The recipe that convinced me to cook with tofu

I discovered the joys of tofu as a college student trying Thai food for the very first time. But I could never really figure out how to cook the tofu so that it came out like the wonderful pad see-ew or Pad Thai I got at restaurants. If I’m honest, I still haven’t mastered it.

So, instead, I’ve found an alternative way to make tofu that tastes amazing, has a million uses, and yes, even works in noodle dishes. That’s right; it’s baked tofu.

Baked tofu ingredients.

The thing is frying tofu just right is very difficult, but baked tofu is about impossible to mess up.

Plus, it comes pre-flavored with the saltiness of soy sauce and the spiciness of sambal oelek. Oh, and there’s wine. And that, combined with time, is about all it takes to transform the flavorless, spongy soy protein into something that is good enough to eat by itself.

I couldn’t even tell you where I initially found the recipe, but I know the blog post similarly raved about the ease. And frankly, I think I added the sambal oelek. I just know that I make it often enough, and it’s easy enough that this is the first time I’ve written it down.

My favorite uses for it are for spring rolls, stir fry (but keep it separate, otherwise it absorbs the liquid), and simple vegetable wraps. But options are endless as long as you have the delightful base.

I used these little guys to make *both* spring rolls and stir fry this week. Yum!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (18 oz.) container tofu (extra firm is preferred but firm will work in a pinch)
  • ¼ c. soy sauce
  • ¼ c. white wine (or water, or cooking sherry)
  • 1 heaping T. sambal oelek (usually found in the Asian section, or Sriracha will work in a pinch)
  • 1 T. sesame oil (optional)
  • Canola oil

Directions

Open and drain the tofu. Then, press it to drain more of the liquid for at least an hour. I’ve worked out a system where I use the sheet pan as the catch for the excess liquid, then place an upside-down rounded plate on top of the sheet pan, put the tofu on the plate, and then use a heavy lid like for a Dutch oven or another plate with a weight on top to press the tofu. (This can also be done a day in advance, and store the drained tofu in a Tupperware.)

Once the tofu is strained, cut it into 15 to 20 long slices. Again, I use the overturned plate to do my cutting so I don’t dirty more dishes.

Heat the oven to 325.

Then, mix together the soy sauce, wine, sambal oelek and sesame oil, if using.

Rinse and dry the sheet pan, and then coat it with canola oil. Place the slices of tofu on the sheet pan in a single layer. Brush on about half of the soy sauce mixture, and let sit for 5 minutes so the tofu absorbs most of the flavorful liquid, Turn over the slices carefully, and brush the remaining sauce on the other side. Let it absorb into the tofu for another 5 minutes. It’s OK if not all the liquid absorbs.

I usually spray with a little more oil because I’m paranoid it’ll stick.

Bake the tofu for 15 minutes, take out of the oven, and *carefully* flip over the slices. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until nice and browned and the liquid absorbed. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Mom recipes combine to make for delicious sheet pan dinner

So sue me, my first fish recipe comes too late for Lent. But I think this tilapia and asparagus dinner is delicious any time of year.

The recipes come from my mom, and as far as I know she doesn’t necessarily make them together; they just happen to combine the same flavor base that make them work well together. They also just happen to combine some of the best flavors out there — garlic, cayenne, butter, and olive oil. That’s right, two kinds of fat. Yummy!

Tilapia and asparagus sheet pan ingredients.

Mom gave me the tilapia recipe when I was first starting out to cook. Frozen tilapia isn’t overly expensive, it keeps, and this makes for an easy meal when you’re just starting to learn to cook. The asparagus recipe is a long time favorite, as it combines the above flavors with a good deep roasting that makes them impossible to resist. If I ever have any extra asparagus lying around, which is rare, this is how I make ‘em. So, it seemed obvious to combine them into one simple and healthy-ish meal.

Just add some stove-top grain dish, and you’ve got a full meal that tastes great.

So much yummy goodness.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 4 fillets tilapia (fresh is best but costly)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 4 T. butter, divided
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced, divided (I was lazy and used the jarred stuff but whatever works)
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Salt, optional (I used salted butter so skipped it, but you may want to add more or definitely add some if you use unsalted butter)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove woody ends of asparagus, and spread out over about half the sheet pan. Top with half the olive oil, half the butter, and half the garlic. Sprinkle with cayenne if desired. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the sheet pan. On the other half of the sheet pan, dot half the remaining butter and half the remaining olive oil on the sheet pan. Add the tilapia fillets on top. Top with the remaining butter and olive oil, and the garlic; sprinkle generously with cayenne pepper, to taste. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the tilapia is cooked through.

