Ugly Food

I was feeling lazy last night.  All I wanted to do was put warm food in my mouth and watch a movie.  Problem was I didn’t have anything I could just warm up and eat . . . which meant I had to cook.

I groaned at the thought.  I’d been grocery shopping all day and had tons of interesting food laying around my house but no energy to put ingredients together into a meal.  Eventually, I dragged myself into the kitchen and decided to make the laziest food I know how to:  Hobo Packets.

I don’t know if the term “hobo packets” is politically correct.  I don’t really care.  I can tell you that they taste pretty good though.  There are lots of variations on them.  The method is mostly referred to as “packet cooking” in general.  But hobo packets, in my mind, are specific type of packet cooking involving variations on a set of ingredients:

  • cheap, readily available protein (usually hamburger)
  • onions
  • roasting vegetables (usually carrots)
  • potatoes
  • sauce

I’ve encountered several recipes for hobo packets.  Most of them cite the reasoning for the name “hobo packets” is that they are made of cheap food, can be cooked on just about any heat source, and you don’t need a plate to eat them off of, you just eat them right out of the foil!  So, they’re designed by/for those people who don’t have proper kitchens to cook in . . . hobos, really.

Because of this, these make awesome camp food.  You don’t have to cook them in the oven  as instructed here.  You can just bury them in the hot coals of a campfire for an hour or so.  Like I said, just about any heat source will work.  And you can make the packets themselves in your kitchen before you leave, store them in a cooler and then just cook them up at dinnertime.

The concept was pretty easy to veganize, since the only non-vegan ingredient in them was meat and there are TONS of meat substitutes available on the market.

Just as a note, I don’t know that I would recommend subbing tofu in this dish for the faux meat.  This is a wet cooking method.  And I find that tofu has a more pleasing texture when it is fried or baked.  Maybe thawed frozen tofu would work?  But I haven’t tried it.

As I said, I was being lazy last night.  So I made ugly food and when I took photos of it, I made no effort to make them look good.  I didn’t frame well, I used a flash, it was kind of like I was trying to take bad pictures.  Today, I photoshopped them . . . to make them look like lomography!  (It’s one of my favorite techniques and the tutorial I base my technique on can be found here.)  Be sure to click on the pictures in this post, they get bigger and they’re prettier that way.

So, without further adieu, it’s time for a lomographic adventure through . . .

UGLY FOOD!Hobo Packets!

I make my hobo packets with two components, the food component and the sauce component.  When all the vegetables cook in the packet, they leak out flavor all over the place and add to the flavor of the sauce that ends up in the bottom of the packet.  I layer my ingredients in a specific way . . . kind of.  They fall all over the place anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

Food Stuffs:food things

  • Vegan Meaty substitute, either a patty made of 1/4 tube of light life hamburger substitute or 1/2 a bag of Morningstar Farms chik’n strips (or try other things . . . whatever you have laying around, really)
  • 1/2 a medium onion, thickly sliced
  • a handful of baby carrots or 1 large carrot cut into large chunks
  • 3 large mushrooms, quartered, or 6 smaller ones halved
  • 1 medium sized potato, roughly cubed into about 3/4 to 1 inch pieces

Sauce Thingssauce things

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Annie’s BBQ sauce (oh so good!)
  • tamari, soy sauce, braggs, or shoyu
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • salt and pepper

Here’s what you do . . .

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Get yourself a big ol’ piece of aluminum foil, about 18 inches long or so.  I put it right on top of a cookie sheet, even if it’s bigger than the pan, just so I don’t have to move over there later.  Then, schmere about a tablespoon of olive oil in the middle, making a puddle big enough to put your fake meat on, about 5 inches in diameter.

carrots nextNow, put your meat on top of the puddle.  Lay your slices of onion on top.  Then put the carrots on top of the onions.  At this point, you’ll probably want to start pinching the sides of the foil together so you’ve got yourself a little bowl shape.  After about the third layer, ingredients start falling all over the place, and if they do that, the packet gets really difficult to seal at the last step.  I also throw some salt and pepper on at this point, just to season up the aromatic vegetables.  The salt also helps them expel some water when they’re cooking.

also potato cubesNow put the mushrooms on top of the carrots and the potato cubes on top of those.  Ta da!  All of you food components are in the packet.  Now it’s time for the saucing.

