Category Archives: Recipes

Golden Sesame Tofu

Several years ago I posted a recipe I developed for Golden Sesame Tofu, one of my favorite salad bar items from Whole Foods. At $8.99/lb. it’s a little pricey, so I went to the kitchen and experimented. Here is the recipe I came up with. The recipe and photo were posted on my old blog, DianaCooks.com, and since it was a super popular post, I decided to repost it here with a watermarked photograph. (I notice the photo gets pinned a lot on Pinterest.)

I trimmed the first part of the post off because it was irrelevant to the recipe. Enjoy the trip on the wayback machine. ūüėČ

***

OK, recipes. I said I’d start posting them, and here’s something you soy-eating vegetarians will like. Last year, I became addicted to the golden sesame tofu in Whole Foods’ prepared foods case. These rectangular slices of tofu are fried until they’re golden, then covered in toasted sesame seeds and glazed with a slightly sweet/salty sauce with just a hint of heat from hot red pepper flakes. They’re also kind of expensive — something like $7.99 a pound (ETA: now $8.99). Since tofu’s cheap–and so am I–I decided to replicate the recipe at home. It took a few tries, but I think I’ve nailed it.

I’m pretty sure the Whole Foods’ folks fry their tofu in lots of oil, because all six sides are crisp/chewy. I just use a little oil and fry on two sides. I’ve also used a silcone basting brush to lightly coat each side of the tofu with oil, then cooked them on a grill pan. Yum, but it doesn’t give the tofu that chewy coating I like. If you’re watching your fat intake, you can skip the cornstarch dusting and bake the tofu in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes with the sauce, turning the tofu every 10 minutes or so, checking that the sauce isn’t burning (add water if it’s getting too dark). The tofu will have no chew at all, and the sauce will get thick and sticky, but it’s still yum.

Instead of stuffing these slices of tofu in my mouth like I do when I’m at Whole Foods, I pack them in a plastic container and store them in my fridge for lunches. I cut them up into tiny cubes to add flavor interest to salads — when I put them on top of a potluck salad at Easter, tasters asked me about the delicious croutons … umm, I didn’t have the heart to tell them. This wasn’t a tofu-loving crowd. They also make great sandwich stuffers.

Golden Sesame Tofu
Yield: 4 servings

The Whole Foods version has scallions in it. I’m not a huge fan of scallions, so I skip them. The secret here is the cornstarch … it gives the tofu its chewy coating, but you have to sprinkle it over the tofu evenly and with a light hand; otherwise it’ll get gloppy. Since I make this recipe a lot, I put cornstarch in a fine-mesh shaker; it gives me excellent control when I’m coating the tofu. You’ll find toasted sesame oil and mirin in the Asian sections of well-stocked supermarkets.

1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
14-oz. extra firm tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
Canola or peanut oil, for frying

For sauce:
2 tbsp. agave nectar (for vegans) or honey
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Dusting of crushed red chili flakes, to taste

Heat a fry pan over medium-high heat. Add sesame seeds and toast until golden and fragrant, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and place sesame seeds in small bowl to cool.

Remove tofu from package and drain. Press the tofu gently between the palms of your hands to squeeze out water, then wrap the tofu in paper towels, place it on a plate, then put a another plate on top of it. Place a 28-oz. can of tomatoes or a cast iron fry pan on the plate. This will press out any remaining water from the tofu. Let sit for 20 minutes or so.

Unwrap the tofu and slice into eight rectangular slices. To make even slices, I slice the block of tofu in half, then half each half, and then half each quarter. Make sense? Then dust the slices with tofu evenly with cornstarch on all sides.

Heat about 2 tbsp. of oil in your fry pan over medium high heat. Add the tofu slices, but don’t crowd the pan. You might have to fry in batches. Fry until the tofu is a light golden color, approximately 2 minutes, then turn the tofu over to cook another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove to drain on paper towels. If frying in batches, add more oil to the pan. Note: it is normal for the tofu to splatter, so wear an apron if you don’t want to ruin your clothes.

