Terrible Tofu

Actually tofu isn’t terrible. But many people don’t give it much of a chance. My best guess is they think it will taste and act like cheese because it looks like cheese. Sorry, tofu does not have that power.

But tofu is a healthy food with possibilities. It is also high in protein and calcium. And it is vegan. 

I tend to use tofu two ways. I add cubes of it to miso soup. Then, there is stir fry. For that, I cut the tofu into squares and fry them in a skillet so their surface gets a nice crisp. I sauté the vegetables separately before I add the fried tofu. I serve the stir-fry with a splash of soy sauce or another tasty sauce. Sometimes I pan-fry squares of tofu before simmering them in a soy sauce-flavored broth. There are certainly plenty of recipes to be had on the zillion cooking sites found on the web.

Tofu is easy to come by. Most supermarkets carry it packaged. I prefer firm or extra-firm because it holds its shape well. Once the package is open, tofu should be stored in a plastic container with fresh water. Refrigerate.

Of course, tofu contains water. Let it drain on toweling before cooking it.

I have made my own tofu. We were living in a cabin with no electricity, phone, running water nor indoor plumbing. It was a phase in my life when I had a lot of time on my hands. I ground the soybeans by hand and used nigari, which is magnesium chloride. I recall the tofu was very tasty. I will have to try making it again.


Brown on Rice

Our family has been eating brown rice for years and years, and well, years. Whole grains are the mainstay in the food we eat, and we have brown rice five meals a week at least.

We usually ate short-grain, cooking it in a pressure cooker so each grain is open slightly. But our brown rice-eating habits changed after a gift from our friend, Howard, who mailed us two pounds of a Koda Farms’ Kokuho Rose Heirloom medium-grain rice. It is tasty enough to be eaten alone.
The rice is grown by the Koda family at their farm in California. In the late ’20s Keisaburo Koda and his family settled in South Dos Palos in the San Joaquin Valley, where they grew rice. During World War II, the Koda family was sent to an internment camp and the farm was stripped bare in their absence. Afterward, the Koda family rebuilt their farming operation. The third generation has since taken over.
Koda Farms sells varieties of brown and white rice, plus rice flour. Their products are available in natural food stores across the country but unfortunately none are nearby so we order directly from the farm. As their website notes, “it’s not for the unmotivated.” The farm doesn’t accept plastic. It does checks and money orders. So you have to email your order and where you live so they can factor in shipping costs. They email back the total cost and you send a check. You definitely need to plan ahead.
We order 20-pound bags and be forewarned, shipping isn’t cheap. But we use about four cups of rice a week and the bag lasts three months or more. The rice comes with ample instructions to cook it on the stove top or in a rice cooker. Then, there is the delightful postcard included in the order, with the hand-written note from Robin Koda stating, “Thank you for your discernment.”
In all, it’s a fulfilling purchase.

An update: Since I wrote this blog, Koda Farms has changed the size of the bags to 15 pounds, which fits snugly in one of the U.S. Postal Service mailers. The shipping costs have dropped as a result. I am waiting for my latest shipment to arrive any day now. I am down to may last two cups.

Proof of the Pudding

Bread pudding is a wintry tradition in our house. It’s a homey dish that uses leftover bread. Mix it with milk, eggs, dried fruit and nuts,

let it soak and bake. Done.

Years ago, I bought a fluted mold from England to bake my bread pudding. I swirl melted butter inside and then sprinkle it with a little sugar. The mold gives the pudding a nice shape.

The idea is to reuse bread in a creative way. Of course, when the six kids were home, we didn’t have leftover bread. So, I bought bread, cut it into cubes and either let it dry out or bake in the oven for a while to accelerate the process. I actually do the same now, since there are only the two of us, and we don’t eat much bread. I prefer bread with substance like a sourdough or whole wheat. I also use so-called raw sugar found in our local natural foods store.

I don’t measure when I make bread pudding. (The same goes for pies.) But for the purposes of this blog, I did, more or less, when I made bread pudding to take to a Christmas Day dinner. Here goes.

