Friday, November 4, 2011

Joe's Special with Tofu

When I was twelve and fourteen years old, my father took on me long-distance bicycle trips: one was the California coast border to border and the other was Seattle to San Francisco.  He and I did a lot of shorter long trips together, but each of the two long-distance ones took us one month to accomplish.  They were literally the best times I had with my father growing up. We could talk, we saw sights and heard sounds that people in cars whizzing by missed.  We slept mostly in hiker-biker parts of regular campgrounds, but sometimes we found ourselves in a sheep farm, or a hidey-hole up a steep trail, or the rare hotel to wash up.  We met some great people on these trips, and if they were bikers going the same direction as us, we found ourselves meeting up at the next campground 50 to 75 miles away the next evening.  Sometimes we would get to know other travelers over a week.  It was a wonderful time for me.

One of the things that was commonplace was to share our meals with each other and develop a sort of outdoors banquet.  This is when I first had Joe's Special.  It was actually my father's contribution, but I don't recollect him making it other than on these trips.  We usually had it at least once a week on the road, and my belly always welcomed it.  The other campers brought whatever they had to contribute and would gather around the fire that was heating our meal; the smells were an invitation for everyone to join in.  My father made his with ground beef, mushrooms and spinach - we would carry the food and pans right in our panniers, our bicycle packs.  He seasoned it simply with just salt and pepper - the outdoor air and the moon and the crickets fed the rest of the senses.  I've made a vegan version in different ways over the years, and this is my take on it with tofu.  I've added liquid smoke to try and recapture the essence of being in the woods, the campfire lights sparking into the air, but I don't think anything will quite compare to the memories I treasure.  This is as close as I can get it.

Joe's Special with Tofu


2 Tbs. of canola oil
2 pkgs. of extra-firm tofu, drained of water, cubed into approximate 1/2" squares
8 to 10 mushrooms, sliced thickly or quartered, depending on size
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the cubed tofu and cook until it browns, about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes.  Add the spinach and seasoning and cook until the spinach wilts, just a couple of minutes.  Served with baked potatoes, this makes a complete meal.  Feeds five hungry vegans.


  1. How wonderful and amazing that your father took you on those trips, creating lifelong memories. Do you do the same with your kids? My father never took me on bike trips, and he wasn't much of a cook, but there are a couple of his signature dishes that I've re-created.

  2. I agree with Andrea- what a wonderful, amazing thing to do with your dad. Those memories sound so great! Being on a bike or out in the open in some way is just so much better than being stuck in a house or car. I just adore the outdoors.

  3. Sweet story! I wish I had memories like that, or meals to remind me of my father! I love the idea of adding liquid smoke to bring back memories of a campfire.

  4. Andrea, it was a good time for us, something I treasure. I've been wanting to do something very similar with my children, but I'm having to wait until JK is off training wheels. :-)

    Molly, it was great. My appreciation grew not only for my father but also for the simplicity of the outdoors.

    SV, nope.

    FF, thank you. Liquid smoke was the closest I could come to recreating a campfire. :-)

  5. Wonderful and amazing are words that come to my mind too, as with the other commenters. And, Food Feud took the words out of my mouth about the liquid smoke and campfires. What a fantastic experience. Food tastes so good after a day full of physical activity, but eating it out in the woods with the moon and the crickets to boot, sounds like pure magic.

  6. How cool that you veganized a family favorite!!! The biking trips sound absolutely great!!!!

  7. Rose, definitely the combination of the food with the other stimulation going on helped make this dish so memorable.

    Get Skinny, thanks!

  8. Um, okay, I guess I didn't hit a final button because I remember typing a comment to this a week ago. I loved your story.