Mushroom, Peanut, Tofu Stew with Greens

While the name of this recipe and the photo both yield something to be desired, the stew does not. This was warm, tasty, nutritious, and with 12 cups, made a week’s worth of  leftovers for lunch and dinner!

This recipe comes from the cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health, which was published in 2009. I turn to this when the weather gets colder, as there are lots of delicious and healthy soups, stews, and casseroles, and most everything I’ve made has been a success!

I made this on a lazy Saturday night for dinner, but you could easily fix this after work. I felt the stew was satisfying and rich on its own, so it didn’t call for serving it with rice or bread, but you could definitely have that on the side if you desired. I set out a green salad dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar.

Mushroom, Peanut, Tofu Stew with Greens
From Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health, 2009, page 256
Serves 4-6, yields about 12 cups • Time: 45 minutes

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 ½ cups chopped celery
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups sliced mushrooms (cremini or white) [Note: I used baby bellas]
2 Tablespoons grated peeled ginger root
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups water
1 cake or firm tofu (about 16 ounces) diced
3 cups chopped fresh or frozen collards or kale
½ cup peanut butter (Note: Next time, I will cut down on the peanut butter, starting with ¼ cup and working my way up. I find peanut butter rich, and for my palate, ½ cup was too much, the flavor was overpowering.)
¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a soup pot on medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, celery, and salt, cover, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and ginger and cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, water, and tofu and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the greens, cover, and cook, stirring now and then, until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the peanut butter and about 2 cups of the hot broth until smooth. When the greens are tender, stir the peanut butter and cilantro into the pot. Add more salt to taste.

Variations: For a delicate sweetness, add a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple when you add the tomatoes and water.

Add Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce to taste. Note: I used about 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne. This added just the right amount of heat with no other added flavor.

It’s Autumn!

Note the miniature hunter's moon!

Although we’ve only had two evenings of a hard frost, it definitely is autumn in Vermont. It’s dark when I awake and turns dark soon after I return home from work. Long early evening walks have been moved to weekend days. The foliage is a brilliant orangey-yellow this year, yet with some rainstorms, the leaves are slowing falling. It’s time to make an appointment to put on the snow tires.

So with the change of seasons, comes a change in the kitchen. Dinners and lunches are soups, stews, and hardier meals. Gone are the days of salad suppers, the oven is now on and we’re eating food to warm the heart and soul: curried chicken, vegetable soups, lots of roasted root vegetables. So turns the page to another season, and another way of looking at–and cooking–food. Below are small pieces on two of my favorite fall foods, apples and homemade doughnuts.

Apple Salad a.k.a. Waldorf Salad
Every Sunday afternoon, from September through November, you can find me at our apple orchard a couple of miles away, selecting a week’s worth of apples, cider, and in October, my favorites, Concord grapes. This year my favorite apples are Greenings, a slightly sweeter version of a Granny Smith. With a little bit of peanut butter or cottage cheese, they are a perfect snack. But I usually tuck a couple of Macintosh apples in my bag for a salad.

Sometimes, I tire of the usual green salad accompaniment for dinner, or for dinner, and I whip up a quick apple salad, especially this time of year, since apples are plentiful. The only thing that takes time is cutting the apples, and if you don’t peel them, it takes even less time. Tossing everything into a bowl, mixing in the dressing, and you have a bright and nutritious fruit salad. And you can make it for one eater or ten!

I fixed this for a luncheon potluck one winter and it must have been memorable, because I received a request for the recipe more than six months later! I think of it as more of a fall/winter salad, but it truly is delicious any time of the year, as long as your apples are fresh!

In a mixing bowl, combine:
— Chopped, diced, unpeeled apples (although can be peeled if you prefer)
— One to two stalks, chopped celery
— A handful of chopped walnuts or almonds
— A couple of handfuls of raisins or currents

Add a choice of:
— mayonnaise
— mayonnaise and sour cream
— mayonnaise and plain yogurt

Mix until combined. The dressing should lightly cover the ingredients, just a couple of tablespoons each, it shouldn’t be heavy and thick. Chill in fridge, then serve!

Doughnut Days
When the calendar turns to September and October, the days start getting shorter, and there is a crispness in the air, it means one thing in my mom’s house: time to get out the large cast iron skillet and make some doughnuts! This fall tradition has been around as long as I can remember. Now, although our family is even bigger, we still gather together for an afternoon of making–and eating–doughnuts.

This year, the tradition continued, although we were missing a couple of family members. I never miss this day; as many can attest, I am not a sweets person, but I do love doughnuts!

