Hmm, perhaps power food and macaroni and cheese don’t exactly go together. And maybe they don’t.
But let’s face it, the worst part about dieting is letting go of some of the warm comfort foods that we crave during the winter months. It’s kind of cruel when you think about it—that everyone should feel the need to diet in January—amongst raging blizzards and ice storms—and then feel guilty if they eat anything richer than a bowl of quinoa.
So I am here with a recipe to warm your soul and make you feel pretty good about your diet at the same time. The people at Weight Watchers sent me some of their cheese, and asked me to make up several recipes with it. Each week for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a new recipe with the cheese, so stay tuned.
Though I was skeptical to use a reduced calorie cheese, I tried their Natural Mexican Four Cheese Blend (worth 2 points per serving), and found it to be much better than I thought.
I first tested it for taste. I found the cheese to be mild, and spot on for flavor compared to other full fat cheeses of the same variety.
Secondly, I tested it for meltiness. Twelve seconds in the microwave showed it melted just as nicely as regular cheese, lacking only in the grease film on the top. I’d say that’s a plus.
Once it checked out on those two points, I knew I could cook with it, so I put it right to work and made this whole grain macaroni and cheese.
Whole grain pasta can be a bit of a scary thing, I’ll admit. I remember in the early days of whole grain pasta several years ago when only a few brands existed on the shelves. Barely anything was easy to swallow. It just tasted so . . . so . . . healthy (said in the way Marcus describes his mother’s homemade bread in About a Boy—you know the part where he accidentally kills a duck with it?).
But since then, things have gotten better. Whole grain pasta comes in a huge variety of shapes, brands, and flavors now—so anyone can find a kind that they like. For my macaroni and cheese, I used Tinkyada shells, which is made from brown rices. Not only is it whole grain, but gluten-free, as well. I can find this kind of pasta in the gluten-free section of smallest of grocery stores.
whole grain macaroni and cheese
3/4 pound whole grain pasta shells or elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter, olive oil, or non-hydrogenated margarine
2 tablespoons Ultra-grain flour, all-purpose flour, or gluten-free flour
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup non-fat sour cream or low fat cream cheese
1 1/2 cups Weight Watchers Natural Shredded Cheese (Reduced Fat Mexican-Style Blend or Reduced Fat Shredded Double Cheddar Cheese)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large tomato, cut in thick slices
1 slice sandwich bread, ground into crumbs in a blender or a food processor
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water (optional), and pour in pasta. Let the pasta cook for about 8 minutes, or 1-2 minutes fewer than the package instructions suggest. Drain.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in flour, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1-2 minutes (this will cook out the flour taste). Gradually whisk in the milk, and whisk until smooth. Add in sour cream or cream cheese, and then stir in 1 cup shredded cheese. Whisk in nutmeg and taste for flavor. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Pour pasta into cheese mixture, and stir.
3. Pour pasta into a large, deep dish pie plate or small casserole dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, tomato slices. Mix bread crumbs with remaining tablespoon butter or olive oil, and sprinkle over the top of the tomatoes. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are golden, and cheese sauce is bubbling. Serve warm, and with a tall glass of water.
Also, if you’d like a great dessert that won’t destroy your resolutions, try this Whole Grain Banana Snack Cake by Marla at Family Fresh Cooking.
*** As a Martha’s Circle blogger, I have been engaged by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to blog about Weight Watcher’s cheese. MSLO provided me with samples of the product to test in my own recipes. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.