Lukas Volger

What I Did With the Homemade Tofu...

I'll admit that I didn't really know what to do with my newly accomplished, 100% from scratch tofu. It seemed too much work to just do ordinary things with it; it felt as if I needed to fuss and create something new and exciting which is what ended up happening around lunchtime today. As I stood with steaming, crunchy, soft, sweet, salty tofu in hand, I knew I hit the mark. And the inspiration came from my cookbook shelf.

fresh tofu appetizers.

Some time ago, I picked up a copy of Jessica Seinfeld's (yes, Jerry's wife) Deceptively Delicious at a thrift. For the small price, I figured it would give me some inspiration, and it did have nice photography and was spiral bound. Somehow, the spiral bindings always get me...

I seem to go in "cookbook jags", rereading books that I have in my collection and then kind of cooking my way through them, in my own fashion of course, long after I've acquired them. I can follow instructions, but I would say (outside of testing written recipes) I have only loosely followed instructions for the past couple of years. The recipes in this book perfectly complement my experimental outlook in cooking life, and they end up being pretty healthy as well.

The gist of the book is to hide pureed vegetables in "kid-friendly" foods. The trouble with my kid is that he doesn't like "kid-friendly" foods, so most of this book tantalizes me but no one else in my family. I am happy he won't go anywhere near a soda or a chicken nugget, but I have a harder time of hiding veggies in anything that isn't a direct descendant of a carbohydrate. The best I can do is to veg-pack the pizza sauce that goes on our homemade pizzas that I try to make once a week. I take an abnormal amount of pride that my kid only eats sauce pizza. I bolster it with any red vegetable and even a sneaky carrot or two. It's nothing the pinch of sugar and plenty of oregano can't fool his tastebuds with.

tofu, broccoli puree

Last night at dinner, I steamed a little extra broccoli with the express notion that I would puree some of it to include in a hidden-veg recipe. Broccoli, strangely, is one of the vegetables my son will eat without question - so I also knew I was going to be doing some experiment for myself. I ended up using it with my very own, soft set tofu. I was shocked at both its hidden flavor and adhesive qualities. I thought for sure the whole outer coating would slide right off the slippery tofu, but it did not... and the creamy interior was such an amazing texture I just stood alone in my kitchen muttering aloud just how good it was. Next time, I may play around more with the spices but really, this is a pretty amazing little starter for a vegetarian meal.

fresh tofu appetizer, <span class=

My homemade tofu is much softer than the local, commercial tofu that I have bought, though I am sure commercial tofu is a fine substitute. I also used my own sourdough bread crumbs, that I grind very fine. Any fine dried bread crumb is a good bet. I also used something for the dipping sauce I fondly refer to as "Volger Sauce". I'll explain that below.

I did have to work carefully with the homemade tofu, it was delicate and would break if I wasn't so careful. But that said, I was surprised at the sturdiness of these after pan frying them. If you were the putzy type, you could probably wrap the whole tofu nugget entirely in a lettuce leaf (endive, butter lettuce?) and secure it with a toothpick - but eating them hot like little lettuce/tofu tacos was pretty unbeatable, and had the bonus of keeping my fingers relatively clean.

Fresh Tofu Appetizer (adapted from Jessica Seinfeld)
(makes 10 good sized pieces, easily scaled up for more)
  • 10 oz. fresh tofu (not the silken variety of buying commercial)
  • a heaping 1/2 c. dried sourdough breadcrumbs (seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste)
  • 1-2 T. chia seeds
  • 1/2 c. pureed broccoli
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • olive oil for frying
  • Volger Sauce and honey for adorning or dipping
  • lettuce leaves for wrapping

Cut the tofu gently into 1/2 inch thick slices and cut into large sized cube shapes.

Toss the breadcrumbs and chia seeds together in a medium sized, shallow bowl.

Combine the egg and broccoli puree in a small bowl.

Dip the tofu pieces one at a time in the broccoli puree/egg mixture and turn to coat it completely. With a fork, carefully lift it into the breadcrumb mixture and use a spoon to help coat it completely. Use a fork to carefully transfer it to a plate and repeat with remaining pieces of tofu.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot enough to sizzle a drop of water, add 1 T. of olive oil and add half (5) of the dredged tofu nuggets. Pan fry 3-4 minutes on the first side, carefully flip and continue frying for about 3 minutes longer. The tofu will be nicely browned and will feel firm.

