Tofu Home Run

Tofu is one of those things that people seem to either love or hate. LB and I happen to be on the love side of the tofu fence, and even if you only think it's an okay source of protein, you might just give this a try anyway and see what you think.

Back in "the day," before my tofu loving days (yikes, I just turned 30, so what day would that be?), I had eaten it strictly with Asian dishes, mostly at Chinese restaurants, and would never have dreamed of cooking it myself. In fact, I didn't cook much back then anyway. Thus, being a tofu-cooking virgin and all, when I first began my forays into the realms of this mysterious yet desirable food, I started out buying baked tofu. The texture was somewhat more appealing than the cold and mushy stuff that came packed in water (and I'll be the first to admit that even the extra-firm tofu is still a bit soft). I think I cut it up and put it in pasta salads with chunks of mozzarella, torn basil and fresh cherry tomatoes or some such thing. I really tested the limits here when I tried mixing up the flavors - from Italian- to Thai-flavored baked tofu. Ohhhh...I felt so daring! This bumbling attempt at first base, as it tends to be sometimes, was only mildly satisfying and soon I had visions of pushing the boundaries and going a bit further.

When I finally got up the nerve to try and reach second base, opening up one of those watery packages and letting my fingers caress one of those big juicy white blocks, I was well on my way to tofu love. I added big chunks of the fluffy stuff to stir fries - mixing it in with snow peas, carrots, water chesnuts, bean sprouts - all the good stir-fry stuff. Because that's what you use tofu for, right? "Asian" food and health food (and I didn't know how to make weird health food dishes, so those I bought pre-made), and that's about the extent of my affair with it.

I rounded third base when I learned to drain and then gently fry the tofu in a small amount of oil. This gave the little cubes and rectangles I had cut from the big block a nice, almost crispy texture that held up better in stir fries and in my favorite udon noodle soup. These experiments led to things like grilled tofu and tofu larb (another favorite). This was a whole new level of experience for me! I'd spend my time flipping through cookbooks, looking for new ways to satisfy my tofu cravings. By this time, there was no turning back. I had to go all the way.

And there's nothing quite like crossing home plate, baby. I discovered this tofu recipe in an old Martha Stewart cookbook I picked up from our local independent book store in Eugene (Smith Family Books), and it's been a favorite ever since. We've modified it on occasion, adding different garnishes, etc. but it's so simple that you really don't even need a recipe (though the sauce is good). And it's not only a favorite recipe, but the best way to eat tofu that I've found. It's tofu, in it's purest, naked form - it's birthday suit, really - raw. When I first saw the recipe: Cold Tofu Salad with Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce, I wasn't too sure about raw tofu, but I thought, what the heck? I was in love with tofu already...might as well try it once. Even if it's not everything I hoped for, it would probably still be good anyway, right? And it might even elevate my relationship with tofu to a whole different level. So I did it. I tried it. And it was good. Really good. Raw and primal and delicious. So good, in fact, that I even told my friends about it. So good that I'm posting it here and trying to convince you that you should try it too...like I said, it's a home run, baby. Next inning, please...

Cold Tofu Salad with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce, serves 4
recipe originally from Martha Steward Healthy Quick Cook

1 block extra firm tofu (preferably organic)
4 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
2 tsps black sesame seeds
garnishes - bean sprouts, a cherry tomato, anything you'd like really
2 cups crushed ice, for serving

Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 inch of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 scallion, thinly sliced crosswise

Slice a block of extra firm tofu into thin slices - thick enough that you can pick them up with chopsticks, but thin enough that you can enjoy the flavor without thinking to yourself, "crap, I've got a big bunch of raw tofu in my mouth!" Put crushed ice in bowls so that there is a mound on the bottom of each bowl, and lay the slices on top of the ice so that there are equal numbers in each bowl (trust me, I'm not usually one to worry about how something is served, but the ice actually makes this better). Garnish the top with the black sesame seeds (or toasted white ones would work too, but the black is a great contrast), and any other garnishes you want to add. Aliquot out the dipping sauce so that there is a small bowl for each person. Dip, eat and fall in love.


Herbal Essence: HotM 15

Herbs are quite possibly some of the most versatile ingredients out there when it comes to cooking. They can deepen and enrich the flavor of whatever you might be cooking, turn a bland dish into one that *pops,* and even serve as a main ingredient in many recipes (traditional pesto made from basil, for instance). Herbs transcend borders and show up in all types of ethnic dishes, many of which are essential for regional cuisines and even drinks - think Insalata Caprese with bountiful leaves of freshly torn basil, Greek salads sprinkled with lemony oregano, chanterelles tossed in butter with tiny leaves of earthy thyme, and mojitos with fresh mint. And there is no season like Spring to capitalize on these little bundles of flavor, when fresh herbs start shooting up out of the ground and are ready to grace our tables for the next several months. Even better, they're one of the easiest things to grow and can be grown anywhere from tiny pots in the kitchen windowsill or massive fragrant herb gardens.