The big wooden cutting board is pulled out, and Mom rolls out the dough and then cuts each one carefully. No dough gets wasted, and my favorite doughnuts are the holes and pieces, because they are crisp, yet soft. The first batch goes in, and a few minutes later are draped onto a paper towel. I usually burn my tongue because I can’t wait to eat one from that first batch; it’s always the best.

Although I’m constantly watching my waistline, I brought a small bag home that I promptly stuck in the freezer for later eats. Relaxing on a Sunday morning after a long walk with dark coffee and a homemade doughnut is about as good as it gets!

Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans

Once upon a time, there was an Italian man who loved to cook for me. This was long before I caught the cooking bug, so the idea that someone who wasn’t a family member cooking for me was new and I loved it. One dish we often ate was a peasant stew that didn’t really have a name, we just called it Nana’s Chi-Chi Beans. His grandmother came from Italy and he would sometimes return from a visit with a large Tupperware container. I’d turn on the stove and just melt when I opened up the container and sniffed the melding of the onions and garlic. The creaminess of the beans with the just-right crunch of the carrot, I’d be in heaven at the table.

Alas, the man is long gone and the name has changed, but the dish is still part of my repertoire. When I am feeling poor in the pocket, I reach for this dish. It costs probably $3 at the most to make, and could serve up to four at dinner. For some variety, you could serve this over rice or pasta, and sometimes I sprinkle some cheese on top, feta and parmesan are terrific. For another twist, you could substitute sweet potato for the carrots or add a splash of white wine. Add a little bit of crushed red pepper if you want some spice. Or, just eating it as its written is also good, as I can attest from my lunch the other day! I find it’s a perfect autumn meal.

If you’re interested, there’s a slow food movement online, $5 Challenge, where you pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5. This one definitely fits the bill!

Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans
• 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic (or more if you prefer), minced
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
• 1 can chi-chi (garbanzo, chickpeas), rinsed
• 1 can stewed tomatoes

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent. Add the carrots and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the can of beans and stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook throughly. I’ve never timed making this, once I turn down the heat, I just let it cook until dinner is ready. If you find the liquid is evaporating, you can add a little bit of water or wine.

Dinner For One

When I find myself home alone for dinner, which is normally at least once a week, I tend to gravitate toward meals I love and that are easy to make, which nine times out of ten ends up being a big salad. Loads of greens, some veggies, maybe some meat or cheese, and just a little bit of olive oil and vinegar and dinner is ready. I’ve never been one to order take out even when I lived alone; for whatever reason, I find it even more work than actually making something, probably because I live in the country and food doesn’t come to me, so unless I’m out, I have to leave the house to get takeout. Kind of defeats the purpose. But please don’t take this that I’m cooking a full dinner for myself on these evenings; I’ve been known to have a dinner of cheese and crackers or nachos with a glass of wine on more than one occasion!

I’m cooking for one for a couple of weeks this month and last Friday couldn’t come quick enough. After a lousy week I was yearning for comfort which, although I love them, a salad just doesn’t provide the warm, creaminess of a plate of pasta. Driving home and thinking about what I had available in the cupboard and fridge, I knew I had all the fixings for one of my favorites, Creamy Orzo With Spinach. This takes 30 minutes at the most from beginning to end with little cooking aside from chopping some garlic. I add loads of spinach, so you’re off the hook of providing another vegetable! (You have to get your greens, as my grandmother always says!) It’s getting cooler out, so it was a perfect meal that evening, and I went to bed comforted and satisfied.

Full disclosure, this is loosely based on one of the first Cooking Light recipes I ever made, so it harkens back to 1991 or so. It is perfect as your dinner or as a side dish for two.

Creamy Orzo with Spinach
1 teaspoon butter or olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup orzo
1 3/4 cup water
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2-3 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach (or chopped fresh spinach)
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)

In a saucepan, heat the butter or oil until warm and add the garlic. Cook just a couple of minutes until soft. Add the orzo and stir. Add the water, bring to a boil, then turn to low, stirring occasionally. When the orzo is done cooking, mix in the cheese. Add one handful of spinach at a time, stirring it into the pasta until it warms and softens. Add salt and pepper and serve.

* * * * *
Just an addendum to last week’s post. I admitted a baker I am not, and it has now been proven to be the truth! A reader (Mom) pointed out you never make a pie crust with two cups of flour, it’s always three. I usually refer to The Joy of Cooking, but when I started on my quest for the perfect apple pie, I don’t believe I went back to it. Hence, the incorrect measurements. THIS is why there are recipe testers and test cooks!

I’ve made a change to the recipe (make your own pie crust, don’t listen to me!) if you decide to make it. I guess the cup of butter in the crust was why it was so delicious! Thought I would post another picture, just because I’m so proud of its beauty, despite its full-fat content!