Baked Tofu

I first came across this tofu technique last year when I was preparing the entirely vegetarian menu for my friend Anna’s baby shower.  I decided to revisit it after Anna and I meandered into a conversation about why the ensuing baby had no interest in eating tofu.  "Well, would you?" We reasoned.  His tofu lacked flavor and, though this was characteristic of most of his food at the time, texture.

Tofu serves best as a conduit for liquid flavor.  A marinade or a sauce is almost always essential for really enjoying tofu in a dish.  But, I contend that even with the flavor box checked, checking the texture box remains key to really rounding out the experience.  One method (and a delicious one at that) is to dust the tofu with cornstarch and either deep or pan fry it.  But many of us don’t want to eat fried food everyday, so it’s nice to have another option.

That option is this baked tofu preparation.  Pressing out most of the water from a brick of firm tofu before marinading it allows for better absorption of the marinade, not to mention a chewier texture in the end after it is sliced thin and baked in a hot oven.

The process is straightforward and requires minimal hands-on time.  First, unwrap a block of firm tofu and place it on a dinner plate.  Place another dinner plate on top of the tofu and something heavy (I like to use the lid from my cast iron dutch oven) on top of the that.  Walk away for about an hour.

Upon returning, there will be a pool of liquid surrounding the tofu on the bottom plate.  Dump this liquid.  Place the tofu on a cutting board and slice thinly.  The more thinly it is sliced, the more chewy the final texture of the tofu will be.  I like to aim for about 1/8” slices if possible.  Place the sliced tofu in a small bowl or dish.

Prepare a marinade, enough to cover the tofu in the dish (To save time, this can also be done while the tofu is being pressed).  I’ve tried several, including a ginger and black garlic version, and a blood orange version (pictured).  A basic option includes soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and brown sugar.  Adjust the proportions to taste.  I like to include a little bit of sugar or agave in the marinade because it caramelizes nicely in the oven and adds another layer of texture and flavor to the tofu, but it’s certainly not critical to the preparation.  Pour the marinade over the tofu, making sure that both sides of each slice are in contact with the marinade.  Walk away for about 30 minutes.

Upon returning, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet and place the individual slices of the tofu on the sheet.  Bake the tofu for about 20 minutes, or until it looks dry and the edges start to brown a bit.

Eat the tofu!  It is excellent with lots of fresh, crisp vegetables and herbs, wrapped in a spring roll or on a soft sandwich roll.  The chewiest, crispest pieces are even great on their own.  Experiment a little.  And enjoy tofu with texture.


Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream

Spaghetti squash is lovely because it keeps like a winter squash, but has the light texture of a more summery variety.  In the warm months, I like to keep it light, roasting the squash without letting it caramelize (a little water in the bottom of the baking sheet does the trick), then sauteing the cooked strands with garlic and some grated parmesan cheese.  But in the cooler months, a richer preparation is in order, like this Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream recipe from Sunset.  It is essentially a macaroni and cheese preparation, where a quick and light “bechamel” (milk thickened with flour and butter) is infused with fresh jalapeno for a little kick.

Don’t microwave the squash - it’s nice to roast it in the oven and let a little caramelization of the edges happen for some extra flavor.  Also, cutting the squash through its “equator” instead of longways produces longer, more spaghetti-like strands.  Finally, I use good quality dried jalapeno powder instead of fresh jalapenos in a pinch, and I don’t skimp on the cheese!

You can find Sunset’s recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream here.


Orecchiette with Veal, Capers, and White Wine

For the past six months, my schedule has been ever-changing, far from “traditional", and particularly demanding of my energy.  I’ll admit it - I’ve struggled to adjust.  One particularly difficult aspect of my ever-evolving life: I’m rarely home to cook dinner.  It’s a tough reality for a girl who has spent the better part of the past two years devoting her life (4:30 AM wake-up calls and all) to the study of creating beautiful cuisine.  And an even tougher one for those of us who have grown accustomed to a scratch meal after work (I’ll include both Kevin and myself in that category).  My solution to the problem is not earth shattering, but it is worth sharing with friends: spend one day per week’s downtime creating a sturdy salad or slaw, a reheat-able protein, pizza, or pasta, and a big pot of soup.  Eat in various combinations, and freeze some of the soup for later.  I also make sure I have a couple of  options for breakfast available (frittata, whole wheat pancakes, muesli) and a snack or two, but that’s a topic for another time.

