I have been in the midst of writing a post on a completely different subject, but placed that particular one on hold to give an impression on a pretty important topic. This cannot wait; it must be done immediately! What possibly could be so important, you ask? The subject: Macaroni and Cheese, or rather, Mac & Cheeze.
Prior to dedicating my entire self to Veganism, I, like a good majority of humans, was a cheese addict. I believe I have mentioned in (much) older posts my complete adoration for the creamy delicacy coagulated cow puss. I literally would crave cheese; and desired it in any form; however my very favorite was between two pieces of greasy toasted bread or covering noodles, pasta and macaroni of any kind.
The Mr. and I are about 98% Whole Food, Plant-Based vegans, however occasionally we will splurge on some “vegan junk food”, or rather “mock” items; one being ‘cheese’. Periodically, although not as often as I once imagined, I get a craving for some of the comfort foods I used to enjoy in the past, the top one being mac and cheese.
The Mr. and I were doing our grocery shopping and in the frozen food section looking for something in particular when I stumbled upon the Heat & Eat section. I typically don’t even bother glancing around those parts since most, if not all, are highly processed, filler-substance, as opposed to real food (even at Whole Foods). But the pic on the box caught my eye:
Amy’s makes some pretty darn tasty (real) cheese and veggie enchiladas, and I appreciate that they focus on healthy convenience, so I grabbed two boxes and tossed them in my cart. ($3.99 at 365 by Whole Foods)
I have to admit I was a bit trepidatious to try this. One, because I always hold frozen mac and cheese meals to Stouffers standards (was my absolute favorite); it is made with rice pasta, which I have had in the past and find it to be a bit too soft for my taste; and finally, Amy’s uses Daiya for the cheese sauce. The only experience I have with Daiya is having their mozarella shreds on a pizza from Pie Five, and again at home one night; neither time were The Mr. and I a fan. It melts well, but has a strange sweet/tart taste… Anyhoo. The Mr. took his box to have for lunch at work today, and I had mine at home.
I opted to make it in the microwave, although would have rather baked in the oven, but wanted to compare the end result exactly with the way The Mr. would have his, and also, honestly did not want to wait 40 mins to dig in… so, in the microwave it went. After following the instructions stated on the box, I became quite hopeful this could be a treat and wouldn’t have to opt for a back-up lunch option. It smelled exactly like real macaroni and cheese, and resembled it as well! I added a tiny bit of salt and took my first bite… I was SO pleasantly surprised! And then excited! And then satisfied! And then excited again! It was delicious!!! It absolutely could be put up against a non-vegan frozen entree in comparison and be preferred (except Stouffers… nothing can touch that stuff; nothing)!
The pasta was not overly soft, the cheeze was creamy and had a sharp cheddar-like taste. Could this really be? My only two less-than-perfect comments are that it needed a bit more salt than I would prefer, and after cooling for a few minutes became a bit tacky or sticky; not a huge deal, because I didn’t allow it to sit thaaaat long… I scarfed it down too quickly.
Overall I was very pleased and now have an option for a quick-grab lunch if need be, and therefore give it 4 out of 5 bellyubs!
I will be very anxious to get The Mr.’s opinion when he gets home from work later this evening. Now, back to my other post… coming soon… sit tight 😉
I have been MIA for the last little bit. Well, actually, not really missing in the literal sense, but rather my desk chair has been missing me and me missing it. The Mr. took some time off work and we decided to partake in a very much needed Staycation. It was glorious! It was so nice to spend so much time together and we really enjoyed being together. The Mr. works really hard and when not in the office, he brings his office back home with him and spends time with it in the evenings and on weekends (he is extremely dedicated), so some time away was long overdue, and I was more than thrilled to hold his attention hostage for a fistful of days.
