Sunday, March 23

tofu and rice noodle stir fry

If you don't identify as a tofu lover, or you see stir fry as being kind of 'meh', you haven't tried it like this. This is the best technique for making juicy, crispy, flavorful bites of tofu, and will change just about anyone's mind.  I make it all the time, because I can use whatever vegetables I have, and always keep rice noodles (or rice) and frozen tofu around. Once you get the hang of this, you can make a great meal in less than an hour, and have delicious leftovers for lunch.

tofu technique-

Freeze the tofu.  Plan on always keeping a tub or two of it frozen, because they're super useful.  You can either: freeze it right in the plastic sealed tub (the lazy way), or open, cube, and drain it on towels (totally better),  and the freeze it in a microwave safe dish.  

When you're ready to cook it, thaw it in the microwave until its warm throughout, drain, and cube it (if you didn't before you froze it), then gently squeeze most of the water out in a terry cloth kitchen towel or three flour sack towels.

Pan fry in some oil in a non-stick or stainless pan, until most of the sides are golden brown. Then season it based on what you're doing with it.  

Stir Fry Ingredients-

  • 1/2 pack of rice noodles- the wider 1/4" flat ones are my favorite, but any will work, and cooked sticky rice will also work if you want fried rice.  To cook the noodles, bring a pan of hot water to a boil.  Put the noodles in, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for up to 10 minutes, until they're just barely chewy.  Drain and rinse in cold water in a colander. 
  • 3 or so vegetables: about 1-2 cups of each, depending on how much they cook down.  My favorites are: onion, carrot, red pepper,  or cabbage (napa, red or green), but you could also use baby or fresh corn, sweet peppers-- just make sure the flavors and colors go together.  Trader Joe's Soycatash is a good easy choice, or even the frozen veggie stir fry blends if you're crunched for time.
  • Sauce: customize the recipe (Below), and whisk it up ahead of time in a mug or pyrex measuring cup so its quick and ready to pour
  • Your cooked tofu 

Stir Fry Sauce-

1/2 Cup Rice Wine -or- Rice Vinegar (depending on what you want)
1/4 Cup soy sauce 
1 tsp minced ginger
2 Tblsp toasted dark sesame oil
2Tblsp Southeast Asian Chili Garlic Sauce (Sriracha or Sambal work)

Whisk together in a mug or pyrex measurer. Add any one of the following additions, depending on what you're looking for: Finely ground black pepper, a bit of hoisin sauce, peanut butter (you'll have to warm it up a little), sesame seeds, spicy mustard (even dijon works), thinly sliced green onions, a bit of plum or apricot jam instead of the soy sauce, and use the rice vinegar for a sweet and sour sauce.

Stir Fry method-

In a hot large pan with plenty of oil, fry the onions on medium high heat until they start to soften and get translucent, keep the heat up high enough to get a quick sizzle when you add anything.  Next, add the harder vegetables and fry until they start to soften.  During the frying, resist the urge to keep moving the stuff around in the pan too much-- that makes it mushy.  When the veggie is starting to brown on its edge, then gently toss the veggies with a spatula. If you're using a smaller pan, put the cooked veggies on a plate as soon as they're cooked so each batch of veggies can get seared without turning to mush.

Once the veggies are done, add the tofu back in until its warmed up.  Then, dump your noodles or rice on top, and let the droplets of water sizzle in the pan for a minute.  Pour your stir fry sauce over the top, and leave it until it works its way to the pan and sizzles.  Then, gently toss the whole thing a few times, allowing some time for the noodles and sauce to cook and caramelize. Again, the trick is to allow the noodles and sauce to cook until crispy and brown, without turning it so much it sticks together.

To finish, top with bean sprouts, chopped unsalted peanuts, or sesame seeds, or chopped fresh herbs.

Tuesday, March 4

Best of 2013

Each year, when I'm getting antsy for spring, I start planning a garden and what I want to preserve in the upcoming months.  In 2013, I did a LOT of things right!   I made useful winter-long amounts of really useable stuff for day-to-day eating.  Mainly, the things I liked about this year's preserves were that they helped me to cook fresh, interesting foods in a fraction of the time, and way cheaper / localer than I could have any other way. I have bought minimal produce this winter, even though I eat a veggie-based diet, and have not felt like I was missing out on anything!

I'm not a recipe follower, for the most part, but I do like to take photos, so here are regular ol' things I cooked for mostly weeknight quick meals using stuff I preserved from the garden and farmers market.

