Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry

Because I have the reading comprehension of a first grader and occipital lobes as lazy as an 80 year old’s, (ummm yes, I did just make a neurology reference, deal with it.) I vastly prefer cookbooks with pictures in them.

And really, how can you blame me? How am I supposed to properly cook something if I have no clue what the final product is supposed to look like? How do I know if my sauce is the correct color if there’s no standard of comparison? How do I know a recipe is appetizing if there isn’t a mouth watering portrait to drool over? Really, my method saves time by relying on gut instinct (tee hee hee). If a recipe looks good in pictures, I’ll take the time to read it…who has time to read cookbooks as if they were novels? Not this girl!

Lucky for me, cookbooks with pictures are usually the ones found in the bargain aisles of major booksellers, next to the coffee table kama sutras and anthologies of Scottish lighthouses. For some reason, these cookbooks also seem to not be sure as to whether to use the metric or imperial system of measurement and will switch freely between the two.

Sometimes said cookbooks will reference a commonly found American ingredient by its British name. This can be embarassing when you’re running around the produce aisle at Stop and Shop asking people to help you locate a “capiscum” only to find out later that it’s the British name for a red pepper.

But since part of my unspoken New Year’s Resolution was to try cooking things I wouldn’t normally, these cookbooks have lately been my trusted friends.

For example, up until this week, if I were asked to write the dictionary definition for “stir-fry,” my entry would look something like this:

Stir-fry v. (Cookery) To locate every spare vegetable or article of protein in one’s fridge, cut into small bite like pieces, and heat together in a wok as one conglomeration of vegetables and sauce. To serve over rice and lament the fact that you once again have to go shopping for vegetables.
n. A last resort meal when nothing more interesting strikes your fancy.

But apparently not everyone agrees that stir-frys require the use of every vegetable in your possession nor have to be as dull a meal as microwaved canned soup. No siree, in fact, my $7.98 cookbook suggests a multitude of single-vegetable stir-frys. I know, I know…that’s borderline crazy-talk.

I'm not lying, it really was $7.98

In an effort to be adventurous, I decided to try my hand at one: an asparagus and mustard stir-fry. Extremely simple, but more flavorful than any stir-fry I’ve gotten my grubby little paws on over the last year. Not only was this a deeply satisfying served over rice as its own meal, but I bet it would be one killer side-dish when you’re feeling just plain tired of regular ol’ roasted asparagus.

I’m not going to lie, the onion really makes this dish, so feel free to add more; the slices take on a very sweet, tangy taste during cooking that mixes really well with the spiciness of the mustard. Toss in some chicken or tofu if you want to make it a whole meal and hit all the bases. Enjoy!

Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry (from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 15 oz. asparagus (who knows that this means, just go with one whole bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used peanut!)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard (those little yellow mustard seed balls)
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used about two)
  • 1/2 cup cream (I used milk and it turned out fine. I’m sure coconut milk would work great too)
  1. Break the woody ends off the asparagus by holding both ends of the spear and bending gently until it snaps at its natural breaking point. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.
  2. Heat the wok or pan until very hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the side. Stir-fry the onion for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the crushed garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus to the wok and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until tender, being careful not to overcook the asparagus.
  3. Remove the asparagus from the wok, set it aside and keep it warm. Combine the mustard, honey, and cream. Add to the wok and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Return the asparagus to the wok and toss it through the cream mixture. Heat until the sauce thickens to slightly thinner than a glaze, but isn’t soupy. Serve immediately.

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

Orzo Salad With Corn, Tomatoes, Basil, and Feta

I chose to live in the northeast because I’m ill adapted at dealing with heat. I melt. Quickly.

So I may sound like a wimp when I say… it has been 100 degrees over the past three days and I am dying. We live on the top floor of an A/C-less apartment building. We have one air conditioner in our bedroom. I refuse to venture out of my room and into the kitchen, let alone stand near a heat-producing appliance for very long or put something remotely warm in my mouth.

Yep, it looks like we reached the part of the summer where my meals start switching over to cold salads and variations on guacamole.

