Pan-Seared Tofu and Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

by Caroline

I have to admit that a food article about cooking post-kids is speaking to me when I read, “Well, I used to actually cook…Now I just make food.”

I might like to think I resist this cliché, but really, the days of poring over cookbooks to find new recipes, making spontaneous market trips (or multiple market trips) to assemble ingredients, and knowing that whatever I put on the table will be greeted warmly by my dining companions — those days are pretty much on hold right now. Oh, they aren’t over entirely; we do find new things to cook, especially when we take the kids with us to the market, but the priority these days is not on the new, but on what’s quick, reliable, and healthy.

When I do want to innovate, I follow a friend’s advice to make sure there’s at least something on the table I’m confident the kids will like. Like Lisa using cornbread to ease the way to chili earlier in the week, I usually make sure there’s either bread or rice on the table (our standard rice/quinoa mix) when I offer something new. In this recipe, I was fairly confident they’d eat the tofu (though the lemon juice made it a question), and pretty sure I’d get at least one thumbs up on the kale (from my 3rd grader; the kindergartner’s on a bit of a vegetable strike at the moment). The chopped peanuts were a plus, too; my kids, like most, adore any extras they can sprinkle on the top of a dish and in our house we’ve retained Ben’s early malapropism and delight the boys by calling these extras not condiments, but contaminants.

So, Eli, the kindergartner took one bite of the tofu, pronounced it delicious, and only ate one more bite. He tried one dainty scrap of kale and pushed the rest aside in favor of carrot sticks, a big helping of rice, and a handful of peanuts. His older brother ate the entire meal, as served. That’s a success in my book, and I’ll be making this one again.

I’m copying in the recipe just as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article by Amanda Gold.

10 ounces extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste (I left these out)

1 or 2 bunches Lacinato or Tuscan kale (about 8 cups, chopped)

1/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, and place on paper towels to
drain while you make the marinade.

Whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, sesame oil, 2
tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium-sized bowl. Add the tofu, and gently toss to coat; let marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the tough stems and ribs from the kale, and cut the leaves into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Rinse and dry very well. Take care to remove grit and water, either in a salad spinner or by hand. Place into a serving bowl and set aside.

Set a large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until shimmering. Use a slotted spoon to lift the tofu out of the marinade and add to the pan in one layer; cook, undisturbed, until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir the tofu and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, gently stirring every
minute or so, until golden brown on most sides.

Add the marinade and let boil down for about 1 minute. Pour the contents of the pan over the kale, toss gently to fully coat the leaves with the dressing, and garnish with peanuts and green onions. Let stand for a few minutes to slightly wilt the kale, toss once more, and serve warm.

Not So Hot

By Lisa

I know this happens to you: the kids ask what’s for dinner, you tell them, they groan. Or whine. Or pout. Or lament the lousiness of what you have to offer.  Usually the question comes around 4 or 5 PM, when they’re most hungry and ready to have a melt down. I’m sick of it.  And I’m most sick of it not because my kids are hard to please at the table. I’m sick of the complaining because it’s not true. On almost every night that they whine and complain, they end up eating dinner happily. So, I know, maybe I shouldn’t be whining myself, but I am really, really sick of the complaining, and climbing that hill of anguish that leads up to the table (we all have our battles). I  have taken to doing 2 things to avoid it: 1)  Responding “I don’t know” or 2) Telling them in no uncertain terms that they are not getting anything other than what’s on their plate….

So, it was with some trepidation that I made chili on Sunday–the first batch I’ve made in years.  It was unfamiliar, to them, & soup type things are not always a hit. So I kept my mouth shut, and warned them not to complain when they sat down. There was corn bread. Which may be their favorite thing on earth right now, so that helped. Still, I was expecting the very worst.  Even my husband gave me a hard time for expecting the worst. And I was so very, very wrong.  The corn bread was the lure, and the chili was a big hit. So much so that Ella asked if she could bring it to school for lunch (with corn bread of course)–and leftovers for school lunch are pretty much verboten in her mind.

