Hot Dog Summer

Here in Texas, the land of barbecue, few cuts are more prized than the burnt ends. They may sounds like the rejects, lowest of the low brow, but anyone worth their sauce knows that these elusive morsels hold the most intense flavor. Smoky, caramelized, crunchy yet tender, they’re darkly lacquered with spices and sugar after hours in the pit. They’re richly fatty, sticky and sweet, incredibly umami; all the taste sensations needed like light up your brain like a Christmas tree.

Burnt ends have been a particular fascination for me since moving to the Lone Star State. Everyone is enamored with them, willing to shell out ungodly sums of money for such meager portions, and yet I haven’t seen a single meatless alternative. Given the rising economic and environmental impact of this kind of indulgence, such an omission is downright shocking. Still, I couldn’t quite see an easy conversion in my mind.

That was, until I came across hot dog burnt ends. This is a parallel trend running as a proposed “poor man’s” solution to the beefy barbecue hit. That was just the opening I needed, so I took that concept and ran with it.

Vegan Hot Dog Burnt Ends are the perfect solution for plant-based and omnivorous eaters alike. They’re so deeply burnished in dark and savory caramel, you’d never know there’s no animal meat involved. Serve them as snacks, appetizers, or starters at your next party, and I guarantee they’ll be the talk of the town. Perhaps even best of all, while traditional burnt ends take hours to smoke, slow cooking over a wood fire, vegan hot dogs come fully-cooked and ready to eat. You just need to put the finishing touches on them in the oven, no grill or smoker required.

Keys to success:

  1. Line your pan with aluminum foil or use a disposable pan. Seriously, you do not want to scrape the caramelized gunk out of your favorite baking dish when this is all over. Speaking from personal experience, it sticks tenaciously and terribly.
  2. Select meatless dogs that already have a subtle smoky flavor. That lets us skip the smoking step traditionally done in a barbecue pit or grill. My favorites are Field Roast Signature Stadium Dogs and Upton’s Naturals Updog. Alternately, add 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke to your marinade to make up for it with a different brand.
  3. Score your dogs thoroughly. Those slits let all the spices soak in, while creating lots of additional surface area and edges to get extra crispy.

How to make it a meal:

Although these two-bite party-starters are perfect for casual munching, you could easily make them the star of your next dinner. Great ideas for accompaniments include…

Most importantly, consider doubling the recipe. These babies go fast; I promise you won’t have any leftovers even if you triple it.

Finally, I get the irresistible appeal of burnt ends. They’re not just for brisket anymore.

Continue reading “Hot Dog Summer”

Good Garbage

You say “garbage” like it’s a bad thing.

In Rochester, New York, it means something else entirely. The Garbage Plate was born here, specifically at Nick Tahou Hots, a roadside fast food stand catering to truckers and college students that ate like them. No two Garbage Plates are exactly the same, but the general idea is that you take copious amounts of protein and carbs, slap it on a griddle, slather it in sauce, and serve it in one heaping pile. True to form, it looks a bit trashy, but tastes like everything you’re craving after a long night on the town, or when you’re recovering the day after.

Served alongside a stack of generously buttered white bread, it’s an iconic American institution that is sadly unknown outside of its immediate birthplace. Surely the combination isn’t entirely unique, easily fashioned from leftovers or scraps to make ends meet, but that’s also what makes it so special. The flavors are universal, accessible, and comforting on a primal level. Everyone can eat garbage, regardless of social status or income, and in fact, everyone should eat garbage every now and then.

Ready to get trashy? Let’s break down the plate and evaluate our options.

What is a Garbage Plate made with?

  • Base: Hash browns, home fries, or French fries
  • Carbs: Macaroni salad or plain pasta and/or baked beans
  • Protein: Hamburger (optionally with cheese), sausage, or hot dogs
  • Sauce: Hot meat sauce and mustard, plus optional ketchup and/or hot sauce
  • Topping: Diced onion

Personally, my preference is to start with a solid foundation of hash browns for a satisfying crunchy contrast to the more tender layers on top. Refrigerated or frozen hash browns make this a snap, or you can start from scratch with whole starchy potatoes. If you do shred your own, it’s essential to squeeze out any excess water, using a length of cheese cloth to wring them out, for the best golden brown sear. The process takes an extra minute or two, but will elevate your garbage plate from good to great.

For the primary protein, I always seem to have some sort of burger patty in the freezer, so that’s an automatic win for me. Whether it’s animal-identical or a more earthy combination of beans and grains, my secret is to season the outside with a generous pinch of Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder.

A little bit goes a long way in added volumes of flavor that transcend the barrier between the plant and animal kingdom. “Delicious” is the only way to really describe the effect. You could chop your seasoned patties up into small pieces for better forkablility, or leave it whole for faster service. Grill, sear, bake, or air fry; use anything you’ve got to create a nice brown sear and cook it all the way through.

Hot meat sauce might need the most explanation. No, it’s not meat hot sauce, as I initially though. Syntax matters, people. It’s more like a loose bolognese without tomatoes, or if chili was made into a sauce instead of a stew. As the primary carrier of flavor in the whole meal, this is the most important part of the recipe. That’s why I leave nothing to chance by bringing umami bomb Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms into the equation.

There’s no need for ground beef when finely chopped shiitake mushroom caps are every bit as rich, meaty, toothsome, and savory. Best of all, you can use all the stems you might have saved from other recipes, since no one will know the difference once finely minced and slowly simmered.

