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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tofu, the Other White Meat

Tofu has a bad rap: good for you but tasteless. Conventional wisdom has it that tofu is acceptable ornamentally in miso soup or the occasional stir fry but is simply too bland to be featured in a main dish.

At some Japanese restaurants, I had seen "Tofu Steak" on the menu. It struck me that tofu wasn't like steak but it was similar to chicken breasts. I began a series of experiments. Using firm tofu, I cut it loose from its Asian moorings. I tried grilling, sauteing, and roasting.

My favorite so far is an oven roasted tofu with a topping of crispy shallots, garlic, parsley, and shiitake mushrooms. A little bit of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper was all I added. Besides being quick and easy to prepare, healthy, and affordable, the tofu was delicious.

Please send in any of your own favorite tofu recipes.

Roasted Tofu with Crispy Toppings

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 package firm tofu, preferably organic
6 large shallots, peeled, julienned
4 garlic cloves, peeled, julienned
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 pound shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thin sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Saute the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms in olive oil over a medium flame until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Cut the tofu into equal sized slabs, 2"x3"x1/2". Drizzle olive oil in the pan, season with sea salt and pepper, dredge each piece of tofu in the seasoned olive oil, put into the pan, cover with the shallot saute, put into a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Serve with a side of sauteed or steamed broccoli or a green salad.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Spinach Salad For a Change of Pace

As much as I enjoy arugula, red leaf, and romaine salads, there are times when I need a change. At the farmers' markets these days there is a good supply of regular spinach and the Bloomsdale or heirloom variety, the one with the crinkly leaves.

The nutty flavor and sturdy leaf structure of spinach invites the addition of flavors. So many ingredients go well with spinach. Personally, I like scallions, tomatoes, avocado, olives, grilled corn, and carrots go well with spinach. If you're ok with meat, add crisp bacon, chopped hard boiled eggs, grilled shrimp, sliced chicken breast, or julienned ham.

Any favorite salad dressing will do. We tend to like a simple dressing of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. The dressing can also be heated to create a wilted spinach salad.

Spinach Salad

Because all the grit has to be removed, spinach is a little more work to clean than arugula or lettuce. If the spinach leaves are still connected to their roots, cut off the root ends while the leaves are tied together. Separate the leaves and put them into the sink with a lot of water. Shake the leaves and remove to a colander. If you want, double rinse by spraying the leaves while they're in the colander.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 large bunches spinach, washed thoroughly, stems removed
2 scallions, trimmed, finely chopped
1 carrot, washed, trimmed, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds
1 avocado, washed, peeled, roughly cut
10 cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
4 brown mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grilled corn kernels
1 tablespoon roasted almonds, hazelnuts, or pine nuts, roughly chopped (optional)
1/2 cup croutons (optional)
2 eggs, hard boiled, finely chopped (optional)
4 pieces bacon, crisp, finely chopped (optional)
10 grilled shrimp, washed, peeled, deveined (optional)
4 slices chicken breast, grilled or sauteed (optional)
1/4 cup julienned ham (optional)
Olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced to 1 tablespoon
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the salad in a large salad bowl. Tear the large leaves into bite sized pieces. Leave the small leaves whole. Add whatever toppings you like. Make the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar dressing or use whatever dressing you like and serve as a salad course or as a main course.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Best Post-Thanksgiving Comfort Food: Turkey Dumpling Stew

Usually on Thanksgiving between 20-25 people come over for dinner. This year we had a smaller group. With 10, we had time to talk and there wasn't quite as much work getting the meal ready. Out of habit, though, we bought the same size turkey we always buy, a 25 pounder. So we assumed we'd have a lot of food left over, enough for several days of sandwiches.

When we looked in the refrigerator on Friday, we were surprised that we had very little cranberry sauce, almost no stuffing, and only enough white meat for a couple of sandwiches. But, happily, we did have a lot of dark meat and almost a gallon of turkey stock we'd made Thanksgiving night.

For our day after Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted a good comfort meal. Dumplings with anything is always great, but with richly flavored turkey stew, there's nothing more satisfying.

Turkey Stew with Dumplings and Vegetables

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked, shredded turkey dark meat
6 cups turkey stock (fat removed)
2 carrots (washed, peeled, ends removed, chopped into thick rounds)
2 sweet potatoes (cooked, skins removed, roughly chopped)
1 medium yellow onion (peeled, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1 ear of corn (kernels removed) or 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 celery stalk (washed, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, finely chopped)
1 small bunch spinach (washed thoroughly, stems removed)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a dutch oven or a frying pan with tall sides, sauté the carrots, garlic, celery, mushrooms, onions, corn, and parsley in olive oil until lightly browned. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the shredded turkey, cooked sweet potatoes, and turkey stock. Simmer. Drop in the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To make the dumplings, mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons, make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with a salad and a baguette.

Variations

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or Italian parsley to the dumplings.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers to the dumplings.