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Time for homemade cream of tomato soup. October 22, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and harvest season is coming to an end. This means it’s time for warming comfort food, like cream of tomato soup. I don’t know if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of cream of tomato soup with a pat of butter melting on top was your idea of childhood cold-weather lunch heaven, but it certainly was mine. Yum!!!

Unfortunately, a check of the grocery aisles will reveal a selection of cream of tomato soups packed with high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch or flour, and all sorts of other ingredients that I don’t want in a simple soup. But, thank heavens, it really is easy to make this one from scratch in just minutes and get the benefit of all that healthy antioxidant lycopene without stuffing yourself with things that are bad for you. Here’s all you have to do:

Silence’s Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 stick butter
salt (we like RealSalt), Herbamare or Trocomare, white pepper, and/or hot sauce to taste (we’d choose Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this, if we wanted to use hot sauce)

That’s really all you need. Heat the milk and half-and-half in a heavy pot, never allowing it to boil. Once it’s hot, add the tomato paste, mashing with the back of a large spoon until it dissolves into the milk/half-and-half mixture. Add the salt and whatever else you want, stirring to blend. Chop the butter into pieces, reserving two for the tops of the bowls, and add the rest to the soup, again, stirring and watching carefully to make sure it never boils (which would destroy he texture). When the soup is quite hot, pour it into two bowls, top each with a pat of butter, and enjoy, with or without the accompanying grilled cheese!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Frozen vegetables are frozen vegetables. October 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If you walk down the freezer aisle in your preferred grocery and look at the vegetable options, there are almost as many choices as n the toothpaste aisle. No longer do you only have plain frozen vegetables and that horrid mix of peas, corn and diced carrots. There are lots of vegetable mixes, lots of frozen veggies in buttery sauces (those Green Giant people are no fools), and lots of boil-in-bag and steam-in-bag options.

But what if you just want a particular veggie, without sauce, and can’t find it frozen as is, but can find it frozen in a boil-in-bag or steam-in-bag version? Can you just open the bag and treat the contents as if it came from a regular frozen package?

I think we’ve all heard by now that nutritionists agree that frozen veggies are really good for you, better than fresh veggies picked out of season and shipped green, like, say, winter tomates. Frozen veggies are picked at the very peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to retain their nutrients. (Admittedly, I’ve never seen a bag of frozen tomatoes, but jarred tomatoes are wonderful for you, since they concentrate the protective, antioxidant-rich lycopenes in ripe tomatoes.)

I have no microwave, nor do I want to boil anything in a plastic bag and then eat it—aaaggghhh!—but one of the staples I love keeping on hand for cooking is frozen white shoepeg corn. The season for fresh white corn is so short, and I love sauteeing it to add to a meal, adding it to corn pudding at the holidays, and tossing it into chili. But I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to find a bag of frozen white corn, much less white shoepeg corn, in this area. What I can find, however, are bags of frozen white shoepeg “boil-in-bag” and “steam-in-bag” corn. And in my experience, the’re every bit as good added to a dish or sauteed as plain old frozen shoepeg corn could ever be.

So if you like boiling your veggies in a bag or cooking them in a bag in the microwave, I have no doubt that both methods work fine. But if you’re a traditional cook who simply needs to stock up on frozen staples you can’t find, don’t fear the boil-in, steam-in veggies. They’ll work wonderfully for you as well. Just keep away from the ones in sauces.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Cold enough for chili. October 6, 2014

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Brrr, is it ever cold outside! Silence Dogood here. Temps dropped to the 30s here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, last night. Our friend Ben and I managed to keep all our plants alive, but yowie kazowie, that is cold for early October. We weren’t so cold inside our cottage home, thank goodness, but it certainly made us start craving cold-weather food, like chili.

Chili is one of those forgiving foods that tends to taste good no matter how you make it or how you serve it. (Our friend Ben loves it over rice, my favorite is over buttered spaghetti with shredded Cheddar, which is apparently called Cincinnati chili, and of course, you could always serve up a big bowl plain.) I have lots of chili recipes, including one with pumpkin puree (it really is delicious, trust me), but here’s a basic recipe:

Saute 2 diced sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, in olive oil. Add 6 teaspoons minced garlic, a generous tablespoon each granulated garlic, salt (we like RealSalt), cumin, dried rosemary, thyme, and basil, and hot sauce (we like Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this), plus a minced fresh jalapeno pepper. Add a diced bell pepper (any color), a diced fresh tomato, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and a splash of Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce. Stir, adding splashes of vegetable broth or water as needed to keep everything from sticking, until the onion has clarified.

