A New Spin On Pasta

I've been reading this wonderful book that I recommend everyone check out called Eat Good Food put out by San Francisco's Bi Rite Market. It's basically a food bible that walks you through how to properly buy, store, prepare, and eat a myriad of different household staples.
One of the many things that caught my eye in the book was an interesting technique of cooking pasta that involves finishing the  still firm noodles in the tomato which allows for a heartier and more flavorful finish. After reading about it I decided to give it a shot with some left over marinara I had cooked up a few days earlier. Wow! Was it ever good! My sauce was richer, my noodles were chewier, and the ingredients seemed to marry in ways I never considered before. I thought I would walk you through the process so you can try it during your next boring old pasta night.

You will need:

  • A package of your favorite pasta
  • A quantity of pre made tomato sauce
  • A measuring cup

1. Bring a large salted pot of water to a boil. Add pasta, stirring to separate noodles and let boil over hight heat.

2. Let pasta boil about two minutes less than the package instructs. You want your noodles to still be slightly stiff. Lift a few from the pot to check them. Take a bite if you're not sure. The center should still be hard.

3. Before draining your pasta, dip a measuring cup into the pot and reserve about 1/4 cup (or more depending)of the starchy salty cooking water. Set aside and drain pasta as usual.

4. Turn the stove to medium high, add the sauce to the pot and heat thoroughly. Then, add the undercooked noodles and about a third of the reserved water. Stir to coat noodles and let the sauce and water mix and boil rapidly. Gradually add more water as the liquid thickens.

The idea is that the pasta absorbs a bit of the saucy liquid during its last moments of cooking. The starchy water thickens the sauce while the well rounded saltiness adds to the dish.

5. The finished product should be thick and hearty perfect for a cozy december night in. A simple technique for amping up a familiar dish. Bon appetite!

Mac N' Yeas' for Everyone!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese is a tricky thing. The big idea behind most vegan mac is a nutritional yeast based "cheese" sauce that is then mixed with the macaroni. I've seen "cheese" sauces made with everything from oats to tahini but none go without the addition of nutritional yeast which you can find in the bulk section of most health food shops. It has a naturally cheesy flavor and it adds a creamy texture when mixed with liquids. Unfortunately, the problem that I encounter with most with vegan macaroni and cheese is that many recipes tend to go a little heavy on the nutritional yeast. I find that yeast in excess, lends an almost bitter metallic flavor to foods. It can also dry out your sauce if you use to much. Your final result may be edible but probably only to you...
Here is a recipe worthy of a comfort food craving. It is creamy, flavorful, and surprisingly light on the yeast! This recipe wont truly shine until it's baked making it a strictly casserole mac but, if you ask me, thats really the best way to enjoy any mac and yeas (or cheese for that matter).
Growing up, macaroni and cheese casserole was a staple at dinner. I'm proud to say that not only do I think this recipe tastes nearly identical to my mothers, my mom agrees! She even asked for it on Mothers day!
Do yourself a favor. Make this dish. Then, thank me in the comments below for sharing one of the best recipes in my collection with you.
Recipe adapted from here.

 Mac N Yeas
  • 1/4 Cup Margerine
  • 1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 2 cups plain Soy Milk
  • 1/4 Cup plus 1 tbl White Flour
  • 1/4 cup Corn Starch
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs
  • 1 tsp Salt plus more to taste
  • Black Pepper
  • 3/4 cup diced Yellow Onion 
  • 2 1/2 cups dry Macaroni pasta   

1. Boil macaroni in a pot of salted water. Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine the nutritional yeast, flour, cornstarch, paprika, and salt in a bowl and whisk until blended. Dice the onion and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
4. Heat soymilk on the stove over medium high heat. Add in water, margerine, and Dijon, and bring to a boil.

5. Once liquid begins to boil quickly reduce the heat to medium (otherwise soy milk will boil over) and stir in your dry mixture a little at a time, blending as you go. Mixture will become very thick and start bubbling.

6. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the macaroni noodles and diced onion making sure all noodles are coated thoroughly in sauce.

7. Pour noodle mixture into a 10" casserole dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a generous amount of black pepper. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top begins to brown.

8. The result is a crispy on top creamy casserole with a mild cheesy flavor complimented by sweet crunchy onions throughout. The great thing about this recipe is that it's also versatile-
Tip: Try mixing in 1/4 cup vegan bacon bits before pouring into the pan. Not in the mood? Swap that for 1/4 cup minced sundried tomatoes and serve topped with fresh basil. Try it with a couple minced cloves of roasted garlic mixed in or sprinkle it with minced red and green peppers before baking like my friend Blake does. The options are endless!

