tofu Tag

COOKBOOK PRE-ORDER AND PREVIEW: MAPO TOFUMMUS

“IN 2012, IN A FORM OF SELF-ABANDONMENT, I STARTED THIS FOOD BLOG.  SEVEN YEARS LATER, I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A BOOK ABOUT THIS JOURNEY.”

I sat here for hours struggling with how to begin the sentence.  Stranger things have happened in this world I’m sure, I mean I could swear I saw a sea creature that looks like a glowing condom on the internet, but from where I stand, it doesn’t get more inexplicable than what I’m feeling right now.

It began in 2012.  It was just about two years into our miserable six years-long residence in Beijing.  In a form of self-abandonment almost, I started this food blog.

With no enthusiasm or objectives, setting out more to be a concession than a declaration, I did what I thought was throwing the white flag to all my other grander ambitions in life, that I was going to be that person, “a blogger”, a non-job made up by people whom I judged, past tense, to be minimally interesting that they had to put themselves on speaker.  It wasn’t brave.  It wasn’t inspired.  It was never expected to arrive anywhere.  I was standing on the edge of a cliff.  And I took the extra step.

The least of what I saw coming was that seven years later, I am to publish a book about this journey.

So yes, a Lady And Pups Cookbook.  The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story. 

This book is about my time in Beijing, what started it all.  If you are kind of new here, then yeah, no, I didn’t enjoy that.  This book is an self-reflective examination of how I retreated to my kitchen as a place to evade from my unpleasant realities.  What was wrong, what wasn’t, and answers that I am still unsure of today.  It’s honest but also contradictory, opinionated but nonetheless a personal truth.  An internal monologue, despicably self-serving and personal, almost to a fault.  Because for me this is more than a cookbook.  It’s therapy.  It’s closure.  It’s my attempt to draw a conclusion to what was a very difficult time of my life, to put the unsettlement to rest. You may find it funny.  You may find it bitter.  You may even find it obnoxious at times.  But it was what I had to say in the way that I had to say it, screaming and kicking, uncensored, crude, to boil my emotions down to something better than the ingredients of its making, a consommé of the nasty bits of my experience.  If you find that it resonates, I’m glad that you know you are not alone.  But if you don’t, then there are 80+ really fucking good recipes with it.

The book will be officially published in October but pre-order is available now.  Here is a recipe preview, of page 288 if you want to be precise.  I formulated the recipe list when I was still living in Beijing, but most of the book and recipes were written and shot after I left.  It is spoken in retrospect, a memoir if you will, where I am better equipped to find humor in past tense. I know I have been away from this blog for quite awhile, but from now on I will be posting more regularly again and continue to share sneak peeks.

I know I should be beating the drums right now.  But really, I just want to say Thank you.  You’ve made a very strange thing possible in my life.  Now go buy it, too.

 


COOKBOOK RECIPE PREVIEW P.288

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Tofu is bland. Don’t let its supporters, including me, tell you otherwise. Flying solo, it carries a subtle but offbeat taste that comes from soy milk, which, depending on whether you grew up accustomed to it or not, could either be a very good or a very bad thing. Having said that, I love tofu, perhaps in the truest sense because I wholly embrace it for what it is, but more important, what it isn’t.

Tofu is not about taste. Tofu is a texture thing.

Hard, medium, silken like panna cotta–think of tofu as a mere vessel, an empty field of impending dreams. It’s like Mars, if you will, in that any exciting thing about it has to be outsourced, like Matt Damon. This will open up a whole window of promise.

Tofummus, for example, is what happens when you turn the least popular end of the spectrum of tofu, the firm variety, into a silken, creamy, luscious bed of hummus-like substance that begs for company. In this case, its soulmate, if you know what I’m talking about.

This is mapo tofu, the quintessential icon of Sichuan cuisine, one of its most successful exports across the world, numbing with Sichuan peppercorns and fiery with fermented chile bean paste, turned into a dip (an overdue development, if you ask me). The tongue-stinging, blood-red chile oil and deeply savory pork bits are immediately cooled down by the silky smooth touch of the pureed tofu, the most delicious reconciliation on the taste buds. And if you’re feeling kinky, make it a threesome with chewy scallion and garlic naan.

