“I have always thought about/ Staying here and going out/ Tonight I should have stayed at home/ Playing with my pleasure zone” -New Order, The Perfect Kiss
I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit that I’ve started to see the light as far as being an early riser on the weekends. I woke up around 8:30 this past Saturday morning, as I have been wont to do lately, blissfully clear-headed and ready to take advantage of the day. I had turned down a couple offers to go out the night before, preferring to have a mellow evening at home, and was feeling pretty self-satisfied as the day lay before me like a plate of noodles waiting to be sauced.
As I drank my coffee, I began to contemplate why I have a more “take it or leave it” attitude towards going out these days, despite still being single and (relatively) unencumbered. It’s not that I don’t like to be social- quite the opposite, in fact. But these days, I’d much rather be social by going to a barbecue or having a few friends over for dinner than staying out all hours. It’s not that I don’t have the energy; more that I’ve lost the drive.
It occurred to me that a big part of the attraction for people to go out and hit the bars or stay out late can be summed up in one word: possibility. The possibility that you’ll meet someone new, experience something new, etc. It’s a big pull when you’re younger and are in a hurry to get as much living under your belt as you can. But I realized that when you’re perfectly content with what (and who) you have, you lose that “seeking” instinct (or at least, it gets redirected).
Nowadays for example, perhaps the kitchen is your “pleasure zone”, and as-yet-untried recipes your possibilities. And maybe you’d enjoy nothing more than to stay in and spend an entire evening making a somewhat fiddly dish like, let’s say, Vietnamese stuffed tofu, while your significant other sits in the other room working on the computer, and you bounce around the kitchen with the Pandora station set to New Order.
I bought this book a couple months ago, but didn’t know where to begin- everything sounded so good! The book’s photo of these little pork-filled tofu squares caught my eye, and I figured they were as good a starting point as any. I was also intrigued by the tomato sauce since I had never had anything like that in any Vietnamese restaurants. The assembly is a little time-consuming but not overly difficult, and as the author points out, they make good leftovers when heated up in the toaster oven.
For the tofu squares:
a 1-lb block of medium firm (“regular”) tofu
1/3 lb ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
1 scallion, white and light green parts, finely chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbs fish sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tsp cold water
canola or other neutral oil for panfrying
For the sauce:
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, pulsed briefly in the food processor (or drain, reserving juice, and finely chop on a cutting board) *
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fish sauce
*The author calls for 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and finely chopped ripe tomatoes. If you have access to good tomatoes, feel free to use them in place of the canned.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine pork, scallion, mushroom, egg, fish sauce, pepper and cornstarch mixture and beat vigorously with a fork until well blended. Set aside.
Prepare the tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2 inch thick pieces each about 2 1/4 inches square. You may have to cut the tofu in half crosswise. There will be 8, 10, or 12 pieces depending on the size and shape of the block. Lay a piece flat on your work surface and cut a horizontal slit in it, stopping 1/2 to 1/4 inch shy of the opposite side to avoid splitting the piece in half. Make sure the cut is equally deep on both sides. Repeat with the remaining pieces. (I laid my tofu on paper towel and lightly pressed the squares to get out excess water before stuffing them.)
Stuff the tofu: Hold a piece of tofu in one hand and use the other hand to open it up carefully like a tiny book. Use a knife or small spatula to spread a layer of filling about 1/4 inch thick on one side (I filled mine a little thicker than this, and still had leftover filling.) Lower the top flap and press the filling gently into place. Don’t worry if the tofu tears a little. As you work, place the stuffed tofu squares on a double layer of paper towel to absorb excess water.
Fry the tofu: Preheat the oven to 175 or 200 for keeping the tofu squares hot once they are fried. Pour enough oil in a nonstick skillet to film the bottom (about 4 tbs) and heat over medium heat. Panfry the tofu in two batches, frying for 4-6 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully flip the tofu and fry the second side for another 4-6 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is cooked. Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate or cookie sheet and place in the oven while you fry the second batch. (I lined a cookie sheet with paper towel to absorb some of the oil.) Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces.
Make the sauce: Lower the heat slightly and pour off all but 2 tbs of oil from the pan. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for about 15 seconds or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and fish sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. When the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season with a little salt to deepen the flavor and a little sugar to balance the acidity.
To serve, spoon the sauce onto a platter (or plate individually) and place the tofu squares on top.