Mock Chipotle Sofritas Salad

About once a quarter a group of us at work have a Friday in lunch together. We order something, pick it up and try to have a rallying lunch. One of our go-to places was Chipotle and I was pretty excited when then added a vegetarian protein. It ticked all the boxes for me – spicy, touch sweet and really filling. The lunch in tradition changed a bit this past year and we did more eat what we brought as we had lunch together, which is great for a variety of reasons, but I did somewhat miss the salad. Yes, I know Bob and I could go and get lunch or dinner one night, but I scoured the internet for for a way to make it at home and found a recipe that looked possible. I also found a copycat recipe for the chipotle-honey vinaigrette that I love on the salad. So … I decided to try it since I had a little time one weekend.

I didn’t use as much tofu as the original recipe called for, although I did make all of the sauce to cook it in. I didn’t want to have a lot left over if this didn’t work, so I just used about 7 oz. of tofu and that was enough for Bob, myself and one leftover portion. When I make this again, I will probably use one whole package of tofu so we have more leftovers.

For the meal, I recreated most of the salad the way I order it. I used red leaf lettuce, rice, diced tomato, cheese, the sofritas and dressing. I was going to fry up some onion and orange pepper, but decided against it, and the corn salsa I made wasn’t good – I think the corn had a bad case of freezer burn. But the overall effect was good. Very good. Better than Bob expected good.

I will say this – going out for this is way easier than making it. It isn’t hard, but there are so many pieces to it – blistering the pepper, making the dressing, making the sofritas, making all the parts that go on to the salad … and I cheated and used pre-shredded cheese! I’ll make it again, but it will not be in the quick weeknight dinner rotation.

 

Pot Stickers

Appetizers for a meal make me happy. Appetizers that I can make at home and make a meal are even better. I was trying to find something a little different and came across this recipe for pot stickers that looked really interesting. I’m not a fan of mushrooms, so I knew there would be some manipulating of the recipe, but the basic idea sounded great.

I could not find red cabbage at the grocery when I went this week so I decided to go with the bagged mixed coleslaw as it is mostly green cabbage with a little red cabbage and carrot thrown in. Yes, I was lazy and didn’t feel like shredding or chopping lots of cabbage, so this worked. And now I have leftover for salad. Woot!

Making the filling was pretty darn easy. It didn’t take long to cook everything in a hot pan and it looked really pretty. I like pretty food. Now the making the individual dumpling – that was a pain. I managed to make about half of them before giving up – I’ll finish today so I have lunch the next couple of days – but I just could not stand there trying to fill them correctly for much longer. And I was getting hungry. IMG_20170725_171426

So my recipe:

  • wonton wrappers
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 small/medium zucchini grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 7 oz tofu, pressed and diced (I’m going to crumble this next time for easier filling)
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

I heated a little oil in a pan and added the ginger, cooked for 30 seconds then added the onion. I cooked that for about two minutes then added the carrot, zucchini and cabbage. I let that cook, stirring sometimes, for about two minutes then added the tofu, tossed it together and cooked for three minutes. Off heat, I added in the scallions, pepper, sesame oil and soy sauce and mixed it together. I let this cool for about five minutes while getting the wontons ready for filling.

I lined a plate with a damp paper towel and kept a small bowl of water near by. In each wonton, I added about 1 tablespoon of filling and ran a wet finger over the edges of the wonton before trying to close. I tried a few different ways to seal these, and found keeping the bottom just a little longer than the top and folding it over the edge worked best. This is one of the reasons I needed to mash up the tofu – I needed to shrink the height of the filling.

To cook, I heated oil in a pan and when hot, added the pot stickers, cooking over medium high heat for two minutes. Then add 1/4 cup water, cover and reduce heat to medium for two to three minutes. Take the lid off and cook for two more minutes until the water has evaporated and the bottoms of the pot stickers are crispy. Remove to paper towel lined plate while you cook the next few batches the same way.

These are a lot of work, but oh they were so good.  If they freeze well (this will be an experiment) then I have a quick dinner for those days when I just can’t get it together. If they don’t freeze well, these will become a special weekend dish. Maybe I can get Bob to do the actual filling and sealing.

 

Pupsicles!

It has been just over a year since we got Arthas. We thought about getting him some puppy ice-cream for his anniversary date, but when I looked at the ingredients, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After a little thought I decided to make my own “puppy ice cream” but make them more popsicle like. The shelter had used frozen chicken broth with milk bones in them for treats, so we did a play on this concept.

IMG_20170807_111004Basic, cheap ice-cube trays from the dollar store were perfect for portioning out the treats. I found a recipe on-line and modified it just a little. Erin was super helpful and very encouraging (I am way more creative when she is around) so we just got a few ingredients and made pupsicles.

These are stupidly simple to make. Yogurt, honey, peanut butter and a banana. Mix then portion into the ice-cube tray and add a milk bone in the center as a stick/handle. They froze in about two hours, although we did keep them in the tray a little longer to solidify more. Except for the milk bone, these are all human ingredients so technically you could eat them too.

