Friday, March 26, 2010

All Apologies

Hi Everybody,

I recognize that it's been a while since I've written. Fellow law students will recognize the post-spring break, pre-finals period as the time in the semester when one has to get a handle on upcoming deadlines before the shit hits the fan. So, here we are. In an effort to keep the fan pristine (i.e. free of shit), I've had to take a blogging hiatus that, I hope, won't last too long.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tofu Espagnole

Earlier in the week, I made a sauce for some fried tofu that came out really well. You might notice that, yes, there is indeed chicken in this. So... be warned. I only gave up eating solid pieces of meat for my Lenten fast. I didn't give up using broth for flavor.

Anyway, the sauce came out really well. It was full of flavor, warm, and thick. The thickness made the tofu and mushroom stick together to form almost a stew, which just about put the dish into the "comfort food" category because of its warmth and savoryness. The tofu itself held up really nicely to the sauce, not overdone, but cooked in oil for a sufficient period of time to brown the outside of the tofu and give it some texture. I generally find that ghost-white tofu in soup is OK, but I prefer my tofu to have some color on it if I'm serving it as a meal. Per usual, having homemade stock on hand was a must for this recipe. Anyway, enjoy. This dish made me forget about meat for a solid 5 hours.

Tofu Espagnole

14 oz. Package of Firm Tofu
2 Tbsp. Peanut oil
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsp. Flour
3 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms
1 or 2 Sprigs of Fresh Tyme
1/2 tsp Salt

You'll need a very large skillet for this recipe, or you can use two medium-large pans.

Heat oil in large skillet on high heat. While the pan is warming up, drain the tofu and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut the tofu into 1 inch by 2 inch by 1 inch rectangles. It is easiest to do this while keeping all of the pieces together in the same shape that they came in the package such that when you are finished cutting the tofu rectangles, they are all still neatly stacked together into one big rectangle.

Add the tofu to the pan, gently stirring every 3 minutes or so. The tofu should begin to brown on all sides. While the tofu is cooking, rinse, pat dry, and slice the mushrooms. When the tofu has browned on each side, add the mushrooms to the pan. Continue to stir, this time every minute or so.

When the mushrooms have begun to soften up and release their water, push the tofu and mushrooms all to one side of the pan, leaving as much room as possible on the other side for making the roux.

On the empty side of the pan, melt the butter in the pan, being careful to keep the butter all on the empty side of the pan and not mix with the tofu and mushrooms. Do not burn the butter! Once the butter is half or mostly melted, add the flour and mix with the butter until it forms a paste. Bring the paste closer to the middle of the pan and stir quickly until the paste darkens to a light to medium brownish color. Once your roux is brown, slowly add the stock and mix rapidly with the roux so that a brown sauce forms. Once the roux is fully incorporated into the stock, combine the tofu and mushrooms with the sauce. Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce, tofu, and mushrooms until the sauce is reduced by half. Shred the thyme with your fingers and add to the sauce while it is reducing. Add salt only at the end (since your sauce is reducing, early salting will just get concentrated later on). Serves 3-4.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Some Stale Bread

Well, the first batch of maple sap came in. Much of the bucket contained snow, despite it being mostly covered. But it seems to me like I had a decent amount of sap, about a gallon or so, and that I was on my way to making at least, like, two tablespoons worth of sap. Alas, another setback. Once I boiled off most of the sap, I had a maple syrup-like substance. It was sweet, with the sort of smoky rich flavor that real maple syrup has. But it also came with a shockingly bitter sort of flavor that really overpowered any good effects from the sweetness. It basically tasted like a combination of maple syrup and poison.

There's a pic of sap boiling off. Anyway, I've taken steps to better cover the spouts and will come back and check my containers on Friday for more sap. I did have a good time drinking beers with my grandfather while we tried to boil off the sap on his wood burning stove. It didn't boil much, but I had a few Long Trail IPAs that were really nice.

This past week, I made a few noteworthy dishes. Most of them are pretty basic. For instance, last night, I made some pea soup. Sorry, I'm not going to write out a pea soup recipe for you. Mine is pretty straightforward. Have a ham bone left over, buy some Goya split peas, soak 'em overnight, and follow the directions on the bag with the exception of bouillon cubes and flavor packets. Use your homemade broth dummy!

The croutons I threw onto my pea soup are worth expounding on, though. This is especially true since I've been making a lot of bread lately, and not all of it is great. So, as discussed previously, one of the things you can do with crappy old bread is make croutons with it. And it's really easy too. I used a food processor, but you really don't have to. If you have a garlic press, that would be helpful, but you could just chop the garlic and rosemary very finely.

Rosemary-Garlic Croutons

1 Tsbp. Chopped Rosemary
1 Clove Finely Chopped Garlic
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cups of "Experienced" Bread, cut of shredded into crouton-sized bits.
1/2 tsp. salt

Notes: I don't generally condone cooking with extra virgin olive oil. The point at which extra virgin olive oil begins to smoke, chemically decompose, and lose its flavor and nutritional value is often lower than the temperature that it can reach while in a hot pan. This is called an oil's smoke point. But, our croutons aren't getting pan-fried or broiled, they are just going to soak up that oil, garlic, and rosemary flavor and get a bit of a crunch.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix oil, garlic, salt, and rosemary in a medium sized bowl. Use a food processor if possible, or just chop and mix with a spoon or fork. Add the bread and gently stir the bread so that it soaks up as much oil as possible. Spread the bread around on a flat surface. Discard any extra oil (or put it on your salad if you really love garlic and are in the sort of relationship where garlic breath won't be a dealbreaker). A baking sheet works best, but a casserole dish works too (just takes longer if the croutons are piled up). Put the mixture in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Stir if necessary halfway through. After 25 minutes, check to see how crunchy the bread got. It will vary depending on how stale the bread started out, how much oil it absorbed, the size and depth of the container, and whether you had to double stack the croutons. Give 'em another 5-10 minutes if need be.

Sorry I didn't take a picture of the final product. We were hungry! Besides, you know what croutons look like.