Whole Food Veggie Tacos FTW!

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett 

I finally did it!  Veggie tacos made with real food!

My main qualm with vegetarian options at home is that they usually involve some sort of processed fake meat.  Not that I’m staunchly opposed to using them (my Skyline Chili knock-off and my chicken-less tacos both rely on faux-meats) but I’ve always wanted another option.  What comes next in this email is an approximation of what I did.  I didn’t do any prior research, I took no notes, and I’m writing this three weeks after the fact.  I tried to mentally tally everything, but you may still have to rely on your ninja skills of adaptation.

In all honesty, I’m not really going not on memory for all of the measurements, but rather guessing at how much I would add if I were to make this again.

Here’s a list of what made up the filling.  It’s kind of like refrigerator soup, in that I just used whatever I had on hand.  But as anyone who’s read about nutrition knows, variety is the best recipe.  The key to making this more taco-meat-esque is to chop all whole foods very small before cooking.  Obviously, you don’t need to chop the beans or corn, but you get the idea.

•    1 can of black beans (rinsed)
•    about a cup of frozen corn kernels
•    about 1/2 cup of carrot (finely chopped)
•    the tips off one head of broccoli (finely chopped)
•    One or two pablano peppers (finely chopped) — add more or different peppers if you like it hotter
•    1/2 onion (finely chopped)
•    3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
•    a handful of walnuts (you guessed it, finely chopped)
•    1 pack of firm tofu (it’ll break into small pieces when added and stirred) — extra firm tofu won’t break up enough and silken tofu will just dissolve
•    (I wanted to add small cubes of sautéed sweet potato, but I forgot.  I still think that would be good!)
•    1 tbs soy sauce
•    8-ish oz Guinness Draught
•    3-ish tbs tomato paste
•    2-ish tbs chili powder
•    1-1/2-ish tbs cumin
•    Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
•    A few sprigs of chopped cilantro
•    Salt and red and black pepper to taste

Sauté garlic and onion for a minute in the oil of your choice.  Mix all other veggies and sauté for about 10 minutes.  Then add the liquid and spices – again, tasting as you go because I didn’t measure shit.  Simmer everything for 30 minutes, and add walnuts and cilantro in the last 5 minutes.

Fair warning, this made a ton!

Now I didn’t want to just top the tacos off with lettuce and be done with it.  I wanted to go fancy pants.

So I filled a large mixing bowl with green cabbage sliced thinly and evenly with the mandolin.  Then I threw in a good handful of chopped cilantro, and an half-and-half mix of plain greek yogurt and sour cream —enough to make a slaw-type consistency.  I mixed in some salt and pepper, about 3 tbs of granulated sugar, about 1 tbs red wine vinegar and the juice from 2-1/2 limes.  (I used the other half lime to keep the avocado from browning) Then I tossed it all by hand until it was even and put it in the fridge to settle for about an hour.

The final setup went like this; tortilla, veggie filling, cheese, cilantro slaw, sliced avocado and hot sauce.  And it was phenomenal!  The mix of veggies and tofu was the perfect consistency, and the small crunch of walnuts kept the texture interesting.  The fresh slaw was a perfect compliment, and was way more interesting that lettuce and sour cream could have been by themselves.

These tacos made me realize that vegetarian eating doesn’t have to be about avoiding meat.  When done right, it’s really just a tasty way to eat your vegetables.  The variety of plant-based foods on this plate made for one of the most wholesome meals I’ve had in a long time.  And one of the tastiest.

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West African Peanut Soup

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Dude,

I’ve only just discovered African food in the last year or so, and I am a huge fan of what I’ve had. My exposure is still pretty much limited to Ethopian food and Harissa sauce. The nearby Whole Foods carries a couple of kinds of Harissa, and I’m in love with the one from a DC area company, Cava. Soon, I’m going to try my hand at making my own Harissa.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying a bowl of this delicious peanut soup. I got the idea from the Eating Well website, but I made a few modifications that I think made a big difference.

Here it is. I took two sizable sweet potatoes, poked a few holes in them with a fork, and microwaved them for 8-1/2 minutes. While that was happening, I sauteed the equivalent of a small red onion (diced) in my cast iron skillet with oil. As the onions were browning, I threw in two large garlic cloves, diced.

After everything looked and smelled the way I wanted, I added 1-1/2 cups of ketchup and 1-1/2 cups of water. The recipe actually called for tomato juice, but I didn’t have any, and I thought it might be reminiscent of barbecue sauce if I used ketchup. Not very West African, I know, but I think it was actually a good choice.

