Saturday, April 30, 2016

Five Tips For Great Tofu

Tofu is a versatile, wonderful food with a long and rich culinary tradition going back some 2,000 years.  And it can totally be prepared wrong through inexperience.  Just as one can essentially ruin a perfectly good steak through improper care and cooking, one can easily make tofu that is terrible.  The difference is that most people have someone they can ask about how to cook a decent steak!  Over the past ten years of being vegetarian/vegan/mostly vegan we’ve figured out a thing or two about how to prepare tofu that people seem to really think its great--omnivores and vegetarians alike. We have hosted little tofu cooking classes for a couple friends which is what prompted me to write this post.   We thought we should share what we've learned since so many people I know seem at a loss. They seemed to pick up a few tricks and it was a beneficial experience.

TOFU TIP #1:  Pressing
The first and most crucial tip for great tofu is PRESSING the heck out of it.  By pressing as much of the water out of it the tofu, acting like a sponge, is more readily able to absorb flavor.  It also has a firmer, more pleasant texture.  Tofu that has been pressed well is not wet to the touch.  Tofu that has been pressed well is chewy and not slimy or like Jello.  Tofu that has been pressed well starts to absorb sauce/marinade immediately upon contact.  You can actually see the marinade start to wick up into the tofu.
A lot of places we've read say to press tofu on paper towels.  This makes us laugh, I gotta say.  That is simply NOT going to cut it.  The paper towel cannot absorb enough water.  Sometimes we go through three or four tea towels!

The tofu we buy does not come packed in water, but is instead vacuum sealed.  We prefer the vacuum sealed because the tofu has less water in it to begin with.  Pressing is even more critical in the water-packed tofu.  I mean, its floating in water so its fully saturated with water, but you want it to be fully saturated with flavor.  So press it and press it and press it some more.
Left:  Vacuum sealed package.  Right:  Water packed tub.
To press tofu cut it into slabs.  We typically cut a block into thirds.  Lay the slabs out on a towel.  Cover with a second towel.  And then put some weight on it to press the water out into the towels.  We use a cutting board with a big ol' canister of rice on top as a weight.  Let it sit for at least twenty minutes.  Change the towels if they're quite wet and repeat.  Remember, the more water out means the more flavor in and the chewier the texture.

TOFU TIP #2:  Marinating
Once its well pressed the tofu is ready to be marinated.  Any sauce or marinade will do.  In a pinch we'll just marinate our tofu for a mere half an hour.  However, the longer the better, in my opinion.  Overnight is great, if we remember to plan ahead.  Because well pressed tofu absorbs so much flavor you might have to double your sauce recipe if you want some left over to, say, toss with stir-fried veggies, too.  We like to cut the pressed slabs into triangles.  They look nice on a plate, fit well in a baking dish well, and have lots of edges to get nice and crisp and tasty.  Use as much marinade as you want, but remember that the more marinade in the pan the longer it takes to get the tofu nice and crisp on the edges.
TOFU TIP #3:  Baking
The third tip for great tofu is baking.  Even if the end goal is to stir-fry the tofu we always bake it first. We typically bake it in a glass baking dish at about 400 degrees F for at least 45 minutes--though once again, the longer the better.  (To a point, of course, unless you like blackened tofu.)  Bake the tofu until the marinade has mostly cooked off and the tofu starts to get crisp and chewy.  Most books say to flip the tofu half way through the baking, though we're pretty lax about that and haven't found it matters much if the tofu is well pressed and marinated.

TOFU TIP #4:  Freezing
This tofu secret actually comes into play before all the others.  Its the least necessary of theses tips, in my opinion, but does offer several perks.  One, its financially smart.  We buy tofu by the case or when its on sale and just pop them in the freezer until we need them.  Freezing changes the texture in a very positive way.  I think tofu is better after its been frozen first.  How many foods can you say that about?!  Its got a firmer consistency which is much more appealing to me.  We pull out a block of frozen tofu and let it thaw in the fridge for a day before pressing it and proceeding.

TOFU TIP #5:  Extra or Super Firm Tofu
Lastly, I would encourage the use of the firmest tofu available, as a general rule.  Tofu comes on a spectrum from silken which is almost pudding-like to the extra firm, more meat-like, varieties.  Silken tofu is never going to be chewy and wonderful in a stir-fry even following all the above recommendations.  Of course, silken and soft tofu have their place, too, but mostly in desserts, sauces, and such. We don't use the softer end of the spectrum nearly as much.  Typically, we use super firm, though a lot of "regular" grocery stores only carry extra firm and that is okay, too.
When trying new recipes and cooking techniques there is frequently a learning curve to things.  The first time I made tofu for Matt I refused to let him eat it.  I didn't know what I was doing and it was like I'd made White Jello Tacos.  I didn't want him to think THAT was tofu.  I'd eaten it before and knew it could be dang good.  It took a little practice, but I've got it nailed now.  No more tofu "Jello."  Just yum.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Eagle Signs. Or Taking The Wrong Path.

Eagle Signs
We explore and play,
All the long Spring day,
On the cliffs overlooking the plains.

Rest a while,
Ponder and gaze,
At everything the same and everything changed.

Under naked skies of blue,
and over fields of tan promise,
We breathe deep.  And climb steep.

Taking the wrong path,
Finding just where we were meant to be.
As always.

