Tag Archives: dinner

Lazy Cajun Tofu Bowl

Lazy Cajun Tofu Bowl

We all have those nights where we just want to throw something on the table in under 20 minutes and get it in our bellies.

On those nights, if I can resist the urge to just order in, I throw together this treat- my own lazy Cajun tofu bowl. It’s vegetarian/ vegan and filling and spicy and keeps me from shoveling down a tray of nachos or pizza. Here’s how to make your own:


One 14 oz package extra firm tofu

One large can Southern Style collard greens or mixed greens (if you’re a strict vegan or vegetarian, check the label- many brands offer a meat broth version and a vegetarian version)

1 1/2 cups of rice (I used leftover “forbidden rice” from the fridge, but any rice you have around will work- even the leftovers from Chinese)

Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning

3 tbs. oil (I used coconut, but vegetable or olive would work)

Optional: capers, hot sauce or Sriracha sauce


Remember, the goal here is to get it on the table. No fancy preparation, unless you feel like it!

– Cook your rice. If you are using leftovers like I did, just heat what you have. See, you’re already saving time!

-Heat the collard greens (leave in the liquid) in the microwave for four minutes. Drain. I like the seasoning in these.

collard greens

-While that’s cooking, pop open the tofu, dry it off with a paper towel, and cut into cubes. Sprinkle the cubes with your magic weapon:

Tony Chachere photo

Yep. It’s Creole, not Cajun. Those are different. We’re being lazy here.

-Heat a large skillet on medium and add your oil. I like the subtle flavor that coconut oil adds, but any kind will crisp up your little tofu buddies. Add the  tofu cubes and sautee’ for about 3 minutes on each side. I like mine a little crispy, so I usually go for five. They look like this:

tofu cooking

-And that’s it. I layered a giant helping of greens, then the rice (I love the black rice against the greens), and top with tofu. If you’re a spice fiend like me, drizzle with Sriracha and if you have a bottle of capers in the fridge, sprinkle a few on top to make yourself feel fancy.

Eat up. According to the LoseIt app, the whole thing rings in at 3 servings, 588 calories each. I couldn’t even finish my whole bowl.



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More Veggies in My Face

Another recipe success in our week of vegetarian meals- this one makes around eight servings, but we polished it off in two days. It was just that delicious. This would also be a great dish to take to a potluck brunch if you can get it out of the house without eating all of it first. Also, since I made it the night before, The Lady only had to pull it out of the fridge and pop it in the oven- dinner waiting for me when I got home from work! We added a side salad for extra veggie chomping.

Overnight Asparagus Mushroom Strata (via AllRecipes.com)

2 teaspoons butter, or as needed
1 3/4 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
5 English muffins, split and toasted
1 cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 onion, finely chopped
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
1.     Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, and cook and stir the mushrooms until their liquid has mostly evaporated and the mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Set the mushrooms aside.
2.     Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish, and arrange 8 muffin halves, cut sides up, in the bottom of the dish. Stuff pieces of remaining muffins into the spaces between the halves. Spread 1 cup of Colby-Monterey Jack cheese over the muffins in a layer, and distribute the asparagus pieces, mushrooms, red pepper, and onion over the cheese.
3.     Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, dry mustard, and black pepper in a bowl, and pour the egg mixture over the muffins and vegetables. Cover the dish, and refrigerate overnight.
4.     The next day, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
5.     Remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let stand for 30 minutes. Spread 1 cup of Colby-Monterey Jack cheese in a layer over the casserole.
6.     Bake in the preheated oven until a knife inserted near the edge comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2012 Allrecipes.com

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Vegetarian Chili Feast

After two weeks visiting the family in the South and cramming every piece of fried meat and glass of booze that I found into my face, I need a vegetable. In fact, I need all the vegetables that I can fit into my face. Since we returned to crisp fall weather in Pittsburgh and farmer’s market day, plus an empty refrigerator, I whipped up a big vat of vegetarian chili for our first night back. My recipe is slightly modified from this one, based on what we bought and a shortage of kidney beans at Trader Joe’s. We topped it off with sour cream and little shredded cheese and were stuffed. Plus, now we have lunch leftovers for the next few days.
Two-Bean Spicy Vegetarian Chili
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
  • 3 teaspoons roasted, diced garlic (or 3 cloves)
  • 3 small very hot peppers, diced in tiny bits
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 15 oz cans black beans, drained
  • 1 15 oz. can corn, drained
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers and garlic and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until vegetables are softened but not browned. Add hot peppers, oregano, cumin, chili powder and salt. Stir to blend. Add canned and fresh tomatoes and 4 cups water. Gently simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Add beans and corn and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Garnish individual bowls with sour cream, cheese, or green onions, if desired.

