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Weeknight Wonder: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

31 Aug

My teaching schedule can sometimes mean being gone at an awkward hour for trying to coordinate dinner, so I’ve learned a lot of crock pot, sous-vide, and make-ahead meals to keep Joe and myself from paying for take-out.

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe is one of my personal favorites, because it skips some of the fussier steps like making a roux and a cheese sauce. Nope, this one is for the evening you’d rather skip all of that and still have something hot, gooey, cheesy and delicious. Plus, it can be prepared well in advance. You can also double this recipe for a bigger crowd or even add vegetables or chopped meats to it.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 8 oz. dried pasta (I usually go with penne or elbows)
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (or a mixture of cheeses! Great way to clean out the cheese drawer.)
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs or crushed crackers
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the pasta al dente, drain the water, and return the pasta to the pot. Add the cream cheese and stir until the pasta is lightly coated with cream cheese.

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Combine the cream and spices in a measuring cup and then stir that into the pasta. Add the flour and Dijon mustard as well.

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Finally, add the cheese, stirring to distribute as easily as possible. Move this mixture to a greased 8×8 in. baking dish. At this point, you can prepare it for the oven, or cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.

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Melt the butter and stir it into the bread crumbs. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the macaroni and cheese and then bake for 25 minutes.

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I also like to turn the broiler on for the last minute or two to brown the top. We get four servings out of this, and it reheats really well in the oven or toaster oven. Yum!

Unexpected Favorites: Zucchini Lasagna

22 May

Creativity, in my opinion, is one of the most important assets any cook can have. It is always really interesting to me when I have a chance to exchange recipes with other RNY post-ops. Generally they’ve revamped favorite recipes into ones that fit into their new healthy lifestyle. People have come up with really interesting, delicious things like chocolate cakes sweetened and moistened with canned pumpkin, or protein-packed pancakes made from ricotta cheese and nut flour.

It was during one of these exchanges many years ago that someone first brought up the idea of using zucchini squash as a replacement for lasagna noodles. Although skeptical (I love pasta), I gave it a try and LOVED it. If, like me, you are currently being driven crazy by a project and just need something simple to heat up at lunchtime, this is the answer. You can use low-fat cheeses if you wish, but I prefer to use full-fat in this recipe. Even with full-fat cheese, it only works out to 8g of fat per serving.

Zucchini Lasagna

  •  1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 2 zucchini, sliced thin on a mandoline
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups diced mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 16 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 oz. whole-milk mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 egg
  • Thyme, salt, onion powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Brown the turkey in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and minced garlic and saute a minute longer. Add the tomato sauce, herbs, and seasoning and simmer while preparing the filling.

Combine the ricotta, 2 oz. of the mozzarella, and parmesan with thyme, salt and pepper. Taste and re-season as needed, then add the egg and mix well.

Put a thin layer of the tomato sauce mixture in the bottom of an 8×8 in. square baking dish. Top that with a layer of zucchini, and then finally with a layer of the ricotta mixture. Repeat this process until you’ve used up the filling. I usually get about 8 layers.

Top with any remaining small slices of zucchini and mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until bubbly and cooked through. After removing from the oven, allow it to sit for 15 minutes before cutting into slices. Yield: 9 slices.

Want to get a bunch of meals out of this? Simply refrigerate the leftovers in the baking pan overnight so that they firm up. Then wrap individual servings in several layers of plastic wrap and then freeze. To reheat, either place in a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F until warm, or in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.

That’s all for this healthy and happy recipe. But I’ll finish this post off with something even happier. Check out my face as I realize that I’ve just walked into a surprise bridal shower thrown by my wonderful family and friends this past weekend:

Then realized my sister-in-law flew in from New York to be there:

And ended up with a bouquet of bows from generous gifts for Joe and I:

Truly, I am the luckiest.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Ciao for now,

Neen