Friday, July 24, 2015

Tofu Jerky (and other camping food)

I know, I know. Tofu Jerky sounds like the vegetarian you dated once in college, the one who held you hostage in his apartment while he made you his famous nine-hour eggplant and molested your neck and shoulders with an unsolicited rubbing because you seemed tense. And you were! You were tense. Later, Tofu Jerky!

Instead, it’s this: Jerky. But made of tofu. By the kind of jerk who has nothing better to do than fiddle around with tiny slivers of crumbly, slowly dessicating soy curd. Be forewarned: This is a project! “Is it easy?” the kids asked, the first time we were devouring it on a road trip, and I loved the question—which is always code for “Will you make us this all the time?”—but no, it’s not really easy. Nor is it exactly hard. It’s just time-consuming and involved, with many trifling little steps.

But what it is is delicious, cheap, and a fantastic high-protein snack for camping and travel and school and road-trips and all those other times when you are starving, starving, starving, so you eat a handful of crackers and then feel like you’re uraveling into a carb-fueled, still-starving homicidal maniac. This is satisfying and chewy, salty-sweet and excellent, but just short of addictive, so you won’t eat the whole jar and then be carsick. Which is to say: it’s not as good as the beef jerky I used to make (sigh), but it’s much cheaper, and also I mostly don’t eat meat anymore. What? Oh, a story for another day. Suffice it to say: Ben eats enough meat for all of us, and this jerky is good enough to bother making.

I made a double batch last night (shown here) because we are leaving today for our camping trip! Yay, yay, yay! Which is why I have to run off and clown-car ten cubed acres of gear into a single Subaru wagon. I lie: Michael’s in charge of the surrealist math problem that is loading up the stuff. I’m in charge of the food, food, and more food. Speaking of: someone requested the one-pot camping couscous, which is now here, along with the pie-iron pizza and a food-packing list. The granola is here. The muesli, as well as the fish and squash packets, are here. The camp rice and beans is here. (There's a whole camping section in the recipe index too.) But I’ll still be in line at the clam shack. Say hi, okay?

Tofu Jerky
I started with a Mark Bittman recipe, but then ended up changing it over time, adding the initial soy-sauce brushing, e.g., as well as the vinegar and liquid smoke and garlic powder. You could pretty much baste it with whatever. In fact, it occurs to me that I have more or less recreated the flavor of bottled barbeque sauce, so maybe you should simply use that! If you do, will you please let us all know how it turns out? (Process photos below.)

1 (15-ounce) block extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons soy sauce (divided use)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (or chipotle puree or smoked paprika)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Heat your oven to 225, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. While the oven is heating, I actually wrap the tofu in a clean dishtowel and stick the tea kettle on top of it, just to get some of the extra water out before starting. You can leave it like this from 5 minutes to an hour.

Slice the tofu into fiddly little slices. I do this by bisecting the block horizontally, and then cutting these halves into long, very skinny slices. They’ll be a little thicker than 1/8 inch, and they should be as even as you can make them, although they won’t be even, I can tell you that right now. You will eat a lot of raw, poorly cut slices as you go, and you will wonder why, until you put some soy sauce on them, and you’ll think: not bad!

In the end, you should have about 28 good slices, which you’ll squeeze onto the pan so that they’re touching. Brush them on one side with soy sauce and then turn them all over (a total pain!) and brush the other side, using 2 of the 3 tablespoons altogether. Put them in the oven for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together the remaining ingredients, including the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Take the baked tofu out of the oven and brush it all over with half the sauce, then return it to the oven for 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and flip each fiddly, now-hot piece over, then put it back in the oven for 30 minutes. Baste it (you’re now basting the unbasted side) with the remaining sauce, and put it back in the oven until it’s done, 15-45 minutes. Seriously, that’s the range I’m giving you. Not only that, but you’ll also want to pluck out various slices as they’re done so that they don’t get over done! And you’ll know you’re only doing this because you did not cut them evenly in the first place.

How will you know when it’s done? It will go from opaque white to a kind of translucent, plasticky look. It will still be flexible—you don’t want it to get crisp—but it will look like it’s now made out of... I have to say it again: plastic. If you get sick of waiting, turning the oven off and leave them in the cooling oven for a while, and they’ll be done after that. (Nice, clear instruction, no?)

Cool the tofu on a rack, then store it in a bag or jar in the fridge or in a cooler, where it will get leathery and more jerk-like overnight. I don’t know how long it lasts, because we eat it all, but Mark Bittman says 1 week.
Why are you starting with something packed in water, when you want to end up with something dry? Good question.

