Back to basics . . . and childhood.

My parents used to make what they would call a “hamburger hotdish” for dinner a lot of the time while I was growing up.  It was a dish similar to hamburger helper that was made on the stove top in a big ass skillet.  It was pretty simple, ground beef, onions, celery, macaroni and canned tomatoes from my dad’s garden.  We’d eat that with peanut butter and jelly on white bread with big glasses of milk.  It was a pretty standard meal at our house.  I never really used to think about why we’d eat that so often.  I’d just scarf down the hotdish so I could have more peanut butter and jelly.  But now I realize why it was on the stove at least once a week.

It’s cheap.

Dirt.  Frickin’.  Cheap.

Because of several money issues in the last month or so, I’ve been forced to cut my food budget roughly in half.  Which means no more exotic, organic foods from the co op, no more specialty mail-order vegan products for a while either.  I’m back to supermarket veganism . . . well, Target veganism to be more precise.  Problem is . . . I don’t really know how to cook that way.

I’m used to having interesting vegetables, artisan breads, imported pasta, and organic canned goods.  Granted, the generic cheap stuff is still vegan (more or less), I worry about chemicals used during farming and in the processing of the food.  Cest la vie, I guess.  I do still buy and voluntarily eat Oreos from time to time, so I should probably stop bitching.

Anyway.  I didn’t even know where to start with making cheap food.  So I went back to the classic meal I’d seen my parents make hundreds of times: Hamburger Hotdish.

I’ve been toying with “skillet meals” for a while now.  Mostly because I had some weird craving for hamburger helper.  As a freshman at college, during my vegetarian years, I started eating hamburger helper on a regular basis and just subbing out the ground beef for some veggie crumbles.  It was a comfort food.  Warm and salty and squishy.  At first my aim was just to recreate that feeling with my food while keeping everything vegan.  Then I realized what sort of potential skillet meals had.  You can make just about any dish in a vegan skillet version.  Vegan Beef-a-roni, vegan cheesburger helper, vegan chicken ala king, even vegan tuna casserole.  I started making them all the time because they were easy, complete meals, that only used one pan.  It was as if I’d discovered the secret to college cooking.

But now, I see that not only are they fast, easy, tasty, and leave you with less cleaning . . . they’re cheap, as long as you use the right ingredients.  In my original days of coming up with these meals, I’d use expensive, frozen, meat analogues:  Morningstar chik’n strips or boca crumbles or whatever was on sale at the co op.  But as a better, cheaper source of protein, now I’m using tofu.

I recently discovered that in a nonstick skillet, you can treat crumbled tofu sort of like ground beef for these sorts of things.  Just heat the skillet to medium high heat, add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil, crumble in the tofu, let it saute for a minute or two, and then drizzle it all with a healthy amount of soy sauce.  Then you just have to let it fry until it’s starting to brown.  TA DA!  The perfect protein base for skillet meals.  And coming in at about $2 a pound, it’s economical and vegan.

So the next hurdle was making my parents’ hamburger hotdish concept healthy.  I mean, macaroni and meat with some tomato sauce isn’t exactly what I would call good-for-you.  The meat became tofu.  The noodles became whole-grain pasta.  The sauce got some herbs added to it so it wasn’t so damn boring.  And the whole thing got an injection of vegetables for the sake of nutrition.

At the end of it all, I did all the math.  I got three BIG servings out of the recipe for less than $4.  Dinner tonight, and lunch and dinner tomorrow.  SUCCESS!  Just for my serving tonight, I made some toasty crumbles for the top and sprinkled on a little bit of nutritional yeast for flavor.

here's a cruddy picture of it I took with my webcam

A Basic Skillet Meal

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 Pound of firm or extra firm tofu
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cans of water
  • 1/2 of a 13.5 ounce box of whole grain pene pasta (a generous 2 cups)
  • 1/2 of a 16-ounce bag of frozen, cut green beans
  • salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

Heat a large (12-inch), nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  While that’s heating, wrap the tofu in some paper towels and gently squeeze out some of the water.  Don’t worry about getting it too dry, most of the excess will cook off.  Once hot, put the oil in the skillet and crumble in the tofu.  Fry this for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then gather all the tofu into the middle of the pan and drizzle the soy sauce over it evenly.  I just pour it out of the bottle, so 3 tablespoons is an estimate.  Don’t stir for 2 minutes, just let it sizzle.  The soy sauce is reducing a bit in the pan and that’s what you want.

