Tag Archives: food

Crispy Tofu Tacos with Creamy Roasted Poblano Sauce and Grilled Cotija Cheese


There are days (weeks, really) I am certain that I could live on tacos. Soft tacos, crunchy tacos. Veggie-stuffed, beans + cheese only, fish… I’m certain that making tacos at home means that anything you desire can be made into a taco. When it comes to vegetarian tacos, I get tired of what that usually means when I’m not at home: beans, rice, cheese, salsa; grilled zucchini, peppers and onions; just beans and cheese. Sure, you can add hot sauce to all the above options and they’re prime candidates for deliciousness, but here’s the thing: I like taco varieties.

As I’ve said before, I think great tacos (and burritos) are all about a good balance of textures. I don’t want the same old, same old, every time I crave tacos. Sometimes that means we add fish into the mix, but I wanted a decent vegetarian taco option, sans seafood, sans grilled dang vegetables, and sans your typical beans and rice (even if I served those on the side of these tacos). Thus the following recipe.

Our pepper plants are filled with huge poblanos, lovely jalapenos, anaheims and bell peppers right now. I decided to make a roasted poblano pepper sauce and let that be the highlight of these tacos. Since my crispy panko tofu seems to be a hit amongst many readers, I decided to revisit the recipe and tweak it to work as a taco filling. And grilled cotija cheese? Holy moly. This dry, crumbly, salty cheese puffs up while heating, but doesn’t melt. So you wind up with crisp, yet fluffy cheese to add a different texture to things, while the creamy avocado balances it all out. The sauce is versatile; you can use it in these tacos, on eggs, in a burrito, in place of anywhere you’d use a good hot sauce, to make chilaquiles – which we’ll visit in the next day or two.


Crispy Tofu Tacos with Creamy Roasted Poblano Sauce and Grilled Cotija Cheese

Serves 4 or so folks.


For the sauce:
5 large poblano peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 small sweet onion, peeled
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

For the tofu:
one 14-oz. package extra firm tofu
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
olive oil

For the tacos:
2 ounces cotija cheese *
10-12 corn tortillas (fresher the better)
2 small ripe avocados

*If you cannot find cotija cheese, a mild, firm feta will suffice.



Prepare the tofu: Drain the water from the packaged tofu. Cut the block of tofu into 16 rectangles that are about 1-inch wide, 4-inches long, and 1/2-inch thick. (Basic math if your kid asks where the heck they’re going to use math in “real life”!) To do this, cut the tofu into 4 even-sized rectangles, then cut each of those in half, lengthwise, then cut those in half, lengthwise. You should wind up with 16 rectangles.

Lay the cut tofu on an absorbent towel (or 3-4 layers of paper towels). Wrap the tofu with the towel so it’s covered on all sides, then place a heavy cookbook or baking pan on top of the towel to press more liquid out of the tofu. Let the tofu sit like this while you make the sauce.

Roast the poblano peppers. If you have a gas stove, this is easily done by toasting the peppers over an open flame (on high), using tongs to turn the peppers constantly. Once the peppers are nicely blackened on all sides, place them in a bowl and then tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. The trapped steam will soften the peppers and loosen their skins. After 15 minutes, pull the stems out of each pepper. Pull the skins off the pepper. I like to do this under running cold water, as it seems to help make the job quicker. You can also use a paper towel to rub off the loosened skins. Holding one end, squeeze the pepper length-wise, to remove the bulk of its seeds (leave them in for a spicier sauce).

If you are using an oven, turn it on to the broiler setting. Brush each pepper with 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable, sunflower, or another high-smoke point oil. Arrange the peppers on a baking sheet, then place the sheet on the highest rack in your oven. Keeping a close eye on the peppers, remove them once dark, blackened spots appear. As with stove-top roasted peppers, place in a bowl and cover for 15 minutes. Follow the above directions for removing the skins and seeds.

Prepare the sauce: In a medium-saucepan, melt the olive oil and butter together, until the butter is completely melted, over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, creating a smooth paste. Allow the mixture to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in milk all at once, continuing to stir periodically until the sauce thickens.