This Orecchiette with Veal, Capers, and White Wine from Grace Parisi and Food & Wine fits into my plan perfectly for two reasons.  First, it keeps and reheats beautifully, not to mention that it portions out flexibly.  Secondly, most of the ingredients are pantry staples - just pick up some fresh herbs and you’re ready to go.  I like to keep some ground meat in the freezer for moments that call for recipes like this, especially since I like to buy responsible meat when I see it.  I prefer Strauss brand veal out of Wisconsin because I have been to their farms, and their harvesting and processing facilities to witness their practices first hand.  There are responsible sources of veal out there, but you do have to search them out - If you can’t find one, this dish works with pork as well.
Wine pairing: Bisson 2010 Pigato Colline Del Genovesato.  This crisp white from the Italian coastal region of Liguria echoes the brininess of the capers and marries with the fresh herbs of this dish as it cuts through the richness of the veal.  It is light, dry, and crisp - perfect for using in the dish and for drinking with it.  If you can’t find the Bisson Pigato, another crisp Italian white, such as a Gavi, Arneis, Verdicchio, another Vermentino, or even a Pinot Grigio will work just fine.


What I’m Drinking: Gramona Cava “Gran Cuvee” 2008

It’s only fitting that my final post of the year involve bubbles, especially since I’ve been crazy for sparkling for the better part of the past month.  And, of course, there’s nothing better for celebrating the New Year, even if it’s the only celebrating that you do.  A single flute of sparkling wine?  Sounds like the perfect New Year’s Eve to me.  Well, maybe more like two...

There are actually several good budget-friendly options, so it took a minute to narrow it down, but I finally settled on this Cava from Gramona as the way to go.  Kevin and I drank it on Christmas night this year, and it was the perfect thing.  I often like Cava in general as a sparkling option because of its tendency to be relatively inexpensive even despite being made via the traditional method.  This Gramona Cava goes a bit further because it also has a little bit of age on it, which adds some toasty, creamy, nutty notes that are perfect for the holidays and rich winter fare.

Hailing from Penedes Spain, the Gramona is made with two of the traditional Cava grapes, Macabeo and Xarel.lo, but also with the traditional Champagne grape Chardonnay, which is an interesting twist.  I love its golden straw color and streams of smallish bubbles in the glass, but am even more enthralled with the nose of this wine - all baked yellow apples, caramel and butterscotch, topped with a sprinkling of toasted almonds.

The palate does not disappoint - the caramel, baked apple, and almond are all there.  They are joined by some brighter notes, however, including lemon zest, lemon custard, and even some herbaceous apple skin.  I enjoyed this with cauliflower crudite, but think that it would be dynamite with some rich, caramelized roasted root vegetables, or even a cauliflower gratin topped with some breadcrumbs and a little parsley.  In the end, though, the good news about sparkling wine is that it pairs well with just about everything.

Happy New Year!


Chestnut and Celery Root Soup

Thanksgiving was at my house this year, and I took it on as an exciting opportunity to integrate some new and interesting dishes into the holiday routine.  Tangy and refreshing pomegranate seeds were stirred into the cranberry sauce.  Instead of stuffing or dressing, we had butternut squash and kale bread pudding.  And to start?  Soup and salad of course.  But not just any soup and salad.  Brussels sprouts and red cabbage, pine nuts and dried cranberries were dressed in a chile and honey mustard vinaigrette to play the salad role.  For the soup?  I revived this chestnut and celery root soup recipe from a couple of years ago...and then wondered why I hadn’t been making it the whole time.  Not only did our Thanksgiving guests love it, with its creamy texture, earthy depth, and just a touch of chestnut sweetness, but it was a breeze to put together, and even could be done the day before.  It will surely be making an appearance again over the holidays, and probably once more in January or February, when its hearty warmth will be most welcome in the dead of winter.

Use a sharp Y-shaped peeler to peel the celery root without going mad.  And season liberally, but don’t sweat the heavy cream if you’d rather not add the extra fat - I think it’s perfectly delicious without it.

You can find the recipe for Chestnut and Celery Root Soup here.