Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lemon Caper Alfredo with Asparagus and Leeks

July and August came quickly and whizzed by without leaving much of a trace. Starting a new job, albeit with the same company, that is much more demanding than roles of my past meant reallocating resources and benching hobbies for a short time. Hardly a memorable meal or truly ingenious recipe, barely enough time to muster over what to make, and small energy reserves for adventurous kitchen experiments. I’ve been a lame mock duck this summer. I can hardly crack out a batch of mac n’ cheez these days. So many hummus wraps and Whole Foods salad bar Wednesdays ($2 off!). Eating out, however health I try to be, has not encouraged or stimulated my creative cooking juices. By now it’s the end of August and prior to this delightful dish, I had yet to make something to write home about.

Now that I’m settled in my new department and have adjusted to my responsibilities, I’ve found it easier to bring back the aimless recipe wandering, thorough audience-preference analysis, and food analogue objective that inevitably lead to the crazy concoctions featured here. Another daily life feature lost in the buss was the intimate nightly dinner with my dearest recipe reviewer. It seems so long ago that we used to wine and dine chez nous a better part of the week, testing my edible innovations and having chatting about everything under the sun and moon. With both of our careers pressing us like a fine French roast, we lost that table time. Finally, as I’ve found a way to adjust my career time with home time, I’m rectifying all sorts of situations.

To reignite our dinner ritual and satisfy my gourmet thirst for challenge, I set out to make something my token Omni would thoroughly enjoy. He has a surprising love for capers –though he is a salt fiend, I am hard pressed to find something brined that he actually likes. No pickles, no Kalamata olives, negative on artichokes. Capers for some reason are the exception. And for someone who has had an even busier summer than I’ve had at work, he deserved something deliciously invented for him. I gathered all the ingredients of his kind of meal: bread and tomatoes (we started with bruschetta), pasta, a hearty sauce, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Arguably, neither lemon cream sauce nor lemon caper sauce is original. But the mild lemon flavor in this thick, “creamy” sauce combine with a salty pinch and fresh asparagus gave this dish exquisite character.

The leeks could probably be optional, but they were from a 2 week old produce share from the farm and had to go. They were a nice touch with a texture that coincides with asparagus beautifully - but not necessary. The lemon level and caper capacity are of course totally up to you. For you non-veg heads that read the blog: please not that by using silken tofu instead of cream, you cut the fat (and subsequent guilt + next day laziness) by about 85%. Using cooking spray as I did of course reduces the fat content even further, though you could use traditional olive oil instead.

Lemon Caper Alfredo with Asparagus and Leeks
Makes: 2 servings
Cook time: 45 minutes


For the Sauce
1 tsp. Olive oil
½ Small onion, chopped
2 tsp. Garlic, chopped
1-2 T. Dried mushrooms
1 ¾ c. Vegetable broth, from bouillon, divided
½ pkg. Silken tofu (6-7 oz)
½ c. Almond milk
¼ c. Capers, drained
1 T. Lemon juice
1 tsp. Lemon zest, divided
White pepper & nutmeg

For the Pasta
4-5 oz Gluten free spaghetti
Cooking spray
½ c. Leeks, white & green parts chopped
12-15 Asparagus spears, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped


Heat olive oil over medium heat in a sauce pan. Cook onions until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute. Add mushrooms and 1 ½ c. vegetable. Bring to a boil and reduce liquid to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. In a food processor combine onion broth with tofu and almond milk. Blend until completely smooth (about 2-3 minutes), scraping down sides periodically. Return sauce to pan and cook over a steady low heat. Stir in lemon juice, ½ tsp lemon zest, and capers. When ready to serve, stir in a tiny pinch of white pepper and nutmeg.

While the sauce is heating on low, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to directions on package. Strain and set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add leeks and cook 3-4 minutes until starting to brown. Add asparagus, remaining lemon zest and use broth to deglaze pan when vegetables start to dry. Cook until asparagus is al dente, about 3-4 minutes.

To assemble: Combine pasta with asparagus/leek mixture. Pour sauce over top and mix. Garnish with parsley, lemon slices and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Arugula Tomato Pesto

There really isn’t a whole lot of story behind this recipe other than it being the first time I’ve successfully made something delicious out of this highly regarded leaf. Each time I have made a classic or creative attempt at cooking with arugula, I’ve always ended up with a puckered face from the pungent and peppery flavor that is signature to arugula. This is perhaps because my arugula comes from a farm that waits to harvest until its vegetables are fully developed…meaning I’m workin’ with some real, busty, adult arugula, not the mild baby kind you get from a nice fluffy bag at Whole Foods. The sturdy, mature lettuce is much more robust, if not abrasive, than it’s younger self. Aren’t we all.

