Veggie Burger and Fries

So here’s the thing about veggie burgers. They’re not great. Just as a general rule: even the highest quality, truffle infused, butter brushed, created by gastronomic geniuses who have taken their studies of cuisine down to the molecular level vegetarian burger will pale in comparison to the most basic frying pan beef patty. That’s the name of the game. Burgers are just meant to be meat. However; if you (like me) want a burger-adjacent vegetarian option-I’m going to show you a fantastic runner up. Forget about bean burgers; people chase after the perfect bean patty because it’s the closest texture wise to ground beef, but at best they end up tasting like, well, beans – and at worst the taste like salty dirt. What we need to do is make something that will taste great and forget about the rest. Flavor is king, everything else comes second. Mushrooms are a great option (just imagine a nice, fat slab of portobello on a bun) but they can be a non-starter for some picky eaters. Instead, for this burger I’ll be using eggplant steaks. Smokey, creamy, with an umami tang that rivals the meatiest of burgers, this vegetarian option will make you forget the taste of a beef burger – almost.

Continue reading “Veggie Burger and Fries”

Ropa Vieja Burritos

It means: old clothes, but if my laundry filled the apartment with the same smells as this dish, my washer and dryer would never run. IMG_0581I think the first time I ate Ropa Vieja was in Curacao, probably snagging it out of a Cuban friend’s lunch. It wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar dish, I had had beef slow-stewed in tomato sauce before, but Ropa Vieja is the dish I come back to time and time again. Maybe, it’s just the name. Maybe it’s the way the roast shreds into a crimson pile of aromatic strands of beef that melt on your tongue. Maybe its the sharp, bright, and spicy flavors – the way the tomatoes render into sweet umami paste that coats each bite of beef and blends perfectly with the cumin and the cilantro and the chili peppers. Whatever the case may be, this dish is dead simple and drop-dead delicious. Eat it plain, with rice, beans, and plantains; layer it on top of a ham and cheese sandwich to make a Cubano that’s out of this world; or – my personal favorite – pair it with fresh onions, avocado, and cilantro, then roll it all up in a tortilla.

Continue reading “Ropa Vieja Burritos”

Reverse-Seared Steak

This is a true story. I was once trapped on the side of a mountain with a stranger, a bear, and two 32 ounce porterhouse steaks. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. We weren’t trapped, exactly, our ride was on its way and the stranger was my brother-in-law’s half-brother. So, family! Sort of. The bear was there; not at the edge of the campsite but not too far up the mountainside. We had felt its presence here and there over the long weekend; grunting early in the morning; leaving us steaming presents at the base of bark-less trees, rubbed smooth.
Brother-in-law half-brother (call him “BL”) and I drew the short straws, we didn’t fit in the first car to leave the campsite. But we shouldn’t worry! Our ride was being provided by BL’s girlfriend and she was going to be there in two hours. It wasn’t until hour five that he mentioned the potentially relationship ending fight he and his girlfriend had had right before the camping trip. So I read my book, drank a beer or three, and shuffled around the campsite, throwing rocks.
Around hour six, BL started building a fire. He dug around the bottom of the cooler and pulled out these two monster steaks marinating in a ziplock. Enough for six people. He looked at me, looked down at the steaks, looked back at me and said, “This is all we have to eat. I’m going to go ahead and grill ’em, but as soon as they come out of the bag, we need to eat them. As soon as I open the bag, whatever’s out there is going to smell them and come looking. We can’t throw anything away, we have to eat it all.”
I stared at the steaks, rubbed my stomach and wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth. I nodded. “Cook ’em.” I have never eaten a steak so quickly or so tasty since. And I have never since been so scared of my stomach exploding.

Continue reading “Reverse-Seared Steak”

Meatball Submarine

Once upon a time, I told Alexis IMG_0516about a recipe I had found on YouTube that I wanted to make. It was the most wondrous and magical of recipes; it delivered a meatball sub, where the roll was as warm and springy as a golden cloud on a summer afternoon; the meatballs were juicier than any The Lady or The Tramp had ever rolled across a plate at each other; and everything else in between – the creamy ricotta, the crisp greens and tomatoes, the deep and romantic red sauce – made a meatball submarine capable of sinking aircraft carriers by way of sheer awesomeness. I made this meatball sub for Alexis more than five years ago, and we’re getting married in January. I’m not saying those two things are directly related to each other (but I’m not saying they aren’t, either). Feed this sandwich to others at your own risk, you may be stuck with them happily forever after.

 

Continue reading “Meatball Submarine”

Mongolian Beef

Stir-fry is my bread and butter. IMG_0319If there is any open space in the book when I’m planning out dinners, you can bet that I’m making stir-fry. If Alexis goes out of town, all I’m eating while she’s gone is stir-fry. I’ll give my brother credit for getting me wok-ing (wok: a big, high-lipped saute pan in which one fries, stirs); when I lived with him in high school, he had just gotten back from Taiwan, and this is what we ate eighty percent of the time. In college, my first cooking job was in an Asian restaurant and I got it by washing dishes for months. That is how much I wanted to stir-fry. Here’s why: stir-frying – as a method of cooking; as a palette of foods; as a formula for developing dishes – will fill your plate with consistently delicious meals chock full of vegetables, flavor, and (best of all) cheap and easy to cook ingredients. It doesn’t take a lot of time, money, or skill to make stir-fry. Sitting down with my brother night after night to heaping bowls of stir-fry inspired me to cook and gave me an avenue into cooking (and enjoying) dinner every night, hopefully it can do the same for you!

Continue reading “Mongolian Beef”