Start by putting another sprinkling of salt and pepper on top.  You need to make sure everything is very well seasoned, otherwise your packet will be bland.  No one wants a bland packet . . . that sounds dirty . . . moving on . . .

Really, you can use any sort of sauces you want on top.  The one’s I’ve listed in the ingredients section are what I’ve found make the best sauce for this dish.  Feel free to experiment.

all kinds of sauceDrizzle everything with a good dose of olive oil, a tablespoon or two.  Next shake on some soy sauce.  Just a teaspoon or so.  Then, pour on 2 to 3 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce.  Lastly, add some hot sauce if you’d like to give it a kick.  It’s okay that all of this ends up on the potatoes.  It all slides down through the vegetables, picking up flavor on the way, and simmers through your protein of choice.  Because the packet is sealed, it circulates all the flavors are locked in and sort of percolate through your food.

seal it upNext, you need to seal the packet really, really well.  Crimp the edges of the foil all the way around the food two or three times to prevent all the delicious from escaping.  If your packet is already on a cookie sheet like I advised, great!  If not, put it on one.  Then stick it in your preheated oven.  This bakes for 1 hour.

Yeah, it takes a while, but it’s worth it.  Go start a DVD while you wait.  If you’re really hungry, make yourself a side salad like I did.I made a salad while I waited

When your hobo packet comes out of the oven, let it sit and cool for at least five minutes.  Ten would be better.  Then put it on a plate and carefully open it up.  There’s a lot of steam in there, and you don’t want it burning you in the face.  Make a little bowl out of your aluminum foil and and eat!

The quantities I gave you up above make a lot of food.  So, if you’re not really hungry, use less.  I was FULL after I ate the whole packet last night.  Granted, I did have a salad beforehand.

Oh, the sauce is really the secret to this meal.  The sauce ingredients seep through all the vegetables and pick up all kinds of deliciousness.  There’s a good puddle of awesomesauce at the bottom these packets once they’re baked.  Usually, after I’m done eating, I sit there licking the sauce up with my fingers.  Classy, I know, but it’s soooooo gooooood!

In the end, this recipe did the job of satisfying my craving for warm, simple food while I curled up in a blanket on my sofa, watched Rushmore, and drank a whiskey sour.


I'm feeling snacky . . .

I'm feeling snacky . . .

Lately, I haven’t been interested in eating “real” meals.  I just want to eat snack food.  Not necessarily junk food, but snacks . . . Or what they’d serve you in a restaurant and call appetizers.  The awesome thing about snack foods is that they are really easy to make.  Also, when you make a meal out of small snacks, you can satisfy a lot of cravings at the same time.

Yesterday, I felt like eating edamame.  And also felt like having tortilla chips and hot sauce.  And also wanted a strawberry milkshake . . . at the same time.  Which led to the array of snack food you see in the photo above.


  • 1/2 of a 12 ounce bag of frozen edamame, in the shell
  • sea salt
  • tamari (or soy/shoyu)
  • sriracha hot sauce
  • sesame seeds

Steam the edamame for 3 minutes.  (You can boil them or microwave them according to the package directions, but steaming keeps the nutrition in the beans.)  I use a big bamboo steamer, because it looks impressive . . . and it’s the only steamer I have.  Transfer the edamame to a medium size mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with sea salt, shake on a teaspoon or two of tamari, squirt on about a teaspoon of sriracha and shake on a teaspoon or two of sesame seeds.  Toss to coat all the bean pods.  Transfer to a serving dish (I use the mixing bowl to throw my shells in later) and allow to cool a bit.  Serves 1-2

Edamame can be served hot, room temperature, or chilled.  Whatever you like.  For that particular mix of seasonings, I like it to be warm to room temp.

