braised tofu

I don’t really know what to call this tofu dish. It’s not really a stir fry. The tofu is sort of braised in the sauce but just barely so I guess it is a braised tofu dish. The key ingredients that go in this are the mushrooms that give the sauce a nice earthy mushroomy taste and not bland. So here’s how to make it.

Cut up some tofu into square pieces about 1 cm thick. I like to use medium firm tofu for this because that is the softest tofu I can handle without crumbling it. Some people like firmer tofu which is fine but I like my fried tofu to be soft in the center. Blot the pieces dry with a paper towel so that hot oil doesn’t splatter on you when you fry them. Add 2 tbsp of oil to a non-stick pan on medium-high heat and add the tofu. Get them brown on both sides.
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Take out the tofu and set them aside. To this new pan add some chopped garlic (however much you want), mushrooms, and whatever leftover vegetables you have in the fridge (carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, broccoli, etc). I’m using fresh shiitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms here because those are my two favorite. You can use any kind you like. Who am I to tell you what to do? (I may silently judge you from afar) Oh I should also tell you sometimes I add a few drops of sesame oil at this step if I’m in the mood. Sesame oil is such a strong flavor that a little goes a long way and sometimes I’m not always in the mood for that shit.
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Add a little salt to taste (not too much because you will be adding chicken stock later) and then splash in some of this Shao Xing rice wine. This part is crucial because Shao Xing rice wine has a really nice flavor that I haven’t found in other cooking wines.
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Add a teaspoon or so of oyster sauce and add enough chicken stock to come up to the top of the vegetables. Everything up to now has been vegan so if you want to go that route, use vegetable stock and skip the oyster sauce.
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I think I added some leftover broccolini at this point. Who knows exactly what I did? This dish is a little different every time I make it.
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Add the tofu back to the pan and turn things over so the tofu can braise in the delicious liquid.
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At this point you can thicken the sauce with some cornstarch/tapioca starch in water (1tsp starch/2 tbsp water) or just let the sauce reduce by itself.
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Dinner tonight

First, let me tell you that this is the only acceptable way to eat broccoli. Cut the broccoli into florets as you desire. You can wash them if you want but you want the broccoli to be dry when you roast them. Toss the broccoli in a tablespoon or two of oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast them in your favorite roasting pan at 450 degrees until brown. I’m using my favorite cast iron pan!

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Look how delicious that looks. The roasting makes them tender and caramelizes the florets. How can you make this any better? Add some parmesan cheese or lemon zest.

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Yes, I ate them all.

Frittata

This is a great recipe to clear out your fridge. If you have some veggies you need to eat soon before they go bad, this is it. I had some button mushrooms, tomato, spinach, and bell pepper that I needed to use. I was tired of eating mushroom, spinach, tomato salad so I decided to make a frittata instead. I managed to use up all the mushroom and spinach I had for the recipe. I always have onions and potatoes in my kitchen because they keep forever. Carrots and peppers are good vegetables to keep in the fridge also because they last a long time in the refrigerator. If you looked in my fridge, aside for the milk and eggs, you’d think I was a vegetarian. Most of my fridge is stocked with vegetables. The majority of my protein intake comes from fast food. Yay for tacos!

The only thing I had to go out and buy were the chives and ricotta cheese. I’m always afraid of buying herbs because I never use all of it and end up having to throw them away. Now, I layer them on paper towels, put them in a baggie, and freeze them. I haven’t tried using the ones I’ve frozen but I’ll find out if it works or not.

This is my first time making a frittata. It’s basically an omelette, but instead of cooking small 2-3 egg portions, you fill an entire pan about inch thick and finish it off under the broiler. It’s almost like a quiche. I guess a frittata is a cross between an omelette and a quiche?

Ingredients:

3 tbsp oil
2 small potatoes, cubed
1 medium onion, diced
half of a green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup spinach
6 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
a few sprigs of chives
salt and pepper
*you may also want to add some protein like ham or sausage
*depending on the size of the pan, you may need to add more eggs

First, heat the oil in a pan on high heat and brown the potatoes. Once the potatoes are browned (You don’t want to cook them since we still have a long way to go until the dish is done. You don’t want mushy potatoes. We’re not making mashed potatoes here.), add the onions and bell peppers. Once those get a bit soft, add the mushrooms. Make sure the heat is high when the mushrooms are put in. You get a slap of umami flavor when they have a nice sear on the outside. Once the mushrooms have a nice sear, add the tomatoes and spinach. Now scramble the eggs and milk together. When the spinach has wilted, season with some salt and pepper. You want the vegetable mixture to be a bit salty, since we’re going to be adding eggs. Now, turn the heat down to medium and pour the eggs and milk mixture into the pan. Let this site until the eggs are about halfway cooked. At this point, top the dish with some chives and spoonfuls of ricotta cheese. Then, place the pan under a broiler until the top of the frittata is cooked.

ingredients
Lots of veggies. You can see that this is a healthful dish, aside from the cholesterol from the eggs but it’s not too bad.

