Where’s the Beef?

This is one of the funniest bumper stickers I’ve ever seen:

For me, it also happens to be true.

Now, before I get a bunch of hate mail from the folks at Peta, I’d like to point out that I am a big animal rights supporter. I’ve worked at a vet clinic, taken on too many foster “babies” to count and according to my father, “If I believed in reincarnation, I’d want to come back as one of your pets.” I’ve always loved animals. But yes, I also eat them. No offense to my lovely vegan friends, I just can’t resist a good steak or a juicy pork chop. Now, because I love my vegan friends, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and experiment with….TOFU….

Those that know me well know how much of a stretch this is for me since I actually hate tofu (and I’m not ashamed to say it). It has no taste and the texture just, well leaves something to be desired. But I bravely trudged on, cautiously peering in the produce case to survey the array of tofu goodness. Silken tofu, firm tofu, extra firm tofu. Everywhere a tofu… And don’t get me started on the to-foods…Tofu franks, tofu burgers, tofu chicken fingers…It was dizzying. I stood there, in front of the open refrigerator case for what seemed like an eternity, thinking, “Ok, now what the hell am I gonna do with this? I hate this crap.”

I don’t know if it was the facial frostbite I was starting to get from the exposure to the chilly produce case or the stink eye I was getting from the fellow working in the produce department, but I decided on the Firm variety. I looked around stealthily, to make sure no one was watching and quickly threw the package into my cart before anyone could see. I mean, I have a rep to protect and all…

I got home and placed my tofu in the fridge, desperately trying to think of what the hell to do with the spongy white mass beneath the innocent plastic wrapping. So I figured I’d let it sit in the fridge while I pondered on what dish to create with it.

And there it sat, on the third shelf of my fridge.

For a week and a half.




Every time I opened the refrigerator door, there was that block of spongy soy, sitting there piously on the third shelf, staring at me as if to say, “You think you’re a badass, huh? Funny, from where I sit you look like a lame ass!” After 10 days I’d had about enough of the damn stuff and all it’s not so subtle jabs (you think I’m kidding? You try living with a block of Firm Tofu and see how it treats you…) So I figured I’d put my Badass Panties on and show that tofu who was boss. I started thinking about using the tofu in place of meat in one of my existing recipes. But what to use?…Then it hit me! I’m not just a normal, everyday Domestic Badass. I am an Italian-American Domestic Badass and in my heritage lay the answer to my problem.


Or rather, meat-less balls.

It was brilliant! I figured, with enough garlic and spices, I could make this tofu edible! Joy! Rapture!

Now on to the next problem on my plate…Did I dare tell the hubs that I was going to serve him, the king of all carnivores, a completely meat free dish. Seriously, my husband loves meat so much, he makes the mighty T-Rex look like a yoga-practicing, peace-loving, veggie-chomping sweetheart.

“Honey, I’m home! Do I smell Steak Au Poive’ ?”

However, since my lying skills are are bad as my cooking skills are good, I figured I’d ‘fess up and let the chips fall where they may.

Me: “So honey…”

G-Man: “Yes…”

Me: “So how do you feel about meatball subs for dinner tonight?”

G-Man: (eyes shining gleefully) “Are you kidding?! Like you really have to ask?!”

Me: “Well, here’s the catch..I’m using tofu in the meatballs.”

G-Man: “Why are you adding tofu to the ground beef?”

Me: (laughing casually) “Oh, no…I’m not adding it to the ground beef! I’m using it in place of the ground beef!” (girlish giggle)

At this point, all light and hope left my husband’s eyes. All that was left was the shell of a man who just had the fantasy of a juicy meatball sub ripped out of his watering mouth and replaced with a soggy block of soy protein. The look of utter betrayal was so galvanizing that for an instant, I almost decided to run to the grocery store and pick up a pound of ground chuck and throw the tofu in the trash.  But I remained firm in my resolve and said, “Well, if they really suck, I’ll buy you dinner.” He brightened up a little, “Ok, it’s a deal.”

Now I was determined to make these meatless balls amazing, come hell or high water. I was in the zone, chopping garlic, adding spices, sauteing onions…and before long, the kitchen started smelling like real meatballs were being made. I scooped out golf ball sized portions and decided that since the texture was a good bit more delicate than a beef meatball, I’d bake them first, to firm them up a bit, and then brown them in the saute pan to give them some yummy real-meatball flavor.  All that was left to do was to cover them with my famous marinara and they were ready for their debut.I arranged the meatballs on plates, grated some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano over them, sat a plate in front of my skeptical hubby and waited for him to take a bite.

What happened next defies explanation.

He took one bite  of that tofu meatball and a look of rapturous delight crossed his face. “Oh my GOD! These are the BOMB!”

Really???” I asked in utter amazement.  The G-man rapturously smiled and said: “Oh yeah. Try ’em.”