Meanwhile, as the sauce is thickening on the stove, combine the roasted peppers, garlic, onion, lime juice, salt, cumin, oregano, and granulated garlic in a food processor or high-speed blender. Pulse the mixture until smooth (3 to 4 minutes). Whisk the pepper mixture into the sauce on the stove until completely combined. Turn the heat down to low, occasionally stirring the sauce.

Make the crispy tofu: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Generously oil a large sheet pan and set it aside until needed. In a medium-sized dish, mix together the flour, panko breadcrumbs, salt, garlic, pepper, cumin, and coriander. In another medium-sized dish, mix together the buttermilk, egg, salt, garlic, and pepper until completely combined.

Unwrap your pressed tofu. Place the tofu into your buttermilk mixture, turning it a few times to coat the tofu well. Next dredge the tofu in the flour mixture, pressing both gently and firmly to coat the tofu well. Place the tofu on your prepared baking sheet. Do this will all of the tofu, placing the rectangles about 1/4-inch apart on the baking sheet. Once all of the tofu has been coated, drizzle the top of each tofu strip with a little oil (no more than 1/8-teaspoon per strip). Bake for 20 minutes, then flip the tofu and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until both sides are nicely golden brown.

Grill the cotija: Heat a small cast iron pan over high heat. Once the pan is very hot, crumble the cotija into the pan. Use a flat spatula to toss and turn the cheese constantly until it’s crisp and brown on the outside. Remove from heat.

Make your tacos: Heat your tortillas according to the package directions to soften them. Slice the avocados in thin strips. To prepare the tacos, layer in this order: tortilla, one or two tofu strips, a spoonful (as much as you prefer) of sauce, a couple avocado slices, a little more sauce, then a sprinkling of the grilled cheese. Eat immediately, while hot. Serve with a side of beans and rice if you’d like.

Refrigerate the leftover sauce.


Tomato Potato Tart


Having a good, flaky pastry crust in your recipe repertoire is a must. This is advice comes from the same girl who has made her fair share of crusts that shrink down from the all sides of the pan they’re supposed to line, or pastry crusts so tough and gummy simultaneously even the dogs won’t eat it… Crusts that mush down into the bottom of the pan, soggy oily messes of butter and flour and heat. Yes, yes. Kitchen fails happen. Luckily I haven’t had a pastry crust fail with the following recipe. I’ve tweaked it many times to incorporate it into sweet desserts, or savory pies and tarts. Keeping your butter cold is essential, as it keeps the crust from breaking down too quickly once it moves into the oven.

This tart was a dinner experiment, created as a means of using up some tomatoes out of our garden. I contemplated doing the tart as a side dish, but when laziness hit and I decided I wanted less dishes and a more filling dinner-style tart, I threw potatoes into the equation. Perhaps potatoes and tomatoes sounds like a funny combination (or maybe it’s just fun to say potato-tomato over and over again). But the ‘taters in this tart add some bulk and create a more substantial savory meal.

The ingredients are simple and straightforward, the focus primarily on the fresh tomatoes that are so delicious this time of year. The freshness of the ingredients here makes this a refreshing dinner choice.


Tomato Potato Tart

Yields two tarts: one 13 ¾” x 4 ½” x 1″ rectangular and one 9″ round tart.


For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly chopped parsley
½ teaspoon freshly chopped thyme
2 teaspoons freshly chopped oregano
1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
6 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water

For the tart filling:
3 to 4 ripe, heirloom tomatoes
2 large yukon gold potatoes
½ cup freshly chopped herbs (I used basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley like in the dough)
½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 cup smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup fontina cheese, shredded
1 cup havarti cheese, shredded
4 teaspoons stone ground mustard
salt and fresh ground black pepper



Prepare the dough:  combine the flour, sugar, salt, parsley, thyme, oregano and basil in a large bowl. Mix to thoroughly combine. Cut in the butter and shortening, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the ice water, adding six tablespoons at first, working the dough into a slightly moist ball. If you need more water to get the dough into a ball (versus a crumbly mess) add the additional water, one tablespoon at a time. Cover and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.

