The story of origin behind mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is one that is not completely verified but the myth is that this dish was created by a pock-marked old woman (hence, the meaning of the first two Chinese characters, 麻婆). This woman was a widow and due to her disfigurement, also an outcast, who lived in the outskirts of Chengdu. Only poor workers or weary travelers would come across the widow’s house and when they did, she would create this now-famous dish for them.
Mapo tofu is considered a Szechuan dish so traditionally, this dish is really spicy – like, tongue-numbing spicy. I love the numbingly spicy versions I can get at restaurants, but when I’m cooking at home, I don’t use the Szechuan peppercorns or the red chili peppers. My version definitely has the spicy kick but it won’t make your ears turn red or have you begging for water. I grew up eating the non-spicy version, which is also just as good, since my dad could not tolerate spices. This dish is very versatile – you can make it spicy or non-spicy, you can add add veggies (sometimes I like to add diced onions, minced picked radish, or even green beans), or you can substitute ground pork with chicken or beef. Make it your own..or enjoy my version below!
- ¼ pound marinated ground pork
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 package silken tofu (14 oz), cubed
- 2 stalks scallions, chopped, for garnish
for the sauce:
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons chili oil (this is my favorite and can be found at most Asian supermarkets)
- 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. While skillet is heating up, mix all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Brown ground pork for 3 to 5 mins and set aside.
Add vegetable oil to the skillet and heat oil for about 1 min and cook garlic until fragrant. Carefully add cubed tofu to the skillet and brown for 1 to 2 mins. Add a sprinkle of salt to tofu and then add the sauce (be sure to give the sauce a good stir before adding to skillet, as the cornstarch will have sunk to the bottom). Keep stirring to combine sauce and tofu and then add ground pork back to the skillet. Incorporate evenly, lower heat to medium low, and cook for about 5 mins until pork is fully cooked.
Plate and garnish with chopped scallions. Best served over freshly cooked jasmine rice.
I’m sound asleep, like always, and wake up to the Hubs literally suffocating me, his entire body on my face.
Me: What the hell?!?!
Hubs: Shhhh…don’t move.
Me (muffled because the Hubs is still laying on my face): What?
Hubs: Don’t move. You gotta be careful.
Me: Careful of what?
Hubs: It’s going to fall on you.
Me: What’s going to fall on me?
Hubs (finally gets off of me): That thing.
Me: What thing?
Hubs: That thing.
Me: Oh my gosh, what thing are you talking about?
Me: VINCE, WHAT THING?!
[no answer...Hubs is sound asleep]
When I woke up the next morning, I asked him what the heck he was talking about. For once, he remembered doing what he did. He said he thought the wall studs were falling. While it was a very rude awakening, I guess it was sweet he was trying to protect me.
This is my husband and I love him so…
The first time I ever baked something was in 7th grade Home Ec class (do schools still offer those classes?). Banana bread was the first thing we learned to bake in Home Ec. In hindsight, I’m kind of surprised I never touched the oven until I was 12 years old. But then again, my mom was a worry wart and probably didn’t trust us anywhere close to her kitchen.
I remember taking home my banana bread and my mom loved it. She kept that recipe for years and it was her go-to recipe for banana bread. But we’ve since misplaced that recipe and I couldn’t find a similar one for a very long time. A lot of recipes call for butter, but our Home Ec recipe used vegetable oil which we definitely preferred. I think using vegetable oil results in a moister banana bread.
Fast forward to a year ago, I stumbled upon a lifestyle blog that featured this Williams-Sonoma recipe that was touted a great recipe for baking with kids. I was ecstatic when I saw it called for vegetable oil instead of butter. I tried out the recipe and it was exactly what I remembered my Home Ec banana bread tasted like. I’m so thrilled to have a go-to banana bread recipe back in my arsenal and I’m happy to share it with you all. Enjoy! And I completely agree that this is a great recipe for baking with little ones.
- 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 3 medium very ripe bananas, peeled
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan with butter, vegetable oil or Pam cooking spray.
In a bowl, mix dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda) with a wooden spoon. In another large bowl, mash bananas (I find using your hands is easier than a fork). Add sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract to bowl and beat until fully incorporated.
Add flour mixture to the banana mixture and mix until well blended. Add in chopped walnuts and incorporate into batter.
Pour batter into well-greased loaf pan and bake for about 45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let bread stand for at least 20 mins before removing from pan.
I love the smell of cut cucumbers. For something so unsuspecting, they make the house smell really refreshing and as odd as this sounds, they smell like…summer. Summer, as in a cool summer evening when all of your windows are open and there’s that nice cool-warm breeze coming through. Cucumbers and watermelon will definitely do that to a home – well, at least that for mine. We’re clearly still in spring, but obviously summer is on my mind!
I’ll keep this post short and sweet since this recipe is just as simple. Cold spicy cucumber salad is a refreshing side dish to any meal. It would also go well with kimchi fried rice! If you can’t handle any spice, you can of course omit the red pepper flakes. But I love the little bit of bite that the red pepper gives to this dish – the longer the salad sits in the fridge, the bigger the bite.
Cold Spicy Cucumber Salad
- 1 large English cucumber or several small Persian pickle cucumbers, cut into 2″ spears
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Combine everything in a bowl and toss well to incorporate evenly. Eat immediately, or for best (and most refreshing) results, refrigerate for at least 30 mins before serving.
If you’ve never heard of The Pioneer Woman, you do now and you’re welcome . What began as a casual encounter with The Pioneer Woman’s blog four years ago, I am now one of the hundred thousands, or even millions, of adoring readers. Her blog posts are humble, shameless, funny, helpful, and chock full of beautifully taken photographs. It’s amazing what blogging can do to some people’s lives. For The Pioneer Woman, in 2006, she started blogging as a hobby during her free time as the wife of a cattle rancher (Marlboro Man) and mother of four kids. Now, she has her own Food Network cooking show, a second cookbook on the way, a children’s book, a bestselling book that chronicles the love story of her and her husband, and there are even rumors of a movie being made of her life, possibly starring Reese Witherspoon! If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what to tell you.
Her recipes have always appealed to me because the food is stuff you can easily make at home. The ingredients are easy to find at any supermarket too. Her recipes are so easy to follow I think an amateur home cook would have no problems making them successfully. A lot of her recipes are borderline Paula Deen-esque, in the sense of how much butter is used, but who doesn’t love butter, right? But among other things, her recipes are great for entertaining or bringing to a potluck or party. This pasta salad in particular has been a reliable standby for me.
Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad
from The Pioneer Woman
for the dressing (can be made 1-2 days ahead of time):
- 1 jar (7 oz) sundried tomatoes, drained
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
for the pasta:
- 1 pound corkscrew pasta
- 1 jar kalamata olives, pitts removed and chopped
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 10-15 basil leaves, julienned
- 1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a blender or food processor, combine sundried tomatoes, garlic and red wine vinegar until tomatoes are chopped. Continue blending while drizzling olive oil until mixed together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain cooked pasta and rinse with cold water.
Pour 2/3 of the dressing over the pasta. Add olives and toss together. Add tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese, tossing together and adding more dressing until the salad is coated to your liking.
** The dressing can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. When ready to use, be sure to heat it up in the microwave for a few seconds so that the dressing is easy to mix in with the pasta. **