Bisected! (Likes girls and boys.)
Cut into fiddly maddening slices. 
Soy-basted and baked.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Small-Batch Pickled Anything (specifically sugar snap peas)

So pretty!
We are in high summer mode around here. Which means, among other things, that we acquire more produce from our CSA than I really feel like wrestling into meals. Especially since I don’t make dinner any more! (Kidding! Sort of.)

By the next day, they've camouflaged themselves in an army-issue kind of a way. Not adding to the overall look, and not pictured here, is the shower cap covering the jar because I broke the glass lid.
So I’ve been pickling stuff. And there are two benefits to this: 1) We love pickles, and if there is a jar of pickled something in the fridge, everyone will dig in, whereas unprepped veggies can languish until you pull from the fridge a bag of brown slime that’s exhibit A in an exposé about the irony of the phrase “crisper drawer.” And 2) Pickling preserves your produce and sanity, which means it slows everything down so that you have enough time to eat something before it rots.

Summer haircut!
There’s a very simple formula, and with it you can pickle (nearly) all things: asparagus, radishes, sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and even, yes, cucumbers (although I prefer a cuke method that uses a little fermentation). Are you ready for it? Pack clean veggies in a clean canning jar with whatever flavorings you like (fresh herbs, chiles, whole spices, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, shallots, ginger, strips of lemon or orange zest). Bring equal parts water and white vinegar to a boil, along with 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of vinegar. Pour the brine over the veggies. Cool. Refrigerate. Done. (Note: I am not talking about canning here. If you’re just making small batches, these will keep perfectly well in the fridge until they’re eaten.)

Summer ransom note. (I think the kids are making a movie.)
One thing: make more brine than you think you need! For a quart-sized jar, I bring to a boil 2 cups of water, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of salt. (Okay, 3 tablespoons of salt. Not to mess up the ratios, but because I often like to up the salt a little.) Yes, there’s some leftover, but I’d rather that than have to make a whole nother extra ¼ cup of brine to cover the last inch of vegetables. 
Summer sewing project.
But then again, I’m the person who will nearly abandon a sewing project if I run out of thread right near the end, because tying it off and starting a new piece just to stitch up that last inch makes me cry.

The official dilly bean recipe is here.
That’s it. 
If you are serious about pickling and preserving, then I trust you frequent the fabulous Food In Jars blog. I love her.
Now, that said, you might finesse the recipe on certain occasions. For example, for the sugar snaps, I cooled the brine before pouring it over the peas because I wanted the peas to stay sweet and snappy, and boy did they. These are among the best pickles I have ever made or eaten, or we’ve been slicing them into tuna salad, where they add the most incredible crunch and zing and sweetness.

The official dill pickle recipe is here.
On the opposite end of things, I like to put green beans or sliced carrots in a colander and pour a kettle full of boiling water over them before packing them in a jar and adding the hot brine, because I like them to be a bit more tender. But you can experiment and see what works best for the different veggies you’re pickling.

Summer herbs drying.
Seasoning is the fun part, and here are some of my favorite combinations:
  • Asparagus with tarragon and chopped shallots
  • Radishes with chopped ginger, a splash of soy sauce, and a little sugar
  • Sugar snap peas with garlic, mint, hot pepper, and a whisper of sugar
  • Green beans with garlic, hot pepper or black peppercorns, and dill or tarragon
  • Broccoli or cauliflower with garlic, chiles, lemon zest, and cumin and coriander seeds

Capers made from unopened milkweed buds! Because these are meant to be a condiment, I boiled together a cup of white vinegar (no water) with a tablespoon of kosher salt, and poured the hot brine over 1/2 cup of buds. I do sliced jalapenos that way too.
Also, you should note that many (most?) pickle recipes will call for white wine or cider vinegar. Please use whatever you like best! For me, it’s the clean, sweet flavor of white vinegar, even though I know it’s, like, a petroleum by-product or distilled from corn cobs or whatever.

Summer berries. Not pictured: summer spider bites; summer abstracted grumpiness; summer mildewy towels; summer not getting enough work done; summer house coated in damp greasy dust; summer eating too much Fritos.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas
If you have fewer peas, just scale down accordingly! And skip the sugar if you like. I happen to like the way it emphasizes the sweetness of the peas.

