Reflections on perfect pairings

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of my cousin’s husband’s family, whatever that relation is called. It melds the flavors of sweet and spicy, a combination I would have been skeptical of and probably never tried if my cousin hadn’t brought it to a recent family gathering.

But I loved the bourbon pecan recipe so much I asked her to pass it along.

Bourbon pecan ingredients; yes, I buy cheap whiskey.

As I made the recipe for the first time this week, it got me thinking about perfect pairings.

One of the more joyous things about growing up is seeing the people you love find their love. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s been wonderful to see the family grow to include these new people into our lives, and marvel as they put up with all of us, especially when we get together.

This is true throughout my immediate family, where my mom, dad, and oldest brother, found partners that complement them so well, and fit them to a T. But it’s also been true for much of my extended family, as well.

And, of course, it’s the case with my cousin Stephanie who shared this recipe and who married her sweetie 10 years ago this summer, just weeks before I met my own sweetie.

Since around that time, the Crippes clan has been trying to have regular get-togethers. At each, our family of foodies has shared our favorite recipes to try to impress one another.

Stephanie is overly kind in praising my contributions (her mom, Sue, however, deservedly gets credit), so she was especially pleased at how much I enjoyed this bourbon pecan recipe.

For my part, I’m just delighted that when she tried it, she thought of us and decided to share. Candied pecans coated in a cayenne spice mix might at first blush seem like they’re going to clash, but trust me, it’s a match made in heaven.

Soooooo good.

Here’s what we did:

Ingredients

  • 3 oz. bourbon (2 shots, or 1/4 cup+2 tbsp.)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. Angostura bitters
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. pecans (4 cups)
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin

Directions

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Simmer the bourbon to reduce it by half (3 T.). It happens relatively quickly so I kept a heat-proof measuring cup by the pot to keep checking it didn’t boil down too much.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, bitters, Worcestershire, and oil. Add the warm bourbon. Stir until sugar is nearly dissolved; the nuts will take care of the rest of dissolving if you’re not sure.

Separately, in a large pot, blanch the pecans for 1 minute in boiling water and drain. Add to bourbon mixture and toss, and then let it stand for 10 minutes.

Then, spread the candied nuts on a large rimmed sheet pan, pouring the remaining marinade over them. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes.

When the nuts are crisp and lightly browned and the liquid has evaporated, turn nuts into a clean bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the cayenne, salt, pepper, and cumin and mix well. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the nuts while tossing them.

Turn out onto a clean non stick or foil lined cookie sheet to cool. When cool and dry, store in an airtight container, and enjoy!

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!

Extra Post: Let’s celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day

So, I didn’t make this recipe recently, but I couldn’t resist a Polish post to celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day.

Since I grew up in Illinois, there were two extra holidays we got each year. They were Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (of course in the Land of Lincoln, we celebrated the 16th president individually), and Casimir Pulaski Day.

Pulaski isn’t celebrated much outside of Illinois, but he was a Revolutionary War hero from Poland and is credited as a founder of the U.S. cavalry. And he seems like a pretty cool and worldly dude.

Usually I try to make something each year to celebrate my Polish roots and celebrate the Illinois holiday. This year I didn’t have my [expletive deleted] together to get something Polish together in time for today’s holiday.

Fortunately, I made bialys a few years ago in my previous life as a newspaper reporter, and the little not-bagels are made on a sheet pan.

Bialys, a tasty Polish treat

So, here’s a little recipe extra for lyal readers:

Ingredients

For the starter or polish

  • ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. water
  • ¼ t. active dry yeast

For the bialy dough            

  • 1 starter
  • 1 ½ c. warm water
  • 2 ½ t. active dry yeast (or one package)
  • 1 ½ T. honey
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 1 c. all purpose flour

For the bialy filling

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 2 T. poppy seeds
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

The night before you plan to make the bread, make the starter before going to bed. Stir together the flour and yeast. Mix in the water until a sticky dough forms. Cover and let rest overnight.

When ready to make the dough, mix together the yeast, water and honey. Let the yeast activate for about 15 minutes. Then, add the starter, olive oil, salt, all-purpose flour and about 2 c. of the bread flour.

Turn out on a floured surface, and knead, adding in the remainder of the bread flour as necessary. Knead for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Place dough in a large bowl that has been coated with oil. Over with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a cool place for about 2 hours.

Once dough has about doubled in size, punch it down in the bowl and then divide it into about 20 even pieces. Roll each dough piece into a ball and then stretch out to about a 3-inch round. Place round on floured baking sheet and indent around the middle, leaving about a 1-inch lip around the edge. Repeat with remaining dough pieces, leaving enough space in between dough rounds so the bialy can rise a second time.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rise for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

During second rise, mince garlic and chop onion. Pour oil into large cast-iron skillet and let warm over medium heat. Once hot, add in onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes before turning heat to medium low. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until caramelized. Once browned, remove from heat and add in the salt and poppy seeds.

Once second rise is complete, add ½ to 1 T. of the filling into each of the bialy indentations until it’s all used up. Place baking sheet (or sheets) into oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Enjoy warm and with cream cheese!

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!