Peppery Goodness

I’m a big fan of all things spicy. Luckily, Chris is too. Taken together, this means I don’t have to “wuss down” any of the food I’m making so long as it’s just for the two of us. And when ordering takeout, I know that I can tell the guy on the other end of the line to “make it as spicy as you can” when placing an order for chana masala or Kung Pao chicken, and I won’t hear any shrieks from anyone on my end.

Come to think of it, this should have been one of those “checklist” items I talked about the other day.

There was a bar near our alma mater, NC State (Go Wolfpack!), that we frequented quite a bit back in the day – Sammy’s. Sammy, the owner (duh), had a signature wing sauce called “Sammy Sauce”. While Sammy clearly wasn’t the most creative person around, that sauce he made was dynamite, in more ways than one. It was loaded with pepper, so much so that you saw more black than you did sauce and chicken wing.

Man, it was good, and hot too. But you had to get there before the crowd rushed in, because only Sammy made the sauce, and when the bucket was empty, that was that until another batch was made the following day. Apparently Sammy didn’t work at night.

I thought about Sammy and his sauce (and that just sounds really gross because, yes, I am immature) the second I saw this recipe in the cookbook that I still haven’t returned to my friend. The title stood out to me, and the picture confirmed my unnaturally high hope that this recipe was exactly what it purported to be: all about the pepper.

And since I love any excuse to eat crispy tofu, I figured this recipe would be pretty close to perfect. Toss in an episode of last season’s Castle, and you have yourself a trifecta.

For those of you who aren’t into tofu, don’t worry – I am certain a pound of cubed chicken breast would work perfectly here. It won’t have that satisfyingly spongy on the inside, crispy on the outside texture that crispy tofu has, but maybe that’s just my cup o’ tea, and not yours.

Either way, if you are into hot and spicy, this could be your go-to guy, no matter what protein you prefer. After all, it’s just the medium for the peppery goodness, anyway.

Black Pepper Tofu
Adapted from Plenty; serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes

Two notes here:

1) sweet soy sauce: only the Asian grocers seem to carry this stuff, or you can buy it online. I forgot to pick it up and made my own, but if you can find it, definitely buy the real thing. To at least mimic the sweet/salty effect, bring 1/4 c brown sugar and 1/4 c regular soy sauce to a boil in a small saucepan, and reduce to 1/4 c.

2) grinding the peppercorns: I started with a mortar and pestle, but couldn’t get them to the size I wanted without breaking a sweat. so I’d suggest a spice grinder so the pieces aren’t too big. You want it coarse, but edible.

printable version

ingredients
2 packages extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1″x2″ chunks
canola oil, for frying
cornflour, for dusting tofu
4 T butter
12 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 serrano chile, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 T fresh ginger, minced
1 c basmati rice, for serving
6 T soy sauce
4 T sweet soy sauce
2 T sugar
5 T coarsely crushed black peppercorns
16 scallions, cut into 3″ segments

instructions
pour about 1″ of oil into a wok or large skillet and warm up over med-hi heat. Meanwhile, toss the tofu in batches into the cornflour and shake off the excess. again, in batches, add tofu to wok and fry, turning over, until golden all over. once ready, transfer to paper towel-lined plate and fry the remainder of the tofu.

remove oil from pan, and wipe any crumbs away as well. melt butter in wok. add shallots, chile, garlic and ginger. saute over low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until ingredients are totally soft. (start cooking rice at this point, according to package directions.) then add soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

add tofu back to the wok to warm it in the sauce for about a minute. lastly, stir in scallions. serve over rice.

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Finally, I Bathed in Buttermilk

There was a moment in time, not too long ago actually, that I could not for the life of me get the thought of a juicy, gnarly-shapen heirloom tomato out of my head. I imagined them, bursting with seeds and almost tie-dyed in their outward appearance, in a number of iterations, but at the time the markets were instead selling peaches and strawberries and maybe some squash by the bushels. A couple of tomatoes sat sadly on the corner of one table, and all the while I thought I’d be none the wiser if I just nudged them onto the ground and walked away, because I was damn tired of being taunted.

I don’t like being taunted.

Let there be no doubt – peaches, strawberries, and squash are lovely in their own right, but a tomato is what I craved. And then I missed a couple of Sundays at the market, probably the same weekends the troves of ‘maters made their awaited debut. All the while, I resorted to the canned version and made a tomato-semolina soup (okay, but not earth-shattering) and a roasted tomato and red pepper soup (totally earth-shattering, so stay tuned for this post). Then, I got some decent fresh tomatoes and made a panzanella salad with quinoa, but the quinoa was undercooked, which I’ve never done before (overcooking quinoa is my strong suit), so this merits a re-make.

To make a long story that shouldn’t be long short, I finally got what I’d really been craving and I scored those tomatoes. Then I had my way with them.

Now, some of you may say something like this when you realize I slathered them in buttermilk dressing: “wow. that’s a lot of dressing there, girlfriend. you know, you really don’t neeeeeed to put anything on a perfect heirloom tomato. it takes away from the flavor of the tomato, which should be left as is.”. This is just being way too judgmental. You should get with the program :). Others may say something like this: “damn. that’s a good lookin’ salad. not the first thing that came to mind for fresh tomatoes, but it’s worth a try.”. I’d say you’re on to something, and I like that you’re open-minded. And then there’s the rest of you, who’d say: “by golly I love me some buttermilk dressing, and I’m ’bout to tear this salad DOWN! then!, I’m going to drink the rest of the dressing and rub it all over my body.”. That’s what I’m talking about. Full of enthusiasm! I heart you.

Okay, so maybe you won’t bathe in it, but you’ll sure as hell want to. Of course, only if your thoughts are in line with the last group, and maybe the second. I’m totally in the last group, but generally I don’t like a lot of stuff on my ‘maters either, so I sorta blend into the second. And to be truthful, I normally don’t bathe in my food, but I made an exception.

What can I say? In-season, heirloom tomatoes have that effect on me.

Heirloom Tomato Salad w/ Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2010; serves 4 

okay. one thing I will say about this salad, aside from the fact that I adored it, is that the blue cheese can come or go. if you’re big in to blue cheese, you may like it. if you’re not, you may think it’s waaaaay too much. I like blue cheese, but I preferred the salad with just the dressing, and no cheese…

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
dressing
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/3 c buttermilk
2 T finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 T minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, minced
kosher salt and pepper

salad
3 slices of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (optional)
2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes (various shapes and colors), cored, & cut into 3/4-inch-thick wedges (I used a pineapple corer but you could also just cut the core out with a knife)
1/2 c thinly sliced shallots
2 T evoo
1 T fresh lemon juice
kosher salt
1/2 c crumbled blue cheese (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced diagonally
2 T fresh Italian parsley leaves

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Season dressing with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toss bread cubes onto a baking sheet and bake for ~10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Place tomatoes and shallots in large bowl. Add oil and lemon juice; sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and toss. Divide among 4 plates. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with blue cheese, if using, as well as green onions, and parsley. If you want a crunch to your salad, divide the croutons among the 4 plates (for leftovers, keep the croutons separate from the salad until eating.).