Faux-Pho, Fo’ Real, Yo.

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Daniel Larkin: to Jamey Bennett

November 25, 2014

You like that email name?  I thought you would.

All stupidness aside, I’m really glad you picked Pho for the first throwdown.  It seems like nowadays I can’t look at any social media forum without seeing a hundred people with raging boners for the stuff, so I think the time is right to Two Dudes it.  The real reason I was excited that you picked Pho, though — and it’s time for some brutal honesty here — is that I’ve never even been in the same room as a bowl of the stuff.

This was a good primer into Pho, and to your credit, I was guided by your recipe.  I just tried to adapt it on the fly with the basic ingredients I could find at the local Food City; aka, Food Shitty. This may be like a blind man describing the color red, or Albrecht Dürer’s Rhino.  But whatever it was that I made, it was outstanding!  It was savory, but the spices were light and festive.  It was hardy, but still soft and comforting.  It was vegan, but had the richness of a steak.

The obvious first hurdle was the meat.  I decided that just going tofu instead of beef was a cop-out.  I hate when restaurants do that, because sometimes it’s just the lazy thing to do, so I wanted to avoid that trap.  What I landed on was mushrooms, but not just mushrooms, ponzu marinated portobello.

Ponzu is a citrusy soy sauce, that when made right, adds all five flavors; sweet, sour, tangy, salty, and savory.  (When Kikkoman makes it, it tastes like soy sauce and 7-Up.)  The spices in Pho seemed like they would be a good match for a slight lime taste, so I went with a ponzu and lime marinade.  (Depending on your noodles, the small amount of wheat in Ponzu can the only thing keeping this meal from being gluten free.)

Most of the work was done in the morning, when I started my broth.  I also cleaned the fans from the mushrooms, sliced them, and let them marinate all day.  In cooking the mushrooms, my general rule is that the longer they cook, the more flavor they give.  It just gets concentrated.  So with all of that in mind, let me give you my list of ingredients.  As you said in your email, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s all fairly easy.  And again, I found everything at the local Food Shitty, so there’s nothing weird or obscure here.

For the mushroom marinade:  

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  • 2 large portobello caps, de-fanned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup Ponzu
  • 1/4 cup Tamari (soy sauce as it should be, no wheat or sugar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 shallot diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic diced
  • 4 quarter sized slices of fresh ginger
  • Juice of one lime

Mix in a gallon Ziplock bag, and stash the fridge, turning every now and then to ensure equal contact time.

For the Broth: aka, the star of the show.

  • 1 32oz box of veggie stock.  I always recommend Imagine No Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 onion rough cut — save the other half for the soup
  • 6 cloves of garlic whole
  • 6 slices of ginger
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 6 oz package of shittake mushrooms  (This is the key to that savory bump)
  • 2 pods of clove (Optional.  The flavor boils off, leaving good aroma – if you like clove)
  • Half bunch of cilantro chopped
  • 3 tbs Tamari
  • 2 tbs honey — or agave syrup if you don’t consider honey vegan.
  • 1 TBS rice vinegar
  • Half bunch of cilantro whole

Combine all of these into a stock pot, bring to a simmer, and let it go low and slow all day.  Strain all the solids off when it’s time to assemble the soup.  It’s really that easy.

Other miscellaneous ingredients:

  • The other half of that onion sliced
  • 3 carrots sliced thin
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into small stems
  • Jalapeño (Optional, but recommended)
  • 5 Spice Powder (Optional)
  • Noodles of your choice (I used brown rice Pad Thai noodles)
  • Cilantro, basil and lime wedges for garnish

With all of the prep work done, assembly is pretty easy when the time comes.

  1. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and sear on high heat in your preferred oil.  Once they are seared and have that light brown color on the outside, turn down the heat and go low and slow for at least 20 minutes, or unit they are half sized and easily chewed.
  2. Remove the mushrooms from the heat and set aside.
  3. Deglaze the pan with a splash of broth, then add the other half onion for a two minutes.
  4. Add the broccoli and carrots and top off with the rest of the broth.  Simmer until the broccoli and carrots are tender but not mush.  (Hence the thin slice on the carrots)
  5. Taste and see if you need any five spice powder.  I added a little, but probably could have gotten away without it.
  6. Then you just stack it all, with noodles on the bottom, broth, a teepee of mushrooms, and the garnish herbs and jalapeño.

