hoisin chicken with green beans and sticky rice

I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy lately.

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He’s starting at a new school this fall and will experience all kinds of change during this time called adolescence and junior high. It’s brought back all kinds of memories from my own adolescent years – everything from remembering locker combinations to who to sit by at lunch to what to wear. Ugh. I know he’ll do great, but it’s so hard to be a parent and go through all these transitions again with your kids. Especially when the transitions and years seem to be passing at lightning speed. I still think of him as a toddler some days, and long for cuddling with him, reading him bedtime stories, or playing dinosaurs and trains. He has been known on occasion to hover over my shoulder and listen when I’m reading a picture book to my youngest. I love that.

School starts in one day, and I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. Back-to-school for us means busy evenings with homework and sports. My head is spinning thinking about managing our schedules, as I’m sure many others can relate.

Need a quick dinner recipe? This one’s so very simple and easy to throw together. Great for those nights when you feel like Chinese takeout, but prefer to make it yourself. It’s complete with protein and veggie and is easily customized with your favorite substitutes, i.e. shrimp, peppers, beef, broccoli, etc.

My version, which I sort of tossed together with whatever we had in our refrigerator, turned out to be a keeper. I like to serve this with a sticky rice, which is Jasmine rice, rinsed until the water runs clear and made in a rice cooker. All while you prepare the main event. Everything is ready to serve in less than 30 minutes. Feel free to add additional sides like potstickers, cream cheese wontons or egg rolls, or to keep it healthy – more sauteed veggies. An after-dinner lucky fortune cookie doesn’t hurt either.

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Hoisin Chicken with Green Beans and Sticky Rice

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1 cup fresh mushrooms, cut in half
2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
Few dashes of tamari

Heat oil in wok or large skillet over med-high heat. Add chicken and stir fry for 5-7 minutes, until no longer pink. Add garlic and continue to stir fry until fragrant. Add green beans and mushrooms and continue to stir fry until green beans start to wrinkle and vegetables become tender. Add hoisin sauce and a couple dashes of tamari and stir to combine. Serve with sticky rice and soy sauce.

Enjoy!

A little fact about me – I’m fascinated by dinosaurs and have been known to name all of them in our collection. Pterodactyls, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Bronchosaurus, Triceratops, etc… Do you know yours? Happy back-to-school, crazy schedules and all!

a meat-less asian saute – gone totally right

Well, hello there! I’ve been gone for a while. Still cooking like crazy, but most posts have remained in the drafts folder. I’m hoping to get a few quiet moments more regularly, but most days, it’s just pure busy around the house. Wake up, get ready, work, leave work, pickup kids, do the homework/dinner scramble, leave for activities (often conflicting and in opposite locations), watch activities, return, showers/baths, book time, kids bedtime, and often I’m the next in line. Repeat. If I’m really good, I manage to get myself on the treadmill in the morning.  That’s the usual “during the week schedule” for us.

I’ve dabbled in the past cooking with tofu, and most times, I’ve been disappointed with the results. Not this time. This recipe is fantastic, and could easily be swapped out with various meats, if you wish. The sauce fills in the flavorless void of the tofu, and the vegetables are just the right addition.

The key to this dish is making sure the tofu is completely drained of excess moisture. Also, having patience, the right level of heat, and not disturbing the saute pan yields golden-brown, crispy tofu perfection. Try it for yourself, and you may enjoy just as much as I did … Another bonus? My kids were convinced they were eating chicken. Perfect for a Meatless Monday, or any day of the week.

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Hot and Sour Seared Tofu With Sugar Snap Peas (and Red Pepper)
Adapted from NY Times
2-3 servings

1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu (and drained well)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small jalapeño chiles, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free version)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons peanut oil, more if needed
6 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and thinly sliced (I’ve also made with haricots verts/green beans, broccoli or whatever vegetable you choose)
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper, as desired
Sesame seeds, as desired
May garnish with chopped cilantro or basil.

Drain tofu well, wrap it with a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towels and place on a rimmed plate; top with another plate and some extra weight. Let drain further. (This step is key to golden brown perfection.)

To make the sauce, combine garlic, chiles, soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, fish sauce and honey in a small bowl. Unwrap tofu and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Pat slices dry. Heat a large skillet over high heat until hot. Add peanut oil and let heat for 30 seconds, then carefully add tofu. Don’t touch tofu for 2 to 3 minutes, letting it sear until golden brown. Flip and sear for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Move tofu to one side of pan (or temporarily remove from pan and keep warm). Add vegetables and, if needed, a few drops more peanut oil. Stir-fry vegetables for a couple of minutes, being careful not to overcook them. Add sauce and stir well, cooking until vegetables are done to taste, 1-2 minutes. Return tofu to pan and coat with sauce. Sprinkle sesame seeds over tofu and vegetables. Can also garnish with cilantro or basil, if you wish.

Serve with cooked jasmine or brown rice. Enjoy!

