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Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian’

I’ve eaten many pizzas in my quarter century on this planet. I know most people have eaten plenty of pizza, I wouldn’t claim to be unique in that. But I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. When I was a kid, there was almost nothing better than plopping down in front of the TV for Saturday morning cartoons and a Red Baron breakfast pizza (now sadly discontinued). In elementary school, I would long for pizza day in the cafeteria, despite being subject to the rectangular, near-crustless grease bombs. High school got a little better in that regard, upgrading closer to a New York style, complete with optional red pepper flakes and Parmesan. College brought be within spitting distance of NYC,  where I could gorge myself on Ray’s while wandering the unfamiliar terrain. I’ve even spent some time in Italy, sampling the classical Neapolitan style from traditional brick ovens (I will throw it out there the the best pizza I had was at a small shop in the town square of Siena, and came topped with hot dogs and French fries).

Growing up on the east coast, you pretty much get whatever is frozen at the grocery store, or a version similar to New York-style. While delicious in it’s own right, I’m of the opinion that Deep Dish and Chicago styles are casserole and not pizza, so we won’t touch on that. Since moving last fall, I’ve been making a lot of pizza at home. This largely, if not entirely, due to the local grocery store carrying Everything Bagel pizza dough from Portland Pie Co. They have garlic dough, basil dough, Shipyard Ale dough, but Everything Bagel is the one that really grabbed me. It was months later that I discovered I had been playing in the sandbox that is California-style pizza.

California cuisine came into it’s own in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, and California-style pizza follow shortly after. Popularized by Wolfgang Puck, the style builds from a personal-sized crust with similar structure  to Neapolitan. From there, we throw out the rule book; Any combination of complimentary flavors spanning world cuisines, utilizing farm fresh vegetables and local cheeses, and generally a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. When I started making pizzas, my only real goal was to move away from traditional red-sauce-based pies, and I was also trying to work on more vegetarian dishes to save a bit of money on meat; Pretty much falling perfectly into the California style without ever really meaning to.

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Mascarpone, Cured Salmon, Red Onion, Capers, Dill (I dream about bagels and lox)

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Peanut Sauce, Stir-Fry Vegetables, Mozzarella, Scallion, Radish Sprouts

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Curry, Cauliflower, Mango Chutney, Cashews, Cilantro

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Olive Oil, Potato, Tomato, Mint, Ras al Hanout

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Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Broccoli Rabe, Red Onion, Parmesan

17333207_394041167635812_3185024146144755712_nHoisin, Marinated Tofu, Mixed Pickles, Serrano, Fresh Herbs (A Banh Mi-zza, if you will)

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White Sauce, Chickpeas, Frank’s Red Hot, Celery, Gorgonzola, Ranch

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Cheez, Mushrooms, Peppers, Onions, Provolone

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Kansas City-style Barbecue, Eggplant, Smoked Gouda, Red Onion, Cilantro

IMG_5730Ricotta & Chevre, Sweet Corn, Maple Bacon, Arugula, Parmesan

Pizza is such a fun concept to play around with and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Apparently I’m bad with segues, so here’s 9-year-old Olsen twins rapping about pizza.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough from Modernist Cuisine
Life-Changing Pizza Dough from ChefSteps

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Uncanny

If you go to any restaurant worth its salt these days, what do you see? Everything made from scratch, by hand, using the highest quality fresh ingredients available. And to a certain extent, that quality of cooking has made its way into home kitchens; Even the smallest towns have their own farmers markets and local producers now. A lot of people see this style as a trend, no more than a passing fad. I prefer to think of it more as a complete shift in the way that we view our food systems. I could probably go on for a long time about how important I think this is to the world we live in, that’s a story for another day. Today, we’re looking at what is possibly the polar opposite of the spectrum: canned foods.

