January 29, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’m a fan of tofu. Not a crazy fan, but a fan nonetheless. And I’m not sure how it happened. Omitting red meat and poultry from my diet accounts for some of my fandom, I guess. Quite honestly, I am just going to let me fondness of tofu exist for what it is. Why bother explaining, right?
The best tofu I ever had was in a take-out dish from a Chinese restaurant in Ithaca, New York, about 18 years ago. The name, the flavorings, the accompaniments all escape me now. The one piece of the dish that remains in my memory is the tofu. Crispy on the outside. Soft on the inside. The closest thing to a McDonald’s french fry this side of the Golden Arches. I want that. I crave that even.
In the absence of that crispy tofu dish, I’ll take this tofu noodle soup. Soy sauce is in there, but it’s not too salty. And the hoisin gives it that … umami. There, I said it. Umami, that fifth and most flavorable of the basic tastes. A bowl of this broth will satisfy me for lunch. The tofu and noodles make it a real deal meal.
I’ve adapted this recipe – and I keep adapting each rendition of it – from a VegNews Magazine newsletter. I found that the original recipe had too little broth and way too many noodles. A halving of this and a doubling of that with on-the-fly adjustments takes care of that problem.
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs grated fresh ginger (about an inch or less)
4 tbs hoisin sauce
4 tbs soy sauce
9 cups vegetable broth (or water)
1 15-oz. package extra-firm tofu, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 8-oz. package rice noodles, cooked and drained
4 tbs rice vinegar
4 tsp Asian hot sauce
Scallions, bean sprouts and cilantro to sprinkle, if desired
- In a large pot, saute the onion in about 1 tbs of oil over medium-high heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another 30 seconds or so.
- Stir in hoisin, soy and broth. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes.
- Stir in tofu, noodles, vinegar and hot sauce. Now, here’s an embarrassing thing: I have JUST NOW realized the recipe calls for cooking the noodles FIRST, then adding them to the pot. This explains a lot. Well, adding them at the end is fine, too—just simmer them in the broth for about 5 minutes or so.
- Serve soup in bowls and sprinkle with scallions, sprouts and/or cilantro if you so choose.
Next time, I’ll boil up the noodles beforehand THEN add them to the soup and report back to you if there is a major difference. Meanwhile, enjoy!
October 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
Yesterday began our week-long Homegrown Food Challenge (HGFC). So, right from the beginning I have to amend the title, or rather—I should clarify and lay out the rules of this Homegrown Food Challenge we’ve undertaken:
- “Homegrown” … with such a small garden plot and the fact that it’s nearly done producing, we’re amending “homegrown food” to “local food.”
- “Local” for this challenge will mean somewhere in New England. I know, it could be more local than that. Maybe for the next challenge we’ll pull in the boundaries.
- Items that are in our allowable “pantry” include oils, vinegars and flours. And I reserve the right to add in quinoa as a “cheater” grain.
- Leftovers that were in our fridge need to be eaten, right? And trust me, we did not stock the fridge with “leftovers” so we could cheat with them.
- Our “veganish” diet – two out of three meals not containing animal products – will be put on hold for the week.
Hey, that’s not so bad, right? So far, so good.
To prep for the challenge, I hit the closest local farmers market I could find, which just happens to be at Boston Medical Center on Fridays. I came back with butternut squash, two eggplant, red peppers, dinosaur kale, two heads of leaf lettuce and romanesco – it’s like a fractal-influenced head of broccoli. All produce brought to us by the good folks at Farmer Dave’s in Dracut.
We also stopped by Whole Foods to find some local dairy products. And you know what? We did actually find some.
So, with that, let the challenge begin!
Breakfast: We need coffee. Coffee doesn’t grow in this climate. What to do … Well, there are local coffee roasters. That counts. And our favorite local coffee roaster is Flat Black Coffee Company with locations in Dorchester and downtown Boston. We’ve known the owner for years and can attest he and his crew produce a great and responsible bean. Into that cup we usually pour some almond or soymilk. Not happening this week, so how about some local milk? We picked up some Maine’s Own Organic Milk.
