Monday, December 10, 2012

Fried Tofu


We eat a lot of tofu in this house. I'm a big fan of the stuff, cooked or uncooked, and I love the texture that frying imparts to tofu.

But I have an aversion to deep-frying, for a few reasons:
  1. Deep-frying is scary. Hot oil can burn skin pretty easily, and it can splatter and splutter everywhere, making a mess.
  2. It's expensive. We try to cook with good oils, and it feels wasteful to use quarts of oil to cook one dish. 
  3. If the temperature's not right, your food can get greasy. Who wants that?
So we panfry. Panfrying also gives the tofu a nicely chewy exterior, and it uses much less oil than deep-frying does. It can still splutter, especially if the tofu goes into the pan wet, but it's not too bad.

Fried Tofu
1 tablespoon sunflower or safflower oil
1 block extra-firm tofu, chopped however you want it in your finished dish

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu to the pan in a single layer and cook, without stirring, for a few minutes, until the underside turns golden brown. Stir with a heatproof spatula and cook some  more, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are mostly browned on all sides. This can take about 10 minutes. Sometimes a side or two of the tofu doesn't get browned, but it's not really a big deal.

Serve with any sauce, or add to a dish like a stir-fry or stew.

Oven-Roasted Broccoli


We watched an old episode of Good Eats the other day. The show focused on broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables.

Broccoli season has arrived in Austin, and I got a huge two-pound crown from Harvest Time Farm Stand at the farmers market on Saturday morning.

Alton Brown's recipe for  Oven Roasted Broccoli looked wonderful. I roast broccoli a lot at home, and we usually eat it dressed with just olive oil, salt, and chili flakes. This recipe has toasted bread crumbs and cheese, making it heartier and good for the cold snap that just came in.

I made the recipe with a few modifications. There was no panko in our pantry, so I made fresh bread crumbs in the food processor and toasted them in the oven. I also added lemon zest and juice to the finished recipe. Then each bowl got topped with a fried egg and a few roasted tomatoes.

It turned out really well. The broccoli was still a bit crunchy, and the bread crumbs and cheese gave it a deep nutty flavor. The original recipe calls for either Cheddar or Parmesan. I used Cheddar, but I think I'll try Parmesan next time. The Cheddar, while delicious, didn't get distributed evenly in the broccoli, gathering in chunks. Don't get me wrong; the clumps were salty, crunchy, and delicious. But I think the Parmesan may coat the broccoli more evenly.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fall-Time Escabeche

I love all kinds of pickled vegetables. And with all the great produce we get in Austin, I find myself making pickles pretty regularly.

Growing up, I ate a lot of Mexican food at a little neighborhood taqueria in Chicago. The place, called La Fiesta, is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (and has been for as long as I can remember).

When you sit down there, nice ladies bring out a basket of chips with a bowl of salsa and a bowl of escabeche, a spicy and sour jalapeno and carrot pickle. A few other places in the neighborhood put in other vegetables, like cauliflower, but I always chose La Fiesta because of their spicier version, as well as their giant burritos (which NEVER have rice in them).

And in Austin, this is the season when carrots and jalapenos are ripe at the same time. And because cauliflower and onions are also in season here, I put those in too.

First, I chopped all the vegetables up. I could only get tiny carrots at the market, but they were sweet and tender.


Then I sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil. I got a couple of jars together and put a few peppercorns, a few coriander seeds, and a little bit of dried oregano in each one. (Normally, I'd add a bay leaf or two to each jar, but I was out.)

I made a brine with water, vinegar, and salt and heated it to dissolve the salt. Then I packed the veggies into the jars, covered them with the brine, and slapped a couple of lids on them. When they were cool, I stuck them in the fridge, where they'd start curing.

I'll find out in a couple of days how it went. The hardest part is waiting. For the flavors to really come together, it takes at least a few days, but really, it's better after a week or so. It's got to be refrigerated, since the jars are unprocessed, but they seem to keep for a few months. I have a jar in the fridge from earlier in the season (sans cauliflower), and it's really delicious.