Now, add a large can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes and a can of Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with hot peppers or a large can diced tomatoes, and a large can (40.8 ounces) of kidney beans (light red, red, or dark red all work fine). Cook until the tomatoes cook down, stirring as the chili cooks, until it’s the consistency you like. (We like thick chili, like a thick spaghetti sauce.)

Once it’s as thick as you want it, you can turn it down or turn it off while you make the rice or pasta or whatever you’d like to serve it with or over. I think slices of polenta, sauteed or baked until molten with butter and cheese on top, would be delicious floated on chili. If you like yours soupy, adding grated cheese and sour cream to each bowl, then serving it with your favorite soup crackers and passing the hot sauce or salsa sounds good.

Finally, let me remind you that, like spaghetti sauce, chili is very forgiving, so it’s a great way to use up leftovers. If you have an ear or two of corn that’s passing its prime, or half a carton of fresh hot salsa, or a softening avocado or tomato, go ahead and throw them in. Your family will probably wonder why the chili is so much better than usual!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Recreating spinach balls. September 27, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. It’s not often these days that you find a restaurant, much less a quiet country inn, with a signature dish. But at the Bowers Hotel in the scenic crossroads of Bowers, PA, where chicken cordon blue and chicken marsala, not to mention shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and liver and onions, are all still on the menu, one appetizer was the restaurant’s signature dish: baked spinach balls. Try finding those on somebody else’s menu!

The delicious spinach balls were the reason our friend Ben and I have been returning to the Bowers again and again since we first moved to this area. When the restaurant closed for a time before reopening in 1212, the first thing reviewers noted was that the beloved spinach balls were still on the menu. OFB and I loved taking visitors to the Bowers to experience the famous spinach balls for themselves. I’d recently been sick and unable to eat for a week, and last night, I insisted that OFB and I head to the Bowers so I could celebrate my recovery by sharing a plate of spinach balls.

Oops, what are spinach balls, anyway? They’re basically a mix of spinach and breadcrumbs, shaped golf-ball size and pan-fried or baked to a golden crispiness outside, then served hot over shredded Romaine lettuce with a honey-mustard dipping sauce. (And trust me, even if you think you hate honey-mustard, it’s a perfect match for spinach balls.) When we first encountered them, they were pan-fried, with a higher proportion of breadcrumbs to spinach. The latest incarnation had lots more spinach to breadcrumbs and was baked to make a healthier appetizer. Both were really good.

Backtracking to our experience last night, we arrived at the Bowers in a triumphant mood. (At least I did: Free to eat at last!) And then I looked at the menu. I looked at the appetizer menu again, and again, and again. No spinach balls. When our server arrived for our drink order, I asked where they were. “The chef’s replaced them with spinach-artichoke dip. Nobody was ordering them.” Spinach-artichoke dip! Excuse me, this isn’t Applebee’s!

I was devastated. But I wondered if, just once, I might be able to recreate the spinach balls at home, since they weren’t fried (something I refuse to do, eeeewww). What could go into them, I wondered. Thawed frozen spinach rather than fresh, I was guessing, cooked and with the liquid pressed out. Minced onion. Breadcrumbs. And a binder, such as beaten eggs or eggwhites, plus salt and pepper to suit.

I was unable to find the recipes used at the Bowers Hotel online (sob). But I did find a recipe on Epicurious that I thought captured the spirit of the dish and would be easy enough to make at home. Here’s a version of it:

Spinach Balls

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 10-oz. box frozen spinach
1 cup herbed bread stuffing (such as Pepperidge Farm)
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup grated Paresan cheese
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Cook spinach according to directions on box. Drain well. Mix in all other ingredients, continuing until well mixed. (Add more stuffing mix if needed.)

Form balls of 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon size as desired. Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees F. until lightly golden and done. Serve with honey mustard or the mustard of your choice as a dipping sauce.

Double recipe as desired. These freeze and reheat well.

