How to Keep Busy Between Projects

Since mid-December of last year I've been taking a stab at full-time freelance writing--I've written a catalog for Kikkerland Design, some oddball history articles for and even a young readers book about Nuclear Weapons Security with writer, editor & all around cool person, Jill Sherman.

Anyone who freelances knows there's often gaps between projects where you're hustling to get more work; adding past contracts to your resume, updating your website, and sending out rafts of emails. These quiet times are perfect for brushing up on the things that you don't get to do when your plate is full--like fill your plate with delicious southern fried tofu made from scratch!

This was turning out to be a quiet week so I decided to do just that, and since I was doing it, I decided I should write about it too! I did a quick web search, something like "Best Southern Fried Tofu Recipe" and scanned through the results to find the one with the yummiest pics. Here's the recipe I decided to use: Southern Fried Tofu and Some Fixings.

I am a prep fiend, I love to measure ingredients, I love to portion it all out into different sized bowls, and ready everything for cooking. I find it immensely satisfying to look at an array of components, with all of their different scents and textures, and marvel at the alchemy that will turn them into a delicious meal. It feels almost wizard-like.

I used 2 blocks of Whole Foods brand extra firm tofu which I cut into about 20 rectangles. Despite being labeled extra firm, I found the Whole Foods tofu to have a very soft, almost pasty consistency, especially on the outside. It wasn't so soft that I didn't think it would do the job, but the porousness worried me a bit. Here's the cut up tofu with the marinade ingredients.

The marinade recipe called for pineapple juice and we just happened to have half a pineapple left from a stir-fry we made not too long ago, so I just ran that through the juicer for some fresh juice. Once the tofu was safely bathing in the brine, I moved on to prepping the "buttermilk" mixture.

Before I started prepping the breading mix, I gave the marinating tofu a quick sniff, I was extremely curious to sample the juicy tofu and wanted to get a sense of what it might taste like--and surprise! It actually smelled a little like chicken.

I'm not a big fan of trying to replicate meat tastes or smells when cooking vegetarian. Using the natural tastes and textures of tofu, tempeh, or seitan to make complex and creative meals is totally the way to go, but the aroma of that tofu marinade had me extremely interested--so I forged on.

The breading mixture was a veritable laundry list of herbs and spices, and it was extremely fun to measure them out and get them ready for the mix. There were even some herbs that I'd never even heard of before, like savory--which I bought fresh. Savory smells and tastes a bit like a bitter oregano with thin, tapered leaves which detach easily from the pliable purple stalks.

Once everything was measured and mixed, and enough time had passed for the tofu to soak, I got to frying. Here's the result, fresh out of the pan!

The breading was crisp and flaky and had just the right amount of "pull" to it, you can see and taste the herbs and spices, and each piece was nice and firm. It clung tightly to the tofu and peeled away instead of just falling off. As side dishes, I chopped up some collard greens, sauteed them in a pan with minced garlic, a little oil, and a lot of water, then boiled and mashed sweet potatoes.

I'd also heard a lot about sour beers being trendy, so I picked up a bottle of Gose Leipziger Bier while I was at Whole Foods. Note my awesome Banded Horn Brewing Co. tumbler.

I have to say, these little cutlets were fantastic! The breading was nice and firm and tasty, the tofu remained a little mushy so the mouth texture was not what I wanted it to be, but they were super juicy and delicious. Not like chicken; a tad sweet balanced against the savory breading with just a smidgen of heat from the pepper and paprika. Not salty at all, which I was worried about since there was so much salt in the brine mix. The beer was crisp and refreshing, with a taste that was comparable to a hoppy cider. It went incredibly well with the tofu.

There was lot of extra fried tofu left over, and when I tried another cutlet the next day I found them to be even better. The tofu had firmed up slightly overnight and the breading thickened a bit, which gave the cutlet a very authentic southern fried texture.