Mac n’ cheese makeover.

Confession: I’m kind of glad Cholula’s birthday is over.

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Yesterday, we watched some videos we took of her as a tiny fluffball and essentially turned into sniffly piles of “Awwww!” Her first bath. Her first time off leash at the park. Mealtime (hilarious with a ravenous baby puppy!). If someone had walked up to us, holding a puppy with outstretched arms, we would FOR SURE have snatched up the little munchkin and moved right back into Puppy Town. (Also known as No Sleep Town, Hide Your Shoes Town, and Might As Well Re-carpet the Living Room Town.)

Bullet dodged.

But we did have a really fun afternoon with the birthday girl! Since she ate half of her weight in Cheesy Bacon Biscuits (and because it’s her favorite thing to do), we took her swimming. It was a beautiful evening!

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Being pretty much down for the count over the last week, I hadn’t spent much time in the kitchen. Last night, I tried a new recipe and it felt great to be back in my happy place! I spotted the headline on my Natural Health magazine: Naughty Foods Made Nice. I was intrigued…aren’t you?

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In this issue, they revamped some traditionally high-calorie or otherwise unhealthy recipes into yummy, healthier versions. I thought the macaroni and cheese looked tasty, and comforting on a chilly fall evening.

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I must back up here and say that my mom’s recipe for baked mac n’ cheese is awesome.  It’s basic and delicious. Sometimes I add some pancetta, which takes it to another level. I tried to view this healthy version of mac n’ cheese as DIFFERENT- not a comparison.  Because it would be hard to improve on perfection.

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The ingredients include things like fat-free evaporated milk, whole-wheat pasta, and veggies. I made a few tweaks to the recipe in the magazine, like always. For example, when making the béchamel (the sauce), I started by sautéing minced onion first because I like it. I simmered some evaporated milk with the onion on the stove.

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Meanwhile, I whisked together some whole wheat flour, Dijon mustard, paprika, garlic powder, salt and nutmeg with more evaporated milk and added that combo into the sauce pan. (I also added garlic salt and crushed red pepper, which the recipe didn’t call for.) I whisked that mixture constantly until it thickened up like a traditional béchamel, took it off of the heat, and stirred in some shredded cheddar cheese.

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From there, I cooked the pasta (adding fresh spinach at the end of the cooking time to wilt for less than one minute). I tossed in some steamed broccoli and the cheese sauce and stirred away.

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Here’s where I have to take a stand. Macaroni and cheese must be baked and must have a toasty layer of breadcrumbs. That wasn’t part of this recipe, but I did it anyway. A sprinkling of pecorino cheese was the final touch, then into the oven for a half hour or so. I enjoyed Mr. Warty Pumpkin and the fire while it baked.

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The result was tasty- very tasty. But I’m not sure I would call it a macaroni and cheese. To me, it felt more like a veggie casserole with a light cheesy sauce. I loved the addition of the veggies, and could see adding others- sundried tomatoes, maybe squash. The crunch of the toasty breadcrumbs was a must. We enjoyed it with a salad of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shredded basil and chopped spinach.

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Overall, I think it’s a GREAT starting point for coming up with creative casseroles! That’s what I love about cooking– trying new things, experimenting, and making a recipe your own. Using the reduced-fat or whole wheat ingredients didn’t change the flavor at all, but made it healthier. The article also included healthy makeovers for pizza, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and carrot cupcakes… stay tuned!

Speaking of dessert…

I had a super simple mix for pumpkin spice cookies in the pantry. I glazed them with some cinnamon icing. After a healthy dinner like we had, a sweet treat hit the spot.

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Cholula ended her birthday with another biscuit and a weird furry squeaking frog toy.

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Life is good.

Do you have any healthy makeover recipes to share? I’d love to try them!

Macaroni and Cheese from Natural Health Magazine

Serves 6; 360 calories per serving

  • 1 ¾ cups fat-free evaporated milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat.)
  • (I added 1/3 cup minced onion.)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (I added more.)
  • (I also used garlic salt when seasoning and added crushed red pepper to taste.)
  • 4 ounces reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli
  • ¾ pound whole wheat pasta, such as macaroni
  • 6 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed
  • 6 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • (I added seasoned Italian breadcrumbs.)
  1. Place a large pot of water over high heat for boiling pasta.
  2. Place ¾ cup evaporated milk into a medium bowl and whisk in flour, mustard, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and nutmeg.
  3. Pour remaining cup of evaporated milk into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (Before that step, I sautéed the onion in the saucepan.) Whisk in flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Cover to keep warm.
  4. Cook broccoli according to package directions and drain.
  5. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 6 minutes. Add spinach and cook 30 seconds more, just until wilted.
  6. Drain pasta and spinach and blend into cheese sauce, along with broccoli. Stir pasta and cheese over low heat until mixture is hot. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon Pecorino Romano cheese.

(Before adding the Pecorino cheese, I poured the cheesy mixture into a glass baking dish, sprinkled breadcrumbs over the top, added the Pecorino cheese, and baked it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the top was browning. Yum.)

5 replies »

  1. Your mac and cheese looks delicious! I sometimes add shredded carrots to the pasta a couple of minutes before it’s done when I make mac and cheese. It’s a nice way to sneak in some veggies! I don’t like broccoli, but I think I’ll try your recipe with cauliflower. Thanks for sharing!

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