Thursday Night Smackdown: Now With 100% Less Pork!

Get ready for a whole lotta beige.

I’m having a very love hate relationship with pork right now. On one hand, pork is unbelieveably delicious, and bacon is one of my major food groups. On the other, exposure to 18+ hours of smoking pig has left every one of my pores, hairs, lungs, bath towels, dogs and pieces of upholstered furniture embedded with immense amounts of microscopic pork particulate. Which is not as much fun as it sounds, trust me.

The week has been pretty meat-free since Memorial Day to give my kidneys some time to recover from protein overload, so it was as good a week as any to bust out The New Moosewood Classics for some tofu mac and cheese and a simple green salad and vinaigrette. Because if I’m going to eschew pork, there should at least be cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.

We’re already off to a good start with three three! THREE kinds of cheese.

I chose the recipe because I’ve been tired and stressed this week and wanted something comforting*, but approached it with a pretty high level of trepidation – I take my macaroni and cheese VERY SERIOUSLY. Not to toot my own horn, but my personal mac and cheese recipe is a decadent multi-cheese affair that can raise your cholesterol 27 points in the time in takes to fork up your second bite. And as dishes full of butter, cheese and starch are wont to be, it is DE-FRIGGING-LICIOUS. So it makes sense that I am mistrustful of a mac and cheese recipe with no butter, no whole milk and tofu.

I don’t really do tofu. I know, I know, it’s good for me, it can take on whatever flavor you want, you can cook it in lots of ways, etc etc etc. I know all these things. I just don’t care. It’s jiggly and weird. But it’s one of those things that I feel like I need to learn to like more; it worked for lentils, spinach and chickpeas, so I assume it can work for tofu. Since tofu icks me out more than those other things, I decided to start with baby steps and mask my tofu with cheese.

Some of you may think this is cheating. You are free to kiss my weirded-out-by-tofu ass.

*Also because I wanted something CHEAP. 60 pounds of pork does throw a bit of a wrench into the old grocers’ bill, wot wot?

These? Do not belong in my macaroni and cheese.

I’m of the mind that raw onions do not belong in my mac and cheese. Sauteed or caramelized onions, maybe, if they’re just sprinkled on top. But raw onions? I am not convinced. I am nothing if not a follower of directions, though, so onion was duly minced.

Blender cam, activate!

Since this is a tofu-based sauce there’s no roux and no bechamel, just a blenderful of raw ingredients: garlic, milk, yogurt, cheddar and parmesan, mustard, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg…

I eat tofu rarely. And by rarely, I mean never.

…and tofu. A big ol’ wiggly block of silken tofu. Oh, and turmeric to boost the mixture’s color, in the hopes that you’ll be fully fooled into thinking you’re eating real mac and cheese.

The whole mess gets blended into a pale yellow, thickish sauce. I dipped a pinky in to check for seasoning, and recoiled in horror: it was not good. The raw garlic and mustard were overpowering, and the cheeses – two very sharp cheddars and a pungent pecorino – were totally lost in the tangy-ness of the yogurt and the bland mass of the tofu. It was the embodiment of everything that keeps me from using more vegetarian and vegan cookbooks; a hideous wolf in sheep’s clothing, a vile health amalgam masquerading as a cheese sauce.


I had to assume that the components would meld and the harsh flavors even out in the baking, so I dumped the sauce over a potful of al dente cavatappi, stirred in the raw onion – which at this point, seemed like EVEN LESS of a good idea than it had earlier – and poured the stinking, garlicky mass into a baking dish.

I WANTED it to be good, I really really did: it would be great to have a mac and cheese recipe that doesn’t have to be a twice-a-year treat and doesn’t make you feel like you’re going to have a cardiac incident after eating it.

More cheese: the cure-all?

I sprinkled maybe a little more additional cheese over the top than the recipe indicated. I know this is contrary to my own self-imposed rules, and all I can say is that I was scared.

I covered the dish and put it into the oven while telling myself, “Well, at least you’re not very hungry,” completely counter to my grumbling innards, which were about to lunge right out of my torso on their own accord to grab the first edible non-tofu object they could find. I also threw together the Moosewood’s vinaigrette – pretty straightforward and classic; red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon, garlic, salt and pepper – and cleaned and shredded a head of romaine.

At some point the kitchen started to smell…not terrible. And then it started to smell okay, and then slightly good. So I decided to let my stomach begin to get excited at the prospect of a hot, yummy meal.

Pavlovian response: Activate!

I uncovered the mac for the last five minutes, and turned on the broiler for a minute on top of that to get the good crusty top that is the hallmark of delicious mac and cheese. It may not have come out bubbly and gooey, but it did take on some nice color and the cheese left on top crisped a little.

At this point, it smelled affirmatively good, but I still held myself back from full-on mac and cheese joy. Because, you know, tofu. Raw onion. No butter.

Sooooooo close.