This is more of a guideline. You can use whatever vegetables are available, and flavor the brine with different spices. But for me, it always has to have at least carrots and jalapenos.

4 cups bite-size vegetables 
3 to 4 jalapenos, sliced into rings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar (I used mostly cider vinegar, with a little bit of white vinegar.)
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon oregano

Saute the veggies and jalapenos in the olive until just beginning to become tender, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the water, vinegar, and salt, stirring until the salt dissolves.

Divide the bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and oregano between 2 pint-size jars. Pack the vegetables into the jars and pour the brine over. Cover the jars with lids and allow to cool to room temperature. Let it sit in the fridge for at least a few days before eating. They should last a few months, but they usually get eaten much quicker.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bouldin Brunch


Last weekend, we went to Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse for brunch. It's a place we go to a lot. It's in the neighborhood, the food is really good (plus pretty healthy and all vegetarian), and the staff are nice.

We usually go for dinner, and tend not to even try brunch. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the place can get pretty crowded. But we decided to chance it, and walked on over. The host told us we'd have to wait about 20 minutes, and we decided that'd be okay. It would have taken us at least that long to walk back to the house, get the car, and drive somewhere else.

So we got one of those goofy little buzzer things and went outside. Our table was ready in about 5 minutes, which was a really nice surprise.

We got the special, which was biscuits and gravy, and a tofu-broccoli salad. The salad is something I get pretty often.

Biscuits and gravy

Tofu and broccoli salad
The biscuits and gravy were really satisfying. The biscuits were light, and the mushroom gravy was rich and savory. The salad was great. I love the salty, sesame-flavored broccoli that's cooked but still nice and crisp. They also put on a ton of sunflower sprouts, which are really fresh and nutty. And the garlic-tahini dressing is earthy and comforting.

To drink, I tried the Kool Keith, made from two shots of espresso and chocolate syrup, over ice. The drink was served in a pint glass, making it much bigger than I expected, but it was sweet and refreshing. And caffeinated.

We'll still be back for dinner probably a lot sooner than we'll be back in for brunch, but I would definitely try it again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Micheladas at Hotel San Jose

We've been experiencing a little cold snap here, with morning temperatures around 40 degrees. It sort of broke today. Well, it was still 40 degrees in the morning, but it got up to almost 80 this evening. The weather is weird here.

Last Thursday, I saw that the chilly weather was on its way, so I took my sweetie out for a drink at the patio bar at the Hotel San Jose.

Hotel San Jose is on South Congress, and the bar is in a little quiet courtyard next to the pool. The atmosphere outside is relaxed and chic. Tucked away from the noisy avenue, it's slightly secluded and feels fancy.

It's great to sit along the perimeter under the grapevines that canopy some of the tables and people watch (and pooch watch on the dog-friendly patio).

We've never been inside the hotel, but it looks really nice. And kind of expensive.

We each ordered a michelada, a salty-spicy beer cocktail. The San Jose's michelada is delicious, with lots of fresh lime juice and cracked black pepper.When you order one, a glass arrives with ice and the michelada mix, which you pour the beer into.

Salty and spicy
Served over ice, it's an excellent drink for a warm summer (or fall) evening. And at $4 for a michelada made with Modelo, it's not extravagant, even at the semi-swanky hotel.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Passion Vine

When I was in Peru this February, I ate a lot of granadillas, a kind of passion fruit. The flavor was so sweet, floral, and tropical, I knew I'd miss them when I got back home. And because a single passion fruit can cost at least four bucks at the grocery store (when you can get them for about a fifty cents a pound in Lima), I definitely didn't want to buy them.

I found a Texas Maypop plant at the Great Outdoors here in Austin. The Maypop is a native Texas variety, named because they pop loudly when stepped on.

I planted the vine, which was pretty small, in the backyard in early March and trained it on a tomato cage. Now in October, the vine has really filled out. It sends our shoots that can grow a couple of feet in a single day.

