Monday, February 26, 2007

Peanut sauce with fried tofu and vegetables

This represents my attempt at making something that Ann and Jim can replicate out in the snowy wilderness (hey guys! how's it going?). They requested something that would feature tofu and readily available vegetables, because they live in the middle of nowhere and it's still winter there (not here! I saw ice cream trucks this weekend!), which limits access to a range of exciting foods. I ended up making this and really liking it a lot. I am calling it "Vegetarian Fondue"--the ingredients are very flexible and it's fun to eat for a family meal. Especially a stuck-in-the-woods-why-won't-the-snow-stop family, who might be sort of low on amusements right about now.

Gently wrung one block of extra-firm tofu in a clean dishtowel and cut it up into 1 1/2 " pieces. Dried out the tofu pieces further on the towel. This is important because you are going to fry it and you want as little moisture in as possible. You can also weight it down in a colander for 30 minutes or so, if you have that kind of time. Just get it as dry as you can. I then heated about 4 tablespoons of canola oil in a deep saucepan with a lid (lid is important to avoid burns). When it was really hot I dumped in about half the tofu pieces (needed to do this in two batches) and put the lid over (it's glass, which helps you monitor the progress but not get spattered). Flipped the pieces when they were golden brown on the bottom and waited until both sides were a nice toasty brown. Probably took about about 3-4 minutes per side of tofu. Removed tofu from the pan, set aside to drain on paper towels and repeated this process with the second batch of tofu. When all were done, I salt and peppered them and set them out in a single layer so they wouldn't get soggy.

Put 1/3 cup of peanut butter in a bowl with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (if no rice vinegar, just use cider vinegar or a white wine vinegar). I also put in about 1 teaspoon of miso paste, but that is optional. Blended everything together with hot water (added a little bit at a time to keep it in control, I probably added about 1/2 cup total) until the consistency is good for dipping--sort of like heavy cream but a little more runny, if you can imagine that. Set aside.

Now the vegetables! When I did this, I thinly sliced 1 red pepper into strips and trimmed a bundle of asparagus. Then I steamed them until each was just cooked through and tender, but still a little crispy. If there is no red pepper or asparagus, you can use any vegetable that is handy, just lightly steam it first. You want a texture that can be picked up and nibbled on, so not too floppy or overcooked. Carrots or zucchini, cut into thin strips would be nice. Broccoli or cauliflower in small floret and with stalks cut into strips would also be tasty. Even cabbage would be good. It is good to use at least 2 vegetables, but if you just have one then just use one.

We put the fried tofu in the center of a big platter and laid the red pepper strips one one side and the asparagus spears on the other. The bowl of peanut sauce goes next to it (I put it in a bowl of hot water to reheat it right before serving so it is nice and warm--like fondue!) and then you can dip the veggies and tofu into the sauce. Delicious. Also, brown or white rice would be a good addition, on the side.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Applesauce & pork chops with glazed turnips

Pretty much the whole point of dinner this evening was to make applesauce. Everything else was incidental. That's why this post is called "applesauce & pork chops" and not the other way around.

Making applesauce is ridiculously easy--I used 3 different types of apples (Braeburn, McIntosh and one other that I can't remember) and got 2 of each. 6 apples peeled and chopped will make plenty of applesauce for 4 people. The annoying part is peeling but Brian helped me so it went pretty quick. Chopped them into small, uneven pieces (probably less than 1 inch in size). Put them in a pot with a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 cup of mixed apple juice and water. Sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, a teensy, unnecessary smidge of nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon into the mixture. Set over medium heat until they were quite soft (about 10 minutes) then mashed them up right in the pot. Tasted and added a tiny bit of salt. The only thing with applesauce is to make sure you get mealy type apples. Usually they are the kind you wouldn't enjoy eating fresh because they aren't crisp enough. You can cook them in any liquid you feel like--Brian said it was cheating for me to use apple juice, but I could have used orange juice or just water instead, if I felt like listening to him.

Peeld and cut 2 turnips into even 1 1/2" pieces and steamed them until they were a little bit soft but still not all done (about 6-8 minutes). Set them in a pot over medium-low heat in a mixture of 1/2 tablespoon butter, 1/4 cup of white wine, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let them cook, gently stirring every now and then, until all the liquid had cooked away and they were shiny and lightly browned. Moved them around to make sure all sides got browned, then removed from heat.

4 gigantic pork chops just barely fit on my grill pan, did you know that? I had to nestle them together. I just stuck them over high heat until they were well-seared on both side with nice, dark grill marks. Then I poured some apple juice and water over them to keep from burning or drying out. Salt and peppered the tops. When they were cooked through, I removed them and tossed 3 cloves minced garlic and 2 tablespoons minced parsley into the empty, hot pan, stirred them around for a couple seconds then poured white wine (maybe 1/4 cup?) over to make a sauce. Poured that over the chops and that was it.

There was also asparagus, but I don't need to get into that.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Salmon with sweet potato & misoyaki sauce

The first time I had salmon like this was at Molly's house and she said that her father made a sauce that he cooked the fish in. Then she thought of covering it with sesame seeds. I started doing something very similar which has evolved into a first-marinate-then-roll-in-sesame kind of thing. And now I'm out of sesame seeds and must buy more.

