Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

I don’t know how it happened, but it’s October. I keep thinking it’s, like, July. Many vegan bloggers will be celebrating October through Vegan MoFo, whereas I will probably be doing a Vegan NoMoFo this October. It’s just going to be busy. Fortunately most of my busyness is related to October being the best month of the year: my birthday, Smark’s birthday, our anniversary, Halloween, and this year, a trip to San Francisco for me! I’ll be lucky if I can make a post once a week, let alone once a day, this month. I did manage to whip up a post tonight, though!

I don’t know if it’s because the days are getting shorter – I hate driving home from work in the dark – but I’ve been feeling more and more pressured to get home and get dinner on the table earlier, while not bothering to drag myself out of bed any earlier in order to make that possible. (It’s too cold in the mornings to get up!) Dinner, therefore, ends up being less creative and less good (and less blog-worthy). Tonight I knew I was going to use some of my homemade tofu in a stir fry and planned to stop by Super H and pick up some exotic Chinese veggies – gai lan or something of that sort – to accompany it, but once en route (hence en traffic), I realized I didn’t feel like going a couple of miles out of my way to go to Super H and decided to use up the boring old veggies I had in the fridge. And the following was born:

Bean Curd with Fermented Black Beans

Fermented (or preserved) black beans are one of my favorite ingredients and are available at most Asian grocery stores. They are actually soy beans (not black beans), and are rather salty. There really isn’t a substitute for them that I can think of, although if you can’t find them in bean form, you can probably find black bean paste or sauce, which are fermented black beans that have been mushed up into paste or sauce form.

2 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper (any colour), chopped
10 oz extra firm tofu (preferably homemade), chopped
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated or minced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry, or even sake)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp black vinegar
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1/2 cup vegan broth, any flavor
2 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

Place the fermented black beans, wine, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small bowl and stir. Set aside.

Prep all the veggies and tofu.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and add some peanut oil. When it’s hot, add the carrots and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and ginger, fry for a few seconds.

Add the celery and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and stir fry another minute or two.

Add the tofu and chili paste; stir fry for yet another minute or two (the advantage of making your own tofu is you can make it as firm as you like so it won’t crumble when stir-fried).

Pour in the fermented black bean mixture and stir.

Pour in the broth and bring to a boil.

Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water, pour into the wok and stir as it thickens the broth and coats the veggies and tofu.

Serve with brown rice.

This wasn’t the most exciting meal in the world, but it was fast, used up stuff from the fridge, and is healthy. Mine came out just on the cusp of saltiness I can tolerate, but that’s because I used about 3 tablespoons of the fermented black beans (I reduced it to 2 tablespoons in the recipe). You can rinse the beans before using to reduce the saltiness. I usually don’t bother, but I think the next time I use so much of them, I’ll either rinse them or reduce/eliminate the soy sauce.

I visited the parental homestead on Saturday and my mom gave me a framed photo of my great-grandmother, the one to whom I’m nearly certain my beloved cast iron skillet used to belong, and which I hung on the kitchen wall so she can be near her skillet:

I really like the homey atmosphere it adds to the kitchen and I’m still really tickled to have her skillet. Unfortunately, Mark keeps demanding that I serve him coffee like an “obedient wife”, as she’s doing to my great-grandfather. (My response to Mark is not fit for a public blog.)

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Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while: I haven’t cooked much. Mark was in LA for nearly a week and Fortinbras came down to hang out with me, but we went out for Indian food and then I lived off those leftovers for a while. I’ve also been swimming every night after work and by the time I’m done, I’m so hungry I just eat whatever’s available. Last night, however, in order to atone for serving the very health-conscious Mark onion rings the night before, I made shirataki noodles, famed for having few (tofu shirataki) to no (traditional shirataki) calories. Whole Foods and Wegmans sell tofu shirataki noodles; you can also get “real” shirataki in Asian grocery stores. One package is generally considered one serving, but honestly they aren’t very filling so I used three packages for two servings.

Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

3 leaves cabbage, julienned
1/2 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/4 carrot, grated
1/2 cup snow peas
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 zucchini, cut into ribbons on spiral cutter
3 packages shirataki noodles
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp hot sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce
1″ piece ginger, minced or grated

Prepare all the veggies. I totally didn’t intend for them to all be orange and green. I generally like more colourful meals.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

Open the shirataki packages and pour contents into a colander to drain, then rinse with water. The package I had said this helps eliminate the “natural aroma”, and they did in fact smell a little funky.

Place the shirataki in a bowl and microwave for one minute; again this supposedly helps with the smell (which, by the way, isn’t that noticeable unless you put your nose pretty close to the noodles). I also nuked the broccoli for about 45 seconds to pre-cook it.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and then add a bit of peanut or other oil. When hot, add the cabbage.

Stir for about 30 seconds, then add the bell pepper …

… then 30 seconds later, the broccoli and 30 seconds after that the snow peas, stir-frying continuously.

Next add the carrots …

… then the tomatoes.

Add the noodles and zucchini ribbons and stir well.

Pour in the sauce then push the noodles aside.

Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir well to thicken.

Add the scallions and stir everything well, allowing the sauce to thicken and coat the noodles.

Serve immediately.

The verdict on this was I didn’t allow the sauce to thicken up enough and it never coated the noodles very well, resulting in rather bland noodles, which is too bad because the sauce was quite flavourful. Also, Mark was hungry about 15 minutes after eating and had to have a cookie for dessert to help fill up. Therefore I’m not sure if calorie-free noodles are really any better than regular noodles: if they don’t fill you up and you end up snacking on other stuff, what’s the point? However, it’s a quick and easy meal and Mark’s always excited when I use shirataki because he thinks it’s very healthy. They filled me up well enough, or maybe the wine helped with that. Next time I’m going to try harder to get flavour into them, though.

