Monday, February 28, 2005

The Bar Is Open!

I know, I know, I never intended this to be a political blog. Those who know me well are aware of just how dubious this claim is... I have been laying low on the lefty webblogs since after the election for two reasons: first, I was just too heart broken. I put a lot of hard work in hopes that the Chimpster-n-Chief would be defeated last November. Second, it is obvious many other people were heart broken as well, and frankly, the commiserating started getting to me. So I backed off for awhile.

Tonight I poked my head back into a couple of sights to see what was going on. To my very pleased eye I found the Whiskey Bar is back up and in business. That's right folks, "Free thinking in a dirty glass." The person who runs the sight goes by the name, billmon. I think he is quite possible one of the best political writers out there today. Irreverent and intelligent. I urge you to go checkout his sight. I have it Blogrolled below.

Billmon...you were missed.
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Friday, February 25, 2005

HOW TO MAKE TOFU

Tofu is a curious thing to me. It has all the properties of something I would not like: namely bland and pale unappettizing color. But as I have started reading about tofu and trying different recipes I have discovered it bland and colorless qualities represent it's strengths. Tofu is like a blank canvass. By itself it is white, blank and seemingly uninteresting, but it is full of potential. So I started wondering what and how it was made. To my surprise it is a lot like making cheese. Rebecca and I have made yogurt and cheese many times. There is nothing better than homemade yogurt or cheese. Just amazing, that's all I can say. I can only hope he same is true for tofu. We will see. I found this recipe on-line somewhere. I did' not bookmark it, but who ever put it out there gave credits to a book on traditional Japanese cooking which is noted at the end of the recipe. Right now, I am on the hunt for some Nigari. I'll keep you posted on my success or failures.


TOFU
2 c Soybeans
1/2 tsp Nigari (coagulant)

Utensils:
A square box (a plastic tofu container with holes poked : through the bottom will do). Line the container with a piece : of gauze about four times the size of the box.
Wooden long-handled spoon.
Two-foot-square cotton cloth for straining the "milk" from the mash.
Blender
Large strainer
Large mixing bowl
Large cooking pot

a. Soak the soybeans in three times the amount of water overnight. The beans should triple in size.

b. When soft, drain off the water through a strainer, and pulverize in a blender on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until beans are completely pulverized.

c. Add 8 ounces of this mixture to 4 quarts boiling water.

d. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. When it starts to boil up again, do not turn down the heat but add 2 or 3 drops of vegetable oil - this will keep it from boiling over. Continue to cook another 7-10 minutes.

e. Place a wire mesh strainer lined with cotton cloth in another bowl and pour slowly through the lined strainer. This separates the soybean milk from the mash.

f. Pick up the corners of the cloth and gather and twist tight. The mixture is still hot, so using the long-handled spoon, force the remaining liquid into the bowl by pressing repeatedly on the twisted cloth. Be careful to keep a tight hold on the ends of the cloth gathered in your hand as you twist and push with the spoon. If you drop a corner, very hot liquid can spill on you and the okara (soybean mash) will escape. (The leftover mash is called "okara". The soybean milk is called "tonyu" and can be refrigerated and drunk for a few days if you wish).

g. Place the tonyu in a large cooking pot and keep at about 140 F over low heat. In a separate bowl, mix 5 times the amount of water as the tonyu with a two-finger pinch of nigari until dissolved. Slowly add 1/2 to the tonyu, stirring constantly.

h. After 5 minutes, add the other half of the nigari and water slowly and stir. Cover and reduce to lowest possible heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes as the mixture begins to coagulate.

i. After coagulation, scoop the coagulated tofu out with your wooden spoon and evenly fill you lined container. Wrap the gauze over the top and let the container sit for 5 minutes to allow extra liquid to drain.

j. Immerse the container in a large mixing bowl filled with cold water, turn it over, gently pull off the container, and remove the gauze.

Making tofu can be an interesting challenge, but be careful not to burn yourself. The price of soybeans and nigari is negligible, but making tofu does take time and is painstaking. This process has been done by hand or centuries, beginning early each morning. Only someone who has made their own tofu knows how delicious the rewards can be.