After a minute or so, I added a handful of jarred sliced jalapenos, 1 teaspoon of ginger powder, and 1 teaspoon of all spice.

While I let all that boil for about 10 minutes, I peeled the sweet potatoes, dicing one to small bite-sized pieces and putting the other in my food processor. I added 1/2 cup of all natural chunky peanut butter to the food processor, and 2 cups of broth. I didn’t have vegetable broth on hand, so I did the next best thing and used a tomato-chicken buillion cube, dissolved in two cups of hot water. Once blended, I put that mixture, and the chunky sweet potato into the skillet. Stirred. Lots of stirring.

Now, this is where things get a little less precise and a little more creative. I thought it was too thick, so I added another cup of water. I didn’t think it was spicy enough, so I added paprika, cayenne, and crushed red pepper to taste, along with a fairly generous amount of fresh ground black pepper.

Once everything tasted about right, I spooned it into a bowl, and garnished with cilantro.

Okay, now I’m going to go eat a second bowl.

SOUPS!

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett 

It’s downright shameful how long it’s been since we swapped recipes – picture texts and Facebook bragging not withstanding.  I’ve been on a huge homebrewing and comfort food tear lately, and I’m finally at a breathing point where I can record it all.

So it’s officially soup season, and this is the first year I really feel like I’ve embraced the bowl and spoon with any modicum of success.  I’ve already described my chicken soup in an earlier email, but I’ve got two more for you – a beef and barley stew that I randomly threw together and a vegetarian butternut squash and pear soup that I used to make at the Red Rooster Diner in Nashville.  Both are astonishingly good, and both will warm you to your cockles this winter.  Yeah, I said cockles.

First off, the Beef and Barley Stew.  It’s super simple, and the prep work can be done in 30 minutes or less.  The stew itself should cook for at least four hours, but I like to prep it in the morning and let it go all day.  Peasant food was the original, “set it and forget it” theme in the kitchen.

  • 1 qt chicken stock – homemade if you’ve got it, it makes ALL the difference in the world.
  • 1 lb lean sirloin steak, diced into small cubes, salted and peppered and spread across a pan to reach room temperature.
  • 1/2 stick butter.
  • 1 pack beef bones (I recently noticed that most grocery stores sell large bone scraps for stewing, usually in packs of about a pound.  A few of these in the pot with everything else transforms your chicken stock into a mighty warrior of deliciousness.  And they’re dirt cheap.)
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 ribs of celery diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomato with liquids
  • 1 fistful of pearl barley
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 bottle Guinness Stout

You can see where this is going, and I probably don’t even need to continue.  But here it is anyway.

In an oven safe pot with a good fitting lid, brown the beef cubes in the butter on high heat – set aside.

Sauté celery, onions, carrots, and garlic on remaining butter and fat for a few minutes.

Toss the beef back into the pan, and add the stock, Guinness, tomatoes, beef bones, red pepper flakes, and barley and bring to a boil.

Toss the simmering mix into the oven at 220º and let it go as long as you can – four hours minimum.  Remove the beef bones when it’s done, and salt and pepper to taste.

This is such a well rounded stew, nutritiously and flavor-wise.  I recently took a Thermos of it to Ramsey Cascade Falls in the Smoky Mountains, and it was almost as good as the view.

OK, to the second soup, Butternut Squash and Pear.  I used to make this at a little diner on the West Side of Nashville, and it always stuck with me as a favorite.  Easy to make, and it can be ready in under an hour.  I can’t believe it took me this long to make it again.

  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, cored and diced into approximately 1-inch squares.
  • 4 pears, peeled, cored, and diced small.
  • 2 small onions diced
  • 1 qt vegetable stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, approximately 6-inches, whole.
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Sugar or honey to taste – if the pears are good, you shouldn’t need much
  • Heavy cream – less than a cup

The rest is simple.

Sauté the squash, pears and onions in butter until the onion is translucent.

Add stock, rosemary and cinnamon and simmer for 20 minutes, or until squash is done/mashable.

Remove the rosemary sprig and run that shit through a blender or food processor until it’s smooth.

Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.  You’re looking for more balanced comfort than sweet.

(An optional step here is to simmer it again on low heat for another 30 minutes or so, but it’s not 100% necessary)

Finish off with a touch of cream to round it out.

I like to serve this garnished with a dollop of sour cream on top, just to contrast the slight sweetness of the squash and pear.  Jenny and I ate this on Christmas Eve alongside my sad attempt at a rustic bread loaf.  It was delicious, though, and the subtle fruit, squash and rosemary flavors are all intrinsically winter for me.  mmmm…..

