Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"This Mac n' Cheese Tastes Like Doritos." (A Healthier Recipe for Mac n' Cheese)

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When I was growing up, my mother cooked everything from scratch, including macaroni n' cheese, which, coincidentally, was the one dish that my brothers and I didn't like. Despite her most valiant efforts, we would always complain, "It's not as good as the one in the box." Blasphemy, pure and simple.

To this day, I blame Kraft. Perhaps it was the kid-appealing, artificial orange color of the cheese. Or maybe it was a secret ingredient in that magical powder in the unmarked white envelope. Whatever it was, it was one of few prepared meals we ever ate (and preferred to homemade).

Well, just like my mom, I decided to make mac n' cheese. I made it from scratch and didn't tell Jeff what was in it. After a couple of bites, he said, "Wow! This is good! It may sound weird, but this mac n' cheese tastes like Doritos!" (Hah! I thought. The fajita spice worked.) Considering he finished his plate, then stood at the stove eating the mac n' cheese right out of the casserole dish, it's safe to say he liked it.

I really liked the way this Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese turned out because the cheesy topping got all bubbly and crunchy, while the pasta underneath remained comfortingly soft and creamy. I'm also pleased that the melted cheese isn't a plastic-y, neon orange (sorry, Kraft), but a soft, natural, golden orange.

orange cauliflower

This healthier mac n' cheese recipe loses most of the fat and cholesterol of traditional mac 'n cheese but holds onto the creaminess and flavor that make it an American favorite. Plus, it's an easy way to get your kids to eat their cauliflower. According to Wiki, orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of vitamin A as white varieties, so it may even help give them bionic vision.

If you really want to get your kids to eat their cauliflower, then add 1 tablespoon fajita or Mexican spices to the sauce and call it "Doritos Mac n' Cheese." I swear, the spices make it taste just like Doritos. Now, what kid wouldn't love that? Come to think of it, what adult wouldn't love that?

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Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

1 head orange cauliflower (white can be substituted)
1/2 pound small pasta such as gemelli, elbows, or shells
2 tablespoons Smart Balance butter substitute
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups skim milk, plus 1/2 cup for pureeing cauliflower
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup for sprinkling on top
a generous amount salt and several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fajita or Mexican spices, optional
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Smart Balance butter substitute

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Trim cauliflower and break into small florets. Boil until tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain. Place in a blender or processor with 1/2 cup milk and puree until thick and smooth. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to directions until al dente.

For the sauce, melt 2 tablespoons Smart Balance in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk briskly. Gradually add 2 cups milk, whisking continuously, until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes, or until thick and bubbly. Add the pureed cauliflower, 1 cup cheddar cheese, and a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat. Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and toss until well coated. Pour into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar evenly over the top.

For the buttered breadcrumbs, melt 1 tablespoon Smart Balance butter substitute in a small skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toss until coated with butter. Sprinkle even over the top of the cheddar. Or, if you prefer, set crumbs aside, and use as a garnish just before serving.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown on top and the cheese sauce is bubbling around the edges.

You might also like these comfort foods:

Mediterranean Jacket Potatoes

Butternut Squash Risotto with Rosemary, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese


Penne with Italian-American "Gravy," Meatballs, and Sausage

More healthy mac 'n cheese recipes:

Macaroni and Cheese with Vegetables at My Diverse Kitchen
Macaroni and Cheese with Peas and Roasted Corn at Coffee et Vanilla
The Best Vegan Baked Mac 'n Cheese at Karina's Kitchen

I'm sending my Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese to two lovely ladies, Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, who are co-hosting World Food Day, an event that highlights foods from your country.

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