Throughout the world, there are traditions of canning and preserving foods, simply as a means of survival. And while chefs and home cooks alike are starting to reintroduce these traditions, canned foods have had a long standing reputation of cheapness or inferiority; During the industrial boom in the 19th and 20th centuries, it became incredibly cost effective to produce canned foods on a mass scale. Combined with selective crop subsidies from the government, canned foods became a mainstay of  the American food culture. And while there are some pretty horrifying things that it brought into existence, I don’t think that canned foods should be as heavily demonized as they have been. Many canned products releve nearly all the stress of difficult-to-prepare products we use every day; Let’s face it, nobody wants to make their own tomato paste. One instance where I can attest to time-saving properties of pre-canned products is in Artichokes.

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Artichokes, more often than not, are the literal thorn in the side of chefs everywhere. Even if you’re skilled with a knife and have a world of time and patience, breaking down artichokes is a daunting task; lots of work for very little output. Canned artichoke hearts are widely available, and have countless uses from soups or salads, to crispy fried with dipping sauces, and my personal favorite: DIP.

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Spinach and Artichoke dip isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s made it’s way into American culture with voracity. It’s something you see from home kitchens and Super Bowl parties to larger chain restaurants like Applebee’s or Chili’s (Note: I don’t suggest that you eat at Applebee’s or Chili’s). Easy to throw together and all ingredients being readily available at the grocery store, my version is pretty standard, but with a few variations to shake it up. Rather than spinach, I actually used kale in this recipe, which is now available ready to go in the freezer sections right next to the spinach that’d you’d normally use. I also added a small handful of pickled jalapenos, just because I really dig jalapenos. The one thing that I tried with this recipe that I’ve never tried before, and also never seen done before, was to throw a little lemon zest in there. I think I added a bit much, but in the right proportion the lemon would add a really nice brightness to counter all the heavy cheese and cream in the rest of the dip.

Kale & Artichoke Dip

serves 6-8

  • Butter, unsalted, 2 tablespoons
  • Onion, finely dice, 1/2 cup
  • Artichoke Hearts, drained, chopped, 2 cans
  • Kale (or Spinach), thawed and drained, 10 oz (1 package)
  • Pickled Jalapeno, 1/4 cup
  • Sour Cream, 1/2 cup
  • Cream Cheese, 8 oz
  • Mozzarella Cheese, shredded, 8 oz, divided in two
  • Whole Grain Mustard, 2 tablespoons
  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, 2 tablespoons
  • Lemon Zest, 1 teaspoon

Preheat oven to 400F. In a saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine cooked onions, artichoke, kale, jalapeno, sour cream, cream cheese, half of the mozzarella, mustard, hot sauce and lemon. Mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer dip to a baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella. Bake at 400F until fully heated and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, with pita or tortiall chips.

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As a post from Tumblr told me this morning, there is apparently a very important episode of football on this weekend; some kind of superb owl? I’m not really sure on the specifics. But from what I’ve gathered, it’s a really big deal. This Sunday, fans all over the country will dress up as their favorite characters and host viewing parties for this special 50th anniversary event, with some, more hardcore fans paying outrageous ticket prices and traveling across multiple states to meet with other fans (probably also in costume) to watch the event together and share in the mass comradery. Sounds like a bunch of nerds, if you ask me. I mean, throwing a party and dressing up as characters just to watch a show? Who does that?

But in all seriousness, Super Bowl Sunday is part of true Americana, regardless of if you’re familiar with sportsballing. Plus, who doesn’t love the commercials?   At the very least, it affords us an opportunity to come together as friends and family, eat, drink, and be merry. Aside from the game and the ads, one of the most iconic aspects of game day is the snacks. Chips and dip still reign supreme, but over the years Super Bowl snacks have grown from simple bags and boxes to full-blown feats indulging sweet, savory, and everything in between. To celebrate the greatest of all snacking holidays, the 6th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is all about finger foods!

