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The book:  Wild About Greens, by Nava Atlas (Sterling, $24.95 here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Asian-flavored kale and napa slaw

Why I tried it: I’d never tried massaging kale before (though the technique sounded vaguely familiar), and we had a ton of kale in the garden.  I thought the familiar-looking Asian-y vinaigrette was a good way to ease my way into the sketchy underworld of brassica massage…Oh, instead of agave nectar I used brown rice syrup because I happened to have it around.  Honey would work fine too.

Why I loved it:  This is one of those salads that pretty much goes with anything, and it’s super-fast to make.  The carrots and the sprouts and the seeds keep it crunchy and textural, and there’s none of the bitter taste you expect from raw kale; just a sense of ruggedness.  You end up with a good-looking bowl of vivid green that holds beautifully, by the way,  if you’re taking it to a party somewhere.

Estimated preparation time: 15 minutes (plus 15 minutes standing time for the flavors to absorb)   =================================================

Asian-Flavored Kale & Napa Cabbage Slaw
6 to 8 servings

You can also massage the kale with a little bit of kosher salt instead of the oil – it works just as well and helps develop the flavor.

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon olive oil or other healthy vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (apple cider, rice, or white wine)
2 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons agave nectar or other liquid sweetener

For the salad:
5 or 6 leaves kale, preferably lacinato (curly kale will work too)
3 cups firmly packed thinly shredded napa cabbage
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup sprouts, any variety
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or 1/8 cup of each
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1.  Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.

2.  Strip the kale leaves from the stems. Slice the stems very thinly or discard. Cut the kale leaves into very thin strips and place in a large serving bowl. Oil your hands lightly and massage the kale for 30 to 45 seconds, until the leaves are bright green and soft.

3. Add the remaining salad ingredients, then toss well with the dressing. Let the salad stand for 15 -minutes. Taste and adjust the tang, saltiness, and sweetness with more vinegar, soy sauce, or sweetener to your liking, then serve.

Reprinted with permission from Wild About Greens © 2012 by Nava Atlas, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Today the girls reached a landmark – every one of them laid an egg in the same day!  For a few weeks we would once in a while reach 7 out of 8, though 4 or 5 a day is more usual.  Either somebody hadn’t started laying yet, or somebody was having a day off, or somebody laid a rogue egg out in the yard and we never found it.

Stormy and Stripèd, the Silver Laced Wyandottes, are probably our most reliable layers – 3 days out of 4.  Feather and Spalty, the Easter Eggers, lay the most beautiful ones (greenish for Feather, bluer for Spalty).

Of the 4 Barred Rocks, Two Patch and Lumpy have emerged as champions, hustling up to the nests to lay perfectly formed, large eggs right after their breakfast.  One Patch, the earliest layer of the flock, lays a small, tapered egg that’s easy to identify, every other day or so.

The really dirty one is a “floor egg,” laid on the ground in the coop (I had to hunch over and go inside to get it).  It’s probably Jumpy’s –she’s a late bloomer and an erratic layer, and she might not have the hang of laying in the nest box yet.

[In case you're wondering how I know whose is whose?  I haven't watched them lay every egg, honest!  though I've certainly wasted a lot of time out there.  It's mostly a matter of shape, and to a lesser degree a matter of size and color.]

The book:  Cindy’s Supper Club, by Cindy Pawlcyn (10 Speed Books, $35 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Classic Georgian “pressed” chicken with walnut and beet sauces

Why I tried it:  I felt there seemed something so crossroads-y about having to have both walnut and beet sauces – Eastern European and Middle Eastern at the same time.  Also, I felt, there was cause to hope that the “pressing” of the chicken would lead to crisp skin.  And what wouldn’t I do for crisp skin?!

Why I loved it:  The slow, weighted “frying” did lead to crisp skin, and it was simple enough that I’d be able to remember that next time without a recipe.  But it was the sauces that really lit my chandelier.  I kept going back and forth between the two, trying one, and then the other, and then both, in a glorious state of indecision.  Yes, it’s a little bit of a bother to make two sauces.  But it’s so very worth it!  If it’s any consolation, you can skip the tomato wedges.  They’re just there for show, as far as I’m concerned.

