Almond Florentines

Cookies Part 3 of 4.

almond florentine: the orange zest makes all the difference
almond florentine: the orange zest makes all the difference

(originally from a Food Network recipe -link no longer live-, with minimal substitution)

Makes: ~5 dozen 3-inch Florentines, or 2 1/2 dozen 6-inch Florentine
Total Time: 1 hr 35 min
Prep 30 min
Inactive 45 min
Cook 20 min

I first had these a few years ago at Zeitgeist Kunst & Kaffee, a coffee shop in downtown Seattle near my work, and it lit up this light bulb in my head that insisted I look it up to make myself an infinite supply. It has a great crunch, and the orange zest with chocolate drizzle is just the right combination.

Ingredients
* 1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds (about 5 ounces) (I still have no idea what unblanched almonds would be, I just buy sliced almonds, however they come)
* 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (can substitute: almond flour, same amount)
* Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 2 tablespoons)
* 1/4 teaspoon fine salt (I use kosher salt without much consequence)
* 3/4 cup raw sugar
* 2 tablespoons heavy cream
* 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Topping, optional (but why would you ever skip it):
* 2 to 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)

Directions
– Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
– Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty. Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl.
– Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool enough to handle, ~30 minutes.
– Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 to 3 inches (shrink accordingly with cookie size) between each cookie since they spread.
– Bake 1 pan at a time, until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

“Optional” chocolate topping:
– Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl (or smaller saucepan).
– Bring a (larger) saucepan filled with 1 inch or so of water to a very low simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth.
-Drizzle melted chocolate over Florentines as desired (after trial with chopsticks, metal spoons, and other options, a rubber spatula works best).
– Set aside at room temperature until chocolate is set.

Storage tip: Store baked cookies carefully, separated by parchment or waxed paper, in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. Florentines are best stored separated from moist cookies and cakes.

Note: Special thanks to my chocolate-know-how friend for advising that getting any water in the smaller sauce pan (including a porous wooden spoon that’s wet), and using any metal for distribution would cool the chocolate too fast.

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating:
4 of 5 stars
In my head, this is a big ordeal to make (not especially true), so when I do make them, it still feels novel. Plus, that crunch!
Likelihood of Repeat: 99%
Chocolate, almonds, sugar, and orange zest, yum yum yum! This time I even verified that you can make it with gluten-free flour for your gluten-liberated friends, hooray! Try it with some tea or coffee too.

Sweet & Spicy Almonds

Cookies Part 3 of 4. This one whips up fast, and it’s even vegan!

sweet & spicy almonds: roast, melt the slurry, coat, add dry mix, cool. easy!
sweet & spicy almonds: roast, melt the slurry, coat, cool. easy!

(originally from All Recipes, HQ’d in Seattle! ..one adjustment here)
Makes: 2 1/2 cups almonds
Total processing time: less than 30 minutes

Ingredients
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups whole almonds
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet, and toast until the nuts start to turn golden brown and become fragrant, about 10 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake: they burn quickly.
2. Stir together the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl; set aside.
3. Stir together the water, honey, and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the mixture begins to bubble, stir in the toasted almonds until evenly moistened. Pour the almonds into the sugar and spice mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread onto baking sheets in a single layer, and cool to room temperature.

Notes: don’t breathe in too deeply when you’re mixing the dry ingredients, or you will end up coughing. I keep reading this note and still doing it. :p Also: you could use agave syrup instead of honey, it won’t stick as well and will feel a little more oily.

Today’s “Cookie” Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 1 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 85%
Since these are marginally better for you than cookies, I make them year-round, so they are very familiar. I also like that they don’t require egg whites, another recipe I tried used egg whites and things turned out funny.

Renee’s Grandma’s Sugar Cookies (a.k.a. Ardene Hindman’s)

Cookies Part 2 of 4.
Happy Thanksgiving to any fellow American friends out there! Maybe with the long weekend, you’ll want to try a cookie recipe?

sugar cookies: if gluten-free, roll between saran wrap, and add flour for less stickiness.
sugar cookies: if gluten-free, roll between saran wrap, and add flour for less stickiness.

Renee’s Grandma’s Sugar Cookies (a.k.a. Ardene Hindman)
Makes: ummmm, a whole bunch of cookies. I lost count, and I only did a half portion from what’s prescribed below.
Total Time: 60 minutes+, due to cooling time

Ingredients & Directions, per Renee:
“Cream 2 c sugar and 1 c butter.
Add 3 eggs, 1 c sour cream, 1 t salt, 2 t baking powder, 1 t lemon extract, 6 c flour.
Chill for 1-2 hours
Bake at 375 for 8 min (I do these thinly rolled with cookie cutter shapes)

+After cooling, this is the frosting, which, how my great grandma did it, went on the flat side (or what you’d think of as the back):

4 oz cream cheese
2 1/3 c powdered sugar
4 T butter
1 1/2 t vanilla

Soften cream cheese and butter in the microwave, add sugar and vanilla.
Then, of course, pretty sprinkles…”

Note: I found I bought the wrong lemon vial, so I used a combo of equal parts lemon flavor, rum, and lemon rind.

