‘Manly Mac’ (aka: The Best Mac + Cheese Ever)

Everyone in blog land usually headlines their recipe posts with “The very best XYZ in the world” or “The tastiest ABC ever!” It’s okay; Self-promotion is natural (heck, I do my fair share). However, some of those recipes don’t really live up to the hype. I find this to be true with most vegan macaroni and cheese recipes.

We’ve all seen the standard recipes that boast some nutritional yeast, some spices, maybe a few Daiya shreds here and there, topped with parsley and e’rryone goes cray…at the pictures. And then you taste it and you’re like “Hm. Okay, this still tastes like FREAKING NUTRITIONAL YEAST AND WATER.” It’s as if we vegans have forgotten what makes mac and cheese so grand – that savory, salty taste, that gooey cheese filling every noodle crevice -because we make it too thick, too lumpy, too runny, or just plain sad and then offer it up like the real thing. No. And when we do this, our non-vegan friends taste it and go right back to thinking that vegans are fucking crazy people with no taste buds and a closet exclusively filled with clothes made from hemp. Now, you’ve risked the kingdom. However will you recover?

THIS is how you recover.

Manly Mac The Little Foxes Ashlee Piper Vegan

It tastes as magic bananas as it looks. TRUST.

I have it on good authority, after many omni taste tests, that this recipe, also called “Manly Mac,” is delicious enough to contend with some of the richest non-vegan mac and cheese recipes out there. You know the ones dripping with cream, roux, butter, and eight different kinds of sharp, imported, cruelty-laden cheeses? Yeah, those. And, while this recipe was designed for deliciousness and not low-calories, it’s still way freaking better for you than that CRAZY Paula Deen recipe, y’all. And it’s crafted with love by your own little southern former-fat-kid sassypants – MOI.

I included lots of pics with this one because you guys like pictures (we all like pictures) and this recipe lends itself to lots of drool-worthy, want-to-swim-around-in-that-cheese-sauce snaps.

Best of all, I’m breaking it down for you TWO WAYS. I am a mac and cheese purist – a former Velveeta lover – so I love my mac unbaked and gooey. Other residents of this household (not Banjo) feel that everything is better when topped with breadcrumbs and baked crispy. Whichever end of the spectrum you occupy, I GOT YOU.

Manly Mac The Little Foxes Ashlee Piper Vegan

Ashlee’s Way – Unbaked + Creamy Dreamy

Manly Mac The Little Foxes Ashlee Piper Vegan

Andy’s Way – Baked with a Crispy Top

A Childhood Confession

As a kid, I loved a lot of shitty-for-you, but awesome tasting food (if you haven’t already gathered from my previous musings on Arby’s and the like. What a charmer I am…). Among my crappy food love, was a serious penchant for Hamburger Helper’s Hamburger Mac. What?! Totally full of not-real, lab-synthesized ingredients that are awful for you and your weekly allowance of sodium. But let’s be real here: That shit tasted good. Like, really, really good. I’ve modeled this a little after Hamburger Helper, which probably just obliterated any street cred I’ve earned in the vegan kitchen club thus far (I’ll make something with quinoa and kale later and all will be mended). But once you make and taste this creamy mixture of onions, ground beef, cheese oozing from al dente shells, and a crispy baked crust, you’ll be lining up at my home to smooch Banjo. Which you’d probably do anyway because she’s damn cute.

Enough of the stories, Ashlee. Let’s get on with it. 

Okay! Now, take my oven-mitted hand and come with me on a fantastic voyage even Coolio ain’t packed or ready for.

The Little Foxes “Manly Mac”

  • Yields: Technically 6 servings, but let’s be real here – this makes about 4 servings in my home (2 if you’ve had a bad day or are depressed)
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes (though I prefer to make the sauce the night before to give it a chance to mingle flavors)
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 package of pasta shells (you can opt for gluten-free to make the recipe so)

For the ‘Beef’:

  • 1 package of vegan ground beef (I used the Trader Joe’s Beefless Ground Beef, because I think it tastes the best)
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 1 onion, thinly diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil, for sautéing

For the Baked Topping:

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free breadcrumbs to continue with the gluten-free theme)
  • A few sprays of olive oil, for the baked topping
  • Green onion, sliced thinly on bias, for garnish

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup cashews, soaked and drained
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 package of Daiya Havarti Wedge
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 vegan bouillon cube (I like Rapunzel’s with herbs and garlic)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (or Bragg’s Aminos)
  • Four drops of Liquid Smoke
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Sriracha, or more to taste
  • 2/3 cup water (feel free to use the cashew soaking water – that’s what I do)
  • Dash of curry powder, to taste
  • Pinch of nutmeg, to taste
  • Dash, Chipotle Tabasco
  • 2 tbsp Trader Joe’s (also known as Annie’s) Goddess Dressing
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • A few generous grinds of Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning


  • In a blender or Magic Bullet, add the soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, bouillon cube, liquid smoke, Goddess Dressing, lemon juice, water, and spices. DO NOT ADD THE DAIYA YET.
  • Blend mixture until completely creamy and smooth. Add a little more water if necessary to get your blender going. The mixture should be thick and creamy, almost like a loose pudding.
  • Ideally, I make this sauce the night before and store in the fridge so the flavors can get jiggy with one another. Do this. It makes a difference.
  • The next day, I add in the half Daiya Havarti Wedge and blend smooth. The sauce will have thickened overnight and the Daiya will make it even more voluptuous (yes, I used that word to describe a sauce and I like it).
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Yeah, it’s that creamy.

