Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baked tofu.

I know I said I'm not going to post, but I have to post because I just made baked tofu.

What you do is you take some firm/extra firm tofu, wrap it in paper towels, put it on a plate, set another plate on top of it, and set something really heavy on top of that (cast iron cookware, whatever). I wasn't aware of just how much liquid is in tofu until very recently (read: tonight) when it flooded my countertop. A cast iron dutch oven is quite heavy; heavy enough to make that block of bean curd lose water like Richard Simmons in a plastic sweatsuit.

Anyway, once I wiped up the flood, I figured the bean curd had drained enough, so I dumped a bunch of soy sauce into the bottom of a tupperware, sliced the tofu, and let it sit there at room temperature for... well, a while turning it over and moving things around so all the slices got soy sauced over the course of a while. I can't tell you exact times or amounts, but I put just enough soy sauce to cover the bottom and pool up somewhat. Then, when nearly all the soy sauce was absorbed, I preheated the oven to 400 F. I put the slices on a very lightly greased tray (I used olive oil - obv it doesn't matter what grease you use), and chucked them into the oven. Once they got browned and caramelized, like after roughly 30 minutes, I turned them over. Then I cooked them until when poked, they felt firm and not jello-like. I think the total cooking time - though I can't swear to it - is about 45 minutes to an hour.

During all this time, I cut up a salad and cooked literally 2 lbs of green beans. Trader Joe's had some beautiful 2 lb bags of them, so I bought one. I found out exactly why it never seems like one pound in enough. It's because of Danny. He eats everything, so now that he's traveling for work, I am left with an insane amount of green beans in soy with garlic and ginger. (PS - I am SO not complaining. Along with having the ENTIRE expanse of the bed to all 5 feet 11 inches of myself, I do so love green beans with soy and garlic and ginger.) But now I have to eat them all.

Anyway, when the tofu came out of the oven and was barely cool enough to pick up, I grabbed the slices, cursed a little because they were hot, and cut them into strips. I heaped my plate with salad and green beans, and haphazardly arranged the tofu strips on top. I drizzled some balsamic vinegar on my salad, and that was dinner. Perfect. I guess rice vinegar might have been more congruous, but I didn't care. The soy on both the tofu and green beans was plenty salty, and the balsamic was tangy with a hint of sweet, and I was thrilled with the outcome.

The baked tofu has opened up a world of flavor. I can squeeze out the water and re-inpregnate bean curd with whatever crazy flavors I want! I'm so excited. There is great potential for cubed, marinated, and baked tofu for finger food, salad toppings, in sandwiches, whatever. This is brilliant.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Commitment issues.

I was thinking about saying I'm taking a formal hiatus from blogging (because I know the throngs of humanity that read this are trembling on the edge of their seats for the next entry), but then I figured I'd want to write something the second I posted it, so I did nothing.

But just in case, I figured I'd write that work is like a terrible hemorrhoid that won't go away. Or how I imagine a terrible hemorrhoid that won't go away would be. It's consisting of a lot of writing which on one hand is good because it means I've made meaningful progress, and on the other hand is bad because it's sciencese. I don't think in sciencese, I can't force myself to, and the whole process blows. When I ask how I should set up my figures, no one tells me, and then I have to redo them like 14,987,677 times in like 3 different file formats in multiple separate completely inadequate programs that I have to learn and I suck at computers because dealing with computers is like dealing with passive aggressive people which I hate.

So yeah, I'm eating. I'm eating well. :) But beyond discovering that I can make a spinach/garlic/egg white omelette in one nonstick pan with the tiniest bit of oil, I haven't exactly been making culinary fireworks happen. I have an entry in my head about making red chile sauce a la New Mexican cuisine, but I want to experiment with the chiles I use. I made it once with just Anaheim chiles and it was incredibly flat and disappointingly mild. It does, however, taste good on top of the aforementioned omelette. But I'm going to work it into something that is a good chile sauce, but it lets you know what's what. I'm not going for authenticity with this one. Anyway, we'll see. Man, I hope I graduate before I completely lose my mind...

