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!

Marinated Tofu Rice Bowls

Can I tell you a secret?

This may shock and horrify you, but…

Even though I’m a vegetarian, I’m not a huge fan of tofu.

I know, I know, blasphemy, right? So many people tout tofu as an amazing blank palette that has the ability to take on whatever flavor it’s cooked in, but usually all I can ever taste is bland tofu-iness.

Not that it stops me from eating it/cooking with it. I enjoy a good challenge, and believe me, making tofu tolerable can sometimes be a big challenge.

One of the best ways to make tofu scrum-didly-umptious? Marinate it… for a long, loooooooooong time…in something strong.

That’s why when I saw this recipe for Mexican Grilled Chicken Bowls, I knew if would be a prime candidate for acceptable tofu substitution. 6 tablespoons of spices mixed with adobo sauce soaking overnight with my tofu? Sounds like it packs a flavor punch to me!

But how can a wary foodie be sure? Well, find an unknowing taste tester, o’ course! My friend Matt from college is staying with us this week and he is a devout carnivore. Like, the kind that wouldn’t touch a vegetable willingly; the kind that thinks it’s an injustice to meat to accompany it with anything other than…meat. He’s never eaten tofu, so logically I stuffed this down his throat:

And guess what?!!

It won the carnivore stamp of approval! A solid two thumbs up from Meat-Lovin-Matt!

Aside from being an awesome way to impress your non-veggie friends, this dish is so summer. Czech it out:

Mexican Grilled Tofu Bowls With Cilantro Lime Rice (adapted from Heat Oven to 350)

  • Marinade
    • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
    • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 T fresh lime juice
    • 2 T chile powder
    • 1 T minced garlic
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 package of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into small squares
  • Rice
    • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
    • 3 cups veggie broth
    • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
    • 2 T lime juice
  • 2 medium Hass avocados, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup queso fresco
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the marinade ingredients. Place the tofu in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, and refrigerate while you prepare the rice (or overnight, if you can).
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the rice, broth and salt to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Move off the burner and keep covered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Keep a lid on the rice until ready to use.
  3. Remove the tofu from the bag and discard the marinade. In a large pan, saute the tofu over medium heat until heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Divide the rice evenly among individual bowls. Top the rice with small mounds of tofu, avocado, tomato, green onion and beans. Sprinkle the queso fresco on top. Serve with lime wedges.

Elotes!

So, I have a confession to make…

I’m a closet blogger.

As in, no one I know in “real life” is aware of the existence of Two Veggies. Well, except le boyfriend, and perhaps my roommate, who may have her suspicions considering all the photography that seems to go on in our kitchen.

I know, I know…poor food blogger form, but I have my reasons — or at least that’s what I tell myself. Maybe it’s part insecurity or part fear, but I think it’s mostly because Two Veggies is my own project, a special piece of myself immortalized online, like a very public diary.

Oh, and I care a lot about what the people in my life think.

Unfortunately, I think I may have blown my cover, and consequently have a friend hot on my tail.

My place of work does a bi-yearly newsletter, which contains a section for new employees to list random interesting facts about themselves. I’m relatively new to the company, so I filled out the “About Me” questionnaire and sent it back a few months ago.

I haven’t given it much thought since then, but a few days ago the newsletter came out. Apparently, I casually mentioned that I blog about food in my free time.

No big deal, right? I figured most people would give it a shrug and forget about it… and that’s what most people did…

Except for one of my co-workers, who latched on and is now on a relentless manhunt to find Two Veggies. I thought perhaps his curiosity would die off after other distractions took over. Newp. It’s been about a month and he’s still pushin’ hard.

So what do I do fellow food bloggies? Should I give it to him or keep it my own? Should I use it as collateral for something big? Is there any merit to keeping something like a food blog all my own? Big questions that need honest answers!

Anyway, the same day that the newsletter came out and the first round of hounding began, aforementioned friend and I had a long, somewhat drunken conversation at a company happy hour about food. He confided in me a dislike for corn on the cob. I asked him if he ever had an elote, because there’s no way that someone who’s been introduced to elotes can ever claim to dislike corn on the cob ever again.

Elotes are a Mexican street food, usually served on a stick, consisting of an ear of corn, butter, mayo, spices and cheese. I was first introduced to them during a trip to San Francisco and I fell in luuuurrrrve.

Besides being amazing enough to eat as a meal on their own (as I did on this occasion), elotes are an easy and tasty alternative to traditional corn on the cob for upcoming spring/summer barbecues and picnics, and they’re oh-so-pretty too!

Elotes

  • 5 ears of corn, roasted, grilled or boiled
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 2/3 cup finely grated cojito cheese
  • The following spices, combined in a measuring cup and mixed together:
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more, if you prefer)
    • 1 teaspoon paprika
    • 1 teaspoon chile powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
    • a dash of pepper
    • a dash of cayenne pepper, if you like (be careful! It’s hot!)
  1. Working one ear of corn at a time, use a pastry brush to coat the corn lightly with butter, followed by a thick enough layer of mayo to comfortably hold the spices and cheese.
  2. Using a butter knife, spoon, or clean hands, gently spread enough of the spice mixture across the corn to give it a redish tint. Top with plenty of grated cojito cheese (I like to add another sprinkle of spices after adding the cheese).
  3. 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!

Black Beans and Rice

Life in le casa de Lauren has become quite boring.

Le boyfriend works nearly exact opposite hours from my 9 to 5. When I get home from work, I go to the gym for 1 to 3 hours (don’t judge, the gym has cable, my apartment does not). When I get back from the gym, I am sweaty and tired and I often don’t feel like cooking for one.

Sadly, this cooking coma has had a much bigger impact on my happiness than I expected.

Anyone who denies that food is a huge part of our lives and happiness is a downright, dirty liar. As someone who loves to cook, it’s an even BIGGER part of my life. Where would I escape to during an awful, boring day of work if I couldn’t retreat inside my little rolodex of recipes in my head and dream up something colorful, flavorful and inspiring to put on the table when I get home?

I’d be where I am now, eating a Cliff Bar in my PJs while surfing le facebook. Sigh.

Yesterday I knew I needed to try and get out of my cooking funk, but I still wanted something that was easy peasy, preferably not more than one pot to clean up. Lucky for me, I have long since (hopefully) perfected a version of the iconic vegetarian sustenance food: good ol’ beans and rice.

You may be asking why a recipe so simple and easy is worth the time to blog about. Well, my friend, you have clearly never had these beans and rice, adapted from four different recipes and turned into my very own:

Black Beans and Rice

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup Arborio or other Mexican style dry rice (long grain works too, but I prefer the short, chunky arborio)
  • 1 can of black beans, drained, NOT rinsed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (or if you have the fresh stuff, do that)
  • Cumin (and lots of it)
  • Paprika (1/2 tablespoon)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lots of shredded cheddar cheese
  1. In a medium pot (note, NOT a pan) over high heat, heat the oil and add the garlic and onion. Saute until onions become soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  2. Throw in the rice and stir until most of the grains are glossy from the oil. Add the vegetable broth and mix well.
  3. Add in the spices and mix again. Wait until the mixture comes to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir again. Continue to cook covered until all the liquid is absorbed, about another 10 minutes.
  5. When the liquid is absorbed, add the beans and stir for 3 to 5 minutes, just enough time for the beans to get warm.
  6. Portion into individual dishes and top with lots-o-chedda’