The coffee accompanied a bowl of Stonyfield plain yogurt – I’m positive all that dairy is from New England cows and if not, someone clue me in – mixed with a local chopped apple and topped with Topsfield-produced honey. Breakfast, done.
Lunch: Okay, so … It’s Columbus Day. Jennifer’s off work, and I’m working but not all that hard … A friend calls us. Hadn’t seen her in a while. “Wanna go out for lunch?” Say no? No. We said yes. And we opted to eat at a small, local Mexican restaurant two blocks away where I know they a) make a lot of their own stuff and b) could use our dining dollars. I feel completely in-line with the challenge by supporting our local small eateries.
Dinner: Gotta clean out the leftovers from the fridge, right? Pasta with shrimp, red pepper and pesto. And just the pasta and shrimp weren’t local in that dish. Plus, we had homemade bread. And, a bottle of Harpoon IPA brewed right down the street in Southie.
Day 2 should be interesting—it’s our first Cape Ann Fresh Catch share pick-up. Fish with heads!! Awesome!
August 23, 2011 § 3 Comments
Think of all the good things in life.
Basil. Mmmm … Parmesan cheese … Olive oil … Garlic … Nuts … Chocolate … Okay, wait, drop that last one. All these are tasty on their own, very tasty. But whir them up together in a yummy pasty sauce and you have heaven on a spoon—basil pesto.
Basil is just one of the pesto varieties we make in the Dainty household. There are others. Oh, there are others. But typically, basil pesto is the shining star in so many dishes. A couple of dollops on pasta for a quick on-the-go meal. Spread it cautiously as a pizza topping. And schmear it on some rye bread for a tomato-provolone-pesto grilled cheese. Oh, yeah, I went there. Grilled. Cheese.
The secrets to good basil pesto are two-fold: Great-quality ingredients and a nice ratio of basil:parm:pine nuts:evoo. The amount of garlic, honestly, depends on your tastes. The recipe I use is from an old, back-‘n-the-day Moosewood cookbook called the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden. Not too much cheese. Not too saucy. Plenty of basil flavor.
Pesto Genovese (from Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden)
- 3 cups loosely packed basil (avoid stems)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup evoo
-Place the basil, pine nuts parm and garlic in a food processor. I like to put in half of all the ingredients, give it a whir, and then add the other half and give it a whir. That’s just the best way in my machine – things don’t get jammed in there that way. Be sure everything is chopped evenly. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
-With the food processor on, sloooooowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. It’ll slowly become paste-like. It may bunch up on the bottom—stop the machine and get all the good stuff from the corners. DON’T add all the oil. Stop the machine, give it a tasty. Good? Needs salt and pepper? Add some. Is the consistency kinda rough and thick and you like it? Then stop. Like it a bit more smooth? Keep whirring and add the remaining oil.
NOTE: The beauty of pesto is this: It can be any way you want it to be. Chunky. Rough. Pasty. Saucy. Hey, you’re the one eating it. Eat what you like.
-When it’s whirred to your liking, use what you intended it for right away.
OR—and this is the important part—take action to keep the pesto’s vibrant, fresh-green color. Here’s how:
-Place the pesto in an airtight food storage container (glass, plastic, whatever) that is large enough to allow some room on top. Smooth the top into a flat layer.
-Drizzle a thin layer of evoo on top so it completely covers the pesto. You don’t need to much but you do need to make sure all the pesto is covered.
This keeps the air from oxidizing the basil and keeps the bright green color. But you’re smaht, I’m sure you already knew that.
Enjoy. And maybe when it’s time to harvest our parsley before the first frost, I’ll share my super-secret recipe for parsley pesto.
