1554 Black Ale Truffles with Abbey Ale Peanut Brittle

|
Every website you look at regarding tempering chocolate tells you that it's really not that hard. They don't lie and say it's EASY, but they're like, "Oh, it's not that bad, you can do it, it's not a big deal." Well, I kind of beg to differ. Allow me to be frank here: Tempering chocolate is big, honking pain in the ass. You can do it, sure. It only requires a candy thermometer and exacting patience. I find it nearly impossible to do any significant amount of dipping before the temperature drops too low to be in temper, then I heat it up, get it too hot, and have to wait and wait for the temperature to drop again. I completely lost it today when I had chocolate covering every inch of myself and my kitchen and realized I needed to temper MORE chocolate to finish up. "That's IT, Greg! I'm buying a @$*#ing tempering machine!!" I declared.

Everything turned out fine, obviously. The truffles are delicious, and the chocolate finely tempered.

The impetus for making these truffles (other than that Greg and I are truffle junkies) is because through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, New Belgium Brewing Company offered me $50 to buy their beer and make new recipes. Well. Like I'm gonna turn THAT down. I love me some beer, and New Belgium makes delicious brews! My first and only thought (at least so far) was to make truffles using their amazingly complex 1554 Black Ale. Then, I thought I'd use their Abbey Ale (a belgian brew) to make peanut brittle to put on top of each truffle. Beer and peanuts! Could you want anything more?

Of course, using the brittle as a topping didn't work, but putting the pieces inside works just as well.

1554 Black Ale Truffles with Abbey Ale Peanut Brittle (a Heather creation)
-8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped finely
-5 ounces whipping cream
-6 ounces New Belgium 1554 Black Ale
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped small
-Broken pieces of Abbey Ale Peanut Brittle (recipe to follow)
-12-16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely (for tempering)
-At least 2 chocolates molds

1. In a small, heavy saucepan, bring beer to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring often to prevent the beer from boiling over. Reduce to 4 ounces.

Important Note: A normal truffle recipe should be 6 ounces cream, 3 ounces other liquid (like fruit juice or beer). To get increased beer flavor, I changed the amounts. This resulted in a truffle that was too soft to stand up on its own in ball-form (impossible to roll!), and too soft to be covered with tempered chocolate. If you use these measurements, you will need chocolate molds to create a more structured candy with a soft filling. If you don't have chocolate molds (or don't have any desire to buy them), you should go with 6 ounces of cream, 3 ounces beer.

2. Add cream and butter to the saucepan. Whisk quickly until butter melts.

3. Put chopped chocolate in a bowl. Add the beer-cream mixture to the bowl and let sit for a few minutes so the heat helps melt the chocolate for you. Whisk until all melted. Pour into a 13x9" pan and refrigerate overnight.

4. Temper the bittersweet chocolate. You temper by putting water in a saucepan and bringing to a simmer. Put 3/4 of the chocolate in a glass or metal bowl that fits in the saucepan. Melt the chocolate, and using a candy thermometer, wait until it reaches 115 degrees. Remove the bowl from the pan, stir, and wipe the bottom of the bowl. Rest it on a towel. Using a rubber spatula, stir fast to make the chocolate shiny. Slowly add the remainder of the bittersweet chocolate, stirring to melt and bring the overall temperature down. When the temperature reaches 90-91 degrees, it is in temper. Keep it at this temperature as long as you are coating things. You may need to briefly place it back on the saucepan.

5. Dip a pastry brush into the tempered chocolate and brush the inside of each mold evenly. This creates the shell of the chocolate. Once all the molds are coated, place in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. Remove and put approximately 1/2-1 teaspoon of the refrigerated filling in each mold. Place a piece of brittle in each mold, pushing down lightly. Pour tempered chocolate on the top of each filled mold and level with a bench scraper or similar. Put in freezer for another 10-15 minutes, or until hardened. Pop out of mold and enjoy!

