Trashy Vegan Taco Party Plate

I don’t know about you, but my Anglo ass craves a trashy taco. Taco Bell. Tex-Mex. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a legit taco. But I’m talking about that craving. That need for a totally garbage taco. I’ve got a plan for you to bring a mostly veggieless vegan taco to the party for all your friends who do, too.

HOW TO MAKE IT TRASHY, BUT CLASSY

Your’e gonna need a few elements here, some homemade, and some storebought. There will be the vegan taco “meat,” the homemade cashew cheese, and four other elements which I entirely recommend you just go with. This ain’t a fancy dinner. This is a party dinner to make everyone happy.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

1 cup lentils

I cup quinoia

3 cups veggie broth

really trashy taco seasoning like Ortega or Taco Bell (or you can homemake it)

alfalafa spouts

Taco Bell Fire Sauce (yes, I will not compromise)

Morning Star fake bacon

1/2 lb firm tofu

1/2 cup of raw cashews

half a lemon, juiced

3 cloves of roasted garlic

s + p

liberal amount of olive oil

hard taco shells

THE PROCESS

fry your fake bacon. This is not hard. Make it crispy, and cut it into small pieces

Take your lentils, quinoa, veggie broth, and cook at a very low heat. When the liquid is almost gone, and the quinoa spirals open, add your trashy, trashy taco seasoning. Stir. Really. I recommend Taco Bell. These are nothing near authentic tacos!

Take your cashews and grind them in blender. Add your tofu, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and roasted garlic. Whir them. Add olive oil until it becomes a creamy mix. This is your cashew cheese, and I promise, you will not miss the real thing.

Put your bacon, taco “meat,” cashew cheese, sprouts and Fire sauce on a plate. Let people scoop it up. They will not be disappointed. YOU will not be disappointed. Fake-ass tacos are all about the cravings, so please lean into them. This is not a sophisticated recipe by any means, it’s one about hitting those cravings while doing good for your body. Enjoy the heck out of it.

Roux, Gumbo, and You

Far before I moved to the Gulf Coast in 2006, I was obsessed with Cajun and Creole food. I’d cooked up plenty of Zatarain’s from a box and topped everything with Tabasco. But, let’s be honest, good Cajun food requires time, energy, and an understanding of the food culture that you cannot get outside of the Gulf.

But even if the Cajun restaurant in your non-Southern city is crap (And it is. It is crap.), that shouldn’t stop you from all the culinary wonders of Louisiana!

The Roux

The real trick to good gumbo is time and a strong stirring hand. To make a good roux–the mixture of oil and flour that forms the base of a gumbo–you need to stir it continuously for at least 20 minutes.

To make, over very low heat combine equal parts oil (a neutral-flavored oil like vegetable or canola or butter) and equal parts all-purpose flour in your soup pot. Using a wooden spoon, stir continuously over the lowest heat for at least 20 minutes until the roux is a dark peanut-butter color. This is best done with a friend/partner/child who you can trade off with.

NOTE: The longer you go, the better it will taste. There are some real Cajun restaurants in Lafayette that can get it so dark that it’s almost black. However, there is a point of no return. If the roux burns, you’ll have to start all over. This will make you want to cry. I know.

The Trinity

All Cajun and Creole food starts with The Trinity–onions, celery, and green bell pepper. This is the basis for every standard, be it gumbo, jambalaya, or red beans and rice.

You’ll want to dice all three of these along with some garlic to add to the roux once it’s finished cooking. (If you’re cooking this alone, chop your veg BEFORE you start the roux, so you don’t have to step away from it.)

When you’re happy with the color of your roux, add in your vegetables and saute until cooked through. (You may need to turn up the temperature some to make this happen.)

Add your Cajun seasoning mix (I prefer Tony’s, which I always have on hand), two bay leaves, and any additional cayenne that you would like at this point. (If you don’t have seasoning mix, that’s fine. You can make your own.) Give it a few more stirs to incorporate.

The Stock

At this point, it’s time to add your stock or broth. The choice on what you use here is entirely up to you. For a seafood gumbo, I will either use a seafood or chicken stock. With a more meat-forward dish, I may use chicken or beef. If you’re doing a vegan iteration, then obviously veggie stock is fine. Gumbo is forgiving. Use what you have.

Add enough to cover the vegetables and then about three inches more. It’ll thicken significantly as it cooks in with the roux. Bring to a boil and then return to medium heat.

