My mom was born and raised in Germany. When she married my dad (an American) and moved to the U.S. she had quite a few culture shocks. She often tells stories about her first hamburger (the best one ever!) and eating pizza with her hands (Europeans tend to use forks and knives).
As the first born my mom was introduced to all sorts of “kid food” by her new American friends. When I entered that picky eater phase of around 3 one of her friends recommended Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. “She WILL eat this” she told my concerned mom. “The kids LOVE it!” And love it I did. Who didn’t??? Mac and cheese from the blue box was a staple in our house for a very long time. It was probably the first thing I learned to cook for myself.
Like every packaged pasta product boxed mac and cheese is loaded with artificial dyes, genetically modified ingredients and a bunch of funky preservatives. It has no nutritional value for growing bodies, bones and brains! Don’t worry! I’m not faulting my mom for feeding this to me. She made up for it with loads of other great healthy foods 🙂
I recently splurged on a high speed Blendtec blender. I’ve been eyeing it up for over 2 years now and finally bit the bullet and bought one. So happy I did! Last week my mom came over for a little blending experiment party. (Yes, I know! We’re food nerds!). I had soaked some cashews the night before with the hopes of making cashew cream. It worked out so well. But then I had no idea what the heck to do with the cashew cream. So it sat in my fridge for a few days until I decided to mix it with some leftover pureed butternut squash, nutritional yeast and a few other ingredients I had laying around. What resulted was some damn good mac and cheese!
Now, this recipe is totally dairy free but it still has a nice cheese-like flavor. This comes from the nutritional yeast which adds a cheesy, nutty flavor to sauces, dips and popcorn (it’s soooo good on homemade popcorn!!!). Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast and grown through a fermentation process on beet and molasses. It doesn’t make things rise like activated yeast so don’t use it in baking. You can find it at most health food stores – Bob’s Red Mill and Braggs both produce it. If you are gluten free read the label carefully as some brands are produced in places that also process wheat and other products. Nutritional yeast is a great source of B vitamins which are essential for energy production. But, most importantly….it’s so freaking tasty!!!!
Ok, enough rambling about yeast. It’s certainly not as exciting as this recipe! Don’t be fooled into thinking that the boxed stuff is easier and faster. The sauce doesn’t take long at all and once you have it on hand you just pour it over your pasta and heat. Easy cheesy!
Creamy Mac and Cheesy (dairy free)
1/2 cup cashew cream (recipe below)
1/2 cup pureed butternut squash or pumpkin
1-2 garlic cloves (depends on how much you love garlic)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (check your local health food store)
pinch of cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon turmeric
handful parsley, chopped
salt to taste
water as needed
gluten free pasta or cooked spaghetti squash
To make the cashew cream
- Put 1 cup raw cashews in a medium bowl. Cover with filtered water by 3-4 inches and add a pinch of salt and splash of apple cider vinegar. This soaking process helps soften the cashews and remove the phytic acid, which can inhibit absorption of calcium, iron, zinc and chromium. Soaking make nuts also more digestible and easier on the digestive tracts. Soak the cashews for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To make the mac and cheesy sauce
- Cook pasta according to the package directions
- Strain the cashews and put them in a blender. Add about 1/4 cup of water and blend. Add more water as needed and blend until you get a thick paste. You can also try this in a food processor.
- Once you have you cashew cream add the squash, garlic, nutritional yeast, cayenne, nutmeg, turmeric and a pinch of salt to the blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. You might have to add more water if it’s too thick. Taste and add more salt or nutritional yeast for stronger flavor. Adding a few shots of tamari can also help give it even more depth if you like.
- Voila! You’ve got a creamy cheese sauce! Now just pour some of it over your hot pasta, add the parsley and heat through. Sprinkle on some more nutritional yeast for an extra cheesy flavor. You can store extra sauce in a jar in your fridge for about 4-5 days. Enjoy!