Dinner for 12: Pasta with Broccoli and Ham with Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce

Catching up on some previous weeks' dishes so I hope to post more often over the next week or two.

I am not one to be drawn in by heavy comfort food often but this dish won me over both because it didn't involve terrifying amounts of cheese and cream and because it did involve terrifying amounts of crucifers. And, well, I am kind of a broken record about how much I love me some crucifer. The ham lent a smoky depth to this otherwise and sweet dish but it's easy to omit the ham and still make it a scrumptious vegetarian meal. If you are looking for a vegan option, this one is on my "to make" list soon.

The dish was fragrant, filling and satisfying. I also felt a teeny bit smug about the fact that even if kids wound up picking around the chunks, they would still be getting a belly full of cauliflower and not just noodles. I served this with a crusty baguette to soak up the sauce and a green salad topped with oranges, grapefruit and radish.

Baked Spirals and Broccoli with Ham and Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce (adapted from Martha Stewart Living, February 2012)

Serves 12
9 cups cauliflower (2 large heads or 3 small), cored and chopped
1 head of garlic (yes, head!), roughly chopped
12 shallots, roughly chopped
Salt n' Peppa
1/4 cup flour
12 cups skim milk
3/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
18 oz pecorino cheese, grated (about 6 cups)
1 1/2 lbs whole grain pasta spirals (I used 2 bags of noodles which seemed to be more than enough)
3/4 lb sliced smoked ham (I am a fan of Willow Creek Farm's sliced ham and it was perfect in this dish)
2 heads broccoli (roughly 15 cups), trimmed and cut into florets
1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs (recipe called for panko, but I have homemade breadcrumbs that I used)

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cauliflower, garlic, shallots, and 1 1/2 tsp salt. cook until softened but not brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with flour, stir to coat well.

2. Gradually stir in milk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; gently simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 15 min. Let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree with nutmeg and half the pecorino until smooth, about 2 minutes (I did this in four batches since it's a large amount of sauce).

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta until slightly tender but not fully cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Drain well, return to pot. Add ham, broccoli and cauliflower sauce and toss to combine. Transfer to 3 3 1/2 quart baking dishes. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino and bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Heat the broiler and broil until golden on top, 1-2 minutes. Divide among dishes, top with toasted breadcrumbs and enjoy.

Quick and Healthy: Green Sushi Salad

January has been our month of regrouping around these parts. I've purged years of files out of the office, We've pared down the books at home (high school Cliff's Notes to Macbeth? Really, Helen?). I've even been reorganizing the kids' art supplies. Good times. This cleansing has even extended to the cooking we do. I've promised myself to incorporate a little more vegan cooking into my repertoire, a raw dish here or there. We've enjoyed a delicous raw carrot, cabbage and beet salad recently.

Last night, I tried a recipe for a kind of suhi-as-a-salad dish I've been drooling over at Green Kitchen Stories. Actually, I drool over pretty much everything on this blog, but this was one recipe that didn't take hours to make. And that it can be made as a composed salad and involves toasted seaweed pretty much guarantees a family hit. Bright, crunchy, gingery and just the thing for a light dinner that's heavy on superfoods.

And beautiful, yes?
photo: 2010, Green Kitchen Stories

Green Sushi Salad (adapted from Green Kitchen Stories here)

This serves 4 but is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd.

Marinated tofu (marinade recipe below).
Steamed brown rice (I used 1.5 cups of uncooked rice and had plenty left over)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil

1 large broccoli, chopped into bite size pieces
2 avocados, cubed
12 mushrooms, quartered (shiitake would be awesome; I only had button and still yummy), cut in quarters
1 handful sugarsnap peas
1/2 cucumber, cut into sticks
8 sheets nori seaweed
1 handful roasted sesame seeds
1 handful cilantro

Tofu Marinade
300 g tofu
5 tbsp sesame oil
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 red chili
2-inch (6 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and minced


1. Begin by marinading the tofu and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the salad. Drain and dry the tofu and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and add the tofu. Make sure the marinade covers all of the tofu. Put in the fridge for 1-2 hours (HS - I did not have time t do this but the tofu was still delicious!).

2. Steam the brown rice. When cooked, stir in the rice vinegar and sesame oil.

3. Steam the broccoli, peas and mushrooms to crisp-tender (I did each veggie separately).

4. Toast the nori sheets briefly over an open flame (I use the burner on my gas stove). Alternately, you can use the nori sold as seaweed snacks which is toasted and lightly flavored and skip this step. Cut or tear the nori into bite-sized pieces.

5. Divide the rice into 4 large bowls and top it with all the vegetables and tofu. Drizzle the rest of the tofu marinade over the salad, top it with sesame seeds and cilantro and serve it with soy sauce and chilis on the side.

 Note: for the kids, I left it as a composed salad, i.e. I kept everything separate which seems to make them like it more. Whatever, they ate it with gusto!


Post Post Post Christmas Post.

Though technically, the holidays are long gone, the winter has really only started around these parts. The days are calling for indoor inspiration. And we had a chance to do some pretty fun things that I'd love to share in case you are looking for a little incentive to shake up the daily routine.

Thanks to the wildly popular advent calendar, there was a lot of making in our house in December (some will argue too much making...) and there were constant project piles on every available surface. Particularly around the sewing machine and oven. What was so great this year was how much more the making involved the whole family. It's hard - it's sometimes a drag, really - to have to plan something every day for a month and come home from a long day of work and school and find the energy to do things besides curl up on the couch and read books together. But it is clearly shaping the kids' perspective of what Christmas and holidays are all about and the focus is on other people and doing things. I have to repeat this to myself often to remember why the hell we do things so much the hard way sometimes. It pays back. 

 We received a gorgeous box of citrus for our fruit share in December. Much of the clementine and orange rinds were made into candied citrus peel.

 Of course, gingerbread men were on the menu.

 The solstice was celebrated over two days in our house, the first night was at a neighborhood solstice bonfire and the second was a candlelight dress-up dinner at home. We donned our finest and tried to keep K from blowing out the candles the entire time.

I had helpful reminders whenever I tried to slack off on advent activities.
Yes, we remembered the popcorn string. After the tree came down in January, the popcorn and cranberries were taken outside for bird food.
 Another surprising hit activity in our house was the making of wrapping paper and cards. This went on all night. We had enough wrapping paper to wrap six families' worth of gifts.

The cookie and candy-making was in full force this year. The 2011 roster included:
These peppermint-coconut lip balms were made for M's preschool teachers. Making the balm and whipping up a few hand-stamped labels took less than one hour for a beautiful gift he was incredibly proud to give. This great idea comes courtesy of SouleMama.
 My biggest project was to make a pile of recycled sweater mittens (I took a class with this terrific lady to jump start my making and it was worth every penny, but you can find her free tutorial for the mittens right here). The ones above are a father-son pair for J and M. These are easy but not-so-fast when you are a beginner sewer like me. Also, you can end up with kattywompus mittens that you wind up giving anyway because they took you so damn long to make. I'm all for wabi-sabi gifting.