Recession Chic

a down economy does not = ugly shoes

Cold Tofu Noodle Salad May 23, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 8:19 AM
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As a vegetarian cook, I regularly work with tofu to create Asian food at home. A lot of non-vegetarians get freaked out by tofu, but I truly believe more people would like it if they had properly prepared tofu. Over the past year I’ve discovered that baking tofu with a little sesame oil and soy sauce marinade is a fool-proof way to season tofu and create the right texture. From there you can toss the tofu in with any stir-fry or noodle dish and complete your meal.

The other week, as the Texas heat started to kick into high gear, I wanted to create a cold Asian dish with tons of flavor and just a little spice for dinner. I started with this recipe for curried udon noodles and added a jalapeno and chili sauce instead of a red chile. For the noodles, it’s always worth a special trip to an Asian market if you can make it happen. The texture and thickness of the noodles is so much better than what you often find in the Asian section of your grocery store. I saved back some of the sauce in step 4 to add when combining the noodles with the baked tofu. I chilled the tofu and noodles for about an hour and let it come almost to room temperature before serving.

A simple, flavorful dish that was great that night and even better later in the week for a lunch leftover meal.

 

Updated Tuna Noodle Casserole May 13, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 1:58 PM
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As someone who loves a ‘one-pot-wonder’ meal, as well as cheese paired with any sort of carb, it’s surprising that I’ve not made many casseroles. That all changed this week. Even though I work from home and have my kitchen close by all day, I understand that having a Rolodex of make ahead meals can be an asset for any cook.

As a tribute to classic Americana dinners, I thought make ahead meal #1 should be the hated/loved tuna noodle casserole. I searched and found this recipe from The Cooking Channel sounded like a great foundation for an updated take on this standard. Now, this isn’t a Top Chef-style complete revamp of a recipe, but just some tips on making the dish more flavorful and fresh.

Here are the swaps:

  • Butter, onion, sherry,soy sauce, egg noodles — just leave as is
  • Just say no to white button mushrooms. They have minimal flavor and add little to the dish. I used portabellos instead
  • Vegetable stock instead of Chicken
  • Cream instead of whole milk (because that’s what I had in the fridge)
  • More frozen peas than suggested. No reason why you shouldn’t have a full serving of veggies in the casserole
  • Canned tuna has never looked good to me, but I’ve always been a fan of the tuna packets. I chose a Yellowfin tuna in olive oil – not drained
  • Aged white cheddar, not yellow
  • Top with the recommended Panko breadcrumbs

The casserole was full of flavor but not terrible rich or saucy. The Panko added a great crunch and using soy sauce to flavor the mushrooms helped keep everything from getting too salty. I forgot to snap a photo when it came out of the oven, but I decided to capture the leftovers after having it again for lunch today. You can tell there isn’t too much left. Yum!

Oh, and if you have any other casserole or make ahead meal ideas, send them my way!

 

Desserts from the heart, not a box May 3, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 11:22 AM
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My love for baking as a kid is really what got me interested in cooking as an adult. The satisfaction of creating a meal is only topped by smiles from friends and family after their first bite of your dessert. After a long, yet fruitful (and fruit-filled to fight sweets cravings) Lent, I was ready for some non-stop dessert making. I tried four new recipes in the span of 10 days and learned a good bit about what makes a dessert really good and a baker really crazy. I forgot to take a photo of my fourth dessert, brownies, but I promise they looked as good as they tasted.

Dessert 1: Lemon Angel Pie (for Passover/Seder) – Vanilla meringue crust, lemon curd filling, whipped cream top

Lessons learned:

  • There are a lot of good ideas for dessert that can easily accommodate diet restrictions without tasting like a dessert of affliction.
  • Fresh, homemade whipped cream always tastes better and is worth the effort.
  • People forget how much they love lemon.
  • It never hurts to try to make a boring-looking dessert more attractive

Dessert 2: Flourless Chocolate Torte (Passover/Seder and Chocolate Lovers) – dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, magic

Lessons Learned:

  • Always buy the best ingredients (read chocolate) you can find. Just do it. It’s worth the money.
  • Know your audience. Not everyone appreciates dark chocolate, so be sure to add some sweet whipped cream on the side.
  • I wish I had two ovens.
  • If you have to transport it, keep it in the spring-form pan.

Dessert 3: Blueberry Pie (My Jeffrey’s Birthday) – fresh blueberries, old-fashioned crust, more corn starch than you think

Lessons Learned:

  • Pay attention to the rack position in the oven, even if the recipe doesn’t make a suggestion.
  • Try the fruit first before deciding how much sugar to use. That way the filling isn’t too sweet.
  • Don’t multi-task when rolling out your dough for the crust. You will just create more work.
  • Let go of perfectionist tendencies and realize that a crisper crust authenticates a homemade pie.

Dessert 4: Fudge Brownies – unsweetened chocolate, coffee, chocolate chips

Lessons Learned:

  • Everybody likes brownies, so go ahead and bake them.
  • Use big chocolate chips or chocolate chunks in the brownie batter. A crunch of chocolate in a fudgey brownie is sublime.
  • Don’t have coffee ice cream? Shame on you.
  • No need to feel like you must eat all the brownies at once, stick them in the freezer and pull one out as you need them.
 

Homemade Marinara April 18, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 1:20 PM
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After 9 months of working from home, I believe I’ve uncovered all the pros and cons of not going to an office everyday and always being in the same room as your latest work project.

