Healthy comfort food? Yesss. By using a yummy smokey cheese, we can get away with using less and still have a fantastically flavorful and creamy pasta dish of our dreams. Macaroni and cheese with no regret!
Oh heyyy! So where the hell have I been right? Last time I posted was like a month ago. Wellll …life happened and lots of it. School wrapped up for one kid with all kinds of fanfare. School wrapped up for me too – I finally finished the 3rd of 3 graduate courses I took to check a big ‘ol box for work (when I finished my PhD years ago, I said would never take another course. HA! just shows how much working for the government sucks). Lots of other random do’s. All good things, just a lot of them.
And then there was the inevitable blogger mid-life crisis. Yeah, mine finally happened. A couple posts ago, I celebrated two years blogging with The Cuban Pizza (totally make that recipe guys!), and I had spent most of those 2 years going like gang-busters. …And then I promptly ran outta steam. So I took time off and gave this quite a bit of thought and have decided to chill the EF out. Meaning simply that I am going to cut out much of the mind-numbing blog post promotion crap …and no longer care about the numbers. Because that aspect was killing my joy. And my love of cooking is precious to me.
And another thing …after half Ironman triathlons in January and March, I ran outta steam there too…
(see the equation? mental stress from being too busy + too much physical stress = Erica shuts down. …which is totally what happened.)
…so I took time off from that too (like 6 weeks), and in the meantime life went directly to my ass. Uggg. So, now I’m trying to shake off those cobwebs, get active again, and shed the resulting 10 lbs by my fall races. I am getting there, but it is suh-lowwww. I even had to give up – wait for it – beer. GASP! Yup, because it’s hard to lose when you are me and hungry all. the. time.
So who else is struggling with their weight raise your hand! I know I’m not supposed to use the word “dieting”, but I don’t do politically correct. “It’s a lifestyle change”? Bite me. If I can’t eat pizza, it’s a diet.
So, enter pasta. When I am gloomy or stressed or pumped or sad or happy or just breathing, I crave comfort food like macaroni and cheese.
Hence my collection: Macaroni and Cheese, Jalapeno and Chorizo Macaroni and Cheese, Wine and Thyme Mac ‘n Cheese, Gnocchi Mac ‘N Cheese, and, of course, the now infamous Garlic, Bacon, and Beer Macaroni and Cheese. Because these dishes are deeelicious. …but life is cruel and I can’t eat things like this right now – at least not more than a tablespoon or two (kidding – not kidding). Not because I’m down on myself (well, maybe a little. I did just do four days of Disney World buffet hell) …but mostly because every lb I carry is one more to push on the bike. And I would reeeealllly love to make the podium at my next triathlon.
Damn is this post like therapy or what?!
Anywayyy, I needed mac n cheese but wanted to make one I could feel good about. Most skinny macs use butternut squash for the sauce – which I have done and that is super tasty – but that is not the only way. There is another! …use a stronger cheese. And I do not mean goat cheese or blue cheese (gawd). Use a smoky cheese that will melt into creamy, dreamy glory. Like smoked Gouda.
So what I can do is use a smoked Gouda with its particular skillset (a beautiful melter with full-bodied flavor) and use less. A lot less. Like half. And because Gouda has such awesome flavor, the other cup of cheese I would otherwise add is not even missed. Then also less butter, less flour, and lowfat milk. Boom.
Then to up the mmmmmm, I added some beefy, tasty, juicy mushrooms. And whole wheat pasta to make it more filling (yes I realize this isn’t actually “macaroni” but I couldn’t find whole wheat macaroni, so just go with it). And spinach. …just because.
The result was delicious, satisfying, total comfort but-at-the-same-time not judgemental or condemning like regular mac and cheese. This dish is weeknight easy and reheated leftovers are just as good the next day. All for about 360 calories for each generous serving. And sooo good. This recipe is proof that real comfort can come in a healthy cheesy casserole. Happiness!
- 6 oz large portobello mushrooms
- cooking spray
- 12 oz whole wheat pasta (I used fusille because my store did not have macaroni)
- 1 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cup lowfat milk
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp kosher salt (plus additional for the pasta water)
- pinch fresh cracked pepper
- 4 oz smoked Gouda cheese, shredded and divided
- 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
- 1 Tbs panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbs freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Heat up the oven broiler.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Clean the mushrooms: gently remove the stems and scrape out the underside gills. Spray both sides with cooking spray and broil, 5 minutes per side a couple inches under the heat. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, chop into half-inch pieces.
- Salt the water for the pasta with a handful of kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook al dente according to package directions.
- While pasta is cooking, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and flour and stir until smooth. Cook a minute to make a roux. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a pinch of fresh cracked pepper. Add two-thirds of the cheese (reserving the rest). Add the spinach and chopped mushrooms.
- Once the pasta is done, add to the prepared sauce. Transfer all to a bake dish (I used a 11x8 pyrex). Top with the remaining cheese.
- In a small bowl, combine the parmesan cheese, panko breadcrumbs, and olive oil. Sprinkle over the casserole. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until bubbly. Yields: 6 servings.