August 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
But if it’s homemade, I hear, it’s half as much calories, conveniently. At least that’s what I tell myself. And if it has vegetables in it, well … then it’s downright a health food.
So that makes our roasted vegetable lasagna not only calorie-free but good for you, too. And the best thing about this recipe is it’s a combination of three previous posts. Brilliant!
- Roasted vegetables of your choice
- Homemade pasta
- Roasted cherry tomato sauce
- 1 lb. ricotta cheese
- 1/2 lb. chard
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 3 balls of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced.
- One rectangular casserole dish, what are they, 8×13?
NOTE: If you’re not making your own pasta … and really, you don’t have to … buy the lasagna sheets that you don’t have to pre-boil. A few cents more, but really, the convenience is worth it.
-Our roasted vegetables of choice for this lasagna are yellow squash. We sliced it into 1/4-in. slices, lengthwise. Glug of evoo, salt and pepper, and roast at 425F for 6 minutes each side.When done, set aside.
-Roasted cherry tomato sauce – just as the recipe says. You may want to puree it.
-Homemade pasta … prepare just as the recipe says. Make the sheets to fit half the width of the pan.
We have the sauce, the pasta, the veggies. Oh, wait – one more vegetable.
-Chard. Stem it and then steam it for 1 minute, 2 minutes max. Let it cool. Squeeze the water out of it. And chop. Set aside.
-Put the ricotta into a medium bowl. Add the chopped chard, nutmeg and a pinch of salt and combine. That’s your cheese filling.
Now it’s time to assemble! It’s all about layers. Get the layers, get the lasagna.
-Lay down a thin layer of sauce. Then top with two lengths of pasta sheets. If you crank out the pasta as you go, you can cut the pasta to the correct length. Top the pasta with some roasted vegetables. For the squash, we fit 4-5 lengths of squash per layer.
-Next, spread some of the ricotta – as much as you’d like – over the veggie layer. Dot with slices of mozzarella. A little cheese, a lotta cheese – whatever you want.
-Add another layer – sauce, pasta, veggies, cheeses. You can make as many layers as you have ingredients for. Three or four is typical. Just keep going until you fill the dish and have absolutely no more room.
-When you are done layering, you’re going to top with a layer of pasta, then a thin coating of sauce. Then top with as much mozzarella cheese as you like. And a dusting of parmesan, too. Done!
-Cover with aluminum foil. Pop into a 375F oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 15ish, or until the sauce and cheese are bubbling.
-Let it sit for 10 minutes.
Try not to make a pig of yourself at the dinner table. Really, you’re better than that.
August 14, 2011 § 5 Comments
I’m telling you, some gardening years are better than others. A string of spectacular harvest sseasons from my small urban plot have made this summer a “meh” – that’s on a scale from “it sucks” to “this is freakin’ amazing.”
My cherry tomatoes—I’m not thrilled with them. They’re growing okay. I just don’t like the fruit. Too big. Too thick-skinned. And the flavor fell flat. Cherries are supposed to poppable, add a brightness to a salad. These? Meh.
When life gives you lemons, right?
So, these cherry tomatoes went straight into sauce. Roasting brings out the sweetness they lack when just sitting on your salad.
Step 1: Put about 2-3 lbs. cherry tomatoes in a cast iron skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons evoo, sprinkle with kosher salt and give it a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.
Pop it into a 425F oven for about 40 min. or until the tomato skins start bursting and the liquid starts bubbling. Let it bubble along for a total time of about 1 hour.
Step 2: Your gonna get lots of juice from the tomatoes, and you want to let it cook off. And you also want the flavor of the tomatoes come through more and get the sauce a bit thicker. So, take the skillet out of the oven and put it on the stove top over a low flame. Add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic. Add some herbage; whatever you like. Fresh thyme or basil. Will it top a pizza? Add some chopped fresh oregano. 2Tbs is about right. Taste it for seasoning and add salt/pepper if you need to. And cook loooow and sloooooow. How long? Until enough liquid has cooked out to get the sauce to the thickness you like. In my case, 2 hours.