Estimated preparation time: 1 hour for the sauces (if you haven’t peeled, roasted and grated the beets ahead of time), 1 hour for the chicken.  You might be able to overlap some of the sauce and chicken preps, if you’re thinking ahead, so it could just about be done in 90 minutes.
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Cindy's Supper Club, Cindy PawlcynClassic Georgian “pressed” chicken with walnut and beet sauces
Serves 6

WALNUT SAUCE
1 cup walnuts
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon hot paprika
2 to 3 teaspoons cider vinegar
Up to 1 cup water
salt

In a blender, combine the walnuts, garlic, coriander, paprika, and 2 teaspoons of the vinegar. With the motor running, slowly add the water, stopping when the sauce is the consistency of thick cream. It should be thinner than mayonnaise but thicker than a rich broth. Taste and season with the remaining teaspoon vinegar and coriander, if needed, and with salt. Set aside.

BEET SAUCE
2 beets, boiled or roasted, peeled and finely grated.
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive or walnut oil
2 tablespoons cider or rice vinegar
3/4 cup sour cream, or 6 tablespoons each plain yogurt and creme fraiche
salt
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill before serving.

CHICKEN

6 pounds chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
2 or 3 cloves garlic, mashed
1 scant cup water or stock
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced and squeezed dry
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges and lightly salted

1. Place a very large saute pan (big enough to hold all of the chicken with a little space left over) over medium-low heat and add the butter (dividing it if using 2 pans). While the butter melts, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.

2. When the butter is nice and foamy, place the chicken pieces, bone side down, in the pan(s). Cover just the meat, not the pan, with parchment paper, and place a second pan on top of the parchment. Fill the top pan with water (or a weight to press the chicken down, and then “fry” slowly for 25 minutes. Remove the top pan(s), being careful not to slosh any water into the cooking pan(s), flip the pieces over skin side down, and replace the parchment and the top pan(s) and the weight. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes to crisp the skin and finish cooking the meat.

3. When the chicken pieces are ready, pull them out of the pan(s), put them on a large platter, and keep them warm. Add the garlic and water to the pan juices (dividing them if using 2 pans), increase the heat to high, and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the pan bottom(s), until reduced by two-thirds. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. Spoon the pan sauce over the chicken and place the tomato wedges here and there around the platter. Serve the walnut and beet sauces on the side.

Reprinted with permission from Cindy’s Supper Club © 2012 by Cindy Pawlcyn, 10 Speed Press.

whole foods, natural foods, sara forte, hugh forteA few years back I made a comment on NPR that got me in hot water (maybe not my first time!) – something about not liking most blog cookbooks.  I thought they were derivative and un-thoughtful, and in some cases this was true.

Well, color me reformed!  Every year since I’ve found a couple of blog books to love.   Everything that’s great about a food blog – the passion, the great photography, the forthright attitude of the cook – can shine in a blog book, especially when the author’s taken the trouble to come up with a whole slew of new recipes not found on the blog.

The Sprouted Kitchen recipes (though not so much the feel of the book) strongly remind me of Heidi Swanson’s approach:  mostly vegetarian, but not strict.  Emphasis on nuts and textures.  Reliance on some favorite ingredient combinations (not the same as Swanson’s faves).  Refreshing willingness to do things differently.  A find!

Click here to read today’s review of The Sprouted Kitchen in the Boston Globe.

Welcome back to the Best Recipes of 2012! post-Thanksgiving edition.   4 days ago, most of us were no better than we should have been about the carbs, which is one of the reasons I saved this recipe till after the holiday.  The other is that it’s the kind of recipe there’s never enough of, and I figured there was no point in ratcheting up the level of family tension any more than necessary.

The book:  The Fresh & Green Table, by Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, $24.95 here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Crispy Red Potato Patties with Asian Slaw and Limey Sauce

Why I tried itI have yet to meet anyone who can resist a crisp potato, and I’ve long loved the way that roasting a potato gets you a whole lot of crunch with a minimum of oil.  Could there be another way to roast potatoes, other than the good ol’  roasty chunks I learned to make from my trusty One Potato Two Potato?  The lime-and-gingery slaw sounded conventional, but it also seemed like a virtuous foil for the potatoes.