While the tofu is frying, stir together the agave nectar/honey, soy sauce, gingerroot, sesame oil, mirin and garlic together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place tofu in glass container to hold. Pour sauce over tofu and turn to coat. Dust tofu with toasted sesame seeds and turn again to coat. Season with crushed red chili flakes. Can be served warm or chilled. Will keep for about 5 days refrigerated.

Cheese and potato soup

Untitled

It’s Boxing Day in the UK. And if you’re in the U.S., it’s another opportunity to hit the shops for some good deals on stuff that didn’t sell for Christmas.

I’ll be staying in, thank you, and enjoying some hearty winter fare.

One of my favorite winter soups is inspired by a soup I used to order years ago at a takeout place in nearby Concord, a cheese and potato soup that was thick, rich, and delicious. I once asked the owner how she made it, and she told me she used to throw in kitchen odds and ends: a bit of cheddar, the rind from some Parmesan. That might sound disgusting and a tad bit coy, but I know what she meant. My best soups are often made up of leftovers.

Here’s my version of that fantastic soup, which you can rustle up with pantry staples and whatever is lurking in your cheese drawer. I’ve used Emmentaler here, a Swiss-style semi-hard cheese that adds a touch of sharpness to the soup. Try cheddar, Gouda, mozzarella, fontina, or Gruy√®re, too!

Cheese and Potato Soup

Serves 4

2-oz. unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium baking potato, peeled and chopped
1 32-oz. container chicken or vegetable broth, preferably reduced sodium
4-oz. shredded cheese
salt to taste
garnish, if desired

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add onion once butter is melted and cook gently until the onions are translucent, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Add potato to saucepan and toss to coat with butter and onion. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add broth and turn heat up to medium. When soup begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until potato falls apart when pierced with a fork.

4. Using a stick blender or upright blender, puree soup in batches until completely smooth. If perfection is an issue for you, strain to remove any remaining chunks of onion or potato.

5. With the soup off the heat, stir in the cheese. The residual heat should melt it into the soup. Taste for salt; I use about a teaspoon of kosher salt, but you may like less or more.

6. Garnish with parsley or chopped chives. Serve and enjoy!

Morning porridge

“Into these bowls, Mrs Squeers, assisted by the hungry servant, poured a brown composition, which looked like diluted pincushions without the covers, and was¬†called porridge.” — The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens

It’s a blustery morning here outside Boston, and although the wind gusts are warm, the gray, wet weather calls for a bowl of hot porridge.

DSC_0253

We typically think of porridge being a oats-based cereal, but most any hot grain cereal can be considered “porridge.” When I was a child and teenager, I remember reading novels where children were forced to choke down their morning porridge, a horrid cold, gray slop. I never made the connection that this dish was the same one I ate most mornings, whether it was the Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice that my maternal grandmother cooked for us, or the packets of instant oatmeal flavored with apples and cinnamon I’d eat on the run. Hot cereal was always my favorite breakfast, and forty years later, it still is.

I’m the only one in our household who loves starting the day with a bowl of hot porridge. My son won’t touch it, maybe because I pointed out to him he shares the same name as a wide-eyed urchin who had the courage to ask for another bowl of porridge. (Actually, poor Oliver wanted more gruel, which is a thin, watery porridge.) My favorite grain for porridge is Bob’s Red Mill 8-Grain Cereal. It’s not gluten-free, but it is free of wheat, a grain my digestive system struggles with. It consists of ground corn, oats, brown rice, soy beans, oat bran, millet, sorghum, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed.

DSC_0248

Here’s how I make it. I bring one cup of water and a pinch of salt to boil. I add 1/4 cup cereal and turn the heat down to low, stirring frequently so the cereal doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If it looks like it’s getting too thick, I add some hot water and keep stirring. I like my porridge with a bit of chew, so after about four or five minutes of cooking, I start tasting it. When it’s to my liking, I scrape the cereal into a large bowl and the fun begins.

