Tofu-Wild Rice Casserole

Over the weekend my sister graduated from college, and after the sweltering ceremony we all headed to a big buffet, which blessedly had plenty of vegetarian food. The very last item was a casserole made with different kinds of rice, tofu cubes, onions and red peppers. And even though it had been languishing there for a while by the time I got to it, I really liked it. So I tried to make it.

We have an abundance of wild rice in our cupboard, thanks to a few trips to northern Minnesota. I always forget it’s back there in a giant sealed jar, just waiting to be enjoyed, if only the cook had the patience to wait 45 minutes for it.

Fortunately, my experiment with this recipe — baking it in the oven with vegetable broth — worked beautifully. And it kept me from worrying about what stage of boiling over my pot was in.

It’s kind of hard to write this up as an exact recipe, so I’ll just tell you what I did.

I put a cup of brown rice and 3/4 cup of wild rice in a 9X13 casserole dish. Then I added about three cups of vegetable broth and a tablespoon of butter. I covered it up with foil and put it in a 375-degree oven to bake. I sauteed about half an onion and half a red pepper (cut into strips) in a little oil on the stovetop until the onions turned translucent. Then I set them aside and fried some tofu rectangles (maybe an inch and a half long and 1/4-inch thick) in more oil. After about 45 minutes, I added the onions, peppers and tofu to the rice, and about a cup more broth. I baked it all another 45 minutes, then seasoned it with salt and pepper and called it a casserole. It still seemed to be lacking something in flavor, so I added a little more butter and salt at the end. Overall, it was really delicious, and full of healthy grains and tofu.

Did I have pie afterwards? Of course.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has really inspired me to start eating more locally and more seasonally. Those were both important to me already, but the truth is that unless you have a farm or a really fantastic garden, it’s hard to commit to eating that way. I’ve gotten really used to the availability of pretty much any food any time of year, but unfortunately I’ve also gotten used to how bad some of that produce tastes.

So, I’m trying to take advantage of our fabulous farmers market and the grocery stores that do carry Iowa-made products. One of the items we grabbed at Saturday’s market was a bundle of rhubarb. I’ve never made anything with rhubarb before, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a sugary, buttery rhubarb crisp.

I got the recipe from one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had, called Simply in Season. I believe it was a gift from Mike’s grandparents. The recipes inside are really simple (as you might guess), and I think it’s that simplicity that makes them so good. The book is divided into seasons rather than type of food, so you can look up a recipe based on what’s at the market that week.

For this one I changed it a little bit, leaving out orange peel in the fruit mixture and using strawberries instead of sorrel. Feel free to go with the original.

**Warning: Do not make this recipe unless you are prepared to mow down a whole pan. It’s that good.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla

Combine in large saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium and cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently.


1/4 cup water
3 T. cornstarch

Dissolve cornstarch in water. Add to rhubarb mixture and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Mix together until crumbly. Place about 3-1/2 cups of crumb mixture into greased 9 X 13 pan and press to make an even layer. Pour in rhubarb/strawberry mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over top. Bake in preheated oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Cut into squares.

Top with vanilla ice cream. Try not to get too much on your face.

Zucchini Bread

Finally, gardening comes full circle. Last year’s garden produced a lot, but mainly zucchini. Millions and millions of them, it seemed. We would go out one day and see a few orangey flowers and then a few days later we’d be hauling in watermelon sized zucchinis and scratching our heads as to what to do with them. So by the end of the summer when I had fed the entire newsroom with massive zucchini and I felt bad about tossing them, I started bagging them up and throwing them in the freezer. And finally, nearly a year later I had one big bag of shredded zucchini left.

So, I made zucchini bread, of course. Who wouldn’t want to see those green shreds mixed with three cups of sugar and a cup of oil?

This recipe is from Paula Deen, and with the exception of the time I made it in Colorado and it sank into a two-inch tall pathetic heap of sweet bread, it’s perfect. Soft on the inside, a little crispy on the edges. It makes two good-sized loaves.

Zucchini Bread

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.

3-Bean Chipotle Chili

You’d never believe a dish this hearty was vegan. Well, until you put the crackers and cheese in it, but who’s counting?

I think we planned to have this last week because it was so damn cold. Again. We just needed as much comfort food as we could get. But then we ran out of time to cook it and had to make it today when it was sunny and beautiful.

The secret, I think, is to use crushed tomatoes instead of whole or cut tomatoes. And then mix in a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, as many as you can handle, for extra flavor.

3-Bean Chipotle Chili

2 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped (peeled, if you like)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 15 oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can chili beans
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 T. cumin
1 T. chili powder
1 t. oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

While the oil is heating in a big saucepan over medium, chop up all the vegetables.

