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  • My Favorite (and flexible!) Sunflower Mac n' Cheeze!

    Here we are! 2017. Highly anticipated. Much looked forward to. Our feet are to the floors, and we are rockin' and rollin'.

    We are looking for meanings. For purpose. For new jobs. We are trying to learn Portuguese, learning to bake better bread at home (because WTF Beloit, you need a bakery), and re-learning how to make puff pastry (because WTF Beloit, you need a bakery).

    We are poised for tomorrow, looking ahead. We aren't going for perfection, but satisfaction and happiness. And what is satisfaction and happiness on a cold, cold January day/evening? Carbs. And nourishing, stick-to-your-ribs-but-not-your-arteries sunflower mac and cheeze. Approved by a taste-discerning Brazilian, a family of cheese-lovers, and former dairy mac-and-cheese addict (my hand is raised).The base: soaked raw sunflowers. The cheese-factor: nutritional yeast. The savory and kinda sweet players that enhance the cheese-like goodness: sauteed onions, garlic and carrots; roasted red peppers OR tomato paste OR oil packed sundried tomatoes (one of those is a must here, trust me); tamari or liquid aminos or shoyu; light miso (I like to use chickpea miso from South River; dijon mustard; paprika; sea salt. And finally, the hint of tang: lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.Yep, that list is a little long, BUT so worth it. And odds are, you have most of those things in your pantry right now. I will forgive you if you don't have the miso, but everything else needs to be present, ok?

    Once you remember to soak the sunflower seeds, you are seriously half-way there. And a word on the roasted red pepper/tomato paste/oil packed sundried tomato requirement: this element is, in my opinion, essential. It gives you that naturally sweet, yet tangy and savory, and earthy, quality that I think is present in all mac and cheeze that is worth eating. I have made this sunflower mac with all three, and all three satisfied my aforementioned requirements. So, you pick! And if you need to remember how to roast red peppers, see here or here.

    Bonuses, because we can be flexible AND satisfy our cravings: 

    1) you can prepare a double batch of this sauce, and freeze any portion for a quick meal in the future. Thaw sauce in microwave or in a saucepan over low-medium heat, boil pasta while sauce heats, wilt greens in the same water that the pasta is cooking in (removing once wilted or tender), and then mix the whole works in the same pot, topping with extra 'nooch, sea salt, nutmeg, paprika and lots of toasted pepitas. 

    2) leftover chili, but sick of chili? Make a batch of sun mac sauce, mix several spoonfulls in your chili as you reheat it in a pot. Boil some of you favorite pasta, mix into chili-mac mixture, and boom-chili mac! You can amp-up the spices if you wish, and I usually do so by adding a dash of cumin, chili powder and sprinkle of cayenne. Serve with tortilla chips, avocado, hot sauce and lotsa 'nooch on top for a hearty, satisfying bowl of goodness.

    3) broccoli, kale, hearty greens galore! Need a sauce to amplify your green veggies? Sunflower mac sauce to the rescue. Enough said! A cozy bowl of quinoa, hearty greens and this sauce is perfection on a cold night.

    4) feelin lucky, potluck?: you can easily bake this into a casserole-like situation by mixing the sauce with cooked pasta, and steamed greens, broccoli or peas. You can also sneak in some of your favorie veggie sausages for extra fun, or line the border of the mac with sausage rounds (see picture below; un-solicited veggie sausage recomendation: Tofurkey beer "brats"). Plunk the mixture in your favorite pan, top with toasted pepitas, sea salt, pepper, nutmeg, 'nooch and paprika for color. Bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through, in a warmish oven (~350F), a step that could be completed at your potluck destination if needed. I find that you can safely use 1 pound of pasta for one batch of this sauce for a adequate sauce-to-pasta-and-greens ratio, but please feel free to alter this ratio of sauce:pasta to suite your needs and preferences.

    5) got a gluten-free situation on your hands? Easy. I love this sun mac with either gluten-full or gluten-free pasta, just be sure to pay attention and not over cook your pasta in either case, because no one likes a mushy sun mac. My two favorite gluten-free pastas: Ancient Harvest Quinoa & Corn, and Trader Joe's Brown Rice and Quinoa

    Sooo whatcha waiting for? Get at this...and have a happy, healthy carbohydrate-laden new year! Cheers!



