I kind of failed at food last week. I took a “cooking vacation,” if you will. I went out to eat, grabbed takeout, or made avocado sandwiches literally every night. With everything going on this summer, I just hit a wall where I felt overwhelmed and like I had no time. When this happens, it’s not only fast meals that I crave, but carbs. I just want all the carbs.
When I finally found myself with some time on Sunday, I decided I better step foot in the kitchen and see if I could get back in the groove and make something substantial. While I had no intention of ending my carb bender, I thought adding greens and protein to the mix might be helpful for my dwindling energy level.
Enter beluga lentils. A teeny tiny protein powerhouse that pairs well with just about anything. I figured lentils, broccoli rabe, and a miso-sesame sauce juuuust might bring my energy back up and get my cooking shoes back on.
To be clear, I would be piling all these ingredients on top of pasta, of course…we’re taking baby steps here, people.
Hey meat eaters – stay with me here. I know tofu has a bad wrap outside of the veg world, but the problem is that most people don’t know how to prepare it. Heck, I’ve even had gross tofu in restaurants. Yes, I’m admitting that it can definitely be gross, which is why you should trust me that I can make it awesome.
Another barrier to tofu acceptance – its appearance. I know that the block it comes in looks unnatural, but I assure you that tofu is as natural as it gets. Tofu is simply soybeans, water, and a coagulant of some sort. Then, it’s pressed into the signature block shape. What you do with that shape, well that’s where the fun begins.
I’ve used tofu in a couple of recipes on this blog, but as a supporting ingredient, like in Pad Thai or Lettuce Wraps. In this post, I’m going to give you a way to prepare tofu so it’s the star of the show. Vegetarians should get to have a big chunk of protein shine on their plates once in a while too, you know?
The boy’s place has spoiled me. It’s sky-high, with huge windows that show downtown in the distance, and we can watch the sunset right off his balcony…it’s just beautiful. While I do enjoy taking in these sights of the city when I’m over there, I also tend to focus on, well, a different sort of beauty: the P.F. Chang’s across the street. It’s just sitting there, looking at me, whispering, “What happened to us? Remember in college when you, me, and your friends would hang out and eat lettuce wraps? How can we ever get back to that place?”
It’s not that the boy and I never go out to eat, it’s just that P.F. Changs and I have grown apart. When we dine out, I gravitate towards local eateries, or new restaurants, or diamond-in-the-suburb spots. So, somehow, I ventured away from P.F. Chang’s, and you know what? When I look out that window and across the street to the welcoming, horse-guarded doors, it makes me sad.
We will inevitably venture across the street in the near future, but this week I decided to take dinner into my own hands, literally. I knew I couldn’t emulate the P.F. Chang’s lettuce wrap experience perfectly, because honestly I don’t even know what they put in there (I suspect crack), so I decided to do my own spin. Maybe it wouldn’t fix my P.F. Chang’s relationship, but I’d settle for rekindling my lettuce wrap flame.
When all my siblings were still living at home, Chinese takeout night happened every now and then…and by that I mean like once a week. We’d devour our absurdly huge mounds of food, possibly watch a movie or play a game, and then wrap up the evening with a little brother-sister-sister argument over who would get the final wonton after the other eleven were gone (yes, we bought two orders of six…every time). Now that I’m a refined adult (yeah, that) wontons have sadly gone all-but missing from my life. Until recently, that is, when the boy and I found ourselves at a restaurant that served jalapeno cream cheese wontons. In all my childhood wonton-consuming years, I had never thought about mixing anything with that smooth dollop of cheese. I mean, that’s just crazy. Crazy brilliant, of course.
My memory of these jalapeno wontons lovingly remains in the back of my mind always, but this week it catapulted to the front when the boy asked if we could make them for dinner. At those words, I magically appeared in a grocery store with cream cheese, wonton wrappers, and jalapenos in my cart, and ambition in my soul.
I’m sad to admit that I discovered pad thai much, MUCH too late in life. As a picky eater in childhood, as a teenager, and into young adulthood, I missed some of the finer things in food. In college I started being more open to the unfamiliar, mostly because a girl can only eat so much peanut butter and jelly. Thank goodness for my lack of attention span with meals, because now I want to take on the culinary world…or at least the vegetarian hemisphere of the culinary world.
Which brings me to thai food. In my pickier years I had a “gross, but what IS it” attitude towards the food genre. Now I care less, try not to think about it, and then when curiosity gets the best of me I know I can figure out what it is with a quick google search. Of course, with Pad Thai the search results came with a landslide of recipes with fish sauce. Recipes that insisted, “fish sauce is the key ingredient! You need the fish sauce! Leave out the fish sauce and it’s not pad thai!” Cool it, people, step aside, and put the fish sauce down, cause this vegetarian is hungry. Hungry for sweet-yet salty sauce mixed with light rice noodles, twisting around a mix of bean sprouts and sweet cooked pepper, then dusted with crushed peanuts and fresh lime…it’s just the best, right? Right. But this kind of love begs the question: is this perfection that can be recreated at home, and without fish sauce, no less?
Certain meals end up in a pile labeled “for restaurant consumption only.” There isn’t one specific characteristic that makes foods end up in this category; Sometimes a restaurant makes something so perfect I can’t bring myself to even try to recreate it, other times the ingredients seem too foreign or expensive, and often I’m simply confused by the process and intimidated by the thought of figuring it out. Fortunately, this blog yanks me forward, twists my arm, and directs me to the grocery store aisles I tend to avoid.
A couple weeks ago, I needed a quick lunch and ended up having a frozen box meal of vegetable pot stickers that had been long forgotten in the back of my freezer. Since I usually have the attitude of “too refined for thee” when it comes to frozen food, I was not excited when I realized I had no choice but to heat and eat. While chowing down, I realized I was enjoying the boxed food, and not just any food, but a meal that I had vehemently insisted was “restaurant only” for many years. If frozen food in a box could make non-offensive pot stickers, I certainly could, right? Sure, pot stickers intimidate me for not one, not two, but all three aforementioned reasons (restaurant perfection, foreign ingredients, mysterious process), but what could possibly go wrong? Armed with a strong attitude and misguided confidence, I made a detailed list and marched to the grocery store.
This recipe comes with a disclaimer: Neither I nor the boy ate the finished product unscathed. Perhaps a lesser woman would take this as a sign that some recipes should indeed be left with the tab at the table, but not I, dear readers. One must remember two simple things while reading the following: 1) It is essential to think before doing, in all matters of life and heated cookware, and 2) Some of us are more prone to accidents (read: stupidity), so take my pain with a grain of salt.
At the ripe old age of 25, I like to think that I know myself pretty well. For instance, some known facts are: my favorite color is purple, I like dry humor, I have no sense of direction, and I fall into ruts. Not the kind of ruts the Boy loves, where deer are running around seducing each other and people like him are creeping up in a tree. No, the kind of rut I’m talking about is the one of routine: I like what I like and I don’t venture very well. I’m also a bit of a masochist, which is why I’m writing a blog where, for interest’s sake, I’ll need to go ahead and embrace the new and unfamiliar.
Which brings me to my next point: Asian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love picking up some greasy chow mein, and just destroying it right out of the perplexing little box. Unfortunately, much like my Asian Studies course in college, it intimidates me. I have no idea what’s in it, how they fit such an absurd amount of food in what appears to be a tiny little package, and what could possibly make it taste so. damn. good.
In addition to me stretching outside my comfort(food) zone, this blog is about compromise, so I said, “Hey [Boy], what kind of Asian food do you like?” He said stir fry with beef. I corrected him and said that he probably meant to tell me that he likes vegetable chow mein better, and we were off.