Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese

The Joy of Cooking

What a joy it is indeed. Especially on the days like today, when Captain Two-Year-Molars decides he’s up for the day at 4:45am. What a sweet and thoughtful boy. And I’m the dough-head who thought maybe I’d get him to sleep next to me and his older brother. So flash forward to lunch time (at 10:30 because when you’ve been up since 5 it seems very reasonable), and I’m doing the good mama thing, stirring the cooking noodles soon to be lunchtime mac and cheese. My oldest calls to me- “Homemade mac and cheese?” or as close as he can get because, God love him, he really can’t enunciate very well and probably needs a speech therapist (yeah it’s on my list back off). I remembered that indeed I promised him last night I would make homemade mac and cheese today. So quick change of lunch plans, I threw in some pasta sauce and cooked turkey meat and voila, not mac and cheese. I then proceeded to prepare real mac and cheese for dinner. Backstory- I grew up on mac and cheese. It’s a comfort food for me and I truly believe my mom’s is the best, only because it puts me right back at the dining room table growing up. I follow the heart of her recipe, but I definitely tweak it. This is my chance to slip in things that my children won’t normally eat (at least not the eldest, since he has decided to take up gagging loudly when introduced to a vegetable that isn’t hidden). BEWARE- I have learned the hard way that there is only so much you can slip in to mac and cheese before it becomes not mac and cheese. Then you have a bowl of noodles and something approximating mac and cheese that no one wants to eat. I don’t make this super frequently, so if I’m going to go the mile for a carb-y cheese-y meal, I’m going to tend to make it more mac and cheese, fewer hidden gems.

Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese Recipe:

Cooked noodles- use what you have. Today I used a combo of whole wheat penne and organic wheat rotini. I’ve found that all work well, but elbow and anything small with crevices cradles the delicious melty cheese much better than penne or spaghetti. There’s no judgment here though- noodles are noodles. I’ve even used rice noodles or quinoa noodles. Do it up. Experiment. Anything covered with cheese can be edible (disclaimer: do not eat inedible objects covered with cheese).
One can of evaporated milk. I used a 12 oz can. It’s a fine balance between too little and too much moisture, but I’d err on the too much side.
Bag of shredded cheese- preferably cheddar or some variant. Mozzarella is going to turn it more into pizza, which could be good. I go for Colby usually, but today it was a bag of Sargento Gourmet Blend. We shall see. I didn’t use the whole thing but go ahead and do what you want.
Veggies- today I used maybe a cup of frozen broccoli. I tried to snap all the florets off so it was in small little pieces. My kids won’t eat big hunks of broccoli. My method left me with very cold fingers but whatever. That’s love right there.
Extras- I added half a can or garbanzo beans. I try to add something protein-y when making such a carb-heavy dish. I didn’t have any more cooked meat, and truly the cooked meat can tend to add a flavor to the dish that takes it out of the mac and cheese category for me. I have tried other beans in the past, and as long as the proportions are right, it doesn’t impact the results much.
Seasoning- do it up. I add lots of pepper, salt, some already minced garlic from a jar in the fridge, onion powder. Not too much- if you’re not comfortable adding dashes here and pinches there, just stick with salt and pepper. I sprinkled breadcrumbs in the dish while stirring and added some to the top. But then I remembered I took a bag of frozen cooked squash out of the freezer to add, so I’m going to stir that in to the mixture before it goes in the oven. It should add a little color and perhaps a slight sweetness, but definitely some veggie power.
Stir together in a medium-sized oven-safe bowl that has been sprayed with Pam. Don’t neglect the Pam or half the mac and cheese will stick to the bowl.
Preheat oven to 350, cook uncovered until it starts to get golden brown on the top. This is about 30-45 minutes. Don’t cook too long or the noodles on top get so crunchy as to render them inedible.
Remove, allow to cool, attempt to restrain self from not eating the entire bowl.

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