Cooking in my sister’s apartment

Small kitchen, but nice lighting

My sister just moved into a new place . . . her first one-bedroom apartment.  She was living in a teeny tiny efficiency apartment with a kitchen that was smaller than my bathroom.  Hell, the kitchen was smaller than her bathroom.  The whole place was roughly the size of my living room.

But that’s over now and she moved into a nice, medium-sized one bedroom in the suburbs of Minneapolis.  And she has what I would consider a real kitchen now.  It’s still on the smallish side, but workable.  It is a bit under-furnished compared to my kitchen.  But most people’s kitchens are, especially if they’re not wanna-be gourmet chefs like yours truly.

Her kitchen has the basics.  Which means I was back to cooking simple, supermarket friendly vegan food.  With no fancy appliances or co-ops that my sister was willing to drive me to, I had to cook with what was there.  And what was there ended up being the components to one of the best meals I’ve made in a long time.

Portabella Sandwich, Potatoes, and Olive Salad

I normally don’t like Portabellas.  I find them boring, cliche even.  I usually go for more interesting sandwich fillings . . . tofu with exotic marinades, sietan sliced thinly and grilled, sliced avocados, et cetera.  Portabellas are so pedestrian.  Every restaurant uses them to placate vegans because they don’t know what else to cook.  And then they butcher the preparation, leaving them whole so it feels like biting into a hunk of organ meat.  Ugh . . . My bad past experiences have led me to avoid them ever since.

The day I came up with this recipe, something struck me.  It’s easy.  It tastes good.  The ingredients are readily available.  And it’s certainly not your typical, pedestrian, just plain bad portabella mushroom sandwich.  That, and the side dish:  rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes balances out the strong, salty mushroom.  They have almost a creamy texture and flavor.

The potatoes couldn’t be simpler.  They hardly warrant a formal recipe.  I never use one, anyway.

Get a bag of fingerling potatoes.  I’m not sure what size.  It looked like a pound or a pound and a half . . . something like that.  If they’re the fat kind of fingerlings, cut the big ones in half lengthwise.  Otherwise, just leave them whole.  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Throw the potatoes into a bowl.  Pour a few tablespoons of oil over them, a combination of olive oil and canola oil.  (We’re roasting these a bit too hot for just olive oil alone.)  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of rosemary, crushing it with your fingertips.  Toss all this together.  Dump it into either a 9×13 pan or a large, rimmed sheet pan.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Stir them around and roast for another 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how thick your ‘taters are.  TA DA! They’re done.  Eat ’em up!

As for the Mushroom sandwich . . . that’s a bit more complicated.

Portabella Mushroom Sandwich with Grilled Onions


The Marinade:

  • 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari or shoyu (whichever you have)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or rice vinegar in a pinch)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Rest

  • 2 5 to 6-inch portabella mushroom caps
  • 1 loaf ciabatta bread
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 small onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
  • alfalfa sprouts
  • olive oil for brushing

The Method

Gills up, y'all!

Grate the ginger and garlic with a microplane or other fine grater over a small bowl.  Add the rest of the marinade ingredients and whisk together.

Take the center stem out of the portabellas, it gets too tough when cooked; place them, gill-side up, into a wide, flat dish (a pie pan or a baking dish should work nicely).  Whisk the marinade one more time and pour it evenly over the mushrooms.  Let these hang out for 20 to 30 minutes.  Move them around occasionally so that the marinade gets everywhere and really penetrates the mushrooms.  (I love it when I can use the word ‘penetrate’ in a recipe.)

The onions and shrooms are almost done!

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Cast iron works best, but nonstick is okay, too.  If you’re using cast iron, add a little bit of extra oil here, a couple teaspoons should do.  When it’s good and hot, put the mushrooms in, gill-side down first.  Next to the mushrooms, put two slices of onion in the pan.

This is a good time to warm up your bread in the oven . . . which I definitely suggest.

Let the mushrooms and onions cook undisturbed for five minutes and then flip everything over.  Let this cook for 4 to 5 more minutes depending on the size and freshness of your mushrooms.  When the portabellas are done, they should be nice and golden brown on the top like in the above photo.

Move the onions and portabella caps out of the pan and on to a cutting board to let them cool a bit.  This is when I slice the tomatoes and take the bread out of the oven and cut it into sandwich-sized chunks and split it in half.  I usually get 3 or 4 sandwiches out of one loaf of ciabatta, depending on how big it is.  This recipe is only for two sandwiches, so you’ll have leftovers.  You can use ciabatta rolls, if you like though . . . anyway . . .

Slice the portabella caps on a bias.  Meaning, cut them into strips, but hold the knife at roughly a 45 degree angle against the board.  It’s easiest to use a fork to hold the mushroom in place while you cut it.

Brush soft interior of the ciabatta with olive oil.  For each sandwich, place a sliced portabella cap, a few rings of onion (probably not the whole slice), two or three slices of tomato, and a good fat pinch of alfalfa sprouts.  Cap the sandwich and eat!  Om nom nom . . .

This recipe makes 2 sandwiches.

If you’re making the roasted potatoes with this sandwich, it’s best to start the mushrooms marinating and then deal with the potatoes and get them in the oven.  Once the potatoes have baked for 20 minutes, you can put your mushrooms and onions in the pan.  Then it all comes together quite nicely.

My sister and I ate the sandwiches and potatoes with some olive salad we picked up at the grocery store.  The supermarket close to her place has an olive bar . . . and we loooooove olives.  Feel free to substitute this with some green leafy salad or other salads.

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.