Enjoy, hombre.

Cincinnati Chili!

from: Daniel Larkin
to: jamey 10:41 AM

I don’t know if you’re aware of my family’s obsession with Skyline Chili, the Cincinnati purveyors of heaven in soupy meat form.  They aren’t located in Tennessee, and as far as I know, the closest location to me is in Louisville, Kentucky.  Still, it’s worth the drive.

For all of their unwillingness to sprawl, two stores somehow ended up in South Florida.  When the Florida Marlins were created in 1993, my father and I would make regular trips to watch them get their asses beat up and down the inaugural calendar.  Our routine usually involved dinner at Skyline Chili on University Drive on the way out of town.  This was sometimes spiced up with other fun activities like flattening the tires of my sister’s fiance, who my father had nicknamed “shithead.”  Skyline Chili is a fantastic enough establishment by itself to constitute life-long loyalty, but the fact that it was such an integral part of that routine with my dad made it almost mythical.  (I now sport their logo tattooed on my left calf.)

Cincinnati Chili is unlike any other type of chili out there in that is has a sweet, cinnamon and chocolate flavor.  There are no chunks, but it’s a fairly loose mix of meat and tomato base.  Oh, it’s a beautiful thing.

Anyway, when you live in Tennessee, or Pennsylvania for that matter, you really only have three options for Skyline Chili.

1.) Drive to the nearest Skyline Chili location.  This will always be the best option.

2.) Search out the canned stuff from a grocery store.  I have mixed feelings on this, but it’ll do in a pinch.

3.) Make your own.  This was never a realistic choice, until about a year and a half ago.

It all started because I wanted Jenny to know the true gloriousness of Cincinnati chili, but she’s vegetarian.  The recipe, therefore, is for a vegetarian version of the chili – using TVP (texturized vegetable protein) instead of beef.  The flavor is still pretty spot on, but you can easily revert it back to ground beef if you want.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • One 12 oz. bag of Morningstar Crumble, or whatever type of TVP you prefer.  (The 12-oz. bags contain no fat drippings, so they roughly equal one pound of ground beef – browned and drained.
  • 1/2 Medium sized onion – chopped.
  • One clove garlic – minced.
  • One tablespoon each of brown sugar, chili powder and cider vinegar.
  • One teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • One (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • Two small pieces of dark chocolate – the snack size.  (We always have Dove Dark squares on hand)

1.) First, sauté the onion and garlic until translucent.  (This may be considered sacrilegious in some circles that believe the onion should be raw and added on top of the finished product.  In my opinion, though, the flavor requires cooked onion, and so powder would be a necessary substitute.  Skyline has no discernible chunks of garlic or onion, so I assume they use powder for both, but I prefer to use fresh when possible.  Plus, I HATE raw onion.)
2.) Next, toss in your meat (either frozen TVP or browned and drained beef)
3.) Mix in the liquids – tomato sauce, water and vinegar.
4.) Stir in the brown sugar, chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, cumin and salt.
5.) When the mix is nice and warm, reduce the heat and toss in the chocolate squares and stir until they’ve completely melted in and are mixed.
6.) Simmer for 30 minutes until thickened.

It may not smell like a final product while you’re cooking it, but it’ll all come together in the end.  I like to step outside for a few minutes to reset my olfactory senses while cooking this.  When I step back into the house, I get hit with a wall of Skyline Chili.

Now there are a few different ways to serve this, but there is one constant – the cheese.  Buy a block of good sharp cheddar and shred it as finely as you can, making the shreds as long as possible.  The goal is to have a heaping pile of room temperature cheese whose sharpness perfectly contrasts the sweet, cinnamon chili.  When you’re piling on the cheese, remember to put on an obscene amount, and then add some more.

To serve it on a hotdog, chose a neutral tasting dog that isn’t too big.  You want the chili to shine.  Lay the dog on a steamed bun laced with cheap yellow mustard, smother it with chili and toss on a grotesque amount of cheese.  This is where the raw onion would go too, if you were so inclined.

The other way to serve this is on a plate of spaghetti.  Blanket a plate of noodles with chili, and then add the obligatory heart attack of cheese.  When you do it this way, you need to supply everyone with a side bowl of oyster crackers for texture and extra salt.  Raw onions can also be added.  Blech!

Here’s a few photos on proper presentation and possible side effects.
          

