Crispy Tofu with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Wow, this was SO GOOD! The little tofu bits were twins for chicken nuggets. Everyone in the house loved them, including the avowed carnivores.

Crispy Tofu
1 block extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
2 T. cornmeal
Salt and pepper
Peanut oil

Drain the tofu and lightly squeeze out the water. Slice the tofu into flat triangles or rectangles… the more surface area, the crispier they will be. You don’t want them any thicker than 1/2″, though. Put them in a bowl and cover with boiling salted water and let stand for 15 minutes. (I used this time to make the sauce, below.)

In a heavy cast iron pan, start heating your oil. I covered the bottom of the pan with a good thick layer, about half as thick as my tofu bits. Make sure you give the pan enough time to get to about 350 degrees (if you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, you can toss a popcorn kernel in there… when it pops, your oil is ready).

Drain and scatter the tofu on an absorbent kitchen towel, then cover with another towel and gently press to remove as much water as you can. You don’t want to obliterate your little tofu bits, though, just get them dried off as best you can. In a medium sized mixing bowl, toss the cornmeal, salt and pepper together, then dump in the tofu pieces and toss to coat (I had some leftover, so don’t worry if it doesn’t all stick).

Here’s the fun part! Make sure everyone else in the house is occupied, because you can’t walk away from a pan of hot oil. Carefully drop the tofu bits into the oil (use tongs if you’re hinky about this step) and let them sizzle. Despite your curiosity and urge to fiddle, don’t mess around with them. You’ll be able to see when they are starting to brown on the bottom (it’s actually more of a yellowing; if you wait until a full-blown toasty brown, they’ll be closer to burnt). Use the tongs or a spatula to carefully flip them and let them cook on the other side the same way (they’ll go faster on the second side; your vigilance will be well rewarded!). When they are done, place them on a couple of folded paper towels to drain. That’s it!

Sweet & Sour Sauce

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 T. fresh ginger, grated
2 T. rice vinegar
1/2 c. ketchup
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 – 3/4 c. water
2 T. cornstarch

Mix everything but the water and cornstarch in a small pan, and heat to bubbling. Mix the water and cornstarch together, then add to the pan and stir over medium heat until thickened. Add a big ol’ squirt of Sriracha (or other chili sauce) if desired.

We served this with some rice and a salad, and it went over great. Enjoy!

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Widening the focus

This blog started as a collection of my food-based writing exported from LiveJournal, because LJ had become unstable and the rumors were flying. Now I’m finding myself with more to say, and feeling less inclined to chisel my thoughts down to fit into Facebook- or Twitter-sized chunklets. So I’m going to work on writing more consistently, and spread my range a bit further than my kitchen counter.

Spreading my wings!

Some of the topics I’d like to explore and document here:

Self Love (including Happiness, The Hair & Nail Chronicles, Being Fat, Yoga, Meditation, The Saga of the Ear, Menopause, and NIA)
Family (including Yay Bob, Marriage, Sex, Polyamory, The Ex & Divorce, Homebirth, Attachment Parenting, Teen/Adult Children, Homeschooling/Unschooling, Eldercare, and Long-Distance Family)
Home (including Chatelaine, Cooking, the Studio, Holidays, Pets, Gardening, Stewardship, and Tightwaddery)
Community (including Friendship, Volunteer Work, NextDoor, Midwifery Advocacy, Grief & Loss, NUG, MISS, LTH, NPL, SCA, IJA, Facebook, Norwood Park, and Chicago)
Maker (including Braiding, Calligraphy & Illumination, Editing & Writing, Sewing, Kumihimo, Victorian Hairwork, Beadwork, and Knitting)
Play (including Boardgames, Crosswords, Books, Juggling, Geocaching, Acapella, Exploring, Road Trips, Kites, Music, Movies, TV, Rainbows, Otters, Video Games, and Glitch)

Wow, that was actually a lot of fun! I sometimes feel like a lump, that I never do anything worthwhile… but my beautiful friend Nancy passed on a quote that resonated strongly: “You are a living mockery of your own ideals. If not, you have set your ideals too low.” — Charles Ludlam

With that, I shall move along and get on with my day. Thank you for visiting!

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Gluten-free cornbread

Bill’s been smoking amazing things lately with his Christmas Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker, and the coals always last longer than what he needs for the ribs or whatever the viande du jour is. So in addition to roasting a couple of marshmallows, we’ve been throwing on a chicken or two to finish up the “burn” (cue Breaking Bad smoke). Then we have smoked meat to play with for the rest of the week.

