OK — that just sounds gross but I wanted to be precise. It’s not dairy-free or vegan because I use lactose-free milk. I was going to do “cold weather casseroles” a lot sooner but a small injury has slowed me down. I’m back on my feet, sort of, but only enough for quick recipes and this was what I was in the mood for.
One of the dishes I feel most deprived about missing out on now that I know that I have zero tolerance for lactose (even with the pills), is macaroni and cheese. I don’t like any of the boxed, dairy-free mac and cheeses although Annie’s makes an OK frozen one, it still includes some milk protein and is far from delicious.
I was forced to create my own recipe which I share with you here. This is just one variation on a bunch of things you can do once you have the basic white sauce and bottle of dry cooking sherry. The others include my renowned tuna noodle casserole. Stay tuned for that one at a later date!
My Own Best Lactose-Free Mac N Cheese
16 ounces of large shells (one box or bag, usually)
8 ounces of two different kinds of vegan cheeses (see note below)
1 cup lactose-free milk — whole or 2%
2 tablespoons Earth Balance
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dry cooking sherry
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
6 ounces frozen peas and onions (optional)
This is a one pot recipe, unless you decide to get fancy and bake it afterwards with Panko crumbs sprinkled on top (highly recommended and possibly what I will do with my leftovers on day two). It’s also worth mentioning that this would be utterly delicious with real cheese and those of you less sensitive than I am to dairy could use very aged cheeses (which makes them basically lactose free) and/or hard cheeses (ditto) and get an amazing result. I am jealous of you!
Take your largest saucepan (this is mine) and boil big shells (my favorite because they hold more sauce) until just al dente — about one minute less than the box or bag recommends. This is particularly important if you are going to bake this after but it’s also a matter of taste. I don’t like mushy pasta.
Once the shells are draining in the sink, melt those 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance in that same saucepan. Use a reduced heat (assuming you were boiling on high) and add the flour and salt, and blend well. Once this is smooth, slowly mix in the milk. I use a fair amount of salt to balance the extra sweetness of the lactose-free milk. Once the milk is blended with the flour mixture, start adding cheese. The good news about vegan cheese is that since it’s NOT really cheese, you don’t have to grate it. Stir it till it’s all melted and then add sherry and cayenne to taste. (I use sherry in all my white sauces because it reminds me of lobster Newburg which was my favorite food before I could talk.)
At this point, I add about a half a bag of frozen peas and pearl onions because I like the taste and added texture but that is probably too white trash for words. Up to you! I wait till the peas are starting to thaw — about three minutes — toss in the shells and blend well.
About one minute later, dinner is served. Yes, it’s fancier to bake it at this point with some final “cheese” grated over the top and bread crumbs (Panko is even better! Crunchy!), but I’m not supposed to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time and I’m hungry!
“Bon ap” as the French say when they are alone at home (and hate when you say it!)
NOTE on Vegan “Cheese”: It’s not cheese, but you knew that. I use at least two different kinds and flavors to try to create some facsimile of cheese-like taste. Two I like are Vegan Rella cheddar (use it quick — it goes off almost immediately!) and Veggie Slices which never go bad — a la real American Cheese-food slices. Veggie Slices also make a reasonable grilled cheese but most everything is tasty once you grill it, don’t you find?