Step into any specialty food shop and you’ll encounter shelves of fancy vinegars and flavored oils. While the sleek packaging (such pretty bottles!) and infinite flavor combinations make them tempting purchases, it’s far less expensive to make your own—and almost as easy as plunking down a credit card. Not only do they make excellent host/hostess gifts, we’re seeing them in fine dining settings, too—AL’s Place in San Francisco infuses oil with kuri squash peels and kale stems, and at a recent pop-up dinner in anticipation of his new restaurant, chef Bo Bech served an oil infused with pine needles taken from a tree in the lobby of the NoMad Hotel—that’s right, Christmas tree oil. Here’s how to make your own.
One easy step will remedy most of your tofu-related tribulations: As soon as you get home from the grocery store, drain your tofu and stick it in the freezer. (You can slice the tofu before freezing if you want it to thaw faster.) Freezing changes the texture of tofu drastically and almost magically: When ice crystals form, they create small holes in the tofu, making it far spongier, firmer, and chewier than it was before. No amount of draining, patting dry, or pressing tofu can minimize sogginess as much as freezing does.
This doesn’t quite work with the creamy Japanese style tofu in the shelf-stable packaging; it has to be the water packaged, coarser tofu. once you’ve thawed out frozen tofu, you can squeeze more water out of it without losing its structure. you can take coarsely chopped pieces of this transformed tofu and pulse it in a food processor for a great “crumble” similar to the texture of cooked ground meat, and in this state it absorbs flavor like a sponge.
I’ve seen recipes that recommend this method for kabobs. I used it in a stir fry recipe, and you can pretty much use it in any tofu meal in which you’re going for a drier, firmer texture.
…being okay with canned baked beans doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. In fact, canned baked beans are dying to be riffed on. We like to do the seasoning ourselves, starting out with a can of original recipe (or the most basic variety of your favorite brand of baked beans). From a dash of spice to fresh diced vegetables, the options are literally endless.
Here are a few stir-in ideas to get your backyard barbecue feast started…
Bean-based soups and stews are also really high in protein and endlessly versatile. I made a vegetarian soup this week with chipotles in adobo, garlic, peppers, onion, and quinoa. A can of beans + whatever you have in the house is likely to be a life-saver!
Your chips, tacos, and grilled meats deserve the best. And by “best,” what we really mean is a salsa that’s chunky, saucy, scoopable, and packed with fiery, smoky, fresh flavor. You’re not going to find all that in a jarred supermarket salsa. For that kind of flavor, you’ve got to make your own at home. But first, read up on the most common mistakes people make for DIY salsa. Now pass us those tortillas.
You can also add a can of diced tomatoes along with the fresh ingredients to give a more blended look and flavor. Canned tomatoes have a flavor and texture that cannot be reproduced by just chopping up fresh tomatoes.
Marinating is a great way to get more flavor from sauces, soups, stews and chile. When making fresh salsa, then serving the next day, I will chop up some fresh tomatoes and onions and mix them in just before serving it, to give it a “fresh look.”