July 30, 2012

Kung Pao Tofu and Noodles

Kung Pao Tofu 

A few months back I made a batch of homemade Kung Pao sauce using this crazy-simple recipe from Ming Tsai of "Simply Ming". I only ended up using half of the batch, so I transfered the rest to a small tupperware container and popped it into the freezer for another day. Almost six months and one move to a new house/much snazzier freezer later, the sauce remained. Lonely. And forming ice crystals. Clearly the time had come for me to pay some attention to the abandoned container of saucy goodness. I rummaged through the fridge and came out with a small head of cabbage, some carrots, and a block of super firm tofu. A brief pantry browse turned up a box of rice noodles and some sesame seeds. Not necessarily the traditional components of a Kung Pao dish, but sure to be delicious all the same. Plus, Ming is all about new takes on traditional Chinese cuisine, so I'm sure he'd be cool with it. I tossed cubes of the tofu in cornstarch seasoned with garlic, onion, and ginger powders, then pan-fried the coated tofu in a large pan filled with 1/4 cup of oil. I found it helpful to fry the tofu in two batches, and prepared a cooling rack with a layer of paper towels to let the fried tofu drain while I completed the rest of the dish.

After the tofu was done, I quickly stir fried the cabbage and carrots (both super thinly sliced) in the remaining tofu-frying-oil until tender-crisp. Back in went the tofu, followed by the thawed Kung Pao sauce. I'd intended to toss the rice noodles (which were soaked in hot water until al dente and drained) with the saucy tofu and veggies, but I didn't end up having quite enough sauce for that to work out. Oh, well. Instead, the naked noodles were placed into bowls like a little nest and smothered in Kung Pao yumminess and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. I don't know about you, but I'd say that sauce is looking pretty flipping happy.

July 15, 2012

VEGAN CHOPPED: Coconut-Rice Lace Cookies filled with Mango Custard and Beet-Hibiscus Coulis... and a Beet-Hibiscus Mojito on the side


It's time for another round of the Post Punk Kitchen's Vegan Chopped! The challenge? Create a delightful dessert featuring the following ingredients: 

1. Mango
2. Red Beets
3. Unsweetened Dried Coconut
4. Crisp Rice Cereal

Not a bad basket, really - all the items can easily go "sweet". Even the rogue vegetable thrown in the mix, red beets, have a natural sweetness - albeit shrouded in the earthiness that beets are known for. I wanted to do a fun, light, and pretty summer dessert with these ingredients. I started by making a lace cookie - a thin, delicate crisp of caramelized buttery goodness, full of crunchy texture thanks to coconut flakes and crisp rice. This was my first attempt at making lace cookies, and all things considered, I think I rocked it. Sure, there was a brief substantial moment of panic when the vegan butter separated in the pan and the cookie batter oozed pools of fat throughout their time in the oven. But after a few minutes cooling, they were fine. More than fine, really. Damn near perfect. And now I know that lace cookies need less fat than Bon Appetit says they do. I also know that a Swiffer broom makes an excellent shaping device for lace cookies. See?



















Now I had a batch of adorable curved cookies, which looked like extra-delicious miniature taco shells. This is where my brain goes, "Dessert Tacos? Why not? Choco-Tacos are awesome, right?". So I whipped up a rich mango custard to fill my adorable dessert tacos. To top it off, I made a Beet and Hibiscus coulis (that's fancy French for "thick sauce"). Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. Hibiscus? With beets? Trust me, the combo is delicious. Dried hibiscus flowers can be found at your local hippie-store of choice in the bulk section, and you want to buy them. They're shockingly versatile, and add a unique sweet-tart flavor that is only vaguely "floral". In addition to the hibiscus flowers, the coulis has a bit of lime juice and rum, which tie into the flavors of...

The Beet-Hibiscus Mojito. Or as Daniel dubbed it, the Hibeetscus Mojito. Because a mojito is a taco's best friend. Into the standard mix of lime, mint, and rum went a heaping spoonful of the coulis, which turned the drink a gorgeous shade of magenta. All told, a fun, light, and pretty summer dessert.



















COCONUT-RICE LACE COOKIES
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup crisp rice cereal
6 tablespoons nondairy butter ***next time, I'll try just 4 tablespoons***
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Follow the method for this recipe, subbing the  above amounts of coconut flakes and crisp rice for the almonds and oats, agave nectar for honey, and omitting the salt. Once the cookies are out of the oven, check them every couple of minutes for the magic moment when they are cool enough to stay intact but warm enough to be pliable. Once the moment arrives, shape the cookies into a curved "tile" (or as I call it "taco") shape by gently forming the cookies around a narrow curved surface such as a rolling pin or a Swiffer broom handle covered in parchment.

MANGO CUSTARD

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup boiling water
10 ounces frozen mango, thawed
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar

You'll first want to soak the cashews in the boiling water for about an hour, until the cashews are plump and softened. While the cashews are soaking, puree the mango and coconut milk in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer the puree to a saucepan. Over medium heat, add the powdered sugar to the puree, whisking until thickened. Remove puree from heat.

Once the cashews are finished soaking, drain the water and puree the cashews into a super-smooth paste using a food processor or blender. Scrape down the sides every so often to make sure there's no grainy texture in the cashew paste. Once smooth, add the mango-coconut puree to the cashew paste and puree the mixture until, you guessed it, smooth.

Here's the annoying-but-oh-so-necessary part of the process: straining the custard. It will take about 5-10 minutes, but the result is worthwhile - a MUCH creamier texture, free of any mango or cashew fibers. Transfer the custard to a large sieve and position the sieve over a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, force the custard through the impossibly tiny holes of the sieve. It will take some muscle. Halfway through, you'll want to give up, but remember the victory of super-smooth vegan custard and PERSEVERE. In the end, you'll be left with silky custard-y perfection in the bowl, fibrous leftovers in the sieve, a smile on your face, and an arm cramp. Reward yourself with a spoonful of custard. Refrigerate until completely cool.

BEET-HIBISCUS COULIS

1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers
1 bunch (5 medium) red beets, peeled and diced
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon spiced rum

Steep the hibiscus flowers in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Transfer the hibiscus water to a medium saucepan, straining out the flowers themselves. Add the beets and sugar to the hibiscus water and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until the beets are softened. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a blender. Add the lime juice and rum before CAREFULLY (center lid removed and covered with a dish towel to release steam) pureeing the hot mixture until smooth. Refrigerate until cool.

HIBEETSCUS MOJITO

This is more to taste than a hard-and-fast recipe, but here's the gist. In your glass of choice, add 10 or so mint leaves, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, a tablespoon each of the beet-hibiscus coulis and simple syrup, and a handful of crushed ice. Muddle the ingredients briefly to bruise the mint. Pour in an ounce or so of white rum and top off the glass with club soda. Garnish with slices of lime and, because it's cool, use a length of frozen beet stem as your stirring stick (seriously, it works).