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When I think of the perfect finger foods, a few qualifications come to mind: First off, and this should be obvious, you have to be able to pick it up and eat it; no silverware involved. Second, 1-2 bites, 3 bites maximum. Third, while running the gamut of snacks that is sure to ensue, you’re likely going to be drinking. Your snacks have to help combat the effects of the alcohol, so you need some carbs and fat, protein doesn’t hurt either. Following those pretty basic guidelines, you’ve got a whole world of ideas to play around with.

Personally, one of my favorite finger foods is a dish formerly on the menu at one of my favorite restaurants in town, which I also worked at briefly. So simple, it really doesn’t even require a recipe: Toast, roasted garlic puree, blue cheese, and a drizzle of honey. Now, as I’ve said before one here a few times, I’ve never been a fan of blue cheese. This dish is the one that got me to reconsider that stance. The cheese is actually the thing that makes this such a great dish; literally the best unpasteurized cheese in the world, Bayley Hazen Blue from Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vermont. The cheese itself is super buttery and rich, while the distinctive mold is less assertive than other blue cheeses in the same style. The layers of flavor in the cheese are complemented by the pungency of roasted garlic and sweetness from the honey, and a crusty slab of whole-grain bread provides the perfect vehicle. Honestly, I don’t think I could eat enough of these. Add this to your game day festivities and it’s ure to be a hit.

Like I said before, this is so simple that it really doesn’t require a recipe. But knowing how to roast garlic properly helps quite a bit. The dudes over at The Kitchn have a great bit about roasting garlic. My personal preference, however it actually confit the garlic: Using a small oven-safe dish or a loaf pan, add as much garlic as you want, submerge in a neutral flavored oil (vegetable, canola, or grapeseed even). Cover the dish in foil and cook in a 325F degree oven for about 2 hours, until the cloves are fully browned and soft. This method also yields a delicious garlic flavored oil that you can use in countless recipes, but it really awesome for making garlic bread.

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As a customer and restaurant-goer, brunch can be one of the greatest meals of all time. Straddling the line between breakfast and lunch (obviously), brunch opens up a whole range of possibilities that would otherwise seem pretty weird. Fried chicken at 10am? Of course. Pancakes in the afternoon? Why not? Brunch also creates an acceptable reason to drink liquor with your first meal of the day, and every now and then we could all really use that. Burlington has innumerable places to get brunch, all packed to the brims on any given Sunday, but the best by far has to be Sneaker’s Bistro, which also happens to be within walking distance from my apartment. As far as I’ve found in the area, they have the best balance between a straight-up breakfast menu (which, within itself strikes a perfect balance between the sweet stuff and savory stuff) and a straight-up lunch menu. But besides the great food and drinks, I think what really sets brunch apart from other meals is that it allows you to sleep in and still enjoy breakfast foods.

On the flipside, however, as a cook and as anybody who works in restaurants will tell you, brunch can be an absolute nightmare. It usually means starting work in the wee hours of the morning to be open by the time normal people are just starting to wake up. It usually means preparing a menu almost completely separate from your normal dinner menu (unless you’re a breakfast/brunch place only). It usually means dealing with an unusual amount of shitty children. It usually means you put a lot of time and effort into developing some pretty creative stuff only to have people ask for the diner staples anyway. “House made Nova Lox, you say? Local bagels? That sounds pretty good. I’ll get a bacon-egg-and-cheese on white bread.” I don’t want to knock a good bacon-egg-and-cheese, but it’s a hard feeling when your customers aren’t as excited about your food as you are.

Whether you’re a jaded cook or just a breakfast food-enthusiast, I think we can all agree that the good outweighs the bad, and brunch is here to stay. For the 4th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, we’ve got BRUNCH WITH A VENGEANCE.

