Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ingredient of the Month: Dry-Roasted Edamame

My Christmas present from my sister last year was a custom Ingredient of the Month Club. Near the end of each month, a package would arrive enclosing a foodstuff she had selected just for me! Some I’d tasted but never before cooked myself. One I’d never even heard of.

Most were non-perishable. A good thing, not just due to shipping practicalities. Despite my best intentions, and the smile each IOTM package brought to my face, my plans to indulge in recipe research and experimentation kept falling by the wayside. But I’m filled with resolve in this new year, and bringing you the first installment of my Ingredient of the Month series for 2012, featuring Dry-Roasted Edamame.

Edamame are immature green soybeans picked while still in the pod, often served boiled in Asian preparations.
Photo and more edamame health info from WellnessInChicago

I, however, was working with a product the package described as “Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Soy Bean Nuts.”

Google presented me with lots of hits about the health benefits of this vegetable and a number of suggestions for roasting or dry-roasting edamame yourself, but very few recipes using the dry-roasted version once you have it. I guess most people eat them straight out of the package as a snack. But, hey, I’m supposed to be cooking here.

Alton Brown’s Dry Roasted Edamame Brittle, with soy sauce, cayenne, and kosher salt, sounded interesting. But I kept scrolling for more ideas. I found suggestions for using them as a crunchy salad garnish in place of croutons, grinding the dry-roasted edamame into powdered form to season vegetarian dishes or use when breading meat or veggie “cutlets.” Even dipping them in dark chocolate, using them in chocolate chip cookies, or using them in a trail mix with dried blueberries and raw pumpkin seeds.

The dish I finally decided to make was inspired by this “Japanese Chex Mix” (which was no doubt inspired by a product-placement opportunity). “Party mix,” as we call it in my family, has always been one of my guilty pleasures. I am always the one digging through it for the nuts – especially the cashews. Why not try switching it up with some ingredients that might be healthier, or at least different? In case you’d like to try it for your Super Bowl party, I bring you:

Not Your Grandmother's Party Mix

1 c. dry-roasted edamame (not quite all of my 4.4 oz. package – I might try some dipped in dark chocolate later)
1 1/2 c. wasabi peas (or full 4.4 oz. package)
2 c. sugar snap pea crisps
4 c. veggie chips
4 c. wheat Chex (because what would Party Mix be without it?)
3/4 c. mixed nuts (my favorite part)

Combine dry ingredients in oven-proof pan if you're baking, or in microwavable container if you want to try to nuke this in 15 min. (per new instructions on the Chex box).

Separately, melt 6 T. butter (mine was unsalted) and your chosen flavorings. I started with the suggested 1 t. soy sauce for this "Japanese" version, recognizing that many of my "healthy" ingredients were already salted as compared to the old-time version featuring sweet-ish cereal products.

Halfway through baking at about 275 degrees for a total of 1 hour (stirring every 15 minutes), I tasted it and decided to tweak. And of course, that's when I got impatient with measuring and did what I usually do here in the Intuitive Eggplant Kitchen. I melted a couple more tablespoons of butter, added a liberal dash of Worcestershire, some Tobasco, garlic powder, celery salt, and seasoned salt to replicate the tastes from my youth..

My verdict? Not bad. But not quite as satisfying as my nostalgic favorite. And I will still be hunting for the cashews.

Stay tuned next month, when I'll tackle another ingredient and share more recipes you might want to try in your own kitchen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Post-Battle Breakfast

January's Culinary Smackdown was a success, especially considering that tofu was the theme ingredient. Thanks to all for playing! Anonymous Boxer has posted a recap of all the fine entries and pronounced Grumpy Granny the winner. Granny plans to post the details of the February Smackdown in the next couple of days. Once she does, I'll link them under this Smackdown badge on my sidebar.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I could see what Friday night's ice storm had left in its wake. There was even ice clinging to the screen outside my second-floor window.

