How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Baked Tofu at The Purple Tulip

P1010891This recipe has been in development for more than three years.  Our son Nicholas first suggested it as part of a dish he wanted to serve in his pretend restaurant, The Purple Tulip.  It turned out very well that first time, but we had to make it several more times to be certain of the correct measurements and cooking technique . . . and we don’t eat tofu all that often, once or twice a month . . . and when we do eat tofu, there are several other recipes we like, especially Tangy Honey-Apricot Tofu . . . so it’s taken us a while to get in enough testing sessions to be confident of this recipe.

Baked Tofu is a protein you can serve in a rice bowl, in a wrap, on a salad, as a “meat” with side dishes, or whatever you like.  You can even eat cold or room-temperature leftovers in your packed lunch.  It has a firm, chewy texture and gets crisp at the edges.  The flavor of the sauce soaks in, making this a tasty, hearty food. At The Purple Tulip, we’ve served Baked Tofu in these two ways:

  • with thinly sliced apple and red pepper, wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla.  May also include lettuce and/or a thinly spread layer of beans sauteed with onions and mashed.
  • over rice, with kale and mushrooms sauteed in sesame oil, salt, and a little white pepper.  This is the version shown above, elegantly plated for me by Nicholas.  He prefers to eat his tofu separately from the vegetables, but he actually does eat those vegetables in decent quantity when they are prepared this way and served with Baked Tofu.

To make 6 servings, you will need: Read more…

Tetrazzini

This rich, filling casserole is a wonderful comfort food for chilly days!  It’s made with real ingredients–no canned soup–yet it’s fairly easy to put together.  Turkey Tetrazzini is traditional, but my family usually doesn’t eat meat other than fish, so we most often make Tetrazzini with canned Alaskan salmon.  We’ve also made it with cubes of tofu.

I started with a recipe that I copied out of a magazine (I think it was Redbook) when I was in college.  I’ve made a few modifications to the seasoning and rewritten the instructions in an order that I can follow confidently–instead of finding that I’ve forgotten crucial steps so that the sauce gets lumpy while I race around insanely.  I’m a person who usually avoids making white sauce, but it’s worth it for delicious Tetrazzini!

This recipe is easily modified to use odds and ends that you happen to have on hand.  Only the sauce ingredients really need to be measured; all the other quantities are approximate.  Don’t have peas?  Cauliflower or broccoli or some other vegetable can be substituted. Don’t have as much salmon (or alternative protein) as the recipe says?  Throw in more vegetables.  Use up pasta, fish/meat, cheese, or vegetables left over from another meal–it’s a great way to make Thanksgiving turkey taste different!–or purposely cook extra of these ingredients when making another meal and then make Tetrazzini a day or two later.  The quantity of bell pepper in this recipe is less than a whole pepper, so it’s perfect for using up a random leftover chunk. Read more…

Japanese Udon Noodle Soup

Happy New Year!!  Somebody told me long ago that in some cultures it’s traditional to eat “long noodles for long life” at the turn of the year.  We all like noodles in our family, so we have taken up this tradition.  This year and last I made Japanese Udon Noodle Soup for dinner on New Year’s Eve.  It contains two main ingredients that might be unfamiliar to non-Japanese people, but it’s quick and easy and tasty!  My mom taught me to make it.  (We’re not Japanese, but we spent a few months in Japan when I was a toddler and my dad was working there, and my parents have visited Japan several times since.)

These ingredients should be available from any Asian grocery store, and many supermarkets carry them these days:

  • Udon noodles are like thick linguini.  They’re made from wheat flour and have a very plain yet pleasant flavor.
  • Bonito broth mix is like bouillon; you buy a little jar of strongly flavored particles that dissolve in water to make a broth.  Bonito is a kind of fish.

This recipe is very flexible.  You can use up leftovers in it or use the vegetables you happen to have in the house.  The protein can be tofu, egg, or fish (already cooked, not breaded or strongly seasoned).  You can add any Japanese-style garnishes you happen to have, such as seaweed sprinkles or pickled radish or mung bean sprouts. Read more…

Dining at The Purple Tulip

Our son Nicholas is almost seven years old and has three possible careers in mind: railroad engineer, teacher, and waiter.  This last interest has increased in the past year, and at dinnertime he sometimes wants to pretend our home is a restaurant.  He got particularly elaborate during my mother’s summer visit and named his restaurant The Purple Tulip after a ballpoint pen with duct-tape flower that she brought him.

It’s an elegant sort of restaurant where the customers wait on a sofa until led to a table by a very polite waiter with a towel over his arm.  The menu varies from day to day; the waiter always recommends the special, and we always enjoy it.  The waiter brings in the dishes from the kitchen.  Sometimes we dine by candlelight or with music.  Daniel and I enjoy going to The Purple Tulip for a romantic date.  Read more…

How to use old tofu and turn ramen noodles into a full meal!