Now stir the tofu occasionally for the next 5 minutes, or until it starts to get golden brown on the parts that aren’t covered in soy sauce.  Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes.  Just until the onion looks cooked, but the tofu isn’t too browned.  Add the oregano and basil and stir.

Add the tomato sauce.  And then add 1 and 1/2 cans full of water, making sure to get all that good tomato sauce into the pan by swishing it out with the water.  Bring the pan to a boil.  Once boiling, add the pasta.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes (or as long as the pasta calls for), stirring occasionally.  After the 10 minutes is up, check to see if the pasta is cooked.  If it’s a little firm yet, that’s okay.  Add the green beans and bring the pan back to a simmer.  You may need to add a little extra water to loosen things up a bit.  But if it looks like there’s a nice sauce in the pan, you don’t have to.  Simmer the whole concoction for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the green beans are hot.

Put it into a bowl (or on a plate, if you prefer) and eat it on up!

This is a basic outline for skillet meals, using this format, you can make a bunch of different variations.  Judging by my bank account, I’ll probably have the opportunity to post some more in the coming weeks.

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Kickass Mac and Teese

Hello folks!

Good lord has it been an awfully eventful month.  Thus, the EXTREME lateness of this post.  I’ll tell you about it later.  So first, I would like to talk about some of the best mac and faux cheese I’ve ever made . . .

Cheezy cheezy cheeze

What makes it soooooo goood?  Teese vegan cheese alternative!  (Ok, that sounded like a commercial, I’ll stop, I promise.)  But seriously, I love teese.  It’s one of the best anti-cheeses on the market.  It melts well, tastes pretty darned good, and for the most part, looks like dairy cheese.  Dare I say that it is omni-safe.  And our friends at Chicago Soydairy sent me some for free!  So I just had to make some seriously kickass mac and teese with it.

The Recipe:

Kickass Mac and Teese

Ingredients:

The ingredients

Tofu Ricotta

  • 1 14-ounce block tofu
  • zest of ½ a lemon
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • pinch of onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Nutritional Yeast Sauce

  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • slightly heaped ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¾ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 quart unsweetened soymilk
  • ½ cup margarine (1 stick)
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Everything Else

  • 1 pound dry macaroni noodles (I use whole wheat)
  • 1 10-ounce log of Cheddar Teese
  • 2 cups dry breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup cold margarine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Grease either a 4-quart casserole or a 13x9x2 inch pan.

Lemon Zest action shot!

First we make the tofu ricotta.  Wrap the tofu in a few layers of paper towels and squeeze out the water.  You don’t have to worry about getting it as dry as you would if you were going to fry it, you just don’t want watery tofu ricotta.  Crumble the tofu into a medium bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and olive oil.  Stir with a fork, breaking the tofu up a bit more, until very well combined.  Set this aside to marinate.

For the macaroni, fill a large stock pot about 2/3 of the way with water.  Add a tablespoon or so of salt and put this on the stove to boil.

While the water is coming to a boil, start the nutritional yeast sauce.  In a large, cold saucepan, combine the flour, corn starch, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, paprika, and nutritional yeast.  Mix very well and then whisk in soymilk.  Put the pan on the stove over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil.  Simmer this for 2 or 3 minutes and then turn off the heat.  Whisk in the margarine and mustard and set aside.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Whenever the water starts boiling, add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package . . . or just guess.  Mine took about 8 minutes.  Cook until just past al dente.  You want the macaroni done, but not over done.  Drain all the water, rinse the pasta in cold water and return to the pot.

Mmm saucy . . .

Add the tofu ricotta to the macaroni and pour the nutritional yeast sauce on top of that.  Stir it all up and set it aside.

Grate the cheddar Teese on to a piece of parchment paper to keep it from sticking to things.  You ought to get about 2 cups out of the log o’ Teese.

