17 Aug 2010

What a difference light makes!

I've been having a bit of difficulty with the shooting element of this venture. I realize that natural light produces the best results, but by and large, the recipes that end up here are things I've cooked for an evening meal, and by the time I get around to eating - even in the height of summer - it's dark outside. My kitchen-cum dining and living room is lit for ambience, not for photography, which either means attempting to shoot my dinner with a lens long enough to capture wild life or fiddling with the white balance and jacking the ISO up to astronomical levels, and still ending up with odd-tinted results. It's also why so many of my photographs are shot at very close range; that element is unlikely to change since I like getting up close, but the addition of powerful spotlighting has made a massive difference to the results I'm getting, and I haven't even got my 50mm fixed focal length lens yet...! That's going to take a bit of adjustment as I'm used to shooting with a zoom of some description: the lens that's currently on my camera is a Nikkor 35-70mm, f3.3, which isn't that light at the best of times and I'm mostly photographing at 70mm, which gives me a maximum of f4.5. The new-old lens - it's pre-loved, but new to me - is a Nikkor 50mm, f1.8. It's due to arrive tomorrow and I can't wait. 

The recipe: it belongs with the ginger-themed entries. I wanted to do something to make tofu 'interesting' because there's still a tendency to see it as a bland and boring alternative to meat. On its own, tofu is undoubtedly bland. On the other hand, tofu has a remarkable ability to absorb other flavors and that's kind of what I wanted to demonstrate with this recipe. It's also extremely versatile: tofu can be baked, broiled, deep-fried, shallow-fried, marinated, stewed, scrambled, added to soups and casseroles, made into dips and quiches... the list goes on and on. You can even transform it into desserts, and nutritionally, tofu is in a league of its own. It's a complete source of protein, being one of the only foods that provides all eight essential amino acids and over the past seventeen years I've grown to live off it. It comes in two basic varieties: silken and firm, with the firm kind being the best for cooking. I have a special plastic container that I use for draining that I found in the 100-yen shop; it's basically a square container with an inner colander. I let the tofu drain for at least 24 hours before using - 48 if I remember to buy it in time, since I find this to be the best way to get the water out without damaging the look of the tofu, and it results in a texture that resembles cheese; mind you, this method goes against all established storage techniques. 

Peanut-Ginger Sauce for Tofu
5 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, it's entirely up to you)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce (the reduced sodium variety makes for a lighter finish)
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced

Just whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl; that's it!

The ingredients make around 200cc (1 cup) of sauce, which is enough for two meals for two. I've made it twice with only small variations on the other ingredients. It basically comprises a block of tofu cut into slabs, mushrooms of some description (I used shiitake), long onion or shishito peppers if you want to spice things up, and salad spinach. Heat 1/2-1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, saute the mushrooms and onions (or peppers), add the tofu and continue to saute until it turns golden brown on the bottom (a few minutes); then gently stir in the spinach and peanut-ginger sauce, stirring until the vegetables are just cooked (1-2 minutes). 

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