Stupid Easy Borscht

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin
date: Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 6:01 PM

Hey Dude,

So I was sick on Christmas Day, home alone and sick. It sucked. So I decided to postpone Christmas until the Julian calendar Christmas observed by Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs and so forth, and celebrate with my niece and brother in New Orleans.

So to mark the occasion, I also offered to prepare some Russian food for them. I made pierogi, sauerkraut, borscht, and blini. It was great.

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Today, I want to focus on the borscht, a traditional beet-based soup. Basically, my understanding is borscht can be prepared many ways, with the non-negotiable ingredient being beets (and arguably dill). As far as I know, just about anything else is up for grabs.

This recipe is essentially paleo, though some dogmatists would gripe about the dairy and legumes. But those people are turds. To make this vegetarian just omit the chicken stock and do more veggie stock.

Oh, and because I didn’t want to spend five hours in the kitchen, I rely heavily on frozen and canned foods. It’s so easy and really damn good.

Here goes:

Open a beer. Start drinking it.

4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups chicken broth

Bring to a boil, then simmer.

Olive oil
1 package frozen potatoes, carrots, onion (“for stew”) in the frozen section (16 oz? 32 oz?)

Sautée for a while, then add to the broth.

2 cups frozen green peas
2 cups frozen cut green beans

Throw these in the broth. Drink more beer. Take a shot of vodka.

4 cans sliced beets (15oz.)

Drain, but save the purple beet water. Chop up the beets and throw them in. Add the beet water to the pot. You might want to bring up the heat a bit for a few minutes or whatever. I don’t know. I think I did.

Add 4 tsp. vinegar or so, you could also use lemon juice or something like that, I used apple cider vinegar
Maybe throw in some butter, I did, a few tablespoons or so, sounded like a good idea
2 handfuls of fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook a little longer. Or whatever.

Sour cream to serve. Add more dill if you want. Take another shot of vodka. Serve. Stir in the sour cream. Sour cream is awesome.

This was killer. It makes a lot, so go halvesies if you want. But I think it’s fun to have soup to eat all week.

Merry Second Christmas,
Jamey

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.]

Super Easy Creamy Vegan Tomato Soup

(From Jamey Bennett to Daniel Larkin, via iMessage)

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So easy I’m going to text it to you.

    • One 28 oz can crushed tomatoes with basil,
    • one 14 oz. can of coconut cream (coconut milk would work too, but I like Trader Joe’s coconut cream, it’s thicker)
    • Oops
    • 14 oz. water (use the empty cream can),
    • 1 tbsp coconut palm sugar,
    • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning,
    • 1 tsp red pepper flakes,
    • about 3 or 4 cloves minced garlic.
    • And black pepper to taste.

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Combine all in a pot stirring at high heat until nearly boiling, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes. I served it with potato pancakes. Fantastic.

Should serve about 4 bowls.

Choose Your Own Adventure Pickles

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From: Daniel Larkin
To: Jamey Bennett

Are you doing a garden in Florida? I hope so, because you’ve got the weather for it. Fall is right around the corner in Tennessee, and this is the first year I’ve actively tried to harvest as much as I could from my garden before the cold sets in and it all just withers and rots on the vine. (Pesto email coming soon)

The biggest producer we had this year was our lone banana pepper plant, which I’m sure is trying its hardest to keep growing in the chill night air as I type this. Yesterday I collected everything could from the plant, and added it to a bag of peppers I had collected about two weeks ago. The bounty was too much to waste, so I decided to pickle them with the last of my cucumbers and all the dill that hadn’t gone to flower. I also ran to the store and bought some jalapeños and garlic for good measure.

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If you haven’t made pickles before, shame on you. Pickles are one of those wonderful items that are not only cheaper to make on your own, but are way better tasting than store-bought. And the effort is nearly nil. I don’t own a canner, a pressure cooker, or any other fancy equipment. In fact, the only “canning equipment” I use are Ball jars and a jar grabber.

The caveat here, though, is that I make small batches that I know won’t last longer than a month or two. Canning can get sketchy as a long-term investment, so what I’m suggesting here is a small batch arrangement for short term use.

With any canning, cleanliness is key, so sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them in a large stock pot filled with enough water to cover the jars halfway. Fill the jars, cover with a lid, and boil for 10 minutes. Then set the aside on a towel to cool.

(Good practice here dictates that I say that most people recommend putting your filled jars back pot of into the pot and boiling the contents for another 10 minutes. I don’t do that, but again, I eat my pickles pretty fresh, I’m not squirreling them away for Armageddon. Plus, not boiling the filled jars also keeps the pickles crisp!)