Recipe:

  • 16 oz. plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 ripe banana
  • small Milk bone dog biscuits

Mash the banana with a fork in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Portion out into ice-cube trays and add the milk bone biscuit in the center for a handle. Freeze.

Arthas loved these. Small snack for him, but perfect for these really hot days.

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Spicy tofu, sweet potato and pepper

There is a joy in a simple to make, less than an hour start-to-finish delicious meal. There is something even better about such a meal that is also colorful and tasty.

I was searching for something easy to make, that didn’t require a lot of heavy pots or constant stirring and came across a really interesting recipe from Cookie and Kate. I loved the idea of this, but wanted to make sure it would be filling enough as a main dish, especially since I needed to use less pepper as Bob is not a fan of them and I only had one sweet potato on hand. So with this as my starting point, I experimented a bit and came up with quite a tasty dish. And Bob even said he did not mind the peppers. Bonus points for me.

Recipe:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/2 block tofu
  • 1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice
  • nut butter of choice – about 1/2 cup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • hot water to thin – about 3 tablespoons
  • oil for coating and frying
  • ground cumin
  • 2 scallions
  • cilantro leaves
  • peanuts (dry roasted, unsalted)
  • salt

Cook rice according to package directions. Should be about 1 cup water to 1/2 cup rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Take of heat and let sit, covered, for about ten minutes.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut sweet potato into 1/3 – 1/2 inch half moons or cubes. Chop peppers into large chunks, about 3/4 – 1 inch pieces. Coat in oil and spread on baking sheet, keeping separate. Sprinkle all with salt, and sprinkle some cumin on the sweet potato. Roast for about 25 minutes – the potato and peppers should be soft but not burned. If your oven is anything like mine, stir half way through to prevent burning the bottoms of the potatoes before they are cooked.

Press tofu to remove as much water as possible and cut into chunks. For crispy tofu, coat in corn starch, for less crispy tofu, leave uncoated. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium high heat and add tofu. Let cook about 4 minutes before flipping. If the bottoms are not browned, let cook another 1-2 minutes. Cook second side until slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.

To make the sauce, add nut butter (I used a combination of almond and peanut as I didn’t have enough of either) to a bowl. Add soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar and honey. Mix well and add water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until creamy and sauce is thinning enough to pour. It should be similar to a dressing consistency, but not a vinaigrette.

Chop scallions, cilantro and peanuts.

Layer rice on a plate, then top with potatoes and pepper then tofu. Spoon dressing, about three tablespoons, over top and garnish with scallions, cilantro and peanuts. Serve hot.

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Smashed Chickpea Sandwich

There is something very comforting about a smashed chickpea sandwich. I’m not sure exactly what, but it is a little like a tunafish or chicken salad sandwich from childhood, but with less icky mayo. It is pretty amazing that this little sandwich can be so satisfying that even a meat lover lover like Bob is perfectly happy to eat one for lunch.

I’ve made variations of this over the years, generally with a tahini based dressing and sometimes with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette, but I think this version is my favorite. I used the Caesar-ish dressing from the salad (since it is now a staple in our house) and combined it with my favorite version of the sandwich and it was pretty perfect. It is also stupidly simple to make, cheap and portable.

In the picture above I used cabbage in place of the spinach since I was out of spinach. kale, any type of leaf lettuce or other green would work just as well. The bread is also totally personal preference. I like the wrap style just for the ease of transport – nothing squishing out into my lunch bag.

Recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 15 oz can), rinsed
  • 1/4 cup vegan caesar salad dressing (from food.com)
  • 1/2 carrot, grated
  • pinch of grated cheese – pecorino, cheddar, etc.
  • spinach leaves – about five per sandwich
  • flatbread, wraps or pita

In a small bowl dump the chickpeas and lightly mash with a fork. Add in most of the dressing and carrot and mix/mash. You want some chunks of chickpea for texture. Make sure the carrots are mixed through. Add more dressing if needed – you want the creamy taste to come through but not so much that it overpowers.

Layer spinach leaves across the bread and then spread chickpea-carrot mixture on top, leaving about a 1/2 inch on the ends of the bread. (The order does not actually matter – the chickpeas can go first and the spinach last.) Roll the wrap fairly tight – you want a nice spiral without everything oozing out.  If using regular bread or a pita, fill as you would with any other mixture.

That’s it. Simplest lunch ever.

 

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

About a month ago I did something to my shoulder and it is still bothering me. I can’t use it without hurting it more and the doctor said no lifting, stretching, pulling, pushing, or straining it. That was a month ago and I’m still in the same place with it, so there is no dough rolling, no kneading, not extended mixing or anything that will place excess strain on my shoulder. This makes getting creative in the kitchen just a little difficult, but I did manage to come up with one idea.

