‘Adventure bites’ (or, ‘not mac & cheese’)

For the record, I am not about to share a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. Off the record, this is totally a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese – just don’t tell my husband.

Mr. Second Helpings was raised with the rule that you must try everything on your plate before declaring your distaste for a dish or ingredient. (I like to call this ‘Adventure Bites.’) He continued to implement this rule into adulthood and has discovered a few things as a result. Trying new foods is not simply about liking or disliking; it can also be a thrilling experience. Adventure bites tickle the senses and expand the tasters food vocabulary. Adventuring in the culinary world requires a willingness to give foods a second, third, or fourth opportunity to delight by sampling numerous preparations. (On a side note: I believe this openness to new tastes was a major asset in Mr. Second Helpings’s weight loss.) However, after all this tasting and retasting there is one surprising meal he has never been able to find enjoyable – macaroni and cheese.

Numerous gob-smacked friends have challenged him on this position. He generally responds with a shrug. He can’t explain why he isn’t tempted by bendy tubular noodles smothered in ooey-gooey cheese. You may be thinking, he just hasn’t tried the right version and you might be right, but believe me he has sampled some pretty amazing contenders. On more than a few occasions I have cooed ecstatically over elbow noodles swirled with heavy cream, speckled with smoky bacon, or crusted with crisp potato chips. None of these have earned more than a neutral ‘meh’ from Mr. Second Helpings. The man just doesn’t like macaroni and cheese.

I knew and accepted this oddity (and a few others) prior to declaring ‘till death do us part,’ but now and then I get the urge to fold a few cups of al dente pasta in a blanket of velvety cheese sauce. When a craving for mac and cheese strikes I grab a box of bite sized pasta that isn’t tubular and sprinkle in any cheese that isn’t cheddar. With two quick swaps I get to indulge my craving for an all-American family favorite and he never has to eat macaroni and cheese.

Stove Top (not) Macaroni and Cheese

Add this recipe to your list of weeknight go-to side dishes. Incorporating defrosted frozen vegetables or steamed fresh vegetables gets more produce on the plate while stretching the servings. Turn this into a one-pot meal with the addition of some sliced baked chicken breast or other lean protein.

Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes; Yield approximately 16 (1/2 cup) servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb (8 oz) dry pasta – such as farfalle, penne, or rotini
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (or diced softened vegetable of your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup 1% milk (not ice cold)
  • 2 oz plain chèvre (soft goat cheese)
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
  • salt and pepper

Method

1. Measure your frozen vegetables into a bowl leave them to begin defrosting on the counter.

2. Prepare the pasta according to the package directions for al dente. Salting the water enhances the flavor but you may omit this step if sodium is a concern. When the pasta has 1 minute left to cook add the partially defrosted vegetables. The water will stop boiling. Leave the pot over high heat for an additional 3 minutes or until the water returns to a boil. Drain the water from the pasta and the vegetables. Allow a tablespoon or so of the cooking water to remain in the pot. Return the pasta and vegetables to the pot, cover, and set aside to keep warm while you prepare the sauce. Note: if using diced fresh vegetables you may also toss them in with the pasta for the final minutes of cooking before draining as previously stated.

3. To make the sauce, place a wide sauce pan or medium skillet over medium heat and melt the butter in the pan. When the butter has just melted, whisk in the flour and let it cook for about a minute. Pour the milk into the pan about 1/4 of a cup at a time while continuing to whisk. Make sure there are no lumps of flour and let the milk warm slightly in the pan before adding the next bit. When the milk has been incorporated switch to a wooden spoon and stir until the sauce coats the back of the spoon. Stir in both cheeses, Italian herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Fold the finished sauce into the cooked pasta and veggies. Allow the finished dish to sit for 3-5 minutes before serving. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Approximate nutrition per serving: 92 calories, 2 g. fat, 15 g. carbohydrate, 1.5 g. fiber, 2 g. protein, PP = 2

Adapted from Cooking Matters – Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

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