Purple Slaw, Spicy Baked Tofu, and Food52 Love.

I came a little late to the Food52 party, but still it's a website I've enjoyed for several years.  There is always plenty of inspiration when the pantry seems bare but really is well stocked, and the community setting is comforting in the big world of Internet food.  When I see something tagged with "Genius Recipe" or "How to Make _____ Without a Recipe" (or Not Recipes as they are called), I'm always sure to give particular attention.  I think about cooking without recipes pretty frequently - especially since I tend to cook what I find on sale and also what needs to be used up, often on the fly during this homeschooling year. 

Last week, organic purple cabbages were on sale at my food co-op and when shopping on that cool Sunday evening after a weekend out of town with my boys, I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed cilantro and a fresh hot pepper and and some kind of slaw.  The next day, half of it became a medium-spicy concoction that really hit the spot.  What I had originally thought would be more Asian in flavor turned out to be more Southwestern/Mexican and I couldn't get the "without a recipe" moniker out of my head.  The second half of the cabbage was made into a similar slaw, only instead of letting the cabbage drain in a mixture of salt and sugar, I decided to just add some candied jalapenos and their juice.  It was spicier, and even better than my first attempt.  I'm pretty sure you could add anything to the slaw to make it good; just be sure to keep a rainbow of colors.

Purple slaw, topped with spicy baked tofu.

I'm not so good at typing up a non-recipe - they beg to be told word of mouth.  Basically, toss the cabbage and salt (and a tad of sugar if you want it nuanced with sweetness) together (you could add the peppers and carrots to the salted mix if you like, or if you forget add them after).  Let it stand at room temp for an hour to draw out some moisture.  Then drain it well and add the rest of the ingredients. You can omit the mayo and use Vegenaise, or skip the creamy mayo component altogether and use a couple tablespoons of cider or rice vinegar.  Just taste and go with it!  It tastes better after it sits a day, and stays remarkably crunchy for nearly a week.

Purple Slaw (vegetarian, vegan option)
serves 4-6 depending on serving size
  • 1/2 head of small purple cabbage (about 1 lb.), cut into quarters and thinly sliced
  • about 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (or more), thinly sliced
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers, thinly sliced (or several slices of candied jalapeno and a tablespoon of their brine, minced if desired
  • 1-2 spoonfuls mayonnaise (I like Hain Safflower mayo despite the non-health benefits of that particular vegetable oil...) 

spicy baked tofu.

Baked tofu is another non-recipe.  I used to follow a more rigid approach to baked tofu, but recently I've been making it this way with exceptional results.  I cut a 1 pound block of firm tofu into two even slabs, press it for at least a half hour but usually longer in a makeshift contraption of dish towels and plates and weights (cast iron pans).  Then I slice the drained tofu again into 4 total slices.  In the bottom of a baking dish, drizzle in a fair amount of sriracha, an equal amount of maple syrup (or honey), and roughly the same amount of olive oil.  Turn to fully coat, add a little salt and pepper if you feel like it, and let it sit overnight if you want - or just bake it at 425 right away.  I've been using my toaster oven to bake, which probably runs a little hotter than 425 due to the compact baking space.  I just watch it, and turn it about halfway through.  When it looks done, it's done.  I like nibbling it warm, or cubing it cold and adding it to other things.  Like the purple slaw (picture above), or these spring rolls I made for lunch today using the same slaw and more candied jalapenos...  I am totally remembering these for picnic season.

purple slaw spring rolls

Last week, I used a spicy tofu slice in a grilled sandwich which is also worth noting!  I had a few tablespoons of leftover red chard from the night before (just fried in olive oil with shallot - I'm always surprised at how good greens are this way, and I shouldn't be), some avocado, and sourdough with the crusts cut off and spread on the outside with mayo.  Last summer, Food52 highlighted Gabrielle Hamilton's method for grilled cheese, which was the way a friend of mine made grilled sandwiches more than a decade ago but I had forgotten about it.  It was a wonderful sandwich.

That's a sprinkling of those Urfa Biber chile flakes I'm still obsessed with...

While spreading the Food52 love around, I will mention the latest book to come from their collective: the Genius Recipes book.  I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list.  It includes things like Marella Hazan's tomato sauce and Michael Ruhlman's chicken.  Simple things that always work and are always good - and now all found in one tome.  I don't really need to read it before being sold on it.  Genius is genius.

