BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS – How To Cook Them Nice and Juicy!


Lots of people complain about boneless chicken breasts as being dry and tasteless. But they don’t have to be. You can make them easily to turn out juicy and delicious with this little cooking trick I’ve come up with for them described below.

Boneless breasts can quickly go from moist and juicy to dry with just a half a minute of overcooking. So you have to be very careful with your cook time and technique. Over the years I’ve experimented plenty cooking them, and figured out a method that really works and you should try the next time you make chicken. Here’s my my not-so-secret, secret way of cooking chicken breasts so they are never dry and tasteless.

Chicken breast meat, especially off the bone and with the skin removed, is naturally very lean. It just doesn’t have enough intra-muscular fat, as dark meat does, which makes boneless chicken thighs much easier to cook, without overcooking until they dry out. Therefore the trick with cooking boneless breasts is basically to get a very nice sear on both sides, then let them finish in the pan with the cover on and the heat off using residual heat and internal steam to let them finish cooking. Thats the secret. Details follow.

Chicken breasts – Fresh or Frozen. During Covid-19, I started buying frozen breasts instead of fresh at Trader Joe’s. Sure I usually would prefer fresh over frozen but I don’t want to go to a store as often. So having frozen chicken breasts in the freezer is very practical. TJ’s sells them prepped and quick frozen in 2.5 lb bags, either “whole breasts with rib section” which are a big whole breasts, or you can get portioned, trimmed up ones which are one half a breast and make a perfect portion per person. They run about 7 or 8 dollars a bag. And there is an Organic option which doesn’t cost much more than the regular ones. If I get them frozen, I let them do an overnight defrost (full day) in the fridge (how long will depend a bit on thickness). I always use a slow defrost as I have mentioned many times before, as this is best method for defrosting most things. If you rush the defrosting and say leave it out on the counter you will see juice run out of the meat and your breasts will be dry no matter how you cook them. Naturally if you prefer to use fresh boneless chicken breasts, this same cooking method works equally well with fresh breasts. Fresh of course is the “normal” way I would buy chicken pre-Covid-19 and have also at times bought fresh breasts on sale, trim them up and freeze them myself. It’s just a little more work, but when they are $1.99 /lb on sale at my supermarket, its worth it.

Here’s the general outline of this method for juicy chicken: Season/Marinate. Sear on both sides. Turn off the heat. COVER THE PAN. WAIT. Details follow:

JUICY CHICKEN BREASTS COOKING METHOD: Prep / trim up the breasts. Season and/or marinate the meat. In the picture above I used some TJ TACO SEASONING all over the breasts. Its a convenient spice blend I find and actually works well with chicken as well as beef. Its a cumin and chile “mexican” spice blend. Of course any mix or blend of spices of your choosing will work. Smoked Spanish Paprika is great in the mix as it helps browning and is very flavorful (TJ carries it). I almost always add fresh garlic. Let the seasoned chicken marinate/sit for 20-30 minutes on the counter to warm up from the fridge. TIP: Rub Olive oil all over the chicken before adding the spices and they will stick better. Some people like a sprinkle of some coating (a bit of flour, or breadcrumbs or Panko). What we are going for is a nice golden brown color on both sides of the chicken.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil (or oil and butter) in your pan (Non-stick or Cast Iron). Cast iron is terrific. Get the pan nice and hot. Throw in the chicken and let it sear on one side. DO NOT TOUCH or move the breasts in the pan for 3-5 minutes until you see a good “Golden Brown and Delicious” sear on the bottom. A good sear is crucial for great flavor (aka the Maillard effect). When one side is done, flip the breasts over and do the other side. You need to check them and make sure the middle is not completely cooked (opaque). Now turn off the fire and immediately put a tight fitting lid on your pan to cover them. Do not peek or open the cover. If you do you will let the precious steam that will finish cooking them escape. TIP: (optional) Squeeze a quarter lemon in the pan and throw it in before closing the lid.

Set your timer for 7-10 minutes to let the breasts finish cooking in the covered pan. Thats the whole trick, letting residual steam and heat finish them, a bit slowly. Voila! Juicy Breasts with a ton of flavor.

SO again its: “Season, Sear, Heat Off, Lid On. Just wait till done”.

This little trick to cook juicy boneless breasts is that easy. With this method, the seared breasts are not cooked all the way through the middle but the the “closed, moist environment” inside the pan, lets them finish using steam slowly, basically like a poach. Now you may have to play around with your own timing, and adjust a little bit either way based on thickness of chicken and what type of pan. What we are aiming for in the cooking is getting them just over the line of seeing any pink. After they are just past the point of not looking pink and done, you get them out of the pan and rest them on a plate or cutting board for about 4-5 minutes (some foil over them will help keep them warm). Resting meat keeps juices in. The breasts should be cooked through (don’t slice before resting them, but once rested you can “peek” in a thick section). Remember meats continue cooking a bit from residual heat inside. Again why you rest them for a few minutes.

