The Gastronomist Manifesto

Chefs of the World Unite!

Sesame-Glazed Tofu and Roasted Napa Cabbage

Tonight I revisted more Asian themes. This time moving in a slightly more Chinese direction. Mostly I was just hungry and wanted to play around. I had some napa cabbage in the fridge that needed to be used up and my pantry is still pretty light except for things like soy sauce and sesame oil. Picked up some tofu from the store, plus a carrot and some sesame seeds and was able to come up with this…

sesame tofu and roast cabbage

Not exactly the prettiest thing with it’s dull orange, green and brown tones. Almost monochomatic. But pretty happy nonetheless with the taste.

Started with the cabbage. Preheated oven to 375. Meanwhile split the cabbage I had lengthwise. Made a quick dressing of oil, a dash of sesame oil, minced clove of garlic and salt. This went onto the cabbage, making sure to get the garlic into those leaves. When the oven got hot, the cabbage went in (45 minutes in my dish, but it maybe could’ve gone for an hour.) Came out as such

roast bok choy

As for the tofu. I had this idea that I thought was genius. The trick everyone knows for frying tofu is that you have to get the water out of it, otherwise it’s just steamed in oil, not crusty and golden. The popular method is to press it with a weight, sandwiched between towels, which works fine I suppose. But I thought I could do better using a common household item: a space heater. I made a rig out of a wire rack and the empty tofu container (to trap water.)

tofu and space heater

Overall, I was happy with the results! After first doing a quick press with some towels to get the bulk of the moisture out, it went onto my rig. An occasional turn here and there to keep the drying even. After maybe half an hour it felt right. So into a hot (med-hot) pan with some oil. Didn’t take long to start browning, which I could see along the edges of the tofu near the pan. One flip and then the other side.

tofu fried

DONE!

The “glaze” as I’m calling it was pretty simple. If you’re wondering why there isn’t any ginger, because I think once in a while it would nice for sesame and ginger to have some time apart. They’re co-dependent and they need to focus on their individuality now and then. Though, admittedly, ginger would’ve been good.

2 teaspoons of ketchup

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

a good pinch of sesame seeds

Stir and spread over hot tofu.

New Kitchen! Old Blog!

I let this site fall away. The glamour faded of being another “food blogger” in a virtual market where there are six blogs for every one reader (based on a statistic I just made up.) :Life got in the way, and this site has never been anything but a fun diversion shared by myself, a few friends and the occasional stumbler–welcome!

But a few things have changed:

1.) Moved to a new house with a much, much nicer kitchen!

2.) I now earn an honest living as a cook. So not only am I sharing food I’ve made; I’m dispensing real PROFESSIONAL advice here!

3.) I’m more actively pursuing a “near-vegetarian” diet. What is that? Basically, I’m trying to adjust to a diet that doesn’t assume meat as the normative, central focus of meals. That Americans in particular should for ecological, social and ethical reasons drastically cut back on meat, but that absolute vegetarianism, if it seems to harsh for many to even attempt, needn’t be 100% to have an effect. And I cook meat for my job, which includes a lot of free meals so…

Tonight is my first attempt at making something that wasn’t just “throwing something together.” This is what I was craving and this is what I made

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RICE BOWL W/ PEANUTS, PEARS AND RAW VEG W/ A JAPANESE-INSPIRED DRESSING

Okay, the name of it is longer than most sentences in this blog. Does it sound alluring?! Cold rice and raw vegetables? Pears in that shit? Why?! But this is one of the tastiest things I’ve made in a long time. Plus, aside from the condiments, which I figured I’d need to splurge on soon enough, it’s damn cheap.

STEP ONE: Cook up some rice. I made about 500 mL because the measuring cup in my kitchen–when held in the right hand, which I am–shows metric. That’s about two cups cooked if you prefer the Imperial system. Start this first. Chill when done.

STEP TWO: Prepare vegetables. Ideally about as much vegetation as rice. What kind? This is a good recipe for using what’s on hand, and since this is a cold dish, what can be cut fine/thin and raw. I used:

– Half a handful of broccoli florets.

