Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lots of Tofu

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A lot of people think of tofu as some sort of freakish hippie-dippy health food. It's certainly not a prized ingredient, like say truffles or foie gras. Contestants on cooking competition shows regularly make the stinky face whenever tofu is mentioned as an ingredient. I have no beef with tofu. If tofu is fresh and properly cooked, it can be very delicious.

Now, what irks me is bad food. I'm always cranky after having a subpar meal at a restaurant. If I'm going to spend money to consume fatty and salty food, it better be worth it. We visited a particularly bad Chinese restaurant in Berkeley this weekend that left me irritated. The service was good but the food was flat and uninspired. We went there because it offers a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, except that nothing -- vegetarian or otherwise -- was any good.

I don't want to have a lasting memory of that bad meal, so I decided I'm going to make some delicious Chinese vegetarian dishes at home. I started by braising ("lu") a hard-boiled egg, some freshly made bean curd knots and homemade seitan in a savory broth, consists of soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, vinegar, rock candy sugar, ginger, scallion, herbs and spices. I also stir-fried some Chinese celery with five-spice bean curd and -- fresh, not canned! -- bamboo shoot. I also made Ma Po tofu from a pouch and stir-fried some baby bok choy.

I got my tofu products from a tofu factory outlet. Yes, that's right, there is such a thing. In San Ramon, there is a Chinese restaurant that happens to be owned by someone who also owns a tofu factory. The soy products sold at the New China Foods are amazingly fresh and delicious. I have yet to try their soy milk, which I heard is thick, creamy and flavorful. But the one item that I'm really excited about is the silken tofu ("tofu flower"). I want to pair that with some blanched peanuts and ginger syrup for an authentic Chinese dessert.

I see a lot more delicious tofu in our future...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Introducing... Raisin

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This is the newest member of our family -- Raisin. We adopted her a few weeks ago from a local animal rescue organization. Out of all the kitties up for adoption, we were immediately drawn to her because she had a dainty shyness and big sad eyes. She is dark, tiny and sweet, a perfect match with her namesake. We thought she would be the perfect little sister to our five-year old calico tabby mix, Tangerine.

Little did we know, Raisin was on her best first date behavior. You know, elbows off the table, ordering salad with light dressing, and leaving half of it untouched. Raisin is actually wild and rambunctious at home. She'll bat at anything that dangles, swirls, and dances. She'll play, play, and play until she falls to the floor. She has the quietest meows to go with her big personality; she sounds like she has a terrible case of strep throat.

As far as being the perfect little sister to Tangerine? Well, I think this how Tangerine feels about her little sister....

"Mooooommmmm! Doez not want!!!"

Despite being much bigger than Raisin, Tangerine was initially very afraid of her. Now, Tangerine will make a fuss and growl if Raisin gets too close, but Raisin just ignores her and continues with her play. Raisin can definitely hold her own when Tangerine is having a hissy fit. When Tangerine is feeling more amicable, they have a great time chasing each other back and forth. Now, the relationship is one of begrudging tolerance.

Here, they are united by their common love of bird watching. Aren't they cute?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Garlic and Pepper Vegetable Balls

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Chef Sanjay has nice balls. And they are delicious!! You can find the recipe here.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Broccoli and Edamame Risotto

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For the first time in a long time, our fridge is nearly empty. I went home last night to a fridge with a quarter bottle of cheap white wine, a head of broccoli, and a small sorry-looking sprouting onion. It's hard to do a lot with so little, but I tried my best. I made a risotto with what little ingredients I had in the fridge, freezer and pantry. The result was surprisingly good.

You'll need:
  • 1 cup of amborio rice
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 1/2 cups of frozen edamame
  • 1 head of broccoli, florets removed and stem peeled and chopped
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of grated Pecorino, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • sliced almonds for garnish (optional)

Begin by boiling 6 cups of water. Add chopped broccoli stem and salt. Boil until broccoli stem softens, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli florets. Cook until florets turn bright green, about 4 minutes. Reserve a few florets and shock in ice cold water. Using a blender, process florets and stems with about half of the water until the mixture becomes a bright green soup. Set aside. Reserve the remaining 3 cups of water.

In a large skillet, sweat chopped onions in olive until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add rice. Stir to coat the rice with olive oil. Add white wine and lemon juice. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until most of the liquid is reduced. Stir constantly. Add 1 cup of broccoli boiling water. Continue to cook and stir until the liquid is reduced. Then add 1 cup of the broccoli soup. Continue to cook and stir until the liquid is reduced. Repeat by alternately adding water and broccoli soup 1 cup at a time. After adding 3 cups of liquid, stir in frozen edamame. You'll use about 4 to 5 cups of liquid.

When the risotto is almost ready, stir in a tablespoon of butter and 1/4 cup of Pecorino cheese. Just prior to serving, stir in some broccoli soup for the nice bright green color and garnish with florets, sliced almonds and more Pecorino cheese.