Prepare the tart filling: Place the potatoes in a small pot and cover with generously salted water. Bring the potatoes to boiling and cook until fork-tender (12-15 minutes). Drain the water and cool the potatoes to room temperature. Once the potatoes have cooled, slice them into rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Set aside.

Remove the stem and pit of each tomato. Slice the tomatoes into rounds that are about 1/4-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels (or a dish cloth, coffee filters, etc.). Add another layer of paper towels or another dish cloth over the tomatoes and press gently, to remove some of the excess liquid.

Mix together the smoked mozzarella, fontina, and havarti cheeses. Set aside. Mix together the fresh herbs and red chili flakes. Set aside.


Prepare your tarts: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil two tart pans. Lightly flour a flat surface to roll the dough. Split the dough into two equal portions. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick, large enough to fill the tart pan with a little overhang. Press the dough into your prepared pan, working it up the sides evenly as well. Pierce the dough with a fork 6-8 times. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

Remove the tart crusts from the oven. Brush the bottom of each tart with two teaspoons of mustard. Sprinkle on a quarter of the shredded cheese evenly between the two crusts. Next, add a layer of potatoes to each tart, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle the potatoes with a quarter of the fresh herbs, some salt and pepper, then another quarter of the remaining cheese. Add a layer of tomatoes, overlapping slightly, followed by the more herbs and cheese, then a layer of potatoes, cheese, herbs, tomatoes, herbs. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is crisp and the tomatoes are slightly crisp along the edges and very fragrant.

Allow the tart to cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Refrigerate leftovers (and heat in the toaster for best eating later!).


Day to Day Life: Week Thirty-Five

Okay, I know, I know… I haven’t given you a recipe in over a week. On top of that, the last one was just a smoothie and one mustn’t cook anything to make a smoothie. But let’s just get this out of the way – I still don’t have a recipe for you within this post. No, this will be in the same realm of all Day to Day posts: photos. Because I just got back from a week long trip of visiting family on Kaua’i and cooking has been sporadic for the last couple weeks. We are in the middle of painting our house, have my husband’s nephew staying with us for the next week or so, and school starts on Tuesday… so bear with me. I imagine there will be cooking and thus, recipes to share. But for now, I’m sharing moments from the last week or so that mean just as much to me as cooking, filled with people I love and moments I want to remember. I hope they’ll suffice for you, for now.


A week’s worth of sunsets like this wasn’t hard to appreciate.


Hawaiian ahi poke

IMG_5359Aunty misses this girl!


Hamura’s Saimin was a much needed stop. I hadn’t been back here since I was 18. This is the saimin special, with wontons, pork cuts, fish cake, bok choy, egg, spam, green onions, fresh noodles… and that broth! I want to make this. Just as much as I want to eat it. But vegetarianized, of course. ;)


My happy place: warm ocean, sunshine, happy water babies. So much goodness.


My dad made breakfast.


It was good to see my mom again. We got to sit together on a 5 hour flight between San Francisco and Kaua’i. It was 5 hours of non-stop wala’au!  And so good.


Teri chicken manapua!


My brother-in-law, torpedo-ing off Hanalei Pier.


 A crappy iphone picture, but a delicious meal my brother cooked one night. Fresh mahimahi from Koloa Fish Market grilled with fresh pineapple, mashed potatoes, and local greens.


Water baby.


We visited my grandparents’ graves to leave flowers for them. I never had the opportunity to meet my mom’s parents.


I enjoyed seeing my brother as a Da-da last week; it’s still surreal at times… And makes me feel really old.


Pretty little niece. Who just turned one! WHAT!


I might’ve had a lot of shave ice.


My last meal on island: Hawaiian chicken lau lau plate lunch. Good thing it was filling because my flight home was delayed 3 hours, causing me to miss my connection in San Francisco, placing me in the city around 1:00 AM with all restaurants closed. United Airlines put me up in a hotel overnight, but dinner after my Hawai’i lunch consisted of chocolate macadamia nuts and Chinese pretzels my mom sent me back to Oregon with. At least I scored a top-floor hotel suite all to myself. With concierge room access. ;)


I can still smell and hear every moment here.


