Saturday, October 24, 2009

A crowd-pleasing peanut sauce

Last night Bryan and I were trying to get in the holiday spirit by watching "Night of the Demons." After all, who can resist a cheesy '80s horror flick when Halloween is just a week away?

During the ultra-cheesy character development in the beginning, the heroine's mom was mercilessly teased because she always makes the recipes on the backs of cereal boxes. Why does everybody always have to diss compulsive recipe clippers? If I see a recipe that looks good, I clip it, no matter where I find it: on the back of a cereal box or any other food product, with the Sunday coupons, and really, anywhere in the newspaper or online. And then I feel like I have to lie about where I got the recipe if anybody asks. What, it's not from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" or "How to Cook Everything"?

Well, I may be somewhat of a food snob, but at least I'm not a recipe snob. However, I can't lie about the success rate with my compulsive clipping habit. I've had about as many misses as hits, but there's always room to improve any recipe. And besides, the repeat performers make up for all the not-so-tasty meals, plus you only know whether something is good if you try it.

And today was definitely a hit. Christina asked me to bring my crowd-pleasing guacamole to her daughter's 2nd birthday party, but I wasn't quick enough to play the avocado-ripening game. So I found a peanut-sauce recipe in Parade magazine last weekend that I figured would do the trick, especially considering that I'd been promising her peanut sauce for years, and that half of our friends are vegetarians.

I adapted the recipe a bit, including using green onions instead of bean sprouts because I'm scared of E. coli. So I'll share my adapted recipe and hope the magazine doesn't sue me.

Noodles with Peanut Sauce
1/4 c. plus 2 T. peanut butter
1/4 c. plus 1 T. soy sauce
1-1/2 T. sugar
1 T. warm water
2 T. sesame oil, divided
1 T. rice vinegar
1 t. garlic-chili sauce
1-inch piece ginger, minced or grated (use a Microplane! It's the bomb!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. sesame seeds
1/2 pound spaghetti
1/2 pound fried tofu*
2 pickling cucumbers, cut in slivers
1/2 red pepper, cut in slivers
about a dozen snow peas, thinly sliced across
1/2 c. chopped green onions

Mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, water, 1 T. sesame oil, vinegar, garlic-chili sauce, ginger and garlic in a food processor or blender. Mix the cooked spaghetti with the tofu and remaining 1 T. sesame oil. Add the peanut sauce and sesame seeds and mix well. Place in serving bowl, then sprinkle the vegetables on top.

*The original recipe calls for shredded chicken, boiled in 6 c. salted water with 1 clove garlic and 4 slices ginger. I also made it one night with about a 1/2 pound of cooked shrimp, which was superb.

Note to fellow party-goers: I accidentally doubled the amount of noodles, which is why they weren't very saucy. I know you like it that way, Sakina, so go ahead and use the entire package of noodles! But the rest of you might actually want to follow the recipe a little more closely than I did.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pot roast warms the autumn chill

Last week when I thought I had swine flu (but what I now think is just the autumn allergies I always forget about), all I wanted was to curl up with some comfort food. I asked Bryan to make me a pot roast, but he didn't think he was up to the challenge.

We scoured "The Taste of Home Cookbook" that his mom got me for my birthday, and found a recipe for Maple Pot Roast that served two and that we also could make in the few hours that we had. But I just wasn't satisfied. The dish served two, and I'm sorry, but pot roast is something that you're supposed to have as leftovers for days. And throughout the week I started to feel better, but as the weather kept getting grayer and grayer, pot roast beckoned yet again.

For the second time around, instead of a sweet roast, I went the spicy route and made an adapted version of the Cajun-Style Pot Roast from the same book. I think I should have turned the Crock-Pot off after 6 hours, because it ended up a little dry, but the delicious sauce makes up for it! Don't hold back on the cayenne seasoning if you want it a little spicier.

Cajun-Style Pot Roast
1 boneless beef chuck roast (2 to 3 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. basil
1 T. olive oil
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 7-ounce cans diced chiles
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1-1/2 c. chopped celery
10 pearl onions
1/4 c. cup quick-cooking tapioca
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. salt

Mix together 4 cloves minced garlic, cayenne and basil, and rub all over roast. Pour olive oil in non-stick skillet heated to medium-high and brown roast on all sides. Transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker.

Combine the tomatoes, chiles, red pepper, celery, pearl onions, tapioca, 3 cloves of minced garlic and salt; pour over roast. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until meat is tender. Slice and serve with rice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thai Cashew Chicken for those lazy days

The family gathered over at Mom's a couple of weeks ago for the annual fall birthday bash, and my brother was harping at me for not taking any photos of all my favorite dishes. Um, sorry, but I take my birthday off!

Alas, birthday week is now over, culminating with a fun-filled weekend in Vancouver, B.C., where we ate delicious Franco-German fare at La Brasserie and drooled over our Pannekoek and DeBakon at De Dutch. I will be back, Vancouver!

And then I had to come home with what I'd like to think is the swine flu but considering that all I have is a stuffy nose, not only am I probably not immune to H1N1, but also I am hardly ill enough to excuse myself from cooking.

However, that doesn't mean I have to torture myself over the stove. No, this week, I stuck with easy yet pleasing dishes such as this recipe adapted from SKOALZ on

Thai Cashew Chicken
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. fish sauce*
1-1/2 T. garlic-chili sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. grated ginger root**
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1 T. sesame oil
3 T. brown sugar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3/4 c. water
3 T. creamy peanut butter
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews (available at Trader Joe's)

Combine soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic-chili sauce, garlic, ginger and chicken in a resealable plastic bag and marinate for at least two hours or as long as overnight.

Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add brown sugar and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Reserving the marinade, add chicken to skillet and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the marinade and water and let simmer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat another skillet and toast cashews until brown and fragrant.

When chicken is cooked through, stir in the peanut butter and serve over jasmine rice topped with the toasted cashews.

*The first time I made this dish, I asked Mom what kind of fish sauce to get. Her only advice, don't buy the cheap stuff. Go too cheap, and your whole house will smell like rotten fish. Remember that.

**I just got Microplane graters for my birthday from my mother-in-law (Thanks, Connie!), and I swear, nothing compares when it comes to grating ginger root. Greg Atkinson knows what he's talking about!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Enchiladas Verdes -- the easy version

I think I've finally perfected this recipe I clipped years ago from The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine.

The first time I made it, I'm pretty sure it took all day, but with a little prep work and a few less steps, it's just a minutes-long process now.

First of all, I bought a rotisserie chicken and shredded it a day in advance, and I also bought a few jars of Trader Joe's cilantro-free Salsa Verde instead of slaving away over chiles. I swore the last time I made a chile verde sauce from scratch that I would never do it again, and I will stick by that rule. It is so not worth the effort when you can buy pre-roasted, deseeded and skinned peppers for the same price.

So all that left was the delicious beans, which took less than a half-hour, then fry up the tortillas, make the three-deck enchiladas, throw them under the broiler and don't catch your oven mitt on fire like I did!