 

 

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Ingredients

    MAPO SAUCE:
  • 3.2 oz (90 grams) ground pork or beef
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp potato starch or cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sichuan douban/chili bean paste (see pantry)
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (see pantry)
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced fermented black bean, or 1 tsp the darkest miso you can find
  • 1/2~3/4 tsp Korean chili flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns, plus more to dust
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp shoaxing wine or sherry wine
  • 1/4 cup store-bought chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp apricot jam
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 5 drops rice vinegar
  • finely diced scallion to serve
  • TOFUMMUS:
  • 14 oz (450 grams) firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp garlic confit puree (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. MAKE GARLIC CONFIT PUREE: Smash 35 cloves (about 2 1/2 heads) of garlic with a knife and remove the skins. Set inside a non-stick pot along with 4 fresh bay leaves, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of canola oil, 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1/4 tsp ground white pepper. Cook over medium-low~low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlics are evenly golden browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and transfer the rest into a blender (or you can do this with hand-held immersion blender), and blend until the mixture is smooth. Keep in an air-tight jar inside the fridge for up to 2 week. Stir before use.
  2. MAKE MAPO SAUCE: Mix ground pork (or beef) with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and potato starch (or cornstarch) until even.
  3. In a small pot, heat canola oil and toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat, breaking it up as finely as you can with a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned. Add douban paste, mushroom powder, fermented black bean (or dark miso) and chili flakes, store and cook for 1~2 minutes until the chili flakes have turned dark maroon in color. Add grated garlic, grated ginger, ground sichuan peppercorn and ground cumin, and cook until just fragrant. Add shaoxing wine, scraping any caramelization that is sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add chicken stock, apricot jam, ground white pepper and rice vinegar.
  4. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened. Can be made a couple days ahead of time. Reheat until warm before serving.
  5. MAKE TOFUMMUS: Tofu is made from boiled soy milk which makes it technically “cooked”. But if you’re not a fan of the taste of soy bean, boiling the tofu again will make it taste more well-rounded. But it may also make the puree slightly grittier. If you decided to boil it, cut the tofu into marshmallow-size chunks and cook them in boiling water for 5 min. Drain well, and let cool on top of a clean towel, then transfer into a food-processor.
  6. If not boiling, simply pat the tofu dry with a clean towel, then set inside a food-processor. Run the processor for 1~2 minutes until the tofu is smoothly pureed. Add garlic confit puree, toasted sesame oil and salt, and run again until incorporated. The tofummus should still be quite tasteless at this point.
  7. Serve the tofummus covered in warmed mapo sauce, topped with finely minced scallions and dustings of more ground sichuan peppercorns. Serve with chewy scallion garlic naan (recipe in the book).
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SUMMER CREAMY TOFU NOODLES

A DRESSING THAT IS CREAMY YET EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT, WITHOUT THE DEPLOYMENT OF MAYONNAISE OR DAIRY-THICKENED PRODUCTS

What drives us?  What fuels the engine that set us in motion through this open water of life?  And to what extend, if any, do we understand and can we even steer this propulsion?  Or are we all, in the end, simply just being moved?  Because when you think about it, doesn’t the phrase “being driven” imply, in the best case scenario, riding shotgun?  So are we all just passengers in an autonomous car?  At this point in life, I ask myself this a lot.

Whatever it is, we are of course all driven by different things, some by ambitions, some by expectations.  Some are driven by responsibilities.  Some are driven by ideals.  I, for one, am regrettably yet hopelessly driven by the saddest of them all — insecurities.  It is, no doubt, a powerful fuel, productive even, if cultivated under the right set of circumstances.  In spite of the inconvenient mandate it has issued me since birth to render all perceived informations as glass-half-if-not-almost-empty situations, it had nonetheless also dragged me through college, got me a job sort of, kept me engaged, however minimal, in some form of social productivities, being the last line of deterrence in between me and rotting unenthusiastically in an endless pit of Cheetos and ice creams.

Where it’s most relevant to the subject on this blog, it had also, with absolute authority, dictated how I cook.

As depressing as it may sound, for me, cooking is not actually about love, gathering, or even about eating.  Cooking, however solitary, is a sport.  And sporting is about performances.  It has to stand out.  It has to exceed.  It keeps a score.  Don’t get me wrong.  I adore this sport.  But as much as I feel happiness and fulfillment through this process, every time I present a dish whether here or in front of friends and families, I am not to nourish, I am to be evaluated.  It’s utterly pathetic.  I hate myself too as I read these sentences, but hey, I’m not driving remember?  I’m being driven.

This unfortunate defect in my character has largely reduced the number of basic recipes on this blog.  Quick or simple maybe, but not basic, at least not in my mind, not without some flare, some ah-ha’s, some kind of charm offensives.

But why am I babbling about this today?  Because today I’m breaking a mould.

The initial objective in this recipe was to create a dressing that is creamy yet extremely lightweight, without the deployment of mayonnaise or dairy-thickened products, as an equally exciting solution to a much-presented problem as we are being harassed by the demands of summer.  Credited to Brook’s Headley’s vegan chocolate ganache, the unlikely firm tofu came to mind.

