Thursday, March 26, 2009

BBQ tofu

This week I had a serious craving for tofu, specifically how they make it at this amazing vegetarian restaurant I went to in Denver called Water Course. I've been dreaming about their bbq tofu ever since--all saucy with dark green veggies on the side. When I got home from work it turned out that I had some seasoned, firm tofu in teriyaki flavor in my fridge already, so clearly it was meant to be.

Cut 2 pieces of tofu into small cubes. Texturally this probably works best with the seasoned and pressed variety rather than the water-packed kind but you can try and see how it goes. Get 2 tablespoons olive oil quite hot in a pan and let the tofu cubes sizzle in there until they're golden brown and sort of crispy. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, make a bbq sauce. If you have a bottled one on hand to use that you like, feel free, but otherwise a quick emergency bbq sauce (as mine was here) can consist of 2 tablespoons ketchup (tomato paste would be better but I didn't have any on hand), 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon each of mustard, worcestershire, hot sauce, and cider vinegar all mixed up over medium heat until it makes a smooth sauce. Taste it and see how it balances out--add more sugar or vinegar if you think it needs it. Add your tofu cubes back into the sauce and gently combine over low heat until they are saucy and reheated. Hopefully you made some brown rice and a nice pile of green vegetables to go on the side. I lightly toasted 1 clove minced garlic in olive oil then added in a bunch of shredded lacinato kale and sautéed for about 5 minutes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

St. Patrick's Day 2009

So this was the fifth annual St. Patrick's Day party and also the fifth time I've attempted home-cured corned beef. I'm pretty sure that this was the best so far, which makes sense. I've posted on the process for corning your own brisket before, but here's this year's version anyway and some pictures of the process. I combined 2 tablespoons each of allspice, cracked black pepper (not ground peppercorns, just cracked), dried thyme and paprika with 5 crumbled bay leaves and 1 cup of kosher salt. Mixed it all really well up together and set aside.I had a little over 7 pounds of flat-cut brisket--you can adjust the corning spices mixture accordingly if you have a lot more or less than that amount of meat. Get a fork and prick the brisket all over on both sides--at least 30 times per side. Then rub your salty spice mixture all over both sides of the meat. You really have to get all up in its business. Pack the brisket into plastic ziploc bags. I had to cut mine in half because it was too big to fit in one. And now...wait. About 2 weeks. Pack it up in the fridge and flip it over every day--I keep mine stacked on a baking sheet in case of oozing. I highly recommend getting a small dog to keep an eye on it for you.This particular time my brisket was able to corn from the day the water main broke at work so we all got sent home (March 4), to St. Patrick's Day (March 17). That was a pretty good length of time and I think that's why it was so good this year. Sometime while the meat is in your fridge it will make a magical transformation from being a cut of brisket covered in salt and spices to corned beef. It's a beautiful thing, really. Pull the now-corned beef out of its bag(s) and rinse it off.Let it simmer for about 3 hours, covered in water and 2 tablespoons pickling spices (I had to use 2 pots because I don't have one big enough for all the meat). When you have about 35 minutes left in your cooking time, add in 3 pounds of tiny golden potatoes or chunks of red potatoes. I usually put a pound of chopped carrots and onions in with the potatoes too, for flavor.At 20 minutes out from dinnertime, add in 2 heads of cabbage, cut into wedges. When everything is all cooked up, drain it off, slice the beef against the grain, pile it in the center of a platter and surround it with the vegetables (terrible picture, use your imagination).There is always something new every year at the annual St Patrick's Day feast. Rick always makes soda bread which is ridiculously delicious, and this year Katie made a delicious salad with green goddess dressing--perfect. And Byron and Michelle made Guinness ice cream which was amazing. It got even more amazing when Charlie discovered that you could pour Jameson over it and make a float. Oh, and check out the cupcakes! These are the same Guinness chocolate cupcakes with whiskey cream cheese frosting that I made last year for the first time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parsley chimichurri

One more thing from the trip to Oakland was this quick easy herb sauce that is great on grilled flank steak. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce that in its most basic form is just chopped onion, olive oil, paprika and sometimes lemon. But there are many many versions and the one I make is a more herbaceous version that is closer to pesto. You can make this with cilantro if you like but I used parsley. My basic (and endlessly flexible) formula is to take onions and/or garlic, chop them finely, then combine with tons of minced fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Spread over a grilled hot flank steak and proceed to be very very happy.

