Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blessed are the cheesemakers...

...which now includes me!

(First attempt at making goat cheese. Here, they are on day one of two days of draining before they can be unmolded.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

This is not Cheddar... it's tofu!

This is fresh tofu the color of summer. I juiced orange bell peppers and carrots, and used that as the liquid to make soy milk, and then tofu.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

From This to That: Cinnamon-Apple Walnut Bran Muffins

Crispin apples just picked from my apple tree, whole wheat, cinnamon chips, walnuts in the shell. I shelled the walnuts, milled the wheat, ground the chips into cinnamon powder, made the apples into apple sauce. Then, with a little sugar, melted butter, eggs, salt, baking powder and soda, and some bran sifted out of the last batch of home-milled whole-wheat flour, I made cinnamon-apple walnut bran muffins.

The muffin top is cracked like a good gingersnap, with crisp edges that remind one of spiced oatmeal cookies. The texture of the home-milled whole-wheat muffin is astonishingly soft and tender. You've never had a more delicate, velvety bran muffin in your life. I used the finest setting on the grain mill, and the bran I sifted out of the last batch is made up of much smaller particles than store-bought bran. I used about 1/2 cup of extra bran, stirred in a few tablespoons of water and let it soften for 15 minutes before I mixed and baked the muffins.

If anyone is interested, I'll put together a full description and recipe.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soylent Green isn't people--it's tasty!

If you're going to bother making something from scratch, make something you can't buy in a store or restaurant. This is tofu I made from dry soybeans, using freshly juiced spinach and cilantro as part of the liquid used in making the soy milk.

There's nothing new under the sun, so I don't think I'm actually the first, but I did "invent" this myself, and didn't get the idea from anyone else.

I was thinking about how most people soak tofu in marinades to add flavor. And I thought, shoot, since I'm making it myself, why not add stuff to the soy milk from which it's made? I tried steeping aromatics in the hot soy milk---not enough flavor. I tried an "add-in," adding minced green onions to my fresh soymilk and making tofu with it, but this wrecked the texture, turning it crumbly, and the tofu didn't hold up well in the wok. So the next step was using fresh veg juice. This worked. The flavor boost wasn't eXtreme, but it made the tofu taste seasoned all the way through, with a definite flavor to it. The texture was perfect.

I coated the cubes in cornstarch liberally doused with salt and pepper, and quick fried them in rice bran oil until crispy. Served with a wicked mixed veg* stir-fry with ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, and chicken demi-glace, thickened with a touch of cornstarch, and GABA rice.

Sometimes it's discouraging to spend hours making something from scratch that you can just buy at a store for $3. But making something that you can't buy anywhere, well, that's special, and really worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take advantage of labor-saving devices

Making all your food from scratch takes more time than buying prepared meals, but it does not have to take THAT much more, if you have the means to acquire some devices.

The most important ones for me so far are the soy milk maker, chest freezer, yogurt maker, rice cooker, crock pot and grain mill. I certainly couldn't have done this project if I had to hand-mill all the grain. A chest freezer is, in my opinion, almost required because if you aren't using processed foods, you will go mad unless you freeze some stuff yourself, and it's important to always have meat/chicken/fish on hand, so you don't freak out that there's nothing to eat. Some freezers attached to refrigerators are a bit small to hold home-made meals, stock, and protein.

The rice cooker has turned out to be quite handy because with so much else to do, I sometimes forgot I had a pot of rice or porridge on the stove and burned it. The rice cooker will hold it without scorching. And the crock pot is invaluable.

Honestly, if you start the day by making a batch of rice in the cooker, and set up beans, a stew or braised protein in the crock pot, a 100% from-scratch day is pretty easy to do without making bread, sausage or fussy stuff. Just add hot cereal in the morning, a large salad full of vegetables, some soup you made earlier, fresh fruit, and you're there.

On the weekends, I know I'll have to make soy milk and yogurt for the week, and I always make a large pot of hearty soup, and salad dressing. With the appliances, it's really easy to just put soaked soybeans into the maker and press a button. When it goes beep!, I pour it through a fine sieve into a heat-safe receptacle and cool. 30 cents of soybeans makes $3.95 worth of fresh soy milk.

Yogurt is more of a pain, because you have to heat the milk to 180 and cool it to 110 before whisking in 1/2 cup of the previous batch of yogurt (or fresh yogurt starter). That takes a bit of paying attention. After that, I put it into the yogurt cups, and turn on the yogurt maker to go for 6-8 hours.