Serve over a grain, spooning on the garlic, butter, oil mix as desired, and enjoy!

Racing the clock against brown rice

My health has been shite for the past month, and so I’ve been relying more heavily on fast and easy recipes, and also relatively healthy.

So, I was so pleased to come across a food blogger — Chelsea’s Messy Apron — who had a sheet pan recipe that met all of my qualifications. My only qualm was it didn’t leave enough leftovers for someone as ill and lazy as me, but that was more easily remedied than my chronic ailment.

It was so easy that I decided to have some fun — at least fun for me — by racing to see whether I could get the recipe ready in less time than it would take to make the brown rice I would serve with my chicken and vegetable meal.

Sheet pan balsamic chicken ingredients.

Alas, I did not, but the delays were my own. Mostly, my damn desire to double the recipe meant the chicken crowded the sheet pan and cooked more slowly. The side benefit was the veggies had a nice crisp to them.

Still, the recipe was a treat and one I’ll return to again.

The best part was the ease at which flavor was added. Balsamic vinegar and Italian dressing combined to form a marinade, coating and dipping sauce that worked wonderfully. Another benefit is that any veggie combination would work, so it works to clip up what’s in the fridge.

Next time, maybe though, I’ll spread it onto two sheet pans so I can beat the brown rice.

Quick, healthy, and most importantly, tasty. What’s not to love?

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into strips, or chicken tenders
  • 1 c. Italian dressing
  • ⅔ c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 (12 oz.) packages broccoli florets
  • ½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ lb. baby carrots, halved
  • ½ t. basil
  • ½ t. oregano
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large, sided sheet pan (or sheet pans).

Mix together the balsamic vinegar and dressing. Pour a third of the mixture into a Ziploc bag with the chicken and marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 6 hours. Split the remaining mixture into two bowls.

Place veggies on the sheet pan, and mix in the herbs, spices, and salt and pepper, as well as 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes while the chicken marinates.

When chicken is ready, move veggies to the side and place the strips in the center of the sheet pan. Brush a third of the marinade onto the chicken (and vegetables), and bake for another 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve the meal with the remaining marinade/sauce and serve over rice or another grain, if desired. Enjoy!

First time for everything

The cookbook we got for Christmas, British chef Jamie Oliver’s “5 Ingredients,” has some interesting ingredients and in the case of sheet pan-like recipes, an interesting choice of preparation dishes.

It’s kind of like that Eddie Izzard joke about the difference between American English and British English, only less funny. But it is fun to suss out the differences in British cuisine and American, and sometimes challenging.

Saffron rice ingredients. Thankfully, easy to find.

Mostly in the US it’s getting easier to find the ingredients (yay rogan josh curry!) or find substitutes (no double cream, no problem, just mix sour cream with cream). But I’ll admit I’ve been kind of stumped by his use of a “roasting tray.”

It seems quite a bit like a rimmed sheet pan, but as with this week’s recipe, it calls for cooking ingredients on the stove in the tray before baking. As far as I know my sheet pan shouldn’t be used the same and I wasn’t willing to risk ruining my main shtick to test it out.

Given this difference between British cooking and American cooking, I’m not sure it made a ton of sense to prepare this week’s meal on a sheet pan, but part of me just wanted to prove that it was possible to do it.

See, it was baked saffron rice, and I’ve never baked rice and wanted to see if it worked.

It maybe wasn’t practical but it did work and made a nice side dish for some lamb kofta. And because it wasn’t made like normal rice, it had a little more texture.

All in all, I think it was pretty worth it. And since it was only 5 ingredients (plus some pantry items), it was pretty easy. And tasty!

Baked rice, who’d have guessed?!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 medium red onions, or 1 large
  • 2 pinches of saffron
  • 1 (5.3 oz.) container plain yogurt
  • 1 (2.8 oz.) tube of sun-dried tomato paste
  • 1 ⅓ to 1 ½ c. white basmati rice (it actually calls for 300 grams, and I have a scale so I measured 300 grams, but for those that don’t, the Internet gave me a cup equivalent)
  • 1 to 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 ½ c. boiling water (again, this is 600 milliliters, which should be on a measuring cup, but just in case, this is the conversion)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Chop the onions, and fry with olive oil in a large pan for about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, place half the saffron in the boiling water. In a small bowl, cover the remaining saffron with 1 T. boiling water, steep for a short while (he recommends 10 seconds, I did mine for minutes)  and then mix it with the yogurt. Set aside the yogurt mix.