So I offer this story for three reasons, and none of them have to do with chili, because my chili recipe is really nothing special. Heck, I’m not even sure it’s chili. But for what it’s worth: 1) don’t let whining keep you from introducing new food 2) don’t underestimate your kids; they may love something now they didn’t a year ago 3) stick to your guns 4 ) serve corn bread.

Sunday Chili

  • Sautee 1 chopped red onion & 3 cloves garlic & 1 bay leaf
  • Add 1 stalk chopped celery, 1 large chopped carrot
  • Add 1lb ground beef and sautee until no longer pink
  • Add 1 can tomato paste and cook for 3-4 minutesto
  • Add 1 large can plum tomatoes, 1 can kidney beans, 1/2 cup dark beer, 1-2 Tablespoons chili powder, and enough vegetable juice to make a consistency you like.
  • Cook on very  low heat for 30-60 minutes, to let flavors blend.
  • Serve with cornbread.

And children: This is how you should answer your mother when she tells you what’s for dinner:

Spaghetti with tomatoes, red onion & caper

by Lisa

I’ll admit: I’ve been winging it a lot lately when it comes to dinner.  There hasn’t been a lot of planning and I haven’t been very motivated to invest a whole lot of energy finding & trying new things, or doing anything time consuming for dinner.  With my book coming out a little sooner than I expected, I’ve spending as much time as possible promoting it. And so last night, once again, I had no clue what to cook for dinner at 4:15 pm–which gave me 30 minutes before soccer pick up and then a short bit of time after soccer while the kids showered, or did homework, etc.   I resorted to scouting my pantry and freezer, which is what I often do, searching for clues or that single ingredient around which I can make a meal. I found it last night in the pantry: a small jar of salt packed capers, which I had picked up on a whim on Superbowl Sunday at our terrific Italian deli. I remembered an old recipe that involved very little cooking and in 15 minutes had the quick sauce prepped and the table set.  This sauce, in which the onion cooks directly in the tomatoes (not unlike Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce, which recipe I can’t seem to find right now to link too…) is sweet and briny at the same time. It’s a simple but rich tasting sauce.

If you have these ingredients + tomatoes, you can have dinner

Spaghetti with Capers, Red Onion, Tomatoes

  • 1 lb pasta
  • scant 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 anchovy
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • a few tablespoons salt packed capers, rinsed (or brined)
  • 1-32 ounce can tomatoes
  1. Set large pot of water to boil
  2. In olive oil, quickly sautee anchovy over high heat until dissolved
  3. Add onions and sautee for 2 minutes, until they just begin to soften.
  4. Add tomatoes and capers, cover and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until onions are soft.
  5. Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and return to sauce. Mix well and serve immediately.

Korean-style Tuna

by Lisa

This should really go under the heading of really fast and easy, or things you can make with vertigo–which hit me yesterday for the 2nd time, and which I’m pretty sure is migraine-related. But this dish is so fast and easy, that you can make it if you can stand up for 15 minutes, which was about all I could manage last night. It is, however, a pretty regular dish around here, and the kids love it. Also, we can get albacore often from our fisherman, so we know it’s sustainable.

First: set the rice cooker on the timer at lunch so rice is done at dinner time.

Second: sautee 1 bunch roughly chopped Swiss Chard with 1 minced garlic clove in 1 tsp. sesame oil, a little olive oil, and few tablespoons chicken broth.

Third: pan-sear (or cook to your liking) fresh albacore tuna steaks. Remove from pan and set aside.

Fourth: in the same pan, in 1 tsp. sesame oil, sautee 3 cloves minced garlic for one minute. Add a mixture of 3 T soy sauce, 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 tsp sugar, dash red chili flakes,  a couple of finely chopped scallions, green and white bits included.  Simmer until reduced by half. Serve alongside tuna as a dipping sauce.

