Sunday, April 5, 2009

baked tofu with honey grape sauce and cashew fried rice

This meal was the product of having a big bunch of grapes that had gone a little soft much earlier than I anticipated. I can't stand eating grapes unless they're nice and crisp, so I spent half an hour on Allrecipes looking for something to do with them. Most of what I found was pies and jams, but I'm thoroughly sick of baking at the moment, and the rest of the recipes were for salads, which obviously require the grapes to be fresher. I did come across this recipe, which had an intriguing sauce even if there was no way I was going to put it on pork. I decided to go with baked tofu instead, and make a side dish of cashew fried rice to go with the Asian flavor of the sauce. This recipe makes about three servings, or two dinners and enough fried rice for lunch tomorrow.

Honey Grape Sauce

This makes about a cup and a half of sauce. It's probably very good on meat, as the original recipe suggests, but it goes really well with the tofu too. I did all the measuring by sight and it still came out deliciously, making this the easiest sauce I've ever made.

* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 1 tablespoon minced garlic
* 2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons honey
* 1 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1/2 teaspoon Asian five-spice powder

- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the garlic until it's tender (don't let it brown too much).
- Stir in grapes, soy sauce, honey, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- Process the cooled sauce until smooth in a blender or food processor. Return to the saucepan and keep warm over low heat until you're ready to eat.

Baked Tofu

This would probably also be tasty fried, but much less healthy.

* one package extra-firm tofu (preferably not the silken type)
* about three tablespoons soy sauce

- Preheat your oven to 375 Farenheit.
- Slice tofu into 1/4-inch thick pieces (long thin ones are easiest).
- Brush each slice, back and front, with soy sauce and allow it to marinate for 10 minutes.
- Place the tofu strips on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, turning once halfway through, until they turn golden brown.

Cashew Fried Rice

I tend to wing it when making fried rice, so I apologize for the vagueness of the measurements. You can use whatever vegetables are on hand, frozen or unfrozen. I was especially pleased with the radishes, which I'd never used before. I usually use a couple cloves of garlic, but figured the sauce had enough of that flavor for one meal.

* two cups cooked rice
* about three tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
* about two tablespoons soy sauce (keep the bottle handy, you might need more)
* two eggs
* 1/2 red onion, chopped
* 1/2 cup frozen peas and/or corn
* 1/3 cup lotus root (I froze the last batch I got, it was a hassle to separate)
* 3 large radishes, chopped into chunks
* 1/3-1/2 cup cashews, lightly crushed (I like the plastic bag and knife handle method)

- Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Cook the onions (and garlic, if you're using it) until they're soft.
- Add the frozen vegetables and lotus root, or anything else that won't cook extremely fast. Stir fry until the lotus root picks up the brown soy sauce color and all the frozen vegetables are soft.
- While the vegetables are cooking, scramble the eggs in a tiny bit of oil in a separate pan and use the spatula to cut them into bits. Take the pan off the heat and set them aside.
- Add the radishes and cashews to the vegetables, keep stir-frying for about a minute.
- Add the rice, and stir through so it absorbs the oil and soy sauce and the vegetables are evenly distributed. Add more soy sauce to taste (and a bit more oil, if it's too dry).
- Stir the egg pieces through and serve with Sriracha sauce or other spicy substance.

If you time everything right, the tofu and the fried rice will be done at the same time (it takes about as long to make the latter as to bake the former), and you'll get to eat immediately. The sauce can be saved in the fridge for a couple of days... I'm looking forward to trying it out on other things.

One of the reasons I'm sick of baking (besides my beautiful pie from the other day) is because I made a batch of cupcakes yesterday, using the same recipe as the red velvet ones I made on Valentine's Day. I tried to make them blue with white frosting and moon and star sprinkles, but the blue food coloring turned the cake a weird teal, so they became dolphin cupcakes instead. Bad photo, but they were pretty cute.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

lemon curd and strawberry tart

This is probably the single prettiest thing I've ever baked, despite the fact that I miscalculated and used too deep a pie pan. I'm not usually good with making edibles reminiscent of flowers, but I'm really pleased with how this turned out. I couldn't find a strawberry pie recipe that didn't either call for strawberry gelatin (I hate the stuff, in any flavor) or seem like it would make a really mushy fruit pie, so I decided to layer the fruit over a lemon filling. There were a few things wrong with it (the bottom crust was too thin, the sides puffed too much), but I've adjusted for them in the recipe and, even flawed, it was delicious.