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New Orleans, Take Ten: The Food

As far as I can guess, this was my tenth trip to New Orleans. My office is headquartered there and given time and money, it’s my favorite city to visit.  For once, I had some vacation time saved and headed down last weekend with The Lady, BC, and his gent for five glorious days of debauchery. The weather could have cooperated a tiny bit more, but we still enjoyed highs in the 60’s for most of our visit and very few scattered thunderstorms.

Since I’ve made my rounds in the French Quarter (and outside, guided by locals), here are my recommendations if you get a chance to head down to Louisiana for a getaway of your own.


New Orleans is as much about food as it is about drinking all night and flashing your boobs at strangers. Everyone goes down expecting to find “where the locals eat” and fill up on gumbo and jambalaya. A little secret- the locals aren’t doing much eating in the French Quarter. Also, you’re not going to “discover” a restaurant there- it is the tourist district and everything is located there specifically so that tourists can find it. Get out of your need to be original and enjoy it anyway. Almost every restaurant in the Quarter serves a version of red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, oysters, po boys, and the like. And having eaten in almost all of them, they are all just fine. Don’t worry that you’re missing a mouth miracle if that’s what you want to eat- just pick one and sit down.

That being said, I usually make time to stop at Le Bayou on Bourbon that first night when I arrive and am too tired to make decisions. They can usually seat you quickly, bring you a giant Abita beer, and serve my favorite po boy in town- fried shrimp and fried green tomatoes with remoulade. If you want something slightly more upscale, Desire: An Oyster Bar, also on Bourbon and connected to the Royal Sonesta Hotel, is the way to go. Their Oysters Desire, with cheese and butter are delicious, even if you don’t like oysters. The shrimp & grits is a favorite, the servings are sizable, and they bring you as much fresh-baked bread as your table can consume (we had four loaves). They also know how to make a great cocktail- I love their Sazeracs. The servers treat you like royalty, which is rare in a restaurant that doesn’t mind if you wear jeans.

If you want to just put a sandwich in your face, Felix’s is a good choice, just off the main drag on Iberville Street. The line for the oyster bar here gets long, but at the tables, you can get a great crawfish po boy and a fried alligator appetizer. It looks like a greasy spoon, but the food (especially the fried stuff) is good eats. If you like your sandwiches with flair, you cannot go wrong at the Royal Street Deli. I had this monster. Twice.

That’s ham, Brie, apples, mustard (and the second time, golden raisins) on a fluffy roll of bread. It is a sandwich that takes two hands to eat. It also comes with a side of sweet potato salad, which I liked- and I hate potato salad. The servers are friendly and we never waited for a seat.

So, now that your tourist food needs in the French Quarter have been met, where should you go if you want to do some exploring?

If you can take just a few steps outside the French Quarter into the Marigny neighborhood, you can eat a platter that will make your face explode at The Praline Connection.  Their “Taste of Soul” platter includes gumbo, red beans & rice, jambalaya, greens, fried chicken, fried catfish, ribs and bread pudding. BC and his Gent shared one and had enough to share the wealth with us. The barbecue sauce on the ribs is the best that I’ve ever tasted and the bread pudding smelled like my first cocktail of the day, in a good way. Gent also ordered their etouffee and oh.my.word. It was the best etouffee I’ve had at any restaurant in New Orleans. Ever. Next time I go back, I’ll order a giant bowl to hoard all to myself. They also have pralines in many flavors to taste (and of course, buy).