– Half a small zucchini. Cut into very tiny ‘matchsticks.’

– Two stalks of green onion. (Halve that if you don’t like onion. I love onion!)

– One bosc pear, sliced.*

– Peanuts… like a handful-ish.

STEP THREE: Make the dressing. It’s super easy.

Take a small knob of ginger. Slice off the skin on all sides, plus cut away any exposed part not covered with skin (ginger dries out and gets woody and inedible real fast where it’s been cut.) I came up with a piece about the size of the last digit on my pointer finger. Put in on a cutting board or firm surface, and SMASH IT LIKE THE CHAINS OF CAPITALISM. When it comes to both ginger and garlic, I am a firm believer that they should almost always be crushed first. You want their delicious oils and plant phenols or whatever their flavor-substances are that are trapped in their cell walls. Smashing/crushing will make your ginger more ginger-y.

In a bowl mix with the ginger about two tablespoons of soy sauce and rice vinegar, a quick splash of toasted sesame oil, half a tablespoon to a tablespoon of miso (sub in sriracha for heat, curry paste for zing, or even peanut butter if you don’t have miso.)

Take a fork and start stirring your dressing vigorously with one hand while slowly and I mean SLOWLY drizzling in a light vegetable or canola oil in. Now a classic vinaigratte will tell you to use add at least twice as much oil as the sour base, but this is not a dressing for greens; oil makes dressings “sticky” but this is going onto sticky rice so why add a lot of calories? Aim for a 1:1 ratio and just eye-ball it.

STEP FOUR: ASSEMBLE!

Mix everything together. This dish shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to make if you’ve got decent knife skills and cook white rice first. It’s not complicated, neither should the serving of it. Dump it in a bowl, or on a plate, or in an inverted fedora. It’s got a nice balance with the nutty, earthy sesame oil and the bright punch of the ginger; using raw vegetables/peanuts contrasts crunch with the rice. Other cliche sounding words used by food critics… this is simple, vegan, tasty and budget friendly.

Pacific Northwest Pride With A Spanish Touch

I moved to Portland a little over two years ago. This burgeoning “foodie town” hasn’t let me down much, although I’m still skeptical as with all things Portland related that there isn’t a hype factor involved a bit. One thing I wont argue with is being so close to and surrounded by one of the agricultural Meccas of the United States. The produce! So good.

Felt like cooking up something special because it was a slow Sunday and I haven’t treated myself in a while. Thought maybe I’d play to the foods of my new home in the PNW, but add a little Spanish-French touch since, well, awesome + awesome…

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Salmon With Poblano-Hazelnut Pesto, Potatoes, Asparagus and a Garlic-Pimenton Butter

My inability to gauge portion sizes from raw ingredients lead to a rather hefty plate, which is fine by me when the food’s this good and it’s Sunday (I can nap, dammit!)

First thing is you want to start your potatoes. Depends on their size of course as to how long you need to cook them. Just stab ’em with a fork, ice pick or whatever you have handy after a while to test.

OH! But you think cooking potatoes is just that easy, do you?! Here’s the best trick I’ve learned for doing potatoes: never add potatoes to a boiling pot. See the heat and hot water that carries it takes time to travel from outside to in, when you apply that heat too fast, too hard it doesn’t make that distance very equitably. It’s a caloric class system. What you get is over-done outer parts and raw insides. Also, unless you have health reasons like hypertension, douse the water with salt. Not only does it flavor your potato but I believe something with the osmosis process makes for a more tender tater–least it seems that way to me but I’m not a scientist.

Now the fish… I got a nice bit of salmon, quintessential PNW staple. A sadly rare treat because I’m broke and I will not buy shitty fish (I used to be a fishmonger.) I went with a poaching method with this. Convinience, mostly, there were a lot of dirty dishes with this meal. One my potatoes were done I just popped the fishy right into the water, which was on a medium heat, not at a boil. Water boils at 212 degrees and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees to be safe. See what I mean?

The recipe I adapted this from suggested throwing white wine, garlic and parsley into the cooking liquid. Which is cool, but I find never adds enough flavor to be worth the trouble.

