Saturday, April 10, 2010

Guiltless Mac and Cheese

When my husband and I were still dating, my husband used to keep boxes of mac and cheese in his pantry.  We cooked them when we felt like being lazy, and I actually enjoyed it.  But then I had mac and cheese at a fancy restaurant and couldn't stop spooning in the rich creaminess even after I was completely stuffed.  I went home and searched for the recipe.  Lots of butter, tons of cheese... no wonder it's so good!  We loved eating mac and cheese, but we also want to lead a healthy life.... Then my husband gave me a task: cook mac and cheese without butter, a healthier mac and cheese challenge.

Often, mac and cheese recipes start with making bechamel sauce with butter, flour and milk, then add cheese to it.  Well, I can't use butter so no bechamel for me.  Instead, I thickened the milk with cornstarch.  Since the butter is one of the key ingredients for that rich flavor (everything is better with I right?), omitting it makes the dish much less tasteful.  But don't worry.  A little bit of Dijon mustard and a few pinches of spices do the trick.  Adding asparagus is another way to make it healthy.  Asparagus adds volume to the dish without a lot of calories.  I like fusilli for my mac and cheese because the spiral holds the cheese sauce better than elbow macaroni.  Finally, top with garlic flavored bread crumbs, and you have a plate of guiltless mac and cheese.

Guiltless Mac and Cheese Print Recipe

1 1/2 cupfusilli or macaroni
1 Tbspolive oil
1 clovegarlic, minced
3 Tbspbread crumbs
3~4 springsthyme
1 1/2 cupmilk
1vegetable (or chicken) bouillon cube, crushed
a pinchchipotle powder
a pinchnutmeg
a pinchblack pepper
1/2 tspdijon mustard
2 Tbspcorn starch (for slurry)
2 Tbspmilk (for slurry)
3/4 cupshredded cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat the oven (or oven toaster) to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Cut off the tough end of the asparagus, about two inches.  Add a spoonful of salt into the boiling water.  Blanch the asparagus for one to two minutes and shock with cold water.  Cut into three inch segments (or your preferred size) and set aside.  In the same pot, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan.  Add garlic and cook for about a minute until aromatic.  Turn off the heat and add the bread crumbs and thyme.  Set aside.
  4. In another pot, heat up the milk and add the crushed bouillon cube.  When the bouillon is completely dissolved, add the chipotle powder, nutmeg, black pepper and Dijon mustard, and stir to combine.  Add the cheese to the pot.  When the cheese melts, add salt to taste if needed. 
  5. In a small bowl, mix corn starch with two table spoons of milk.  Add the corn starch mixture to the cheese mixture while stirring until thickened.  Add the cooked pasta and the asparagus.  Turn off the heat and pour into a casserole dish.  Top with the bread crumbs and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until top crust forms.