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tastes of spring and summer in january

During the coldest month of the year, I often long for spring and summer, and the tastes that come with the seasons. This recipe makes me smile because growing up, we had a constant debate over which was better. Strawberry shortcake or angel food cake with strawberries. My dad preferred the strawberry shortcake (or the dry biscuits, as we called them), while the rest of us loved the light, airy sponge of angel food cake. Twenty some years later, I’ve decided to give the “biscuit” version another try.

I have to say I was very pleased!  And, a few others didn’t think these were too shabby, either.  This recipe could easily be substituted with any fruit, ie. blackberries, mangoes, blueberries, peaches. Mmm. I baked my biscuits ahead of time and warmed them up prior to serving. 

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This one, not so much.  Or, at least she’s giving it some thought.  Maybe next time.

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This recipe’s for you, Dad. Enjoy.

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Classic Strawberry Shortcake
adapted from Fine Cooking

Strawberry Topping
1 lb. ripe strawberries, hulled (about 4 cups)
2 Tbs. granulated sugar; more to taste

Biscuits
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream; more for brushing
1/4 cup buttermilk

Whipped Cream
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
Prepare the strawberries
Put one-third of the berries in a medium bowl and, using a potato masher, crush them into a chunky purée. Slice the remaining berries 1/4 inch thick and stir them into the mashed berries along with the sugar. Taste the berries, adding more sugar if necessary. Let the berries sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Make the biscuits
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Line a large heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment.

Sift the flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl.  (I don’t have a flour sifter, so I improvise.)  Stir in the salt.

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Using a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and heavy cream with a fork. Mix in the buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the cream mixture. Mix with the fork until the dough is evenly moistened and just comes together; it will still look a little shaggy. Gather the dough and gently knead it three or four times. If the dough seems dry and doesn’t form a cohesive mass, work in more cream, 1 tsp. at a time.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 3/4 -inch-thick disk. With a sharp 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, press straight down to cut the dough into rounds and lift straight up to remove (don’t twist the cutter or it will seal the sides of the biscuits and interfere with rising). Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, gently knead them together, re-roll, and cut out more biscuits until you have a total of 6.

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Lightly brush the biscuit tops with cream (about 1 Tbs.) and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbs. sugar. Bake, rotating the baking sheet once, until the biscuit tops are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

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Let the biscuits cool slightly while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream
In a large, chilled metal bowl, whip the heavy cream and sugar to soft peaks with an electric hand mixer. (Use immediately or refrigerate, covered until ready to serve).

Assemble the shortcakes
Using a serrated knife, split the warm biscuits in half horizontally and transfer the bottoms to 6 dessert plates. Spoon about three-quarters of the macerated berries and their juice evenly over the biscuit bottoms. It’s OK if some of the berries spill out onto the plate. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and cover each with a biscuit top. Spoon more berries and cream over each shortcake and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

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cauliflower steaks with jalapeno corn relish

Inspired by a similar Food & Wine recipe, and motivated to reduce the amount of red meat from our diet, here’s a steak recipe that proves to be hearty, healthy, and meatless.  This one caught my eye, as we love to make roasted cauliflower as a side for many of our meals.  But, why not make it the main event?  A vegetable topped with more vegetables, and a little spicy heat – brilliant as a main course.

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Slicing the head of cauliflower into 3/4 inch steaks was a little tricky with the size I had, but I worked with it anyways.  And, it’s prepared very similar to a real steak.  Hot skillet (add a little canola oil and salt and pepper), sear/brown each side for about 3 minutes, or until nicely browned.  Roast for about 20 minutes.

Yum.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

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Cauliflower Steaks with Jalapeno Corn Relish

inspired by this Food & Wine recipe

2 large heads of cauliflower, stems lightly trimmed
1 1/2 cups corn (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
4 scallions, chopped
1 medium tomato, diced and drained
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut three 3/4-inch-thick center slices from each head of cauliflower to form “steaks.” Use the rest of the cauliflower for something else.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the jalapeno and cook over moderately high heat for 30 seconds. Add the scallions and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in the corn and tomato and season with salt and pepper.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add 3 cauliflower steaks and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to a large baking pan. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and 3 cauliflower steaks.

Press the jalapeno-corn relish into the spaces between the cauliflower florets. Bake the cauliflower steaks for 25 minutes, until tender and richly browned. Top with additional relish, if desired.  Enjoy!

black bottom cupcakes

Love these cupcakes!  And, so do the kids.  So rich and decadent.  The chocolate pairs perfectly with the cheesecake-like centers.  And chocolate frosting tops it off.  Enjoy!

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Adapted from Taste of Home

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FILLING:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

CUPCAKES:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg and salt until smooth. Stir in chips; set aside.

For cupcakes, in a large bowl, beat the sugar, water, oil, egg, vinegar and vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into egg mixture until blended.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups half full with chocolate batter. Drop a heaping teaspoonful of cheese mixture in center of batter of each cupcake.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to racks to cool completely.