In no particular order, because I've used all of them, weekly, all fall and winter:

Pinto bean tacos with chile garlic relish
Southeast Asian Chile Garlic relish.  I made at least 4 quarts of this. I bought the red jalapenos by the bushel at the farmers market in the late summer/early fall. Its pretty much Sriracha without all the sugar, and so much brighter and fresher.  It lasts in the fridge for a full year, making everything taste better.  It can be used so many ways; I use it more days than not.

Cherry pepper garlic
Lactofermented hot peppers.  I did several batches, and types of peppers, and prefer this recipe. Depending on the peppers you use, and how much vinegar, its a nice tobasco-y sauce to be used on everything. The pureed version (sauce) lasts better than the peppers in the brine, because the peppers can peek out of the brine and get moldy.  

Squash gnocchi with lemon-dill compound butter cream and veggies
Frozen compound herb butters.  I grew a LOT of herbs last year.  More than I could cook with, for sure.  I made several batches each of: dill with lemon, lemon-basil, and Thai basil Chile garlic (with oil instead of butter). I froze them in mini muffin tins, and super tiny ice cube trays. I used them to saute and season everything, all year.  Fresh herbs are crazy expensive, and you always end up with not enough or too much, and this is such a good solution.  Also, I'm sure oil works just as well as butter.

Carrot soup with parsley lemon pesto
Frozen minced parsley. With just about every thing I cook, its nice to have some color.  Specifically, bright, summery, fresh, green, color.  Parsley has a nice fresh taste and goes with most cuisines.  So, throwing a cube of minced parsley in at the end of- whatever- makes it look nice, adds vitamins, and is really just a great way to add harvested-in-season green foods to your plate.

Dried herbs.  It doesn't get much easier.  I dried 2.5 pint jars of parsley, and 2 of sage, on cookie sheets with the heat of the light of my oven, or on super low in my toaster oven. I've finally used them all up. More drying will be happening in 2014.
Herbes de Provence bread

Oven-roasted (half-dried) tomatoes, frozen on sheets.  I grew too many tomatoes last year.  The heirloom choices at the garden store just were too appealing, and I planted too ridiculously many.  Out of season tomatoes are gross, though, so its worth it to save 'em up for the rest of the year.  Freezing plain fresh tomatoes seems like you're paying to keep water frozen, so the half roasted / dried works well.  They're good in sandwiches, soups, savory pastries and pies, with hash browns, and just generally.  Super good.
Small red peppers before freezing

Frozen (unblanched) red bell pepper strips. There is one or two weekends a year where red bell peppers are cheap at the farmers market.  I mean, really inexpensive.  I bought 1 or 2 bushel baskets, washed them, sliced them, froze them on cookie sheets and then put them in bags, and we have enjoyed them all winter long.  5.99/lb for "Stoplight peppers" shipped all the way to MN from Chile, Argentina, or Holland?  No. Way.  $20.00 for all the peppers I can possibly cook with all year, and minimal labor.  I use them in stir fries, soups, egg bake things, savory scones, and fajitas.
Ravioli with red peppers, dried tomatoes, and herbs

My major takeaway this year is that the easily preserved stuff is just as useful (or more) as the fancy canned condiments I was making, and is truer to my cooking style.  I still will make some of the fancy stuff, but knowing how useful the easy stuff is will help me better prioritize and enjoy more of the summer when it arrives
Drunken noodles, tofu, and peppers

Sunday, February 2

Perry Pears

I've been crazy about the pear ciders lately! It might be as much about the name- Perry- as the fruit itself.  Between the gluten-free folks, the craft brew resurgence, and the seasonal/locavore movements, hard cider has jostled its way to at least a tap in every place I tend to go, and pear is elbowing its way onto the menu, too.  First, I noticed Sir Perry (the name is so adorable, you just have to order it), then Fox Barrel showed up, and now the inertia has set in.

I've been casually homebrewing, brewery touring, sampler-ing, and learning about beer through osmosis for over a decade. The past few autumns, I've dabbled in fermenting hard cider, which fell into my whole seasonal eating plan meets hobbies that require you to buy more hobby gear.  20 gallons in, most of the cider turned out…drinkable.  One batch turned out awesome, but I haven't been able to replicate it yet, because I don't remember which yeast or honey I used.