The scrutiny that is imposed onto this under-appreciated Asian ingredient, often being measured against other robustly more flavorful competitors on the grocery isles, is sadly unfair and misinformed.  Because tofu was never about flavor.  Tofu is a textural thing.  Being pressed into solids, the curds are silky and fragile on the tongue.  Being obliterated in a food-processor, it becomes unexpectedly thickened, smooth and creamy.  It’s the new perfect mother-sauce.

Upon identifying the subject, my insecurity immediately steered the direction towards sensationalism, something loud, something flashy, something doused in heat and spices then set on fire with lighter fuel.  But something strange if not downright unnatural was happening.  This time, in spite of myself, my mind kept defaulting on a childhood comfort that is neither special or bold — the very simple flavors of silken tofu dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil.

This recipe is not rowdy.  It isn’t trying to make a point.  It quietly invites, and it quietly receives, where it quietly untethers after that.  The weightless creaminess wraps its subjects like the touches of cold satin sheets, cooling and soothing, tightens only to a gentle point by the saltiness of soy sauce, the nuttiness of sesame oil, and the soft prickling of wasabi in the nasal cavity.  It is perfectly unextraordinary.  It’s not how I like to cook.  But it’s what I want to eat.

And believe it or not, that for only a handful of times on this blog, I’m okay with that.  I consider it a triumph.

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THE INCREDIBLE CHICKEN TOFU – FROM THE MIND OF A CHEF

TENDER EDIBLE CLOUDS MADE WITH CHICKEN BREASTS?!!  WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY, DANNY?!

Holy shit, did you watch Season Six of Mind of a Chef with Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food?

Did you see where his mentor Yu Bo, in episode two, turned a puddle of pink chicken-slush into pillows of fluffy-looking curds, something they call, chicken tofu?!

Did you gush outloud, tender edible clouds made with chicken breasts?!!  No special curd-forming acid or salt required, virtually fat-free, and answers the prayers of millions of suffering souls of how to triple the volume of two pieces of chicken breasts without adding much more calories, but more importantly, transforming its woodsy nature into custardy, melt-in-your-mouth, weightless pillows of savory delights?!!!

Did you close your eyes and imagine exhaustively of what it’s like to cuddle the impossibly light and quilted bodies in between your tongues, a dream that feels unreal but known to be true?!!

Did you marvel?!

Did you cry?!

Did you say oh please baby Jesus dear Lordy, can someone please tell me how this wizardry is performed?!!

Well, guess what, you’re welcome.

And the spicy version drenched in chili oil, you’re double welcome.

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SERIOUSLY, MAPO TOFU

“Missing only one of these ingredients…?
THEN DON’T EVEN BOTHER!”

I probably talk about myself too much.

Yeah, people don’t like girls who talk about themselves too much, who can’t discuss Life of Pi without bringing up their ex-boyfriends.  I… can’t be that girl, right?  But oh look I have a blog, about my dinner, moreover it has dawned on me that very little space in this personal blog is even food-talk, but more like me-talk.  Where I should’ve dedicated an elaborate, mouth-watering and core-deep description about why you should eat this immediately, whatever this may be, I’d say “Oh look there’s a huge mole on my ass!”.

Oh my God… I am her.  But not today… not today.

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Tofu and Warm Mushroom Salad

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So. It only took me 10 months and an extra 5 pounds to finally squeeze a salad into this blog.  Not too shabby if I may say so myself.  But the truth is, every month I shout: “Who THE HELL’S GUT is this!?” for like 50 times, followed by: “It definitely ISN’T mine but it’s telling me to go on a diet” for about 30 times, followed by: “I SWEAR on whoever’s gut this is that I’m going on a diet!!” for another 20 times.  And I TOTALLY SWEAR 99% of the time I actually mean it which leaves me just as lost as you are of why only 0.1% of the time it actually happens.  This thing called “self-control”… it has a life of its own.

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Curry Laksa

(简体)(繁體)

If you haven’t heard of “Nyonya”, chances are you have eaten it instead.  Yeah.  It may not have been as justly popularized as Thai or Vietnamese, but its low-key awesomeness is in every Southeast Asian restaurant.  The word itself means the union between Chinese and Malays, and the fushion cuisine thus born which is PURE MAGIC.  So then… why am I struggling to finish this post after writing then tearing (…symbolically) and rewriting again?  Because I JUST can’t escape the thought that people would come, and see, and “huh??” and just FADE OUT.  And I’m exhausting all my aren’t-really-there writing skills in an attempt to make this sound like a Rachel Ray’s which has let me to a desperate conclusion to say that… it isn’t.  Yes, it is complicated and consists of a blinding array of exotic ingredients.  And chances are if you weren’t those who have true affection for a bowl of spicy noodles, I’ve lost you somewhere along the second sentence.  BUT if you are those like me, it would be worth the while.

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