The trouble with tofu is, if you don’t use the whole block in one meal, you’re supposed to store it in a container of water and change the water every day.  That is pretty annoying!  It’s easy to forget it for a couple of days.  Then, when you remember, it doesn’t smell so good.  I mean, plain tofu doesn’t smell very good to me even when it’s fresh, but when it’s old…ewww…even a thrifty, waste-avoiding person could easily conclude that it’s not food anymore.  Well, there is a point when it’s no longer safe to eat, but it takes at least a week to get there (even if you forgot to change the water at all) unless it’s visibly moldy, so follow this handy 4-step process to give new life to old tofu! Read more…

Tangy Honey-Apricot Tofu

This recipe is unusual among my tofu ideas: It’s Chinese-flavored but contains no soy sauce, onion, or garlic!  Its sweetness makes a nice contrast with something salty or spicy.  Try it in a Tofu-Soba Supper (or over rice) with Salty String Beans. Read more…

We Eat This. 8 Unusual Nutritious Foods

My mother has taken several trips around Japan, visiting many ordinary people and not just the tourist destinations.  She says she’s often been served an interesting food and asked what it is, only to get the reply, “We Eat This.”  Translation: “We don’t know enough English and you don’t know enough Japanese for us to explain exactly what this is, but it’s good to eat.  Try it!”

I sometimes feel that way about several foods that have become common ingredients in my meals, which average Americans don’t eat.  I love them all and would like to share the joy!  Almost all of these foods have been mentioned and briefly explained somewhere in The Earthling’s Handbook already, but until this Works-for-Me Wednesday there hasn’t been a handy reference page to explain them. Read more…

Tofu Soba Supper

Daniel and I are really into one-pot meals, but once in a while we make a meal with three separate components. This is one of those meals that is quick and easy to make despite the multiple parts. It has many possible variations.

Soba noodles are spaghetti-like Japanese noodles made from buckwheat. They have a nice flavor and cook quickly. I recommend buying them from an Asian market so you can compare the nutrition profiles of several brands; they vary quite a bit, with some being pretty high in protein, fiber, and iron. They can be eaten with all kinds of meals but are particularly good with things of at least vaguely Japanese flavor.

Thus, for this meal you want to put your tofu (firm, with excess water squeezed out, cut into bite-size chunks) in a Japanese-style sauce. Read more…

Zucchini Tofu

Meatless MondayHere is my favorite tofu recipe.  Although it’s sort of Chinese-like, I cook it more slowly over lower heat than an authentic Chinese stir-fry, which gives the onions a very different flavor.  Quantities are VERY approximate; basically it’s “season to taste”.  When zucchini is not in season, you can use frozen zucchini, thawed and drained–but it should be cut in wedges or slices, not shredded, to work well in this recipe.  Yellow summer squash with a soft peel, or with the peel removed, can be substituted for zucchini. Read more…

Spicy Peanut Dressing

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UPDATE: I’m linking this post to Real Food Friday in 2016 because we still enjoy Spicy Peanut Dressing frequently! We just made a batch last night to go with a big salad made from lettuce, spinach, and green onions we received in the summer’s first box of local, organic produce from our community-sponsored agriculture farm!  Did you know that eating fat with salad is important for full absorption of the vitamins from the vegetables?  Spicy Peanut Dressing contains two kinds of fat, peanut butter and sesame oil.  We also put some tofu on our salads–except for 11-year-old Nicholas, who wanted a fried egg instead–and that made a full and satisfying meal.

hearth-and-soul-buttonSpicy Peanut Dressing is a versatile sauce.  It’s delicious as a salad dressing for lettuce, spinach, kale, or other greens with carrots and cucumbers.  It’s good on tofu, room-temperature or hot, over salad or noodles (try buckwheat soba noodles) or rice.

Take a blob of peanut butter–I never measure because it’s too hard to get it off the measuring spoon, but I use about 1 Tbsp. per person–and melt it, either in a small pot over low heat or in a bowl in the microwave.

Add a good slosh of soy sauce, a good slosh of apple cider vinegar or lime juice, a good slosh of sesame oil, and a small blob of honey.

Sprinkle heavily with cayenne pepper flakes or hot pepper sauce, garlic powder or granulated garlic, and ginger.

Mix thoroughly.  It will look weird and curdled, but if you keep mixing you’ll get a uniform paste.  Taste it and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Mix in water or fruit juice (apple, orange, pineapple are all good but have different effects on the overall flavor) until it reaches a pourable consistency.

Store in a glass jar at room temperature, and use it up within about 5 days.

Barbecued Tofu

Not barbecued on a grill, just barbecue-flavored and easy to make in the oven! This is good over rice, with a side dish of cauliflower. Read more…

Teriyaki Tofu

Excellent over rice or soba noodles with a side dish of snow peas or broccoli. Read more…