Smoked chicken green enchiladas were excellent, smoked chicken salad was wonderful, cold smoked chicken with mujedrah and lentil and chickpea salad was terrific. Tonight I did a big pot of smoked chicken and white bean chili. I started the chicken stock last night and let it simmer until this morning, while a few pounds of dry navy beans were soaking, then I put them together and let them converse the entire day (aided by some onions, a few serrano chilis, lots of spices and, of course, the chicken). 

I realized that this concoction really needed some accompaniments. I had a few limes, a lovely ripe avocado, sour cream, a green onion to slice up, and some white cheddar I could shred. But there was still something missing… aha! Cornbread!

Fortunately, cornbread is one of those things like muffins and biscuits that are pretty easy to convert to gluten-free… you basically use your favorite all-purpose gluten-free flour mix in place of the wheat flour, and don’t forget to toss in a bit of xanthan gum. I’m still working through the incredibly generous gift of several boxes of King Arthur GF multi-purpose flour that my mother-in-law gave us at Christmas (lots of food-related gifts in our family!), so that’s what I’m using in this, but the Bob’s Red Mill or any other mix you’ve had good luck with would work well too.

GF Cornbread

  • 1 1/4 c. cornmeal (any grind, but I prefer the finer to the coarser)
  • 3/4 c. gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
  • 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (if your blend doesn’t already include it; the KAF doesn’t)
  • 1/4 c. (scant) sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt (I used kosher)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick, or 8 T.) butter, softened (I popped a cold stick into the microwave for 30 seconds)

Heat your oven to 425F and place your 9″ cast-iron skillet in to warm up.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients. Whisk eggs together with milk, and add to dries, stirring gently. Add 6T of the melty butter and mix again. Carefully pull the pan out of the hot oven and swirl the remaining 2T of butter in it… don’t let it get too brown, just let it melt and bubble, then use a spatula to quickly scrape in the batter and return the skillet to the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 375F, and bake for 20 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean). 

Serve with butter and honey. 

Variations might include throwing in a handful of fresh or frozen corn, a chopped jalapeno pepper, some bacon bits… use your imagination!

Enjoy!

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How to soup up a cake

Many years ago, I needed to make a sheet cake for Donna Billick (a ceramicist I knew who wanted to trade art for baked goods). Another friend, Shaunie Briggs (who is also a prominent California sculptor in her own right), advised me not to try to do it from scratch, but to rather take several boxes of Duncan Hines mix and rev ‘em up by adding a good dose of cocoa powder and substituting buttermilk for the water. This proved to make an incredibly moist and terrific cake; while I rarely use a mix, when I do, I always make those improvements.

This weekend, I wanted to try one of the King Arthur gluten-free cake mixes. As I’m trying to dial down the dairy as well as the gluten, I wondered whether I could substitute something for recommended fat and water additions. So I turned to that staple of vegan desserts, coconut. I swapped 1/2 cup of coconut oil for the 2/3 cup vegetable oil called for on the box; and instead of water, I used one can of Thai Kitchen coconut milk (which had a goodly amount of coconut cream floating on top, which was mostly fat… that’s why I cut down the oil). 

The swaps turned out to be just the ticket for a velvety rich and delicious cake, with a moist tender crumb that was not dense or heavy at all. It’s hard to believe there is no milk or butter in it… it’s that good.

Enjoy!

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The secret to perfect stracciatella!

For this year’s Thanksgiving, my youngest son requested that one of the special homemade desserts be chocolate chip ice cream. The last few times I made it, inspired by the concept of stracciatella (Italian gelato with tiny delicate flecks of chocolate), the chips were more like chunks. Sure, it was edible, but nothing like the lacy confections I’ve tried at commercial places. One site suggested using oil to help thin the chocolate as you drizzle it into your churning mix… I tried that the last time, and while it was better, it still wasn’t what I was looking for. Then, this morning, I had a little brainstorm. What about all those homemade Magic Shell recipes, which are essentially chopped chocolate melted with a bit of coconut oil? So I tried it… about 4 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chopped and melted in a makeshift double-boiler with about 2 tsp. of coconut oil. It melted into a silky smooth thin sauce, which dripped in a very satisfyingly thin pour into my nearly frozen ice cream, resulting in an inverse galaxy of teeny flecks in the vanilla universe. BINGO! I don’t know if the Italians were holding out on us, but now we’ve cracked the code, perfect stracciatella is in reach for all of us. Now THAT’S something to be thankful for! 

Here’s hoping your holiday is glorious! 

