25 August 2012

Purple tofu.


Been making tofu of late, after picking up a copy of Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu. I'd been hearing that it was simple, cheap1, and tasted better than the packages from the grocery store. All true.

Even better, the only piece of equipment I didn't have was a tofu press. Made one in the garage, using less than five bucks' worth of extra lumber, in an hour. Well, longer than that, but only because you can't do squat while the glue dries.

The process is startlingly simple. Soak soybeans overnight. Puree with water in the blender, until it's a beany milkshake. Bring to a boil with more water, with the thickness determined by your target style of tofu. Strain through cheesecloth. Boil for five minutes. Bingo, soy milk.

Rich soy milk, like heavy cream, is ideal for silken tofu. Chill, add coagulant - I use gypsum, since it's readily available from homebrew shops - and steam in ramekins for several minutes, until it sets.

Light soy milk is better for a block of tofu. Add coagulant while hot, and strain the curds through cheesecloth. Unpressed, it's basically flower bean curd. Heavier, longer pressing makes for a progressively firmer block. I still haven't achieved the grill-stable firmness of supermarket extra-firm, but whatever. It tastes better.

This week, I've been putting some of my own soybeans to use. Buy them, and you're almost guaranteed to get tan beans. Grow 'em yourself, and you can have varieties with black skin:


These black beans were intended for dry only; this year, I'm growing a different variety that's supposed to be good both fresh and dry. Now that the edamame window has passed, I'm simply waiting on them to dry properly.

Go through the steps, and eventually they go into the press. A water-filled mason jar works well:

Tofu press 425

At the end, I'll do a little hand-squeezing, too, if I want it nice and firm. Just the water weight, for twenty minutes, is really nice for noodle soups, where a little looseness is desirable. Unmold in cool water, so it can set up, and it's good to go.

And, as one might expect, black skins lend some serious color:


A low-saturation purple, it was a little odd at first. But tossed with a cold salad of somen noodles, garden vegetables, and herbs, it actually looked pretty sharp. Which is good. I've got more black beans waiting.

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1Not that store-bought's at all expensive.

11 June 2012

Greens for dinner.


'Tis the season for plucking dinner from the backyard garden.


Broccoli raab, red mustard, Italian dandelion, and leaf radish with plenty of garlic scapes. (Fourth cutting, if I recall correctly.) It looks like a lot now, but after braising, it's pretty much just part of dinner for two. Radishes, sugar snap peas, and salad turnips not pictured.

09 April 2012

Spring dinner.


Spring is here - been here a while, it seems - but I always enjoy making a special spring dinner. Once a year, it's a chance to use the early, fresh, oddball stuff that tells me we're out of winter. The basic ingredients don't vary all that much, though it all depends on what's growing best in the yard. Popular contenders include: dandelion greens; hop shoots; wild onions; violet greens and flowers; maybe asparagus or rhubarb if they're extra-early. (Or I'm extra-late.)

Dandelion tortelloni

Tortelloni stuffed with dandelion greens and overwintered scallions. With fresh ricotta, chicken broth, parmesan, chives, and a violet. They're pretty, plentiful, and growing beside everything else I'm harvesting. Even if they're flavorless, they're a nice touch.

Hop shoots and egg

Hop shoots and scallions, sauteed with dried red pepper flakes and meyer lemon zest. Topped with an egg cooked at 63°C. Soft white and a yolk that's barely beginning to set. Tap it with a fork and it's an instant sauce.

Sausage and potatoes

Sausages and roast potatoes, with a mustard dressing. (Which I added after the picture.) Not remotely spring-like, but 'tis the season to finish emptying the freezer. This one's a chicken marsala sausage, seasoned with plenty of roasted garlic, mushrooms, onions, and marsala wine. The purple plate, just out of frame, is a pork sausage, seasoned much like a weisswurst.

Both sausages did their time in the circulator - 66°C for the chicken, 60°C for the pork - with a post-cooking sear. Perfectly juicy, with good texture. It's especially nice for poultry sausages, which I make with less fat1 than the pork ones. Keeping them moist but thoroughly cooked makes for a narrow, hard-to-hit window with more traditional methods.

