Wednesday, April 30, 2014

(Belated Again) Chinese New Year Meal #4: Spicy Warm Silken Tofu with Celery and Cilantro Salad

I love traveling but sometimes, when I get back, all I want is salad.  I was in Miami for work last week and when I got back yesterday all I wanted was a salad.  So we made some brook trout with this Make-Ahead Radish Fattoush Salad.  And then I also had a salad for lunch.  Tonight for dinner I wanted something relatively light, but flavorful.  I also wanted something that didn't remind me of all of the buffet meals (some of them were pretty decent, but most were pretty blah) I had all last week.  This dish was basically the antithesis of the random meats, pastas, sandwiches and salads I had last week.  The best part of each meal was the desserts so I had more than my share.  Strangely enough, one of the best meals I had last week was the shrimp po' boy that I had at the Fort Lauderdale airport.  How random is that?  Granted, it had coconut shrimp in it - and who doesn't love coconut shrimp?  Given the number of desserts I ate and the shrimp po' boy, it's no wonder I feel like I gained 5 lbs while in Florida.

This post has been weeks in coming.  I keep planning to make more Chinese meals for my very very belated Chinese New Year meals.  I'm 3 months late at this point, so I guess another few weeks won't make much of a difference.  I really am going to try to finish all of the posts up by the end of May.  I actually had another tofu recipe picked out for Chinese New Year but I decided in the end to make this dish because it looked easier (and healthier).  Everything in the dish worked together in a really interesting way.  I loved how soaking the celery, cilantro and scallions in an ice bath made them crisp and refreshing.  The sauce was really savory - nutty, spicy and funky.  It wasn't my favorite sauce, but it was one of the more interesting Chinese sauces we have made recently.  One thing I might recommend is another cooking/heating method for the tofu itself.  Microwaving it made it release tofu water which diluted the sauce.  So I would either microwave it in another bowl and then transfer it (minus the water) into the serving bowl.  Or I would try steaming it.  Steamed soft tofu ends up with a better silkier and more custard-like texture to it.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rigatoni with Spicy Sicilian Pesto

Pesto usually leaves me feeling a little... blah.  I like it on a sandwich or as the sauce on a pizza, but there has to be more stuff going on.  A plain pasta tossed in pesto has always struck me as being a little boring.  This pesto is far from boring.  The combination of basil, mint and fennel seeds (who puts fennel seeds in pesto?) makes things a lot more interesting.  And I really like the addition of serrano chilis and dried chili flakes - they give the pesto great kick.  You don't want to make this pesto if you are afraid of a little heat.  The post on Serious Eats suggests that the sauce has "gorgeous hints of subtle spice" but this isn't a gentle hint of background heat.  It should also be said that this pasta doesn't have the level of spice you would expect from a Sichuan dish either.  All things considered, this was a pretty interesting take on a simple pasta tossed in pesto that is relatively easy to throw together.  There are other pasta dishes that would make my easy mid-week pasta repertoire before this one (including this Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, this Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes or this Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil).  But I could see myself making this variation of pesto again.  And this pesto might make me reconsider pesto as a delivery method for any number of different seasonings and ingredients.  Overall I consider that a win.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

(Belated, Again) Chinese New Year Meal #3: Laghman (Ban Mian)

There are a few cookbooks out there that I have been thinking about buying for years.  Some of them are by cookbook authors whose cookbooks we already own.  One cookbook that I have been thinking about buying for years is Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.  But everytime I convince myself that I don't need yet another cookbook.  We easily have 30-40 cookbooks in the apartment, some of which we have never used.  I tried to make a deal with myself a few years ago that I wouldn't buy another cookbook until I made at least one recipe from each cookbook.  Clearly that never happened.  Earlier today I was trying to find a recipe for Uyghur laghman noodles and after finding out that Beyond the Great Wall had a recipe for laghman I went ahead and ordered it on Amazon.  My compromise was to buy the cookbook in Kindle format so it doesn't clutter up the apartment.  I thought it made a lot of sense (although it does make it more difficult sometimes to find and use the recipes).

This dish is one of the dishes that I remember fondly from China, but haven't eaten since I left.  You don't get a lot of Uyghur food in the United States.  And when I showed Alex the recipe, he was a little shocked by how un-Chinese it all was.  This dish screams Italy more than China - it's like a pasta with a tomato and meat sauce.  It's a relatively homey and simple flavor combination - no spices (although we added cumin), no heat, just lamb, bell peppers and tomatoes.

Recipe after the jump!