Quatro Vegan Formaggio ~ Vegan Shells & Cheese

I’ll tell you up front that I was so excited about how well, and by well I mean cheesy this dish came out, that I dug right in and finished it all before I remembered the small matter of taking photos. Oops.

Forgive me?

Since the Hubs and I still do the Midnight Tokyo Diner dinner choices, our meal choices are at the mercy of that on any given night, which means some nights we have more not-so-healthy meals than others.

This is one of those nights.

He requested cheesy mac & cheese and I may have gone a little overboard, but here we are.

The truth is that I like to experiment with different vegan foods when they hit the market and well, my most recent haul included several different types of vegan cheese and since my husband LOVES mac & cheese, I knew this request would come, sooner or later.

So when he made his request, I had my marching orders.

Garlicky Vegan Mac & Not Cheese

I LOVE mac & cheese…at least I used to love it.

Then I went vegan and stopped eating cheese and an odd thing happened; I stopped putting cheese on EVERYTHING. And what’s crazier is that I stopped adding a sprinkle of cheese here and there because I no longer craved it. So began a year of experimenting with pizza and mac without using cheese. I tried all the #veganhacks that included using sweet potatoes, Russet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower…all of it. They were okay but none of them made mac & cheese a crave-able dish for me anymore.

Oh, the dismay.

So I did a deep dive into it and there’s a good reason I stopped needing cheese on dishes when I got off animal cheese. In a word, casomorphin. It’s what makes cheese so addictive, but don’t just take my word for it. Wikipedia explains it here.  If you want the TLDR version, here ya go:

Source, Forbes 2017

Once I had that information, I didn’t feel like a bad vegan for disliking most vegan cheese options available to me in Germany and then Romania. So I decided to get creative about it.

Rather than using vegan cheese whenever I got a craving, I would go for other things like tapenade, pesto or romesco because they are flavorful, vegan and way more calorie friendly than any type of cheese, and my primary focus initially was weight loss, so calories mattered too.

Then I discovered a way to make a cheese-like sauce that was still vegan and calorie friendly, and it satisfied my need for mac & cheese, which let’s be honest was really a craving for carbs drenched in sauce…right?

All you need is: plant milk, turmeric (if you find it raw, grate it straight into the sauce), nutritional yeast, garlic granules, smoky paprika, mustard (optional), salt & pepper.

I employ the ‘low & slow’ method, which means it takes about 10 minutes (maybe longer if you’re using a lot of milk) to get the not cheese sauce nice and thick so it’ll stick to your pasta of choice.

Add the nutritional yeast one tablespoon at a time, letting it simmer and dissolve before adding more, and be sure to taste it in between just to make sure it doesn’t get too salty. Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep going until you get the thickness you prefer.

For this particular dish, I kept it pretty simple with pasta, 30 grams of sauteed garlic, and soy pieces. Add not-cheese and stir. If you’re feeling extra, pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to get a little bit of crust on top but it’s totally not necessary because this vegan mac stands on its own.

vegan alternative to mac & cheese

Just a quick note here: turmeric doesn’t just add the color of American cheese to this dish, it also comes with plenty of health benefits that include anti-oxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties, which is a nice change for cheese, don’tcha think?

Let me know if you decide to make your own version…what do you put in it?

Cheesy Vegan Broccoli Mac

During these endless days when one calendar day turns into the next, sometimes you get the urge to enjoy some comfort food. But you’re also an adult which means you have to eat your greens and your veggies.

So, what do you do?

One of my personal favorites is mac & cheese. Now it’s true that I’m not a huge fan of the vegan cheese options currently available to me but I am a huge fan of vegan béchamel sauce with just a pinch of cheese, and it turns out it was just what my mac & cheese dishes were missing to satisfy that craving.

Just like the mac & cheese you used to eat as a child, this dish is easy and (relatively) quick to make.

This was my third or fourth attempt to perfect my béchamel sauce, alternating between Alpro almond and soya milks in search of a slightly higher fat content to get that thick creaminess I was in search of. The unsweetened soya is better than the almond in terms of fat but not necessarily taste, at least to me.

The ingredient list for this dish is pretty simple:

Pasta (I prefer whole wheat, choose what you like)

Broccoli

Mushrooms

Garlic

Soy milk

Nutritional Yeast

Vegan butter (I used olive oil)

Flour

Water

Make the pasta according to the instructions but if you prefer to bake your pasta before you serve it, cook it a minute or two shy if your preferred doneness. Steam the broccoli and set aside.

For the mushrooms you can saute them on a high heat on top of the stove or season them and bake’em until the moisture is gone. The choice is yours since it’s your time, after all.