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Miso Check-in and Tofu Mayo

Some of you may recall that back in January I made miso. It takes a year to fully ferment, but you can try it after six months and my six months were up on July 19th. It dawned on me today that July 19th is not, in fact, weeks in the future, but in the past. WHERE HAS THIS SO-CALLED SUMMER GONE?? Anyway, the anticipation was killing me. Had I been incubating something horrible for the last six months or was there really, truly edible miso in that white crock??

Several scenarios sailed through my head, but what I was not expecting was to remove the weight and find…

a dark liquid covering the plate. (Those lighter-colored things on the right are the pattern on the otherwise gray plate. This picture is a bit of an optical illusion.)

It dawned me, however, that what that liquid was was soy sauce! Indeed, I think it is, because you make soy sauce from soy and koji as well. It was pretty salty (I was real brave and tasted it) and there wasn’t much of it, so I just drained it off, removed the plate and the plastic wrap, and discovered this:

Miso! I think the parts that are grayish are really just indentations from the plastic wrap, and the circle is the indentation from the bottom of the plate the weight sat on. Nonetheless, I’ve read that the top layer of miso isn’t very good, so I scraped it away …

… and removed some of the good stuff with a spoon.

It’s real miso! It’s not gross! I’m as surprised as you are, trust me. To taste it, I heated a small amount of water to just under boiling and stirred some miso in. This is the most basic miso soup you can make.

It tasted fine, so I removed a little bit to use now, then packed the rest of it back down …

… covered with fresh plastic wrap …

… put the plate back on it (here you can see the pattern that looked a bit weird under the soy sauce), and the weight, and sealed it back up to wait another six months.

Here’s the bit I reserved; I’ll think of something fun to do with some of it this week. I have plenty of commercial miso, but I’m dying to see what mine tastes like in every day use!

Next up, last week when I mentioned using xantham gum as a thickener, a few people were interested. Lou asked me about using it in tofu mayo so I figured I’d try it and see. So this is for Lou.

I started with Bryanna’s recipe, using 5/8 tsp Indian black salt (which I use when I want something to seem “eggy”…and also because I bought a ton of it at the Indian grocery yesterday and I have more than I can store), one tablespoon canola oil, one tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and one tablespoon lemon juice. After tasting it, I thought it was too lemony (which is weird, I love lemon, which is why I used it, but it was a little overly “bright” for mayo, I thought), and I added maybe half a tablespoon Dijon mustard at Lou’s suggestion. I liked it much better then. Here’s the texture, with no thickener:

It’s a bit hard to see, but although it’s creamy and somewhat thick, it is a little runnier than real mayo is (I think – it’s been ten years or more since I’ve used real mayo!).

I started adding xantham gum by the 1/8 teaspoon, blending it in thoroughly using the food processor (really, it’s a Sumeet Asia Grinder, but for this purpose, it’s a food processor). To my surprise, 1/8 and even 1/2 teaspoon did nothing discernible to the texture. Finally I added what made a full teaspoon of xantham gum, blended thoroughly, and let it sit about five minutes. I don’t know if the change in texture is really apparent in the photos, but it did become more mayo-y:

I think I can therefore report to Lou that she may like the results if she wants to play around with her mayo recipe using xantham gum. This may actually be closer to a mayo texture than Vegenaise is, although I consider Vegenaise a pretty perfect product.

I wouldn’t ordinarily use this amount of mayo in the two weeks that Bryanna says it’s good for, so I may be turning this into my coveted ranch dip this week. It’d be really great if I could make the ranch dip guilt-free because it’s really, really good, but it’s not really, really good for you. I’ll keep you posted.

Remember the book pillow I made? Brachtune sometimes does this completely adorable thing where she sleeps with her head on it, but yesterday I found her apparently under the impression it’s a computer!

Also, I was able to use the pool all weekend – woo! The website I use for weather has been predicting intense hail and thunderstorms all day, but in reality it was warm and sunny and gorgeous – perfect pool weather – and I’ve yet to see a hint of hail. Not that I’m complaining! Thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, however. It’s incredible the number of thunderstorms we’ve had this summer. Thursday night, Mark, Fortinbras, and I saw the National Symphony Orchestra perform Carmina Burana, one of my favourite pieces of music, at Wolf Trap, during a violent thunderstorm that lasted the entire show, rain beating down around us and lightning filling the sky. Although I felt sorry for the hardy souls on the lawn, it was actually a pretty cool way to experience the concert, and the performance was excellent. I really do like thunderstorms – I may have been the only bride on the planet to hope for thunderstorms on her wedding day (didn’t get my wish) – and I appreciated the one Thursday night, but I’m begging the weather gods to let me continue to use the pool!

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Japanese-Chinese Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry

I had a fresh block of tofu that I made yesterday and knew I probably wouldn’t be able to use it any other night this week, so I whipped out The Book of Tofu, figuring if the answer to “what’s for dinner?” wasn’t there, it wasn’t anywhere. The Book of Tofu is rather Japanese-centric, so the Chinese recipes it contains are mostly Japanese twists on Chinese recipes, which is why you’ll find sake in an otherwise rather Chinese meal below. I changed the recipe up, though, making it more authentically Chinese, so I probably should have swapped the sake out for shaoxing wine, but what the heck. It turned out well, it was quick and easy, combined flavors I love, and I’ll definitely make it again. But like my Japanese-type American-style Pickles, I seem to be making sort-of cross-culture foods lately. Which is a-okay with me.

Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry
Adapted from Fanchie-dofu in The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

12 oz fresh tofu, preferably homemade
1 1/2 medium tomatoes, chopped into wedges
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sake, shaoxing wine, or sherry
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
2-3 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 cup frozen peas or edamame
1 Tbsp cornstarch

In a small bowl, combine the fermented black beans (you can rinse these first to make them less salty, but I prefer not to), soy sauce, and wine.

Chop the tofu into 3/4″ squares.

Mince or press the garlic, slice the onions, and chop the tomatoes into wedges (make them thicker than I show here because mine cooked down too quickly).

When ready to cook the meal, heat some oil (I used peanut) in a hot wok. When hot, add the onions and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add the tomato wedges and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the fermented black beans, soy sauce, and wine. If you can’t find or don’t have fermented black beans, you can just omit them and maybe add a little bit of vegan “beef” boullion, which is a totally different flavor but will give the dish a similar flavor boost. Try to find fermented black beans, though, because they are really, really good.

Stir in the tomato sauce and chili garlic sauce, adjusting for the amount of heat you like. I used about 2 tablespoons and Mark added hot sauce to his plate and I regretted not adding a little more. We both really like heat, though.

Gently stir in the tofu …

… and the peas or edamame. I think edamame would have been awesome here, and I sometimes have frozen edamame on hand but was sad to discover I didn’t have any tonight.

Allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons cold water:

Stir the cornstarch mixture into the wok and stir for a minute or two until mixture thickens and becomes a bit glossy.

Serve with brown rice.

Every ingredient in this dish is a favorite of mine, so this was a no-brainer!

In other news, I GOT IN THE POOL yesterday. The water was a bit cold upon first contact but I was determined to go swimming, and it wasn’t at all bad after the initial shock. Despite this happy news, the forecast for this week is yet more cooler temperatures and even more thunderstorms. I can’t believe it! It’s supposed to be in the SIXTIES on Wednesday. What kind of horrible summer is this? Also, I have a busy week ahead of me and then Saturday morning Mark and I leave for our annual Beach Week with his family in Charleston, South Carolina, which I am looking forward to (the beach there is really nice and I also love Mark’s family). There’s no internet at the beach, so you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks, but don’t be alarmed. I’m just relaxing and probably taking a million pictures I’ll later subject you to, some of which may involve food. Mark’s family contains several vegetarians and is extremely accomodating of vegans.

I took Brachtune in for a check-up in anticipation of leaving her alone for a week, to make myself feel better, and the vet called Friday to tell me that according to all the tests they ran she’s doing “amazing”. Which didn’t surprise me at all because Brachtune has been acting nothing at all like a 17-year old cat who probably has cancer: she’s been acting like a little ole hunk of purring love.

Also, tomorrow (Tuesday) is BLOOMSDAY! So read some of Ulysses (I’ve downloaded it to my phone for free!!), drink a lot of beer or whiskey, and act real pretentious!

Here’s Pig checking out his copy of Ulysses during Bloomsday 2004: the centennial!

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Tofu Mark

I don’t have a big drawn-out recipe for you tonight, but my quickly thrown-together dinner turned out so well I photographed the result and figured I’d post it. I had homemade tofu I needed to use up, so as usual I asked Mark what he wanted for dinner, but this time restricted it to tofu. He said he wanted tofu and rice, and when I asked what kind of rice, requested sushi rice, “the best kind of rice”. So, thinking in vaguely Japanese terms, I threw together what I ended up calling Tofu Mark. Maybe it should be Tofu Mark-san.

Tofu Mark-san

12 oz very firm tofu, preferably homemade
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp chili broad bean paste (available in any Asian grocery store; the stuff I used was Japanese but very often it’s Chinese)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
prepared sushi rice

Prepare the sushi rice. I cook mine in a rice cooker. When it’s done, I cut in a little bit of salt and about a tablespoon of sushi vinegar (or rice vinegar with a bit of sugar).

Whisk together the chili paste, soy sauce, garlic, mirin, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

I won’t actually require you to use homemade tofu for this dish, but I will emphatically ask you to. I haven’t had commercial tofu in a while, but upon eating this tonight, I remembered why that’s the case! Homemade tofu is a million times better than store-bought! In any case, chop it into a 3/4″ dice, then toss with the cornstarch.

Heat a high-smoke-point oil in a wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu and allow to brown on one side before stirring, then stir and continue to pan-fry until golden on all sides. Pour the sauce into the wok or pan and stir to coat the tofu. It should immediately thicken. Remove from heat.

Serve with rice. You can sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like. I intended to and forgot. Good with steamed broccoli and some Japanese literature. I was reading Haruki Murakami, although his characters are always eating spaghetti and other Western food instead of traditional Japanese food!

I don’t even know if he realized it, but I was feeling a little blue today until Mark met me at the front door with not one but two bouquets of flowers when I got home from work. Do I have the best husband or what?!

That thing hovering above the flowers is Fang, our bat. We got him in a hurricane. Long story.

Here’s my dinner table tonight. The only thing wrong with it is the fact that I’m able to put those flowers on it. Were Tigger here he’d have knocked them over to drink the water out of the vase. I’m always discovering things I can do now that Tigger’s not here, but I’d rather have him back in a heartbeat than be able to leave glasses of water lying about.

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How to make a heavy-duty, steel tofu press

I am often asked where to find non-plastic tofu presses. There are a couple of places you can get wooden ones online, but the really nice ones are stainless steel and seem only available in Japan. I have a wooden one that I got in Japantown in San Francisco, but I’m not even 100% happy with that one because I use such heavy weights I’m afraid it’s going to fall apart. It’s a bit wobbly. So I thought I’d make myself a heavy duty tofu press and show you how to do it at the same time.

