Recipe: Black Bean Tofu Scramble

Black Bean Tofu Scramble

Black Bean Tofu Scramble

A few tweaks, and Dr. Ludwig’s Tofu Hash becomes a versatile, vaguely Mexican vegan entree you can serve without apology to all and sundry. It’s also cheap, and made with ingredients you quite possibly have on hand. What’s not to like? Serves 4-6 as main dish, more as a side.

Ingredients:
l lb firm tofu
15.5 oz can black beans, or 2 c cooked made-from-scratch black beans
1/2 bell pepper (red or green), cut into thin strips
1 jalapeño, cut lengthwise then into thin slices, seeded
1/2 large onion, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 T olive oil or neutral oil
1 T chili powder (generic)
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t Kosher salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Method: heat oil in a large skillet and add bell pepper, jalapeño and onion; sauté until soft. Add garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook quickly until fragrant. Crumble tofu into the pan; drain the black beans and add to the pan. Allow to heat for a few minutes then add salt, pepper and cayenne. Adjust seasoning as required and serve hot.

Note: this dish is a flavor chameleon that goes with almost anything. Try topping with melted cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream or a few slices of avocado.

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The diabolical Dr. Ludwig

Dr David Ludwig

Borrowed from Boston Magazine, this is the most diabolical photo I could find of Dr. David Ludwig.

After the excesses of the Fancy Food Show and the Super Bowl, I’m back on Dr. David Ludwig’s low-carb “Always Hungry?” diet. I had previously recommended Dr. Ludwig’s book to readers because it’s full of from-scratch recipes, perfect for the experimental cook. But I’ve become aware of a few eccentricities I feel obligated to pass along.

Watch out for portion size. Some of the recipes make one portion, some two (which is what the daily menus say they’re designed for), some four or more, and Dr. Ludwig doesn’t always tell you plus there’s often no indication how much you are supposed to eat at a sitting. Analyze before you cook and eat, and consider reducing some of the recipes by half (Black Bean Tofu Hash and Shepherd’s Pie are two good examples…. They are tasty but if you make the full recipe you’ll be eating it for weeks).

Follow the daily menus for a couple of days, then go rogue. Dr. Ludwig wants us to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, two snacks and a bedtime dessert. This is great because you’re constantly eating or thinking about eating. But the actual recipes are of uneven quality so don’t follow the daily recommendations to the letter. I cannot imagine there is a problem if you substitute trail mix (day 1) for cucumber and smoked salmon (day 2).

While you’re actually following the menus, take the long view. A big chicken salad with grapes is on deck for lunch at day two. Well and good, but it’s never mentioned again. What are we supposed to do with the leftovers? I ended up making fewer of the specified dishes and repeating them more often.

Cheat by peeking at the recipes in the back of the book. There are all kinds of preps suitable for Phase One (which is essentially carb-free) that are not included in his menus. Creamy cole slaw dressing, for example. We love our cole slaw and would be very happy to substitute it for one of the leafy sides.

Once you understand the rules, bring in your own players. Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw, for example, is fine for this diet as long as you prepare it with a mayo that does not contain sugar (make it from scratch, or buy a sugar-free version at a health food store). You probably have lots of other recipes in your repertoire that, with minor or no modifications, would have Dr. Ludwig doing backflips. Some of his dishes I’d swap out entirely are Eggplant Parmesan (his is like a weak ratatouille; ours is far better), Spinach Omelet (far too much veg calls the prep to fall apart) and Creamy Cauliflower Soup (like weak gruel, but vegan).

I feel better and I’m constantly involved with cooking and eating…. Hardly punishment. (Except for the lack of beer, of course.) Try these mods with your copy of Always Hungry? and I predict you’ll be happy as well.

P.S. Bonus tip:use this experience as an excuse to use all those weird spice blends you’ve been given/accumulated. I have some truly strange seasonings I’ve picked up at Fancy Food Shows, and I am reluctant to use them for everyday cooking because I wouldn’t be able to replicate the recipe. But since most of Dr. Ludwig’s concoctions you won’t be eating again, feel free to season away!

