Zucchini Noodles and the Cauliflower Craze

I truly and sincerely believed I had been the first one to stumble upon creamy, alfredo sauce goodness in the form of cauliflower a couple summers ago.  I was ready to call the patent office, or Gordon Ramsay, or the Food Network, or whoever controls food recipes today, because I had just invented the world’s best veggie alfredo sauce.

And then I Googled it.

You know how Google works–confirming all your fears and dashing all your hopes…Not only was creamy cauliflower sauce already in existence, but I also discovered cauliflower “pizza crust”, cauliflower “mac&cheese”, cauliflower “rice”, cauliflower “buffalo chicken bites”…I’d had no idea the cauliflower craze was out there in full swing!  I have found many different variations of the cauliflower alfredo sauce, so I don’t know who to credit, but this is my version: Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce.  I use this white sauce as alfredo sauce for noodles, lasagna, mac&cheese, the white sauce for a pot pie–the list can go on.  It is delicious and creamy and full of veggies.

For this recipe, I made sautéed zucchini noodles and red pepper and topped it with my Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds.  It was all the pasta-y goodness of fettuccine alfredo without that big-stuffed-full-pasta-y belly!

zucchini pasta with cauliflower corn cream sauce


ZUCCHINI NOODLES WITH CAULIFLOWER CORN CREAM SAUCE

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1 head cauliflower, trimmed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of corn, fresh or frozen
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons of half-and-half
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • Optional: you can also add 1/2-1 whole red bell pepper or a handful of fresh parsley; this will turn your sauce an orange-ish or greenish hue, respectively.  Also, if you wish to make this vegan, omit the half-and-half and use nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan cheese–it will still end up creamy and sweet and delicious.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE ZUCCHINI NOODLES

  • 4 medium zucchini, finely julienned, or “noodled”*
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start with the sauce:  Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the cauliflower, onion, and corn (and red pepper, if using), and salt and pepper to taste.  Saute until the cauliflower is golden, then add vegetable stock until the vegetables are covered and allow to simmer until the cauliflower is just tender.  Load everything into your blender (a BlendTec is nice because it all fits!), and add the half-and-half, parmesan cheese, and parsley, if using.  Blend until you get a creamy consistency.  Play around with adding water/stock/half-and-half until you get the consistency you want.
  2. While the vegetables are simmering for the sauce, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the zucchini noodles and chopped red pepper, salt and pepper to taste, and saute 5-7 minutes–the zucchini should be just tender, not mushy or cooked until it’s falling apart.
  3. Timing tip:  while the sauce veggies are simmering in the pot, you can prepare your zucchini noodles.  While the zucchini noodles are sautéing, you can blend your sauce.  Everything should be ready right on time for a hot dish!
  4. This will make large servings for 2 or smaller servings for 4; divide evenly among your bowls.  To plate, you can add the sauce on top of the zucchini noodles in the pan and coat everything evenly, or place the noodles in your bowl and top with sauce, however you prefer your noodles.  Sprinkle with roasted/salted sunflower seeds and parmesan cheese.

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zucchini tool
* I found this handheld noodler/julienne thing at TJ Maxx for a couple dollars and it’s been a dream.  I’ve seen vegetable noodlers out there, but this has worked for me.

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Moosewood Restaurant Favorites and Shrimp Cakes

shrimp cakes

One of my most favorite cookbooks is the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Cookbook.  The Moosewood Restaurant is located in Ithaca, New York, and first opened its doors about 40 years ago.  Bon Appetit Magazine said Moosewood Restaurant is “One of the 13 most influential and revolutionary restaurants of the 20th Century…Moosewood changed American dining forever.”  The Moosewood collective cooks and chefs created their ever-changing menu based on seasonable produce and regional cuisines, introducing a plant-based/vegetarian diet, fresh and seasonal eating, and eating whole foods at a time when vegetarianism was considered a hippie and “far-out” lifestyle (and not the cool kind of “far-out”), and when grocery stores were not as well-stocked as they are today.

We are so lucky–we can walk into any grocery store and find fresh herbs, five different kinds of apples, leafy greens, and peppers, and ten types of whole grains readily available.  In a fast-food and convenience-centered world, it is so accessible and convenient to be plant-based today, more than ever before.  In my opinion, Moosewood gets all the credit for the delicious beginnings of the plant-based lifestyle.

I love that their cookbooks have fresh and doable recipes, and I don’t have to spend oodles of money to change my pantry and get crazy-health ingredients to whip something up in 20 minutes for dinner.  Although they are known for being a mainly vegetarian/vegan establishment, they do offer fish entrees on their menu, and have included a whole fish section in this cookbook.  I adapted my shrimp cakes from their Fish Cakes recipe–if you love more fish than breading in your cakes, this is the recipe for you.