Brrrr. I wasn't going to leave the house all day. But, taking a cue from the comments to my Battle Tofu post, a hot and hearty breakfast featuring some of my leftover sour cream and caper sauce seemed like a splendid idea. Voila, an omelette stuffed with mushrooms, asparagus, raw milk cheddar, and Browning's country ham, with a Blue Oven English muffin on the side.

Wherever you are, stay warm and eat well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that temps really do warm into the upper 40s today, or I'll have some serious work ahead of me to scrape the ice off my windshield. We're in for more wacky weather this week, but I think my travel plans to Lexington Thursday for another dinner at Azur are safe.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Old School or New School? Eggy’s Eggless Egg Salad

To prepare for this month’s Culinary Smackdown: Battle Tofu, I knew I had to stand toe to toe with my tofu past. After an invigorating cleanse digging into the memory vault and writing about it, I thought I was ready to bring a freshly robed bean curd dish from its corner of the Smackdown ring, hosted this month by Anonymous Boxer. Or was I?

As much as I’d love to figure out how to replicate my favorite hot and sour soup, from the now-retired folks of the Szechwan Wok in Silverton (good for them, sad for me), that direction seemed too obvious – and their soup’s perfect balance too out-of-reach for me to pursue.

Then I thought of the vegan “eggless egg salad” I’ve heard nothing but raves about from Fresh Table at Findlay Market. It always looks sassy and enticing in their prepared foods case, although it’s not one of their dishes I’ve tasted yet, and I don’t have a photo of it. Here, however, are some other sprightly Fresh Table offerings.

After a little research, I confirmed Fresh Table’s eggless egg salad is made with tofu, but Chef Meredith Twombly wasn’t giving up her recipe. I was stymied at the prospect of trying to replicate a dish I’ve never tasted. But then my mind veered in another direction, to my very favorite, very old school egg salad recipe.

It’s from the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking, a recipe that got edited out when Cincinnatian Ethan Becker – son of Marion Rombauer Becker and the grandson of Irma Rombauer, Joy’s prior authors – updated this go-to cookbook for its 1997 edition. I don’t think Asparagus and Egg Salad is nearly as far afield for a contemporary audience as squirrel recipes, for instance. But perhaps Ethan thought it was too much of a throwback to a ladies’ luncheon dish to warrant including when he wanted to make room for a whole new chapter on beans and tofu.

Aside from the inclusion of asparagus, which I love in any form, what I like best about this Joy egg salad is the dressing, made not with mayo (traditional or vegan) but with sour cream punched up with capers, grated onion, vinegar or caper juice, and a pinch of curry powder. I sometimes use this dressing for potato salad, and it makes a good dip for crudités as well.

The texture of tofu is not that different from that of hard-boiled eggs, and my theory was that the curry powder would impart a yellowish color to the dish. Some curry powders would, but I chose to use a sweet curry brought from India by a friend, which wasn’t quite so yellow, along with smoked paprika from Colonel De’s of Findlay Market (who will be opening additional outlets at the upcoming Jungle Jim’s at Eastgate and the Findlay-esque Friendly Market in Northern Kentucky!).

So how did my tofu variation on an egg salad theme fare? I was a woman on a mission to extract as much water as I could from my block of firm tofu, fearing it would dilute the dressing and rob it of its zing. So I spent darn near a whole evening pressing my paper-towel-wrapped tofu. Good thing I’d just stocked up on paper towel, because I kept rewrapping the tofu, and it just kept giving off more liquid.

I sampled a bit of pressed tofu and dressing before I went to bed that night and was disappointed. So I tried two alternatives. I marinated half my tofu cubes overnight in the dressing and the rest in a bit of sherry vinegar and olive oil, which I planned to top with dressing when I finally assembled the dish. When I got home from work last night, the dressing-marinated bean curd was astonishingly dry, having soaked up almost all the dressing, yet without gaining as much pungency as I would have liked. When I tried topping the cubes marinated in vinegar with the dressing, the balance still seemed a bit off. So I just mixed my two marination experiments together, globbed on more dressing, plunked them on a bed of spinach, and added the asparagus, sliced olives, and more capers.

Not half bad, if I say so myself. Here’s the 1975 Joy of Cooking Asparagus and Egg Salad recipe as photographed from my well-worn copy of the book.

