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The Husband embraces superhero tofu

Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.

If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.

Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.

Tim Anderson’s chilled tofu with ginger and soy sauce (no katsuobushi – so vegan)

However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen) biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.

London Daughter's take on biang biang noodles using Sichuan peppercorns.
London Daughter’s version of biang biang noodles

That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.

Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu

London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.

I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’

Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!

London Daughter

London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.

The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.

London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.

Meera’s dish ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’

The Husband

Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.

Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles

Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:

Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:

Sweet, salty, tangy, hot-hot-hot. Complete SULA… sweaty upper lip alert!

London Daughter

London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.

Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt

We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.

London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).

I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.

Original recipes:

Tim Anderson – chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi

Ixta Belfrage (for Ottolonghi) – biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce

Meera Sodha – dry-fried beans with minced tofu

Erchen Chang – dan dan tofu noodles

Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt (yoghurt cake)

London Daughter’s beautiful version of Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu

We’re on a (chocolate) roll!

I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.

It’s week 11 of my epic attempt to cook from each issue of Guardian Feast and it’s beginning to feel as if we’re on a bit of a roll. Which is apposite. After all, who could resist the Ottolenghi kitchen’s chocolate and coconut mochi roulade pictured on the front of Feast Issue No.165 and shared liberally on Insta by Yotam and Ixta? I couldn’t. And neither could the eldest daughter who declares she’s always wanted to make mochi. And, let’s face it, this roulade is a GIANT mochi.

Who could resist that chocolate coconut mochi roll?

The mochi roulade is what my mum termed a ‘dinner party dish’. She used to make Delia Smith’s chocolate roulade as one of the obligatory five choices of pud when she and Dad entertained in the 60s and 70s. I always remember the anxiety over ‘cracking’ as Mum rolled up the cake slathered in its cream. Also, the sheer amount of time and effort it took to create the thing. I feel I might be in for a similar ride – I’ve never seen 400ml of cream and some coconut flakes put through so many processes! Anyway, I rush ahead. Mum’s roulade always tasted fabulous – and to us it always looked amazing, cracks and all. So, that’s all I’m hoping for: Fabulous!!!

In fact, finding a way (a way to make mochi) is even more challenging than anticipated. Glutinous rice flour is a very particular ingredient – and not one to be substituted easily, if at all. There’s none on our high street in this far corner of north eastern England. So, desperate to get on, we order from the online supplier who we usually try to avoid, hoping for next day delivery. Turns out that even the God of Amazon cannot deliver glutinous rice flour to Berwick-upon-Tweed on Sunday (although it can to most other parts of the country). So, Monday is mochi day.

It’s rich licks. The daughter and I agree a little goes a long way. The Husband begs to differ. He thinks a lot is just right.

No matter, I prepare the caramelised coconut flakes and infuse the cream overnight as recommended (the kind of thing I’m never usually organised or patient enough to do). I decide that kitchen Ottolenghi must have industrial-sized baking trays and ovens – there’s no way I can spread 200g of dried coconut flakes across one tray – so I use two. I also decide that anything mixed with maple syrup and condensed milk is impossible to make ‘not clumped together’ no matter how much you mix them. Hey ho, they taste so sublime that I take the 50g of leftover coconut flakes from my packet and give them the same treatment so that we can snack on them while we await the full event. As for the coconut and cream journey, it seems a bit counterintuitive to tip a pile of crispy flakes into cream and infuse, but I do as I’m told.

Overall, the mochi cake itself is incredibly easy to put together. I realise too late that my tin of coconut milk is 50% coconut extract rather than 70%. I whisk by hand to begin with ‘until all the ingredients come together’ and then use a hand whisk because my processor only has blades. The batter’s quite runny and a good fit for the tin. After 25 mins in the oven, I can see some quite large bubbles ballooning off the top of the cake, when I take it out they fall and it feels ‘set but springy’ to me. When it’s cooled, it does sink a bit in the middle leaving a slight ridge around the outside, so maybe I should have left it for a couple of minutes (actually the ridge is quite a good guide when it comes to smearing on the coconut crisp sludge and cream!). I crack on (it’s a Monday night, after all!).

As the cake cooks, I reheat the cooled cream and coconut flakes, press them through a sieve and hoick them into the processor with cocoa powder and – ingredient of the moment – maple syrup. Weirdly, they begin to smell and taste like cornflakes to me. The eldest daughter, cruising the kitchen on a work break for sniffs and licks, dismisses this as motherly foolishness. Nevertheless, the ‘coarse paste’ tastes a bit like posh cornflake crispy cake mix to me. Bish, bash, bosh! I hurtle through the rest of the prep and the moment of mochi rolling truth arrives. I’m hoping the solid stretchiness delivered by glutinous rice flour will prevent cracking. I’m right.