Asparagus. Blanch it for a few minutes. If you want to keep it extra green chill it in ice water after cooking. I’m told a little baking soda in the water also helps.

Now comes the fun part, the condiments!

Poblano-Hazelnut Pesto.

– One handful of hazelnuts (Oregon’s state nut!) Blanched if you want to put in the effort. Initially I was going to make this into a Romesco type sauce, but messed up my levels. But the pesto was a serendipitous result.

– One large poblano pepper, fire roasted. Don’t have a fire? A non-stick pan on the highest heat will burn that sucker black. I found putting our tea kettle over it for pressure got a nice blackness on the skin. You want black too. You can easily scrape off the burnt skin with cold, running water and a paring knife, and that’s the only way to get a soft, roasty pepper.

– Vinegar, just a capful. I like Sherry, but apple cider is more likely in your pantry and works fine.

– Cumin. Half teaspoon ground or about as many seeds.

Take food. Put in blender. Slowly add olive oil in batches or drizzle if your machine has an open top for such. Blend until you have a workable paste and, of course, season appropriately.

Garlic-Pimenton Butter

– Garlic. I used three cloves, small-medium sorts. You *could* just mince them. I have this super-handy toaster oven that I threw them in, in their jackets, for 18 minutes. Makes for a sweeter, less zingy garlic.

– Olive oil in a pain on med-low heat. Minced garlic in! Good dash of good paprika. And when I say good paprika I mean spend money on the real stuff. A lot of cheap brands are flavorless, basically coloring agents. I don’t normally advocate spending more for quality, but paprika’s an exception, the difference is night and day.

– So while your garlic slowly softens and the paprika/pimenton dissolve, how about a pat of butter? Nice texture, great depth, loves salmon.

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Serving is pretty evident I hope from the picture! Just sliced the potatoes into rounds (careful that they’re cool), fish, asparagus and distribute the pesto over and sauce around so you can get nice even bites.

Salmon, hazelnuts and asparagus! The only thing essentially Pacific Northwest not included were rain and handlebar moustaches. But that… that’s another post.

Celebrity Meat Snobs Can Go Tofuck Themselves

CAUTION: This post contains a fair amount of vulgar language and no recipe. I don’t know who follows me or what your personal line of decency is, but things get a little R-rated today. This may turn you off to beef wellington.

 

I like meat just fine. I don’t eat a lot of it compared to most Americans. I like tofu too and certainly consume more of it than the median level in this country. I also consume a fair number of shows related to cooking. But what I find completely inedible…

“Guuuuurrrrrr brrrrggg…. something about how gross tofu is. Vegetarian-option?! Here’s a carrot!”

-Sayeth numerous celebrity chefs

I get the whole macho image thing just fine. We all get it. No one has ever deeply questioned why meat is a slang term for a penis. The real connundrum is why people in a community that seems to cherish non-normative passions and behaviors, celebfaces suddenly develop WASP-y fratboy Tourette’s the moment “vegetarian” gets mentioned. Your cracks at the non-meat eaters echoes what I heard from my conservative aunts and uncles when I was sixteen, for whom salad was any sort of plant dressed in mayonnaise. Edgy!

“Tofu! Bland, white and flavorless!!” Yeah, you know what else is? A potato. And Americans consume the ever-living shit out of them and every gourmet raves about ’em. I think the real problem with these Star Chefs is that they simply just can’t cook outside of their petty little comfort zone. Yes, I’m calling you out… or I would if any of ’em read my trivial food blog.

If you can’t make tofu taste good, you suck or you’re not trying. It’s a blank canvass for sure, which is why anyone who’s cooking with inspiration can make it shine. And of all the “foodies” I know, vegetarians are very well-represented, which is believable as they’re obviously commited in some way to thinking about the food we grow, fix and consume. And given that a healthier, more eco-friendly sort of diet for America has solid numbers to support it, some of the top food minds in the media maybe should stop circle jerking it onto their beef wellingtons for a hot second, learn how to transform bland product to something tasty, and cut the really played-out veg-o-phobia.

