Tofu Pad Thai

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I’ve struggled with homemade pad Thai. After trying to recreate it at home several times over the years, I sort of gave up and assumed I’d never be able to cook restaurant-style pad Thai at home.

That is, until I tried this recipe, adapted from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, where was the shrimp? But despite the lack of meat, this rendition is full of flavor, texture, and best of all, it actually tastes like classic pad Thai.

Tamarind is essential to this dish so I don’t recommend substituting with similar flavors. And don’t be put off by the large volume of shallots – the first time I made this dish I only wished I’d fried up more crispy slices.

Tofu Pad Thai

Ingredients:

12 ounces dried flat rice noodles (1/4 inch wide)
3 tablespoons tamarind (from a pliable block)
1 cup boiling-hot water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 bunch green onions
4 shallots
1 16-ounce package firm tofu
1 cup vegetable oil
6 eggs
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Soak noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened, 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce by soaking tamarind pulp in boiling-hot water in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Force mixture through a sieve into a bowl, discarding seeds and fibers. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, and chili garlic sauce, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

3. Cut green onions into 2-inch pieces. Cut shallots crosswise into very thin slices. Rinse tofu, then cut into 1-inch cubes and pat dry.

4. Heat oil in wok over medium heat until hot, then fry half of shallots over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Reserve shallot oil and spread fried shallots on paper towels. (Shallots will crisp as they cool.) Wipe wok clean.

5. Reheat shallot oil in wok over high heat until hot. Fry tofu in 1 layer, gently turning occasionally, until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer tofu to paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour off frying oil and reserve.

6. Lightly beat eggs with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat 2 tablespoons shallot oil in wok over high heat until it shimmers. Add eggs and swirl to coat side of wok, then cook, stirring gently with a spatula, until cooked through. Break into chunks with spatula and transfer to a plate.

7. Heat wok over high heat, pour in 4 tablespoons shallot oil, then swirl to coat side of wok. Stir-fry scallions, garlic, and remaining uncooked shallots until softened, about 1 minute.

8. Add noodles and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add tofu, bean sprouts, and 1 1/2 cups sauce and simmer, turning noodles over to absorb sauce evenly, until noodles are tender, about 3 minutes.

9. Stir in additional sauce if desired, then stir in eggs and transfer to a large shallow serving dish. Sprinkle pad Thai with peanuts and fried shallots and serve.

Classic Hot Wings

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I know, I know. Hot wings are overdone. They’re on every party menu and come in a million variations. But these are baked! And taste like they’re fried! I guess you could call these healthy hot wings, except that they’re doused in their fair share of butter. Still, they’re tried and true, and I’ve been getting requests to make them for nearly every casual gathering lately.

Hot Wings

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken wings
3 tablespoons red hot sauce, preferably Frank’s Red Hot
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 500°. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with vegetable oil. In a bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Spread the chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer.

2. Roast the chicken for 45 minutes, turning once at the halfway point, until browned and crispy. In a bowl, whisk the hot sauce with the butter. Add the chicken wings and toss. Serve warm.

Classic Lasagna

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I don’t know how else to put it: this lasagna is epic. There are a million iterations of lasagna: mushroom, bechamel, spinach, pesto – I could go on forever. This lasagna recipe is more traditional but be forewarned: it’s really hearty. It contains beef and sausage; ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, for starters. It may be time-consuming to make, but it’s worth it. Plus, it makes enough servings to just about feed an army. (Well, a small army at least.)

Lasagna

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
4 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen string
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
2 pounds ricotta cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoons dried basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound packaged mozzarella, shredded
1 egg, beaten
1 package dried lasagna noodles

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the beef and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat into large chunks, until no pink remains. Add the garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until the meat is coated. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the tomato puree along with the chicken broth, bay leaves, thyme and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to 7 cups, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet. Add the sausage meat in large pieces and cook over moderately high heat until browned and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Crumble into 1/2-inch pieces with back of wooden cooking spoon as sausage is cooking. Drain the sausage and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the parsley, basil and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Add two-thirds of the shredded mozzarella and season with salt and pepper. Beat in the egg.

4. Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the noodles and rinse under cold water.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Line the dish with 4 overlapping noodles. Spread one-third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then top with one-third of the sausage, 1 cup of the sauce and another 4 noodles. Repeat the layering two more times with the remaining ricotta, sausage and another 2 cups of sauce. Top with 4 noodles and cover with remaining sauce. Toss the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and sprinkle over the lasagna.

6. Bake the lasagna for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp around the edges and the filling is bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Sesame Chicken

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Karaage is a Japanese-style of frying where meats are lightly dusted with starch before deep-frying. The result is a wonderfully crispy coating that also works to seal in moisture. It also absorbs very little oil so this isn’t nearly as greasy as most deep-fried foods.

This sesame chicken dish, adapted from a Martin Yan recipe, employs karaage-style frying and amazingly, when I reheated leftovers of this dish the next day, the chicken was still crispy. Served atop a bed of steamed spinach and alongside rice, it’s a complete and easy to make meal.

Sesame chicken

Ingredients:

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/2 cup dashi stock
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 bunch spinach, stems removed, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-by-2-inch pieces
cornstarch
vegetable oil
steamed rice

1. Combine soy sauce, sake, dashi, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens. Keep sauce warm.

2. Cook spinach in boiling water for 1 minute; drain well and set aside.

3. Dredge chicken in cornstarch; shake off excess. Place a wide frying pan over medium heat. Add oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. When oil is hot, add chicken and pan-fry, uncovered, until no longer pink in center, about 4 minutes on each side. Lift out and drain on paper towels.

4. Place rice in 4 individual bowls; top each serving with 1/4 of the spinach. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch-wide strips, dip in sauce, then arrange over spinach. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with rice.

Deep-Fried Tofu with Mushroom Sauce

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I’ve been on a tofu kick lately, and I can’t think of a better way to cook it than with mushrooms. Both are rich in protein and lend this dish a rich, meaty flavor despite having no meat at all.

This Japanese rendition, adapted from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook, is wonderful on its own or with steamed rice.

Deep-fried tofu with mushroom sauce

1 block firm tofu, about 1 pound
4 tablespoons grated daikon radish
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 green onion, sliced
2 mild peppers, such as Anaheim, pierced and deep-fried (optional)
1 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup mixed mushrooms such as shiitake, enoki or shimeji
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

1. Wrap the tofu in two layers of paper towels and place in a flat-bottomed dish with sides. Place a light weight such as another flat dish on top, and leave about 30 minutes to drain excess moisture. Wipe any moisture from the surface of the tofu and slice horizontally. Slice each half into eight rectangular pieces. Set aside.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high and carefully slip the tofu pieces into the oil. Deep-fry until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and pour in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat as soon as it comes to a boil.

4. Place the fried tofu pieces in a serving dish, ladle the sauce over, and top with the grated daikon and ginger. Garnish with the fried peppers and green onion.