Monday, March 20, 2006

Tofu-Vegetable Spread

A few months ago blog reader Dee made cloth napkins for shmoo's lunch box, but he has since lost every last one of them (plus four spoons, two containers, three winter coats...). This weekend I finally tried my hand at sewing some myself using the easy instructions Dee sent. They turned out great, but is it still more eco-friendly to use nondisposables if they end up disposed?
Anyway, for lunch today I made a Tofu-Vegetable Spread sandwich from Raising Vegetarian Childrenby Jo Stepaniak, with blanched green beans, corn "tires" and an organic strawberry fruit leather.
Verdict: One thing this book recommends that I haven't seen anywhere else is to always simmer water-tub tofu for 10 minutes and chill thoroughly before processing into any kind of uncooked recipe. They say tofu packed in water (not the silken kind in asceptic packages, that's okay) is "a prime medium for breeding foodborne pathogens". Huh. Does anyone else always simmer their tofu before using it in eggless salad and such? I never have before, but did this time. The spread was just "okay" (I think less tahini, more soy sauce next time). 3 stars.
P.S. Happy Meatout Day!

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

i've never heard or done the tofu simmer thing. i think i prefer the possibility of getting sick rather than go through those extra steps. especially since i haven't had any trouble the past few years with all that water-tub tofu i've eaten.

karla

jenni said...

I've never heard the simmer thing.. but I was told to steam my frozen then thawed tofu used in tofu salad type dishes.... It tastes so good, I do it!

michellejoe said...

Never heard of that...I usually always cook my tofu though. I don't like tofu spread (except Toby's tofu Pate spread is okay). I prefer the garbonzo bean spread for an egg-less/chicken-less salad sandwich.

Arline said...

There is a lot of bad press in the news lately about water used in various food prep ways. A young girl did her science fair project on the water melted from ice cubes at various restaurants and fast food places and they were full of bacteria. That made the evening news a couple of weeks ago here in L.A.

I think all of the major brands would be packaged under sterile conditions. However, we are near Chinatown and I have seen it sold in large tubs where they fish a square out for the purchaser. That situation would would be suspect.

Think I'll go off and write to a few tofu companies.

Arline

Anonymous said...

Three winter coats :-) I hope you got them back. He has his name in them, right?

I went to the Providence Whole Foods store yesterday for the first time, the big one not the little one. Was I disappointed. The deli area was swimming in meat and fish, hardly any of the excellent vegetarian dishes the Palo Alto store has. A bummer for sure.

Dori said...

Hi Jeniifer. I found your blog posted on Bryanna's Vegan Feast discussion board. I have really enjoyed reading through your entire lunch box archive even though it has taken me several hours over the past week.

I am so inspired. I love your lunchbox ideas. Keep up the good work!!

I have read recipes that required steaming tofu before when using in "raw" dishes. I don't do it to often, so it's not something that has ever concerned me much.

SusanV said...

I've read studies on the amount of bacteria in water-packed tofu so I agree it's best to cook it briefly before using it.

I can sympathize with you about the lost items. My 8-year old has left countless jackets and sweaters at school. It seems I'm always there looking through the lost and found box!

Shelly said...

My stepdaughter seems to lose a jacket or sweater about once a week. And I've purchased enough pencils to replace lost ones to furnish a forest! I think kids are simply hardwired to lose stuff. :P

I've never heard of the water packed tofu precaution. But now...I have to wonder if it's something I'll think of every time I open a package. I use about half and half water packed and aseptic during general daily use. Then again...I tend to to cook most of the tofu I use anyway, regardless of the packaging. Hmmm. I suppose I'll stick to the aseptic stuff for raw tofu in salads. Thanks for the heads up on this!

VLyandra said...

I'd never heard about the tofu bacteria thing, neither here nor in Japan. Odd. I do occasionally dunk tofu into boiling water for a bit to lessen the soybean taste when I use tofu for desserts, but not for bacteria.

Kourtney said...

I always skip that step in Stepaniak's recipes -- I think it's unnecessary work.