If you need a hamburger, the only way to go is to swing by Port of Call on Esplanade. It’s a dark, crowded little spot that smells like hamburger grease, but that’s because hamburgers and steaks are their only menu. That and giant loaded baked potatoes that will rock your world- they do not skimp on the toppings. I was five bites into my potato before I found an actual bite of potato under the cheese and bacon and sour cream and bacon and chives and butter. The burgers are incredible, but if you don’t like it pink, order it medium well or well. My “medium” was way over on the rare side- I didn’t mind, but if a little blood scares you, better safe than sorry. Your other mission while you are here is to order the Monsoon, their insane rum and fruit punch house drink. I am a lady who can hold my liquor, but every time I have one of these, I end up boozed up before I leave their door, with just one. I weave down sidewalks. I end up having to throw away part of it. It’s a strong one. Then again, being hammered might not be your idea of a good time. More for me.

Everyone talks about Antoine’s and Galatoire’s but if I had my choice, my last meal would be at Irene’s Cuisine. This is your “dress up” meal- get out of your tourist jeans and be ready to wait. They almost never take reservations. Brad Pitt would have to wait at this tiny place. Irene herself will greet you at the door many nights- and ask you to wait. But, it will be worth it. For $60- $80, you will eat food that you never thought possible. I had a steak that melted in my mouth and a potato side of thinly sliced, perfectly cooked au gratin that nearly brought me to tears. The story is that Irene and her husband Tommy co-owned the joint until an ugly divorce. She got to keep the restaurant, so out of spite, he opened Tommy’s Cuisine just across town. Tommy’s is bigger, the food is fine, and they take reservations. But it’s nowhere as good as Irene’s. Stick to the original.

Another first come, first served restaurant that is worth every minute waiting is the Green Goddess. This place will ruin other food for you forever. You will dream about soup that you ate there one night.

If you are a travel or food columnist and want to write about the cheese and wine lists here, you will have a winner on your hands. If you are me and show up in blue jeans, a T-shirt, and your beat-up old Converse to sit at a lovely table in the alley courtyard, you will still be greeted by the friendly chef who checks in often to be sure you are still swooning as each course arrives. The Pear 75, with champagne and pear brandy was perfection. Don’t kid yourself and just order an entrée. Go here and order the tasting menu (which changes based on the season). Every single bite that you put in your mouth will be divine. If it happens to be a warm breezy evening and you are full of this food, found tucked away in an alley that you almost didn’t find, you will rate this night one of the best of your life.

Other gems to check out, if you haven’t ruptured something yet: Liborio’s Cuban Restaurant makes a phenomenal flank steak; Zea’s (a local chain) will fill you up with rotisserie and southern style veggies and is a great excuse to hop on the St. Charles streetcar for $1.25.  If you need some gelato like nobody’s business, hop on over to La Divina Gelateria– I had Creole cream cheese flavor and lapped it up after a big lunch- it was too good to waste. You have to go to Cafe’ du Monde, because it’s some kind of tourist law, but if you care more about coffee than beignets, I choose Community Coffee. I used to order 5 lbs. of their coffee and chicory shipped to my house every month or so when my budget allowed- it’s the only coffee I’d have mailed to me. If you live in the South, you are lucky and can buy their chicory coffee right on your grocery store shelves. I pick it up when I head back to visit the family.

So, what have I missed? Any New Orleans favorite dining spots that you can’t wait to get back to?

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Saying Yes

Perhaps it’s that lack of sleep I mentioned earlier, but life is passing by in a bizarre dream-like manner these days. Days start and stop without warning. Nights are full of insanity- this week’s dreams included a creepy man with finger puppets, an exploding horse, a mafia kidnapping, some Twitter people on a hijacked bus, and a building I could only access by wading through a river. I’m napping when I can, only to wake up at bizarre hours. Last night, I slept from 8 to 10:30 pm and then stayed up writing until 4 am, only to get back up for work by 8 am. I’m a zombie, minus the brain-eating.

Nevertheless, I’ve had some good times. Maybe because my brain’s filters are completely off, maybe because I have great friends, or maybe I’ve dreamed them all. I’m trying this new thing, because I’m too tired to make excuses, where I say yes. Yes to joining some friends to watch a charity video game event live, yes to a late night dinner, yes to a birthday happy hour, and tonight, yes to murder mystery dinner with a group for Valentine’s Day.