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I love cottage pie. (From my understanding Cottage Pie is Shepherd’s pie, but with beef instead of lamb.) I love it, but I really don’t want to eat meat these days, so I need an alternative. I’ve been searching for good ground beef substitutes and we have quinoa for taco meat and tempeh for pulled pork, but I still needed something for dishes that I cook with sauces. Something that can stand up to the sauce and not get soggy. Enter farro.

IMG_20170710_161600Farro also works fairly well for tacos, and I decided to try it for a shepherd’s pie. I figured I just needed something for bulk, something that is not lentil or mushroom (as I can’t stand th texture of either) based. So …

IMG_20170710_160228I spent some time to caramelize some onion fairly well. I wanted the deep, sweet flavor that they bring as the base of the sauce. I also used some carrot and peas for added vegetables and went old-school for the mashed potatoes with cream and butter. The results were good – very good. But not perfect. If I make this again (and there will be a next time as the flavors were spot on) I am going to try mixing in more spices to the farro itself to make it more meat like and upping the sauce on this. The potatoes are staying but I may need more filling for a better filling-potato ratio.

Basic Filling Recipe (to be altered):

  • 1 1/4 cup cooked farro
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • 1 pat butter (for onions)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat pan over medium high heat with butter in it. When butter has melted and pan is hot, add onions and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and continue cooking, stirring to prevent burning, until onions are caramelized, about 45-60 minutes.

When onions are almost caramelized, add garlic and carrot and continue cooking. Add flour and cook, stirring for about two minutes. Do not let the flour burn! Add tomato paste and cook about thirty seconds. Add salt and pepper, stir and then add vegetable stock. Mix well and cook over medium heat, about 2 minutes and the sauce begins to thicken. Add farro and mix together well. Remove from heat. Stir in peas.

At this point I transferred the mixture to a pie plate and topped with mashed potatoes. I baked it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, just to make sure everything was warmed through. I think there needs to be more sauce with this, and 3/4 cup stock may be a better fit. Bob suggested adding beer to the sauce, a dark beer, and I may try deglazing the pan with beer then adding stock next time, but we will have to see. I really liked the flavor of this dish, it just needed more oomph in the farro and more sauce overall.

Progress Report

We are half way through the year and I thought it would be a good time to measure progress. Like all good teachers, I want to see where I am, and what I need to do to get to where I need to be. Have I learned what I wanted? Do I need to go back and revisit something?

School: I just finished my 9th class and have three more to go before I graduate. I am pretty sure this is the *last* time I am going back to school – two master’s degrees is enough and I don’t have it in my to go for the PhD. I registered for the Florida exam for next month and I have the next few weeks to study for it, so hopefully that will be enough time. Three more classes. (deep breath) I can do this.

Pets: If I am being completely honest, I did not expect to be here pet-wise. Somehow, even knowing that Leia was sick, I though she would pull through, get all better and still be making Arthas love her. I miss that cat. I miss Gracie and Jessie too, but I’ve had longer to adjust to losing them and having Tigger, Leia and Arthas around definitely helped. Arthas is awesome even if he isn’t the easiest dog, but he is pretty great and I am so glad we adopted him last year. I am trying to not add another cat to the house, but I do miss having more than one. I need to go back to work *soon* so I don’t have time to look at adorable kitties that need a home.

Wine: I am having a ton of fun with my little wine experiment. I went back through all my notes from the last two months (yes, I take notes) and did discover a few things:

  • I *think* I can identify cherry, mineral, apple, and peach in wines fairly consistently. They are about the only flavors I can identify with any regularity.
  • I don’t like earthy dark wines. This is not a shock, but there is it.
  • Barbera, Zinfandel, Pino Noir, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc – when done well – are delicious wines.
  • Tannat is not to my taste
  • Chien Blanc and Muscadet are amazing. I need more of these wines in my life
  • Un-oaked or very minimal oak Chardonnay is actually really good. Who knew!
  • I still have no idea what “legs” are supposed to look like in low, medium and high alcohol wines. I guess, but I think I’m guessing wrong.
  • Yes, there is a difference between the ten-dollar bottle of wine and the thirty-dollar bottle of wine. There is. That isn’t to say the ten dollar bottle doesn’t have a place, it does, but there is a difference.

Travel: Bob and I have not done much traveling this year for a variety of reasons. We did manage a quick weekend trip to St. Augustine Beach where we did pretty much nothing, and that was awesome. Nothing is planned for the rest of this year, but I’m starting to think about next year and where we might like to go. A lot is going to depend on airfares, my job situation and the pets, but I’m starting to think.

Food: I love food and I love eating. I really don’t like eating the same things over and over, and work plus school makes it hard to be really creative. I’ve given myself a bit of a break and just accepted that I can do some creative cooking, but not a lot right now and I know I will barely have time to cook this fall. I do think I’ve had a few culinary successes this year and I’m sure I will get back to more experiments, but for now … it is what it is.

So that’s it. I’m going to work on identifying aromas and tastes in wine, finish school, try to keep from getting another cat and find some more easy, yet delicious and interesting foods to make. Hopefully in six months, I will have accomplished all of that, but if not, there is always next year. 🙂