Another thing I found in my researches was a recipe from a British restaurant chain (and possibly grocery) called Carluccio’s for a wonderfully delicious-sounding pasta dish with giant penne and spinach balls. The thought of making the spinach balls crispy, then adding them to a basic Alfredo sauce over pasta, struck me as brilliant. Will I make that? I don’t know, but I’d love it if someone made it for me. Will I try making from-scratch baked spinach balls at home? Yes, probably. Will I grieve the loss of another regional specialty? Absolutely.

‘Til next time,

Silence

What’s the difference between bisque and chowder? September 25, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been thinking that a warm, inviting corn chowder would make the perfect “farewell to summer” dish, creamy and corny as it is. I had an idea for the ingredients, since I wanted the soup to be rich and gorgeous but not bland. But before I actually made it, I wanted to check what other people were putting in their corn chowders. And somewhere in my search, I encountered corn bisque.

Bisque! Even if we’ve never had it, I imagine most of us have heard of lobster bisque, that elegant dish from a bygone age. (I can picture it being served with great pomp and style on the Titanic.) I’ve never eaten it, but I remember smelling it, with its delicate aromas of lobster, cognac (or sherry) and cream. Mmmmm!!!

But corn bisque? When is a creamy corn soup a bisque and not a chowder? Turns out, when the ingredients are pureed into a single smooth, silky consistency. Chowder, on the other hand, features chunks of its ingredients in a creamy base. Needless to say, it was considered the workingman’s version, since it took a lot more trouble to create a puree in those days without a food processor, immersion blender, or blender. It all had to be done by hand. And that perfect, silky-smooth texture didn’t come cheap. Especially when the crustaceans’ shells (I’m afraid so) were incorporated into the bisque, as was traditional. Eeeeewwww!!!

Well, give me the chowder any day. But I intend to try to compensate for the pureeing with canned creamed corn. See what you think of my recipe:

Silence’s Creamy Corn Chowder

2 (14.75 oz.) cans creamed corn
1 package frozen white corn kernels, or two large ears white corn, kernels cut off cobs
1 pint light cream
1 box veggie stock (aka broth), any brand
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced
1 8-ounce box whole button mushrooms, minced
3 red new potatoes, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
4 tablespoons salted butter
salt and pepper to taste

To make the chowder, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, such as a Dutch oven. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for soups.) Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until it clarifies, then add the mushrooms, cooking until they release their juices. Add the new potatoes, cooking until softened and glistening, then the bell pepper pieces, then the fresh or frozen corn kernels. (If the veggies start to stick to the pan during cooking, add a splash of veggie stock/broth as needed.) When the veggies are aromatic and soft, add the cans of creamed corn and slowly pour in the light cream. Stir to combine and check the thickness; add veggie stock/broth as needed to thin out to the consistency you want. Heat through and serve.

As you can see, this is all about the corn, creamy, fresh, or frozen. I’m not, for once, even adding herbs or spices to distract from corn’s delicate flavor. You could add a pinch of basil, or a pinch of garam masala, or a pinch of ground fenugreek, or even a very small splash of white wine, sherry, sherry vinegar, or the like. But I’d recommend starting with the basic recipe and modifying it later if you thought it needed something. The flavor’s delicate but rich, like a good chowder should be, and it’s thick enough to hold its own as a meal with a hearty salad and a hot loaf of multigrain bread.

Goodbye, summer!

‘Til next time,

Silence

In praise of marmalade. September 13, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Marmalade, a less-sweet cousin of jams, preserves and jellies, is in my opinion an underrated kitchen hero. Long gone are the days when you could only get orange marmalade, often stuffed with sugar (or, gasp, high-fructose corn syrup) and sadly lacking in actual orange and orange zest. Now real all-fruit orange marmalade, lemon marmalade, lime marmalade, grapefruit marmalade, blood orange marmalade, even ginger marmalade is available.

So okay, you’ve got your jar of marmalade and you’ve got it home from the store. Now what? Well, it’s great for breakfast on toast, English muffins, croissants, crumpets, or as a glaze on hot scones. (With butter, people, butter.) But that’s just the beginning. Because marmalade isn’t super-sweet but is super-flavorful with its citrus or ginger hit, it’s perfect on other things as well. Think of it as a glaze on cheesecake or chicken, or paired with feta cheese in a phyllo wrap or cream cheese in a wanton wrap or topping baked Brie. And think what some marmalade could do to add complexity to your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce!

