Breakfast Djinni (in a jar)

I picked up a breakfast conjuration from Lifehacker and ran with it for this week.  My regular breakfast wish is something quick, healthy, and able to keep me from overindulging for my mid-morning snack.  And so, this morning I rubbed the magic breakfast lamp and *poof* I had breakfast in a reasonable amount of time without it being a shake. [1]

The premise is simple:  prepare some kind of cooked oats on the weekend, put them in jars, reheat each morning for breakfast.  The nice thing is that it really is that simple.

I cooked about 1c of steel cut oats in 3c of water to get something firm but not chewy and also something that would take well to reheating with a little water added.  I’ve learned that oats do not reheat well without some kind of hydration.  This means when following this plan, making something slightly under-cooked is required because it is going to slightly cook when reheated in the microwave.

Oh no!  Use of black magic!

Before you point back to a previous post, remember that this is reheating.  You can’t reheat without cooking something a little bit more, especially in the microwave, so I dare say reheat and cook in the same context here.

I portioned the cooked amount of oats into 5 jars, tossed a dash of cinnamon in each, sealed them, and got them into the fridge.  It is best to do this while the oats are hot as this will help seal the jar as they cool.  In theory, this should help them keep better over the week, especially if you aren’t using small jars and end up with a fair amount of air in the jar.  Ideally, appropriate sized jars would be used to minimize the amount of air within.

I also prepared a jar of mixed fruit and put that in the fridge.  I used frozen fruit [2] and dried cranberries in about equal ratio.  This consisted of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and the dried cranberries.

This morning I added about a tablespoon of water to the jar and heated it for about 22 seconds in the microwave.  Heating slowly helps ensure the jar doesn’t explode from any heat change.  It should’t as canning jars are meant to handle high heat, but don’t tempt the Black Magic Box.  I then stirred the oats and heated for another 44 seconds.  I was aiming for warm not hot so I could eat these immediately.  I then added a few table spoons of fruit, a teaspoon of molasses, and a bit of soy milk to make this mixable and quickly consumable.

The outcome was quite good, and the upside of using a larger jar was that I could continue to summon this strange Djinni in this bottle without dirtying anything else.  Tomorrow I plan to add soy yogurt instead because it is good to get the little Health Gremlins in yogurt on a daily basis.

Another variation I will try is to reduce the amount of steel cut oats and use a balance of rolled oats — mostly because steel cut oats are crazy expensive, and party because variety is good.

[1] I have recently hit a wall with this vegan diet I am temporarily on.  This includes a slight aversion to intense soy.  There are studies that indicate too much soy for Westerners isn’t a good thing as it hasn’t been a part of our dietary culture and our metabolism isn’t properly geared towards it.

[2] Quality frozen fruit can be second best to fresh fruit because it was frozen at its peak freshness.  Don’t shun it because it came from the freezer, but certainly shun Ye Generice Brande — goodness knows the quality and origin of that!

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Szechuan Tofu

John has been shaming me on the recipe posts, so I’ll sneak in two weeks worth of Lenten pot luck dinner recipes and redeem myself, somewhat. Both are vegan (for Lent). I’ll start with tonight’s and work backwards. The first week of Lent’s dish was already posted here.

I LOVE spicy tofu dishes. While I’m not one of those people who wrinkles their nose at tofu, in fact I like it quite a lot, I do kind of insist that frankly, by itself, it tastes like nothing at all. BUT, this just means that it is all the more perfectly prepared to be the canvas for a universe of sauces and preparations. Thick, sticky, dark, sweet and blow your head off spicy just happens to be my favorite. As with any genuine culinary tradition, I have no idea what I’m doing, but like any good wizard or cleric, I know how to put on a good show and fake it.

Keep in mind, these are preparations for a communal meal where a few hundred people show up, so if the quantities seem big, they are — adjust down as you see fit.

Two tubs of firm (not extra firm, too crumbly) tofu, drained. I have seen this dish done with silken tofu, but it requires more finesse than I have. Slice in half such that you have to fairly flat, big rectangles — like a stack of 3×5 note cards. Lay the four rectangles out on something very flat, either plastic cutting boards or the bottom of cookie sheets. Place a second cutting board (or cookie sheet bottom) on top, and then pile on as much weight as you can find. I stack my #8 and #10 cast iron skillets and my #8 Dutch oven (with #8 lid) and that’s just about the minimum I’d use. Press and drain (this is why the cookie sheets have to be upside down, if you use the normal surface the liquid can’t drain off) the tofu for at least 30 minutes. Longer is better. Undo your press and then slide the rectangles into large squares. I usually cut the long way into four strips and then six pieces the short way for a total of 24*4=96 chunks of tofu. This is not actually as much as it seems.

Coarsely chop one good size stalk of lemon grass into pieces you’ll be able to remove easily later.

