Fear Not the Faux Meat

It’s amazing how busy one can still feel after completing the so-called *only* thing keeping one busy for months on end (searching for a new job). I guess that all my other ideas/plans/goings-on were waiting anxiously in the back of my conscious for the right moment to surface and feel noticed. It’s been nice to have my time filled with things that I actually enjoy doing versus everything I was forced to make time for in order to finally change my work situation. But I guess I’ve accepted that it’s very difficult to live in this city and have nothing to do…and is that so bad? We may be forced to use our Google calendars to “schedule” hangouts with friends and “downtime” more than we’d sometimes like, but at least there are enough fun and random escapades out there to fill those tiny square virtual boxes. Nifty NY is responsible for more than a few of those…which, if you all don’t know, is a daily e-mail of cheap and free things to do that ranges from park concerts to yoga classes on rooftops to 90s trivia in Brooklyn with free beer (key words are FREE and CHEAP, I like both, so so much). Oh…and food, so much food.

One of my latest kitchen endeavors was actually a couple of weeks back during a dinner at my place with my friend Rebecca and her boyfriend Michael. It was….wait for it…tofu! Don’t be scared. I have to preface this by saying that I am in no way a vegetarian, nor is Katie. I love chicken, I’d die over a good steak, and I am more than okay with that. However, I also have a strangely intense affinity for tofu. My mother is afraid to eat the stuff, as she has a similar texture dysfunction towards it as I have towards most commonly eaten seafood. I’m working hard on bringing her around, but I can understand the hesitation that most people have towards ill-prepared tofu. Here is the thing…when it comes out of the package, tofu is smushy, flavorless and crumbles easily. It in no way looks appetizing on it’s own, but then again, neither does raw chicken unless you’re my orange cat who once fetched a piece of it out of the trash can without my knowledge and left it on the hallway carpet overnight as a present.

Dinner double date commenced with my second attempt at fried tofu cubes with sweet and sour sauce, plus coconut rice and some awesome curried cauliflower courtesy of Michael (no recipe for that available at the moment):

Sweet ‘n Sour Fried Tofu & Coconut Rice:

Serves two, easy to double to serve four as I did in this situation. BROKE ALERT: A package of tofu runs for $2-3 average!

-One package of firm or extra firm tofu (I usually go with extra firm)

-A bunch of paper towels to squeeze the water out of the tofu (SUPER IMPORTANT)

-One medium/large can of crushed pineapple in juice (not in syrup, you’ll need the juice)

-Soy sauce, about half a cup or a little more

-Grated fresh ginger, about 1-2 tablespoons

-Minced garlic, about 1-2 tablespoons

-Veggie oil for frying, you’ll need quite a bit

-Agave, a few spoonfuls

-Cornstarch

-White rice (sub brown if you’d like, increase cook time)

-1 ½ cups of regular coconut milk + ½ cup water (one can of coconut milk is plenty)

To Cook:

-For the rice, I have a rice cooker (I cheat, I know), but you can use a pot on the stove as well. Combine 1 cup rice with 1 ½ cup coconut milk and ½ cup water and turn on cooker. It will take a little longer than usual to cook with the coconut milk vs. all water, so if you are using a rice cooker, you may need to continue the cooking after the “cycle” has completed. Add a little extra milk/water if necessary. Salt.

-Open the tofu and cut it into 1 inch cubes (approx) and lay the cubes in a single layer on top of 4-5 sheets of paper towel. Place 4-5 more sheets on top of tofu and cover the whole spread with plates or a flat cookie pan. Place books or something of equal weight on top to put pressure onto the tofu and squeeze out all the water. This is INCREDIBLY important. One of the main reasons that tofu turns out soggy or has a weird texture is the fact that not all the water has been drained from it. Leave the tofu like this for about 20 minutes if possible. If you’re limited on time, manually squeeze out each piece several times until very little water comes out. .

-Remove all paper towels from tofu and manually squeeze each cube once more with more paper towels, just to be sure you have gotten out as much water as possible.

-Prepare your marinade: combine the juice from can of pineapples (juice only, place pineapple aside), soy sauce, agave and a little salt. Place tofu cubes into the marinade and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

-Take a large frying pan and place over medium heat (not high), and pour in a generous amount of veggie oil, at least an inch. Salt the oil. Having enough oil in the pan and salting helps ensure that the tofu doesn’t stick to the bottom, because once it does, it’s nearly impossible to get off (tofu…catastrophe. Crying Sara).

-Once the oil is hot, sprinkle cornstarch onto a plate and generously coat each piece of tofu and shake off the excess. Place tofu cubes in oil and set marinade aside (this will become your sauce). Fry until lightly browned and then flip to brown the other side, a couple minutes per side.

-Once tofu is done, place onto a plate lined with paper towel and set aside. Drain all but a little of your oil (leave just enough to coat the pan). Toss in grated ginger and minced garlic and cook for a couple minutes until they become fragrant.

-Pour in your marinade and cook until it begins to reduce and become slightly syrupy. Toss the tofu back in and cook for several minutes until each piece is thoroughly coated and the sauce is thickened (similar to a Chinese sweet ‘n sour sauce). Toss in the pineapple chunks and cook until warm.

-Serve with rice and any veggies you’d like, and see if you haven’t been brought over to the faux meat dark side (it’s not so scary) 🙂

Image

Beyond my culinary endeavors, I officially completed my final day at my old office. Change is always a little bittersweet, even when you want it so much, but I honestly can’t wait to be some place new. I don’t know what it is about a fresh environment that wakes up your senses and re-focuses your days, but it’s pretty powerful.

Katie and I leave Saturday morning for our next road trip adventure just before I start at the new place…2 weeks meandering through Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California to cover some of the states that we missed on our 5-week adventure in late 2012. I was a notoriously anti-long-drives person before all of this, but have since been transformed into a dirt-road/ghost town/get lost in nowhere addict. We book hotels and finalize stops as we go, which makes room for flexibility and spontaneity. The computer will accompany our travels and I will record our findings here whenever possible.

We have 1 atlas, 1 USA info book, and 3 books about where to eat. This ratio shouldn’t be surprising and I don’t see a problem with it. Get ready southwest 😉

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