Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Crazy Good Vegetarian Taco Meat (Nut-Free, Gluten-Free)

Crazy Good Vegetarian Taco Meat
Meaty, savory, chewy & perfectly salty - that's what this taco meat is! This is a new favorite recipe of ours!

A couple of my daughters took a road trip to go visit my parents. Lucky them, they got to eat grandma's food! My mom created this terrific vegetarian meat substitute on the 25th of this month. Mom will flavor this meat various ways. This recipe is for a taco meat flavor, and it is SO GOOD.

My daughter Lexi has been a vegetarian for a few years. Lexi has recently introduced a little meat to her diet, but is still generally vegetarian. As long as she remains healthy, we support her in her choice. Grandma and Lexi created this recipe together, so it is now officially named "LexiBurger".

This meat is high protein from the tofu and egg, and high fiber due to the perfectly chewy brown rice. You do not need to tell your family that they are eating tofu, because you cant tell it's in there! Freezing extra-firm tofu is a trick our family has used for years. When you thaw it and press the excess water out, it has an awesome meaty texture when you crumble it. Just buy some extra-firm tofu and throw it in your freezer just for this purpose.

The egg helps to bind everything together perfectly, just so you know.

Are you wondering what the "Umami" is mentioned below??? It's another flavor profile that they know about in Japan. It gives amazing full-bodied, rich, complex flavors to savory foods. MSG enhances umami, for example. Umami flavors are found in slow-roasted stews, and sauces made with fond which have been reduced to concentrate the flavors, mushrooms, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, etc. It's a mysterious flavor that you can't quite put your finger on, but you really notice when it's there because the food tastes so amazing, you just want to stuff your face! Look "umami" up online for a more detailed description.

Put this delicious taco "meat" in tacos, burritos, with or without re-fried beans and cheese, on top of nachos, or on top of a taco salad. Lexi brought some of this meat to my house and we made nachos for a tasty filling treat. YUM. I have pictures of our nachos in this post.

 Look at this meat, it tastes even better than it looks!

Crazy good vegetarian taco meat nachos.

Vegetarian Lexi Burger:

1 package organic extra-firm tofu
1 1/4 to 1 1/3 c. chewy cooked organic short grain brown rice
1/4 to 1/3 c. soaked chopped dried onion
2 T. rice oil
1 T soy sauce (Tamari for gluten-free)
1 to 2 T. hot taco sauce, to taste
2 t. sunbutter (sunflower seed butter), up to 3 t., for richness
1 small beaten organic egg
2 t. organic paprika (or ground chili)
2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic salt
1/2 t. mushroom powder (to add full-bodied complex "Umami" flavor)
1/4 to 1/2 t. cumin powder
Chipotle powder, to taste
1/2 c. or more deodorized coconut oil, for browning the mixture.
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Seasonall seasoned salt, to taste
Garlic salt, to taste
1/2 c. more cooked rice, if needed


Do ahead of time:

1.  Slice and freeze the box of tofu for at least 24 hours. THAW. Press firm to remove excess water and crumble finely.

2.  Cook the short grain brown rice only until it's nice and chewy, then chill at least overnight for best results (over-cooking makes the rice mushy).

The day of making the Vegetarian Taco Meat:

Mix the crumbled tofu with the 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 c. cooked brown rice and soaked dried onion flakes in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the rice oil, soy sauce, hot sauce, and sunbutter, and toss well to combine.

Add the beaten egg and toss well to coat completely.

Toss with the paprika, onion powder, garlic salt, mushroom powder, cumin, and chipotle.

Heat 1/2 c. coconut oil in a large skillet, when starting to sizzle, dump in the tofu mixture and stir-fry it like you would fried rice. You want to brown it a little, but do not over-brown or it can get a little dry. Add more oil if needed.

Season to taste with pepper, Seasonall, garlic salt, etc.

If the vegetarian meat mixture turns out too rich and oily, just work in another 1/2 cup or so of cooked rice.

For the nachos, we melted cheddar and jack cheese over gluten-free tortilla chips. Topped the nachos with the warm "meat mixture, drizzled on salsa and topped with a dollop of sour cream. I was too lazy to go get a can of olives, but we would of loved some along with fresh guacamole!