It’s been quite some time since we had an actual VACATION. This is 99.9% due to the fact that we trust no one with our babies, and frankly no one is good enough. (I have an upcoming blog post dedicated entirely to our struggle finding a suitable pet/house sitter… stay tuned!) Anyhoo, we have a vacation scheduled for next month and another next spring, but in the mean time, a Staycation was very much called for and certainly well deserved. We got a ton of stuff done around our house, i.e. landscaping, i.e. sweated our heinie’s off in the sweltering armpit of the devil, aka Summertime in Texas. Our yards look incredible, but I had to catch up on my neglected household duties the last few days, but now… I AM BACK!!! (whoop, whoop)
Other than the yard work, we celebrated The Mr.’s day of birth, my favorite holiday, we shopped, we dined, we explored. We live in such an awesome place, we found things close to home that were new and exciting and not been done in the four summers of living here before now. One day in particular we took a short road trip 90 miles north, and slightly east to Waco, TX. I had stopped in Waco last fall with my visiting parents, upon returning home from Dallas after the State Fair, but The Mr. had never been, so I was anxious to take him up to the booming tourist destination!
I am a planner. Like, to a fault. Spontaneity, and the thought of it makes me anxious and uncomfortable. So, we had our entire day planned out as to do all we wanted and experience, while not leaving our babies alone for too long without relieving their bladders. Our first stop on our journey was to literally one of our favorite places in the world… a gas station! Nope! It’s more than a gas station… Convenience store? Double negative! It is FAAAAARR more than just a convenience store! It is BUC-EES! Oh, you sweet little beaver, how I am always ecstatic to see your chubby cheeks and buck-toothed grin. Be still my heart…
If you are from Texas, or have driven through Texas, you best-know-what-I-be-talkin’-’bout. Buc-ee is a legend, and rightfully so. The store, literally has most anything you could want or need or dream of. From groceries, to pre-made meals, sides and desserts (my Mama LOVES their freshly baked brownies), to a counter service restaurant with REALLY tasty fare, clothing, pet goods, accessories, toiletries; all donning my boyfriend the beaver, locally made creations, jewelry, home decor, fishing/hunting supplies etc etc. And the bathrooms. They are world famous. Really. WORLD. They are by far the cleanest bathrooms you will ever step foot in, which, to this germaphobe is HUMONGOUS! The bathroom has a full-time cleaning lady that just hangs out in there waiting to clean up after you. Incredible. (Yes, I know, it doesn’t take much for me to get overly excited!)
I realized later I failed in taking more than two pictures at Buc-ees… oh geez, I guess we’ll have to venture back just to get some photos I can share with my blog-reading friends… darn.
After tearfully waving a ‘See ya later, Gator Beaver’ to Buc, we continued North to the Dr Pepper museum…
Soda is likely my biggest guilty pleasure. I absolutely love it and crave it, but since being more health conscious and on Weight Watchers, I don’t drink it often. I will treat myself every once in a great while, and 9 outta 10 times, I will want a Dr Pepper.
Dr Pepper is a native of Waco, Texas and happens to be the oldest major soft drink in America. The beverage was created by Dr. Charles Alderton at the Old Corner Drug Store in 1885, predating Coca-Cola by only one year (did ya know that?); it quickly became popular throughout Waco as well as surrounding areas. The museum is located in the 1906 Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company building in downtown Waco, and is listed in the Register of Historic Places as the ‘Home of Dr Pepper’. The building itself is quite charming. I am very intrigued and appreciate architecture, especially with such a history. Imagine if the walls could talk; the millions of people that have strolled through the doors over the last 111 years.
The museum actually surprised me with the amount of artifacts it had throughout the three stories in one building, and then another section, dedicated mostly to 7-UP, in the building across the courtyard, along with the old-fashioned gift and soda shoppe. It was very busy on the Thursday we went. Several groups of church folks and kids, so it was a challenge to see/read every detail, which was highly unfortunate. They are in the midst of constructing additional exhibits, and The Mr. and I will likely return to see that and revisit what we missed this go around.
