December 23, 2009

yet another amazing mac and cheese

The holidays! I love 'em! While I've spent countless hours in the kitchen over the last month, it's been about three weeks since I actually cooked dinner. Instead, it's toffee this and chocolate-covered caramels that.

We've been busy these last few weeks: we went to New York City to visit friends, vacation, and get engaged. We came back from New York with lots of laundry (mainly socks) to wash, holiday shopping and cooking to do, and a wonderful story to tell.

So yesterday, when a busy work day left me craving my favorite comfort food (cheese! Need I say more!), I took a mental note of what was in the refrigerator. Side note: last week, I came home to find our fridge completely cleaned out. Ryan took the liberty of nixing all questionable items, and tossing any current science projects—except, thankfully, my sourdough starter. He was able to do what I had a hard time doing: paring down the fridge. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Back to my mental ingredient check list: cream cheese, parmesan, a little cheddar, some milk, and butter. I found this recipe, but needed to tweak it to be a) healthy and b) a one-pot meal. Here's what I came up with... and the votes are in: It's well worth adding to the weeknight menu rotation. Here's a tip, too: choosing an oven-safe dish will make this a one-pot meal. We used a 2.5-quart Dutch oven (the newest member of the family) and it did everything from boiling the pasta to making the roux to baking the casserole. This also meant that I was able to keep the kitchen nearly spotless while whipping up this dish.

The cream cheese helps this come together as a super-creamy dish, without adding much extra fat. The Dijon, though, is the real star: Ryan and I agreed that it's our new favorite condiment, beating out buffalo sauce by a slim margin.

Dijon Macaroni and Cheese

  • 7 ounces whole wheat macaroni or shells
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 heaping teaspoons Dijon mustard (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups broccoli florets (can be frozen)

In a medium, oven-safe pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, undercooking slightly so that the pasta is al dente (it will cook a little more in the oven, so you don't want to overcook it in this first step).

Preheat the oven to 400. Once the pasta is done, drain in a colander and set aside. Using the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and mix until a very light roux forms (this will take less than 1 minute; the mixture should be bubbly and smooth). Add the salt, pepper, milk, cream cheese, and mustard, and cook until mixture becomes thick and smooth. Add the cooked pasta, cheddar and parmesan cheeses, and broccoli. Mix until well combined.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until broccoli is heated through.

Total time: 40 minutes. Serves 3-4 as a meal, or 4-6 as a side.

* If you're a meat eater, adding cooked ham or chicken to this dish when you add the broccoli will make this an even more complete dinner.