Life is expensive. This week I've written checks for car insurance, car registration, and a car inspection. I've paid utility bills, bought new contact lenses, and Zyrtec for the dog. I'll drop about $2,500 for car repairs Thursday morning (good, trusty car, but it's getting old). It's also time for a haircut.
Did I mention that I'm going on vacation in 2 weeks? Lovely Northern California awaits, but it's not free.
Time to cut back in other areas. Like food. Eating out is a pretty rare event for me, but I still spend a fair amount on food — I think it's worth it to buy quality products. Happily, food is least expensive when it's in season, so my CSA produce and CSF fish are a pretty good bargain. So where to cut? I'm giving up Tofu Pad Thai from my local Whole Foods Market.
I love Tofu Pad Thai. As hard as I try to stay away from prepared foods (usually for health reasons, but also to save money), I find myself buying the stuff a couple of times each month. Red pepper flakes, cooked egg, and a snappy fish sauce give the rice noodles and tofu a clear, clean flavor and interesting texture. I find myself gravitating toward the prepared foods counter when I'm there. It's like a magnet, pulling me in and siphoning hard-earned bills from my wallet.
Not today. Today I bought rice noodles, a block of extra-firm tofu and a handful of snap peas. At home, I got to work, using the ingredient list on an old container label as a guide (though I added a few things and left others out). The results were quite good! I don't have a cost breakdown, but I'm sure my savings were substantial, which means more money for vacation. Look out, San Francisco...
Note: Use soy sauce instead of nuoc mam (fish sauce) for a vegetarian version of this dish.
Tofu Pad Thai
1 block extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed
7 oz. wide rice noodles
1/2 pound sugar snap peas
1/4 cup nuoc mam (Asian fish sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 jalapenos, minced
2 bunches scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
To press the tofu, place the bock between two paper towel-lined plates. The top plate serves as a weight. Allow the tofu to drain at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch cubes.
To prepare the rice noodles, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Turn off the heat and throw the noodles in. Allow them to soften in the hot water for 10 minutes, then drain.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Cook omelet-style in a small skillet coated lightly with cooking spray or canola oil. When cooked through, allow to cool, then slice into small cubes.
Blanch the sugar snaps in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, then place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain and roughly chop.
Combine the nuoc mam, sugar, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl. Slowly add the canola oil while steadily whisking to create an emulsion.
Place the cubed tofu, egg, blanched sugar snap peas, and softened noodles in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Add the hot red pepper flakes, jalapenos, scallions, and peanuts, and toss again. Taste for seasoning and serve.