Unfortunately, summer salads always seem to leave me feeling a little wilted. By mid-summer they all start to blend together and fail to WOW me. Particularly pasta salads — they always seem to look more promising then they taste.

This little recipe, however, looked a little TOO good to pass up…and boy am I glad I didn’t because its taste was the perfect antidote to this sweltering affliction all the residents of my apartment seem to currently have. The sweetness from the corn and the mild flavor of the avocado is what really makes this pasta salad stand out — it’s not completely oily or mayonaissey like most pasta salads I’ve had; it’s got plenty of fresh vegetables that each have their own sharp tastes, and a nice tangy vinaigrette to round it all out.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I have trouble getting le boyfriend to get excited about eating anything remotely resembling rice, and orzo would certainly fall under the rice-look-alike category. Surprisingly, this pasta salad earned the “you are DEFINITELY making this again,” stamp of approval, which is a pretty rare feat when it comes to cold rice dishes that aren’t sushi with him. Both of us were pretty darn happy with how this quick little dish came out!

Orzo Salad With Corn, Tomatoes, Basil, and Feta (Adapted from Brooke over at Plum Pie via Cookling Light)

{Serves 4 to 6}

Dressing:

  • 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan reggiano cheese (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Salad:

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1-2 ears of corn)
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and dice
  • 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil (I used cilantro instead and it came out great!)
  • 3 oz. feta, crumbled
  1. Prepare dressing by whisking all ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Bring vegetable broth and 3 cups of water to a boil. Season water/broth with salt. Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain orzo.
  3. Toss orzo with dressing, avocado, corn, red onion, tomatoes, and basil while orzo is still warm. Cool orzo until room temperature and mix in crumbled feta. Serve immediately or refrigerate covered until use.

Avocado Pesto

This will blow your mind.

What if I told you that I knew a pesto recipe with half the calories that took a quarter of the time to prepare? I know, I know, “hodgeposh!” you’d say…

But it’s true!

Ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce…

*drumroll please*

…AVOCADO PESTO.

Sounds a little weird? Don’t write it off just yet, ok?

For those of you who don’t know by now. I love pesto. No, not just love… I adore pesto. If pesto were cheaper or quicker to make, I would eat it every day. A little while ago, I wrote a post on spicing up store-bought pesto, but this avocado pesto is a far cheaper and easier substitute during those cold winter months when basil seems impossible to come by.

If you need proof of how magical this recipe is, just look to its source. This little guy comes from Angela Liddon over at Oh She Glows and it has 242 comments of professed adoration. That’s right, 242 posts of pure avocado love.

This dish is done-zo by the time your pasta has finished boiling, and if you forgo making it in a food processor (as Angela’s recipe dictates) and mash it up like guacamole in a bowl instead, your cleanup is ONE bowl. As I said… way too good to be true.

Both le boyfriend and I were pleasantly surprised at the outcome. I think le boyfriend was expecting complete disaster, since a grimace was written all over his face when I answered his nightly question of “whatcha makin’?” with “ohhhh just pasta with avocado sauce.” I don’t think seeing this sight helped much:

BUT DON’T LET IT FREAK YOU OUT EITHER! The result was well appreciated all around, with the avocado providing a pretty muted base for the other ingredients. Le boyfriend said “you will definitely be making this again,” and that’s coming from someone who’s been spoiled by many a bowl of my Italian family’s top secret pesto recipe. Believe me, neither one of us is tolerant of sub-par imitations when it comes to pesto… that’s one area we don’t compromise on.

You can find Angela’s original recipe here; I made a few modifications to make it a little more like pesto and to make the cleanup a little more manageable. You can find mine below:

Avocado Pesto (Adapted from Angela Liddon’s 15 Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta)

  • 1 medium sized ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • ~1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or a few tablespoons of the dry stuff)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound of pasta
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese
(if you prefer more topping for your pasta, this recipe is easily doubled)
  1. Bring several cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add in your pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook until Al Dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic cloves, lime juice, olive oil, avocado, basil, and salt in a bowl and whipping with a fork (like you would guacamole) until smooth and creamy.
  3. When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer and place pasta into a large bowl. Pour on sauce and toss until fully combined. Garnish with black pepper and A LOT of parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Please note: This dish does not reheat well due to the avocado in the sauce. Please serve immediately.