In my picture the bigger piece needed another 30-60 seconds to finish completely so I just put it back with the cover on with a lowish flame. Its way easier if they are a bit underdone to cook them a little bit more then overcook them if you want to be sure they don’t come out dry. You can also make shallow slashes in the thicker part of a breast prior to seasoning them to help even things out with the thinner parts as heat will penetrate the slashed part easier. Or you can pound the thick part flat with a pan a bit which will even them out. Anyway give this method a few tries and you will figure out your exact timings depending on a few factors (chicken thickness, heat source, pan thickness, etc). Electric stoves of course have a great deal of residual heat after they are shut off so Wait Time would really need to be much less (or just move the pan to a cool burner). If your chicken is still coming out “dry” with this Sear & Cover Method, you will need to deduct a minute of the outside browning time especially after you turn them. Conversely if its pink in the thickest part add a tiny bit more time. You can also try it with the lid on for the second side browning, but deduct a minute or two as the steaming effect inside the pan will be more intense. Now that you know this sear and cover method, you can experiment. If you like the results please let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Naturally serving these with a tasty sauce is great for flavor plus keeping things moist too. Try yogurt and Green Dragon or Zhoug -or- yogurt and lemon, or just deglaze the pan with a tiny bit of stock, wine or even just water and using the scrapings, and a bit of butter to make a few tablespoons of pan sauce. If you want a slightly thick sauce, add a pinch of cornstarch slurry.

Hope you enjoy this basic technique. If you want to explore cooking boneless breasts by poaching them instead of grilling, the Kitchn has a detailed explanation and good cooking technique for POACHED BREASTS (LINK BELOW) Poaching is great for moistness, but you don’t get the intense flavor of grilling.

THE KITCHN

Easy Pizza with Tandoori Naan


When I saw these frozen TANDOORI NAAN, I had an idea… Could I use these naan for the “base” of a pizza? If so than I could make pizza in mere seconds! OK it actually took me more like 5 minutes to assemble these pizzas (see pic) and pop them in a hot oven. But the idea? It basically worked fine. Using these Naan breads makes it super fast and easy to whip up some individual sized pizzas almost instantly. Just spread some of your favorite sauce, put on some cheese, and pop them in the oven, and Bingo you got a fresh hot pizza in about  10-15 minutes with almost no work at all.

As you can see in the pictures, I simply put some marinara on. I put slices of TJ whole milk mozzarella on, then threw it in the oven on a baking sheet for about 10-12 minutes at 400 .

Yes, I spruced these up a little adding a few sliced mushrooms and a few sliced asparagus to make it a bit “veggie”. I had this stuff in the fridge. Now I turned on the broiler for the last minute or two to really get the top nice and browned (I over did this by a few seconds so be careful if you do the broiler browning part). When they came out, I put some fresh grated parmesan on for good measure, and a drizzle of EVOO.

DELICIOUS!

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The Naan Pizza turned out quite good as you can probably tell from the pic. We ate one each with a salad for dinner and that made a very satisfying (and tasty!) dinner for us. Making these with the Naan requires so little time and effort. Yes the naan is not a real pizza base, it is more bread-y than a real pizza but seriously this was so fast, easy and cheap that making PIZZA NAAN is certainly worth giving a try sometime. TIP: Buy and try this with the GARLIC NAAN version TJ has as well. Obviously the Trader Joe’s Naan are great used in the traditional way too. For example accompanying some of the TJ Masala Chickpeas (frozen section) which are delicious!

A pack of 4 Naan is $1.99 (50 cents each, not bad huh). These are great to have in your freezer for pizza or Indian food or to use in many imaginative ways whenever you are in the mood.

PACIFIC ORGANIC ALMOND MILK


I’ve tried a number of the “milk alternative” beverages at Trader Joe’s. Most of them are pretty good. The one I keep going back to is PACIFIC FOODS ORGANIC ALMOND MILK (“Original”). I think the reason is I find its taste is a tiny bit better due to the fact the almonds its made from are roasted.

The Pacific Foods website says: “We take organic almonds and add a gentle roast to emphasize the robust, authentic flavors of the almonds. The result is our smooth, signature taste that’s a pleasure to drink by the glass and blends perfectly in your dairy-free recipes.”

We all know roasting nuts brings out their flavor, right? This subtle but noticeable taste in this almond beverage makes a small but slightly significant better taste giving this almond beverage a little depth of flavor over the other almond milks TJ carries.

