Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recipe: Crispy Baked Tofu Fries with Sriracha Ketchup

I'm sorry about the radio silence this week, folks. Truth is, I've been (and still am) in major survival mode, and it's taking every ounce of energy not to go crazy. Between looking for ways to make ends meet while I find another job, and having to come to terms with the fact that my neuropathy is essentially a disability that has and will continue to make this job hunt difficult, the first two months of this year have not yet treated me kindly. Regardless, I'm doing everything I can to make sure that neither I nor this blog end up totally on our back ends. It's hard, but I'm determined to get through this, no matter how difficult it may be.

Survival mode is never fun. It includes icky things like putting off awesome projects to apply for SNAP again, scrambling to sell the few things I'd replaced when I was employed in order to pay for gas & electricity, and hoping like hell that a miracle will happen so I can pay my rent this month. The rent, the rent, the rent! I swear, the minute I come into a financial situation when that most evil of four-letter words does not automatically open up a giant pit of anxiety & despair in my stomach, I'm throwing a party and you are ALL invited! ALL of you!

Bummer mode aside (because there was enough of that in 2010 and I just don't want to drag you guys down with me, since we usually have so much fun), the good news is that when I'm not laid up with a serious flare-up, I've been spending more time developing new recipes for the book (woo hoo!!!). I've also scored some great opportunities for more freelance food writing projects, which has me beyond giddy with excitement. Truthfully, if I didn't have to worry about the rent, this would be the happiest time of my life. Cooking and writing and photographing all the livelong day? That's pretty much my dream come true!

These super lean times have also rekindled my love affair with bare bones staples. As I mentioned in the last few recipes, I love working on bare bones recipes not only because they're so cheap, but because I'm practically forced to put on my thinking cap to get more creative than usual. And when I can create a special treat for myself that is delicious and aesthetically pleasing, I can sit back, relax, and temporarily forget my troubles. That's part of why Poor Girl insists on eating so well: a good meal can be the one bright spot in one's day, and that's worth every ounce of effort I put into it.

Tofu fries are not new. Many vegetarians have been doing interesting things with tofu for years, and this is one of the results. But as an omnivore, it's good for me to look at tofu in a different way - basically, like a bare bones staple that can be worked into all sorts of recipes. Like most folks, I tend to play it safe with tofu, using it mainly in soups & stir fry recipes. But since I'm such a fan of the parmesan-crusted tofu I serve alongside my garlic soba noodles, I figured it'd be fun to try an even crispier version, preferably with an interesting dip to go alongside it.

Enter Sriracha sauce.

Loved by many and the object of many internet comics and memes, this fiery chili sauce is the ingredient du jour right now. Everyone loves Sriracha! And how could we not? It's tangy, it's spicy, it wakes up your senses and clears out your sinuses in one fell swoop, adding color and fire to almost any savory dish you can find.

And it makes an excellent addition to plain ol' ketchup.

Again, I'm sure it's been done before, for there are many Sriracha experimenters out there. But I only discovered this for myself quite by accident the other day, when I blindly pulled out a bottle of something reddish to go with my scrambled eggs, only to have the top of my head blown off by the fiery of dollop of red sauce I'd just licked off my finger (this is why you should not assemble dinner for yourself when you're on a long distance call). Crap.... that was supposed to be ketchup!!!

Not being one to waste anything, I quickly went into rescue mode, adding a dollop of quiet, mild-mannered ketchup to the small puddle of flames sitting next to my eggs, swirling it around until it was perfectly blended. One quick taste and I was SOLD! This is pretty much the condiment of the gods, and now I want to eat it with everything.

I realize there are homemade sriracha and homemade ketchup recipes out there and that I could probably tackle them with aplomb (in fact, I already have with the latter! There's your first sneak peek at what'll be in the book, lol. ). But for this recipe, which is something that should be easy and fun, I just stick with the pros: Sriracha & Heinz. It took me a while to find the right Sriracha-to-ketchup ratio for me, and you may find that you prefer a different ratio, which is totally okay. Feel free to make this as mild or as spicy as your little heart desires! But you might want to reserve a special container for it: it's so good, you probably won't want to waste the 2 seconds it takes to mix it together before you dig in. At least, I don't!



Crispy Baked Tofu Fries with Sriracha Ketchup (makes 2-3 servings; total cost per serving: $1.25)

To ensure you have the crispiest fries possible, be sure to blot out as much moisture from the tofu as you possibly can. Too much moisture = soggy fries, and we don't want that!

Ingredients
1 8 oz. block of extra firm tofu
1 c panko crumbs
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t granulated garlic
1/8 t ground cayenne pepper (optional, for your super spicy food lovers)
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the Sriracha Ketchup
1/2 c ketchup
2 T Sriracha sauce (give or take a few drops)

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Prepare the Sriracha ketchup by mixing the ingredients together until completely combined. Check for flavoring and adjust according to taste. Set aside.

2. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray and set aside. Cut the tofu into "fries" of about 1/2" thick (unless you want them thicker, which is just fine). Carefully wrap the tofu fries in a couple of paper towels, then set a plate, pan or cutting board on top to weigh them down. Allow the tofu to sit like that for about 10-15 minutes, until most of the moisture is absorbed into the paper towels. Unwrap and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the panko crumbs, salt and garlic until well combined. Set up your "assembly line" with the egg mixture at the beginning, followed by the panko mixture. Dip the tofu sticks in the egg mixture then transfer to the panko crumbs, coating the fries on all sides until completely covered. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the tofu.

4. Bake the fries for about 10 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Allow to cool for a few minutes before handling. Serve with sriracha ketchup and enjoy!

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