My one cheat meal

In the beginning of this project, I specified that there was one very special exception to my year of restaurant abstinence. And that’s this pile of creamy, garlicky, vegan, special goodness:

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It’s not a secret that I do eat meat, and I choose to eat high-quality protein at every opportunity and avoid particularly poor choices. I choose wild-caught over farm-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free when applicable, cage-free, free-range, grass-fed, organic, vegetarian-fed, small-farm-raised, local, wild game, and try not to waste the food I’ve been privileged enough to buy and consume. I choose vegetarian and vegan when the product is just pretty tasty or the protein quality is questionable or low. But this particular macaroni and cheese is served up at a local vegan cafe run by a quirky activist and anarchist and made by he and his staff with love. Really. This pasta always tastes like someone that loves me cooked for me. The cafe even knows my voice on the phone and makes mine gluten-free.

I was thrilled to see this dish on the always-rotating menu at the cafe this week, thinking I’d grab some several times through the week. Tuesday night, I drowned in free shots at a neighborhood bar with a pal I wanted to get to know better, and I woke up Wednesday afternoon with the worst hangover in years. I haven’t been so nauseated and apologetic since I was maybe one day past my ill-spent twenty-third birthday at a Russian bar with homemade horseradish-infused vodka.

Wednesday I just tried to pack in the nutrients: two vitamins instead of one, a supplement, a big glass of water (sipped, slowly), and breakfast on the bathroom floor. Pumpkin soup was the only thing I remotely thought I could choke down, but that sugar really fought me. I won, and was able to get up in time to get to the cafe and grab the macaroni and cheese. Excellent. Comfort food. The supreme, ultimate comfort food in my life.

I picked up my pal after picking up my food, and we shared the special treat. But instead of enjoying the creamy goodness all on its own, I stopped to reheat our portions. Something about this dish just doesn’t reheat in the microwave very well, and I was a little disappointed that I’d sort of sucked all of the creaminess out of the food and was left with a sticky, blander version. Plus, I gave her most of the delicious kale when I split the portions up. Oops.

Throughout the rest of the week, I had a hard time finding enough time to make it to the cafe, and ended up missing my chance on getting more macaroni. ‘Til next time, love of my life.

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Steak, macaroni and cheese, and avocado pudding

Macaroni and cheese is, without a doubt, by a long shot, my favorite food. If I wasn’t a responsible adult, I’d eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. I might even marry it, yes.

I like macaroni and cheese more than I like most people.

So when I invited a friend over at the last minute, just an hour before she was set to arrive for dinner, I had to think fast. I pulled a recipe for the mac and cheese I’d really been craving the past few weeks from the Better Homes and Gardens gluten-free magazine special edition, and ran with it. The only thing I changed was the Beau Monde seasoning. I had no idea what the hell that was, so I googled it and threw in the tiniest little pinches of cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, celery seed, white pepper, black pepper, and ground up a little corner of a bay leaf to add. It turned out just fine with what I had. Over the top, I grated some smoked gruyere, and would incorporate that straight into the sauce next time. I added all of the cheese to the sauce slowly, to give it a chance to melt rather than clump up.

(Recipes in photo form below.)

The avocado pudding only happened because I stumbled on the recipe as I searched for the macaroni and cheese recipe in the same magazine, and noticed that I happened to have all of the ingredients. Chocolate pudding made from avocados? No way! I had to try it. I love avocados, but this was one use I hadn’t imagined. Of course, I used avocado milk in both recipes instead of cattle milk.

I briefly tried mashing the pudding with a fork to save myself the trouble of washing the blender later, but couldn’t get the avocado to blend and smooth out like “real” pudding that way. Trust me: just use the stupid blender. It wasn’t hard to wash a few days later.

Results? The pudding was so mousse-like, and so decadent and rich that I couldn’t eat more than a few spoonfuls without feeling the sugar rush over me and the urge to stop eating such a lovely, fatty desert. The substance that the avocado provided was so wonderful, I can’t even imagine what non-veggie item might take its place in an alternate recipe. It even kept for two days in the fridge without getting that stupid “skin” over the top of it, as some boxed recipes may do.

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What I learned from this meal was that sometimes, just following the damn recipe is enough. Sometimes other peoples’ ideas were great to start out with, and messing with them is totally unnecessary. I’d make both of these things again just as they were, but I think tweaking the macaroni and cheese recipe over the coming year will be fun and challenging for me.