Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pressed Tofu

I've lately become a half-time vegetarian, and this pressed tofu is a big part of why, along with packaged fried tofu, both available at the Sunday (Asian offshoot) farmers market in town. They're just so convenient, both for me to buy (since I go to the farmers market every week anyway and don't have to make a special trip for them) and to cook, that I like using them for easy weeknight meals with extra for lunch.

A bit about the pressed tofu, though: what's really handy about it is that because it's already been pressed, you don't have to do it yourself, and it's so thoroughly pressed that it fries up really easily. Yes, if you weren't already aware, you need to press your tofu to get rid of all the excess water content or it'll just leak out while cooking and mess up your browning if you're frying, or dilute your soup, and generally mess up your flavors.

It also doesn't go bad very quickly like raw meats do, so it's easy to keep on hand without having to worry about expiration dates. This makes pre-pressed tofu ideal as a ready-to-go protein to keep in your refrigerator when you need convenience. Or when you don't, too--it's got a nice, smooth and thicker texture than the unpressed tofu you commonly see in the "Western" grocery stores. But you'll probably have to go to an Asian grocery store to find it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jammin': Spiced Smelt With Basil and Chimichuri Cauliflower

I wanted to post this jam because it was so tasty, but the combination of ingredients are so eclectic that it's unlikely you'll have them on hand. The first phase was the shallow-fried smelt, and the second phase stir-frying the cauliflower before combining them together.

For the smelt, I first toasted some black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and cloves (key new addition! but go easy on them since a little goes a long way) before grinding them in a mortar and tossing with some gochugaru (ground dried Korean chili) and salt. I then shallow-fried the smelt before tossing them with the spice mix. Shallow-frying smelt (or deep-frying if you're down for using all that oil) is my favorite way to cook it, by the way. For whatever reason, it just gets rid of the bitterness in smelt's guts that broiling or sauteing don't manage to do. I think maybe it leaches out into the oil while frying.

Here's where it got more random. I had chimichurri and Thai basil leaves on hand and it all seemed like it would work out well with the spice mix I made for the smelt. So I sauteed the chimichurri for a short time before stir-frying the cauliflower and tossing in the Thai basil leaves at the end. The cauliflower is this kind of loose-stemmed variety, as opposed to the really dense heads you commonly see in grocery stores. I like this loose, long-stemmed cauliflower since you get more of the tasty stem, and it's not so dry and crumbly like the dense kind of cauliflower can be.

Finally I combined the smelt and cauliflower and ate it over steamed rice. Delicious! But I'm not often going to happen to have chimichurri and Thai basil on hand.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Previews: Delicious Gluten-Dairy-Tree-nut-Coconut-Free Bread and Perfect Roast Pork Belly

Today was a day of great culinary advances for me. Above, a very flavorful and moist gluten-free bread I baked. I'm not much of a baker, and having to figure things out with the very undeveloped gluten- dairy- and tree-nut and coconut-free baking world makes things that much tougher. The bread didn't have a ton of rise, partially because I baked it in a 9"x9" dish instead of a bread pan and partially because there's no gluten of course, so it's low like a focaccia, but minus all the extra oil.

But the flavor! Great bready flavor this time, and I'm not sure why. Maybe the ground flax meal I added (thanks to a GF baking class I took a while ago, I became aware of flax as a GF bread component) helped with the flavor. Maybe I finally worked with the yeast properly? I dunno, I'm not a baker! But if I can make breads that taste like this, maybe I'll do it a little more frequently. More insights to come as I play with the recipe more.

Oh, also, I'm bringing back lard as a bread spread.

And the other thing is that I've finally—finally—perfected my roast pork belly technique. I'll write it up, after a couple other posts I've been meaning to do. And I'll have to make a note on my previous (inferior) posts about it.

I'll just put this right here...