Poached Tofu Cutlets

Holy cats, have I been busy! I don’t know why, but October is always an insanely busy month for me. I guess part of it is both our birthdays, and our anniversary, and Halloween, and I always end up travelling – sometimes multiple times – in October. I’ve also been working a lot lately. All that that is why I haven’t been posting much.

We went to Charleston, SC a couple of weeks ago to visit Mark’s family. We left mid-week and right before we left, I did a quick sweep of the refrigerator for perishables and realized I hadn’t used the tofu I’d made that weekend, so I quickly threw it in a container and popped it in the freezer. I’m not a huge fan of frozen tofu; the texture doesn’t win me over as it does some, and it is so sponge-like it always seems to absorb so much salt it tastes too salty. Nonetheless I wasn’t about to waste homemade tofu, so in the freezer it went.

I was looking for a way to use it and came across this post on the wonderful Just Bento. This idea is totally ripped off of Maki, but for my broth I just started pouring things into my Dutch oven, trying but not really to keep the sodium down.

Poached Tofu Cutlets

1 block frozen tofu, thawed
3 cups vegan broth (I used “chicken”-flavoured)
1/4 cup red wine
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

cornstarch

Slice the tofu into four slabs like this:

Whisk together the remaining ingredients except the cornstarch in a Dutch oven or wide saucepan then add the cutlets. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 20 minutes or longer. I think I left mine for 45 minutes or so.

Remove the cutlets from the broth …

(In the wild, poached tofu is the same color as bamboo chopping blocks in order to elude knife-wielding cooks.)

… and coat with cornstarch.

Pan-fry on both sides in olive oil, or do as I did and grill on an electric grill (I brushed the grill with oil first):

Meanwhile you can thicken the (strained) leftover broth with some cornstarch (add the cornstarch to a small amount of cold water then whisk it in and heat until thickened) to make a gravy, though that’s optional.

Look at these baby sweet potatoes I got. LOOK AT THEM!

I love baby vegetables almost as much as I love baby animals. They’re tiny and sweet…just like Torticia! (By the way, upon hearing what they were, Mark informed me he hated sweet potatoes, but he tried them anyway and liked them! I know because he actually ate them! Baby vegetables are awesome!)

Plated meal:

Wow – this was the best meal I’ve made using frozen tofu, and though I’d be hard pressed (haha, like my tofu) to call the broth low-sodium, it wasn’t too salty. The texture was good too: chewy, but not overly sponge-like. Very flavourful. I think I still prefer my tofu fresh but it’s great to know I can make something really good with it even if I end up having to freeze it. And actually, frozen homemade tofu is probably better than non-frozen store-bought tofu.

In other news, I had pre-ordered then forgotten about Harold McGee’s new book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes and was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it on my doorstep this evening. It’s almost as big as the mega-wonderful On Food and Cooking, though not nearly as dense, and looks like it contains a bazillion helpful hints. I’m almost (but not quite) sorry it arrived today, because I’m feeling a little overwhelmed between work, social obligations, and the seven or eight “spooky” books I just bought for Halloween, which were added to my queue of..oh geez, 37 books. (In other news, I’ve read exactly 100 books so far this year!)

And …

Gomez, light of my life, fur of my clothes. My kitten, my cat. Go-mez-ian: the tip of your tail twitching to and fro across my toes. Go. Mez. Ian.

He is Mez, plain Mez, in the morning, standing on my chest. He is Mezzie when he plays. He is Mezzaluna in the kitchen. He is Gomez on the vet bills. But in my arms he is always Gomezian.

…and for Halloween he is Dracula!

Which is extra awesome because growing up I had a cat named Dracula, who prior to Tigger, Brachtune, Gomez, and Torticia, was the greatest cat who ever lived, and though he now has to share the title, still has a very special place in my heart. (And my skin; I have a tattoo of him.)

(My mom made Dracula’s Halloween costume just like she made all of mine!)