Ofcourse, if you choose to serve it straight up make sure you add a couiple colorful side dishes like sauteed kale and yam fries for an all around American meal! Happy Comfort!

serves 4

Why You Should Be Shopping In: Chinatown

Or as it's called here in Seattle, The International District.
These areas are popular tourist traps but looking beyond the gift shops or americanized asian megaplex stores you'll find these areas are littered with small chain groceries and family run businesses that carry not only culture specific food items, but familiar ones as well, most often at prices less than half of what you'll find in your own neighborhood grocery.
Once a month I take a trip down to Seattle's International District to hit up the Vietnamese grocery stores. There are nearly 10 stores of varying size within a 3 block radius and all of them hold equally amazing deals. If you are shopping on EBT you should know that Viet Wah off 12th and Jackson is the only store that accepts it. 

Grocery shopping in your local China Town has many perks. You'll be saving money while supporting a smaller business. 
Here are some pro's about International District shopping:
  • Shopping in stores culturally different than your own will inspire you to try new foods. A few of my favorite discoveries have been lychee fruit, seasoned nori snacks, champagne mangos, and fruit flavored jelly candies.
  • Often you will be supporting a smaller family business which is something to feel good about.

  • Unbeatable prices especially on produce and canned goods. $2.99 is the cost of 1 bell pepper at the QFC grocery by my house. I bought 3 at Viet Wa for the same price!
  • If you are a fan of asian cooking, you will find everything you need at these stores. Birds eye chili's, thai basil, kombu, fresh noodles, and more! Chances are, your favorite local stir fry restaurant does a fair bit of their shopping in the area as well.
There are, however, some cons to shopping in the area. Some of them are:
  • Often "Chinatown" is a far distance away. Don't plan a large shopping trip unless you are driving or have a fairly direct bus route with minimal walking. Bags are heavy.
  • I find the tanks of live "seafood" extremely depressing but it is difficult to avoid running into them in shops. I do not find confinement and slaughter to be appetizing.

  • The waste is a problem. Often items are pre-wrapped in plastic and sometimes packaged in styrofoam. Try to recycle as much of this as your city permits.
  • Stores can often appear dirty or messy. Some shops keep produce on display outside which can attract pigeons and other animals. Wash your food well before use.
  • Sometimes food is not the best quality. You will find bruised and sometimes rotten vegetables hiding among the others. Check the date and condition of your items to avoid wasting your money.

Now, I don't just shop in the International District. I actually have a few stores throughout the city which I enjoy visiting for specific items. That being said, there are a great deal of items and bargains in this are that keep me coming back. Here are my favorite finds in Chinatown groceries.

  • Shiitake mushrooms. I never liked mushrooms until I tried these but at a whopping $7.00 a lb at most stores they are often out of my price range. Here they are for less than $4.00! You can also find them dried for even less.
  • Coconut milk. I've found it as low as 50 cents a can. I like to stock up for future curries, soups, and even smoothies!

  • Fresh tofu. Here in Seattle there are several "tofu stores" near the I.D. where you can purchase freshly made tofu cakes. Fresh tofu is not packed in water which means you do not need to drain it before use. It is available deep fried as well and also in 2 flavors: onion or lemongrass. It comes pre-sliced, pre-cubed, or in whole cakes like the fried variety above. Try it and you'll never go back to the (more expensive) water packed kind again!

  • Where there is fresh tofu there is fresh soy milk. FRESH soy milk! I only just bought one of these for the first time and am very eager to taste it. Occasionally you can also find flavored varieties of soy milk. I was buying coconut Vita Soy every other week for a while and boy was it ever good!
  • Thai basil. They try to mark this stuff up in most stores like it's something ultra rare and exotic but you can buy giant bunches of it down here for only a couple bucks. You can't make decent Thai food without it but you can also swap it in to italian recipes for a slightly different herb flavor.

  • Noodles. Fresh and dried. Yakisoba, udon, chow mein, bean thread, soba, wide rice, etc. Buy shelf stable dry noodles or find fresh noodles like the ones above that have been shrink wrapped. I usually buy several packages of the shrink wrapped noodles and freeze them. Each of those packages makes about 4 servings. I like the noodles labeled as "stir fry noodles" the best. 