For healthy cooking, herbs are a cook's best friend. The scent and fresh taste of herbs can transform any dish from boring to spectacular without the use of lots of oil, heavy creams, cheeses or other flavorings that are typically not a (large) part of a healthy diet. This month for Heart of the Matter, we want to see the kinds of dishes you love to make with herbs. Choose a heart-healthy recipe where your favorite dried or fresh herb is an prominent ingredient and share it with the community of bloggers devoted to caring for your heart who participate in and read about this event. If you've participated in the popular Weekend Herb Blogging event over at Kalyn's Kitchen, then you've got the gist of this theme already - if you haven't, feel free to browse over there to get some ideas for how bloggers have incorporated herbs into healthy dishes - just make sure that your dish for the HotM event is heart-healthy. As always we ask that this please be a single event entry (please don’t use your post for other events, like Weekend Herb Blogging, that way we can keep things centered on healthy heart awareness - although please don't hesitate to submit different recipes to both)!

The rules: If you’ve participated before, you already know the basics. If you haven’t, check here, here and here for ideas on what “heart-healthy” means, and we hope that you’ll join us! Just send your entry to me via email (phillipslayden AT gmail DOT com) by midnight on Friday, May 30th and link to my site, The Accidental Scientist (and to the HotM blog if you’d like) and I’ll post the round-up on the following Monday or Tuesday on both sites. Thanks ahead of time for your participation - I'm already looking forward to using many of your recipes this spring and summer!


Diet for a Small Bird

Say hello to Tweety. Tweety is a Myna bird.

Let me tell you a little story...

LB and I were taking our dogs for a walk last Thursday and came upon a nest that had fallen out of a tree.

"Oh, look at the baby bird!" -LB
"Look at how cute he is." - MP
"Yeah, he's really cute." -LB

At this point, Tweety extended his spindly little neck, tweeting, and opened his enormously wide mouth, shaking it and tweeting.

"Oh, look how hungry he is." -LB
"Poor baby bird." - MP

At this point, Tweety extended his spindly little neck, tweeting, and opened his enormously wide mouth, shaking it and tweeting.

"He's kind of cute." - MP
"Yeah, he's really cute." - LB
"Should we take him home?" - LB

"oh, I don't know if that's a good idea..." - MP

At this point, Tweety extended his spindly little neck, tweeting, and opened his enormously wide mouth, shaking it and tweeting.

"He's really hungry." - LB
"Yeah, he looks hungry." - MP

"He sure is cute..." - LB

"Yeah, he's really cute." -MP

"What if he dies out here?" - LB
"He probably will. Poor baby bird." - MP

At this point, Tweety extended his spindly little neck, tweeting, and opened his enormously wide mouth, shaking it and tweeting. So, LB picked up the nest that Tweety was in, and started carrying him home.

"Wait a sec, what are you doing?" - MP
"Taking him home. You said he was cute and he's really hungry and would die if we didn't help him. So I know you, and you want to take him home and help him." - LB

"NO. I said he was cute, and he is, but I don't want a baby bird! What are we going to do with a baby bird?" -MP

"Well, it's too late now, we've got a baby bird." - LB

So, somehow, we are the proud parents of Tweety.
Tweety has to be fed once an hour all day long. (Guess who gets to feed Tweety. Hint: Not the one who brought him home.)
Tweety lives in an empty Corona box with an old towel as a nest.
Our dogs want to eat Tweety (we won't let them).
Tweety poos all over the place every time he eats. (Guess who gets to clean Tweety too)

But he is cute. Especially when he extends his spindly little neck, tweeting, and opens his enormous little mouth and begs for food. It's especially cute because he does it now if we whistle at him.

Tweety is an invasive species, as are many of the birds here (couldn't get lucky and find some kind of an endemic pretty parrot-looking thing, could we?). And while he might have died in the wild (which I would have been fine with - that's nature, right?), I don't want him to die now that he's with us. We'll most likely release him as soon as he fledges and can eat on his own - supposedly, after 29-35 days. Stupid cute bird. Stupid soft heart. I'll keep you updated on Tweety's progress - he's much stronger now than when we found him. He opened his eyes the day after we brought him home and gets more feathers every day (ie. gets cuter too). Btw, we're not sure Tweety is a he or she, but for whatever reason, we decided he looks like a he, so there you go.

My brother and I actually raised 3 baby magpies in Colorado on dog food when I was a kid because their mother was killed (I won't go into the details of how, but suffice it to say we knew it was their mother). They all successfully fledged and hung around the farm where I grew up for quite a while. I'm definitely NOT condoning raising baby birds (nor taking them or any other wild animal out of the wild and into your home to raise them - especially marine animals!! Do as I say and not as I do!), but sometimes it just so happens that you end up with a baby bird (ahem, like when your husbands decides to bring one home), and well, I guess if you find yourself with one, here's what you can feed them:

Diet for a Small Bird (specifically, a baby Myna bird), serves 1

Soak several pieces of dry dog kibble in warm water until soft, then smash with a fork or a mortar and pestle. Feed the equivalent of 3 kibble pieces to the baby bird using blunt plastic tweezers, per hour while you are awake and until it gets dark in the evening. Occasionally, mix it up with small pieces of apple bananas or papaya, as Myna's are omnivorous. After feeding, give him a few drops of water via a plastic dropper. Try not to fall in love, and hope he fledges quickly.