Once the onions are ready, stir in the tomato paste, rice, salt and pepper, and then pour on the saffron water. Bring to a boil, and then transfer to a large rimmed sheet pan (about 15 inches by 12 inches). Bake rice in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed the water and fluffed up.

Spoon the yogurt mixture onto the rice, and enjoy!

More sheet pan pasta goodness

I got a hankering again for one of my earlier recipes — the spicy broccoli pasta — but knew I couldn’t just make the same recipe again, so I scoured for a second sheet pan pasta recipe.

Thankfully, those aren’t hard to find. I’m not the only one who loves cheesy carbs.

(So many) Sheet pan pasta ingredients.

The recipe was a bit more involved than the last one, and a bit heartier, but it was worth it.

Having shared this one with friends, I can say that it was well liked by a variety of people, and half the reason to make a good dish is to get the compliment. The other half is getting to eat in 10 minutes what took 1 hour or more to prepare. And this one didn’t take nearly that long to prepare.

But at least there’s plenty of leftovers; even if you share with a half-dozen friends, you may have more to take home. So, the extra work isn’t as bothersome since it fills so many bellies or a couple bellies so many times.

It’s nothing fancy but who doesn’t love a hearty pasta dish?

So much cheese. *drool*

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 box (16 oz.) penne pasta or similar, prepared according to package instructions (and reserving ½ c. pasta water)
  • 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan, divided
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch chard, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 4 c. shredded cooked chicken (I used 4 chicken breasts I pre-cooked but you can buy a pre-made rotisserie if that’s your thing)
  • 2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix together the panko, ¼ c. Parmesan, 2 T. oil, salt and pepper.

On a large rimmed sheet pan (15 inches by 12 inches or so), toss together the chard and tomatoes with the remaining olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.

When the pasta’s ready, drain it but reserve about ½ c. pasta water, and return the pasta to the pot. Mix in sour cream, mustard, the remaining ¾ c. Parmesan, salt and pepper, and about ¼ c. of the pasta cooking liquid, and stir to blend. Stir in the chicken and half the mozzarella. Add more pasta water if necessary to get to desired creaminess.

Once mixed, spread on the prepared sheet pan and stir carefully to mix with vegetables.

Top the mixture with the panko/Parmesan mix and the remaining mozzarella.

Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is melted and the mixture on top is lightly browned. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Beware the Ides of March

Mid-March offers so many awesome opportunities for food, what with Pi(e) Day, the Ides of March, and St. Patty’s Day. I’ve made a key lime pie (green!) with a Pi symbol topping, and I’ve made Irish soda bread. Last year, I had it super easy, making salads and soups. Sure, the classic Caesar salad isn’t named for *that* Caesar but it’s a good excuse for an even better meal.

I didn’t have any good ideas this year, and then I happened on the perfect sheet pan recipe for the Ides. I scoured and found that Epicurious had a sheet pan Caesar salad that I could make just in time (well, almost) for March 15. It obviously wasn’t the traditional dish, but it did have about all the same ingredients — chicken, anchovies, lettuce, Parmesan, lemon juice, and croutons, or something very like them.

Sheet pan Caesar salad ingredients

I know those flavors aren’t for everyone, and the anchovies are likely to scare some people off, but believe me, there’s a reason this is a classic dish. The flavors meld into something truly unique and delicious. And that was no less true when it was deconstructed and put together on a sheet pan.

Even better, it took a little more than 30 minutes to bring together, which is great because I found this recipe with little time to spare for getting it together this week.

Wait, there’s still leftovers of this one. BRB.

Here’s what I did, following the recipe pretty closely:

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan
  • ½ c. panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 2 T. chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped, divided (I used the jarred stuff and didn’t measure exactly because I like garlic)
  • 2 hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise
  • 4 anchovy fillets, packed in oil, and chopped
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet pan with foil. Season chicken with salt and pepper on prepared sheet, set aside. In a medium bowl, combine Parmesan, panko, 2 T. olive oil, parsley, half the garlic, and salt and pepper. Pat the mixture on top of the chicken breasts until used up. Place the chicken in the oven for about 10 minutes until the panko mixture starts to brown, and meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.

