Mar
08

Tofu for You

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“Excuse me, could you tell me where the tofu is?”

The somewhat blank stare didn’t give me much hope, but after spending who knows how long looking for it, there was nothing I could do but ask or give up. And I was not about to give up.

“Uh,” he said.

I was beginning to wonder if he knew what tofu is.

“Uh, in the cheese department?”

I thanked him and walked off. I’d already checked that department multiple times. And the meat department. And any other department I could think of. It was obvious they didn’t carry it.

I’ve been looking into making my own tofu for quite a while. And now that I’m working on improving my Asian cooking skills, I tend to use it more often. While I can get it at another store, further away, I didn’t want to have to take a road trip to get it. So it was obvious. I was being told it was time to get off my hiney and make some tofu.

Google, of course, has several recipes available. Most are pretty much the same. You start with soy milk. Well you all know me by now. If I’m going to make something, make as many parts of it as I can. Of course I had to order soybeans. I ordered Laura non-GMO soybeans from Amazon. (They are currently unavailable, but they have other size packages available.)

I’ve posted before that I often buy kits when making something for the first time. There were kits available, but I’m not sure anyone really needs one. The one thing that attracted me was a mold, but then I have cheese molds that would work. In the end I used neither, but more on that later.

Another thing you need is something to coagulate soy milk into curds. If you make cheese, that sounds very familiar. I used Epsom salt because I usually have it on hand. You can also use lemon juice. But if you’re a pickle maker and have Pickle Crisp, you’re ready to go.

You’ll need 2 pots–1 pretty big, a colander, cheesecloth, and a strainer.

Tofu1-12-16

The first step is to soak the soybeans (3 cups) in filtered water overnight in the fridge. I got busy, and mine soaked 2 days. They seemed fine. When ready to proceed, drain the beans and pick out any that are discolored–just like when you make a pot of soup beans. Blend the beans a little at a time in a blender (and oh how glad I am to have a Vitamix) with just enough water to cover.

When processed, pour into your largest pot and add 12 cups of water; tapwater is okay. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often—you might even say constantly. Word of warning, here. Everything I read, as well as suggestions I got from friends, heavy foaming is likely and it can go from being just fine to foaming over in seconds. Maybe it was the size of my pot, but I didn’t have a problem with foaming. Be careful though that it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. I had a heavy-bottom one, and I had to stir constantly.

Now it’s time to strain the milk through your strainer and into your clean pot. Go slowly, or you could make a mess. You’re now separating the soy milk and  the okara. Save the okara. It can be put in the freezer until you’re ready for it.

The soy milk goes back onto the stove. Bring to 180 degrees, stirring often. In the meantime, prepare your Epsom Salt by dissolving 2 tablespoons in 1 1/2 cups of warm—not hot—water. When the milk is ready, remove from heat and gently stir in the coagulant. Curds will form in about 10 minutes.

You can use a mold or even your colander to form and press your tofu. I used the colander. Line your mold of choice with the cheesecloth. When the curds have formed, spoon into the mold/colander. Cover with the ends of the cheese cloth and add a weight. I used as a late and a couple cans of tomatoes.

The firmness of your tofu depends on how long it presses. At a minimum, press for 20 minutes. I wanted firm, so I pressed for about an hour. Okay, it was probably ready before then, but I got busy. I cut my finished tofu into cubes and stored in a container of water in the fridge. Oh it’s good. And I have soybeans to make many more containers of tofu.

 

 

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Feb
19

Another Come and Gone

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We’ve celebrated the Fifth International Bake Bread Weekend. Each year more people send me messages, saying they’re going to participate and then send me pictures of what they’ve made. I hope it continues to grow.

