Meatless Monday: Eggplant and Tofu Stir-fry with Farro

Look how healthy I am!

Tofu never impressed me. It doesn’t look like it has much flavor. The texture looks weird. It’s “health food.” I eat meat, so I have never needed it for protein. It was easy to avoid, so I did. When the reaction from people who do eat it always seems to be “it’s alright, it tastes like whatever it’s cooked with” I never saw any reason to stop avoiding it. Tofu and me? Strangers. I was fine with that.

I have a favorite food truck that is parked a couple blocks from my office. It serves sandwiches (they admit they are not totally “authentic” banh mi, but they are really delicious) rice bowls and noodle salads. They are all so good. And it is cheap. Like $6 cheap (plus an additional $2 for the deviled tea egg that I have to get EVERY TIME and am trying my damndest to replicate. Stay tuned.) So I was eating there a lot. They offer a couple of different meat/topping options, one of which is tofu and shiitake mushroom, and there was one week that I ate there a couple of times and was starting to feel guilty about pork (my typical fave) for lunch three times in one week, so I decided to go healthy and try the tofu and shitake. And then I doubled down on the health and got brown rice. I know. I don’t know what happened. I figured the worst that could happen was that I wasted six bones and had to get something else. But I suspect you know where this is going…I liked it. And I didn’t just like it a little. I actually liked it. I liked the texture, I liked how it soaked up the flavor of what it was cooked in, I even liked the taste of the actual tofu! I have gotten it again! More than once! So there you go.

Buying lunch every day is expensive though, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. My complaint about their tofu/mushroom combo is not enough mushrooms, so I decided when I made it myself I was adding more mushrooms. Also eggplant because it is delicious and I love it.

So what to serve it over? I had white rice, glass noodles, and farro in the cabinet. Farro is having it’s day, man…I am not sure why it has suddenly been discovered, because it is certainly not a new invention. And I am sure there are plenty of people who have been eating it for years that think the recent “discovery” is hilarious, but whatever…put a sock in it farro-ites, nobody likes a know-it-all…but it is the new big thing, and it is very healthy and I succumbed to the allure and bought some from one of the bins at Whole Foods, but then it just sat and sat in the cupboard looking forlorn. Until now. It was time for it to shine.

And so there you have the winding round-about anatomy of this dish. I went looking for a good blueprint for my stir-fry, and came across pretty much exactly what I was going for in a recipe from Mark Bittman. I modified it a bit and I love the results. Not surprising at all, since Mark Bittman is the best. NY Times food section people…make it a part of your life.

This recipe takes a little bit of easy prep. I used dried shiitakes and had to soak them first. (I actually often prefer the dried to the fresh because I like the chewiness and they crisp right up when cooked, this is one of those times for sure.) I pressed the tofu for about an hour, and I cut and salted the eggplant about 20-30 minutes to remove the bitterness before I was ready to cook. But the cooking part was easy and pretty quick. Shiitakes into the wok first with salt and pepper. They get brown and a little crisp, and then come out of the wok, to be replaced with ginger, garlic and eggplant. This is the longest part of the cooking, as the eggplant needs to get nice and tender. Once that happens, the tofu gets added, and then the shiitakes go back in at the end. That’s it! The only liquid is some of the shiitake soaking liquid that gets added partway through the eggplant cooking time, and soy sauce and rice wine with the tofu. This is not super saucy, and honestly, if I eat it over farro again, I may try to adjust that a little, because  it’s a little drier than rice or noodles would be. But it was still delicious. Lack of sauce didn’t stop me from eating every bite. So there you go! Tofu and me…BFFs.

Also, since I’ve mentioned my new apartment which I absolutely love a couple of times…a preview.

My kitchen…

my “office”

my living room (please disregard the mismatched rug and pillows, that will be fixed.)

my view…

I love it. I have big plans for the decor, still to come, but I love it.

It’s nice to be back home in blog-land…

Really delish

Eggplant Tofu and Shiitake Stir-fry over Farro (serves 2)

adapted from Mark Bittman

1 cup farro

2-3 tbl grapeseed or other neutral oil for cooking.

10-12 dried shiitakes, soaked in just barely boiling water, until softened – soaking water reserved, mushrooms sliced thin

1/2 lb extra firm tofu, pressed and drained, and cut in a 1/2 inch dice (I pressed the tofu in a colander with an appetizer plate and two cans of beans…seems to have gotten the job done.)

