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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

10 Minute Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese is both ubiquitous and prolific in North America; not only can you find it pretty much anywhere and everywhere, but there are also so many versions of it - too many to list, really.

I've even seen it pop up in foodie and gastronomy places, often with some sort of unique (but ultimately pretentious) twist to it.

Well, I make a few versions of mac & cheese myself.


In fact, I'm not sure I've ever made the same kind twice.

My favourite method, and the one I'd use if I was trying to impress company, is rooted in the French style of cuisine, and uses a white sauce as the 'base'.  Of course I would use real butter and full fat cheese and cream as well.  

This version is delicious.  But also kind of impractical.  There's a reason it gets relegated to 'special occasions'.

Anyway... today, I thought I'd write about a quick and dirty version of mac and cheese that is really simple, really fast, and almost healthy.

In fact, I did it in less than 10 minutes.

First thing to do when you're racing against the clock is to start your pasta water boiling. That can be your 'limiting variable' after all, so gotta get that going right away, putting the pasta noodles in as soon as the water is ready.

Next get your veggies chopped.

Without ceremony, I minced a tomato, a few cloves of garlic, a green onion, and some fresh thyme leaves.

Begin by sweating the onion in a (reasonably) large but proportionate amount of vegetable oil.

After a minute or two, tops, add the tomato and garlic.

Sauté this for another couple of minutes, and then transfer it to a blender.  I used my trusty immersion blender.

While the saucepan is still hot, throw in your cheese.  Really this can be anything that melts decently.  Myself I used a small amount of a couple really strong cheeses, including a St. Agur, and some gorgonzola.  With the strong cheeses, you really don't need much.

If the m.f.% of your cheese(s) is low, add some oil (or butter) if you like, but only if absolutely necessary.  With these particular cheeses, I did not.

That's JUST cheese.

Then I stirred in the fresh thyme.

We're about 7 or 8 minutes in now.

Scrape out all the veggies from the blender, and stir that in.


As soon as the pasta is ready, drain it and then dump it into this saucepan.


Top with freshly ground black pepper.

You're done.


So good.  So easy.  So quick.  And not terribly unhealthy.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Green Beans and Penne in Garlic Coconut Milk Sauce

Coconut milk has much more versatility than just as an ingredient in Asian cuisine.

The other night I made a garlic 'cream' sauce out of coconut milk.  It was tasty as a base for some penne noodles, but also when tossed with some fresh, steamed green beans.

Myself, I'm not a fan of coconut.  The shaved 'meat' of the coconut, often sprinkled on desserts and such.  I've never really enjoyed it.  So, I admit that I - like many others I'm sure - was a bit wary of trying to cook with coconut products, for fear of a dominant coconut flavour.

Well, it's really not that coconutty.  :)

Let's talk very briefly about coconut cream, coconut milk, and coconut water, because they are all different things, and easy to confuse.

When you simmer 1 part coconut flesh with 1 part water for a while, and then strain and refrigerate the mixture, coconut cream is the solid that rises to the top and coconut milk is the liquid that remains.

Both are not very sweet, and can be used in a variety of cooking.

Coconut water is the juice from inside the raw coconut.  Coconut water has become quite popular of late, and is marketed as being good for you... but not everyone agrees on that one.

There is also cream of coconut which is a thick, sweetened, additive to desserts and such.

Anyway, adding a can of coconut milk to some steamed rice or some vegetable stir-fry, is about as far as I've ever gotten in terms of culinary experimentations with coconut products.

And coconut rice is delicious if you've never had it.

However, I have long heard about people cooking cream-based dishes using coconut milk, but have never really gotten around to trying it.  Perhaps because of my above-mentioned wariness of an overly coconut flavour. 

But, it turns out, it works out rather well.


I made my typical cream sauce - some onion and garlic sautéed in a small amount of vegetable oil, and to this I simply upended an entire can of coconut milk.

I then thickened it with a touch of cornstarch, and stirred in a bit of salt and pepper.

Other than a slightly yellow-ish tinge to the sauce, it actually turned out remarkably well. It was certainly thicker than I thought it would be, and it turned out to be a little sweeter than I would have hoped, but all-in-all, it worked out just fine.

I tossed most of it in with some penne noodles, and that was that.

What turned out to be even better, however, was saving a small amount of this garlic coconut milk sauce and tossing it with some freshly steamed green beans.

When I turned up the heat on this sauce, the high saturated fat content (of which I had heard) really became apparent.  This stuff is oily! 

But it made for some really delicious green beans!

And the pasta wasn't too bad either!

What I did to offset some of the unexpected sweetness of this sauce, was to serve the dish with a rather sweet wine.  In this case, Coastal Black's Blueberry Table Wine.  It was a delicious pairing if I do say so myself.

Anyway, in the future, I think I might just use the coconut 'cream' part, and discard much (if not all) of the liquid part of the can of coconut milk.  In this way, I suspect that I might not even need to use cornstarch to thicken it.

Anyway, it was good, and certainly a viable substitute to dairy-based sauces.  Although you could easily make a cheese sauce with this stuff, as the high fat content would allow for a lot of cheese to be incorporated within the sauce.

But, as it was, this was a great vegan 'cream' sauce for pasta and, (as evidenced by those beans) other things as well.

I mean, it's not going to win any competitions when forced to compete right next to a real cream sauce made with 18% m.f. cream (or higher)... honestly not even made with 3% m.f. homogenized milk... but it definitely holds it's own against any of the sauces I used to make with skim milk.  

The thing is, though, that coconut milk is still very high in saturated fat, I mean more so than most cream!!!  So, to make this in the hopes of it being healthier than a dairy-based cream sauce... maybe not... but if you're a vegan for moralistic rather than health reasons, this is at least an option for a cream sauce.

Just don't go eating it everyday!