I’ve known for a few months what I was going to make for this year’s weekend. My experience with biscuits has been up and down, but I knew that’s what I was going to make. I found a recipe and video of someone’s mother making what she called “dough bowl biscuits.” Yes, she made them in an old dough bowl. I printed it, and then promptly forgot where I put it. After a computer issue, if I had it stored on my computer, it was no longer there. I searched using almost every key word I could think of, but no luck. Finally I found one that would do. But then I gave it one last shot, and eureka! I found the recipe I originally wanted to make. The recipe for Mama’s Buttermilk Biscuits that I used can be found here. They’re also called cat’s eye biscuits.

 

I Need a Bigger Dough Bowl

I Need a Bigger Dough Bowl

Of course I couldn’t find White Lily Flour, and it was too late to order any. Now if you’ve been following this blog, this shouldn’t have been an issue because I make my own self-rising flour. And this is true. But I’ve been reading about flour, and it seems self-rising flour is usually made with soft wheat. I don’t have soft wheat berries, so I opted to buy self-rising flour. Since I couldn’t get White Lily, I went with King Arthur brand. Why? It was the only self-rising flour the store had. But even more, I love the brand and use many of their products.

The recipe also calls for lard. If you look back at recipes our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used, lard is a common ingredient for frying and pastry. And biscuits. So I used lard.

Since these are buttermilk biscuits, I used buttermilk. For this I had planned ahead, so there was homemade cultured buttermilk on hand.

Besides the tradition behind these biscuits, I think I was attracted to recipe because of the technique. There’s no excessive kneading and no rolling and no cutting out. It’s very tactile. Like most biscuit recipes, you combine the lard and flour. But instead of using a pastry cutter or two forks, you use your fingers. You incorporate the flour much like you do when making pasta. Then fold it over a time or two, and you’re ready to make the biscuit.

I confess I was a bit concerned I wouldn’t know when it was time to make the biscuit. Most of my breads are no-knead, so I don’t have to worry much about kneading. Not overworking seems to be a major factor in getting a tender biscuit. Oddly enough, my concerns were unwarranted. The dough will tell you if you listen to it.

MamasButtermilkBiscuits8

Once the dough is ready, you pull of a piece and roll it in the palms of your hands. Then back into the flour and another very quick shaping before going on to the prepared cookie sheet. A quick bake, a butter bath, and a few minutes under a clean towel, and you have a tasty biscuit.

I placed my biscuit dough so it touched, which means the edges weren’t crunchy. But I also read that doing so helps the biscuits to rise. Since I’ve not made these biscuits another way, I can’t tell you what the difference is. But I can tell you these are very tasty.

Served with butter and homemade jam made them even better. But I think my favorite way might be as a sausage and egg biscuit. I made homemade turkey breakfast sausage a couple of days ahead in preparation for these biscuits.

EnablingEggandSausage

So my breakfast sandwich had homemade biscuits made with homemade cultured buttermilk and homemade sausage. Talk about a sense of satisfaction . . .

Mark you calendars: the Sixth International Bake Bread Weekend is February 11-12, 2017. I hope you’ll join us.

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Feb
08

Rethinking Your Bread

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I’m not sure how I feel about this video. It’s interesting to see how bread is mass produced in this bakery. I remember enjoying a trip to a local bakery when I was in elementary school. The smell of that freshly baked bread may have been the basis of my love for bread.

It certainly wasn’t the beginning of my love for baking bread. I’d like to say that began the first time I combined flour, water, yeast, and salt and let it rise. But that’s not true either. As a kid, homemade bread were those frozen loaves of bread dough we got at the store. Somehow, though, that evolved to making my own bread, sometimes with commercial yeast and sometimes with natural yeast.

Back to the video. To me, it’s kind of sad to think this is the only bread some people will ever know. Lack of human involvement is both disturbing and so unnecessary. I know bread-making seems like a great mystery to many. But it’s not. It’s a basic food and requires at a minimum only basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast (commercial or natural). That’s it. And you can make it for a lot less money than you spend to buy it at the store. If you do a no-knead loaf, hands-on time is a mere matter of minutes. Then there’s the bread machine option. I’ve no problem with using a bread machine or any other machine as long as you make your bread.