The sauce is the most time consuming part and if you want it really thick and flavorful, take your time here. Add fat (vegan butter or oil) and flour. I added a few cloves of minced garlic to the oil and let it cook until fragrant before adding the flour. Once the flour and fat mix starts to brown you can go straight for the liquid (water or milk) or you can do like I did and get fancy with it!

Before adding the liquid, I added a teaspoon (or more) of the following: mustard, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and Sriracha. It’ll get good and sizzle-y and then its time to add the liquid. Note: You can alternate water and milk if you need a bigger batch of sauce without all the calories, but if you take it easy on the vegan cheese you’ll find the soy milk is pretty calorie friendly.

Once the liquid is in, keep a steady stir over a low heat, adding vegan cheese and nutritional yeast in alternating spoonfuls. A little bubbling is good but if it’s too much, turn down the heat. Add turmeric for that yellow American cheese color and smoky paprika for that smoky, grown up cheesy flavor!

If you choose, pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, then cool and serve.

With a blackberry & mint margarita!

Cheers and pofta buna and please, pretty please…stay safe!!!

Vegan Mac & Cheese Dinner

I have a well documented love-hate relationship with vegan cheese that, on most days, is more hate than anythings. It’s a variety of factors that include the smell which I know is both odd and hypocritical since I used to love nothing better than a wedge of Camembert (or Brie) in my pre-vegan days. But that’s what it is. The taste is usually pretty good and over the years the vegan cheese market as really stepped up its game. It all depends on what’s available in your area and those of you in places like Berlin, Los Angeles or London probably have a wealth of choices.

Here in Romania I have…three.

Anyway it turns out that I’m one of those people who, without the aide of casomorphin, isn’t a fan of cheese. But it was Tokyo Diner Night once again and the Hubs made a request: mac & cheese.

Oh…what’s a cheese disliking vegan to do?

Improvise, of course!

The rules of this fun game are always the same.

Number one: As long as we have the ingredients, we make it.

Number two: Make it your own.

And that’s just what I did, turned mac & cheese into a creamy vegan mac & cheese dinner with…

Spicy buffalo soy bites!

This part of the recipe is as easy as the Mac. Hydrate the soy in your favorite broth, I had leftover mushroom broth and I added a smashed clove of garlic while it simmered. Add the soy to a hot skillet and turn frequently until the edges start to crisp. Melt vegan butter and your favorite hot sauce, garlic & onion granules and a splash of vinegar and toss the soy. Put in an oven safe dish and set aside.

Just steam or blanch the broccoli for 3 to 5 minutes and set aside.

For the cheese, I consulted an old Welsh Rarebit recipe that I LOVE and used that as inspiration to keep with the spirit of mac & cheese without getting to cheesy about it.

Before we get to the roux, I cooked 30 grams of minced garlic in the skillet and then added the roux.

Start with a roux of vegan butter (in this instance the more fat it has and the less water, the better) and flour. Stir until brown and then add a teaspoon up to a tablespoon of tomato paste and dijon mustard, 1/2 tablespoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce and stir like you mean it. Slowly add a fatty-ish liquid of your choice, I used unsweetened roasted almond milk from Alpro. I love it because it is very low in calories and has a faintly almond taste that doesn’t overpower the dish. It sounds like a shameless plug but it’s not, I just like it best.

Whisk the liquid in slowly until the liquid starts to thicken. If you need to add more, you can alternate between the liquid and water like I did. Or if you’re feeling impatient, use a cornstarch-water mix to thicken it quickly.

Once the liquid starts to thicken, I added about 50 grams of vegan cheese. It was Mediterranean flavored and it had a parm/Romano taste that was really delicious. It was a vegan mac & cheese but…not. It was creamy and yummy and faintly cheesy but the hubs gave it two big thumbs up so…try it maybe?

If you have access to really good melty vegan cheese, use that. But if you want to have the cheesy flavor without the calories too, try this method and you won’t be disappointed.

Toss the pasta, cheese and broccoli together and pop it in a 400F/200C oven for 17-20 minutes and after a brief cooling period, you’re good to  chow down.

What’s your favorite vegan cheese brand? Drop links below…bonus points if they deliver in Europe!

Tasty Vegan Carrot Mac

When it comes to food, I have no problem experimenting. And failing. And trying again.

Call it a quirk or a superpower, just don’t call me a quitter!

My most recent experiment came about because of my dislike of my vegan cheese that I’ve tried (except VioLife slices, those are super tasty) and my desire for something mac & cheesy. I’ve seen quite a few recipes that have carrots in them but they usually combine potatoes or cashews and we all know that I’m not willing to go there…yet. So I thought, why not use only carrots for the “cheese”?

