Home-made Tofu

(November Week 2 Trial)

Through the magic of the Internets (i.e. user manuals online) I know that my fancy Sanyo 5-cup rice cooker (a long ago wedding registry gift) can also steam food, make porridge, work like a slow cooker, do all of these things at a set time in the future, and, in theory, make tofu.* Sorry in advance for the length of this entry, but the number of steps and attention to pay corresponds..

Why would anyone make tofu? That’s gross!

No my friend, I love tofu. Not the flavorless, grainy, mealy-textured stuff you find at the Western groceries, no, the soft, velvety smooth (still pretty flavorless) stuff from the Asian groceries, or the stuff they sell in the back of Northwest Tofu, a Seattle-based Taiwanese breakfast establishment. A light, refreshing snack if you cut it cold in chunks, pour a little soy sauce over, and sprinkle lightly with MSG-laden furikake (admittedly not the healthiest choice). ..or a good melt-in-your-mouth mild complement to spicy pork and sauce in mapo tofu. ..or fried tofu, crispy and salty on the outside and melty on the inside, like a deep fried cheese curd but probably better for you. Still not convinced? That’s okay, you can just skip this entry. As for me, I’m stickin’ to my roots and giving this another try (mainly for the novelty).

INTRODUCing first..in the left corner, hailing from Sanyo by way of the internet, our rice cooker tofu-making method,

Ingredients:
Northwest Tofu soymilk (unsweetened)
Nigari (leftover from the first failed attempt in my house)

For this one, I just tried to follow the manual instructions to the letter, only moderation was that I started with just-boiled water from the percolator.
1. Rinse tofu container with hot water just before adding ingredients.
2. Add 500 ml (2 cups) boiled water to the outer rice cooker bowl.
3. Add .34 oz (wtf?! Who uses ounces? google told me this was about 2 tsp) nigari, which apparently is “a natural coagulant of magnesium chloride made by evaporating seawater,” per Pat, of The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook.
4. Set rice cooker to ‘tofu’ setting.
5. Push Start.
6. 1 hour later: done.

It looks like so:

rice cooker tofu steaming method
rice cooker tofu steaming method

Hahahahaha. Steps 4 and 5 are zingers if you don’t have a fancy schmancy rice cooker, right?

AAANNdd in the OPPOSITE CORNER, our manual method, ALSO hailing from the internet, from The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, Homemade Tofu – No Fancy Equipment Necessary!

Ingredients:
Northwest Tofu soymilk (500 ml)
~2 tsp epsom salt (who knew you cooked with it?!)
“tofu press,” compliments of Whole Foods’ goat cheese container plus drainage holes:

DIY tofu press, recouping 0.2% of the original cost from Whole Foods
DIY tofu press, recouping 0.2% of the original cost from Whole Foods

I’m not going to list all the instructions here since the aforementioned link does it better. Just know that I did half the portions. As I was pouring the soymilk (only bought one day ago!) into the pot to boil, I could smell the aromatic deliciousness and chickened out of making the full 4 cups prescribed, choosing selfishly instead to hoard an additional 2 cups to drink in my morning coffee, or maybe even just warmed up with a little sugar stirred in..mmmmm. Maybe it was the halving of portions (but still boiling in a large pot), or maybe I added too much nigari, or too little, but this one turned out a little firmer than expected. Since I used an old Whole Foods container as a makeshift tofu press (just stuck holes in the bottom for drainage -had to pause while draining to poke the holes bigger-) and I ended up with a surprisingly small amount to work with, I ended up with a bit of a funny round shape, which did not photograph well. However, the flavor was delicious. As of the writing of this I have already ‘snacked’ on half of it!

Manual tofu method: many many more steps and attention paid.
Manual tofu method: many many more steps and attention paid. The epsom salt reads “saline laxative,” mmmm.

..and back to the rice cooker tofu:
I noticed I had 8 minutes to spare after making the manual stuff before the cooker was due to be done.
manual (1 hr 5 minutes): 1
rice cooker (42 minutes, may be less because I made so little): 0

Manual tofu method: drizzled with a little honey as dessert.
Manual tofu method: drizzled with a little honey as dessert. Looks good, tastes chalky. :p

How did these two methods stack up?