Why I loved it:  First of all, the squashed potatoes have all kinds of surface area for crisping up, which they do with a vengeance.  Then it’s lime, lime, lime.  Tart lime and zest juicing up the soft mayo,  lime brightening the fine shreds of cabbage in the slaw, all of it balanced with curve-filling sweetness just where it needs it.  The slaw is great, and it makes you feel good about yourself. But it was the crispy little bits of potato, perfect for dipping in limey sauce, that we were all fighting over in the end.  (If you feel like saving yourself some trouble and just making the potatoes and sauce and skipping the slaw, I assure you the recipe will still rock your socks off, and no one will know.)

Estimated preparation time: 90 minutes, including a bit of downtime during which you can make the sauce and the slaw.
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Crispy Red Potato Patties with Warm Asian Slaw & Limey Sauce
Serves 4.

For the potatoes:
16 baby red potatoes of uniform size (about 1½ oz each)
kosher salt
½ cup canola oil

For the limey sauce:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
½ tsp finely grated lime zest
½ tsp finely minced garlic
kosher salt

1.  To cook the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 475°F. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a piece of parchment. Put a double layer of dish towels on a large cutting board or your counter. Arrange the potatoes (preferably in a single layer) in a large Dutch oven and add enough water to cover them by at least 1 1/2 inches. Add 2 tsp salt, cover loosely, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender all the way through but not falling apart (check with a paring knife), 18 to 20 minutes.

2.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer each potato to the dish towels, not touching, and let cool for a few minutes. Using another folded dish towel, gently press down on each potato to flatten it into a patty about 1/2 inch thick (or up to 3/4 inch). The patties don’t have to be perfectly even, and a few pieces of potato may break off. (No matter; you can still roast them.) Let the patties cool for a few minutes more, transfer them to the baking sheet, and let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes longer. (Or, at this point, you can hold the potatoes in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before roasting.)

3. Sprinkle the potatoes with 1/4 tsp salt and pour the canola oil over them. Care fully flip the potatoes over and season again with a scant 1/2 tsp salt. Rub with some of the oil, making sure that the potatoes are well coated on all sides. Roast, carefully turning once with a spatula halfway through cooking, until they turn a deep orange brown (a little darker and crisper around the edges), 28 to 30 minutes.

4.  To make the limey sauce: In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until well combined. Let sit for a few minutes to let the flavors blend. Refrigerate if making ahead.

For the Asian slaw:
1½ cups very thinly sliced napa or savoy cabbage (pale inner leaves only)
1 cup very thinly sliced red cabbage
1 cup (packed) baby spinach leaves
kosher salt
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1½ tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp canola oil, plus 2 tsp
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts)

1. To make the slaw: In a large heatproof mixing bowl, combine the napa cabbage, red cabbage, and spinach. Sprinkle the greens with 1/4 tSp salt. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lime juice, and brown sugar. In a medium heavy nonstick skillet, heat the 2 tsp canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is wilted and just starting to brown around the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the onion to the bowl of greens and let the skillet cool for a few seconds off the heat.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the pan to the heat, and add the remaining 1 tbsp canola oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar mixture to the pan (scrape out all the brown sugar with a small spatula), stir vigorously to warm it through, and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Stir and scrape the hot dressing over the greens, tossing the greens with tongs as you pour. Toss thoroughly to coat well and to soften and wilt the greens just a bit. (The cabbage will still be crunchy.) Taste and add more salt (if desired).

3.  Arrange four dinner plates on your counter. On one side of each plate arrange four potato patties, slightly overlapping. On the other side of eacplate, mound a quarter of the slaw. Spoon some of the limey sauce over the potatoes (down the middle of the rowof potatoes), and top each serving with the scallions. Serve right away.

Recipe excerpted from The Fresh & Green Table by Susie Middleton, Chronicle Books (2012). Reprinted with permission.

