TOFU REMATCH: La Diva vs Tofu-San!!!

Darlings, just a few weeks back, La Diva had, against her better judgement, entered a culinary smackdown hosted by the lovely Boxer for TOFU!  After disastrous results, La Diva, shamed and humiliated by an ingredient she has mastered and manipulated in many ways, many times, decided that it was HIGH TIME FOR A REMATCH AGAINST TOFU-SAN.


Alas, your dear Diva had a bee in her bonnet that night (golly gee, I love that phrase!) about eating some crunchy, fried tofu.  And all I gots was mush.  When you have a true taste for something crunchy and savory and fried, the most disappointing thing you can eat is mushy, bland pulp.  So, the idea for the tofu croquetas-arancini-meat-a-balls has been in my head twirling about and driving me pazzo since the smackdown.

So, today was the day.  I had all the ingredients.  I had the patience.  And most importantly, I had the time.  This is not a short post nor a quickie recipe, so pour yourself a sake, sit back and.....

LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!!!!


La Diva's Fontina Stuffed Tofu Croqueta with Tomato Coulis

Tofu croquetas:

Half a container of extra firm organic tofu, drained and blotted dry
1 egg
1/2 c bread crumbs
1 tsp. each freshly minced Italian parsley and basil
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
salt and pepper
2 oz fontina cheese cut into 3mm cubes
basil leaf chiffonade for garnish

Breading:
panko bread crumbs
1 egg
flour
oil for frying

Tomato Coulis:

5 plum or mixed very ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
olive oil


Method:

Put drained and very well blotted tofu into a large bowl.  In a food processor, process garlic cloves, then add parsley and basil.  Process until finely minced and then add to tofu.  Add one egg, the breadcrumbs, parmigiano cheese and salt and pepper.




Using a fork, break up the tofu into a paste and mix well with all ingredients.  Taste a bit and adjust seasonings, remember, tofu has NO FLAVOR, which is one of tofu's STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES.  Use it to your advantage in battle and season well to avoid a tofu disaster.






Take about a tablespoon of the tofu mixture into the palm of your hand and flatten it out.  Take a cube of the fontina cheese and adding a bit more of the tofu, add and roll in your hand into an oblong shape.  You should be able to make a very moist croqueta with the tofu mixture.  If it breaks apart, remove the fontina, add it back to the bowl and a bit more breadcrumbs and give it a few minutes to absorb and then try again.  Set the croquetas on a plate and then freeze for at least a half an hour for the croquetas to set.

While the tofu is setting, start the tomato coulis.






Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to a saute pan that has been heated with olive oil.  Add the garlic and a dash of salt.  (Don't add to much salt now, otherwise when it reduces it will be too salty, you can always add more.)  Bring the tomatoes to a hearty boil and then reduce and simmer on the stove until they begin to break down.  With a wooden spoon or spatula, help them along by breaking them up.  Add a bit more water if it gets too dry.









Take the tomatoes and process in a food processor or blender until very smooth.  Take out a bowl and a strainer and with a spoon or spatula, push down on the tomato mixture, allowing the smooth tomato sauce to drip from the bottom of the strainer.  Make sure you scrape the bottom of the strainer, it's all there and might need a bit of help.  Throw out what's left in the top of the strainer.  You might have 3/4 cup of tomato sauce, it will be concentrated but taste really good.  NOW you can add more salt if you need to, but you probably won't!  Set aside.





Retrieve the croquetas from the freezer.  They should be quite firm but not frozen solid.  Make breading trays of each:  flour, beaten egg and panko bread crumbs.  Working quickly but gently, roll each croqueta into a bit of flour, knocking off the excess.  Then the egg wash, making sure to cover completely with egg and finally the panko.  Set on a plate until you are out of mixture.  I had enough for 8.5 croquetas.




And now the fun begins:  Zee frying!  Heat up some oil (like peanut or safflower oil) into a medium size fry pan.  To test, I stick a chop stick in and when it begins to bubble up the sides, I know it's hot enough.  I carefully add a few croquetas, about three or four at a time, and turn them once brown on each side.  If the oil is getting too hot and they are cooking too fast, turn down the heat so the cheese inside will have time to melt.  Drain on a rack over a paper towel on a plate.  Salt lightly.