The Extras

Gumbo has lots of iterations. Chicken. Seafood. Gumbo Z’Herbes. It’s really just meant to be a base to add whatever is around, like much of the cooking of the region. Most incorporate some sort of smoked sausage (andouille is the traditional) and another meat.

If you’re doing any sort of meat, while the stock is coming to a boil, chop it into bite-sized pieces and saute. (Save any seafood for the end.) When it’s just browned, add the meat (and any juices) to your gumbo pot.

If you’re doing a vegan iteration, roughly chop you greens and add them directly to the gumbo pot.

Continue to cook your gumbo on medium until everything is cooked through.

The Thickener

While the word gumbo is derived from a West African word for okra, not all gumbos include okra. Traditionally okra works as a thickener for the soup, which is added near the end of the cooking process. If you don’t have okra (and frozen is fine here), many folks use file (pronounced fee-lay), a sassafrass powder, which works to naturally flavor and thicken the soup.

While it’s heresy in most parts of Louisiana to say this, I enjoy both okra AND file in my gumbos. I think the texture of the gumbo and the flavor of the file both add their own notes without over-thickening the final product.

If using okra, roughly chop however much you want to incorporate. Add it to the pot after you’ve added your meat. (Traditionally Gumbo Z’Herbes, the vegan iteration, does not use okra, only file.) Continue to cook at a low boil for about ten minutes.

You will need EITHER okra OR file, though, for this to be a true gumbo.

The Rice

While all of this is happening, put some long-grain white rice on to cook. I usually will add a bay leaf or two to the rice along with a few pinches of salt. (Since buying a ton of green garlic this spring, I also add a garlic stalk, but that’s just extra.)

You’ll serve this underneath your final gumbo.

The Final Product

Once your okra and meat have cooked through and the consistency is one that you’re happy with, you can add a few pinches of file to the gumbo for flavor. This is also the time to add your seafood. If using shrimp, crab, shellfish, or fish, add at the very end and cook until pink or shells have opened, depending, usually no more than 3 minutes.

Taste your gumbo and adjust for salt and heat. I usually add a generous amount of hot sauce at this point. If you want to add more Tony’s, go for it, though be aware that it’s very salt-forward so don’t add that AND salt.

To plate, add put your rice on the bottom of a wide bowl. Top with gumbo. Sprinkle that with some diced green onions and parsley plus a little shake of file if using. Serve with extra hot sauce (Crystal is king).

You’ve done it! You’ve also probably spent the last hour and a half in the kitchen doing this, so I hope that you’ve also enjoyed a few beverages of your choosing and are ready to get your Cajun on!

Vegan Stuffed Peppers

Happy mid-July! I’m still on my healthy food kick, so today, I’m bringing you a meal full of grains, nuts, and vegetables. I promise it’s so flavorful you won’t miss the meat! This is a vegan take on a Polish Stuffed Peppers (Papryka Nadziewana), something my grandmother would probably kill me for messing with. Sorry, Gram! I think you’d like these once you got over my blasphemy!

As a side note, I’ve gone mostly pescatarian these days, and the absence of meat has really opened up my taste buds, forced me to use more spices and herbs, and been an all-around positive for my health. I’m not suggesting anyone else give up meats, but the world of flavor is so interesting when you take them out of the picture!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED, PER PEPPER

  • 4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/8 of an onion, chopped
  • 4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup veggie broth
  • 1/2 cup of quinoa
  • 1/4 cup of ground almonds
  • 1 red pepper with the top cut off

THE PROCESS

First, grind your almonds in a food processor until they are fine and powder-like. Take 2 TB of olive oil and saute your mushrooms and onion in it, adding the rosemary towards the end. While you saute, boil your quinoa in the veggie broth (you’ll know it’s done when the spirals open up — by the way, have I told you how much I love quinoa? If you were very broke, you could actually live on it alone for a while! It’s full of protein and delicious and versatile!) Add you sauteed mushrooms and onion to the food processor, with the other two TB of olive oil and the salt and pepper to taste. Take your quinoa (if you have a little veggie broth left in the pot, that’s actually preferable to add, too) and mix it with your processed mushrooms, onion, and almond. Stuff this delightful mixture into your pepper, and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Voila! Healthy , vegan, and tasty! To make a full meal, maybe add some of Erin’s mashed potatoes and a little Greek side salad (romaine, kalmata olives, feta, and balsamic dressing).