Now take your macaroni/sauce/tofu mixture and pour about half of it into your greased baking dish.  Smooth it out.  Sprinkle about half the Teese on top of the noodles.  Carefully spoon the rest of the macaroni mixture on top of this, being careful not to disturb the Teese too much, and smooth it all out.

This is what makes it good.

If you are making this dish ahead of time, you can stop here, cover the baking dish, wrap up the remaining Teese and leave it in the fridge up to 24 hours.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the dry breadcrumbs in a food processor (or use the food processor to create them and just leave them in there).  Cut up the cold margarine and disperse that in the food processor.  Season the breadcrumbs with a bit of salt and pepper.  Pulse everything in the food processor until crumbly and well combined.

Sprinkle about half the breadcrumbs evenly on top of the macaroni, making sure to get the crumbs all the way to the edges.  On top of this layer, evenly disperse the rest of the Teese, again being sure to get it along the edges so it gets all crusty and brown and tasty . . . mmm.  Lastly, sprinkle the rest of the breadcrumbs on top of the Teese.

All done! Om nom nom . . .

Cover the baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the Teese on top is melty.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish 8-12 as a side.  Or just one with lots of leftovers.

I brought this dish to a potluck for the philosophy department.  More than one of my professors asked if they could take home some leftovers.  I think that makes this dish a success.  It’s definitely an omni-safe vegan mac and cheeze, which you don’t find many of.

And it’s all thanks to teese! Yummy, yummy teese.

Thanks, Chicago Soydairy!

Bonus!

Here’s a shot of my happy macaroni face!

Macaroni and teese makes me so happy!

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

Ingredients:

  • 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.

A little bit of cabernet sauvignon makes everything delicious.

It’s a weeknight and I’m heading home from work.  I’m on the bus when Jacob calls me and wants to go out . . . but I want to eat first, so I tell him to come to show up at my house when he’s ready and I’ll find something quick to eat.

Quick . . . quick . . . what’s delicious, nutritious, and quick?

Whole wheat pasta?  Always.  But what should I put on top of it?  I don’t have any jars of sauce, so I’ll have to get creative.  Lucky for me, I’m good at that.

I walked into my kitchen with my cat circling my ankles.  He wanted attention, I wanted to eat more than he wanted attention, I think.

I opened the cupboard and took stock of what was up there.  A can of diced tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, some tomato paste, onions, garlic; there was wine on the bar, half a red pepper in the fridge that needed to be used up and all the requisite spices in the spice cabinet.  Suddenly, dinner seemed like a plan.

Quick Chickpea Pasta Sauce

Quick Chickpea and Tomato Pasta

•2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
•1 Onion, ChoppedVeggie Chopping Board
•3 Cloves Garlic, Finely chopped
•1/2 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
•1 15 Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes with Liquid
•1/3 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other Dry Red Wine (I’m partial to a good Cab.)
•1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
•1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
•1-2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste (you can get away without it)
•A Pinch of Sugar
•1 15 Ounce Can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed
•Whole wheat pasta cooked and still hot, whatever shape you like
•Salt and Pepper to taste
Get your water boiling for your pasta, first of all.  When that’s boiling, throw it in and it ought to be done by the time you’re finished cooking the sauce.
Now then . . . In a large skillet (I used a 1o inch), saute the onions and garlic over medium heat.  Add some salt and pepper to season and help the onions expel some water.  Once the onions and garlic are fully sauteed and starting to brown just a little, add in your red pepper.  Peppers in the panCook until the red pepper is softened.  Add tomatoes, wine, oregano, and basil.  OreganoStir it all up and bring it to a boil.   Add in the tomato paste, add more if you want your sauce a little thicker, less if you want it thinner (obviously).  You can skip the paste if you want your sauce thin or if you don’t mind simmering the sauce a bit longer.  Add in the pinch of sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer for about five minutes.  Add in the chickpeas and simmer for another five to ten minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.Pan o sauce
Jacob showed up at that point and mentioned that my house smelled garlicky . . . then he asked to taste my concoction.   He always likes my food.   The wine is really what makes this sauce.  If you don’t have any or don’t keep it around the house, you can use water or veggie broth, but it won’t have the fullness of flavor that red wine provides.