Every [scrap] is sacred, every [scrap] is great…

On nights when I want to serve an elegant dinner to my family – perhaps for Shabbat – I make a meal that is also one of the simplest and fastest to make: tofu steaks, sauteed green beans with garlic, and some kind of potato, generally mashed or roasted. As my children get bigger, one pound of tofu is no longer enough for all of us. A few days ago, I made our favorite elegant meal, this time, the potatoes were mashed.  I made more mashed potatoes than I thought we’d eat, because I’d wanted to use them in a bread (soft potato bread, anyone?). Well, I also made 2 pounds of tofu, which is definitely more tofu than the five of us are going to eat in one dinner, and I made more green beans than I needed, too, who knows why. So what do leftover vegetables, leftover protein, and leftover mashed potatoes make? Why, shepherd’s pie, of course! I also had an abundance of mushroomy items in my fridge, and I was just in the mood for a mushroomy flavor, so I used all of them.

I’ve said it before. I love leftovers. I especially love repurposing leftovers. To me, there’s nothing like taking something that was already great, and making something completely different and still great out of it! I also am a BIG fan of not wasting food. And I’m a fan of feeding my family things they love. So this shepherd’s pie is a win-win all over the place.

Mushroomy shepherd’s pie

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 – 16 oz tofu, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen, or already cooked green beans (if fresh, blanch first)
  • 1 tbsp mushroom flavored or regular soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/4 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray an 8×8″ casserole with cooking spray. Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan, and if using fresh (not leftover) tofu, saute tofu until golden.  If using leftover tofu, add onions to the pan first, and saute until translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms, and saute until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are soft. Add green beans and tofu, if using leftover tofu, and saute until the green beans are soft. Add soy sauce, sage, and thyme, and saute until everything is coated in the syrupy soy sauce. Add the peas to the pan.

Combine the flour and stock in a bowl, and whisk until no lumps appear. Add the stock to pan, and stir long enough to thicken and coat everything. Taste for salt. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole, and top with the mashed potatoes, making a crust.  Sprinkle on the smoked paprika. Place in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Enjoy!

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Make this meal.

This is not an entirely original recipe.  The crepes are from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.  The zucchini wine sauce is from a recipe I got verbally from a friend close to 20 years ago, made it once, and never made it again, and a version of it can be found (elsewhere) on the internet, normally used as a pasta sauce.  That’s what I used it for 20 years ago.  But THIS.  This is SO good.  You could also eat the sauce as a soup, because that’s what I did as soon as I put as much as I could into my clients’ container.  It is delicious.  And, well, the fillings are pretty ordinary.  Except that this meal is awesome.  This is truly a case of the sum being greater than its parts.

Also, this meal is a little labor intensive.  It involves a lot of pans and time.  But sometimes it’s just what you have to do for a satisfying and maybe a little unusual vegan meal.  I think it’s worth it.

Buckwheat crepes filled with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted butternut squash, drizzled with zucchini wine sauce

Buckwheat crepes

  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 water
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.  When ready to use, whisk the ingredients again in case they’ve separated.

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat.  Once hot, spray generously with cooking spray.  Ladle about a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and immediately swirl the pan so that batter spreads out thinly.  When the top of the crepe is dry and there are some holes in it, VERY CAREFULLY flip it over with a thin metal spatula.  The first one will often be for the chef.  Don’t be discouraged.  Just fry the next one, and really make sure it’s dry on top before you touch it!  Fry on the second side for about 30 seconds, then remove from the pan and place on a plate.  Continue until you’ve used all of the batter.  You should get 8 to 10 crepes.

Fillings

  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced small
  • Lots of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • Herb of your choice or none (I like tarragon or sage on the squash)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, place the butternut squash on top, drizzle with olive oil and an herb of your choice and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring after about 20 minutes.  Check for doneness and roasty color after 30, and probably roast for another 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt (try truffle salt if you can get it – I got mine at Trader Joe’s).

Meanwhile, heat two cast iron pans over medium-high heat.  Add about 2 tbsp olive oil to each, and place the onions in one and the mushrooms in the other.  Caramelize the onions for about 5 minutes until they start to brown, then turn the heat to medium-low, and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 25 to 30 minutes or more, depending on how dark you like them.  Salt to taste.