If anyone's interested in a typed out version that includes my tofu tweaks, let me know and I'll come back and update this post. Right now, I’m scrambling to make Boxer’s deadline for Smackdown submissions. Head on over to her place to check out the other entries, and stay tuned for her announcement of this month’s winner, who will earn bragging rights and the right to select the theme or key ingredient of next month’s Smackdown and become next month’s host and judge for this friendly round-robin cooking/blogging competition.

P.S. If you really want to amp up this eggless egg salad, serve it with slices of toasted baguette slathered in truffle butter, like I did. Ladies who lunch, eat your hearts out!

Peace out, eggy

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tofu Anarchy and the Culinary Smackdown

 Image from Oberlin Alumni Magazine. So Oberlin.

I loved a lot of things about Oberlin, the small college in northeast Ohio I attended in the late 1970s. But the Autumn of Tofu Anarchy was not one of them.

Like most Oberlin students of any era (we call ourselves “Obies"), I was young, impressionable, and idealistic. My high school years were awkward. I’d been desperate to go "away" to college and begin my “real life.” Upon arriving in the small town of the same name, surrounded by farm fields, I delighted in meeting smart, inquisitive, talented, creative people from all over the country, and all over the world. We stayed up late discussing what was important to us, and learning from others.

There were aspiring opera singers who devoted themselves to their craft, day and night, in the practice rooms of the “Con” (Oberlin’s music conservatory). A rich kid from NYC who used his 1000+ vintage jazz LP collection to decorate his dorm room in lieu of furniture. My first college boyfriend, a Grateful Dead head desperate to get out of the infirmary in time to see Jerry Garcia perform on campus at Finney Chapel, who requested I bring him clean underwear and help him walk to the gig. I don’t know what felt more awkward at age 18, being asked to perform this duty, or realizing said boyfriend’s dorm-room drawers were so filled with cassette tapes (top drawer for his Dead tapes, below for “other” music) that I had to go hunting for where a boy like that kept his, er, drawers.

There was more than music filling my ears at Oberlin. I was surrounded by more wide-ranging knowledge and worldly experience than I ever expected to encounter at that tender age. If I mentioned the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as the favorite thing I’d ever learned about physics, I could count on someone in the room knowing what it was without having to explain.

We were earnest. We were passionate. We were open. We were Obies. We were grateful to be part of an engaging community that “got” us, and where we could be ourselves.

The Autumn of Tofu Anarchy was a Harkness thing, Harkness being one of the six or seven dining co-ops on campus at that time. Oberlin has a long and proud history of dining and residence co-ops dating back to 1950. The idea is that instead of paying a food service staff, students perform the menu-planning, food-ordering, cooking, serving, and cleaning duties required to feed themselves, resulting in a price break, more decision-making power, and better food than in dorm cafeterias.

From Oberlin Alumni Magazine

There were always more students who wanted to eat in a co-op than there were openings, so access was determined via lottery. The first semester I was eligible to participate, I drew a high number, and by the time it came up, only one co-op had openings left: Harkness, the vegetarian co-op. That didn’t bother me a whit. I like vegetables, and I looked forward to healthier options than I could get at a regular dining hall.

But that particular fall semester, a group of Harkness folks decided we should run the co-op by anarchy instead of the tried-and-true co-op system of assigning jobs via lottery, with specific dates, times, and responsibilities attached. They urged the group to trust in our classmates’ willingness to volunteer for whatever needed to be done, free of the “tyranny” of assignments. And we would govern ourselves, not by voting on policies and procedures – with resulting “winners” and “losers” – but by achieving “consensus.” As I recall, there was even some brouhaha about how we began down the road to anarchy, when its proponents insisted that voting for or against it would be an inherent contradiction.

We were earnest. We were passionate. We were open. We were Obies. So we went along with anarchy. For a while.

