Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

Post Punk Kitchen recently posted their top 100 foodie things of 2011. This recipe from Oh She Glows made the list: Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheeze.

I’m no stranger to vegan cheeze substitutes. Most, well, don’t taste like cheese (except for my beloved Daiya!). I happened to have a butternut squash laying around, though, so I decided to give this one a go.

Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

This recipe made a nice, creamy sauce, and it was tasty – but it didn’t really taste like cheese. It was more like squash and garlic. Still, it made for a good side dish, and fit the bill for warm, winter-time comfort food. I’d probably like it better if it didn’t claim to resemble cheeze. I understand the need for a more whole-foods version of the ol’ mac and cheese recipe, though, so this works.

Note that the recipe makes a TON of sauce, so you will have extra sauce to put on veggies or other things throughout the week. You could almost fill a swimming pool with it.

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

This might be my favorite lasagna ever – and it’s vegan! I know – I’ve been making a lot of “best ever” claims lately, but I’ve really been on a roll in the kitchen. While this recipe is a little bit labor intensive, it’s easy labor – and the end result is beyond worth it.

I made this dish for my family’s Christmas get together in Chicago last week (though it was just vegetarian for them and not vegan, as I couldn’t find Daiya on short notice Christmas eve). It almost didn’t happen; do you have any idea how hard it is to find lasagna noodles at 4pm on Christmas Eve? We had to go to 2 stores, and I got the very last package on the shelf at store #2 (thank you, Target!) It was well worth the search. This lasagna got thumbs-up reviews from even the meat eaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I made it again at home for New Years.

This recipe makes a 9×13″ dish of lasagna – good for 8 serious servings (which in my case means, a freezer full of lasagna!) For the record, it does freeze and reheat very well. If you plan to go that route, let it cool down a bit then portion it out into freezer-safe containers and freeze. You can also make this a day ahead of time and refrigerate it prior to baking, then toss it in the oven when it’s time to make dinner. Just add 5-10 minutes if you’re starting with cold lasagna.

Without further ado, my favorite lasagna recipe of all times:

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 30

Cook Time: 35

Ingredients (8 servings)

Lasagna

  • 1 pkg lasagna noodles (12+ noodles – no-boil are fine)
  • 1 cup pesto – see recipe below
  • 5 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
  • 5 cups grilled or sautéed veggies – choose from zucchini, eggplant, red or green bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, broccoli, or your favorites. My favorite mix: 1 red pepper – diced, 1 zucchini – cut into half moons, and 1 head of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 lb or 1 – 14oz package herbed tofu, firm or extra firm (Italian herbed tofu works great here), pressed and crumbled
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced (8 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz) Daiya mozzarella or other vegan shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara

Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or, replace with additional 1/4 cup walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, scant
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions

This first step is optional, but highly recommended. Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (such as a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts to the dry skillet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing often. Then add the pine nuts and toast an additional 5 minutes. (If using all walnuts, add them all at the start and toast for 10 minutes).

Set toasted nuts aside to cool.

Prep the Veggies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

As you chop up the rest of your veggies, add them to the pan, stirring often. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan and keep on saute-ing.

Continue to saute the veggies while preparing the pesto.

Prep the Pesto

Add the toasted nuts to a food processor.

Add the minced garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until the basil leaves are well blended, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Slowly stream in the olive oil and process until well combined.

Blend in the lemon juice.

Assemble the Lasagna

In a 13×19″ dish, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of marinara.

Place one layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish.

Layer more marinara on top of the noodles.

Then, add the baby spinach over the noodles.

Crumble the tofu on top of the spinach.

Sprinkle a layer of shredded Daiya over the tofu, then add a second layer of noodles.

Coat the noodles with another marinara layer.

Add the veggies to the next layer and top with a generous layer of pesto.

Add the last layer of noodles and coat with remaining marinara.

Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Place 8 dollops of pesto across the top, and add a tomato slice onto each dollop of pesto.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, until the lasagna is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

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Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

The Magic of Pesto

I’ve gone on and on about pesto here on this blog. Ever since I discovered it earlier this year, I’ve been obsessed. It is the star of one of my favorite all-time sandwiches (the veggie pesto panini), and I’ve been known to blob it onto pasta and salads as well. I have even used it as pizza sauce. So good!

In honor of Vegan MoFo, I’ve decided to give my love – pesto – its due diligence. The recipe I use is from the world’s vegan punk rock sweetheart, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, in her cook book Vegan With A Vengeance. You can view the recipe on Google Books, page 132 – Classic Pesto.

Look at that gorgeous basil!

Look at that gorgeous basil!

