Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tofu: Not as scary as it sounds...

In my effort to change our eating habits, I have befriended an ingredient previously looked upon as totally gross. I've tried tofu several times before, many years ago, but I never enjoyed it. Now that I've done some research and experimented with this strange food I've come to actually like it. If you've ever had a discussion about tofu with a tofu-eating friend, they no doubt told you that tofu tastes like whatever you cook it with. Well, that's a true statement. Tofu alone is quite bland and for someone who tends to eat very strong flavors, it's like eating unflavored marshmallows. But for me, it's not just the lack of flavor. It's the texture that makes me go, Eww!

The gross factor, I guess, comes partly from the name and partly from the texture. The word, TOFU, looks and sounds like either a word I'd get soap in my mouth for saying or the latest clothing line from a hip hop artist. The texture reminds me of those molded desserts where the Jello is mixed with whipped cream and that's one of those foods that everyone seems to love, but me.

My tricks to eating tofu are to extract as much water as possible, over season it and always use the firm or extra firm for meals. Desserts, like cheesecake, can be successfully made with the soft or silken tofu but I have yet to cowgirl-up to that.

Making tofu requires a process similar to cheese making but no dairy is involved. The soy beans are crushed and heated, separating the liquid (soy milk) from the solids (curds) and then the curds are pressed tightly together into blocks of tofu. The only thing added to the bean curd when making tofu is Nigari. Nigari is the powder form of magnesium chloride that results from removing the sodium chloride and evaporating the water from seawater. Nigari is used because of its natural ability to make everything jell together.

Tofu is a great meat alternative for anyone on a vegetarian, vegan or dairy free diet due to the high quality protein, calcium (from the Nigari) and B vitamins it contains. Tofu has zero cholesterol and is low in sodium and calories. I'd like to share a recipe that even tofu haters will like. It's a variation on my sweet and tangy homemade BBQ sauce but with a bit of Asian flair and a much faster cooking time.

Sweet and Tangy Tofu

8 ounces firm or extra firm tofu
4 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons brown sugar (I use dark)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (or regular chili sauce)
1 dash cayenne (optional)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 Tablespoon sesame seeds
2 green onions, sliced
2 cups hot cooked rice (I prefer short grain brown rice)

Start your rice cooking per package instructions on the stove or in a rice cooker. Line a small plate with a double layer of folded paper towels. Lay the block of tofu on the paper towels and cover with more folded paper towels. Place another plate on top and weigh it down with a heavy skillet or a heavy canned food item. This squeezes out the excess water in the tofu. Let it sit while you prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, dry mustard, cider vinegar, chili sauce and cayenne. Set aside. Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices and then cut those slices into squares about 1-inch in size. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the tofu slices a couple minutes on each side so they are a golden brown. Remove to a plate and set aside. To the pan, add the garlic and cook just until it's fragrant but not burned. Pour in the sauce ingredients and the sesame seeds; cook and stir a couple minutes or until it begins to thicken. Return the tofu slices to the pan and stir gently to coat. Serve over hot rice and sprinkle with green onion slices.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Monday, January 18, 2010

A super bowl for the Super Bowl!

I've been gearing up for the football season's ultimate match up, Super Bowl XLIV, on February 7th. This year I'll be serving some of our favorite standard recipes along with a few new ones.

Of course appetizers are always big on the menu for Super Bowl Sunday. Anything that can be eaten in one bite, with the hands or while jumping up and down screaming at the television, without making a mess, is potential Super Bowl fare. This year I have a menu of old stand-by recipes as well as some new ones to try. I have a large group of friends and family that are always willing to be guinea pigs for new recipes so I never have to worry about how a new one will be received. They all know that at any time I may serve up a new creation and I'm more than happy to hear how everyone feels about it.

My son's girlfriend had dinner with us a few nights ago, for the first time. We didn't know in advance that she'd be here, but I never let anyone leave my house hungry. Unfortunately, since it wasn't planned, dinner consisted of a mishmash of recipes that had been invented or significantly altered from the first time we had it, so I made sure she understood that if she didn't like something I don't expect her to eat it. This has always been the Food Rule at my house. "If you don't like it, don't eat it." But if you can tell me why you get bonus points for helping me create a better version and/or properly rate the recipe. The veggies were dubbed, "A little weird." by my son and pretty much echoed around the table, but everyone liked the Japanese inspired salmon. Later I apologized to Nick for not having a normal meal planned that night and he put my mind at ease by explaining that he'd already warned her that I pull random recipes out of my.... Well, never mind. She wasn't scared off and I just may have gained another willing recipe tester.