I have a bunch of frozen soup stock on hand, and make more when that runs low. I made a batch of strawberry jam that should last a while, and dehydrated a bunch of fruits and vegetables. They come in handy.

For breakfast, I make things like scrambled eggs with potatoes, yogurt and fresh fruit, muffins, or hot cereal. I plan to make bagels and cream cheese soon, as well as homemade cold cereal that's a bit more complicated than granola or muesli (Did you know that Grape-Nuts came from an Amish recipe?).

Lunch is often leftovers of what I made for dinner. Nick gets sent off every day with a Thermos-Bento box with soup, salad, an entree and fresh fruit.

Dinner: Easing into it, I made a lot of steak/chicken/fish with rice/baked potato/mashed potatoes and broccoli/green beans/asparagus. Stir-fry is also really easy. I then started making sausage, and serving it with lentils. Sundays are usually Mexican food, with handmade corn tortillas from fresh masa and some kind of grilled chicken/steak, with bowls of whole beans, minced jalapeno, white onion, cilantro, sliced avocado, and tomatoes. For the next stage, I will make queso fresco to include in the mix, since before the project, I always included a bowl of some kind of cheese.

So far, I actually haven't made bread as frequently as I expected I would. There's just a lot to do.

Coming up soon, I will be making crackers, goat cheese, pastrami, and authentic Jewish rye.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Making tofu from scratch

Most of the work of making tofu is actually making soy milk. The process of tofu-making is nearly identical to making simple cheese where you add a coagulant like lemon juice to warm milk so it separates into curds and whey, then strain out the liquid and press the solids together. You take dry soybeans, hydrate them in cool water, then blend them in hot water to get "milk." Then add a coagulant so it separates, and strain it and press the solids into tofu.

Before embarking on this mad, 100% from-scratch project, I made soy milk using a blender and a stock pot. To minimize the "beany" flavor, you have to keep the temperature within a certain range. It was doable, but frankly, kind of a pain, and I just wasn't able to get the flavor the way I liked it. Plus, it was really easy to scorch the heated soy milk, creating all sorts of unpleasant flavors, or have boilovers, creating a ghastly mess. So I saved up and got a SoyaPlus beverage maker that can make milk out of any bean, nut, grain or seed. Using this appliance makes soy milk production infinitely easier, and because the machine is able to heat the water and blend at specific temperatures, it makes much less beany milk. 

To make a batch of soy milk, I scoop out one measure of soybeans the night before, using their measuring cup, and soak them in cold water. You can just add dry beans to water and process, but you'll get much better yield if you soak them for at least four hours. The beans will swell and become lighter in color. In the morning, I pour off the soaking liquid, put the beans in the reservoir, add water to the fill line, lock the top half with the blender device to the reservoir, plug it in and press the button on top that corresponds to what I'm making into milk: Beans +, Soy beans, Soy +, Rice +. The machine heats up the water, blends, waits, blends some more, waits some more, and eventually starts beeping to let you know when it's done. I pour the contents through their enclosed fine metal sieve to strain out the soy milk solids (okara) into a heat-safe receptacle to cool (NOT their plastic pitcher, because adding hot liquid to plastic will leach out nasties). Easiest non-dairy milk you ever made.

To make tofu, it's a little more trouble, because you have to make four batches of milk. So this takes a bit of time, although largely unsupervised.

Once I've made four batches of soy milk, the rest is blissfully easy. I acquired a Soyajoy Total Tofu Kit, which consists of a wooden tofu press, 1 lb of nigari to coagulate the soy milk, and a cotton cloth to line the mold. 

Nigari is basically the various minerals left over after salt is removed from sea water. 

Here's the process: 

Heat the soy milk in a pot to a gentle simmer for 5-10 minutes, then cool to 170-180 degrees. Dissolve 1 tsp of nigari in a cup of warm water. Pour 3/4 of this solution into the soy milk and stir. Wait three minutes. The  liquid will separate into tiny white curds and a yellowish whey. If you see any milkiness to the liquid, add the rest of the nigari solution. If you like harder tofu, add the rest of the solution. Less coagulant produces softer tofu, and more makes harder tofu. 

The tofu press consists of a wooden rectangle, a bottom plate with supports that stick out past the edges of the box (IMPORTANT: don't confuse this with the top plate or you'll have a mess on your hands), and a top plate that fits inside the main box and slides down inside. Put the bottom plate on a plate in the sink, or inside a plastic basin on the counter. Set the main box on top, lay the draining cloth inside, making sure all sides are covered, and ladle in the contents of the pot. Liquid will start draining out, leaving the tofu solids behind. When enough of the liquid has drained out, pour the rest of the contents of the pot into the press, put on the top plate, and find something that weighs about 3-5 lbs that fits on the plate to weigh it down.