I make a couple modifications to the recipe. First, I only use 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil instead of 1/2 cup; I use 1/4 cup water for the other part. Next, I mix up the nuts. Sometimes I use walnuts as recommended, but often, I’ll use cashews instead, or mix the two. I’ve also been known to throw some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in there. Lastly, I always use the nutritional yeast (marked as optional in Isa’s recipe). Note that there aren’t any pine nuts in the recipe. It’s nice and easy on the wallet! I don’t miss them one bit.

Pesto in the Food Processor

Pesto in the Food Processor

I’ve never made a batch of this pesto that I didn’t love. It comes together super-quickly and the flavor is out of this world.

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

A Vegan Alfredo Attempt

What do you think of when you think of alfredo sauce? If I had to come up with 3 descriptors, they’d probably be:

  • Creamy
  • Rich
  • Buttery

Traversing through my collection of vegan cookbooks, I’ve managed to pull together some pretty good creamy vegan sauces. But pulling off rich and buttery in a vegan dish? It’s a bit more difficult – especially if you’re trying to do it without the help of vegan margarine or Daiya miracle-cheese.

So when I came across this recipe for Potato Alfredo Pasta, I knew I had to try it. The secret ingredient: potato flakes. (Not the crap-loaded ones of my youth – I was super-excited to read the ingredient list on the Whole Foods 365 brand of instant potatoes. It reads: dehydrated potatoes. End of story. Yes!) Cannellini beans might also be considered a secret ingredient. (Did you know that they’re really just white kidney beans? I did not).

I stuck to the recipe faithfully, opting to use soy milk for the entire liquid portion (instead of half milk/half creamer). This recipe made a TON of sauce – enough for the 4 servings of pasta I made, plus about 1 cup left over.

I had trouble getting the sauce down to the consistency pictured in the original recipe. I added a good half cup extra of soy milk, but it was still very thick (and I ran out of room in my food processor to add any more).

Vegan Potato Alfredo Pasta

Vegan Potato Alfredo Pasta

The real question: did it fool my taste buds into thinking I was eating a dairy-based alfredo?

Hmm. Well, not really. Maybe I’m too close to the last time I ate alfredo (probably within a year), so I remember the flavor too well.

That’s not to say it was bad. It was tasty – definitely flavorful, approaching “rich.” Definitely creamy. Not my favorite sauce on the planet, but certainly a “keeper” in the recipe box.

As I was eating this dish, I was thinking about food expectations. Does this dish have to taste like the pasta alfredo of my youth to give me the same sense of comfort?

I decided that it does not. The key to my food memories with this dish is the ooey, gooey factor. This Potato Alfredo was ooey gooey, and had the familiar comforting factor of pasta, and tasted “Italian.” It made it to the right ballpark, and as such, hit the spot.

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

Broccoli played the supporting role to this dish, and I went a little nuts with the whole vegan cheese theme. I made up a batch of Isa’s Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce from Appetite for Reduction. Nooch-based vegan cheeze sauces are kind of like a rite of passage. You’re just not cool until you have a favorite nooch-cheeze. (Nooch = nutritional yeast). I like this one! Again – I think it’s just the comfort of drenching veggies in an ooey, gooey sauce that brings the love.

Broccoli and Easy Breezy Cheeze Sauce

Broccoli and Easy Breezy Cheeze Sauce

Yeah, it looks like Cheez-Whiz – but that’s not entirely a bad thing. I recall many an afternoon chowing down on tortilla chips and Cheez-Whiz as a kid. Gawd, I don’t even want to imagine the ingredient list on that stuff. Still, good memories.

So, I’d give this dinner 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. Maybe a little closer to 4 stars, but not quite there. I’ll eat the leftovers, and I’ll likely make it again someday.

However, I am still in search of the perfect vegan alfredo sauce. I suspect it is just going to have to include Daiya and Earth Balance. We’ll see.

 

Strange Things in My Fridge

Since I started this whole mission to eat healthy, whole foods, I’ve added a few strange things to my fridge and pantry. Here are a few of my must-haves!

  • Ground flax seed
Flax Seeds (and ground flax seeds)

Flax Seeds (and ground flax seeds)

Ground flax seeds are a great source of healthy plant-based omega-3’s, lignans (antioxidant qualities that help reduce inflammation), and fiber. WebMD states that these tiny little seeds may help fight everything from heart disease to diabetes to breast cancer. They’re one of what I call the “ancient” foods – cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. That’s a long time ago.

