Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ted Hafer and The Grit

EDITED: I finally mastered this recipe now, and we eat it often, but due to the circumstances surrounding the initial writing of this entry, I just couldn't bring myself to edit the body of the post.  Please know, though, that if you follow the directions below, it will be scrumptious.

We rarely eat out anymore. Moving out to the country (um, we only moved about 12 miles from our former in-town home, but it seems like another planet) was most of the reason that we stopped hitting restaurants. And of course we now have two young children, which makes leisurely, romantic restaurant meals virtually impossible. Then there’s the fact that I love to cook…

When we do dine out though, we have a few local favorites that we tend to patronize. Agua Linda is our hands-down favorite for Mexican food, and was only a couple of blocks away from our previous residence. On special occasions, I always ask for Farm 255, the local-and-seasonal-foods restaurant associated with Full Moon Farms, the CSA that we joined this past summer. When I want tofu (which I have never quite mastered the art of in my own kitchen), I request The Grit, a crazy-popular local vegetarian restaurant whose cookbook blessed me with my favorite hummus recipe.

The Grit is one of those places that could have fallen victim to its own hip-ness, but itt’s been around for something like 25 years now and has only grown in its popularity. The menu leans toward comfort food, though like I said, it’s a vegetarian place, so its kind of like a Southern meat-and-three (only without the meat). Nearly every musician and artist in town has worked there at some point and though the wait staff is heavily tattooed and far hipper than me, it isn’t unusual to see carnivorous conservatives at the dining tables alongside members of well-known out-of-town bands.

Since we eat out so seldom now, when we do venture out of our hole and actually go to a restaurant, we’re most apt to order something that I would never make at home. I don’t deep-fry, so when we have lunch at The Big Easy, we order po-boys. If we’re at Agua Linda, I’ll get a bean-and-rice chimichanga (again the deep-frying issue). At The Grit I want The Golden Bowl, a luscious rice and tofu dish that is much more addictive and delicious than it sounds.

I have a copy of The Grit Cookbook, which is probably fairly obvious to anyone who knows me at all. I love to support local establishments, and cookbooks are near and dear to my heart to begin with. The Golden Bowl recipe is RIGHT THERE in the cookbook, so you’d think I wouldn’t have to order it at a restaurant. After all, no evil deep-frying is involved. Ingredients are readily accessible at all times of the year. The instructions are easy-to-follow.

But, oh, how I failed at this recipe. When I attempted it for dinner a year or so ago, I found it to be nearly inedible. The husband (one of the many local carnivores who LOVE The Golden Bowl) deemed it “not awful” and actually ate it, but I stared woefully at my plate and schemed to go eat at The Grit as soon as possible so I could order The Golden Bowl and commit its taste and texture to memory so that I could make another stab at the recipe in my own kitchen.

Truly, I want to think it’s my aversion to Teflon that caused my miserable failure with this recipe. Instead of using a non-stick skillet (as the recipe CLEARLY instructs), I pulled out my trusty nearly-non-stick cast iron skillet. The problem I ran into though, was the soy sauce, and then the nutritional yeast rendered my oiled cast iron skillet into the most stickable (sic) surface any scientist has ever seen. The crust never fully developed (because it was too busy sticking to my doggone skillet) and the flavor just never happened. Actually, the end result was precisely what you might have once-upon-a-time expected from any recipe that uses tofu. I ended up with a bland, oddly textured, icky seventies-style vegetarian meal.

The recipe can’t be to blame, because other people I know have mastered it effortlessly. Obviously, I should check in with some of Those People to see what kind of skillet they used, but I’m afraid they will say they used the cast iron skillets as well. And then I will most assuredly have to admit that I’m just no good at this. My technique bites.

The reason I even mention this right now is because Ted Hafer, who owned The Grit, died yesterday. The story is tragic and very depressing and I wouldn’t even link it here except that the now-displaced former Athenians who read this blog will want to know the whole story. Ted was young and well-known around here. He was a musician, an artist, a husband and father, and a local business owner who supported charitable causes.

If you’re a praying person, then pray for Ted’s family and friends. And buy the cookbook. Consider it your contribution to his children’s college fund.

Maybe you’ll have better luck with this recipe than I did.

*****

Grit-Style Tofu (serves two, from The Grit Cookbook)
     - this recipe has been edited to include my tips for getting the tofu perfectly seared
  • One 15-oz block firm tofu
  • Vegetable oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Nutritional yeast
  1. Cut tofu into cubes slightly smaller than playing dice.
  2. Heavily oil a non-stick skillet (you want a good, thick layer of oil - not enough to deep fry, of course, but the oil should be about a 1/4-inch deep) and place over high heat.
  3. Allow oil to heat until shimmering, and add tofu.
  4. Cook, leaving the tofu in place for a few minutes to develop a nice, lightly golden brown crust on the bottom, and then carefully turn each piece over to achieve the same result on the other side.
  5. Sprinkle fairly liberally with soy sauce (about 1-2 tablespoons) and sauté briefly, lightly tossing with a spatula, to further brown tofu.
  6. Add a little more oil to keep the bottom of the pan slick, and then a little more soy sauce (another tablespoon or so), and continue to cook, keeping the tofu moving with a spatula until well-browned.
  7. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast to coat tofu cubes and, tossing vigorously, saute for another minute or two and remove from heat.
To make it a true Golden Bowl, serve over steamed brown rice drizzled with melted butter, and top with shredded cheese.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sarah

I worked at the Grit for three years in the mid 90s and am now a displaced former Athenian. I got a call from a friend this afternoon with this news. It is sad beyond words.

Your idea to buy the cookbook is a good one. Thanks. I will buy it tonight.

Charlie W

Barry said...

The Golden Bowl has vexed many a cook, my wife included. Ted relayed the recipe to me with promises of secrecy a few years before the cook book came out, and upon hearing it, I knew that it was far easier to eat it at The Grit than to try it at home. My wife attempted it once, with teflon, and...it was edible.

May Ted be released from his suffering.

May his wife and children grieve, and then be released from their suffering.

Amy said...

As all of us in Athens grieve, it is hard to think about food. I don't want to take away any of the Grit's business, but I did figure out the Golden Bowl. I use either a non-stick OR and iron skillet, and I use a lot of olive oil. Cook it for a long time the first go round, and when on the second, wait until it almost done before adding the yeast . I struggled with this for years before adding the extra oil. It is still better when you eat it at the Grit. May Ted rest in peace.

Amy B.
Athens, GA

Anonymous said...

Do try to make The Golden Bowl again. Yes, you must use a non-stick skillet. The first time I made it, I followed the directions to the letter and it turned out just as though I was actually at The Grit enjoying this delightful meal. The real trick to it is making certain you perform the second fry of the Tofu in a clean skillet and add the nutrional yeast at the very last minute prior to plating it up. Also, try it with Basmatti Brown rice, for extra great flavor, and saute'd veggies. Finally, drizzle it with some Yeast Gravy. The receipe for the Yeast Gravy is in the same cookbook.

Doreen F.
Athens, GA