Tofu Reuben

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey bennett
show details 10:16 AM (1 minute ago)

I’m not going to lie to you, Jamey, last night I made the best tofu reuben I’ve ever eaten.  This normally wouldn’t sound like a big deal except that an all vegetarian restaurant in Knoxville named Veg-O-Rama used to make a tofureuben that would knock my socks off – that is until they closed shop.  Anyway, I think I beat theirreuben!

Another reason this is big news is that after living with a vegetarian for 7 years, I think I finally figured out how to make good tofu.  I’m sure you’ve cooked enough tofu to know that it’s a blank slate of a food item texturally and flavor-wise, and it requires some seemingly magical skill to make progress on either front.

Marinating is obviously necessary, but there’s always the problem of sloppy loose texture – even when you use “extra firm” curd.  There is one brand of local organic tofu we buy sometimes that’s thick as a steak, but what’s good for the texture is bad for flavor, since the denseness impedes rapid marination.  (And who wants to marinate tofu all day?)

So here’s what I learned.

First, I bought the generic organic tofu – extra firm, but still squishy in regards to the final product.  I cut the tofu into about 1/4 inch slices and pressed them with paper towels to dry them out as much as possible.  (Nothing new here, this is standard prep work for tofu)  Then I laid them flat in a large ziplock baggie and filled it with a rough 1:1 mix of water and soy sauce with a splash of worchestire sauce and liquid hickory smoke.  I set that in the fridge and let it go for a few hours while I worked.

Now, the biggest thing I did differently than any other time was that I cooked the tofu slices for about 10 minutes on very high heat with a small amount of safflower oil.  I’ve never used “high heat” oil for tofu before, and so I’ve never been able to utilize the temperatures needed to toughen and crisp the slices.  It was beautiful!  Golden brown slices that didn’t just dissolve in my mouth.  There’s no faking corned beef, but this was damn good.

I placed a few stacks of the tofu slices on some pumpernickel bread smeared with Harvest Ground mustard and Thousand Island Dressing, and topped it all with a good swiss cheese and my homemade sauerkraut (left over from Oktoberfest).  I broiled the sandwich in the toaster, and viola!

In all honesty, I think the sauerkraut made the sandwich what it was, but the marinated tofu cooked to perfection was what I’ve been missing all these years.  It was fantastic, and I’d even wager that my father would like it.

Vegetarian Chicken Soft Tacos [Bonus: Pork Tacos]

[Note: This is the post that planted the seed that led to Two Dudes Foods.]

From: Daniel Larkin
Date: Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 7:56 PM
Subject:
Today I share the secret
To: “jamey w. bennett”

After years of blindly making this recipe, I finally measured the ingredients for my chicken soft tacos.  I figured you should be the first person I share the recipe with.  If anyone can give me constructive feedback on my taco recipe, it’s you – the taco guy.  I make these veggie-style, using Quorn Naked Cutlets.  I’ve never made them with real chicken, but if I had to, I would first try using left-over chicken (fully cooked) shredded as thinly as possible.

I chop the Naked Cutlets into thin strips, lay them flat, and chop again until the pieces resemble shredded chicken like you expect to see in Mexican restaurant.  If you can find the Naked Cutlets in Philly, I would recommend this as a meat-free meal.  I know you could use a little taco in your meat fasting days.

So here it goes.

  • 6 oz chicken (this translates into 3 Naked Cutlets) finely shredded as mentioned above.
  • 8 oz can of no salt added tomato sauce
  • 4 oz orange juice.  (I measure this in the empty 8 oz tomato sauce can)
  • 4 oz water
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp seasoning salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • Squirt of lemon or lime juice
  • Chopped cilantro

Jenny’s not a fan of overly overly-spicy foods, so these are super low on the heat scale.  But you can heat them up with cayenne and red pepper flakes, or by tossing a few Jalapenos in the marinade.

Marinate the chicken in all ingredients (except cilantro and lemon/lime juice) for at least 30 minutes.

Bring the mix to a boil, and simmer covered on low for 5 or 10 minutes.
Remove lid and simmer for another 15 minutes – until sauce has thickened or soaked into meat.

Toss in some chopped cilantro and squeeze in lemon/lime juice, and viola!

Let me know how it goes.  I would love the feedback.

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Dude,

I am eating the most amazing pulled pork tacos ever. I still haven’t made your faux chicken tacos, but you inspired this. I sauteed onions and jalapenos in olive oil, added precooked pulled pork and cilantro, then poured 100% mango-orange juice over it and cooked it until excess liquid was gone. Added to whole wheat tortillas (which I briefly browned in a skillet), added sour cream, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and homemade salsa. INCREDIBLE!

Jamey