I came home to a very full garden.


Red tomatoes, finally!


This boy’s starting the third grade this week! And had his first football game while I was gone.


He also greeted me with this handmade card. I like to think I don’t need to be concerned with his instruction to drink more tequila. :)


Last summer days.


Creamy Herb Potato Leek Soup

Sometimes I forget what it’s like to cook with additional little hands in the kitchen. That sounds really creepy, I know. I’m referring to cooking with kids, not miscellaneous spare body parts I’ve failed to confess to owning. I have mentioned before that I really prefer cooking solo. It isn’t that I’m unaware of how to be a good team player. Sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to know what the plans are in my head, for preparing a meal, without having to dictate them to anyone else. Plus cooking is as good as meditating in my day; it’s peaceful for me, even when things are chaos and there’s flour in my hair, butter up to my elbows, or chunks of raw vegetables on the floor.

That said, once upon a time I thought it would be a good idea to have Silas help prepare dinner at least once a week, in the short three nights we have him here. He was ecstatic. My insides fluttered, knowing I was willingly giving up control of the kitchen to a seven year old. Schedules and real life don’t always make it plausible, but we’ve done alright at making room for kid cooking nights.

When I was a kid, I remember being fascinated by my mom’s cookbooks. I’d go through recipes all the time. Silas hasn’t been one for cookbooks… I did check out a dinosaur cookbook from the library last week, but was quickly turned off by the recipe ideas. Food can be fun without having to sacrifice flavor! Even when you’re little! (I rushed that book back before a certain 7-year-old saw it, because I was NOT going to eat a dinosaur cut out of a piece of lunch meat, placed on a plate with a cheese stick tree, featuring shredded cabbage grass.)

Luckily, Silas has always had great taste for a little guy. He’s open to trying most anything. Although we don’t cook meat here, he tells me one of his absolute favorite foods is bacon. When I asked him what he wanted to make for dinner not so long ago, he decided on soup. We checked out what was on sale in the grocery store, discovering an abundance of fresh local leeks. “I LOVE potato leek soup!” he exclaimed and thus the following recipe was born.


Creamy Herbed Potato Leek Soup

Yields enough soup for 8-10 people.


4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 leeks, washed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, sliced in 1” thick rounds
4-5 small sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground coriander
pinch of fresh nutmeg
1- 32 oz. box No-Chicken broth
3 cups whole milk
½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2-4 tbsp. cream cheese, optional
salt and fresh ground pepper



Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large stock pot. Add the leeks, stirring them around to evenly coat with the melted butter. Occasionally stir, cooking until the leeks are tender (8-10 minutes).

Add the garlic and diced onion, mixing everything together. Allow the leeks, garlic, and onion to cook until the onion is tender. Add the potatoes, 2 or 3 or the rosemary sprigs, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, coriander, nutmeg, broth, and milk. Stir to evenly incorporate all the ingredients. Reduce heat to medium, then cook until the potatoes are fork-tender (15-25 minutes).

Once the potatoes are cooked all the way through, remove the harder stems leftover from the rosemary (the tender parts will fall right off; simply “fish out” the stem with a slotted spoon). Work the soup in batches, pureeing in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Return the pureed soup to your stock pot, over medium-low heat. If the soup is thicker than you like, add a little more broth or milk. Stir in the cheeses, until they’re completely melted and incorporated. Taste, then add salt and pepper to your liking. Serve hot.

The Art of Failed Cakes and Mistakes


One of the most rewarding things I’ve learned from really delving into cooking is: mistakes happen. Not that I wasn’t aware of this before. And certainly in the areas of life outside of the kitchen, I’m a mistake aficionado. Life happens. You mess up. By “you” I also mean “me,” or “I.” If you’re like me, the f’ups probably happen over and over again. Sometimes over really stupid things – like forgetting to grease your pans before adding a delicate batter you so patiently and tenderly put together. Or turning the oven up 80-degrees more than you should’ve. Or grabbing a pizza from under the broiler with a dishcloth, only to set the whole damn thing on fire (yes, the towel… and the pizza). We aren’t even going into non-kitchen related mistakes, because those are plentiful, too, but this is a food blog. (And mostly, I don’t necessarily want to divulge ALL of my own stupidity for public viewing at the moment.)

