Best Vegan & Gluten-Free Baked Mac & Cheese Ever!

When you're vegan, you expect to face certain challenges in your life. And they're pretty easy to identify: how to get enough protein, how to dine out, how to navigate a dinner party or backyard BBQ and, of course, how to explain to your mother that you will not, in fact, wither away into nothingness because there are no animal products in your diet. Ok, so maybe we don't all face every single one of those challenges, but I know I have some stories about a few of them and whether you're vegan, vegetarian or just veg-curious, I'm sure you do as well.

For many years, I've gone about my merry vegan way with nary a thought to other possible food-related issues. Until now. Recently, I've been suffering from some symptoms that seemed random until I talked with my best friend about them in depth. She asked if I'd ever been tested for Celiac disease - you know, a wheat/gluten allergy. I haven't. I never even considered that some of my troubles could possibly be related to gluten. After doing a little homework on the matter and counting up the symptoms, I decided I should investigate further.

I scheduled an appointment with my favorite medical professional, which I suggest anyone do anytime they think they have a health problem or condition. But the appointment is not until next week, so in the meantime, I decided to do a little experiment: go gluten-free and see what happens.

Today is Day 4. I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty details about my symptoms and how I feel today, but I do want to let you in on a little secret I've learned. Gluten-free meals don't have to suck. There, I said it. It's out there. Now I have to prove it to you, right?

That's where this recipe comes in. This is the first in what I hope will be a pretty good series of gluten-free vegan masterpieces. Of course, you can modify this recipe to make it all gluten-full but it's delicious this way as well. Promise. Just look at it. Isn't it gorgeous?



Best Vegan & Gluten-Free Baked Mac & Cheese
Yield: 4 servings

8oz Trader Joe's Brown Rice Fusilli pasta (or any pasta type/shape of your choice)
2 Tbsp Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
1/4 c chickpea flour (or any GF flour of your choice)
1 3/4 c boiling water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp gluten-free tamari (I used San-J brand)
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional, but I love it)
1/2 tsp dried granulated garlic
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 Tbsp arrowroot powder (or 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp water)
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 c nutritional yeast flakes (the large ones)
Add-ons (optional): wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, green bell peppers

Cook pasta for approx 6-7 minutes until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a baking dish.

In a small saucepan, melt Earth Balance and add flour. Whisk until combined and cook for one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of boiling water and whisk to combine. Continue to add the water a little at a time, whisking to ensure that your flour mixture doesn't get too lumpy. A few lumps and bumps are not going to cause a problem, so don't go too crazy here.

Add salt, pepper, tamari, garlic, tumeric and paprika. Whisk to combine and increase heat to medium. Whisk in arrowroot powder. Cook 1-2 minutes until sauce begins to thicken to the consistency of pudding. Add nutritional yeast flakes and olive oil, and whisk to combine. Remove from heat.

Pile your cooked pasta into your baking dish and pour over half of the sauce. Use a spoon to mix, making sure that all of the noodlage is coated in sauce. Pour the remaining sauce mixture over the top of the pasta.

Bake 20 minutes, and then broil 3-4 minutes to brown the top. Allow to cool about 10 minutes prior to digging in to avoid melting your mouth.

If you're not into the gluten-free thing, you can substitute wheat pasta for the fusilli, whole wheat flour for chickpea flour and soy sauce for the tamari. Just use the same amounts and your results will be shockingly similar and equally delicious!

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Easy like Sunday morning: Cinnamon Apple Butter Swirl Coffee Cake

This morning, like many Sunday mornings, I woke up with a fierce sweet tooth. I had spent the previous night dreaming of sugar plums and ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls with dense, sticky icing. You know the dreams. The kind that have you tossing and turning and smacking your lips in your sleep. Well, upon waking, you can imagine my disappointment to learn that there were in fact no ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls nor dense, sticky icing to be had.

I wished briefly for a cinnamon roll delivery service in my neighborhood, but before I could allow my train of thought to be derailed into business plans, I needed to satisfy that wicked sweet tooth.

I love cinnamon rolls, but they are time consuming. In fact, they are best prepared the night before, so that the dough can rise overnight and create that stretchy, chewy texture that makes them, well, cinnamon rolls. In my opinion, there's just no point in half-assing it. So, cinnamon rolls out of the question, I turned my sights on the ol' brunch standby: coffee cake.

Coffee cake is quick, easy and oh-so-deeeelish. It's also a great way to creatively use random ingredients in your kitchen, by mixing and matching things for different variations on the basic recipe. Fresh raspberries and chocolate chips? Dried blueberries and crystallized ginger pieces? Jam swirl? Use your imagination, but rest assured that the cake gods will always smile on you as long as you follow the basic recipe and your best creative figure-it-out-ness to make it your own.

