Inga's Indulgence

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Edgier Side of Tofu

I'm tired of feeling like a health nut every time I eat tofu. Yeah it's healthy, but it's a whole lot of other things good. 

Eat this --->

Grilled Tofu Salad with Pickled Carrots & Savoy Cabbage


(yield: 4 servings)

1 package firm tofu
1/4 cup Teriyaki Marinade
5 tbsp carrot pickling liquid (recipe follows)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 small head savoy cabbage (3 cups), shredded
1 oz red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Pickled Carrots (recipe follows)
canola oil, as needed
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Remove the block of tofu from the package, and slice length-wise into 1-inch thick strips. Keeping the block intact, place back into package and pour Teriyaki Marinade over. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

In a large bowl, whisk together pickling liquid, sugar and salt. Add cabbage, onion, and pickled carrots to the bowl and toss to combine.

Brush a grill pan with oil and place over medium-high heat. Retrieve the tofu from the marinade, and dab off excess liquid. Once pan is hot, grill the tofu about 2 minutes per side, turning 90 degrees at the halfway point to achieve cross-hatch marks. Top salad with grilled tofu, and sprinkle with peanuts.

Pickled Carrots

3 cups hot water
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 large carrot, peeled into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler

Place the water, sugar and salt into a glass mason jar, and stir until everything is dissolved. Stir in rice vinegar, and add carrots, making sure that they are all submerged in the liquid. Close jar with airtight lid and refrigerate for at least 2 days (the longer it sits the better). These keep for up to  month in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby Gourmet: Dairy

Once my baby started approaching the 1 year mark, I decided to expand his menu by gradually introducing dairy products like cow's milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Since I don't have a farm in my backyard, nor the luxury of getting freshly squeezed milk, I make sure to get good quality, organic milk from the store. But when it comes to things that I can actually make myself (assuming it doesn't take too long), I say why not. 

At around 10 months, I started making Zelli homemade cottage cheese using my grandmother's recipe. He's been gobbling it down ever since, and while he loves eating it, I love knowing that my baby is getting something uber fresh, with no preservatives. I also love how easy it is to make.

Now this cottage cheese is not the curd kind. It's smooth like ricotta, but thicker in texture and tangier in flavor. 

Homemade Cottage Cheese
(yield: 2 cups)

2 quarts buttermilk
2 ft. square of cheesecloth

Place the cartons of buttermilk into a deep pot, and fill with water to reach 3/4 of the way up the sides. Make sure to open the cartons of buttermilk before placing over heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat, and allow the buttermilk to cool (still remaining in the water). The water does not have to be completely cool, but it will still take a few hours to cool down.

Fold the cheesecloth in half to form a double layer. Line a medium bowl with the cheesecloth, and pour the buttermilk inside. The buttermilk should be separated. Once all the clear watery liquid is drained, you should be left with a thicker, yogurt-like mass. Grab the 4 ends of the cheesecloth, and tie them around your kitchen faucet, so that the sack hangs and the excess liquid can drip away. Make sure to tie the cheesecloth securely, as it will be hanging in this position for several hours. Place a bowl directly underneath just in case. Leave overnight, and in the morning you will have fresh cottage cheese for your baby.

I like to mix in fresh berries and yogurt, or even an egg yolk on occasion for added nutrients.

Oh, and who said mama can't have some for herself?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Cheating is Right

After weeks of planning a bash for my son's first birthday, I submitted and decided to accept a little help from some old pals. Among these pals were Betty Crocker, Duff Goldman, and a few others.

When my guestlist nearly doubled, plans of making a cake and edible party favors from scratch suddenly seemed a little too ambitious. Don't get me wrong, in the end I still put in my fair share of labor, but with products that I discovered at the craftstore and supermarket, my work load was significantly reduced, and the outcome was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

I did make the cake, but I guess you could say I cheated since it ended up looking pretty darn professional with the help of store-bought fondant and Duff Goldman's new line of cake decorating stuff. (In case you don't know who Duff Goldman is, he's a celebrity chef baker and star of foodnetwork's Ace of Cakes, a show that's as addictive to expert bakers as it is to people who don't know what a whisk is).

So among the really cool products that the line offers are cake tattoes. Yep, they're exactly what they sound like - edible paper strips that come in a multitude of prints, and are literally tattooed onto your cake! It was super easy. The hardest part of my whole cake venture was probably getting the fondant onto the cake. Next time I think I'll just use frosting to cover the cake, since you achieve the same look by applying the tattoos to a frosted cake.

Check out Duff's stuff:

Here is what I ended up with...