It was almost very good, and could be great with some tweaking. The oven time did even out some of the peaks and valleys of flavor, but the raw onion and garlic were still far too harsh – their sharp pops of flavor were sometimes just distracting and sometimes completely overwhelming, and much of the onion was still crunchy. The raw garlic in the vinaigrette (which was otherwise fine, if not particularly exciting) only make things worse.

Aside from that, I may have come around to tofu when served with lots of cheese. Although the sauce didn’t have the gooey texture of real-deal mac and didn’t cling to the pasta as well as I would have liked, but it was silky smooth and the flavor of the cheese came through nicely (the crusty top didn’t hurt either). The dish’s faults didn’t stop me from having a second helping and I felt like the inner diameter of my arteries was the same afterward as when I started. I’d definitely make this again with some tweaks: NO RAW ONION, less raw garlic, and maybe an egg in the sauce to help give it a little more body after baking.

And maybe bacon.

Final Score: Us, 1; Food, 0; Tofu, honorable mention.

0 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Now With 100% Less Pork!

  1. Mac and chee is one of my very favorite things in the world. I hear ya on the “tired of pork” tip, and I’ll be even more there in a few weeks.

    Tofu, eh? I guess it’s easier than bechamel.

  2. I love mac n’ cheese. I don’t know about tofu in it, though. I guess it’s worth a try. You’re getting some health benefits out of this. Like you said, with a little tweaking, it could be a great thing.
    I love the picture of the brown-cheesey top. Mmm. Sometimes I’ll top it with chopped up bread, a little melted butter, and some more cheese. It’s good. Or French fried onion rings.

  3. Since I discovered that I’d rather eat piles of plain vegetables than tofu, I haven’t missed it — at all.

    I’d a whole lot rather make my bayshamel with 10 year aged cheddar and eat 4 ounces of it (not that I have the willpower to only eat 4 ounces of it) with my plain veggies.

    And if you’ve never seen Jim Gaffigan talk about bacon then it is time…

    (another *eastern* north carolinian waiting to see what you think NC bbq sauce is…)

  4. Hmmm. I think my jury’s out on the tofu. And definitely way out (as in never going to come back into the courtroom) on the raw onion.

    The solution, my friend, is always more cheese. Never forget that.

    And I’m sure cheese and tofu really helps you detox from protein/pork overload. Never mind that cheese contains a whole load of protein, ok? Really. It doesn’t matter.

  5. You ought to try soy cheese instead of tofu in your mac & cheese recipes — it melts very nicely (much better than reduced fat cheeses) and it probably has as much protein as tofu. I like the Veggie Shreds…

  6. Stop it with the tofu. Your mac and cheese is the stuff of my dreams so please just make more of that. And bring some to my office so I can have it for breakfast.

  7. Well, kudos to you for at least trying. Probably would be better just adding tofu to your regular mac and cheese recipe. (Which I would love to have, by the way).

  8. heather, it was easier…but not THAT much easier.

    courtney, except for all the cheese, sure.

    jess, i’m pretty sure that’s the first thing you learn in culinary school.

    brittany, harsh. vegans aren’t stupid, just ignorant.*


    emiline, i didn’t have any bread crumbs in the house, and i almost used crumbled sour cream and onion potato chips. next time, i think i’ll also use a shallower baking dish to increase the crust-to-innards ratio.

    fuzzy, what i “think” carolina bbq is? are you challenging me? because i will bring the hammer down.

    okay, not totally sure what that means, just got a little puffed up there for a second.

    forkful, you and your crazy “logic.” you’re so cute!

    claudia, i’m telling you – with tweaking, i think it’ll be a keeper.

    kat, tofu is enough of an aberration for me – the day i have to eat macaroni with soy cheese is the day you’ll be prying my aged farmhouse cheddar from my cold, dead hands.

    like i said: i take it VERY SERIOUSLY.

    jodi, i had to try. so i did, and learned my lesson.

    toontz, why mess with perfection?

  9. I love the Moosewood Cookbook. It was my very first and there are a ton of recipes I still make from it. However, I am convinced that tofu should only be consumed in an Asian-style environment. All the western uses for tofu (ie, tofu cheesecake, tofu scramble, tofu cheese, etc) are just…wrong. What was Mollie Katzen thinking? Having said that, I admire you for being adventurous enough to try it!

  10. I love tofu, but I have to agree with dp up there. I’m not a fan od the Westernization of it. And soy cheese pisses me off. Any soy meat or dairy product does. Mainly because I think vegans should SUCK IT. If you’re gonna be all holy and earth conscious, then quit scarfing down fake bacon.

    (I’m a complete hypocrite because I have been know to eat and enjoy a soy chicken nugget or five.)

  11. I was horribly afraid when I read the title that you might be making mac and cheese with those nasty soy cheeses.

    Anyway, if you’re going to combine tofu with real cheese, what’s the point? Doesn’t the health benefit sort of get cancelled out? I’m not a lover of the stuff, although it’s okay in certain dishes (soft tofu in a soy-ginger sauce is not a bad thing). I’m just not sure I want it in mac and cheese.