And that’s how this version of Carrot Mac was born.

This was a fairly simple meal with about 6 carrots of varying sizes which I pan cooked but highly recommend that you bite the bullet and boil them because it will save you time and the frustration of having bits of crunchy carrot in your smooth, creamy sauce.

While the carrots are going, add in a sauteed or grilled onion and a whole head of roasted garlic. This is all going into the food processor to make the carrot cheese, just make sure you blend until smooth, adding that carrot water or plain tap water as needed. Just be sure to add it SLOWLY.

I added some tapioca starch and water just before adding the whole wheat spirals in the hopes of creating a thick, almost stringy sauce. It didn’t come out quite that well, but it was super creamy.

Before you start thinking this is in no way a meal, I roasted a small head of cauliflower until the edges were crispy & crunchy and then I stirred it into the carrot mac for heft and nutrients. Let me tell you, it was just what this dish needed.

That, and Sriracha.

You can add other vegan cheese to this if you want, but I opted to sprinkle a bit of ParVeggio on top in lieu of adding more salt.

This is another quick and easy vegan meal that’s perfect when you want something delicious but you don’t want to spend all day in the hot kitchen, especially while it’s 30 degrees Celsius outside!

And if you REALLY want, you can add an ice cold beer to the mix so it doesn’t feel quite so healthy.

Cheesy Vegan Mac & Healthy Leftovers

One of the misconceptions that persists about vegans is that we are SUPER healthy since all we can eat are fruits and vegetables. First of all, I WISH!!! I have worked very hard to lose weight and get healthier but more importantly to stay healthy, but I am a human being with flaws, shortcomings and cravings.

Okay, since I cut out meat and dairy and most sugar I don’t have ‘cravings’ per se but there are times I want something that isn’t totally healthy. Or healthy…at all.

Enter mac & cheese.

Mac & cheese is something we can all relate to whether its memories of eating the crappy box variety as a kid or the fancy, multi-cheese versions served at nice restaurants. In my pre-vegan days I was a mac & cheese-a-holic, researching different types of cheese and their fat properties to see which combination would produce the gooey-est mac in town. Once I said au revoir to dairy, I learned–pretty easily–to live without cheese. Until my husband went all mad scientist in the kitchen this weekend.

This dish will turn the famous vegan stereotype on his head because even though it is still miles better on calories and fat than animal cheese versions, it ain’t pretty.

What he used:

Elbow Mac (white b/c we could find whole wheat)
Vegan pizza cheese (extra melty)
Vegan cream cheese (natural or herb works)
Nutritional yeast
Tofu in salty water (saramura is what they call it in Romania)
Plant butter
Almond milk (unsweetened)

Since I wasn’t in the kitchen but enjoying a cocktail as I finished writing another chapter in my upcoming romance novel, all I can say is that he started with a vegan bechamel sauce and slowly added the cheese and sour cream until it was thick and gooey and ready for the oven. Baked about 20-35 minutes until bubbly & crisp.

Side note: Vegan cheese doesn’t really do bubbly or crisp so do a feel test. If some of the pasta are crispy, it’s ready to come out.

This was a huge calorie bomb, about 800 calories per serving (8 servings total in a 9×13 baking dish) so we decided to let the Mac stand on its own for dinner.

The next day however, we took a few servings to my in-laws because we are on a never ending quest to add healthier food to their diets and of course, more plant based foods. They LOVED it and my mother-in-law refused to believe there wasn’t “real” cheese in it which I considered a total win.

But this brings me to the next topic. Leftovers.

I’m not one to turn my nose up at leftovers (mostly) but I’m not used to them since its just me and the husband, we usually make enough for each of us to have a serving and call it a day. It’s a tool we’ve developed to make sure we’re not constantly overeating and now that we’re both on plant based diets, it makes weight loss super easy.

I’ll bet you’re wondering how on earth could you do anything to improve this ooey-gooey cheesy vegan mac & cheese?

Easy, just add greens!

Kalettes are a cute little hybrid between Brussels sprouts (which I love) and kale (which I do not love).

They were DELICIOUS.

This was a quick & easy way to turn leftovers into a healthier lunch. I sauteed onion & garlic (no oil, just water) and then added the kalettes until they were soft and slightly wilted, then I added some lemon juice to reduce the dark bitterness of the kale. The lemon REALLY helps so if you’re not a fan of one or both of these dark leafy greens, trust me and add it.

It was delicious and easy, and did I mention delicious?

This is a perfect meal to make when you’re in the mood for something that isn’t totally healthy because you can justify it by promising to make something super healthy to go with it for tomorrow’s lunch.