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Split Pea and Barley Soup

Wow, have I been busy in the kitchen this weekend! I’m not someone who ordinarily slows down as far as cooking goes during the summer; Mark runs the air conditioner constantly, so it’s usually not too hot for me to cook. So I don’t know if it’s just coincidence that Hurricane Earl brought us a cool Labor Day weekend – an upper 70s reprieve (and very sunny skies! no hurricane here; the weather is amazing!) from the summer-long near-100-degree days – and I ended up cooking even more than usual or if cooler temperatures were somehow responsible. Yesterday I made sauerkraut and kimchi, and for dinner, seitan ham, cooked fresh lima beans, and barley. Today I’m making pain au levain and I made tofu for the first time in months (it didn’t turn out very well; I guess I need to get back into the swing of it), and I even saved the okara to make Zoa’s chicken-style okara seitan. This morning I also made split pea soup; the great thing about which being I used up a bunch of leftovers doing so.

Split Pea and Barley Soup

1 onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 cup fresh lima beans
7 cups broth, chickpea cooking water, or a combination of both (I had saved the water leftover from cooking chickpeas a couple of days ago)
2 cups green split peas
1 cup diced vegan “ham”
several splashes liquid smoke
1 cup cooked barley, or 1/3 cup uncooked
1 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, saute the onion in some olive oil until translucent.

Add the carrots and garlic; saute for another 3 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the barley if cooked, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, until peas are done. If using cooked barley, add it 5 to 10 minutes before the soup is ready.

Serve!

This was my lunch today.

So as not to drive Zoa insane with curiosity, the book is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The bread is a baguette from the farmer’s market, sold by a real live Frenchman, who spoke French at me for a full three minutes and made me feel bad about myself – after feeling good that I’ve been understanding Josiane’s French tweets – because I only understood a single word (“fran├žais”). Le sigh. I don’t buy much bread because I bake my own, but since I usually bake on Sundays, I’ve been picking up a baguette on Saturday mornings to tide us over. I’ve been taking one of my baguette bags so my Frenchman doesn’t need to put it in a paper bag – another great use for the bread bags! (I got a lot of compliments on the baguette bag yesterday. The Frenchman also commented on it, but I don’t know what he said. What did those five years of high school and college French get me?!?)

Also pictured above is my first batch of water kefir. Actually, I’ve made it before but didn’t keep up with it, but I got more grains this week and am going to try to maintain it better this time. So far so good; it tastes great! I made the mistake(?) of telling Mark it was probiotic when he asked what it was, so he refuses to drink it. More for me! I also found this great water bottle in my favorite antique store. It’s the perfect size for chilling my quart of water kefir, and it has this awesome valve lid that is shut when it sits upright and opens when you tilt the bottle to pour. I love it!

The cool weather is energizing the kittens; they – well, mostly Torticia – have been getting into trouble this weekend. Here she is attacking Hamelman’s Bread book.

She’s not the only one who likes cookbooks a little to much; earlier in the week Gomez was lounging on Veganomicon

… until he decided to eat the cheesecloth covering some fermenting pickles.

But then they do this. I love them.

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Grilled Heart Attack, and Dill Relish

So, the kittens, Mark, and I all survived the weekend, which was an issue because we hosted a party for a bunch of people we don’t know. Which was especially difficult for us as a group because I’m extremely shy, Mark’s a member of the People Who Hate People Party, and the kittens are just baby kittens who’ve never experienced the turmoil of a bunch of strangers invading their home at one time. See, our friend Matty has graduated from college and is at long last on his way to becoming a sign language interpreter. And Matty needed a place to have a party because he lives in an apartment, and as everyone who sets foot in our house feels at home there (something I take pride in, but it’s as much this house just having some crazy great vibe as it is anything I do), he wanted to have it here. Matty has a lot more friends than I do, however, and knows a lot of people I don’t, meaning I knew maybe 10% of the guest list. It also meant this was not a vegan party. I generally throw one or two smallish parties a year, which are completely vegan, and which I completely cater. But I wasn’t about to tell Matty he had to have a vegan party and I didn’t have time to cater it either. So Matty bought a grill and he and his friends made hamburgers, and each of the guests brought a dish. I did buy a bunch of snack foods, though, and I went to the farmer’s market that morning and got a bunch of veggies that I cut up for dipping in my homemade ranch, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, and onions that I made into salsa, as well as tomatoes and onions for the very non-vegan burgers, and I made nacho dip, baked beans (in the crockpot), hamburger noodle bake, sourdough bread, and five grain levain rolls. Oh, and chocolate mousse ice cream. And iced tea. I didn’t intend to make that much food, I just can’t help myself. I didn’t take any pictures since most of what I didn’t make wasn’t vegan and you’ve already seen most what I made. I think I’m going to have to do a post on those rolls, though, because I got a ton of compliments on them. People seemed rather amazed by them, in fact. So maybe I’ll do that this weekend.