Here’s what you need:

2 medium (about 8.5″ x 4.5″) loaf pans: the cheapest you can find; they need to be able to nest
a drill, with 1/8″ and 7/32″ bits (or thereabouts) that are good drilling for metal (the ones I bought said “soft metals” and worked fine)
sand paper

Unless you plan to make more than a pound of tofu at a time, don’t buy large loaf pans. Your tofu curds won’t fill it deeply and you’ll end up with very flat tofu. I usually start with 8 to 10 ounces of soy beans (ending up with about 12 to 14 ounces of tofu) and the medium pans I bought are the perfect size.

I had a helper, by the way:

Optional materials:

that little pointy thing you tap to make indents so you can center the drill; I don’t know what it’s called

Finding cheap loaf pans was the hardest part of this project, oddly enough. It’s easy to find inexpensive pans – these were $4.99 each at K-Mart – but they are much thicker, heavier, and nicer than the old, cheap tin pans I was trying to find. You can try scouting out thrift stores for old, thinner pans that may be easier to perforate. These worked fine, though, so don’t go nuts looking for something lighter. You also need a matching set so they nest, which may be harder to find in thrift stores.

While I was at K-Mart, I called up ole Fortinbras to confirm with him that drill bits that said good for “soft metals” would work on fairly heavy loaf pans. Fortinbras is in Florida and did not answer the phone. He’s supposed to be my handyman, at my beck and call, ready to answer all of my tool questions at any time. Damn him! I took a chance and bought the bits without his counsel. They were fine.

How awesome is my drill, by the way? It’s older than I am!

It was my grandfather’s. He died when I was very young but I remember him and he was the greatest. I’m very attached to his drill. Even if you can see sparks inside it while you’re operating it and it has big vents my hair could get caught in, getting tangled around the motor and catching fire on those sparks. So I get excited when I have projects that involve drilling. I tried to think of a way to do this without a drill in case some of you don’t have one, but drilling seems to be the fastest, easiest way. Hopefully most of you at least know someone who has a drill you can borrow.

Prepare the drill by inserting the smaller bit. The picture depicts the larger bit. Pretend it’s the smaller one.

I marked where I wanted to put the holes by tapping indents with this doohickey using a hammer. That’s optional, and you could also use a marker of some sort.

Hullo, Brachtune. This was just before I turned the drill on and she ran away, though when Mark came home and flopped down next to me, she decided she loves Mark more than she is scared of the drill.

VERY IMPORTANT! WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! Or failing that, onion goggles, as I did:

Not only should you wear goggles any time you operate a drill because bits can break during use- it’s happened to me – but drilling metal will cause a lot of metal shavings to fly around and you do NOT want that in your eye.

Drill holes with the smaller bit, using the indents as your guide if you made them …

… then re-drill the holes with the larger bit:

Here I’ve marked all the holes I want to make on the bottom of the pan:

Then I drilled all the small holes …

… including a row around the bottom of the sides of the pan:

Then I drilled my big holes:

At this point in time Fortinbras returned my phone call and upon hearing I was playing with power tools advised me to drink a beer. According to Fortinbras, the operation of any power tool is enhanced by the consumption of beer. Fortinbras knows much more about power tools than I do, so I take his word on these things. I retrieved a beer.

When the holes are all drilled, the next thing to do is sand them smooth, on both sides.

Now, Fortinbras was on the phone with me when I began this step and he started saying something about how I wanted Raymond Burr to clean up the holes but I don’t know what he was talking about. I think it involved me buying some sort of additional power tool. In my opinion, if my grandfather’s drill didn’t come with a Raymond Burr attachment, it can’t be necessary. And sand paper worked just fine. In fact, sanding the holes was much easier than I expected, because the drill removed most of the metal from the hole instead of just pushing it aside. See, here’s the first tofu press I made, a long time ago, before I had the wooden press:

(Wow, it looks so primitive!)

I didn’t use the drill because I was a sissy back then. It’s hard to see, but what I did was hammer nails through the pan, which caused very sharp edges inside the holes. That was annoying. You probably need Raymond Burr to clean those holes up.

Anyway, the drilled holes were pretty smooth to begin with and a brief session with the sandpaper finished them right up in no time. I did start turning into the tin man in the hand area though:

Do any of you watch Black Books? It’s the best show ever so you should. Looking at my hands after sanding my holes, the only thing I could hear in my head was the Cleaner saying, “dirty, dirty. Everything is very dirty.”

Since everything is so dirty, wash the pan (and your hands!) and dry it.

Then vacuum or sweep up all those metal shavings. They’d be no fun to step on barefoot!

And that’s it! The press is done. I’ll show you how to use it in a little bit. Next, if you don’t have one, you’ll want to make a lining for the press. Use a lightweight, cotton or nylon, very porous fabric. Probably not dyed. I like muslin or chiffon. Muslin is easier to finish the edges of. To figure out how large you want the lining to be, measure the length, width, and depth of the pan.

For my 8.5″x4.5″x3″ pan, I multiplied 4.5 by 2 (once for the top and once for the bottom), then multiplied 3 by 2 (once for each side), then added that plus 2 inches for overlap, which gave me 17 inches for the width. For the length, I took 8.5 once (because the width is wide enough to cover the top, this dimension doesn’t need to be doubled), but rounded it up to 9, then added 3 x 2 (for the depth of the top and bottom) and added 2 inches, which also gave me 17 inches. So I made a 17″ x 17″ square. You don’t have to be quite so fancy with your calculations. Just make it large enough that it can wrap the pan neatly without a lot of excess fabric.

