Sunday, December 11, 2011

Make a childhood favorite better: Healthier Mac & Cheese

One of my most fond childhood memories?  Kraft Mac & Cheese.  This was always a treat on those nights where my father was in charge of supper.  It was not only the food itself, but the experience; my sister and I got to help cook: toss in the butter, pour in the milk, shake and release the packet of cheese powder… you remember the drill.

It’s been a long time since the days of that family-sized blue box, but you can still have your mac & cheese, and your veggies, too!  Some inspiration for this dish came from my friend Rachel over at Little Chef Big Appetite, Rachael Ray, and Angela at Oh She Glows.

Mmm tempted yet?  Ready to ditch whatever else you had planned for dinner and make this instead?  GREAT!  Let's get started.

Serves many.

Read more for the recipe --

1 lb whole wheat penne
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp flour
½ medium onion
1 cup "milk" of choice (skim, almond, coconut...)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 ½ cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Black pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes if you'd like a spicy kick


Cook the pasta, broccoli, and mushrooms together in a large pot of water, according to package instructions.

Meanwhile (while you wait for the water to boil and such), in large skillet, melt the butter. Add oil and onion and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes. 

Add flour until well-combined, another minute or 2.  

Ugh, couldn't you just eat this gooey mess as is?
Stir in the broth and the cooked butternut squashuntil the mixture is blended.  

Add milk, and stir until it begins to bubble.  (Add more broth as needed.)

Got your shredded cheese ready?

At last, stir in the beautiful fresh cheeses, stirring until they’ve melted into the mixture and the sauce is nice and thick.  

Turn off the flame.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme to taste.

When the pasta and vegetables are ready, drain and add to the cheese skillet.  Mix the pasta into the sauce until it’s evenly covered.  

Doesn't it look lovely?  Prettier and healthier than the old (but respected) Blue Box?  Yes.  Are you ready to taste it?  It’ll make you very happy… 

But wait!  There’s more!  That is, there’s more if you want there to be.  If you’d like a firmer, more baked-ziti-like dish, pour that final mixture into a 9x9 non-stick baking dish.  

Top with a bit of extra parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.  Stick it in the oven at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.  

Remember, this past part is totally optional.  In my opinion and the opinion of my taste-testers, the two dishes taste the same (well, duh, it’s the same exact ingredients), and with the leftovers, I actually preferred the unbaked version.  It’s totally a matter of preference for the gooey mac and cheesey consistency (for this, do NOT bake in the oven) or the more firm, baked-ziti dish (bake in the oven). 

My opinion?  The un-baked form won out.  Hot off the stove, nice and gooey, just like my childhood Kraft dinners =)

Ready, set, dig in!
Enjoy! Put it straight from the stove to your stomach!  Well... stove to plate to fork to stomach. Nice and easy, no rush, enjoy the flavors, don't inhale it (even though you'll want to). 

Note: For vegans, Oh She Glows has a great cheese-free “cheeze" sauce you can make instead!   I've got it bookmarked to try another time.


I would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences below: