Healthified Mac N' Cheese

I can’t believe I haven’t posted about macaroni and cheese yet!

I suppose it has been a long time since high school, when my best friend and I routinely polished off two boxes of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese between ourselves while watching The Notebook or Moulin Rouge for the 37th time.  Such addicts we were.

Macaroni and cheese was definitely a childhood staple.  Not that those were the healthiest of our meals, but we kids loved the stuff.  Who doesn’t?  Fortunately, there are more choices in life than the boxed mix, and a few of them are even pretty healthy!

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When Chocolate Covered Katie posted a recipe for Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, I was intrigued.  Cauliflower just seems to be popping up in all kinds of recipes now, from pizza crusts to mashed potatoes to sauces, blessing each one with a healthified upgrade.  She, along with many others out there, has also gotten me into the cashew-craze.  I’m pretty much obsessed with using cashews in creams and sauces now. 

So I tried the cauliflower-only version on my first go at healthy-mac, and I’ll admit it: I got a little hasty.  I guess I’m used to blitz-cook-no-prep-macaroni, and… I didn’t cook the cauliflower for the whole 20 minutes.  The sauce was tasty… but it was also lumpy.  It also tasted a lot like cauliflower.  Not a bad thing, really, but not really a macaroni and cheese thing.

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After waiting a few days for my first batch to be devoured – and devoured it was – I made another.  This time, I simmered the cauliflower with raw cashews, for a full 20 minutes, and waited until the very end to add the cheese.  (Just to be sure the cheese didn’t clump at any point.)  I also used Barilla PLUS noodles instead of the whole wheat – which gives it additional nutrients like protein and iron, without the whole wheat texture – and used Colby-Jack and cheddar cheeses (in a small but potent amount)  instead of the random ones I had pulled from my fridge before.

The result: creaminess and silkiness of gourmet status.  Queens and movie-stars would come from far and wide to dine on such a delicacy that supports their diets and their refined tastes. 

Okay, well, I’m exaggerating.  But only a little.

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I thought this version turned out really delicious, with not a hint of graininess, and the cauliflower taste has all but disappeared.  There is plenty of flavor here, no preservatives, more protein, less sodium, nothing artificial at all, and you can even make it vegan without a hitch.  I love that even though the sauce has a more restaurant-style creaminess (with no fun clumps of dried packet-cheese to discover… ok, I’m weird and I did like that), the cheesy taste still brings back memories of high school Mac N’ Cheese noshing.

I think I’m going to have to put on The Notebook and go eat some Healthy-Mac now.  Want to join?

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Healthified Mac N’ Cheese

Ingredients:       

  1. ½ head of cauliflower, chopped finely
  2. 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  3. 1 ¾ c. almond milk (unsweetened original)
  4. ¾ c. raw cashews
  5. 1 T. olive oil
  6. 1 T. butter (or vegan butter)
  7. ½ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
  8. ½ c. shredded sharp cheddar (50g) or a vegan cheddar
  9. ½ c. shredded Colby-Jack (50g) or a vegan cheddar/other
  10. 1 box Barilla PLUS or similarly enriched macaroni

Directions:

  1. Place all of the ingredients except cheeses and macaroni in a pot over high heat.  Bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce to a simmer.
  2. Allow ingredients to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, boil enough water for your box of macaroni, and cook to al dente. This took 8 minutes for my pasta.
  4. Turn off stove and blend into a silky-smooth sauce.  Keep the blender carefully covered to avoid burning yourself with the sauce.
  5. Pour the sauce back into the large pot and dump macaroni on top.  Mix together & serve!  I later put peas in mine, too, FYI.  ‘Twas delicious.
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