5 cups bread, cubed and dried
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup almonds, cut lengthwise
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

Place cubed bread in a large bowl. Mix in 1 cup sugar, milk, beaten eggs and 1/4 cup melted butter. Add spice, nuts, and dried fruit. Press the mixture with a wooden spoon to break down the bread a bit. Let sit 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, prepare the mold as I described above using the rest of the melted butter and sugar. If you use a baking dish, butter it.

Bake the pudding covered at 350 degrees for an hour or so. (I set the mold in a pan of water.) Let the pudding cool completely before unmolding. If you bake it in a dish, cut it in squares.

Now what in the heck does it mean “the proof of the pudding is in the eating?” To truly test something you need to experience it first hand. In other words, don’t take another person’s word for it. That includes baking bread pudding.


Cookies Galore

The Christmas baking began this weekend. Cookies and more cookies, of course. I bake them ahead of time, freeze them, and when the time is right, give them away.

I started baking when my six kids are little. Now that they are

Ever-popular ginger snaps ready for the freezer.

adults and live away from us, I bake them for my co-workers and neighbors, and for any kid who makes the trip to Taos for the holidays.

I usually bake six kinds: five tried-and-true and then something new. Ginger snaps from the Joy of Cooking is a standard. Then years ago, a grocery store gave out recipe booklets for the holidays. No thanks on the Spiced Cranberry Orange Jell-O Mold but yes, on many of the cookie recipes. Then there are the recipes I tore out of magazines and printed from the Internet.

I use a hand-mixer (brand new, a gift from daughter Sarah to replace one that went after 12 years of service) although in the past I’ve resorted to a wooden spoon. A Kitchen Aid mixer? Sounds lovely. I just put the butter on the windowsill and let it soften a bit.

I also chill all the cookie dough before it’s baked. And use parchment paper, a must for high-altitude baking.

A former co-worker once said, “they’re nothing but sugar, butter, eggs and flour.” Uh-huh, these are Christmas cookies after all. But then there are nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and other ingredients. I just use the best quality I can find.

Biscottis ready to be dipped in melted chocolate.

So this is what I am making this year: gingersnaps, of course; Mexican wedding cakes, which are called a variety of names; lemon butter cookies; rugelach with poppy seeds; and walnut and chocolate biscotti, which are baking as I write this. One end of each biscotti will be dipped in melted chocolate when the batch is cool.

In the past I’ve made super chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate walnut bars, acorn cookies, jelly thumbprints, the list goes on. I’ve also make baklava.

I am on the home stretch. I baked two kinds last night. Two more are chilling in the fridge. The biscottis are half-way done.

This afternoon I will search for something different. I am thinking of something with dried cranberries and almonds. I’ll let you know how I make out.


Kale Soup Every Day

Here’s a family legend: My grandmother, Angela, ate kale soup every day. If so, it may account for her longevity. She lived to be in her 90s and strong nearly to the end. 
Kale soup or caldo verde is a Portuguese staple. It’s not haute cuisine, but the food of working people.
Yes, I know kale has become the darling of high-end restaurants these days. But my family has been eating the green, cooked to smithereens in a tasty soup, well, forever.
My mother, Algerina, made a huge pot of kale soup during the winter, which we ate for days (refrigerated between servings, of course). Because it contained white beans and potatoes, the broth got thicker every meal it was served.
I made kale soup for my family and taught my husband, Hank, how to make it.
I grow kale in my garden at our home in Northern New Mexico because it is a healthy green and to make caldo verde. Kale can withstand the cold, which actually tenderizes it. It is almost November, and I have two patches of kale — curly green and an Italian variety I bought on a whim — going strong.
I have shared this recipe with two community cookbooks and now I give it to you. Like any soup recipe, you can change the ingredients to your liking. I’ve even made it vegetarian. ¡Bom appetite!
Kale Soup or Caldo Verde 
Serves 6-8 people
1 pound kale, washed carefully, chopped 
2 quarts soup stock
6 ounces chourico pork, turkey or chicken sausage (any spicy sausage), thickly sliced
3 large potatos, cut in chunks
1 can white beans
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro, chopped
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until they are translucent. Add the soup stock, kale, potatoes, sausage, and the can of beans. Bring to a boil, lower, and then simmer an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with chunks of good bread. 
Optional: Add browned stewing beef; half pound should do it. Or a half cabbage cut into wedges.