How easy was that? You might find it still a bit too chunky to spread on a pizza or spoon onto layers of lasagna. Whir it up in a blender or use an immersion blender if you like.
And how sweet is this, uh? You may never go back to plum tomatoes for sauce again.
August 10, 2011 § 6 Comments
Mmmm … fresh pasta.
Have you ever had it? I mean fresh pasta. The kind someone has just made right there in the room. Not the stuff you buy in the refrigerated section of your local grocer. Okay, so that’s not dry pasta—but it’s not fresh fresh either.
What? Are you saying, “I don’t have time for that … “? Or, “Oh, that’s soooo complicated …”? It’s not. If you liked to make mud pies as a kid (and who didn’t?), then you can make fresh pasta.
Of course, I say this not having made fresh pasta myself. Jennifer is the pasta maker in our household. And she makes it look easy. She says it’s because it is easy. She first made it in a cooking class last year, and the technique below is from that class. The recipe comes from The Food Network’s Anne Burrell.
Try it. The only way you can screw it up is by making a horrible sauce.
Homemade Pasta Dough (from Anne Burrell)
- 1 pound all-purpose flour (get yourself a kitchen scale!)
- 4 whole eggs plus 1 yolk
- 1/4 cup evoo
- kosher salt – about 1 Tbs
- 1-2 Tbs water or more
-Set yourself up on a clean and dry work surface with plenty of room. Pile the dry ingredients (flour and salt) right on the work surface, and create a hole or well in the flour, making a doughnut-shaped ring about 8 inches wide.
-Crack all of the eggs and the individual yolk (I always do this in a separate bowl to catch the occasional shell) and add these to the well along with the wet ingredients—olive oil and water.
-Use a fork to beat the wet ingredients together. Then, you’re going to pull in the flour bit by bit into the egg mixture. I say bit by bit because you don’t want to pull too much of the flour into the center and break the ring’s side walls. Then your egg leaks out and it’s a big mess. As soon as the egg mixture has enough flour in it is no longer runny, you can put aside the fork and get your hands in there. Your hands are the best tools to combine everything completely.
-When the mixture is completely combined, it’s time to start kneading the dough. Use your muscles! Get the heels of your palms in there push the dough away from you, stretching it but not tearing it. Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn. Put your weight into it, girl! Your goal is to create a dough that feels smooth and looks smooth. Warning: Eat an energy bar beforehand because you’re going to be kneading for 15-20 minutes. No kidding. But doing this by hand is the best way.
-When you start thinking that perhaps you’re done, take a knife and slice the dough in half. Look at the inside of the dough—does it have small bubbles in it? Yes? Then keep kneading. You want the dough to be smooth throughout.
-Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use, or use it right away.
What next? Get rolling! Usually this is done with a pasta roller. There are ones you can attach to your counter and crank by hand. We have one that fits on our Kitchen-Aid and turns automatically—so much easier. Either way, what you want to do is cut that ball of dough into quarters or eighths, pat it into a bit of a square shape of even thickness, add a touch of flour to make it less sticky, and run it through the pasta roller starting on the thickest setting—usually the number 7. Roll it through twice, then take it down one thickness, and so on, patting it with flour now and then. We usually go down pretty thin, usually to a number 2. As it gets thinner, it gets looonger. We usually cut it in half to make it more manageable, especially if you are cranking the roller by hand.
Going through the roller you end up with a flat sheet. Perfect for making lasagna or raviolis. Or, take that sheet and run it through the spaghetti or linguini cutter (an add-on that usually comes with the roller). Separate the noodles, lay them on a platter, sprinkle with dusting of flour, and toss to prevent sticking. Do one flat sheet at a time this way, each time dusting with flour.
And to cook, all you have to do is drop that pasta in boiling water for 2 minutes, max.
Now, that’s great pasta.