Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dumpling Salad with Peanut Dressing

I have a very quick post today, sharing a meal idea that we've eaten on repeat throughout the summer. This one uses a few staples from the fridge and freezer to put together a light and satisfying dish in a semi-homemade sort of way.

Also, I ardently love Chinese take-out and this salad topped with warm dumplings and a tasty peanut sauce easily satisfies that longing for take-out on a random weeknight. It does have a few components to it, but nothing that's labor or time intensive.

Component 1: Salt and pepper tofu

Drain and blot away liquid from a block of extra firm tofu. Cut into bite size cubes.
Heat a couple teaspoons of oil in a nonstick skillet.
Place the cubed tofu in a single layer in the hot skillet. Let it cook patiently until golden. Resist the urge to keep stirring the tofu! Then, flip the tofu cubes and repeat.
Once the tofu is fairly golden, add 2-3 tbsp. nutritional yeast and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Keep turning the tofu cubes gently until they get a nice golden crust.

The salt and pepper tofu is so tasty by itself and versatile- it can be added to many different dishes. Set it aside while you make the sauce.

Component 2: Peanut sauce

I always riff on this recipe and don't think I have made peanut sauce the same way twice. Here is my "choose your own adventure" formula for peanut sauce.

The basic ingredients are
Peanuts (as peanuts, or as peanut butter or powdered roasted peanuts or whatever form you tend to stock)
Soy sauce for the salty taste, or tamari or teriyaki sauce or black bean paste
Sweetener (honey or maple syrup or sugar, say)
Something tangy (rice vinegar or lime juice or tamarind)

Other optional additions:
Creamy additions like coconut milk or tahini
Aromatics like onions, ginger, garlic, scallions, cilantro
Something for heat, like sriracha sauce or crushed red pepper or Thai curry paste.

Place ingredients in a blender, blend until creamy, then taste and adjust the balance of flavors. Peanut sauce can be stored in the fridge for a few days and used in salads, noodle dishes and as a dipping sauce.

Component 3: Dumplings. It is really fun to make these from scratch. More practical for a weekday, however, is to buy bags of dumplings and store them in the freezer. My favorite is Trader Joe's Thai vegetable gyoza. Cook as per package directions. 

Component 4: The salad base. This can be any mixture of greens and raw veggies. Our house standard is the 50-50 blend of lettuce and baby spinach that is commonly sold in supermarkets. Sometimes I'll add shredded carrots and sliced raw bell peppers to it.

Assemble the dumpling salad with the salad base on a plate, topping with cubes of tofu and warm dumplings, and finally a generous drizzle of peanut sauce.

What have you been cooking and eating on repeat lately?

Monday, October 01, 2018

Back After a Summer Break

Happy October, friends! My summer blogging lull led to an unplanned blogging break for a couple of months. September kept our family life humming as my parents were visiting over the month. I left you with a post about birthday traditions and birthday cake and theme of cake (and summer heat, incidentally) continued in September as we celebrated more birthdays.

For my mother's birthday, I went with a Southern US favorite, pineapple upside down cake, using this recipe, because it says the "best" right there in the title and also, it is made from scratch and not from a mix.

My modifications:

1. Use a 10 inch cast iron pan instead of a baking tin. A cast iron pan is traditionally used for this cake and results in a beautiful bake. The other advantage of using a cast iron pan is that you don't need to melt the butter separately in a bowl. Just put it in the cast iron pan and pop the pan into the oven for a few minutes while the oven is preheating.

2. I used 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) and 1/3 cup brown sugar instead of the generous amounts specified in the recipe. This was more than enough to make a beautiful syrupy glaze. If you don't keep brown sugar in the pantry (I don't), it is very easy to make by adding some molasses to regular white sugar. I also reduced the sugar in the cake batter to 1/2 cup.

The cake came together beautifully. I would highly recommend this recipe if you're looking for a small (8 servings or so) cake that tastes great, is not fussy to make and looks festive. We served the cake with some butter pecan ice cream on the side, because my mother loves ice cream. The birthday dinner also consisted of spinach lasagna (another of my mom's favorite meals) and garlic bread.

* A Birthday Tea Party *

Mid-September was a big day as our little girl turned 7 years old. It was a special one since her grandparents were here to celebrate with her. My parents always threw really fun parties for my sister and I, growing up, and they added some of their special magic into this party for sure.

Lila wanted a tea party for a few friends with a castle cake. I searched online for something doable and cute, and the inspiration for this castle cake came from this blog, written in French but with lots of detailed pictures which make the process very easy to follow. I thought this castle was cleverly designed and beautifully finished.

For the cake flavor, we went with a marbled cake for a nice mix of vanilla and chocolate flavors. If I had more time and energy I would have made a third pink color to marble into the cakes, just for princessy fun, but the basic two-color cakes worked fine.

