Wednesday, September 14, 2011

unexpectedly tasty

Friends, good food can come from where you least expect it.

I know I have turned into a food snob lately what with my subsidized-by-living-at-home-and-not-at-all-realistic-if-I-ever-get-a-real-job-and-apartment-but-I-probably-never-will-but-if-I-did-would-be-no-longer-attainable locavore lifestyle. (Do we remember what we were talking about? Food snob.)

Anyway, that being said there is still something in me, likely induced by my cheap economical Greek ancestors that abhors food waste of any kind.

Thus, boxed macaroni and cheese. Seriously. It’s in there.

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Here’s what happened: as usual, when my little sister was home over the summer, the composition of our cupboards and freezer continually altered. While I tend to not put things on the grocery store shopping list, preferring to get my diet of fresh produce, local yogurt, and ethical meat from the farmer’s market, (And 3 pound boxes of oats at Costco), my sister crams the list full of… stuff.

Food? Is it food when it ends in a-roni? Well, sure, I guess. It’s not what I prefer to eat.

But, a week I got groceries and saw “macaroni and cheese” on the list, I got an ultra basic, store brand, whole wheat version.

My sister was not impressed. So it lingered… in our cupboard… for quite some time.

Then it was a rainy day (one in a series of 9 or so, actually… I am REAL glad that ended) and I felt uninspired for lunch and it was like… yeah. Let’s get on that.

So I followed the directions… sort of.

I cooked the pasta and drained it (mostly) but then I wilted in copious handfuls of spinach, using the hot cooking water to steam it.

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Then- and this MADE IT- I slow roasted some tomatoes.

Farmer’s market tomatoes, obviously. I am a food snob, after all.

I took 1.5 big tomatoes and sliced them into thin slices, laying them in a single layer on a cooking-sprayed baking sheet. Sprinkled with salt and pepper. On 300 for half an hour or so, they began to caramelize and intensify in flavor. Quite beautiful!

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In those went with the pasta and spinach mixture.

I did indeed add the rather shockingly brightly colored cheese packet. I also added some fresh parmesan, to impart a more natural taste and to oomph up the calcium level.

And lo and behold, classed up boxed mac and cheese.

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My favorite bites were the ones that encompassed blobs of Parmesan and chewy, sweet tomatoes. Perfect food for a dismal rainy day.

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Another instance of tasty eats in an unexpected place- GOOD AIRPORT FOOD! I know, oxymoron?! No, friends!

(A brief tangent- I have even seen proof of good AIRPLANE food. The key is to pre-order the vegetarian meal. Way fresher. I remember the hummus and tabbouleh on pita coming back from Japan… it was magnificent. On United, no less!)

Anyway, these oats were fantastic. In that they were cheaper (the same price as a latte at the coffee shop- this was the Denver airport, this weird Russian coffee shop), and also had way more wholesome and natural ingredients than anything else I was likely to find. (Also, didn’t have the longest layover.)

There were several cutely named choices but I went for the most natural, least sweet sounding one. The contents:

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They poured on the hot water for me. I went to the espresso area and added skim milk and cinnamon. I first lifted the lid to reveal this:

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Then stirred it up to discover a wonderfully chewy bowl of oats, whole flax and chia seeds, and dried fruit. If you are a texture person, this is IT. Starbucks oatmeal leaves me unsatisfied in many ways, but particularly because it’s just instant oats and nothing to stick your teeth into. These guys were GREAT for that.

No added sweetener, so the only sweetness came from the dried apples and blueberries. If you are like me (and let’s remember this is after my Spokane trip with the 5 chocolate chip cookies a day diet), you will love this.

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Vair impressive. On the subject of no sugar added, I invented muffins with no sweetener!

No refined sugar, no honey or maple syrup or agave nectar (guys… they’re still sugar), no space age sweetener (Splenda, blecch), no trend du-jour overpriced sweetener (I’m looking at you, stevia dependence).

Sometimes, we should just make things that taste good and have a little natural sweetness from fruit.

Also, when my sister abandoned the mac and cheese, she abandoned approximately a half gallon of applesauce in the fridge, too. So there’s that.

Oh So Virtuous Naturally Sweet Applesauce-Date Muffins

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adapted from this recipe

3 T milk
3 T water
3 T flax

1 1/4 cups applesauce
½ cup dates

2 T canola oil

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Stir together milk, water, and flax, in a large bowl, and let sit until frothy. Meanwhile, in a food processor, blend applesauce and dates. Pour into the large bowl. Stir together flax mixture, applesauce mixture, and oil.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Stir gently into the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the nuts.

Grease a muffin tin and pour in the batter. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then move to cooling racks.

They turned out really yummy!

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The strength of these guys is definitely in their texture. The applesauce helped impart a lovely tenderness, helped along by the flaxseed. In terms of flavor, as muffins go it’s closer to the bread end of the spectrum than the cupcake end of the spectrum, which was exactly what I wanted.

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The nuttiness of the flax works beautifully with the whole wheat flour, and the sweetness of the dates is subtle and wonderful. It’s like one of those really great honey wheat breads.

And, demonstrating that I may not be just a crack addict for sugar, it might just be carbs… or, y’know, food… I made them yesterday and have already eaten 5.

1 comment:

keribop said...

Your fancified mac and cheese looks pretty damn legit I must say. You definitely executed that in true foodie fashion! And I'll keep the airline food in mind...that is, if I ever manage to get on a plan!

Love the muffins too, that's a recipe worth trying fo' sho' :D