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I topped the cupcakes with a rich, chocolate espresso frosting. Could also use a prepared chocolate frosting, but this way, I was able to have lots of leftovers!  Store cupcakes in refrigerator.

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Yield: 20-24 cupcakes.  Enjoy!

puzzles and pancakes in our pajamas

Lazy Saturday mornings are the BEST! We usually brew an extra-large pot of coffee, hang out in our pj’s and lounge. And, sometimes, we don’t get out of our pajamas until late afternoon!

We finished two large puzzles over the holidays.  A 500-piece puzzle of Santa Claus and a 750-piece puzzle of Rockefeller Center decorated for the holidays.  Rockefeller Center was full of people, skating, spectating, and snow falling.  And, the pieces were small, and irregular shaped.  This one took us almost two weeks, and often, we just had to walk away from the table until the next day.  A new day and a new perspective. Pieces were everywhere – all over the kitchen table.   For those two weeks, we ended up setting our table on top of the puzzle.  Oh well, if our table wasn’t covered in puzzle, it would be marker or art projects or homework or crumbs.  I love a good puzzle. Great family time, and everyone can help. Great conversation, relaxation, and a great challenge.  Here’s one of our finished masterpieces…

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I had some canned pumpkin left in the fridge, so I whipped up a batch of Martha Stewart’s pumpkin pancakes. Love the spice and the fluffy, moist cakes. I would definitely make them again.

Pumpkin Pancakes
adapted from Martha Stewart

Whisk 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground ginger, and salt; 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg; and a pinch of ground cloves.

In a separate bowl, stir together 1 cup milk, 6 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 egg; fold mixture into dry ingredients.

Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat; pour in 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes about 3 minutes per side; serve with butter and syrup. (I served mine with butter, powdered sugar and whipped cream since I’m not a fan of maple syrup.) Makes 8 to 10.  Enjoy!

elegance absent and dessert (or breakfast)

I love to cook and be in the kitchen, but I have to admit… I am not an elegant cook or baker. (Ina Garten is my personal favorite.) (And yes, she probably has a supportive team behind the scenes helping to make sure everything looks just right for the camera.) You know the kind. So calm and camera ready, always with great stories of entertaining and lively connections with food. The ones who wear aprons and never get them full of flour or grease. The ones who have mise en place mastered, with everything ready and at the tip of their fingers. The ones who have a spotless kitchen, organized cupboards and countertops clear of clutter.

Nope, that’s not me! As much as I strive to be, my husband will be the first to admit that I am more chaos than elegance in the kitchen. But, I am ok with that. It’s how I roll. My iPhone gets full of flour as I’m searching for recipes, my batter sometimes flies across the room and often, I am pushing my piles of paper aside to make room for cooking. However, I do have support in the kitchen. My husband, who washes the countless dishes that I dirty in my cooking adventures. Or, who picks up the kitchen and countertops in the midst of my chaos. My kids, who love to taste and see. It’s all good!

A new year and new year’s resolutions for 2013.

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A simple list – Be healthy.  Be happy.  Be thankful.  And, a new dessert recipe for the family, which uh… incorporates all three resolutions. Be healthy (well, not so much with this recipe. Although, chocolate does have some healthy qualities.) Be happy – always…with family and chocolate. Be thankful – for good dessert, and seconds.  King Arthur Flour’s Fudge Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce.  I’ve swapped the words in the recipe to call it Chocolate Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Fudge, which fits better with the end product.  A chocolatey waffle dotted with semisweet chocolate chips, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate fudge sauce.  Amazing.  My favorite part of the recipe is the fudge sauce.  Served warm, it’s runny and easy to drizzle –  more like Hershey’s chocolate syrup, but once on top of the ice cream, the sauce thickens to a fudge consistency.  So delicious! I could seriously eat it by the spoonfuls right out of the refrigerator.

The kids loved this dessert. Thank you King Arthur Flour!  What’s not to love?  Chocolate waffles?!  Breakfast for dessert?!  Chocolate and Fudge?!  Ice cream and waffles?!  We did have some leftovers, so we served up some chocolate waffles for breakfast the next morning.

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Chocolate Waffles with Ice Cream and Chocolate Fudge
adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (I substituted with 1 cup of milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice.)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, butter and vanilla, and beat until light, about 2 minutes. Blend in buttermilk, then flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

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Bake waffles in a preheated well-greased waffle iron until done (following directions for your own waffle iron). Serve with the ice cream of your choice and chocolate sauce (recipe follows). Waffles can be served immediately, or wrapped in plastic wrap and served the next day. Warm them in a toaster oven if you wish.

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Chocolate Fudge Sauce

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and milk or half-and-half. Stir to blend. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and add butter and vanilla, stirring until butter melts. Cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 cup.

Serve warm or at room temperature; this sauce reheats easily in a glass cup in your microwave.

Enjoy!