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Recipe: Gluten-Free Paleo Eggplant Parmigiana

Gluten Free Paleo Eggplant Parmigiana

Gluten-Free Paleo Eggplant Parmigiana made with almond flour (left) and without

Eggplant parm as it’s made in Italy does not include breadcrumbs, so it’s naturally paleo-friendly and gluten-free. I’ve also included an option using a coating of almond flour to approximate the breadcrumb effect, which is a modification created in American red sauce places. Do not short-cut the drying steps; the whole idea is to turn the eggplant into a non-greasy, non-watery platform for the unctuous umami ingredients. Serves 4-6.

ingredients:
2 medium eggplants, about 2 lb, peeled and cut lengthwise into 3/4 inch slices
Kosher salt
Marinara sauce, about 1 c
Tomato paste, about 2 T (optional)
Mozzarella cheese, fresh or cured, grated, about 1 c
Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/4 c
Butter

For the almond flour option:
1/2 c almond flour, plus more as needed
1 egg, beaten

Eggplant Slice Comparison

Almond flour-coated eggplant slice after frying on the left, plain on the right. The coating adds bulk but causes it to absorb more oil.

Method: liberally sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice of eggplant and stand up in a colander in the sink or over a dish. Allow to rest 1 hour or more, until the eggplant has expelled a good amount of liquid. Using clean paper towels, squeeze the remaining moisture out of each slice. Use immediately, or reserve overnight pressed between two layers of paper towels between two half sheet pans in which case the eggplants will lose even more of their moisture.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a medium skillet and heat to about 350 degrees (medium heat) so that when eggplant is added it will sizzle immediately. Add dried eggplant slices one at a time and cook until brown, then turn over and cook on the other side. Drain on paper towels. If the eggplant has been properly prepared, it will absorb very little oil.

Lightly butter a 8-inch square baking pan and start with a layer of eggplant, then ladle on some good marinara sauce (to make it more beefy, mix with tomato paste before using) then a layer of grated mozzarella, then a few teaspoons of parmesan cheese, then a sprinkle of oregano. Maybe some garlic (fresh or powder) too. Finish with a layer of eggplant and add parmesan and a few pats of butter. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then pour off any juices that have accumulated and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Almond flour option: proceed as above, but dredge the eggplant pieces in almond flour, then in egg, then again in almond flour before frying. This does result in a nice coating, but it absorbs considerably more oil than the Italian method.

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Our three favorite products from Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe Favorites

These are our favorites from Trader Joe’s. What are your favorites?

Everybody has their go-to products when they finally find a parking place at Trader Joe’s and head into the store. Here are ours.

Marcona almonds with truffles. The musky, mysterious aroma and taste of truffles is unmistakable even in tiny quantities. The Trader slathers it on like baby oil, creating a treat we can’t stop eating. According to their website, “true Marcona Almonds are grown only on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. They’re shorter and flatter than California almonds, with a distinctive sweet, buttery flavor and a light, crunchy texture.” Eat them right out of the bag, or serve on a tapas plate with sharp cheese and olives.

Thousand-Day Gouda. This reminds us of Vella Jack, an intense dried cheese that is perfect for backpacking because it provides a lot of taste in a small bite and it doesn’t get weepy in your pack like cheeses with higher moisture content. According to the Trader, “most Gouda is young, but this cheese is quite mature. It’s crafted in the traditional manner, using fresh milk from the Dutch countryside. It is allowed to ripen on untreated wooden shelves, where it is hand turned by the cheese master to ensure even flavor and consistent texture throughout each wheel. At 1000 days, it becomes a full-flavored, somewhat crumbly cheese replete with fine crystals [calcium citrate] that give it a bit of crunch.” You’ll find it in triangular sections with other cut cheeses, but you may have to look carefully because many stores are timid and stock this in very small quantities.