Take a small plate and add a bit of tomato coulis in a circular motion.  Add three (or four!) croquetas into the middle of the tomato sauce and garnish with basil chiffonade.  Mangia!





RESULT:  TOFU-SAN, YOU WILL HANG YOUR HEAD IN DEFEAT!!  La Diva conquered your pulpy, too-wet texture, your bland flavor and turned you into something EDIBLE.  Not only edible, but delicious!  Divine!  Decadent!  I have declared myself, La Diva, THE VICTOR!!!  A big F.U., Tofu!

Actually, they tasted REALLY GOOD.  The garlic added was not overpowering or subtle but just enough for nice flavor, the melted fontina was like a creamy surprise in the middle and the texture of the tofu was so light and moist, such a nice contrast to the crunchy outer layer of the panko breading.  While the croquetas were quite large, I still thought it to be not as heavy as smaller croquetas I've had made out of potatoes and ham and cheese.  I think they were superb.


If there is anything La Diva certainly knows about tofu, it's that for me and The DJ to like it, it has to have some sort of crunchy texture, like being fried, or alternatively, it must be paired with something that has a crunch to it, like my stir fry with cashews and fresh vegetables.  So, this covered my tofu prerequisites on all fronts.


While this recipe seemed a bit fiddly, La Diva would definitely make it again, especially as an appetizer for a vegetarian dinner.

Beware, dear Blogging Buddies, for La Diva is tenacious and competitive!  I will be ready to CONQUER ALL who come against me in BATTLE CABBAGE hosted by Grumpy Granny!  Til then, Ciao!

La Diva's Day Off

La Diva serving up a lemongrass ginger martini for Yahoo's Latin American marketing department!  Fun people, fun class!

Darlings!  What is that saying about taking the girl out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the girl?  Don't know that one?  Ah, well, no matter, my point is that I realized only this morning two things about my life right now:

1.  My goal to live a "normal" life with "normal" hours outside of the usual grind of working weekends and nights like I used to in bars and restaurants is never going to change...La Diva Cucina Inc. IS a hospitality business.

2.  I can now count 30 YEARS as a hospitality veteran...and if you include me scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins at a tender thirteen years old and  working at Burger Chef at 15, then add on another five, making it 35 years!

YIKES!

I am and always will be a hospitality worker.


While you are out celebrating New Year's, Christmas, birthdays and dinner out, WE are all working for YOU.  And for many people in hospitality, Mondays are days off for waiters, bartenders and chefs.  

Since I left bartending a few years back, I have had a more traditional schedule and you can find La Diva on my computer almost every Monday morning at 7 am, checking emails, Facebook, blogs and what not, as I eat my breaky and have a cuppa, before I start my work day.  But as I find I am working more nights and weekends, something has got to give.  After working the last two weeks without a break, La Diva thought it was time to reinstill an old hospitality tradition:  Mondays off.

And that day, my dear readers, was TODAY.

At The DJ's insistence, today was going to be a day of "no client emails, no returned phone calls, NO LA DIVA BUSINESS."

So, after a leisurely morning futzing about and starting trouble on Facebook, I decided that a bike ride around the beach was in order.  Along the way, I'd grab lunch, eat it at the garden and pick up some glasses at CB2.

Fish tacos and a cold beer make for a pleasant lunch at the South Beach Victory Garden.



Soon, there will be oodles of lovely, tiny, sweet little tomatoes for our salads!  These are barely the size of a thumbnail!



Thank you lady bugs for keeping aphids and other nasties away from my gorgeous escarole!



The garden is only a block away from the ocean and I scoot on over there to remind myself of why I live here.  I never take the beach for granted and am grateful to live so close to the sea.



I continue riding up around the point at South Pointe with Government Cut to my left.  This is where all the container ships, cruise ships and small boats and jet skies come and and out from Biscayne Bay to the ocean.  Straight ahead is the Port of Miami with downtown Miami in the background.