So that’s the cleanliness aspect, but what about the ingredients?  The first question people ask when talking about pickles isn’t, “What vegetables do you pickle?”  It’s, “What do you soak them in?” Now what I’m about to unload on you isn’t a recipe, but an easy to remember formula. Making pickles is like making beer, just learn the formula, and then go balls deep into the great unknown. The only ingredients you need to know are these:

  • 1-cup water to 1-cup white vinegar, add one tablespoon of pickling salt. (Just remember one-to-one-to-one) Mix as much of this solution as you need, and bring it to a boil.

That’s it. The veggies and spices are all yours to mix. Take your cooled, sanitized jars, stuff them to the gills with whatever veggies (or fruits) and herbs you want, and top it off with the boiling water/vinegar mix. Seal the jars, set them in the fridge for two weeks, and you’re done. It takes me less than an hour, start to finish, to make a half dozen jars, but I sometimes like to make them one or two jars at a time, just to have around.  It’s that easy.

There is no limit to what awesome pickles you can make. Spicy pickles with squash and jalapeño, curry pickles with carrots, lemon and rosemary pickles (I learned the hard way to go easy on the rosemary). You can seriously get Bubba Gump Shrimp about it. I personally like the spicy pickles with a loaf of homemade sourdough baguette and a slice of Camembert cheese. Great goofily moogily.

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Vegan Taco Onslaught!!

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Daniel Larkin:

to Jamey Bennett

Traditional tacos filled a with lentil and mushroom base, and curry tofu and chickpea tacos in a soft tortilla.  Well, that’s really only two, but it kinda counts as an onslaught, right?  Now this looks like a long email, but bear with me because it’s two back-to-back meals that fold seamlessly into each other with very little effort!

I don’t know if I told you or not, but the doc told us that Charlie has some food allergies.  They should pass as he gets older, but in the meantime, Jenny has been told to avoid milk and peanuts while she breastfeeds.  Since Jenny is already vegetarian, that almost veganizes her diet.  (She still eats eggs)  So we’ve been really trying to create new whole food, meatless and dairyless recipes, and for the most part, we’ve had some really great successes – especially these two that I made over the weekend.  VEGAN TACOS TWO WAYS!

These two make great back-to-back meals because they share a ‘creamy’ avocado, lime and cilantro sauce.  And while these are both technically tacos, their flavors couldn’t be more different.  The best part is that both are ridiculously simple and only use a few easy to find ingredients.

OK, we’ll start with the sauce, since that’s the common denominator in both recipes; the Avocado, Lime and Cilantro ‘Cream’ Sauce.

Ingredients

  • 12 oz silken tofu
  • 1/2 ripe Haas avocado
  • 3 tbs lime juice
  • 1tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • A good palmful of fresh cilantro leaves
  • Salt to taste

Put all of these things into a blender, and viola!  That’s it.  You’ll never want sour cream for your tacos again.  I promise.

Now, this makes enough to top all of your tacos, with enough left over to make slaw for your curry tacos.

But let’s start with the Lentil and Mushroom Tacos.  This is going to look stupid simple, because the only thing I was worried about was the “meat” base.  If you’ve got a taco seasoning mix or recipe you prefer, use it.  I’ve made my own taco seasoning before, and for the life of me, I just can’t compete with the 95 cent packets at the grocery store.  Or better yet, I just buy a taco kit.  Again, the only thing I worry about is the filling.

  • 2 cups prepared lentils cooked in veggie stock. (I won’t go into cooking details because different lentils cook differently)
  • 8 ounces portobello mushrooms finely chopped.
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp each soy sauce and vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash of liquid smoke (optional)
  • Any extra veggie stock you didn’t use on the lentils
  • Packet of favorite taco seasoning

This is easy:

  • Sautee mushrooms in olive oil for 5-10 minutes (until they start to shrink)
  • Add lentils, tomato paste, soy, Worcestershire and liquid smoke.  (Stir this around and check the consistency.  You want extra liquid because it’s going to cook down, so if it looks stiff, add veggie stock.)
  • Slowly add seasoning mix, tasting as you go.  (I say slowly because all of these packets are different, and it’s easy to end up with a salt bomb)
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.  You’re looking for a semi-loose consistency, like beefy taco mix, so don’t be afraid to keep adding stock as you go.