Salad Days

Summer’s here! A lot of people are back out into the world. I have been integrating walks in the park here in Lakewood, Ohio, back into my life, and between that and the warm weather, a lot of salads have been happening for me. I’m going to walk you through two delightful and hearty ones, and how to make your own dressings for them. Because, let’s face it, store bought dressing is full of sugars and who knows what. And if you’re gonna eat that salad, there’s no reason to ruin it with a load of who-knows-what on top.

Also, a confession: I’ve gained not a small amount of weight baking during the COVID-19 crisis, and I’ve been eating in a style called the Mediterranean Diet to shed some of those pounds. It’s a super-heart-healthy non-fad diet that focuses on Mediterranean cuisine — olive oil instead of butter, olives themselves, tons of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy, and seafood.

The first salad is probably the heartiest, because it has a half a filet of fresh salmon on top. To make it, you’ll need

1 filet of fresh salmon, roasted

1-2 cups of greens, such as spinach, or romaine

sugar snap peas

pistachios

goat cheese crumbles

olive oil

honey

vinegar, such as rice or apple cider, or fresh lemon juice

fresh herbs, such as rosemary or thyme

To roast the salmon, just spray a little olive oil on a pan and stick it in the oven for 20 minutes. Salmon is full of good, healthy fats and protein.

The last four ingredients will be for the dressing, which you’ll want to emulsify by putting in your blender. Add a little cracked pepper, too, for a tiny kick. Many dressings are a basic combination of fat, sweet, and acid, and whatever spices you like. Of course, I could teach you to make ranch or blue cheese, and I guarantee you’ll love them more than store-bought, but that’s a post for another day!

That’s it! Healthy summer salad part one looks like this:

The second salad is a little more summer-time, because it’s got berries in it. You’ll put together:

1-2 cups of spinach

pistachios

sliced berries, like blackberries and strawberries

crumbled goat cheese

olive oil

maple syrup

balsamic vinegar

a dash of dijon mustard

Again, the first ingredients will be laid on your plate, and the last four emulsified in your blender. I suggest being inexact with your measurements on the dressing, making it to your tastes, not a recipe, tasting as you go along. Your end result with be surprisingly hearty because of the pistachios and cheese, and also bursting with flavors. If you want to bulk it up a little more, consider making 1/2 cup of quinoa and putting it on there. Quinoa is an under-sung salad ingredient that really makes it feel more like a meal, and is great for your body and full of protein.

Two Soups, One Broth

One of the things that I miss most in this new world is the Chinese buffet. While I love a good crab rangoon or pepper beef as much as the next person, what I truly miss are the soups. Hot and sour. Wonton. Egg drop. All the fried wonton skins a girl can eat. Dreamy.

But fortunately I finally figured out how to perfectly recreate a traditional iteration of each of these at home. Today, let us learn the ways of the Chinese take-out soup.

The Broth

Gather all of your things before the water boils. This will streamline the process.

Note that the recipe given here is enough for one main course or two appetizers. Just double everything as necessary.

The first thing that you will need is either a chicken or veggie broth. It’s important that you go broth over stock since you want the clarity of the flavor of the soup. You can even use bouillon here if need be!

Add 1/2 tsp dried ginger, 1 tsp soy sauce, and 1/8 tsp white pepper (optional) to 2 cups of broth. Whisk together until incorporated. Then bring to a low boil.

In a separate bowl, mix 1 tbsp cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until it creates what is called a slurry. When the stock comes to a boil, add the slurry slowly to the broth, and then bring it back up to a boil.

Taste for salt and pepper, and once you’ve adjusted for that, that’s it! Your broth for both soups is done. Now it’s a choose-your-own adventure for where you go next.

If You Decide Wonton Soup…

Turn your broth down to low, and bring enough water to cover your wontons to a boil. Do not salt the water as you would for pasta; the wonton skins are already salted.

While the water is heating you can either make your own wontons or grab some from the freezer. (No one is going to tell.)

To make your own wonton, mix together your preferred mixture of about 1/2 lb ground meat or ground mushrooms. (The ones picture below are actually made with giant polypores I foraged at my farm and then ground in the food processor with green onion and garlic.)

