Monday, March 3, 2008

shelf and damn good tofu

exciting news on the kitchen front!


William and I have been talking about making a spice shelf for basically forever, and now I finally have one. It's pretty awesome!

'Scuz the messy kitchen. Oh man. It's so great. I mean, there are a lot of things wrong with this picture -- namely, I'm pretty sure my spices would prefer to be kept somewhere a little darker and cooler and less exposed to sink-splashing, and also some of those little containers could be more airtight, but WHATEVER. I can see them all now. They fit somewhere! They have a home!

It is pretty much awesome. It was also pretty much free, thanks to dumpster-diving for the brackets and working-in-construction-perks for the wood and tools. Having a spice shelf has improved my life ALREADY. Everything is THERE and ready to be grabbed and not about to be knocked over as I reach behind the pepper and between the curry powder and cumin for the cinnamon. Because it is all right there, all lined up and beautiful.


Also: Tofu!

(With leftover stuffed peppers that weren't really that good -- I thought adding lentils to the stuffing was a huge mistake, but the peppers were okay, while William was eating the stuffing up and saying it was the peppers that were flawed, but either way, uninspiring. The rice with onions and peas was okay, but nothing special. Let's talk about the TOFU!)

After the last disastrous dance with tofu (I still love you, mashed potatoes! Never again!), I decided it was time for some really, really good tofu. So I was inspired by a post on pretzel tofu over at what the hell does a vegan eat anyway? They had leftover pretzels, and used it to coat tofu. We had cashews that came in the mail from William's church (along with lots of other stuff. Thanks, William's Church!)

So I basically followed their three-step tofu-coating process, which is described in more detail here. Thank goodness for the internets! I am learning all kinds of wonderful things!

The internet is particularly helpful with regards to tofu. Except for when it isn't (I'm sorry, mashed potatoes! Will you ever forgive me?)

The thing is -- let's face it -- tofu is incredibly boring. A really good slab of meat doesn't need anything else to be good -- if you're into that sort of thing. A really good piece of tofu, by itself? You're living in blahville, hanging out at the local Bland Cafe, heating monotone concerts by bands called Tasteless and Pretty Much Nothing, sitting in empty beige theaters for fun and hanging out with people who might be your friends, but you can't tell -- they're so underassertive you're not sure if they exist. You're wearing clothes that might be a color, but you're not sure, and nobody notices because everybody is pretty much asleep and you go to school to learn nothing at all, taught poorly, and boredom is the single highest cause of death. Am I taking this too far? Point is, tofu is boring, and I'm willing to try most anything to make it otherwise.

How did this particular experiment pan out?

Let's ask William.

A cautious bite. "This is the best tofu I have ever tasted."

A bigger bite. "Seriously. Including all your tofu. I don't think I've ever had tofu that even came close."

Pops the rest into his mouth. "I am amazed that you made tofu taste like this! I am really impressed. Like whoa."

Fifteen minutes of praise later: "Oh my goodness mffff mm oh man mmffff oh this is so good oh man. You are awesome. Living with you is the best thing ever. Are you going to eat that? Oh man that was so good. You could put that on a stick and feed it to people at carnivals and stuff. Mmmf."

What a strange compliment.

Me: "You could deep-fry anything and put it on a stick and feed it to people at carnivals."

Him: "Yeah, but.. but... but most of it's not good! And this is GOOD!" Pause. "Seriously, are you going to eat that?"

Personally? I think it was a little salty. I need to go a little lighter on the soy sauce marinade next time. And I strongly suspect that deep-frying tofu completely negates any health benefits of soy. But I do like effusive praise.

Do you want to know how to make tofu that will make your favorite dinner companion go "Oh man oh man oh mmmf?" I'm gonna share.

(It's ready for its closeup! This picture does not adequately portray the tastiness. But let me tell you: it was tasty. Crunch on the outside, tender on the inside, flavorful throughout, with just a kick of spice; oh man. Mmf, even.)

Step one: Buy some extra-firm tofu. We buy ours for 91 cents (including tax) at the local Japanese market. Lesson learned: you should shop at ethnic stores, because they are awesome, and also cheap. Every now and again I'll send William, and he'll buy the organic stuff by accident. We'll be in trouble then. That's $1.12. Oh man. Breaking the budget.

Step two: Cut the tofu into triangles -- cut it into halves or thirds on a plane parallel to the table, so you have skinnier rectangles of tofu, and then cut each rectangle into 4 or 8 triangles. Depends how big you like your tofu, if you know what I mean.

Step three: Press those suckers dry. I press mine with paper towels a couple of times, then make a sandwich of folded over towel, paper towels, tofu, paper towels, folded over towel -- and top the whole thing with my entire cookbook collection (4 books, at the moment. Whoopdy-doo.).

Step four: Go do something else and forget about it for a while.

Step five: Put the squished (and drier) tofu triangles in a non-stick skillet and put over medium-low heat. Do something else while you wait for the tofu to brown -- I recommend installing a spice shelf! -- and occasionally press the tofu with a spatula. It's fun. You get to see water seep out and sizzle.

Side note on spatulas: I just bought a $2 metal spatula, and boy, am I psyched! Why? Because my $1 plastic one kept freaking melting onto things! Have you ever had to clean melted plastic off a cast-iron pan? Me neither. But William has, and he says that it sucks!

Anyway. Flip the tofu over when they are all golden-colored on the bottom. Or earlier, if you're lazy and in a hurry. Did I mention that this process takes forever? No? Well, it takes forever. But don't turn the heat up too high, or you will have a scorched-to-the-pan mess. And nobody likes that.

Step six: Marinade the tofu. I plopped it in a mixture of a lot of soy sauce, a good bit of vinegar, a little sriracha chili sauce, a little honey, and a little more sriracha.

Step seven: Do something else and forget about it for a while. (There's a lot of that in this recipe.)

Step eight: Get ready for the three-bowl tofu-coating party! Woohoo! Take each triangle out of the marinade and cover it in:

Step 8.1: A mixture of 1/4 cup of flour, a shake of cayenne pepper and a little bit of pepper, then

Step 8.2: A slurry (whatever the hell that is) of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water plus a bit of sriracha, then

Step 8.3: A combination of crushed cashews, crushed red pepper and curry powder.

Step nine: Drop those babies into boiling hot oil! I use the term "babies" in the metaphorical sense only. I deep-fried half of them, and pan-fried the other half in less than a half-inch of oil. The pan-fried tofu got much browner, almost burnt-looking, but tasted just as good as the deep-fried ones -- maybe even a hair better.

Step 9.5: what the hell does a vegan eat anyway? recommends putting the tofu in the oven for another twenty minutes. You can do that if you like. I didn't.

Step 10: Serve. Bow. Reap in the accolades and congratulatory smooches.

You're welcome.


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