Source: The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking by Gaku Homma.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mushroom Frittata



I picked up a bag of frozen gourmet mushrooms at Trader Joe's a couple of weeks ago. I have been wondering what to do with them. The mushrooms are nice enough to throw into a stir fry, but I wondered if the quality was good enough to be the central feature of a meal. Afterall, they are frozen. So the other night I decided to make a mushroom fritatta. I mixed the frozen mushrooms with some fresh buttons and a couple of dried porcini and morel mushrooms I had in the pantry. I thought the results were very good and I will make this again in the future. The frozen mushrooms were very flavorful and tender. Surprisingly, they held there own against the dried porcini and morels.

I keep some dried mushrooms on hand mainly because I like to use the liquid that reconstitutes them. It only takes a couple of mushrooms to imbue flavor throughout a recipe. The picture above is a couple of porcini and morel mushrooms reconstituted in some dry white wine (yum!).


First, dice and saute' a large shallot until golden-yellow and just turning brown on the edges. Throw in some garlic, leeks and grape tomatoes, which have been seeded and quartered. Let this cook until the tomato begins to break down and the leeks are very soft.



Once the leeks have softened, add the wine that was used to reconstitute the porcini and morel mushrooms. Let the flavors meld a few moments before adding the mushroom mixture. The Trader Joe's mushrooms are a nice variety including: shitaki, oyster, crimini and straw mushrooms. Let this mixture saute until the mushroom become dry again. Then transfer to a bowl and keep them warm.



Now for the eggs: take four eggs, a few tablespoons of milk, some salt and a good grind of pepper and mix well. After wiping out the pan add a couple of tablespoons of butter and wait for it to get nice and bubbly. Then add the eggs.

A quick note on non-stick surfaces:

I think they are over rated. You'll notice I am using a wide saute pan here with straight sides and a traditional surface. You would think this would become a sticky, awful mess but it never does. The trick: a hot pan and a reasonable amount of oil. If you use a pan with a traditional surface, just put it on the heat early and let it get hot before adding the oil or fat. Then add what ever you are cooking. Be patient, don't stir it around. Just let the food cook for a few moments. The results are dramatically different. Everything gets nice and brown. Even boneless, skinless(tasteless?!) chicken breasts turn out better. You will never get this effect with a non-stick surface. Clean up is never a problem: a little water and return the pan to the heat. Deglaze the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. I have owned my saute pan for four or five years and I use it daily. It is one of the the work horses of my kitchen and it still looks like new. I own one pan with a non-stick surface. I almost never use it.



Now back to the fritatta. Turn on the broiler. After the egg is in the pan let it cook on the stove top for a few moments before lifting the edges. This will expose the pan to more uncooked egg. Just work your way around the edges of the fritatta until most of the egg is cooked. You will have something that looks like a pizza crust only eggs instead of flour.

Put the Fritatta, pan and all, under the broiler to cook the top: at this point you want it to be al dante'. Pull it out and top it with the Mushrooms and some cheese. I used mozzarella and some farmers cheese I had in the fridge. Top that with some Parmesan and back under the broiler with it. Pull it out again when the fritatta is bubbly brown and looks delicious. Cut into pie-wedge pieces and serve with a tossed salad.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Dim Sum For Everyone!

I'm sorry posts have been sparse the past couple of weeks, its been so busy at work. On top of that, it's birthday month for my family. Between Kwan, my father and me there seems to be something going on each weekend. We went to LuLu's for Dim Sum a couple of weeks ago and really had a lot of fun. I brought the camera but in all the excitement I forgot to take pictures. I am new to the blogsphere and not yet in the habit conceptualizing my social experiences into a journalistic format. So I guess you'll just have to trust me: we had a lot of fun.

