VegNews Mac and Cheese

I (used to) love my mother’s baked macaroni and cheese. Mainly a staple at family holiday gatherings, it’s pretty much famous amongst my relatives and begged for year-round. Of course as a vegan I’ve had to quit my clamoring for my mother’s classic and find a version for myself. My first efforts to recreate her recipe with all vegan substitutions, including Daiya cheese for the shredded dairy variety, turned out less than stellar. For me, Daiya is better as an accent than a stand-alone cheese. But more on that in a later post. The best recipe I’ve found for this comfort food classic is the VegNews Mac and Cheese recipe. I’ve made this recipe quite a few times now and have come up with my own slight changes in order to achieve the flavor and consistency I desire. My favorite part about this recipe is that it’s pretty inexpensive to make. The raw cashews are the only “odd” ingredient (as in something I don’t typically have in my kitchen) and those are easily found in most stores with a decent bulk bin section. If I only buy the amount I need for the recipe, I pay less than I ever did for any type of cheese in other recipes. I’ve copied the recipe below as I make it, but you can follow the link above for the original version.

What You Need:

* 4 quarts water
* 1 tablespoon sea salt
* 14-16 ounces whole wheat macaroni (some boxes carry different weights, but either works)
* 4 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped
* 2 cups red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
* 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
* 2/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
* 2 cups soymilk, or 1 cup soymilk and 1 cup water
* 1/2-2/3 cup vegan margarine
* 1/2 cup raw cashews
* 2-3 teaspoons sea salt
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
* 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
* 1/2 teaspoon paprika

What You Do:

1. In a large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente. In a colander, drain pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, add shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and soymilk, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft. Be careful to make sure the mixture doesn’t boil over due to the soymilk.
4. In a blender, process the cashews, salt, garlic, margarine, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne. You may need to add a little of the cooking liquid depending on your blender. I find that trying to blend all at once results in a less creamy sauce because the cashews don’t blend enough. Add softened vegetables and cooking liquid to the blender and process until perfectly smooth.
5. In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta and blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Spread mixture into a 9 x 12 casserole dish and dust with paprika. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbling.

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Cosmos Apple Pie (or Taming the Pie, Part II)

For those of you who read my post last week about my struggle to create pastry crust from scratch, you know that I have become determined to conquer homemade pies and other crust-requiring desserts. I wasted no time in trying another recipe from Vegan Pie in the Sky and set about attempting homemade apple pie the very next day.

Before trying for the second time to make pastry crust a close friend rather than an archenemy I was armed with one very crucial weapon: the knowledge that it would all work out. I knew from my prior experience that the dough might be temperamental and I might get frustrated but in the end I would get something that was edible even if it wasn’t all that pretty.

Isa and Terry call the Cosmos Apple Pie the easiest recipe to start with when trying to make pie from scratch. I can’t yet compare it to other full pie recipes but it was certainly easier than the hand pie recipe. I made a few mistakes this first time around but feel confident that my second pie will turn out much better. And the next pie even better, and so on. The biggest issues I had with my pie are that one, my crust burned because I didn’t shield the edges until they were already much too brown. The second was that I sliced my apples too thin and ended up with sort of a chunky applesauce for a filling. If that’s your thing, then you now know the trick to applesauce pie is too thin apples in your filling. But if you’re like me and prefer thicker, almost still crisp apples in your pie, heed my warning: too thick slices are better than too thin. Finally, I was a bit liberal with the cinnamon sugar topping. It made the top of my pie more crunchy than I would have liked. But even with all of that, this pie was still delicious and I’m so proud of the progress I made after just one experience. If I had more people to feed pie I would be baking it all the time just to get really great at it. Unfortunately, I’m the only person eating my baked goods (my roommates are insane, I know) and I’m not quite ready to start packing on the holiday pounds. As soon as I find more willing dessert eaters, you’ll see even more parts to my pastry crust saga.