And the flowers it produces are gorgeous. They're big and weird, with purple and green petals and something that looks like an alien popping right out of the middle.

Crazy alien flower
A couple of weeks ago, I went outside to tuck the new tendrils behind the wires of the tomato cage, and I was shocked to see a fruit. I'm not sure if it's going to taste good, or if it's going to produce more than just the one, but I can't wait to see what happens.

First Maypop

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Early Fall in Maine

We went to Maine a couple of weeks ago to attend the beautiful wedding of a very sweet couple. Because we'd never been to the state, M and I stayed s few extra days in Portland to see the city. And eat some food.

The first thing we did was check out the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. Afterward, we dunked our feet in the Atlantic and watched a few dogs fetch sticks from the waves.

At a farmers market, we found some ground cherries, a treat I hadn't had since I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, several years ago. These were much more flavorful and piquant than the mellow fruit I used to eat. Ground cherries look a lot like gooseberries, but they're much sweeter. They have a papery skin, similar to the skin on tomatillos, that you peel back before popping the fruit in your mouth and popping the fruit, and then the little seeds inside, with your teeth. It's pretty fantastic.

Later, I had a glass of local blueberry mead on the patio of Portland Lobster Company while enjoying some live music on the dock. Warm for Maine, the 70-degree early evening was refreshing and gorgeous.

We had done breakfast at Hot Suppa, an excellent little diner. I had some baked Cheddar grits with an arugula salad and eggs. I love grits, and I've got to try to recreate this.

Between Portland and Rockland, we stopped by Beth's, a huge farm stand in Warren. They had these incredible bottles of grape juice with whole grapes inside. And of tons if other produce. But check out the grape juice!

And if course, we stopped a cute little chocolate shop. Sweet Marguerites had some unusual but delicious flavors like sweet potato caramel and fig and port. We bought a box of five and are them pretty quickly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Roasted Baby Eggplant

Cute little things.
Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. That said, eggplant season is so long in Austin that I often get tired of them by the fall.

But when I saw these sweet baby eggplants at the farmers market, I had to try them.

Roasting is always a good option when I prepare eggplant. It's super simple and it brings out the natural succulence of the eggplant, making it sweet and juicy.


Here's how I made them:
1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise.
2. Toss them in a big bowl with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
3. Bake them at 375 for about 30 minutes.
4. Eat with your fingers. (It's hard not to, really.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Green Corn Project 2012 Fall Festival Tickets on Sale

The Green Corn Project's annual Fall Festival is October 28th. Green Corn Project aims to increase access to affordable, sustainable, nutritious food. Entirely volunteer run, the organization does this by installing organic vegetable gardens in folks' backyards, and at schools, community centers, and shelters.

Put on at Boggy Creek Farm, one of Austin's favorite urban farms with friendly farmers and gorgeous chickens, this festival will the fourth one I attend, and it keeps getting bigger each year.

During the festival, chefs and restaurants set up around the front yard at the farm, cooking demonstrations are out on the back porch, and there's a silent auction in the barn. With live music and lots of good food to eat, it's an excellent way to spend an afternoon and a bargain for a fundraiser like this at $35.  Tickets are here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Delicata Tart

I had several delicata squash on the counter, and some really nice butter in the fridge, so it seemed like the perfect time to make a squash tart.

Delicata squash are beautifully striped and mildly nutty in flavor. They're similar in taste to butternut or acorn squash, and take very well to roasting. Here's what they look like when you roast them and take a scoop out of one to taste it:

We cook a lot at home, and I couldn't believe the effort-to-deliciousness ratio in this dish. It was super-easy to make, and I did it all with ingredients I had on hand. The old man and I ate it for dinner, then for breakfast the next morning with scrambled eggs and green-chile yogurt sauce. I took it to the office and ate it cold for lunch. All good. All very good.

Here's what I did:
After roasting three medium squashes, I removed all their flesh and mashed it with my hands. (Yes, that happened. I forgot the potato masher had broken, strangely enough, and the fork was just too slow.) Then I mixed in two small onions that I'd caramelized in butter, one farm egg, a good handful of grated Parmesan, a few big spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, and salt and pepper.