  • Mock meats. Yep, that's right, certain regions of Asia are CRAZY about mock meats! If you are tired of blowing $$ on soy and wheat based items out of the "natural" section at your grocery store then this is the place to go. Most of the larger vietnamese groceries have a special frozen area specifically for mock meats. Unfortunately, many of them contain whey but they have everything from "mock lamb" to "mock fish", from fake chicken shaped like a whole chicken to my favorite fake meat product ever- "Veggie Mini Chicken Ham". I am not making that name up. Some of the frozen "meats" can be a bit pricier than what you may have hoped but they often provide enough for several meals. Though it may seem strange, do not pass up the canned mock meats usually located near the canned vegetables. I've found canned "pork", "abalone", and "chicken" but the canned "peking duck" is definitely the best one. These flavored gluten's come canned in a savory stock which I usually mix with sugar, spices, and cornstarch to create a sauce for whatever stir fry I used the "meat" in. at $1.39 a can these are a shelf stable steal!
  • The sauce isle. Keeping a bottled stir fry sauce in the fridge is a great crutch for lazy evenings. A good sauce isle will give you several hundred options for such a thing. You will also find items like sesame oil and rice vinegar for increasingly low prices.
  • And finally, no chinatown trip would be complete without a haul of ridiculous mystery snacks! I like jelly straws, wasabi peas, sesame candy, and daifuku. What do you like?

My final note on Shopping these stores is that many pre package their produce. I've seen people tear open the bags and remove what they want but I'm not sure if it's frowned upon. If you are shopping at one of these stores only buy produce that you know you are going to use up. Having half a pound of bokchoy go yellow because you didn't eat it in time is a waste. This is where freezing comes in handy like I did for my green beans.

$50.00 later I return home with more food than I can fit on my counter. Broken down that comes out to:
3 ears of corn, 1 package "stir fry noodles", 3 lemons, 6 yams, 4 kiwi's, 1 bunch parsley, 1 bunch cilantro, 1 package fresh roll wrappers, 1 can coconut milk, 1 can coconut soda, 1 giant bottle of %100 pomegranate juice, 1 giant package rice vermicelli noodles, 2 avocados, 1 bunch bananas, 4 crowns of broccoli, 1 mega package of cherries, 2 fresh tofu cakes, 1 red onion, 1 bag yellow onions, 4 heads of garlic, 10 red plums, 2 champagne mangos, 1 9" piece of ginger, 1 lime, 1 huge package of snow peas, 3 red bell peppers, 2 green bell peppers, 1 bunch scallions, 1 bunch thai basil, 1 box seasoned nori snacks, and a bag of green beans larger than my head.

How's that for bargain shopping?
All food from Viet Wah.

Edamame Pâté

It's the end of the month and as my fridge becomes emptier and emptier I find myself getting creative with the items I've yet to use. This time around, the challenge was a forgotten bag of frozen shelled edamame.
Frozen edamame is a great thing to keep on hand. The in-shell variety makes a healthy snack fit for any occasion while the shelled edamame is handy for tossing into stirfrys, salads, or in this case, blending into a unique condiment.
I've tasted commercial edamame pâté and am never pleased with the results. I often find them over-seasoned or sometimes convoluted in flavor. This recipe creates a mild and delicately flavored spread that is easily paired with both asian as well as italian cuisine.

Edamame Pâté
  • 1 Cup frozen shelled Edamame
  • 1/4 Cup Pine nuts (I didn't have any on hand when I photographed this so I substituted cashews)
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup fresh Parsley
  • 1 Tbl fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste

1. Boil frozen edamame for 5 minutes till tender.

2. Meanwhile, roughly chop your garlic and parsley.

3. Drain edamame and rinse with cold water to cool.

4. Combine edamame, pine nuts, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor and blend thoroughly. The texture will be creamy and a bit gritty. You can add a tiny bit of water to make it smoother. Blend in salt to taste.

Edamame Pâté makes a wonderful spread for bread and crackers. The mild flavor makes it an innovative filling for tea sandwiches but the high quantity of garlic also makes it work with most basic sandwich ideas. It is also delicious tossed with noodles and served at room temperature. Try tossing with bow tie pasta and peas or  mix into soba noodles and top with sesame seeds for a delicious side dish. You can also top a salad with a dollop. The rich green color brings flair to a variety of dishes!

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

The Scrap Bowl

To keep your counters clear while you cook, try keeping a scrap bowl handy. It saves you many trips to the garbage. 
Toss anything unusable in the scrap bowl: veggie tops and stems, peelings, rotten spots, etc.
After you finish cooking, toss the whole lot into the garbage/compost or rinse and add to your stock bag (which we'll talk about later).

Summer Fooding

Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper 1956

The days are getting longer and I'm looking forward to eating more summer foods with the anticipation of warmer weather. Cold noodles and soups and wonderful salads and fresh fruits. I've been keeping ice tea in my fridge which is easy to make in my vintage thermal pitcher that goes from hot to cold. I am hoping to get in a few picnics this year with my plastic picnic set from the early 1960s. I'll be posting soon about fresh rolls, homemade peanut sauce, and other summer goodies. 
What are your favorite summertime foods?