Time: it’s sort of a toss up, since the manual is shorter, but you don’t have to touch the rice cooker one after you set it.
Flavor: manual tastier. About 2/5th of the rice cooker tofu was eaten for dessert at dinner, but only out of politeness and with honey to mask the odd chalky taste.
Texture: the rice cooker tofu was lighter and more airy, which is the way I like my tofu. I shouldn’t be too surprised since the other recipe mentioned how the author likes firmer tofu.

Ultimately, manual method wins!
I think taste always trumps texture, since you can do something about texture, but if you start with an awkward taste, it can be hard to escape. If I made a lot more, I could totally turn that manual method tofu into mapo tofu and you wouldn’t care about it being a little firmer. I think next time I’ll try the rice cooker method with epsom salt and see how it goes. It’s possible it has a different coagulation rate and it won’t work at all, but it’s worth a shot.

Also of note: happy birthday to my friend whose birthday was on Sunday! It was an honor to treat you to delicious brunch, and have an excellent excuse to pick up fresh soymilk from Northwest Tofu. You seem wiser and happier with each year, and I wish you many more.

This week’s trial recipe ratings:
Novelty Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I think next time I’ll try the manual tofu recipe with a little less epsom salt, but in the rice cooker.

*Oh, and you can make hard [over]boiled eggs. Just throw it in with the rice next time and see. Also learned from my manual-reading: turns out my oven has a “Sabbath Mode.” Who knew?

Incidentally, in the course of checking directions on how to steam soft-boiled eggs the other day, I found this article: Surprising Things You Can Cook with a Rice Cooker, with a bunch of appetizing pictures with recipe links. I’ve saved the wheat berry salad and mac & cheese recipes to try later, although I am still a little wary of trying to make anything that needs crunch in a rice cooker. The mac & cheese may be too many intermittent steps, and the delicious-looking Lemony Risotto with Shrimp definitely was. Then you might as well do it on the stovetop.

Let me know if you try any of these and want to do a guest blog post!

Potato & Leek Gratin

(Vet’s Day bonus entry)

Monday was one of those bonus days in life, with a little extra time for good living. Thanks, US Holiday schedule and indescribable sacrifice of military service members. A friend of mine convinced me it would be a good idea to bike to brunch on the south end of Lake Union, then bike back, and a good idea it was. My back pain may disagree, but I’ll blame that on the yoga.

Brunch at South Lake Union Portage Bay the Wong Way: sweetened rice porridge, orange juice, two orders of bacon not shown.
Brunch at South Lake Union Portage Bay the Wong Way: sweetened rice porridge, orange juice, two orders of bacon not shown.
Beautiful bike ride past Green Lake
Beautiful bike ride past Green Lake

During tea break at her house, besides helping to knead some delicious-smelling bread dough, I was gifted with a leek!

Thinking of the extra raw potatoes I had, I dug out this recipe for potato and leek gratin from the NY Times I’ve yet to get around to. Ingredients were substituted, portions scaled down by half to match the 1 leek, approximately:

1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise, sliced and rinsed of sand
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill
1/2 tsp dry dill
3 large Yukon golds, scrubbed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 cup, tightly packed)
3/4 c Mt. Townsend Campfire Jack cheese
2 1/3 cups low-fat milk
1 cup almond milk

Leek & potato gratin: steps.
Leek & potato gratin: chop, rub garlic in pan and coat with olive oil, saute leeks, add salt, pepper and dill, mix with potatoes and salt and pepper, spread out on pan in single layer, add milk, bake and bake and bake.

The drawback of this recipe is that it takes at LEAST 1.5 hours, if not closer to 1 and a half hour for the full portion. The original recipe has you baking for 45 minutes, add cheese THEN baking for 30-45, THEN cooling 10-15, and that’s all only after you’ve chopped and processed all the ingredients. That’s absurd. Who the heck bakes potatoes for that long?!

I baked for 45 minutes, added cheese, switched to Convection Bake for ~20 minutes, then took it out and started eating. It was delicious. The only drawback was my own error, which was to only cut the leek lengthwise and start sautéing, thinking, “why would they have you do that? It cooks all unevenly….oh, they didn’t,” so I pulled it half way through, sliced it up and finished sautéing. Phew, that was close. This is why recipes are so much easier with photos, people. I was also worried the almond milk would be funky, I just don’t have milk in my house since I’m lactose-intolerant (the cheese I can’t give up), but it turned out delicious (to me). I hate cumin, that’s why it’s dill instead.