It fits in the pan and would completely cover the contents, without too much left over to bunch up:

Then I just zig-zagged the edges to help prevent unraveling.

The finished lining:

Now to use it. You can read my tutorial on making tofu for the details, and I’ll just show you the new press in action with photos.

I set the perforated pan in the sink to drain the whey.

Then I line it; I think it’s easier to wet the fabric so it stays put.

Then fill with the curds:

Fold the fabric up:

Place the non-perforated loaf pan on top:

Then add weights. I use a couple of cans, then my steam pan (the cast iron skillet I didn’t season and use for steaming bread) and a molcajete. I like very firm tofu. For a less firm tofu, just use less weight.

After half an hour or so, remove the weights. You can see how far the top pan has sunk:

The flattened tofu:

I use the edges of the liner to lift the tofu out:

The finished tofu. There are ridges where the curds seeped up into the folds of the liner.

I trim them off and reserve them in case I want to throw them into something.

This vintage glass loaf pan/refrigerator dish is the perfect size and shape for storing the tofu. Just cover the tofu with water:

Place the lid on, and refrigerate!

This tofu turned out better than my tofu has been lately, and is so firm I’ll be able to stir fry it without it falling apart. My tofu press was a success! Total cost: $9.98 for the loaf pans and about $2.50 for the drill bits, which I bought just because I wasn’t sure any of the ones I already had were good for drilling metal. That’s a lot less than I spent on my “real” tofu press and this one will take a lot more abuse. It’s also much easier to apply the weights. This project has saved me a trip to Japan to buy a stainless steel tofu press! Er, wait…that sort of backfired, didn’t it?

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Grilled Romaine, Broiled BBQ Tofu, and Sweet Shallot Mustard Dressing

Craving salad, I sort of went overboard with the romaine lettuce the other night. I bought both hearts of romaine and baby romaine, and although Mark and I have been having big salads for dinner every night for three nights, I still have more romaine than you can shake a fork at. Short of eating tossed salad three meals a day, I was wondering what to do with it all, when I remembered one night last summer when our friends Luke and Lanet invited us over for a grilling extravaganza. Lanet loves to cook as much as I do and visiting their house for dinner is always a treat because although she’s not vegan, she likes to experiment and is always trying new vegan dishes out on me. On this night in particular, she was grilling just about every vegetable imaginable, including romaine hearts. Mark and I thought that grilling lettuce was very avant-garde, but it was really good. We don’t have a real grill here, but I do have a George Foreman, so I thought I’d try grilling up some romaine on that. It worked pretty well, though Lanet’s was better.

Grilled Romaine Hearts

1 -3 romaine hearts, depending how many servings you’d like (a serving is 1/2 a heart)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1 piece of ginger, size of a child’s pinkie finger
3-4 drops sriracha

Mix together all ingredients except lettuce in a small bowl.

Chop the romaine hearts in half lengthwise.

Rub your (clean!) hands in the marinade, then rub the lettuce all over with it.

Place two halves at a time on an indoor electric grill (only one half is pictured here because Mark is working late so I saved his half for later):

Close the grill and cook for about 3 minutes or until lettuce is wilted and beginning to brown.

I hardly ever buy tofu. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did, other than the other week when I was I recovering from my trip to Australia and didn’t think I’d have time to make it, so I picked some up at Super H while I was there. I haven’t needed it and it was about to expire, so I decided I’d use it up tonight. I thought I’d broil it in a barbecue sauce similar to the ole pork chop sauce. It’d have been better with homemade, but it was decent.

Broiled Barbecue Tofu

1 lb extra-firm tofu
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (loosely packed unless you like your sauces pretty sweet)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
sriracha to taste

Preheat the broiler on high.

You can press the tofu if you’d like. My homemade tofu doesn’t need pressing, and this Asian brand was very firm, so I didn’t bother. Slice it into thick slabs like this:

In a broiler-proof pan, preferably cast iron, pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, then place the tofu slabs in the pan in a single layer, turning them over to coat both sides in the oil.

Place under the broiler and broil for 10-15 minutes or until golden on top. Flip each piece over and return pan to broiler.

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining ingredients except the tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes, and unless you are using already-crushed tomatoes, whir an immersion blender through them a few times. It doesn’t need to be too smooth.

When the tofu is beginning to blacken, remove from the broiler.

Pour the sauce onto the tofu and make sure it’s evenly coated. This photo isn’t out of focus so much as the pan was just very hot and steamy:

Place pan back in oven and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken:

Okay, so I grilled some romaine and got one of the hearts out of the way, but I still had a bunch of baby romaine left over, so I made a side salad as well. SO MUCH LETTUCE. I thought a good mustardy dressing would go well with the barbecue flavors of the other dishes, so I made:

Sweet Shallot Mustard Dressing

1 small shallot
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 scant Tbsp agave nectar
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in small food processor or chopper.

Process until smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, just mince the shallot finely and combine all ingredients.)

Enjoy on a tossed salad.

And here’s the whole meal:

It was pretty quick and easy to throw together, although the whole tofu broiling business was a little more involved than I’d have liked. Namely, it took a lot longer than I was anticipating and also the house got pretty smoky. I think I’ll probably just stick to baking or pan frying.

