Cashew Mac + Cheese

Cashew Mac and Cheese - Under the Monkey Bars

This recipe is magical. It’s mac and cheese, without any cheese. I’m serious — no cheese! You have to try it to believe it. When I stopped eating dairy, I craved cheese like you wouldn’t believe. It’s unbelievable how cheesy this Cashew Mac + Cheese tastes! I swear it tastes even better than the real thing, and it’s super good for you!

Why would you want to make mac and cheese without actual cheese?
1. Dairy should be eaten in condiment servings, and most of us consume far more cheese than we should.
2. The “cheese” sauce is made of veggies. We could all use more veggies in our diet, am I right?
3. The cashews pack in extra protein, fiber, and healthy fats to fill you up and provide energy.
4. When you have a cold or seasonal allergies, avoiding dairy is really smart. So, therefore, this recipe for Cashew Mac + Cheese is brilliant!

Bean requested Cashew Mac + Cheese for her 10th birthday dinner two weeks ago. The monkeys love this dish so much that they actually jump up and down when I make it. High fives all around. After sharing the recipe with many friends, every single person has raved about it — from toddlers to teenagers. It’s especially great for kids on a veggie strike. Another way to get veggies into little monkeys is a winner for sure!

I double the “cheese” sauce recipe every time I make Cashew Mac + Cheese because it freezes really well. Why not make extra for another day? Doubling the recipe makes about 35 ounces of “cheese” sauce. The whole meal takes about 45 minutes from start to finish including sautéing some extra veggies to mix in (peas, zucchini, broccoli), and sometimes cooking up meat like bacon or sausage too (sorry vegan friends!).

Cashew Mac + Cheese is one of those dishes you can tailor to suit your dietary needs or the needs of your friends with food allergies! We’ve never been into breadcrumb toppings for mac and cheese, but if you like breadcrumbs, head over to the original recipe for that version.

Give it a try. I can practically promise you’ll love it. Cómelo todo!

Cashew Mac + Cheese
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 8 ounces pasta
  2. 1 cup red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
  3. 1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
  4. 1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
  5. 1 cup water
  6. 1/4 cup raw cashews
  7. 2 teaspoons sea salt
  8. 1/4 teaspoon garlic
  9. 1/3 cup butter (or non-hydrogenated margarine if you’re vegan)
  10. 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  11. 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  12. 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  13. less than 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (see notes)
Instructions
  1. Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the box. Set aside.
  2. After chopping your potatoes, carrots, and onion, put the veggies and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until veggies are really soft.
  3. In a blender, process the cashews, salt, garlic, butter, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, cayenne, softened veggies, and cooking water until perfectly smooth.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta and blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Or, add the sauce to individual bowls and store the left overs in a glass container or mason jar.
  5. You do not need a high speed blender for this recipe.
Notes
  1. Choose organic ingredients when possible.
  2. I usually throw in extra veggies and it always tastes great.
  3. Leftover cheese sauce can be frozen (in glass ideally). Add a teaspoon of extra butter and and a tablespoon of water to reheat. Warm on low heat and stir frequently.
  4. Use left over cheese sauce to dip veggies or stir it into plain risotto with some veggies.
  5. If you're gluten free, we love Jovial or Andean Dream GF pasta. Also make sure your mustard is GF; we like Annie’s.
  6. When cooking for little ones, be mindful of the cayenne. I started with just two tiny shakes and worked my way up to 1/8 teaspoon for a double batch!
Adapted from VegNews
Adapted from VegNews
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

Simple Roasted Chicken + Bone Broth

Broth2

Do you roast whole chickens? It’s an easy meal that my family loves, and one of our favorite weeknight meals. I roast a chicken every other week, sometimes weekly. I always use the bones to make homemade broth in my crock-pot.

I can’t tell you how easy it is to roast a whole chicken. I had to get over my irrational fear of touching it. These helped. It takes less than 10 minutes to get the chicken in the oven. After it’s in, I start chopping veggies and just pop them in the oven as they are ready. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie (from Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure – frequently quoted at our house in a British accent, of course)!