Leek & Potato Gratin: nom nom nom.
Leek & Potato Gratin: nom nom nom.

Now the only problem is that I live with some one who doesn’t eat a lot of potatoes, and it wouldn’t be right for me to eat them all myself. Thankfully, I found takers at work, so my lactose-intolerant self doesn’t suffer through it for three more meals.

This week’s trial recipe ratings:
Novelty Rating: 85%
I see leeks at the markets, but rarely bother cooking with them. This recipe combines them with one of my favorite foods -potatoes!
Likelihood of repeat: 55%
Not sure who I might make it for, but it sure is delicious..

 

Method Break! Sorting Recipes by Time

You know those recipes I keep on file (these days, via iphone)? A few years ago I started sorting them by time, since sometimes I’d find myself two hours later on a weekday, finally eating. In the case of today’s recipe, this goes in the sad, “60+ minutes to Multiday” folder. This one I try only to dredge up on weekends, holidays, or special occasions. Weekdays are generally restricted to the “30 minutes or less,” or maybe “30 to 60 minutes” folder. That’s total time, not time to cook, because prep time is still your time. It’s not like it’s any less tasty in those folders, but at least then I get a few minutes between finishing dinner and going to bed. Yes, dessert has its own separate folder. I don’t need to touch that on weekdays anyway.

What do you do to make sure you don’t awaken from a cooking haze only to discover it’s four hours past when you might have liked to have finished and gone to do something else (like eat, or talk about food, or plan your next meal)?

What is your coping mechanism?

Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)

Bonus entry!
I had leftover cucumber from that tzatziki (and leftover tzatziki too, but that’s a different puzzle), so I figured I’d make some delicious but simple cucumber salad, Japanese style. The recipe I’ve been using since 2007 is from this website with cucumber recipe files.

I halved it for my purposes tonight, but this is the full portion for ingredients below:

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced
  • salt (haven’t found I feel there is much added value with salting it)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

CucumberSaladIngredients_@0131007

Thankfully, the 30-day reduced sugar challenge I was doing with co-workers in October is over, so I am adding sugar to my heart’s (small) desire! I am either in denial, or I didn’t have that bad a sugar addiction as the books say most people have. I actually did quite badly last month, gaming the rules I was following, and the limit of 1 sugar item (like dessert) each weekend day actually turned into a quota, which I don’t think I was previously following. But enough of a tangent, back to the task:

1. Mix all the ingredients except cucumber together.
2. Add cucumber, toss to cover, and chill in fridge.
3. Eat (cold) in an hour, or tomorrow.

Leftover Cucumber
Leftover Cucumber
Marinade Mix
Marinade Mix

 

 
Hmmm, apparently I forgot all about the website’s recommendation to eat it with sesame seeds. I’ll have to try that too.

Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)!
Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)!

 

This week’s trial recipe ratings:

Novelty:  0, I’ve done this before.
Likelihood of repeat: 100%, since 2007.

This recipe has proven itself a tasty snack, side, and picnic item. It keeps pretty well if you need something that’s made in advance, and doesn’t need to be warmed up to taste good.

Tzatziki Sauce

(November Week 1 Trial)

In anticipation of potential consumers of my meal output going down by 50% this week, I went for a minor trial this time: tzatziki sauce. I found one from The Man Fuel Blog that at least mentioned the risk of heartburn, so I went with that, at half portion.

mint, sour cream, cucumber,  greek yogurt, garlic
mint, sour cream, cucumber, greek yogurt, garlic

Ingredients:
1 tsp garlic (went with pre-cut stuff from the jar to get something milder than fresh raw garlic)
1 cup greek yogurt
1 Tbsp sour cream
1/4 tsp dried mint
salt to taste
1/2 c finely diced cucumber (peeled first)

Didn’t take much mixing (for specifics, see the instructions linked above), and I just let this sit for about 30 minutes:

Bam! Tzatziki!
Bam! Tzatziki!

Thanks to my helpful co-chef, got some falafel (prepped “fresh from the box”) fried up with tomato, lettuce, cukes, and roasted butternut squash and potato to overload atop some pita bread for a tasty but vegetarian dinner, and lunch the next day!