Another issue with broiling the tofu was my cast iron skillet needed special cleaning. Now, I am very attached to my cast iron skillet. It’s an antique and it’s seasoned to perfection. I’m probably somewhere on the midpoint of anal retentiveness when it comes to cleaning it, though. On one hand, I would consider murdering anyone who dared put soap on it or soaked it or tried to scrub it. On the other hand, although you are supposed to clean cast iron while it is still warm from preparing the meal – that means before you sit down to eat – I refuse to eat cold meals. (This fact also explains why my pictures of my plated meals are usually so crappy; I hate spending precious time trying to make them look artistic or good.) Clean-up after my meals is pretty easy because I wash all my prep stuff while I’m cooking, but the final pots and pans always sit on the stove while the meal is consumed, then any leftovers are removed and put away and the pans are cleaned. By then they’ve cooled. My skillet is so well seasoned this hardly ever matters: not much sticks to it. But when I’ve baked something onto it, like broiled barbecue sauce, I need to do something to loosen the baked-on food without scrubbing my seasoning off. It’s really no big deal, though. All you have to do is pour some water into the pan, set it over medium-high heat, let it come to a boil, and boil for a minute or two:

Next – and this is very important – remove any cats that are lurking at your feet between the stove and the sink (mine are ALWAYS there and I don’t want to spill boiling water on them), don a heavy oven mitt, and carry the pan to the sink, pouring out the water.

See that little bit of sauce? It’s all that didn’t get removed when I dumped the water out, and it slid right off when I rinsed the pan briefly – absolutely no scrubbing. Then I dried with a towel (ALWAYS dry cast iron immediately) and spritzed lightly with olive oil.

Honestly, some people think cast iron is high maintenance, but I find it a lot easier to clean than most other things!

And now for a bit of cat news:

Poor Brachtune is a conehead. She somehow got an ear infection and then managed to scratch herself when it got too itchy, so the doctor said she has to wear a cone while it heals up. Sigh. I feel incredibly bad for her about the cone. It’s breaking my heart! Especially since last night I let her take it off while we were hanging out for a few hours and she didn’t try to scratch once. But then when I got home tonight, I took it off and she promptly starting scratching herself. After three chances, the cone went back on.

She looks like Little Kitty on the Prairie here.

After seeing someone ask how to pronounce Brachtune in the comments last time (it’s Brock-toon), my mom suggested that I explain how she got her name. But this post has been really long, so I’ll save it for next time. So you have that to look forward to!

Finally, tomorrow – April 1 – would have been Tigger’s 16th birthday. My sweet April Fool. I miss him more than you can imagine.

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Ma Po Tofu

One of my favorite Chinese ingredients is fermented black beans, and I’ve been wanting to post a recipe showcasing them for a while now. Ma po tofu isn’t quite the recipe I had planned for that post because although you can taste the black beans, it’s harder to distinguish them from the other flavors. But I got it in my head I wanted to make ma po tofu – I think because Mark Bittman featured it earlier this week – so that’s what I made tonight. I’ll be getting back to you on a more fermented black bean-intensive dish soon, but in the meantime, here is a tasty and quick dish you can make. Fermented black beans are available in Chinese grocery stores. If you absolutely can’t find them, you can omit them, but they are well worth seeking out for their unique and delicious flavor.

Bulgur stands in for the traditional pork or slightly-less-traditional ground beef here. You can use a commercial vegan “ground beef” if you’d like, but bulgur is very quick and easy to whip up, much cheaper, and healthier.

As for the tofu, you can use any water-packed variety you want, from soft to firm, but you don’t want to use silken tofu (the kind that comes in aseptic packs), which I don’t think is really used much in Chinese cuisine. Many ma po tofu recipes call for soft tofu, but you don’t want to use tofu so soft it falls apart when you gently stir it. I made my own tofu, as I always do, but I used calcium sulfate as the coagulant instead of my usual nigari, because calcium sulfate makes a softer tofu (my usual tofu is very firm). It only took about 45 minutes to make the tofu from start to finish and the taste is so very worth it that I encourage you to consider trying it out, but of course you can use store-bought if it’s out of the question.

Ma Po Tofu

Excuse my fake tofu. I was in the midst of making the tofu when I took the ingredients photo.

3/4 cup bulgur
2 cups vegan “beef” stock, divided
1 Tbsp tomato paste
12 oz tofu, cut into cubes about 3/4″
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2″ piece ginger, minced or grated
1 Tbsp fermented black beans
1/4 cup shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
2 Tbsp bean paste (you can use 3 Tbsp chili bean paste instead of this and the following ingredient; I didn’t have any on hand)
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1 tsp Sichuan peppers, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cold water

To make the “beefy” bulgur, place 1 1/2 cups of the broth, the tomato paste, and the bulgur in a small pot and bring to a boil.

Cover and lower the heat to medium low. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until broth is completely incorporated. Set aside.

While the bulgur is cooking, prep the rest of the ingredients. When stir-frying or making other very quick-cooking dishes, you always want to have everything prepared and waiting for you before you begin heating the wok because it goes very quickly once you do. I love using my little restaurantware Chinese tea cups – which my mom got for me and which I love – for prepping (as well as for tea) because they are just the right size. Place the shaoxing wine or sherry and fermented black beans in one small dish; mix the bean paste and chili paste in another. In yet another, combine the remaining stock and the soy sauce. In still another, mix together the cornstarch and cold water. Measure out the Sichuan pepper, mince or press the garlic, and mince or grate the ginger.

Chop the tofu.

When the bulgur is ready, heat a wok over medium high heat. When it is sizzling hot, add a small amount of peanut oil, then add the garlic and ginger, stir-frying for 30 seconds.

Add the bulgur and stir fry for about 3 minutes, or until it’s a bit dried out.

Push the bulgur out of the way, up the side of the wok, and add the shaoxing wine and fermented black beans to the center of the wok. Stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add the bean and chili pastes and stir fry for another 30 seconds.

