Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 12, 2013

Foodie with Family: Healthy food that tastes good hard to find

Local columnist

---- — Have you ever stumbled on a recipe that made you holler because it was so good? And then you’re shocked to find out that it’s low in calories and fat?

Yeah. No.

Neither had I until just a couple of days ago.

I was chatting with my friend and fellow food blogger, Mary Younkin of Barefeet in the Kitchen. She isn’t really given to hyperbole about recipes. She makes good food and is content to know and share it without promising the moon. She started raving about a recipe she had posted a while back. When she does that, I’m going to listen. She was talking up a creamy cauliflower sauce that she promised was garlicky, thick, rich, and velvety smooth that “didn’t taste like cauliflower”. She said her boys — none of whom love cauliflower — watched her make the sauce, tasted it, and proceeded to inhale a batch even though they weren’t into cauliflower. I was sold enough to try it.

I have to tell you, this is a “shazaam” recipe, friends. It is knock your socks off good. If I hadn’t made it myself, I never would’ve believed it had zero cream in it whatsoever. I would have sworn to you it had a sinful amount, in fact. How is this possible?

It’s really a simple process. Simmer the florets from a whole head of cauliflower until fork tender. While that’s simmering, sauté a generous amount of chopped garlic in a small amount of butter until tender and fragrant. Pop the garlic and butter into your blender and transfer the softened cauliflower in on top with a bit of the cooking liquid. Blitzkrieg it with some salt and pepper until smooth and then prepare to be wowed.

Thankfully, the recipe yields quite a bit, and is very freezer friendly. I say ‘thankfully’ because you’re going to find yourself wanting this just about everywhere. When the sauce is warm, toss it with freshly cooked pasta for a rich, creamy, satisfying pasta dish that is quite literally unbelievably good for you. It’s also mind-bendingly delicious when you spoon the warm sauce over roast or pan-fried pork or chicken. I have designs on pouring it over sausage biscuits, too, when the opportunity presents itself. Dip tortilla chips in it when it’s warm and you’d swear there’s cheese in there.

I ate an entire bag of tortilla chips and a whole jar of warm sauce that way. It was research. It was research. Hang on, though; it makes a great cold chip or vegetable tray dip, too.

If you think you can’t eat all of this up — and you may surprise yourself once you start nibbling — in three or so days, divide it into small, meal-sized servings (a cup will beautifully coat almost a pound of pasta once cooked and drained), label, and freeze for those inevitable moments when you crave it and your car is socked in by snow. Hey. It’s Michigan. It could happen.

Creamy Cauliflower Garlic Sauce

(Recipe adapted very gently from Mary Younkin of Barefeet in the Kitchen)

1 medium to large size head cauliflower, washed and cut into small florets

6 c. water

5-8 cloves of garlic (use 8 if your garlic cloves are small or closer to 5 if they’re quite large)

1 ½ T. butter

1 ½ t. olive oil

1 ¼ t. kosher or sea salt plus a pinch, separated

½ - 1 t. freshly ground black pepper

Additional water, milk, or vegetable stock, if needed

In a stockpot or large saucepan, combine the cauliflower florets and water over high heat. When it reaches boiling, put a lid on the pan and drop the heat to medium low. Simmer for five minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender.

While the cauliflower is simmering, melt the butter and olive oil over medium low heat in a small saucepan and stir in the garlic and the pinch of salt. Cook the garlic, stirring frequently –and lowering the heat if necessary to keep it from browning- until the garlic is tender and smells lovely. Scrape the garlic and butter into a blender carafe. Add one cup of the cauliflower cooking liquid to the butter pan, swirl it, and pour that into the blender, too. Use a slotted spoon to drain the cauliflower and add it to the blender as well. Add the salt and black pepper, put the lid firmly in place, and blend on HIGH until silky smooth. If your blender is quite robust, this will only take a minute or so. If it’s a little anemic, it may take several minutes. If you find the sauce too thick for your liking, you can thin it just a bit with water, milk, or vegetable stock. I like it thicker, though, and so I usually omit this step.

Serve immediately or pour into clean jars with tight fitting lids for storage in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can divide into meal sized portions and freeze for later meals.

Now, since we behaved so virtuously with the main dish, let’s splurge for dessert. I made this Heath Bar Chex Mix a while back too, accidentally doubled the recipe, and ate so much that I felt like a turtle stuck on its back in Pilates class: a very happy turtle.

Heath Bar Crunch Chex Mix

2 c. brown sugar

1 c. butter

1/2 c. light corn syrup

1 t. salt

1 t. vanilla extract

1 t. baking soda

1 box (about 13 c.) rice or corn chex

3 c. salted thin pretzel sticks

1 c. Heath Bar Bit O’ Brickle bits

2 c. milk chocolate chips or chunks

Line two half-sheet pans with silpats, parchment paper or non-stick foil. Preheat oven to 250°.

Combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla and salt in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda. It will foam up big time! Don’t worry, it’s to be expected.

Combine the rice or corn chex and pretzel sticks in a very large mixing bowl. Pour the molten caramel over the goodies in the bowl and stir gently but thoroughly to evenly coat. Split the mixture between the two prepared pans and spread it out evenly. Bake in the oven for one hour, stirring well every 15 minutes. If the mixture is still quite damp in the middle, you may need to bake it another 15-30 minutes, still stirring after every 10 minutes. As soon as it comes out of the oven, stir well but gently once. Sprinkle the bits o’ brickle over the top then the milk chocolate chips. Let it cool on the pan (you may hear it crackling as it cools), break it up, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.