Falafel Salad for Dinner
Falafel Salad for Dinner: yes, the pita bread is under there somewhere..
Falafel Bento for Lunch
Falafel Bento for Lunch: chewing gum to combat garlic breath not pictured. 

 This week’s trial recipe ratings:

Novelty: 4 of 5 stars
Likelihood of repeat: 60%
Felt really good to have this for lunch. It was delicious, kept well, but didn’t feel over-filling. I really like the novelty of home made tzatziki sauce, since it is so simple to make, but I’m still wishing I could find a delicious yet non-raw-garlic version. You got anything?

Spanish Bread & Garlic Soup

(October Week 5 Trial)
I banked this Spanish Bread & Garlic Soup recipe in my Evernote recipe folder last April waiting for the right day, which apparently meant in the Fall, when I’m in the mood for soup. Having to watch the video for the actual instructions behind ingredients -including turning the heat up and down a bunch- may have had something to do with it.

I started with the prescribed ingredients, including some home made chicken stock from a Sunday a few weeks ago:

Ze Ingredientz
Ze Ingredientz

Baked the bread at 350 for 15 minutes and forgot to include olive oil, sliced tons of garlic thin by hand (my amateur area of expertise!), sauteed it, then sauteed the ham..

bread, garlic, garlic, garlic, ham, olive oil
bread, garlic, garlic, garlic, ham, olive oil

Added the bread to the mix, and paprika..

emphasis on the BREAD and garlic soup

Brought it to a boil, salted, peppered and cayenned it to taste, and popped in a couple eggs* in to poach on low covered,

ooh, steamy
ooh, steamy

Voila! Bread and garlic soup!

Spanish bread & garlic soup
Spanish bread & garlic soup

This week’s trial recipe ratings:
novelty: 4 of 5 stars
likelihood of repeat: 75%
My test audience of one mentioned it was a little carby, and I have to agree. I was not expecting quite so much bread-to-garlic substance ratio. I think I’ll probably make this on a lazy weekend for half the portion size, and possibly when I’m the only one home. It’s definitely a good recipe for a low budget if you have some stale bread lying around, paprika, broth and garlic.

*Let’s just pretend the first egg was not lost to the bready, soupy abyss and got overcooked, and that this perfect, just-runny egg in the picture was the only final product.

Addendum: Four days later and I finally finished the leftovers, what was I thinking on those giant portions! A tasty poached egg with a just-runny yolk definitely makes the flavor right in this soup, which I found hard to replicate via microwave egg poaching at work (yolk gets cooked too fast too evenly). I may try this poached egg addition to some other soups too.

Jerusalem Artichokes (a.k.a. fartichokes)

(October Week 4 Trial Ingredient)

Jerusalem Artichokes - peeled them to try and reduce potential flatulence
Jerusalem Artichokes – peeled them to try and reduce potential flatulence

Congrats, folks, it’s a two-fer this week, for the inaugural postings of this blog.

I bought some jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes)* at the Farmer’s Market near my work. Never had them before. Despite the internet’s warnings when I was looking up recipes (after I bought them) that these suckers were also known as ‘fartichokes,’ I plowed on.

To brighten the dish, I also got some golden beets, roasted them together with some red onions at 400 for around 30-40 minutes.

roasted jerusalem artichokes, golden beets and red onions
roasted jerusalem artichokes, golden beets and red onions
roasted veggies on spring mix salad
roasted veggies on spring mix salad

This week’s trial recipe ratings:
novelty: 2 of 5 stars
likelihood of repeat: 2%.
Like, maybe if zombies attack and it’s the only thing to eat (I’d probably mistake it for ginger out in the field anyway). The rommate was not a fan, and only found it worth a politeness bite.

I wouldn’t avoid it if it were in a dish with other food I liked at a restaurant, but the architecture of its shape made it hard to clean, the flavor was no so remarkable, and I just love potatoes more.

Have you made these before? Got a recipe/prep style for it that you think will change my mind? Let me know.

*The etymology of the name was pretty interesting, though..

 

11/14/13 Update
: my spouse Kris finally got a look at this blog, and he disagrees that this tragic experiment should have made the cut to the blog at all. Star rating for novelty downgraded to two.