For the party favors, I was intent on making cake pops (cake on a stick). But because of the large quanitity of favors I needed to make, I decided to at least fly through the baking process by using cake mix from the box and frosting from the can (don't judge me!). For an instructional, I turned to the queen of cake pops herself, Bakerella. With a few tweaks and special touches on my part, I emerged with favors that were as chic as they were cute and delicious.                                                                 

I decided to use melted frosting to coat the cake pops instead of the candy melts that Bakerella uses. After coating them with melted frosting, I dredged the pops in sprinkles, and stuck them into a styrofoam box so that they could set in an upright position. Once they were set, I laid them out on a parchment paper covered tray and stuck them in the freezer to ensure that they were really set. I then put the pops in clear favor bags and wrapped them with ribbon. Once the pops were all cute as heck, they went back into the freezer, and waited patiently till the day of the party.
The final verdict - great success, among the kids and the adults!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Inspired by the garden

I'm a chef, not a gardener. So naturally, if I were ever to plant anything, it would have to be edible. Seeing as me and soil don't mix, I was initially going to go with the simplest planting option - the ready to go herbs, but that seemed too easy (even for me). So I challenged myself a little, and planted some seeds. About a month later, out of the 5 different herbs that were planted, all I have to show for it is basil. I guess it's a pretty foolproof herb. Gardening abilities aside though, the basil's pretty damn good.

So with some freshly picked basil and a few tomatoes borrowed from my neighbor's garden, I set out to make a fresh, summer lunch. Here's what I came up with...

Pan-fried Veal with Balsamic Tomatoes & Basil

    (yield: 4 servings)

4 tbsp basil
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup bread crumbs
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 lbs veal cutlets, pounded out to 1/4" thickness 
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tbsp water
1 small yellow onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 large tomatoes (heirloom, beefsteak, or vine-ripened are good options), pulp & seeds removed, and roughly chopped 
salt & pepper, as needed

Finely chop 2 tablespoons of the basil, and reserve the other 2 tablespoons as whole leaves for garnish. Mix 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil and parsley into breadcrumbs (reserve the other tablespoon of chopped basil for sauce).

Coat the bottom of a large pan with oil and place over medium-high heat. Season the veal on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat with flour, shaking off excess. Follow by dipping into egg wash, and then herbed breadcrumb mixture.

Fry 4-5 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove veal from pan. Lower heat and deglaze with balsamic vinegar. Stir in onions, and garlic. Simmer over low flame for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and reserved chopped basil, and cook briefly for another minute. Season with salt and pepper, and pour sauce over veal. Garnish with reserved whole basil leaves.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Poor Man's Pick-Me-Up

One of my all-time favorite desserts to make when entertaining is Tiramisu. It's an impressive crowd pleaser that requires no baking, and it has booze in it; what more can you ask for? Although a traditional tiramisu generally requires only a handful of ingredients, some of these ingredients can really hike up your budget, and have you wondering if you should have gone to the bakery instead.

I have an awesome Tiramisu recipe that I've been relying on for years. So I figured if I use the same method, but either replace or eliminate some of the expensive candidates, we'd be in business. It was a risk, but whisk in hand, it was one I was ready to take. Probably the most expensive of these ingredients is Mascarpone Cheese, an Italian and more delicate version of cream cheese. Contemplating its replacement, I decided to go a little loco and eliminate the Mascarpone all together.

As for the booze portion of this dessert, which can also run you a good buck, I say when a recipe calls for a liquor, use what you got. Coffee liquor, rum, or even amaretto are the usual suspects for this particular dessert. But you know what, I didn't have any of those in my liquor cabinet. Not eager to shell out 20+ bucks for something that I would only use a few tablespoons of, I improvised and used coffee flavored tequila instead.

Even if all you have is some strongly flavored liquor like raspberry, coconut, or almond, go for it! Yeah it won't be a conventional tiramisu, but it will be your signature tiramisu. After all, rules are for people too scared to make their own.

Poor Man's Tiramisu
(yield: 12-14 servings)

5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee (or espresso)
1 pint heavy cream
4 tbsp coffee-flavored liquor (or whatever you have on hand)
24 ladyfinger cookies (or any elongated cookies, whatever is cheaper)

Whisk together egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tbsp cocoa powder in a large bowl. Place over water bath* and continue to whisk over low heat, until mixture thickens and increases in volume, about 8 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar to form stiff peaks; set aside.

Dissolve 1 tbsp of instant coffee in 2 tbsp of boiling water (this will be used to flavor the whipped cream). Set aside, and let cool. 

Dissolve the remaining 3 tbsp of instant coffee in 2 cups boiling water. Stir in coffee liquor, and set aside to cool (this will be used to soak the ladyfingers).

Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with 1/2 cup sugar and the reserved coffee (the first mixture - 1 tbsp) to form stiff peaks.

Fold the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture in increments of 4. Now gently fold the whipped cream into the egg mixture in the same manner.

Spoon some of the cream into a trifle dish so that it reaches about 1-inch up the sides. Soak the ladyfingers in the reserved coffee mixture (the 2nd mixture with the liquor) for a few seconds, and arrange them to cover the surface of the cream (6 ladyfingers should do the trick if using a standard trifle dish). Top with another layer of cream, slightly thicker than the first. Continue with ladyfingers, another layer of cream, and repeat twice more, ending with a layer of cream.
Use a sieve or strainer to dust the remaining cocoa powder over the top.

If you're feeling extra fancy, place a spoon and fork in a cross pattern on top of the finished tiramisu before dusting with cocoa powder. After dusting, gently remove the utensils and you should have a beautiful little embellishment (not that this dessert really needs it). Refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours.

*To form a water bath, fill a medium saucepan 1/4 of the way up with water. Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to low. Top with a bowl that is large enough to sit on top without falling through or touching the water.