Sliced about a pound of salmon filets into 4 chunks and marinated in a mixture that was equal parts tamari, orange juice and olive oil (enough to cover the fish). Slapped it in the fridge and left it alone until it was time for dinner (about 3-4 hours). When it was time to cook, I removed the pieces from the marinade and coated them in sesame seeds. Put in the oven at 375 for about 10 minutes, until flaky but still moist. Voila. Fish is easy.

Sliced a big sweet potato into 1/2" half rounds. Steamed them until just soft, then put on a sesame oil treated ridged cast iron pan and stuck under the broiler to fake-grill until they had nice grill marks and were done through. Kept warm until dinner and hoped they wouldn't dry out.

Mashed up 2 heaping tablespoons miso with 3 tablespoons hot (but not boiling!) water and 2 tablespooon white wine to make a runny paste. In a small pot over medium heat, mixed 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons white wine. Heated and stirred briskly until it became thick, then whisked this into the miso mixture until it made a smooth, thick sauce. Added a little honey to taste.

About 3 hours before dinner, cut 1/2 hothouse cucumber in thin slices and marinated in 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon sugar and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. Added thin peels of 1 carrot and poured it all over 1/3 thinly shredded red cabbage about 1/2 hour before serving. Mixed well and let it stand at room temperature.

Molly and George came over for dinner. Along with the things described above, we also had broccoli (sadly, I forgot about it and it overcooked. I threw out the leftovers at the end of the night because I hate soggy broccoli and Molly yelled at me, then fished a piece out of the trash. True story) and rice. George brought cherry cheesecake pie and Molly did her laundry.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spicy lentil, okra & sausage soup

I just had a very frustrating experience--I wrote this whole thing down and then the computer ate it. It was annoying. So I hope I don't leave anything out on my second-go-round of writing this...

Sautéed 1 minced onion in a tablespoon of mixed bacon fat and butter. After it was soft, I added 1 minced carrot and 2 minced celery stalks. After about 3 minutes, added a coil of sausage (handmade by my grandfather in New Jersey!) chopped into 1" pieces and browned those up. Added 3 tablespoons minced garlic, sautéed for about 2 minutes then added waaaaay too many red pepper flakes. It was sort of an accident--dumped in about 2 tablespoons which I had to correct later with seasonings. Put in 2 cups of lentils and about a 1/2 pound of thinly sliced okra. After that had all been mixed up for about 1-2 minutes over medium heat, I added chopped-up tomatoes (I usually get a big 32 ounce can of peeled, whole plum tomatoes and then use half then can at a time) and their juices. Brian had made chicken stock and we had at least 8 cups of it, so I just put it all in, stirred well and brought to a low boil. I then added a drizzle each of balsamic vinegar and worcestershire along with 3 tablespoons of the red wine I was drinking. It was still way too hot-flavored from the red pepper mishap so I added 1 tablespoon of brown sugar which smoothed it out. Lowered the heat to a simmer and covered to cook until the lentils were soft and the soup was thick--about 25 minutes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Soba noodles with fried tofu

There was so much soy the evening I made this. I actually did not put any miso in the sauce I made for these noodles, simply because I felt it would be over the top to eat that many soy-derived food products in one evening. Anyway, it was highly tasty.

Opened up a package of extra-firm tofu (it was not packed in water, but that kind is fine too) and dried it off by wringing it gently in a clean dishtowel. If you had time you could also weight & drain it to get even more water out. Sliced it into small chunks of about 1 1/2" square. Dusted the tofu pieces with about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch--I was trying to get them pretty well covered. Heated 1/4 cup of canola oil in a deep, lidded pot until it was very hot, then fried the tofu pieces in 2 batches. This isn't too tricky--this particular incredibly handy pot that I was using (thanks Dad!) has a glass lid which makes it easier to monitor frying foods. Flipped the pieces once to brown both sides, then removed them to drain on paper towels. When both batches were done I sprinkled with black pepper and set them aside in a single layer so they would stay crispy. Sliced one red pepper into very thin strips (no more than 1/4") and did the same with 1 peeled & trimmed broccoli stem (not the florets). Minced 4 cloves of garlic and sautéed in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil with a pinch of red pepper flakes. When the garlic was getting soft (maybe 1-2 minutes), added the red pepper & broccoli stem strips and sautéed all together over high heat for about 3 minutes, then set the mixture aside with the tofu. Meanwhile, I put one bundle of soba noodles to boil (they only take 4-5 minutes, so keep an eye on them!), drained them and set aside. To the now-empty pot I added 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar and mixed them well over medium heat. Added a tablespoon of tahini and about 3 tablespoons of white wine and continued to mix until sauce was a good, creamy consistency. Added the soba noodles to the sauce and mixed them well so they got good and covered, then added the vegetables and the tofu. Made sure everything was warmed, and then served sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Considering we boiled up some edamame to snack on while cooking, that's 3 entirely different soy types in just one meal! I am now reconsidering the sauce: I think I would have added a little less soy sauce and stirred in 1 tablespoon of miso with a splash of orange juice, before adding the noodles & vegetables/tofu. I am amazed by the versatility of soy.