Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mac and Peas (vegan)

I'd been thinking about making my own mac and cheese ever since I discovered this vegan version, which sounds a little crazy, I know, but vegans have made this old-time comfort food even better. Check out the Vegan Stoner with this version with canned peas (not my favorite) or this version with coconut milk. Both versions of mac and cheese added nutritional yeast. So I was toying with what else to use, when I met a woman in this thrift shop near the blenders. She said she uses a small blender to make a vegan mac and cheese sauce with cauliflower and cashew butter.

"Cauliflower and cashew butter?"

"I know," she said, "It sounds crazy but it works. It tastes exactly like Parmesan cheese." 

I spotted cashew butter at a Grocery Outlet not more than 15 minutes later, so I got some cauliflower  and tired making the sauce.  One problem was she hadn't given me any proporitons, so it was a bit of a guessing game.  


This mixture even smells like Parmesan cheese. How crazy is that? 

I wrote the recipe ahead of time, adding nutritional yeast and a bit of turmeric, a bit of lemon, garlic powder and sea salt. But when I tasted it before adding these other ingredients, I was shocked.  I kept wanting to taste it again and again.

For me, mac and cheese is a starter. It's one of those food canvas as where you add the colors and flavors. I thought it would be easy to find macaroni, and truthfully I only went to one store, but all the designer gluten-free pastas have taken the shelf space and good old macaroni got squeezed out.  Since I was making it yesterday, I could have gone to more stores, but I finally settled for shell noodles instead.

I've added so many different vegetables, herbs and sauces over the years, it's funny that I hadn't peas until recently.  

Zucchini is my standard with mac and cheese these days. So obviously that ingredient came before peas, but if you don't like it, add mushrooms, peppers or whatever non-starchy vegetable that you love.

Use fresh or frozen peas.  I choose frozen because fresh peas aren't quite at the market yet in Seattle.

Who doesn't love opening fresh peas?  I remember my grandmother shelling them and always sharing a few with me.

You can find cauliflower at the market now, but it's pricey because the season hasn't quite started.

So many possibilities for mac and cheese, and so little time.

Too many peas?  Blanch them in a big pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, dry and freeze.

One of my "secret" flavorings is apple-smoked sea salt from Rockridge Orchards.  I didn't add my favorite Mama Lil's Peppers, but you could add those too, if you have them.

Mac and Peas
(Serves 4)
2 tablespoons cashew butter
1 1/2  cup cooked cauliflower (reserve water and add to thin sauce)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
Pinch of turmeric
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, white pepper and smoked sea salt
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup diced onions or shallots
1 cup diced red pepper
2 cups sliced zucchini
8 ounces macaroni or shell pasta
1 cup fresh garden peas or frozen peas
1. Combine cashew butter, cooked cauliflower, lemon, nutritional yeast and turmeric in a food processor or mixer and blend until creamy, add more liquid to make the mixture smooth.  Set aside. 
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add macaroni and cook according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat a skillet over medium heat and add onions, red peppers and zucchinis.  Stir and cook until onions and zucchini are caramelized and the peppers are tender.  If using fresh peas, add and cook for a few minutes, or until tender.
3. When macaroni is done, drain and blend with the sauce and vegetables and serve.

I forgot to mention the asparagus. It's not exactly part of this recipe, but I love asparagus even more than peas, so of course I get some at the market every week.  It looks beautiful on top of my Mac and Peas. All the flavors made me wish dinner would never end.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sugar Snap Peas, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Penne Pasta

Pssst: Pea Season has arrived

I spotted pea shoots a few weeks ago at the farmers market, so I bought a bunch, washed and trimmed the stems and I cooked them briefly and served them with a simple lemon rice. 

I also bought pea plant starts from River Farm, but after we planted them, our cat Gino dug up three of them. At first I suspected Gino, was a secret vegetarian and wanted to try pea shoots, but he'd tossed the tiny plants aside, like he was miffed that we hadn't planted catnip.  

Gino, the pea shoot thief

Remove the tough stems from pea shoots.

Fresh peas at the market can be pricey, but they only come once a year, so plant your own or save your pennies and get to the farmers' market when the first shoots appear--which would be now at the U-District farmers market.

The flavor of pea shoots is delicate and subtle so choose ingredients that won't overwhelm them, and remember to remove all of the tough stem, which can make for an unpleasant eating experience.

After the shoots, come sugar snap, snow, and then shelling or English peas which are so good, even self-professed pea haters become converts. Sugar snap and snow peas are the best bargain because you eat the pods.

String sugar snap peas and snow peas after washing.  If you don't, you'll curse yourself because the tips can poke you when you eat and the strings are tough.

Shell English  peas before using in recipes.

Sugar snap peas from Willie Green's Organic Farm

Be sure to remove English peas from the pods before eating 
Sugar Snap Peas from Willie Greens Organic Farm 

My Cooking Assistant is in heaven with these fresh English peas.

Pea shoots from Mair Farm-Taki at the farmers' market

Sugar Snap Peas, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Penne Pasta
(Serves 6)

2 cups penne pasta
8-ounces shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed (save for soup stock)
1 large red pepper, stem removed, seeded and diced
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sugar snap peas, strings removed
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  While the water boils, prepare the vegetables.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add shiitake mushrooms and dry-fry, stirring until mushrooms become soft.  Add red pepper and oil.  Stir and cook until peppers soften.  

Add sugar snap peas, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until pears are tender.  Stir in garlic powder, green onions, and Kalamata olives.

Transfer to a serving bowl and gently blend in tomatoes, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Gluten-Free Cherry-Rhubarb Crisp with Lavender

I'm getting a jump on spring this year with this pie cherry-rhubarb recipe. I decided to make it gluten-free, too, but you could use whole-wheat pastry flour, if you want.

I also added a touch of lavender in this recipe. Use culinary variety of lavender, such as hidcote or Betty’s Blue, a lavender cultivar developed in Oregon.  The bud's don't need to be fresh.  Dried lavender works in this recipe.

 You can find pie cherries in the frozen fruit section at natural food stores. They probably won't be organic, but they will most likely be local if you live in the Northwest.

Rhubarb made an appearance at Rockridge Orchards at the U-District Farmers Market last week.  Pricey at $7 a pound, but early fruits and vegetables command the highest price and for rhubarb lovers those baby stalks were a treat. As summer approaches, the price drops, and stalks get bigger.

My Cooking Assistant has sweet memories of cherries.

We can't wait for fresh cherries to make an appearance in the Northwest, but in the meantime the frozen cherries will do.  For a dairy-free version use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks and coconut sorbet.  If you can't find coconut, lemon or blood orange sorbet also make great additions to this recipe.

Gluten-Free Cherry-Rhubarb Crisp with Lavender
(Serves 6)
Rhubarb and tart pie cherries pair up in this amazing gluten-free crisp that carries hints of lavender, a mint family relative and an herb that demands a light touch. Some recipes specify 1 or 2 tablespoons in the mix but be aware that when you cook with lavender, it’s best to use less because too much can make the crisp taste soapy.  

4 cups pitted sour pie cherries
1 to 1 1/2 cups sliced rhubarb
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons crushed dried lavender buds
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter or vegan baking sticks

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine pitted cherries, rhubarb, sugar, lavender and lemon zest in a 2-quart casserole dish. Stir gently and set aside.

Combine dry topping ingredients: gluten-free flour, oats, brown sugar and soda in a medium-size mixing bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in butter or baking sticks until mixture looks like small particles.  Add more flour, if necessary.  Crumble the topping over the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the filling bubbles. The liquid is thinner when hot and as the crisp cools, the filling thickens.  Serve with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.