Abbey Ale Peanut Brittle (recipe slightly adapted from the Los Angeles Times)
-1/2 cup New Belgium Abbey Ale
-1 cup sugar
-1 tablespoon light corn syrup
-1/4 teaspoon salt (sea salt could also be good!)
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla (you get more beer flavor if you omit this)
-1/2-3/4 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts

1. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and grease lightly.

2. In a heavy pot or dutch oven, combine beer, sugar, and light corn syrup. Bring mix to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a good simmer. Stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn't boil over. Using a candy thermometer, cook until mixture reaches the "hard crack" stage of 310 degrees. Remove from heat.

3. Immediately stir in salt, vanilla, and nuts. The mixture may steam, so be careful to avoid steam burns. Quickly pour the mixture onto the cookie sheet and spread as thinly as possible. Cool completely (fortunately, it doesn't take too long!) and break into pieces.

Verdict: The flavor of these truffles (and the peanut brittle) is totally awesome. They are rich and deeply chocolatey, with a complex hit of the 1554 beer. The Abbey Ale brittle is the perfect complement, allowing for a salty, crunchy peanuts to ease the richness. Using these awesome New Belgium beers elevated ordinary truffles and peanut brittle to a very naughty place.

Mediterranean Barley Salad with Chickpeas and Arugula

|
Are you ready for summer yet? It was in the mid-high 60's all week here--blue skies, warm breezes, pure happiness. Today, walking the 1 1/2 miles to work was suddenly a lot less pleasant. It was 31 degrees, overcast, and extremely windy. It felt even worse on the way home. It is officially Spring now, Mother Nature! Get with the freakin' program!

I picked out this recipe over the weekend, when it was lovely and springy outside. Of course, tonight would've been good for a hot recipe, but what can you do? This was still marvelous....a speedy little ditty for a hungry weeknight. It's best saved for summer, though--as an entree on your back porch, a small side to a grilled steak, or your contribution to a company picnic. It is a solid winner all around.

Mediterranean Barley Salad with Chickpeas and Arugula (from Cooking Light)
-1 cup uncooked pearl barley
-1 cup packed arugula leaves (**Or more! 1 cup is not very much.**)
-1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
-3 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil
-1 (15 1/2-ounce) can no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
-Optional: 2 ounces of diced black olives
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (**If you use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, you can cut down to 1 tablespoon or less of olive oil**)
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
-2 tablespoons chopped pistachios (**I might substitute a little crumbled feta in the future.**)

1. Cook barley according to package directions, omitting salt. Combine barley, arugula, bell pepper, tomatoes, and chickpeas in a large bowl.

2. Combine lemon juice, oil, salt, and crushed red pepper, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over barley mixture, and toss. Sprinkle with pistachios.

-Serves 4
-Calories: 360, Fat: 10.1g, Carbs: 59.9g, Protein: 10.1g

Chipotle Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia with Avocado Cream and Black Bean & Corn Salad

|
In life, there are those with a mean sweet tooth (like my husband), and there are those who constantly crave salty snacks. Greg calls me a "halophile"--an organism that can survive in high concentrations of salt. It is an accurate nickname. There are few snacks I like more than tortilla chips...and (perhaps horrifyingly) the saltier the better. I take them salsa-less, so as to not interfere with the simple pleasure of baked corn and salt.

So, it was a great day when, as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I received two bags of Tostito's Artisan Recipes tortilla chips--Black Bean-Garlic and Fire-Roasted Chipotle. Greg and I tucked into the bags right away. I loved the simple flavor combinations that turned tortilla chips into a less scary, whole-grain (they have millet in them!) version of Doritos.

I once made a fabulous recipe for oven-baked chicken which utilized plain yogurt as a base and had a spiced bread crumb coating. The Fire-Roasted Chipotle chips made me remember that recipe and inspired me to try it anew with fish. I made the avocado cream as a dipping sauce, which also ended up working well as an accompaniment to the black bean-corn salad.