 

One Last Bake of the Season – Eggplant and Polow

Yesterday was cold, today was cold, the end of the week is supposed to go up to 80 degrees. So what better reason to fire up the oven one more time? And I just happened to have one of my favorite vegetables to oven roast, eggplant!

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Roasted Eggplant

1. Pre-heat the broiler of your oven with a rack close to the top. As that’s heating take an eggplant and slice into rings. Optional: You may want to dose them with salt on both sides to draw a little of the bitterness out. Wash the salt off and dry them with a towel after about 10-15 minutes. Season the eggplant slices and coat with a thin layer of olive oil, both sides.

2. Place eggplant slices on a baking sheet and pop them under the broiler. When I made mine I wanted my eggplant to have little contact with the cooking surface so I rigged a sort of roasting rack out of rolled up aluminum foil. This prevented sticking and slightly better heat distribution, but is optional.

3. Check on your slices after 6-7 minutes. The tops should be slightly browned, give or take depending on your oven and the eggplant itself. If so, flip them over and let them go for another 5 minutes to brown the other side and soften the middle.

4. When you are satisfied with their doneness, sprinkle on some feta cheese and pimento peppers (i.e., what green olives are often stuffed with and readily available in jars.) Throw them back under the broiler for a minute or two if you want the feta to soften a little.

5. Garnish with some fresh herbs if you have some (parsley or mint = best; I had cilantro which also went well), some good olive oil and/or some cracked black pepper as you like it.

Polow

Polow is a transliteration of an Iranian rice dish, similar to pilaf in other countries. There are numerous types and interpretations on this basic dish, here is mine.

1. Cook basmati rice–brown or white–per instructions with a few shakes of turmeric or, if you’re a baller, some saffron threads (more traditional, but also more $$$.)

2. With the rice going dice plenty of onion (I made 1 cup of cooked rice and about 1/43 cup of onion), a couple garlic cloves–minced, a small handful/palmful of dried dates, the same of raisins and one tomato. Sautee the onion in olive oil over a medium-low heat until it turns translucent and begins to take on some color. Add the other ingredients to the pan and continue to cook until the fruits/veggies soften and meld flavors. Don’t rush this step. Let it cook slowly and gently.

More options! Polow is frequently made with meat. Diced chicken, beef or lamb can be cooked with or seperately with the onion. I kept things vegetarian and threw some TVP in with a little water–not flavorful but upped the protein content. Other common & tasty additions: pomegranate seeds, lentils, peas and nuts.

3. When your rice is done and your sautee mixture soft and happily married, combine with the rice along with about a level teaspoon of cinnamon or a little less than, plus some lime juice (about half a lime.) If you have garam masala spice that can be substituted for a deeper, more complex spice profile. I wanted to keep my flavors simple this time; choose what suits your mood.

4. Throw in some fresh herbs just before serving or over top of the dish. In Iran herbs are a crucial ingredient and many types are used if the many recipes I’ve found have anything to say. Parsley and mint again would be the best picks. I again used cilantro just because I had it, and it works splendidly. Basil, dill and tarragon would also be excellent. Just avoid stronger, pungent stuff like oregano and rosemary.

 

Tuna Burger – Time Is of the Essence!!!

So the other day I came home hungry after a busy day of work and a tough workout. My stomach was crying for food like the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune cried for freedom. As a rule I do not keep any sort of snacks in my house except apples, carrots and the like; by forcing myself to take the time to cook I avoid the temptation to mindlessly stuff myself. But this situation I was in called for an expedient solution–no time to wait 40 minutes for brown rice to cook!

Solution (fast, healthy and utterly satisfying):

tuna burger sandwich

It’s a tuna burger. It couldn’t be easier, cheaper or much better for you. Takes little time for a nice, juicy payback.

1. Open a can o’ tuna and drain it. I just pressed the lid of the can down hard, inverted over the sink. Add the tuna pieces to a bowl.

2. Finely mince some onion, like a couple tablespoons, or if you don’t like onions, don’t. Pick a vegetable you do like, picky-puss. Add to tuna. Next comes a little wheat germ for body and nutrition, 1/4-1/3 cup. And you’re going to want a little heat too, right? Srirachi squirts (my choice), Tabasco sauce, horseradish, spicy mustard or black pepper all love canned tuna.