"A pep talk for wilted saladmakers."

"A pep talk for wilted saladmakers" was what Mollie Katzen hand wrote into her Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook all those years ago.  12 years after she wrote it, I picked up a copy at a local bookstore, I was barely 18 and a burgeoning vegetarian.  I cooked through both of her handwritten books for years, and still pick them up when in need of inspiration.  Or in need of a pep talk for my wilted saladmaking.  

To me, salads (like sandwiches) are always best when someone else makes them for you.  The love that goes into something so simple, or just really good ingredients that have been treated nicely so that they reciprocate: that can't be faked. And I swear that if a friend or restaurant makes me a salad it's better by far than one coming from my own hands.

I likely ate a record number of vegetables in 2014.  I ate them steamed and raw, roasted, braised, and fried.  But very seldom do I make a proper "salad".  I know this is true when last week I had a lot of leftover salad greens and made a salad for supper and my husband said, "Wow. A salad."  (And he ate every biteful I loaded onto his plate.)  And the reason I had made the salad in the first place was that when I had friends visiting, E told me she's been favoring a honey mustard vinaigrette - so I made one up for lunch that we compiled of greens and roasted veggies, some cheese and chopped prosciutto.   Man that salad was good.  Probably because I only helped with the salad, and I was surrounded by good company.  I had extra vinaigrette, and we ate it and then I made more for Christmas Day.  It was good a vinaigrette.  I will write it down in a minute.

In November, I met my friend Deena in Chicago at we ate at Little Goat Diner.  I had been to the diner once before, and couldn't wait to go back.  We shared a salad called the Chickpea, which when read looks like a plain old salad.  I mean, you expect when reading the ingredients of a salad to just get a bowl of vegetables and then dutifully eat them... even when you also know that eating a "salad" in a good environment, made by talented people and enhanced by the company of a good friend is going to blow you away.  That salad came out in a gigantic bowl in front of us and I am still thinking of it to this day.

In December, I ate a salad at a newer local restaurant with one of my best friends.  We didn't know how much food to order and at the last second added on a salad to our order.  Again, I didn't expect to have a plate of salad overtake me for weeks after.  The ingredients were: Shaved Brussel Sprouts | Honeycrisp Apple | Pecans | Balsamic Shallots | Blue Cheese Croutons | Roasted Garlic Dressing.  More garlic than I've eaten in one place at one time in just about forever and it was definitely the plate we licked the cleanest.  If I frizzled up a bunch of shallots, broke out my mandoline for brussel sprout shaving, and used my own bread for croutons I couldn't mimic that salad I don't believe.  

If anyone did, I needed a pep talk for wilted saladmakers.

chile olives

Maybe the dining events of the past 2 months have challenged me to want to make a really good salad, one that could stand on its own and be eaten a number of ways.  (It could also be that I am so sick of sweets that I can hardly wait for the calendar to change tomorrow and I can impose self-induced sugar-freedom.)  This salad is one I am happy with.  I thought all morning about eating it for lunch today (the baby liked it too - the chickpea part anyway... he can actually say "chickpea", which is all the more endearing), after eating a different version last night.  It's the kind of thing that gets better with age.  Keep the components in separate containers and have instant breakfast, lunch, or dinner with very little fuss.

Chile olives are among my most treasured things.  My co-op used to carry them, and they haven't now for several months.  I was overjoyed to find them at Whole Foods, even if sometimes it means making a trip there just to get the blasted olives. I'm sure you could substitute other brined olives and some chile flakes of your choosing.  The dressing for the chickpeas is versatile and can be used in other things.  It keeps as well as all homemade dressings do when stashed in the fridge, for a week or so.

chickpea salad.

Last night I ate this salad with buttered sourdough toast and topped with runny-yolked fried eggs for supper, and today I ate it just plain for lunch.  I'd imagine it would be good in a number of different ways as well, including being wrapped up in a tortilla or another piece of lettuce of some sort.  I'm a big fan of the kale salad Dr. Weil popularized; even though kale's superstardom is waning just slightly, massaged kale salad is still good and makes an awesome pizza topping and omelet filling.  I especially love that it gets better with age, 4 days in the fridge and it's just as good as the first day, probably even better.