At the beginning of the term, there was plenty of enthusiasm and volunteering. But as that idyllic Indian Summer yielded to the gray skies of a north Ohio fall and the demands of our classes closed in on us, the food turned as colorless as the surrounding landscape. Dinner after dinner of brown rice. Lots and lots of tofu. Sometimes nary a vegetable in sight. If we were lucky, someone actually made whole wheat bread. If we were luckier, the bread wasn't leaden. We had a whole lotta beige food going on.

Dinners, instead of being a respite from the day’s studies and a chance to enjoy the company of friends, turned into every-night meetings where we grappled with this anarchy thing and found ourselves farther and farther from consensus.

Vegetables did make a welcome reappearance for our Thanksgiving meal (we had classes the following Friday and Saturday as usual, so most students stayed on campus). It was the one meal of the year at Harkness that deviated from vegetarianism, with a turkey or two rounding out the spread, and a variety of holiday stuffings (one of which may or may not have been spiked with THC).

As we headed into the December home stretch of term papers and finals, caffeine and all-nighters, it was clear we couldn’t count on volunteerism to keep us well fed and healthy. Our experiment with anarchy had failed, and that was a consensus. We dragged ourselves home for holiday break, grateful for sleep and as much home-cooking as our mothers could dish up.

There have been many times in my post-college years where life has batted me around to the point where nothing is more welcome than sound sleep and being well fed by others. Although I can no longer claim the idealism of my youth, at heart I’m still an Obie. Still earnest. Still passionate. Still open – even to tofu. And grateful to be part of an engaging (online) community that “gets” me and where I can be myself. My blogger friends – smart, inquisitive, talented, creative people from all over the country, and all over the world – share what is important to them, and I continue to learn.

Especially when it comes to this friendly little food blogging contest called the Culinary Smackdown. It’s a great incentive to stretch myself in my kitchen, and I always come away with new ideas and a lot of inspiration from the other contestants. Our last Smackdown winner, Anonymous Boxer, is hosting and judging this month’s Battle Tofu. As part of her “prize,” which is mainly bragging rights, Boxer chose this month’s theme. You can find her pre-battle warm-up post here. The deadline is Wednesday, 1/18/12, and two fine contenders are already up with their entries.

Lori of Fake Food Free, a Kentucky food blogger I've met recently online, drew inspiration from both her travels in Southeast Asia and Chef Ouita Mitchell's Windy Corner Market on the outskirts of Lexington, for this Tofu Po'Boy with Barbeque Cole Slaw.

Grumpy Granny, prior Smackdown winner for her entries last summer in Battle Eggplant, embraced the tofu for another entry that proves tofu can be appetizing: Tofu Pizza Italiano Two Ways.
Photo by Grumpy Granny

I'm off to press some tofu (I don't think we'd ever heard of such a thing back in the day) and I'll be back Wednesday with an entry that I promise will not be beige. And it will include vegetables. Boxer will decide the winner (who will be next month's host/judge/theme-picker). There are never any losers here at the Culinary Smackdown. And we manage to do it without anarchy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Current Situation: Blogiversary

My clever sister came up with some great personalized Christmas gifts this year, all of which she tagged to the theme “your current situation.” You can see mine above – a 3-d version of my blog logo!

For my dad, who has been having issues with his eyesight (we're hopeful it will be improving soon): large print playing cards, a giant die (singular dice), and more. (Dad also got a kick out of the blog book I dedicated to him based on my trip to South Dakota.)

For my mom, who has been driving Dad where he needs to go, a fun turn-about: My sister hired a stretch limo to chauffeur Mom (and the rest of us) around her town to view the Christmas lights!

Today marks the start of Year #3 at Eggplant To Go, and I’m looking forward to where this blogging journey leads me next. I couldn’t have predicted the surprises, delights (and occasional scoops) the last year has brought my way.

Thanks to Chef Todd Kelly at Orchids in Cincinnati and Chef Jeremy Ashby of Azur in Lexington, I’ve had two of the most spectacular meals of my life. I got all kinds of inspiration from the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show in Lexington, a front-row seat to watch the filming of Man v. Food at Tom + Chee, an invite to the press party for Chef Kelly’s new cookbook, and an insider’s view of the Cincinnati Magazine “Best of the City” party, thanks to two of my favorite Cincy food truck friends, Toya and Randy from a Streetcart Named Desire aka New Orleans to Go. Even got a hug and a thanks from my favorite fishmonger on New Years Eve day.

