I have a confession... I don’t mean to sound arrogant or be boastful, but I know my way around the kitchen. I’ve been “classically trained in the culinary arts”, so it’s not very often that this type of thing happens to me. But every now and again, I have a moment so unbelievably ridiculous that I have to doubt my own abilities as a chef. I was reminded of such an event just yesterday.
It was late yesterday evening and I was searching for something [already] cold to drink (I can’t be bothered to make ice or fill the ice trays—a quality you would think would prompt me to get an ice maker, but the twenty five dollars extra seemed extravagant, which is funny in and of itself because I had just paid about 12 dollars for some salt, go figure..anyways…). In the midst of my search for refreshment and instant gratification, I happened upon a white Corning Ware casserole dish, the contents of which I only vaguely remembered until I peered inside. It was the vegan mac and cheese I had made, or correction...attempted to make, a few weeks prior. That’s right, a few weeks prior—yet another thing I can’t be bothered to do…clean out the refrigerator with consistency. ( Perhaps I should hire a maid and then she can clean out the refrigerator erasing my culinary mishaps, forgotten produce, and poorly chosen micro-brews and keep me in the way of ice and clean dishes…)
So..it was supposed to be a thing of beauty—the mac and cheese I mean, and it was on track to be such, until the mishap. Ahh… the mishap. I think we should start at the beginning of the macaroni mess for you to fully appreciate the pricelessness of the outcome. One dreary, cold day a few weeks back I was convinced Fall was upon me and I decided to make macaroni and cheese to celebrate--not just any mac and cheese though, my favorite mac and cheese. The kind of mac and cheese that starts out with a dreamy bechamel sauce and ends up in a casserole dish full of cheesey-bubbly goodness topped with crunchy herbaceous breadcrumbs. There was just one problem…the recipe was for traditionally made mac and I was unconventionally vegan at the time. What’s a girl to do? Well…this girl decided to veganize the recipe.
It started out with a trip to Whole Foods which ended in a $45 tab (this is just an estimate because all of my “I’m just running in for a couple things” ventures into Whole Foods seem to cost upwards of $45). I cleaned out the vegan dairy department taking with me: 2 types of block cheese, plain unsweetened soymilk, plain soy cream, tofutti sour cream, and Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, not missing a pass at the bakery for some artisan pasta and fresh bread crumbs. On second thought it was probably more than $45 dollars… So, ingredients in tow I set off for my kitchen and prepared to build the ultimate vegan mac.
I started with the béchamel sauce…cooking the flour with the margarine, whisking in the milk until it was all incorporated and creamy. Then I added the "cheese", which by the way had to be grated. By hand. On a box grater. [ I’m not sure how many of you have actually attempted to grate vegan cheese on a box grater before, but the texture is all wrong for such an activity and requires a lot of patience (something I am not known for) and attention (another thing I’m not exactly known for). It took roughly a half hour, the grating I mean.] So in goes the cheese, a small amount at time, whisking furiously to incorporate it into the sauce. Vegan cheese is not known for its melting qualities and attempting to do so is on par with trying to dissolve honey in a glass of ice water, but somehow I managed to coax a block of vegan cheddar and a block of vegan jack cheese into the hot molten lava that was below me. It was very much an intenstive labor of love and desperation. You see up until that point every vegan mac I had had, tasted as such—blatantly vegan, barely passable for cheese, not at all creamy and luxurious, reeking of nutritional yeast and carrying the unpleasant fluorescent yellow hue of turmeric added too hastily and in too large a quantity. I was at the end of my rope.
Back the story..after I convinced the cheese to make friends with lava, I added a little Tofutti sour cream (for body and sharpness) along with some seasonings---a little salt, a dash of mustard powder, and fresh cracked black pepper. After about 30 minutes of vigorous sauce making, a few second-degree wrist burns from over-zealous lava bubbles, and stirring so much I could skip my upper body work-out and not feel guily, I tasted. It was surprisingly good. "Wow, this is good!" I exclaimed with glee even though I was alone in the kitchen and the only one there to possibly hear me was a basil plant I forget to water on a regular basis, which I'm sure ignored me, as I do it, just out of spite. At any rate I had created the near impossible and improbably--a cheese sauce completely passable for the real thing. Thick, creamy, sharp and no trace of nutritional yeast or the strange yellow cast of tumeric. It was just the white cheese sauce I was after. Success! Sweet success! I was so excited. So excited in fact, that I dumped the whole pot of sauce into the pasta pot which I had set to boil at the midpoint in my sauce making—before draining the pasta. Before. Draining. The. Pasta!
When I do it. I really do it big. Well over thirty painstaking minutes erecting the perfect vegan cheese sauce to destroy it with a pasta pot full of water! And it was perfect. It could probably do on its own as a fondue with some bread. It was that good, and that’s saying a lot coming from me because I don’t take cheese lightly. I normally just forgo the vegan cheese altogether because of the ultimate disappointment and insult it poses to real cheese. Nevertheless I carried on with the recipe, hoping all was not lost. I piled it into the casserole dish I had rubbed with garlic and margarine, topped it the entire mess with the fresh artisanly-made breadcrumbs, dotting the top with some leftover Maitre d’hotel butter I had from an earlier meal and set it in the oven to bake, wishing and hoping it would recompose itself as the dish it was meant to be. Long story long, it did not. We ate it anyway because at that point I had invested well over $50 dollars into the project and I’d say a good hour and half of time, energy and effort and I was damned if it was going in the garbage. Truth be told, the end result wasn’t half bad and was still edible for the most part. It just wasn’t the glorious masterpiece I had composed or envisioned. So the recipe for the intended end product follows. My vegan readers will be pleased I think…three days into my conversion and given the opportunity to post a mac and cheese recipe, it ends up being a tasty vegan one :-) All hope isn’t lost on me yet! Lol
A word of caution though: don’t get so excited with the sauce that you dump it right into the pasta water. It’s heartbreaking, still edible, but heartbreaking. :-)
Vegan Mac and Cheese:
kosher salt and olive oil for pasta water
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1lb elbow macaroni
1 quart plain unsweetened soymilk
8 tablespoons vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1/2 cup flour
1 block vegan cheddar style cheese, grated
1 block vegan Monterey Jack style cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 cup soy sour cream, such as Tofutti Better than Sour Cream
a few cloves of garlic, cut in half
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs
3 tbsp. Maitre d'hotel butter (see recipe index), melted
Preheat oven to 375F . Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for macaroni. Add macaroni and a small amount of olive oil and proceed to cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well, do not rinse.
Meanwhile, heat the soymilk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; do not allow it to boil. Melt 6 tablespoons of vegan margarine in another large saucepan. Add the flour to the melted margarine and whisk to incorporate. Whisk warm milk into flour-margarine mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking continuously, until thickened and smooth. Reduce heat to very low and whisk cheeses in a small amount at a time, making sure each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next. Season with 2 tablespoons of salt (or to taste), pepper, nutmeg and mustard powder, whisking to completely incorporate. Fold in sour cream. Add drained macaroni and stir well. Rub a 3-quart casserole dish with cut garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons margarine. Pour macaroni in casserole dish. Combine melted Maitre d'hotel butter with breadcrumbs, and sprinkle them evenly over the top. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are browned.
Serves about 8.