Since porridge is rather bland, it marries well with flavorful toppings. My usual additions are a handful of slivered almonds, a handful of frozen wild blueberries, a teaspoon of coconut oil (esp. in winter!), and a good slosh of maple syrup. Then I top with a bit of milk, mix it all together, then enjoy my porridge while reading my favorite blogs. Not only is this a pleasant ritual, eating porridge every morning powers me through to the afternoon — I get a quick burst of energy from the carbs and sugars, then more steady energy from the fats and proteins in the nuts, coconut oil, and milk. When I skip my porridge routine, I feel it for the rest of the day.

Are you fan of hot cereals? How do you make yours?

Meyer lemon marmalade

From this:

chopped lemons for marmalade

to this:

lemon marmalade

The recipe is easy: chop up lemons finely. I used Meyer lemons, available only from November to early January. Remove as many seeds/pips as possible, as well as the thick membrane that runs down the center of the fruit. This is the messiest part of the job!

Measure the chopped fruit into a heavy saucepan and add the same amount of water. For example, if you get 3 cups of chopped fruit, add 3 cups of water. Bring mixture to a hard boil and cook for 25 to 30 minutes until peels are soft. Remove from heat. Measure out a like amount of sugar … again, if you got three cups of chopped fruit, measure out three cups of sugar. Add sugar to pan and return to heat. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the marmalade thickens and sheets off the spoon instead of drips. If you use a thermometer, this can be around 217 – 222 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat immediately and spoon marmalade into clean jars. Refrigerate.

Now before you yell at me for not sterilizing my jars … I get roughly four jars of marmalade from five lemons, all of which will be devoured by next week. Lemons are extremely acidic, which means they’re a poor host for botulism, and I store my jars in the refrigerator. If you plan to give your marmalade away or store it for awhile, then I would advise you to consult with a proper preserve-making handbook.

Enjoy the fruits of January!

Stinging nettles

Every spring I keep my eyes peeled for patches of stinging nettles but rarely have any luck finding them. We had a small patch in the side yard of our old house one year, but in following years the nettles never re-emerged. Now those of you who know stinging nettles as a noxious weed are thinking, “What on God’s green earth does this woman want with those dreadful plants?!?”

Why, I want them for dinner!

Several years ago I swooned over a some nettle soup I was served at a foraging dinner in Boston. First off, the color was lovely; you all know how I feel about green food. The soup happened to be delicious, too — it tasted slightly of spinach, and with a shaving of nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, the humble soup sent me to Nirvana. I could hardly believe the flavor came from a plant most people consider a nuisance, even though I’m well aware how delicious foraged foods can be.

Stinging nettles are easy to identify. They tend to grow in lush patches and their dark green serrated leaves look distinctive to me, but if you’re not sure, give the stem a light pinch and ow! Feel that nasty sting? A sure sign you’ve got yourself some nettles.

Last week I was biking over to Lexington and I noticed great patches of stinging nettles:

Autumn nettles

This ground was barren throughout the spring and summer, but now in late fall, it’s teeming with nettles. When I got home I did a quick Google search and learned that stinging nettles frequently emerge before winter, and that their tender young growth dies off with the first hard frost.

So yes, later that day I was back over in the patch with my scissors, gloves, and plastic bags. I picked enough nettles to make a huge batch of nettle pesto. Oliver, a picky eater, devoured it when swirled through a plate of pasta. I did not enlighten him that the green stuff did not come from my garden.

Does the pesto sting going down? Good question! Before using nettles in a recipe, you must blanch them in boiling salted water for a couple minutes to remove the stinging hairs/chemicals on the leaves and stems. Two minutes seems to do the trick, then I give them a cold water bath to keep the leaves bright green.

I don’t have a formal recipe for my stinging nettle pesto, but here’s a general guideline.

Ingredients:

One plastic bag filled with stinging nettles (including stems and leaves)

1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts — I avoid pine nuts since most originate in China and I avoid buying food from China)

2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Wear gloves to place the stinging nettles, stems and all, into the water. Cook for about two minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water. Now you can take your gloves off. Strip the nettle leaves off the stems; toss out stems. Squeeze water out of leaves and place them in a bowl of a food processor.