Oven-Baked Cheese Bites. The same reader who told us about the above Marcona almonds turned us on to these Paleo-friendly morsels. They’re made with funky Gran Padano and other aged cheeses, somehow puffed up for maximum surface area which means maximum taste. You know how good fried Parmesan is, when you let it melt in the skillet and then peel off the lacy coating and pop it in your mouth. Oven-Baked Cheese Bites are like that. They’re not cheap at $2.99 for a little bag, but many specialty cheese treats are much more. They’re usually found attached by clips to the shelves in the chip aisle.

We also like almost any chocolate item from Trader Joe’s, their small but good selection of deli meats (often prepackaged in sliced combos, very handy when you’re on the road and crave a little charcuterie plate) and their ridiculously cheap Botswain Double IPA.

Anything we don’t like? You bet. We picked up some “Italian Butter Cookies and a Few Meringues” this past holiday season and couldn’t finish them. They were tasteless and shapeless, pale forms in a box that looked nothing like the chipper package artwork, and could have use some anise extract and a few colored sugar sprinkles to compete with the Italian Christmas cookies that are so widely available in upstate New York. Also, Mandarin Orange Chicken, a freezer product that appears at the top of most fan lists. What’s up with that? It’s a lot of work to prepare and ends up tasting like Chinese takeout, making you wonder why TJ fans didn’t just order takeout in the first place.

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How to win at Saratoga Chowderfest

Saratoga Chowderfest 2018 Crowds

Morrissey’s and Salt & Char had the longest lines at Saratoga Chowderfest 2018

Saratoga Chowderfest 2018 is in the books. But I suggest you bookmark this post (as well as similar advice published in 2017) and come back to it prior to next year’s event so you can make the most of your experience and avoid some buzz-killing mistakes.

2018 attendance was allegedly 30,000 vs 40,000 last year, the difference probably due to bitter biting winds. Some of the rules were relaxed. You no longer have to get stamps on your ballot to earn the right to buy a t-shirt; just fill it out to your liking. This takes some of the rigor out of the voting process and renders the results somewhat fluid. Why is it that Thirsty Owl, a restaurant on the far end of downtown at Broadway and Lincoln, wins both Best on Broadway and People’s Choice year after year? Next year I am going to make the trek there and find out.

Ramen Chosder

Ramen Chowder from Buddha Noodle… outstanding.

As usual, I flagged after half a dozen tastes. My favorite was the Ramen Chowder at Buddha Noodle—essentially their excellent miso broth married with a chowder base. A close second was the Chicken Pot Pie Chowder at Morrissey’s on Broadway. This place and its sister, Salt & Char, also had the longest lines.

Which brings me to my first tip: don’t just get in/on a chowder line. Instead, measure your desire for that chowder against the opportunity cost of missing out on other chowders while you are standing in line. Sometimes the line will be quite short, in which case you should jump on it. $1 for the chowder sample is all you have to lose. To fine tune the process, check the Discover Saratoga website for an incomplete list of who’s serving what kind of chowder.

Pot Pie Chowder

Pot Pie Chowder from Morrissey’s… delicious.

Second tip (should be first, chronologically) is to be in downtown Saratoga, queued up for your first sample, when the tasting starts at 11 am. The lines generally grow longer as the day progresses, and many establishments may run out of chowder so you get nothing for your procrastination. Also, an early arrival gives you a fighting chance at a parking spot. There were still plenty of spaces downtown as 11 am arrived and, bonus tip, there were more spaces west of Broadway than in the neighborhoods to the east where most cars were looking to park.

Sadly, there’s another reason to get there early: to avoid the drunks (as much as possible; many folks seem to arrive pre-drunk). Chef Dominic Colose wrote a vivid post about this on his Chefsday blog; he had people trying to break the lock on his men’s room and he wasn’t even serving chowder.

It probably helps to stay out of interior spaces (mostly on Caroline St) that are also serving alcohol and to calibrate the mood of the crowd when you arrive at an establishment; Druthers had lots of beer drinking going on in their patio but people were civil.