Drizzle romaine with remaining olive oil; sprinkle on the chopped garlic; and season with salt and pepper (I did this when the chicken came out of the oven but it does make for a less even mix, but it meant one less dish to do). Place lettuce on the sheet pan after 10 minutes and cook another 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the lettuce is brown at the edges.

Divide the chicken and lettuce among 4 plates (or 2 and 2 tupperware for leftovers). Top the lettuce with the anchovies, garnish with lemon slices for squeezing over the dish, and enjoy!

Thank god for a family of foodies

This year for Christmas we got a cooking utensil and a cookbook from my brother and his wife. They know us so well.

At first I wasn’t sure why a Jamie Oliver cookbook was the one my brother chose. But, of course, he is the type to read through a cookbook like a book, and therefore, understand cooking better. And this book is perfect for that.

It’s the British chef’s “5 Ingredients,” and as its name implies is cooking with just 5 ingredients (and OK, also 5 pantry items that you likely have lying around if you have this book, and full disclosure, we do). And because of that, it’s perfect for both its simplicity but also understanding how flavors interact and how to build from just 5 ingredients.

So far, we have only made a handful of things out of it, but every single one of them has been my new favorite dish.

This week’s recipe here is no exception.

It’s got 5 ingredients, plus two I added (one that’s optional and one that amends a hard-to-find item), and one pantry item (pepper, which I hope most people have in their pantry), and a bit of water. It took time only because it roasted potatoes, fennel and artichokes for a long time, and then had a cheesy cream sauce.

Vegetables covered in cream and oil, so you know it’s delicious

It’s pretty healthy, though I did add more of the unhealthy bits than Oliver’s original calls for. And other than the time, it takes just cutting potatoes and fennel for prep.

So, yeah, this is a good one. Here’s what I did to amend the original:

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. yellow potatoes, quartered or eighthed depending on size (His recipe was in grams)
  • 2 bulbs fennel, sliced thinly, and including the clean stalks
  • 1 jar (14 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, quartered (including the oil!)
  • 1 sprig rosemary (optional)
  • 1 c. heavy cream (the recipe called for double cream, which I think is thicker so I mixed in sour cream too)
  • ½ c. sour cream
  • ⅔ c. grated Parmesan, divided
  • Pepper
  • 1 c. water

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes and fennel on a large, sided sheet pan (about 15 ½ x 12 inches). Add the quartered artichoke hearts and their oil. Season with rosemary and pepper. Pour over the water.

Cover the vegetable mix with olive oil and bake for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the heavy cream, sour cream and ½ the Parmesan cheese. When the vegetables have baked for an hour, remove the foil and dot the vegetables with the cream mixture, and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes until the cheese has browned. Let cool slightly and enjoy!

Nachos for everyone!

I wasn’t sure about this week’s recipe for a lot of reasons.

First, are they nachos or chilaquiles? Second, I wasn’t following any real recipe, so I had no idea the amounts to use or how long to bake it. And that meant I had no idea if it would turn out well.

So, it was a good thing I decided to try it out on some friends.

Sheet pan nachos ingredients.

As for the name, eh, whatever.

Fortunately, it was too easy to fail, and they turned out great. Frankly, I think part of the reason there’s no recipe for sheet pan nachos — or no need for one anyway — is it’s all about what you like best. I even saved a little side to be onion-free so my onion-hating friend could still enjoy this snack.

That means that while I will lay out below what I did to make this treat for friends, there’s no reason you have to do the same thing. For instance, I used fake beef seasoned with taco seasoning, but you could use shredded chicken or skip the meat altogether.

Yummy loaded nachos

I’d say the recipe below offers a good guide on how much of each item to add, but again, maybe you don’t like cheese as much as me or you’re another onion-hater. So, you do you, but in case you have the same tastes as me, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 oz) party-size bag tortilla chips
  • 1 lb. prepared and seasoned taco meat (1 lb. meat of your choice and 1 package of taco seasoning of your choice)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black refried beans
  • 1 (16 oz) jar salsa
  • 3 c. shredded Mexican cheese.

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, spread the tortilla chips onto a large sheet pan with sides (about 15 ½ x 12 inches). Full disclosure, I reserved some of the chips so I could use those to scoop up any extra food left behind, but you can spread them all.