Push the bulgur back down into the center of the wok and mix everything up. Fry for 2 minutes.

Add the tofu and toss gently with the wok ingredients, trying not to break it up too much.

Pour in the remaining broth and the soy sauce and stir. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch mixture.

Mix everything together until the cornstarch mixture thickens the sauce and coats everything with a slighty shiny glaze.

If I’d had had scallions on hand, I’d have topped with scallions, but I didn’t so I topped with cilantro for that slightly green touch.

Serve with rice.

Next, explain to me what Tigger is doing here:

In other news, another thing my mother likes buying for me is vintage mustard pots, and I don’t deter her from this habit. Then I feel the need to fill the mustard pots with mustard! I’ve been wanting to do a post on homemade mustard for a while, but when I saw Jes’s post on the balsamic mustard from the Perfect Pantry on Cupcake Punk a couple of weeks ago, I had to make it. So although I’ll get to an original mustard recipe at some point in time, enjoy these photos of a really, really good mustard in the meantime.

Here it is in my newest mustard pot:

Closer up:

And on some Cheezly and crackers:

In just two weeks I’ll be in the San Francisco airport getting ready to board my flight to Sydney! If anyone has any suggestions for great things to do or great vegan food to eat while I’m there, please let me know!

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Soon Tubu JJigae (Soft Tofu Stew)

One of the best meals I had in San Francisco (and I had a lot of great meals) was the first one: tofu stew at a Korean tofu house in Japantown. As I promised at the time, I decided to replicate it tonight.

There aren’t many vegan recipes for soon tubu jjigae on the internet, in fact, I didn’t find any. Everyone seems to want to put clam juice, beef, and shrimp in it. And egg. But none of that stuff is necessary. The important features of soon tubu jjigage are 1) tofu and 2) spiciness, both of which I can produce in spades.

The first thing you need to consider is your tofu. I wouldn’t dream of making soon tubu jjigage with anything but homemade tofu. The tofu is just too big a part of the dish and I’m used to homemade. So I have to urge you to try making it yourself. I ordinarily make an extremely firm tofu, using as much coagulant as I can get away with without it turning bitter and pressing it under about 25 pounds. Because I wanted a much softer tofu for the stew, I cut back on the amount of coagulant I used (I used nigari as usual, but if I’d been thinking more clearly, I’d have used the calcium sulfate I have because it makes a softer tofu AND adds calcium), and I used just 1.5 pounds (a new bottle of agave nectar, to be precise) to press it.

If you simply can not be bothered to make your own tofu, buy fresh soft tofu from an Asian market if at all possible. If you can’t find fresh, buy the best soft tofu you can find at an Asian market. Sometimes it comes in tubes and it’s usually in the produce department. If you don’t live near an Asian market, you can resort to using silken tofu in a box.

Soon Tubu Jjigae

3 1/2 cups water
1 4″x4″ square kombu
1/4 cup dulse, snipped into bite-size pieces with kitchen shears (optional)
1 handful arame (optional)
2 tsp vegan chicken bouillon (or enough to flavor 4 cups of water at half-strength)
1 Tbsp Korean red pepper powder
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup cold water
3 Tbsp arrowroot
6 Tbsp gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste) (Susan V of Fat-Free Vegan has a substitute you can make if you don’t live near a Korean grocery store in this post, but get the real deal if at all possible.)
1 cup cabbage kimchi
2 carrots, julienned or shredded
1 pound soft tofu, preferably homemade
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped

Place the seaweed(s) in a soup pot with the 3 1/2 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the kombu. (You can chop it up into bite-sized pieces and put it back in if you wish.) Add the garlic, red pepper powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, and “chicken” bouillon. Simmer for five minutes.

Mix the cold water and arrowroot together in a small bowl, whisking to ensure there are no lumps, then add to the soup. Add the gochujang, whisking to make sure it is dissolved. Simmer for another five minutes.

Add the kimchi and carrots.

Chop the tofu into 8 large pieces.

Add the tofu to the stew.

Stir the tofu into the stew, allowing it to break up a little bit, but mostly maintaining the chunks.

Simmer for 5 more minutes, then add the scallions.

Raise the heat a little and cook for another couple of minutes. In restaurants, soon tubu jjigae arrives to your table very, very hot, so let it get very bubbly.

I served the soon tubu jjigae in individual-sized cast iron pots, which even have lids to keep the stew warm while I run around taking photographs. Here’s one of the pots:

Mark was fascinated by the “little cauldrons”.

Serve with several banchan.

The verdict on this one was very good. Mark commented that he tasted “several layers of flavor, followed by a nice spiciness.” He proceeded to clean his cauldron, then steal tofu from mine. Afterwards he told me to announce it had the Mark Seal of Approval.

Brachtune doesn’t care much for tofu, or stew for that matter, but she does love chopsticks.

Tigger prefers red pepper.

(His fur is wet because he took a little shower in the kitchen sink. He’s very weird.)

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Imperial Deviled Tofu

A fact about me: I’m from Baltimore, hon. Which means that although I haven’t eaten a crab in 20 years, I know that if you don’t put Old Bay on them, you aren’t doing it right. It also means that I miss eating crabs from time to time. Not so much any more, in fact, they kind of gross me out these days, but I totally miss crabs more than, say, steak.

So when I was rooting through some old family stuff and came across a newspaper clipping for an Imperial Deviled Crab recipe, the gears in my brain started churning. Could I? Possibly? Should I even dare attempt to veganize a recipe chock full of seafood, cream, butter, and eggs?!

