Alternate title: Sometimes, courage backfires.
I can say with a certain degree of certainty that the last two nights' dinners were not winners and it is highly unlikely they will find their way to the table again. Fortunately for you, the telling should be at least somewhat entertaining, in that can't-look-away-from-a-trainwreck kind of way.
Last night, I made Seitan Noodle Casserole, which was only marginally less of a disaster than tonight's dinner. Let me start with the story of why I thought this was a good idea:
Once upon a time, my mom made this really great casserole that we unanimously loved as a family. I don't know if it actually had a name, but if memory serves, it involved shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, macaroni, and probably a condensed soup product. In any case, we loved it and it was apparently easy to make, so it became a "regular" in Mom's dinner rotation. She used it to bribe me into eating when I might not be otherwise interested and it worked every time.
For the life of me I can't imagine what made me think of this...perhaps I was craving a comfort food, perhaps I yearn for simpler times, but I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming desire to recreate this old Better Homes & Gardens classic in a cruelty-free recipe.
With any luck, my mom is looking at this picture and saying "Oh my heavens, it looks just like the casserole I used to make!" If that is actually occurring, let me say this one thing in your defense, Mom: It was nothing like yours (you win).
It does actually look tasty, but it didn't come close to the taste and texture I was trying for. I am going to try to tweak it a little and give it at least one more chance because there were a few things I knew right away I would do differently a second time.
1. saute the seitan until it becomes a little brown and crispy, rather than baking it while still "raw."
2. same with the peppers, but substitute "softened" for "crispy"
3. add some seasoning agents to make the "cheese" sauce a little more intense
4. use cheddar Daiya (or Ricemilk cheese)
The main problems in this version were the mildness of the cheese sauce (Mister said it resembled marshmallows after a few bites) and the fact that the only Daiya left at Whole Foods was mozzarella-style. I think I would still like to try the cheddar-style.
Let's talk about Daiya for a moment. Jess at Get Sconed has made her reticence toward this cheese-replacement a well-known fact. Nevertheless, Daiya is taking the vegan foodie universe by storm, so I wanted to give it a try. I've never actually used any other non-dairy cheese in a way that required melting, so I really don't have a point of comparison. Here is how the mozz-style Daiya melted on top of my fail-casserole:
Not overly convincing, if you ask me (which we'll presume you did, since you're still reading). Also, not terribly appetizing - this opinion was vehemently reinforced by Mister when he made a concerted effort to eat around the "fake cheese." Neither of us is impressed and Mister was very grateful I didn't taint tonight's dinner with the 1/2 cup left over.
Tonight, then, I thought I would try to make up for last night's less-than-perfect dinner. What better way to suck up to Mister than with his favorite food: Pizza! I pulled out my VegNews and my brand spankin' new jar of sumac and put together Zesty Za'atar Pizzas with sliced Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olives.
It's very pretty, yes? That's about where the enjoyment ends. First, that crust was one of the most difficult-to-cut crusts ever and required my pizza roller-cutter as well as my super-sharp Kuhn Rikon paring knife. I may have nearly lost my temper, too, and nearly given up on dinner. Maybe.
Because I couldn't find any pre-blended za'atar, I purchased a jar of sumac and put it together with the other ingredients in a recipe I had for the blend. I coated the pizza crust with oil, sprinkled the za'atar all over it, artistically arranged the tomato slices and olives, re-coated with oil and baked for about ten minutes. Mister and I learned a valuable lesson from our walk on the wild side:
It's good to be adventurous...as long as you know it will sometimes lead to absolute and undeniable failure.
We have decided (unanimously) that we aren't fans of sumac or za'atar, at least not in the quantities required to coat a pizza. We ended up scraping a great deal of the spices off and trying to salvage dinner...
I had hoped that the casserole would have been awesome, comforting, and amazing so I could share a recipe with you, but I am no Mozart and sometimes I have to erase things and redo them to get them right. If I do accomplish what I want to with that recipe, I will post it then, but until that time I want to encourage everyone to head over to chicvegan.com (you can also link from the right side blogroll) because my Banana Blondies recipe was featured!