For a person who loves to cook, I certainly eat a lot of Chinese take-out. My go-to is almost always Kung Pao Chicken. I refuse to order from a restaurant that serves an inferior version of the stuff. My ideal Kung Pao Chicken has a generous amount of heat, a thick, slightly sweet and tangy sauce, more chicken than peanuts, and not too much vegetation. Sometimes you need lighter fare, like my Vegan Cashew Cream Spinach Dip, and sometimes you just need to focus on something a little heartier, like chicken and rice in a perfectly-flavored sauce.
When you look at the list of ingredients required to cook Chinese food at home, it can seem a little intimidating. You will almost definitely need to purchase some new sauce or oil in order to get your flavors the way you want them. I’ve found, however, that those new ingredients become an investment, as a lot of Chinese food isn’t nearly as difficult to prepare as you expect. Having the ingredients on hand will make future cooking experiments that much easier, and a lot of them are shelf-stable products that will keep for a long time.
Reading the title of this post, I can only assume you’re thinking that while a vegan spinach dip will surely be healthier than a regular version, it can’t possibly be as delicious. It’s not an exact dup for the spinach dip you’re used to, but it’s pretty close. And it is beyond delicious, in a “maybe one more bite…just one more… and one more…” sort of way. The base is made of cashew cream, which is a wonderful surprise the first time you experience it – it’s a bit sweeter than your typical creamy dip bases, so it needs to be flavored differently, but the texture isn’t gritty like you might expect. As long as you give it enough time in your food processor, (or beloved NutriBullet), it gives you a perfect, smooth starting point for your spinach dip. Bonus: cashew cream is crazy easy to whip up, and doesn’t require any unusual ingredients – just cashews, water, lemon juice, and salt.
When I first started learning the ins and outs of gluten-free baking, I was not impressed. You have to mix roughly a billion different types of flours in order to create a product that hopefully, maybe, resembles the real, gluten-filled thing (okay, slight exaggeration, but not by much). It’s easier to adapt some recipes than others, but all of it involves a certain amount of trial and error. The more I do it, the more gluten-free baking appeals to me, in spite of its difficulties. I’m not celiac, but I do believe that we’re generally better off eating fewer refined carbs, in this case wheat flour, bearer of gluten (says the woman who recently devoured her weight in macaroni and cheese – it’s about balance). Anything that makes a recipe healthier without sacrificing the flavor or texture means that I get to enjoy more of the foods I love and still fit into my jeans. That’s everyone’s dream come true – right? If someone offered me a million dollars or the ability to eat anything I want without gaining weight, I think everyone knows which I’d choose.
I generally like eating healthy – really, I do. But, seeing as it’s January and we’re all buried under blankets (the wool kind or the snow kind), I figured a little comfort food was in order. This macaroni and cheese couldn’t even pretend to resemble diet food. It’s the exact opposite, and I’m pretty sure that’s why it tastes so damn good. It’s got everything a really good macaroni and cheese requires: creamy sauce, stretchy, melty cheese throughout, and a depth of flavors that go beyond just “cheesy.”
You know how you weigh the payoff of a recipe against the work it takes? Especially if it’s a pretty involved one? Well I did the weighing for you this time, and I promise that this macaroni and cheese is worth every second. I know, because I ate almost a quarter of the dish by myself as soon as I pulled it out of the oven. I may have burnt my tongue, but it was still worth it.