Edamame can be a little tricky to figure out, so if you’ve never eaten it before, here’s what you do.  First, suck all the seasoning off the outside of the pod (I don’t know if you’re supposed to do this, but it certainly tastes better this way).  Then, pop the beans out of the shell and eat them.  Lastly, throw the shells away.  If you have edamame at a restaurant, they’ll usually give you a separate bowl to throw them into.  Like I said, when I’m eating it at home, alone, I just use the bowl I used to season them in.  If you serve this at a party, or for someone you’re trying to impress . . . use a clean bowl, okay?

Tortilla Chips

I like to make my own tortilla chips.  They’re better for you and they come out all warm and toasty.  Also, you can control the amount of salt/other seasonings on them.  Here’s how to make one serving of tortilla chips for snack time . . .

  • One 8 inch tortilla, cut into 8 wedges
  • Canola oil in a spray can (I use Spectrum)
  • salt

Heat a toaster oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (I’d guess that you can use a regular oven for this, but I never do).  Line the toaster oven’s baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil and then spray it very well with the canola oil spray.  Arrange your tortilla wedges on the pan so they are in one layer.  Spray both sides of the tortilla wedges with oil and then sprinkle salt on them.  They don’t need much, so don’t go overboard.  Bake until they are golden brown and crispy.  Usually, this takes about 10 minutes.

You can use any sort of tortillas you like for this.  I’ve been successful with flour, whole wheat, and corn tortillas.  The ones in the photo there are some tortillas I got from Target that I’m trying to use up because they’re not all that good . . . they didn’t make very good chips either.  But as long as you start with a tortilla that tastes pretty good, you’ll end up with good home-baked tortilla chips.  You can dip these in salsa or hummus . . . or do what I do and just put hot sauce all over them.

I swear I’m addicted to hot sauce.

A Strawberry Milk Shake

  • 3/4 cup soy milk (less if you like it thicker and have a REALLY good blender)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla soy yogurt
  • 6-8 Frozen strawberries
  • 1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar (or maple syrup . . . or sugar, whatever sweetener you like, really)
  • A handful or so of ice

Put everything into a blender and blend.  Really guys, it’s a milkshake.  It’s not that complicated.

So then, once I had all these snacks made, I decided it was movie time!  What goes better with snacks than a good movie.  So I put Shawshank Redemption in the DVD player and settled in.  About two minutes into watching Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman battle corruption at a New England prison . . . I wanted popcorn.  Not just any kind of popcorn . . . cheezy popcorn . . .cheezycorn

Cheezy Popcorn

  • 1/4 cup popcorn kernels, popped
  • 2 tablespoons margarine, melted
  • nutritional yeast
  • salt

Pop your popcorn however you see fit.  I like to do it on the stove, but you can use an air popper if you so desire.  Put your popped corn into a big mixing bowl and then drizzle it with the margarine while mixing.  Once you’ve got it mixed really well, start sprinkling on nutritional yeast and salt.  I used about 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast and half a teaspoon of salt in total.  Use your judgment.  Taste it and adjust your seasonings until it’s delicious!  This definitely makes enough for two people, possibly three or four.  I couldn’t get through half the bowl.  Of course . . . I did have other snacks occupying my tummy space.

Let’s fast forward to today when I started getting hungry for lunch.  Again, I didn’t want a meal sort of thing.  But you know what did sound good . . . barbecued fake chicken wings, like the ones they have at Chicago Diner.  The unfortunate thing is that I am nowhere near Chicago Diner.  Despite the fact that those barbecue wings are totally worth driving 8 hours for, I have neither a car nor the funds to do such a thing.  Sigh . . . So, I made my own.