Catherine said...

I wonder how many spoons and containers and napkins will reappear at the end of the year when he cleans out his desk? :) Probably not the winter coats, however!

Anonymous said...

I am in awe of every lunch little schmoo gets to enjoy. Although I am not a vegan or vegetarian I so enjoy your use of the Laptop Lunch kit. I have one and cannot seem to use it the way you do. I learned of your blog through the Laptop Lunch monthly newsletter (I don't know how many months ago) and have followed your blog every day since then. Congratulations on the Bloggie award, I voted for you (a couple of times). Keep up the great blog --Amy

Jenny said...

That tofu-water thing is worrying. I guess a person could blitz it in the microwave and it would do the same thing and be a bit quicker and easier, right? (I always think of putting something in a pot on the stove as "work," but not for putting something in a dish in the microwave.)

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I always boiled my tofu in some kind of clear broth - tastes much better that way.

Anyway, I gave this link to my hubby - and guess what hubby said? He said if I could make all his lunches look like Schmoo's, he'd go vegan any day! Whoo-hoo!

Anonymous said...

Too bad about your son losing all the coats, etc, etc... It's never ending isn' it? Anyways, I've never heard about having to simmer the water-tub kind of tofu. I've never done it and I think that I'm one of many who don't simmer it and am pretty sure that I haven't gotten sick from it!

Thought Criminal said...

I don't know about simmering the tofu, but I've never used it in an uncooked recipe. I do have a tofu question someone here could answer, though.

I've only been a vegan since January and use silken tofu (in the cardboard package) for everything. I froze a ton of it, not realizing that the package says "do not freeze in package." Do you know why that would be? Will it somehow make me sick if I unthaw and use it after freezing it in the cardboard? In other words, is there any health reason to not freeze it in the cardboard package or is that just a precaution to keep it tasting good?

Anonymous said...

I've never eaten my tofu raw. I've always thought of tofu like fresh fruit and veggies (you always wash those before using right?) you have to take precautions to make sure all the bacteria is off!! Cooking it (at least partially) is the best and safest thing to do!!

Anonymous said...

Jobetta,
I think that caveat on the Silken tofu box might be a precaution to prevent the tofu from expanding as it freezes and exploding the box. That is just my theory, though. Have you tried checking the Mori Nu website?

--Kelli

Anonymous said...

Jobetta ... it has been my experience that silken tofu does not freeze well. When it thaws it becomes a watery mush that isn't any good for anything. Regular water-pack tofu, however, freezes just fine!

I've heard of simmering regular tofu before using in an uncooked recipe. I think it's a good idea ... better to take a few minutes and be safe then risk being sick later.

Anonymous said...

I boil tofu for about 10 minutes before cubing it for the baby, if i'm not going to cook it. I have always done these when feeding tofu to babies. Better to be safe than sorry!

generally, as the kids get older, they like it sauteed with a bit of Bragg's Aminos, and some sesame oil, so the boiling is not neccessary.

Jennifershmoo said...

>>Three winter coats :-) I hope you got them back. He has his name in them, right?

Yes, they had his name on them, but no, they were never heard from again. He generally gets hot at recess and leaves them out in the yard. The last two were from the thrift store, so it wasn't quite as painful as the first.

>>I always boiled my tofu in some kind of clear broth - tastes much better that way.

That's a good idea. If you're simmering it, might as well be giving it some good flavor at the same time!

Anonymous said...

frozen and then thawed silken tofu is good for at least one thing. putting in hot & sour soup in place of pieces of egg. try it!

Anonymous said...

I usually boil tofu if I'm going to make it scrambled for breakfast. I got the idea from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe cookbook. I do it to improve on the texture - to make it fluffier and more convincingly scrambled-egg-like. I'm usually not impressed by the texture of water-tub tofu; it's always too firm and crumbly. It just doesn't compare to the homemade stuff...

btw, your blog inspired me to go from vegetarian to vegan a few weeks ago and it's been so easy! :) Thanks for the inspirational lunchbox ideas!