This weekend–February 13 and 14–is International Bake Bread Weekend as designated by The Enabling Cook five years ago. If you’ve never made bread before, give it a try. It can be any type of bread product using any method. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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Jan
26

Battle Biscuits

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So far, working toward my 2016 goals has been a breeze. I’m making a lot of Asian food (thanks in part to a wonderful wok I received as a gift from a friend). I’m eating more vegetables, but it’s a bit difficult trying to eat new ones each week. Well, truth be told, it’s difficult finding much variety at all this time of year. The easiest one, perhaps, has been trying to expand my bread-making ability. Oh, I still fall back on my g0-to recipe, but I’ve also been making more sourdough and even started a new starter–Alice Morgan.

I’ve also been branching out into other forms of bread. For example, biscuits. I’ve made them before, of course, but honestly, I’ve thought about making them more often than I’ve actually made them. I’ve never been able to get the truly flaky biscuit bakers strive for. But lack of success isn’t about to stop me from trying.

 

 

Bread5_CreamBiscuits

I set about looking for a recipe for a biscuit that I could use to make a breakfast sandwich and would also work for chicken and biscuits. As I searched, I found multiple references to a 2-ingredient biscuits. Now that’s my kind of recipe. I checked it out and learned they are also called cream biscuits. The 2-ingredient version calls for self-rising flour and heavy cream. The heavy cream I had; the self-rising (SR) flour I didn’t. I seldom make anything calling for SR flour, so it’s not something I keep on hand. I thought about buying a small bag, but the store didn’t have any SR flour–of any size. So I fell back on the old SR hack: for every cup of AP flour add 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

The procedure is incredibly easy. Mix the dry ingredients and then slowly add the cream to make a sticky dough. Place it out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Pat or roll until about 1/2 inch thickness. I usually prefer to pat out the dough, but this one was a bit too stiff. I had a hard time patting it out evenly and to the desired thickness. So I used a rolling pin. After you cut out your biscuits, gather the scraps and roll out again. For best results, only re-roll a couple of times. Your biscuits get increasingly tough each time you roll out the dough. Brush with melted butter and bake.

The result? Well they’re not light and flaky, but they taste good. I made a breakfast sandwich with one this morning, and it did taste good. I’ll definitely be making them again. But I’ll still be looking for light and flaky.

You can find the recipe for Cream Biscuits here. You know, I’m thinking these would be good warm with maple syrup.

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Jan
12

Buy One, Get One Free

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Those five words can make a huge difference in someone’s food budget. There are caveats, of course. Sometimes the word “free” is misleading. For example, let’s say there’s such an offer on a bag of 5 pounds of potatoes. This means you’re getting 10 pounds of potatoes for the price of 1 bag. That’s great–on the surface. If a store charges $5 for a 5-pound bag, you have to make sure another store doesn’t sell a comparable item for less than that. If you can get a bag for less at another store, the “free” isn’t so free after all.

Then there’s the question of how quickly you’ll use the items. If they’re perishable, will you be able to use them or preserve them before they go bad? If you’re cooking for a large family, that’s not likely to be much of a problem. It it’s a staple, say butter, for example (though I seldom see such offers on butter), there’s usually room in the freezer for a 1 pound package. But what about potatoes, onions, and similar products? And what if you’re cooking for one person? Do you have to bypass such money-saving opportunities? Of course not.

I seem to be overly attracted to the “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” signs when it comes to potatoes. I love potatoes. That is no exaggeration. Still, I managed to accumulate about 20 pounds of potatoes thanks to buy 1. It’s cold in here, so they do last longer. But I needed to do something with them.

Freezer space is at a premium. I thought about canning them. Because they are a low acid food, they have to be pressure canned, and I didn’t have time for that. So I opted for dehydrating them. I’ve dehydrated potatoes before but only for chips, not long-term storage. So that necessitated a Google search. As with most things, there are myriad ways to dehydrate potatoes. After reading pros and cons of various methods, I decided to use the techniques that seem to be used most often.