    Sunflower Mac and Cheeze // makes about 6 cups of sauce // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free (use gluten-free pasta & tamari); nut-free; soy-free; sugar-free // 

    • 1 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked in water overnight
    • 1 TB olive oil 
    • 1 small to medium onion, roughly diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and roughly minced
    • 1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into ~1/2" rounds
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
    • 3 cups vegetable stock or water, plus more to help thin if desired
    • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, plus more to taste and for serving
    • 2 tsp tamari, shoyu, soy sauce or liquid aminos
    • 1 tsp light miso paste, such as chickpea miso
    • 1 tsp dijon mustard or mustard powder
    • 2 TB tomato paste, or 2-3 medium to large oil-packed sundried tomatoes, or 1 medium to large roasted red pepper (homemade  or oil-packed roasted red peppers only, please!)
    • 1 TB lemon juice
    • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
    • optional: freshly grated nutmeg and/or a dash or two of cayenne 
    • for chili mac: you can add a pinch or two more of cumin, chili powder and cayenne if desired
    • for topping: paprika, nutmeg, pepitas, sea salt, black pepper, nutritional yeast
    • for serving/casserole-ing: steamed greens like kale, spinach, broccoli; your favorite veggie sausages cut into rounds
    • your favorite pasta (1 recipe of sunflower mac will accomodate about 1 lb of dry pasta, but please adjust your pasta:sauce ratio as desired)

    1. Soak sunflower seeds overnight. Drain and rinse. Sautee the onions, garlic and carrots in olive oil over medium heat until tender and just starting to brown. Into a blender, add the sunflower seeds, sauteed onions, garlic and carrots, and the remaining ingredients. A high-powered blender, like a Vitamix, will give you the creamiest results, but a conventional blender works, too.

    2. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding extra vegetable stock as needed to puree the mixture. You may need to blend for several minutes to get the sauce smooth. Taste the sauce, and adjust the salt, pepper and seasonings to your tastes, keeping in mind that adding to the pasta will somewhat dilute the flavors (i.e. don't be shy with the seasonings here!).

    3. Prepare pasta, and steam or sautee desired greens. Drain pasta, and mix in desired amount of pasta sauce. Stir in steamed or sauteed greens or broccoli, or frozen peas, and veggie sausage if desired. For extra flavor, you can sautee rounds of veggie sausage in some olive oil in a separate pan until brown. Alternatively, you can mix steamed/sauteed greens, veggie sausage, pasta and sauce together, and then place into a baking dish. Top with pepitas, sea salt, pepper, nutmeg, paprika and nutritional yeast. Bake at 350F until warm and bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. 

    4. Extra sauce can be refrigeraged for up to 4 days, with liquid separation being totally normal, just stir it back in before use. Alternatively, sauce can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Simply defrost in the fridge overnight, or gently re-heat in a microwave or in a pan on low-meidum heat. Serve as desired! 



    The goods...creamy, cheeze-y, flavorful and also very nourishing!Prepare as desired. For Christmas, I showed up with a baking dish full of this stuff, and it was a hit. Stirring in a ton of steamed kale, I was a holiday hero. Or at least I thought so! Ha! Enjoy!

  • 7 Vegetable Power Soup + New Goals!

    Does anyone else get the urge to clean, re-organize and start fresh with a new school year? I know that technically, the semester started for me 2 weeks ago (I think...), but who is keeping track?? I purged my pantry, organized my closet and donated a huge bag of clothes, and cleaned/inventoried the freezer...it is 95% frozen tomatoes and 5% other stuff. Ha! 

    Also in light of the new "year", I decided to *finally* cave, and purcahse a Vitamix! So far, I am loving it, and no noise complaints from our neighbors...my plan is to make them a smoothie if they do complain, and also convince them to get a rediculously high-powered blending machine. I mean, it is for your health....but more on that later.

     This is my last semester of grad school, and what a journey it has been so far. Now, to finish my research, write my thesis, defend said thesis and graduate! Phew...I have a lot to do!! And, because I am a crazy lady, I have signed up for a half marathon in November. What can I say? I have goals to meet! This will be my 9th (!!) half marathon, and I really, *really* want to work hard, stay on track and meet my two-hour (or less) goal. My best time so far is 2:06, so I am staying positive and getting those long-runs in. Recently, I have been trying to re-train my body and mind for a new tempo pace. I usually run ~9:45 on a good day, and 9:15-9:30 on a really great day. My goal is a start hitting that 9:20-9:30 mark more on shorter training runs...and so far, I have accomplished this the past 2 weeks. Yeehaw!  

