Kristen’s Colossal Mac-no-Cheese Challenge: dairy free, casein free, soy free, gluten free, eggless, and low fructose

Pasta | March 15, 2010 | By

My friend Kristen applies patient endurance abilities to many aspects of her life, not least being her diet. Kristen’s food regimen has got to be the toughest and most stringent I’ve ever heard of, yet she maintains a positive attitude around it, and employs her creativity to devise clean, wholesome meals with what she can…which says a lot considering she is limited to gluten free, soy free, egg free, and dairy (casein) free foods, and also needs to limit her fructose intake. For some reason, last fall these limitations seemed to bother me more than they did her, and I persistently demanded that she come up with some comfort food she missed which I could  attempt to recreate using only foods on the “yes” list. Her immediate response was “mac-n-cheese”, and armed with naive enthusiasm, I set out to emulate the warm, rich, gooey, creamy, cheesy-like pasta dish sans traditional pasta, cream, or cheese. Originally, this was meant to be a birthday gift. Now, oh, about 4 1/2 months later, this challenge is still the most naggingly intriguing I’ve ever set myself. And finally I can admit, it’s also the least successful. Not only were taste and texture severely lacking in most trials, experiments were not at all in keeping with the frugal part of  my personal mission. However, that said, this has been an interesting study, provoking some good discussion. I’ve also received some wonderful suggestions, and have had the opportunity to remember a few long lost chemistry lessons. So, thanks to Mike, Jen, Julie, and especially Amy, whose brainstorm led to the most successful of versions so far, I can’t call this self-set task an absolute failure. Here are two variations on Kristen’s mac-no-cheese. Amy’s version, which uses a base of pureed red lentils, red pepper, and carrots, is actually worth reading on for, particularly for if you’re cooking for little ones! The other, a work-in-progress still, relies on a cauliflower and potato puree  made for a chowder for my friend Morag (recipe coming soon).

Amy’s Red Lentil and Veggie Mac-no-Cheese

If I could somehow “brand” Amy, she would be Mother Earth personified. Mother of 5 children ages 7 and younger, she is the embodiment of patience, and devotedly cooks up all natural, home made, all organic meals that please the whole family with a calm, and may I say even Madonna(as in Mary)-like smile. One day, when making a large batch of baby food using a recipe from Annabel Karmel First Meals (DK, 1999), she was reminded of my seemingly futile efforts at faux mac-n-cheese. She offered to share some of the puree with me so that I could tweak and add it to the quinoa-based macaroni I was using for this challenge. For her own children, Amy adds cooked pasta stars as opposed to the quinoa pasta listed below, as well as some shredded organic cheese. She also includes a minced onion, which I left out here due to its high fructose content. Here’s the result, in accordance with Kristen’s diet.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 8-ounce package gluten free elbow-shaped pasta, such as Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (this stuff’s expensive per pound, but fortunately it’s very light!)

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook veggies through garlic until  tender. Add red lentils and cook, stirring, for about a minute.

2. Add chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until all the veggies are soft and the lentils are cooked, then puree.

3. Return pureed mixture to saucepan and add turmeric, and cooked pasta. Heat through, then stir in nutritional yeast.

*Optional: top with gluten free bread crumbs toasted with a light drizzle of olive oil.

Cauliflower and Potato Mac-no-cheese (hmmmm….not sure about this one, but it’s still the best of the rest, so far!)

Originally, I tried using a cauliflower only based puree, and the ensuing texture was lumpy and watery. When working on another recipe (one I’m much happier with, Morag!), I found adding potatoes improved it considerably. This recipe is on the sweeter, milkier side, and I’m still not certain as to whether or not it’s even worth posting, but if you like almond milk, you might like this. It’s more of a potato soup with pasta…with a little work, maybe it could even morph into some kind of chowder channeling gnocchi.

  • 1 medium cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 medium red or gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt or powder
  • 1 medium leek, sliced
  • 1 8 ounce package gluten free macaroni, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1.  Combine cauliflower, potatoes, and broth in a suacepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potato is tender, about 20 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

2. In the same saucepan, heat olive oil and stir in the rice flour. Slowly add in the almond milk and puree, stirring continually.

3. Add leek, and continue cooking about 5 minutes. Bring mixture to a bubble, then reduce heat to medium-low.

4. Stir in cooked pasta and nutritional yeast.

If you’ve had luck with mac-no-cheese for similarly rigid diets, please share!

  1. Mary Nodine
    March 18, 2010

    “Chowder-channeling gnocchi” is the best phrase I’ve heard all week.

    Nice work Wendy! I am impressed with your persistence.

    • Wendy McMillan
      March 18, 2010

      Thanks, Mary! I’m getting excited to work on your 7-layer challenge! I think that one will yield much more all around well received results! : )

  2. casein-free
    March 12, 2011

    Thank you for posting this.

    Mac-and-cheese is one of the most requested meals by kids. It is also very hard to find any good recipe that will please a child who is on a gluten- and casein-free diet.

    The recipes you posted here look delicious and certainly worth trying.

  3. Sue
    March 14, 2011

    My son is 9 and has Aspergers and doesnt chew his food. The GFCF was always recommended for him. however, due to his limitations, it’s just not possible. Since finding out he actually IS allergic to wheat, dairy, egg whites, corn, soy and peanuts we’ve been slowly trying to get him off certain things. Yogurt was successful, we now give him cultured coconut milk and he’s warmed up to chocolate almond milk. But Mac n Cheese is his favorite and there just isn’t a substitute for cheese. I’m going to try your recipeand see what happens. Thanks!

    • Wendy McMillan
      March 17, 2011

      Thanks, and good luck! I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know! I’d love to help you with further experiments. Sounds like a challenge…but worth it!

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