A word about dehydrators. I’ve mentioned several times that I have the Nesco/American Harvestor Jerky and Snackmaker. It’s relatively inexpensive (I think mine was about $70 when I got it, and it’s gone down in price.) and has worked well for many years. Many people use an Excalibur and swear by it. It’s considerably more expensive, and several who have one feel it is well worth the price. Before buying, be honest with yourself about how often you’ll use it. If results are similar, you may not want to spend a great deal of money on something you’ll seldom use. As for features, I spoke with Jerri of Homesteader’s Supply. She feels a temperature control is most important. I couldn’t agree more. I know some people are adamant that a dehydrator has a timer. However, because dehydrating involves so many variables, a timer’s use might not be worth the extra cost. But you do need temperature control. Not everything is dehydrated at the same temperature.

Peel the potatoes, making sure to cut away any dark spots or eyes. Most sources say potatoes need to be parboiled prior to dehydrating. Some, however, say to cook them fully; some bake them until a knife can be inserted. If you don’t cook them, they tend to get dark–even black–in the center when dehydrated. I decided to parboil, since it seemed to be the most prevalent advice. In some instructions, the potatoes are cut into the desired form prior to cooking. I did the first couple of times. The other times I cooked first and then put them through the chopper.

If you’re good with the knife skills, you can cut them by hand. I’m not that good, so I use my Genius chopper/slicer. I did slices first. I sliced them very thin. They only took about 6 hours to dehydrate. My original thought was to grind them and use them as instant mashed potatoes. I may leave them sliced and make some au gratin potatoes. They may be a bit too thin for that, though.

My next potatoes were cubed. Because they were considerably thicker, it took longer to dehydrate them. In total, I think it took closer to 12 hours. I generally don’t need to rotate trays during the dehydrating process, but I found it necessary with these. potatoes.

Potato Soup with dry cubes

I planned these potatoes for soups, stews, and perhaps potato salad. I’d been having a craving for potato soup, so I used some of them to make a nice bowl on a cold day. I rehydrated the cubes by soaking in hot water just to cover for about an hour. The residual water can be added into the pot with the potatoes.

When it comes to storage, I used my FoodSaver to vacuum seal them in jars. And that’s where I hit a snag. A lot of us have problems using the jar sealer. I couldn’t get the wide mouth one to work at all. Even after reading all the solutions people found for the problem. I took their suggestions for using the regular mouth jars, and they worked. At least I thought so. I tested them, and the lights were tight. A couple days later, I checked them again. All open; the seal had come undone. So I put them in FoodSaver bags and vacuum sealed them. So if you’re using the jar sealer, be sure to check your lids.

I’ve worked through about half of the potatoes I had stocked up. I’m so glad to be able to preserve some before they go bad.

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Jan
01

A 2016 to Look Forward To

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Image courtesy of krishna arts at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of krishna arts at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome 2016. I don’t know about you, but it seems as though we were just welcoming 2015. I didn’t achieve all the goals I set for myself–I still don’t know how to pull noodles–but I learned a lot along the way. So at least foodwise, it wasn’t a total bust of a year.

Like last year, I’ve set some food-related.blog goals for 2016. In no particular order, they include the following.

  • Learn more about Asian cooking. It’s probably my favorite cuisine, and it’s a shame I am not more adept at it. I’ve actually started this one and will be posting about it soon.
  • Break out of my breadmaking box. I bake at least one loaf of bread most weeks. It’s usually the same basic recipe with some variations thrown in. I want to be a bit more adventuresome.
  • Add more variety of vegetables to my diet. I eat a lot of vegetables, but usually the same ones. That’s partially caused by the lack of variety available in this area. I can combat this somewhat by planting more variety.
  • Find new ways to fix vegetables. Just as I eat the same vegetables over and over, I usually cook them the same way. I need new recipes.
  • Help people on limited budgets find healthy recipes. I don’t know about you, but food prices are bordering on outrageous here. I mean really–$5 for a head of cauliflower? And families on public assistance often believe mass-produced unhealthy foods their only options.
  • Develop more soup recipes. Soup is good food, after all.
  • Submit food-related pieces for publication. While I’d like these to be for pay, the exposure is good, too.
  • Enter a recipe contest. It doesn’t have to be one with a large prize, but I’d like to be able to say I’ve entered one.