I’m serious, man, this is one of the most flavorful soups I have ever made.  And it’s one of the few soups that is as good the first day as it is the second.  The key is the broth, which is just a vault of scents and tastes that are neither timid or overpowering. One of these days I’ll actually get to try some real Pho, and then I can see how close I actually came. IMG_7333

Faux-Pho, Fo’ Real, Yo.

[For the original, meat-based Paleo pho, click here.]

Hawaiian Poke with Bragg Liquid Aminos

from: Jamey W. Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin

DOOD.

Have you ever had poke? Do you even like sushi and such? I don’t know if we’ve ever had this conversation.

I’ve loved sushi rolls for years, but when I lived in Hawaii, I was turned onto a much broader world of sushi. In particular, I fell in love with sashimi and a distinctly Hawaiian dish known as poke. There was a grocery deli Kona side I used to go to that had about 8 or 9 types of poke, stretching the definition a bit from one to another, but not stretching the amazing flavor.

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Essentially, poke is a bowl of raw fish, onions, soy sauce, and spices, and often includes sea weed and other items. It’s probably more of a sub-class of ceviche, but the flavors and spices are on the Asian spectrum, rather than the Hispanic spectrum like ceviche.

While poke is usually done with fresh ahi tuna, I had some mahi mahi filets on hand and decided to give it a shot. And sure enough, it was great.

I didn’t measure anything, so I’ll just tell you in paragraph form. In a bowl, combine diced onion (I used white), minced garlic, ginger powder (or even better with fresh grated ginger), crushed red pepper flakes, sea salt, a splash of sesame oil, a generous helping of Bragg Liquid Aminos (soy sauce is more traditional), and two scoops of chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong, same brand as “rooster” sriracha). Stir this up.

Chop your raw fish filets into small cubes. Toss with the goodies in the bowl. Let it rest for awhile for the flavors to meld. Serve as an appetizer or main course, and eat it with chop sticks, of course!

One nice optional touch. I keep furikake on hand, a Japanese condiment for rice—also something I discovered in Hawaii—which contains sesame seeds, sea weed, etc. A few shakes on top of the fish adds a really nice touch.

Enjoy!


jamey w. bennett

Vegan Tamales!!

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

So I finally did it.  I took the plunge and made tamales yesterday.  And not to brag, but they kinda ruled.

The plan was to make vegan tamales using this recipe from CheekyKitchen.com.  But you know me, I’m not one to stick to a recipe very long, so I took what I needed and promptly veered off course.  The biggest question for me was how to make the dough.  The article in CheekyKitchen.com was great for that, and I still recommend reading it as a good primer.  Or hell, use the whole thing instead of what I’m about to write.  This is really just an addendum to that article.

I ended up making the majority of the tamales vegan, but I ran out of veggie filling before I did dough and husks, so I just dressed up some left over chicken and finished up with those.  (Chopped chicken, chili, cumin, salsa, and the chipotle sauce you mailed me a while back.)

The Cheeky Kitchen article uses a lentil base for the filling, but I didn’t have any lentils on hand.  I also couldn’t find a can of straight green chilies at Food City (aka, Food Shitty).  This is where I where I went on my own with the recipe.

Here’s what I used for the vegan filling.

  • One can black eyed peas — (insert generic, but accurate Fergie insult here)
  • Two carrots cubed small
  • One zucchini cubed small
  • Half large onion
  • Handful of frozen corn
  • Lots O’ Garlic
  • 10-ounce can of Rotel tomatoes and chilies
  • One small can of Rotel Original tomato sauce
  • 1 TBS chili powder
  • 1/2 TBS cumin
  • A stem of fresh oregano, minced
  • Salt and white pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the rest of the fresh/frozen veggies.  Sauté for another few minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Viola, vegan tamale filling.  It tasted spicier in the bowl than it did in the tamale.

