Two-Cheese Mac and Cheese

Two Cheese Mac and Cheese

It’s interesting to watch people change over time.  I look at my daughters now, and wonder how they will turn out 10, 20, 30 years from now.  When I was younger, I hated to write.  Stick me in front of a stack of numbers, and I was happy as a clam – but ask me to do any type of writing, and I would just panic.  To this day, I am still much more comfortable with numbers (or quantitative data), than I am with any other type of information – but there is a part of me that longs to write.  It is a way to let things out in a non-obtrusive sort of way – to let some of the stress out that builds up throughout the day.  Fortunately I have other healthy ways to deal with stress, but writing actually does allow me to cope in a way that I had never experienced before.

Jealousy is a horrible word.  It is horrible for so many reasons, but it has taken on a whole new meaning for me over the past several years.  I have watched it destroy people – and for no good reasons what so ever.  There is never any winning when jealousy is involved.  It only ends up hurting people.  And sometimes you can dig yourself into such a big hole, that there is no coming out unscathed.  It is at those times that you wish you could turn back the clock – and remind the person how this could end.  Maybe, just maybe that would resonate. Sometimes you just don’t know how good you have it.  It is not just a horrible word, it is a horrible state.

I have never been much of a jealous person, although I have definitely been guilty of food envy.  Going to a restaurant is a little bit like opening a box of chocolates. You can look at the menu and read about the dishes, but until you get a chance to taste – you don’t really know what you are going to get.  Macaroni and Cheese is a whole different story.  Seriously – when have you ever had a macaroni and cheese that you did not like?  Ok – so as I write that, I can remember over the years eating plenty of mac-n-cheese that looked amazing, but when you actually took a bite it either had no flavor, was dry, or just tasted like someone melted some cheese over pasta.  Now – just to keep it real, of course I have never turned away mac-n-cheese, even if it didn’t taste fantastic – but I will never give up finding that perfect mac-n-cheese recipe, and just when I think I have found it, I am sure there is another one out there that is even better.

The other week while my husband was travelling, I decided it was time to try out a new mac-n-cheese recipe.  One of my daughters is not a big fan of cream cheese, but I figured this might just change her mind.  And boy did it ever.  The girls thought this was hands down the best mac-n-cheese I have ever made.  It was super creamy, flavorful, and worth every single bite – and the best part of all, it came from Cooking Light.  So no need to ever have food envy with this recipe in your stash.  And don’t worry, it feeds a big crowd – so no one else will have food envy either.  It’s a win-win for everyone – and isn’t that the way life should be.

Ingredients

  • 10 ounce large elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3  garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson), divided
  • 1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 8 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)

Preparation

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic to pan; cook 3 minutes or until garlic is fragrant, stirring frequently (do not brown). Stir in 1 cup stock; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute. Combine remaining 1 1/4 cups stock, milk, and flour; stir with a whisk until flour dissolves. Add milk mixture to garlic mixture, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 5 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Remove milk mixture from heat; add cream cheese, stirring until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper. Add cooked pasta to milk mixture, tossing to coat. Let stand 5 minutes. Pour pasta mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle cheddar evenly over pasta mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown. Let stand 5 minutes.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Two Cheese Mac and Cheese

No-Boil Mac and Cheese

No Boil Mac and Cheese

I actually remember when I first found no-boil lasagna sheets.  I just couldn’t believe it.  I was probably jumping up and down in the super market, making a spectacle of myself.  The first time I made lasagna, I thought it would be easy.  Little did I know that those noodles were the death of me.  They were impossible to lay out in one piece, even if they were al dente.  Every other part of the lasagna was easy – except those dang noodles.  I quickly bought a batch and couldn’t wait to go home and try them out.  Making lasagna couldn’t get any easier – and I swear, you would have never known they were not pre-boiled.  It was magical.