The potatoes are a winter-long favorite around here. Plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook, cut side down, in a cast iron skillet for five minutes. Finish in a 450°F oven for 20 minutes or so, until tender. Get it right, and they're crunchy-crisp on the outside, and creamy inside. Plus, they're pretty low on the attention and effort scales, so making everything else becomes less of a hassle.

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1If I've got a good, fatty chicken, I may not add any fat at all. Otherwise, I'll use pork fat. If I use enough to match the level in pork shoulder, there's a distinctly porcine flavor, and Sharon's not a fan.

20 March 2012

Silken tofu.


Silken tofu

Today, for the first time, I made tofu. It's quite good. Good enough that not only am I planning on doing so again, but I've got my eyes on the 25 lb. bulk soybeans from our buying club distributor.

I already purchase King Arthur flour in 50 lb. bags, so this isn't all that much of a leap.

Pictured above is silken tofu, with an avocado-lemon puree, a ginger-soy-hoisin-chilli sauce, and scallions. (Dinner had other stuff, too. Just not so photogenic.) As soon as I get around to building a tofu press - easier than it sounds - I'll be making blocks of tofu, too.

The process is not all that far from making cheese. Soak soybeans overnight, then run through the blender with water. Heat, then strain through a cheesecloth.1 Cook the resulting milk, then cool thoroughly. Add coagulant - in this case, gypsum2 - and steam in molds until set. Cool before unmolding and slicing.3

As tofu goes, it's delicious stuff. I realize that may be damning with faint praise, but as someone who loves the stuff - ahem, a thorough omnivore who loves tofu - that's something. I'm already wondering what else I can do to modify the process for newer, different flavors and textures, but that'll come down the road. Until then, I've got some experimenting to do.

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1I.e., a square of unbleached muslin. That lacy garbage for sale in the grocery store might be good for something, but not for this. Or for cheese, either.

2Readily available at the homebrew shop, which I'm finding useful for more than just brewing these days. But I am brewing more than I have been, and that's exciting.

3For more specific details, check Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu. She sure steered me right.

17 March 2012

Peanut pretzel chocolate.


Peanut pretzel chocolate

Good, old-fashioned flavors. Nothing particularly complicated, though since this is a first draft, I know that a lot could use some tweaking.

Peanut butter shortbread. Might be nice with chopped peanuts next time, and perhaps in a thinner layer. Need to consider how to increase the peanut flavor without making it too dry.

Sweetened condensed milk, with 1% salt and 2% citric acid. Stir it all together, and nothing happens. Fold it, and within seconds you have a firm, spreadable, creamy icing. Orange juice would be a fine addition, though I didn't have any.

Ground toffee. Sugar, butter, corn syrup, water: cook to hard crack. Cool and grind in food processor. Would be stellar on ice cream.

Chocolate ganache. Didn't have cream, so 2 parts dark chocolate chips, 1 part butter.

Pretzel crunch. From Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi. Mini pretzels, brown sugar, sugar, malt powder, milk powder, butter. Rich, sweet, salty, and almost impossible not to snack on while you're making everything else.

08 March 2012

Lime, blueberry, and malt.


Lime blueberry malt

Key lime curd, with 1% gelatin added. Makes it sliceable. I strongly recommend a garlic press for juicing the key limes.

Cooked blueberries. Essentially a blueberry cobbler filling, with extra lime zest.

Oat and brown sugar crisp.

Burnt malt foam. Saccharified pale 2-row barley malt at 65°C for 90 minutes. Whipped into a foam with 1.5% Versawhip 600K and 0.15% xanthan gum. Caramelized surface sugars with torch. Interesting, but not compelling, on its own. With a bit in every bite, though, it lets the burnt malt flavor through.

If I hadn't foamed it, I'm not certain how I'd achieve that caramelized flavor. Sure would have been a lot more work.