Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Eat Your Tofu!!!

The Other Half grew up in the Midwest as a self proclaimed "meat and potatoes" kind of guy and was never really adventurous when it came to trying new foods. He very reluctantly tried Thai food, for the longest time was convinced that Chinese food was the bane of his digestive existence, didn't want to touch Brussels sprouts,  believed Country Crock was butter and when I married him was still drinking 2% milk. He now loves Thai food, realized good Chinese food didn't cause digestive distress, figured out that roasted Brussels sprouts are actually quite tasty, understands that Country Crock is not something that I can use in my cooking and had no problem converting to skim milk when I - shortly after getting married - had a moment of realizing the thing they call work-home-life-balance is a scam and had a meltdown of epic proportions.

I didn't spring tofu on him immediately because I know that if it's cooked wrong it can be a miserable experience but that if it's cooked right it can be amazing. It wasn't until after The Oldest was maybe 3 years old and I was trying to get back into shape that I decided the timing was right. To say he was underwhelmed would be the understatement of the decade. He didn't even need to say, because the look on his face said everything I needed to know. THANKFULLY I've got a really good track record with cooking and random culinary creations so I told him he'd only need to try it once and if he didn't like it, I wouldn't make it again. I knew I had to find not just a good recipe, but a GREAT one. And I did.

One of my most favorite cooking blogs is 101 Cookbooks and it was there that I found the recipe for Caramelized Tofu. I looked it over and figured if ever there was going to be a recipe to make him fall in love, or at least in like, with tofu that was it. 

It's become one dish that everyone in my family, even The Munchkin, loves. The Oldest gets excited when I tell her I'm going to make it and is visibly disappointed when I don't. 

If you're looking to change things up, are thinking about easing into more vegetarian meals or have wanted to try making tofu, this is a great one to start with. It's simple, comes together easily on a weeknight and leftovers are just as good the following day. 

A couple of tips:

1. Fresh garlic is almost always better than the stuff you can get in a jar. It's real easy to peel and mince garlic if you know what you're doing. Take a clove or two of garlic, place it on a sturdy cutting board. Make sure you use a knife with a large, wide blade - but place the blade flat against the garlic and then pound down with the palm of your hand or a fist. The garlic peel will crack and you should be able to just remove the peel from around the clove. If you pound against the blade again you'll start to crush the garlic which will then make it much easier to mince. Even I can do this without cutting off a digit and that's saying something because I've managed to slice my finger open on a jackknife, another finger on a tuna fish can, and puncture yet another finger while using a linoleum cutting tool in art class.

2. Press the tofu to remove excess water. I take the block of tofu and place it on folded paper towels (or if I'm feeling environmental I use a clean dish towel) in a shallow dish and then take another dish and place it on top with something like a can of tomatoes or, as I did tonight, a quart of maple syrup, in it as a weight. I don't press it for too long - maybe 10 or 15 minutes. If I get it out of the package when I get home from work and then go get changed, usually by the time I get back to the kitchen it's pretty good to go. 

3. DO NOT over toast the pecans. NOT. NOT. NOT. They'll become bitter and really detract from the dish.

4. To make the dish go a little further as a main dish I serve the Brussels sprouts and tofu over rice.

5. I admit that I cheat. I use shredded Brussels sprouts and frozen rice from Trader Joe's. It cuts down on the time needed to chop up the 'sprouts and cook the rice. If you can't get Brussels sprouts already shaved you can always just split the sprouts, toss with olive oil and sprinkle with some Kosher salt and then roast in the oven until golden brown.

So here it is - Caramelized Tofu from 101 Cookbooks. ENJOY!

Caramelized Tofu Recipe

I used the Wildwood Organics baked savory tofu here, it browned up nicely and held it's shape, and as was mentoned in the comments it is non-GMO. Though any extra-firm tofu will work.
7 - 8 ounces extra-firm tofu cut into thin 1-inch segments (see photo)
a couple pinches of fine-grain sea salt
a couple splashes of olive or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, washed and cut into 1/8-inch wide ribbons
Cook the tofu strips in large hot skillet (or pot) with a bit of salt and a splash of oil. Saute until slightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook for another minute. Stir in sugar. Cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Scrape the tofu out onto a plate and set aside while you cook the brussels sprouts.

In the same pan (no need to wash), add a touch more oil, another pinch of salt, and dial the heat up to medium-high. When the pan is nice and hot stir in the shredded brussels sprouts. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring a couple times (but not too often) until you get some golden bits, and the rest of the sprouts are bright and delicious.
Serves 2 - 3 as a main, 4 as a side

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