Saturday, May 31, 2008

Barbeque Tofu with Sauteed Red Onions

While I feel very virtuous when making barbeque tofu, part of me really wants to sort of mock the sad little white blocks while I am preparing it. Sort of really tell it how I feel, because you know, taking tofu down a peg makes me feel better.

My main issue with tofu is that is makes me think of things I used to eat with barbeque sauce... things that would get crackly and crispy and sear properly, dammit, is that so much to ask for?? I'd always been pretty content to let other people do the tofu eating before I stopped eating meat.  

But now, it's the brave new world of pale, flaccid meat proxies! Yeah! In all seriousness though, this tofu did turn out quite well. 

The key to getting tofu to behave, er, to brown is to remove some of the water.  Tofu comes water logged, which is not an ideal situation when trying to get color on anything.  I've taken to pressing my tofu blocks using a flat-bottomed tea kettle (not hot, mind you!) full of water. If you don't have a kettle, you can used anything that has some heft to it, like foil covered bricks. 

Simply put the kettle on tofu that has been sandwiched in between stacks of paper towels, and voila! You'll be amazed at our much water drains out. You can repeat with dry stacks of towels until you lose patience and just want to eat already.  Usually the draining takes about 15- 20 minutes.  

I served this tofu with sauteed red onions,  corn on the cob and a light salad of sliced radishes, snow peas and peeled carrots that had a dressing of rice vinegar and oil. Tasty!

Barbeque Tofu with Sauteed Red Onions


2 blocks extra firm tofu, pressed to remove water (see above for instructions)
2 c barbeque sauce, plus more for serving
2TB vegetable oil 
1 red onion, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rings
salt and pepper to taste


Slice each tofu block into thirds horizontally.  Place in a bowl with two cups of barbeque sauce. Turn to coat each piece. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes.  

In a medium skillet, heat  1TB oil.  When oil is heated, add onion rings, season with salt and pepper, and cook on low-medium heat until rings are soft, about 7-10  minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat 1TB oil in large skillet.  Prior to placing each piece of tofu in skillet, remove excess sauce with a spatula.  When oil is hot, place 2 tofu pieces at a time in skillet, leaving space between pieces. Brown on each side for 3-4 minutes.  Remove to plate. Repeat with remaining pieces. 

Serve tofu with additional sauce and onion rings. Serves 4. 

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Farmer's Market

Today we went to the local Farmer's Market to poke around. It was fabulous as always; I wanted to roll around in the piles of lettuce, but restrained myself.

On a more serious note, I am always cheered to see signs that vegetables are being made more accessible to people. Above, is a sign a farmer had out that indicated that he accepts WIC.

After doing some digging around, I learned that my city has participated in the Farmer's Market Nutrition Program since 1994. Sadly though, it appears that the current maximum seasonal benefit is $25-- five allotments of $5.

It's certainly better than nothing, but it does seem a bit stingy, no? Some day soon when I have more time on my hands, I'll revisit the topic of WIC. It's not an uncontroversial program, and it merits discussion.

For now though, enjoy the mountain of lettuce, tinged red by the tent:

Summer vegetables put in their place

After picking out the wee vegetable plants, we went to the garden to put them in their place. My husband is so hip that he gardens in a straw fedora.  Check this out:

Among the rows of lettuce which will be retreating in the next six weeks or so, we planted a variety of tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber and eggplant plants. Eggplant plants. haha. Anyway, we also planted lavender, mint, watercress and basil. 

There seems to be some debate as to whether seeds or plants are the way to go with gardening. I am in the dark. The only trend I can decipher is that it seems that cooler, more experienced gardeners use seeds, and folks like me go with plants.  I'm not sure why/if I should aspire to be a seed-head.  If anyone has advice, I'd love to hear it. Also, has anyone ever planted eggplant? I'm having trouble picturing how much room it's going to take up. But, too late now! They're all in the ground, patiently waiting for their moment to shine. 