The risotto was creamy yet refreshing at the same time. It had a classic flavor with a nice crunch from the almonds. I thought it was an interesting and delicious take on a classic risotto.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spicy Tofu Quasadillas

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I've been trying to make good food fast these days, considering that I don't have a ton of time to make elaborate meals. So tonight, I made some truly delicious spicy tofu quasadillas in a flash.

You'll need:
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu or unflavored bean curd, diced small
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped small
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • juice from 3 limes
  • 3 cups of shredded Mexican cheeses (basic mozzarella, monetary jack and cheddar will do nicely)
  • 6 flour tortillas
  • salt and pepper to taste
Start by marinating diced tofu in soy sauce, lime juice, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. Let the tofu marinate for at least half an hour. Ideally, you should marinate it for a couple of hours, but today, I only had half an hour. But that's enough time to make this very flavorful.

Start by sauteing diced onion in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, until it softens and browns on the edges, about 10 minutes. Drain tofu and add to the pan. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the tofu pieces turn golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

In another non-stick pan, lay down a flour tortilla and turn the heat to medium-low. Add about half a cup of shredded cheese on top. Let the cheese melt and add a third of the tofu mixture. Spread the mixture out evenly, then add another half a cup of cheese. Top with another flour tortilla and flip when the bottom tortilla becomes crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes or so. Repeat with the remaining tofu mixture and cheese. You'll make about 3 quasadillas.

We paired our delicious melt-y quasadillas with homemade pico de gallo. Sadly, our avocados were past their prime, otherwise we would've had guacamole to go with our quasadillas. The tofu and the cheeses really give these quasadillas a nice chewy and gooey texture. It's the ideal casual finger food and our wonderfully quick dinner.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Muffuletta Panini

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The first time VB said he wanted to make muffuletta sandwiches, I said, mofo-what-the-H-E-double-hockey-sticks-are-you-talking-about? Muffuletta sandwiches are Italian sandwiches generally consist of various deli meats and cheeses smothered in olive salad. We made it once on a prior occasion and... it wasn't very good. The main problem was that the olive salad, which is a pureed paste of brined or marinated vegetables, has a lot of moisture that made the bread soggy. Also, we added feta cheese, which unfortunately has a vomit-like taste when mixed with olives. Anyways, I'm going to spare everyone of more cringe-inducing descriptions and leave it at that.

This second attempt, I simplified the olive salad mix and added more fresh vegetables. For the olive salad, I processed 1/2 cup of black olives, 1/2 cup of green olives, 4 marinated artichoke hearts, and 1 cup of Gardiniera (a mixture Italian marinated vegetables), plus juice from half a lemon into a thick paste. To assemble the sandwich, I split ciabatta bread in half, layered in provolone cheese, roasted red bell peppers, broiled eggplant slices, lightly roasted tomato slices, olive salad and a handful of arugula on top. I wrap the assembled sandwich in aluminum foil and turn the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone and a cast iron skillet inside. I put the sandwich on top of pizza stone and weigh it down with the cast iron skillet for 10 to 15 minutes. The result is a delicious sandwich with crispy, not soggy, bread.

I really like how these flavors work together -- the salty olive salad, the sweet roasted bell peppers, the bitter arugula and the creamy provolone make this a harmonious and well-balanced sandwich.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Soy Buttermilk Pancakes

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Usually, we go out for dinner on weekends. This particular Saturday, VB had a vicious IHOP craving, until he realized that it is no longer serving all-you-can-eat pancakes. It was one of those days that three pancakes in a standard order just won't do. So we decided to make our own pancakes at home.

This was a simple pancake recipe that made us very happy. All you need is 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of soy milk, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of baking soda. First, combine vinegar and soy milk to make soy buttermilk, then whisk everything together and you've got the pancake batter.

We also had home fries and Morning Star veggie sausages (both patties and links). I liked the veggie sausage patties, but the links were weird and mushy. With some ketchup and maple syrup, the IHOP craving was officially cured. It's a miracle!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hummus Plate

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Last night, I made this quick and delicious Middle Eastern-inspired hummus plate with a distinctive California twist. It was so effortlessly simple that I had the entire thing done easily after work. This was the real deal 30-minute meal (I threw in the fancy rhyme just for kicks). The result was a fantastically fresh and balanced meal.

We had a simple salad, consisted of chopped romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes and Persian cucumbers dressed simply with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Also, we had garlic artichoke couscous with chopped rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and parsley picked straight from my herb garden (the best 8 dollars I ever spent).

Finally, the star of this show was the avocado hummus, which was made by processing together one 15-ounce can of chickpeas, 1 clove of garlic, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoons of tahini paste, 2 avocados, juice from 2 lemons, 1/4 cup of water (give or take depending on how smooth you like your hummus), and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I also toasted some pita bread for dipping.

Seriously, this meal is so easy, a (vegetarian) caveman can do it.