Okay, I confess, I only did the mixing and refrigerating (one batch with regular all purpose flour, the other with pamela’s gluten-free), my gluten-free friend did a lot of the rolling out, and chocolate friend did the frosting (more on chocolate friend in the 4th post). Thanks to Renee for her grandma’s recipe, and kudos to her grandma, who raised the woman who raised the woman I have been good friends with since college, who has always had a sage word in difficult times, and kept me in my sense of humor. Good luck on your Thanksgiving, Renee!

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am familiar with sugar, and I’m familiar with cookies, but never any with sour and cream cheese..
Likelihood of Repeat: 65%
I definitely think this is worth trying again. More recent discussion with Renee has revealed that her mom only puts a thin layer of frosting on, which may explain the reviews from friends who said, “wow. that’s really sweet, I think I know some one who would like that..” Cookies pictured above were the gluten-free ones, which ended up with chocolate drizzles after we ran out of frosting. I am curious if it might be easier to roll out with more refrigeration after mixing so you can use cookie cutters, or if it’s just meant to be rolled into balls and flattened, definitely worth trying again to find out.

Cookie Mania!
Gingersnaps

Cookies Part 1 of 4.
Last Saturday night, the ingredients for baking cookies and cookie-like items started amassing on my kitchen countertop..

ingredients inventory: marshaling up the troops
ingredients inventory: marshaling up the troops

Okay, so they weren’t doing it all on their own. I did an inventory for my ideas to figure out what I still needed to get at the store.

insane inventory of ingredients to consolidate what was not already in the pantry
insane inventory of ingredients to consolidate what was not already in the pantry

Clearly, I overcommitted on types of cookies:

  • gingersnaps
  • chocolate chip
  • sugar cookies
  • sweet & spicy almonds
  • macaroons
  • almond florentines (my personal favorite)

Layer on top of that the plan to make some of the sugar cookies and florentines gluten-free and we have confirmation I was seized by that once-a-year crazy cookie spirit that happens around now. Must be the primal need to store up fat for the winter or something. I also stopped taking photos, as I suffer increasing embarrassment the more photos I take (even if the cookies aren’t asking me to stop). I conned a couple friends to come over and help (with the promise that they could also just come help eat them), thanks, friends! They were the saving grace, both from all their extra hands, baking expertise, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough (thus enabling me to abandon my non-GF efforts of that), and even a special macaroon recipe (thus allowing me to entirely cede any claim to making the macaroons with my own hands). 4 out of 6 ain’t bad. I often forget the particulars of baking things since I don’t bake year-round, so it was nice to have a few more brains in the mess. Hopefully they didn’t feel trapped at my house into baking hell..

A few rules I try to remember:

  • Always set the time for a little less than prescribed so you can check the food, or check it a little before the time.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients separately before putting them together, so they distribute well.
  • Scale your recipe to the amount of the key ingredient you have.
  • Get other people to eat too so you aren’t sick later from too much sugar.

Less words, more food pr0n!

Since I overcommitted on the cookies in one day, I’ll be more reasonable here and post one recipe at a time (4 total) during this special holiday weekend. Let’s start with the gingersnaps, since it is a pretty enduring recipe I pull out every year, after that initial year when a certain ‘roommate’ started teasing me for baking it so many times (but that is how you get good at it!).

gingersnaps
gingersnaps

Gingersnaps
(originally from Joy of Cooking pg 707)
Makes: around 70 tiny cookies
Total Processing Time: 30-60 minutes

Ingredients & Directions
Preheat oven 325 F
(cream together..)
3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar (raw sugar is fine)
(stir in..)
2 well-beaten eggs
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp vinegar
(sift & add..)
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2-3 tsp ginger (powdered, not fresh)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

Mix ingredients until blended. Form dough into dime-sized balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet about 12 minutes. As ball melts, cookie gets crinkled surface. When cool, ice to taste (or in my case, not at all). Makes about 60 little cookies.

This one below I don’t have the recipe for, and can’t really take any credit for making..

macaroons: thanks to my friend's expertise!
macaroons: thanks to my friend’s expertise!

We had extra chocolate from the florentines (recipe in upcoming post), so we drizzled the macaroons too.

"hello! we're cookies! please eat us!"
The final product: little gift bag of cookies. “hello! we’re cookies! please eat us!”