Years ago, when I was really into making casseroles, I made a lot with un-boiled rice – that I baked in the oven until the rice was cooked.  There always had to be enough sauce, but it was super easy, and always tasted good.  For some reason I never thought to do that with noodles though.  I think because I found those no-boil labeled noodles, I assumed they had to be a certain type in order for the noodles to get soft in the oven.  I guess I was wrong…

I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, and immediately cut it out.  I knew they were onto something big.  This recipe sat in my pantry for what felt like an eternity.  I had to wait for the right time – this made a lot of mac and cheese, and I had to make sure I had enough kids to eat it.  This past weekend we had some friends over, the oldest boy in middle school.  Here was my opportunity.  It was super easy to put together, and baked up perfectly.  The sauce was nice and thick, the noodles were just the right consistency – not too soft, and not too chewy.  Everyone loved it – in fact, my girls are still eating the leftovers, and loving every bite.  I have to say – that garlic breadcrumb topping is something else….as you can see, I will definitely be making this again.  And the best part?  No noodles to boil, and one less pot to clean.  Here comes the jumping again!  Double bonus points!!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 3  cups  whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher  salt plus more
  • 1/2 teaspoon  freshly  ground black pepper plus more
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
  • 2  garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped  flat-leaf parsley

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400°. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan  over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk  in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook,  whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in  1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from  heat.

Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other  shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not  stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet  over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season  with salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese,  then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is  golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  No-Boil Mac and Cheese

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Grilled Chicken Florentine Pasta

If you are a regular on this blog, you know that we don’t eat a lot of pasta in our house.  Believe me, if I could have pasta every night I would – but since my husband is not a huge fan, I have created a special place for pasta in our house.  My husband has to travel from time to time, and my girls hate it when he goes away – they definitely love their Daddy.  So, a while ago I decided that as a treat when he is away, we have pasta for dinner.  There are no more tears when he is away now – all because of a little pasta – wow, I bet you never knew pasta could be that powerful.

Needless to say, we have a lot of pasta recipes cut out of various magazines that my daughters are waiting for me to make.  It used to be that they would only eat plain pasta – no sauce, no vegetables, no nothing.  Just noodles.  Slowly I have broken them out of this mold.  Now, remember my story about the Spinach Bites, and how I got my older daughter to eat spinach, not just eat, but LOVE spinach?  Well, it was time to try something new – and see if that carries over to other dishes.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light and figured that it was basically like a mac-n-cheese with chicken and spinach – well, not only did my older daughter devour this, my younger one ate her entire helping, and asked for more!  Success!!  I was seriously impressed – but this was a pretty delicious dinner, I had three helpings.  So – if your kids hate spinach, don’t try this first – go for the Spinach Bites.  But if you have moved past that, and are ready for something a little more risky – I have got the recipe for you.  Go on, give it a try, what’s the worst that can happen, you have to eat the chicken and spinach remnants from their bowl?  You will still thank me…

Ingredients

  • 2  (6-ounce) bone-in chicken breasts, skinned
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 8 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • 4 cups fresh spinach leaves

Preparation

Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill for 8 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 10 minutes. Carve chicken off bones, and thinly slice.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well; keep warm.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add flour and garlic; cook until garlic is browned (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly. Add milk and broth, stirring with a whisk; bring to a simmer, and cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Add cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and spinach; stir until spinach wilts. Add pasta and chicken; toss to combine.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Grilled Chicken Florentine Pasta

Truffled Mac and Cheese

I am holding up the white flag.  I feel like I was run over by a truck this week, and I can seem to get the skid marks to go away.  What a week – between my older daughter’s rehearsals and performances for Annie Jr. and people coming and going from our home – that alone could have been enough to drive someone over the edge.  Add to that my husband was travelling, and work seemed to explode into hundreds and hundreds of emails, all needing attention – but I was too busy in meetings to respond.  I am seriously surprised I am still coherent enough to talk about it.  I am sorry I missed my usual Wednesday post – but after reading this, I am sure you understand.  Something (actually many, that I don’t wish to talk about right now) had to suffer – and this week my blog was one of them.