What kind of chicken should you buy? Choose a pasture-raised chicken and organic ingredients whenever possible. I purchase chickens from local farms, like The Pasture at Pettingill Farm (order now for June if you are in the Newburyport area). Pasture-raised chickens always taste better and it’s important to me to buy local and support local farms. Additionally, pasture-raised meat is higher in omega-3s. Because the chickens are fed grass-based diets, the meat is lower in total fat and calories with higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins (E, C, and beta-carotene). Pasture animal products are also better for the environment.

We have a chest freezer in the basement that I keep stocked with whole chickens and other local organic meats. I make an exception to my rule with organic chickens from Whole Foods, which is the only grocery store where I will buy meat because of their strict standards.

WholeChicken

How to Roast a Whole Chicken with Veggies
What you need: whole chicken, a lemon, an onion, olive oil, salt, pepper.

Directions (keep reading – it’s easy, I promise):
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2 Lightly spray a baking dish with olive oil. I use Misto because most packaged sprays have lots of hidden ingredients. Check your spray.
3. Take the chicken out of its packaging and remove the bag of parts inside, reserving for later when you make broth.
4. Rinse the chicken thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
5. Place the whole chicken in the prepared baking dish.
6. Cut a lemon in half and stuff it inside the chicken.
7. Cut an onion in quarters and place the pieces around the chicken.
8. Spray or drizzle the chicken and onions with olive oil.
9. Generously salt and pepper the chicken.  
10. Put it in the oven and cook for an hour and 1/2 or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.
11. Now chop up some veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, parsnips — whatever you have. Toss in olive oil and add some salt and pepper if you want. Put everything on a baking sheet, and flip after 30 minutes. Cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
12. Let the chicken cool enough for you to handle it.
13. Remove all of the chicken off the bones.
14. Put the chicken caracas (plus everything you are not eating that comes off that chicken: skin, etc.) directly in the crock-pot. Keep reading to find out how to make bone broth!
15. Optional: Remove the wishbone and dry it out for a few days. Bean and Sweet Pea love to see who will get the wish! 

What to do with leftovers?
– Add left over chicken to a salad for lunch.
– Cut chicken into cubes for lunch boxes.
– Make chicken salad or leftover chicken soup.

 Crockpotbroth

Bone Broth

Are you thinking, why would I want to make homemade broth when I can buy it in a box at the grocery store? Homemade bone broth is detoxifying and it contains excellent minerals and nutrients that help your body function. And let’s face it, it’s a great way to save money. It costs almost nothing to make, and would cost about $18 to purchase organic at the grocery store. But wait, there’s more…

Benefits of bone broth
– Aid digestion
– Heal the gut
– Boost collagen
– Good for your teeth
– Anti-aging
– Combat the side effects of cold and flu

The fact that bone broth is good for your teeth really caught my attention. My Mom made bone broth when I was growing up and I don’t have any cavities. I’ve been making bone broth for three years. The monkeys don’t have any cavities. Kind of makes you go, “Hmmmm.”

As with everything, there’s the easy way and the hard way. I like the easy way, so I use my faithful crock-pot. Keep the broth simple because it will be the base for whatever you’re making: soup, sauces, rice, quinoa, vegetables, and for sipping. You can add spices when you’re ready to cook.

How to Make Homemade Bone Broth in Your Crock-pot
What you’ll need:
– Chicken caracas plus all of the parts that come inside (neck, liver, etc.)
– Drippings in your baking dish from roasting the chicken
– A stalk of celery and a carrot if you have them
– 2 TBSP of apple cider vinegar
– Filtered water to fill the crock-pot

Directions:
1. Put all of the ingredients in your crock-pot in the order listed above.
2. Turn your crock-pot to high until it is hot and bubbling, which is about two hours in my crock-pot.
3. Cook on low for about 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be exact. 
4. Pour entire contents of the crock-pot through a mesh strainer into a large bowl.  Note: Wear an apron; it can be splashy!
5. Discard the bones.
6. Cool and store in freezer safe glass containers or in cubes. Make sure to leave room at the top of the container for the liquid to expand when frozen.

Yields approximately 16-18 cups of broth, depending on the size of your crock-pot.