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating:
1 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 85%
I think I could bake these on a heavy dose of Ativan at this point..but it’s a nice standard recipe with ingredients that keep well in a pantry over time, and isn’t too sweet that you can’t eat more than one. It’s also quite tasty with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Cranksgiving Seattle 2013

Gasworks Park, Seattle, WA

In the last few years, through a dramatic health-related life event, I have (a)become a little more acutely grateful of being alive at all, and (b)felt a more urgent need to put in the time investments now to ensure a longer and healthier life. So in that vein, after the unhappy consequences of Reduced Sugar Challenge October, November is Sustained Exercise Month, with a weekly minimum goal of 150 minutes of exercise activity (also smaller portion month, but that’s a different post). It feels like an uphill battle with the increasingly dreary overcast weather outside and waning hours of daylight, but also a necessary one to get a jump on holiday eat-o-ramas (not to mention snowboarding season).

I prefer tricking myself into exercise, like getting outside running before you are awake, so you have no choice but to continue running, or accidentally agreeing to long hikes with friends when you imagined a 2-mile flat path. Happily, this weekend a good friend of mine agreed to try out Cranksgiving Seattle 2013, a charity bike scavenger hunt that donates to the Rainier Valley Food Bank. So I got to fulfill my remaining 30+ minutes (bike commuted to and from work once, and yes, I counted the 40 minutes of raking too) while getting some sun, and helping some other folks who need it more get fed.

It was a pretty nice day for a ride, a little chilly but sunny. I like to tell myself that trying new routes (a.k.a. getting really lost) helps exercise your brain cells to ward off Alzheimer’s later too. The gathering place was Gasworks Park, and it was darn scenic:

GasworksnBike
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Method Break: Garlic Chopper Demo

My co-worker/friend Jillian was nice enough to be my last-minute date to a charity auction dinner. She was still game when it turned out the power was out in the neighborhood, and we had to bumble our way to the dining hall entrance in the dark. I did not dupe myself (for a good cause) into any 3-day weekend getaway rentals during the live auction, thanks to the other bidders a generation or two older than me, but I did score a basket full of cooking goodies!

Basket of Cooking Goods: trust me, it was a big basket, which turned out to be a mixing bowl. I just don't have a good photo.
Basket of Cooking Goods: trust me, it was a big basket, which turned out to be a mixing bowl. I just don’t have a good photo.

Included among them was a garlic chopper, which I was very very excited about, as I already have one, but it has broken slightly, and it is oh so fun to use. Note: I am not being paid at all by the manufacturers to laud this product (findable on Amazon as a “Chef’n Garlic Zoom Rolling Garlic Chopper”). My socially adept dining companion a demo here, so here it is:

Step 1: Peel garlic cloves.
Step 2: Deposit in top hatch and close hatch.
Step 3: Roll garlic chopper back and forth so the blades spin and chop the garlic.
Step 4: Open entire top half of chopper and remove garlic.
Ta da!

 

It goes, 'zzzh, zzzht, zzzzzzht!'
It goes, ‘zzzh, zzzht, zzzzzzht!’

Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 100%

Certainly, you could mince garlic without this, but it’s quite the entertaining time saver if you have more than a couple cloves to chop. The same size pieces (or smaller) could be achieved by slicing one way while leaving the stem of a clove attached, then turning 90 degrees, slicing the other, and then chopping all the pieces (like this except not slicing all the way through, so it’s easier to hold on to the whole piece together before you mince it all pieces with the final step). That method works even better for onions.

Spaghetti Squash 2 Ways

There are some days when I miss spaghetti, as my household doesn’t eat much pasta at home any more (well, even if I made it, the other half would likely abstain). If it happens to be a chilly Fall day when I’m plotting a meal to make, my mind goes to spaghetti squash. I was only introduced to this intriguing squash variety a couple years ago, when to help while away a lengthy chemo session, a steadfast childhood friend stopped by with some, miraculously procuring something that appeared both vegetable and pasta-like! How novel! I could feel my brain stretching as I ate it…

That brings us to today’s recipe, an amalgam of internet advice and my squash baking experiences. Note: I’ve starred a couple options that I consider more fattening (and therefore tasty).