SHRIMP CAKES

  • Servings: 6 cakes
  • Difficulty: easy
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The original Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Cookbook calls for 1 1/2 pounds of any firm fish fillets.  I have adapted this recipe using all shrimp.  The cakes freeze well and reheat easily in the oven without getting dry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 4 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle mayonnaise (vegan is preferred)
  • 1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Heat 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  3. While the oil is heating, form the shrimp cakes.  I use a #6 ice cream scoop (which measures almost 11 tablespoons), but you could also just eye-ball it and divide the mixture into equal-sized balls in the bowl.  Press the ball firmly, ensuring it sticks together, and gently flatten it into a patty shape.  Place in pan to start cooking.
  4. If you have a large enough pan, you should be able to cook all six patties at once.  Remember the recipe calls for raw shrimp, and these patties are pretty thick–about 1″ in thickness.  Give them time to brown nicely and cook all the way through, about 5 minutes on each side.

To serve, you can top with yummy Mango Guacamole, serve on a bed of greens, top it as a “burger” on a bun, sautéed veggies on the side, rice–whatever you have ready to hit the plate!

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You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Sweet Potato Burritos!

I remember when I first ran across this recipe for Black Bean Sweet Potato Burritos in the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Cookbook–I thought the sweetness from the sweet potatoes would be an odd pairing with cumin, coriander, and cilantro, and the texture would be a little too mushy for my liking.  They were pretty darn great, actually, and the next time I made them, I “beefed” them up with some crunchy veggies and brown rice.  And, of course, I had to turn them into souped up enchilada-style burritos and top them with mango guacamole because I can never get enough fresh lime-tomato-avocado-cilantro goodness.

Another day, another yummy assembly line:

sweet potato enchilada assembly

I know this photo isn’t the best, but it sure tasted great!

sweet potato enchiladas


ENCHILADA-STYLE BLACK BEAN SWEET POTATO BURRITOS

  • Servings: makes 15-20 burritos
  • Difficulty: easy, if you have all the ingredients ready, it's just assembly; medium, if you have to make the rice and bake the sweet potatoes, more time expenditure
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Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups baked sweet potatoes, skins removed and smashed
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4-6 green onion stalks, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (omit if it’s too much heat for you)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 cups of favorite green chile or tomatillo sauce
  • 15-20 tortillas, flour or corn, depending on preference (corn tortillas are typically smaller and you will be able to make many more burritos)
  • 4-5 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.  Mix the ingredients through salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. If you are using uncooked flour tortillas, heat up a good stack for filling.  Corn tortillas are much more pliable when heated, so you can prepare them in a warm pan with oil, too.  Flour tortillas will heat up great without any oil, but pour a tablespoon or so of oil in the pan between corn tortillas.
  3. Spray a deep 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray and spread 2 cups of green chile or tomatillo sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  4. I use my favorite #40 cookie scooper for even filling distribution: scoop 3 scoops in the flour tortilla, side by side, and if you’re feeling cheesy that night, put a sprinkling of cheese before wrapping and placing in the baking dish.  Continue until your dish is full, usually about 12-15 burritos.  If you can squeeze more burritos in for the party, go for it.  If you’d rather give your burritos some toe room, have two pans (and more sauce) ready to go.  It’s your kitchen, no one’s gonna get offended how you want to do things!
  5. Once the pans are full, pour 2 more cups of sauce over the top of the burritos and sprinkle more cheese over the burritos (optional).  Bake, uncovered, until the edges are crispy and golden, about 20 minutes.

Serving Suggestions: Top with a dollop of sour cream or plain non-fat yogurt, scoop of Mango Guacamole, fresh chopped cilantro; serve with a side of fresh mixed green salad and sliced tomatoes with squeezed lime on top.

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The Best Croutons in the World

If I ever have leftover rice or risotto, it *always* gets turned into arancini (ah-ran-cheen-ee): fried Italian rice balls, crispy on the outside, creamy rice on the inside and a melty cheese surprise right in the middle.  And since I usually load up my risotto with veggies, they’re in the rice ball party, too.  Although this may be sacrilege for hardcore risotto foodies out there,  I prefer using leftover risotto because it’s already sort of sticky and gummy and holds its shape really well in ball form.  If you don’t have leftover risotto, you can use any leftover rice, or cook up some of your own.

arancini assembly

 

There’s a small time expenditure getting the rice balls ready along the assembly line (I always keep power tools at the end, just in case any of those arancini get a little rowdy), but it’s worth it, and once everything is ready, the frying only takes a few minutes.  For these particular arancini, I used leftover risotto with roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts.

arancini

 

Arancini are traditionally served with a side of marinara for dipping, but I have come to like serving them on top of a salad–they’re the best croutons in the world!  This salad was a pre-packaged kale salad with yogurt curry dressing I found in Costco.  I usually make at least a dozen or more at a time (if I’m heating up a whole pot of oil, I better make it worth its weight in gold!)–they freeze really well and reheat crisp-perfectly.