Fave Vegan Products: Go Max Go

Most people would probably say they were little candy addicts growing up. Kids love candy. This isn’t really a disputed fact. However, when we grow up, our tastes supposedly evolve too. So M&M’s get replaced with squares of dark chocolate or something like that. Not me. For one, I still think dark chocolate is kind of gross. The strongest cravings I had after going vegan weren’t for pizza or burgers. I just wanted some good old-fashioned candy that wasn’t full of gelatin or milk or some other animal by-product. Go Max Go made sure my cravings weren’t left to fester and torture me with nightmares of unattainable sweets. My favorite chocolate candy before going vegan? Milky Way. Go Max Go’s interpretation of this caramel filled treat, the Twilight bar, made me so happy the first time I tried one I stood in one spot in my apartment savoring each bite until it was done.

Go Max Go’s candy bars do not skimp on flavor or texture. To make them last longer I like to cut them into minis and keep them in my freezer. Though of course a little more expensive than their counterparts, I appreciate that this company makes an effort to source their more contentious ingredients in a sustainable and ethical manner. It’s great to enjoy a vegan treat but knowing an effort was made to ensure human rights are addressed as well makes it taste even better. If candy calls for you the way it does me, give Go Max Go a try. Most online vegan retailers can ship them right to your doorstep.

Restaurant Review: Bay Area Edition

Last week I was in the San Francisco Bay Area to see my younger brother off to boot camp. I spent a lot of time watching football and cracking jokes with all of my siblings but I also got the opportunity to visit one of my favorite vegan restaurants (and mourn the ones that were too far away for me to get to).

My favorite place to visit when I head home is a humble place in Oakland’s Jack London Square neighborhood that is skyrocketing in popularity, Souley Vegan. My mother actually introduced me to this restaurant over a year ago after she heard about it from a coworker. The two of us headed there for dinner one evening and started a tradition of regular (maybe obsessive?) visits from that point on. Not every dish is perfect but Souley Vegan constantly improves and implements customer feedback and sometimes that’s more important to me than having everything be flawless the first time I visit.

Though some dishes could use a bit of help, there is one item on Souley Vegan’s menu that I have had an embarrassing number of times and at this point I pretty much refuse to eat anything else, no matter how good it is. That item, is the Portabella Steak sandwich. It is a crunchy, meaty, juicy, messy pile of joy that is consistently delicious and perfect every single time. Let me paint a picture for you, dear reader, in case you find yourself in the Bay Area with not a clue what to eat. The bun, though important to some, is not as important to me. What is important is the mushroom, a huge specimen covered in a lightly fried and impeccably seasoned cornmeal coating. It shines beneath a layer of garlicky sauteed spinach and minimal condiments such. The first bite of this sandwich alone is enough to come back. Add to it many more bites, as well as an array of tasty sides (the homestyle french fries and black-eyed peas stand out), delicious house-made teas and lemonades (the strawberry ginger is sweet, spicy, and utterly delicious) and a laid-back atmosphere and I’m not sure why you’re still reading this if you’re in the Bay Area. Go get that sandwich!

Another favorite of mine, which sadly did not make it into my belly during this trip, is Cinnaholic. Cinnaholic sits directly across from the entrance to UC Berkeley’s campus and serves some of the most delicious cinnamon rolls you could ever hope to have cross your path. The kinds of cinnamon rolls available seems endless due to the mind-boggling amount of frostings and toppings available to choose from. My personal favorite combinations are caramel frosting with almonds and strawberries or classic frosting with chocolate chip cookie dough. (Oh yea, they sell cookies and brownies too). But back to the cinnamon rolls. Cinnaholic also offers specialty rolls that will run you a bit less than choosing your own toppings and a special of the day for only $4. The best thing of all? A student ID will earn you a discount and you don’t have to be a UC Berkeley student. I was pretty upset about not being able to make it to Cinnaholic this trip so that means if you’re in the neighborhood, you have to go eat an extra cinnamon roll just for me.