I swear that I love chickpeas more after I learned how to perfectly cook them, and I have Alton Brown to thank for that.  I alter my method to include brining the garbanzos overnight, and then I often just cook them on the stovetop instead of dragging out my slow cooker.  When cooked with a tiny amount of baking soda, they always end up with creamy centers. 

Chickpea & Kale Salad  (inspired by Little Goat Diner, Heidi Swanson chickpea wrap recipe, Dr. Andrew Weil's massaged kale salad, Elisa Girard's description of viniagrette, GoodKind's use of extra garlic.)
makes about 4 good servings.

Chickpea part:
  • 1/4 cup chile olives
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup honey-mustard vinaigrette  (recipe follows)
  • 1 t. urfa beiber chile flakes (a new favorite of mine, found at the Spice House), or other chile flake you like
  • salt and black pepper
  • Aleppo pepper for sprinkling
Pulse the chile olives in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add in 2 cups of the chickpeas and pulse to chop coarsely, about 6 1 second pulses.  Transfer to a bowl, stir in the vinaigrette, reserved 1 cup of whole chickpeas, and chile flakes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  (If it seems dry, add a little more vinaigrette.)

Kale part:
  • 1 good sized bunch of lacinto kale
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves
  • salt
  • shaved pecorino cheese (optional)
Remove the stems from the kale and slice thinly.  Mash the garlic cloves with salt on a cutting board with a chef's knife to make a paste.  Then blend the paste with the lemon juice and olive oil to make a dressing.  Add extra salt if you think it needs it, then combine with the sliced kale and massage it for 5 minutes.  I know, it seems silly to be standing around with your hands in a bowl of greens, but it does seriously do something magical to them.  Add cheese if using and that's it.
Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette - mix all the ingredients well  (I swear by this little device.)
makes about 1 1/4 cups, recipe is easily halved
  • 2 T. white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 t. dijon mustard
  • 2 T. (or so) minced shallot
  • 2 T. honey
  • salt and black pepper
  • 4 T. plain whole fat yogurt (optional.  It is good with and without.)
chickpea salad.
Will 2015 be the year of the salad for me?  I kind of think so.  I'm anxious to turn the page on the heavy and well sugared foods of late December and say good morning to a lighter, brighter, more vegetable infused diet in January.  If you have good salads to share, please send them my way! 

Happy New Year!!

Of Heat, Dog Days, and Cucumber Gazpacho.

I never think it will happen, yet every single year it does. I always think that it will be different, yet strangely it never is. I usually make a solemn vow that I will appreciate it and soak it up, but come August, that vow goes the way of the New Year's Resolution come February. What am I talking about, you ask? The heat of summer - that brutal, crushing, lung-filling heat that in my area of the world comes with unprecedented humidity.

"First of all, I hate wearing white. Even when I give white a chance, I'm not fooling anyone — I've always been a Rizzo, not a Sandy..." says Diablo Cody, in perhaps the finest piece of summer journalistic op/ed ever crafted. (Really, go read it, I'll wait.) I go further, since I really detest such warm weather favorites such as shorts or *gasp* dresses/skirts, so as the dog days of summer wear on, I find myself wanting to hole up in my a/c inspired house, happily jean-clad, and baking like it's 20 below zero.

Part of my disdain is that despite the humongous bounty of the garden, market, and this year my CSA, I have absolutely no appetite. Even a brisk walk (resulting in the dripping dampness of said non-shorts and non-dresses) can not conjure the slightest hint of hunger, yet due to my self-imposed job of kitchen cohabitation, I feel that I must keep up with my three squares per day. I know other food-people know what I'm talking about. I have to find excuses to make all of the interesting stuff I read about, and like I've said before, I'm the one firmly rooted in the Live To Eat column of human beings.

Enter cold soup. Before the oppressive heat of summer, and for the second installment of my Vegan Mondays, I made a cold Avocado Cucumber Soup. While I've eaten all manners of cold soups in restaurants, I tend not to ever indulge in them at home... and I cannot tell you there is a good reason for it. The Avocado Cucumber Soup was excellent, and now that my state has turned into a sauna, I can even better appreciate it. While that version of soup was vegan, today I made a vegetarian version gifted to me by my friend, Ann.