2. Add the nuts, garlic and cheese to the bowl and process. While the processor is running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until you have a pesto that meets your consistency requirements. (I like mine a little chunky — you might like yours smooth and silky, which may require lots more oil.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Go forth and serve!

 

 

What I’ve been reading (and a giveaway)

My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I’ve been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.

First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I’ve had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you’re the type of person who walks into a friend’s home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you’ll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble —¬† keeping in mind that I haven’t yet finished the book — is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I’d prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won’t have to backtrack to pick up. I’ve found myself making mental notes of books I’d like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don’t like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).

I’ve written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It’s a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, “I get it! You’re educated! Give it a break!” She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.

But I digress. So if you’re like me and like Brocket’s book sans copy or you hated Brocket’s book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that “cutesy” look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It’s the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they’re prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don’t look as pretty as brass ones would, they’re 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.

Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I’ve been itching to read this biography as I’ve heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I’ve also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth’s 60-year-reign as Britain’s monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I’m giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen … even if it’s just her corgis. I’m sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck … and thanks for entering!

Making elderflower cordial

Every June I try to make a batch of elderflower cordial, the quintessential British summertime soft drink. I got hooked on elderflower cordial a few years ago when I found it in our local Whole Foods, sold under the Belvoir label. Suddenly, Whole Foods stopped selling it, but by then, I’d learned how to ID elderberry bushes that grow in profusion all over New England. They start to blossom in late May, their showy white blooms ubiquitous along country roads as well as major interstate highways. I tend to pick my blossoms at a local state park, far from the exhaust of roadways, and in a marshy area next to our town’s senior center , which cracks me up, because elder? Elderly? Get it? Okay, you get it. (Sambucus nigri is the Latin name for the elderberry shrub; weirdly enough, the liqueur Sambuca is anise-flavored, not elderberry-flavored.)¬† Once July hits, the flowers die off to reveal little green berries that will ripen into dark purpley-black elderberries by late August … just in time to harvest for my famous cough syrup.*

I made a huge batch of cordial last summer, and because I was working on a monster work project this June, I didn’t get around to making a fresh batch. But for the last year I’ve been meaning to blog about how I make this cordial, so I’m just going to do it now, even though it’s slightly past elderflower season. When next May and June roll around, you’ll be all set to make your own cordial. (If you are in Zone 5 and under — meaning the far north of the U.S. or Canada, you may still have a couple days to gather elderflowers.)

How do I use my cordial? Mostly as a syrup to add to sparkling water to create a grapey/floral kind of soda that’s oh-so-refreshing after a stint in the garden or a long day at work. I also use a teaspoon or two to sweeten whipped cream for desserts. You can also use it as a syrup to flavor cocktails. My concoction keeps for ages because I add citric acid as a preservative and store it in sterilized glass jars.

I use a Sophie Grigson recipe for my cordial. Chronicle Books just sent me a copy of The River Cottage Preserves Handbook (I’ll be reviewing this delightful little manual later this summer) that includes a recipe, which looks not be as sweet as Grigson’s version. (Some people don’t like how sweet my cordial is, so if you’re not in possession of a sweet-tooth, then try the River Cottage version.)

Elderflower Cordial

Yield: A lot

20 elderflower heads, picked on a dry, sunny day
1.8 kg sugar
1.2 liters water
2 unwaxed organic lemons
75 g. citric acid

Gently shake the elderflower heads to dislodge any small bugs or spiders that didn’t jump off during the free ride to your kitchen. Place them in a large bowl — there’s no need to pick off the tiny flowers. Stems and all into the bowl!

In a large pot over medium heat, add the sugar to the water and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Now take your lemons and, with a peeler or paring knife, remove the peel from the lemon in thin strips. Add the peel to the bowl. Cut the lemon into thin slices, and squeeze them over the bowl. Then add the squeezed slices to the bowl.

Pour the hot sugar syrup over the flower heads and lemon. Stir in the citric acid, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours.

