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Pressure Cooking

February 14, 2010 2 comments

I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but occasionally I manage to forget that (1) I have three hungry kids waiting for me at home and (2) I haven’t gone shopping lately, which tends to make me anxious about preparing dinner. Ordering pizza is always an option but, in the interest of inflicting a death of a thousand cuts upon the debt monster, I prefer to reserve pizza and take-out for special occasions or emergencies.

It was on one of these brain-addled evenings that I was checking the larder when I got home. There are certain ingredients I try to keep on hand at all times for such situations; one of these is broccoli, which holds the honor of being the healthiest food that is also enjoyed by every member of my household.

A few other staples I had were eggs, milk, cheese and frozen pie shells — I know that pie crust isn’t that difficult but I have a hard time tolerating the mess — making broccoli quiche another option. But that would have taken about an hour and a half to prepare, bake and cool, and I don’t like pushing the evening routines too late, both for my kids’ sakes and mine.

Digging deeper, I found a few boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese — actually the Wegmans equivalent — but it’s one of the foods the kids can prepare by themselves when I can’t get home in time. Besides, it’s not a comfort food I grew up with — macaroni were made either with sauce or garlic and oil, never powdered neon-colored cheese — so I’d prefer to declare a pizza emergency than go the box-dinner route.

Fortunately there were also a few cakes of extra-firm tofu in the fridge and several packets of ramen noodles in the pantry, meaning I could make another family favorite: tofu and broccoli stir fry with ramen. I tend to avoid this dish on weeknights because I usually get too OCD about the preparation to do it quickly. But on this evening, I was pretty motivated and managed to throw it together efficiently (though accidentally leaving out the garlic) with a minimum of mess, stress and grumbling. In the end, there was good food that everyone liked, ready at a reasonable hour, without spending lots of extra money.

Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry

ingredients:
3 broccoli crowns
1 red or green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 pound extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
5 packages any flavor ramen noodles (throw away the flavor packets unless you have kids, in which case put one packet at each place at the table)
.25 mg Xanax (optional)

marinade:
juice of 1/2 medium lemon
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 cubic inches fresh ginger, grated
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons honey

If you opt for the Xanax, take it first with a tall glass of water. This will help keep things under control later on when you have to clean up the mess, set the table, and serve the food before the noodles get gummy and the vegetables get limp.

Mix the marinade ingredients together with a whisk or fork.

Drain tofu and cut into cubes about a half inch on each side. I try to keep the entire block intact when I cut it so I can put it back into the plastic package it comes in, and then pour the marinade over it. If this is too anal-retentive for you, just toss the tofu and the marinade into a plastic ziploc bag and shake it up.

Cut broccoli into florets and stem chunks. Florets should be no larger than about an inch across, stem pieces roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Steam until bright green and still firm but not crunchy. You should be able to pierce it with a fork, but with significant resistance.

Slice the onion and pepper into strips about 1/2 inch by 2 inches. You can also use carrots, celery, bok choy, pretty much any firm vegetable, just cut the pieces about the same size. Or you can leave these out entirely and just use more broccoli, it’s up to you. Put the veggies aside. You’re done with the prep, so rinse the cutting board so you don’t get food chunks running around the dishwasher. And make sure you scrape the inside of the garlic press because you know how icky it is to empty the dishwasher and find soggy washed garlic inside the press.

Put up a big pot of water for cooking the ramen. By the time it boils, you should have the stir fry part done.

Heat oil in large frying pan or wok. Drain off marinade into a bowl, and mix in the cornstarch. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel to avoid splattering oil when you drop the tofu into it.

Stir fry tofu for a few minutes until it starts to brown a little — you’ll need the heat pretty high or else you’ll just be sauteeing it. Add the cut up veggies and continue to stir fry until the onions start to get translucent. Add broccoli, lower heat to simmer. Add the marinade, stir and cover.

Serve with ramen. It’s good with rice too, but then you should make sure you start the rice before steaming the broccoli or else you’ll end up with soggy vegetables and nobody likes soggy stir fry. You’d end up throwing the whole thing out and ordering pizza after all.

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Categories: Essays, Recipes Tags: , , , , ,