Bubbling Cauldron of Reviving Potion

An example of how to use this physical component in a full blown spell:

Cut two blocks of firm tofu into three sheets each. Lay out flat and press with as much weight as you can get onto them for at least 30 minutes. Uncover and cube each sheet into sixteen.

While your tofu is pressing, get one can of black beans (with the goo) into a food processor or blender along with a generous portion of roasted garlic, vegetable broth and Chinese five spice. Don’t render completely smooth, but try to be sure nearly all the beans are broken up.

Get your wok (or a huge, non-stick skillet, or a huge cast iron skillet you trust to be not sticky) rocket hot and give it a very generous portion of the fire and ice potion. Once hot, augment with more unflavored high heat oil (like safflower) and possibly toasted sesame oil for flavor. Drop the tofu cubes in and keep them moving vigorously until they begin to brown up (in addition to the red oil stain, don’t mistake the one for the other). Splash some soy sauce and cook off the moisture. Splash a big sum of “rooster sauce” and do the same. If the season and your habits allow, do the same with fish sauce. Put the tofu aside in a serving dish.

Add the black bean mixture along with a second can of un-processed beans into the hot wok. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stir often. Depending on how much broth you added, this may take some time. If you get bored, impatient, or simply want a lot of sauce, use corn starch to thicken before the liquid reduces too far.

Slice a batch of snap peas on the bias and put them on top of the tofu. Pour on the sauce, stir to combine, and serve with rice or noodles.

Have a lot of beverages near to hand — and handkerchiefs.

Chuck Roast part 2

OK, it turns out that this is going to be a true challenge.

Once the roast cooled, the issue turned out to be less about the remaining fat, there wasn’t nearly as much as I thought there was at first, and more about the flavor, which at first I had thought was just fine.

As it turns out, cooking something with previously roasted garlic for about 16 hours isn’t such a good idea. The roasted garlic goes from being buttery and caramelized and pungent to being bitter, acerbic and pervasively insistent.

Trying to render the entire thing down to a batch of beef and barley soup did not solve the problem.

I think now that I need to combat the garlic bitterness with something sweet without making the dish sweet. Since the zatar has been obliterated by the garlic, I’m going to try tamarind paste, since I already have that in the house.

Unless I find something clever at the Chinese grocery tonight, when I go to pick up barley tea bags, because we are out and it is 100 degrees here everyday and living without barley tea is barely living. (get it?)

One nice thing about dropping $20-25 on a roast is that you can’t just throw in the towel if it doesn’t work out. It forces you to play clutch and think, and work out what needs to be done.

And Now a True Test

Sometimes butchers lie. At least, mine did yesterday.

After… 12 hours in an oven at 220 and another 4 hours at 200, my grass fed beef chuck roast did not completely melt and fall apart the way a pork shoulder would have. In fact, most of it is still a huge, fatty mess.

But it smells fantastic because it spent that 16 hours in zatar and roasted garlic.

I will let you know how I manage to salvage this.

I can say, the flavor is very good, and the drippings are going to make amazing soup. I’m just not looking forward to picking all this apart quite as carefully as is going to be required it seems.

Mountain Bread is Enormous!

There is a local, Lebanese bakery which provides a variety of pita breads to all the local Whole Foods locations in Houston. I made this connection a year ago when I went directly to the bakery to get falafel sandwiches (during Lent).

Today, we learned that their “mountain bread” is fit for the apetite of a Hobbit! Once we got them unfolded, the diameter was easily 18 inches, if not 24. We had opted for the mountain bread because we wanted to make some wraps for dinner, and had figured that the pita, pocket style bread would be too thick as is, and would fall apart if opened up.

So, apparently we were in for some serious wraps.

I quartered an eggplant (a longer, thinner variety than the typical Italian, but not as long and thin as the Japanese styles) and then sliced it into roughly half inch wide bits. I salted it and cooked it with jalapenos, onion (received in trade from a fellow gardener for some of my extra radishes), a pale green bell pepper (from my plot) and roasted garlic. Once well along, this skillet was put into a 400 degree oven next to a second one containing olive oil and some pre-made falafel (from a bulk warehouse store and which is distressingly good) for about 30 minutes, give or take.

The enormous bread was laid flat. Ruffled lettuce (from the garden) was arranged in the center along with some shredded cheese. The falafel was squashed to help the whole thing wrap up, and then it was topped with the roasted vegetables. The whole universe was then rolled up snug.

This was a much, much better success than the pickles.

Tenser’s Cheesy Disks

In addition to celebrating Bright Week with meats, we celebrate with dairy as well. In addition to cream in my iced coffee [1] once again and milk in my steamed steel cut oats, our house has been a veritable chees-a-po-looza (see previous mention of tacos).

Last night was quesadilla. Normally I would make these in a cast iron skillet on the stove top, but last night I got the bright idea to do several of them at one time on a half sheet in the oven. 350 degrees, 15 minutes on each side, perfect.