As I head around the Pointe, frantic movement in my peripheral vision catches my eye.


Two puppies happily prance around South Pointe Park's doggy park.



I ask the puppies to "hold still" while I take their photo but they are not cooperating!  The nice lady scoops up the little scamps and they resign themselves to being held for a photo!

Satisfied that La Diva got her "puppy fix" I get back on my bike and ride on to CB2 to pick up some stemless wine glasses.



Whenever I can, I try to take Meridian Avenue as it's the shadiest street!  Lovely in the winter time but a MUST in the summer when the temperature climbs to  100 degrees and heat stroke is a real threat.



Meridian Avenue is home to many older, smaller Art Deco buildings on Miami beach and makes for a very pretty ride.  I cycle at a casual pace, taking my time to look about and enjoy the scenery.

I quickly pick up the glasses, load them into my basket and make my way home.

In 15 minutes, I am home and head straight for my office and begin to check my emails.  I start to respond to a pending client and then see one from husband:  ARE YOU TAKING IT EASY TODAY?  I save the email in the drafts folder, get off the computer and pour myself a glass of wine.



This is my favorite piece of new furniture for our house.  My platform bed.  This is why I HAD to get stemless wine glasses!

I cozy up on the bed, take a sip of wine and finally start flipping through my two new cookbooks, American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini and The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, both Christmas pressies from my brothers in law.



As I look out at the water from my balcony bed, relaxed and happy, I realize that my husband is right.  It's important for me to take days off where I don't do anything but everything I want to.  Even when I'm not working, I'm always doing something...repairing, cooking, fixing, cleaning, calling....etc.... and have not taken the time to just read and let my mind be calm.  After all, "business burnout" is never a good thing and La Diva has only just begun to see success!

Darlings, what about YOU?  What is YOUR favorite way to spend your day off if you could spend it any way you want?


And now, a little food porn.....  Here's my penne with Italian sausage, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes, chile flakes and a dash of cream.


Ta ta for now, darlings! xoxo




I. Am. SuperWoman. Yes, I AM.


Uh, no, I'm NOT.  But sometimes I act like I am.  Or THINK I am. I sometimes think I can do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING!  I am LA DIVA.  I am SuperWoman.  Pile it on, baby, I won't say NO!

Well, I did.  I told Lady Boxer that I was not going to participate in her Culinary Smackdown:  Tofu.  You see, La Diva has five events booked this week.  Five.  Me.  By myself.  And I've still got two to go.

Friday was a dinner for 15, Sunday, another dinner for 15 and last night I did a corporate class of 17 for Yahoo! YIPPEE!  

But, I've only had a day in between each event and by the next day I am already prepping for the next one!  But as it turns out, I had a wee bit of time tonight to try out my killer tofu idea!

YES!



Boy, I sure am glad I went to Boxer's blog and saw she already found this hilarious photo of Bacon vs. Tofu!  I'm posting it anyway, as it cracked me up.  I also don't get why you can't like both?  I do.  I don't get the tofu hate, it's too freakin' BLAND to hate!

Anywho....my tofu idea was a bit of a melange of croqueta mixed with arancini mixed with meatball.  HUH?

La Diva was thinking, wouldn't it be great if I took some TOFU and added breadcrumbs, garlic, parmigiano cheese and fresh parsley like I would my meatballs and then I would put a little ball of fontina in the middle like I would arancini and then roll them in flour, egg and panko and fry them up like I would a croqueta and then put the crunchy, yummy lot over a fresh heirloom tomato coulis?!

YEAH BABY! 

That would make a tofu lover out of anyone, I bet!

Hi.  My name is Tofu and I can be anything you want me to be, baby.  ANYTHING.

So, I started.  Tonight.  Bone tired and making a dinner out of leftover catering ingredients simultaneously.  Because I. Am. SuperWoman.

I had the heirloom tomatoes on the stove, reducing them along with garlic, for the coulis.