Let it drain for 20 minutes, then gently put the block of tofu you've just made into a container of cold water and let it sit for another hour. Then you can use it in cooking, or store it in the refrigerator until you are ready, making sure to change the soaking water every day.

Salt-and-pepper Tofu Stir-Fry

  • One block of homemade tofu
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice 
  • Bok choy (1 large, or 6-8 baby bok choy)
  • Yellow squash (2-4)
  • Garlic (to taste)
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and minced (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-3 tsp black pepper
  • Cornstarch (about a half-cup)
Rinse the brown rice in a sieve, shake off the excess water, put into a pot with a tight-fitting lid, and add 1 3/4 cups water. Some brown rice packages now say to use 2 cups of water instead of 1 3/4, but this yields what I feel is mushy brown rice, and where the structure of the rice grain breaks down into an "exploded" texture. I like my brown rice fully cooked, but chewy and toothsome, with each grain intact. However, many people like softer brown rice, and use two cups. You are the best judge of what you like to eat. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, and simmer for 45 minutes. If you have a rice maker, make brown rice according to its instructions.

When the rice is done, begin the rest of the preparation. This stir-fry will cook fast and needs to be eaten very soon after it's finished cooking, for the best possible texture. If you have misjudged the timing, you will end up with soggy squash and flaccid tofu.

Cut the yellow squash on the bias (at an angle), yielding thin, oblong slices. Chop the bok choy. Get your oil ready. Rice bran oil has a higher smoke point, so you can get it hotter than other oils, and with stir-fry, the hotter the better.

Add a splash of oil to your pan, heat as high as you can, toss in sliced garlic (as much as you like, according to your taste), and cook briefly, just until it has taken on a light touch of color. This can take as little as 10 seconds if the heat is up as high as it should be. If it burns, throw it out, wipe out the pan and start again. Remove garlic with slotted spoon and reserve. 

Add minced fresh ginger, cook for 10-20 seconds, scoop it out and add to reserved garlic if you like, or discard if you don't like the texture in your food. 

Add the squash and bok choy and cook quickly, tossing and stirring constantly. Home kitchens cannot replicate the high heat of a commercial stove and produce a truly fine stir-fry that drives off moisture in a flash and creates a smoky sear in seconds, but we do what we can. A good stove over high heat can still make a great stir-fry. High heat, quick cooking, constant movement of the pan. This should only take a minute or two. Stir, toss, keep that pan moving. Do not walk away from the stove under any circumstances or lose your focus. It's just you and the stove for the next few minutes.

The squash will pick up a bit of brownness, and soften just a bit. Don't overcook it. You want it a little less done here than you'd like. It's going to sit for a moment while you do the tofu, continuing to cook in the residual heat. Drizzle it with sesame oil, add back in the sliced garlic (and ginger, if you like), turn out into a bowl, and toss. 

Take your homemade tofu and dry the surface well, then cut into cubes. In a large bowl, add 1/2 cup of cornstarch and at least a teaspoon of salt and pepper. This coating will be thin, crispy and very flavorful, so you need to use ample seasoning. Toss the cubed tofu with the seasoned cornstarch.

Add about a half-cup of oil to the wok or pot and let it heat up. Fry the tofu in two batches until the coating is crispy and browned in places. On my stove, this takes anywhere from 3-5 minutes per batch. Remove with a strainer, slotted spoon or spider, and put onto a plate. You don't need to line it with paper towels. When the second half of the tofu is cooking, get ready to serve. When it's done, put rice on each plate, spoon the vegetables alongside or on top, and add the crispy tofu. Alternatively, you can serve it family style, with the rice and vegetables together if you like, but serve the tofu on its own platter. If you combine the crispy tofu with the other two on a serving platter, the moisture will quickly soften that delicious crisp coating you've worked so hard to create before you're able to pop a cube in your mouth. 

Serve with soy sauce, but bear in mind that the salt-and-pepper tofu will have plenty of salt, and when eaten in combination with the other components, adding too much soy to the rice or vegetables may be overpowering.

Monday, July 4, 2011

This Into That: Tofu stir-fry from complete scratch

I'll do the complete write-up tomorrow of how I transformed dry soybeans, brown rice, and raw vegetables into tofu stir-fry, but here are photos of before and after.