Monday, August 6, 2012

Baked Mac-n-Cheese

This meal was tested on animals... and they LOVED it!

My household (cats included) is a huge fan of the blue box.  I remember our first couple of years of marriage included Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at least a couple of times a month, not because I couldn't cook (because I totally can), but because my hubby and I just love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The chemicals, the unpronounceable ingredients... what's not to love?!

Well, in an attempt to move our meals from boxed, chemical-riddled concoctions to more whole foods, I started looking for recipes to replace our beloved blue box, but every single "homemade" macaroni and cheese recipe I found online started with a base of Velveeta.  Now, I'm not knocking Velveeta here but don't claim to be homemade macaroni and cheese when you melt a stick of Velveeta and call it homemade cheese sauce.  That's as much homemade as me pouring milk into a bowl with the packet of "cheese" from the blue box and calling that homemade.  *Steps Down From Soapbox*

Just wanted to throw in another photo for good measure! 

Anywho... When I started following a lower carb, higher protein diet, my pharmacist recommended a book called "The Belly Fat Cure" by Jorge Cruise.  In his book, Mr. Cruise offers hundreds of lower carb, healthier recipes for some of our absolute favorite carb heavy, chemically processed foods including macaroni and cheese.  I used that mac-n-cheese recipe as the base for mine and adapted it to suit my personal tastes.  Also, I included some gluten-free alternatives so my gluten-allergy affected friends and family can also try out this recipe!

Sorry in advance for the lack of photos for this post.  This macaroni and cheese recipe requires both hands during the entire process, so I didn't get many photos this time, but I promise to have the hubby help me next time so I can add in some photos at a later date, but I at least wanted to get the recipe up for y'all to view!

Here is the mac-n-cheese right after I pulled it out of the oven! Yummy!

So... without further ado, here is my version of homemade mac-n-cheese!  I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you did to make this recipe your own!

Baked Mac-n-Cheese
Adapted from The Belly Fat Cure

-  1 bag           Whole Wheat or Gluten Free Pasta (12-16 oz. bag is typical)

Cheese Sauce:
-  1 1/2 cups    Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
-  1 cup            Grated Colby Jack Cheese
-  1/2 cup         Grated Mozzarella Cheese
-  6 tbsp.          Unsalted Butter
-  3-4 cloves      Fresh Garlic, minced
-  2 cups           Heavy Whipping Cream
-  3 tbsp.          Whole Wheat Unbleached All Purpose Flour (or Rice Flour for the Gluten-Free version)
-  To Taste       Seasonings including: Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, 
                       MSG-free Season Salt

-  4 tbsp.          Unsalted Butter, melted
-  4 tbsp.          Whole Wheat Panko (or Gluten Free Bread Crumbs)
-  1/2 cup ea.   Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese and Mozzarella Cheese
-  1/2 cup         Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese
-  To Taste       Seasonings including Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder

-  Cook pasta according to the direction on the bag.
-  Once the pasta has cooked, drain it, but reserve approximately 1 cup of the pasta water in case you need to thin the cheese sauce.
-  Set aside.

Cheese Sauce:
-  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and grease a glass casserole dish (9" x 13" or 11" x 17" dish will work just fine).
-  Over medium heat, melt butter in a medium sauce pan, and throw in the minced garlic.
-  Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, and whisk continuously for a few minutes.
-  Whisk in the heavy whipping cream, and bring to a soft boil.
-  Once the mixture has begun to boil, turn down to medium low heat and continue whisking for a few more minutes (2-3 minutes) until the mixture begins to thicken.
-  Slowly add in the various grated cheeses until completely combined.
-  Remove from heat and continue to stir.  Should the sauce feel too thick, feel free to thin it slightly by adding the reserved pasta water a little bit at a time until your desired thickness has been reached.
-  Mix the cheese sauce with the drained pasta, and transfer to a baking dish.
-  Cover the mac-n-cheese with the topping (directions to follow), and bake uncovered for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

-  Melt the butter in the microwave.
-  While the butter is melting, combine in a bowl: panko, cheeses, and seasonings.
-  Once the butter has melted, remove it from the microwave and add it to the panko mixture.
-  Mix together with your hands until everything is combined, then sprinkle over top the mac-n-cheese.

-  Tradition calls for using elbow macaroni as the pasta, but I like to shake things up and use different pastas like farfalle, penne, or bow tie pasta.  Feel free to use whatever pasta you would like!
-  Following the directions as is will yield a gorgeous casserole style side dish, perfect for barbeques, weekday dinners, or special occasions, but you can mix in your favorite meat to create a full casserole-style dinner.  My hubby and I personally like to mix in my slow cooker shredded chicken to make a spicy Mexican-style Mac-n-Cheese, but ground turkey or ground beef would also be a perfect mix-in.  To make this a full meal, you will want to mix in your hot, cooked meat of choice in at the same time you mix the pasta in with the cheese sauce that way everything gets a nice coating of cheesy goodness.

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