And the yes seems to work for me. I could have begged off tonight and stayed in with a chick flick in my pj’s. It was cold outside and started hailing at the bus stop. I was exhausted. But, I went. And, surprise! I had a really great time laughing and eating Italian food and solving the mystery. I sipped a glass of sangria and laughed at all the silly over-the-top jokes. I wore my cute skirt and my purple tights. I smiled at the beautiful gray-haired couples celebrating their 30th or 40th Valentine’s Day. And instead of choosing to feel pitiful, I felt glad. I was happy that other people are in love. Not jealous, not mopey, not whiny. Just happy. Actually happy.

So, to you and whoever your Valentine was this year, a belated Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m happy for you. This year, friends were my valentines. At least, I think they were. Maybe I just dreamed it.

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Why I Love My CSA

I finally signed up for a CSA, after years of planning to do it so I could get some tasty local produce into my diet. Two weeks in, after getting apple cider, cheeses, greens, root veggies, eggs, and many more, I am totally spoiled by my own local dinners.

For instance? I cooked up this tasty dinner of from-scratch scalloped potatoes with local cheese, honeyed carrots, spinach salad with mushrooms and feta, and banana bread. Just for me- because I deserve a delicious local dinner all my own. Thirty minutes later and I am one happy camper.


Filed under At Home

San Francisco, Part Two

Not to keep you waiting, I promised more to come, and here’s part two of the Canadian incident. I went to work for the day the next day, called and arranged to change my table for one to a table for two, texted the details to the Canadian, threw on a semi-acceptable dress (I don’t generally pack for dinner dates on work trips), and flew out the door.

When I got to the restaurant a few minutes early, I had one of those awkward moments- should I go in and sit down until the Canadian arrived, call and see when to expect to meet, stand like a big geek outside looking confused? Luckily, I was rescued by a text: “I’m in the bar next door- come join me when you arrive.”  The Canadian was right inside the door slowly nursing a Red Stripe and watching hockey news. We made small talk about Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup chances and headed over to the restaurant.

I’d made sure to ask for seating in the outdoor courtyard where they were showing Chinatown, but was a little nervous about the chilly, breezy night. No need. The courtyard was glowing with candles and white string lights, and heaters spaced all over which made it Florida warm. We checked out the menu, were relieved to find neither of us had weird food issues, and the waitress asked about wine. I know nothing about wine. The Canadian asked if I minded a suggestion and ordered a bottle of red and an appetizer to share.

I’m a little out of practice on the dating front. It’s been four years since I had anything resembling a first date, and even then, I had met my eventual ex through friends, so I knew I could make small talk. What if we had absolutely nothing to talk about? My hockey knowledge was not going to be enough to get us through a two hour dinner. I was rescued again by the lovely couple seated next to us. They were doing shots of Jameson’s with a tasting menu, so were feeling very friendly and asked us where we were from, made suggestions from the menu, had hilarious tales of road trips, and took frequent smoke breaks which gave the Canadian and I a chance to bond over how amusingly drunk the two of them were. By the time they had finished their meal and left, we were clipping along nicely on our own.

A month on the road in San Francisco and five years teaching English in Korea left the Canadian with a wealth of stories to tell, and I fell back on travel disasters and work stories. We toasted our general good fortune, to being young and  travelling and in a fine restaurant in a beautiful city. And by the time the check came around, the waitress was asking us how long we had been together, which made both of us blush. And did I mention that the Canadian is a fellow redhead? When two redheads blush, you can see the glow from space.

We slipped out into the chilly night and somehow, on the walk to the BART, one hand slipped into another and we strolled along, thumbs rubbing, and at least in my stomach, butterflies fluttering about while we grinned like Cheshire cats. And when the Canadian decided to get off at my stop and walk me back to my hotel, and we lingered to share a kiss with the sounds of the streetcar bell in the background at Union Square, well….

Let’s just say… it was quite a date. And that I had one more night in San Francisco to go.


Filed under Daily Life, Relationships, Travel