I mostly use Almond Milk in the morning on my cereal. But this is also good to drink on its own (well chilled), mixed with yogurt, which is usually the things I put on my breakfast cereal with some fruit. I use this almond milk to make Smoothies; and its great for those. I actually do drink regular (cow) milk too though. I use regular whole milk in my daily cappuccino. Almond or Soy milk adds a taste that I don’t like in coffee drinks, for my taste or a cup of English tea.

The Pacific Almond Beverage costs a bit than the other nut milk beverages. This sells for $2.19 (1 Qt) compared to for example TJ’s Almond Milk ($1.89). Still this is worth trying and comparing to see what you like best. This version (original) does have a little organic cane sugar in it, but its hardly “sweet” and I think that also makes it tastier. Cow’s milk has naturally produced sugars too you know, just check the label.

The dairy milk industry by the way has been going crazy for the last few years about the word “milk” being used for anything other than the liquid produced by lactating cows. Hence the wording: “plant-based beverage” on the this box! The FDA thinks people get confused seeing the word milk used for anything other than cow milk. I do feel bad for dairy farmer’s, who have seen milk consumption decline way down from say, when I was a kid.

 

NO RECIPE RECIPE: BREAKFAST SOAKED OATS aka OVERNIGHT OATS (No Cooking)

OVER NIGHT OATS ARE A YUMMY AND HEALTHY BREAKFAST!

The night before, put up some rolled oats (or quick oats) in a bowl or container. Pour an equal amount of almond milk over them to cover by a bit and stir to mix. A spoonful of chia seeds are nice too! Let this oatey mix sit and soften up overnight in the fridge. The raw oats will soften up without cooking and become yummy. If you use Quick Oats this can be ready to eat in 15 minutes or so. Dried fruits thrown in will soften and be lovely too (dried cranberries, dates, raisins….) In the morning the mixture will be ready to eat. Top your overnight oaks with your favorite fruits (bananas, berries…) yogurt or kefir and maybe more almond milk if too thick. Some crunchy topping? Granola or a cereal. Nuts. Sweeten with honey or some raw sugar if desired. 

OVERNIGHT OATS WITH NICE PHOTOS

AHI TUNA


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“The secret to cooking Ahi Tuna is not to overcook it”

Ahi = Hawaiian for Yellowfin Tuna. Its tasty! AHI TUNA STEAKS are in the frozen fish section at Trader Joe’s. From the package (“Wild Caught, Spain”) it sounds like it was fished from Spanish waters.

How To Cook: Most important, a slow defrost overnight in the fridge is the best method. Slow defrosting is best = but in an “emergency” you try putting the package in a shallow dish and running under the faucet with Cold water. Do not nuke it whatever you do, that will ruin it for sure. The package states you should “remove from package before defrosting”. Huh? I’m not quite sure why… does anyone have a clue why they would say that? Anyway I defrost it in the fridge, and once the fish is defrosted I put it in a container to marinate it for a half hour to an hour. As far as a marinade I generally make a typical Asian/Japanese style marinade: Soy sauce, fresh grated ginger, fresh ground black pepper, a pinch of honey or brown sugar, plus a bit of some oil, either olive or for extra Asian flavor a teaspoon of TJ’s dark roasted sesame oil. You can add some type of acid if you like: a touch of cider vinegar, lemon juice, or sake if you have it. You will serve it with some citrus (fresh Lemon or Lime)

Cooking Ahi Tuna: It is crucial that you don’t overcook tuna. Tuna is easily overcooked so be very careful with your cook time. Personally I think AHI is best cooked in the Japanese “Tataki-style” way being  searing the outside on all sides and leaving the center barely cooked, a bit pink. I cook it in a black cast iron pan over med-high heat with a little neutral oil, searing the outside for 60-90 seconds on one side. Flip it to cook the other side for a minute. If you want you can use tongs to sear the sides of the fish (but again be careful not to overcook it) Take the fish out of the pan. Let it rest for a few minutes before you slice it, against the grain like a steak. Be sure to save the pan juices and any juice that runs out on the cutting board and pour that over it.

Deglaze the pan with some water, rice vinegar, or or some extra marinade that you saved at the beginning. I found that if you marinated the fish and use that marinade to deglaze the pan there is protein that coagulates when you cook it, so it glops up a little (I just thin it with soy and some water, it doesn’t bother me too much,  it makes it thicker thats all). If that gloppy stuff bothers you, make a sauce fresh to serve with the fish. Here’s some ideas….

“Butter – Shoyu” (Soy Butter Sauce) Put a dollop of butter in the pan along with a little soy sauce, a great combination. Pour over the Ahi and serve with slices of fresh lemon or lime.