ARANCINI

  • Servings: enough for a party
  • Difficulty: medium, for time expenditure with assembly
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This recipe is adapted from Kelly Senyei’s Arancini recipe.  Part of my adaptation is using leftover risotto, so this recipe reflects “leftovers”.  If you don’t have leftovers, cook up some rice to use–Kelly does a great job explaining which rice works best.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups leftover vegetable risotto
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 12-15 one-inch squares of cheese.  {I have used fresh mozzarella, “Babybel” circles cut in fourths, a bunch of muenster cheese sandwich slices stacked and cut–whatever I have on hand, and they’ve all worked out just fine}
  • For the assembly line, have a shallow dish ready with 4 beaten eggs, and another shallow dish ready with 2 cups panko breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon italian seasoning and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and a cookie sheet prepped with a sheet of parchment paper.  The arancini will rest here after forming into balls and before going to the fryer.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare a large pot with four inches of oil, place over medium heat.  Use a pot thermometer to ensure the oil reaches 375, not too hot or it will smoke and burn your arancini, and not too cool, or the arancini will be heavy and dense and full of oil, not light and crispy.
  2. Mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Assembly line:  I use a #40 cookie scoop (it measures to about 1.5 tablespoons), scoop one scoop of the rice mixture in your hand, place a square of cheese, then top with another scoop of rice and form into a ball.  Next, roll the rice ball in the beaten eggs until all sides are covered, and then roll around in the seasoned breadcrumbs.  Feel free to squeeze the rice ball in cupped hands to make sure it’s stable, and place on the parchment paper on the cookie sheet.  Continue forming the arancini until the rice mixture is gone.  Watch the oil while you are making the arancini so it doesn’t get too hot.  If the oil reaches 375 while you are still assembling, go ahead and start frying.  You’ll get the rhythm.
  4. Once the oil is ready, carefully drop 3-4 balls at a time in the oil to fry.  Roll them around in the oil using a slotted spoon or a wire-mesh spider, and pull out of the oil when they are golden brown, usually 3-4 minutes does the trick.  Have a cooling rack ready on the counter with paper towels under it to catch any dripping oil, and keep the arancini on the cooling rack–they’ll stay crispier there than a cookie sheet.
  5. Serve warm, with a salad (preferred!), or with a side of marinara.  Once they are completely cooled, you can put them in a gallon freezer bag, label with the date, and freeze for future devouring.

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Avocado Citrus Salad with Creamy Lime Poppy Seed Dressing and Pistachios

 

citrus avocado salad

Owing to the fact that a) I spent 5 hours this afternoon clearing some boxes and assembling a computer table and therefore had zero dinner prep time, and b) the boys and I ate three quarters of a bog of chocolate chips during said afternoon project (moving has its benefits, right?), I figured a salad was in order for dinner.

The avocado bag had a great salad suggestion: Avocado Citrus Salad with Lime Poppy Seed Dressing.  Buttery avocado, bitter grapefruit sections, zesty lime poppy seed dressing–it was refreshing and yummy and I felt really chefy sectioning the grapefruit.  The recipe called for more citrus by also sectioning an orange, but I didn’t have any oranges on hand, so I instead used a nectarine.  I also love throwing something crunchy on a salad and opted for salty pistachios.  We had leftover biscuits and peach jam on the side.

After all that southern talk yesterday I really had a hankering for buttermilk biscuits today, and my oldest was in total agreement.  He can down hot biscuits smothered in butter and honey like the best of them.  Can something be crunchy and fluffy and pillowy and melty and honey sweet all at the same time?  Yes, yes it can.  And yes, we seriously only ate biscuits and honey for lunch.

Oh, and speaking of crunchy, fluffy, pillowy, melty and honey sweet…my hubby walked in from work tonight to the desk being partially finished, just the hutch on top had yet to be assembled.  He took over the building process so I could throw together our dinner.  He came in to the kitchen and said, in all seriousness, “Good thing I got here when I did; one of the pieces didn’t have predrilled holes and I think it would have thrown you for a loop.”  I gave him one of those wife-looking-at-silly-husband looks (you know the kind) and said, “You came home to your wife having built a desk and you think a few missing holes would have thrown me for a loop?”  And then we both started laughing.  Things always go butter-smooth in a marriage when you can laugh at/with yourself and your spouse.