Chef Colose declares he’s done with Chowderfest (which he calls Chowderwreck). I’m not. It’s still one of the biggest non-track events in Saratoga, and you can’t beat the price.

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Taste Test: Oven-Fried Wings with Baking Powder Brine

 

These wings look fried but they’re actually oven-cooked with a baking powder brine.

We’d heard good things about coating wings with baking powder and cooking them in the oven to produce the equivalent of fried without the deep fryer. With National Wing Day, aka the Super Bowl, coming up it was time to do a taste test.

According to Serious Eats, this “slightly alkaline mixture raises the skin’s pH levels, which allows proteins to break down more efficiently, giving you crisper, more evenly browned results. Simultaneously, it combines with the bird’s natural juices, forming carbon dioxide gas that leaves you with a layer of tiny bubbles. It’s these bubbles that increase the skin’s surface area, allowing it to develop a crunchy texture once cooked.” Be sure to use a baking powder that does not contain aluminum, which produces a bitter aftertaste for some people. We used Argo brand though would have preferred Rumsford, the original baking powder which like many other things was invented in Troy, NY.

We tested the Serious Eats formula of 1 part baking powder to 3 parts salt, the Kenji Lopez-Alt blend of 1 part baking powder to 1 part salt, and a recipe we found on Yummly with 3 parts baking powder, 1 part salt. You don’t need a lot of the mixture to coat the wings; a couple tablespoons for a couple pounds of wings is ample. After dredging they were transferred to a wire rack sitting on a half sheet pan, then cured uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours—the equivalent of dry brining. Then they were cooked in a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, flipped over, and cooked another 15-25 minutes to golden but not burned doneness.

Wings Taste Test

From left: Serious Eats, Yummly and Kenji formulas for the salt/baking powder coating. The results are pretty similar.

You can see the fresh-out-of-the-oven results here (after somebody had snitched a few wings). The morsels were indeed crisp with a crackling, juicy skin, just what you want. I initially rooted for Kenji’s because they were the only one that did not stick to the rack when it was time to turn them over, but all were equivalent at the end with an evenly crisp exterior. We tasted some without sauce, and doused the rest in the standard mix of 1 part melted butter to 1 part Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

I found all the wings salty in taste (but appealingly so), regardless of how much salt was actually used. One of my tasters immediately voted for Kenji’s because the flavor balance was good and one of the others (probably the Yummy) had an odd aftertaste. The texture of the wings was pretty consistent from one formula to the next, but Kenji’s seemed a little tougher to me, requiring more mastication.

For the Big Game, I would recommend making these with 2 parts salt to 1 part baking powder. That is a good balance between the ratio of Kenji and his editor that should produce a crisp yet tender result. Sauce them with the butter/Frank’s mixture, or if you are more adventurous try one or the other of our Korean fried chicken sauces.

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Cannabis edibles at Fancy Food Show

Cannabis Edibles

Assorted cannabis edibles observed at Grass Roots in San Francisco

No, there weren’t actually any cannabis edibles on the floor at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. But it would have been easy enough for a show attendee to investigate one of the newly legal recreational cannabis outlets, by taking a Muni bus or a Lyft or Uber. Our correspondent did just that, hopping the 38 Geary to visit Grass Roots at 1077 Post Street (between Polk and Larkin).

Grass Roots is probably typical of the new emporia in that it was formerly a medicinal cannabis outlet and has simply added a retail license. It gets good marks on Yelp for service, variety and value. One waits in a shortish line and surrenders one’s driver’s license briefly on entry to be recorded in a database. (In a worst case scenario, one supposes the U.S. Attorney General could subpoena the database and throw all of California’s recreational users in jail.) Another brief line, and one is at the counter talking to a knowledgeable salesperson.

