Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mac and Cheese

So one day at work I was procrastinating and checking my email, when a recipe for a healthy alternative to Mac and Cheese popped up. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and sure enough, yumness popped up.

I loooooooooove mac and cheese. The incredibly unhealthy Kraft kind. Mmmmm... yellow cheese powder. Of course Overweight Chocoholics attempting not to look like Miss Piggy in a wedding dress has banned the Cheesiest from her wedding dress diet. Seeing the blue box sitting on those grocery shop shelves brings a single tear to my eye.

The recipe I found with its whole grain pasta and spinach has a lot more umpf than the kiddy Kraft kind, but the goodness is too much to pass up. Looking at the recipe, I decided to make some changes and turn it from a side dish into a yummy baked casserole able to be eaten over multiple days.

The original recipe is so:


  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs, (see Tip)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
  5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

As yum as this recipe seemed, I decided to make some changes to slim it down and make it a whole meal instead of a side dish.

For the pasta, I chose to use whole-grain penne pasta and cooked enough to fill a shallow casserole dish. Since the dish was shallow, instead of layering the spinach, I chose to mix it in with the pasta and cheese sauce.

Instead of using plain breadcrumbs, I choose to use panko style breadcrumbs for its superlicious crunchy taste. Since I used a larger casserole dish, I need more than three table spoons. The oil was still more than enough and lightly coated all of the breadcrumbs. I also used 1% milk (it was what we had), whole wheat flour, fat-free cottage cheese, and mixed a cup of fat free cheddar with the extra sharp cheddar.
When mixing the cheese, in addition to the nutmeg, I also added a teaspoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of paprika to give the cheese a little extra flavor. I also substituted a pinch of seasalt instead of regular salt.

Once the pasta was mixed with the cheese sauce, and spinach, I added the breadcrumb layer and popped it in the oven to cook and bubble for a yummy dinner for Dave and me.

Oh my god. This thing was unbelievable. We actually ate this dish for 3 days without any complaints, and were sad when it was gone. Perfect comfort food without the powder cheese! This meal will be added into the rotation.

According to the original recipe, a serving of this casserole was around 500 calories. Give and take my fatfree changes, it is a hearty meal. The best part is I didn't have to eat a lot to feel full and energized for the whole day. This was definitely my kind of meal!


  1. I loved that line ... "this casserole was around 500 calories" BUT ... give or take a few changes ... it's like creating Frankenstein's Bride: it's better but perhaps a little more deadly. LOL

  2. @ CJ: See, I think that is one of my many struggles with living a healthy life. Deep inside I know that if I drop 50 pounds, I will be better but a little more deadly.:-D

    Wait a second... that is awesome! Thanks for giving me my new inspiration!!!!! >:)

  3. oh this looks fabulous! i LOVE mac and cheese and i also love the idea of a semi-healthy version. :)