    But those long runs? I have to be honest....they are hard! And they never get "easier", but I have learned how important your mental state of mind is in order to complete these and feel strong. I guess that is why they call it "endurance" running?...well, at any rate, I have also learned that making an effort to fuel my body properly before and after to get the most out of those long runs is best. This weekend, I made this hearty, put-a-kick-in-your-step 7 vegetable soup. 

    This stuff is not playin' around. It is full, I mean FULL of good stuff for you: complex carbs, plant protein, fiber, B-vitamins, minerals, cruciferous veg...The hefty dose of nutritional yeast gives this soup a cheese-y flavor and richness, while the veggies make it all savory...and sweet cause sweet potato and carrots are in there partying too.

    This soup is super flexible: you can use less veg stock for a heartier stew-like concoction, or add more for a thinner soup. Don't have sweet potato? Try using squash (the original found here uses delicata). Don't have broccoli and/or cauliflower? Just use one. Want it sweeter? Add more sweet potato. Want a chunkier-texture? Don't puree it all or ease up on the blending step. Don't have nutritional yeast? Then get some, cause it is waaaay to good for you not to! You get the idea....the soup is also freezer friendly. Just sayin'. 

    Now, toppings...you could have sooo much fun with toppings with this soup! I went a simple route, using oodles of toasted pepitas and a sprinkle of cayenne. Here are some others ideas I dreamed up:

    • crispy cubes of tofu or croutons
    • crispy roasted garbanzo beans with a drizzle of lemon tahini dressing 
    • coconut milk or cream, and a sprinkle of curry powder for a thai-like flavor
    • marinated and baked tempeh or toasted nuts, and a drizzle of maple syrup
    • hummus or avocado slices
    • *all* of the above... :) :) 

    Whatever you top it with, I highly suggest some sort of carb-laden goodie to pair with this. We enjoyed thick slices of whole-grain bread, slathered in hummus, pesto, avocado slices, to dunk into our bowls. So satisfying. Clean out that fridge, and make this soup to fuel your goals...running, school, whatever! You can do it!!

    Note: since I used cauliflower in this soup, the second day we enjoyed it the flavor was much more pronounced. Still tasty, but if you're faint of heart when it comes to super "aromatic" vegetables like cauliflower, then I suggest bumping up one of the other vegetables instead. 



    7 Vegetable Power Soup // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free; sugar-free; nut-free // makes ~10-12 cups // 

    • 1 small head cauliflower, florets/tender talks only
    • 1 small bunch broccoli, florets/tender stalks only
    • 2-3 carrots, chopped
    • 2-3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
    • 1 sweet potato OR 1 small sweet squash, such as delicata, butternut, kabocha, about 2 cups chopped and peeled if necessary (i.e. if using buternut or kobocha-they have tough skins!)
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
    • 2-3 TB olive oil or coconut oil, or other cooking oil you like
    • 5 TB nutritional yeast 
    • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne and/or smoked paprika
    • Squeeze lemon (optional, but brightens the flavors)
    • toppings of choice: toasted pepitas, cayenne, hummus, etc. see above for ideas!

    1. In a large pot, heat the oil and add the garlic cloves and onion. Chope the other veggies, taking care to get them roughly the same size, but you'll be pureeing the soup in the end so the pieces don't have to be perfect. The smaller you chop them, the quicker they will cook. 

    2. Once everything is added, sautee over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until everything is heated through. Add in a splack of the stock, place the lid on and allow to cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Stir once or twice to make sure it isn't burning/sticking to pan.

    3. Meanwhile, prepare and measure vegetable stock (I used organic vegetable stock concentrate for a speedy option). Once the vegetables are tender, add in the liquid, and bring to a simmer. Add the remaining ingredients, then add contents to a blender (puree in batches if needed), or use an immersion blender to puree. 

    4. Heat soup up again, as it will be slightly cool from blending, then serve with desired toppings.  



    One of the many powerful and good-for-you vegetables in this soup: broccoli!

    Everything after a quick cook, and ready for the blender.

    Done! Super quick and satisfying. 

  • Easy Cauliflower Cheeze Sauce

    Happy Labor Day! I hope you all are recovering from the weekend, and had a chance to relax this weekend. It has been a good one for us, and a well-earned break. On Friday evening, we checked out the new Estrellon by Tory Miller. We loved the new space, and the tapas. Highly recommend patatas fritas (uhh, fancy for AMAZING french fries! If you don't want aioli, ask for a side of the tomato sauce they use on the patatas bravas, since it is basically ketchup's better half), the tomato bread, and the marinated olives. So good! We then walked our full bellies over to the Edgewater, and grabbed a after-dinner drink that we enjoyed outside by the lake. Perfect evening! Saturday was cleaning, prepping and organizing, and yesterday we celebrated my grandma's 90th (!!!!) birthday! Good stuff all around.