The other thing you can make with vertigo:

Fondue: A Cautionary Tale

by Lisa

Last summer Ella’s grandparents took her to see a regional production of Annie and then out to dinner at a fondue restaurant.  She loved the show. (Annie was a very close runner-up for the Halloween costume even though, in the end, Hermione won out.) But the restaurant?  Well, we’ve heard about that restaurant at least once a week for the past 6 months. Before Fondue, she had never of the stuff.  After, it was nearly all she could talk about  (in terms of food).  We heard each course recited ad infinitum, with every detail of service, and in as much descriptive power as she could muster. Over, and over, and over.  “Can I tell you what we ate, Mom?” “Do you want to know what they have at the Fondue Restaurant?”  We humored her, but it’s not a cheap restaurant, so we didn’t rush back.

But  recently she had something to celebrate, so we did take her back.

In the hours leading up to the event, she was so excited she willingly put on a new dress, and knee high athletic socks, and cute denim flats. Without being asked, and long before the last minute. Her brother was another story.  Finn grudingly put on his grey jeans and a shirt with a collar. And then, when he figured out we were actually going to the Fondue Restaurant, the real fun started. He whined, he cried, he lay on the ground and refused to put on his shoes. He rolled around like a Weeble.  “Why, why, why?!” he moaned. “I don’t want to go the THAT restaurant…”  The tears fell.   He doesn’t tantrum, but he is really good at weeping.

So, we did what we always do when a child threatens to ruin our plans.

We told him we had no choice, that we expected good behavior, and we put him in the car.  I was nervous, of course.  One can never be too sure of one’s kids.

By the time we got to the restaurant, Finn was carsick and Ella was so happy she nearly skipped into the restaurant. The host led us upstairs to a comfortable booth, and there, resting against the melting pot, was a card for E. signed by all the servers. Super cheesy, yes, but very sweet and sort of perfect for an 8-year old girl’s celebration.  At that little surprise, Finn started to come around. They were offered a mini box of colored pencils and a booklet with tic tac toe grids, which also distracted him long enough not to complain.

And then, the server offered them Italian sodas, of which they eagerly partook, and things started to look up.

Ella ordered (she’d had the menu in her head for months, remember), and there was something lovely watching her confidently put in the order for all of us (except for the wine).

And then– the server arrived with a tray of ingredients and made the cheese fondue in the pot in the middle of the table.  Finn was riveted. For really, what kid doesn’t like to see things melt and simmer and bubble and transform right in front of him?  There was bread, and apples, and long dangerous looking forks, and lots of things to spear with them.

One bite, two bites, and soon Finn was happily eating away, too.

“Hey,” he said, “You know this is MUCH better than I thought it would be.” He nodded and smiled and kept dipping and eating. “This is really good. I didn’t KNOW this was like this. I LOVE this. Thanks, Ella!”

And so.

We simmered all kinds of meats and shrimp and potstickers and vegetables in broth, and Finn was as charmed as Ella was blissed out.

Then there was the chocolate fondue with cheesecake, rice krispie treats, pound cake, brownies, and strawberry dippers…(don’t even ask).

Really, I’ve had better fondue.  The restaurant is sort of expensive. But as my husband noted, this place has it dialed in. The manager came over to congratulate Ella.  It has just enough fancy to impress the family but it’s not too formal.  And there is not much more communal fun than a fondue pot. There’s something magical about melting cheese, and simmering broth, and sharing all the little parts of a meal in a very active, ongoing way.  The night was easily one of our most fun family dinners–and for Kory and I it wasn’t because the food was top  notch. The kids, of course, would disagree. They think fondue, at this place, is the best thing in the world, and I’m not going to disabuse them of that notion. I hope they grow up and remember this place as an occasion, as something new and different, as something we did together to celebrate.  If they love mediocre fondue, and choose this place for their celebrations,  I’ll give it to them every time.  It’s better than a happy meal. Or Macys. We all came together to celebrate Ella, but we celebrated just being together, too.

Also: There was a great big blue flame.  And really, what more is there to be said about why fondue is a fun family dinner?