I de-seeded four large jalapeno peppers and sliced the fruit into small crescents. I cut one sweet onion (not a “Vidalia” brand, and yes that word is a brand, but whatever the local variety is) into similarly sized shapes. These were set about to browning in some olive oil, roasted garlic and salt over high heat in a cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, a can of cannellini beans was opened and drained. Once the savory items were well along, a tub of baby spinach was tossed into the pan and wilted. Some left over rice and left over pico de gallo may or may not have been thrown in just to use it up.

Several small tortilla were arranged on the half sheet. Shredded pepper jack was applied. The beans were spooned onto the cheese. The skillet mixture was placed on top. Everything was worked a bit to flatten it out, and then tortilla were placed on top of each. Half sheet went into the pre-heated oven directly onto the oven stones. After 15 minutes the tray was removed, each item was flipped, and then the tray went back in for another 15.

The cheese melts, the beans melt, the roasted garlic melts… SO GOOD.

[1] Any time the temperature is above 85 degrees, I require iced coffee to function. Living in Houston means I drink a lot of iced coffee these days.

Sour and Spicy Sea Bug Soup

Strictly speaking, the Lenten fast is not “vegan”. Vegan is a contemporary term and does not really correlate directly to what is and is not proscribed during this season. For example, honey is always permitted during this time. Also, aquatic animals which have neither spine nor fins (shellfish, basically) can be consumed. This seems to be a quirk of culture. “Oil” is specifically off limits, because in the ancient Byzantine Empire, fine oils were eaten more or less alone as a feasting food, while shellfish were essentially viewed as “bait”. So yes, in today’s world, during Lent, you can have a $30 lobster, but not a $0.50 hot dog, and still be “fasting”. In the Gamer Geek world we call that “rules lawyering” and it isn’t seen in any better light in the faith than it is at the gaming table.

Why am I talking about this? Because today’s recipe involves shrimp, and I didn’t want to confuse anyone. My wife is out of town for a few days, which means I can cook seafood in the house without her complaining about the smell or running around casting “scented candle” spells everywhere (which make me sneeze).

One concession I made to the Lenten season was that I bought a bag of block frozen shrimp (better quality than individually frozen, actually, just more frustrating to get thawed out for use) rather than fresh, to keep the expense down. For this recipe, though, you want shell on, raw shrimp. Ideally you would make this recipe with fresh, whole shrimp. Whole as in heads and legs intact. Shrimp shells and brains contain an enormous amount of flavor which is ideally suited for sauces and broths. However, I’m unaware of a way to get frozen shrimp with the heads still on, so I had to settle for shells intact but headless.

Shellfish should get cooked one of two ways: as hot, fast and brief as possible, or as slow and low as possible. Given that I was starting with something frozen, I had to opt for the latter. I used a stainless skillet for this, and the glass lid with the vent hole from my pasta pot just happens to fit onto this skillet. So, I put the shrimp into the pan with the lid on over very low heat, and turned them over from time to time. This cooking is going to create a lot of water in the pan. Keep this. Hence the lid. Once the shrimp are cooked through, put the shrimp into a bowl in the freezer and transfer the resulting liquid into a large sauce pan.

In a food processor or blender combine stewed tomatoes, roasted garlic, lots of lemon juice (lots), a couple tablespoons of white vinegar, heavy coconut milk, fresh cilantro, a generous amount of “rooster sauce” (or similar sriracha type hot sauce) or a combination of hot peppers and honey/sugar, and kimchee if you have some (I make my own approximation of this as a source of probiotics).

Once the shrimp have cooled, shell them. Put the meat aside, and put all the shells into the sauce pan where your retained liquid is. Add a carton of vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for a long time. Strain, and dispose of the now thoroughly depleted shells. Add the blended items and bring back to a simmer. Make adjustments with lemon, vinegar, honey and heat to create your desired level of “ouch”. If you have access to kaffir leaves, add them during this simmer stage. Be sure to remove them before serving.

Put shrimp meat into a bowl and pour hot broth over them. This will warm them through without making them over cooked and tight. I recommend serving this with either glass noodles or rice noodles. Prepare them separately and add them to the bowl with the shrimp, and then pour over the broth.

Just don’t forget to cast an immunity to fire spell on yourself before digging in. And to have a breath mint after.

Mediterranean Vegetable and Grain Salad

This was last week’s offering for the pot luck dinner. Much less work than tonight’s dish.

One cup of the same old baked barley I’m always talking about. 375 degree oven, 3 cups of water, one hour. Blah blah blah.

While that is cooking, in the food processor combine

  • a dozen cloves of roasted garlic (I make huge batches of this by getting bulk peeled garlic at Costco)
  • lemon juice (a fair bit)
  • olive oil (to match, you’re making a dressing)
  • red pepper flake
  • smoked paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • sumac
  • thyme (dried)
  • sesame seeds
  • cumin
  • oregano (dried)
  • cilantro (dried)

Render that into a dressing.
Course chop the following (either in the processor or by hand)

  • green, black and kalamata olives.
  • artichoke hearts
  • one can stewed tomatoes
  • capers

Toss the barley (after it has cooled and been fluffed) and the chopped veggies with a can of garbanzo beans and a can of black beans. Toss in the dressing.

Salads like this taste best if allowed to mellow overnight, but taste just fine after a couple of hours setting up. Served immediately upon combining, they will seem flat in a way you can’t put your finger on, somehow.