1 large Japanese eggplant, cut in 1/2 inch dice and salted for 20 minutes

1 tbl minced fresh ginger

1 tbl minced garlic

2 tbl soy sauce (plus extra for drizzle at the end if you’d like)

1 tbl Chinese rice wine

salt and pepper to taste

1-2 Scallions, green parts sliced for garnish

Cook farro according to the package instructions until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat in a wok or saute pan. Add mushrooms and cook until they start to get brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and when it gets hot, add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring for a minute until the mixture starts to sizzle and smell delicious. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant starts to caramelize. Add 1/4 cup of the shiitake soaking liquid and continue to cook, stirring often, until the eggplant is tender and cooked through, 5-10 more minutes. (You may need to add a bit more of the liquid if the pan gets too dry.) When the eggplant is cooked through, add the tofu, soy sauce and rice wine and cook for 4-5 more minutes until the tofu is warmed through. Add the shiitakes back in, and you are finished! Serve over farro and garnish with scallions (and sriracha for spice if you’re feeling it) and enjoy your healthy deliciousness! (This can obviously be served over rice or noodles or just about anything you’d like…)

Lobster Risotto for a Happy Summer…

mmmm, lobster risotto

I spent the other night lying in bed eating Buffalo wings and watching Toddlers in Tiaras. That is either the surest sign of a work trip involving a hotel stay or the symptoms of a stroke.

It was my second trip to Atlanta in as many months. In addition to my work travels, since I have seen you all last I:

Changed jobs

Celebrated a beautiful bride-to-be in NYC

Catered my first big party. For real strangers

Moved

Made a quilt

Made a wedding cake

Went to a gorgeous wedding in Portland, ME

Said farewell to some great friends that I will miss terribly until I get to visit my favorite place in November.

Celebrated the birth of a brand new baby girl whom I already love to pieces

Hung out with the littlest, who came home from her mountain adventure for a visit

Celebrated two years of a bestie’s good health

Celebrated the first birthday of one of my very favorite people…

I’m tired. But oh I missed you so. I haven’t been cooking much. Little stuff, light stuff, quick stuff mostly. And I haven’t been blogging much, though I do have at least three posts started and abandoned. And I do think about blogging all the time. Sometimes guiltily because I don’t have time. Sometimes wistfully because I wish I had time, and sometimes with a little bit of dread because in the moments that I did have I couldn’t think of anything to say. Because to say I had NO time would be a lie. I had enough time to read a couple books, and to watch season one of Homeland, and to lie around and enjoy my new apartment. But I was busy, and I am exhausted, and I am very much looking forward to a little bit of “free” time I have coming up. Only a job to worry about for a couple of weeks! What am I going to do with all that time? I actually have HOLD written in my day planner, so that I wouldn’t forget and book something for myself to do next weekend. Because I will be sitting around, and doing some projects, and hanging some curtains, and enjoying all the summer foods (it’s summer! I’ve only been to the farmer’s market TWICE!) and remembering how to cook.  I have one more fun weekend this weekend in NYC celebrating my amazing Momma and her birthday and then a couple weeks of blissful nothing. I can’t wait.

But I didn’t starve myself over the last couple of months. I did eat. Most recently I ate lobster. Lots of lobster. I ate lobster mac and cheese with my people in Portsmouth, then I came home and ate lobster rolls with my family to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

Please excuse the terrible picture, I was too busy having an awesome time with the fam.

And there was leftover lobster. LEFTOVER LOBSTER! I don’t think I have ever experienced such a thing. So I made risotto…

It took me about a week to move. Not to pack and move and unpack, but to actually move. I had movers come and move my furniture and some of my packed boxes one day, but there was a bunch of smaller stuff that didn’t really fit in boxes or hadn’t made it into one yet, and I figured it wasn’t so much and I could easily do it myself. I didn’t think I was in a huge rush to get out of my last apartment (I ended up being wrong about that, but I still had a couple extra days, which is definitely lucky) so I figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal. But oh my god I was wrong. I have SO MUCH CRAP. On the last night of the move I was essentially just walking back and forth between the two apartments (I only moved down the block) with a milk crate and one of those huge IKEA bags, filling them up in the old place and emptying them in the new place…repeat over and over and over (25 times, to be exact. I moved to a fourth floor walk-up. I did 75 flights of stairs that night. I know because I counted through the pain.) The last trip was the freezer. I filled the IKEA bag with pulled pork, chicken tinga, lobster stock, chicken pieces, parmesan rinds and whatever else was in there, and I tried to pick up the bag. I immediately purged a lot. The lobster stock, the parmesan rinds, and one (of the four or so) bags of pulled pork made the cut. Long story short (ha!) I had lobster stock in my new freezer. And lobster meat in my fridge. It was meant to be.

