VDP: Tofu, Asparagus and Mushroom Stir Fry

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tofu is good when cooked right. I just never attempt to substitute it for a meat preparation. Crap like tofu dogs or tofu chili sound ridiculous and do not treat this product with the respect it deserves. I usually buy the soft tofu for almost any preparation. I love its smooth silky texture and custard like consistency.

This time they were out of soft tofu, so I picked up some medium tofu (www.banyanfoods.com brand from Houston of course). First I marinated it with some Chinese 10 spice powder, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. I let it sit for some time to absorb the flavors of the marinade. Before adding it to the stir fry I fried it till lightly golden and crispy on the outside. You can always improve tofu by frying it first, but you do not need to.

The stir fry consisted of garlic, ginger and green onions as a base. To that I added some brown mushrooms, and cooked asparagus. I made the braising sauce from soy, hoisin, water and a little corn starch. I added the fried tofu during the last 2 minutes of cooking. I served it with steamed rice and some home pickled ginger.

One more note about home pickled ginger. This stuff rocks and if you have a V-Slicer or Mandolin (or if you have some time on your hands to thinly slice ginger) is amazingly easy and beats those sorry pink specimens you see at the sushi bar by a mile. This recipe is from Barbara Tropp’s ‘The China Moon Cookbook‘. Other than the ginger, all you would need is sugar, salt and vinegar. It lasts for a long time in the fridge and I always have a jar in there to add some zing to Asian dishes on the spot.

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VDP: Potato Gratin with Braised Mushrooms

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Well, I had some mushrooms I needed to use up and I had to inaugurate my large Colombian clay baking dish. Supposedly, the casein in milk is very good for strengthening clay pottery and it’s a good idea to cook some milk in a clay pot before starting to use it. According to Paula Wolfert, she uses her new pots to make some rice pudding, this way no milk would be wasted and you’ll have a nice dessert to eat.

In the baking dish I decided to make a simple potato gratin. The base recipe is from Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian“. I used my mandolin to thinly cut the potatoes, layered them with salt, pepper and cheese (yeah, I used one of those mixed cheese bags I had in the fridge from the last time we made fajitas). Before baking I poured in a combination of garlic flavored milk and cream that should reach about ¾ of the way up the potato layers. That’s it. Easy and looks as good as it tastes.

I love using mushrooms like meat. Here I seared them on high heat before quickly braising them with some port and shallots. I had a few tablespoons of the garlic flavored milk mixture from the gratin that I did not use. So, I finished the mushrooms with that.

I also wanted to try my hand at baking vegetables in salt crust. This week alone I saw both Alain Passard and Dan Barber bake a beat in a salt crust. I had one beet and some carrots, so I figured I’ll give it a try and got mixed results. The carrots with their thin skin came out way too salty and inedible. The beet on the other hand has a thick skin and worked great. It was soft but not mushy and had a great flavor with perfect salt. I guess Passard and Barber knew what they were doing roasting a beet like that but not a carrot. Hey, you can’t blame me for trying. I served it as a first course with a salad of mixed greens and a honey-Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

VDP: Vegetable Stock

Cooking more vegetarian items means making sure I have a good supply of vegetable stock for stuff like soups. Making this brew could not be easier. The recipe I followed is from Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything Vegetarian“. A mixture of onions, potatoes, celery, carrots, parsley, garlic, mushrooms and a few drizzles of olive oil is simmered with enough water to cover with a couple inches. That it. Strain it and you have a very flavorful stock. The mushrooms or mushroom stem here makes all the difference. It gives the stock a nice earthy, almost meaty flavor. To make the stock more robust, the veggies can be sautéed or roasted as well.

VDP: Mushroom Ragout with Burghul and Yogurt Sauce

Saturday, January 12, 2008

If you do not know what burghul is, click here where I explained it once before. It really is a delicious and quick-cooking grain that can be cooked in many interesting methods or not at all. It can even be soaked for an hour, drained, flavored and eaten as is. This time I did cook it to go with the simple mushroom ragout.

Ragout is really just my fancy name for it. This is a typical dish you’d find at most Lebanese mezze (tapas, appetizers) spreads. It ranges from tongue-numbingly spicy, to mild. I make it mild since my wife does not like spicy foods. I add more chili flakes later on my portion. To make this, I cooked a whole bunch of bell peppers with onions, one chili pepper and garlic in olive oil. Then I added some cut up mushrooms and sautéed for a few minutes. Lastly I added some canned peeled and crushed tomatoes and let it stew gently for 30 minutes. It needs to be a little acidic, so at the end I adjusted the seasoning and added some lemon juice. This can be served hot, cold, or room temperature.

For the burghul, I use a 1X1 ratio of liquid to grain. For a simple burghul dish like this one, as opposed to using it as stuffing or in Kibbe, I use the medium or coarse grind. I just sautéed some green chopped onions in olive oil and toasted a cup of burghul in there for a minute or so. Then added a cup of water and reduced the heat to low. Covered and let it cook for 20 minutes or so. The grains should be cooked tender but still have a bit of bite to them. They should be fluffy and not mushy.