Anonymous said...

I'll be another voice saying that I don't think the boiling is a necessity. I've been eating water-packed tofu for years and I've never been sick from it. Maybe it's like the theory that you'll get sick from raw eggs, but I've never known anyone who actually has...think of all the raw cookie dough that gets consumed. (I know this is a vegan site so *please forgive me* for referring to raw eggs. I don't mean to gross you out or offend you.) I won't be boiling my water-packed tofu.

VeggieMamacita

Casey said...

Is "vegan activist" an oxy moron?

Anonymous said...

Silly question... do you cube it first and then just drop it into a pot of boiling water? For how long? I eat raw tofu in salads and am wondering if I should try this. Thank you so much.

I LOVE your blog, btw!! How inspiring you are.

Jennifershmoo said...

Hi, anonymous -- the book say to cut the tofu into thinner slabs if it comes in a thick block, so the internal temp. will come to 165 degrees more quickly. Simmer 10 minutes, then drain and place in the refrigerator to chill completely.

Anonymous said...

so would you or dee share the instructions for the napkins?'

Pretty please :)

Karlie said...

Although it's true that many (if not most) products from a grocery store, including produce, have bacteria on them, most of these bacteria will not make you sick. Although I believe in thoroughly cooking any food that is said to contain harmful bacteria to the temperature that is required to kill it, I think we often go overboard in protecting ourselves from dirt and bacteria (no accusations to anyone of course!). It's thought that the rise in asthma and allergies is due not only to the increase in pollution and antibiotics and such in meat, but also due to kids growing up in "too clean" environments where they don't have access to mild and harmless bacteria to boost their immune system. Although, I suffer from fairly severe allergies and mild asthma, and I was a kid who spent all her days playing outside in the dirt, mud, and sandbox!

Ro said...

The brand of tofu I buy says to simmer it. I think it's a safe and good idea to do so.

SDGvegan said...

I have heard of boiling the tofu first before. We have never cared for it uncooked, so I haven't ever done it. I bake it, even for tofu-salad type dishes.

ariane said...

i just did a bunch of searching for info about the tofu, and every source said basically the same thing: if it is commercially made and air-sealed tofu, it has been cooked and is safe to eat raw.

it is just bulk tofu, or tofu in plastic containers that are not air sealed that are of concern.

if you want more details, just google the words: raw tofu bacteria health, and it will return several results.

happy meatout to you too!

Claire said...

I've never boiled it. I always wash it under the tap though. A Korean friend told me I had to do that to clean it. The boiling does make sense, I guess...but I generally always cook the tofu anyway, so I guess it always kill the stuff.

Nuking it in the microwave would be an easier option...

miriam anixter said...

I suppose losing a few napkins occasionally would be preferable to losing one every day (ditto for the silverware, bummer for the coats). Maybe the lost napkins re-enter the food chain? Some other little kid running around with a spidey napkin?
Love your site-- I'm so excited for my lunchbox to arrive!
--mir

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that if you have old clothes that aren't fit for recycling or dust cloths, they could be cut into napkins, esp. old shirts.

Alisha said...

I discovered your website week before last and I must say, you have inspired me! We are not vegetarians, but I am always looking for easier ways to encourage my family to eat healthier. Your blog has given me so many ideas and even helped cut out a lot of fats in our diet. Thank you so much for the ideas and keep up the great work!!

~alisha d

Kim M. said...

Jennifer,
I have a 10, 8, 5, and 3 year old. My 10 year old doesnt lose a thing. So dont worry as he gets older he will keep better track of things. Trust me, my 10 year old comes home, does his homework right away, then his chores, cleans his room, gets to play outside while the others are confused on what to do, so no worries, for us it took along time to get there.

Sweet Pea said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sweet Pea said...

He lost his coats? Oh my! I remember loosing some winter wear in grade 1. I insisted that I looked and couldn't find them. My mom came to the school and checked the Lost and Found box. There were my mittens, scarf and hat! Lost and Found box...what a concept! :-)
Today's lunch is simple but yet yummy. Anyone can have a delicious and nutritious lunch.