After the museum, we hiked around the block to the Magnolia Silos. Now, I enjoy the HGTV show, Fixer Upper, but that is not what draws me to Waco or toward The Silos like apparently everyone else and their brother and cousin and dog; I enjoy The Silos for the atmosphere, the shear fact that Joanna Gaines and I should be style BFFs and the cupcakes. Oh! Did I write cupcake?! Indeedy I did. I have been busting my bootie and slobbering at the thought of these darn cupcakes since October 2016, and I was ready to splurge!! I was even willing to stand in a crowded-like-Disneyland-was-giving-away-free-Mickey-Ears kinda queue to shove one (or two!) of those delectable, buttercream treats in my yapper.
Last fall, when my parents and I popped quickly (literally, quickly) into the bakery, we only walked out with one single, Pumpkin with Cream Cheese Icing cupcake for us all to share… TO SHARE! Not this time! I really would have liked one of each, but refrained and chose to try the Lemon Lavender (I adore and cannot pass up anything with lemon) and Peach Pie. The Mr. chose The Chocolatier and Banana Pudding.
Other than the total deliciousness of the cupcake, what I appreciate most is the attention to detail in the presentation of the treat. They are pretty…
With the box of goodies in hand, we sat at a cute a little table at the base of one of the Silos and each only ate one of our cakes. I chose to try the Peach Pie and The Mr. chose Banana Pudding first. Although the Peach Pie was tasty with the graham cracker crust as the base to the peach cake, I detected no peach flavor in either the cake or icing. There were chunks of peach in the icing, but no real flavor, which was pretty disappointing. The Banana Pudding on the other hand, was very yummy. **Fast Forward to the night; after returning home, we had our other cupcakes with a cuppa coffee for our dinner… Yup. Two in one day! Take that Weight Watchers!! We screwed you!! The Lemon Lavender was divine! I can’t honestly say I had never consumed the flower before, but both the lemon and the lavender were strong. Very tasty, and different. The Mr. said The Chocolatier was good, but he preferred the Banana Pudding.
We then skipped over to Magnolia and did our best to fight the enormous crowds and browse quickly, which was darn near impossible! Then strolled the rest of the grounds around the food trucks and barn to the gardens before taking the short-ish trek back to the museum where we parked (for FREE!).
Although our cupcakes were yummy, it certainly did not count as a meal, so we stopped at a local eatery, George’s, for a quick bite to eat.
It was not a fancy joint, by any means, but extensive menu, good, friendly service and pretty darn good food. Most definitely a locals eatery, where the staff certainly knows their patrons by name!
After we ate, we headed towards home… But not before stopping to visit our beaver friend again and pick-up a few necessities; a welcome sign for our front stoop, a couple Rtic Stainless Steel Water Bottles, some farm animals for my kitchen… ya know, necessities.
I am not overly fond of fried foods. Too much grease nauseates me; however, the fried foods I do like, I like a whole lot… fried chicken, doughnuts, cheese curds, french fries… mmmm nom nom. I have a gazillion kitchen toys (utensils, gadgets and appliances) and am always anxious to try out the next latest and greatest invention. When I get a lazy Saturday morning, which RARELY happens, I enjoy sitting in front of the TV with my mondo-sized-mug-o-coffee and watching Food Network with The Mr. and kids; or when flipping the channels getting captivated by either ‘In the Kitchen with ______’ on QVC or sucked in with one of those uberly-excited, over-dramatic, you’re-going-to-keel-over-if-you-don’t-act-now infomercials. And sometimes, I (we) fall for it.
I learned about Air Frying a year or so ago, and have had a Philips Airfryer in my Amazon cart for about that long. I just never felt the need to spend $300 on a toy I may use every now and then, because again, fried foods make me wanna hurl. But then – I saw the informercial for the Power Air Fryer XL Pro. The demo impressed me. The price was a helluva lot less than the Philips and it had a decent try-it guarantee, so as I do with ALL (literally ALL) things I spend money on, I did research! (Google is my inquiry BFF) It seemed to get some very promising reviews AND, long story short, QVC offered it with special accessories and on 5 Easy Pay ($23.80 got it to my door), so why not? I ordered the 3.4 Qt. in Black.