The yogurt sauce is just whole milk yogurt, olive oil, chopped fresh mint, chopped green onions (the green tops), salt and pepper.

Real Men Don’t Eat quiche, they eat Quiche!

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“Real men don’t eat quiche”! Yeah, right, not when it is my quiche or should I say the Bouchon quiche. I really do not know where that reputation came from. Probably from the tiny dainty pieces of puff pastry painted with a substance that might’ve been egg at some point and frozen in boxes that you can pick up at Sam’s or Costco. Yes, these poor little imitations still pop up at an “eh-derve” party here and there, but these are not quiche!

Neither are those ½ inch thin tarts that are sold and made by many. You need 2 of those tarts, yes tarts not quiche, to get full. Is that possibly why “real men do not eat quiche”? Do they not meet the criteria of filling, delicious and rich that any man looks for in a meal? If you believe those Hungry-Man commercials, they don’t.

Well, I doubt anyone can make this argument against the quiche from the Bouchon book. This is a real quiche, 2 inches thick and chuck full of eggs, cream, milk, meats and other goodies…oh yes and cheese. Take that Hungry-Man!

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Bacon-Mushroom Quiche

Yields: 8 generous slices
I’ve made the Bouchon recipe numerous times and the first few times were bad experiences. This thick quiche will leak if not properly made, and in all honesty it is one of the most challenging cooking experiences I’ve had. A small crack can turn into a much bigger one once the custard is poured in and disaster ensues. When you get the hang of it though, this is one glorious piece of pastry, delicious and impressive. I have not had a leaky quiche in quiet sometime. Remember, work fast, keep the dough rolled thick, and fill when still hot/warm.

Here is my adaptation of the Bouchon recipe. My custard has more eggs and less dairy because I like the more curdy texture rather than creamy. I also love this bacon mushroom filling, but feel free to improvise.

Pastry
12 ounces All Purpose Flour (about 3 cups, but if you have a scale, please weigh it)
2 Sticks butter, chilled and diced
1 Tbsp salt
¼ Cup ice water

Custard and Fillings
6 thick slices of bacon, cut into ¼ strips across
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot diced
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp butter
7 large eggs
3 Cups milk
½ Cup heavy cream
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 Cup grated cheese (Swiss, Gruyere, mozzarella or smoked mozzarella)

Special Equipment
8 X 2  inch cake ring (Available for less than $10 at a cake supply store or Sur La Table)

Make the pastry: in a food processor, combine one third of the flour with the salt and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter in increments until all of it is incorporated ending up with a paste. Add the rest of the flour and the ice water and pulse until you have a nice smooth dough. Form the dough into an 8 inch disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour or up to 48 hours. This can also be frozen. Make sure the dough is pliable before rolling though.
Lightly oil the inside of the cake ring, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Roll the dough into a ¼ inch thick round. It should be large enough to line the ring and have about a ½ inch overhang. But DO NOT roll it too much thinner than ¼ inch. Roll the pastry on a rolling pin and lay it in the ring gently, do not pull and tug on it as you let it rest in all corners. Fold any overhang on the outside of the ring, it will help keep it in place. Save any extra dough, you might need it.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes till it sets.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the unbaked crust with an oiled parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans (I use beans). Bake for about 30-40 minutes till the edges are brown. Gently remove the beans and the parchment, patch up any small cracks with the reserved dough and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the inside and bottom are lightly browned. Make the filling while this crust blind bakes.

Make the Filling: Saute the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat till the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly crisped. Remove to a plate and sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, till lightly browned. Add the shallots and onions and cook everything till the mushrooms exude all their liquid and the onions are soft. Whisk in the butter and cook for another minute. Add the bacon to the pan and if needed add a little salt. You will also be seasoning the custard so don’t add too much.
Heat the milk and cream till a skin forms on the surface but do not boil them. Remove from heat. Crack the eggs in a large bowl, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and whisk till smooth. Slowly add the milk mixture and keep on whisking till everything is combined.

Assemble the quiche: Do this when the pastry and custard are still hot/warm, do not let them cool down. This will help the filling cook and set faster rather than get the pastry soggy and leaky. Make sure the shell has no small cracks, pay particular attention to the corners. If it, does patch them with pieces of reserved dough. Leaving the shell on the baking sheet, place half the bacon-mushroom mixture in the bottom, top it of with a third of the cheese, and gently pour in half the custard. Repeat with the remaining filling, half of the remaining cheese, and the rest of the custard. You might want to place this in the oven then adding the last cup or so of custard to avoid spilling during transfer since it will be filled to the brim. Top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 70 – 90 minutes, until it is set and nicely browned on top.
Cool to room temperature and then chill overnight. When ready to serve, the quiche should be set and can be handled easily. Simply use a knife to cut the extra overhang and slide the quiche out of the ring. Slice and heat the slices on a baking sheet in a 375F oven till heated through. Enjoy.