  • In a skillet, add your olive oil and finely diced onion. Sauté for a few minutes on high heat to glaze the onions.
  • Add in your ground beef crumbles and continue to sauté with the onions for a few minutes.
  • Add the beer and mix beef, onions, and beer together for another two minutes until beer is absorbed and your ground beef mixture is on the drier side. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a stock pot, bring your water to boil and cook your shells until al dente. Drain shells and return to stock pot.
  • Add in your ground beef and onion mixture and drizzle your cheese sauce over the still-hot shells. (This step looks amazing, BTW)
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Almost makes you want to weep, don’t it?

The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Cheesiness, meet ground beefiness. Ground beefiness, meet cheesiness.

The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

You can almost hear that beautiful sound of noodles + sauce bonding.

  • Mix together and, if you’re like me, plate up and top with some thinly sliced green onion.
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Plate it up…

The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

…and watch it vanish.

  • BUT if you want to BAKE some crispiness on there, transfer the mixture to a deep casserole dish (more depth allows the shells and sauce to stay creamy while the top gets crispy) or individual ramekins.
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Ramekins make everyone feel so special.

  • Sprinkle and lightly press panko breadcrumbs overtop of the casserole / ramekins. Spray breadcrumbed tops with olive oil and crown with some Trader Joe’s Smoke Seasoning. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven and desired crispiness.
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Sprinkle ‘dem breadcrumbs… LIKE A FAIRY

  • Serve topped with thinly sliced green onion and smiles.
The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper

Just begging you to break in to that crispy top…

The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper


The Little Foxes Manly Mac and Cheese Vegan Ashlee Piper


Did you make this? Did you like it? If you didn’t, my next recipe will be MY HAT.

  • http://anunrefinedvegan.wordpress.com An Unrefined Vegan

    Hot damn, lady!! I’m so with you – YES! – most vegan mac n cheez talks the talk but don’t walk the walk! Oh and I’m also in the unbaked camp: gimme all of the oozy cheesiness, no crust, thank you.

  • http://thelilfoxes.com The Little Foxes

    …and this is why we are blogland soulmates. :)

  • http://vedgedout.com Somer

    I’m on the fence, like mac and cheese both ways, but I HAVE to try this baby!

  • http://vegancrunk.blogspot.com Bianca-Vegan Crunk

    I’m a no-baker too. But I’d get so down on both variations! That looks like creamy deliciousness food of the gods. Need it in me!

  • http://www.veganbakesale.org Gary Loewenthal

    Both varieties look delicious. I’m going to make one or both soon.

    • http://thelilfoxes.com The Little Foxes

      Thanks, Gary! Let me know how it turns out for ya!

  • Gina

    I can’t wait to try this recipe… thanks for posting!

    • http://thelilfoxes.com The Little Foxes

      Wonderful! Can’t wait to hear how you like it. :)

  • http://www.bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward Rebhal @BonzaiAphrodite.com

    This is hands down the BEST vegan mac I’ve ever made, even with a few substitutions. I used Teese moz in place of Daiya and al dente-cooked french lentils in place of the veggie ground and homemade veggie broth in place of beer. Still AMAZING.

    And in case it needs to be said – TOTALLY toddler approved. 😉

  • http://www.bigcityvegan.com/blog Sharon @BigCityVegan

    Daiya Havarti is off the chain & that @BonzailAphrodite recommends this recipe to the high heavens, I’m all in!

  • http://thelilfoxes.com The Little Foxes

    Thanks, ladies!

    Sharon, let me know how it works for you. I’m pretty finicky when it comes to vegan cheese sauces (and my boyfriend loathes, LOATHES vegan cheese), so I worked long and hard to make something that was convincingly rich.

    Hope you enjoy – and thanks for the lovely shout-out, Sayward!

  • http://willowandthyme.com/blog Nicole Leigh

    “Yields: Technically 6 servings, but let’s be real here – this makes about 4 servings in my home (2 if you’ve had a bad day or are depressed)

    THIS. 😀
    (Also, it was delicious!)

  • ashley

    i actually found this recipe through Sayward’s instagram, and i have to agree – THE BEST vegan mac (sauce) i’ve had! i only made the sauce, and i left out a couple things because i didn’t have them (basil, chipotle tabasco (subbed with chipotle adobo sauce), goddess dressing and the african smoke seasoning), but it was still amazing. i also used some leftover sauerkraut juice in place of half the water. it was so good i just ended up dipping tortillas into the sauce straight out of the blender. this will be my new go-to sauce. we must spread the word about this sauce! AMAZING.

  • http://thelilfoxes.com The Little Foxes

    Ashley, you officially made my YEAR! Thank you. And your substitutions sound rad (sauerkraut water? BALLER). Thanks again for the love and for spreadin’ the good word. You’ve made this new food + lifestyle blogress very happy!

  • http://sisterearthorganics.wordpress.com The Savvy Sister

    Commence salivation

  • Jessica

    Looks amazing. How long do you soak your cashews for this recipe?

    • The Little Foxes

      Hi Jessica! I only soaked ’em for about 30 minutes in a cup or so of water. If you can soak them for only 15 minutes, that should be fine, too. Enjoy, and let me know how this turns out for you!

  • Harriet

    I just made this and loved it! Thank you for the great recipe. My intention was to take it to an omnivore potluck tonight, but it’s so good we are eating it at home before we go! (Potlucks are a whole issue of their own – I got scared that everyone would eat this and leave none for us vegans) – but this dish would be ideal for a potluck! Now I’m going to the party with a salad and a full stomach :-)

    • The Little Foxes

      Oh, Harriet! Thank you for the super kind comment! I’m so glad you liked it, thank you for making it, and I have a tendency to eat the whole pan, too. 😀 xo

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