So, what do I make for dinner when my husband is away?  There are times when the answer is “nothing,” although that does not make my kids very happy.  Normally we have pasta.  spaghetti and meatballs seems to be the fan favorite – but macaroni and cheese is another one high on the list.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, and I really couldn’t get past the “Truffled…”  Last year when I took my older daughter to Paris, she had Truffled Mac and Cheese one night for dinner – and she still talks about it.  It was the best Mac and Cheese she had ever eaten.  Well, this was not as good as the one in Paris (which probably had fresh truffles in it), but it was pretty darn delicious – especially for a light recipe.  All of us had at least two helpings, and there was plenty left-over for the next day.  It re-heated wonderfully for a Mac and Cheese recipe.  I highly recommend it – the cheese was creamy, and the truffle oil really gave it that special kick.  So – I am not going to tell you that this recipe will turn chaos into order, but it certainly is a nice treat.  Now, back to the laundry…

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups 1% low-fat milk, divided
  • 2 cups sliced onion (about 1 medium)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white truffle oil
  • 2 ounces French bread baguette, torn
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation

Heat 1 3/4 cups milk, onion, and bay leaf in a large saucepan to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edges (do not boil). Cover and remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

Strain milk mixture through a colander over a bowl; discard solids. Return milk to saucepan over medium heat. Combine remaining 1/2 cup milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Gradually stir flour mixture and salt into warm milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; let stand 6 minutes or until mixture cools to 155°. Gradually add fontina and Comté cheeses, stirring until cheeses melt. Stir in pasta and truffle oil. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart broiler-safe glass or ceramic baking dish.

Preheat broiler.

Place bread, Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a food processor; process until coarse crumbs form. Drizzle with olive oil; pulse until fine crumbs form. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over pasta. Place dish on middle rack in oven; broil 2 minutes or until golden brown.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Truffled Mac and Cheese

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Mac and Cheese with Shallot Breadcrumb Topping

Mac-n-cheese, these three words make my two children so happy, especially when it comes from a box with powdered cheese.  I have to admit, that powdered cheese is not half bad, but it never compares to homemade mac-n-cheese for me…which I hope my children will say someday as well.

When I was young, I lived for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese - there was nothing better.  When I would visit my grandmother at the beach, she would let us have it for lunch every day – it was like a dream come true.  Since I rarely shop anywhere besides Trader Joes and Whole Foods, my kids have grown up with Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese.  A few years ago when we were up at Whistler, they asked for Mac-n-cheese for dinner – so I went to the store, and they only had Kraft.  I actually didn’t think they would like it – boy was I wrong, they were in love – they loved it so much they asked if I could buy some and bring it home with us.  I told them that I didn’t think the border police would allow it – and that it was just something that would have to enjoy when in Canada.  Oh the things we tell our children…

I am always trying to get them to see the light though – and will try any Mac-n-Cheese recipe I see, just to get them to branch out a bit – and eat some real cheese.  I found this recipe in Bon Appetit – and it was a huge hit – even the shallot topping which I was sure my younger daughter would protest.  She said that was her favorite part.  I adapted it heavily below to fit my kids style, but it was still made from real cheese.  This is definitely a keeper.

Ingredients

Breadcrumb topping:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs

Mac and cheese:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups (packed) coarsely grated extrasharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 3 cups (packed) coarsely grated Fontina cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
  • 8 cups cooked pasta
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley (optional)

Preparation

For breadcrumb topping:
Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 5 minutes. Mix in breadcrumbs. Cool.

For mac and cheese:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add flour; stir 1 minute (do not brown). Gradually whisk in milk and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk 2 cups cheddar, 2 cups Fontina, and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano into sauce. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in pasta; remove from heat. Mix 1 cup cheddar, 1 cup Fontina, and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano in small bowl. Layer half of pasta mixture, then cheese mixture in baking dish; repeat. Sprinkle with breadcrumb topping. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until topping is golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Top with chopped parsley(optional).