Though it's been more than a decade since we've worked together, and she moved to California (my envy green and thriving, as you know), we continue to keep in touch. While chatting at Alterra when she was in town recently, she mentioned this soup that has it's origins in the L.A. Times. I had 2 cucumbers firmly residing in my fridge, one in each of my last two CSA boxes. I really love cucumber, but sometimes, I think there is only so much cuke a person can eat - especially since my chosen method of ingestion is sliced and mixed with mayo or sour cream, huge amounts of dill and salt and pepper.

Really my favorite thing about cold soup recipes is that you can go on blending, mixing and tasting until you come up with something you are downright proud of eating. That is exactly how this soup is. And when I finally felt like eating lunch around 2 o'clock this afternoon, nothing could have hit the spot harder than this spicy hot, cold soup garnished with heirloom sweet tomato.

Heirlooms. Just as precious as jewels, in my opinion - and worth the heat of Summer in and of themselves.

I will give you what Ann emailed me, and annotate in {parenthesis} what I actually did. I had to bring the recipe down to about a cucumber and a half's worth of volume.... but you know how to make soup - right? Throw in what makes you happy! (Direction applications are from Ann.) You can easily Veganize this soup by substituting avocado for the yogurt.

Cucumber Gazpacho (via Ann Martens, via the Los Angeles Times)
  • 4 1/2 cucumbers (about 2 1/2 lbs.), divided {I used 1 1/2 cukes}
  • 1 c. plain yogurt {I used a heaping 1/4 c. of my strained Greek style yogurt}
  • 1 t. Thai red curry paste {I used a heaping tablespoon of Spice House red curry powder}
  • 1/3 c. lime juice (Ann's husband, Dave, uses 3 limes and never measures) {I used 1 lime, juiced}
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper (Dave uses up to three) {I used 2 small ones, from my garden}
  • 1 1/4 t. salt, to taste
  • 1/4 t. pepper, to taste
  • 30 cilantro leaves (Dave uses a big handful, sans stems) {I used a big handful}
  • 20 fresh mint leaves (Dave uses a big handful) {being intrepid still of mint, I used the leaves of 3 good sized stalks}
  • fresh rosemary (this addition is a Dave original!) {I used the needles from one longish stalk of rosemary...}
  • 1/2 c. olive oil {I glugged in about 3 Tablespoons}
  • 1/2 medium tomato for garnish {I used a few of my Black Prince heirlooms, sliced}
"Peel, seed, and cut 4 cucumbers into quarters. Cut the remaining one fourth cucumber in small dice and set aside for garnish.

Place half the quartered cucumbers in a blender jar (I used my food pro, due to the sad state of my blender) and add the yogurt, curry paste, lime juice, jalapeno, salt, & pepper. Puree. While the blender is running, add the remaining cucumber, cilantro, mint, and rosemary (if using). This is a fun stage for kids because it turns green suddenly!

Adjust the seasonings, then while the blender is on, and gradually pour in one-half cup olive oil to emulsify. Chill until ready to serve.

In a small bowl, make the garnish by combining the diced cucumber, 1/2 tsp lime juice, a pinch of salt & pepper, the diced tomato, 1 tsp. olive oil, and a little chopped mint & cilantro.

To serve: Spoon the gazpacho into bowls and sprinkle each with garnish.
We have never made the garnish because we are too impatient. We just pour the soup into big mugs and drink it right away :) Yum!"

I ate about half of my amount for my late lunch today, and plan on eating the leftover glassful tomorrow, as the heat does not promise to give way any time soon. On the brink of each new season, I tend to long for the polar opposite. When Spring was at hand, I longed for fall, a cool reprise, and rainy, damp afternoons. Why do I always want what I can't have, instead of basking in the moment, weather-wise, I mean.

Maybe I'm not so much for the heat, as I am for the cool, a Northerner by birth and genetics (except for that Mexican side...). Layers of clothing and walks without breaking a sweat certainly do sound appealing at this point in the year. Perhaps it's the warm-weathered Mexican part of me that creates these feelings of indecision when it comes to Summer, or maybe it's just that I'm not so hungry. Either way, I am sure I'll be enjoying this cold Cucumber Gazpacho as long as I'm able to get fresh Wisconsin cucumbers. It's certainly one thing that is a perk in these long and hot, dog days of Summer.

