Well, hi there, strangers. I guess it’s been a while, huh? We’ve got a lot to catch up on!
Despite my recent silence, there’s not actually that much from me. No dramatic stories or excuses, just that classic ‘working myself into the ground’ thing that I’m evidently so drawn to. At the beginning of the year, I decided that working full time just wasn’t enough of a commitment, so I added a return to part-time study into the mix. After that, I still had a few hours left in the week – so why not volunteer with a couple of non-government organisations, too? Juggling all of these commitments didn’t leave a whole lot of time for blogging, nor for the preparation of particularly blog-worthy food. Don’t get me wrong, I still fed myself well and explored some great new books and recipes, but let’s just say that Zambrero’s introduction of vegan options has served me very well.
Unfortunately, a combination of schedule and financial constraints meant that the dream of attending this year’s Vida Vegan Con in Portland remained just that- a dream. But social media is a wonderful thing, and thanks to a lot of you and your enthusiastic use of Twitter and Instagram over the last week, I almost felt like I was there. Even from a (pretty significant) distance, I was able to learn a lot and hear some really powerful conversations taking place. Erika did an amazing job of taking notes from some of the sessions I’d most wanted to attend (particularly the session on vegans of colour- I highly recommend a read if you missed it. Doris Lin’s take on things is particularly relevant for some of the major conversations around live export happening in the Australian vegan community), and I can’t thank her (and the rest of you) enough for it!
But although the learning experience could be simulated from a distance, one other aspect of the weekend was a bit more difficult to participate in- the food! For three days, my Instagram feed was a glorious display of the best that Portland has to offer. And even though I know better, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the junkiest thing on the menu. That’s right, those deep fried mac and cheese burgers. I showed Chadwiko the photos, and we came to the same conclusion- we had to try those at home!
Did we succeed? Yes. Did we almost instantly regret it, as we flopped on the couch in a general state of discomfort/impending cardiac arrest? Oh my, yes. But surely that that’s all part of the Portland experience, too.
To create these monstrosities/delicacies, I turned to my all time favourite mac and cheese recipe, from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegan Table (and blogged for your convenience at Epicurean Vegan). In addition to being seriously delicious and not at all ‘fake cheesy’, this recipe makes a ton of sauce which came in handy for smearing on the burger buns later. For the sake of my sanity, I made a full recipe for dinner the night before and wrangled the leftovers into these burgers. The process was one of complete trial and (fortunately not too much) error- the leftover mac and cheese was mixed up with a handful of panko breadcrumbs and packed into moulds. I used mini springform pans, but individual pie pans or ramekins would work just as well. These were then baked until the tops looked solid, probably about 15 minutes, then inverted onto a baking tray and baked on the other side. They were then left to cool in the fridge.
In the meantime, I started preparing a batch of onion rings and fried pickles (my arteries could take some more damage, right?) using the beer battered onion ring recipe from Vegan Diner. Half of this batter was used to coat the mac and cheese patties, which were then carefully slipped into a heavy pot filled with about an inch of hot oil. With bated breath and a slight sense of nausea at the beasts we were creating, we watched to see what would happen- fortunately, the high heat of the oil saw these fry quickly and without falling apart. Success!
Served on buns with extra cashew cheese sauce, baby spinach and rocket, slow-roasted roma tomatoes and caramelised onions, these were ridiculously indulgent. We could only manage half of one of these calorie-bombs each, probably to the great relief of our vital organs. These definitely made for a fun night in, but in future I would probably call it quits and make the burgers after the baking step- I’m sure they would be almost as good! I’ll give this method a try with the leftover mac and cheese burger patties waiting for me in the freezer… but I think I’ll need some time to mentally face the prospect of tackling these guys again.
The good news? By the time that readiness does roll around, it might just be time for Vida Vegan Con 2014- and you can bet I’ll be doing everything I can to get myself over there and try the real thing.