frying potatoes
What’s taters? PO-TAY-TOES. >_>

frying potatoes, onions, bell peppers

veggies
Some ‘shroom for some umami.

veggies
I add the tomatoes last because I don’t want them to cook too much.

frittata, just after adding eggs
Add eggs, stir this around alittle bit then don’t touch!

frittata, eggs settled
Once the eggs have set to this texture, sprinkle some chives on top.

frittata, prebaking
And add ricotta cheese. You can lick the spoon after too. I don’t know if anyone agrees with me but ricotta cheese tastes like ice cream.

frittata, finished
Here’s the finished product. I ate half of that…

Also, remember that metal has a high heat capacity. That means even when it has been sitting on the stove cooling after coming out from under the broiler, it’s still hot enough to burn you. As much lab experience and heat transfer knowledge I have, I still tried to grab the handle to serve myself some frittata and proceeded to burn myself. On a related note, last week I went to retrieve an aluminum pan from a 350 F oven that had a sample I was drying for Unit Operations Lab. I thought, “Hey 350 F isn’t that hot, I’ll just grab it.” Wrong. What was I thinking? I bake cookies at that temperature! 350 F is 177 C, 77 C more than boiling water. So yeah, I have no common sense.

vegan curry

Here’s a quick and easy recipe for vegetable curry.

1 medium potato, cubed
1 cup cauliflower
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 cup green peas
1 jalapeno or serrano chili, sliced (remove the seeds if you can’t handle the heat, you pansy)
juice of one quarter of a lime
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil

In a saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.
After a few seconds, the mustard seeds will start to pop and this is when you add the potatoes.
Once the potatoes brown a bit, add the rest of the vegetables, spices, sugar, salt, and lime juice.
Lower the heat and let the curry simmer. Add some water if you need to.
That’s it. It can’t be any simpler.

potatoes frying
Time to add veggies!

veggie curry before adding spices
add the spices and some dihydrogen monoxide…

veggie curry after adding spices
and now we wait.

rice and curry
You can still see the steam coming off from the curry. Whenever I make rice, I always make extra so I can use it the next day to make fried rice.

fried rice
Here’s the fried rice I made with the leftover rice. It’s got Chinese sausage, eggs, and onions. The sausage I used is called “lap cheung”. It’s sweet and has a high fat content. I cook the sausage first to render the fat and use the fat to cook the onions and eggs. To quote Emeril, “Pork fat rules!”

Happy New Year to all

Remember when I said, I wanted to try a raw food diet the other day? I lied. I attempted to start that today but I can’t do it. I can’t eat that many vegetables in one sitting. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I enjoy eating raw veggies as snacks but I can’t eat this for every meal. I had 2 large carrots, 1 cup of mushrooms, 1 cup of cauliflower, and 1 large tomato (I’m missing some green in the form of spinach). This amounts to roughly 133 calories according data from this calorie counter. The good news is I just got over half my daily requirement of fiber. Great.

veggie platter

What. the. hell. I would need to eat at least 15 times this amount just to avoid losing weight. There goes my goal of turning into a cute fuzzy animal by eating only raw vegetables. Now I’ll have to do it the long way and attain the highest level of spirituality during this lifetime. According to this book The Complete Encyclopedia of Cats, “it was thought that on the death of a person who had reached the highest levels of spirituality the soul entered the body of a cat. It remained there until the cat died, when the soul entered Paradise.” It was referencing a Buddhist belief, but I’ve never heard of this and my preliminary Google search yielded no results. The book provides more insight and says that, “When King Prajadhipok of Siam was crowned in 1925, a cat took part in the coronation procession as representative of the former King.” Also, Thai names are weird. Example: Preamplume. (I’m just messing with you Gan) But seriously, their current PM’s name is Abhisit Vejjajiva. I’m not even sure how many syllables that is.

Here’s my dessert to reward myself for eating a ton of veggies. Kiwi, strawberries, and a slice of NY style cheesecake.

dessert

So after eating that plateful of veggies, I went ahead and ate some chicken wings. Take that, raw foodists!

Dinner: Impossible

If you’ve ever watched Dinner: Impossible featuring Robert Irvine, I went through a similar scenario today. If you haven’t, watch the ones with Robert Irvine. I don’t like new ones with Michael Symon. His personality doesn’t really fit with the show and it feels fake. Robert Irvine was more entertaining and enthusiastic. It begins like this: I got to lab at 3pm to do some work but when I got there, my professor invites me to my grad student’s (Yash) going away party instead.

Mission:
Party starts at 6:30pm (3.5 hours)
Potluck party
Limited counter space (2′ x 3′)

Menu:
Spring rolls
Samosas
Dark chocolate chip walnut cookies

From there, I walked home and drove to Sweetbay and Oriental 88 to pick up groceries. By the time I got home, it was 4pm. That gave me 2 hours to make everything if I take into account half an hour to change and drive to the party.

