Chef Tova's Gourmet Vegetarian

Name:
Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am a graduate student in American Literature...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Pie-Faced

What does that mean, anyway? Does it mean I am really drunk? Or does it mean that I have a face shaped like a pie? I don't think I have a face shaped like a pie, but I do know that I make a mean pie crust. I got the basic recipe from Maida Heatter (I hope I spelled her name correctly), who has a brilliant cookbook about pies and tarts. One time I made the mile-high apricot pie from her cookbook, with fresh apricots from a tree that grew in my backyard in Long Beach. You cut the apricots in half and coated each one by hand with a butter-brown sugar-spice mixture, layering the whole thing until it rose high in the air, and then gently layering a top crust over the whole thing. Divine. Tonight I was out at the old Long Beach place, because some friends live there, and was very sad to find out that the building had been sold and the avocado, loquat, plum, and apricot trees had all been chopped down (because this decreased the insurance payments/risk of fire on the property?). Why do people cut down trees when they buy new houses? I cannot understand this. When I was in Texas recently, and was visiting the farm where my husband grew up, his mom was pointing out to me how the beavers had eaten through the trunks of most of the old fruit trees--especially the pear trees, and particularly not the plums (too bitter, I imagine)--so the former orchard was in ruins. Now this is an acceptable explanation for the disappearance of fruit trees, though sad.

Anyway, the key to pie crust, as most people know, is that one does not want to handle it overmuch. This is why if you have one, it's best to use a Cuisinart (some might balk at it, but I can make a crust in less than 30 seconds in the Cuisinart, and it's better than the ones I have made by hand). For one crust, you throw in 1 1/3 cups flour, a large pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (for sweet pies), 3 3/4 tbsp. butter (organic is preferred), 3 3/4 cup shortening (again, organic is good), and some spice (a few grates of nutmeg for sweet pies, a pinch of fenugreek for savory ones), and blend in the Cuisinart for 30 seconds or so. Add a few tablespoons of ice cold water to bind things, gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a round, and throw it in the freezer for a half hour while you preheat the oven and start on the filling. Preheat to 400 degrees, take out the pie crust, roll it out, pop it in the pie dish, and bake it for 12 minutes (if you remember, pop it with a fork while it's cooking, because it will puff up). Then pour in the filling, reduce the heat to 350 and cook for another 35 or 40 minutes or so (with the crumb topping, recipe to follow). For the filling, I like to use a few cups of fresh or frozen fruit, a 1/3 cup of cornstarch, 3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is, a tsp. of lemon peel and a tablespoon of lemon juice (you can mix the cornstarch in here before adding it), a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and some spices (clove, cinnamon, etc.). Cherry pie can also use a tablespoon of molasses and clove as the spice. An excellent crumb topping can be made with 1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla, a pinch of sugar, and 1/3 cup brown sugar. You may need to add a bit more butter or Canola oil to make it moist enough--or a few drops of water if you have had enough butter/oil. The key is for the mixture to be crumbly, sort of in little tiny balls of dough, and then to pour this all over the topping (which you have dumped into the partially baked pie crust).

Cook until the pie filling has set and the crust is golden. This pie recipe is alwasy a hit.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Easy Mock Chinese Chicken Salad, and a good idea for cooking tofu

I got this recipe from Lisa Fox, a friend of the family. It is always a huge hit at family parties--so much so that even though Lisa brings a massive bowl of the stuff, it always disappears and you can find people digging around the bottom for leftovers. The tofu is my contribution. I often cook tofu in the style described, with the delicious Soy Vay Teriyaki Sauce. The key to success with this is making sure that the tofu gets golden brown on two sides; don't rush it or it won't be as good. In fact, one of my main staples, for an easy dinner, is to get a bag of already-cleaned spinach, dump it in a bowl, add strips of red peppers, crumbled goat or feta cheese, slivered almonds, cubed cucumber, and the tofu, as described above. I let the tofu cook as I combine the rest of the stuff in the bowl. It's always delicious, and good with a simple vinagrette (olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, a drop of honey, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper).

Salad
2-3 packs ramen noodles (throw away spice envelope)
1 small can mandarin oranges
1 small bag slivered almonds
2 bags broccoli slaw
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 bunch chopped scallions
1 package extra firm tofu (not in box).
1/3 cup Soy Vay Veri Teriyaki Sauce

Dressing
¾ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce

Marinate noodles in dressing 2 hours before serving so noodles get soft. Cube tofu and cook over medium-high heat with Teriyaki Sauce until browned (I like to cook the tofu on one side for about ten minutes, and then turn each piece over with a spatula, so each piece is golden brown on both sides. Add more sauce as needed while cooking). For an even “meatier” option, the day before you plan to serve the salad, julienne the tofu in one inch long pieces and freeze it. Then, while the noodles are marinating, defrost the tofu with hot water, press the water out of it by laying it on a flat surface and putting a heavy object on top—do this carefully, as you don’t want to damage the pieces of tofu—and then cook the tofu up as described above.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the salad. Throw the tofu over the top and serve.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Gingko Nuts

I was reading an interesting entry about walnuts on the Accidental Hedonist, and thought I would post an entry on gingko nuts, which I tried for the first time recently. (By the way, I adore nuts. I know this must be partly due to the fact that they provide an easy source of protein (unlike many other protein-sources for vegetarians), but lately I have had to cut back, as the protein comes with its share of fat. I increased my nut intake a while back when I went on the South Beach Diet. On any particular afternoon, I could be found chomping on my daily allotment of 30 pistachio nuts or handful of almonds. But the diet became too time-consuming to keep up with, and I abandoned it, but not the nuts. How could I abandon a food whose praises have been sung so voluminously? So after I went off the diet, one could still find bags of nuts--pistachios, almonds, cashews, and pine nuts--neatly lined up on my kitchen counter and I could be found throwing them on salads, into my morning yogurt, including them in a stir-fry, or just eating them plain. So one day I decided to "lighten up" on my use of the nuts...

But back to gingko. Everyone knows that gingko increases blood supply to the brain, and I've taken the substance as a pill and as a tea. But I was at a Japanese restaurant the other night, and discovered that gingko nuts were on the menu. They arrived at our table too hot to eat--they were still in the shell, because they had been freshly roasted. We were instructed to peel them, dip them in salt, and eat. The texture of the nuts was very odd--something like a lychee nut, and clear just like a lychee. They were delicious, and I recommend them. My food dictionary tells me that the nut comes from the center of the inedible fruit of the maidenhair tree (from China).

The restaurant, called Ryo Sushi, is at the corner of Highland and Hollywood, in a little strip mall. I found out about it from Chowhound, my favorite food website of all. You can do city-specific searches for any type of restaurant or food that you want, with opinions and debates from people who are really interested in food and don't have any commercial motives.

Mollie's Blog

Check out my friend Mollie's new blog/website (you can follow the link on the left). In the archives, you can read an interesting story about chickens and chicken heads.

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