Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Crispy pan-fried tofu

Tofu! So polarizing. I love it deeply but I recognize there's times when it needs to up the texture factor. Here's how I make it a crispy delight--particularly suitable for dipping or adding to your favorite stirfry.Maybe people would love it more if they realized that it's basically just cheese? Look at it! Like a giant square-shaped fresh mozzarella. Wetness is an enemy of crispy frying so the first thing to do is get the tofu as drained as you can. Cut it in half and lay it out in a paper-towel lined colander.Put another layer of paper towels on the top surface of the tofu slices and weigh it down with something heavy, like big tomato cans or something. I used my Alterra coffee canister that Jocelyn gave me years ago as a going away present when I left Milwaukee. It does have a pound of coffee in it so it's good and heavy right now.After at least 30 minutes, your tofu should be really well drained. But please note--even if you don't have time to drain the tofu or just didn't think of it or whatever, you can still squeeze the tofu and get some water out of it. It won't be totally dry but it's better than nothing. Cut the slices into cubes of whatever size you like. Smaller will be crispier. I went for medium size ones here.Mix up equal parts four and nutritional yeast flakes with salt and pepper in a big bowl. This is 1/4 cup each. After the flour and nutritional yeast is blended, add in your tofu chunks.Toss 'em around, get them good and covered.Heat up a good 1/4 cup of canola oil in a huge pan. You want to get it really good and hot. Sizzly.If your pan is big enough, you can do all the tofu at once. Otherwise just work in two batches. You don't want to crowd them or they'll just be soggy and greasy instead of crisp.If you oil is hot enough, they'll sizzle when they hit it and start turning golden brown right away. Flip them over after a few minutes--take a look at the bottom of one or two first to see if they're the right color. You can see a couple of mine got a little bit too toasty--I think I left them on for about 4 minutes before flipping over.Take them off and drain well on paper towels. That's the boo thing about frying--you end up using a lot of paper towels which always makes me feel wasteful. Check it out! Perfectly golden squares of crispy tofu. They'll be the crispiest right after they're cooked so don't let them sit around too long. Like I said, smaller pieces will brown up faster and be more crisp so you may want to experiment. One yummy thing to do is to use them to dip in peanut sauce, sort of like tofu satay. Or in any stir fry, which is what we did that night--in a spicy sauce with brown rice and snap peas.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Warm tortellini salad

This is a recipe for keeping the house cool during summertime cooking--fast cooking fresh tortellini tossed with a few rich ingredients that don't need to go on the stove. I don't want to call it a pasta salad because that sounds like a side you'd order under duress at a sandwich place ("umm, you can choose between potato chips, or coleslaw or pasta salad"). It's more like a room-temperature pasta dish, and it will gladly travel with you to potluck BBQ parties or to the office for lunch for the rest of the summer.Fresh tortellini are best because they'll cook in 5 minutes or less and their flavor is usually better. Sicilians say the shape of a tortellina is meant to evoke the navel of Venus, but sicilians say a lot of things. They are really pretty though. Get 1/2 cup of frozen fresh green peas or butter beans because they'll cook up at the same rate as the tortellini. Bring a big pot of well salted water to a boil and add the beans and tortellini on in there together. Friends taking a bath together.It should only take 5 minutes before the pasta is ready to drain. Then you can turn off your stove and never speak of it again. After you drain the pasta and beans, and while they're still hot, dress them with a good few tablespoons of olive oil. This will prevent stickiness and makes the pasta more flavorful.You can easily omit this part for a vegetarian version, but I like to add about 1/4 cup of salami, cut into thin matchsticks.Components: 1/2 cup ricotta salata or queso fresco, the afore-mentioned (and omittable) 1/4 cup salami, 1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes, 4 leaves basil, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, and the juice from 1 lemon. Add the salami and the sundried tomatoes to the tortellini while still hot--the heat from the pasta is needed to best bring out the flavors for these dried ingredients.After it cools down a little bit, add in all the rest of your ingredients, crumbling up the cheese as you go. Toss it all together and see if it needs more salt (all this stuff is pretty salty so I think you should season to taste to make sure no one strokes out after eating dinner). Add some fresh ground black pepper right before serving.It will probably taste even better the next day, after flavors have melded a bit. This is a great make-ahead dish or for lunch the next day...if you can keep people from eating it all right away out of the serving bowl.