I started by making the cookies. Here’s the recipe I used:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup walnuts
1 cup dark chocolate chips

cookie ingredients
Here’s a picture of all the ingredients.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cream butter, sugar, and eggs
Add the rest of the dry ingredients (minus walnuts and chocolate chips) and mix well
Gently fold in walnuts and chocolate chips
Separate dough into 12 balls
Bake for 14 minutes (16-18 minutes if you like your cookies more cooked)

creamed butter and sugar
I don’t have an electric mixer so this is what I do. I just use a coffee mug or in this case a jar to cream the butter, sugar, and eggs. That extra effort and love makes my cookies that much better.

cookie dough
Butter + sugar + eggs + cocoa powder = yum
This equation took Pythagoras 17 years to prove. You can look up the proof on Google. It’s very complex and long, you probably won’t understand it. All you need to know is that it is delicious.

cookies before baking
You could eat these as they are, but these babies are going into the oven and will come out even better.

cookie dough
Who wants to lick the bowl?

cookies!
Cookies done! If you give one of these trays to a girl, she will forgive any offense.

cookies close up
Are you drooling yet?

Once the cookies were in the oven, I started making the samosa filling. Really, you can put anything in a samosa. Potatoes and green peas are a good base and add spices to taste from there. Some people may like bold spices but others may not be able to handle it. Mine is pretty mild compared to traditional savory Indian samosas. Here’s what I used:

1 can of diced potatoes
1 diced yellow onion
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup of green peas
1 tbsp oil

Directions:
Heat up some oil and drop some mustard seeds in there
Add onions once the seeds start popping (It may be better to take the seeds out from the oil before adding onions and then putting them back in once the potatoes goes in. Otherwise, the seeds will burn like mine did).
Add the rest of the spices
Add potatoes and peas
Stir mixture well until potatoes and peas are cooked

samosas
I finished the spring roll filling and wrappers before I started wrapping and frying the samosas. I only managed to finish 7 and I didn’t have time to take pictures of the process. The only way that was happening was if I had an extra pair of hands. I didn’t get too many pictures of the spring roll making process either. I’ll do those in another post.

For the spring rolls I used:
1 package firm tofu
1/2 head of cabbage
1/2 cup carrot strips
1 bunch green onions
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce

*If I had more time or ingredients, I would’ve added some mushrooms and sesame oil.

Directions:
First drain the tofu and cut into 1 cm cubes.
Fry those in 1 tbsp of oil until the sides get textured. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce. Set aside.
In same wok/pot, add 1 tbsp oil.
Fry shredded cabbage and carrot strips. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper.
Once cabbage and carrot strips are cooked, add green onions and remove from heat. Add tofu back to vegetables.
Drain vegetable filling on paper towels before wrapping.

spring roll filling
Draining the vegetables on paper towels.Not shown is the tofu cubes. See how much water comes out from the cabbage? By draining them, your spring rolls are less likely to tear from the water during rolling. Also, they stay crunchy longer because there is less water in the filling.

wrapping station
Rolling station. In the upper left is a mixture of corn starch and water to seal the roll.

deep frying spring rolls
Everything tastes better deep fried. Deep frying is tricky without a proper thermometer. If the temperature is too low, oil will seep into the food. If it is too high, the outside will burn quickly. I usually set it the heat to medium and adjust based on the rate of items I am placing in the oil.

spring rolls on cooling rack
I took one of the grills from the oven and placed it over the sink to drain the spring rolls.

spring rolls
Finished product. Mine stayed crispy for about 2 hours or so. If you heat them up in an oven, they will crisp up again.

I didn’t manage to finish all the samosas so my mission failed, but considering what I made in 2 hours, I think I was pretty efficient. I made good use of the little counter space I had. I ended up using my dresser, computer desk, chair, and microwave as extensions of my workspace. I got to the party on time too. My grad student didn’t arrive until at least 20 minutes after I did, so I could’ve finished frying the rest of the samosas. So if I analyze how I spent my time, I spent 1 hour shopping, 2 hours cooking, and a half hour in transportation. I had food and cooking utensils scattered all over my tiny apartment and McGuyvered my way through this challenge. Move over, Michael Symon. I’m eying your job.

potluck 1
potluck 2
There was 10 people at the party and these pictures were taken AFTER everyone had eaten. Needless to say, we had a lot of food. Hyung brought bulgogi and fried rice. Peng brought the seafood casserole. Yash and his wife brought samosas with tamarind sauce. Brett and Michelle brought lasagna and cookies. I think Gaurav and his wife brought some sort of milkshake that was really good. I wouldn’t mind drinking that milkshake every morning. My professor bought calzones and pizza. I didn’t want my lab mates asking why I was taking pictures of the food so I sneaked a few pictures in while everyone wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about making bulgogi, but good thing I didn’t. The samosas my grad student’s wife made were way better than mine. I was actually embarrassed when he tried one and had his wife try one. He said it was really good but it’s nerve wrecking when an Indian person is trying your samosa! Like always, my cookies were a hit and I I think everyone liked the spring rolls too. There were only 5 or 6 left and Peng took all of them home. I’m guessing that means he really liked them!. Everything was delicious and I had two platefuls of food. Today was an unexpected surprise but I had a ton of fun cooking and socializing at the party.

Love and Peace,

Zaw