Put your wok (or other very large vessel that can take big heat) over your hottest heat source (dragon’s abdomens are just about hot enough), add a liberal amount of a high heat oil like canola or peanut and augment with toasted sesame oil (for flavor). When the pan (not the oil) begins to smoke, throw in the tofu and lemon grass. Boil the tofu in the oil, moving frequently, until the tofu just start to shrink, then scoop them out into a sieve of some kind to drain. Pick out all the lemon grass which is probably now rock hard and flavorless. Pour out the excess oil but do not wipe down the wok.

Dice a red onion. Split six Serrano peppers in half the long way. Remove seeds and membranes according to how hot you want your end result to be. The less you remove, the hotter the dish. I took out all of the membrane and seeds and the end result still wasn’t exactly tame. If you are unaccustomed to cooking with hot peppers, maybe try just one pepper the first time, left intact, and ramp up on subsequent occasions if you find you enjoy more heat. Take the long halves and make thin crescents.

In the blender or food processor place four to six big chunks of fresh ginger, peeled, along with dozen or more cloves of roasted garlic, soy sauce, honey, molasses, Chinese five spice, liquid smoke (or smoked spice alternative) and vegetable broth — enough broth so that the result is too thin to be a sticky sauce, but not so thin it will take too long to drive out the water to make it a sticky sauce. Now take a good measuring cup’s worth of tamarind paste and rehydrate it with boiling water. Once soft, push through a screen into the blender (or food processor). Alternatively, have the good sense to buy tamarind paste in a jar that you can just spoon out rather than a block of mashed tamarind with all the seeds and pulp still in it, like I did.

Put the wok back on the dragon’s belly and begin to saute the onion and peppers. Open one can of bamboo shoots and one can of sliced water chestnuts, drain both. Once the onion and pepper begins to make you sneeze violently, I mean, brown up, add the bamboo and water chestnuts. Once the extra water is off the canned veggies, put the tofu back in and pour on the liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir or fold occasionally to prevent sticking down at the bottom center of the wok.

Meanwhile prep about half a pound of snow peas and a half dozen green onions. I like to leave the peas whole, with just the tips cut off, and slice the green onion into very thin rings. Get both the white and green from the onion, because both the flavor and texture are quite different.

After the sauce looks like it will be quite thick when cooled, taste it and make any adjustments. If you need more cooking time, add more veggie broth so that it doesn’t get too thick and start to burn. Once the sauce meets your requirements, add the peas and green onions, fold in and immediately remove from the heat source as well as the wok itself into a serving dish. Steamed rice, brown or white, is the obvious accompaniment.

Snappy Pot of Beans at the End of the Rainbow

I love baked beans and I still can’t get them quite the way my dad used to.  Eventually I decided to stop trying and struck out on my own quest for a pot of beans at the end of my imaginary rainbow.  The final improvement to these came from an issue of America’s Test Kitchen and made all the difference.  They are still not the same, but they are definitely good!  Also, this has the potential to be a vegan recipe and goes relatively well with tofu dogs for something almost resembling a traditional New England Baked Bean Dinner.  Corn Bread or Biscuits really round this out nicely.

Typically I will use Navy or Kidney beans.  So far, I have found this works with every bean I have tried, though the flavor and texture does vary.  This allows for some experimentation to find a bean that really grabs your … attention.

  • 1C beans soaked overnight (usually use a 1lb package)
  • 1T crisco or similar shortening
  • 2T molasses
  • 1 medium onion chopped (sometimes, I do 2 or a large)
  • 1t salt (or to taste)
  • 1t pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 250F – 300F (depending on how long you want to cook them).  Place beans in a large, oven-save vessel such as a dutch oven and make sure they are covered with about 2-inches of water.  Stir in all other ingredients.  Bake at 250-300 for 6-8 hours.  Check every hour.  DO NOT stir.  Ensure the beans are at least -just barely- covered with water, adding a little more is okay.

  • 1T molasses
  • 1t cider vinegar

When they are baked, remove from oven and add 1T molasses and 1t cider vinegar.  This adds a nice snap that makes the beans very flavorful.

Alternatively, the recipe I got from America’s Test Kitchen is as follows, and is very good as well.

  • 1lb package beans
  • 1/2c molasses
  • 1t salt
  • 1/2c mustard (brown is best, yellow will do)
  • 9c water
  • 1/3c bacon fat (or similar — goal is a flavorful fat) [1]
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

Preheat oven to 300F.  In a large, oven-safe pot, sautee onion in fat.  Add all ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Bake at 300F for 4-1/2 hours.  Stir.  Bake for another 1 hour uncovered.  Remove from oven.

  • 1T molasses
  • 1t cider vinegar

Stir in molasses and vinegar.  Serve.

[1] I would experiment with alternative fats and find the smokey flavor from paprika or even cumin (conservatively!).