I keep a few boxes of chicken broth in my pantry for emergencies. I rarely run out of my homemade bone broth but when I do, this one is my favorite. Check what’s in your pantry and read the ingredients on the label. Most packaged broths have REALLY long ingredient lists with preservatives and tons of sodium. Besides, chicken in a box? Kind of grosses me out.

Buy a chicken. Make some broth. Unless you are vegan; I’m sorry this post just isn’t for you!

Here are some recent articles about bone broth:
NPR: The Elixir Du Jour: Bone Broth
New York Times: Bone Broth Evolves From Prehistoric Food to Paleo Drink
Yahoo! Health: Bone Broth: 4 Reasons Wellness Experts Are Obsessed

Cómelo todo! 

Easy Back-to-Back Dinners

I love my crock-pot.  We’ve been inseparable since the first time it had a hot meal waiting for me after work years ago.  Simple stews and soups are my go-to recipes for my magic pot.  I’d never cooked plain old chicken in there until I found this recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.  It’s a healthy, easy way to prep cooked chicken for any recipe.

One of our family’s favorite dinners is Against All Grain’s Leftover Chicken Soup with Roasted Vegetables.  It’s a stove top recipe and you know I love my crock-pot.  The first time I made the soup I used chicken that I had roasted the day before, and it just wasn’t enough meat.  My crock-pot brain started thinking…I could make the chicken for the soup in the crock-pot using Lexi’s recipe.  Serve Crock-Pot Pesto Chicken Salad one night, and Leftover Chicken Soup the next.  It’s such a great weeknight back-to-back dinner combination.  Both recipes are naturally gluten free, paleo, dairy free, and can be made vegan (yes, I know they are chicken recipes but keep reading).

Here’s what you’ll do….

Wednesday morning: Do you have chicken in the freezer?  You can totally make this tonight!  Follow Lexi’s recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken.  Use a lot of chicken breasts so that there’s enough for both recipes;  this will depend on your family size (I use 6 for the 4 of us).  When it’s cooked, take the chicken out and pour the broth through a mesh strainer to remove the onions from the broth.  Discard the onions and SAVE the broth!  It’s much more flavorful and nutrient rich than the broth you started with and you can use it again (my home made crock-pot broth recipe coming soon!).

Wednesday night’s dinner: Follow Lexi’s recipe to make the Pesto Sauce.  We like raw cashews but you can use almost any kind of nut.  I double the pesto ingredients and add a little water when I throw it in the blender.  Shred half of the chicken breasts and mix them with the pesto sauce.  This dish can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  My girls like their “green chicken” served over risotto with sautéed peppers, but the possibilities are endless.  If you’re vegan (and you’re still reading), the pesto would be delicious tossed with pasta.

PestoChicken

Thursday night’s dinner: Use the broth you saved from the night before plus the extra chicken to make Leftover Chicken Soup.  Try roasting some extra veggies when you make this soup.  Roasted veggies are perfect for lunch!  You could also set aside some of the pureed veggie mix for the baby (if you have one, of course).  I made most of Bean and Sweet Pea’s baby food, and would have loved this recipe so that they could eat what we were having.  If you’re vegan, try making the soup with vegetable broth and omit the chicken all together.

LeftoverChixSoup

The Leftover Chicken Soup can be frozen.  Use a Pyrex 6-Cup glass container for the family, or mason jars for individual portions (no plastic!).  Have you tried heating up left overs in your crock-pot?  It is so easy.  Thaw the container in your refrigerator over night.  In the afternoon (2:30pm-ish), put the half frozen soup in the crock-pot on warm and it will be ready at dinner time.

If you haven’t poked around on Lexi’s Clean Kitchen or Against All Grain, I highly recommend both blogs.  I’ve made many of their recipes and we always love them.  Add the ingredients to your grocery list and give these two recipes a try!

Cómelo todo!*

For the Pesto Chicken Salad recipe, go to Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.

For the Leftover Chicken Soup recipe, go to Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain.

 

*Translation :: Eat it all!
When I studied abroad in Madrid during college, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” when she brought dinner to the table.  I sometimes say it to my monkeys at dinnertime with a smile, remembering that incredible experience.  You can expect to see “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.