Right now my favorite apple ciders -to buy- are:  Crispin BrownsLane, and Angry Orchard Elderflower and Ice Man.  When I see a new cider that meets my basic criteria (all or mostly natural, not overly flavored with other fruits, no cinnamon/spice) at the store, I usually give it a try.
Pear Dutch Oven Pancakes

I've had a thing for pears for years; they're a little more delicate / floral / shapely / soft / interesting than apples. Or, it may just be that they're kind of the autumn underdog fruit and quietly sit in Apples' shadow. I love cooking with them- from turnovers to cakes to tarte tatins.

 So, as my new hobbies tend to do- this plan started rolling down hill and gaining speed.  First, I bought   Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider. The next day, I was at the Farmer's Market before it opened hoping to get the apple guy I buy from to 'just put some pears through his cider press'…sounds easy enough, right?  Not exactly.  Evidently, there are rules involved in this stuff. To sell cider for drinking, it must be pasteurized, and that's a process evidently.  Few farmers grow enough pears to sell in MN, so putting them all through a press for a teeny bit of pear cider isn't top priority.  Pear juice at the co-op had grape juice, came in small glass jars, and was expensive, so that was out.  Gerber baby juice was a cheaper option discussed on the Perry forums, but that wasn't gonna do it for me.

Google to the rescue- I found myself an organic MN pear farmer! He knew what Perry was, and suggested I show up at his farm at 2pm (when the rain was supposed to end), pick the windfall myself since there was just a hail storm and they needed to be picked and used soon, and "bring yer mud boots." (uh..."mud boots?") Now…it was turning into an adventure!

I ended up picking a LOT of pears. I was told they were Spice pears from a tree his mother planted.  They "bite ya back" farmer Patrick said, and he was right.  Pretty sure its the tannins in the fruit.  The flavor was strong, concentrated, and probably closer to actual English Perry pears (so I've read) than any juice I could've bought, if I could've found any anyway.  Disclaimer:  I did not buy these from him- in case there are rules about selling windfall crop- or any rules that would compromise his organic certification, which, as I understand it is a pretty complicated deal.  He just gave them to me.  So-- BUY HIS APPLES AT THE WEDGE during apple season.  Please.

The next step was juicing them.  I don't have a cider press, and consulted YouTube about making one, but decided to channel my inner General Patton, and 'choose my battles'. I used my Breville home juicer, knowing it was a semi-insane and deliciously messy undertaking.  It took about 4 hours, to produce about 3 gallons of fresh pressed pear juice, and many mixing bowls full of pear foam. I say juice, but it was more like cider in that there really was a lot of that grainy pear sediment that settled out eventually.

Then, I followed the directions in the book, and visited Northern Brewer a half-dozen times for hand holding and encouragement.  I DID NOT want this to fail, after the time and labor investment.

The process: I killed off the natural bacteria and yeast using Campden tablets, let it rest and settle.  I added 1 gallon of store bought organic apple juice, because I was told the pear flavor takes over even in a 1:1 apple:pear situation, but I really wanted PEARy cider. I used English Cider yeast.

My OG was: and my pH was: I fermented in primary for: and secondary'd it for: I took one gallon off and secondary'd it on a pint of organic cranberries, which I'd boiled with a cup of water and cooled.  When it came to bottling, I used Red Star Champagne yeast, and blended most of the regular Perry with the Cranberry Perry, or cranPerry, and used table sugar for bottle conditioning. I ended up with 2 cases of 375ml champagne bottles- 3/4 of it was the festive, pink cranPerry, and a few of the plain which remained slightly cloudy, and kind of a light creamy peachy color.

After about 9 days bottle conditioning, I couldn't wait any longer.  I took the cider to the brew store hoping the patient soul that had walked me through this was there to give it a try.  He was.

The regular perry almost caused him a work comp claim, as the top shot off and perry sprayed everywhere.  I learned from my mistake there-- don't be willy nilly with measuring the priming sugar. (It was late, I was tired, it was a sloppy mistake). The tiny bit left, he said, was a bit too tart.  I would also add that the tannis are really pronounced, with a dry astringency, but it tastes undoubtedly like pears.  The cranPerry, was perfectly carbonated, sweet-tart, very dry, a nice pinky color, and awesome.  He said he "had nothing to critique, because its f....n' awesome."

Sunday, August 11

Weekend Breakfasts

During the week, my breakfast is usually a couple of handfuls of almonds and some homemade granola, maybe with some yogurt.  But, on the weekends, I love to make a late breakfast with delicious coffee.  Pancakes have been my favorite lately, and oatmeal/granola.  When delicious fruits are in season, they're where I start.