Last year when arugula appeared in my produce bag from the farm, no lingering memories came to surface on my taste buds. I had certainly eaten it before, but my only prominent thought of arugula was, “Ah yes, that high class green that jeopardized Obama’s election.” This is the benefit of getting a weekly bag of surprise produce – you get the chance to not only cook with but become familiar with items knocked my Fox News. Cooking with new items I’ve only heard of is a true thrill and pleasure. Yet…sauce after sauce, salad after salad, and sauté after sauté….blatt! I could not get this crap to taste good! How does it have such an elite reputation? Bitter from the first to last bite and a spicy bitter at that. I like bitter and I like spicy, but they hardly appear together in my cuisine.

As expected, when my first bag of arugula surfaced this season, I fell into a sad little salad slump. So many enticing recipes – pear and arugula salad with walnut and pomegranate seeds, arugula orange salad with rose water dressing, blah blah blah. That’s for the baby stuff. I had to figure out a way to tone this bad boy down…tomatoes worked perfectly. After whipping it up with some garlic, tomatoes, and a generous pinch of NY the magic really happened when I added that drizzle of walnut oil. Instead of adding pine nuts as I would in a traditional pesto (mainly because I didn’t have any), I used a nut oil to replace olive oil. Holy walnut yum yum, this was fabulous. If you haven’t invested in a good bottle of walnut oil, you should seriously consider splurging the $10. That way when you have to explain to carnivores how you get your Omega-3s if you don’t eat fish, you have a suitable answer.

Arugula Tomato Pesto
Makes about 1 ½ cups
Prep time: 10 minutes


3 c. Arugula
1 c. Yellow and/or red tomatoes, chopped
2 T. Nutritional yeast
½ T. Garlic, chopped
1 tsp. Walnut oil
½ tsp. Salt


Puree all ingredients in a food processor and adjust salt to taste. Serve over pasta or toasted baguette.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Five Spice Tofu Spinach Salad with Miso Dressing

It’s not often that I write a recipe for one, but the odds of me cooking for one are high. Now the odds of me making a ginormous, delicious salad....those are odds you don’t wanna mess with. While I say over and over how undervalued and underestimated good salads are, I really do think they are the bees knees and next to perfect. I don’t have that heat obsession that most people have - where any food that isn’t served hot isn’t perceived as filling. Learn a thing or two about fiber and you’ll learn your lesson about salads being filling. What I like most is that they are a hodgepodge of wonderful ingredients in a creation that at best is a reflection of your persona or at worst a compilation of stragglers in the fridge when you’re too lazy to hit up the food store. Sometimes it’s not one or the other, but both.

This recipe is written a little differently than others. Most ingredients lack measurements, because it’s totally up to you. In fact, I almost feel silly putting this up since you could substitute half of this for something else. But if this recipe gets your vegan juices flowing, my goal is accomplished. I typically choose a themed salad when making it as a main course, in this case - Asian. Sauteed tofu is all the protein you’ll need and if you add some cooked brown rice on top, this fill you further than a gritty burger. If you’ve never cooked with 5 spice, it’s a wonderful tool in the kitchen that encompasses all five flavor regimes: sweet, sour, astringent, bitter and salty. If you like Pho, you’ll definitely like the 5 spice blend. If you’ve never heard of Pho before now, quite reading and find a Vietnamese noodle shop.

I’d like to throw a tofu tip to the non-veg heads or novice cooks out there: be smart about flavor and don’t under cook the cubes. Once you’ve seasoned tofu, cook it at medium-high heat and WAIT until it’s brown. So many people tell me they can’t get tofu to taste like anything. Those are somehow the same people who enjoy moo muscle marinated in jungle juice for 4 hours. Tofu needs the same TLC, the same flavor saver - soak tofu in something saucy and spicy for an hour. In a pinch, a quick marinade (like this recipe here) can be very effective. Just make absolutely sure you cook it relatively slowly until golden brown. No white patches. No soggy spots. Tofu doesn’t have to be flavorless flab

5 Spice Tofu Spinach Salad with Miso Dressing
Serves: 1
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5-10 minutes


For the Tofu
2-3 oz Tofu
1 tsp Soy sauce
1 T. Rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. Chinese 5 spice
1/4 tsp. White pepper
1/4 tsp. Chili or sesame oil
2 T. Leeks
Cooking spray

For the Dressing
1 T. Warm water
1 tsp. Miso
2 tsp. Rice Vinegar
1/4 tsp. Sriracha
1/4 tsp. Agave

For the Salad
Large handful of spinach
Small handful arugula (optional)
Bit of cilantro, chopped
Couple of basil leaves, chopped
Carrot, thinly sliced
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Pickled Radish, thinly sliced
Broccoli, lightly steamed
Roasted Cashews


Slice tofu into 1/4-12 inch thick slices, about 2. Place on paper towel and pat dry. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and throw in tofu. Stir to completely coat with marinade. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Coat with cooking spray and add tofu to pan, reserving any remaining marinade. Saute stirring frequently until all sides are golden brown. At the last minute pour any leftover marinade in pan and remove from heat. Or just remove tofu from pan into leftover marinade.

Combine all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.

Combine all salad ingredients on a large plate or in a large bowl. Top with tofu and drizzle miso dressing over the top. Enjoy!