Mac 'n' Cheese reborn!

WOW! Now that is definitely what I've been missing since I started this diet almost a year ago!

And what, you ask, elicits such a strong reaction from me? This evening I just found a way to make mac 'n' cheese in a way that almost perfectly emulates the mac 'n' cheese I grew up on as a kid. (For comparison, I've put the old and new recipes below.) If you want to talk about my favorite food from childhood, the ultimate comfort food when I feel homesick, or sad, or lonely, or just in need of some good Minnesotan flavor - this was always the recipe I turned to. And it is awful for you! Seriously. I've included the comparison of nutrition information for both recipes below as well - but picture this: velveeta+cream of chicken soup+milk (usually 1-2%)+elbow macaroni. Boom. So delicious and so terribly bad for you!

But I digress. The real point here is that I have found a way to reconnect with tastes I associate with childhood in a way that is both within the diet restrictions and is a LOT healthier than the stuff I actually used to eat. I call this a huge success! This has also been one of my original goals since I started this crazy diet of doom: to find a way to create my family's mac 'n' cheese using ingredients I could eat - because I absolutely refused to believe that I'd have to say goodbye to it forever. Yay for this new recipe then! I proved myself right - HA! [The fact that this recipe makes a mountain of mac 'n' cheese is also a rather wonderful thing - seriously, I could eat this twice a day for a week and a half easily!]

So, without further ado, I give you my new Mac 'n' Cheese recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Pseudo-Vegan Mac 'n' Cheese with Chicken
[Really, I should just call it non-dairy mac 'n' cheese because it's obviously not vegan, but it's so much funnier to say it's pseudo-vegan. (It is now possible that the vegan gods will strike me down in a fit of rage...)]

This recipe is modified from the original shown here. (I tried the original recipe first - and hated it. Maybe I'm just not a savory mac 'n' cheese person - but the garlic and the paprika overpowered and made it taste horrible!)

1 1/2 lbs whole wheat pasta, cooked (I prefer fusilli or rotini, gives it a nice texture)
1 1/2 cups plain soy milk
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups nutritional yeast*
1 Tbsp sea salt
3/4 block firm tofu
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp vegan margarine
3/4 Tbsp sugar or to taste (i.e. not quite the full Tbsp, but if you're a stickler for exact measurements, that's equivalent to 2 1/4 tsp, FYI)
1-1 1/2 tsp basil to taste
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken**

*Note: nutritional yeast does not equal yeast for bread dough and such. It's in the vitamins/nutritional supplements section, not the baking aisle.
**Instructions for making your own shredded chicken (during the process of making chicken soup) are here.

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
1. Blend soy milk, chicken broth, and tofu together. Use a high setting - you want it thoroughly mixed. [I highly recommend cutting the tofu into smaller chunks before putting into the blender.]
2. Add nutritional yeast, salt, oil, margarine. Blend well.
3. Add sugar and basil, blend. Taste the sauce - add more sugar or basil until it tastes good. The sauce should be very runny - not to worry, it'll thicken in the oven.
[Note: the first time you use nutritional yeast, well, it takes a little getting used to, so the sauce may taste "off" to you. Don't add too much sugar or basil, though. If you're unsure what "tastes good," go with my amounts first, and then adjust the next time you make it.]
4. Pour pasta into a 13x9 baking dish - use something that will hold 5 quarts or more! [Mine's a 5-qt metal cake pan] Add chicken and stir around (careful that the pasta doesn't fly out of the pan!) until evenly distributed.
5. Pour sauce evenly over pasta & chicken. Make sure you don't miss the edges and corners of the pasta - you want the whole surface completely covered with sauce.
6. Bake for 15-25 minutes, until top pasta is a little crispy and the sauce has thickened. (Careful not to leave it in until the pasta gets crunchy - no one wants crunchy mac 'n' cheese!)
7. Pause to marvel at just how much mac 'n' cheese you just made - and then serve and eat!

Seriously! Look at the huge amount of mac 'n' cheese you will be faced with when it comes out of the oven!

- I recommend serving with freshly steamed green beans. You could, of course, choose anything you like, but the green beans taste so good with the mac 'n' cheese!
- This saves well in Tupperware in the fridge for about 2 weeks - if you're like me and cook just for yourself. It also freezes well.
- When heating up in the microwave, I suggest putting it in a bowl with a few drops of water, and covering the bowl. I generally put it in for about 1.5-2 minutes. Then stir when it comes out - the water and cover will make sure the microwave doesn't try out the mac 'n' cheese during reheating.

[For comparison, here's my family's old recipe for mac 'n' cheese. Below are some the nutritional breakdowns for each recipe.]

Nina's Family's Mac 'n' Cheese

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
1/4 lb. Velveeta cheese, cubed (~1/2-in cubes)
1/4 cup milk, more if needed (we always used 1%)
1 can cream of chicken soup

1. Cook and drain pasta. Pour back into pan over low heat.
2. Add Velveeta a little at a time, stir until fully melted. [This is a good way to build arm muscles... no joke!]
3. Add milk and soup, stir until thoroughly mixed and heated through. If not creamy enough, add more milk.
4. Serve warm.

Nutrition Facts were calculated using the SparkPeople.com Recipe Calculator for my best attempt at approximating of how much each recipe makes - 25 servings of the Pseudo-Vegan recipe, and 8 servings of my family's recipe.

Nutrition Facts: Pseudo-Vegan Mac 'n' Cheese with Chicken
Based on 25 servings
Calories: 172.1
Total Fat: 3.9 g
Saturated Fat: 1.2 g
[This comes from the chicken mainly.]
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.8 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.7 g
Cholesterol: 6.6 mg
[Again, from the chicken.]
Sodium: 309.7 mg
Potassium: 215.9 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 21.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.1 g
Sugars: 1.0 g
Protein: 12.8 g

Nutrition Facts: Nina's Family's Mac 'n' Cheese
Based on 8 servings
Calories: 229.4
Total Fat: 6.0 g
Saturated Fat: 2.4 g
[This comes from the Velveeta mainly.]
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.8 g
Cholesterol: 13.4 mg
[Probably coming from both the soup and the Velveeta.]
Sodium: 458.1 mg
Potassium: 30.1 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 36.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.5 g
Sugars: 2.3 g
Protein: 9.0 g

[Yeah, I'll let that all speak for itself...]

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