Serve on lettuce leaves with equal parts Volger Sauce and good honey.

fresh tofu appetizer, pan-fried.fresh tofu appetizer, cut

So, what exactly is Volger Sauce? Lukas Volger wrote a book I adored on Veggie Burgers, and this sauce was one of the accompaniments from it. I have had a little bottle of it in my fridge since first dip of my finger made the journey to my mouth. It's a wonderful homemade condiment, and adds a little zip to all kinds of things. (Volger makes a particularly great veggie burger with tofu and swiss chard, and adds a few drops of this sauce to each side just before frying them... that could be what made me think of trying it on these little bite-sized appetizers.)

To make it, combine 1/4 c. pomegranate molasses (I use this from POM, which may make it a tad thinner), 1/4 c. soy sauce, tamari or shoyu, 1 tablespoon molasses and 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. Shake it up, store in the fridge, and use it on all kinds of stuff.

Kindly pay his web site a visit too, there is all kinds of greatness going on over there.

fresh tofu appetizer

I love when lunches appear like this, even though this lunch was pretty light and that's why I've considered it an appetizer. I have always held lunch in very high regard, if only because for the better part of the last 6 years, I can make whatever my heart desires. The liberating freedom that comes from cooking for only me is something I treasure, and when something is a success, the victory is all the sweeter.

(To check out one more Jessica Seinfeld hidden veg recipe I made last week, click here.)

Whole Wheat 'Burger' Buns, and a Healthier New Year.

A brand new year, and a fresh blank page: it seems that with each passing year, that happens more and more quickly. I remember this daily now as I think back to when I was the same age as the Kiddo and Christmas hung in the air for what felt like 6 months. The anticipation of Christmas Eve, when our Mexican Feast filled my Gram's little red log home to capacity, was the crown jewel of my year. The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve where we were pretty much free to do whatever and stay up as late as we liked was the best micro-climate of my youth . Even as I got older, I still held Christmas week sacred, using up what vacation time I had to take off most of the time between the 24th and the 31st, to just relax and not do anything related to my normal, routine life.

My week this year did not disappoint. I spent it in the company of some of my favorite people, my Parents. We ate frequently and too much, I whined about my sugar consumption, and made my first vow to lay off it for real. We took naps and watched movies. I did my Amish errands to pick up my egg, flour, and sugar staples, and I even ate lunch with my old boss and some long lost 90-year-old friends. I relaxed so much I didn't even have to feed my sourdough starter, since I had fed it and put it into my fridge the day before I left.

It's only been a few times now that I haven't traveled with my starter, and it still feels a bit like I'm leaving something behind. When I have that living thing on my counter every day, it's a good reminder that "if I take care of you, you'll take care of me". I really do love sourdough baking, and since I have ready access to well fed starter, it's become almost easy to calculate exactly how long until a wild bread can pop out of my oven. But every once in a while, it's so exciting to have the versatility of commercial yeast at my fingertips...

whole wheat burger buns

My Mom and I went to a thrift store over the break where I found a copy of Lukas Volger's Veggie Burgers Every Which Way. I read the whole thing cover to cover before I even got back home, and did so even though I was so full during most of my reading that the tempting combinations didn't even pique my appetite. I read a lot of cookbooks, and I haven't been this infatuated with almost everything in a book I've read in quite a while. I want to make everything! The man has a beet and brown rice burger! (And, a cauliflower burger!) It's infinitely inspiring I tell you, and all of it is healthy. While you are waiting for your copy to arrive, you can check out Lukas' equally inspiring website, like I did for a good chunk of my morning...

After a few new days of austere eating (and I've been without sugar now for 3 whole days - outside of a few bites of cream soda creme brulee on New Year's Day), I actually am rewarded with ravenous hunger and appropriate appetite, and those recipes are now completely dogging my every step. When I had only a heel of hybrid sourdough left from two days ago and needed an accompaniment for our soup dinner tonight, I decided to give one of Lukas' burger buns a go - and I am not sorry I did. His headnote states that he's "happy to eat them without anything sandwiched inside", and I would full-heartedly agree. So would both of my picky boys, who ate them and asked for seconds. I made them with the express purpose of having some leftovers for some veggie burgers for tomorrow, but they ended up fueling my excitement for non-wild yeasts!

hybrid sourdough (soft crust)
my first loaf of 2012: hybrid sourdough - but I baked this one in cast iron...