Dianna said...

Some kids are just prone to losing things. I used to be one of those kids (although I remembered where I left it later and had to go get it).

I just bought 2 of the Laptop Lunches (one for me, one for my son whose lunch/snacks I pack for daycare every day). His daycare has broken some of my glass containers that I send for hot stuff, but I'm thinking the Laptop lunches will be useful for the cold stuff and snacks and I won't be using sandwich bags for stuff anymore.

Being inspired by your food blog, I made something that was REALLY GOOD!!!! I took a whole wheat mini-pita, cut it in half. I spread some almond butter on the inside, and then put 2 blackberries in each little pocket. They were to die for. My kids, however, were not impressed and wanted to eat the apple I packed instead.

Neither have they been impressed with my breakfast spreads. This morning I served them bran/yogurt muffins (with a blueberry on top of each one, I imagine it would taste OK with soy yogurt. I got the recipe off the box of bran cereal), some fresh pineapple and a couple pieces of orange. My daughter saw the plate when she came downstairs and said "I DON'T WANT THAT!!!! I WANT CEREAL!!!" (mutter, ungrateful....)

Kourtney said...

To those who have suggested microwaving tofu to kill bacteria, microwaving tofu changes its texture significantly. I quite like it since it makes it chewy, but it's not necessarily what you want in recipes where tofu would normally be raw. Here's a picture of what microwaving does to tofu: http://www.pakupaku.info/sushifillings.shtml#pinktofu.

Anonymous said...

According to the government, foodborne pathogens are "Estimated to cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,200 deaths in the United States each year." That's enough to make me want to take the extra time heating that bean curd up! And to those who say they've "never gotten sick" from eating it -- how do you know? In most cases, foodborne illness gets passed off as something else (those pesky "stomach bugs" or days when you don't feel so hot).

Carla said...

I boil my tofu for recipes like eggless egg salad. (shrug) Extra step, and maybe not necessary, but I figure I might as well be safe. I like to be careful in the kitchen, esp since DH eats meat, which means possible cross-contamination issues, too.

Jennifershmoo said...

>>so would you or dee share the instructions for the napkins?'

Yes, they're going in the cookbook!

>>I took a whole wheat mini-pita

That sounds so good! I drove all over this city looking for mini-pitas last month, and they are nowhere to be found. :-(

Anonymous said...

TV show "The View" has a segment today about Meat. (3-21-06)

More of a reason to become a Vegan.

Anonymous said...

oh Jennifer...I can't wait for the cookbook...would you share the napkin instructions temporarily on your blog? Pretty, pretty please with vegan whipped cream and a cherry on top?

Anonymous said...

here's yet another vote for not boiling tofu. granted, i rarely i eat it raw, but i've never had food poisoning (stomach ache, flu symptoms, etc) from tofu. and if there does happen to be *some* bacteria in it, i'm okay with that. as previously mentioned, i think we all need a little bacteria to keep our immune systems on its toes.

however, i always rinse tofu thoroughly, whether it's being prepared raw or cooked. that's just because i can't stand the taste of the water it's packed in.

Anonymous said...

I almost always eat my tofu raw, and I do not boil it before I eat it, but I always remove it from the water in which it was packed and then place it in a new container with fresh water. I change the water every day for 2-3 days and then I eat the tofu raw. A lot of stuff comes out of the tofu over those days...I'm not sure if soaking it really helps me in any substantive sense, and it could just be an old Japanese wives' tale that my mom told me, but it can't hurt, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Ever wondered what you could do with Tofu Container?

The Tofu Container Challenge! page 2 (this is old and over) and scroll down to post #32.

(Also check out page 1.)

Nancy said...

All I can say is "wow, wow, wow!!" Your blog is so amazing Jennifer, I wish I could get my kids to eat half of the delish stuff your shmoo eats! I always leave your blog a little envious..;)

Shelby said...