It’s funny how what goes around comes around. 2011 was a year in which I made strides in overcoming my shy, homebody ways and learned a lot about how rewarding it can be to reach out. One turning point came in August when I screwed up my nerve and asked local Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant, Orchids pastry chef Megan Ketover, if I might be able to speak to her on behalf of AllTopChef (where I’m a member of the blogging team). In addition to being a remarkable talent, Megan was so welcoming and gracious that the experience inspired me to screw up my nerve again and invite local food bloggers Stephie from Small Girl Adventures (who is launching her own business) and Jen from Our Good Food Life to join me for dinners during Restaurant Week, and Jeff from A Dork and His Pork for a Slow Food Cincinnati meet-up, where I met a bunch of other lovely people passionate about local food. At the press event for the release of Todd Kelly’s cookbook, I finally got to meet in person the uber-talented Courtney of Epiventures (who is also Chef Kelly’s co-author) and a number of other local food bloggers, reporters, and personalities as well. I was in food blogger hog heaven thanks to the company, as well as the opportunity taste more of Chef Kelly's amazing dishes.

As much inspiration as I draw from all the fine food folks I’ve been lucky to meet in person this year, I’m also full of gratitude to my homies – the bloggers of all ilks, from all parts, who have become dear friends even though I haven’t met them in person – who care, and comment, and lift my spirits. One never knows quite how karma weaves its way through our lives. But I can’t help but believe the chances of Scout returning home after his 2½ week kitty walkabout were only improved by your prayers and good wishes. And I’m certain that if he hadn’t come back, you would have been there for me too.

With the full force of your inspiration and friendships filling my sails, I already have a lot to look forward to, including a return visit to Lexington for Azur’s “Naked Dinner” Jan. 26; a local Cincy blogging conference in connection with the Winter Beer Fest on my February birthday; the weekend after my birthday in Lousisville to see Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert – and eat at Edward Lee’s 610 Magnolia!; and a late March visit to Nashville, where my niece is competing in Show Choir Nationals (think “Glee” in real life). Let me know if you have any suggestions on where to eat in Nashville.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Culinary Smackdown (do you have your recipes ready for Battle Tofu?), and I’m looking forward to bringing you more blog-worthy posts from my own kitchen. Because inspiration is a terrible thing to waste, and it's always fun to keep exploring!

xoxo, eggy

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January Culinary Smackdown Reminder

Scout and I have spent a quiet weekend reflecting on 2011 and looking forward to 2012. At least I have. Who knows what's going on his kitty brain as he snoozes on my lap? I'm just glad he's back home with me.

My calendar is already filling up with 2012 events and adventures to look forward to. The first on my eggy dance card is the January Culinary Smackdown hosted by Anonymous Boxer. Details at her place here.

After her win, Boxer elected to make our January challenge Battle Tofu. Some may turn their noses up at tofu, but I am having fun researching recipes, and have the first of many 2012 field trips in mind. If you're up for eating lighter now that the holidays have passed, here's a nice tofu primer from blogger Call Me Old Fashioned, where I found the photo at the top of this post.

The deadline for this month's Smackdown is Wednesday, January 18, 2012. This friendly little blogging contest is a great way to stretch yourself to try cooking something new, and I'm always inspired by what everyone else comes up with. Whether you've participated before or are ready to tackle something new, ALL are welcome to join in the fun. The Smackdown winner receives bragging rights and gets to serve as host, judge, and "theme picker" for the next month's contest. Plus you can snag a Chickory-designed CS badge for your blog. If tofu isn't your thing but you'd like to join in another month, you can always find updates on my sidebar by clicking the image under "Where in the World is the Next Culinary Smackdown?"

Wishing you all a tasty 2012 filled with new beginnings, and happiness and success in whatever ways you define those terms for yourself.

xoxo, eggy