Cookbook Review: VPITS

Vegan pie. Maybe that sounds as outrageous to you as…humane slaughter, or something equally outrageous. Or maybe you’re in the know and vegan pie is only something you’ve been waiting for all of your life. If you’re in my shoes than maybe vegan pie is something you have never thought to attempt, especially if it involved making your own crust. I’ve made exactly two vegan pies in my vegan baking career. Both were made with store bought crusts. Both will probably pale in comparison to the glories I will be able to produce now that Vegan Pie in the Sky (or VPITS) is in my collection. For an example of those glories, visit my post on strawberry hand pies.

I pre-ordered VPITS in the summer and I’m one of the lucky ones who was able to get my copy before Amazon pushed the date back again. As soon as I received it I did what I do with all of my cookbooks, which is read them cover to cover and then dream delicious dreams. I love the books Isa and Terry create mainly because their thoroughness is nearly unrivaled in my incredibly biased opinion (VCTOTW was my very first vegan cookbook). Each book starts with a tutorial on the skills you will need to successfully bake anything in the following pages. VPITS’s introduction was especially extensive due to the fact that making pie from scratch sends even the most experienced baker scuttling into a corner. But Isa and Terry assure you that (with practice) pie making can be added to the vegan baker’s arsenal. The book is straightforward, clearly written, and well-organized, with tons of gorgeous photos to boot. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, stop slacking and do it now. (Please).

Strawberry Hand Pies!

There are recipes that come together with such ease and grace it makes you wonder why you aren’t competing to become the next Iron Chef. You smile and dance around your kitchen as the flavors meld in your mouth. You put away leftovers (if there are any) with a joy that only comes when you know you have great food to look forward to. And then there’s pie. Pie will make you question why you ever stepped foot into a kitchen. Pie will make you wonder if you were trying to bake with mittens on your hands, that’s how clumsy you will feel. Pie will make you weep. But then, after the lashing pie gives you it will come out of the oven so tender and flaky and full of fabulous flavor that you immediately reopen your application to the nearest culinary school.

The vegan dessert goddesses (also known as Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero) have recently released (as in so recent some people received their copies from pre-orders and some won’t be able to until the end of the month) the third installment in their clever plan to dominate the world one vegan baked treat at a time. Vegan Pie in the Sky (see review here) arrived on my doorstep and I immediately looked to find the recipe that would require the least ingredients. The Strawberry Fields Hand Pies called to me and I set to work.

There was a lot of cursing. There was a small temper tantrum. There was my boyfriend holding a glass of beer to my lips as a small tear formed and fell into what I was attempting to call dough. There was all of that and it may or may not have looked like I got into a bar fight with a bag of flour when I was done. But then these babies came out of my oven

Most of them were misshapen. A couple of them were a tiny bit burnt around the edges. But they were so fantastically delicious that it erased all the pain of the moments before they went into the oven. Pie will make you want to give up but if you hang in there, pie will humble you and reward you with it’s awesomeness.

Curried Lentil Soup with Lemon

If you cook or bake a lot then you know that there are times when recipes just don’t work out. Cookies fall flat, rice burns, tofu stays mushy and flavorless. When you’re cooking for someone besides yourself your lack of success seems to be magnified. My flops in the kitchen make my victories shine brighter, somehow. Vegetarian Times magazine’s Curried Lentil Soup recipe is one of those victories. But it isn’t just the warmth and heartiness of this recipe that makes it one of my favorites. Oh no, VT’s Curried Lentil Soup is fantastic in my book because it got my avowed legume hater boyfriend to (gasp!) eat a heaping serving and go back for more! In fact, he has even requested this recipe be made for his lunches for the week on more than one occasion. The best part of all, anytime he turns up his nose at a bean dish I remind him he did the same with the Curried Lentils and he has no choice but to give it a fair chance. Legumes and leverage? I think that makes this recipe a two-for-one win. My only change to the recipe is sometimes I don’t like buying cilantro for a recipe because I never use all of it and it goes bad, so this recipe is just as delicious without the cilantro.