I've been simmering my tofu for several years now with a little vinegar thrown in the water. I went to a 7th Day Adventist cooking class where it was recommended whenever tofu was not going to be cooked in any way. The exception is the Mori-nu boxed type which you can use as is right out of the box. Most things I use tofu in are cooked or sauteed in some way except for when I make my Eggless Egg Salad.

Anonymous said...

I just have to tell you that this blog is the most adorable thing I've seen in months. Your shmoo is one lucky lil fella!

Brenda W. said...

Here's another person who doesn't steam tofu before using. Jo Stepaniak's recipes are the only place I've run into that before. I tried it the first time I used one of her recipes, and then never bothered again. The commercially prepared tofu is certainly safe ... if bacteria were growing in it (say because it has not been kept cold enough, or the package has developed a small puncture) you'd notice by the package bulging. I've seen a few packages like that.

RE: you comments on paper vs. cloth napkins, I may be in the minority, but for kids I wouldn't bother with anything except paper. Even for myself, for all the lunches I pack for me, I always take paper since 1)my home cloth napkins are too pretty and I don't want to loose them, and 2)one less thing I have to remember to bring back.

Anonymous said...

The Seventh Generation Company makes paper napkins from recycled material that are kind of a light brownish color. That's what I use for everything. They are supposed to be biodegradable also.
Especially, if the cloth ones are going to get lost anyway.

the vegan vulcan said...

We use the 7th generation napkins, as well. Mostly because we'd have to have two weeks worth of cloth napkins. . .

I mean, not that we put off doing the laundry. . .

Uh, never mind.

Jennifershmoo said...

LOL!

Megan said...

I think what they mean is when it comes in the BIG bulk tubs and you buy it by the piece. In that case, I would DEFINITELY cook it/simmer it whatever before eating it because who knows if people stick their hands in the tubs or what.

Tofu like Nasoya that is in individual block packages factory sealed should be fine as is. It would be heat treated before leaving the factory and should be fine as long as its still sealed.

Thought Criminal said...

Thanks for the advice re: frezing silken tofu. The package doesn't seem to have expanded too much. I think I'll attempt to use it. I'm going to crumble it up really small anyway or cream it. I don't like the texture of tofu, so I don't cook with pieces big enough that I'd have to chew them. :)

(Right now, I'm eating the flatua idea from last week and it's pretty good. I used too much oil but it's fairly tasty.)

Anonymous said...

I hate to point out the obvious, but that girl doing the science experiment with the ice is not a true lab scientist. If it's just a kid doing an experiment, she's not in a controlled lab. It's much like the Myth Busters show. They do "experiments" but they aren't really all that well done, or done in a true lab fashion. Yes, the findings are gross, but I hesistate to freak out about it and believe it as gospel truth or something.

Also, bacteria seems very vague. There are good bacteria and there are bad bacteria. We need the good bacteria. So just saying that there are "bacteria breeding" in something sounds like a scare tactic to me. It's one thing if that bacteria causes infections, food poisoning, or something of that caliber. But the general term bacteria means nothing. Yogurt has bacteria in it. We've just been socialized by chemical commericals and the media sensationalizing everything, to freak out about the word bacteria like it's a disease itself.
Personally, I probably would not worry about steaming the tofu.

KathyF said...

I don't know if this is a vote, but I would never eat uncooked tofu (except for Japanese-style silken tofu). I advise my readers to cook it too. If you're working on a cookbook, it's better to be safe than sorry.

If it's too much trouble to cook it for "egg" salad, then use the silken style.

Amy O'Neill Houck said...

I've definitely heard that you should blanch tofu if you're using it raw, but I never do it myself--even for my kids. And I've never had a problem. I also don't buy it in bulk, I get it in packages.

Bearette24 said...

I've never simmered it. I just press the tofu between two plates with about 5 lbs on top to get the water out, then I dry it with a towel. I love your blog by the way...fabulous pictures. if you feel like making lunch for others, let me know ;)

erika said...

ohohohoh!! that fruit leather is the best!

red said...

thank you



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