As many of you know, I’m not one for New Year’s goal-setting or themes or programs, or even resolutions. I know that they can all be motivating and inspiring and great, depending on the context. But I spend enough time vying with unrealistic expectations from day to day; I like to enter a new year gently, and in some ways it takes more for me to accept things as they are than to contemplate what I’ll be changing.
All of that said, I don’t like to discourage the positive energy that can emerge at this time of year, especially when it takes the form of folks resolving to take good care of themselves, whatever that means. I’m a big fan of Veganuary, which inspires a lot of people to give veganism a dedicated try. And here on the blog, I do sometimes give fresh thought to new content, ideas, initiatives.
This year, in the spirit of that gentle entrance I just mentioned, it feels appropriate to use the first few weeks of the month (which I have off from the DI!) to reflect on some of the strategies that allowed me to make it through my 15 weeks of clinicals fed entirely by home-cooked meals. Until September, I’d been working from home, which gave me the good fortune to cook often and when I liked. I wasn’t really sure that I’d be able to sustain a meal plan once the DI started, but—for economic reasons as much as the fact that I like to cook/eat homemade food—I’m glad I did.
Cooking my way through my first two rotations often meant knowing when not to cook (i.e., rely on some of my go-to vegan store-bought products). Sometimes it meant throwing together meals in 20-minutes or less, which has never entirely been my cooking style, mostly because I haven’t needed it to be. And sometimes it meant cooking and meal prepping when I could have been doing other, fun things. It was all a balancing act, a question of knowing when to cut corners and when not to.
Between now and mid-January, I’ll be sharing some of the practically-not-recipe-recipes that I relied on when the going got tough, meals so simple that I’d normally not consider them as contenders for the blog. They’ll be a little basic, but they’ll also be an honest reflection of how/what I’ve been eating.
I’ll also be doing a big post on my batch cooking/meal prep process, since I get so many questions about it on Instagram! I’ll talk about how I plan, store, freeze/defrost, balance the things I choose to make each week. If you have any particular questions about my weekly process, please feel free to comment or email or DM me on the ‘gram—I’d love to address the topics that people want to hear about.
For today, here’s one of those quickie meals I mentioned. If you batch cook the baked potatoes over a weekend and make the cheese sauce at that time, it’s a 5-minute dinner. Even if you prepare it all at once, it demands only about 15 minutes of active work (the rest of the time is spent waiting for the potatoes to bake, and you could absolutely microwave them if you wanted to—I often do).
I’ve made a lot of vegan cheese sauces and mac n’ cheese sauces in my day. I’d venture to say that this is my all-time favorite: the most cheesy, the most creamy while also being relatively low in fat and not overly rich (I’ve made some very cashew-heavy sauces—this one’s got potato to help balance things out). It’s based on the sauce for my carrot mac, with some adaptations.
Since I bake potatoes for the recipe anyway, I use one of them for the sauce. I do think that red peppers add a special combination of tartness and sweetness that enhances the sauce, and I always have a jar of roasted red peppers in my pantry. But you can substitute a handful of steamed carrots or cauliflower or zucchini, too—you’d be surprised at how adaptable the sauce is.
To make the dish, you start by baking the potatoes. You split them, mash the flesh lightly with some non-dairy milk (or Earth Balance, or broth, or vegan parm), and top them with white beans (or chickpeas, or navy beans) and broccoli florets (or brussels sprouts, or green beans, or kale, or whatever you’ve got). The cheese sauce gets piled on top.
That’s it. This is the very definition of a “throw together” meal, but it’s hearty and tasty and good, and in spite of how little it takes to make it, it’s got plenty of nutrient density. It works well with sweet potatoes and Japanese potatoes, too. Here’s the recipe—perhaps you’ll tuck it away for a day when you need something real comforting, real fast.
For the vegan cheese sauce:
- 1 cup about 5 ounces cooked white potato (or sweet potato) flesh
- 2 roasted red bell peppers from the jar, drained, or 1 fresh red bell pepper (substitute a heaping half cup of steamed cauliflower or carrots)
- 1/4 cup 1 ounce raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours and then drained (substitute 1/4 cup silken tofu)
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon mellow white miso
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon fine salt, to taste
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 3/4 cup + 2 T water
For the potatoes:
- 2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and picked over with a fork
- a few tablespoons non-dairy milk, broth, or a little Earth Balance/vegan butter
- Vegan parmesan, optional
- 1 1/2 cups 1 can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen, cooked according to preference (you can steam, microwave, or boil), or another green vegetable
- To make the sauce, blend all ingredients together in a powerful blender till completely smooth and creamy (1-2 minutes).
- To make the meal, preheat the oven to 400F. Place the potatoes on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, or until fork tender.
- When the potatoes are ready, split them. Use a fork to mash the interior of each half gently, using a tablespoon or so of non-dairy milk, vegetable broth, or a little pat of vegan butter to make the potato a little creamy. You can add some vegan parmesan now for extra flavor, if you like.
- Add 1/4 cup white beans to each half and mash them gently into the potato with your fork. Pile about 3/4 cup cooked broccoli florets on top. Pour the cheese sauce on top (about 1/4 cup, or to taste). Serve.
If your potatoes are generously sized, each half is a decent meal on its own. If you have small potatoes, you can use a whole potato for each portion. I had this very meal for lunch today, seeking something easy because I’ve definitely got a cold. It was so good, and I added Brussels sprouts this time! The cheese sauce will yield a full 2 cups, so once you’ve made it, you can use it throughout the week on vegan mac n’ cheese, on top of grains, in quesadillas or tacos or burritos, or whatever.
Wishing you all an easy end to this inter-holiday week. Look forward to a lot more low-stress recipes in January, and I’ll be back this weekend with some recipes and reads.