Sticky . . . smoky . . . om nom nom!

Sticky . . . smoky . . . om nom nom!

This is one of the more complicated snack foods, because it involves making two sauces and then the actual faux chicken pieces.  So I made it a bit easier on myself by using the frozen fake chicken strips that Morningstar Farms makes.  As much as I hate to admit it, I usually have a bag of them in my freezer for quick meals and when I get a serious protein jones.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

I don’t know a former omni vegan out there who doesn’t seriously miss ranch dressing.  So I’ve been working on perfecting my vegan ranch for years now.  I think I’m getting closer with this one.  This version requires a food processor.  My food processor came with a mini work bowl, so I used that, because this recipe doesn’t make very much.  If you have one of those mini food processors, that will probably work, too.  You’d probably be able to get away with using a blender.  I haven’t tried it, though, so attempt at your own risk.

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peels removed
  • 1/2 cup vegenaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 2-4 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley

Place garlic in the small bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to chop it up a bit.  The garlic doesn’t have to be minced to perfection just yet, so don’t worry about it too much.  Add the vegenaise, onion powder, salt, pepper, and ground mustard.  Process for about 30 seconds, scrape down the sides, and process for about 30 seconds more.  Scrape down the sides again and start the food processor, with the machine running, slowly add about a tablespoon of soy milk (you can add more later if you’d like your dressing thinner).  Scrape down the sides yet again and yet again, start up the food processor.  SLOWLY stream in the olive oil (if your machine doesn’t have a feed tube, just add a little bit at a time and scrape down the sides each time you stop the processor).  The oil needs to be emulsified into the dressing.  Granted, this shouldn’t be too difficult because there’s already mustard and vegenaise in the dressing, but I just like to be sure, so I add it very slowly.  Add in the sugar (raw garlic has a pretty sharp bite, this cuts it down just a little).  If you’d like your dressing thinner, now’s the time to add more soy milk, just don’t go too crazy.  No one likes watery ranch dressing.  Once all this looks like dressing, scrape down the sides one more time and taste.  Adjust the seasoning if you see fit and add the dried parsley.  Pulse a couple times to get it mixed in (it’s mostly for color) don’t leave the processor running too long, though.  You don’t want green dressing.

Scrape all this into a bowl and let it hang out in the refrigerator so the flavors can blend while you make the rest of the dish.

Kate’s Famous BBQ Sauce

I like my barbecue sauce sticky, sweet, and smoky.  This is a good sauce to use when you’re coating some sort of meat replacement that’s going to be cooked a bit longer.  What I’m saying is that this sauce should be cooked further once it’s cooked.  I’ve been making versions of this sauce for years, and it’s really really good when it gets to caramelize a bit.

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • big ol’ pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon molasses

In a small, microwave safe bowl, mix the ketchup and brown sugar first.  Then, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Microwave on high for one minute, stirring about half way through.  Set aside.

Barbecued Faux Chicken sticks with Ranch Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 of an 8 ounce package of Morning Star Farms’ Chik’n Strips Meal starters
  • One recipe Kate’s Famous BBQ Sauce (No, you can’t substitute bottled barbecue sauce, it doesn’t work.)
  • Vegan Ranch Dressing for dipping

Heat an 8 inch skillet over medium heat, add the oil and sprinkle it with a little salt (this keeps the chik’n strips from sticking to a stainless steel pan.  I don’t know why it works, I just know that it does).  Once heated, add the chik’n strips.  Cook these, turning occasionally, until they start to turn a deep brown color (I even let some of them get a little blackened, they’re good that way).  Once cooked, turn the heat down a bit and add the BBQ sauce.  This will sputter and spit at you, so be careful.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened considerably.  You should be able to pile everything in the middle of the pan and the sauce won’t run out to the edges.  Pile this on a serving plate and let it cool a bit before you eat it.  Serve with some of the Vegan Ranch Dressing for dipping.  Serves 1-2.