Chipotle Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia with Avocado Cream (by me)
For the Fish:
-4 tilapia fillets, approximately 1 pound
-Approximately 1/2 bag of Fire-Roasted Chipotle Tostito's tortilla chips
-1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons cup plain yogurt
-1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
-1/8 teaspoon cumin
-1/8 teaspoon cayenne
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon dried cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease a cooking sheet with spray oil.

2. Put tortilla chips in a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin. Pour out onto a plate. On a separate plate, combine the yogurt and spices, spreading out a bit.

3. Dredge both sides of each fillet in the yogurt, then the chips. Place finished fillets on the baking sheet. The chips may not stick to the fillet entirely, so don't be afraid to finish one side, put it on the baking sheet, and press extra chips on the top.

4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Serve with the avocado cream for dipping.

For the Avocado Cream:
-1/3 cup plain yogurt
-2 tablespoons sour cream
-1 ripe avocado
-1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
-1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

1. In a small bowl, mash up the avocado as finely as possible. Mix in the yogurt, sour cream, salt and pepper. Combine well and serve immediately.

Black Bean & Corn Salad (from Rachel Ray)
-1 can, 14 ounces, black beans, rinsed and drained
-2 cups frozen corn kernels
-1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
-1/2 red onion, chopped
-1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
-2 teaspoons Tabasco
-1 lime, juiced
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil
-Salt and pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand at least 15 minutes for corn to fully defrost and flavors to combine, then toss and serve. The corn will also place a quick-chill on this easy side-salad as it defrosts -- no need to refrigerate!

-Serves 4-6

Verdict: This was a pretty delicious meal. The fish baked up wonderfully--silky soft inside with a tasty, crunchy crust. The avocado cream, though simple sounding, was both me and Greg's favorite part of the entire shebang. It really tied the meal together. The salad was spicy and cold, crisp and fresh. I loved it.

Hot Dog! Buns!

|
Did you know that soft, fluffy-yet-sturdy, professional looking homemade hot dog buns are very easily within your reach? It's true. To this point, most of the bread products I've made have been vaguely the same... heavy, a little too dense, with the same small crumb. These beautiful buns are anything but. And let's not even begin to talk about the smell that made me unbearably hungry at 2:30pm.

We had these with locally made deli hot dogs, ketchup, and relish. This could be a tall order for your ordinary bun... lots of dense, wet fillings to make it fall apart. But these buns? They stood up admirably (and then asked for more).

I am not even done being impressed with myself yet. Is that bad?

Hot Dog! Buns! (recipe and method adapted a bit from the "Bread Baker's Apprentice," by Peter Reinhart)
-4 cups unbleached bread flour
-3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-3 1/4 tablespoons sugar
-1/4 cup powdered milk
-1 large egg, lightly beaten
-3 1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
-2 teaspoons active dry yeast
-1 1/2 cups, plus 1-3 tablespoons water at approximately 115 degrees
-1 egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water until frothy (for egg wash)
-Sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together flours, sugar, and salt.

2. In another bowl, melt the butter. With a fork or whisk, beat in the egg. Add the dry milk and whisk until mostly smooth. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the yeast and the warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until bubbly.

4. Pour the butter mixture and the proofed yeast mixture into the flour. Mix with a wooden or metal spoon until a dough forms. You may need to mix with your hands to get it all incorporated. Add the extra 1-3 tablespoons at this time if necessary to make a dough that is soft, supple, and tacky, but not sticky.

5. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and knead for 6-8 minutes, until dough passes the windowpane test. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to it, rolling it to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.

6. Remove dough from the bowl and divide into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Mist the tops with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let them rest for 20 minutes. .

7. Shape each ball into a hot dog bun. You can do this by flattening the ball with your palm, then bringing two edges in toward the center to form a square. Roll it up tightly, then rock it back and forth gently under your palms to make the bun longer. Don't pinch or taper the ends. Transfer the shaped buns to a sheet pan lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Mist the tops with spray oil, loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise for 60-90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

8. Preheat the oven to 400. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and garnish with seeds if desired. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden-brown and the sides are golden. Let cool for at least 15 minutes on a rack before servings.