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While I normally prefer stuff on the sweeter side – french toast, cinnamon buns, really maple-y bacon – I am once again trying to eat a bit healthier. Brunch is a great vehicle to get some fruits and veggies in at a time where you may otherwise be tempted to indulge a bit. Kale, spinach and Swiss chard provide a great base to this fluffy frittata, mixed with some cherry tomatoes (yes, I know it’s January) to get that sweetness I was craving. Now, I’m not normally one to go for egg whites against whole eggs, and it’s been shown that egg whites alone aren’t all that beneficial to you, but when I make a frittata I like to go with a little higher ratio of whites to whole eggs in order to lighten up the texture a little bit. In addition to being super tasty and easy to make, this was super filling and definitely got me ready to face the day ahead!

Braised Kale & Tomato Frittata

makes 4-6 servings

  • Vegetable Oil, as needed
  • Garlic, minced, 3 cloves
  • Mix of Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, or other greens, 1 large bag (about 8 cups)
  • Vinegar*, about 1/4 cup
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved, 2 cups
  • Eggs, 4 each
  • Egg Whites, 4 each
  • Fresh Oregano, minced, 2 tablespoons

Preheat oven to 400F. In a medium oven-proof skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, stirring frequently, and cook until it begins to brown. Add the kale, spinach and Swiss chard, packing tightly into the pan. Allow  to cook about 2 minutes, then add the vinegar to steam the greens. Cook until tender, and total volume is reduced to 2-3 cups. Add cherry tomatoes and stir to combine. Whisk together eggs, egg whites and oregano. Add egg mixture to pan and cook for 2 minutes without stirring. Transfer pan to oven and bake until set, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

*Whatever vinegar you have on hand will work. Balsamic might be weird, but I won’t tell you what to do.

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You know you missed me.

Well, its certainly been a bit. As some of you may recall, I decided that the end of the 2014 to take a short hiatus from writing in order to figure some stuff out in my life. I’ve been slowly working into what I need to  be doing professionally, I’ve been seeing a counselor for depression and anxiety related issues, and I’ve severely cut back on my drinking. And on top of that, I’m in a new relationship with somebody who’s helping keep me on track when I start being an asshole to myself. Overall, I’d say things are starting to shape up. I’ve been meaning to get back into writing for a few weeks now, but time has always managed to slip away from me. Work all night, sleep all day; there just never seems to be enough hours in the day. For the past five days or so, I’ve been sick, with only the past two days actually off from work. Since I have nothing better to do then sit around the house anyway, I no longer have an excuse to not write, so here we are!

We all say things that we don’t necessarily mean. At no time is  this more apparent than New Year’s. Resolutions abound, and yet everyone seems to still be trudging through things expecting change to just magically happen to them. I was not exempt from the lofty goals and quick failure of New Year’s. First unrealistic expectation: Run 1000 Miles over the year. Yeah, not going to happen. Vermont is colder than shit in the winter, so running outside is a no-go, and on top of that my bad knee won’t let me run more than a few miles a week at best, even during the appropriate weather. Second unrealistic expectation: Kale shakes every morning. This one wasn’t too unrealistic, I just didn’t keep myself doing it. Doing things every morning is hard when you’re up all night. Years ago, when I first started eating properly and exercising more regularly, I started making kale shakes because I got bored really quickly. I figured out that if you blend up all your solid parts and freeze them in ice cube trays, you can just blend them with juice in the morning for a nice quick breakfast. In my brash decision to start doing kale shakes again, in the beginning of January I made a big batch of smoothie mix and froze into trays for quick access. Being that it’s now March and I’m just getting around to writing about it now, you can see how much progress I made.

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As you can tell from the photo, a green machine this ain’t. However, it’s chocked full of all sorts of buzzwords that are super healthy for you. Here’s a quick rundown of the key players:

Spirulina: While it looks, smells, and taste like a dirty pond because it actually is, spirulina has has come to be widely known as an incredible superfood, meaning it’s incredibly dense with nutrients. 65% protein, 26 times more calcium than milk, and host to 9 essential vitamins and a dozen essential minerals, I could literally go on a full post about how great this stuff is. The folks over at Wellness Mama have summed it all up pretty nicely though. Just two tablespoons of this stuff is enough to make about two weeks worth of smoothie blend.