So, here I am searching appetizer recipes for the Super Bowl when I find a recipe for a dip bowl. I love using interesting and sometimes edible food bowls for dips. Hollowed out sweet peppers for vegetable dip, grapefruit or oranges for fruit dip and French bread rounds for spinach dip. The presentation factor alone is worth it, but the likelihood that the kids will try it goes up a notch too. This new idea was to make the dip bowl out of snack mix. I didn't have any actual snack mix on hand but I had a lot of Chex cereal leftover from making homemade white chocolate snack mix at Christmas. This was a perfect way to test the recipe before the big day and use up the cereal that won't get eaten by itself. I filled the Edible Snack Bowl with this BLT Dip recipe I've been making for about 12 years. Originally found in the Taste of Home magazine but altered to fit my family's tastes, and we had a fun snack that ended up taking the place of dinner one night.


1 cup (8oz) sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup (4oz) shredded cheese (we like the Mexican blend of 4 cheeses)
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 pound bacon

Trim the large areas of fat from the bacon then dice the meat & add to a large fry pan. Cook and stir until the bacon is nearly crisp. Remove bacon to a plate lined with a couple paper towels to drain the grease. Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving time. Serve with cut veggies, crackers or small pieces of sourdough bread. Yield: 3 cups.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It’s going to be another chilly January day. The wind is howling through the backyard, banging the playhouse shutters, rearranging outdoor furniture and reminding me that I may have one too many sets of wind chimes out there. This is the perfect day for homemade soup! My favorite combination is a bowl of tomato soup paired with a grilled cheese sandwich. Such a comforting meal and both can be made extra special with these homemade recipes. For tonight’s dinner I’ll be making a super easy tomato soup that has several dimensions of flavor. No canned soup can compare and because it’s made with common ingredients it’s quick and easy. My favorite grilled cheese bread is made with V-8 vegetable juice. It does require a bit of time for mixing and rising, but the flavor is outstanding plain or in a sandwich. Brighten this winter with soups that warm the heart as well as the tummy!

Homemade Tomato Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onions

1/2 cup chopped bell peppers

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 (15oz) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1 (15oz) can tomato sauce

2 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Heat the olive oil over med heat. Add onions, bell pepper, celery and sauté until soft (7-10 minutes). Add tomatoes, sauce, chicken stock, bay leaf, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. If soup is too thick, add water to desired consistency. Total time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

V-8 Bread

2 cups V-8 vegetable juice

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon basil, scant

1 teaspoon oregano, scant

1/4 cup ketchup

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup warm water

1 (2-1/4 teaspoons) package yeast

7 cups all-purpose flour

In small bowl, combine warm water and yeast. Set aside. Heat V-8 Juice and butter until butter is melted. Add sugar, salt, herbs, ketchup, and cheese. Cool to lukewarm. In large bowl (I use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment) measure 3 cups of flour then add yeast mixture and lukewarm tomato mixture. Beat until smooth. Gradually add more flour (approx. 4 cups) until you have soft, workable dough. Knead 8 to 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (1 1/2 hours). Punch dough down and divide in half. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Shape into two loaves and place in well greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled again (1 hour). Bake at 350° for 25 to 35 minutes.

Yield: 2 loaves

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blue Moon

This New Year's Eve was a special one for me. It's special for a couple reasons, actually. I'll admit that I'm not the horn-blowing, champagne-clinking, fella-smoochin' type. I rarely stay up late enough to see Dick Clark do the countdown. In fact, the last time I rang-in the New Year was for the millennium. Although I was not prepared for the Y2K catastrophe, I felt the need to stay awake for one if it should happen.

This year, ten years later, I began to get excited about having some drinks & ringing in the New Year for real. 2009 wasn't a good year for us financially & I was really ready to say goodbye to it. We spent the evening with good family friends, eating steak & shrimp, drinking happy drinks, playing Rock Band, singing bad karaoke (although I began to sound better as the night waned on), blowing horns, throwing confetti & counting down.

The other reason this year was special was because there was a blue moon.
The second full moon in a month is called a blue moon. December 31, 2009's blue moon was coupled with a partial lunar eclipse & the next time a blue moon will fall on a New Year's Eve will be in the year 2028. At that time a full lunar eclipse will occur. I'm usually an Absolut vodka gal, but in this case I needed to bring a gluten free vodka. Amazingly, I found a gluten free vodka made right here in Idaho out of our famous Idaho russet potatoes.
To celebrate, I made & enjoyed a version of a drink from Blue Ice American Vodka. The original recipe is called a Blue Ghost but I changed it up a bit & renamed it to fit the occasion. This drink is smooth & so beautiful! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Blue Moon Special
1 1/4 ounces blue ice american vodka
1 ounce blue curacao
4 ounces Sprite (or 7-Up)
1 lime (a squeeze for drink & a slice for garnish)
1/2 cup crushed ice

Fill a 6-8 oz glass with crushed ice.
Add vodka, Curacao & soda.
Give the lime a squeeze over the drink.
Garnish with a slice of lime & serve.
Creative Commons License
TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License