Monday, September 10, 2012

Cookbook Inspiration

I love a cookbook.

Not only do they provide you with tasty morsels to satisfy your belly, but they are snap shots of a particular time in culinary history.  You have your classics; Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking comes to mind, in which time honored techniques and traditions are carefully laid out for the reader.

Who doesn't love cooking over an open flame in your living room?
You have little gems from particular eras that highlight, thankfully, times gone by.  A favorite of mine is Life's 1958 Picture Cook Book with chapters titled "Man's Job: Steak," "French Lesson in Innards," and "Luxury with Leftovers,"filled with such delicious ideas as Fried Celery with Chicken Livers and Flaming Fruitcake.  I swear one day, I'm going to cook my way through that thing.

As cooking trends change and develop, nothing is better for information and inspiration.  A fabulous cookbook is Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi.  Nothing but veggies in this one and the photographs qualify as food pornography.  It was the photo of Black Pepper Tofu that enticed me, but the recipe is far from what you would call healthy.  Fried tofu in a rich sauce that calls for 12 tablespoons of butter...oy.  Of course I had to make it.  And then I had to figure out how to make it a bit healthier.  Here's what I came up with.

Healthier substitutions:  coconut oil instead of butter, tofu noodles instead of fried tofu, added veggies.

Black Pepper Tofu Noodles with Shiitake and Crimini Mushrooms

The sauce is the star here: warm, bold, and spicy without too much heat!  And it's basically a chop and drop kind of dish!  If substituting rice noodles, slightly under cook them and don't let them linger too long in the pan, otherwise they might disappear on you!

tofu noodles (16 oz package)
1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 shallots, sliced into rings
2 red jalapeños, sliced into rings (remove seeds if you want to take the spice level down)
2 Tbl fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 Tbl whole black peppercorns
2 Tbl coconut oil
3 Tbl soy sauce
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sesame oil (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
cilantro for garnish

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat and saute mushrooms, browning them slightly. About five to seven minutes.  Add garlic, shallots, jalapeños, and ginger and continue to cook until the shallots are translucent.

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and sesame oil until honey is fully dissolved.  In a spice grinder (or, if you want to be old school, you can bust out your mortar and pestle), coarsely grind the peppercorns.  You don't want whole chunks, but you don't want finely ground pepper either.

Once the onions have cooked, add sauce to pan and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Add peppercorns and stir.  Add tofu noodles and toss to combine.  Allow to cook for about three minutes so noodles can absorb the sauce.  If sauce is too thin, add 1/4 cup vegetable stock.

Garnish with thinly sliced green onions and cilantro.

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