Happy day after Thanksgiving, folks!  While you’re groaning on the couch in a tryptophan coma*, how’s about a little palate cleanser? I loved this ice cream book published by the Bi-Rite Creamery this past summer.  (My Boston Globe review has more information about this book, in case you’re interested.)
[*OK, turkey has no more tryptophan than other poultry, and the coma is probably caused by the carbs rather than the turkey. But it's still fun to say "tryptophan coma".]

The book:  Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones, by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker, and Dabney Gough (10 Speed Press, $24.95)

The recipe:  Buttermilk Ice Cream

Why I tried it: Buttermilk is one of those magic ingredients – like Worcestershire sauce or dua belibis - that makes everything better.  It makes biscuits better.  It makes marinades better. It makes cold soups better.  It makes fried chicken better.  Why shouldn’t it make ice cream better, too?

Why I loved it:  Two reasons – taste and texture.  First of all, that tart, fresh, farm-scrubbed dairy taste came through. It was like eating crème fraîche straight out of the tub with a spoon, except sweet and more assertive, and  (it’s just ice cream after all) not perverse.  As for the texture, it’s not just the normal  smooth, rich effect you get from using Bi-Rite’s generous formula of 5 yolks per scant quart. This is ultra-premium, private-jet-class velvet–caused by the protein-disassembling acids of buttermilk.  Even when it’s totally “frozen,” a scoop still passes easily through.  It lingers in a soft cool mass on your tongue for a moment, and then it’s gone.

And if it happens to be August? and you happen to have some fresh blueberries around? then you’re in for a food memory that will last a lifetime.

Estimated preparation time: 40 minutes + 4 hours in the freezer.
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Buttermilk Ice Cream
I learned a great way to cool down ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and I now use it every time I make ice cream: Fill a deep vessel (> 2 qts.) with ice water.  Carefully tip your warm ice cream custard base into a sturdy freezer-grade Ziploc bag, and place the bag in the ice water (with the opening kept well clear above the water level).  Stir occasionally and gently, over the course of 10 minutes until the base is cool.  Much, much faster than the bowl-within-a-bowl technique.

5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup 1% or 2% milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Make the base: In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks to just break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (6 tablespoons). Set aside.

2. In a heavy stainless steel pan, stir together the cream, milk, and the remaining sugar (6 tablespoons) and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

3. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Returning to the pan of cream on the stove, use a heatproof spatula to stir the cream as you slowly pour the egg and cream mixture back into the pan.

4. Continue to cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and leaves a clear mark when you run your finger across it, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

5. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer and into a clean container. Set the bowl into an ice bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight. (In this recipe, it’s particularly important that the base is cold before proceeding to the next step; otherwise the buttermilk will cause the mixture to “break” and lose its emulsion.)

6. Freeze the ice cream: Add the buttermilk and vanilla to the cold base and whisk to blend.

7. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away or, for a firmer ice cream, freeze for at least 4 hours.

Reprinted with permission from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones © 2012 by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker, and Dabney Gough, 10 Speed Press.

Here’s a book that may have passed you by this year. Lyons Press launched a series of small cookbooks from up-and-coming chefs.  The books aren’t flashy, but there are some real treasures in them – like this one.

We’ll be taking a break for Thanksgiving after this post–Happy Turkey Day, everybody!  And stay tuned for more Best Recipes after the holiday.

The book:  Comfort and Spice, by Niamh Shields (Lyons Press, $19.95)

The recipe:  Crispy Pomegranate Molasses Chicken Wings with Tahini Sauce

Why I tried itI think the name says it all.  Like most people, I dislike and avoid deep-frying.  But there are some times when there’s just no other choice, so a few times a year I just go for it.  Also, I have a real weakness for both pomegranate molasses and tahini.  I’d never seen them paired before.  Could it be as good as it sounded?

Why I loved it:  Because it’s wings we’re talking about and not breast, the spices and molasses really penetrated the meat overnight.  The seasoned flour coat doubles down on the cumin anyway, and then you crisp it up in the fryer. Do not Skip the Dip.  When the crisp, sweet, spiced wing meets the cool, tart, creamy dip, sparks fly.