Cannabis edibles come in baked goods, gummies, mints and possibly some other configurations. You can see the complete selection on the Grass Roots website. Each package is marked with the amount of active agent it contains, eg 100 mg THC. (If you are a recreational buyer you are limited to 100 mg per package; medicinal users can buy more. However, there’s no limit on the number of 100 mg packages you can buy.) A 100-mg pack of gummies indicates it contains 4 doses, so 25 mg per dose. Our correspondent’s salesperson said that 25 mg is indeed a good rule of thumb for a typical dose but a new user should start with a smaller amount, then augment it as needed.

The edibles our correspondent reviewed were categorized as sativa, indica or hybrid. (There are also pure CDB and THC and a “TKO” but those are for medicinal users only.) The counter person confirmed that indica is by far the most popular. This is the relaxing, pain-reducing strain of cannabis as opposed to the euphoria-inducing sativa, so perhaps those who are concerned about legalization will be relieved buyers are using it for legitimate medicinal purposes, vs just getting high.

The advantage of edibles, as opposed to loose marijuana or prepared joints (“prerolls”), is that they can be consumed inconspicuously pretty much anywhere. The disadvantage is that it takes a while for them to take effect. (A pack of gummies advertises “60 Minute Activation Time”.) The retail price of a 100 mg 4-pack of Kushy Punch gummies is $16.00 which makes this a much cheaper experience than beer or wine. So a low bar, price-wise, if one wanted to do some experimentation.

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Hot and not at the Winter 2018 Fancy Food Show

Serrano Ham Barbie

Serrano Jamon Barbie, in one of the many cured ham displays from Spain, Italy and the U.S.

There were several clear trends at the just-concluded Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Coconut water and other coconut vehicles continued their march to world domination. Artisanal salt was big. There were 20 booths offering small-batch ice cream flavors, a phenomenon of modern refrigerated delivery. More worrisome, at least 20 booths offered some kind of popcorn snack. The world can’t absorb that much popcorn.

I ran into a guy who had discovered a rare citrus genome in the UC Berkeley botanical lab and is marketing it commercially. “Finger Limes” have green skin with the color, taste and texture of lime but break the fruit open and it is full of little flavor beads. He proposes its use in cocktails and ceviche. Another booth had K-Pop Sauce, Korean gochujang with a thinner consistency so it can be dispensed from a bottle instead of scooped out of a tub. This is such a good idea one of the big sauce companies is probably planning to copy it, but for now you can order K-Pop Sauce on Amazon.

Finger Lime

Finger Lime exuding its pearls, good for exotic drinks etc.

And cured ham! Serrano and prosciutto were everywhere, often carved from a haunch mounted on a stand in the booth. I made it my job to sample every one I found. The flavor differences are in the muskiness of the meat and the amount of salt, with most vendors being too timid on each. While I confirmed there is no such thing as a bad country ham, I was pleased that my favorite came from La Quercia, the Iowa outfit that gets many of its pigs from Niman Ranch.

Sea Bass Ceviche

This ceviche in the Peru booth was the best thing I tasted at the show.

The Fancy Food Show, if you’re new to the concept, is a twice-yearly event where distributors of specialty gourmet goodies connect with their retail audience. That would be small stores like Putnam Market in Saratoga, and also specialty supermarkets like Healthy Living. There is a secondary appeal to restaurants and other foodservice concerns looking for new ideas. Tasting is mandatory, and the floor is not organized by food group so you need to be able to choke down an exotic chocolate, followed by a piece of jerky, then chase it with some salty chips and maybe goat milk.

Popcorn

Too much popcorn!

My favorite edible was a ceviche at the Peru booth. Sustainable sea bass and conch were marinated in lime juice and dressed with dried corn kernels, hominy, red onion and a little square of cooked sweet potato. Got to try this at home. In general the seafood offerings, and prepared food overall (vs samples doled out from a package) were sparser than in previous shows. This may be less a trend than the result of some new restrictions on food preparation. Also, they changed the sampling policy to thwart lookie-loos. The admission price was raised from $30 to $95 and they no longer screen show visitors at the exits to be sure they aren’t sneaking out stuff. This took a bit of the fun out of it and caused many booths to just put out a bunch of samples, since they’re less worried about being plundered by the man in the street, instead of curating them.