The next day, line a sieve with some cheesecloth and procure another large container to capture the sieved cordial. Pour the cordial through the sieve and toss out the spent flower blossoms, lemon peel, and lemon slices. Divvy up the cordial among smaller containers, preferably ones that have been sterilized (I use mason jars). If you use sterilized jars, you can keep the cordial in your fridge for a year, even longer. The shelf life of cordial in unsterilized containers is much shorter, maybe a couple weeks. You could also try freezing it, although I wonder if the delicate flavor of the elderflowers wouldn’t fare so well here.

Let me know how cordial-making goes for you in the comments below.

*Several years ago I read that elderberries are known to reduce the effects of flu, fevers, colds — even asthma and bronchitis — so I made up a thick sweet syrup in the fall out of elderberries I’d gathered around town and stored it in our freezer. My husband came down with a brutal cold that winter, and because he doesn’t like to take anything with alcohol, he tried my syrup. Within a day he was feeling¬† much better, and throughout the rest of his illness he took a couple tablespoons-full a day, usually stirred into a hot water. Hey, you can’t beat the price and it’s probably just as good — if not better — than the OTC stuff they pack with artificial sweeteners, colorings, and alcohol at the drugstore.

The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

Last month I wrote a blog for The Atlantic‘s Food Channel about my obsession with British cookbooks and the best places to cookbook shop in London. One of the blog’s readers suggested that I might want to get my hands on a book called Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket. In here I’d find dozens of recipes from classic British storybooks. Unfortunately, the book is hard to get here in the U.S., and since I don’t have a lot of extra money right now for amazon.co.uk, I located another book Brocket wrote, The Gentle Art of Domesticity: Stitching, Baking, Nature, Art & the Comforts of Home at our local library.

I’ve renewed it twice, and now the library wants it back so I see I’m going to have to buy it for my personal library. It has been the prescription I needed to get me through cleaning and packing our home for our move. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, but instead, dip into it during the day between scrubbing bathroom floors and packing books. What I like most about it are the photos: Brocket is an avid knitter, crocheter, and quilter (and blogger!), so there are dozens of colorful pictures of her handiwork. The book also includes recipes, lists of novels and movies that celebrate domesticity, and even an extensive list of sources for quilters, bakers, and “haberdashers” that covers not just the U.S. and U.K., but countries all around the world. The book is a wee bit aspirational for me, except for the baking and maybe some simple quilting projects, but hey, an Anglophile can dream.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, coming this spring

I follow Jamie Oliver on Twitter and today he posted a link to a preview of his new ABC show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which starts March 26. Can’t wait for three reasons: I love food shows, I love Jamie, and I love that there’s now something worth watching on Friday nights.

Jamie did a similar show in England when he went to an unhealthy town and tried to overhaul the school lunch program. This time he’s in Huntington, West Virginia, supposedly the most unhealthy town in America, and it looks like he ruffles a lot of feathers as he makes over their school lunches.

I can’t embed this video so you’ll have to click on the links to watch it. What do you think? Is this a show you’ll tune in to?

The Delia Effect

Last week in the U.K., British cookbook author Delia Smith (who’s a little bit like our Martha Stewart, except that she owns a football team and hasn’t done time) presented her first Christmas cooking program in 20 years, and it looks like it was a big hit. The Daily Mail entitled one of its articles, “Welcome Back, Saint Delia” and in a less effusive, but positive article, the Guardian admits “she doesn’t ponce around with all the extras Nigella [Lawson] insists on.”

What’s really interesting to me is the power Smith has with consumers. When she says she likes a certain omelet pan or praises the virtues of cranberries, she creates a run on these products. It’s called “the Delia effect,” and retailers love it. The phrase was even added to the Collins English Dictionary in 2001.

I own a couple of Delia’s cookbooks, and while I don’t use them that often, I like them. They’re homey, and what I reach for when I want to make the perfect gravy for roast beef or try my hand at a British classic like sticky toffee pudding. I’ve been eyeing Nigella’s new Christmas cookbook — new to us Americans anyway — but now I’m thinking of ordering Delia’s Happy Christmas, too. Decisions, decisions.