Mix your ground meat/mushrooms with soy sauce, sesame oil, a splash or rice vinegar, dry or fresh ginger (finely minced), dry or fresh garlic (finely minced), white or black pepper, MSG, and salt. Remember that dry herbs go a lot further. If you want them spicy, replace the sesame oil with hot sesame oil or add a dash of your favorite Asian hot pepper sauce.

On a cutting board, place your wonton skin, a ramekin of water, and your filling mixture. Dip your finger in the water and run it along the edges of the wonton. Add about 1 tsp of the mixture in the middle.

Place your wonton mix in the middle of the wrapper.

Then press all of the sides together to form a triangle.

Press all the ends together and BAM! a triangle.

If you wanna be extra fancy, you can then fold the ends of the triangle together so that they touch.

Sexy extra folding.

There are a number of ways to fold dumplings, however. I recommend checking out The Woks of Life for more, including the more traditional wonton fold for wonton soup, which is called The Scrunch!

So many dumplings.

Once your water comes to a boil, drop your dumplings in for two minutes. Then strain and add to your broth.

Note: Some recipes will tell you to cook the dumplings directly in the soup; however, I find this adds too much starch to the broth, which ultimately makes the soup taste muddled. You’re also welcome to steam the dumplings instead!

Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame oil. Eat while hot!

Add as many wontons as you want. One of mine exploded, which is why there are only two.

If You Decide Egg Drop Soup…

Lower the temperature of the broth to just below a boil. In another bowl, whisk one egg (yolk and white) with a little splash of water until fully beaten. Then slowly stream the beaten eggs into the broth forming long strands.

Egg strands!

Once this is done, lower the temperature immediately to low or remove from the burner.

Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame oil if desired.

BONUS CRUNCHIES!

If you’re like me, one of the best parts about egg drop soup are the crunchy wonton skins that get served in a little bag alongside. These are the easiest things to make.

First, you’ll need to purchase wonton skins. You can find these at your local Asian mart (which you should be shopping at) or (often) in the frozen food section of your local big-chain grocery. Sometimes they are called dumpling wrappers; those will work too.

Sliced wonton skin.

Heat enough oil to deep-fry in either a deep-fryer (IDEAL!) or in a dutch oven. Be careful not to splatter if using the latter.

Slice the wonton skins into strips. Drop slowly into the fryer, making sure that the oil doesn’t bubble over. Fry for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until golden and crispy. Drain on a paper towel and then lightly salt. You are magic. Congrats!

Finished soup with green onion, crunches, and my soup spoon at the bottom of the bowl. Sigh.

A Note on Deep Fryers

Personally, I love my deep fryer. I use it numerous times a week. Is it healthy? No. Is it delicious, oh yes.

If you’re someone who finds themselves frying a lot, I recommend going ahead and purchasing one because 1.) you can reuse oil numerous times, which saves money in the long run and 2.) it’s MUCH safer than frying on the stove-top.

You don’t need to spend a lot on one of these (though you certainly can). I bought mine for $20 at Aldi in their weird other stuff section many years ago, and I use it so much it gets its own space on the counter.

Air-frying is also a legit (and healthier) option, though since I do not own one, I cannot speak to the time it would take to air-fry vs. deep-fry.

Jubilee Giveaway!

This month, we are giving away a copy of Toni Tipton-Martin’s James Beard award-winning cookbook, Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking.

Of this collection, Jesse Sparks writes:

This wasn’t one person’s fête, but a collaborative vision. A place where Katharin Bell and her 1927 recipe for spoonbread can coexist with pop star Kelis’s recipe for Caribbean roast pork. A place where the previously unnamed get the same attention as today’s biggest celebrity chefs. A place where splashy decorations come second to making room for all who show up. It’s the kind of party where the door is wide open, everyone’s name is on the list, and there’s enough good food to go round. And what could be more joyous than that?

To get your name in the drawing for this groundbreaking collection, you must simply do two things:

  • Donate any amount of money to an organization working for racial justice between now and July 31st, 2020.
  • Email us a screenshot of that donation along with your name at eesmith81@gmail.com. Use the subject line “Jubilee Giveaway.”

We will choose a winner this August.

Black Lives Matter.

Biscuits & Gravy

Growing up in South Carolina, biscuits and gravy were an important part of a Southern breakfast. I didn’t really care what type they were–flaky, buttery, crunchy–as long as they were covered in some sort of savory sauce with maybe a little sausage or bacon crumbled in.