Sunday, January 3, 2010


So I just redid more ratatouille the way I did it here in this post, sans biscuits, soy sauce, and tempeh bc I'm craving a simple vegetable stew. I haven't eaten this much crap for so long in like forever, and I need to clear my head. Not that the crap was bad per se but the usual proportion of fruit + veg to, well, everything else was heavily skewed toward "everything else" for too long a time. Although somehow my insides continued to function properly, happily enough... :-P

Anyway, I realized a great way to add body and depth to the veggies is the old standby of dumping in a bunch of anchovies. Yeah. Funky fish is the reason Thai food tastes so meaty and awesome, and I'd be willing to bet that much of the pasta sauce bought at various restaurants gets an umami kick from anchovies, too. When you use them this way, several tossed in with the tomatoes, the fishiness is dispelled immediately. Tastes awesome.

I like the Cento anchovies. I've tried Roland, but they're redolent of dirty underwear IMO. Granted, I've eaten them without dying or getting sick. You can't really tell once they're in whatever you're making, but I like to eat the leftover fillets with salad or on bread for some salty omega 3's, so the whole dirty underwear thing is completely unappealing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Inquisition Punch/Krunk Jewce

I have achieved the impossible. For this particular thing, I deserve a culinary medal of honor for going where no home cook has gone before. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have made Manischewitz palatable.

I will pause now so you can pick your jaws off the floor.

Upon divine inspiration - and by divine, I mean I read the NY Times - I came upon a recipe for a single drink made with Manischewitz, bourbon, lemon juice, and seltzer called the Drunken Pharoah. I thought to myself, hey, you can do better than that! And so I did. The Economical Epicurean was holding a holiday party, and this mysterious wine product steeped in so many years of tradition and punchlines came to me. Clocking in at under $8 for 1.5 liters of candied Concord grapey alcoholic bliss, it was certainly cheap. Instead of bourbon, I used Seagram's VO whiskey, a smooth if slightly boring libation that is my fallback whiskey of choice when price and the health of my gut are taken into equal consideration. The night before, I ventured into the local supermarket to get lemons. People, when the weather is supposed to be 1-2 feet of snow in an area where 1-2 inches can cripple a city, do not enter a supermarket. May the good lord help you if you need toilet paper, milk, eggs, or potato chips, because you ain't gittin none. But thankfully, lemons weren't high on the list of survival foods that night, and I got 4 fat, shiny, yellow specimens.

The morning of the party dawned steely grey, a thick cloud cover and swirling snow hiding the sun. I mixed up the punch, using the ratios the NY Times suggested just in much larger quantities:

2 c Manischewitz, the concord grape variety
1.5 c whiskey
0.5 c lemon juice

I tasted it. It had promise. I took a bit on ice and topped it with seltzer. Very promising indeed. Then I doubled the recipe because there were going to be 25 people there, and given the typical food and drink situation, not 2 feet of snow nor sleet nor ice nor rain would keep people from this party. When I doubled the recipe, though, I think I tweaked the ratios. I added the base amount of booze, but messed with the lemon juice. What I was going for was a sweet (but not syrupy), boozey, yet slightly tangy concoction that would benefit from chilling and fizz addition. Then I decided to add some thinly sliced lemon, and I also added a handful of fresh cranberries for decoration (note on fresh cranberries: they are resilient little buggers that you can freeze when you buy them fresh and use whenever you feel like cranberry relish, muffins, bread, etc. - there's a 3 lb bag in our freezer). Then I adjusted the ratio of Manischewitz to whiskey to suit my tastes, and I suggest you do the same! When you do that, just remember you're going to add ice and seltzer. When you chill things, perceived sweetness decreases. So if you're not sure, make yourself a mini cup of it, and see what it needs. The whole thing tasted bright and fruity, but I wanted more depth. So, I broke 3-4 cinnamon sticks in half, added in 4-6 whole cloves, and 4 whole allspice berries for some spice. It sat at room temperature on the counter for several hours, and the total volume was probably a little more than 3 quarts, pre-seltzer.

We packed it off into two nalgenes and an empty spare bottle we had, loaded them, bottles of seltzer, and the bowl into backpacks, put on our winter gear, and trudged out into the blizzard. Along the way we helped one guy free his car from a snowbank. The walk was beautiful. The snow was falling in fine cold flakes, swirling here and there, but the wind wasn't uncomfortably strong. We took pictures of some Xmas lights under the snow and admired the gobs of snow covering everything. Another nice thing about extreme beautiful weather like this is people come out to admire it. We saw more people walking around just looking at things, and there were those like us, walking instead of the usual driving. We walked maybe just over a mile to get to the party, but some of the other attendees' hikes were 2 or more. We all tramped in wearing snowpants, boots, and parkas, shedding clothing like snakes casting off old skin, and making a beeline for the food and drink.