PONZU SAUCE: Combine Soy sauce and Lemon Juice. Great combo!

The photo shows my finished dish.

It should end up just seared on the outside and pink in the center…just how pink is up to you. I like mine like it is in the center in the pic (pink! just this side of raw) while my wife likes it as it is cooked on the ends (medium). As a final touch, I sprinkled some sesame seeds on top, sliced it against the grain, and put it on a bed of arugula, pouring the pan juices over the top.

Ahi Tuna is delicious. You could even try it as “poke” I guess (ceviche style). I am willing but my (Japanese) wife won’t let me make it that way, as she says this is not “sashimi grade tuna” –  which costs three times as much, selling for about $25/lb instead of this at $8/lb. So at 8 bucks a pound for a nice fish dish, this is a another good deal from Mr. Trader Joe.

Ahi Tuna is one of my favorite fishes that TJ’s carries, and I highly recommend trying it if you never have before. If you have any leftovers, it is delicious served cold the next day, maybe on a bed of rice or a salad.

ASIAN MARINADE: 2-3 tbs soy sauce; 1″ peeled fresh ginger, grated; fresh ground black pepper, a little honey or brown sugar, teaspoon of sesame oil (or a neutral oil) plus lemon or lime juice for a marinade (you can make a bit more and save some to serve on the side). Marinate in the fridge (defrosted) for at least 1 hour, turning it once. Cook as desired.

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TJ Fresh Mozzarella Log


I think I can get this review in just in time for End of Summer when one can get excellent tomatoes. Well the perfect thing to pair with those perfect juicy tomatoes is this: Trader Joe’s Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Log. Unlike the firmer, drier “pizza” mozzarella, fresh mozzarella is a soft fresh cheese. Fresh mozzarella is perfect for pairing with tomatoes, basil and decent olive oil for a super easy and delicious classic: the “Caprese Salad” (Insalata Caprese) Caprese Salad is the simplest of Italian salads, with sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves, dressed with olive oil. Like Pizza Margherita, it features the colors of the Italian flag: green, white, red.

The cheese is shaped like a log and is pre-sliced into rounds which makes this super convenient and super easy. Open it, and put some mozz on a plate with sliced tomatoes. You can arrange them artistically, alternating tomato and round of cheese if you want to impress, but even just cutting the slices into quarters and tossing with cubed tomatoes is fine! Good extra virgen olive oil, of course! Sometimes I add a few capers and a little of the caper liquid. With some good bread you have a super easy dinner or lunch and a small slice of heaven ready in minutes -especially if you can find some great tomatoes. Serve this salad to guests and they will love it. And its also good of course just eaten as is, put on a cheese plate, or making a terrific sandwich.


A 1 lb package is $4.99, which for fresh mozzarella is as usual, a pretty good deal.

NO-RECIPE RECIPE CAPRESE SALAD (INSULATE CAPRESE): Layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella. Tear up a good number of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle them all over everything,  arranging the salad on a large, shallow plate or platter. Drizzle the salad with good extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. (OPTIONAL: some jarred capers with some of their juice, or a very small amount of a vinegar) Serve with a nice crusty bread.

(Post Summer) If you can’t get great tasting beefsteak tomatoes get the small cherry egg shaped Italian tomatoes Trader Joe’s carries. They are a little expensive but are really tasty, cut in half, and mix up with cut up mozzarella …..

RAVE

VEGETABLE & SOBA NOODLE STIR FRY KIT (aka Yakisoba)


VEGETABLE & SOBA NOODLE STIR FRY

This “stir fry kit” is composed of cut, prepped veggies all ready to stir fry, along with 2 packets of (cooked) soba noodles, plus a packet of soy- ginger finishing sauce. It has broccoli, bok choy, savoy cabbage, snow peas, scallions.

Look for this in the refrigerated / veggie/salads case. I say this convenient $5 kit is in actuality, most of the makings of Japanese YAKISOBA – minus a few ingredients – that one can easily add to make that super tasty Japanese dish. So when I saw this at TJ’s in the veggies section I said to myself, “Great I’m making Yakisoba tonight”.

YAKISOBA – YAKI means grilled. SOBA means buckwheat (noodles). Ergo, grilled noodles. Yakisoba is one of Japan’s most popular homey dishes, both eaten out, made at home, and served at school. Japanese kids pretty much grow up on it. Everyone loves Yakisoba.

You can cook up this Kit exactly As-Is on the package and get a decent Veggie Noodle Stir Fry. Or easily turn this kit with a few additions, into Yakisoba.

The main thing missing would be some kind of Main or protein (Pork, Tofu, Chicken….) plus some ginger and garlic, and a little more soy.