I usually throw the garlic and onions in first, followed by the peppers, then the other veggies. After they’ve cooked about five minutes, mix in the spices, salt and pepper and bay leaf. Once everything is combined, add the tomatoes and beans and put a lid on the pot.

While that simmers, take out as many chipotle peppers as you want. If you don’t like spicy foods, I would take one or even one without the seeds. Those suckers are hot! I use three, but I had to work up to that. Put the rest in a container in the fridge until you need them again. Chop the chiles super fine and add them to the pot.

Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, remove the bay leaf and serve with cheddar and saltines.

Onion and Herb Pasta

This weekend the fridge was pretty bare so I made this pasta dish, which I can pretty much make anytime with stuff I already have.

Originally, this dish was a Betty Crocker recipe for herbed chicken, but as I don’t eat the chicken anymore, I had to adapt.

You can make it with any kind of pasta, and usually I make it with linguine or spaghetti noodles, but this time I made it with penne and liked it better. We’ve been eating Barilla Plus, which has some whole grains in it but doesn’t really change the taste.

Onion and Herb Pasta

1 pound penne pasta
2 T. butter
2 T. vegetable oil
1 red or yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 c. lemon juice
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. dried basil
1/2 t. dried marjoram
1/2 t. dried oregano
Parmesan cheese to taste

Boil the pasta while you prepare the sauce. In a deep skillet, heat the butter and vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire and herbs.

Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. I usually add 1/4 cup of water at this point because the sauce can be a little tart.

Drain pasta and toss with the sauce in the pan. Serve in bowls with cheese sprinkled on top.

Make it meaty:
Melt the butter and oil in the oven in a 9X13 baking dish. Then add the rest of the ingredients (except the cheese) plus 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Bake for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees, turning once during cooking. Serve chicken breasts and sauce over pasta.

My first time! (making risotto)

I am a huge foodie, and the older I get the more geeky I get about it. Every restaurant gets a thorough evaluation, whether I’m actually there to review it or not. It’s gone way beyond copyediting menus to things like making my tablemates feel guilty that they don’t know what arugula is. But if I’m gonna take on the calories (and you know I will) I want to at least know what I’m eating, where it came from and how one could possibly make a tiny cup of chilled rice pudding so incredibly good I could drink it.

However, when I get in the kitchen myself I instantly lose interest in cooking something that is a) meaty or b) hard to make. I just don’t have the patience for really involved recipes. The last time I cooked something that took 2 hours (an incredibly rich vegetable pot pie with saffron cream and homemade pastry from Barefoot Contessa) I immediately got bronchitis and laryngitis and was sick for two weeks. Mike is the patient baker. He loves anything he’s never made before. We are kitchen opposites for sure.

So one of those dishes I avoid like the plague is risotto. I’ve heard all kinds of things about how you have to stir it endlessly, keep adding broth, pray it doesn’t burn and then about 10 hours later you have….rice. Awesome!

But I saved a risotto recipe from a random issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine because it looked so lovely. (And by the way, I’m not sure what possessed me to buy a Rachael Ray magazine in the first place, except that I did spend a few months of my unemployed life watching at least 4 hours of Food Network a day. I don’t dislike her, I’m just overwhelmed by her). Anyway, it’s a creamy risotto with peas, parmesan and a little breadcrumb crusted on top. Last summer I had a similar version at a random cafe in Aix-en-Provence that was so incredible I could have licked the plate when I was finished proving to everyone French that Americans really are like that. So I knew the work could pay off, and I finally decided to try it. After a particularly stressful day it work. It seemed like it would become a total disaster, but I’m happy to report that risotto is not actually that hard to make and only took me about half an hour. Whew.

I even had an old chunk of parmesan in the fridge which I burned about 150 calories shredding. It was totally worth it.

Sweet Pea Risotto Gratin
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray

10-oz. package frozen baby peas, thawed
6 c. chicken or no-chicken broth
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound arborio rice
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. plain dry bread crumbs

Puree half of the peas in a food processor (I used a blender. I hate cleaning all the food processor parts).

In a saucepan heat the broth and keep it warm. Grease a 2-court casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan heat 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium. Stir in the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat the grains with butter. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, lower the heat slightly and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth in half-cup increments, letting the rice absorb the liquid (about 3 minutes) after each addition, and stirring almost constantly until the rice is cooked, 20-25 minutes. The finished rice will be creamy but firm to the bite.

A few minutes before the risotto is done, stir in the pureed and whole peas. Turn on the broiler.

Remove the cooked rice from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and 3/4 cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese and bread crumbs together. Transfer the risotto to the casserole dish and top with the bread crumb mixture. Place the dish about 6 inches from the heat source and broil for 6-8 minutes or until the top is golden.

(Not) Beef Stroganoff

I really don’t miss gnawing on beef cubes. But I do miss my dad’s beef stroganoff (minus the mushrooms, of course).