The punchbowl was drained. Literally. Someone, I forget who, actually picked it up and poured the dregs, little bits of spices, lemon pulp, and all, into their glass. I can think of no better praise. We're still stuck on a name, although Inquisition Punch (bc, you know, sangria w/ Manischewitz?) has a good ring to it. The Hebrew Hammer or The Hebrews Get Hammered or Krunk Jewce were also in the running.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Melting onions.

Melted onions are my new favorite food. You thinly slice however many pounds of onions you want. For batches of onion jam, I've been going with 3 pounds. Have three garlic cloves, UNPEELED. That's right, don't peel 'em. Also, you can add whatever herbs you like. I found out that when Julia Child suggests a bouquet garni, it means that then you won't be picking out limp herb leaves from everything, but if you're like me, you'll skip the damn cheesecloth and leave it up to whoever's eating it to pick out the greenery if they so desire. I like a few sprigs of parsley and either some thyme or rosemary or a combination of the two.

To cook it, you heat up some olive oil in a pan, but not searingly hot, throw in the onions and a big pinch of salt, the herbs, and the unpeeled garlic cloves. Stir it often. Keep the heat lower than a normal sautee, like medium. When you see the onions go completely limp and translucent, turn the heat down even more because you want to achieve a very slow even caramelization without getting charred bits. The ultimate goal is to, well, melt the onions into a savory, sweet, limp mass of golden brown awesomeosity. This will take a while, like an hour. Do it while you're doing something else in the kitchen, stirring every so often to prevent burning.

Once the onions have achieved savory, sweet, limp, golden brown awesomeosity, it's up to you to decide what you want to do with them. You can leave them as they are and fill a smallish prebaked tart crust, topping it with some good anchovies and oil-cured olives for a pissaladiere nicoise. You can add a bunch of red wine into the onions, reducing it into an onion jam which is amazing with brie on whatever bread/cracker product you have lying around. Or you can dump them into mashed root vegetables to amazing effect. I mashed up a small rutabaga, a couple potatoes, and a few carrots and then dumped the onions in. It is extremely delicious. Melted onions are apparently also the base for onion soup, which I am oddly embarrassed to say I've never made.

The trick of leaving the garlic unpeeled prevents burning. Garlic burns much more easily than onions, and by leaving it in its paper, you get the garlic flavor with none of the burned bitterness. You can peel them after the onions are done and either eat it plain (because by this time, it's sweet and soft) or just give it a light chop and fold it into whatever you're making. Whatever you decide to do, melted onions are a lot of flavor for very little money and there's no cream or bacon involved. As far as flavor vectors go, it's healthy, vegan-friendly, and tastes awesome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is up with all that?

One thing I can't get over is why every soup recipe I see has to have cream and/or bacon or some similar greasy pork derivative in it. Does anyone else see soup as winterized salad? Do you glug cream all over your salad every day for lunch? Is the main flavoring in your salad fried bacon or sausage bits? Probably not. Well, ok, at least not in my case. Salad is a glorification of raw vegetables, and when I eat them, I intend to enjoy them as they are, not mask the flavor. Because they actually taste good, and the amount of flavor you can bring with raw produce is really nice if you know what you're doing.

I noticed this month's Bon Appetit was all about the fennel. BA, you are behind MY times. There is a Mark Bittman-esque salad you can make with very thinly sliced raw fennel and matchsticked apples, dressed in a super-simple mustard vinagrette and decorated with a bit of fennel fronds that is fresh, delicious, and can not only be a salad in its own right, but also dress what I consider as The Most Basic Salad. The Most Basic Salad is tomatoes, cukes, peppers, and lettuce. When you have tomatoes, cukes, peppers and lettuce that were grown well, you would be surprised at how amazing this simple mixture can be on its own. When peppers are grown for flavor and not, say, sugar content or wall thickness (wall = the part we eat), you can't believe how genuinely peppery they taste. The same goes for all the above. But seeing that we live in an era when tomatoes are grown for shippability (resulting in pink soggy styrofoam insides that taste nothing like real tomatoes), peppers are grown for size and sugar content, and cukes have morphed into giant, flavorless, oblong vessels of water and seeds, we need to take some other action to get the vegetabley flavor few people really know.