Protein: If you are vegetarian, you might add BAKED TOFU, sliced up into strips and grilled with the veggies. Possibly also add some sliced mushrooms, either shiitake, crimini or white mushrooms, any of them will add a lot of “umami”. If you are not vegetarian, protein options could be the traditional sliced or ground pork (even very thinly sliced pork belly). In Japan Yakisoba is even sometimes made with squid! Any protein you can stir fry with the veggies will pretty much work. Chicken strips, or steak, even ground beef. When I made it, I used pork tenderloin from TJ sliced up into strips that I first got a nice sear on both sides then set aside to add back at the end when I added the sauce package. I have cut pork chops into strips to make this with. Ditto chicken breast or thighs.

TIP: The noodles come cooked in a plastic bag. When you open the bags the soba noodles are totally stuck together in a very firm block that you can’t do anything with. You MUST prep them ahead a half hour before you start your dish. Loosen them up by letting them soak in very, very hot (even boiling water) for 15-20 minutes — and not for only two minutes as the package says which is not enough time! Once loosened up you can gently untangle and loosen them with your fingers and drain them in a colander, ready to throw in at the end with a pinch of more oil. Want more noodles then come in this package (not much)? Then just first cook up some Soba noodles or Chinese noodles or rice noodles, drain them and have them ready to toss in the pan with some more oil.

YAKISOBA: In a non-stick pan, sauté some ginger and garlic with the Main Protein (slicked pork, meat or tofu – or squid!) in a few teaspoons of neutral oil. Toss in the veggies. Add mushrooms if using. Stir fry veggies about 3 mins. till barely cooked (do not overcook!) Add the softened noodles and the meat or tofu back to the pan. Stir fry for a few more minutes, then turn off heat and add the sauce to coat. A few drizzles of sesame oil would be great. Add some Green Dragon Hot Sauce if thats your style. Stir all to combine. I threw some arugula and more chopped green onions on top. Katsuobushi* flakes if you have them? Done. About 10 minutes and you have a delicious dish.

PS – If you can find “Katsuobushi” flakes* at an Asian store, that would be great to top this with for authentic Japanese Yakisoba. Amazon sells Katsuobushi.  Ditto for “BENISHOGA” (Picked Red Ginger). Both are traditional Yakisoba toppings.

 

UPDATE: The first time I purchased this kit there were 2 packs of Soba Noodles inside. Recently on 2 occasions when I purchased it, there seems to be only 1 pack of noodles in the kit. Whats up with that? With 2 packs there was really a meal here for at least 2 people but with 1 pack of noodles, obviously thats much less noodle to veggie ratio.

 

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TJ’s Amba Mango Sauce


Trader Joe’s Amba Mango sauce is a unique and very tasty condiment.

I had vaguely heard of “Amba” as an Israeli condiment for “Sabich” (eggplant sandwich). Amba Sauce is one of those new tasty food products that TJ sells that you may not know what it is at first, nor what you would use it for, but give this wonderfully unique tasting stuff a try. Savory, pungent, tangy, the sauce is made from fermented ripe as well as green mangos simmered with garlic, salt, turmeric and a few other spices, blended into a smooth sauce. Amba is so unique, intruiging and tasty that once once you try it, you will end up dreaming of things you might try it with, “I wonder if this would be good on..(fill in blank).” Thats what I did. I kept putting it on things to see if they would be good with it. Many were!

So what is “Amba Sauce” anyway? From the package: “Amba is a fermented mango sauce traditionally found in Israel  India and the Middle East. Use it as a savory sauce on meat and seafood, vegetables and falafel, or even as a unique salad dressing”.

“Amba” means mango in an Indian language, Marathi. Its made of yellow ripe mangos as well as unripe green mangos, pureed till smooth and cooked with many spices and chilis and is fermented. The fermentation I’m sure ratchets up the taste level. It is both sweet, sour, and spicy. The heat comes and hits you later. Much later. This stuff is a very complex flavor bomb of fruity and spicy and many spices. Get the idea? Its great for many things. Just a few ideas: Try it over cooked chicken. Falafel, of course! Salmon. Meats. Salads and bowls. On the side with Indian pakoras, or breads, or basmati rice? Absolutely of course! Mixed with Greek Yogurt*? Yes! I came up with the idea of mixing these two things and it was amazing together as the yogurt calmed down the spice level and melded things.

AMBA SAUCE is carried in the refrigerated section and comes in a convenient squeeze pouch with a plastic top. A 14-ounce re-closable, pourable yellow bag of Trader Joe’s Amba Mango Sauce is $3.29. A bag lasted me quite some time as a little goes a long way, and it can last for a month or two in the fridge. This is a fantastic TJ product well worth the price. Amba is hard to find in the U.S.