Chocolate-Guinness Cake Pops

|
I'm about 3 years behind on the Cake Pop trend. I don't have kids, and I don't really go to many festive events requiring fancy dessert stuffs. So, making cake pops was a nice idea, but not one that struck me as particularly necessary. That said, they are on my 2011 Baking Challenge list, so I thought there would be no better time to make them than today, when Greg, Gus, Lisa, and I will be enjoying corned beef sandwiches in honor of St. Patty's.

Knowing that I am not too artistically inclined (like these fine folks), I stuck with the basics for my first cake pop experiment (though, I did make a cake from scratch, not from a box mix). I chose a super fat bastardy Chocolate-Guinness cake recipe from King Arthur. Seriously? 3 sticks of butter. 3 eggs. 3 cups of both flour and sugar. 1 1/2 cups of Guinness. And more. That is disgusting in theory, but wonderful in practice.

Chocolate Guinness Cake Pops (from King Arthur Flour and Bakerella)
For the cake:
-1 1/2 cups Guinness
-1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
-1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-3 cups flour
-3 cups sugar
-2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-3 large eggs
-2/3 cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 13x9" pan. **Please note: This recipe makes far more than you'll need for the traditional cake pop recipe. This means, you should also prepare another 8 or 9" cake pan or a muffin tin.**

2. Place Guinness and diced butter in a large saucepan, heating until the butter melts. Remove pan from heat and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

4. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and sour cream. Add the Guinness-cocoa mixture, mixing to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined (the batter will be VERY thick).

5. Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove and cool completely before proceeding with the cake pop portion.

For the cake pops:
-1 can of dark chocolate frosting with about 1 teaspoon leftover Guinness whisked in for a little flavoring
-50 lollipop sticks
-2 packages melting candy wafers (**I only had one, and it was NOT enough for 50 of these balls.**)
-Green sugar crystals
-Styrofoam blocks

1. Cut about 2/3-3/4 of your 13x9" cake into fourths and rub two pieces together to easily crumble the cake into a bowl. You can also use your fingers to further crumble. Do not use the entire pan of cake, because it will make too much!

2. Using a wooden spoon, mix in most of the frosting until everything is well combined. You may use your fingers at the end to make sure it's all combined. Roll out 50 cake balls and place on a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Freeze for about 20 minutes to firm them up a bit.

3. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the candy wafers, stirring every 30 seconds. Dip the first 1/2" or so of a lollipop stick in the melted candy. Take a cake ball and insert the stick about 3/4 of the way into the ball. Gently dip into the candy melt and tip the bowl around the ball so that it's coated--do NOT try to rotate the pop! Lift the cake pop out and, holding it at a 90-degree angle, gently tap the stick on your wrist over the candy melt bowl, while rotating the pop. This will expedite the excess candy melt dripping off into the bowl. When it stops dripping freely, sprinkle with the sugar crystals and stick into the styrofoam block to dry.

-Makes 50 pops.

Verdict: As previously mentioned, the cake is ridiculous--both in flavor and calorie count. The cake pops are a fun novelty with the hard candy coating (plus, we in the Midwest love food on sticks--it's genetic). Cake pops, as you might assume, are very time consuming, and I am short on patience. So, I made about 15 pops and then froze the remaining cake balls for another go-round in the future.

Lentil Dal

|
I was working an etiquette dinner for college girls last year, and the soup du jour was lentil. Inwardly, I clapped my hands with glee. Lentils, yay! When I tucked in, the soup was hearty, comforting, thick with lentils and minced veggies. I glanced around the table and found the five college girls pushing the lentils around with their spoons, noses crinkled. They saw me looking at them questioningly. Silence. Then, "....What IS this?"

"Lentil soup!" I said, cheerily, hoping I would encourage them to taste it.

They hesitated, dipped a small amount on to their spoons and sipped at it like birds.

"Ew."

"Yeah, gross."

Silence from me. Then, "....What?! How is it gross? They're LENTILS. And VEGETABLES. They don't even have a strong flavor! Eat it!" If you can't tell, I don't have much tolerance for picky eaters.

