Fantastic Friday Five: Perfect popcorn, Vegan Alfredo sauce, and a New kitchen toy!

The Fantastic Friday Five is a weekly series featuring odds and ends from my everyday life – food, running, gardening, home-ownership and more!

CL:  A new post from Harvest Moon Kitchen??!?!  THE SKY IS FALLING.

JG:  No, Chicken Little.  It’s only me, and stop that before you make me feel bad about the fact that I’ve been absent… because guilt is the last reason I want to feel compelled to write on here.  Sheesh.

… I’m back!  Since you’ve seen me last I’ve finished up another successful teaching year, completed my Master’s in Education (woo!!) with an intensive last course, coaxed my garden into growing almost out of control, and nearly clean chopped off the tip of my thumb – (almost) all fun little distractions that shifted my priorities for a while there.  We’ll see what happens now that life has settled down at least a little bit!  And let’s get on to some fantasticness I’ve been enjoying lately…

#1:  Perfect stovetop popcorn

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I am a popcorn fiend.  Well, I’ve got Step 1 down…  :)  I used to make microwave popcorn, back in my pre-enlightened days (ha), and for a while since giving it up I was mostly just buying the AMAZING Little Lad’s brand of pre-popped popcorn from right here in Maine (check out their website here).  Well we have a lovely friend who is always ready with freshly popped stovetop popcorn when she entertains guests, and I naturally wanted to give it a try.  So I tried a few times on my own from her directions, but I seemed to always either burn the popcorn at the bottom of the pot or leave so many unpopped kernels that I nearly cried in mourning.  Then came the fateful day when I ran across THIS POST by Elise of Simply Recipes featuring a time-tested popcorn cooking trick.  Wow, it’s a game-changer.  No more burnt popcorn and always less than five unpopped kernels!  I have found that canola oil (make sure it’s non-GMO if you use it!) works best for me, as coconut oil splatters too much and olive oil smokes a little.  I do not use any butter on the finished popcorn, but I do give it a generous shake of my homemade popcorn seasoning.  A la Little Lad’s, it features lots of nutritional yeast and dried dill, along with my own additions of garlic and onion powders, paprika, and some sea salt.  YUM.  Ok, I may have to go make some when I finish typing this up…

#2:  Vegan Alfredo sauce

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I made this last night and we LOVED it!  It’s an “Alfredo” sauce with steamed cauliflower puree as a base, and with nary a shake of nutritional yeast in sight (in a culinary world full of vegan “cheese” sauces overtaken by the seasoning, this is a welcome change… although I love it on my popcorn, I must say I’m getting tired of its strong flavor in “cheese”).  I served it tossed with brown rice spaghetti and topped with farm-fresh zucchini and tomato and garden-fresh snap peas, scallions, and basil.  Find the recipe HERE on Leslie Durso’s site.  I am going to play with the base recipe and work on my own version, but kudos to Leslie for a wondrously creamy original!  I’m a huge cheese fan, but I have been laying off it almost completely (along with all dairy I’m not buying it at all anymore, just eating it sometimes while out or at get-togethers), and I did not miss it in this sauce.  That is saying  A LOT, coming from me!  The recipe made a fair amount – I only made 8 oz of pasta (half a normal package) because I wasn’t sure of the yield from the original post, but I had PLENTY left over so next time I’ll make a full pound of pasta and have leftovers.  For now, I’ll be adding the extra sauce to anything and everything!  :)

IMG_3553Mmmmmm creamy pasta with fresh veggies… (grumble goes my tummy)

#3:  Vegan and gluten-free fudgy black bean brownies

IMG_3775I made a combination of plain, walnut, and coconut (they were all delish and well-loved!)

These are hands-down my favorite gluten-free brownies I’ve ever made, and they’re full of tasty, healthy legumes to boot!  Double score!  They’re fudgy, chocolatey, and all-around blue ribbon for what I personally like in a brownie (… fudgy, chocolatey, and even a bit gooey).  The recipe hails from the always-delicious, often-nutritious, always beautifully simple Minimalist Baker.  Thank you, Dana!  I wanted something I could make to bring to work in appreciation of the welcome I’ve received this past year at my two schools, and this seemed like the perfect crowd pleaser.  After baking almost 4-dozen brownies for EACH SCHOOL (yes, you read that correctly, those were long nights), I can say with confidence that it most definitely is a keeper recipe, because everyone loved it!  I didn’t tell people what the secret ingredient was until they had tried it, and some people were still weirded out even though they had enjoyed the brownie… what the heck, people?  Well don’t be a weirdo.  Make these brownies!

(NOTE:  I used parchment paper baking cups for easy hand-held transportation from the staff room, but if you don’t have those, go for naked greased muffin tins, because I experimented with using regular baking cups and they stuck like mad!)

IMG_3774One of the batches of 4-dozen (the brownies are stacked 3-high in most places!)

#4:  FOOD PROCESSOR!!

I’ve joined the land of the living!  I bought a food processor!  It has opened the door to many different kinds of sauces – especially nut-based – that were previously beyond the abilities of my blenders (regular and immersion), and for lots of homemade goodies like bars sweetened with dates, nut milks (my first try at almond milk fell a little flat, by no fault of the processor, but I’m ready to try again), and NUT BUTTER!  I’ve tried peanut butter a few times and I just love how FUN it is to make!  Just like Averie of Averie Cooks describes so well HERE, the peanuts go through several distinct phases on their way to a buttery existence, and the transformation is fascinating.  I’m especially excited to start experimenting with flavored nut butters… this may be dangerous territory…  :)

IMG_3560From funky dough ball that threatens to throw the processor off my counter …

IMG_3561… to creamy peanut-buttery goodness.  Oooh baby.

#5:  Garden update – beginning of the harvest!

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My garden has come a long way since you last saw it (and unfortunately so have the surrounding weeds – ugh, I spent almost 5 hours beating them back yesterday), and I’ve started harvesting a few veggies at a time!  This is just the beginning as I can see what seems like a billion green tomatoes biding their time, the cute first formation of heads inside my broccoli plants, many more beans on the way than the ones I picked yesterday in the picture below, and several rows of happily growing carrots.  Add on to that the still-producing peas, ready-when-I-am scallion bunches, ready-to-be-snipped herbs, sporadically-ready beets, one promising-looking cucumber plant, and even more, and I am a happy first-time gardener!  I forgot to take pictures yesterday, and it’s been rainy here today, but I promise some garden photos in the very near future – if only so I can document the progress for myself.  There’s much that I will change next year, and I’ve already learned so much, including how to keep my calm in the face of garden pests.  It goes something like this…

Deep breath.  YOU.  You are coming with me.  Because these are MY veggies.  More deep breaths… and… I GOT THE BASTARD!  YES!  Oh no, I dropped him.  Let’s try this again.

Until next time, veggie lovers!   :)

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