I made the dough pretty much exactly like the Cheeky Kitchen recipe, but I subbed Imagine brand No Chicken Stock for the faux-beef bouillon cubes and water.  I loved the use of coconut oil for the saturated fat.  It gave such a light, fresh flavor that you just don’t get with shortening or lard.  I used organic unrefined oil.

Here’s her recipe, verbatim.

For the Tamale Dough:

  • 4 cups masa
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3 vegan “beef” bouillon cubes dissolved into 3 cups of water
  • 1 (16 ounce) package dried corn husks

Now, I only used a 6 oz package of husks, and I still had WAY too many.  But I have the feeling that I may have rolled mine funny.  Either way, I wouldn’t go overboard and buy more than a 6 oz package of husks.

Again, to her instructions.
“Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of warm water while preparing to cook the tamales.
“In a large bowl, mix the masa, baking soda, and salt together. Add the coconut oil. Stir well. Add the bouillon flavored water to the mix. Add more water, if needed, to make the masa a soft, spongy dough.”

Filling and tying the tamales was frustrating at first, but it’s an easily acquired skill.  Just remember, you’re not making the giant sized tamales that the masters produce, you’re making smaller, more manageable tamales.

Basically, what you want to do is grab a big husk from the water and spread a good coating of masa across the center part of the leaf, making sure to leave room at the top and bottom to fold and tie the husk down.  Leave some room at the edges, too, so you have space to cover the whole tamale with husk when you roll it.

Spoon some of the mixture into the center of the dough, and roll it up side-to-side.  Pay careful attention to completely cover the filling with the dough when rolling.  This may involve peeling the husk back as you go, kind of like rolling a cigarette in a dollar bill.  Once the dough is closed, and the husk is wrapped, fold the top and bottom edges over and tie them back with peeled strips from another husk.  (Her instructions seemed vague about this, and her pictures made it seem like she only used one tie.  I couldn’t figure that out, so I opted instead to tie the top and bottoms separately.)

She suggests baking the tamales at 400º in the oven on a rack set over water.  This will bake and steam them.  I did it a little differently.  I actually steamed them on the stovetop; in a colander set at the top of a stock pot.

Once all of your tamales are rolled and tied, stand them up in the colander – I had to lay a few flat across to fill it, but they all cooked fine.  Place the colander inside a stock pot filled with a few inches of water and seal tightly with tin-foil.  Once the steam is at a full boil, give it about 30-40 minutes and check them.  The tamales may seem mushy right out of the steam, but they’ll firm up as they cool.

Let me just say that they look as awesome as they taste.  And it makes your house smell wonderful!  We made a ton of tamales, enough to freeze and snack on later.
I definitely recommend giving this a try, dude.  Especially considering how much you like the Mexican cuisine.  It’s damn near authentic!

Bacon Cheese Spread

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

Next time you’re in Knoxville, I’m going to take you to my new favorite watering hole, Public House.  Beyond the fact that there is not a single television in the joint, one of the best things about Public House is their bar-food – everything from three shades of roasted nuts, to truffle popcorn, and everything is local and fairly priced.

For my money, the best item on the menu is their Bacon Cheese Spread.  It’s essentially the most awesome pimento cheese served with warm crusty bread.  It’ll make you weak in your knees.  I know a few people who have tried to recreate it at home, but have come up short.  Fortunately, I think I’ve got it.

Here’s all you need.

The process is so simple a four year old could do it.

Grate the cheese with a thick grater and mix in the mayo, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce.  Now, decide how much banana pepper and bacon you want in it – a handful of peppers and a few slices of bacon should be enough.  Chop these up into small pieces and fold them into the cheese mix.  Taste.

Is it bacony enough?  If you’ve got enough bacon in, but want more bacon flavor, just add a little splash of liquid smoke.  It’s not cheating, I swear.  (Vegetarians can also recreate the bacon flavor with just liquid smoke.  Fake bacon would just go limp in the mix.)

There you go, dude.  Spread it on some buttered Texas toast and make yourself the most delicious grilled cheese heart attack you’ve ever tasted.