Marmalade is also a very versatile substitute for other sauces and dressings. You can use it in place of duck sauce, orange sauce, General Tso’s sauce, and the like if you find yourself out of them and need dipping sauce for spring rolls or egg rolls or sauce for Chinese dishes. It’s delicious as a substitute if you run out of chutney and are serving Indian food. (Ditto for adding to dal, baked beans, lentil stew, and the like.) It’s also great mixed with oil, Dijon mustard, and vinegar in a salad dressing for fruit- or cheese-based salads. Not to mention as a glaze for piecrust, or a topping for cake or vanilla ice cream. (Our favorite is Ben & Jerry’s.)

For the adventurous, I’d suggest an omelet stuffed with cream cheese and/or shredded Swiss cheese and a (very) thin layer of orange marmalade. It’s the adult version of Dr. Seuss’s famous “green eggs” (made by scrambling eggs with Concord grape jelly, which turns them green); your choice whether to add the ham (or Canadian bacon). With adequate salt and some toasted, buttered English muffins, you might become addicted. Try it and see!

‘Til next time,

Silence

What is burrata? September 5, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I had invited our neighbor over for a deckwarming party last night. He’d offered to bring his famous homemade guacamole, and I was supplying hot jalapeno poppers, tortilla chips, fresh salsa, various hot sauces, and hot peppers fresh-picked from our garden. Not to mention margaritas! It was sounding a lot like Mexican night!

But at the last second, we got a message from our neighbor saying that he was missing an ingredient for his guac and would be bringing burrata instead. Fortunately, I had some guac with pico de gallo on hand, so no worries. But what was burrata? Some kind of scaled-back burrito? Something with meat in it that I, as a vegetarian, couldn’t even eat? Yikes.

While the jalapeno poppers were getting nice and toasty, I rushed to my trusty laptop and checked out burrata. Turns out it’s a soft, fresh cheese from the Puglio region of Italy, basically made with a bag-like rind of fresh mozzarella enclosing cream and curds. It’s so rich that its name comes from the Italian for “buttery.” And it’s only considered to be at its prime within 24 hours from its making, and past its prime after 48 hours. Yowie kazowie! Talk about a luxury product.

This was hardly Mexican fare, and there was no guidance about what to put it on. Fortunately, I had a lovely loaf of herbed ciabatta bread, some heirloom tomatoes, and a couple of ripe peaches. I felt certain that our neighbor could choose among them and we could pull this off. But as it turned out, he showed up not just with two burrata balls but with some crispy, airy Scandinavian crackers to serve the burrata on. And yes, they really were delicious. But I still think they’d have been luscious with fresh peaches.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,

Silence

How to use chopsticks. August 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If the only experience you’ve had with chopsticks is watching Pat Morita catch flies with them in “The Karate Kid,” it might be a little intimidating to go to a restaurant and see everybody else using them. And embarrassing to have to say “Could I have a fork, please?”

As a chopstick novice myself, I’ve managed to learn how to eat vegetable tempura rolls and things like stir-fries and General Tso’s tofu with chopsticks, but still can’t manage soft, slippery things like mapo tofu or tiny things like grains of rice. (Hint: In “The Man with the Golden Gun,” a James Bond movie set in Hong Kong, they showed a family basically holding bowls of rice to their mouths and shoveling the rice in with their chopsticks. Made sense to me!) I was once served a soup-like porridge at a Zen monastery which I was expected to eat, along with the rest of the meal, with chopsticks. Yow!!! Fortunately, we were able to serve ourselves and I took a tiny portion of porridge and somehow managed to down it all, as was expected. Never again!

Anyway, one restaurant, a wonderful Sichuan (Szechuan) restaurant in State College, PA, called Sichuan Bistro, has come up with a discreet way to help chopstick-challenged diners: chopsticks that come with directions. The directions, printed on the red paper chopstick cover, are straightforward: Take one chopstick, tuck it under the thumb of your dominant hand, and hold firmly. Add the second chopstick and hold it between your index finger and thumb, as you’d hold a pencil, while still holding the first chopstick wedged down between your thumb and hand. To eat, hold the first chopstick still and move the second one up and down to capture and immobilize food.