The cons are fairly limited (wishing people would call instead of email for one-off questions, being the only one of the phone for brainstorming sessions, losing my fashion edge to yoga pants…). The pros, on the other hand, continue to expand. I’ve discovered that my brain works better from 7am – 10am than it ever could after 4pm. Also, work drama for me is often caused by a temporarily slow Internet connection. However, the best part of working from home has to be that I have the time, opportunity and energy to do more cooking.

Over the past several months I’ve been able to prepare soups, beans, and bread from scratch during the week — something that is only possible because my ‘lunch break’ can occur whenever I need it to be. After several round of beans I realized that I could (and should) do more slow-cooked dishes since I can keep my eye on the oven/stove all day.

A few weeks ago, a good friend and fellow remote office worker shared with me her basic recipe for pasta sauce she liked making from scratch. She made it sound simple enough that I was eager to try it. My first attempt went well since I was able to simmer the sauce for several hours before serving, adjusting the seasoning as needed. Round two was even better as I refined the recipe and added veggie sausage to create a vegetarian bolognese that could fool some meat eaters (according to my Jeffery).

I first browned the ‘meat’ in my dutch oven and set aside. From there I sautéed the garlic and onions in olive oil, deglazing the pan with a little wine. Next, two cans of Italian style whole peeled tomatoes, tomato paste and a variety of dried Italian seasonings. As the sauce thickened, I tasted and adjusted seasoning. Towards the end I incorporated the ‘sausage’ into the sauce and added some vegetable stock to thin the sauce to the right consistency.

I used about 3/4 of the sauce for dinner that night and saved the rest. Below are some photos of the leftover sauce and the delicious cheese and rigatoni dish.

 

Healthy Crab Cakes March 30, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 8:56 AM
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Ok, maybe ‘not terrible for you’ crab cakes would be more accurate, but who cares!

The other week I bought some lump crab meat at the HEB for a great price and immediately started brainstorming how I could use it. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Olive Garden and Red Lobster commercials lately because I convinced myself that crab stuffed shells was the best use for this fresh meat.

Well, unfortunately, that dish didn’t turn out so well. My fear of bland ricotta caused me to over-season the stuffing to the point that you couldn’t even tell that there was any crab meat. Ooops. I was so disappointed in the dish that no photographic evidence was taken. The dinner wasn’t as bad as the time I undercooked beans (I will never live that down) and thankfully my Jeffrey still wanted the leftovers. He did say that the dish improved upon sitting in the fridge for a few days and reheating.

So, my great deal on crab meat wasn’t turning out so well. However, I was determined to save it. The answer? Crab cakes. *Why didn’t I just start with that idea?* I was thrilled to find a delicious sounding crab cake recipe from my new The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2011 that only needed a few adjustments (sour cream instead of mayo and panko over saltine crumbs). The only other time I made crab cakes I pan-fried them. Super tasty, but quite messy. For this recipe the cakes were broiled making them crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. I served them with some sauteed greens and tomatoes to complete a light and flavorful Sunday night dinner.

Take a look.

 

Chocolate Souffle, because it’s time February 23, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 9:44 AM
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In all of my years of baking, I’ve never made a soufflé. Why? I have no idea. I guess no one ever requested one, and I only think about it when I see it on a dessert menu after a fancy meal. As I planned my Valentine’s Day menu (so much better than dealing with the crowds, prix-fixe menus and cheesy decor), I thought it would be a perfect time to try to make some soufflé.

I’ve read a lot about baking soufflé over the years, so I knew this would be a delicate process. The good news? I found a recipe that sounded delicious (thanks Giada) and discovered that I could do all the prep work the day before and just refrigerate the mixture. I made a few mistakes, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

Towards the end of the VDay meal, I placed the soufflé (with their ‘warm water bath’) into the oven and tried my best to not watch it too much. Not gonna lie, after 20 minutes of baking and minimal rising, I started to freak out. However, just like clockwork, after 40 minutes they looked perfect — except for the messiness.

Since I swapped dark chocolate for the milk chocolate suggested in the recipe, they were über rich. And, after a meal that consisted of brie and apple salad, grilled fish with brown butter, asparagus and three cheese risotto — neither one of us could finish the dessert. But, I think that was for the best. Oh, and here are photos of the rest of the meal for all who are interested.

 

Completely Homemade Mac-n-Cheese February 14, 2011

Filed under: Dough Diaries,Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 10:10 AM
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My need for comfort food continued for another week; therefore, it was time for a round of mac-n-cheese. Since I had some extra time before dinner time, I decided to make homemade macaroni noodles. Something I learned from the lasagna adventure was the benefit of  using fresh, uncooked noodles to make sure the dish wouldn’t turn into mush during baking. Unfortunately, I only made it about halfway through the pasta making process before getting distracted and the dough dried out. Thankfully, I just needed to grab another extra large egg and flour to make another round of dough. The noodles were far from perfect but definitely looked homemade.

For the cheese sauce, I made a mornay sauce with white cheddar cheese and just a some Dubliner cheese shreds for a little bite.

I added some panko and regular bread crumbs for a crisp top. I baked the mac-n-cheese for about 20 min to melt the cheese and cook the pasta. Below is the final product (which was super delicious). I paired it with a mixed green salad dressed with a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette to help cut the richness.

 

 
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