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.

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On the Chopping Block

In this interconnected world separated by only wires and electrical impulses, it’s hard to imagine that any great invention could still fly under the radar, largely undetected by the masses. Yet, the chopped cheese sandwich exists exactly in this grey space. Wildly popular in its native New York bodegas, the rest of the world remains ignorant of such simple pleasures. I’m certainly not the first, nor last, to tout such an ingenious combination of bread, meat, and cheese, which is another point of controversy in itself. Also known as the shortened title of “chop cheese,” this fully loaded hoagie is just as heavy in cultural significance.

No one can pinpoint the exact origin of the chopped cheese sandwich, though it’s indisputably born and raised in the outer boroughs of NYC. Records date it back to about the 70s, but it’s quite possible such a creation existed before anyone thought to write such an experience down for historic preservation. Only after Anthony Bourdain made a fateful visit in late 2014 with his camera crew did the rest of the nation start taking notice.

Overnight, “upscale” versions appeared on New American menus, commanding steep price tags, well above actual market value. It was a slap in the face to all who cherished the concept, twisting it into a symbol of gentrification without any credit going to its true origins. To this end, I will never claim to make the best, most authentic, or most original rendering- But I can promise a darned tasty meal.

Born of scrappy persistence, the point of a chopped cheese sandwich is to take the bits and bobs, odds and ends, and maximize their flavor potential. That’s exactly why I save Sugimoto shiitake stems. A bit tougher than their supple caps, they need more finessing to enhance their textural impact, but still possess volumes of bold, rich flavor. Who could dream of throwing away such savory diamonds in the rough? They just need a bit more polishing to reach perfection.

In fact, I would never start with whole, fresh shiitake for such a dish. Did you know that these incredible mushrooms have two kinds of aroma? The first comes before eating, as the smell wafts from the cooked dish before you dig in. The second arrives with every subsequent bite, bumping up the flavor from start to finish. Only a long, slow soak can unlock the full potential for both of these stages, combining to create a fusion of umami intensity, far beyond range of your average meatless protein. Sugimoto is the only brand I’ve tried that truly captures this complete experience.

Back to the meat of the matter. Give me your rough, your affordable, your leftover proteins! Traditionally made from chopped hamburgers, this is where the sandwich gets its name. Anything goes here, whether you prefer something veggie-heavy, bean-based, or super beefy. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be fully formed patties. Finely minced homemade seitan, as seen here, was my favorite version yet, and I can’t wait to try it with everything in my arsenal, from rehydrated soy curls to tempeh. The magic is in the combination of juicy protein, melted yellow cheese, and crisp fresh vegetables piled high on a soft hoagie roll.

It would be easy enough to use prepared vegan queso or sliced cheese here, but I went the DIY route to make sure you’ll get that perfect, gloriously gooey bite every single time. Just whisk, heat, and pour. No nuts, no nonsense, and you can make it in minutes with basic pantry staples.

Speaking of awesome sauces, let’s not glance over the second layer of shiitake wallop. Hidden like a landmine right beneath the sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, a pinch of dried Sugimoto shiitake powder explodes with another round of bold flavor in the mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. Such an unassuming spread is usually an afterthought, but leveraged properly, completes the flavor profile with a final round of richness.

It’s not fussy, definitely not fancy, and absolutely guaranteed to be messy, specifically designed to hit all the pleasure sensors in the brain with one giant wallop of umami. That’s the essence of what makes a chopped cheese sandwich so great.

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Best of the Worcestershire

It’s hard to pronounce, tough to describe, and even harder to find without animal products. Worcestershire sauce is a flavor enhancer that instantly boosts a wide range of dishes, but is still largely misunderstood.

Making a splash on the culinary scene in the mid-1800’s, this mysterious fermented condiment was invented in Worcestershire, England and debuted by the Lea & Perrins company. Still the leading brand on the market, few worthy competitors have stepped up to the plate. This leaves a gaping hole in the grocery aisle, especially for vegans and those with food sensitivities. That’s because the original formula uses anchovies as the not-so-secret ingredient. While plant-based alternatives do exist, they can still be elusive in mainstream markets.

It’s time we take Worcestershire back. For that distinctive, addictive umami flavor, nothing compares to the power of dried Sugimoto shiitake powder. Despite its earthy origin, this potent food booster doesn’t taste like mushrooms, so you don’t need to worry about your sauce tasting off-key. Enhancing the natural flavors already present rather than adding its own distinctive essence, it’s like magical fairy dust that you really should be using in all of your favorite recipes.

The full power of that umami dynamo is unlocked over time, which makes it especially well-suited for this sauce. Aged and lightly fermented, the savory qualities become even more robust over the course of a few weeks. Though you could very happily enjoy this sauce after just a day or two, your patience will be rewarded in a world of rich umami later on.

How can you you use your homemade awesome sauce? Some of the most classic examples include:

Commercial Worcestershire sauce tends to be much sweeter and more flat, whereas this homemade version is carefully balanced, tangy and tart, punchy and deeply nuanced. Once you give it a try, you’ll never want to go without it again. Luckily, it keeps almost indefinitely in the fridge, stored in an airtight glass bottle. Double or triple the recipe to stay stocked up at all times.

With the right pantry staples on hand, it’s easier, cheaper, and tastier to just do it yourself.

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Don’t Go Bacon My Heart

How can you make bacon that tastes even richer than pork? I’m not talking about other meats, but plants that are naturally imbued with deeply savory flavors. Concentrated umami brings out a bold world of intensely earthy, almost gamey notes that put animal products to shame. What I’m talking about, of course, are dried Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.