Chia Seed: Honestly, I have no idea what this stuff does. It doesn’t really taste like much, but it does give the smoothie base some nice texture. From what I’ve read, Chia is naturally very nutrient dense, like spirulina, is high in fiber, and has been shown to have anti inflammatory benefits.

Blueberries: Mostly used here for flavor, but blueberries have been known for being super healthy for decades.

Kale: The epitome of the health food craze. Everybody and their grandmother will tell you that kale is the El Dorado of health foods. And honestly, it’s pretty good for you and can be really tasty if prepared properly. I’ve had a lot of really good kale, but I’ve also had a lot of really bad kale. Do yourself a favor and learn how to work with kale. For the smoothie base, I used a full bunch, including the stems.

That’s what I normally start with. The best part about recipes like this is that it isn’t even a recipe at all. You can put nearly anything you want into this to suit your tastes. The real goal is to utilize foods that are very dense in nutrients. Typically, I’ll add in a couple bananas to thicken it up and some pineapple for sweetness. Kiwi is an awesome one to throw in if  you want that extra kick of vitamin C. Blend it up with your favorite juice, milk (I bet almond milk would be really good), or even just water and a superfood smoothie can be a great way to start your day. It packs in all the nutrients you’ll need to feel energized all day long, and I’ve also noticed that when you start your morning off on a good foot, you’re in a better mindset to make good food choices throughout the day.

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Central Asia is our destination for the 38th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, meaning looking at a cuisine from one of the six Stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Since Afghan cuisine is the only one that I’m even the least bit familiar with, I decided to start there. Unfortunately for most of central Asia, including Afghanistan, there isn’t much of a written history behind their cuisine. So rather than go on about something I can’t explain too thoroughly, I’ll get right into the food. I wouldn’t want to… babble on. Get it? Get it?

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One of my favorite things about the 52 weeks challenge is getting to research new foods, cultures, cuisines and ideas.  Much to my disdain, this week was incredibly frustrating to do that with. Afghan cuisine similar to that of the surrounding areas, relying heavily on native ingredients such as lamb, heavy spices, and dried fruits. Eshkana Miwa, a traditional Afghan dish, prefect showcases the latter of these three ingredients. A dish that I couldn’t find a translation for, let alone an origin or real specific description, consists of stewed fruits with onion, garlic and spices. Served with an egg poached in the cooking liquid for the fruits, it seems to be a breakfast or brunch dish served in late summer. After a long simmer, the dried prunes and apricots take on an almost meat-like characteristic, while still maintaining there definitive sweetness. The soft-poached egg ties everything together quite nicely, adding a rich fatty element to cut through the heavy sweetness. I don’t really know what else to say about this dish, which is a first for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to revisit this recipe at some point after doing much, much more research.

Eshkana Miwa, Afghan Fruit Soup

makes about 1 quart

  • Dried Apricot, 8 oz
  • Prunes, 8oz
  • Yellow Onion, minced, 1 each
  • Garlic, minced, 3 cloves
  • White Vinegar, 1 tablespoon
  • Granulated Sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, ground, to taste
  • Eggs, as needed

In a medium sauce pot, combine apricots and prunes with enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, adding more water as needed. In a separate medium sauce pot, saute onions and garlic in a small amount of oil until translucent. Add fruit and their liquid, as well as the vinegar and sugar. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch, and allow to simmer for another hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Crack an egg into the simmering liquid for each portion you plan to serve. Cook until egg white is set and yolk begins to cook. Serve warm, with one egg per portion.

