Wacky processed food fact #1: Kraft Mac & Cheese contains food dyes yellow #5 and yellow #6 which have been proven to contribute to hyperactivity in children.
Wacky processed food fact #2: Kraft Mac & Cheese is made from genetically modified wheat.
Wacky processed food fact #3: Kraft Mac & Cheese contains sodium tripolyphosphate, a compound used in food products to retain moisture and prevent spoilage... and also used in commercial detergents, flame retardants, leather tanners, rubber manufacturing and antifreeze.
Wouldn't it be awesome to have the experience of mac & cheese, without all this added nonsense? What if it could also be made without animal products and without gluten at all?
Oh, it can be done. Children and parents - and perhaps even college students! - will rejoice at the ease with which we can prepare super delicious, whole ingredient dinners. Hold the food dye and antifreeze additives, thanks!
I grew up loving my mom's homemade baked macaroni and cheese. We didn't have the boxed version; instead, Momma P would layer elbow macaroni with fresh cheese and milk, then top the whole thing with bread crumbs and bake until it was brilliantly crisped. The way the milk and cheese curdled in between the layers was indescribably yummy. (I will admit: this is probably the thing I miss most not having dairy and gluten in my life.) So, when I set out to recreate a classic baked mac & cheese, I tried to channel a little of her inspiration: and this is what turned out!
The simple baked mac and cheese relies on the heft of cauliflower instead of pasta, and swaps in a glorious mixture of spices, nutritional yeast, non-dairy milk and a little olive oil instead of cheese. Add a little breadcrumb-y crumble on top, and in 20 minutes you have a version of the orange stuff that is not only kid- and grown-up approved, but tremendously more nutritious than any boxed version. The peas are an added bonus: I thought the dish needed some green, as usual.
cauliflower (crumbled into 1/2" pieces and lightly steamed), paprika, Daiya cheese + homemade cheese sauce //
cauliflower, Daiya cheese + homemade cheese sauce //
cauliflower, homemade cheese sauce + Daiya cheese, breadcrumb mixture, green peas
I don't tend to keep breadcrumbs in the house, so when it came time to figure out what to top this puppy with, I got a little creative with the contents of the pantry. I combined a handful of corn flakes (leftover from house guests several months ago) and a handful of Mary's Gone Crackers gluten-free brown rice crackers in the Vitamix. A couple of pulses later, and we had breadcrumbs! Of course, you can use whatever you have on hand, including actual breadcrumbs or other unsweetened cereal.
Between the steaming, sauce mixing, layering and baking, this recipe takes about half an hour total: mix your sauce up while the cauliflower steams, then toss everything in a casserole dish into the oven for 20 minutes to heat through/ melt the cheese.
I'd recommend letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before serving. This will allow the sauce to thicken up a bit and thoroughly coat your cauliflower.
Incidentally, I recently recommended this to a client whose relationship with cauliflower was, well, rocky. (Her tales of mushy cauliflower puree from childhood were pretty rough.) I shared this recipe with her and received a text that read, "I just put a batch of the mac and cheese in the oven. Best cauliflower I've ever had."
My work here is done.
- 1 medium head of cauliflower, washed, stem removed and crumbled into 1/2" pieces
- 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp each, salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup Daiya cheese (or other non-dairy shredded cheese)
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (or creative combination of crackers + cereal, processed to a crumb)
- 1/2 cup green peas, if desired
- 1. Preheat oven to 400F.
- 2. Steam cauliflower for 3-4 minutes in a steamer basket.
- 3. While it steams, combine almond milk, nutritional yeast, olive oil, garlic powder, turmeric, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.
- 4. Remove cauliflower from pot and toss with paprika.
- 5. Layer into a casserole dish (preferably one with at least 4" sides): cauliflower, Daiya, 1/3 of the cheese mixture; repeat 3 times. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of last layer. Add peas if using.
- 6. Transfer to oven and bake ~20 minutes until cheese is melted.
- 7. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.