Improvising Guacamole

As the old adage goes, when life hands you lemons limes, make lemonlimeade, but when life hands you limes and avocados, well, you better make guacamole.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’ll probably hem and haw over a guacamole recipe until your avocados have gone painfully soft and your limes have turned brown. Then you have to sit and wait patiently for life’s next shipment… and we all know life’s shipments are like CSA boxes; one week it’s a veritable rainbow of veggie variety and the next it’s 6 pounds of wilted swiss chard.

So we must learn to tame our foodie egos and resist the urge to scour the world for *the best* recipe that will distinguish our guacamole from everything else on the smorgasbord. Yep, we must learn to improvise.

constantly hear the refrain “I wish I were better at improvising.”

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I used to say that a lot too…

But one day I figured it out; the ability to improvise isn’t a character trait we’re either born with or not… nope, it’s something you have to work at. Some of the confidence needed to improvise comes with time and lots of cooking, but a big part of it is just taking risks, educating yourself, and starting small.

That’s why guacamole is a great dish for a newbie improviser to start with!

I mean, let’s face it…there are a million+ different recipes out there for the world’s best guacamole, but they all come down to variations on the same handful of ingredients: avocados, citrus, spices, and onion — sometimes more, sometimes less, but most of the time, just those few things. So why not work toward a guacamole you want to eat? Make it your very own and leave the search for praise until later.

Here’s a few easy steps to get you improvising a great guac on your own!

  1. Read a lot of different recipes. Pay attention to what appeals to you and what turns you off. Make a mental or a physical note of those things.
  2. Always start with the base. When you’re not using a recipe, it’s essential to start by thinking critically about the prime ingredient. That’s the foundation you’re going to build your dish off of, so it should be strong and solid and crystal clear in your head. In the case of guacamole, our star ingredient is avocado, so start by asking yourself (and answering) these key questions:
    1. “Do I like my avocado chunky or creamy?” For the former — cube the avocado, for the latter — mash it. Like a happy medium? cube half the avocado and mash the other half; the world is your oyster, little improvisor! Slice, dice, mash, whip, cream — it’s all up to you.
    2. “Do I want the avocado to be a vehicle for other ingredients or the sole star?” This, in addition to how much guac you actually want to make, will effect how much avocado you put into the dish. I’ve seen really good hybrid salsa/gaucs that use one avocado and pile on the toppings. I’ve also seen guacs that use 6 avocados and absolutely nothing else. Again, up to you.
  3. Add the additional “typical” ingredients and sample sample sample after every addition. Ask yourself: ”Would I like it to have more of that flavor? less?” Add more if that’s your jive. If it’s too much for you, think about how you can counteract that flavor. In most cases with gauc, the answer will be “more avocado”, which has a bland and masking flavor. If you find yourself repulsed by the quantities you just added, more avocado will bring it back down to a base. A good jumping point to start with (for a guac made with two avocados):
    1. 1/2 a lime
    2. 2 tablespoons chopped onion (I prefer red)
    3. pinch salt
    4. various pinches of cumin, chile powder, coriander, paprika (totally up to you)
    5. 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  4. Now the fun part! Ask yo’self “What do I really WANT to taste in my gauc?” For me, the answer is usually “spicy!”, so I often throw in lots of finely chopped chile pepper. Sometimes the answer is beans, corn, cheese, tomatoes or all of the above. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy; most of the time you can usually pick out your additions before it’s too late. If you’re really concerned, put some guac aside and use a spoonful to try out mini-creations! Some of my all time favorite guacs have come from the weird stuff: siracha sauce, adobo peppers, banana peppers, you name it… it’s been thrown in there at some point. I make my guac based on my mood and so should you!