Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Comfort Food Series...Part 1

Comfort Food (noun): food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal  ~Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

I love comfort food. (I know, I know…who doesn’t, right?)

When it’s cold and snowy; rainy and wet or I’m just having a really bad day, comfort food is like a hug for my stomach and my soul, warming me up from the inside out.  One of the biggest challenges in becoming vegan was figuring out how to replicate some of my favorite comfort dishes to match our new lifestyle.  Eating a plant-based diet is great, but when you need a bowl of Mac & Cheese, you need a bowl of Mac & Cheese – not a heaping pile of kale and chickpeas. 

When people hear we are vegan, often their first reaction (okay, their second…the first is ALWAYS “how do you get your protein?” but that’s a different post entirely) is, OMG…but you can’t eat {insert their favorite comfort dish!}

Well, yes, actually we can. It just takes a little creativity in the kitchen…and the help of a few vegan tricks. 
I have a three-year old. And like most kids her age, she’s unsure about veggies; but she sure knows and loves a heaping plate of baked macaroni and cheese. And so do we.  So this became my mission: create the best-tasting, most authentic {vegan} mac and cheese known on the planet.  After many different experiments (some successful, some not-so-much), I struck gold.  A dish that has become known in my circle of friends as “Audrey’s Mac and Cheese”; partially because it’s the dish I always bring for her at family and friend gatherings where food is being served, and partially because it is my secret parenting weapon. I’m not kidding. I can pretty much get her to do anything if I promise to serve it to her for dinner.  And anyone who has raised (or is raising) a pre-schooler knows that is pretty powerful stuff. 

So, weary vegan parents of the world (and those craving a big bowl of comfort), I present the first item in my ‘Comfort Food’ series: “Audrey’s Mac & Cheese”.


Audrey’s Mac & Cheese


1 x 375g box of pasta (penne rigate, fusili or rotini work best)
½ an onion roughly cut into big chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and “smashed” but left whole
2 tablespoons of mustard powder
Pepper to taste (about 6 or 7 turns usually)
2 cups unsweetened plain almond  milk
 (if you can’t get unsweetened just use regular plain – but stay away from any of the flavored ones. If nuts allergies are an issue, then use plain soy milk)
1 8oz package of Daiya shredded vegan cheddar
(this is what makes the difference. I’ve tried EVERY type of vegan cheese in this recipe and Daiya is the closest to that real cheddar taste)
2 tablespoons vegan butter (earth balance or becel vegan)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Optional toppings:
Grated soy Parmesan
Nutritional yeast flakes (adds additional cheesy flavour and a bit of texture)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions; drain, return to pot and set aside.
3. While pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, combine almond milk, onion, garlic, mustard powder and pepper. Heat on medium until milk is steaming (do not let it boil). Remove from heat; cover with a tight-fitting lid and let steep for 10 minutes; strain and set aside.
4. In another large pot, on medium high heat, melt butter. Before butter gets completely melted, add flour;  stir constantly with a wooden spoon to incorporate all flour and create a golden roux. Do not let it brown or bubble away too hard. Switch to a metal or silicone whisk and very slowly add milk in small additions, whisking as you pour. Continue to whisk until liquid thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove milk from heat and whisk in Daiya cheddar shreds, stirring until most of the cheese is incorporated, about 5 minutes. (Daiya doesn’t melt 100% when stirred into liquid so it’s okay if there are a few strands of cheese still in the sauce; they will melt when baked).
6. Pour sauce over cooked pasta and mix until completely coated. Transfer to a 9x9 glass baking dish (or any large casserole dish) and add topping (if using). Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until mac and cheese is bubbling and top is golden.

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