I prepared a butter-rich tart dough, pressed it into the pan, and baked it.

And after

Then I crumbled a few ounces of blue cheese in the baked tart shell, spread the filling on and baked it until set.

Then I went nuts waiting for the thing to cool. But man, it was worth it. The crust had a wonderfully nutty brown-butter flavor, which went perfectly with the sweet squash. And the piquant blue cheese added really good saltiness. 

Delicata Squash Tart
1 recipe tart dough
3 delicata squash
1 tsp. vegetable oil
2 T. butter
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 oz. Parmesan, finely grated
1/3 c. Greek yogurt
1 egg
Salt and pepper
3 oz. blue cheese

Prepare and bake the tart dough. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 375. Slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. (You can bake them like pumpkin seeds, or discard them.) Rub the oil on the cut sides of the squash, and place face-down on a baking sheet. Bake until easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skins into a medium mixing bowl and mash until mostly smooth.

While the squash is roasting, caramelize the onions: melt the butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until well browned, stirring often (this can take 30 minutes or more, but the flavor is worth it).

Add the onions to the squash, then stir in the Parmesan, yogurt, egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the blue cheese into the bottom of the tart shell, then spoon and spread the squash mixture over it.

Bake in the center of the oven until set, about 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, slice, and serve.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Papalote Taco House


You can find good food in unexpected places in Austin. In other cities I've lived in, strip-mall restaurants were usually best avoided. 

Here though, strip malls are perfectly good (sometimes really good) places to find restaurants.

Papalote Taco House, which shares a block with a ThunderCloud Subs shop, looks kind of surf-y on the outside, and has very good tacos inside.

For a small place, they have some excellent vegetarian options. Their tortillas are store bought, but the corn tortillas are simple and nice and corny. 

I don't think I've ever left the place without eating one of their Tortas de Coliflor tacos. The tortas are little cakes of cooked and mashed cauliflower mixed with cheese, fried and coated with a bittersweet guajillo chili sauce. Topped with a little bit of shredded cabbage, queso fresco, and a sliver of avocado, they're salty, sweet, spicy, and a little bitter. 

And though the guajillo sauce is spicy, I can't resist a little bit of their green sauce.

Tortas de coliflor and hongos y epazote tacos

The Mushroom y Epazote taco is earthy and rich, with lots of chewy hominy. (I like to mix the red and green sauces on this one.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Tumble of Tomatoes

My very sweet friends at Beyond the Green Door recently stopped by and brought us a package of their garden bounty - fresh Roma tomatoes.

A couple of months ago, I saw David Lebovitz's recipe for Oven-Roasted Tomatoes. They looked great, but I don't grow tomatoes, and they're rather expensive at the market. So I hadn't tried them yet. This garden gift gave me the opportunity to roast my own.

I loosely followed David's directions, omitting the herbs and pepper and increasing the garlic.

I sliced the tomatoes in half, cored them, and tossed them with some good olive oil, sea salt, and lots of sliced garlic.

Then I lay them neatly cut-side down.

I baked them for over two hours, and ended up with this: A tangy-sweet and deeply flavored pan of tomatoes.

They were great on their own, with simple bread and butter, and on sandwiches with baked tofu.

Thanks, guys. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Market Report - July 21

Another light market week, but we got some really good stuff:

Top row:
Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery. They didn't make it an hour past the market. Two hungry market shoppers make quick work of a box of donut holes.
Baby Bella mushrooms from Kitchen Pride. A staple. We get these a lot.
Pluots from Bar W Farm and Ranch. These were much firmer than plums, but very juicy and sweet, with none of the super-sour flavor that plum skins can have.
Whole wheat flour from Richardson Farms.

Bottom Row:
Cucumbers, beautiful eggplant, Sun Gold tomatoes, and spicy Anaheim peppers, all from Tecolote.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Market Report - July 14

I went light at the market this week, only picking up a few things. But they're all very good.