Granted these aren’t the same as the ones at Chicago Diner, but they definitely satisfy that craving and they’re friggin’ tasty.  You can eat them with your hands if you’re brave or with fork if you’re blogging while eating them (oh god, they were good).  Also, feel free to drench them with a good Louisiana style hot sauce (like me) if you like a spicy barbecue flavor, or if you’re just addicted to hot sauce (like me).

My Favorite Drunk Food

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Spicy Peanut Noodles

I have seen this dish done many times and in many ways.  Over the years, I’ve tried to make many variations of it, trying to perfect my recipe, using everything from a sesame oil based sauce to veggie broth.  And seemingly, I just couldn’t get it right.  The peanut flavor was always overshadowed by the other base that I used, either that or the texture was greasy and slimy and wouldn’t stick to the noodles like I wanted it to.

One drunken night, everything changed.  I found the secret . . . water.  Just water.  No veggie broth, no ridiculous amounts of oil to melt the peanut butter into.  All it took to emulsify the sauce was water.  Of course I didn’t realize what I’d accomplished before I went to bed that night.  In the morning, though, I returned to the kitchen, hungry and hungover and remembered that I had leftover peanut noodles in the fridge.  I tasted them . . . and they were delicious.

My thought is that when you make food while drunk and it’s still delicious the next day, you’re doing something right.

A lot of the quantities in this recipe aren’t exact.  That’s because it’s variable based on personal preference.  I like this sauce really spicy and really soy saucy.  But if you want the peanut flavor to be more pronounced, you wouldn’t put nearly as much tamari and sriracha in as I do.  Also, this recipe is awesome because it’s done in one pot and ready in less than half an hour from start to finish.

Spicy Peanut Noodles


  • Pasta, any kind, enough for two people

    This ought to be enough for two servings.

    This ought to be enough for two servings.

  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
  • 3-5 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Tamari, Shoyu, or Soy Sauce
  • Sriracha or other Asian chili sauce
  • about 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • Juice of 1/4 of a lime

Pasta and Peas

Boil water for pasta in a medium to large saucepan.  Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to directions.  1-2 minutes before the pasta is done, add frozen peas to the water and allow them to cook with the pasta.  When pasta is done, drain in a colander and leave the pasta and peas in the colander in the sink while you make the sauce.

Yeah . . . that looks like 1/4 cup.

Dry out the pan and put it back on the stove over medium heat.  Add oil to the pan, once it is hot, add the crushed garlic.  Saute garlic briefly, about 30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn.  Then add peanut butter to the pan  allow it to melt down into the oil.  Watch the garlic carefully at this point, and if it starts to burn, turn the heat down.  Once peanut butter is mostly melted, add the water and allow the sauce to come to a boil, stirring constantly and somewhat briskly to emulisify the peanut butter and water together.

All kinds of stuff goes in there . . .

All kinds of stuff goes in there . . .

This is the point where you get to go a little crazy, deciding what you want your sauce to taste like.  Add the tamari, sriracha, and maple syrup.  I usually add about a tablespoon of tamari and a tablespoon of sriracha to start with, and then taste and adjust the seasonings.  You may want to start with a tablespoon of tamari and a teaspoon of sriracha.  I like these noodles really spicy, and a tablespoon may be too much sriracha for you, so season your sauce carefully.  Once you’ve decided how salty/spicy you want your sauce, add the 1/4 of a lime’s worth of juice and mix well.  The sauce is complete!

Add Pasta

The pasta and peas go right into the sauce.

Add the pasta and peas back to the pan.  Stir it all up and you’re ready to eat!

This is my favorite recipe to make for drunk friends.  It’s easy, doesn’t require much knife work, so it’s pretty safe for drunken cooking, and it tastes soooooo gooooood when you’ve had just a bit too much to drink.  My friend Darren always begs me to make him peanut noodles for him whenever he comes home from the bar two or three sheets to the wind.