3. Add one egg yolk. When I made this for myself it had almost the consistency of a crab cake* rather than a patty. The egg is necessary to hold everything together while keeping it moist when you cook it. *That is to say, crumbly.

4. Add flour. How much? Depends on how well-drained the tuna is and how much glue-y power you require. Add in small batches and gently fold with your hands until you can form a fishy mass that holds in one piece. You can use non-wheat flour if you’re gluten intolerant, just remember while it will absorb extra moisture it wont have the same binding effect.

5. Fry your burger in a little olive oil over a med-high heat. For me, the point was to get a crust and sturdy outside shell, not to cook through. If you’re worried about under-cooked egg, go with a lower heat. The tuna, obviously, is cooked. About 4 minutes a side. Note: While this *could* be adapted for the grill, don’t try it with this recipe. You’ll just end up with tuna rubble on charcoal.

6. If you reserved the egg whites when you separated your egg, you might consider cooking them in the pan when the burger’s done for a topping.

7. Assemble sandwich on bread or a bun, top with your fixin’s and condiments of choice.

Don’t be a slave to the capitalist system! Don’t be a slave to your kitchen either.

It Can Only Be… Stir Fraud!!!

I haven’t really thought about this blog in a while. Cooking creativity was slumping, broken camera issues and a lacklustre pantry due to this Capitalist Crisis we’re in were the main reasons. But tonight, I made a spur of the moment decision to try something new: tofu stir-fry that has no oil whatsoever! Now some recipes I’ve tried before call for swapping oil for water (and nothing else different) and my opinion is that they all suck. It tastes steamed and bland, keeping health food stereotypes obese with justification. Mine is way better!

no-oil stir fry

No list of measurements/time. 😦 My apologizes, but I wasn’t thinking I’d post about this until I was eating it.

Pre-prep: Making rice, chopping veggies and setting your oven to something around 275-300 F.

1. Take a non-stick pan over a medium-high heat. Take tofu (always extra-firm!) and place them in thick slices onto the pan (no oil!) You could cube them now, but if you leave them lengthwise for now it’s easier to sear them. Wiggle gently and turn when just a little brown onto another side. Keep doing this until all sides are done. Carefully remove and cube your tofu to desired morselness.

2. Lower the heat a bit and begin to assemble the sauce of your choosing. If do this in an empty pan the better, as you can adjust it easier. Soy sauce, broth, minced garlic, five-spice powder and pepper was all I can remember adding to mine. You can borrow from any recipe you like with this rule: no prepared sauces or thickening agents! This is a braise, meaning liquid. Those GM Party Banned items will just turn to gel, not seep into the tofu and probably burn all over your pan.

3. When you’ve got your sauce tofu/protein goes in, veg goes in and for a nice braise you do not want things completely covered 60% is a rough basis. Too little and dry out could happen (BAD!); too much and heat just wont transfer quickly (NOT GOOD.) Then into the oven for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables. Turn food over once or twice to give everything a dunk and check the liquid (evaporation will only be a problem if you had a pithy puddle to start with.)

4. When you feel confident in your braise’s done-ness remove (CAREFULLY) and place back on the stove top. Now you need a slurry, which is not in this case a way to describe weather in my homestates of MI and OR, but a mix of cornstarch and water. Make it in a bowl, about a tablespoon should be plenty and enough cold water till you can whisk it to solution. Never add the cornstarch directly to hot liquid because that just makes corn lumps.

5. Put the heat fairly high on the stove and wait for a boil to begin. Keep stirring and add the slurry in doses (you can always add more but never take out.) The slurry will start to thicken the sauce. When it’s to your liking, you’re finished! Serve over rice, noodles, nachos, whatever and consume. (Note: you can make slurries with other thickeners like flour or arrowroot, but only cornstarch has that oily mouthfeel to it.)

no oil stir fry 2

Though I’m not on a “diet” by any means, I’ve been working out a lot more and naturally eating well is crucial. I’m estimating that rather huge dish was about 700 calories. And use the fork for comparison, it’s an especially large plate. 700 calories in a main meal isn’t a lot for an active person’s diet. My daily needs are about five times that. But the good thing is while this had more calories than a Big Mac, it had 1.5x the protein and half the fat.

