Macaroni & Cheese: An upgrade for a childhood favorite

If you are a mom, you've probably done the blue box tango. Should you buy that 52-cent blue box of macaroni and cheese because you know your child loves it, and because it's easy and cheap? What if you could recreate a dish that was fresher and healthier?
Change up the creamy pasta dish by giving it some texture - kids love crunch! Chef Chris Rains' recipe below calls for a light crunch topping that the adults will find delicious, too.
Chef Chris Rains' Five Cheese Bake
Serves 6-10, depending on kids or adults
1 qt. heavy cream
8 oz. block of Velveeta cheese, cubed
Salt, pepper and garlic to taste  
1 lb. of your favorite pasta, cooked
4 oz. Havarti cheese, shredded
4 oz. Smoked Gouda, shredded
4 oz. Romano, shredded
4 oz. Muenster, shredded
1 cup parmesan bread crumbs (you can find this in the flour aisle)
Add cream in stockpot, bring it to a boil. 
(Chef's note: Do not walk away from the cream - once it begins to boil, you must immediately remove it so it doesn't over-foam. This will not go back on a burner.)
Add in Velveeta and whisk until smooth.
In a large bowl, toss your pasta and cheese sauce, season and add in your remaining cheeses. They will melt as you blend. 
Place everything in a casserole crock or dish, top with all of the bread crumbs and slide into the oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes to finish the crunch. 
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing the most charming southern chef, Whitney Miller. Whitney was the winner of Fox's MasterChef (starring Gordon Ramsay) in its first season, and she stays true to her southern recipes with a twist. 
"Gordon Ramsay was very nurturing," she said, noting that she was not intimidated by him, despite his reputation. She wasn't intimidated by changing up the classic macaroni and cheese recipe either, and she shares her recipe here. Moms, brace yourselves - we're about to stage an undercover cauliflower mission. The kids will never know what hit them. 
Whitney's Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese
Serves 4
"Who doesn't love a side of mac 'n cheese with their fried chicken? My version of this indulgent side dish swaps pasta for cauliflower. Roasting the cauliflower adds a nutty flavor and hearty texture to the dish. You'll never miss the pasta in this mac 'n cheese." Whitney Miller, "Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm" (Rodale Books, 2011). 
8 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 head)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups fat-free milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)  
Preheat the oven at 400 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower florets in the oil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Roast until fork-tender and lightly browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the table salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Stir until the cheese melts, then cook, stirring often, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.
Place the cauliflower florets in an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish or four 10-ounce ramekins. Pour the cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle the top of the cauliflower with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.
Bake until the cheese is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm. 
So, next time you're craving some cheesy goodness, think outside of the blue box. Whether you go for the incredibly cheesy, fresh crunch or the healthy option with a hidden vegetable element, these two recipes should trump the standard every time.


joay111's picture

Nice to read your article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences.
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