Top those bad boys off with all the usual fixin’s using the tofu cream sauce instead of sour cream. The lentil and mushroom texture will more than fill in for the beef, and the flavor is more smokey and robust than any ground beef.  You’re welcome.

OK, so you’ve enjoyed your traditional tacos one night, but you still have a shit load of tofu and avocado sauce left over.  What do you do?  You make some Vegan Cilantro/Lime Slaw to go with your curry tacos, that’s what!

  • Buy a prepackaged bag of coleslaw veggies.
  • Add a handful of rough chopped cilantro, 2 tbs of lime juice – salt and pepper to taste.
  • Now mix in the left over tofu sauce until you get a good slaw-like mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two.

The Tofu/Chickpea Curry Tacos are really the crown jewel of this whole thing, and they’re also the simplest thing to make.  There is really no heavy cooking involved, just mixing and simmering.  With my slaw premade, I had these tacos on the table in about 30 minutes.

  • 1 lb block extra firm tofu – well pressed and chopped into small cubes.
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped (optional)
  • I can prepared chickpeas – drained
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tbs green curry paste (or more if you prefer)
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • soft tortillas
  • roasted cashews, chopped

And the cooking on these is so simple, it’s ridiculous!

  • First, saute the onion and tofu on high heat for 5 minutes (use coconut oil if you have it)
  • Add next five ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes
  • Turn off heat and mix in the cherry tomatoes, basil and lime juice.  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes while you warm tortillas.

Pile that shit on!  The curry mix should stiffen a bit, but make sure you get enough sauce in each tortilla.  Then top it with slaw, more cilantro and lime juice, cashews, and of course Sriracha.

The taste is amazing!  It’s subtle enough for you to pick out every flavor, but balanced enough that they all sing in perfect harmony.  These are the best things I’ve made in  while.  Seriously.

Now go make tacos!

Amazing Meatless (Spicy) Meatballs

from: Jamey W. Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin
date: Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Well Dude,

You know how it is with the faux meats. It can be hit and miss. I’ve never actually tried the faux meatballs I’ve seen at the store, but I’ve read a few complains about them online. And I’m rarely satisfied in my kitchen if I don’t get to use a damn spice or two.

So enter the amazing (spicy) meatless meatballs I just made up. And they are easy as balls, because that’s how balls should be.

Start with one package of Gimme Lean soy protein sausage. This was an accidental stroke of genius, as I simply bought this the other day at Whole Foods, without any real plan of what I would do with it. When the meatball light went off in my brain, I knew what I had to do.

Set that aside, and get out the food processor, at least if you want to do this the easy way. Throw in 1/4 cup of chopped red onion (you might choose to omit this, but these onions will be cooked), and mince that shit up. Squeeze in the faux sausage (careful or your hands will get sticky).

Now, we’re making this easy, so just put in 1 teaspoon of each of the following: oregano, parsley, crushed red pepper (less if you want it less spicy, duh), and minced garlic (about two cloves if you’re going fresh).  Add 1/4 cup of grated parmesan/romano cheese, and 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. Then a few grinds of black pepper. Run the food processor until everything is mixed.

Then make balls. It doesn’t take a genius to do it. Kindergarteners do this shit with PlayDough.

Fry them until nice and browned.

Do whatever you want with them after that. I mean, they’re your balls. I dipped my balls in marinara and let them simmer for a bit before tossing them with some penne and marinara.

And there you have it. Tasty, tasty, faux meat meatballs.

Jamey

Sauteed Curried Sweet Potato

from: Daniel Larkin
to: Jamey Bennett

This is really easy, and I think you need to know.  I stumbled across the greatest method of making potatoes ever.  You can use regular potatoes with any savory spices you want, but I’ll used curried sweet potatoes as my example.

Cut two large sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch cubes — approximately.

Mix (and these are guesses on the measurements)

  •     1tbs red curry powder
  •     1/2 tsp cinnamon
  •     1tbs brown sugar
  •     Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the potato cubes in a bowl with oil (safflower is a good option) and all of the dry spices.  Bake in oven at 400º until almost done — maybe about 15 or 20 minutes.

Pull these suckers out the oven and sauté in butter until golden brown.

The baking cooks the potatoes and melds the flavors, but the sautéing really gives each cube a solid outside that you don’t get any other way.  Use them as a side, or add them to other dishes.

These go GREAT in stir-fry, or you can use Mexican themed spices and put them in tacos!  Or use this method with regular potatoes, but sub in some garlic and rosemary!  Just do it!  Whatever you do!

That is all.