Here’s a super easy tasty sauce mix with Amba I came up with; it makes a smooth, creamy yummy sauce, toning down the spice level but still getting some and you can adjust the ratio of amba to yogurt.

*GREEK YOGURT & AMBA SAUCE

Mix about 1/2 cup of plain Greek Yogurt with about a 1/3-1/2 cup of Amba Sauce. Add chopped garlic mashed with a little salt. Fresh ground pepper. Stir to combine and let it sit in the fridge for a bit. For a GREEN SAUCE version of this which I made, just add chopped parsley or arugula or baby kale, chopped very finely. Let flavors meld in fridge for at least a 1/2 hr or more. Serve on fish, chicken, meats, grilled tofu, or over basmati or jasmine rice, or practically anything! Adjust the ratio of amba and yogurt to your exact liking.

 

TJ FEARLESS FLYER INFO ON AMBA SAUCE (CLICK)

Trader Joe’s ORGANIC TOFU (& RECIPE)


I can tell by the stats that a good number of visitors to the site are interested in posts about Tofu.

Therefore I’ve been wanting to write up a post reviewing this tofu that I always buy at Trader Joe’s most anytime I go there, along with a simple basic recipe on how to prepare an easy tofu dish. Interest in tofu is well deserved of course, as tofu is an excellent, high-quality protein that is plant-based and is inexpensive. So what’s not to like?

Even if you, like yours truly, are not vegetarian, tofu is a good thing that you should be eating for so many reasons. Tofu is healthy, good for you, good for the planet, and is versatile and easy to use in many ways. If tofu is not already on your typical “mains” or  “proteins” list when you go shopping I would suggest tofu be added to your list. How about Meatless Mondays? Thats a good start! In our house we usually make a Japanese “tofu steak” type recipe once a week or so.

“Trader Joe San’s ORGANIC TOFU” in the pink & white package is a good tofu. Not too soft nor too firm, it takes well to being cooked up as described here. Not for most of us Americans tofu pretty much seems to have “no taste” on its own. However what tofu does quite well is absorb flavors. What flavors should you think about? Obvious ones are all Asian flavorings: Soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, cilantro…. You can not go wrong with these flavors cooking tofu. What about texture? I like cooking my tofu till its “golden brown” and develops an outside surface texture with a slight bite to the tooth, which it can get if cooked in certain ways. So one of the ideal ways for me to make it is to grill it until golden brown to improve the texture and then serve it with some kind of sauce.

Here’s a very basic and easy recipe to make grilled or sautéed tofu.

1. Take the tofu out of the package, pour off all the water, and set it over a colander or strainer to drain as much water as possible. Let it sit for about an hour. I sometimes put a few plates for a little weight and pressure.

2. Cut the tofu carefully. First into slices about 1/2 inch thick, then if you want smaller pieces, cut those into half. Heat up a non-stick or cast iron pan till it is good and hot with a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil and add the tofu slices (a little sesame oil added now is great for extra flavor). Let it cook for about 10 minutes at medium heat until the tofu looks golden brown when you check it. Flip the slices over and cook the other side till also golden brown. In the picture below I’ve sprinkled on some fresh ground black pepper too.

3. When the tofu slices are browned, now is when you either go one or two ways with sauce or flavoring. One way is to add the sauce (ingredients) to the pan and cook in the sauce till they are absorbed mostly. The other way is to remove the golden brown slices of tofu to a serving plate, then make your sauce and pour it over the tofu and around it. Both ways are good and I would suggest trying both methods and see which you prefer (the pouring over keeps the crispy texture of course a bit more). I like both ways and make it both ways depending on my mood.

How to Make a Basic Sauce: Sauté freshly grated ginger and chopped garlic for a few seconds till fragrant in some veg or sesame oil, then add your liquids: 2-3 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce (Trader Joe’s sells this).  Maybe some veg or chicken stock too. A teaspoon of Sesame Oil (TJ). Optional: Mushrooms, Oyster Sauce, Sriracha, Fish Sauce, chopped scallions, pinch of sugar or honey, and Cilantro if you like it. If its very liquid you can add a little cornstarch/water slurry to thicken up the sauce.

Lazy options: If you prefer to just buy a sauce for your tofu steak: Try TJ’s SOYAKI or TJ Ginger Soy salad dressing. Sriracha and Soy. Anything flavorful that might go well with it.

A package of this tofu feeds 2 or 3 with other things (rice, sides) and costs around $2. Cheap!

Marinating also is a good technique for flavor. Here’s a good sounding recipe for Baked Tofu.