Philosophy of Sausage Making

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

I’m so far behind in my TwoDudes emails that I don’t even know where to begin.  Luckily for you, I made sausage the other weekend, so this seems like as good a place as any to pick up the ball.

I don’t know if you’ve ever made sausage, but I hadn’t, and I assumed it was going to be ridiculously difficult.  I had always thought a fun and easy way to do it would be to buy some ground meat, mix in some spices, and make “sausage” patties.  Well, when an old cast-metal, hand-crank meat grinder showed up at our neighborhood yard sale, I knew that plan was shit.  It was time to go all in.

None of us really knew what spices make “sausage.”  We knew that sage makes good breakfast sausage and that you can’t make Italian sausage without fennel, but that’s where our recipe knowledge stopped.  We each did a small amount of research online, but in the end, we decided to just avoid a recipe and just make it up as we went.  This approach, along with morning beers, led to a very distinct lack of note taking.

The spices consisted of a small amount of dry spices along with a handful of fresh herbs from my garden.  Here’s how we collected our meat:  I went suburban and bought a 3-1/2 pound bone-in pork shoulder at the grocery store.  (I looked for the best/most marbling I could see.)  Brandon had a trip coming up to see his family in the country, during which he bagged a rabbit with a .22 rifle.  John went to Lay’s meat market in the backstreets of Knoxville (aren’t the best meat stores always in a crappy building in the PJs?) and bought a 5 pound bag of “pork fat.”

We started out with around 10 pounds of flesh, bone and skin, but after we cleaned the rabbit, carved the bone out of the shoulder, and pulled the skin off the pork fat, we were down to about 7 or 8 pounds.  (In case you’re wondering, yes, we cooked the skin in a cast iron pan to render the remaining fat and make cracklins.)  As we were cleaning our respective meats, we chopped them into small pieces — around 1/2 to 1 inch cubed.  Into this, we mixed our haphazard assortments of herbs and seasonings.

The final mix went something like this. 

  • Meat and fat mix
  • Two tall stalks of rosemary
  • Two tall sprigs of oregano
  • Six sage leaves
  • A handful of thyme sprigs
  • Whole bundle of garlic, roasted
  • Powdered coriander (Maybe 2 tbs?)
  • A good coating of Kosher salt
  • Plenty of red pepper flakes
  • Lots of cayenne pepper
  • Black and white pepper
  • 6-8 ounces of Muprhy’s Irish Stout

We chopped the fresh herbs, sprinkled the dry herbs, poured in the beer, and mixed it all into the cubed meat.  Then we put the mix into the fridge while we drank more beer.  You want the fat to be cold, so that it chops easier.

Once everything was chilled, we ran it through the meat grinder on the coarsest setting.  We proceeded to case half the mix in hog intestines, but we were so unprepared for that process, and it was such a disaster that I don’t feel qualified to give any tips.  Well, maybe one tip — buy a sausage stuffer!  Faced with the prospect of stuffing more intestines, we decided to leave the other half as a loose mix which we split evenly between us.

We sampled the sausage in patty form just after grinding, and again as links at the end of the day.  Both times were fantastic, but we noticed that the heat of the peppers drastically declined the longer the sausage sat.  The most surprising thing was how sausage-like the flavor was!  It was incredible!  I’ve got about 8 ounces of loose mix in my freezer now that I’m going to use for spicy cheese dip for the CochFord Chicken Fry.

I realize that I was kinda weak on the details here, so what I’m about to give you is a brief Philosophy of Sausage Making — a term that I actually Googled beforehand, but sadly discovered does not exist.  If you ever find yourself with a meat grinder and a day to spend elbow deep in pork fat and beer, just follow these instructions.

  • Pour yourself a beer, because you’re on your way to Awesometown.
  • Whatever animal/animals you choose, make sure you have a good fat-to-meat ratio — good being at least 30% fat.
  • Remove everything Kosher before you start — because it’s about to look like a pig exploded in your kitchen.
  • Make sure the mix is chilled before grinding.
  • Add a little liquid to help the texture through the grinder.  Beer is a good option.
  • Make a small patty to sample your recipe after grinding.  Then you can make minor adjustments.
  • It doesn’t matter what spices you use, just as long as you use a ton of them.  Sausage is supposed to be flavorful, dammit!
  • If you want spicy sausage, use a lot of peppers.