Flax seeds need to be ground in order to be useful to us humans. Otherwise, the whole seeds are likely to pass without being digested. I buy my flax seeds whole and grind them in a coffee grinder, then store them in the fridge. They can also be kept in the freezer – but you’ll definitely want to do one or the other, because once they’re ground up, they’ll spoil quickly if left out. They keep for about 3 months in the fridge once they’re ground. Whole, they’ll keep much longer (and can be kept on a shelf if unopened).

Ground Flax Seeds

Ground Flax Seeds

Ground flax seed tastes a bit nutty, and I always add a couple tablespoons to my oatmeal. It’s also a great addition to baked goods – I’ve even put flax seed in my pizza crusts. I used to eat ground flax seed on yogurt, and still add it to smoothies every once in a while. It’s easy to hide in moist dishes like chilis and casseroles, and works well in veggie burgers (or meatballs/meatloaf for you omnivorous types). I pretty much throw flax seed into whatever I think can get away with it! Vegetarians and vegans may also have heard of “flax eggs” – where you whisk together 1 Tbsp ground flax with 3 Tbsp water, then use the mixture as a substitution for 1 egg in baking. It works!

  • Chia seeds
Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are an edible seed that comes from a plant in the mint family. The reasons to eat chia seeds are similar to the reasons to eat ground flax seed; they’re awesome in omega-3’s (even more so than flax seeds, actually) and fiber. In addition, chia seeds can be stored and eaten whole, so they can be stored for a longer period of time without becoming rancid. (Still, I keep mine in the fridge).

Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

They also have an interesting property; they turn into a gel when mixed with water. I’ve seen recipes for homemade athletic energy gels based on chia seeds (such as the energy gel recipe at No Meat Athlete), and they work great in smoothies.

I like to mix chia seeds into my big bowl of greens every day.

  • Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional Yeast (aka catnip for vegetarians/vegans)

AKA, “nooch.” Yes, it’s like catnip for vegetarians/vegans. Nutritional yeast is one of the more popular ingredients in replacing cheese for us non-dairy types. It’s a non-active yeast – a fungus, actually, like edible mushrooms. It’s a plant-based source of B-complex vitamins (often fortified with B12 – the key to why veg people like it, since there are very few food-based ways to get B12 that don’t involve meat). It is also a complete protein.

The taste of nutritional yeast is a cross between cheesy and nutty. I used to mix it into my oatmeal, but it just wasn’t the right fit. I know quite a few popcorn eaters that like to sprinkle it straight onto popcorn. I like to use it in sauces. It goes well with anything rich, creamy, or cheesy. Almost all of the vegan cheese sauce recipes on Food.com list it as an ingredient. That’s how I use my nooch!

Mac & Cheese with Stealth Ninja Squash

The very first time I flipped through the Deceptively Delicious cook book, I knew it was love at first sight. There was not one, but TWO recipes for mac and cheese! Oh, how I love me some cheese. Tonight, I cooked up a batch of Mac and Cheese with Stealth Ninja Butternut Squash. Let’s see how it went, shall we?

First, the ingredients (minus the ones I forgot in the fridge – the milk, the squash puree…):

Mac & Chz ingredients

Please forgive the Blackberry-quality pictures. They are pretty terrible, but my G9 and my 50D were both out of commission with charging batteries, and I figured this was better than whipping out the film beast and spending the evening in the garage darkroom!

Note the organic ingredients 🙂

Mac and cheese sauceI put the pasta on boil and started mixing up the cheesy goodness. I was a little short on cheddar cheese, so my combo was about 3 parts cheddar to 1 part mozzarella. I used low fat cream cheese, though fat free can also be used.

The cheese sauce smelled really good as I mixed it up. It was very thick.

Once the macaroni was done, I drained it and dumped it into the cheese pot.

Stirred it up, and omg who wants?

Mac and cheeseThe verdict: This mac and cheese was delicious and very filling. The sauce was super thick – like, stick-to-your-ribs thick. To get 4 servings out of this recipe as described, the servings seemed a bit small, but the density definitely made up for it. Very filling. I think it might be possible that the serving sizes indicated in the cook book are for kids.

One thing I did differently in this recipe was to add a bit of Nutritional Yeast Flakes. They’re yellow flakes that dissolve into just about anything with very little to no effect on flavor. They’re described as having a nutty, roasted taste, but I don’t really notice them in anything I’ve tried. They give a great nutrition boost, with some high quality protein, and a slew of vitamins (including big doses of the B’s). Why not?

Much like the quesadillas from this cook book, I cannot wait to eat these leftovers! Warm, gooey, cheesy goodness – and successfully stealthy vegetables! A big thumbs-up to Mac and Cheese with Stealth Ninja Butternut Squash.

[recipe-show recipe=mac-cheese-squash]

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