Two days of this, and I’m ready for my New Year’s Diet.

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4505 Chicharrones are melting in my mouth

4505 Chicharrones

4505 Classic Chicharrones with chili and salt; Jalapeño and BBQ also available.

Anybody who visited the old 4505 Meats stall at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market knows the addictive power of their chicarrones, or fried pork skins. If you do the prep work right, these literally melt-in-your-mouth treats are surprisingly easy to make at home, but the quality is entirely dependent on the pig you started out with. 4505 Meats says they are the first vendor to use 100% pork that is humanely raised (i.e. no factory pens) without added antibiotics or hormones. The end product is mighty good indeed.

Whole Smoked Pig

Porky goodness at the 4505 Meats press party

I was re-introduced to 4505 through a welcome after party at the end of the first day of the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. There was a whole pig being carved into tacos, a d.j. spinning porky cuts, and plenty of bagged chicharrones to remind us of their goodness. 4505 also has a retail smokehouse on Divisadero in San Francisco that is well worth a visit (especially because Josey Baker’s breads are made right across the street at The Mill). But the best news for out-of-towners  is that 4505 Chicharrones have wide distribution; I checked the map and confirmed I could buy them at the Whole Foods in Albany.

Prep tip from my teenager: open your package of pork skins, douse them liberally with Frank’s Red Hot sauce, close the bag to shake vigorously, enjoy. He does this with lesser chicarrones from the Dollar Store, but I see no reason the same technique would not benefit 4505’s.

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We now have an official paper towel, and it’s Viva!

Viva Paper Towels

My Viva is strong and soft… like cloth!

We use a lot of paper towels at Burnt My Fingers. To mop up spills, handle the general mess around a smoker or outdoor grill, blot the excess fat off the top of a soup stock, and also to substitute for many of the standard duties of a side towel. So it’s surprising I’ve taken these ubiquitous clean-up aids for granted. I know to stay away from the generic brands that don’t actually sop anything up, and have tried the earnest recycled brands but been disappointed. I generally buy bulk, whatever name brand is on sale, and I forget what it was by the time the supply is gone. (Strange that paper towels, also toilet paper, don’t put their logos inside the cardboard rollers, no?)

All this time, there’s been an alternative primly waiting on my counter, like a shy but confident girl minding her own business in the classroom. (Times being what they are, I’m going to stop the analogy right there.) This roll might have been brought in by a guest cook, or left over from the folks who sold us our house. It’s different… tightly wound rather than loose and flabby like those supersized lumberjack rolls. And instead of the end of the roll lolling loose, or spewing sheets across the kitchen if I have an mishap, it tucks itself in, somehow clinging to its base until it’s needed.

The other day I had a spill and grabbed for a towel off this roll and to my surprise it did a great job cleaning up and held its shape while I was wringing out and could have returned for another wipe. I realized I had a paper towel crush. And a google for “paper towel that clings to the roll” quickly revealed her name was Viva, a Kimberly-Clark brand. I had to get some more! Viva is surprisingly hard to find at retail,  but I picked up a single roll for $1.99 at Hannaford and confirmed this was indeed the paper product of my dreams.

One (critical) Amazon reviewer described Viva as “like cleaning with a Hermes handkerchief” while another (positive) reviewer said it was “soft enough to blow your nose if you need to, but strong enough to soak up spills and dirt and still be rinsable for reuse.” I’m so happy with this discovery that I’m proclaiming Viva the official paper towel of Burnt My Fingers. No, they haven’t paid me a cent, though maybe when they read this they’ll toss a roll or two my way.

Best way to buy is probably this 24-pack from Amazon which currently costs around $1.20 per roll. That’s under $30, shipped with Prime, for enough paper towels to mop up a year’s worth of spills and (thanks to the static-cling feature) make next Halloween’s mummy costume. What are you wanting for? Go get some now!

 

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