    It could be worse. At least it’s not the fish guts soup!

  12. oi.
    i dunno.
    mac and cheese is something I would never mess with. especially with no butter and tofu.
    and i, too, am of the no raw onion in mac and cheese variety.
    no no and no.

    but glad it wasn’t too horrid.

    however, you will NEVER catch me doing this stunt ;)

  13. dp, i’m with you in general re: keeping tofu in its proper place, but i’ve had silken tofu in desserts before and it’s been okay. (disclaimer: not desserts that i myself have made)

    anne, tame the vegan hate! they’re to be pitied, not hated.

    rachel, see comment to kat above re: prying the real cheese from my cold, dead hands.

    christey, well, part of the smackdown goal is to stretch the ol’ culinary horizons. no one said it would always be pretty; we need only consider the fish noodles for firm proof of that.

  14. 1. Just stop making things from Moosewood. Their stuff is overrated and (if you happen to be in the Ithaca area) grossly overpriced. The vinaigrette you mentioned is a classic — I can find it in at least three different Julia Childs books.

    2. If you want vegetarian food that actually tastes good, try My husband and I are decidedly in the carnivore camp, and yet have never eaten a bad thing from Heidi’s recipes.

  15. Hey, you tried! What’s with all the tofu hatin’ ? I typically think people who hate tofu only THINK they hate tofu. It’s a neutral. It’s Switzerland. How can you hate Switzerland?

    Anyway, kudos on the experiement, and, kudos on getting this sucker on TASTESPOTTING.

  16. I agree with these points: raw onions don’t belong in mac and cheese, tofu is a lousy substitute ingredient, and soy cheese sucks so very hard.

    (And I’ll gladly bribe you Tuesday for your mac-and-cheese recipe today.)

  17. Yea I’m picky about my mac & cheese to, and at the point of adding a pound of cheddar I figure a stick of butter and milk couldn’t possibly make that much of a difference. This does look good though!

  18. catherine, i do love 101 cookbooks. but i’ve made other things from moosewood that i’ve enjoyed, so i don’t know if i’m ready to abandon it.

    kate, gracias. i don’t dislike the FLAVOR of tofu, i dislike it as a CONCEPT.

    carolyn, all in due time, grasshopper.

    naomi, that’s what i figured. i’m thinking they wanted to keep the recipe quick and easy – cook pasta, throw shit in blender, mix together – but the raw-ness is really a deal-breaker.

    marc, i’m with you. i think i might have to make some real deal mac this weekend regain my culinary equilibrium.

  19. Well, it looks damn good, if that’s any consolation. I’ve never tried tofu before, and unfortunately, this doesn’t make me want to start, hehe.

  20. Messing with the Mac N Cheese is a brave and tricky business! This looks pretty damn good, but I’m thinking, it’s Mac N Cheese do we need to make it all “healthy and sh–?” ;)
    Bless you for trying, and your photos look delectable.

  21. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » Smoke-a-Thon 2008: Porc a la Mode du Caroline du Nord

  22. I actually really like tofu…however I don’t like when it’s used as a “substitute” for stuff. I like it when it’s tofu. I think part of it’s bad rep among meat eaters is because of stoopid poser products like tofu cheese and tofurky and such. I’ve yet to use it as a thickener, as in thi mac & cheese, but I think this may be an acceptable use :)

  23. I rarely like tofu. Unless it’s really firm tofu and has been cut in cubes and fried til chewy and golden. But even then I don’t think I’d try to ruin perfectly good macaroni and cheese by adding tofu to it. Tuna maybe, but tofu, no.

    The only way that I can stand tofu is when it’s masked with green chillies in Asian-style chicken noodle soup (the fried tofu pieces take the place of chicken) with peanut chili sauce spooned on as a garnish. If we’re serving the soup to vegetarians, we make vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and the soup is quite tolerable. Even good.

  24. elle, i guess i won’t be shilling for the tofu industry anytime soon.

    mary, i know, i know.

    susan, it did look good. although the leftovers were wretched.

    erinn, brave, or stupid? some things probably shouldn’t be messed with.

    stef, i’m still not sold. but i agree that tofu cheese has done a LOT to drag down the image of tofu.

    elizabeth, i could see the soup being good, because there are few foods that are not improved upon by a good frying and some peanut sauce.

  25. What trips me up about the tofu mac and cheese is this: I get tofu, it doesn’t bother me. I get mac and cheese, it’s like my favorite food EVER. But… it’s already vegetarian. It ain’t vegan, no way, no how – so why did Moosewood feel compelled to add the tofu in the first place? You’re up cholesterol creek with the 18 pounds of cheese already, ya? What vegetarian will eat cheese but not butter?

    At any rate… the only tofu-as-thickener recipe that I like is for tomato soup, in an offing that is uncharacteristically not-from-scratch: Take one block of silken tofu, one 26 ounce jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce and one quart of chicken stock. Blend in blender. Heat and serve. Ridiculously good, wicked fast tomato soup.

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