Leila & Nancy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kettle Turkey Pot Roast - Copy Cat Chuck-A-Rama Recipe

Kettle Turkey Pot Roast
Imagine tender chunks of savory turkey that fool you into thinking you are eating slow simmered roast beef! 

I LOVE this recipe. My family loves this recipe. I think you will love it too.

Chuck-A-Rama does a great job of making their kettle turkey pot roast. Have you had it? It's by the roast beef, you must try it. It tastes like very tender roast beef with yummy carrots and potatoes, swimming in a tasty broth.

I have also had another version of this at a restaurant I can't remember the name of, that was equally delicious. This version version had a delicious thicker gravy and a ton of black pepper - zowie! A bit much for tender mouths. Chuck-A-Rama's Kettle Turkey has a much thinner brothy sauce that is delicious, but makes a lousy gravy, since it just runs off everything.

I decided it was time for me to recreate a version at home that is the best of both worlds. I wanted a thicker gravy-like sauce that wasn't quite so peppery. I wanted the big chunks of tender fall-apart meat. I wanted it to taste beefy, not like turkey. And I wanted lots of carrot and potato chunks too.

I'm thrilled with the results and my family loves it. I created this recipe around 2008,and I have made it when ever I see turkey thighs being sold at my local market. It's great that you do not have to thaw the meat first. This recipe is very forgiving, as you will see with the 2 variations I have listed below the recipe.

Crock Pot Turkey Pot Roast:

1 large onion, diced into cubes
2-3 turkey thighs (about 3 to 4 lbs, frozen)
1 t. seasoned salt, to taste
60 grinds fresh black pepper
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 envelope dry Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1-2 t. organic beef base
1/4 c. sherry cooking wine, optional
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. Herbs de Province
1 bay leaf, optional
2 3/4 c. water
1 3-ounce package brown gravy mix (or mushroom)
12 carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks
6 to 8 potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut into big chunks
4 to 6 ribs celery, cut into big chunks, optional


Place the cubed onion in the bottom of a large oval shaped crock pot.

Season the frozen or thawed turkey thighs with seasoned salt and pepper. Place in the crock pot on top of the onions.

Add to the crock pot the garlic, onion soup mix, beef base, sherry, Worcestershire, Herbs de Province, bay leaf, and water.

Cover and cook 3 or more hours (until the meat is fall-of-the-bones tender).

Lift meat out of the crock pot and remove skin and bones, leaving big chunks of meat. Set aside.

To the crock pot add the package of brown gravy mix. Stir to combine with the hot liquid remaining in the crock pot.

Add all of the chunked carrots, potatoes, and celery to the crock pot. Toss to coat with the sauce.

Return the boned turkey to the crock pot. Lay the meat on top and gently spoon some of the sauce over top.

Place lid on crock pot and cook another hour or so, until the vegetables are tender.

Add more water as desired. Check for salt before serving.

Alternate Methods:

Alternate Method # 1 (Use this if you want to cook the meat ahead of time, my favorite method):

Right before you go to bed: Place the diced onions in the bottom of the crock pot. Lay the frozen turkey thighs on top. Season the meat with the salt and pepper. Pour in about 1 cup of water and put on the lid. Cook on low while you sleep. In the morning, remove the meat and remove the skin and bones and set aside. Mix the rest of the ingredient listed together, tossing the vegetables well to coat. Lay the big chunks of turkey on top. Spoon sauce over the meat. Cover and cook on lowest setting until the vegetables are tender. Add water as desired. Taste for salt before serving.

Alternate Method # 2 (use this method is you are going to be gone all day):

Dump all of the sauce ingredients and into the crock pot, starting with the water, onion soup mix, brown gravy mix, beef base, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, Herbs de Province, bay leaf, onions, and garlic. Stir well. Season the frozen or thawed turkey thighs with the seasoned salt and pepper and nestle into the sauce, spooning sauce over top. Lay all the vegetable chunks on top. Cover and cook on low until meat is tender. Remove the meat and skin and de-bone. Place back into the crock pot and gently stir before serving.

Moki is hoping for a turkey treat! Please mom???
Moki has been such a good patient boy...



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Copy Cat Olive Garden Italian Salad Dressing - Formulated and tasted side-by-side for accuracy! Fresher tasting than the original.

