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Still Here + Black Pepper Tofu Recipe

Portland, Oregon:  We haven't yet been home a week and so much has been accomplished. My closet has been cleaned/organized (yet again). Pretty soon, I will own one suitcase full of clothes and my life will be perfectly content. (Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but I am really pared-down now to a minimalist wardrobe.) Our larder is stocked. Menus have been planned. Fresh flowers are in the house.

DT, though swamped with conference calls - and a day trip down to Eugene for meetings - still has the house looking presentable. The patio furniture has been returned to the patio! Decks have been hosed-off. Cleaned. Errant bird nests have been removed. Wasp nests have been removed. Expired light bulbs have not quite yet been replaced.

We can't see the forest behind our house for the shrubs, vines, poison oak, ivy, rhododendrons and azaleas filling the floor. Just gorgeous. So green. So moist (because it rains every damn day). So fresh. There is a creek down there. We can hear it roaring.

It rained so hard today, I thought we were back in SE Asian. It's like a rain forest out there... and not a dust storm in sight.

Still many video-chats with the grandchildren. Leo still draws his Bubbe, but I am looking more and more like a guy in a pink shirt lately. Lucy is still very interested in food and is excellent at saying "no" and "mine"... hmmm, just like another little girl I knew 30-something years ago.

We've (er... I've) cooked at home every night but one (our friends Shirley & Martin are visiting from England, so we met them for dinner). The last of Sister Gina's arugula topped our usual Sunday night pizza.

I had planned to share this recipe yesterday, but a certain someone did not return from Eugene until way too late for dinner (nor food photography), so here is my version of a very popular Chinese dish - Black Pepper Tofu.

Like the name suggests, this recipe is cubed tofu with a ground black pepper sauce. It is super easy and vegan... but no one needs to know. Just enjoy the savory heat.

I am far too lazy (this is camping cooking, remember?) to grind 4 teaspoons of fresh black pepper, so usually use purchased ground black pepper in this recipe, and I do use four teaspoons. If you opt to grind the black pepper fresh, maybe start with two or three teaspoons, and add more if your family likes more heat. With just a few minutes of early prep, this recipe comes together quickly.

14-to-16 ounce brick extra firm tofu
4 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine (or water)
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
2-to-4 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
One red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons vegetable, canola or peanut oil
Optional garnish: slivered green onion

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Zip-lock plastic bag

Cut tofu into bite-size cubes and place in plastic bag. Use a small bowl to mix the water, cornstarch, soy sauce, sherry, ginger root, black pepper, rice vinegar and sugar. Mix well and pour over tofu in bag. Gently shake bag so the tofu is completely covered. Seal bag and let tofu marinate, refrigerated, for a few hours, or up to 24 hours.

To cook: drain tofu through a strainer set over a bowl - RETAIN THE MARINADE. Let tofu rest in the strainer. Heat wok or large skillet over a high heat and coat the bottom with oil. Add the slivered red pepper and stir for one minute. Add the strained tofu and stir-fry/saute for 5-10 minutes, or until the tofu cubes begin to brown. Toss frequently. Give the reserved marinade a quick stir and carefully pour the reserved marinade over the tofu. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce thicken for about one minute, while continuing to stir. Transfer to a plate and serve. Garnish with slivered green onions, if desired.

Serves 4 as a main course, with steamed rice.

It's super good.

visit recipe page and see more photos

Until my next update, I remain, your soggy correspondent.