Estimated preparation time: 20 day-before minutesovernight marinade + 30 day-of, messy minutes.
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Crispy Pomegranate Molasses Chicken Wings with Tahini Sauce

Recipe excerpted from Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields, Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.

Seives 6—8 as a snack
For the marinade
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt

For the chicken
2¾ pounds chicken wings, cut in half at the joint
2 whole eggs, or 3 egg whites, beaten
light oil, to deep-fry (peanut or sunflower)

For the seasoned flour
2 heaping cups all-purpose flour
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon chili powder

1.  Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and massage into the wings.
Cover and leave in the refrigerator for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
2. The next day, pour all the ingredients for the seasoned flour into a large plastic storage bag. Add the chicken, close the bag, and toss.
3. Place the eggs or egg whites in a large shallow dish. Transfer the chicken to the egg, coat thoroughly, then repeat with the flour.

4. Heat 2 inches of oil in a very large pan, or a deep fat fryer, until it reaches 35o°F on an oil thermometer or a cube of bread froths the oil immediately. Fry the chicken in batches, ensuring the pan is not crowded. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.

For the tahini dip:  chop 3 garlic cloves and crush in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds. Add ¾ cup tahini, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, and 5 tablespoons of water. Add the juice of a lemon until the taste and consistency suits you.  Stir in chopped cilantro and serve.

Eggs?  you’re saying.  You picked eggs for one of your best recipes of the year?  Sure did.  This recipe revolutionized my breakfast routine.  No more boring-scrambled-eggs-you-eat-because-you-need-the-protein!  I made it 6 days out of 7 all through tomato season.

The book:  The Fresh Egg, by Jennifer Trainer Thompson (Storey, $14.95 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Scrambled Eggs, Indian-Style

Why I tried it: My Aunty Sen makes a delicious scrambled egg with tomato.  “It looks kind of terrible,” she told me, “but it tastes really good.”  I loved her tomato egg, but it was a little scary-looking, and I ended up not making it at home.  So when I saw this egg recipe with tomato, I thought it was a good chance to get over my own qualms about tomato eggs.  Also, it had onion.  Who can be afraid of a recipe that starts with onion?

Why I loved it:  You know how when you eat scrambled eggs, they’re great for the first bite, OK for the second, and after that you’re just eating them because you have to?  Yeah, that’s what this recipe isn’t like.  It’s full of interesting, complementary flavors that keep bouncing off each other from the first bite to the last.  In fact, the whole experience is over all too soon.  I made this recipe first in the spring, and I didn’t think it could get better.  Then I tried it with the fresh tomatoes in August.  Then I tried it with our chickens’ first eggs, in October.  Oh my!!!

Estimated preparation time: < 15 minutes*.
*once you’re familiar with the recipe.  Less if you keep ginger-garlic paste around (a terrific staple that keeps forever in the fridge, by the way, and available at most Asian markets).  You can use it instead of mincing the garlic and ginger.
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Scrambled Eggs, Indian-Style
Haven’t got a fresh tomato? That’s OK. Even a mediocre winter tomato turns into a rock star with this treatment. And if you haven’t even got one of those, you can use a scant tablespoon of tomato paste and loosen it up with a little water in the pan as you sweat the aromatics. I just did, and it was great.
Serves 2

4 eggs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 small tomato, chopped
1 green chile, seeded and slivered (or substitute 1 teaspoon chili powder)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon toasted cumin seed
Pinch of ground turmeric

1.  Beat the eggs and set aside.

2.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tomato, chile, cilantro, garlic, and ginger and cook until the tomato is soft (so you can mash it). Season with salt and pepper, the cumin seed, and the turmeric.

3.  Pour in the eggs and scramble until they reach the desired consistency. Serve immediately.

Recipe excerpted from The Fresh Egg Cookbook © by Jennifer Trainer Thompson, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Hooray!  It’s time to kick off the 2012 Best Recipes series: drool-worthy, conversation-stopping, routine-altering recipes published in the last year. We’re going in order of publication – so we’ll begin with Andrea Nguyen’s magnificent tofu book, published in February.

