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Food for good

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Thinking this past week about St. Joseph's Day (did you know he is the patron saint of pastry chefs? Neither did I), and it's charitable, as opposed to culinary, traditions, I was reminded that one aspect of the holiday traditionally has been that a feast is prepared in honor of St. Joseph, who answered the prayers of the people of Sicily in the Middle Ages, bringing them rain after a terrible drought. Part of this tradition is that food, or donations received from those partaking of the feast, are given to the needy.

What can we do, though, if not holding our own St. Joseph's Day feast? Currently, I know of two efforts to do good through dining out (and if anyone knows of other such efforts, please let me know).

One is via the Chicago Diner, the meatless Lake View eatery that often incorporates disaster relief efforts into their menu. Through April 1, $1 will be given to Japanese earthquake relief efforts from every Titanic BLT burger or Lucky Leprechaun Shake sold at the Chicago Diner. The proceeds will go to Direct Relief International and AmeriCares, each of which is working to provide disaster relief in Japan.

Another type of charitable effort has been taking place at Outback Steakhouses. So far, Outback has given more than $1 million to Operation Homefront, a national non-profit providing emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. The money is raised through the contribution customers, when they order items from Outback's Red, White and Bloomin' menu. You can still help add to that $1 million figure, as this menu will be available at Outback through April 5. If you can't make it to an Outback before then, you can also visit Operation Homefront's website if you want to learn more and help that organization out.

There is alot we can do to help each other out. These are two little ways we can contribute something, but it is something, and collectively, our efforts just may be significant somehow.

8-4-10_Hein_tofu_1.jpg (Ryan Poli with tofu. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

With a few exceptions, chefs aren't exactly the picture of healthful eating in their down time (or even on the clock, for that matter).

Which is why this vegan mac and cheese recipe on Perennial chef Ryan Poli's blog -- sprinkled with such phrases as "brown rice pasta," "vegan cream cheese" and "nutritional yeast" -- gave me pause.

Say wha? Ryan Poli, have you turned vegan?

"God, no," he says. "But my girlfriend is."

Ah, that explains it. Poli's love, Kelli Zink, an entertainment reporter for, is actually a "self-proclaimed seafood vegan -- a sea-gan," Poli says. "She loves when I cook for her. But I can't just riff off whatever I've got in my fridge. It's really tough. Every Sunday, we cook together and it's like a Top Chef challenge."

And because love makes you do crazy things, Poli has started fiddling around with vegan cooking. (It should be said that Poli respects tofu.) Nutritional yeast? "I had no idea what it is," Poli says. "I was like, what do you people eat? But it's actually very common. I got it at Whole Foods in the bulk section, and it's pretty cheap. They use it in place of Parmesan cheese. I think brewers use it for beer."

The first version of Poli's mac and cheese came about at Zink's parents' house during Christmas. Poli made a generous amount ("what I thought was too much") of gluten-free pasta with this cheesy vegan sauce, as well as a chefy, non-vegan version made with aged Gouda and all sorts of other lovely, stinky, artisanal wonders from Pastoral.

"Everybody chose the vegan pasta over the regular one," he says.

Poli revised the vegan pasta even further last weekend. This is how much he likes this dish: "We're actually considering putting vegan mac and cheese on the menu [at Perennial]."

Recipe after the jump.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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