Sunday, August 8, 2010

Crock-Pot Mac & Cheese Florentine

This was originally a vegan recipe with no cheese (despite the title) but being that it's silly to have mac and cheese minus the cheese I have, of course, since altered the recipe to fit my style and tastes.  The guy has admitted, since I've perfected the recipe, that he likes this one almost better than the baked traditional version made with loads of cheese, milk and butter.  I find this to be much more tummy friendly and I can do the prep work, stick it in the crock-pot and only four hours later dinner is served.  The only problem is that this is not a recipe that can be used if when one wants to throw it together before their eight hour work day and have it ready when they get home.  It's more of a weekend meal or a week night where a quick stop home allows one to start it, run off to all the extra curricular activities and come home to a warm meal.  However one feels they can best work it, this is a really yummy meal that is really easy and is a great alternative for vegans as it's easy to subtract the cheese and can also be easily converted to a gluten-free dish as well.  I also love that it's a full meal, with a protein, starch and green vegetable, though a little salad goes really well on the side too.

So here is the recipe, though please see below for the usual tips and suggestions.  
So this photo was taken the time I used spinach.  Peas are yummier.....
 Crock-pot Mac, Cheese & Peas
Makes enough to serve two and have enough left over for lunch or dinner a couple days after.
Crock-pot Size: 4 quart or larger
Cooking Time: 3-4 hours
Low setting


8 ounces elbow macaroni (or smaller noodle rice pasta for a gluten free version)
10 ounces give or take of frozen or fresh, sweet peas
2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 c. cashews (unsalted and raw preferred but whatever you've got or can find will work
1 3/4 c. soy milk (or water, rice or regular milk if you don't have soy milk)
1 1/2 c. slow cooked or one 15.5-ounce can of white beans (I usually use chickpeas)
1 T miso paste (optional)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1-2 c. Shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or whatever you've got)
 1-2 pieces of artisan or homemade bread cut into small cubes

1. cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water.  Cook al dente as it will cook further in the pot and you don't want it to turn to mush.  Drain and place in crock. 
2.  Cook peas by steaming (preferred method) or by boiling for 3 minutes once water is boiling.  Remove from heat, drain and add to pasta.  
3.  Heat 1 T oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened and set aside.
4.  Using a food processor, grind the cashews to a powder in a blender or food processor.  Add 1 cup of the liquid (milk/water) and blend until smooth.  Add the onions, beans, miso, remaining liquid (3/4 c.), lemon juice and spices.  (Only add salt if not using miso, you can always add salt but the miso is quite high in sodium as it is).  Blend until smooth.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Pour sauce over macaroni and peas and mix well.  Stir in 1-1.5 c. shredded cheese. 
5.  Cover crock and cook on low for 3-4 hours.
6.  Just before serving time, in a small bowl, pour 1 T melted butter (or oil) over bread cubes.  Sprinkle with garlic powder and mix well with wooden spoon.  Heat skillet over medium heat and add bread cubes, stirring until lightly toasted and smelling of garlic.  Remove from heat. 
7.  Put finished casserole in bowls and sprinkle with any remaining shredded cheese and croutons. 

Tips and suggestions: To make this dish vegan, leave out the cheese and stick to oil rather than butter.  When it comes to gluten free, leave out the crouton topping and be sure to find a good gluten free pasta substitute.  Tinkyada Brown Rice Fusilli Pasta is really great for this and won't get all mushy and sticky.  Tastes pretty darn good too! 
You can buy Tinkyada here
This recipe is really easy to do even if you don't have all the specific ingredients, you can adapt it to what you have in your kitchen and change it to your liking. 
Please let me know what you think!