I was excited to receive my new play thing, and had been dreaming of all the fantastic goodies I could whip up prior to it’s arrival, as it claims to not only ‘fry’ things, but bake, sauté, roast, steam and grill – Whooppee!
First things first… what do you imagine the very first thing is to try in the brand new air fryer? Something I have not really had since starting Weight Watchers – Hand-Cut French Fries! Oh yes, tasty little starchy morsels of goodness, that’s what!
I began with a medium-sized, Texas-grown russet tater. (I failed to take a picture of said tater, but figure you know what I’m talkin’ bout, right?)
I scrubbed it with a potato brush and left the skin-on. Skin-on fries are the tastiest and my favorite!
I then cut it into sticks.
To remove the access starch, soak in a cold water bath for 15-20 mins.
Drain off the water and give another rinse with cold water; dry completely! I wrapped in cheesecloth and pressed. I let the bowl sit on the counter for a bit and continued to press to absorb as much moisture as possible.
Remove the cheesecloth and drizzle with VERY LITTLE oil (olive or vegetable), maybe a 1/2 tsp; sprinkle with salt and toss/mix to coat each potato stick. Cooking with air requires little to no oil. I added oil to help aid in the crispiness of the fry. Place in the fry basket.
The Power Air Fryer has several presetting options, one being for Fries. Once locking the basket into place, and hitting the Fries button, they begin to cook immediately at 400° for 18 minutes. The user manual instructs you to pull out the basket and toss half way through the cooking process, so at 9 minutes, I did as I was told and then placed back into the paused machine.
At the end of the 18 minutes, I pulled out the basket and gave them another toss to ensure they all looked done. They probably could’ve gone for an additional minute or two, as the centers were less crispy than I would personally prefer.
The French fries turned out delicious! I’d say they were a cross between those cooked in an oil fryer and those baked in an oven, with zero greasy or oily residue/taste. Essentially the concept of ‘frying’ with air is nothing more than cooking in a convection oven. The hot, pressured air circulates the food being cooked, sealing in moisture while making the outside crispy. However, the time and energy saved using the countertop appliance vs. my wall oven, especially in the summer, is outstanding!! After my first go, I am extremely excited to try out a plethora of other things!
So, on my scale of 1-5 Bellyrubs, after the initial use, I give the Power Air Fryer XL Pro:
I love to find or create recipes that are an all-in-one meal; meaning, they are so hearty they need no side dish. This is one that is really tasty and easy enough for a weeknight. It can easily be altered to make more or less spicy. Add chopped jalapeños to be sautéed with onion and peppers, or as a garnish. This can also be made with ground beef or chicken for a non-vegetarian version. I can even see this being used as a burrito filling.
A super tasty, not-too-spicy vegetarian meal. No side dish needed.
1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1-1/2 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
salt & pepper
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 Tbsp chili powder
3/4 tsp ground cumin
10-12 oz red enchilada sauce
cilantro, freshly chopped or dried, to taste
1/2 lime, juiced
1 cup shredded Mexican/cheddar cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.
Add the water to a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the rinsed quinoa and simmer for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.
While the quinoa is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, red and orange bell peppers. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onion is translucent and peppers have slightly browned.
In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, sautéed vegetables, black beans, corn, chili powder, cumin and 1/4 cup of the cheese. Stir to mix. Add the enchilada sauce, cilantro and lime juice; stir until well combined.
Pour into a 8×8 or 9×9 square baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the sides are bubbling. Allow casserole to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with chopped green onions, cilantro, avocado, tortilla chips or sour cream, if desired.
This recipe makes 4 servings; recipe may be doubled for a family.
Recipe courtesy of Biscuits & Bellyrubs
I made this recipe using things I already had on hand. I didn’t have large red or orange bell peppers in the fridge, so I used the snacking bell peppers and half a sweet-Texas onion.