Yes! Yes, I should!

I’m not sure how old this clipping is but I’m nearly certain it came from The Baltimore Sun. It says it’s the Rennert Hotel’s recipe and originally came from a book called Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Maryland by Frederick Steiff published in 1931.

Here’s the original recipe in its quaint little imprecise format:

Simmer the flakes of 2 crabs and 1/2 a chopped onion in butter, season with salt and cayenne pepper, add 2 cups of thick cream sauce, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoonful of English mustard, a little chopped chives, bring to a boil and bind with the yolks of 2 eggs. Add a little green and Spanish pepper chopped fine. Fill crab shells, spread a little French mustard and a sprinkle of bread crumbs over the top. Place a small piece of butter on each and bake in the oven until brown (15 to 20 minutes). Serve with lemon.

My first challenge was the crab itself. I had a block of homemade tofu that needed to be used today or else, so tofu crab it was. But I didn’t want to spend all day marinading it in something to make it taste seafoodish. So I did the following, which was all just on impulse more than for any thought-out reason.

Tofu Crabmeat

The only tofu I had was already in the pot cooking so I had to use a stand-in in the ingredient photograph.

1 lb tofu (pressed unless it is homemade and very firm)
4 cups water
1/4 cup dulse
1 Tbsp MSG (I got this idea from the UnSeafood recipes in Simply Heavenly!, but you can just omit it)
1 tsp kelp powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Old Bay
1 tsp dry mustard

The reason for the Old Bay is Old Bay is necessary for crabs, period. The reason for the mustard is there is this stuff in crabs called the “mustard”, which looks and I guess tastes sort of mustardy (and what it really is is pretty gross), so mustard just seemed appropriate.

Anyway, put all ingredients except the tofu into a pressure cooker and bring to a boil. Cut the tofu into four slabs as depicted in this photo:

Put the tofu into the pressure cooker as well …

… and bring up to pressure, then cook for 20 minutes. Bring the pressure back down by placing the pot in the sink and running cold water over it before removing the lid. Remove the tofu …

… and dice it.

At this point I felt the texture of the tofu was interesting, but maybe not quite as firm as I wanted it. So I microwaved it for two minutes, which did seem to firm it up a bit.

The funny part about making the tofu crab is I didn’t tell Mark anything at all about my intentions. He had no idea what was in store for dinner. But he came into the kitchen while the tofu was in the pressure cooker and exclaimed, “Are you cooking crabs!?” So it sure smelled authentic! That might be because crabs smell like Old Bay, of course. But with the seaweed as well, it did smell very seafood-y and crabby. And since olfactory senses are very tightly tied to the sense of taste, that’s half the battle right there!

The next step was making the “thick cream sauce” mandated by the recipe. I’m not a big lover of rich, heavy cream in savory dishes (or even sweet dishes for that matter). Fettucine Alfredo and the likes just aren’t for me, so I don’t really have a go-to recipe for heavy cream sauces. What I did have on-hand was some MimicCreme because I use it in ice cream. So here is what I threw together for the “thick cream sauce”:

Thick Vegan Savory Cream Sauce

1 Tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups unsweetened MimicCreme
1 tsp vegan “chicken” bouillon

In a small but heavy pot, melt the margarine. Then whisk in the flour to make a roux.

Add the salt and the MimicCreme, whisking constantly until completely smooth. Bring to a simmer and add the bouillon. Continue whisking until smooth and thickened.

Okay! With those two hurdles out of the way, I was ready to embark on the real adventure!

Imperial Deviled Tofu

1 large shallot or 1/2 onion, diced
1 pound tofu crab meat (recipe above)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/4 cup pimento, diced
1 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 recipe thick vegan savory cream sauce (recipe above)
egg replacer for 1 egg (I used En-R-G)
1 cup bread crumbs (I used panko), divided
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
sweet paprika, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

My cast iron skillet is a getting a workout lately, isn’t it?! So…in a large skillet, heat a small amount of oil or margarine, then add shallots or onion and fry for a minute. Add the tofu “crab”, salt, and cayenne pepper, frying until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the chives, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, green pepper and pimento.

Fry for 2 minutes. Add the cream sauce.

Bring to a simmer and add the egg replacer. When it thickens, stir in 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs.

Remove from heat and divide amongst two ramekins or other individually-sized serving dishes. Top each with half of the remaining bread crumbs, spread each with 1 Tbsp of the dijon mustard, and sprinkle each with paprika.

Cook for 20 minutes or until brown and crispy on top.

And here it is plated:

Verdict from Smark? Well, he’s busy killing something in World of Warcraft tonight, so he’s eating down in his man-cave. He came up to get a helping of the crab dish and took a bite before going back down. “It’s really good,” he said, “but not as good as what you made Saturday night.” Well, I could handle that, I thought. Mark doesn’t lie, at least not convincingly, about my food, so if he said it was good, I figured it was good enough to post here.

But guess what? Before I had even finished photographing my meal for you and sitting down to eat myself (with Tigger and a book), Smark resurfaced, announcing, “This was so good I need a second serving!”” he said. “Are you revising your earlier opinion?” I asked. “Yes! The ‘crab’ is really, really good! It tastes like real crab – I think. The texture is great!”

So with that, I think it moved into the realm of “would make again”. I might try to perfect the tofu crab recipe. Since I make my own tofu, I’m thinking I can infuse it with seafoody flavors while I’m making it. Sounds like a pretty fun experiment, eh?

By the way, one of Tigger’s favorite places to sleep is Mark’s laptop bag. It’s his little nest.

I’m really lucky I married someone who loves Tigger as much as I do.

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