in the metaphorical sense.) I've been making this avocado feta salsa for years and have amassed quite a few memories connected with it: Christmas parties, backyard bash pool parties, and some especially enjoyable midnight snacking. I've always thought it was pretty unique and delish and have been asked for the recipe on numerous occasions. The salty feta and crisp red wine vinegar give it an almost Mediterranean flair, but the cilantro and red onion keep it firmly defined as a Mexican flavor overall. But NOW, ladies and gentlemen, in addition to calling it unique and delicious, I can officially call it "award-winning." 

Here's the story: a few weeks ago, my husband's company, meltmedia, held a salsa competition. (They do stuff like that. They also throw a legit Halloween party and blast each other in Nerf gun wars during office hours.) The avocado feta salsa seemed like an entry just distinctive enough that it might win. When I arrived at the competition, I saw that they had three categories for salsa entries: "regular," "hot," and "unique." (Coincidentally, the same categories apply for the scoring of the "Miss Mesa, AZ" beauty pageant...badum ching!) I was convinced my entry was a shoo-in for the "unique" competition. The lunch hour wore on, complete with some surprisingly decent catering from El Pollo Loco, and soon it was time to vote. It was an tense few moments, with lots of delicious competition--like a Mexican street corn dip I really want to try making--but when the votes were totaled, YES! Avocado Feta Salsa for the "unique salsa" win!!! And the crowd goes wild!! (Or at least, I went wild in my head.)


As a prize, I even received a $20 Sprouts gift card, which I promptly spent on booze organic produce. But more than my tidy gift card, what I really prize is this recipe's now-official credibility as an awesome, unique salsa!


The great thing about this recipe is that, like many other salsa and pico de gallo recipes, you can (and should) assemble it by taste. Like more red onion? Add it! Not a fan of garlic? Go easy on it. I've written it down the way I like it, with a squeeze of lemon for a bright hint of citrus. Incidentally, I have batch in the fridge right now, awaiting some dinner guests tomorrow. We'll see if it makes it that long. I feel a midnight snacking urge coming on... 

Avocado Feta Salsa
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/3-1/2 c. red onion, diced, depending on how much you like red onion
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
lemon juice, to taste
salt, to taste
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
2 ripe avocados, diced

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and garlic. Stir in olive oil and red wine vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and season with salt to your preference. Chill 2-6 hours to let the flavors blend.

2. Just before serving, gently stir in feta cheese and avocado.