Make it your Own: Nachos!

Ever since my boyfriend moved in I've been finding myself serving more and more dude food for dinner. You know, pizza, nachos... My boyfriend gets more excited about mac and yeas' casserole than he does about say, african groundnut stew on bulgar. Luckily, I feel equally excited about both.
Even though the quickest junk dinners come from the frozen aisle at the grocery store, I find that many of them are nearly just as fast to throw together from home.
Thus, I present my quick and healthy nachos. A bag of chips provides a satisfying base for a can of beans, a couple handfuls of (vegan) cheese, and the fixin's are anything I have on hand in the fridge. Assembling them takes as much time as the oven does to preheat and they are a great way to use up leftovers such as rice or small bits of vegetables I might have lying around. The best part is, they are healthy! And much more fit for a meal than their traditional "nacho cheez sauce" smothered counterparts, don't you think?

1. For nacho night, pre heat the oven to 400 degrees and spread several handfuls of your favorite salted tortilla chips out on a baking sheet.

2. Chop up your fixin's! Nachos are a great way to use up random vegetables or leftover items in your fridge. Here are some of my favorites:

  • diced bell peppers 
  • chopped red onion
  • chopped scallions
  • diced tomatoes
  • chopped black olives
  • shredded cabbage
  • grated carrots
  • grated or diced zucchini 
  • leftover cooked rice
  • leftover cooked beans
  • minced garlic
  • diced jalapeno
  • chopped cilantro
  • diced avocado
  • cubed or crumbled fresh tofu
  • crumbled veggie burgers or your favorite mock meat

Toss on as many of these as you like. Chances are, you have quite a few of them around the kitchen. Make sure they are evenly spread over the bed of chips.

3. Open a can of your favorite refried beans. I prefer black refried beans but here I am using regular pinto. Empty the contents into a bowl and add about 1/3 cup of hot water.

4. Mix well and spread over your bed of chips. The water allows the beans to be distributed more easily. 

5. Cover the whole mess in grated (vegan) cheese. I like Daiya brand because it melts. Try the cheddar or the pepper jack. Or combine several.

6. Bake for about 7 minutes until the (vegan) cheese melts. Check it here and there. You don't want to burn your chips!

7. Serve hot with your favorite dips. I made fresh guacamole and also fresh roasted salsa using this recipe.

I make about these every other week. I store (vegan) cheese and commercial salsa in my freezer so I can toss these together any time I need to. Everybody loves nachos! And if you don't, get out.

Freeze it: Green Beans

Lately I've been buying massive bulk bags of green beans the size of my head from Viet Wa and freezing them. This way, I have fresh green beans all month long! I hate feeling especially rushed to use up produce but freezing it makes it so I can relax. Here is your first freezer lesson.

1. Trim your beans and then rinse them in a colander. Compost the end bits or add them to your stock bag.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the beans and blanch them for 3 minutes. Blanching means to boil only for a moment. It is a method of par-cooking. If the beans take up most of the space in your pot, rotate them continuously with a pasta spoon. They will still be firm when they are done but the outside will have turned a brilliant green.

3. Working quickly, drain the beans in a colander and transfer them immediately to an ice bath. Ideally, an ice bath is a large basin of ice water. The purpose of this is to stop the cooking process. If the beans overcook, they will become mushy in the freezer.

If you don't have a large basin or ice cubes on hand (oops!) then do what I did. Fill a large bowl with ice cold tap water and transfer the beans to that. Then, holding the colander on top of the bowl, run cold water through it from the tap. The continuous flow of cold water will cool off the beans fast and the colander will hold them in.

4. Once your beans have cooled, transfer them to a towel and pat them dry. Excess moisture in the means will allow them to collect frost making them mushy.

5. Once they have been semi dried, toss them into a freezer bag. Don't fill the bag too much. If you need to, use two. Crowding will cause them to stick together during freezing.

6. Freeze it! Make sure you lay the bag flat on it's side during freezing so you can spread out the beans a bit. This will help prevent excess sticking or ice build up from moisture leakage. Once frozen, shake the bag a big to unstick any bean clumps.

Apparently, green beans can last up to a year in the freezer, but I like to use mine up within 2 months or less. Never thaw your beans before adding to recipes or they will become watery. Remember, your beans are par cooked so they will cook faster in recipes than raw.

Add your beans to stews during the last 5 minutes of cooking. You can stir fry or roast your beans by tossing frozen beans with oil and cooking with high heat to brown them. You can also boil or steam them but keep watch that they don't over cook.

And remember, the freezer is your friend.