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Comfort food on an autumn day: chicken and dumplings

We had our first snow here in Chicago the other night… just a tiny dusting that was gone the next morning, but it killed most of my little lettuce starts (*sigh*). Still, the clear crisp air is so deliciously sharp when you breathe it in deeply, and the sky is such a perfect and intense blue, I can’t be too unhappy about it. We’ve all dug out our scarves and gloves, but I’m saving the heavy wool socks for ice and snow.

I have two sons and a husband who spend their days at DePaul University (students and a professor, respectively), and they had a very chilly commute today, which happened to be the first day of finals. I wanted to have something warm and nourishing and comforting when they got home tonight; I had a couple of quarts of chicken stock from simmering carcasses over the last few weeks, so I pulled a package of chicken thighs out of the freezer this morning, thinking perhaps I’d do soup. It wound up more like stew, and it was exactly what we needed: a thick, velvety broth with plenty of meat and veg, and billowy soft, rich dumplings bobbing hither and thither. And I did it gluten-free!

Here’s how, so you can too…

Chicken Stew with Dumplings
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
(with gluten-free adjustments)
About 8 hearty servings

Stew:
~2 quarts homemade chicken stock (or 6-8 cups canned)
6 chicken thighs (skin on)
Bay leaf
4-6 branches fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
3-4 T. schmaltz (or cooking oil)
2 carrots, diced small
2 ribs celery, diced small
1 whole yellow onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. turmeric (optional, but gives a nice color)
1/2 c. flour (I substituted Authentic Foods Multi-Blend)
1/2 c. dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Dumplings:
1 1/2 c. flour (or 1 1/4 c. gluten-free flour)
1/2 c. corn meal
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream

Combine the stock, thighs, bay leaf and thyme in a large soup pot and bring to a simmer for about 40 minutes, occasionally skimming scum off the surface.

In a pan, melt the schmaltz. Saute the carrots, onion, celery and garlic on medium-high heat until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add turmeric and flour, continue to cook and stir until fragrant, another minute or so. Turn heat to low and stir in white wine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat.

Pull out the chicken thighs and let rest on a cutting board until cool enough to handle. Remove skins, strip meat from bones and chop into small bits. Return meat to the soup pot and add in vegetable mixture, let simmer on low heat.(Discard skin and bones, unless like me, you are curious to see what happens if you fry the skin in the now-empty saute pan… in which case, enjoy your chicken-skin bacon!).

If your stew looks like it has a deep slick of fat across the top, use your gravy separator to remove it (or just ladle off the worst of it), saving the fat for biscuits or a stir-fry later. Add the 1/2 cup of cream and keep covered on low heat while you prepare the dumpling dough.

Sift together the flour, corn meal, and baking powder (I discard the largest pieces of corn meal; toss it out for the birds!). Whisk in the salt. Pour in the milk and cream, and stir to combine (you don’t want to overmix it). Drop in tablespoonfuls across the surface of your stew; don’t worry if they dive down for a moment, as soon as they get hot, they’ll bob back to the surface. Once all your dumplings have been dropped in, cover the pot again (leaving a bit of the lid lifted for steam to escape; you don’t want to waterlog your little puffs of dough in there). Let simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, turn off the heat, and let rest for 10 more minutes.

What kind of comfort food are you turning to on these cool, bright fall days?

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Election night treat

Halloween was a week ago, but last night we were waiting to find out who will be at the helm of our nation for the next four years, and the anticipation was not unlike waiting to see who will knock at the door.

I had a sudden hankering for something sweet to take my mind of off refreshing fivethirtyeight, so I decided to whip up a quick treat. The condensed-milk ice creams come together in a flash, with no heating or refrigeration, so that’s where I went. I do admit to benefiting from the Mom-and-Dad Tax, and my favorite among the trick-or-treat booty has always been Almond Joy.

I love the sweetened condensed milk-based ice creams… you can make them about as quickly as a run to the store. This combo turned out wonderful, although it is a little harder than an egg-based ice cream. I wonder if a tablespoon of Amaretto might have softened things up?

Speedy Almond Joy Ice Cream
2 cups whipping cream
1 can coconut milk (I used Chakoah)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Glug of vanilla extract
1/3 c. cocoa (I used Scharffenberger)
1/2 c. almonds (chopped and toasted in a 350*F oven for about 10 minutes)

Pour all liquid ingredients into a bowl, then sift the cocoa in while whisking. Once the cocoa is incorporated, freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker. Stir in the cooled almonds, and let harden in your freezer. Or just devour as-is!

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