I certainly wouldn’t agree with the printed directions that “now you can pick up anything” with chopsticks—I’m still not going for the porridge or rice—but this technique really does work. Try it and see for yourself!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Fantastic stir-fry (or pasta) in a flash. August 27, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I have a guilty little secret, and that’s that I just love the cut-up combos of vegetables that you can find in the produce section of pretty much any grocery store. Why is that, when I actually enjoy chopping vegetables? It’s because those packages of multi-hued veggies are so pretty, so colorful. Their siren song is impossible to resist. Poor our friend Ben tries, in vain, to pull me away from the prepared produce section when we’re out grocery shopping; after all, I’ve already bought several shopping bags full of fresh, whole produce by that time.

Needless to say, that precut, precombined produce isn’t out there just to show its pretty face. It’s there for those nights when you’d really enjoy something fresh and healthy but don’t have time to stand for an hour or so chopping vegetables. If you’re in that boat, here are two suggestions for absolutely luscious main dishes that take almost no time to cook.

Fast, Fantastic Stir-Fry

First, buy as many packages of pre-cut veggies as you think you’ll need, depending on how much you eat and how many of you there are. We like the ones with red onion, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, and snow or snap peas. We love onion, so we buy an extra carton of diced red onion, and we also buy an extra red bell pepper to dice into the mix. Next, we get Iron Chef Sesame Garlic Sauce in the International aisle, and pick up a bottle of Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce from the condiments aisle if we’re running low. Finally, we get a package of pressed smoked tofu from the health-food store next door. (You could sub extra-firm tofu from the grocery if your health-food store doesn’t stock pressed smoked tofu. In that case, I recommend pre-cubed to save time.)

Once you’re home, if you got the extra-firm rather than the smoked tofu, put the cubes (or cube it and then put the cubes) into a marinade of the sesame-garlic sauce and the Frank’s hot sweet sauce, adding salt and enough boiling water to just cover. As you prepare the other ingredients, turn the tofu cubes several times to make sure both sides are coated.

In a rice cooker or pot, make enough basmati rice so each person can have a full cup. While the rice cooks, heat up canola, olive or peanut oil in a wok or deep, heavy pan like a Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this, since I can cook over much lower heat than a wok and it retains heat). When the oil is hot, toss in about half the container of diced red onion, then your diced red bell pepper, then a tablespoon of minced garlic or some garlic granules or garlic salt. Then add your veggies, making sure they’re coated with the oil. Finish by adding the tofu and sauce (if it isn’t smoked). If you are using smoked tofu, cube it while the veggies are cooking. Add the sesame-garlic sauce and the Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce to the veggies, then slide in the cubed smoked tofu.

When the rice is done, spoon the hot veggie-tofu mixture over the top and enjoy! It’s actually not just the easiest but the best stir-fry I’ve ever had. (And to make things even easier, you can always just pick up rice from the local Chinese place on your way home from the grocery. Their rice is always perfect!)

Moving on, let’s look at the pasta:

Asparagus-Mushroom Pasta

Our groceries offer packs of cut asparagus, sliced baby Bella mushrooms, and red onion. On its own, one of these packs would probably be delicious roasted with olive oil drizzled over the top. But I’m always craving pasta, and I had a carton of whole button mushrooms and a couple of red bell peppers that needed to be cooked. So I heated some olive oil, diced a Vidalia onion, the carton of mushrooms, and the bell peppers, and sauteed them until the mushrooms cooked down and the onion clarified. Meanwhile, I heated up a big pot of water for the pasta.

Once the water was boiling, I added the package of asparagus, mushrooms, and red onion to the other veggies, then added the pasta to the pot of boiling water. When the pasta was ready, I added black pepper and salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) to the veggies, then stirred in shredded sharp white Cheddar and allowed it to melt. (You could sub shredded mozzarella or a Cheddar/mozzarella mix.) Finally, I used tongs to pull out the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat well.

Yum! This pasta was delicious. All we needed was a nice, crunchy salad to have a complete and luscious meal. OFB and I are now officially hooked on both dishes. So easy, so good! Try them and let us know what you think.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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