What’s the best way to assemble a garbage plate?

Originally invented as a way to repurpose disparate leftovers, it’s a much easier and more enjoyable meal when the main components are prepped in advance. The pasta salad can keep in the fridge for up to 9 days in an airtight container; the hot meat sauce will be good for up to 2 weeks. In fact, I think the flavors get even better over time, melding and harmonizing, becoming richer and deeper with age. However, it’s best to make the hash browns fresh and cook the burger patties to order, for the best textures and taste.

The most important part of a Garbage Plate is less about the specific components or assembly, but the spirit of the concept. Go ahead, use boxed or leftover mac and cheese, frozen French fries, and whatever else you already have on hand. If you’re short on time, you can just simmer some marinara with shiitake powder and a handful of meatless grounds. No one will judge you for taking shortcuts here. It should be hearty, comforting, and deeply savory, above all else.

Continue reading “Good Garbage”

Food for Fathers

Fathers, as a group of people, are not a monolith. Making a blanket statement about such an infinitely diverse and varied population would be incredibly shortsighted, to put it lightly. Fathers should absolutely be celebrated and appreciated, but not in the way that Hallmark cards seem to think.

To treat all fathers the same way is reductive, completely opposite to what we’re trying to convey in the first place. If it comes from a genuine place, Father’s Day is about recognizing the people that raised us for all their unique quirks, habits, and mannerisms. It’s a chance to reminisce about the lessons they taught us early on, our challenges and struggles together; all the things that make them who they are, and in turn, make us who we are.

That kind of depth defies stereotypical gift guides. You can’t put that in a cooler filled with ice or wrap it up in a tool set. I may not be able to speak as a Father myself, but I promise you, they don’t all want beefy burgers or “man caves” or golf sets. Once and for all, almost none of them want neckties.

I’m not going to offer you a recipe roundup of The Best Father’s Day Recipes for the simple reason that I don’t know your father or what they like. Instead, this is a roundup of things I think my father would like. Maybe you’ll find some overlap here for inspiration. Whatever you make, just make sure they know they’re loved. That’s the real point of this holiday.

Continue reading “Food for Fathers”

Green Evolution

Green milk is a symbolically loaded concept. As a kid, it was an indicator of St. Patrick’s Day, offering an artificially festive hue to the same old swill peddled by overworked cafeteria staff everyday. To those in the Star Wars fandom or Disneyland devotes, it’s a novelty drink paying homage to the supposedly nutritious green-colored milk produced by female thala-sirens. In reality, that manifests as a non-dairy frozen beverage with tropical citrus notes.

Neither of these are the green milk that I have in mind. I can clearly remember my first encounter as a new resident of San Francisco when it stopped me in my tracks. Scrambling to find a reasonable meal between classes, I had just stepped off a sweaty, overcrowded BART ride and into the attached basement food court of the Westfield Mall. There, front and center, was the most magical elixir my young eyes had laid eyes on.

Pale pistachio in color, pouring as smooth and rich as liquid silk, every sip was like a hit of pure dopamine. Sweet but not sugary, creamy but not cloying, subtly seasoned but far from bland, it sang with the floral flavor of vanilla while silently packing in the potent nutrition of dark leafy greens. For a brief moment in time it was also offered in soft serve form which allowed additional toppings like sea salt, almond butter, and fresh raspberries (my personal favorite combination) to further enhance the experience.

While the former green milks still exist in this world, my previous Brazil nut-based green milk does not. Even more infuriating is the fact that nothing else even comes close to it. How hard is it to blend up greens and dates in that same ratio to make it taste like melted ice cream?

Not hard at all, especially if you do it yourself. Eight years later, it’s now abundantly clear that my beloved green milk is not coming back to Pressed Juicery, no matter how hard I beg and plead. Maybe it’s for the best; making my own yields bigger batches for MUCH less money, available any time the craving strikes. It’s also a snap to give it a spin in the ice cream machine for a secretly healthy frozen dessert.

What makes green milk so great?

Aside from the irresistible flavor, this unique blend of whole, plant-based ingredients has a whole lot of health benefits to offer:

  • Brazil nuts are particularly rich in selenium, providing well over the daily recommended value for adults in just one nut alone!
  • Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are noted for their high iron, folate, calcium, and Vitamin C content, among many others key nutrients.
  • Dates are one of the best natural sweeteners around, boasting a low glycemic index, which makes them less likely to spike blood sugar levels in those who are sensitive.

Tips for success

If you’ve made nut milk from scratch before, you already know the drill. It’s easy to get excellent results without even trying, but there are a few tricks to making your best blend ever:

  • Soak the nuts overnight, whether you have a high-speed blender or not. You can skip this step to speed through the recipe, but it helps ensure a smoother texture while also making the nutrients more easily absorbed in your body.
  • Use a nut milk bag to strain the mixture. There’s nothing wrong with forgoing this procedure entirely to reap the full benefits of all that fiber, but it will create a thicker, grittier texture. A wire strainer lined with cheesecloth can also work for a more DIY rig.
  • Chill thoroughly for the best flavor. If you’re in a hurry, you can let it stand in the freezer for a bit to cool down quickly and/or serve over ice.

This drink will change your understanding of green milk forever. You might want to start buying Brazil nuts in bulk.

Continue reading “Green Evolution”