For a printer-frieldn version of this recipe, please click here:  Mac and Cheese with Shallot Breadcrumb Topping

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Turkey, Cheese, and Noodle Bake

Remember beefaroni?  I am not sure what gave beefaroni such a bad reputation, but I often heard it referred to as barfaroni growing up.  Now how can you like something with a name like that?  Even if it is the most delicious food you have ever eaten.

I decided that it was time to serve this retro dish to my kids – and see if it deserved the barfaroni nick-name.  Instead of making something up, I decided to dig deep into my old recipes.  I wanted to find something that was a little more like mac-n-cheese with meet and a tomato base.  I couldn’t believe it, but I found the perfect dish.  The original recipe came from Cooking Light, although I adapted it slightly below.

The girls loved it – it was creamy like mac-n-cheese with a nice tomato flavor and the ground meat gave it some bite (and a little protein).  The best part was that neither of them knew that there was shredded carrots in the sauce – which made it almost sweet tasting.  This is great for a crowd, because it made a lot.  At least a few nights worth of food in our household.  Serve this with a salad, and you have a the perfect well-balanced retro meal – and I promise no one will call it barfaroni.

Ingredients

  • 1  (8-ounce) package small elbow macaroni
  • Cooking spray
  • 1  cup  chopped onion
  • 1  cup  shredded carrot
  • 2  teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1  pound ground turkey
  • 1  cup  tomato sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  fat-free milk
  • 2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2  cups  (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Lightly coat pasta with cooking spray.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and carrot, and sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add ground beef; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add tomato sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates.

Add pasta to beef mixture in pan, stirring to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place milk, flour, nutmeg, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add 1 cup cheese, stirring until smooth. Pour cheese mixture over pasta mixture; stir. Top evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Turkey Cheese and Noodle Bake

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Bacon, Ranch, and Chicken Mac and Cheese

 

I hope that this is the first of many Mac-n-Cheese recipes on this blog.  I have certainly made my share over the years.  I am always looking for new unique Mac-n-Cheese recipes though – ones that are not just noodles and cheddar cheese.  I remember about a year ago I made a recipe for 4 kids that had 4 different types of cheese and bacon – and one of the kids (not one of mine) told me that it was the best Mac-n-Cheese he had ever had.  Now, I guess I can’t take that as a complete compliment, since my competition was probably just Annie’s – but still, it felt good. 

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light – and because I am not a fan of ranch dressing, it didn’t hit me as something I really longed to make.  My older daughter though likes to read over my shoulder – and there was another recipe right next to it that I was enthralled in…so she asked me when I was going to make the Mac-n-Cheese.  I had her look at the ingredients – and even though she is also not a huge ranch dressing fan, she wanted to try it.  I really think the bacon was clouding her judgement.  I can’t say this was my favorite recipe – but if you are looking for a different kind of Mac-n-Cheese – and you DO love ranch dressing – this is the ideal recipe for you.

Ingredients

  • 8  ounces  uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1  slice applewood-smoked bacon
  • 8  ounces  skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1  tablespoon  butter
  • 1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2  cups  fat-free milk
  • 1/3  cup  condensed 45% reduced-sodium 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded six-cheese Italian blend (such as Sargento)
  • 1/2  teaspoon  onion powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  garlic powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) shredded colby-Jack cheese

Preparation

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings in pan. Finely chop bacon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add chicken to drippings in pan; sauté 6 minutes or until done.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; sprinkle flour evenly into pan. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Combine milk and soup, stirring with a whisk; gradually add milk mixture to saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; let stand 4 minutes or until sauce cools to 155°. Add Italian cheese blend, onion powder, garlic powder, dill, and salt, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in pasta and chicken.

Preheat broiler.

Spoon mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with reserved bacon and colby-Jack cheese. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Bacon, Ranch, and Chicken Mac and Cheese

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