Leftover Raddichio–Riddichoulous

Some ingredients can be tricky to work with when you have leftover portions from other dishes. Happened to me with raddichio, which is an amazing but excessively bitter green. Like all members of the lettuce family the countdown was on to use it fast or risk wilted spoilage, and I’m too poor for lost produce.

Cheap, easky and delicious solution was Balsamic Roasted Raddichio with Polenta.

Polenta cooks differently depending upon the size of the grain. But if you’re usually cooking rice or pasta don’t be surprised if the recommended time is quite high. A good, evenly cooked polenta can take up to 40 minutes on a low heat if the cut is coarse–the package you’re reading is no typo.

As your pot of polenta gets lovely, you can dress your raddichio. Cut the stem portion off but you can leave them in wedges or thick pieces.. Sorry that I’m not one to measure, but the mixture is salt, pepper, olive oil and a lot of balsamic. If you can’t gauge the appropriate amounts of these things chances are you probably shouldn’t be trying this at all. Just go easy on the salt, the rest with drip off. Set your oven to a hot 450 degrees (F) and when it heats you can pop those leaves in for about 13 minutes. Let them cool and then slice or chop them to your preference.

With the polenta… polenta is great but usually made poorly so few incorporate it as a food staple. Here’s my trick: you have to heavily season that shit. Milk, butter and salt. Start piling it in as you taste. For healthier versions go with stock and aromatics. Thing is, polenta has marvelous texture, but falls short on flavor.

I finished my lunch with a small bit of simple, store-bought marinara sauce (no shame in buying pre-made product if you use it well) and some diced red pepper and arugula for color. I sometimes go overboard with garnishing but I love color.

Oh, and I have soy milk and vegan butter substitute (I’m mainly lactose intolerant) so this was also 100% vegan. Light, simple, comforting.

Squid and Bok Choy over Curry Rice

Two point knock out with Asian style cuisine. Here I made a killer curry of squid, bok choy and rice

1/3 lbs squid
1 hunk of bok choy
1/2 cup of rice with a teaspoon of curry powder
half a bunch of cilantro
1/2 cup or so of coconut milk
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
a hefty dash of salt and pepper

Started by cooking the rice and curry powder together.

Sauteed the squid for a few minutes, added the bok choy and cooked for about five minutes

Plated the rice, squid and poured a pureee of blended coconut milk, cilantro and ginger.

Viet-Nom-Nom

New camera = new posts. The old camera died and no point writing about dishes if there are no tasty, tasty photos. My lunch today…

 

Complicated? Hell yeah. Measured? Afreaid not. Worth it? F### yes!!!

First thing you will need is pork–loin is a good cut–and marinate that for at least 24 hours. Totally transforms the meat. I used: soy sauce, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce (found in Asian markets, terribly pungent! Not for everyone), chilies, lime leaves, garlic and a touch of salt. To eventually cook this, low and slow for about three hours at 275 if you’re using a standard loin chop. Chop/shred when the meat is cool.

For the noodles, cook according to package directions. Any ol’ noodle works here. Could be rice, vermicceli… I just happened to use mung bean noodles. Dressed with a bit of coconut milk and green curry paste I warmed in a pan with a bit of a chopped cilantro.

Take your veggies and cut them thin! I used carrot, cucumber, green beans and sprouts. Nice crunch.

The soy-sriracha reduction sauce. Here I wish I wrote down measurements or remembered better. Basically though it was equal parts soy sauce, lime juice with a good hit of sugar and sriracha sauce. Bring it to a boil, then reduce and cook until it becomes thick. Intense flavor in this stuff, use sparingly and I recommend serving it on the side as I did. To make a nice spread, spoon a lump of it at one edge of the plate and drag a spoon over the top to spread. Looks elegant.

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