Enough sugar snap peas to fill a 1-quart jar, ends snapped off and strings pulled off
1 dried red chile or a pinch of chile flakes (if you like)
3 or 4 small sprigs of fresh mint (or dill or tarragon)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups water

Pack the peas into the jar along with the chile, herbs, and garlic.
Heat together the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar just to dissolve the salt and sugar, then stir in the cold water.
Pour the brine over the peas and refrigerate.
Try to wait at least a day before eating, although they’re good right away.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Chipotle-Lime Black Bean Salad

Summer is my favorite. Yes, the weather can suck, and the chips are always already stale, and the mosquitoes are heinous, and my children still grimace and pout over sunscreen like they’re 3 and 0 instead of 7 and 4 or—oh, wait, no—15 and 12. But I don’t care, because you invited me to a potluck! And I’m so happy to be invited that I will set about making some huge bowl of something or other, and maybe even one other thing too, because I suddenly don’t mind cooking at all when it’s for a party, even vast vats of stuff, even though just a second ago I was pissing and moaning about needing to assemble a pair of cheese sandwiches for the lame dinner I’d been planning before you called. 

Go figure.

I can't resist sharing this summary of my personality photograph.
I’m linking to some old favorites newly uploaded here—this panzanella (make it with fresh mozzarella if you can) and this Napa Slaw with Gingery Vinagirette, which I actually just made again last night—and there are lots more potluck-party favorites in the recipe index: brown rice salad, for example, or the very popular Potato Salad with Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette, which this adaptable black bean salad is a version of. 

It's such a great salad: pretty and tangy, a little spicy and smoky, loaded with crunchy, tender, sweet, and salty things so that every mouthful is kind of thrilling. It's great as a side, but it's also good scooped up with chips like salsa. Oh, and you should get your 15-year-old to make the dressing for you, which will make your life much easier. 

Thank you, Ben! 
Chipotle-Lime Black Bean Salad
This salad is based on my Chipotle-Lime Potato Salad, which is based on a recipe in the lovely Fields of Greens cookbook. The amounts aren’t that important here: it’s the kind of salad that can easily be grown, if you sense that a large group is accruing—it keeps well, and there’s plenty of dressing to support another cup or two of corns, beans, or some other miscellaneous vegetable you feel like adding. Also, if you are pressed for time, feel free to skip the roasting of the peppers: they’re crunchier raw, but not as sweet, so it’s kind of a toss-up anyway. I like to add feta, but I was making this particular batch with a non-cheese-eater in mind.

2 red peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup raw green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups (more or less) of cooked black beans: either 2 cups dried beans, soaked, cooked, and drained and rinsed, or 3 cans, drained and rinsed
2 cups corn kernels, freshly cut from 2-3 ears or thawed frozen
1 cup diced carrots (skip this if you like)
½ cup finely diced red onion
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup crumbled feta (optional and not shown here)
Chipotle-Lime Vinagirette

Heat the broiler and cover a small baking sheet with foil. Lay the peppers cut-side-down on the foil and broil them close to the flame until they are entirely black, around 10 minutes or so. Wrap them loosely in the foil and leave them to cool while you deal with other stuff. Later, peel and rub the black skins off of the cooled peppers, then dice them.

Sauté the pumpkin seeds: Heat the oil in a tiny pan over medium heat. When it's hot enough to sizzle a seed, add all the seeds and fry, stirring, until popping and golden-brown, about three minutes. Turn off the heat but keep stirring for another minute so that they cool down without burning, then add the salt.

Put the beans, corn, carrots, onions, cilantro, and peppers in a large bowl. Pour in about half the vinaigrette, then stir gently with a rubber spatula and taste. Add more dressing and/or salt if the salad needs it. If you are not serving the salad right away, cover the bowl (transfer the salad to a smaller serving bowl, if you like), and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two, or, if you need to wait longer, refrigerate it. Taste and re-season just before serving, then top with the pumpkin seeds, feta (if you’re using it), and more cilantro.

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons white wine or Champagne or sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from, say, 2 small but very juicy limes) (Note: It is atypical for me to use the juice from a lime but not its zest. I think the zest would be good here—but there’s so much else going on, flavorwise, that I’ve never included it.)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
* 2 teaspoons chipotle puree
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or put through a garlic press
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup light olive oil (I use half olive oil and half canola oil)

Whisk together everything but the oil, then slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify.

* To make the chipotle puree, scrape an entire 7-ounce tin of Chipotle in adobo (brands to look for include Embasa, San Marcos, Herdes, and La Costena) into the blender and puree it. Store it in your fridge in an impeccably clean glass jar where it will keep indefinitely—unless it doesn’t, which is what sometime happens. A thin layer of oil over the top seems to prevent mold from forming.