When I moved away from the South, I desperately missed this bit of home. Everything seemed to be either dinner rolls of biscuits from a pop-can that honestly still terrify me. So I started making my own.

I tried several recipes, but ultimately the best biscuit for biscuits and gravy isn’t a perfect, buttery, fluffy biscuit with its differentiated layers. What makes a good biscuit for gravy is nooks and crannies. Enter the drop biscuit, known for its simple recipe and no-fuss spirit. Mix your ingredients. Form into a ball. Bake. It’s that easy.

The Biscuit

  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
Chunked butter cubes in flour.

Pre-heat oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and any spices you want to add. The above ingredient list can be added to however you see fit. Throw in some Parmesan cheese or fresh rosemary or any other dried herb you want. Be creative! In grad school, I used to make what I dubbed Simon and Garfunkel biscuits because they had parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme plus a bunch of cheese. Delicious and punny!

Cut the butter into tiny cubes by cutting the stick into thirds, turning it over, and cutting into thirds again. Then slice that until it forms tiny cubes. Add the cubes to your flour mixture and work with your fingertips until it starts to form lumps and come together. Add milk and mix just until it becomes a sticky dough, being careful not to overwork.

Note the imperfect glory of the drop biscuit. No tools needed but your hands.

Then you’ll form the dough into small balls and place on a oiled baking sheet.  I like to have as much surface area as possible, so I usually make somewhere between 8-10 biscuits with this recipe so I can eat more than one!

Bake until flaky, approximately 11 minutes depending on size; you’ll know they’re done when the peaks are getting a little brown. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet.

Nooks AND crannies!

The Gravy

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups broth

There are so many ways to make gravy–with milk, with coffee, with meat, with cream. There’s the flour and cornstarch divide as well.

For this recipe, I prefer a velouté or espagnole sauce. These are both part of what are known as the mother sauces in French cooking. Both are roux-based sauces, which we talked about when making cheese sauce awhile back, but instead of adding milk, you add either chicken broth (for velouté) or beef broth (for espagnole). But why stop with that when you could also use mushroom broth or duck broth even. (Of course you had your own at home because it’s so simple.)

A good looking roux.

Melt your butter over medium-high heat. When melted add the flour and stir to combine. This is your roux.

After you’ve made this, add the broth of your choice slowly until it comes together to a consistency that you like. Taste your gravy for salt and add if needed. Here you can also add spices of your choosing. (I put in some thyme and black pepper here.)

Gravy with polish mushroom broth and beef bone broth with thyme and black pepper.

To serve, put the gravy on top of or underneath your biscuit and devour. Savory. Crunchy. Fatty. It’s everything you want in comfort food.

This is definitely a spoon-eating biscuit dish.

Bonus Recipe – Preserves!

Want to go sweet instead of savory? We can do that too, especially since it’s the season of peaches and blackberries.

Making your own preserves is simple. It’s just fruit, sugar, lemon, and heat.

First, pick your fruit of choice. You’ll usually want about two cups, chopped. If you’re using fruit with skin (peaches, nectarines, apples), you’ll need to remove any skin, seeds, or stones. If you’re going with berries, just wash them, and they’re good to go.

Add 1/2 cup of sugar and a tablespoon of lemon to your fruit and turn the stove to medium-low. Once the heat comes to temperature, the sugars will begin to melt. At this point, stir your fruit and turn the stove to low. Now you can also add any spices or herbs or other flavors you like. Let your fruit mixture simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally.

When done, put your preserves into a jar or tupperware. It’ll keep in the fridge for up to two weeks or until something starts growing on it.

Homemade peach preserves with sherry and black pepper.

I hope you fall in love with these easy biscuits as much as I have!

Something & Grits

Growing up in the South, grits was dish I ate regularly–at home, at diners, late night at Waffle House. But when I moved up North for college, I got a lot of flack for my South Carolina roots, particularly my love of grits.

Of course now grits are the trendy item on bougie farm-to-table restaurants, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone’s shrimp and grits recipe. I’m here to tell you, though, that grits are a great way to build a meal from whatever you have in the fridge. No shrimp necessary.

There are a few tricks to grits that you will need to know upfront.

1.) You MUST salt your grits in the cooking process. You can add as much salt after they’re cooked as you want, but it won’t help the dish. A half teaspoon per 1/2 cup of grits is recommended, though if you’re using a salty stock, less is fine.