There are veggies that haven't been as tampered with, veggies that retain a greater degree of their true character. They aren't perfect, as anyone who's eaten a homegrown carrot right out of the ground after a brief rinse in the garden hose can tell you. After all, does biting into a raw supermarket carrot give you a slap-your-grandma carrot-y flavor? No. But carrots still manage to taste like carrots. Beets still manage to taste like beets. And red cabbage still tastes like cabbage, but it's purple! Little known fact: raw cabbage has a BUTTLOAD of vitamin C. Orange juice - while very tasty - isn't necessary when you toss a good amount of shredded fresh cabbage into a salad. Then there are the seasonal fruits that can be added and dried ones, too.

So when constructing a good salad, add some diced apples and raw thin-sliced fennel which has a gentle, fresh, anise flavor. If you don't like it, slice the rest of it and sautee it with onions and/or mushrooms to add to your next omelette. Sauteeing drastically ratchets down fennel's anise flavor. Grate some carrots and/or beets into the bowl. What I've been doing is making a giant bowl of salad for the week, scooping some out every day for lunch and adding things as I want them. Toss in some fresh grapefruit segments which are coming into season from Florida or raisins for some sweetness, some chopped fresh herb of your choice, and some balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. A big part of making the salad pop is combining sweet, sour, and salty in a way that you find appealing. You can do it with mostly fruits and veggies. I've been giving my salad more staying power by throwing chunks of roast turkey on top. Hardboiled eggs are a cheap good choice, especially with a high-quality feta.

My final tip for eating tasty salad is not refrigerating it all day. I know it sounds weird, but letting it come to room temperature at work makes it much more likely that I'll eat it because when it's chilly and wet out, eating chilly wet things is completely unappealing. But room temperature wet things? Fine. Anyway, I will soon add to the several soups on this blog that do not contain cream and/or bacony things.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vegetable soup saves.

So, I made this root veggie soup. It started with a sweat of carrots, onion, garlic, and parsnip in olive oil, and then went on to include wine, balsamic, worcestershire sauce, and soy to add flavor and salt to the cooking water; bay leaves, thyme, sage, and pepper for more flavor, and turnips, roasted beets, potatoes, and finally, cabbage only at the end so the apartment wouldn't smell. If you boil large amounts of cabbage for long periods of time, your space will smell like some animal walked in, defecated, and then lay down and died. So, unless you like smelling that stank, don't add cabbage at the beginning unless it's surrounded by lots of other ingredients (like stuffed cabbage which is delicious and generally awesome). It was enough veggies to require 6 cups of water, which was just enough to have some liquid at the end. Oh, and I also used a scant 1/4 cup of corn flour to thicken it right before I turned off the heat. The remaining liquid wasn't thick per se, but it had a slightly increased mouthfeel. Anyway, it was sweet and vegetabley. Lots of flavor, light, and warming. It made a very nice lunch this last week.

Today, Danny and I were cleaning out the fridge and freezer, and we found an ancient frozen tupperware of beef stew. I have NO RECOLLECTION AT ALL of when we made it. I don't even know what, if any, recipe we followed. It's just always been in the freezer. Literally forever. But we decided to liberate the tupperware, so against Danny's wishes, I thawed it. He wanted to just toss it, but hey, it was in the freezer! It can't be spoiled! My mom would have been so proud of me.

I thawed it gently in the microwave on medium heat and cautiously tasted it. Delicious. It was mostly gravy with a few hefty meat chunks, so I just dumped it into our veggie soup. The two mixed together was AWESOME. The veggie soup saved the meaty gravy from certain death, and everyone is happy. Danny announced his intention is to take it for lunch this week with noodles.

The moral of the story? Don't throw out frozen food! It never goes bad in there! I mean, sure, it had some awesome ice crystals, but it didn't even taste really freezer burned. It was slightly freezer flavoured by itself, but when I integrated the thick meaty essence into the veggie soup, it became completely delicious without a hint of funk.