Lower Carb Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

My husband is very focused on comfort food these days. He brought me a magazine with a cover shot of Mac & Cheese. “Comfort Food Tonight: Your Favorite Recipes Made Faster (and Healthier),” the cover of Real Simple promised.  “Could you please make this?” he asked.

Why is this healthier? The mac & cheese recipe calls for whole grain pasta and bread crumbs, and the carb count is lowered with the addition of cauliflower.

The recipe also calls for a very small amount of cheese. According to the article, the use of extra-sharp cheddar adds so much flavor it is possible to skimp on the amount. Hmmm, I’m  not sure about that. And the fat count goes up because of the use of low-fat sour cream, which has way more fat than skim milk.

Oddly, the print version of the recipes provide no nutritional information, so it is not so easy to see just how much in calories and fat are really saved. Fortunately, this information is provided online. Compared to this highly rated version of mac & cheese from Recipezaar, the Real Simple recipe shaves off 1/4 of the carbs, 1/3 of the calories and about 1/2 of the fat. Not bad.

Except that the recipe gets low marks from reviewers for having too little cheese (6 ounces) and the Recipezaar recipe gets a big thumbs up with its full pound of cheese. I would tend to side with the critics on this one. I agree that mac & cheese needs a certain amount of cheese to be good.

I tried to follow the spirit of the recipe by using a little bit of smoked cheddar to up the flavor quotient. It worked in that the pasta had plenty of flavor. However, it just wasn’t cheesey enough. And, while I loved the sauteed onion and the cauliflower in the recipe, my kids were not so high on vegetables being mixed in with the pasta. Not a kid friendly recipe. And what is the point of making mac & cheese for your family if the recipe is not kid friendly?

My husband loved the recipe, but the kids actually spit it out and refused to touch it further. I liked it, but would have liked it a whole lot more with at least 12 ounces of cheese. I would have preferred to save calories by using twice the cauliflower and half the pasta, or just having half the serving size. Actually, the recipe would have been really delicious made with all cauliflower, although I think you would need something like three heads of cauliflower.

Conclusion: kind of a lot of work for mac & cheese and not so kid friendly. But my husband liked it. I think I would make it again, but with twice the cheese. I’m not sure what to do about the cauliflower. Make a seperate portion for the kids with the cauliflower left out?

mac and cheese

Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Boil until tender, following instructions on the box:
12 ounces multigrain elbow macaroni (my box of Barilla was 14.5 ounces)
While the pasta and cauliflower are cooking, saute:
1 onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
(I sauteed until the onion was golden because I wanted the sweetness of carmelized onions, but the recipe says to cook just until soft. I think cooking until golden is a better idea. So start the onions while you are waiting for the pasta water to boil.)

When the pasta and cauliflower are tender, drain them well and mix them with:
1 1/2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 ounces) (You need 12 ounces, people! And an ounce or so of smoked cheese is really very good here) 
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat sour cream (this was surprisingly good, actually)
1/2 cup 1 percent milk (I left this out; totally unnecessary)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (oops, I forgot this, but I think it would have been good)
(Actually, what I did was mash the cauliflower with the onions, sour cream and cheese, and then fold in the macaroni. In retrospect, it would have been better to puree the cauliflower to completely disguise it and get it past the kids. That would have nicely thickened the sauce, too. Oh well, we live and learn.)

For the topping, pulse in a food processor (I just crumbled by hand):
4 slices multigrain bread, torn (I agree with online reviewers that 2 slices is more than sufficient)
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (I left this out, just pointless.)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used butter)
1/4 teaspoon each Kosher salt and pepper

Transfer the pasta to a shallow 3-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

During the last 3 minutes of cooking, add:
1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
(actually, I boiled the cauliflower seperately, and I cooked it much longer, until it was good and mushy)

6 servings


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