The eagle's nest was a sign.
The herons sealed the deal.
Sometimes taking the "wrong" path leads to the most wonderful of discoveries, to new possibilities and adventures not yet imagined.  As someone who struggles when things don't go according to plan I should remember take this to heart. I could be about to stumble upon some fantastic metaphorical eagle's nest.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Could Make That! The Papasan Cushion

We inherited a papasan chair from someone.  Or maybe we bought it at a garage sale.  I really don't remember.
What I do remember is that we ruined the pillow this winter.  We forgot to move the chair into the garage before it snowed (since this was The-Winter-That-Never-Was) with the result that the one time we got a decent amount of snowfall it filled the papasan like a bowl.  Matt tried to pull the cushion off to shake the snow out.  Lo and behold, the fabric was frozen to the wooden frame of the chair.  Riiiiiiiiiiipppp!
All of the sudden the guts were come out of the cushion all over the place.  After picking up a few wayward balls of fluff from the yard in the following weeks I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a great big pillowcase for it.  Something to keep all those guts in.
Johnny helped me pick out the fabric.  By that I mean, she laid on it and bathed herself while I rooted around in my stash.  She was right.  This was the one.
As it happens, I had been reading up on making circle skirts.  Using this knowledge as a starting point I folded a huge piece of floral into quarters, used a pen on a string to mark the radius I'd need, and cut along that line.  That left me with two big circles which I sewed together and finished with an absurdly long sport zipper.  I wan't sure how easy it would be to install a zipper along the curved outer edge of the pillowcase, but it was a snap.  I gotta say, I felt like a wicked genius (okay, slight exaggeration) about the whole thing.  Matt was so impressed that the pillowcase was round and not square, as he'd envisioned, which was very gratifying.  He is so supportive of my sewing.
I'd always wondered what I'd do with a nylon zipper that was three feet long....
The whole thing cost me essentially nothing, save thread and my time--and it didn't even take much of latter.  The zipper was part of a 20-for-$2 garage sale deal.  The fabric was something I already had, no doubt a gift from my mother.  I did have to piece a couple smaller segments together to get the width I needed for such a large pillowcase.  The leave and vine motif on the fabric seemed well suited for the patio.
Needless to say, the papasan is looking MUCH better.  Ginger approves of the new cushion, which is good since she sits in at much as anyone else around here.  I can't blame her.  The view over the garden is good.
The view.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Fuller Skirt on "My" Dress

I tried altering a dress pattern for the first time. 
I love “my” dress, but was thinking that I  would enjoy it even more with a little fuller skirt.  I thought it would make the already-great dress even better for twirling, running, climbing, hopping on a bicycle, etc.
So, I did a little researching online (which was only minimally helpful, surprisingly) and then poured over my collection of sewing books (where I found one page on princess seam alterations).  From this research I gathered that the best way to add fullness to the skirt was to slightly increase each of the skirt's pieces.  So, I added taped some paper together and cut myself a small triangle.  I tacked this on to each of the skirt's tissue paper pattern pieces.  I wanted the waist to stay the same so I had the triangle taper to a point just below the waistline.
And it worked!  The skirt is fuller, but still fits and looks normal!  Huzzah.
I love it when my dabbling turns out so well on the first go.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Transplanting Onions With Ginger

We transplanted onions out to the garden yesterday.  We're growing onions from seed and from sets.  Sets are sure simple so, why not?!  However, starting from seeds allow us to select varieties that are better for keeping in storage.  After I was done with the transplanting I took a little stroll around the garden admiring all the signs of new life.  Spring.  Ah, spring.
Onion seedlings.
Wee spinach plants.
Bok Choy
Onion sets sprouting.
Ginger is happy we're spending so much time outside again.  She'd love it if we could all just move into the backyard forever.  But, she can't convince us, no matter how she tries.
Meanwhile, the peppers under the lights in the seedling nursery have me awfully excited, too.  We've been out of sweet peppers for a month now and those seedlings look so happy.  I am very excited.
Pepper seedlings.
Pepper plant.
Red cabbage.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

All It Takes is a Ruffle

Sometimes I have a hard time breaking out of my happy routine.  I know what I like and am happy to have it again and again and again.  When we go out to eat--a special treat for us--we always go to the same Thai restaurant and always order the exact same thing every time.  I tried other things, but have settled on my favorite dish.  Anything else is just a little disappointing by comparison.
Same with dresses.  I've made a couple styles, but have settled on my favorite.  I tried branching out from "my" dress and made this Cynthia Rowley dress, which is totally cute, but eventually proved too short to be functional for my life.  (This is what I get for branching out!) I need to be able to bend over at the waist and swing a leg over my bicycle without worrying about being indecent or its just not practical.  Even immediately after making it I knew, deep down, it was too short for me.  I mean, the hem fell above my knee and all, but I figured I could make do with leggings or something.  In the end though, I just never wore it.  It was just too short.  It hung, abandoned, in the closet having been worn just a couple times since completion.  I considered donating it, but am so hesitant to do that with my me-made clothes, labors of love and so unique as they are.
After thinking it over a while I realized that I had some of the blue fabric left.  I pulled it out and lo and behold, there was enough for an eight inch ruffle.  Problem solved.
I cut the fabric into a long strip (eight inches wide plus the seam allowance).  I wasn't sure how long to make it and so just eye-balled it!  And it actually worked on the first try!  Ha!  Look at me go!  I had to piece it together a little from the fabric I had left over so there  are a couple seams in my ruffle, but you can't really tell.
Honestly, I like how it looks better with the ruffle, too, not just the added length.  Plus, its got a nice twirl to it now.
I had sort of convinced myself that I wouldn't try this pattern again.  I mean, I'd hardly worn the first one so I couldn't really justify it.  I've been wearing this ruffled version a lot already though so now I am thinking that I might make it again the exact same way!  Ruffles are fun.