Meanwhile, I sauteed an eggplant that didn't make it into Friday's roasted veggies, along with some diced pancetta that would go off if I didn't use it soon.  

As my dinner of leftovers cooked, I started on the tofu.  In the food processor went garlic, parsley and basil.  Then the tofu.  I used silken tofu.  I put it into a bowl and added egg, salt, pepper, parmigiano cheese and a ton of breadcrumbs.  It would not firm up.  I added more breadcrumbs.  And then some more.  Still, the tofu was a gloupy mess.  How would I be able to roll a meat-a-ball with this soupy tofu?  I put it in the refrigerator to firm up.

The coulis was coming along nicely, the tomatoes broken down and reducing.  Soon, I would puree them and then strain for a silky, divine coulis.  Oooh, this was going to be GOOD!

I added a bunch of mushrooms and a chopped zucchini to the eggplant and pancetta.  Then, I added the leftover, cut up lasagna noodles and would chuck in a can of tomatoes for a rustic, one bowl dinner that would use up all of the catering leftovers.  I took a taste....nice!

I went and got the tofu.  It was now a COLD gloupy mess.  I added more breadcrumbs.  I tasted it.  MMMmmmm....garlic, breadcrumb tofu.  It tasted ok but it was tasting more like strange bread.

Still....I could give it a shot.  I tried to roll up a bit in my hand and it was like trying to roll up oatmeal.  It needed to firm up.  What to do?  Waste even more breadcrumbs?  

OR.....

Add it to the pasta on the stove!

YES!

It would be just like adding a bit of ricotta to the dish!    Why, I did that ALL of the time!  And it's GOOD!

YES!

That WOULD work!  I AM LADIVA!  I AM SuperWoman!  YES, I AM!

I added a bit of the tofu and mixed it through into the pasta and veggies and had a quick taste.  Mmmm...pretty good so far.  So, I added more.  And more. And mixed it in and then, HELL, WHY NOT PUT ALL OF IT IN?!  

YES!

F*ck it.  I don't have all night.

I added THE LOT.

And what did I get?

MUSH.

DOG'S BREAKFAST.

SPEW.

Well, at least that's what it looked like!!!  IT WAS DISGUSTING.  Not because it was tofu mind you.  But, because the garlic I had added to the tofu was uncooked and tasted, well, raw.

And because it was TOO RICH with the egg and the parmigiano cheese.

And it just wasn't pretty.  You could no longer see the eggplant, the mushrooms or the zucchini, all were drowning under the weight of beige, silken tofu garlic pulp!

I ate a bowl.  It was really rich and garlicky and, well, kind of flavorful but not a great texture.  It was mushy. I looked at the huge pan of it left on the stove.  There was A LOT.  Could I eat this again?  I doubted it.  I knew The DJ would not touch it, leftover lasagna noodles with mushy eggplant and mushy tofu would NOT be very inviting to a man that has just come home from a 12 hour day, La Diva would be pushing him too far.  And I thought about THROWING IT OUT.

So, I did.

I. Am. NOT. SuperWoman.

*sigh*

And I SURE DO HATE throwing out food.  But, that's what I get for trying to be SuperWoman and cooking when I'm tired and spent.



Here's what I was going for.

See?!  Don't these tofu croquetas look good?  Imagine MINE with fontina cheese oozing out of the middle and with parmigiano cheese and garlic and spices!  Anyway, the recipe for THESE is from THIS SITE.  I guess my mistake was that I didn't use FIRM tofu but silken instead.  DOH.

So, I WILL try to make this again, with firm tofu, of course!  But for tonight....

This SuperWoman is going to have a nice glass of wine, take a hot tub and 'CALL IT A DAY.'


Meanwhile, DO enjoy my lovely photo of La Diva's all time fave way to eat tofu: stir fried with veggies and cashews in a spicy Asian sauce.  My recipe for the dish is HERE!

THANK YOU, Lady Boxer for hosting!  You can see all the entries HERE and GOOD LUCK to all!  Ciao for now, darlings! 

*slurp*

ahhhh........