Anyway, everyone was very nice and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown or anything. I really am VERY shy around people I don’t know (although Matty and many other people have expressed surprise at this assertion), but I think having the party at my house actually helped because either I was too busy to be shy, or I figured since it was my house, people were obligated to be nice to me. The heat index was 110 degrees (43 Celsius for you non-Americans) Saturday, which made grilling very pleasant, I’m sure. The kittens were a huge hit, and they behaved exactly as I had hoped: too scared to leave the bedroom (and therefore not running outside or getting underfoot), but not so freaked out they wouldn’t come out to play for small groups of people who came to see them. There was a ton of food left over, all of which Matty packed up and took home with him (he won’t have to make himself dinner for a month), but he left the grill behind. So now I have a grill. Which is cool because I’ve always wondered if I’d like a grill, but never wanted to invest the money in case I didn’t.

In typical Renae fashion, I read the grill instructions front to back Sunday morning, then today came home from work feeling like a grilling master. Although I thought Mark might kill me for playing with fire when I’m home alone and have no idea what I’m doing, I decided I was going to grill dinner while waiting for him to get home from work. Today was a mere 89 degrees (32 Celsius) – seems practically chilly in comparison to this weekend; time to unpack the sweaters! – so it seemed like a good day for it. For my inaugural grilling, I made a recipe from the grill instructional manual, which must have been designed to kill anyone who eats it: Stuffed Hot Dogs. Wrapped in bacon. Seriously. You stuff hot dogs with cheese and relish, then wrap them in bacon and grill them. That’s it. I renamed it Grilled Heart Attack, although I don’t think the vegan version is going to cause any heart attacks. I thought I had relish, but I didn’t, so I made some, and a recipe for that follows.

Grilled Heart Attack, or Stuffed Hot Dogs

vegan hot dogs
vegan cheddar cheese, grated (like Daiya)
dill relish
vegan bacon

Keep in mind I have never worked a grill before in my life and I was doing this alone, so I could have been doing this all wrong…. but here’s what I did:

I made a pyramid of charcoal briquets, doused them in lighter fluid, and set them on fire.

I let them burn, then smolder, for about 15 minutes, until they were mostly covered in white ash.

I made a little pan out of aluminum foil, put it in the center of the charcoal rack, then used tongs to move the hot coals into a tight circle around the pan.

I let that smolder while I prepared the hot dogs. I cut each almost but not quite all the way through, then stuffed with relish and a bit of Daiya cheddar.

Then I wrapped a slice of vegan bacon around each one and placed it in my foil pan.

I also put some water-soaked corn (which I had de-silked) on the grate above them, then closed the grill.

I turned the corn a few times, and let it all cook for about 15 minutes, toasting some hot dog buns during the last couple of minutes.

I dressed the finished hot dogs with mustard …

… and served with left over baked beans.

I was unsure if I would, but I definitely did discern a unique grilled flavor in the veggie dog. Mark agreed. I’m not sure it would be worth going through the trouble just to grill a packaged veggie dog, but overall it was a successful foray into grilling and I’m eager to try more exciting things. I don’t think the corn was well done enough, though.

I was hoping to get some input from my wonderful readers – I’ve always gotten great answers when I asked for advice, so: what do you guys grill? Any tips or pointers? I picked up a pretty nice grill wok for $6 at Wegmans; it seemed like something I should have. Obviously I’ll have to make veggie kabobs, but what else is good? The more exotic, the better!

I told you I’d also show you how I made a quick dill relish when I realized I didn’t have any. I might make a fancier one down the road, but I wanted something super fast, so here’s what I did:

Quick Dill Relish

1 small jar dill pickles, minced
1 shallot, minced
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp mustard seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp dried dill weed
salt and freshly ground pepper

Grind the coriander and mustard seeds in a mortar.

Mince the pickles and shallot.

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

Refrigerate for a while to allow flavors to blend.

This is a horrible picture, but here’s what happened when I tried to eat my dinner:

And here are the kittens on a lazy summer afternoon:

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