Peach rhubarb compote de maman

I have made something very similar before with strawberries, but Phil's mom had just brought us a whole bagful of gorgeous sweet peaches. Then a couple days later my mother came to visit, bearing two huge bunches of rhubarb. Our moms like to take care of us.Georgia is no place for rhubarb. It's sad but true. It grows like a weed--actually may even be a weed--in Wisconsin though, so here was a metric ton of the good stuff. Chopped it all up into 1" chunks...And put it in my big dutch oven, along with 6 peaches, roughly chopped.Add 1 1/2 cups of water and a heaping 1 cup of sugar, bring it to a boil and then let simmer until it all falls apart, stirring often. If you have less rhubarb and peaches on hand than I did, just proportionately decrease the amount of sugar and water. If it seems too liquidy, keep the lid off the pot so it can reduce down. It probably took about 30 minutes total, but that is very much dependent on how much fruit you end up putting in there. You want it to reach a jammy sauce-like consistency but don't worry too much because it will firm up more when it cools down.Delicious over yogurt, especially topped with some granola. I've had yummy compote and granola every morning this week--isn't that just like mom to make sure you eat a good breakfast?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miso-buttered sweet potatoes

This is phenomenal and barely counts as a recipe because it's so easy, but do as I say and not as I do and don't make these right now in the heat of a Georgia summer. Wait until fall to roast these up in your oven, it makes more sense then anyway. But if, like me, you just had to have a roasted sweet potato for dinner in June, try to get someone to hang around the house and do the roasting part for you while you step away for a couple hours. One of my secret shames was that I really didn't know what kind of miso to have on hand. It keeps pretty much indefinitely so I didn't want to have a bunch of different kinds cluttering up the fridge if I could avoid it--there's white miso, barley miso, red miso, etc. I recently read somewhere that red miso is a good all-purpose one, so red it is for me. I've been putting it in everything recently though, so maybe it's time to branch out. Anyway. The charm of this recipe for me is to roast the sweet potatoes whole until they self-puree inside and their skins are tender and delicious. Set your oven to 350 and give your sweet potatoes a healthy bath in olive oil--at least a few tablespoons. Be sure to prick them all over with a fork to let their steam escape while baking.
Then pop them in the oven and just let them be for about 1 hour 45 minutes. Meanwhile, combine a heaping 2 tablespoons softened butter with 2 teaspoons miso and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Mix it really well until it's a smooth brown paste.Once you've mixed it up, add at least 1 tablespoon of fresh minced chives (I use a scissors and just snip them in because it's easier than chopping). After a couple hours of roasting time, your sweet potatoes should be looking about like this:
Sweet and creamy inside! Cut a slit down the middle and smear in a dollop of the miso butter...
Then sprinkle over the top with black and white sesame seeds for a bit of crunch.
So so good. The pungent salty miso melts perfectly with the sweetness. And, leaving aside the butter, actually quite good for you, what with the B12 and the beta carotene and live cultures and everything. Enjoy!

5 spice pork chops

This is simple and this is yummy, but as I was working on this post I realized I really didn't get any good pictures of the cooked pork chops that make it look as flavorful and exciting as it really is. So I don't know how to sell it well, but trust me, it's good stuff.5 spice powder...a magical blend! It's aromatic and sort of "can't put your finger on it" with the flavor. Mix up 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tablespoon each cumin and crushed red pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons 5 spice powder in a little bowl. This is enough for 2 chops by the way, but you might need to double if you're having friends over, depending on the size of your chops.Mix it up real well and then kind of rub it into your pork chops on each side. Don't completely cover every milimeter--it's a strongly flavored rub so a little bit will go a long way. I used center-cut chops--my favorite because they're not too thick and I have childhood nostalgia for gnawing on porkchop bones, like I was a cocker spaniel or something.Now drizzle over about 1 tablespoon of honey, divided over each side. And then 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and soy sauce.Then just stick them in the fridge and go do something else for a couple hours while they marinate. For example, I attended a session of my summer school constitutional law class. When you return (knowing MUCH more about the commerce clause than you previously did or wanted to), sprinkle a handful of flour over both sides and cut two slits in the fat of each chop. This will keep the chops flat while they cook in the pan. Heat up a tablespoon of fat of your choice (olive oil, butter, bacon fat) in a heavy skillet and cook the chops about 4-5 minutes per side over medium-high heat. You may need longer if you have thick-cut chops. They will crisp up beautifully thanks to the combo of honey and flour. Here you can see how the slit worked to keep the chop from curling up like a fortune teller fish.This is especially yummy with a miso-buttered sweet potato on the side.