The book:  Asian Tofu, by Andrea Nguyen (10 Speed, $30)

The recipe:  Pan-fried Tofu with Mushroom and Spicy Sesame Sauce

Why I tried it:  It was initially  one more excuse to pull out the shiitakes, which I adore.    Also, it’s not always easy to achieve a crisp exterior when frying tofu, though it’s irresistible when you get it right.  So it was a good litmus test for the book – was Nguyen really going to lead us to crisp-tofu nirvana? Or would we be left fumbling cluelessly on our own (which is what usually happens)?

Why I loved it:  Crisp exterior achieved! by thoughtful slicing, draining, blotting–and a nonstick pan (who knew?)  But the real payoff came when the fried mushrooms met the sesame sauce.  I don’t know how it is that those predictable ingredients – soy, sesame, garlic, scallions – can constantly offer flavorful surprises.  Yet they do. The thinly sliced mushroom caps attain a slight golden crust of crispness, yet remain porous enough to absorb sauce like nobody’s business.

The recipe may seem long on first read, but it’s one of those cases where Nguyen is just being careful so things are crystal-clear.  The whole thing doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, even when you include making the sauce. (I usually hate turning to another page in a book to make a sauce, but it was totally worth it this time.)

Estimated preparation time: 30 minutes*.
*once you’re familiar with the recipe, and if you don’t mess around.
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Panfried Tofu with Mushroom and Spicy Sesame Sauce

Serves 4 with 2 or 3 other dishes

1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu
8 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, such as enoki, shimeji, oyster, and shiitake
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 big pinches salt
2 big pinches black pepper
1/3 cup Korean Seasoned Soy Sauce (recipe below)

1.  Cut the tofu into chunky matchboxes, each about 1 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 1/2 inch. Line a plate with a non-terry dishtowel or double layer of paper towels. Place the tofu on top to drain for about 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, give each type of mushroom a very quick rinse under water to knock off any debris. Hold enoki and shimeji by the cluster. If you are using enoki or shimeji, trim and discard the sandy material that the mushroom grew in. The cluster should naturally fall apart. Trim oyster mushrooms at the ends and separate into individual ones. Tear large ones lengthwise into bite-size pieces. Trim and discard shiitake stems, then slice the caps a good 1/8 inch thick. Set the mushrooms aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Blot the tofu pieces before pan-frying them until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm.
4. Add the mushrooms to the pan and sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the mushroom are soft, fragrant, and about half of their original volume.
5 Arrange the tofu on one large plate or individual plates. Top with the mushrooms and sauce. Serve hot or warm.

Korean Seasoned Soy Sauce
makes about 1/3 cup

2 tablespoons Korean or Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu) or other red pepper
2 tablespoons lightly packed finely chopped green onion, white and green parts
2 to 3 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted then crushed with a mortar and pestle

1. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, water, sesame oil, and sugar, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the garlic, red pepper powder, green onion, and sesame seeds. Set aside for about 15 minutes for the flavors to develop. The sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a week.
2. This sauce can dramatically change its characteristics as it sits. Right before using, taste the sauce again and make any last-minute tweaks. You want a strong savory-spicy-slightly-sweet finish because the tofu that will be served with this is not highly seasoned.

Reprinted with permission from Asian Tofu © 2012 by Andrea Nguyen, 10 Speed Press.

A couple of years ago, I started keeping track of everything we cooked and ate–dinners anyway.  It was mostly a practical matter:  as I tested more and more and more cookbooks for the Globe and NPR, I never got to enjoy even my favorite recipes more than once or twice because I couldn’t remember what they were or where to find them.

So I started keeping records.  And I realized that every month or so, it turned out that there was at least one kind-of-mindblowing recipe worth returning to and telling people about.

As of tomorrow, I will start sharing my favorite 14 or 15 lick-the-pan, sauce-on-your-nose, hoard-the-leftovers recipes from 2012.  I’ll post one every few days, with the story of how we discovered it, what book it came from, and how you can get it, too.

The publishers have kindly consented to let me reprint the recipes here on the blog, with original photos where available.  So tie on your aprons and fire up your Pinterest!  We’ll get underway first thing in the morning.

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