Is not the same as Romanesco. Googling Romanesco will not lead you to the type of red pepper, almond and bread based Spanish sauce that you want to make. If you also have the inept form of the internet that does not read your mind, Google Romeso for recipes. Romanesco, by the by, is a sassy kind of cauliflower that looks like a flower. Intriguing, but no Romesco.

Friday night we had roasted farm raised tilapia with Romesco, and a side of roasted potatoes, fennel and string beans for good measure. It was enjoyed by all.

In the face of the Whole Paycheck fish counter, I often become sort of debilitated. I try to bring my chart of which fish is OK to eat if you don't want to be a bad citizen of earth, but even with that as a guide, buying raw materials for dinner is occasionally daunting. I saw several kinds of fish that weren't on the chart... butterfish being one. It looked gorgeous-- firm and lush, but clearly from a large fish. Since returning from the store, I've spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out whether or not butterfish is sustainably fished... to no avail. Does anyone have more information than I do?

In addition to butterfish, there was wild Pacific Halibut. I know that Atlantic Halibut is a no-no, but my chart didn't say whether all Pacific Halibut was OK, or just wild-caught, or just farmed.... etc. So I came home with farmed tilapia. For the record, I now know that wild Pacific Halibut is a safe choice.

Turning our attention to the Romesco! It was divine. Very fresh and clean. We were having a pregnant guest, so I wanted to give baby lots of vegetables. Online, I found oodles of recipes, and then sort of made my own. Here it is:



8-10 garlic cloves
1 piece day(s)-old white or french bread, roughly chopped
1 c raw almonds 
1-2 red peppers, chopped
1 large roasted red pepper, in oil or water, chopped
1 can crushed tomatoes, well drained
3 TB olive oil
Splash of soy sauce
1 TB sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste


Toast garlic, bread, and almonds. Combine in food processor until the crumbs are small. Do not over-process. Add all remaining ingredients to food processor. Pulse until roughly combined, leaving the sauce fairly chunky. Enjoy! (Note: the sauce is even better the next day, so consider making it a day in advance). Enough for 4 servings. 

Friday, May 23, 2008

Farm Bill survives veto

It's very easy to rail against farm bills. And there are a lot of terse words I'd have for it, too, if it walked into my living room. But the reality it, it's complicated. The 2007 farm bill that just overrid (is that a word? overrided?) W's veto is no exception. It garnered the support of many progressive social groups that desperately needed funding. (OK, true, pretty much all progressive social groups desperately need funding.)

This year many of the beneficiaries of the farm bill (including nutrition programs, farm worker groups, anti-poverty activists, organic growers) needed help more than ever. Extremely high food prices, caused by shortage of basic commodities like wheat and corn (thanks ethanol), have stressed virtually every sector of our economy, and our humanity.

Unfortunately, some of the relief this year is coming in the form of a bill that will also continue to unfairly support huge agribusiness and provide subsidies of comical proportions to megafarms. But it's hard to say "no" when you're truly in need.

The 2006 US Census found that 11.4% of US households are food-insecure while an astonishing 17% of households with children are food insecure. (Food security is defined by the USDA as access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members). According to a 2007 USDA report, about one-third of food insecure households (4.0 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more adults was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. fn1

Arrives the knight on the white horse: a little more than 66% of the 2007 farm bill will fund domestic nutrition programs and food stamps.

Here is an interesting fact sheet prepared by the House Committee on Agriculture on the nutrition title of the farm bill. The center on Budget on Budget and Policy Priorities has also analyzed the nutrition section of the conferenced bill, and given it a stamp of approval.

It's just hard to swallow the fact that these desperately needed benefits are coming along with commodity subsidies that will continue to make it difficult for people to make good nutritional choices by maintaining the US's status quo love-affair with high fructose corn syrup.

I admit that I'm simplifying the equation a bit. But I wish law makers had the backbone to demand things that their constituents truly need (fresh food, air, soil) rather than be content with cutting the holes out of a rotten apple.

fn1:, Household Food Security in the United States, 2006, by Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Washington Post series on childhood obesity

The rain continues! It feels very spongy here... I'm loving it. Good for the garden.