I took a bite and couldn’t believe my mouth.  If I didn’t know better, I’d never have guessed that this creation came from the lifeless, soggy, white block of mush that had been residing in my fridge for the better part of two weeks.  We ate dinner and all the while Gary couldn’t get over how good the “meat” balls were. I have to say, they are super delish and were actually one of the star dishes at the DBA Preview Party.  Even folks, like myself, that don’t like tofu enjoyed these and were surprised at how yummy they are. Give ’em a shot and see for yourself!

                          Ha, I ToFU’led you! These Meatballs are Meatless!

The Badass says: “So, after getting requests from my Vegan friends, I tackled some tofu and came up with a spin on an Italian Classic. Use your “secret family” recipe tomato sauce and this dish will fool even the most die hard carnivores!”

Here’s what you need:

14 oz firm tofu, excess liquid squeezed out

6 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 medium sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves minced (about 1 teaspoon)

2 tsp minced fresh oregano

½ tsp minced fresh thyme

(***NOTE:  Fresh herbs are best but if you don’t have easy access to fresh herbs, you can substitute dried herbs instead in the following quantities:

½ tsp dried rosemary, 1 tsp dried oregano, ¼ tsp dried thyme)

1 tsp Kosher salt

¼ tsp fresh cracked white pepper (you can substitute ground black pepper if you like)

½ cup red wine

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1 tsp each of the following:
garlic powder

onion powder

dried Italian seasoning

¼ cup black sesame seeds (optional)

You’ll also need:

  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying
  • A baking sheet
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • A frying/sauté pan
  • Your favorite tomato sauce
  • An oven, pre-heated to 400 degrees F

Total time including prep and cooking: Approximately 90 minutes

Yield: about 18-24 (depending on size)

Here’s what you do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spray an even coat of the non-stick cooking spray on the baking sheet and set aside.

Finely chop the onions and finely mince the garlic.

Add a little veggie/canola oil to a frying pan and heat on high until hot (about 30-45 seconds, oven times may vary) You’ll know that the oil is hot enough when it sizzles when a bit of onion is dropped into the pan.

Add the onions to the pan, stir to brown and then lower to medium heat and cook for about 2 minutes, or until onions start to turn translucent.

Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Remove from heat and transfer to a shallow dish or plate and let cool for 3-5 minutes.

Make sure that the excess liquid is squeezed from the tofu. In a large bowl, crumble the tofu into a fine texture (it should look like a drier version of cottage cheese).

In a small bowl, add the rosemary, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning mix and whisk together until combined. (If you’re using the black sesame seeds, add them into this mix before whisking) Add this mixture to the tofu and using your hands, mix thoroughly until combined.

When onion and garlic mixture has cooled, add to the tofu and spice mixture and using your hands, mix thoroughly.

Last up is to add the wine and olive oil and yep, you guessed it, mix into the tofu mixture with your hands until thoroughly combined. (Hey, what can I say? Whenever you’re mixing up meatballs, whether actual meat or meatless, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. To lessen the mess, use disposable vinyl gloves.)

Now it’s time to shape the mixture into balls.  Take about one tablespoon of the mixture in the palm of your hands and using a rolling and pressing motion, shape into a ball about the diameter of a golf ball.  You can make them a bit smaller if you like, to the tune of the diameter of a quarter.

Now, with a traditional meatball, you should use a gentle hand when forming. These tofu balls need a bit more of a firm touch, so they don’t fall apart. So make sure that they are more firmly compressed into the shape.

Place on prepared baking sheet, about ½ inch apart and bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on how big you’ve rolled ’em).  After 20-30 minutes, gently turn them over and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until they are evenly browned.

(***NOTE: If you want an even more “authentic” meatball taste, you can use the following cooking method:

Bake for 15-25 minutes, turn and bake for an additional 15-25 minutes, then sauté in a bit of veggie oil on medium high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp)

Serve with your favorite tomato sauce and cheese (either real or soy if you want to keep this totally vegan)

These are great as an appetizer or entrée but here are a few other ideas to try:

These are also yummy as a “Meat” ball sub-slice Italian rolls lengthwise, add several of the tofu balls and cover with sauce and mozzarella cheese. Broil about 6 inches from heat source until cheese melts and starts to get golden.

After they are cooked, let them cool and then crumble them and use in place of ground meat in lasagna, to top pizza, add crumbled  mixture to tomato sauce to create a rich “meat” sauce or in any place you’d traditionally use ground beef.

“Where’s the Beef? Not in here!”

See, that wasn’t so scary. And besides being delicious, this is a very economical dish that packs a huge protein punch, without all that cholesterol. Who knew, right? And while I’ll always be a little carnivore at heart, I have to say, adding some vegetarian dishes into the mix is not only healthy, it’s a great, lighter way to enjoy this Italian favorite when summer temperatures are soaring. Try ’em and see. Before long,you’ll be proudly buying tofu at the grocery store, too. 😉

Until next time…Have fun…and be Fearless!


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One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi It’s your Father Luke ….I’ve had them and just like Gary I like meat …but they are very good . Now that being said here sauce was a killer and a lesser one might have not pulled it off …Hint ask her for the recipe …great with Real Cheese

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