low-cal

I wanted to make it a little summery and lighter, if that is possible with risotto, so I thought I would add some fresh corn, since it has made an early appearance this year. I am very glad I did. It added texture, crunch and sweetness and I really loved how it turned out.

I’ve posted about risotto before. It gets a bad rap. It is not nearly as picky or difficult or time consuming as people insist it is. You definitely have to pay attention, it certainly isn’t a hands off meal, but you don’t have to stay absolutely chained to the stove for an hour stirring until your arm feels like it is going to fall off. I say a half hour, maybe 40 minutes of frequent stirring. You can certainly walk away to pour yourself a glass of wine (and you definitely should do this) or change the channel on the tv or put on music or use the facilities and it will still be great. I think. I mean, I really enjoy it and I do all of those things. Perhaps if I had risotto that made by someone who literally never walked away from the stove and stirred constantly I would realize the error of my ways, but I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll try it that way sometime so I can compare, but probably not. I am perfectly happy with my way.

One trick, and I think I mentioned this before, is that I also warm the wine before I add it to the rice. Risotto recipes call for warming the broth to a simmer so that when you add it to the hot rice the protein (?) in the rice doesn’t seize up and not let the liquid absorb into the grains, but it doesn’t usually call for you to heat the wine, which doesn’t make sense, since the wine is likely cold from the fridge and you add it first, when I would imagine the rice is most likely to seize. So I throw the wine in a pyrex measuring cup and stick in in the warm broth to heat up a little before I add it. Another note – I don’t like seafood and cheese together in general, so I do not add cheese to my lobster risotto at all. I am not sure how the experts would feel about this, but I feel pretty good about it. You should feel free to do whatever you’d like.

Lest you think I have been eating only cereal for months, let me ease your fears…

Burrata on olive oil toast with roasted tomatoes, basil oil and balsamic drizzle.

simplicity

Chicken Milanese-ish

busy food

Homemade Ranch (I will be talking about this in the future, because I pretty much only like salads with ranch dressing. Because I am an eight-year old.)

guilty pleasures…

Cobb Salad

my kind of salad…

So see….there you go. I’ve been eating, and taking pictures and thinking about blogging…my failure was in the execution. But I’m back! And it’s B&G’s three-year blogiversary! Happy Birthday B&G.

And now I am off to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Let’s Go Mets.

and one for good luck.

Lobster Risotto (serves 4 – or one for dinner and a couple lunches…)

3 tbl olive oil

6 tbl unsalted butter, divided

1 onion, diced

2 small shallots, diced

1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups lobster stock

Kernals from 3 ears of good fresh corn

1 – 1 1/2 cups lobster meat

minced chives for garnish

Heat the lobster stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat to a simmer. Pour the wine in a heat proof glass measuring cup and place it in the stock to warm.

Melt 1- 1 1/2 tbl of the butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and saute the corn kernals until bright and starting to brown, season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and three tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a high sided saute pan or dutch oven. When the butter has melted, add the onions and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the rice and stir, coating the rice with oil and butter, and cook until the rice just begins to brown.

Add the wine to the rice, and stirring frequently, cook until the wine is absorbed. When you drag the spoon through the rice, it should hold it’s place, the liquid should not seep in to fill space. Begin adding the warm stock, about 1/2 – 2/3 cup at a time, and cook stirring frequently until each additon is absorbed by the rice before adding more. Start testing the rice for doneness after about the fifth or sixth addition of stock. When the rice is cooked through but retains a slight bite on your teeth, add your last 1/2 cup of stock, the remaining butter, corn and lobster meat and remove from the heat.  Stir to combine and melt the butter, and plate, sprinkling generously with minced chives.