What is it about Mac and Cheese that people love???? Is it the ooey-gooey cheesy goodness? Is it the warm and familiar way that it looks, smells, and tastes? Is it because it employs the use of one of the most recognizable pastas from childhood (apart from the spaghetti noodle)? I think it is all of the above...and then some. There is no substitute for homemade Mac and Cheese. It is so comforting. Granted, it is not the healthiest meal around (I understand what bad LDL's and triglycerides are). But say what you will, if you mention Mac and Cheese to almost any adult they go all glossy-eyed for a moment, then a look of rapture settles over their face. Ahhhh....Mac and Cheese. In a word....Yummy.
We have this dish once every couple of months as a side dish, but tonight I decided to make it the star. Conveniently, it also fits one of my vegetarian slots in this weeks meal plan. As I mentioned in previous posts, I try to have at least three vegetarians meals per week. This saves us money in food costs and has the added benefit of incorporating more healthy vegetables, grains, and legumes into our diet. It almost seems like I am cheating when I call this a "vegetarian" meal. It's pure decadence hardly makes it a sacrifice of any kind.
When I mentioned that this was on the menu for tonight's dinner, my husband literally licked his lips. There was a very 'Wile E. Coyote-staring-at-the-Roadrunner' kind of glimmer in his eyes. It was a little unnerving, to say the least. I had to change the subject quickly to avoid any further awkwardness.
This dish is a variation on a recipe that I originally tried a few month ago called, Chuck's Favorite Mac and Cheese from allrecipes.com. I have experimented with it enough to consider it my own. Also, I have incorporated some low fat ingredients to make it a bit healthier than the original version. I am going to change the name of the dish, since I have updated it to suit my families' tastes. I can't quite bring myself to take full credit for it by inserting my name in the title...so I will just rename it 'Favorite Mac and Cheese'. I don't know who Chuck is anyway, and I feel strange referring to him within the recipe title. Hopefully, Chuck will understand...whoever he is.
Favorite Mac and Cheese
1 (8 ounce) package of whole wheat or whole-grain elbow macaroni
1 (8 ounce) package shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 (12 ounce) container of low-fat cottage cheese (small curd is recommended)
1 (8 ounce) container of low-fat sour cream or low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup dry bread crumbs (I use a combo of 1/2 a cup of Italian-style and 1/2 a cup of Panko)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, added to cheese mixture
1/2 teaspoon of ground mustard, added to cheese mixture
3-4 drops of Worcestershire sauce, added to cheese mixture (soy sauce can be used as an acceptable substitute)
1 can of condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted (added to cheese mixture-optional)
1/2 teaspoon of paprika (added to cheese mixture-optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, add pasta, and cook until done; drain. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. In a separate bowl stir together macaroni, shredded Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream (or yogurt), Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire, paprika, soup, and ground mustard. Pour macaroni mixture into baking dish. Then, in a different small bowl, mix together bread crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle bread crumb topping over macaroni mixture. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until top is golden.
Since I have some minor guilt for serving Mac and Cheese for dinner, I will make sure to incorporate a side dish of a healthy vegetable. I am so stinkin' excited for dinner tonight, I just might pee a little.
Oh man, this was fan-freakin'-tastic! This is one of those dinners that is so satisfying, I could probably eat it every day in a row, for at least a month or two. I seriously love this Mac and Cheese! I am excited that we have a ton of leftovers; this yummy Mac and Cheese will be my lunch for a least a couple of days.
I did add some new stuff to it this time. I just can't help myself...I love to tamper with perfection. I did not have enough Cheddar cheese, so I added a can of condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup (you know, the one with the red and white label). It actually worked really well, and it gave the recipe a creamier quality than it normally has...I was surprised. I think I may keep the canned soup in the dish for good. Also, I ended up using low-fat plain yogurt in lieu of the sour cream. I had yogurt on hand, and truthfully, I don't notice a really big difference in flavor. They are pretty close; especially if you get the Greek-style yogurt (the texture is identical to sour cream). I added paprika to the mix this time, too. I love paprika...so I rationalized that it would be a crime not to try it. It gave it a more complex, depth of flavor. It ended up adding the tiniest bit of zing. Still familiar comfort food, but with a little more character. I think I will amend the above recipe to reflect my changes. I think this was definitely my best effort yet.