Those are my goals as of today. I’m sure they’ll change. Some will be altered, and some may be deleted while others added. I hope my list inspires you to come up with one of your own.

 

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Dec
29

Fruitcake Heaven

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I’m guessing you never thought you’d see “fruitcake” and “heaven” in the same sentence. Until this holiday season, that would certainly be true for me. And no one is more surprised than I am.

You may recall my first foray into making fruitcake. Not only was this the opportunity to break a lifelong almost hatred of this holiday cake, it was a chance to use a family recipe. Oh all right, not my family, but who’s nitpicking? Many people make their fruitcakes months in advance, so there’s plenty of time for the cake to age. As usual, I got off to a late start, making mine in November. As I wrote in the original post, the cake batter itself is very tasty and without the fruit and nuts, would make a great basic spice cake. But how would the cake be?

FreshfromtheOven.jpg

Excellent.

I know the idea is to let the cakes age for months, but patience is not one of my virtues. So on the first of December, I cut into the first cake (the recipe made 2). The smell was amazing. I’ve eaten fruitcake before, but none has such a wonderful smell. Better yet, the taste was even better.

Cake1Dec1.jpg

The cake was incredibly moist and the flavor intense. What a happy surprise.

Now my intent was to let the other cake age another month or so. Yeh, didn’t happen. I cut it on Christmas Eve. Again, it was moist, and though the smell wasn’t as intense, I found it more pleasing. The taste had mellowed, and again I found it more agreeable than the first cake–though that cake was better than any I’d had before. To my tastes, the second one was better.

I alter the recipe from that given to me. Partially it reflects what is available in my area. Mostly, it has to do with my preferences. I think when I make it again, I’ll use rum for both the batter and the soaking liquids. Incidentally, I only “basted” the cake a couple of times during its aging phase. And I think I’ll add pistachios. They seem to be a common fruitcake ingredient, and they are among my favorite nuts.

Don’t let a bad experience with fruitcake turn you off them forever. I almost did, and I would have missed out on a great cake. Remember, when you make your own, you can add what you like. No electric-colored fruit in my cake. And I used lots of nuts. Add cardamom–or don’t. Don’t like nutmeg? Leave it out. If you like neon fruit, use it. I guess . . .

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Dec
16

A Corned Beef and Cabbage Two-Way

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You know how it is. For some reason, a particular food (or combination of foods) gets in your head, and you can’t get it out. Kind of like a culinary brainworm or stomach worm. For about a week, I kept thinking about corned beef and cabbage. I love it, but I don’t have it very often. But for whatever reason, I was seriously craving it.

You might recall that I generally corn my own beef. But it’s been difficult finding brisket around here. At least one I can afford. I know you can use other cuts of beef, but I prefer the brisket. So I bought one of those packaged corned beefs when they were on sale. So the other night I made corned beef and cabbage. While I usually make it in the slow cooker, I opted to use my Power Pressure Pro XL pressure cooker. (Let me just say I love that thing!) Dinner was ready in just over an hour. I added more water than I probably had to because I knew I’d be adding lots of carrots and cabbage.

Of course I served it with the last of my homemade mustards.

Now came the problem I have every time I make corned beef and cabbage. What do I do with the leftovers? The veggies are no problem. After all, they’re my favorite things about the dish. In fact, it would be all right with me to just cook the veggies with corned beef stock.

