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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Butternut and Summer Squash Soup

Because you should always, always play with your food.

I've had this butternut squash hanging out for a while now.  Just chillin', not going anywhere.  I mean, it's July.  The apartment already feels like it's going to spontaneously combust.  No way am I going to turn on the oven!  But then, what the heck was I going to do with it if I didn't roast it?  [Reason #537 that I should probably get my hands on a grill.]  So, there it sat on the counter, looking sad and lonely.  Until one day, when Michigan weather pulled through and cooled down enough to make roasted squash soup a good idea.

But, not before b-squash and I had a little photo shoot.

All shenanigans aside, this is one of the simplest, most flavorful soups I have ever made.  So, if you live in a cooler climate, or have central air, or enjoy turning your kitchen into a sauna, you should definitely give this soup a try.

1 large butternut squash
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium summer squash, sliced
1 tsp thyme
2 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the seeds inside.  Place cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 35-40 min, until soft.
In a large soup pot,   heat olive oil on medium high heat and add the onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 min, stirring frequently.  Add the zucchini and summer squash and cook for 5 min.  Stir in the thyme and turn heat to low until the butternut squash is done.
When the b-squash is done, very carefully scoop out the flesh into a high speed blender.  Add the vegetable broth and blend on high until smooth.  Pour the squash mix into the soup pot and stir well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stir-Fried Summer Veggies Over Lentils & Rice with Sesame-Crusted Tofu

Because sometimes you just want to show off, you know?

Have you ever gotten so excited about the colors and varieties of fresh summer produce that you end up going wild, like a kid in a candy store, buying up more veggies than one person could realistically consume before it all goes bad?  No?  Well, anyway, that was me at the grocery store last Friday.  I didn't really have any good recipe ideas per se, but I knew I had a friend coming to visit the next day and, I don't know, I just thought, with all these beautiful veggies, I could come up with something pretty.  And impressive.  So I grabbed two onions, two bell peppers, a zucchini, summer squash, a couple of handfuls of green beans, and some tofu, because, why not?

Throwing the veggies together was the easy part.  I only sprinkled them with salt and pepper after cooking, no other seasonings, because I wanted their fresh flavor to shine through.  I cooked lentils and brown basmati rice together in the pressure cooker with a bay leaf.  Why both?  Because I was feeling super indecisive, that's why.  They really complimented each other well, I think.  The tofu... now that was the real challenge.  I was originally going to bake it, but it was too bloody hot, let's get serious.  The marinade turned out amazing and I will definitely use that again.  I suppose I could have "crusted" the tofu with bread crumbs or whatever [I didn't actually know what I was doing, to be honest], but I was really into making a mess of the kitchen, so instead, I threw sesame seeds and pepper everywhere.  Totally worth it.

This recipe reads like it's really  long and really time consuming, but it wasn't... really.  And honestly, you don't have to make all three components together, if you don't feel like it.  It's summer.  It's hot.  We're all very busy and important and have much better things to do than spend the whole day in a hot kitchen.  However, in my opinion, the three parts came together splendidly.  [And doesn't it look fancy???]

For the tofu:
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
14 oz extra firm tofu, water pressed out, and sliced into 1/4" thick slabs (I got 8 slices)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

For the lentils and rice:
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup brown lentils
1 cup brown basmati rice (or rice of choice)
4 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf

For the veggies:
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 each zucchini and summer squash, sliced into half moons
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1'" pieces

For the tofu:  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine ingredients from the vegetable broth to the red pepper flakes, and stir to mix well.  Arrange the tofu slices in a shallow baking dish and pour the marinade over top.  Let sit for 20 min.  While the tofu is resting, get the lentils and rice started.
Lentils and rice:  Pour 1/2 Tbsp olive oil into a pressure cooker and heat on medium high heat.  Add the lentils, rice, water and bay leaf.  Fasten the lid and bring the pressure up (according to the directions for your device) and cook for 18 min.  Remove from heat and decrease pressure (again, according to the instructions for your device).  BUT, while the pressure is on, you can get started on the veggies.
Veggies:  In a huge skillet or wok, saute the onion and garlic with 2 Tbsp water, adding more as needed, for about 3 min on medium-high heat.  Add the pepper and green beans, and cook, stirring occasionally for another 3-5 min.  Stir in the zucchini and squash and cook on medium low heat for another couple of minutes.  If the pressure cooker isn't done yet, turn heat down to simmer (to avoid over-cooking) and cover with a lid to keep warm, if desired.
Now, while all that was going on, you also need to "crust" and cook your tofu.  In a shallow dish, stir together sesame seeds and pepper.  Remove tofu slices, one at a time, from the marinade, shaking off excess liquid.  Plop it into the sesame/pepper mix to coat each side (OK, so my tofu wasn't actually "coated", it more just happened to attract some of the sesame/pepper mix on each side.  Whatever).  Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add four slices of tofu (or however many will fit) and cook for 3-4 min on each side until lightly browned and heated through.  Repeat with remaining tofu.
And that's it!!!  Put a little of each component on a plate (making it look pretty, of course) and enjoy!