(1) Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini Sausage Saute: looks like spaghetti, still tastes like healthy..

spaghetti squash as pasta dish
spaghetti squash as pasta dish

Ingredients:
1/2 spaghetti squash (you can bake the whole thing, but the rest of this only needs half the squash)
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1.5 zucchini squash, sliced and halved
chicken apple sausage, sliced and halved (or polska kielbasa sausage*)
butter* or olive oil (for squash baking)
saffola oil (for frying)
salt & pepper (to taste)
thyme (to taste)
parmesan, grated or thinly sliced (your choice)
cheat ingredient: bottled pasta sauce

makes: 4 servings

The Squash:

    1. Preheat oven to 350
    2. Cut spaghetti squash in halve lengthwise, de-seed (shortcut option: poke squash with a fork and microwave for a few minutes to presoften before you fight the rind to cut it, this may result in a mushier end product, though)
    3. Oil or butter (I was feeling decadent so I used butter this time) the flat surface of the squash and lay, cut sides down, on a baking sheet.
    4. Bake spaghetti squash in oven about 30 minutes (check after 20 if you microwaved before cutting), until barely tender when poked with a fork.
    5. While you wait, you can work on sauteing the other stuff per directions below, or go do a little yoga (I did the latter this time, since then the saute wouldn’t cool too much while I was scraping out the squash).
    6. Remove squash from oven, let cool to a temperature to handle, then scrape the squash flesh out with a fork. As you scrape, it will come apart into spaghetti-like shapes. For most squash sizes I’ve seen, if you scrape out only half the squash, that will be enough for this recipe to serve 4, so the other half can be scraped out and put aside for a recipe another day, or frozen.

The Other Stuff:

    1. In a large frying pan on medium, saute onions 2 minutes in saffola oil.
    2. Add garlic, stir a bit.
    3. Add zucchini and sausage, saute 7 minutes or until at desired tender-crispness of zucchini and browning of sausage.

Combine:

  1. Add the squash to the pan, fold ingredients together, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper to taste.
  2. Pour the pasta sauce and mix until warmed through.
  3. Serve with parmesan on top. You can also try it with goat cheese.
spaghetti squash as pasta recipe.
spaghetti squash as pasta recipe.

This week’s trial recipe #1 rating:
Novelty Rating:
2 of 5 stars
I’ve made this before. I get so excited when it’s plated like spaghetti, but the texture and flavor really aren’t anywhere close, it’s pretty crunchy. In retrospect I may have undercooked it, for fear of overcooking it into mush. Booooo.
Likelihood of Repeat: 35%
I’ve made this a few times, and my spouse’s reaction when he hears I’m making it is always, “that seems like a lot of effort for small gain.” So I think the spaghetti squash + pasta sauce combination is on its way out. Since I’m not on the Paleo or Atkins diets, why make spaghetti squash when you miss spaghetti?
Also, why did I make squash (spaghetti) with squash (zucchini)? C-razzy.
I think I need to find another spaghetti squash recipe that just treats it like spaghetti, and stick with Nom Nom Paleo’s Zucchini Spaghetti on those days when I can’t bring myself to cook actual pasta, but have time to julienne zucchinis. You got any?

In general, I am big proponent of eating things for the sake of their own taste, something I like to mention to my vegetarian friends when I agree on the tastiness of tofu, fried gluten, or quorn. Unfortunately, this seems to be an instance where I forgot about that in my enthusiasm for (a)my love of pasta and (b)the novelty of a weird squash that yields fun.

..so a few days later I figured I’d need to do something with that other half of the spaghetti squash (since I didn’t have an army sitting around to feed), something that treats it like squash rather than pasta. I adjusted this recipe from Cookin’ Canuck for Spaghetti Squash with Gorgonzola with Dried Cherries & Pecans for what I had and packed it up for lunch. Sorry, no pictures this time, ate it too soon during work to catch one.

(2) Spaghetti Squash Salad

Ingredients:
1/2 a spaghetti squash
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (more lactose-intolerant friendly)
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped and toasted (was out of pecans)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 green onions (white & green parts), thinly sliced

Steps:

  1. Roast spaghetti squash per steps 1-4, and 6 in other recipe above.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together, olive oil, vinegar and salt.
  3. Pour vinaigrette into the spaghetti squash and toss. Add cheese, pecans, cherries, and most of green onions, stir well, and serve cold.

This week’s trial recipe #2 rating:
Novelty Rating:
4 of 5 stars
May have baked one too many spaghetti squash this season for it to feel novel..
Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I still have some left over in the freezer and I plan to defrost and use it as a salad later. The slight tartness of the balsamic vinegar makes me less expectant that it should be heavy and filling, and therefore I found it more satisfying to eat. My friend I shared it with also gave positive reviews.

Food-Related Entertainment from the Internet

Just a little tidbit post on Official Blog Debut Week for Food the Wong Way:
In case you haven’t seen this yet, hilarious responses to pictures (pictures only) of American food from a Tumblr user teaching in China: Chinese Students Hilariously Describe What They Think About Regional American Food.

It is extra funny because of how a normal-sounding sentence in Chinese gets distorted when literally translated into English as a somewhat pithy exclamation. For the record, despite being raised in the Midwest, I still had no idea chicken fried steak was not chicken until this year. How the heck are you supposed to ever guess that?

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..