In other news....this week The Washington Post is doing a (much overdue) five-part series on childhood obesity.

Today's installment focused on the fact that both suburban and urban children struggle with obesity, but for different reasons. My first instinct with the epidemic of overweight children is to blame the advent of Big Corn and cheap, fake food.

But it’s obviously so much more complicated than that. I do think at some level, it all roots back to a disconnect from the source of food. However, even that problem is made worse by the fact the kids in urban settings have so few opportunities to be outside and play safely. Hard to develop an appreciation for nature when you are worried about being shot at.

If the issue at hand were adult obesity, I would feel more comfortable delving into the intersection of personal choices and obesity.  But we are talking about children, and many of their choices are framed by those older than them. 

There are some really great community garden initiatives in my city, but I wish there were more. I think that combined with hands-on nutrition and cooking education in schools would be a revelation.

In the meantime, here are some of the more surprising factoids from the articles in the Washington Post:

  • For 32 years, the U.S. Women, Infants and Children program subsidized eggs and cheese for poor children, but no vegetables. In 2007, vegetables, fruits and whole grains were added.
  • A quarter of teens drink an average of four colas a day, the equivalent of an extra meal.
  • A study of 200 neighborhoods showed that white neighborhoods have four times as many supermarkets as African-American ones.
  • McDonald's advertised on report cards in Seminole County, Fla., until the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood objected in December.
  • A majority of 1- to 2-year-olds eat a sweet a day; only 1 in 10 eat a dark-green vegetable.

What is your community doing to help prevent childhood obesity?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spaghetti with Fava Beans

Tonight we made spaghetti with fava beans, which no one told us was going to be sort of punishment-like, only not really that bad. I'm just dramatic. But, if anyone has better ideas about how to shells favas, I'd love to hear them.

We blanched them for @ 40 seconds, shocked them in a cold bath (you've been naughty little beans) and then peeled them. I guess I was expecting them to leap out of their shells like bears out of their winter caves in May... but alas. However, the manual labor was worth it.

A nice al dente spaghetti with enough garlic to kill the evil + basil + onions + parmesan cheese, you can't really go wrong. I did turn up the heat a little too high with the red pepper flakes, because I have a problem with red pepper flakes .. eg...I am obsessed. Sorry to just "e.g." you. Must work harder to banish lawyer sprite living in my brain. Be gone with you!

I must say though, the fava beans weren't the most exciting part of dinner. Lettuce from the garden was! Oh my goodness. I went today after work to snip some of the lovelies and it was really such an unexpectedly emotional process. It's my first garden of my own, and my first time eating things that I have grown. Harvesting was a powerful experience. One that I wish I could share with more people. My veggies (radishes, carrots, lettuces, etc) haven't been overly tended to, it's more just that they grew at all that blew my mind.

Here are some radishes from the garden.... quite spicy.

Spaghetti with Fava Beans


1/2 lb. spaghetti
2 lb fresh fava beans (about 2 c shelled)
3 TB olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
red pepper flakes to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)
salt and pepper to taste
handful of basil, sliced
grated parmesan
juice of 1/4 lemon 


To prepare fava beans: Boil large pot of salted water. Prepare ice bath for beans. Remove beans from outer shell. Put fava beans in pot, boil for about a minute. Strain, and place beans in cold bath. Remove hulls. Yield will be about 1.5- 2 cups. Set beans aside.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to directions. Strain cooked pasta, and reserve about a cup of cooking liquid.  Set aside. 

To prepare pasta: Heat olive oil in large pan. Add onion,  garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute until soft, about seven minutes.

Add cooked pasta, basil and fava beans to large pan, combine. Add parmesan and cooking liquid until desired consistency is achieved. Season with salt and pepper. Add basil, and drizzle fresh lemon juice on pasta right before serving. Serves 4.