This is not just another average copy cat recipe. This dressing actually tastes like the real deal!

Copy-Cat Olive Garden Salad Dressing

This is the best copy cat version of Olive Garden's Italian salad dressing that I have tasted so far. I actually like this better than Olive Garden's bottled version. Their bottled version does not taste as fresh as my version does. Their soybean oil tastes a bit funky (usually rancid) and has some other off-taste in there that I'm not sure of where it is coming from...

Anyway, I have tasted many copy-cat versions of Olive Garden's dressing. There are a lot of versions online. They are not it. Most of them are too sour (too much vinegar), or are flat tasting, or are too runny, or have too much mayonnaise in them... They just aren't right.

My version has a zesty punch, but is balanced with all the other flavors. You need to have a hint of sweet to tame the vinegar, and enough salt to blend all the flavors and keep the dressing rich and tasty when it is actually dressing your salad. This dressing is thick and creamy enough to cling to the lettuce and not just end up as a watery mess at the bottom of your salad bowl.

I like my blend of seasonings but I may actually smash a clove of fresh garlic with the salt called for in my recipe next time. I do not taste fresh garlic in Olive Garden's version, but I think it would taste better with fresh garlic.

I used a blend of both Parmesan and Romano cheeses. I may just go back to using only Romano, increasing the portion to 3 T. (21 grams). Romano is stronger tasting, so you decide what you'd like.

The xanthan gum is critical to my recipe. The dressing will be very runny without it. Notice that the first ingredient in Olive Garden's version is WATER. That is why water is the first ingredient in my dressing too. It is much too vinegary if you do not add the water. Olive Garden's trick to thicken their dressing is adding the xanthan gum. Go get yourself some xanthan gum, I use it in almost all of my salad dressing recipes. Guar gum is an alternate option to using the xanthan gum. Look in your local health food stores or in the gluten free baking section of grocery stores to find it.

The annatto powder is used to give a richer color to the salad dressing, omit it if you choose to.

Olive Garden's ingredient listing on their salad dressing bottle:
distilled vinegar
soybean oil
high fructose corn syrup
Romano cheese
xanthan gum
spice and spice extracts
lemon juice concentrate
calcium disodium EDTA (to protect freshness)
extractives of annatto.
(Contains milk, eggs).

I used my formulating background to recreate this dressing for my family and for yours. I hope you enjoy it! I conducted side-by-side taste test comparisons. I also compared ingredient lists. My version is healthier, although not sugar-free. I may formulate a sugar-free version later. My goal for this recipe was to as closely duplicate the original as I possibly could at this time. Let me know your thoughts on this recipe after you try it for yourself.

Leila's Copy Cat Version of Olive Garden's Italian Dressing:

1/2 c. (100 grams) purified water
1/2 c. (128 grams) Best Food's Mayonnaise (contains eggs)
about 1/2 c. (87 grams) white distilled vinegar (I prefer white wine vinegar)
1/4 c. (60 grams) extra-light olive oil (regular olive oil tastes too strong)
2 T. (36 grams) IMO syrup to replace corn syrup
2 T. (16 grams) Parmesan cheese
2 T. (14 grams) Romano cheese
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 t. sea salt
2 t. xylitol, or slightly more, to taste
1/2 t. + 1/8 to 1/4 t. xanthan gum (3/4 t. xanthan gum makes dressing thicker than Olive Garden's)
1/2 t. Italian seasoning
1/2 t. parsley flakes
20 grinds fresh ground black pepper
1/4 t. granulated garlic
1/16 t. red pepper flakes
1/16 t. annatto powder (Mexican foods section of grocery store)


Mix the water, mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, and IMO syrup together until fully combined with a stick blender (or blend by hand).

Add the cheeses and lemon juice.

In a small bowl, mix together the salt, xylitol, xanthan gum, Italian seasoning, parsley,black pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, and annatto powder.

Sprinkle the dry seasoning blend over the liquid and mix until well combined.

Chill in a jar with a tight fitting lid to allow the flavors to blend.

Serve over a salad of romaine lettuce, roma tomatoes, vidalia onion slices, black olives, pickled pepperoncini, garlic croutons, and freshly grated parmesan cheese.