There you go, dude.  Daniel’s Philosophy of Sausage Making.

Carne Asada with Roasted Salsa


from: Jamey Bennett

to: Daniel Larkin

Dude, I made a really delicious, really simple roasted salsa. I just ate a few bites and my mouth is warm and fiesta-like. Four tomatoes, two jalapeños, red and yellow onion roasted for about 35 minutes at 300 degrees. Added it to the blender with four cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, cilantro, cayenne, crushed red pepper, lemon juice, and a splash of white vinegar.

Also, I came up with a good carne asada marinade. I make a lot of tacos (obviously), but my tacos never taste like street tacos. This was my attempt. I marinated cheap, cheap steak with white vinegar, soy sauce, fresh garlic, salt and pepper, a dash of garlic powder, cumin, and paprika. I tried to keep the ingredients minimal, and only enough liquid to fully wet the meat. After a couple of hours, I cut the steak into small chunks, and tossed the pieces (with the marinade) into a skillet and cooked until no liquid remained.

Add to tortillas, throw on your taco toppings, add the roasted salsa, and bam. If anything, I won’t add salt next time, as the sodium in the soy sauce was plenty. I didn’t quite duplicate street tacos, but it was damn good.

from: Daniel Larkin
to: Jamey Bennett 

I’ve got the day off today, and I was thinking about brewing.  I might just make a salsa too now!

Hot Sauces of Two Dudes


to Daniel Larkin
from Jamey Bennett 

Hey man,

I hope your journey is fantastic. I wanted to drop you a quick note about some sauces I made today. I made two hot sauces, two wing sauces, and finished up my fermented hot sauce. I think one of the wing sauces needs its own post, and the fermented sauce deserves its own as well.

SO…let me start with my basic sauce. I started making this when I lived in Hawaii, and had a surplus of peppers. After messing around with a few different ways of making this sauce, I settled on a basic, “Keep It Simple Stupid” recipe. Basically, I just take a bunch of peppers, boil them in vinegar for about 20 minutes, throw in a blender with some salt (and maybe a bit of garlic), and you’re done. Today, I made one variation on this: I boiled serrano, jalapeno, and green cherry peppers in water. Drained, added vinegar and Goya’s Adobo seasoning (it’s basically salt and garlic powder), and blended with a tablespoon of sugar.

Next, I’ve been jiving on this amazing carrot hot sauce from WMD Hot Sauce , a local sauce company (UPDATE: now defunct), that I had custom made for my groomsmen and priest. So I did a little google search on carrot hot sauce, and this is the plan I devised. It made way more hot sauce than I imagined, but it is pretty good.

I took a little bit of onion and 4 or 5 garlic cloves, and cooked them in a bit of macadamia nut oil until the onions were slightly translucent. I threw in 1 lb. organic baby carrots, about 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar, and the juice of 5 limes. Brought it to a boil. After a few minutes I added a little less than 1/2 pound of habaneros (mostly reds, a few oranges, and one red cherry pepper from my garden). I cooked all of this until the carrots were pretty soft and easy to break apart with a spatula….this also meant I had to add a little more water at one point. I put this all in the blender, and added salt, 1 tbs. sugar, and added vinegar little by little until it blended smoothly. I chanced it, and added some water, too. Pretty soon I had the consistency I wanted. It tastes fantastic, but with that many habaneros…wow. And the carrots bring such a delicious sweetness to the sauce.

Now, here’s the bonus. I took some of the sauce, melted some butter, pressed up some garlic, tossed in some soy sauce, and bam! Wing sauce. Could have used some cilantro, too, but it was really great.

Happy saucing!

UPDATE: I did the cooking my cast iron skillet. Evidently, I have a lot to learn, because the next few times I used my cast iron skillet, our eyes hurt from spiciness in the air…