LuLu's is one of the better Chinese restaurants in St Louis. Rebecca and I both agree it felt more like the restaurants we experienced in China. We sat at a large, round table with a lazy-Susan in the center. The place was almost full and there were several large families in the dining area. The restaurant was relatively clean, well lit and the service was very good. LuLu's is known for their seafood and Dim Sum. You can order the Dim Sum a la carte from the menu all week long. On Saturdays and Sundays, however, they serve it in the traditional style. Servers push carts filled with steam baskets and hot plates through the isles and you choose whatever your heart's desire. Everything looked so good! I tried a deep fried shrimp pastry, turnip cake, rice steamed in tea leaves and numerous other delectable. The next thing I knew I was so stuffed I thought I had eaten everything in the place!

All around where tables filled with Asian faces. There where children running around, playing hide and seek. Some where sitting on their mothers' lap after a big meal. The atmosphere was very lively with people talking all around and servers moving between the tables with their carts. Suddenly, our server, a large, almost muscular, Asian women said something loud in Chinese and the place became more quiet. Several people, including everyone at our table, were watching her as she spoke. Then she pointed at our table (!) and said, "John? Who is John?" My father raised his hand and she asked if it was his birthday. There were a couple of birthday cards on the table with my dad's name on them. When he said yes, the server pointed at the karioke machine and the music started to play Happy Birthday. Everyone in the place started clapping and singing.

It must be a cultural thing - the song just seemed to go on and on. There was a preamble and everyone in the place was singing along (except us). Then came the familiar, "happy-birthday-to-you verse", and I felt some relief that we could join in at that point. Then, at the end, just as Dad was about to sit down, you guessed it, the lesser known third, forth and fifth verses of Happy Birthday To You. At the end of each verse my father would try to sit down and the song would keep going so he would stand up again. By then end of the fifth verse we were laughing out loud. We really had a great time and I hope we can go back soon (but not on my birthday!).

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Friday, February 11, 2005

A Quick note on Shallots:

I use shallots a lot in my cooking. I used to avoid them because of the expense, but one day I walked into Global Foods and found they sell for about $1.50 a pound there. Later I noticed this was true of most Asian markets as well. I do not know why they are so expensive at the traditional "American" supermarkets, but the last time I looked they where about $5.00 a pound or something. So if your buying your shallots at Dierbergs or Schnucks, stop being a sucker and make the trip to a local Asian market. You wont be disappointed. There is so much to look at and see. I can spend an hour at Jay International or Global Foods just walking around looking at the merchandise.

Occasionally, we make our way over to the Asian grocery on Olive where Kwan and I spend time watching the fish swim in the tanks. The last time we where there they had live eels. The tank was packed with what looked like thousands of black slithery knives in complete turmoil. I tried to imagine bringing one of those things home to cook. I'm still looking up recipes. But I digress. Back to the shallots. Stop spending all your hard earned money on Mr Schnuck or Mr Dierberg, it really is worth the trip to make a stop at a specialty grocery store. You can almost always find good quality food as well as numerous bargins at these places.
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From The New York Times

This is what happens when you mix one part Mad Scientist with two parts Iron Chef:

"...the sushi made by Mr. Cantu, the 28-year-old executive chef at Moto in Chicago, often contains no fish. It is prepared on a Canon i560 inkjet printer rather than a cutting board. He prints images of maki on pieces of edible paper made of soybeans and cornstarch, using organic, food-based inks of his own concoction. He then flavors the back of the paper, which is ordinarily used to put images onto birthday cakes, with powdered soy and seaweed seasonings."

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

House Keeping

I've made some updates to the site over the past couple of weeks. First, the comments section is now being hosted by Haloscan. If you look below you might see their logo. Now it will not be necessary to sign up to make comments. This also includes a trackback feature which will let me know if someone links to an article of mine.

I've also added links which will likely be developing as the blog progresses. For this reason I am looking at a program called Blogroll. This will make managing and evolving link list easier. I'm working on that now.

Lastly, I've begun to add picture to the blog. This has made me realize that I need to read up on subtle art of photographing food. Of the pictures I've posted so far, I have probably taken double that number. Upon viewing them I said to my self, "Gross, I can't believe I ate that gruel!" actually they weren't that bad, but they certainly did not enhance my cooking so those pictures I quietly deleted from my camera (we won't mention them anymore).

That's it so far. I hope you are enjoying the blog and please feel free to use the comments, they don't suck anymore.

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