In the other pan, toss the mushrooms regularly until they’re browned and have started to stick to the pan.  Add the wine to deglaze the pan, and turn off the heat once much of the liquid has evaporated.  Sprinkle with salt and transfer the mushrooms from the pan to a plate, and set aside.

Zucchini wine sauce

  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large zucchini, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup good veg stock
  • Salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron pan (the one you sauteed the mushrooms in would be good – that’s why I told you to transfer them to a plate!) over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, swirling to coat your pan.  Add the grated zucchini and saute for about 10 minutes until they’ve started to caramelize.  Add the wine and the veg stock, and turn the heat to medium, and let saute for about 20 minutes until well cooked, and pretty melty and mushy.  Put the contents of the pan in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Salt to taste.

Serve a crepe (if you need to reheat, toast in a dry pan until warmed through) with a choice of fillings with the zucchini wine sauce drizzled on top.

The trouble with cheeze + chilled tomato and avocado soup

I bought Miyoko Schinner’s book Artisan Vegan Cheese, because I’d heard SO much about it.  I know it’s a fairly well respected book about vegan cheese-making and I thought I wanted to add it to my repertoire.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I love a challenge, I, obviously, love making things from scratch, particularly things people don’t usually make from scratch.  I understood patience was necessary in vegan cheese-making, and I’ve got lots of that, so I thought I’d try it.

Well, the first hiccup and a half was gathering the odd ingredients to begin.  Ms. Schinner gives a recipe for rejuvelac in the book, but the whole sprouting thing, washing the grains, waiting the right amount of time, blah blah blah, just seemed a little annoying and tricky, and I knew I could buy it, so I went to Whole Foods and looked for it.  Yeah, no.  I had to order it.  Fine.  I did.  And it was cheap, for once.  Fine.  That was the half hiccup.  The whole hiccup was carageenan.  In the chapter on melting cheese, Ms. Schinner says that you must use carageenan – and not agar – because that’s the key in getting a melty consistency.  Well, not only did Whole Foods not carry it, the grocery manager told me that there have been studies pointing to bad things coming from carageenan.  He told me to look into it myself.  I did.  Okay, then.  We’re going without carageenan.  And without melty cheeze.

My client had asked for a pasta dish with cheeze sauce (she actually used an “s”, not a “z” in her spelling) and cremini mushrooms.  Ms. Schinner actually featured a recipe for fettucine alfredo with gruyere and mushrooms.  Excellent!  That would be the one.  Also, I came into about 4 lbs of heirloom tomatoes that were unusually delicious, so I decided to try Ms. Schinner’s recipe for fresh, buffalo-style mozzarella, so I could make a nice caprese salad.  In the end, the gruyere tasted okay (sorry, I remember very well what *real* gruyere tastes like – and it is AWESOME), but the pasta came out meh.  It was fine.  In my cooking, I generally strive for better than *fine.*  The mozzarella was an entirely different story.  It TOTALLY didn’t do at all what she said it was supposed to do.  Instead of puffy white clouds of mozzarella floating in brine, I got globs of *solids* floating in milky liquid.  Ewww.  Again, it tasted okay.  Not worth the trouble.

I did end up using the *globs of solids* in a recipe for my clients in place of sour cream (I’ll be sharing below), then drained the milky white brine and globs in a fine mesh sieve, and kept the solids to use as cream cheese on my home-made bagels.  For lunch today, I had a home-made bagel, fresh-mozzarella-cum-cream-cheese, slices of heirloom tomatoes, diced cucumber, and a pinch of kosher salt AND IT WAS AWESOME.  So, there’s my bright side.

Chilled tomato and avocado soup (adapted from a recipe from Sunset magazine)

  • 2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar, divided
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 2 firm but ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and chopped
  • 1 cup veg stock
  • 1/4 cup fresh vegan mozzarella (or plain coconut milk yogurt)
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 3 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp fresh minced tarragon

Puree tomatoes in a blender.  Add 3 tbsp champagne vinegar and salt to taste.  Transfer to another container and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Clean out the blender.  Add the avocados, veg stock, mozzarella (or yogurt), and lime juice, and puree.  Add salt to taste.  Transfer to another container and refrigerate for an hour.  Place the cucumber, shallots, and tarragon in a small container, top with last tablespoon of champagne vinegar, mix well, and chill for about a half hour.  To serve, pour a layer of avocado puree into a glass bowl or glass, top with the tomato soup, and then sprinkle the condiment on top.

Cool and delicious.  Enjoy!