Something sweet and cinnamon-y was a must for my morning bake session, that much was certain. So, I rummaged through my pantry and fridge and assembled the following: ground cinnamon, brown sugar, homemade apple butter and cocoa powder. Sounds like a good start, huh? I thought so.



Basic Coffee Cake
Yield: 9 servings

Cake
3/4 cup plain soy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 mashed bananas or 1/2 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Add-ons for Cinnamon Apple Butter Swirl version:
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2-3/4 cup apple butter

Topping
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
4 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks (or other vegan margarine)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8-9 inch square pan with oil. In a measuring cup, stir apple cider vinegar into soy milk and set aside.

Prepare the cake batter: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add sugar, bananas/applesauce, vanilla extract and soy milk mixture. Stir until just combined but don't overwork.

Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Cut in Earth Balance in small chunks and mix in with a fork or your fingers until the mixture is nice and crumbly.

Pour the cake batter into your oiled pan and spread flat with the back of a spoon. Dot the batter with spoonfuls of apple butter randomly until you've added it all. Using the tip of the spoon, stir the apple butter around to mix slightly with the cake batter. Pour crumb topping over the apple butter and pat down slightly.

Bake 40 minutes and allow to cool quite a bit before slicing. (Some folks say that a coffee cake must reach room temp before serving, but who the hell can wait that long when it smells SO good?)

This coffee cake is fantastic served as-is, and it's pretty sweet. However, if you're really gung-ho to add some ooey-gooeyness to your morning meal, there's a little something extra you can do while your cake is cooling off. Mix up a batch of vegan cream cheese frosting, just like they slather on those disgustingly sweet cinnamon rolls.

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: More than enough for one coffee cake :)

4 oz vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

Combine first three ingredients in a small mixing bowl and go to it with a hand mixer, adding powdered sugar a little at a time. You may not need to use all of it or if you have a really killer sweet tooth, you may wish to add more. Spread on top of entire coffee cake before slicing or frost each piece individually (since some people like more frosting than others). Enjoy!

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Meatless Monday: Verdant Eats in the spotlight again!

This week's edition of the Eater's Digest, the e-mail newsletter of the Meatless Monday campaign, features another recipe by yours truly. I couldn't be prouder to be featured, especially since this week's recipe selections all feature two of my favorite soy products: tofu and tempeh!



My Mock Tuna Salad in Boy Choy Boats is included in this week's Meatless Monday recipe picks, featuring tempeh in a pretty common application, but with my own special twist, adding Liquid Smoke and dried tomatoes for a depth of flavor your mom's tempeh salad probably doesn't have. (No offense, mom! And, dear readers, if your mom makes tempeh salad for you, give her a hug, would ya?)

I first featured the recipe here on Verdant Eats back in November as part of a Leftover Gourmet spot, but this is a simple, easy-to-prepare salad that is a great lunch, snack, dinner side dish or even sandwich filler.

Mock Tuna Salad in Bok Choy Boats
Yield: 1 main dish or 2 side/snack servings

1 cup cooked basmati rice
1 3-inch square tempeh, crumbled
2 Tbsp Nasoya Nayonaise or other vegan mayo
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp pickle relish (or more, if desired)
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp turmeric
3-4 drops Liquid Smoke
Sea salt and pepper to taste
3-4 sliced dried tomatoes, crushed (or sun-dried tomatoes, drained of oil)
4-5 basil leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp dried basil)
2 large pieces of boy choy

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a fork. Don’t mash! Just stir until you get a uniform mixture. With a spoon, pile your tempeh mix into the wide “bowl” of the boy choy and serve it up!

So, why tempeh?

Today kicks off an event dubbed the "T & T Challenge" by creator Kim O'Donnel. She's encouraging people to experiment with tofu and tempeh, especially if you've never done so in the past or have been wary of these ingredients. Kim recognizes that many people are uncomfortable, afraid, or just plain flabbergasted by T&T, and she's hoping her challenge will help people learn about new ways to incorporate these healthy proteins into their existing diets.

I'm right there with Kim on this one, because the #1 question my friends and readers pose to me is, "What the heck do I do with this tofu I bought?" It took me a while to learn my way around a block of tofu myself, so, friends, I sympathize with you. Lucky for you, Kim's blogging in-depth about tofu and tempeh as part of her challenge, and sharing all kinds of tips and tricks to make successful dishes--the first time around. You can read all about her T & T Challenge and following along with her as the challenge continues. I know I'll be reading!

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