My problem with baking now is that I sometimes don't pay close enough attention to what I'm doing. I was mixing up this dough intending to use whole wheat (strong) flour and bread flour and accidentally opened the jar of AP flour. To a gorgeous caramel colored slurry of water, milk, molasses and a hint of maple syrup, I added 1 cup each bread flour and AP flour, and then added in all of the whole wheat flour as I mixed. My dough was the color of unbaked light gingerbread, and smelled wheaty and slightly sweet - a scent that with 3 days of sugar-freedom I was highly aware of. The recipe below has the flours as written with very few changes from me. Just be careful not to add too much flour, and these should be some of the softest burger buns you've ever had.

rising bun

Lukas Volger's Whole Wheat 'Burger' Buns (very slightly adapted)
yield 10 buns
  • 1 c. warm water (less than 115 degrees F)
  • 3 T. warm milk (I used cold milk, and slightly hotter water to warm it up
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 2 T. molasses
  • 2 T. olive oil, plus additional for coating the bowl
  • 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 c. bread flour
  • 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour (I used a high protein whole wheat)
  • 2 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 T. water or milk for eggwash (I used egg whites, since I had a number leftover from the creme brulee), optional
  • mixed seeds for garnish (I used poppy, sesame, rolled oats, wheat bran, and chia)
In a small bowl, combine water, milk, maple syrup, molasses and olive oil, and stir well to mix. Stir in yeast, and let stand for 5 minutes, until the yeast looks foamy and activated.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, stir to combine 1 c. of the bread flour, 1 c. of the whole wheat flour, and the salt. Add the activated yeast mixture and mix well. (Volger suggests using a paddle attachment at first if using a stand mixer, but I did it by hand with a Danish whisk, and then switched out to let the dough hook do my kneading.) Add the additional flours to feel (add the whole wheat first, since it's only 1/4), being careful not to make too stiff a dough. Knead 10-12 minutes by hand, or 8-10 minutes with the stand mixer. The dough will feel smooth and elastic, not really sticky. Form the dough into a loose ball.

Coat a large bowl with a bit of olive oil, and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to double in size, 1 to 2 hours. (It's very cold here today, and I actually did my first rise at 90 degrees in my dehydrator! It worked great, and the dough doubled in one hour.)

After the first rise, divide dough into 10 portions (I weighed it, each roll was 89 g. or about 3 oz. - a perfect size for a burger), and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. (Place them at least 3-4 inches apart if you don't want them to touch at all, this is 8 rolls for a standard quarter sheet pan) Cover with a lint-free cloth, and let rise until the buns are doubled in size, another 1-2 hours.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400. Just before baking, brush each roll with the eggwash and sprinkle with seeds if desired. Bake the rolls for about 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

seedy topped.

I know I shouldn't be so surprised when something turns out great, after all shouldn't most published recipes be great? And, don't I know how to bake bread? Why shouldn't I just expect the bread is going to turn out? These could be some of the mysteries that prevent so many people from the the joys of bread baking. But, with each bread attempt, I still learn something. These taught me to realize that I don't care much for heartier Anadama bread, with larger amounts of coal black molasses. I like the flavor of molasses in bread much more when it is tempered to caramel goodness, and soft. Soft bread does have it's place on my table once in a while.

soft wheat burger bun
a sharp eye will notice the middle of this is just a bit damp. that's because I was too excited to wait for this bun to cool before slicing into it.

It is my goal to go without refined sugar for the entire month of January. (Julia and I have a dedicated Sugar-Free January Facebook page here, if you want to check it out or participate.) The blackstrap molasses I used today is maybe technically refined. It is a by-product of the cane sugar industry, but it's not unlike boiling down apple cider into cider syrup, or boiling down pomegranates into pomegranate "molasses". My goal for this month isn't to berate myself and get upset, it's only to be more mindful of my sugar consumption - and this includes my fruit intake too. I love vegetables, but fruits do seem easier to grab this time of year. I'm hoping a book like Veggie Burgers Every Which Way will continue to inspire me to eat differently and appreciate different flavors. Judging from just this first recipe, I have no doubts really.

When the month and the year are new, and I feel the same blank slate that many do this time of year, I am happy for the variation in my diet, and thankful that I have the ability to be so choosy about what I eat!

This post has been Yeastspotted.