This version is adapted from Campbell’s Shortcut Stroganoff. I can part with a lot of the foods I grew up with, but cream of mushroom soup has been a major holdout (yes, I am strangely picky and like mushroom flavor but not actual mushrooms). So, I give you my version of beef stroganoff, minus just about all the things that make it original. But look at it! It’s a fine substitute, I think.

(Not) Beef Stroganoff

1 T. olive oil
1 package Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage (or your favorite)
1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (I have found the store brand is NOT the same here)
2 c. no-chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. Worcestershire sauce (not vegetarian, but OK for fish eaters)
3 c. egg noodles
1/4 c. half and half

Heat soup, broth, Worcestershire sauce and egg noodles in a deep skillet over medium-high heat until it starts to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook about 15 minutes or until noodles are soft and sauce is thickened.

While that’s cooking, heat oil in another pan over medium. Drop in your sausages and cook until heated through and slightly brown on both sides. Chop them into fourths.

Turn off the heat on both pans. Add the half and half to the noodles and stir. Then mix in the sausage pieces.

To make it meaty:
You know, the beef cubes.

Throw a bag of Steamfresh in the microwave and you’ve got dinner in less than half an hour. That’s my kind of dinner.

Chocolate Crinkles

Warning: Do not inhale the powdered sugar.

These cookies are amazing. They have a texture somewhere between cookie, brownie and chocolate cupcake. And they’re way easy to make.

Chocolate Crinkles
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

4 eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I used 4 of the already melted packets)
1/2 c. cooking oil
2 t. baking powder
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sifted powdered sugar (for rolling)

In a mixing bowl beat eggs, sugar, chocolate, oil, baking powder, vanilla and salt with an electric mixer (or be old-school like me and do it by hand).

Beat in flour, 1/2 cup at a time until combined. Dough will be really soft. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours or until dough is easy to handle (or be impatient like me and pop it in the freezer for an hour).

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, roll them thoroughly in powdered sugar and place them 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are crackled. Transfer to a rack and cool.

For giant cookies:
Make 2-inch balls and bake for 13-16 minutes.

Rice pudding

Rice pudding is one of those dishes that I never thought I would like until I tried it. Mixing something that’s usually considered savory with sugar and cream just seemed strange. But the first time I had good, chilled rice pudding I gave in completely.

My favorite recipe so far is from Barefoot Contessa. I believe she uses raisins and a splash of rum, but I skip those and have it plain.

Rice Pudding

3/4 c. white basmati rice
1/2 t. kosher salt
5 c. half-and-half (really)
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1-1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. cinnamon

Combine the rice and salt with 1-1/2 cups water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stir once and simmer, covered, on low heat for 8 to 9 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed.

Stir in 4 cups half-and-half and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the rice is very soft. Stir often, particularly toward the end.

Temper the egg by adding a few ladles of liquid before stirring it into the pot (this is optional — it will still taste great without the egg). Cook for 1 minute more. Off the heat, add the remaining cup of half-and-half, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well. Chill and serve.

Shipwreck stew

This is one of those recipes that came out of a random cookbook, probably from the ’70s, and became a fixture in our home growing up. It’s called Shipwreck Stew, but it’s really a casserole you bake for two hours. Make it on a Sunday and you’ll have dinner a couple nights that week.

Originally it was made with ground beef and chopped tomatoes, which became really dry on top. I adapted it several times when I became vegetarian and am finally satisfied with this version.

Shipwreck Stew

1 large onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 T. butter
3 c. peeled and diced golden potatoes
1/2 c. uncooked basmati rice
1 28-oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chili powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown onions and celery in skillet in butter over medium heat. Mix Worcestershire sauce and chili powder into can of crushed tomatoes. Layer half of the onions/celery, then potatoes, rice, beans and tomatoes in 9X13 baking dish and repeat with other half. Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Check on it once to make sure the rice is not drying out.

To make it meaty: Add a layer of ground beef (raw, so it will cook in the 2 hours).

*Update! My dad shared with me the story of where this recipe came from. Thanks, dad!

In 1973 or so my girlfriend at the time in Manhattan lived in a kind of commune hippy house with several other people. They each shared cooking duties and prepared meals for the whole house. One of the members (a guy of course) had really no experience in cooking, so he began perusing cookbooks for something relatively easy that would serve 8 people. At last he found a recipe called Shipwreck stew in one of the cookbooks that belonged to my girlfriend. With its simple ingredients and preparation the resulting dish was much loved by all the hippies in the house! Anyway somehow the cookbook ended up at my apartment and didn’t make it back to her after we parted ways. So I kept the cookbook and now you and Megan have experienced the magic of the hippy commune Shipwreck stew. I’m sure that it will be shared with friends and future generations to come.