Tuesday, May 3, 2011

THE ALISON/DRAGONWAGON PROJECT: "Terrible Delicious" Talk-of-the-Town Barbecued Tofu

I let Julia Child pick the first recipe of The Alison/Dragonwagon Project. Before she died in 2004, Child requested the barbecued tofu recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon, author of famed vegetarian resource "Passionate Vegetarian," which won a James Beard Award. Another Child connection: Dragonwagon won a Julia Child award for a cookbook that preceded PV, "Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread." 

For both women, it was impossible to tell their stories properly without weaving in memories of many meals shared with their respective late husbands, Ned for Dragonwagon and Paul for Child. From weekday meals to elaborate feasts, these culinary icons prove food isn't just about the connection to the earth. It is about our connection to each other.

But I must admit I ate PV's "Terrible Delicious" Talk-of-the-Town Barbecued Tofu (p. 668) alone and in sandwich form...not sure how Dragonwagon--who has given me her blessing for this blog--would feel about that one. Dragonwagon did chime in and let me know there are indeed some aspics in PV, a tomato one and some other fruity, potluck salad-style aspics made with agar. While I was hoping to avoid aspics altogether, it is a far cry from what Julie Powell of The Julie/Julia Project had to endure when she cooked her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Back to the tofu: A friend's mother once told me, "If you can read, you can cook." This is mostly true, but I've discovered that wisdom in cooking comes from improvisation and innovation.

I was forced to improvise the barbecued tofu. PV calls for strips of tofu sliced from a firm block, and I inadvertently purchased cubed (but firm) tofu. I hate wasting food, so I worked with what I had and decided to transform the dish into a barbecued chop sandwich. From how it tasted, I'd say it was a faithful rendering.

In lieu of liquid smoke and salt to taste, I simply used smoked salt, a Washington-made variety from the Artisan Salt Company (Salish Alder Smoked Salt, Fine).

What I did follow with care were PV's instructions to marinate the tofu in the garlic onion paste for about 36 hours. I reserved the marinade, later adding it as a base to a homemade salsa.

Among the ingredients Dragonwagon seems to love is Pickapeppa Sauce. I miraculously found a bottle at a regular grocer after keeping an eye out for a while. I don't like to be inundated with too many condiments and sauces, but this one is worth the couple dollar investment. It tastes like a mix between Worchestershire sauce and A1, but with some fruity, chutneyed notes.

I must admit I thinned out the homemade barbecue sauce just a tad. The orange juice and zest was a little overpowering for my taste, but once it baked into the tofu, it turned my apartment into a citrus smoke factory. This is a good thing.

When I use cookbooks, I use a recipe rating system, passed down from my mother. It is pretty simple: Three checks means a dish is so fantastic, you'd want to make it for company. Two checks means it is good enough to serve to your own household. One check serves as a reminder to never make a recipe ever, ever again.

This recipe got three checks, already scribbled alongside PV pages 668-670.

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