I don’t remember now why or how I came across this recipe. I think I was looking something else up. I explained to the Mister that mac&cheese was never intended to be a quick meal from a box, or even a quick meal. It takes some time. I think he was skeptical, or possibly giving me a hard time. Anyway, I have no problem taking the time to make mac&cheese vegan, because I would want to take the time to make it traditional-style (if I could have it that way). THEN, it was kismet: we were channel surfing this weekend and came across an episode of Cook’s Country in which they tested boxed commercial mac&cheese. The result? Pretty much all disgusting. They sneaked in a sample of homemade mac&cheese for Chris Kimball to sample and you bet it was the winner! except it wasn’t, because they were testing the convenience foods version.
So, if you check this link for vegan mac and cheese you’ll see that these non-vegans were asked to judge a vegan mac&cheese contest. It caused them to be serious about the search for a very excellent version of vegan mac that did not rely on nasty commercial vegan “cheeses.” They came up with a recipe, and when I read it I was intrigued. So it was my Sunday afternoon project.
Because I wanted leftovers, I doubled the recipe. I basically used a whole pound of elbow macaroni and doubled the cheese sauce and panko topping. It all fit nicely into my largest glass casserole dish. I think we might be eating this for three nights.
In addition to doubling the recipe, the other thing I changed a little was the topping. I didn’t use store-bought fried shallots. I sliced up an entire shallot myself and fried it before adding the fresh chopped parsley and thyme.
So basically, here is what I did. First I started to bring a big pot of water to a boil and toasted half my elbows. When the water boiled, I added all the elbows, toasted and untoasted. It came out looking like this:
It looks cool, but I think I’ll skip that next time because it added a step and complicated things a little without adding much to the taste, at least not that I could tell. In fact, in some ways it detracted because some of the elbows got a little too toasted which made them unappealing in the dish–tough and rubbery but not quite crunchy.
While the elbows were toasting and the water was coming to a boil, I prepared the “umami jigger,” which is the shitaki mushroom mixture. I’m not sure what “umami jigger” is supposed to mean, but it grosses me out, quite frankly. Perhaps because it makes me think of chiggers. I think foodies need to work on their ridiculous vocabulary a little bit. But whatever. I sauteed these mushrooms and then poured the soy sauce, white wine vinegar and water mixture over it and set it aside to be added to the cheese sauce later.
I sauteed those in the same pan I toasted the elbows in. So in that sense I made use of the extra pan although I really could have used a smaller pan, the pan I ended up using for the shallots, for example.
The next step was to prepare the “cheese” sauce in a medium-sized pan. I liked the sound of the ingredients: margarine, flour, almond milk, beer, nutritional yeast, the shitake mushrooms. I followed the directions here exactly. While I was preparing it, the elbows were draining in the sink. When the cheese sauce was ready (it didn’t take long to make), I dumped the elbows back into their pot and poured the sauce over them and mixed it all up. I poured it into my largest glass casserole dish.
I sliced the shallots and got them going in their margarine while I chopped up parsley and thyme, which I added at the end, once the shallots were crispy and brown. Then all of that got stirred together with the panko.
Then I spread that mixture all over the top of the mac and “cheese” before popping it into the oven.
After it baked for about 30 minutes…oh, here is another change I made, actually. I covered it with aluminum foil and baked it for 20 minutes, then I removed the foil and let it bake for another 10 minutes, to let the top get browned and toasty. The original recipe doesn’t say anything about foil and I did worry that the top would brown too fast.
It came out looking quite fabulous although you can’t quite tell from this picture:
But honestly, I don’t think it’s the “best.” I thought it was good. I also thought it was a lot of work for something that didn’t come out tasting outstanding, like a real mac and cheese should. I thought the mornay-style sauce I made for my second round of broccoli and pasta was much tastier. Also, I think panko is a bit bland. I think regular breadcrumbs, perhaps a mix of finely ground and crumbly crumbs would be tastier. I may have to carry out some more tests of vegan mac and cheese. I have no doubt that it can be just as tasty as traditional-style mac, if not more so.