Clockwise, starting at top left:

Kombucha (Cherry Honeydew and Pineapple Super Greens) from Buddha's Brew. It comes in pints, but I got two quarts.The Cherry Honeydew is a new flavor, and it's really, really good.

A fat-stalked, giant tangle of edamame from Tecolote. I've never had it fresh, so I'm excited to try it.

Serranos and sunflower sprouts from Ottmers Family Farm. Delicious in a salad with Tecolote's cucumbers.

Ridiculously juicy and delicious Asian Pears from the friendly farmers at Harvest Time. I thought I'd make a spicy slaw with these and the serranos, but I keep eating them out of hand.

Shallots from Munkebo Farm.

Hungarian medium peppers and juicy, thin-skinned cucumbers from Tecolote.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guajillo Sauce Cooking: Baked Tofu

We eat a lot of tofu in this house. Most often, it's pan-fried or baked. I love the flavor and texture of fresh tofu, but baking it makes it much chewier and denser; it really transforms it. If there's sugar in the sauce, it caramelizes in the oven, providing a rich, deep flavor.

So that double recipe I made of guajillo sauce I made? It turned out to be a whole lot of sauce: four pint-size jars full. Its tangy, spicy, sweet flavor made it a perfect candidate for a baked tofu glaze.

Baked and ready to go

To make it, I sliced one 12 ounce package of extra-firm tofu. The stuff I get, made by White Wave, is very dense, so it can be sliced thinly. Then I coated the tofu in a mixture of a half-pint of guajillo sauce mixed with a tablespoon of sriracha. (I like my baked tofu spicy.) After baking for 20 minutes at 325 degrees, I flipped the slices over and baked them for another half hour.

Normally, I bake tofu at a higher temperature (375 or 400 degrees), but I was baking something else that required a lower temperature. At the higher temperature, check the tofu after 15 minutes to ensure it doesn't burn. Flip it, then bake for another 15 minutes, or until the sauce adheres to the tofu and it's beginning to brown.
Sliced tofu and sauce
Tofu coated with sauce

The tofu is usually more browned after baking, but the low oven temperature prevented it from going too far. It was still delicious, both on sandwiches, and as a snack on its own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Chilaquiles Jones

For our anniversary, my mom got me and M. a gift certificate to Frontera Grill. We went with my mom and aunt one Saturday for brunch, after buying berries and pastries at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park.

Frontera chilaquiles with guajillo sauce. And really good coffee.

I'd had chilaquiles on the brain for weeks, and M. told me I had a chiliquiles jones. He was right: when I saw it on the menu I knew I had to have it. The guajillo sauce was sharp, a little spicy, a tiny bit bitter, and all delicious. The substantial chips were made from the housemade thick tortillas, so they still had some bite despite being drowned in the delicious sauce.

After getting home, I had to make a batch of my own. I found a recipe on Epicurious, which I followed with a couple of exceptions. I used chipotle powder in place of the paprika, and I doubled it, so it cooked longer.

It was pretty easy to make. I soaked a package of guajillo chilies in hot water until they were soft, then roughly chopped jalapenos, onions, and garlic. After removing the stems and seeds from the chilies, I blended everything with drained whole tomatoes and some of the soaking liquid, and cooked  it for about 40 minutes. The heat level was still pretty low, so I added some more chipotle and cooked it a little more along with the honey.

Homemade chilaquiles
I tossed some of the sauce with store-bought tortillas and topped it with some crumbled feta (instead of queso fresco), then baked it until the chips were browned.

With some chopped sweet Texas 1015 onions, lime juice, and avocado, it was satisfying, but pretty different from Frontera's version. This one was more tomato-y and less spicy and complex. Next time, I think I'll try a mixture of dried chilies and toast them before soaking, and reduce the amount of tomato.

I'd assumed the sauce would cook down a bit, which is why I made the double batch. I ended up with four pints, which was a bit more than expected. I'll be making this again soon.

Onions: Milagro Farm
Jalapenos: Urban Roots
Garlic: Buena Tierra Farm