Mac & Cheese: the Omega

I know; I know: this is the quickest turn-around from the VV you’ve seen yet. I promise it’s not premature posting; I just thought I owed you after that, you know, embarrassing performance with the Vurgers. I know you keep telling me that it happens to all new vegetarian cooks, but I’m a little embarrassed, nonetheless.

So how do I make up for those ramshackle burgers? The best, most awesomest, pants-wettingest, life-changingest, revelatory mouthgasm that ever involved the words ‘mac’ and ‘cheese’. Flavor aside, it’s goddamn healthy too. Boom. So hopefully any Debbie Doubters resulting from the Veggie Burgers are now Acolyte Annies. Remember: the Virgin reserves his right to any and all hyperbole and salesmanship. Truthfully, though, this meal sometimes feeds me 2-3 times a week, freezes great, and always hits the spot. It’s probably a little high in protein and sodium–not to mention more caloric in the outlined portions for people who are on a strict weight-loss diet–so if you’re really concerned, eat it before or after a hard workout.

Ingredients:

1lb. Pasta Barilla Plus (I like the elbows or rotini.)

8oz. fat free shredded mozzarella cheese

8oz. fat free shredded cheddar cheese

5oz. reduced fat bleu cheese (feta also works, but bleu is the best for kicking up the flavor)

12oz. broccoli and cauliflower, steamed (I use the microwave steam bags because, well, why not? They’re easy, fast, and maintain nutrients more reliably; plus they free up a burner.)

8oz. white mushrooms, sliced

1/4-cup butter or butter substitute (Brummel & Brown was listed here before, but if you consult the comments below you’ll see why it was taken out.)

2 tbs. all-purpose flour

2-cups skim milk

Not pictured: black pepper

1 tbs. hot sauce

1/2-tbs. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2-tbs. cumin

1 tbs. ancho chili powder

1 tbs. cayenne pepper

1.5 tbs. paprika

1/3-vegetable bouillon cube, grated (at some point in the future, I’ll show you how to make your own)

(garlic) salt & pepper to taste

. . . feel free to include the kitchen sink, if you want.

Makes 5-6 servings if main dish, a helluva lot if a side.

Boil the pasta. Strain and set aside.

Using the flour and butter, make a rue (check out my Mushroom’s Cream Soup for guidance, since it’s a bitch to write about twice). When the rue is made, add the milk. It helps if the milk is warm so the hot rue isn’t shocked with cold milk, thereby stunting the process a bit; you don’t want it boiling, so a couple minutes in the microwave should do the trick. Now throw in the seasonings and hot sauce. (This is a good time to steam the broccoli and cauliflower, especially if you’re using one of the steam bags.) Once the rue is done—I normally wait for the milk to reach a very slow boil over a medium heat, then drop the heat a little—start adding in the mozzarella and bleu cheeses, about 1/4 of the amount at a time. With a whisk or long fork, keep stirring the mix so the cheeses melt uniformly, also while breaking up and smooshing any remaining clumps of flour-butter. Once all of the cheese is added and melted—making one gooey, cheesey pot of awesomeness—take the cheese sauce off of the heat or drop the burner as low as it can go. Oh, and most importantly, sneak a taste of some and thank me later.

While you’re working your (my, actually) magic with the cheese sauce, coat a shallow, rectangular baking pan—mine looks to be about 11” x 8” x 1.5”—with a non-stick spray. Dump in the pasta, mushrooms, broccoli, and cauliflower and stir it all together. Pour on the cheese sauce and, again, stir the mother. Now sprinkle on the cheddar cheese—but don’t even think of stirring. Jerk. This unassuming sprinkling ends up as a delicious film of melted cheese, and if you want to mess that up then you deserve to die cold and alone. Now here’s a point of disagreement: I’m not one to sprinkle breadcrumbs on top; I don’t need the added crunch. If you’re one of these people, knock your socks off—I recommend Italian breadcrumbs—but if you’re on the fence about it, I say try it first without the crumbs.

Bake for 11-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Dig the hell in.

I promise it tastes better than it looks.

Non-Veg Friendly Factor: 5(trillion-hundred-million). Yea, it’s another typical omnivore dish—eat it. Considering its nutritional profile to gustatory satisfaction ratio, there is nothing not-bitchin’ about this meal. The broccoli and cauliflower add a nice texture without overwhelming—roasted eggplant or peas would work well too; just nothing too crunchy—and the mushrooms are succulent after their time in the oven. Just a warning: this is the type of meal that forces you to unbutton your pants afterward, so I recommend sweatpants or, if it’s a classy function, Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans; you know, the ones with the swan.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Natalie on November 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    This sounds quite tasty, though I’m skeptical of your claims of its healthfulness.

    But, the real thing I wanted to point out: : brummel and brown contains gelatin, and many vegetarians don’t eat gelatin because it frequently comes from processing animal parts like bones, skin, and hooves (and I mean vegetarians, not vegans!). Smart Balance Light and Earth Balance are two good vegan alternatives, but many other margarines are at least veggie (though they may contain whey or lactose).

    Reply

    • Damnit! I just checked the tub and you are absolutely right about the gelatin thing. I’m trying to steer clear of it, so I guess B&B goes on my no-no list. Although I’m heart-broken, thanks for pointing that out. I’m not a huge fan of Smart Balance, so I’ll try the other one first.

      But more importantly: what do you question about the healthfulness? Is it the processed and far-from-organic ingredients?

      Reply

      • Posted by Natalie on November 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

        Uh, the healthfulness doubts comes from the fact that it’s got a lot of salt, carbs, and cheese (albeit fat free) and isn’t really a low calorie dish. I mean, it’s healthier than regular mac and cheese, sure. It sounds delicious, but I’d rather just call it an indulgence and use real cheeses, etc, then eat a smaller portion.

      • Yea, it’s hefty. I’m more of a quantity guy, anyway. I did make the amendment about it being a pre-/ post-workout meal because of the carbs and protein. That being said, the carbs are both complex and piggy back legumes, so it’s not as if you’re consuming the same white pasta that you’d find in a chain Italian restaurant. (I also think carbs have gotten an overly bad rap because of scare diets like Atkins and South Beach. The problem with carbs is more the way the American lifestyle has incorporated them rather than being unequivocally harmful and to be avoided like the plague. A large portion of carbs is necessary sometimes.) And the sodium, well, yea–it does have its fair share of sodium. I admit in “about this veg virgin,” though, that this blog is largely not ‘Whole Foods healthy’–that tit’s more about conventional macronutrition.

        I bought the Smart Balance Light, by the way, and it’s delicious. Thanks again!

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