Huh?

CornedBeefandCabbageSoup

Yep, corned beef stock. Hey, you can make stock out of almost anything, why not corned beef? This was a very small corned beef, even before cooking, so I wasn’t sure how good a stock would be. So I kind of did a trial run. After straining out the leftover meat and veggies, I poured the liquid into a measuring cup and let it sit overnight so the fat could rise to the top. I put it to work the next day in corned beef and cabbage soup.

This is probably one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. Quick, too, since everything is cooked. Skim the fat off the broth, shred the beef, and add them, along with the veggies, into a pot to heat up. And don’t forget to add a plop or two of mustard just before serving. Oh it’s good.

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Dec
12

Cookies from Beyond–Part 2

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Yes, I’m returning to the cookies from my last post, but in a good way.

After that post, I received a comment from Jane Menster. She’s the daughter of Maxine Menster’s, whose cookie recipe I made. She pointed out these cookies really need frosting. I agree. Kind of. Truth be told, although the cookies were all right not long after the oven, I actually liked them better the next day. Go figure.

So why didn’t I frost them? Two reasons, really. First, it wasn’t on the headstone. Okay, I know you can’t put everything on there. But the main reason? I don’t really care for frosted cookies. I know, I know. But at least I’m consistent; I’d rather eat the cake and leave the frosting. But I digress.

CemeteryCookies2.jpg

I had dough left from my first batch, so I baked more cookies. And since I seem to be fixated on lemon lately, I made a very simple lemon frosting. I mixed together

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • a bit of flaked coconut

Of course the lemon juice and coconut can be adjusted to taste. You might even toast the coconut.  The frosting did add that little extra flavor oomph.

Jane also commented that she has made some adjustments to the original cookie dough recipe. She uses butter-flavor Crisco, 1/2 cup more sugar, and double the vanilla. You know, that’s what’s great about a basic recipe. You can adjust it to suit your preferences. It’s still the cookie with a history, but reflects what you like. Of course now I’m wondering what it would taste like with some of my cherry extract . . .

Thanks, Jane, for your suggestions.

 

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Dec
04

Cookies from Beyond

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Happy National Cookie Day. This is definitely a holiday I can get behind. And I did. I wanted a special cookie, and I found it. Kind of.

Remember my regret at not having family recipes? Yes, I know I’ve whined about it a lot lately. And I still haven’t won a recipe collection on eBay. But I was lucky and found a family cookie recipe. Okay, it isn’t my family, but eh, who cares.

You may have seen this recipe, too.  Trust me, it would have stuck in your mind if you had.

After Maxine Menster of Cascade, Iowa, died in 1994, her daughter and widower wanted a special way to memorialize her. They gave it some thought and came up with the perfect way to do so. They inscribed her recipe for Christmas cookies on her tombstone! You can read about it and find the recipe here.

Ever since I saw the story on Facebook, I knew I was going to make her cookies. National Cookie Day seemed the perfect time.

GravestoneCookies.jpgThe recipe is easy, and I followed it exactly. Well, almost. You’ll see on the tombstone that it calls for oleo (margarine). Now while margarine was always used in my house when I was growing up in Iowa, it’s been only a memory for many years. I thought about buying some so I could be true to Mrs. Menster’s recipe, but I just couldn’t justify the expense. So my version has butter. I don’t know about her version, but the vanilla in mine is homemade.

So what are they like? Well, I’m kind of disappointed. The flavor is very subtle. It’s not nearly as sweet as most of the ones I’ve made. That being said, it’s a tasty start of a cookie. Should I make them again, I’ll likely switch out some or all of the vanilla with my cinnamon extract. I may even add nutmeg and cardamom to the dry ingredients. And I’d probably top with some turbinado sugar before putting them in the oven. Ground nuts would also be a nice addition.

Thank you, Mrs. Menster for your cookie recipe. And thanks to your husband and daughter for choosing this as a way to memorialize your life.

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