Top with the beans, meat, peppers and onions, salsa, and finally top with the cheese.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the other ingredients are warm. Let cool slightly and enjoy with friends!

Breakfast for dinner!!!

I was looking for something simple to make this week because I had been feeling under the weather and thus, behind on everything. But what made me select a breakfast recipe was an ulterior motive to test out how long to cook eggs in the oven.

I figured that if every other piece was easy this time — frozen hash browns and bacon — I could focus on the eggs. So, when I do my next egg recipe(s), I’ll be ready for it.

Ingredients for sheet pan hash brown breakfast.

While I managed to overcook the eggs slightly, they were still well within the realm of edible and acceptable. And now I know at 400 degrees, with an already warm dish, eggs cook in less than 10 minutes, probably closer to 8 minutes if you want them a little runny.

Otherwise, using a couple different recipes with very different ideas of how to use the same ingredients and also making my own twists, I made a delightful and pretty easy hash brown breakfast for dinner.

My last note is the recipes called for just laying the slices of bacon straight on the hash browns, and that worked. But next time I make this (and there will be a next time), I’ll take the time to use cooking shears and cut the bacon into bits, both so it ends up crunchier and so it’s easier to eat the final product. Oh and I tested both turkey and pork bacon and both worked well.

So much bacon! (And eggs, and hash browns.)

Without further ado, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 20 oz. frozen hash browns
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 T. butter, melted (plus more or oil for coating the sheet pan)
  • 1 c. shredded cheese (I used more and opted for a Mexican mix, but you do you)
  • 12 slices bacon, cut into bite-size pieces if you like
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 T. Parmesan, shredded (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Use oil or butter to coat a rimmed sheet pan about 15 ½ x 12 inches in size.

Add hash browns in an even layer. Top with onions, pepper, cheese (except the Parmesan) and melted butter. Stir gently to mix. Add salt and pepper.

Place bacon on top. It will seem like a lot if you didn’t cut it, but it’ll shrink some in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the bacon is nearly done and hash browns are starting to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and make wells (I actually just used bacon as rims to hold the eggs, which is an option if you don’t cut the bacon). Carefully break eggs, keeping them whole. Top with Parmesan if using and add a little more salt and pepper. Return to oven and bake for about 7 to 9 more minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly and enjoy!

Keepin’ it simple with steak fajitas

In an effort to keep building up my confidence, I found another nearly impossible-to-fail, easy-peasy sheet pan recipe. This week, it’s steak fajitas.

Aside from the ease, it was also a rare treat in this household. I almost never eat beef anymore (I know, blasphemy in Iowa … but fear not, I love pork), so I wasn’t even sure how easy it would be to find flank steak, or even how to cut it if I did find it.

I forgot my fancy compiling of ingredients, but you can see almost all of them here, steak, a variety of peppers, onion, garlic, chili powder. I’ll do better next time.

Thankfully, the local co-op had a nice big slab that allowed me to make this meal with another night of leftovers, and I have a wonderful sweetie who researches things so I accidentally learn things like to cut against the grain with flank steak.

And I have to say, it was quite delightful to bring beef back into my world. If I’m honest, it’d have been nice to do a lime-based marinade ahead of time if I’d thought of it (maybe next time!), but for ease, this can’t be beat.

There’s about five ingredients involved in baking, not counting the staples oil and salt. Frankly, the hardest part was cutting the beef, and all those peppers.

While I got the recipe from the unlikely source of Williams Sonoma, a fancy cookware store, I may just have to add it to my list of places to scour when I’m short on recipes.

Steak fajitas, fresh out of the oven.

In the meantime, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lb. flank steak, cut into half-inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (or 2 medium)
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 T. canola oil
  • 1.5 T. chili powder
  • 1-2 t. salt (I don’t measure, just add a couple of pinchfuls)
  • 6 to 8 flour tortillas
  • Guacamole, for serving(optional)
  • Sour cream, for serving (optional)
  • Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the steak, peppers, onion, garlic, oil, chili powder and salt until coated. Spread the steak and vegetables on a nonstick sheet pan (I used aluminum foil for easier cleanup on an aging pan). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the steak is cooked through.

If desired, in the last five minutes, wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and bake in oven so it’s nice and warm to serve with the fajita mix. Then, assemble the fajitas as you desire, and enjoy!