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Some nights it feels like such a hassle to get dinner made at a reasonable time. The only way I seem able to make it happen is by sticking with a meal plan and a schedule. But even that’s not foolproof, as it’s so easy to get delayed with something at work, finding myself having to make an unplanned trip to the store, or trying to fit in a few minutes of exercise in the evening. Though I’m sure my exercise motivation will be nonexistent in a few more weeks, I’m looking to get better at establishing routines.

One way I’m doing that is by working to have more base recipes in my meal rotation. These are dishes where the main ingredients can be changed out, but the concept remains the same. Let’s take this week’s recipe, for instance. I baked tofu and Brussels sprouts together in the oven. They bake on one pan at the same temperature. They both end up being tossed in one sauce and are served over barley. There aren’t too many components to worry about, but almost everything about it can be changed.

If you don’t want the sprouts, you could switch them out for broccoli or carrots, for starters. Same for the tofu. Try tempeh or chicken. All you have to do is adjust the cooking time. And then serve everything over whatever grain you’re in the mood for. Rice, quinoa, barley, and even cauliflower rice are just a few options.

I think this approach is applicable to many recipes. If you like the flavors of a dish, but are bored with the main ingredients, just switch it up. You don’t have to always make an entirely new dish. Just rethink what you already like to keep things manageable when you’re busy.

This saves time when it comes to both planning and preparing. You already know what you’re doing and don’t have to spend much time thinking about it. The particular night I made this dish, I used a barbecue sauce I made the week before and warmed up barley I had previously cooked and frozen. While the tofu and sprouts baked, I was able to squeeze in thirty minutes on the treadmill. All I had to do after was put everything in bowls and serve.

I don’t always have grains in the freezer to use, so I usually cook them in the Instant Pot when I’m preparing a main dish. Not only do they cook quickly like this, but they also don’t need to be watched, and I can do other things in the meantime. This is also something that can be made in advance, whether over the weekend or on a night after dinner when you have a few minutes.

Now let’s talk specifically about this baked tofu. What I don’t like about most tofu recipes, especially baked or pan-fried, is the texture. It’s too often mushy or rubbery, and that doesn’t work for me. I now use two strategies to prevent this.

First, something I never used to bother to do, is pressing the tofu to drain out as much water as possible. You don’t need special equipment and it doesn’t have to take long. I just put the tofu between towels and place a baking sheet filled with heavy items on top. It actually does make a difference, and even just at fifteen minutes. Tofu is stored and packed in water, but you need to remove as much of it as you can from the tofu to get a more desirable texture during cooking. The other tactic to crispier tofu is to coat it with starch. Cornstarch is great at adhering to the pieces of tofu and creating a coating. When it cooks, the starch crisps up and helps brown the tofu because it has created a thin, dry barrier around what is often a wet surface.

In this recipe, after the tofu has crisped, the barbecue sauce makes things even better, adding a layer of caramelization after a few minutes in the oven.

Baked barbecue tofu & Brussels sprouts

Serves 4

1 pound extra-firm tofu

1 pound Brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons corn starch

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 ½ cups of your favorite barbecue sauce, warmed up

2 cups cooked barley or other grain, for serving

½ cup chopped peanuts, (opt.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a large cutting board, cut the tofu into slices about ½ inch thick. Lay the slices in a flat layer on top of a clean kitchen towel. Cover the tofu with another clean kitchen towel and then place a baking sheet flat on top that’s filled with heavy objects, such as a couple of pots or a few cookbooks. Leave the tofu for 15 minutes so that water can drain off.

While the tofu drains, trim the Brussels sprouts. If they’re large, slice them in half for bite-sized pieces. Toss the sprouts with a tablespoon of the oil and a ½ teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Spread them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes.

After the tofu has drained, cut the slices into one-inch pieces. Wipe out the bowl you used with the sprouts and add the tofu and remaining oil. Toss, then add in the cornstarch, garlic powder, thyme, and remaining salt. When the sprouts have cooked for 15 minutes, take the baking sheet out of the oven, move the sprouts to one side and add the tofu. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and toss everything with one cup of the barbecue sauce. Spread it all flat on the pan and bake for another ten minutes. Serve the tofu and sprouts over the barley and topped with peanuts.

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