Pie Crust (my mother's recipe)

1 stick butter
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 Tbsp salt
2-6 Tbsp ice water

- using two knives or a food processor (the much easier option), cut the butter into the flour and salt.
- add two tablespoons of ice water, continue mixing. if the crust isn't damp enough to stick together, add another tablespoon of water. keep adding until the dough is the right consistency (malleable but not sticky).
-refrigerate the crust in plastic wrap for at least an hour (if you leave it for more than three, you might have to thaw it a bit before using it), then roll out on a floured surface until it's about 1/4 inch thick (if you like a really thick crust, roll less and bake a bit longer). drape into a shallow pie pan, trim the edges. use the excess for a top crust if you want a traditional pie. this recipe doesn't use one.

-this will make enough crust for one large deep, open-topped pie, or one regular sized covered pie.
- for this recipe and other wet-filling recipes, pre-bake the crust at 400ºF for about 10 minutes, using whatever sort of weighting technique you prefer. don't forget to fork in a handful of holes to let the crust breathe.
- this recipe also works pretty well to make half a dozen or so mini-tarts, in which case you should separate the dough into smaller balls before refrigerating it.

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter

- in a heavy pot or in a double boiler, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the butter, and stir them over medium/medium-high (depending on how impatient you are) heat until the mixture thickens to the texture of sour cream
- cut the butter into small pieces and, removing the pot from the burner, whisk until all of the butter is absorbed.
-pour into the (cooled or semi-cooled) pie crust, let sit in a fairly cool place for fifteen minutes, or long enough for the top of the lemon curd to solidify a bit.


one box fresh strawberries (eight or nine large berries)
1 tbsp white sugar

- when the lemon curd has cooled and is fairly stable on top, cut the stems off of the strawberries and then slice the berries so they form triangular petal shapes.
- arrange them on top of the lemon curd (careful, it's sticky). it's fastest to use the big middle slices for the outer edge, and pick smaller ones as you work your way in. i made a fairly simple flower shape that reminds me of the dahlias my neighbor used to grow.

- bake the pie for fifteen to twenty minutes at 350F on the oven's middle rack. two minutes before the timer goes off, take the tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle it over the strawberries.
- serve with whipped cream (preferably the real, sugar-free, artery-clogging kind) or ice cream

Obviously this recipe could be spiced up a fair bit. It can also be varied quite a lot, as the strawberries can be replaced with basically any kind of fruit, or fruit can be left off altogether. It's a good way to use up fruit you might not eat, though. The strawberries I used were a couple days past their prime, where the skin isn't all that refreshing to bite into but the flavor is still rich. I'd love to make a version of this with a burnt sugar top instead of the berries. I've made lemon tarts in the past (sadly I lost the recipe for that filling, but I like the lemon curd better) and topped them with frozen raspberries and sugar I'd put through a food processor. The fruit could even be mixed into the lemon curd... basically you can make up whatever sounds best to you.

I must admit that the two photos above were taken prior to the final baking of the pie, because I wasn't sure whether the fruit would sink in when the curd was heated up. It didn't, but the juice from the strawberries ran out and gave the yellow bits a pretty pink tint. If not for the fact that our oven isn't completely level, it would've been perfectly lovely. As it went, it was still very pretty, though not as cool-looking as when the bright yellow contrasted with the red.

I used the leftover pie crust (since this one clearly didn't need a top crust) to make some quick veggie and cheese pasties for dinner (which I ate after the tart). They were basically amazing, but I'm going to wait to post that recipe until I've figured out a real recipe and also mastered that lovely way of twisting the edges that Cornish people are probably capable of at the age of five.

Looking at those photos of the tart, it suddenly occurs to me that strawberries sliced in that particular way are distinctly similar to certain Georgia O'Keefe paintings.