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I’d like to think that travel is a universal desire; something that everybody at one point or another dreams of doing. Going new places, experiencing new cultures, what’s not to love? Admittedly, I haven’t done nearly as much travelling as I would have liked so far. I’ve only left the eastern time zone twice in my life, both of which were within 6 months, a thought that crosses my mind every time I have a day or two off in a row. However, it’s something that I’ve always longed for; dropping everything and just seeing the world. Being in the restaurant industry kind of squashes those hopes, but I know it’ll happen some day. The 34th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge offers the closest I can get to visiting the world’s greatest parts unknown, cooking a dish from the opposite side of the world!

If you want to get really technical, for anybody living in North or South America, the exact opposite side of the world is in the Pacific Ocean. Specifically, if I were to tunnel through the center of the earth from where I live, I would wind up off the Southeastern coast of Australian, about halfway to Antarctica. Since we’ve already done an Australian week and I missed out on this year’s GWAR-B-Q, I was going to have to figure something else out. As most people probably do, when I was a kid I always thought I could dig a hole through the world and end up in China and everything would be upside-down. While I now realize how silly that it, when I was a kid it was not only doable, but totally reasonable. Like I could accomplish it in a day or two. In the spirit of my childish hopes and dreams, this week’s recipe landed on a traditional Chinese dish: Gong Bao.

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More commonly translated as Kung Pao, is a spicy stir-fry dish originating in the Sichuan Province in Southwestern China. While it’s American counterpart is normally slathered in a sickly sweet orange and chili sauce, the traditional preparation is made with chilies, peanuts, vegetables and the iconic Szechuan Peppercorn. Unlike black or white pepper we commonly use, Szechuan Peppercorns have a slightly lemony flavor and also cause a certain degree of numbness in the mouth. Because of these attributes, the spice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as cooking for centuries.

As with most stir-fries, the preparation is incredibly simple. Basically, everything gets cooked in a pan and served over rice. For the traditional preparation, I toasted peanuts in coconut oil, then set them aside. In the same oil, I toasted dried red chilies and Szechuan peppercorns over a low heat. The chilies and peppercorns can blacked very easily, so it’s important to watch them very carefully. Once the spices were toasted nicely, I added in veggies and some marinated tofu (chicken is more common in Szechuan cuisine, but I had some tofu kicking around, so why not?) and let them cook up until the veggies were soft and the tofu was crispy. Toss in the peanuts at the last minute and you’re ready to go. Piled up on top of some steamed rice, this dish has a perfect balance of sweet and spicy, with a bright lemony kick from the Szechuan peppercorns. I hadn’t eaten anything with the peppercorns since I had been in school, so I had almost forgotten about the numbing effect, which was actually a really nice contrast to the heat of the chilies. As long as you have that key ingredient, you could easily substitute the recipes with beef, pork, chicken, seafood or whatever vegetables you’ve got on hand.

Gong Bao Tofu

makes about 5 portions

  • Peanuts, unsalted, 2/3 cup
  • Tofu, firm, 2 packages (about 24 ounces)
  • Soy Sauce, 4 tablespoons
  • Cornstarch, 1 tablespoon
  • Coconut Oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Szechuan Peppercorns, 1 teaspoon
  • Dried Arbol Chilies, 4 each
  • Garlic, minced, 2 cloves
  • Ginger, peeled, minced, 1-inch piece
  • Scallions, thinly sliced, 4 each
  • Vegetables for Stir-Frying (your choice), as needed
  • Cooked white rice, as needed

Heat a large saute pan or wok to medium-high heat. In the dry pan, toast peanuts until browned and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine soy sauce and cornstarch until dissolved. Dice tofu into 1-inch chunks and toss in soy mixture to coat evenly. In the saute pan or wok, heat coconut oil to medium heat. Toast peppercorns and chilies until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add garlic, ginger, scallions, and marinated tofu. Cook until tofu begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 5-8 minutes, depending on what vegetables are used. Once vegetables are tender, add in peanuts, mixing to combine. Serve hot over cooked white rice.

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