AVOCADO CITRUS SALAD WITH CREAMY LIME POPPY SEED DRESSING AND PISTACHIOS

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Shawn Syphus’ Citrus Salad

SALAD INGREDIENTS

  • 4-6 cups mixed greens (I like the Power Green mix from Costco)
  • 2 grapefruits, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 nectarines, diced
  • 2 avocados, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 green onion stalks, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup pistachios

DRESSING INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (4-6 whole limes, depending on size)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream or plain non-fat yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3/4 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste

SALAD ASSEMBLY

For two, this will make a large salad for dinner, for four it will make smaller fresh side salads.  Divide the greens among the number of salad bowls you are using.  Evenly divide the grapefruit sections, nectaries, green onions and avocados between the salads, and sprinkle with pistachios.  Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle over the salads.  Because you have the acids (lime and vinegar) and cream (sour cream or yogurt) together, the dressing will separate while sitting in the fridge waiting for its next salad.  Just shake or stir and it’ll reconstitute for secondary use.

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Creamy Polenta with Pesto and Potato Hash

polenta with pesto and potato hash

I grew up in Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington DC.  Did you know I never knew Virginia was still considered part of “the south” until we moved to Pennsylvania before my junior year of high school??!!  I mean, I’d had all the Civil War history lessons, and I knew it was “the south” then, and “the south” during the Civil Rights Movement, but that was the past, right?!  When we moved, everyone at school asked me if I were from Virginia, why didn’t I speak with a Southern accent?

I have also since come to learn that calling my mom’s friends “Miss Trina” and “Mr. Stuart” and “Miss Irene” and “Mr. Joe” is a very Southern thing, and culinarily speaking, Southerners love their biscuits, pies, sweet and salty combos, and creamy things (ie. cream of wheat, creamy grits, creamy puddings and custards and creme brûlée and such)…so it’s good to know I often cook to my roots.  I remember my stepdad loved eating grits for breakfast, but I had no idea grits and polenta were pretty much on the same family tree.  Grits is cornmeal cooked with water or milk, and it turns out grits is “poor man’s polenta”.

Polenta is just a coarser ground cornmeal, and used to be peasant food in Italy, but it’s been gaining ground as a super yummy upscale restauranty item.  I still have yet to try and make polenta fries like I ordered at Riverhorse in Park City with that amazing roasted beet salad.  You can have creamy polenta and top it with all sorts of things, or you can pour it into a pan and cut it in strips or circles or squares and then grill it or fry it and it’ll be crispy crunchy on the outside and oh so creamy on the inside.

I was originally going to try Del Sroufe’s Polenta Pizza with Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Potatoes, but decided to turn it into creamy polenta and top it with pesto (is it bad that I still have homemade pesto in my freezer from my garden two years ago?), caramelized onions, green lentils, potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  If I’d had fresh basil, I would have put some on top.  Fresh garden, I need you!–Definitely next year’s numero uno project!


CREAMY POLENTA WITH PESTO AND POTATO HASH

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Del Sroufe’s Forks Over Knives Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup coarse ground polenta
  • 1/2 cup green lentils
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium sized red potatoes, diced
  • 4 tablespoons of your favorite pesto
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. First prepare the polenta and lentils.  If you start with the lentils, you can let them simmer while you get the rest of the components ready.  Heat 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup vegetable stock in a medium pot.  One it reaches a boil, turn heat down to low and cover the pot; allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender and liquid is absorbed.  Keep watching the lentils to make sure the liquid isn’t absorbed too quickly.  You may need to add 1/2 cup or so of more of liquid, if needed.
  2. For the polenta bring 3 cups of water a 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a medium pot.  Have 2 more cups of water ready.  Once the 3 cups water is boiling, add 1 cup polenta to the pot, stirring constantly, and immediately turn the heat down to low.  Over the next 20-30 minutes, gradually add the 2 cups remaining water to the polenta and stir frequently.  The polenta will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pot.  [It’s true–cornmeal cooks pretty quickly and looks like it’s ready after just 5-10 minutes of stirring, but it’s important to cook it for the complete 30 minutes–it totally changes the texture to smooth and creamy.  I also like to add a dab of butter and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese and stir it all up.]
  3. To make the caramelized onions, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let saute, stirring occasionally over 20 minutes or so, until the onion is cooked down and golden brown.
  4. Saute the diced potatoes in another pan, with a few tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir every so often until they are golden brown.
  5. To serve, put a good scoop of polenta in your bowl, then a few tablespoons of your favorite pesto, the caramelized onions, the lentils, potatoes, and tomatoes.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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