Here's part of a big bunch of parsley getting all worked over.
Then I combined it in a bowl with about 6 cloves minced garlic, a healthy 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper.
Oh yes, and more of the lemons fresh off the tree in the backyard. I used the juice from one big one.Normally I combine by hand but Charles had a food processor so I gave the mixture a whirl in that. It definitely gets things more like a purée rather than a rough mixture. Maybe it was a little too liquidy for my taste but it's an option if you are in love with your cuisinart.So you should have a saucey, fresh smelling herby mixture on your hands......spread it all over a hot steak and slice up to serve.I forgot! There was one more thing that was tasty--mushrooms marinated in red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, a little left over minced parsley, and salt & pepper for about 30 - 45 minutes. That's it!Grilled on skewers with the flank steak until soft and fragrant.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bay area banana bread

Betsy and I went to visit Charles and Christine in Oakland last week and those crazy kids had some bananas that were going south so we decided some bread was in order. The proportions are based on Mark Bittman's but it really is its own special "hmmm, what's in the pantry?" kind of recipe. And, as long as you don't veer off and use add-ins that are too liquidy, you can really tweak this basic version as much as you'd like (coconut, orange zest, chocolate shavings or chips, cardamom, wheat germ, peanut butter, etc, etc).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter up a loaf pan and sprinkle some flour over it for sticklessness. Find a few ripe-to-overripe bananas and mash 'em up real good. I had three in mine but Christine thought it needed one more banana and I agree, so make it with at least 4 if you do this. At the time there was actually one more banana lying around but the baby had kind of eaten part of it...and you know what babies do to food. A combination of squishing and gumming. Anyway. Cream 1 stick softened butter together with 2 beaten eggs and mix the mashed bananas into this. For dry ingredients, combine 2 cups flour (I used all white flour but you can try replacing up to half with whole wheat for a denser, nuttier loaf) with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 3/4 cup sugar. I also added about 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon that Charles decided to grind from sticks in his coffee grinder. It definitely made the coffee taste cinnamony the next day anyway. Charles and Christine happen to have a lemon tree in their backyard (god, how I love the bay area! sigh) so I went out and picked one and added the zest and juice to the banana mixture. Make a little crater in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour the banana mixture into this. Don't overstir it while combining--as we have discussed, quickbreads and pancakes do not like to be overstirred! It makes them tough and it's sad because they're trying so hard and it's so lame, like Evan Rachel Wood: The Manson Years. I also added a handful of roughly chopped pecans in at this point, which is about the right time for add-ins of this shape and size (any dried fruit, nuts or chocolate). After it's mixed up but not overly so, pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and pop it in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Give it a look-see and start poking at the center around the 45 minute mark. Here it is with about 15 minutes to go. It won't ever bake up totally dry inside because banana bread is supposed to be moist but neither do you want a gummy center, so be sure to check. It should come out all golden and fabulous smelling. Delicious toasted for breakfast the next morning, of course.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Orzo with mushrooms and lentils

Or mushrooms with orzo and lentils. Probably not lentils with orzo and mushrooms though, the proportions don't support that statement. I made this down at Ali and Aviva's yesterday and those ingrates made me watch The Bachelor season finale with them. Some thank you, ladies. Anyway, this makes a simple, delicious and (more or less) healthy weekday dinner. It's perfect with just some dark green veggies or pinheads mimicking social interactions on the side. Or both!Mince up one small onion let it get all softened and aromatic in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat (about 5 minutes sauté time). Slice up a package of cremini mushrooms. Add in 1 tablespoon butter to your onions in the pan (you really don't have to add so much if you want to keep it lighter, just be sure to keep an eye on things so they don't burn) and add your sliced mushrooms. Let them get golden brown (about 8-10 minutes) with the onions. Measure out about 1 cup of orzo pasta, or any other small pasta. Large grain israeli couscous is another good option too. Sauté your orzo with the mushrooms and onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic (if you were virtuous before you might be regretting it right about now, so go ahead and add a little more oil/butter to make it easier on yourself) until the pasta has some nice golden brown toasty bits on it, about 2 - 3 minutes. Clear a little space in the center of the hot pan and add in a pinch of cumin and chile powder or any other spices that catch your fancy. Now just scoop it all out and set it aside for a second because the lentils need a head start. Get you 1/2 cup of lentils (these are my usual small French green lentils but you can use any kind you like). Add these to your same cooking pan/pot whatever you had going before (minimizing dishes whenever possible, right?) with 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock. I happened to have some chicken stock going right next to this operation, so I just ladled some in, very convenient. Unless you are using packaged stock, add 1 teaspoon salt and let your lentils cook until softened--mine took about 15 minutes. Then return your delicous orzo-mushroom mixture to the stock and lentils, and let cook until the orzo is soft, the lentils are edible and the stock is all pretty much absorbed (about another 10 minutes). You can mix in all kinds of extras to this as it finishes cooking; I tossed in a diced half a tomato that I spied languishing in Ali's fridge (which added nothing for better or worse), but you could try tamari, minced parsley or other fresh herbs, white wine, nationally televised desperation, whatever you like really.