All it takes is an overnight soak for these substantial caps to spring back to life. Transforming this humble fungus into America’s favorite breakfast food is as simple as switching out plain water for a boldly seasoned brine. Smoky, gently peppered, and subtly sweet, simple pantry staples transform mundane ingredients into something truly sublime.

Once plump and fully rehydrated, the larger, flatter Koshin variety have the perfect texture, primed for slow roasting in the oven. Gradually toasting in the low heat, the edges caramelize and become extra crispy, while the thicker centers retain a hearty, substantial, super chewy bite. It’s the best of all worlds, in both the plant and animal kingdoms.

Stock up on shiitake bacon, double down or even triple the batch, because there’s simply no dish that wouldn’t benefit from this umami bomb topper. Keep them in short strips, roughly chop them into bacon bits, or grind them into a fine powder to use as a savory sprinkle. Just a few of my favorite ways to use shiitake bacon include:

There’s nothing wrong with just munching on a handful of bacon as a snack, instead of potato chips or crackers. Unlike conventional options, there’s no cholesterol, very little fat, plenty of fiber, and zero cruelty.

For bacon-lovers and animal-lovers, this is the best recipe yet.

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The Good Forager

Mushroom foraging is not for beginners. Pluck the wrong cap and you could be taking your life into your hands. No matter how innocuous, one incorrect identification could be downright deadly. Great risks yield little payoff, especially when you consider the fact that shiitake, arguably the greatest prize for sheer umami content, will never cross your path.


Photo courtesy of Sugimoto

Shiitake are native to Southeast Asia where they do grow wild, but these days are largely recognized as a cultivated mushroom. Although there are no definitive written records, there’s a good chance shiitake had been growing naturally in Takachiho-go, at the foot of Mt. Sobo over 10,000 years ago, when broadleaf forests spread across Japan.


Photo courtesy of Sugimoto

Today, Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms grow on sweet sap oak logs in the forest. Completely exposed to the elements, the growers use a 1,000-year-old Japanese approach to nurturing sustainable tree logs, fostering an environment as close to those original conditions know to produce the best tasting and textured Shiitake.

Larger agribusinesses cannot grow the same quality shiitake. Families living deep in the mountains grow Sugimoto shiitake in harmony with nature, without the dangers associated with traditional foraging. In each forest micro-climate, it is essential to fine-tune the variable factors of nature, exposure to the rain, wind, and the sunlight through the trees, with the work and working hours changing according to the weather. These are hard-earned skills beyond the grasp of business people, thinking only of time cards and profits. Truly a labor of love, over 600 independent growers can elevate the act of foraging to an art form.

In the spirit of shepherd’s pie, forager’s pie is what I’d like to think the skillful shiitake grower might enjoy with their harvests. Earthy, bright herbs like thyme and rosemary sing in concert to further accentuate those aromatic woodsy base notes. Instead of ground beef or lamb, chopped shiitake mushrooms add an incredibly meaty bite and umami flavor, possibly even surpassing the original in sheer depth of flavor. Gently browned tempeh boosts the protein to incredible heights, without spiking the fat content or adding any cholesterol, of course.

Crowned with rich, buttery mashed potatoes, everything comes together quickly in a single skillet, making advanced preparation, transportation, and even cleanup a breeze. This one-pan meal is casual and comforting enough for an easy weeknight dinner, yet made with such luxurious flavors that it would a suitable centerpiece for a holiday feast.

For a satisfying meatless entree that’s wildly delicious, you don’t need to go scrounging around for the key ingredient. Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are now available on Kroger.com, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and their own website. Now that’s my kind of fool-proof foraging.

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It’s My Party and I’ll Dry If I Want To

When it comes to food preservation, no technique has withstood the test of time quite like drying and dehydration. Used as early as 12,000 BCE, prehistoric people discovered that they could sun-dry seeds to extend their lifespan exponentially. To this day, the very same approach is a perfectly reasonable way to put away fruits and vegetables for later days. The process can even intensify flavors, transforming simple ingredients into entirely new building blocks capable of creating richer eating experiences altogether.

Such is the case for Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, which gain all of their incredible umami and tanmi qualities through careful dehydration. In the olden days, freshly harvested shiitake were dried over wood or charcoal fires, incorporating a more smoky, woodsy flavor, and also a lot more uncontrollable variation. If the fires burned too hot, the mushrooms would shrivel up, dried to a crisp. Too cold, and the tortuously slow drying process would destroy much of the delicate taste and aroma.

Now employing the best technology in the business, far-infrared drying reduces the moisture content quickly and efficiently while removing any possible insect or microbe content. This is why Sugimoto is the only shiitake mushroom company in the world that has received kosher certification.

Pantry staples that won’t let you down, waiting patiently for their time to shine, are crucial for quick meals, times of scarcity, and outright emergencies. When the winter storm knocked out power for days and water for weeks, you’d better believe I was thanking my lucky stars I had all sorts of dried soups saved away. Beyond just making for an easy, comforting starter, powdered soup mixes can be the catalyst to countless meals. Add a packet to sour cream and you’ve got a bowlful of dip, ready to party. Toss it with cubes of tofu for a flavorful, crispy finish. And of course, rehydrate it with less liquid to make a concentrate, mimicking America’s favorite casserole starter for all sorts of hotdishes.

You can effortlessly make your own instant cream of mushroom soup mix yourself to bypass any dairy or questionable ingredients. Sugimoto dried shiitake powder is the essential base that lays a foundation of incredible savory flavor, blending seamlessly into a creamy almond flour foundation. Ample pieces of chopped shiitake mushrooms add a more satisfying texture, making it a delight to enjoy all by itself. Springing back to life with just a little water and warmth, it’s a deeply soothing, soulful blend that could be the catalyst to many more meals to come.

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