Easy Baked Tofu with Sesame and Soy Sauce

Trader Joe’s FLATBREAD


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UPDATE: These were Discontinued! ARGH!!

archived just for posterity

Trader Joe’s Flatbread
These are soft and quite chewy Middle Eastern style flatbreads. Kind of like a thick flour tortilla. They are great for sandwiches, kebabs, gyros, rolls…

I find these flatbreads are useful for so many things. Naturally they are perfect to serve with Hummus or any kind of dip.

They are convenient to keep on hand in the freezer as they freeze well and can be defrosted pretty quickly just by taking the package out for 1/2 hr. They are best warm so you should heat these before serving them, of course. I throw them right on the gas burner of my stove turning them with tongs quickly and until they get a few more brown spots (but be careful they can get burnt quickly). Or pop them in a toaster oven or oven for a few minutes, or in the microwave.

You can use these as the base crust to make a super easy instant fresh mini pizza, done in a few minutes. Or lots of other flatbread with topping variations. Here’s a easy mini-pizza I wanted to try using these as the base (pic shot before I baked it).

SUPER EASY FLATBREAD PIZZA “no recipe, recipe”

Spread a flatbread with some of your favorite tomato sauce, grated or sliced mozzarella, and anything else you fancy. A drizzle of EVOO can’t hurt. Bake them on a cookie sheet in a hot oven for about 10 minutes. Fast, easy and delicious. I can eat 2 no problem.

Other pizza / flatbreads? Spread with a little ZHOUHG and a splash of good olive oil for an herby spicy treat. Olive oil and TJ’s DUKKAH and greek yogurt would be great too. Or Zaa’tar. Everything bagel spice. TJ’s artichoke spread. Sausage. Prosciutto, goat cheese, arugula… you name it, the list is endless, you can dream up all kinds of things to try to make a nice baked flatbread using these. When cooked, just cut them into half or quarters and serve. Guests will flip.

TJ Flatbreads sell for $2.29 and come 6 in a package, sold in the bread section at TJs near tortilla. I usually have a pack in my freezer at all times. Super handy to have on hand.

Been reported MIA by at least one reader besides me.

Trader Joe’s CORN TORTILLAS


(gluten free? absolutely!)

tortilla1tortilla2

These are good corn tortillas. Actually one of the best things about Trader Joe’s CORN TORTILLAS is what’s NOT in them. True, authentic corn tortillas like these have only 3 ingredients: CORN, water, lime. Which makes them already better than most tortillas you can buy elsewhere. The package lists: “white corn, water, lime” (and by the way “lime” in this case refers not to the fruit but to a natural chemical Calcium hydroxide (Spanish, cal) which is essential to breaking down dried corn kernels and releasing proteins, aka Nixtalmization process of cooking corn kernels.

These days it’s not easy to find corn tortillas with 3 ingredients. Check the label on most brands of tortillas at your local supermarket. You’ll see there about ten ingredients listed, as most commercial tortilla manufacturers have switched in the last few years to adding preservative chemicals that extend shelf life and make tortillas feel soft when you buy them. So besides CORN, WATER, LIME…. you will see things like: “contains 2% or less of: cellulose gum, guar gum, amylase and propionic acid, benzoic acid and phosphoric acid (to maintain freshness).”

for example: MISSION CORN TORTILLAS (Ingredients: GROUND CORN TREATED WITH LIME, WATER, CELLULOSE GUM, PROPIONIC ACID (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), BENZOIC ACID (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), PHOSPHORIC ACID (PRESERVATIVE), GUAR GUM, AMYLASE.

vs.

Trader Joe’s Corn TortillasWHITE CORN, WATER, LIME 

Ya dig? Pretty clear why I (and you probably) would prefer Trader Joe’s tortillas, which are All Natural! Now as they don’t have those extra preservatives of course TJs Corn Tortillas won’t stay as soft and fresh as long as the ones with preservatives. Use these within about a week or two. I keep them tightly wrapped and DOUBLE BAGGED in still another plastic bag in the fridge. Unfortunately corn tortillas don’t freeze well – they get mealy – but they’re right cheap and there aren’t that many in a package (12 tortillas). Only $1.50 for the bag. 

Whole Foods sells an artisanal tortilla which are good but kind of crazy expensive at $5/bag. I have tried this brand, VISTA HERMOSA tortillas. They are very good but the price is outrageous. Read about them here as they have lots of good info about Tortilla making in general, if you’re interested.

https://www.vistahermosaproducts.com/corn-tortillas

The reality is tortillas in Mexico are so far better tasting that anything we can buy (at least on the East Coast, I can’t speak for West Coast) In any Mexican town you could buy a kilo of “artisanal” tortillas made from nixtamalized freshly ground corn, mixed and baked on the spot probably no more than an hour before made from ancient varieties of corn that have a hundred times the flavor of what we have here in the States. And they cost around $1 for a kilo. They have to. The government keeps the price low for the masses. Tortillas are the staple of life there for millions. Corn and beans together make high quality protein.

