It's been a rough week. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but this much needed week long vacation just couldn't come soon enough. I recently had a death in the family and after days of funeral/wake attendances and seeing my family mourn, I just needed some serious comfort food. Baked macaroni and cheese is my most favorite food in this category. Growing up, I was a big fan of the blue Kraft box and had no clue one could bake mac and cheese. Now I know better than to eat that junk and make a healthier, just as tasty (or tastier - depending on how you look at it) version. Of course, there's no animal based cheese in this meal, but you will easily be fooled and won't even mind that it's not there! And perhaps, you won't get that bogged down, tired feeling one gets after eating dairy. If you do, well, kick back and get comfy and rejoice in knowing that your comfort is not at anyone else's expense.
Note: I used jumbo shell pasta for this recipe, but since the recipe is mainly for the cheese sauce, you can use whatever pasta you want, including the traditional "elbow" mac which you see pictured here or a gluten free pasta. The veggies are also optional and interchangeable. I also found that the sauce alone makes a great cheese dip (not pictured) that can be served hot or cold. So think of it for your next party!
(serves 4 to 6)
1 box jumbo shell pasta
1 medium to large sweet potato
2 - 3 broccoli crowns, chopped (optional)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (optional)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used the Trader Joe's brand, buy Panko, or make your own with toasted bread)
1 3/4 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
1/8 cup water
1 tbsp juice of a lemon
1 tbsp tahini
1 tsp white miso paste
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt (more if you like it saltier)
black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 F and bake the sweet potato. This will take 40 to 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can bake it in a microwave.
In a blender or food processor, combine all of the sauce ingredients and blend well. When the sweet potato is done, scoop out the potato from the skin and add it to the bowl of the food processor. Blend again until the mixture is uniform and smooth. You may need to add a little more almond milk or water if it is too thick. It shouldn't be too runny, but it also shouldn't be a paste, in other words, it should be pourable, but thick.
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the box. In a small sauce pan, add a thin layer of water and steam the broccoli and peas for about 5 - 6 minutes. Drain the liquid and set aside.
Pour a thin layer of the cheese sauce into a 9 x 12 inch casserole dish (or a smaller round one if you are not using stuffing shells). Place the shells into the dish, in one layer, open side up. Put about 1 heaping teaspoon of sauce in each shell, then stuff each shell with some of the broccoli and peas. Pour the remainder of the cheese sauce on top and then top with the bread crumbs. If you are not using shells, just mix the pasta, veggies, and sauce together in the casserole dish.
Cover and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Alternatively, if not using shelled pasta, you could forgo baking and for a "creamier" mac and cheese, heat the dish in a medium sauce pan for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then serve.