27 April 2009

At Long Last: Ma Po Tofu

I've been in love with Ma Po Tofu for years, ever since I first tasted it at a friend's house. Her mother was a fantastic cook, and as much as I loved my own mom's cooking, I happily spoiled my dinner many times anyway. Unfortunately I never once tasted a comparable version of this dish. Nothing could replicate the slightly sweet taste of the pork and its fat juices mingled with the texture of the tofu and the delightfully potent chili garlic sauce. For years I only ever thought of tofu in relation to Ma Po Tofu.

Until now.

A serious tip of the hat goes to Foodmayhem for posting this recipe, as I had almost completely given up on ever tasting Ma Po Tofu again without almost instantaneous disappointment. Ian was over the moon for it as well, and I've already made it three times in a month.

The only alteration I made was to increase the water from 1/2 cup to a full cup considering I actually used more pork than was called for. I also happened to look up the history of the dish. Food history is one of my hobbies, and some of the tastiest dishes have interesting origins. According to legend, Ma Po Tofu (from what I gathered, originally "mapo doufu" but there seems to be a dispute over the transliteration) originated in the Chinese city of Chengdu, concocted by an old woman disfigured by pockmarks. Unfortunately for her she had years before been banished to the outer skirts of Chengdu yet her cooking was discovered by a man and his son. The old woman lived in relative obscurity for much of her life, but luckily her dish lives on in a multitude of variations, although the first dish of legend only specifies tofu, pork and Sichuan peppercorns.

Of course, I have no idea if this story is true. I enlisted a friend fluent in Chinese to help me with a Chinese online encyclopedia entry that claims Ma Po Tofu was created by a woman whose husband was a restaurant chef sometime during the Qing Dynasty. The word "Ma" seems also to be in contention, and since I'm not an expert, I defer to my ignorance. Frankly, I'm not sure I mind not knowing the truth of a food history. It seems to me that often the popular legend came to be through a sequence of composition that is way sexier than the accidental/mundane food stories (see Chicken Tikka Masala or "stone soup").

If you'd like to see a picture of Mapo Doufu from a restaurant in Chengdu (reportedly straight from the legendary source), see here.

Dr. Food Leaves Pullman!!

I've waited for this moment.forever.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am leaving Pullman for a few days. That's right. I WON'T BE IN PULLMAN FOR THE WEEKEND. You wanted to invite me over to watch grass grow? Sorry, I won't be in town.

Can you tell I'm getting a little enjoyment out of belaboring the point?

Friday morning Ian and I will be leaving for our friend Ben's wedding in Olympia, Washington. This is exciting for a number of reasons, the most important being that I WON'T BE IN PULLMAN. [Okay okay, I'll stop now] Neither Ian nor I has ever been to Olympia, I will get to eat out (a rarity), and it isn't Seattle. Yeah. I know. You love Seattle. I do not share a fondness.

I've been on Yelp for quite awhile looking for dining options, but if anyone in the blogosphere has any suggestions, I'm open to anything.

21 April 2009

Cheap Meets (Already Cheap) Pasta: Lemon Tuna Pasta with Capers

When I was in college, I rarely ever had time to make dinner from home. I worked three jobs at once, which meant I was often in commute between work places or at home feverishly cramming for exams/writing papers.

I'd like to say this has changed. In retrospect, I had much more time to myself in college, but then again I didn't have the foresight of what grad school would entail. I've gotten better at managing time since my undergraduate days, and of course it helps that I work mostly from home (grade a paper, turn chicken over) but every now and then I find myself craving dishes I made when I had only a few minutes to spare. Nearing the end of the semester, that craving also becomes a practical possibility.

Canned tuna is one of my favorite food items ever. It's versatile--the meat from one can will make a sandwich or two, it can be used in cold pasta salads, and it can even be used in hot pasta dishes.

I didn't exactly measure everything out for this recipe, but here are the steps.

Lemon Tuna Pasta with Capers

1. Drain the tuna from a 5 oz. can of solid white albacore tuna (you can use chunk light if you're going for the cheap aspect but it will pack quite a bit of moisture and runs the risk of shredding when combined with the pasta).
2. Boil a pot of water and add enough pasta on medium heat for two servings (I use whole wheat pasta). While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil (about 2 tbl.) in a pan and add three minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbl. of rinsed capers, drained tuna and about 2 tsp. of lemon zest, along with the juice of 1 lemon. This is optional but you could also add a few shakes of red pepper flakes.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and add 2 tbl. chopped flat leaf parsley.
4. Add cooked pasta to pan and toss to coat.
5. Serve with grated parmesan (or if you're like me, Romano).

Juicy Lucy BuffaloBurgers: You're Doing it Right

For the first outdoor grill session of the season, Ian and I decided to tackle the inside out cheeseburger we majorly screwed up last year. Our original run resulted in a stream of cheese oozing out of the meat into the coals. Cool sound effects and some excellent smoke, but perhaps not the most successful attempt.

This time around, I sought out the reinforcements by way of this Foodmayhem post and some very easy to mold ground buffalo. We didn't follow the patty recipe itself since Ian is a meat magician, but the tips and methods were greatly appreciated. After Ian worked his magic on the meat (he still is perfecting his ratio of worcestershire/garlic/onion, etc.) I carefully molded the meat patties together and then froze them for about ten minutes to ensure we didn't lost any of the cheesy goodness hidden inside.

We also made about a pound of asparagus since grilled asparagus is one of Ian's favorite vegetable side dishes (perhaps ever). This one is even easier than the burgers--just snap off the ends, spray with Pam (or olive oil), sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper (or finish with sea salt), and grill for 4-5 minutes until tender but still delightfully crisp.

Our only Juicy Lucy problem? In a moment of weakness, we piled more cheese on top of the patties. I refuse to regret this.

17 April 2009

I'm back! Kind of...

After weeks of writing feverishly, reading student papers and grading exams, I finally have a moment to myself. Kind of. Weeks of laundry and dishes are ensuring I won't be resting for long, and soon the end of semester crunch will necessitate more sleeplessness and bigger piles of laundry and dishes.

The funny part about graduate school is that despite the fact that you're constantly busy, the summer starts almost immediately after those final grades are turned in. Of course most people trot out the usual "at least you have the summer off while I work year round" routine, but remember, people: the silence and stagnation also mean no paycheck. Nada. Zilch. Nyet. I'm lucky enough to work full time at other endeavors closely related to my work during the summer, but here's the other slightly nauseating part of summer: research and writing. Despite the fact that you aren't getting paid for any of it, you still have to research and write.

The moral of the story? There is no such thing as a summer off for grad students who make $15,000 annually.

I'm working on a few back posts, and hopefully after I fold these 5 loads of laundry I'll be getting those online tonight. Happy cooking and eating, blogosphere!

07 April 2009

Plz to forgive?

My silence is only internet silence. Promise. Grading for over 300 people and having that full time job outside of my teaching duties has made me a bad blogger. *Slaps hand* A post is forthcoming when I actually have a moment to do anything but....grade. And write that damned dissertation.