Ta daaaaaaa!!!

The end result is everything we’d hoped for in its chocolatey, crunchy caramel-topped, coconutty creamy, chewy, mochiness. The ping of salt from the caramelised coconut is a stroke of genius. There’s no doubting it’s rich licks. The daughter and I agree that a little goes a long way. The Husband begs to differ. He thinks a lot is just right.

Even though we had to wait for our mochi roulade, we were able to indulge ourselves for Saturday cocktail hour. It was such a chilly, bright and glorious March evening, that we took our ‘good mixer’ apple martinis from Anna Haugh at Myrtle down the garden and enjoyed the sunset. Just lovely.

Through a glass brightly. What could be more perfect than a Berwick sunset viewed through an apple martini?

Original recipes:

Yotam Ottolenghi – Chocolate and coconut mochi roulade

Anna Haugh – Apple martini

Umami me up!

I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.

Some weeks you look for the easy fix. Last week, Ravneet Gill’s no-cook miso caramel and chocolate tart blew the family’s collective palate. This week, it’s Guardian Feast Issue No.160. It’s a raging hoolie outside. I return from the newsagent (four and three quarter minutes along the road from my front door), drenched.

Guardian Feast Issue No.160 Ixta Belfrage/Ottolenghi: A mousse to enliven even the most dreich of days

Because it’s lockdown and, well, rain or shine and all that, we go for a bleak, wild coastal walk. When we return, we’re all a bit miserable and we need a quick, simple fix. Yotam Ottolenghi’s coffee mousse with tahini chocolate sauce (from Ottolenghi recipe developer Ixta Belfrage) is totally simple and OMG it offers all the umami salt, sweet, sour flavours of a full blowout Chinese takeaway without the monosodium glutamate and cornstarch. It has to be done. It’s the work of moments. A child could make it. Except…

Once doubts creep into your head, they enter food by osmosis.

Dear reader, I messed up.

But I rush ahead. I know I will never be a proper cook. I know this because I can single-handedly deflate the simplest of delicious mousses, and also because I shudder (and mutter expletives) when recipes say 3/4 tsp or 2 1/4 tbsp (don’t get me started on 1/8). I don’t know why the quarter thing gets to me more than, say, a half. But it does. Will a tiny fraction of an ingredient really make that much difference? Now, Ixta’s delicious idiot-proof mousse.

You create the mousse element by putting the first six ingredients into a stand mixer and whipping to medium soft peaks. I’m feeling a bit zoned and tip all the ingredients into my blender. I immediately realise this isn’t a great idea and want to transfer to a bowl and whisk by hand. But, you know, I’ve started now.

Once doubts creep into your head, they enter food by osmosis. As the blender grinds on, anxiety kicks in. I think I’ve got soft peaks, then I don’t. I leave the blender running a bit more. Then I let the mousse (which looks fine at this stage) stand for a while. I go to scoop it into my sundae glasses and decide it’s a bit runny. I chuck it back on the blender. It splits. Not badly, but that wonderful plumptious moussey sheen is disappearing fast. I start talking incessantly to myself about what an idiot I’ve been.

Hey-ho. It tastes fab-u-lous. Coffee. Tahini. Maple syrup. Cocoa. Soy sauce. Salty nuts. The Husband declares it ‘Sesame bars for people with no teeth’. Eldest daughter says ‘the salt and nuts bring it together. Gorgeous.’

My version of Ixta Belfrage's (for Ottolenghi) coffee mousse with tahini chocolate sauce
The mousse is a sublime hit of salty, creamy nutty, coffee deliciousness. Maybe I’ll make it for breakfast.

Sesame bars for people with no teeth… the salt and nuts bring it together. Gorgeous.

It’s a damn fine pud. The perfect quick whip, no stress finale to impress friends with. Next time, (and there’ll be a next time) I’ll get a grip. In fact, in the three and a quarter minutes it took me to eat the mousse, I was already planning to make it again. Maybe for breakfast. Umami me up!

Meanwhile, I’m eyeing Lara Lee’s spicy soy pork and peanut instant noodles. I only have chicken in the house. That’ll be fine, yes?

Original recipe:

Yotam Ottolenghi (Ixta Belfrage) – coffee mousse with tahini chocolate sauce

Also, how delicious do my home-salted and roasted nuts look alongside that biscotti?

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