I used this recipe and made two round cakes. We weren't sure how many parents would stay for the party so to have enough servings, I baked an additional marbled loaf cake using this recipe. I always reduce the sugar in cake recipes and it seems to work just fine. The cakes were baked the evening before the party and stored covered at room temperature.

The frosting was a whipped chocolate frosting- I used this recipe which makes a lovely frosting that is a delight to eat. It is a combination of butter, melted chocolate and a chocolate pudding all whipped up into a light and thick frosting. If you hate the greasy taste of conventional frosting then this is one to try.

A couple of hours before the party, my dad (an adept cake decorator) and I put together the castle. The two round cakes were layered with a thin filling of raspberry jam and the cake was iced with a generous layer of the whipped chocolate frosting.

Castle turrets: We made 4 small niches in the cake and stacked Oreo cookies to make the castle turrets. The roof of the turret is made of ice cream cones. We used some waffle cones but it wasn't exactly easy to trim and flatten their edges; I should have looked for flat bottomed sugar cones. The tops of the cones were lopped off just a little bit to allow candles to be stuck in.

Lila wanted to play a part in the cake decoration so she made a castle door with a fruit strip, and the facade with some cocoa batons and put some candies on the top. All in all, we ended up with a very homely but sweet castle that looked like this! I didn't get a really good picture but you get the idea.

Decades ago, for one of my childhood birthdays, my parents made paper butterflies and hid them in the yard for a scavenger hunt. We decided to do a reenactment. In the week before the birthday, my mom made a few dozen elaborate, hand-painted paper butterflies using paperboard from the recycling bin (cereal boxes and such). We hid them all over the yard and the party guests had a great time hunting for butterflies.

For the tea party, we set the table with an embroidered tablecloth, some paper doilies and pretty china plates that I found in a yard sale. Along with the cake, we served pink lemonade, a rainbow fruit tray (painstakingly made by my mom) and crustless cucumber sandwiches. 

I promise we eat things other than cake around here! 
Indian Chinese as made by my mother!
Veggie manchurian, noodles and sweet and
sour sauce.

A snacky dinner for watching the US Open Finals- I used my general formula here for putting an appetizer tray together:
(a) Nuts
(b) Fruit
(c) Crackers and cheese
(d) Chips and dip- in this case sweet potato tortilla chips with guacamole.

* * * 
As for the books I've been reading over summer...

Task #19 of the Read Harder 2018 challenge was A book of genre fiction in translation. I realize I don't seek out any translated books so I went with the mystery genre (my go-to genre for casual reading) and read The Snack Thief (the third in the series of Commissario Montalbano mysteries) by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli. This series is set in the fictional seaside town of Vigata in Sicily. Inspector Montalbano is a salty Sicilian, irascible by nature but with a good heart and keen perception. He is a food lover and what truly makes him emotional are beautiful meals, usually consisting of perfectly cooked pasta and seafood. In this book, Montalbano ties together three seemingly unrelated cases- the gunning of a fishing trawler's immigrant crewman in international waters, the stabbing of an elderly man in his apartment building's elevator and the case of a five year old boy who is stealing other kids' lunches. Sicily reminds me of Bombay in a way, with its quirky personalities and messy politics and corruption.

For Task #12: A celebrity memoir, I picked up Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. I've been a fan of Neil Patrick Harris right from his Doogie Howser, MD days to his role of Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. This memoir was tremendously fun to read. It is written in a gimmicky "choose your own adventure" way, but what can I say? The gimmick works. It was fascinating to read about this phenomenally talented theater kid from a loving home who got a break working in TV at a young age, working on set in LA while still in high school in New Mexico. This is a charming and entertaining read, just as you would expect.

Found in a library book sale!
For Task #9, A book of colonial or postcolonial literature, I read The Financial Expert by R.K. Narayan. This tragi-comic tale is set, as with R. K. Narayan's celebrated stories, in the fictional town of Malgudi in Southern India, during the colonial era, in the 1930s and 40s. It traces the life of an ordinary man, Margayya ("he who shows the way"), a self-proclaimed financial expert (more like a loan shark) who goes from rags to riches to rags. This novel is a social commentary on money dealings in small towns in the British colonial era and possibly also in this era nearly a hundred years later. I would love to pass along my copy of this book (99% of the books I read are from the public library but I own this one), so email me if you're in the US and would like to read this book. Book has been claimed :)

Image: Goodreads
Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a newly published middle grade novel. I came across a  glowing and beautifully written book review for this book on Niranjana's blog and immediately went looking for a copy. Front Desk is a moving and heart-warming story (based on the author's own childhood) about a 10 year old girl, the daughter of recent Chinese immigrants, who runs the front desk of the motel that her parents are living in/ cleaning/ managing. My own kids are too young for this book but I know I will read it with them when they're older. If you are looking for a short and meaningful read, I highly recommend this book.

And finally, just for the sake of nostalgia and in need of some comfort reading, I read The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. And it was as entertaining as ever.

How was your summer? Catch me up on your life!