Monday, April 26, 2010

Almond Milk

I got a bunch of recipes that I want to try that call for almond milk. So I spend this last week making some -- the old-fashioned way, with mortar and pestle. I know I could just run out and buy some or use my food processor, but I want to understand the product in a way that you only get when your hands get messy.

Almond milk is a long-time stand in for dairy milk in many lactose-free recipes and as a substitute in Lenten recipes. Almond has thickening qualities that neither soy milk nor rice milk have. So it's especially good in custard-style dishes.

Almond Milk
1 cup of almonds
2 cups of water

Pound the almonds as small as you can in a mortar and pestle. Add water and stir. Let sit for several hours. Drain fluid into a bowl. Stir milk to mix if it separates.

When pounding in the mortar and pestle, you can only do a few almonds at a time. If you add too many, then you won't be able to get the particles pounded small enough or evenly. I warn you -- this takes a lot of effort.

I decided my almonds weren't beaten enough after I soaked them, so I tried to pound them again (yes, they were wet). That was messy, but it did help a lot. I let it soak again.

I think I might have added too much water in this first attempt. I'm not sure I got it as thick as I wanted, so it's usefulness is likely to be limited in the dishes I want to do. I've got some other recipes to look at and see what other methods are recommended and try them. Once I get what I want, then I'll start using it in recipes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tofu Stir-fry

Stir-frying is wonderful this time of year, though it gets better as the local produce starts coming in during May and June. I usually use beef or chicken, but that's a problem when I have vegetarian guests. Usually I leave out the meat, but I feel like I'm wanting for protein (even when I add cashews) and I don't quite get the same chewiness. So this time, I decided to use a very firm tofu.

The tofu I used was one I sampled in a local grocery store and was curry-flavored. I figured this would go well with all of us as we all like curry, but my partner and I aren't overly fond of tofu. In fact, I'd never cooked tofu before.

It was yummy!

Tofu-Vegetable Stirfry
2-3 cups chopped carrots (I like mine on the thick side)
1 head Napa cabbage
1 crown of broccoli
1/4 head of cauliflower
2 small zucchinis
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large onion, sliced along the length
15 oz firm, curry-flavored tofu, sliced thinly (not quite julienned), not cubed
1/4 oz curry seeds
1/4 oz coriander seeds
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and slivered
1/4 cup stir-fry sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/4 cup of oil

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in the wok. Stirfry each vegetable over high heat until it is nearly done, starting with the onion, garlic, and ginger, and ending with the napa. (My preferred order is: onion/garlic/ginger, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, napa, and tofu). Add oil as necessary between vegetables. Toast the coriander and cumin in a small skillet over low heat for 20 minutes.

Stir-fry the tofu until nearly done, then add the vegetables back into the pan with the coriander, cumin, stir-fry sauce, and chili oil. Continue cooking until all vegetables are done.

Serve over brown basmati rice.

The stir-fry was delicious! I wanted to make sure I had spiced the vegetables to complement the tofu without making a curry stir-fry. The toasted cumin and coriander seeds were just the ticket.

Tofu is actually pretty easy to work with. I just treated it like I would any other vegetable. I had hoped to be able to brown it a bit, but the tofu was a little too wet or my heat wasn't high enough. Most likely it was a combination of the two.

Just a quick pointer when doing stir-fries: take the time to get everything chopped before you start cooking. You don't want to leave vegetables (or meat) sitting too long in the pan or it doesn't cook evenly. You need to stir frequently, but not necessarily constantly.

By the way, feel free to increase or reduce the vegetables according to taste. I prefer my stir-fries vegetable-heavy, so I used a lot. Not everyone agrees with that philosophy. One of my favorite aspects of stir-fry is that no two are alike; I can create a new one every time by varying my vegetable and protein combinations.

For those of you who aren't familiar with napa; it's a member of the cabbage family like bok choy. However, napa is much more tender, a bit sweeter, and a lot less cabbage-y than bok choy.

I think I've found a way to get us eating more tofu and a bit less meat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Quick and Dirty (Yet Yummy) Lunch

Sometimes when I spend a weekend alone, I don't really want to put forth much effort for lunch or dinner. I just want to throw something together, heat it up, and eat so I can get on to the important work of doing something that's not terribly interesting.

