Good Luck Potluck

Potlucks, both big and small, have the power to bring people together like nothing else. These communal feasts allow a true fusion of cultures, uniting culinary traditions to create a symphony of flavor on every plate. Unlike your average hosted dinner party or brunch gathering, it’s not just about the individual’s dining experience, but celebrating the full collective of flavors found within the community at large.

Beyond the food itself, potlucks allow an intangible magic to develop, fostering bonds and deepening relationships. These gatherings are not confined to rigid social structures or the formality of restaurant dining. Rather, they offer an intimate setting where the boundaries between host and guest blur into insignificance. It is within this egalitarian ambiance that strangers become friends, and acquaintances transform into confidants, all while savoring the fruits of their collective labor.

With that in mind, there are no wrong answers for the perennial question: What should I bring to a potluck? From the zesty chili that sets the palate ablaze to the velvety chocolate cake that seduces the sweet tooth, each dish tells a story, far more personal and revealing than a casual conversation. If you’re stumped, though, I do have a few foolproof suggestions.

What Makes a Good Potluck Dish?

To narrow down the options, my criteria for what goes on this list is more pragmatic than visionary. It’s always best to select a dish that:

  • Serves many, ideally 8 – 10 at minimum, or can be scaled up accordingly
  • Travels well, no matter the distance
  • Can sit at room temperature or is easy to reheat with minimal fuss
  • Quick and easy to prepare, because no one wants to spend any party stuck in the kitchen
  • Isn’t terribly messy to serve or eat

From snacks to desserts, here’s my cheat sheet for serving any group with style.

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Short and Stout

As the single most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, I know I’m part of the minority when I say I’m not a big fan of beer. The oldest known recipe for beer is over 4,000 years old, discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, so clearly there’s more to it that I must be missing. Forever curious, sometimes to my own detriment, I’ll always eagerly try a new brew. For such an immense, diverse category of drinks, it would be criminal to write them all off for a single polarizing flavor, after all.

Anyone else in the same boat would be advised not to attempt a heavy, highly-hopped stout. When offered a novel, local brew, the promise of coffee and oatmeal drew me in, but make no mistake: This is no breakfast treat. Acrid, cloying, and bitter, I could barely get down two sips before calling it quits.

Though perhaps unintentionally, this particular coffee oatmeal stout did provide ample inspiration after the initial brutal tasting. Taking notes from the basic components, it became a hearty base for an equally intense, yet far less polarizing, quick bread.

Both intoxicating and energizing, you get a serious dose of caffeine from concentrated cold brew coffee, amplifying the flavor from the beer. Whole oats boost the cereal taste from the brewing process, while date syrup and coconut sugar harmonize with a caramelized sweetness, taking the edge off the harsher flavors that otherwise bubble up.

Key Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Flour: I used a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour to incorporate a more earthy, wholesome flavor that pairs well with the heft and intensity of the beer. If you want a lighter crumb and higher rise, you can omit the whole wheat and use twice as much all-purpose instead.
    • For a gluten-free option, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend and replace the stout with a comparable wheat-free dark beer.
  • Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate: This is a staple for me during the hotter months (AKA, 10 out of 12 in Texas) so I always have a bottle on hand. In a pinch, you could replace this with regular coffee brewed at 4x strength, or 4 teaspoons of instant coffee powder dissolved into 1/2 cup of water.
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend: This was an inclusion of pure laziness. If you don’t have a ready-made mix in the pantry, you could omit the spices altogether, or use a combination of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
  • Date Syrup: Moderately sweet, tempered by a subtly bitter caramel-like bite, date syrup is one of my current favorite sweeteners. You could replace it with standard molasses if desired, but expect a darker end result.
  • Coconut Sugar: Same sentiment here; an equal amount of dark brown sugar can suffice.

Did you know that in ancient Egypt, beer was considered a sacred beverage and was often used as payment for laborers? I’d like to think that this Coffee Oatmeal Stout Bread would be worth its weight in gold. Even if you don’t like beer, this easy recipe will give you a good reason to keep a 6-pack on hand.

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Jacked Up On Jackfruit

With the rise of plant-based alternatives comes a wealth of inspiration- And misinformation. Jackfruit has been embraced as the meat of the jungle, fulfilling that role with varying degrees of success. For every incredible pulled “pork” sandwich, there’s another platter of stringy, unidentifiable BBQ going untouched at the neighborhood cookout. If you don’t know jack about jackfruit, you’re not alone.

How To Buy Jackfruit

For the sake of savory recipes, you want to by young green (unripe) jackfruit, canned and packed in brine, not in syrup and not fresh. Fresh jackfruit is indeed sweet, as the name would imply, often enjoyed in smoothies, ice cream, pudding, and other desserts. The texture is also smooth and almost bouncy, somewhat like lychees. While delicious, this isn’t the best way to replicate a meaty experience, to say nothing of the difficulty prepping a whole jackfruit, which can weigh up to 100 pounds.

Immature jackfruit is now sometimes packaged in pouches too, sometimes sold refrigerated or alongside shelf stable meat substitutes. Aside from having less liquid, the differences are immaterial.

How To Cook With Jackfruit

Most cooks go wrong right in the beginning. Some brands have jackfruit that’s already broken down to a texture that’s “usable” right out of the package, but that doesn’t mean you should. More often than not, it’s still very tough, tinged with the residual taste of the metal can.