Anyway, I don't remember, but I probably went into some rambling diatribe about how lentils are so good for you, as they're packed with protein, iron, and fiber. I also probably mildly scolded them about how they weren't being very polite at an etiquette dinner. But that's neither here nor there.

Lentil Dal (from Cooking Light)
-1 cup chopped onion
-1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
-1 teaspoon cumin
-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
-1 teaspoon turmeric
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
-Optional: 1-2 peeled, chopped carrots
-2 cups chopped tomato
-2 1/2 cups water
-1 cup dried lentils
-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
-1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
-3/4-1 teaspoon salt
-4-6 cups Hot cooked basmati or long grain rice

1. Heat a dutch oven (nonstick or with Pam or broth) over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (onion through garlic); saute 2 minutes. Add cauliflower and tomato; saute 1 minute. Stir in water and lentils; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 35 minutes or until lentils are tender.

2. Stir in lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Serve over rice.

-Serves 6

Verdict: A-OK. Not the most impressively flavored thing I've ever eaten, but hearty, simple fare all the same. I have a feeling that it will be even better as leftovers, once the flavors have gotten a chance to meld for 24 hours.

Chipotle-Black Bean Chili

|
I love the smoky, spicy bite of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. I love that an entire can costs under $2, and that there are multiple whole chiles contained within. The problem is that 1 or 2 of these bad boys pack quite a punch--and then what are you to do with the extras? Freeze them! I found today that the chipotles freeze and defrost beautifully in a tupperware container (freezer burn affects them in no way whatsoever). I've now entered phase two of my experiment: Freezing them a second time.

To ramp up this chili's flavor, I added an extra chipotle chile, a teaspoon of cumin, a little extra salt, and shredded cheddar. It was really pretty spicy, which is the way we like it (but it's easily adjustable). It has great flavor, with that nice smoky aftertaste. I think a lager or dark beer (bock, maybe?) would make a wonderful addition.

Chipotle-Black Bean Chili (modified from Cooking Light)
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-1 cup onion, finely chopped
-6 garlic cloves, minced
-2 tablespoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon cumin
-2 smaller canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (or 1, if you can't handle spice so well)
-1/4 teaspoon pepper
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained
-2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
-1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
-Cilantro sprigs (optional)
-Shredded Cheddar (optional)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until tender.

2. Add chili powder and next 7 ingredients (chili powder through green chiles); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

3. Ladle chili into individual bowls, and garnish with cilantro sprigs and cheddar cheese, if desired.

-Serves 4
-Calories: 248, Fat: 2.7g, Carbs: 46.6g, Protein: 13.8g

Blueberry Crumb Bars

|
During this time of intense political upheaval, peaceful protests, and solidarity among Wisconsinites, I have never missed living in Madison so much.

Without getting too politicky on my blog, I will say this: I've become emotional a few times looking at photos and videos over the past few weeks, and not just because I believe in the protesters' cause. To say that I feel a connection to the sight of the Capitol would be an understatement. I used to live two blocks from the Capitol building while attending college. I walked through the building nearly twice every day for two years. I laid on the lawn to look at the stars when I was blue. I could see it from my first post-college apartment kitchen window, just a mile down the road. And, Greg and I frequently visited the Farmer's Market (the USA's biggest!) that circles around it on Saturday mornings.

The Madison Farmer's Market is a glorious thing. Greg and I would go around 7am on Saturday mornings to beat the teeming throngs that show up by 8:30. While the produce is outstanding, we usually went for beef jerky and pastries. That's right--with coffee in hand, we'd eat salted meat and frosted, buttery pastries. Being bad never felt so good. My favorite pastry is from Oakhouse Bakery: Raspberry Scones. Greg favors Cress Spring Bakery, and usually gets a Chocolate Brioche or Blueberry-Oat Bars. Well, actually, he tends to buy a few of each and savors them over the week. :)

With Madison weighing heavily on my mind for awhile, I thought of those Blueberry-Oat Bars fondly. I remembered seeing this recipe on I'll Have What She's Having and being struck by the similarity. I stashed it away in my "recipes to make" file with a note that read, "Make this for Greg!!!!" And I finally did. And he loved it.

