Tofu with MIso Mushroom Sauce

Often served in proportions similar to the main dish, once concocted, this side has remained a “go to” side for us; almost a food group in its own right.  It is much, much more some cubed up tofu smothered with a sauce.  I think what makes this dish remarkable is the complex interlacing of the flavors and textures, the creamy freshness of the tofu, the astringent bite and heat of the chili oil, the saltiness and bitter edge of miso and walnuts, and the earthiness of the mushrooms.  Hit this with some crunchy scallions and some peanuts to complete the effect.  There is a lot going on here and, as a result, this conspiracy of goodness ends up being entirely satisfying and extremely filling.  Hats off to Mrs. Fuji, author of The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan, as her work formed the base idea for the mushroom sauce used here…. 

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Dashi – Making Japanese Soup Stock

Kelp in a JarI first heard about Dashi, or sea stock, when I was still in high school.  I remember being sort of puzzled that anyone would use a soup stock consisting solely of seaweed and dried fish and put the concept out of my mind until about 2 years ago.

What started as a simple desire to make some decent miso soup ended up making a serious change in how I cook and eat.  As it turns out, dashi is one of the most versatile stocks I have run into and it is safe to say that we it use more than any other.  It is quick and easy to prepare and has a really subtle, rich flavor that is a bit hard to pin down; it is not really fishy, not really salty, not really kelpy (if that is a word).  It is packed with excellent flavor and enhances just about anything that you cook in it.  I think of it less like a soup stock and more like a cooking fluid; used to get at flavor combinations that would otherwise be unavailable.  I regret my long period of ignorance and really wish that I had gotten around to preparing this stock sooner in my life…. 

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Hot Chili Oil

Happy Hot OilSee the jar to your left?  That is what I think an oil jar should look like…battle-scarred, even abused.  Having a good quality hot chili oil around the kitchen is fundamental.  If you like your oil, you will use it in your food preparations and garnishes, if you don’t like your oil, you will blow it off.  As well you should.  To my taste, the oils available commercially are uninspiring. They are either way too hot (and lacking in flavor) or they are simply too one dimensional; they have chili, but nothing else.

The chili oil that we use around the house is loosely based off of the Sichuan way of doing business.  For those of you not familiar with the cuisine, the Sichuan Province of China is host to intensely hot, deeply complex, pork and duck-infested, oil- and chili-fueled foods.  I was surprised, when I started experimenting with this cuisine how unprepared I was to handle the crushing onslaught of heat and spice involved.  After all, I eat some really highly  spiced Thai and Southwest foods;  thought I was a fire eater.  I was wrong.  These Sichuan cooks mean business.  If you are looking for a good guide to this cuisine, you can not go wrong with Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop…. 

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Oyster-Miso Nabemono

Got home from work feeling a little under the weather and stressed from work.  I think everyone has those days when they simply need easy to fix comfort food.  Well, here is one of my indulgences.  It looks great, prepares with very little work, and is utterly edible.  In addition, it is very flexible and prepared with stock items on hand (except for the oysters).  This recipe was inspired by Tadashi Ono’s excellent book  Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals.

In addition to oysters, this dish  highlights the fudge-adjacent flavor of hatcho-miso.  For those of you that haven’t used it before, hatcho is a specific type of aged and pressed miso that provides a decadent, rich flavor to this dish.  … 

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