I don’t care how many years of education you have under your belt. Or how much time you’ve spent working in the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant kitchen. Mistakes still happen. And when they do, you either reposition your intentions – your preconceived ideas – or you get out of the kitchen, feeling entirely defeated. I’ll be honest, I’ve done both. I’ve gotten better about being flexible when I screw up, but it often comes with hesitation and curse words.


Last week, I decided to bake a birthday cake for our friend Gary. I made the following cake, which already has a place on this blog from two years ago, when I had the overnight responsibility of baking Silas’s birthday cake. It’s amazingly scrumptious. Chocolatey, rich, not overwhelmingly sweet, and so moist it almost pains me to think of not eating this cake at least every other week. Somewhere in my cake planning, I thought of the brilliant strawberries that are available right now, then decided that a strawberry mascarpone cream cheese buttercream frosting would be delicious with this chocolate cake.

Regardless of my careful efforts and mass planning, the frosting was an absolute FAIL. While it tasted amazing – creamy, sweet, light, not overwhelming – I couldn’t get it to thicken enough to frost the cake. Especially not a two layered cake, which was the intention all along. First, I put one cake down, then added frosting, along with a thin layer of fresh strawberries. I added the second cake layer and it slid around, the frosting came oozing out from the center, and I said a LOT of f-words aloud. And may or may not have thrown a spatula at the sink. From across the room.

I’d like to say I gained my composure and went with the flow of where this situation was heading. But… I didn’t. I separated the cake layers, scraped off all the frosting, then got teary eyed about the hours of work I was ready to throw in the trash. Then I frosted both single layered cakes, topped each with fresh sliced strawberries, stuck everything in the fridge to harden a bit. Then, with encouragement from my husband, two delicious single layered cakes were born out of one waaay-trashy looking two-layered cake. He said people work really hard to make something look like these one layered cakes! Plus in the category of flavor, these cakes were seriously not lacking.

Plus Gary appreciated the gesture, the cake, the sparkler. All was not lost over stupid frosting. And as they say, two cakes are better than one. And… if no one’s said that, they certainly should.


Rich Chocolate Cake

Yields one 8-inch, two layered cake. Or two single layered 8-inch round cakes.

2½ cups packed brown sugar

¾ cup + 2 tbsp. butter, softened

3 eggs, room temperature
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup + 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

2½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. sea salt

1 cup sour cream, at room temperature (light is okay)

1 cup + 2 tbsp. boiling water


Preheat your oven to 350° F. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans. Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of each pan, cut to fit exactly. Brush with oil, then dust the entire cake pan lightly with flour.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs to the creamed butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Sifting is ideal, but not necessary.


Alternate adding the flour mixture and the sour cream to your butter/sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until well combined. The batter will be quite thick at this point.


Stir the boiling water into the other mixture. This will thin out the batter almost instantly. Don’t worry, you’ll think you screwed the whole thing up, but it’s supposed to do this. Pour the batter evenly into your prepared cake pans, filling each about 2/3-full. Don’t over fill – this will certainly cause a collapse while baking! It’s likely you’ll have enough batter leftover for some cupcakes; bake them for 20-25 minutes. Bake the round cakes for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out clean or with minimal crumbs attached.


Cool completely, in pans, on a wire rack. Invert the cakes on a plate, then frost as you wish once the cakes are entirely cooled.


Seeing as the frosting part of this cake didn’t turn out, I’ll leave you with some suggestions for frostings that have worked for me in the past, which I think would work nicely with this particular chocolate cake:

This vanilla bean frosting would work.

Or this whipped honey buttercream.

Maybe this vanilla buttercream.

Feeling like chocolate? This chocolate buttercream is my favorite, hands down.