Blueberry Crumb Bars (modified slightly from I'll Have What She's Having)
Crust:
-1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
-1 1/4 cup quick oats
-3/4 packed brown sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder (**I just realized I forgot this. Ah well. Still worked!**)
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (**could easily be omitted if you don't have it on hand**)
-3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Put all ingredients in a large bowl, mix with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until well combined and crumbly.

3. Press half crust mixture into an 11x7 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake 12 to 15 minutes.

Blueberry Filling:
-1/4 cup packed brown sugar
-Zest and juice of one lemon
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
-2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
-1 pound frozen blueberries, thawed (I'm sure fresh would be amazing, too...but it IS March..)
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. In a medium bowl, mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon juice and zest, and butter together.

2. Add blueberries to mixture, toss gently till all they are covered.

3. Once bottom crust has baked for 12 minutes, cover with blueberry mixture and then with remaining crumb mixture. Press the crumb down gently.

4. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. You really do have to let them cool completely (sorry!), or they'll fall apart. No joke.

Do any other bloggers out there have cats that are just WAY too interested in you taking food photos? Such an adorable nuisance.

Kung Pao Tofu

|

I love random bits of trivia. Here's your cool fact for the day: Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) Peppercorns were banned from import into the United States from 1968 - 2005. The peppercorns were thought to be responsible for a blight on citrus trees, and the ban was only lifted after a change in the processing methods of the peppercorns. While that's interesting in and of itself (who knew??), this is how the westernized, Szechuan Peppercorn-less version of Kung Pao came about. These peppercorns are integral to the flavor of traditional Kung Pao, and here we in America were, for 37 years, not knowing the difference at all! Well. I know *I* feel smarter now.

Unfortunately, I didn't read about this until just now, post-cooking. Aaaand, naturally, I did not procure the peppercorns. But this was good, all the same.

Kung Pao Tofu (adapted from Fearless Homemaker)

For Marinade:
-1 package water-packed tofu, firm or extra-firm
-2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or Tamari
-2 tablespoons chinese rice wine
-1 tablespoon peanut oil
-1 tablespoon cornstarch

For Sauce:
-3 tablespoons dark soy sauce or regular soy sauce
-3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or Tamari
-3 tablespoons chinese rice wine
-2 tablespoons sugar (**I will do 1 tablespoon next time...I'm not too fond of the sweet notes.**)
-1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-8 dried chilies
-1 tablespoon sesame oil
-2 tablespoons peanut oil

For Dish:
-4 tablespoons oil (divided)
-1 yellow pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
-1 orange pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
-1 head bok choy, sliced
-1 onion, diced
-2 green onions greens
-1/2 cup peanuts

1. Remove tofu from packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Gently squeeze between your hands to try to get out any extra water. Pat again with paper towels.

2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together all marinade ingredients. Cut the tofu into 1/2" cubes and place into the bowl. Mix well and let marinate for a 1/2 hour.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

4. Heat a wok or pan to high heat. Add two tablespoons of oil with the peppers, onion, and bok choy, and stir fry (that is, cook over a very hot pan while moving the food quickly) until they start to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the wok.

5. Add the rest of the oil and the tofu. Stir fry for about 5 minutes, or more if you like it really well done. Do not let the tofu sit, as it will stick to the wok--keep stirring often!

6. Put the veggie mix back into the wok and toss until they are hot. Add the sauce and cook until it thickens, about 5-10 minutes (the longer you go, the more heat gets infused into the sauce from the dried chiles!). Garnish with green onion greens and peanuts. Serve over Jasmine rice.

-Serves 4

Verdict: A tasty dish that I would eat again. It was a little greasy and sweet for my tastes, but that's easily remedied by cutting down oil and sugar. The best part was how quickly and easily it all came together. It took just under an hour from start to finish.