TJ’s also sells a Corn & Wheat (mixed) tortilla. They are softer and not bad. I sometimes buy those too but I find a 100% Corn tortilla has much more flavor.  The corn & wheat ones last longer and are softer. I do use both on occasion but the all corn tortillas not only possess more flavor, they get pleasently chewy when cooked.

IMPORTANT TIP: Corn Tortillas need to be served as HOT as possible and eaten ASAP. To heat, I put a tortilla right on the gas burner of my stove and flip them over and over for about 30 seconds. I try to get a few “burnt spots” as I like the way they taste. But don’t over do it. You can also put them under a hot broiler instead for a few minutes until you see them puff up with a few cooked spots, but again they can burn easily so keep an eye on them. Or nuke them in the microwave for 20 seconds. Keep your tortillas warm in a covered basket or bowl with lots of tea clothes/dish towels, etc. Or if you eat them often you might get a real tortilla warmer (Amazon has tons for sale: https://amzn.to/2M3YX3u)

For tacos, you can also heat them as above. Or heat with a small amount of oil in a pan till slightly crispy. Remove and fill and eat immediately. Or make Quesadillas with some cheese and other fillings, like shredded chicken or soy chorizo and arugula. I love these, they’re to die for: crispy, chewy, oozy-gooey cheesy deliciousness!

RECIPE – QUESADILLAS

Ingredients

– Corn Tortillas (are best, but you can use flour or corn/wheat tortillas if you wish. I feel all corn tortillas give a better taste and crispy chewy texture)

– Cheese (Monterey Jack with Peppers is ideal, or use any cheddar,  Jack or even Mozzarella for ooey-gooeyness)

OPTIONAL EXTRA STUFF: add a bit of something like shredded chicken, steak, ham, soy chorizo, crumbled baked tofu and/or arugula, spinach….

For the topping: Arugula, Chopped Tomatoes, Salsa, Sour Cream/Crema, Greek Yogurt, Bomba Hot Sauce, Zhoug….. VEGGIES on top: Sliced radishes, lettuce, cabbage….

Put about a teaspoon of oil in a non-stick or cast iron pan large enough to hold at least 2 tortillas; top one 1/2 of tortillas with grated cheese; (option) top this with some extra ingredient (as per above) Cook for a minute just until you can fold the tortillas over into a half moon without it breaking (will soften as it cooks). Cook until bottom side is just a little browned and crispy and cheese is melted; press down gently, flip and cook the other side, till slight golden.  If you don’t want to fold, just put another tortilla on top of the first one and flip over carefully. The cheese is the glue! Plate and top with something… guacamole, sour cream/creama, greek yogurt, salsa, hot sauce or Sriracha (optional) and some more fresh arugula, or cilantro, or eat plain!

On the side serve REFRIED BEANS.

THE REST OF THIS POST IS AN ANTHROPOLOGY FOOD HISTORY LESSON IF YOU ARE INTERESTED: Corn Tortillas are one of the most important Historical Foods on Earth dating back over over a thousand years or more. If you want to learn about the history of Tortillas, Masa and “Nixtamalization” (processing corn with lime) you can learn more with the links below.

NIXTAMALIZATION

Nixtamalization is a food science/process discovered and used by the Ancient Peoples of Meso-America as long as 2-5,000 years ago. In many kitchens in Mexico today you can find the exact same utensil, called a Metate, many found intact in Mayan tombs, used the same way now they were by the Maya and Aztec peoples. This is a modern one.

Mexican Cazuela

PS – Sometimes I make tortillas from scratch with Masa Harina. Maseca is another common brand of Corn Masa easy to find in many supermarkets. Bob’s Red Mill is an organic, gourmet (pricey) kind but gives good results.

masa

Making tortillas from Masa isn’t terribly hard but takes a little time. But the results are amazing, you can’t get fresher better tasting tortillas than hot off the comal (grill). Homemade of course tastes better than anything pre-packaged. Here’s a link to a video of a guy explaining how to make them if you want to try.

 

GET SOME IDEAS ON WHAT TO MAKE

https://www.brit.co/corn-tortilla-dinner-recipes/

And if you really want to see the real thing, the whole process of making Masa (dough) from soaked cooked corn kernels to a finished Tortilla, watch this video. The “metate” (stone grinder) she is using is the exact same design used today as those found in ancient Mayan tombs. I bet her tortilla’s taste out of this world. Any tortilla you might buy made on a street corner by some lady by hand in Mexico City, Oaxaca, or anywhere in Mexico is going to blow any we buy in the U.S out of the water.

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