So says world-traveling author, journalist, and speaker Katrina Fox, anyway.
In November 2017, Gary and I received an award from DawnWatch, a media advocacy organization encouraging more news coverage of animal issues, for our public relations work on behalf of animal rights organizations and campaigns. It was a special evening and Katrina was there, all the way from Australia, to share it with us.
While she was in Los Angeles we had a little dinner party for her and the filmmakers of “Cesar Chavez: Respect for All,” a short documentary about Chavez’ connections to animal rights, the LGBTQ community, and other social justice issues (go watch it, I’ll wait). Katrina and I, who are both volunteer admins of Vegan Professional Network, go back a ways. I contributed to her book Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business (which you should read if you’re an entrepreneur or thinking about starting a business) and I’ve written for her Vegan Business Media blog.
Katrina and I had been planning the menu for some time. Every time I shared a picture of one homemade dinner or another on social media, she’d say “Ooh! Make me that!” Finally, she narrowed it down to two of her favorites: either homemade pizza or mac and cheese.
I have to admit I was a little pressed for time that day. I didn’t think it was my best effort, but, Katrina said she’s eaten vegan mac and cheese all around the world, and could say with authority that mine was the best she’d ever had.
This recipe was originally published a few years ago on Inspirational Souls in an interview with Gary for their series “Being Vegan, Vegan Being.” I have adapted it slightly so bookmark this, not that, but if you’re curious about why I named it after Josh Hooten instead of Katrina, you can read the story here.
Josh Hooten’s ‘Double Down’ Mac and Cheese
2 tablespoons vegan butter
2 tablespoons flour (can sub gluten-free flour)
2 cups shredded vegan cheddar (such as Follow Your Heart)
2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
8 ounces elbow pasta or shells
1 package tempeh bacon, or homemade (recipe here), cooked in a pan until nearly perfect then crumbled or diced
1 package vegan chicken strips, defrosted if frozen, diced
1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
About a half cup panko bread crumbs, optional
Boil pasta a minute or two less than package directions, then drain and spread in a lightly oiled 9 x 9 oven-safe dish. Preheat oven to 350.
While your pasta pot is still warm, melt butter over medium heat. Slowly add flour, whisking vigorously. When the flour is browned and slightly golden, about five minutes, whisk in milk, a little at a time to prevent lumps. When all the milk is incorporated and warm, add cheese and nutritional yeast, whisking occasionally until smooth and thick. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
Carefully pour cheese sauce over pasta. Add in chicken and bacon, stirring around carefully with a rubber spatula until all ingredients are incorporated and distributed equitably. Top with bread crumbs if using.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until crumbs are golden and sauce is bubbling and browning around the edges.
Serves at least four. Because the sauce ingredients are two of everything, this recipe is very easy to double or even triple for a crowd.
It’s also very adaptable. Prefer sausage? Go for that instead of one of the other meats. For Gary’s last birthday I diced Tofurky’s ham roast for mac ham-and-cheese, pictured below with a Caesar salad. Want it healthier? instead of doubling down, use only one kind of meat and add frozen peas or broccoli florets to the boiling pasta water when there’s a minute or so to go. Want smoky cheese? Add a teaspoon of liquid smoke to the sauce. Want it Diablo style? Add hot sauce (e.g. Tapatío) to the cheese sauce and stir in diced jalapeños from a jar. Want Buffalo chicken mac? Before the bread crumbs, drizzle the heck out of the top with Frank’s RedHot. Want it Italian? Use mozzarella instead of cheddar, Italian sausage instead of bacon, and wilt basil and baby spinach leaves in the warm sauce. It’s still going to be the world’s best vegan mac and cheese, no matter what you do to it.