Wednesday, December 26, 2012

pepperpot weather

The weather forecast said there was a chance for snow on Christmas Eve.  The weather map showed a contradicting and disheartening green over Philadelphia, indicating that we would have to make due with rain for Christmas.  I still spend every December hoping for a white Christmas, even though I can count the number we've had on one hand, so imagine my delight when I looked outside around 5pm on Christmas Eve and saw fluffy white flakes of real snow falling steadily from the sky!

It snowed but didn't stick, which was fine.  I was happy to see some snow on the actual ground when we made our journey an hour outside of the city to spend Christmas Day at my parents' house.

Today it was dark and gloomy and freezing cold with a bit of happy white snow in the morning that lasted about 10 minutes before turning into big globs of miserable cold rain.  In my little isolated world that unemployment creates, this was the perfect way to spend the day after Christmas, but I'm sure everyone who had to travel to work disagreed with me.  Mister and I drank plenty of warm coffee and stayed cozy while trying to be at least somewhat productive, but eventually, the chill invaded our home and my bones.

I hid in the bed for about 15 minutes before Mister found me... and decided to hide with me.  We enjoyed our warm little cave a little longer than we intended because warm + cozy = accidental nap.  Once we forced each other out of that dangerous nest, I decided dinner was probably a good idea.  I was totally fixated on making a pepperpot.

I wanted something rich and hearty, something that needed time to cook, because it was just a slow-cooking kind of day.  I have a recipe for a pepperpot stew, but I wanted something with texture, something that we could really sink our teeth into, something that felt warm and nourishing.  Coincidentally, it turns out pepperpot is a Christmas food, entirely because it does require a good amount of time to cook correctly.

Post-Christmas PepperPot
about 5 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
14 oz extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 tsp salt + a sprinkle
1 tsp smoked paprika + a sprinkle
black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
15 oz petite diced tomatoes, undrained
cooked rice to serve (I used Basmati)

First, drain the tofu and gently squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands.  Don't worry - you won't get it all, you just don't want it dripping all over your cutting board.  Once you've squeezed "enough" water from the tofu, cube it and lay it over 3-4 paper towels to drain a bit while you wash your veggies and peel your garlic.

Make no mistake, I very specifically had my mind set on making something with tofu tonight.  As a quick aside, for the past year that I've been enjoying my All-Clad cookware, one thing only has marred my delight; trying to cook tofu in stainless cookware is kind of like supergluing a little green army figurine to your bathtub and then trying to push him loose with your Daisy razor... not happening.  So I've been cooking my tofu in my old Cuisinart nonstick saute pan and transferring it to the other food once there's enough liquid in the pan to prevent an adhesive reaction.  Not the end of the world, but it's just another [unnecessary] pan to wash.  Enter my Christmas present: a nonstick 4-qt All-Clad saute pan.

Anyway, once all your veggies are ready to be chopped, heat the oil in whatever pan makes you happy (but it should hold at least 4 quarts) on medium-low heat.  It's ready when you plop a cube of tofu into the oil and it sizzles.  Add all the tofu and make sure it is in one layer, give the pan a little shake to make sure the oil is evenly distributed, then cover and cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, stir the tofu so the cooked side is showing (which means an uncooked side is now facing down in the pan), give it a minute, then sprinkle a little bit of salt and a little bit of paprika over the tofu and mix well, until evenly coated with seasoning.

Stir in the celery and garlic, cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.

Stir in carrots and both bell peppers, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, teaspoons of salt and paprika, as well as your preference of black pepper, and the worcestershire sauce. Stir very well to ensure the seasonings have coated everything in the pot.

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  Set your kitchen timer (or whatever far more technologically advanced device you may have) for 25 minutes.  If you're using white Basmati or Jasmine rice, now is the perfect time to cook it.  This way your pepperpot and your rice will be ready simultaneously.

It was so good.  It was exactly what I wanted it to taste like.  Honestly, I could have happily just eaten the tofu and given Mister the veggies (though they were also very good) because the seasoned juices from the peppers and tomatoes perfectly braised the tofu to exactly the flavor and texture I was craving. This is a great wintertime meal and I hope you make it and enjoy it and remind yourself that you can always go back and have more later (no need to continue the holiday habit of stuffing oneself until bursting!).

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