2.) Grits to liquid ratio is 1 to 4, so one cup of grits to 4 cups of liquid.

3.) For your liquid, I recommend using 1 part water, 1 part milk, and 2 parts broth.

4.) I like to throw a bay leaf in mine, but feel free to spice away however you like!

5.) Add your butter and or cheese just before the grits are finished cooking.

Add your liquid and grits, bring to a boil and then lower the temperature. Stir frequently to keep from clumping but also so they don’t spit hot liquid at you. (They will.) When the liquid is almost absorbed, add your butter or olive oil and any cheese you want. Stir until incorporated and eat immediately or they will set up.

Please note that these notes are for stone-ground grits rather than instant grits. I highly recommend going with these instead of the quick grits. They do take more time,but are also more flavorful and better textured. They cost roughly the same unless you want the higher end grits like Anson Mills or Geechie Boy, both of which I definitely recommend, but are not necessary. (On a personal note, it’s so strange to me that Anson Mills has become THE GO TO for fancy grits since it’s what I grew up with in SC.)

Now it’s time to think about toppings. Shrimp and grits is obviously classic, but here’s a list of things to consider instead:

  • Blackened catfish
  • Sauteed oyster mushrooms
  • Stewed fresh tomatoes
  • Roasted carrots with harissa
  • Caramelized leeks
  • Butter sauteed zucchini
  • Barbecued pork belly

Grits are the base on which to build. Be creative. Consider different textures and flavor pairings. Also think about how to flavor the grits to best compliment the topping.

Cheesy pot liquor grits with sauteed turnip greens, bacon, and benne seeds.

I spent last week reading Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin, a tour-de-force work of archival research and culinary mastery. This James Beard award-winning collection works from nearly 200 years of African American food history to showcase and celebrate the breadth of Black genius. I cannot recommend this cookbook enough.

One of the things I did to commemorate Juneteenth this year was to cook several recipes from Tipton-Martin’s book including one for collards and dumplings, wherein cornmeal dumplings are dropped into the greens and broth to cook. (This dish is reminiscent of fufu, a West African dish of boiled yams (or other starchy vegetable) that’s then pounded into a dough. The result is delicious.) I ended up using the leftover pot liquor from that recipe to cook my grits in the next day, which has put me in the mood for more iterations of this combo.

Sauteing beet greens.

While I didn’t have collards around today, I did have beet and radish greens from the local market that needed cooking. So after sauteing some onions and garlic in bacon fat and then topping it off with a little homemade bone broth, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a heavier splash of Crystal hot sauce, I put on the lid and let it cook on low for an hour.

When done, I tasted for salt and heat. Then I topped my finished girts.

Finally I poached an egg and topped the whole thing off with a pinch of Tony’s.

Cheesy grits with beet greens and poached duck egg.

And that’s how you make lunch, dinner, breakfast, whatever! Make sure to tag us with #apocalycious with your take on Something & Grits!

Take Out At Home, Vegan Style

We know many people are venturing back into the world, but we’ve decided that we’re going to keep pushing forward with Apocalycious to share our love of food. This week we’re bringing you a take on a take-out classic, which can be done vegan (as shown above) with fried tofu, or with chicken — all covered in a healthy version of a General Tso’s sauce.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

1 package of firm tofu (or two chicken breasts, deboned)

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup honey (or, if you are strict about no-honey, agave syrup)

a dash of vinegar

about an inch or so of a piece of ginger

2 cloves of garlic

a steamed red pepper

1/2 cup of olive or vegetable oil

THE PROCESS

If you’re making tofu, you’ll want to squeeze it out, preferably overnight, between two towels and two cutting boards. If you try to use the tofu with the full amount of water still in it, it will not fry up correctly. After you squeeze it, you’ll season it with some dried ginger, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. If you think you don’t like tofu, it maybe be because you haven’t done these two steps correctly! Give it a try!

If you’re using chicken, I recommend cutting into 1/2 inch cubes and dredging it in corn starch.

Next, you’ll heat your oil until it’s very hot (steaming) and lay your tofu or chicken in it until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel when done.

In the meantime, take you other ingredients and blend them together in a food processor, red pepper included. This will give it the color and tang of the General Tso’s sauce, even though this is an interpretation of that sauce, not the authentic thing. Put the tofu/chicken in a different pan and heat with the sauce. Make Erin’s fried rice, and you many just be willing to cook your own take-out from now on!