  1. For the best experience with jackfruit, take it to the stove first. After thoroughly draining the brine, add fresh water to cover and bring it to a boil. If it’s already fairly tender, you can then immediately drain and get to work. For tougher chunks of jackfruit (as seen above), give it up to 20 minutes, until it falls apart readily when prodded.
  2. Flavor your water to infuse the jackfruit with a meatier taste right off the bat. Add a cube of vegan bouillon flavored like chicken, beef, or pork, depending on your desired output. For general umami, mushroom stock and/or shiitake powder is always a solid choice.
  3. Use a potato masher for the best shredded texture. No one wants a big chunk of miscellaneous gristle in their meat; consider the same rule for plant-based products. If it’s not soft enough to mash, it’s not cooked enough to use.

Jackfruit Is Only As Flavorful As Its Sauce

Like tofu, young jackfruit is downright bland until you season it. That’s why you need to go heavy on your spices and sauces, but don’t rely on packaged solutions alone. The biggest problem I find with most pulled pork facsimiles is the cooks use prepared BBQ sauce right out of the bottle and call it a day. Add smoke, add fresh garlic, add a bit of fat, please! Put it back over the fire to give it more nuanced texture, crisping the edges for a chewier bite. You can saute it, air fry it, bake it, roast it, grill it; anything! Don’t just pretend like it’s a complete gourmet meal without putting in some work.

Jackfruit Nutrition Notes

Here’s the rub: jackfruit is not a great source of protein. Don’t call it an “alternative protein” because it’s simply not an accurate assessment. You’d get more protein eating raw broccoli. Jackfruit does have plenty of nutritional benefits to offer, though!

  • Good source of potassium and Vitamin C. Feed your skin and bones with these key “beauty” vitamins.
  • Cholesterol-free. An automatic advantage of swapping animal products for plants is instantly cutting cholesterol out of the picture. For anyone worried about heart health, this is one easy step that can make a big difference.
  • Good source of fiber. Stay regular! Don’t forget that a healthy digestive system (AKA your microbiome) also contributes to a healthy immune system too.

Jackfruit does have an impressive amount of protein compared to many other fruits, like apples and mangoes, but it shouldn’t be considered the place to get your gains. Add other protein sources to your meal, such as tofu, beans, nuts, and seeds for a healthy balance.

What Should You Make With Jackfruit Next?

There’s no shortage of inspiration for jackfruit recipes spanning all cultures and cuisines. Today, I’d like to present a very simple introduction to the meatless beast, treating it like chicken salad, but taking away the sometimes divisive mayonnaise component.

Tossing the savory shreds instead with a light dressing of olive oil and fresh herbs, it’s a bright and simple lunchtime staple. The crisp crunch of celery adds textural contrast that holds up well over time, even when prepped ahead and stashed in a lunchbox to eat on the go. Best of all, without the overbearing creaminess of conventional chicken salad, you’re free to top it with gooey dairy-free cheese and make an excellent chicken salad melt. Crisp toasted bread holds the whole assembly together in an unfussy, unpretentious package that everyone can get behind.

Jackfruit isn’t so scary when you break down the basics. Here’s an easy way to master the art of jackfruit cookery without fail.

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Crab Walk To A Better Crab Cake

When the person you’re dating casually mentions that they like crab cakes, you find a way to make crab cakes.

Look, I don’t make the rules here, that’s just how it goes. Said person could have expressed an attraction to fugu or turducken, for all you know, so there’s no reason why such a simple desire can’t be indulged.

Making Vegan Crab Cakes

Crab has a fairly mild flavor, subtly sweet and oceanic, often compared to lobster, without the oily fishy flavor that smaller sea creatures are known for. Replicating this experience in a convincing way requires taking this unique taste and tender, shredded texture into account.

  • Most plant based crab cake recipes feature jackfruit, the hottest tropical fruit to hit American dining room tables. Though I’ve previously used an unconventional combination of glass noodles and tofu to replicate that shredded, chewy texture, I wanted to tap a lesser known import for this version: banana blossoms. They’re very similar in the eating experience of brined young jackfruit packed in cans, but have a softer bite and slightly more natural taste. Banana blossoms can be found fresh in the produce section of more robust Asian markets, canned alongside the jackfruit, or frozen, nearby the other veggies and edamame in the freezer aisle. I used frozen which comes finely shredded and simply needs to be thawed. If you’re starting with larger pieces, you’ll want to thinly julienne them with a sharp knife, or pulse them a few times in your food processor.
  • Nothing says “ship shape” like a pinch of dried wakame. It rehydrates about 3 to 4 times in volume, so I like to crush it roughly to better distribute the flakes.
  • Panko breadcrumbs act as a binder and textural enhancement; contrary to antiquated approaches, it’s NOT a filler and is key for overall enjoyment. You can find gluten-free versions if needed, but don’t swap in standard Italian breadcrumbs, which will make the crab cakes too dense and heavy.

Serving Suggestions

Crab cakes don’t need to get dressed up to go out; they always look fabulous, even without makeup on.

  • Pass around a platter of crab cakes as a standalone snack or appetizer, perhaps with tartar sauce or sriracha mayo for dipping, and call it a night.
  • Craft a complete meal around them, making them the star of the show. A voluminous arugula or spinach salad is a great way to get your greens without distracting from the headliners. On cold nights, saute, stir fry, or even cream those greens to serve the whole thing hot. For a different take on scampi or alfredo, crown your pile of garlicky noodles with crisp crab cakes, rather than more shrimpy fare.
  • Leftovers make stunningly great sandwich fodder. They’re a bit fragile so they tend to fall apart when reheated. Don’t sweat it! Embrace the unraveling and add an extra dollop of vegan mayo to make an incredible crab salad. Slap it between two slices of bread with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and anything else you like. Eat as is or brush with melted vegan butter and toast the whole thing.

Crab Cakes are an easy request to fulfill. Say you’re making them as a favor, but it’s okay to want them for yourself, too.

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