    But please, brace yourself, for the end-of-summer harvest is still in full swing! Our fridge is bursting with veggies. Some I honesty have no idea what to do with. Brusselini? Is that broccolini's evil cousin?? 

    Lately, it has been all about the simple food. Our staples have been pesto and tomato pasta (or slices of tomato slathered with fresh pesto, sprinkled with Maldon, on toasted bread), fresh salsa with crunchy chips and creamy guacamole, and hummus [check out this roasted jalapeno version! So good!!] with various things to dip in it, like fresh veggies, bread, tortilla chips...). 

    But honestly don't feel a bit of culinary guilt about simplicty these days...with all the amazing produce we have around. It is so bountiful, at one point a few weeks ago, we had five cauliflowers ("cauliflowers"...is that the plural of cauliflower? or is it just "5 cauliflower"?...??) in the fridge from our CSA. And speaking of, do you know how to deal with 5 large heads of beautiful organic cauliflower? Well, here is what I did: 1) blanch and freeze a ton, 2) mash one head up with potatoes for some amazing mashed comforting goodness [note: we had to blast the a/c to get a cold-season feel to enjoy these in the hot weather!!], and 3) use one for this flavorful "cheese-y" sauce, which is also freezer-friendly. Take that, cauliflower!!

    I really wish I could remember where I got this recipe from, but I assure you it is a mish-mash of the standard vegan cheeze-y sauce featuring great-for-you veggies, cashews and seasonings. Rather than leaving you feeling like you've eaten a cow, you feel nourished after eating this! So please, give it a try, even if you are a classic mac die-hard fan. Yes, it will taste different from the traditional stuff, but I assure you that this sauce is still creamy, savory and delicious. The nutritional yeast in the recipe is a must, as it lends that savory, cheese-y flavor to the sauce and also gives it yellow color. If you'd like to bump-up the yellow color a bit more, add a pinch of dried tumueric. I added a bit of miso paste because it lends a savory, complex flavor to the sauce, but is completely optional. 

    What we did is this: we enjoyed the sauce for 2 meals of mac n' cheeze, then bumped up the spice factor with hot sauce, a dash of cumin, and some chipotle in adobo for wicked nacho-cheeze sauce that was perfect with homemade lentil walnut "meat", salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips. For fresher mac n' cheeze, make fresh pasta and mix in the sauce for each meal you'd like to make the mac n' cheeze. This entire batch is enough for 1 pound of pasta. 



    Creamy Cauliflower Cheeze Sauce // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free option; soy-free option; sugar-free; oil-free option // makes about 4 cups of sauce // 

    • 1 small-medium head cauliflower, florets only
    • ½ cup cashews, soaked overnight or for ~30 minutes in boiling hot water
    • ½ cup + a few TB water or unsweetened, un-flavored plant-based milk 
    • 4 heaping TB nutritional yeast
    • 1 TB shoyu, tamari, liquid aminos or soy sauce
    • 1 large clove garlic
    • heaping ¼ tsp dijon mustard
    • ¼ tsp chili powder
    • ¼ tsp garlic or onion powder
    • ½ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
    • 1 TB lemon juice plus more to taste
    • ¼ tsp turmeric, for color (optional)
    • 1 tsp miso paste for additional savory flavor (optional; I used dark red soy miso, but use garbanzo or another legume-based miso for soy-free)
    • Pasta of Choice (use a gluten-free variety if needed)

    1. Place the florets in a large pot with 1" to 1.5" of water in the bottom. Place a lid on and steam florets until tender, about 6-7 minutes. 

    2. As the florets steam, place everything else in a blender. Drain the florets, and add to the blender. Puree until smooth, taste for seasonings. If needed, add a few TB of water or plant-based milk to help the mixture blend. Adjust and re-blend as necessary. Note: if using a conventional blender, it may take a few minutes to get the sauce smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides of the blender as necessary.

    3. Stir into your favorite pasta, or spice with cumin, chipotle in adobo and hot sauce for a nacho-cheezey sauce perfect for dipping chips in. 

    4. Sauce will keep for 3 days in the fridge, or a few months frozen.



    Cauliflower...who knew it could be so great for you AND make a creamy, dreamy sauce?! Serioulsly, give this stuff a shot! I think good ol' Cauli will surprise you.