Vegan Monday: Spicy Fried Tofu

Lately I have been craving fried tofu that is creamy in the center and crispy on the outsides. I suppose it is in part because a few weeks ago, I had a sandwich containing this magical mix of textures, and the added bonus of giardinera (another thing on my canning list this summer), at Comet. On my last visit to my Parents house, I had a Spicy Chinese Tofu dish at our favorite Chinese spot in Tomah, Peking Chinese. It was exactly what I wanted there as well: creamy tofu cubes with crunch, and served in a spicy Chinese brown sauce.

I never really dreamed that I could make a comparable tofu at home, but when I saw this post last week for Japanese Style Salt and Pepper Tofu from Almost Bourdain, I knew right away that I had to try it. Since I wasn't overly hungry last night, I figured I'd try it out - just to see if it would be everything that I hoped it would be. It was!

Ordinarily, I hate frying in my house. Not only are there health concerns, but more importantly, I have no hood ventilation - so any frying immediately results in a cloudy, smoky home. But for this tofu, I'd happily endure that small annoyance. Though I ate these bites rather snack-like, it would be easy to make a meal out of them by adding a rice and vegetable bowl or even floating them across an Asian style soup at the last moment. Any way you try them, they are addicting (and easy) enough that you will certainly find yourself wanting to include them in your cooking in all different ways.

With Sweet Million and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes from the back yard... This could be a very sophisticated appetizer!

Ellie uses potato starch, which I did not have. I did have tapioca flour, and it worked wonderfully. She also deep fries, whereas I decided to pan fry, so if you opt for deep frying, make sure your oil is at least 3 inches deep at 350 degrees. I scaled the seasoning down to accommodate a smaller amount of tofu - the amount listed will easily season a whole package of firm tofu (I used local brand Simple Soyman), though I wouldn't recommend using a "silken firm" style of tofu since the textures would not be the same.

Spicy Fried Tofu (adapted from Almost Bourdain)
  • 1 package firm tofu (about 500 g.)
  • 2 T. kosher salt
  • 3/4 t. white pepper
  • 1/4 t. Chinese 5 spice powder
  • tapioca flour, for dredging
  • green onions, cherry tomatoes, and aleppo pepper for garnishing
  • grape seed oil for frying
Heat oil over medium high heat in a skillet, using enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Mix salt, pepper and 5 spice powder in a small bowl. Cut the tofu into cubes, about 1 inch by 2 inches, and dredge in the tapioca flour until all the surfaces are covered. Let sit for at least 30 seconds. Sprinkle with seasoning mixture, and fry in hot oil until golden, turning as each side browns. This will take 10-20 seconds per side depending on the heat of your oil. I turned them using a pair of chopsticks. Remove to drain on kitchen towel or paper towel. Garnish with onions and/or tomatoes and at them when they are still hot, and you will be rewarded with a crisp exterior and a smoothly creamy interior.

I used quite a bit of the salt mixture, and had a salty crunch to the outsides. The insides remained creamy and I was so excited that I had made something that was exactly what I was hoping for. You could also experiment with a whole host of spices for the outside, almost eliminating the salt if you desired.

While I was fully aware that I was planning to post this for the Vegan Monday series, I could not help serving up one of the pieces with some of my homemade yogurt. Laura was just telling me how she strains her yogurt through a handkerchief to separate the whey from the solids, leaving behind the thickest Greek-style yogurt you have ever tasted. Previously, I had used a coffee filter, which also works, but I was able to fashion a "bag" out of the handkerchief and hang it up to drain. I also collected the whey to use in other projects. Yogurt would be a good accompaniment to this spicy fried tofu, and I'm going to work on a vegan yogurt version straight away.

I did take a look at some labels on soy yogurt during my last shopping trip. I just have to give this a try and report back next week. Yogurt cultures are adaptable to soy milk, but I think that I need to purchase a soy yogurt to use as a live starter. If I had this foresight prior to making this delicious fried tofu, I would not have to take back this vegan post and re-label it, well at least a couple bites of it, a vegetarian post.

Either way, this is so good I know that I'll be playing around with it for a while!