Personal Pan Pizza

Personally I only believe in rewarding myself with pizza IF AND ONLY IF I have read 10 books. But that’s what years of Book-It indoctrination gets you.

I’ll be honest–I’m not a huge pizza fan to begin with. Too doughy. Too much sweetness in the sauce. Often oily in the not-good way. Which is why I’ve been going all flatbread this season, highlighting all the goodies I’m finding at the local farmers’ market, which is basically the only place I go these days.

Flatbread, in some consistency or another, has existed for nearly 5,000 years. The idea is a simple leavened bread that can be rolled out and heated over fire. Since most of use don’t have a wood-fired oven at home, this iteration–which is modified from Ronni Lundy’s excellent book on Appalachian cuisine, Victuals–is made for the home cook’s oven.

Note that in total, this recipe takes about two hours to complete, though you can make your dough ahead of time!

While I usually eschew recipes, for baking, this is a bit more important.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 oil (vegetable, olive, grapeseed, whatever)

Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt in a food processor. Pulse with the blade attachment to mix.

Mix yeast with 3/4 cup of warm water. Remember, you want warm but not hot water. (The more you do this, the more you’ll get a natural sense for the right temperature without a thermometer.)

Whisk the oil with the water and yeast, then add this to the flour mixture in the food processor. Pulse a few times to combine, then run the processor for a few more seconds until it forms a doughy ball. If it’s too dry, add a little more water one teaspoon at a time.

(If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this by mixing the dry items in one bowl and the wet items in another. Then slowly add them together with your hands and knead for a minute or so.)

The Rise

Spray a bowl with anti-stick spray and then move the dough ball to the bowl. Cover and let rest/rise for about 20 minutes.

When ready to make your flatbreads, move the dough to a floured surface. Flatten it with your hands and then turn it back over on itself, kneading it several times before returning the dough to the bowl to let it rise for one more hour.

Make Ahead Note: At this point you can move the dough into the fridge for up to two days.

I make Joe do this because he’s more patient with dough than I am.

When your dough has risen, divide the dough into 2-4 pieces. Note that this recipe will make two fluffy flatbreads or four cracker-esque flatbreads. (I also suppose it can make three somewhere-in-betweens as well.) This will depend on what consistency you prefer your dough. Note that the thinner you roll your dough, the crunchier and more cracker-like your flatbread will be.

Transfer your rolled dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can also use spray oil if you don’t have parchment paper.)

Toppings!

NOW THE FUN PART STARTS. Once you have the dough recipe down, it’s time to think about toppings.

Sure, you can go with a classic red sauce here, but there’s also a host of pestos, ricotta, or infused oils to use as a base. This is truly an opportunity for whatever is hanging around in your fridge to make an appearance! Think about what’s in season, what flavors you like together, what leftovers can be repurposed for optimal tastiness. Try different cheese, veg, meat combos. Let your housemates dress their own!

How to Roast a Tomato

If you must go with a red sauce, I recommend roasting your own tomatoes to give your sauce an extra boost. To do this, turn your oven to broil, and then put the whole tomatoes (skin on, not from a can) on a sheet underneath the broiler, turning them every 3 minutes or so until the whole of the skin chars.

When the skin is black and puckering off, transfer the tomato to a tupperware container with the lid and place it in the freezer. In ten minutes, the tomato should have cooled down enough for you the peel off the skin, which you should do! Then simply chop it finely (or use the food processor), add salt and spices of your choosing, and ta-da! Roasted tomato sauce!

Thin crust fiestada–you know, that weird octagonal “Mexican pizza” they served you in cafeteria lunches, but FANCY!

Baking the Flatbread

When you’re happy with your toppings, put your flatbreads into the pre-heated oven. Bake for 12 minutes and then swap the top flatbread with the bottom flatbread and bake for another 12 minutes until both are golden brown.

Remove the flatbread from the oven and allow to cool. Top with any leafy greens you’d like! (Embrace the salad as a part of the whole.) I personally recommend a little arugula or mixed greens of your choosing tossed lightly with olive oil and a touch of sherry vinegar.

Then rip it apart or cut it into pieces for sharing, or jealously horde it all for yourself. Who cares. You earned it. Now go read 10 more books. Here’s a good place to start!