I found myself in this predicament this past weekend. I realized I really needed food before I ran out shopping, but didn't want to take much time to eat. So I threw together a quick, hot lunch.

Bean and Tomato Toss-up
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can black or kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup frozen corn (I really don't like the watery stuff from a can)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon or so cilantro, optional
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped onion, optional

Drain the beans. Put everything into a large, microwaveable bowl. Heat on high for 3 minutes. Stir. Heat for 2 minutes or until it is heated through.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like it's all that great a dish, but believe me, it's lovely. I like how the tomatoes stay kind of fresh tasting without being overly sweet or sour. The beans provide a really nice, firm texture, replacing the need for meat. The black beans provide greater depth of flavor than the kidneys beans. And the corn provides a really fresh sweetness (and whole grain) to the dish.

It's incredibly healthy, with no fat, lots of fiber, and oodles of flavor. Serve over brown rice for a complete protein. Give it a shot some lazy weekend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Better never than late...

Or is it the other way around? Anyway, here's the late blog for the week. Sorry about that -- life just got the best of me.

Rather than describing a recipe this week, I thought I'd talk a little about cooking game meat. I realized that I've talked about recipes for cooking rabbit, venison (deer, for those who may not know), and duck. I haven't talked very much about the strategies used when cooking game meat.

Game meat isn't hard to cook at all. On the contrary, it can be very easy to cook, provided you've gotten it properly field-dressed (entrails removed cleanly with no spillage). But you can't cook it quite like you would that slab of beef you bought at the grocers last night.

Game meats differ from domestic meats in two ways:
  1. Game meat is made of muscle that has done a lot of work.

  2. Game meat has less fat.

These two facts add up to game meat being a little tougher than store-bought meat. Game animals forage for their food, which means they don't get food as regularly or as abundantly as farm animals. They have to range around to find food and security. All of this work builds muscle fibers and, with the lower food volume, encourages leanness. As a result, the muscle fibers are stronger and denser.

Most game animals are older than domestic animals when they are harvested. Again, the muscles have done a lot more work and do not have the fat deposits that younger animals' muscles have. This leads to meat that is a little drier/less moist than store-bought meats (which can also be injected with sugar-water or salt-water).

The toughness and dryness of the meat respond very well in a low-temperature, moist, slow-cooked dish. I am partial to braising, stewing, or crock-potting (if you forgive the coining of the term) game meats. Game meat can be roasted, but a fat-based moist method (such as larding) must be used. If you are careful, you can succeed in grilling or pan-frying some cuts, but in general, stick with the moist methods.

However, for some game animals and for some cuts, moist cooking isn't quite enough to bring out all of the wonderful flavor of the meat or to render it fork-tender. In these cases, you will need a little acidity to help break down the meat. I'm partial to using tomatoes and/or wine.

Tomatoes provide a wonderful brightness to game dishes, especially rabbit or venison. Tomato's natural juices reduce the amount of water you need to add, helping to concentrate the flavors of the meat, vegetables, and the broth. I prefer to use canned tomatoes (not tomato sauce) and some tomato paste. Tomato-based sauces are also a little more forgiving of sloppy field-dressing of the meat, provided you carefully clean the meat before freezing, canning, or cooking (when the meat is fresh).

Wine is just as wonderful with game meats, providing an increased savoriness to the dish. Wine also brings out a complexity of flavor that tomatoes just can't match. There is a reason coq-au-vin calls for old chickens. The meat has a wonderfully rich flavor, but needs the wine to break down the fibers and release all that wonderful built-up flavor.

Vinegars and fruit juices can provide the acid base for game meats, but must be carefully considered. For instance, rabbit works well with apple juice, but orange juice or red grape juice will overwhelm it. Venison will work very well with balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar, but will overwhelm rice vinegar and white wine vinegar.

So, to sum up, game meats tend to be tougher and drier than store-bought meat. Moist methods tenderize the meat and make it more moist. Acids, such as wine or tomatoes, help bring out every bit of flavor the meat has to offer -- which is a lot.

See, I told you cooking game meat was easy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not tonight dear, I have a headache

I'll post later this week. I went grocery shopping and pulled my neck/shoulder lugging groceries.