Al dente, rinsed, rolled oats with coconut flakes and pecans, bruleed with coconut oil and dark brown sugar.  Rinsed and al dente is by far the best way to prepare oats- with water (not milk!) and salt.  Rinse  with cool water all the gloppy starchy stuff off to reveal a chewy little squished-flat grain.  Heat them up again quickly to serve them.  You can also toast them dry beforehand to make them nuttier.  

Vanilla cream-top yogurt with fresh nectarine and homemade ginger granola, with a strawberry coconut milk smoothie. I usually use Brown Cow Yanilla Cream Top or another full fat high quality organic yogurt. I prefer Trader Joe's Vanilla sweetened coconut milk for cooking and drinking for both flavor and texture. 

Vegan pancakes with pecans and granola.  I almost always use this  basic pancake recipe, and then add stuff as I cook them: Nuts, granola, raw or toasted oats, raw or toasted nuts or seeds, fresh, frozen or dried fruit, etc.  I never like to make the same thing, the same way, twice.  

Vanilla yogurt, white nectarine, red plum, raw almonds, and holy basil tea.  

Sweet dark cherry and almond vegan pancakes with coconut oil, salty and sweet maple roasted walnuts. Toast the walnuts on medium heat until they start to smell toasty. Turn down the heat. Drizzle some maple syrup into the pan- it'll sizzle.  Toss the nuts with a silicone spatula to get the syrup coating evenly, and season with spices if you want.  Ideas: Alleppo pepper, smoked sea salt, dried herbs, cumin, vanilla.  You can also boil down apple cider to a thick syrup and do the same thing with the nuts.  Its explosively apple-y like a jolly rang

This was actually an afternoon snack, but I also had leftovers for breakfast. Plum, pluot, and fresh young summer apple pie, with vanilla bean bourbon whipped cream.My favorite fruit desserts like this have very little sugar, as this one does, and are rustic enough to let the fruit jump out. These hot-pink pluots were delicious both raw and cooked.  I used a cookie-cornmeal-cobbler-pie type crust, based on this, and replaced the 6 extra tablespoons of AP flour with finely ground cornmeal.  

Garden Dinners

Whenever possible, I make dinner from stuff I harvest directly from the garden.  This year, with my planting strategy, I have had enough of something to made a nice dinner for 1 or 2 every night I've wanted to.  After a long winter of heavy cooking and baked goods, and I've been trying to keep meals light and simple.  I have mostly eliminated wheat from my vegetarian diet, and I am using much less dairy- and it hasn't felt like a huge sacrifice either.

Here are some weeknight dinners that often take less than a half-hour to put together, based on using homegrown veggies and preserved foods when available:

Homegrown arugula salad with sprouted beans, scrambled tofu with poblano peppers, avocado salad with southeast asian chile garlic relish.

This did take longer than 15 minutes.  Red Bibb lettuce and sliced carrot salad with ginger miso dressing, garden onion/herb/lettuce spring roll with peach-pepper relish, rice vinegar-pickled radishes, and sushi rolls: pickled salted apricot and lemon basil, pickled radish, wilted chard and ume plum sauce. 

Radish greens sauteed in garlic, preserved lemon, and olive oil, on whole wheat pasta, with chile garlic relish.

Bibb lettuce salad with sliced english breakfast radish dressed with toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar, and white miso soup with bean threads, grated radish, ginger, scallions and chives.

Sauteed radish greens with garlic and preserved lemon, with a spinach, feta, spring onion, and roasted red pepper gluten-free savory scone. 

Bibb lettuce and toasted almonds with creamy avocado herb dressing.

Homegrown Caprese with lemon basil on field greens with blended balsamic dressing. 

Baby field greens salad with sungold tomatoes, an avocado with chile garlic relish, parsley, and Castel Veltrano olives. 

A smooth, pureed soup of carrots, garbanzos and cumin, with a parsley-preserved lemon pesto swirled in. 

Swiss chard, tofu and Carrot Holy Basil on short grain brown rice. 

Zucchini, corn, herb, and falafel burgers, with dill-onion yogurt and Sunsugar tomatoes, sauteed collard greens with shallot 'bacon' and Cuban black beans.

Sesame Ry-Krisp with feta, olive oil, chile garlic relish, and Castel Veltrano olives. 

Corn and cheesy feta cakes with baby scallions and a tomato basil salad, and zucchini-flalfel burger with red pepper, served with dill herb cream.