My family loves macaroni and cheese. We buy it in bulk from Costco and I make the from-the-box version at least once a week for the girls for lunch (then guiltily eat the leftovers straight from the pot). My husband, who also loves to cook, is partial to the Barefoot Contessa’s indulgent version, which I estimate contains about 58,000 calories and 895 grams of fat. (People. There are 8 tablespoons of butter and six cups of cheese in there, and that is why you can’t stop eating it.)
All of this to say, I wasn’t sure how we were going to feel about Ellie Krieger’s healthed-up version, Macaroni and Four Cheeses. Yes, there technically ARE four cheeses, but there is also a lot of squash (two 10-oz packages frozen), and I snuck it in quickly while the girls were busy with bubbles outside. The recipe made a lot of mac and cheese – an entire 9×13 pan – but it was quick, easy, and only dirtied two pots besides the final baking dish. It came out of the oven looking pretty much like “normal” macaroni and cheese does, but more orangey due to the squash.
And yet, my whole family ate it happily. My notoriously picky two-year-old even had seconds! We shared some of our bounty with a family down the street, and their two kids (ages three and four) ate it with gusto. At under 400 calories per serving and full of essential vitamins, it lacked that gooey, stringy yumminess you sometimes want in your winter comfort food, but if you are looking for a healthier-but-still-satisfying version of the standby, this will work. It reminds me, in theory, of that Jessica Seinfeld book Deceptively Delicious that came out a couple of years ago, and I’m curious – if you’ve made her Mac and Cheese, is it pretty much the same concept? Because I am not above tricking my children into eating their veggies.
We rounded out our meal with another Ellie Krieger recipe, Zucchini Parmesan Crisps. Basically, you thinly slice a zucchini or two, toss the slices in olive oil, dredge them in a mixture of parmesan and bread crumbs (I used panko), and roast them on a cookie sheet until they’re browned and crispy (about 25 minutes). It couldn’t be easier, but, sadly, my children could not be convinced that these “veggie chips” were anything like potato chips. Two forks out of four, here, but my husband and I LOVED them and I’m filing this recipe away for summertime, when zucchini and yellow squash are coming out our ears.
Lastly, I indulged our family sweet tooth by making my mom’s applesauce. It could not be easier, and it’s so much better than the sad little tubs of commercial applesauce that I hardly ever buy them. Our neighbors who shared this meal said it was “like dessert,” so this might be a great treat (for kids or grown-ups) after a good meal. For one batch (serving roughly 6-8 as a side dish), you’ll need:
one three-pound bag of McIntosh apples
1/4 C. water
1/4 – 1/2 C. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. (This is the semi-tedious part, but it’s sort of therapeutic, so just do it.) Put the apple slices in a pot, pour in the water, sugar, and cinnamon, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. I stop cooking it before the apples turn totally to mush because I like the chunky texture, but you can completely pulverize it if you’re making it for a baby or you have texture issues. And then, as my two-year-old would say, “Ta-dah!” Applesauce. And your house will smell great, too.
Overall, I’m encouraged by my first foray into adding a little more health and variety into our family dinners. I’m newly enamored with Ellie Krieger, whose Food Network show I am making more of an effort to catch in spite of the fact that she says the word “antioxidants” a little too frequently. Next week, I’m going to put my baking skills to the test and see if treats can still taste good when they’re made with whole wheat flour.