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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Squash Macaroni and Cheese

So, I've been trying to eat healthy lately. Or, at least more healthy than in recent memory. The biggest obstacle between me and my goal? The food! Quite a big obstacle! I love food. I love eating. I love baking. And I am even starting to nurture a budding love of cooking. With this in mind, I got it into my head to scope out some new "healthy" recipes, and I came across this on the Food Network website, from Ellie Krieger's show, Healthy Appetite (which I've personally never even watched, but maybe I should put it on my list).

It is a recipe for squash mac and cheese, and it caught my attention because 1) mac and cheese is a major comfort food for me; 2) I like squash; 3) mac and cheese is not diet friendly; and 4) the recipe uses ingredients like part-skim cheese and 1% milk. Notice how anything health-related is relegated to the end of the list. Ahem. Be that notwithstanding, I decided to give it a try, how bad could it be?

The recipe below is with my modifications. If you want to see Ellie's original recipe, follow the link above to the Food Network site.

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash
  • 2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon powdered mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil or olive oil spray

1) Preheat the oven to 375 F and spray a 9"X13" pan

2) Cook the macaroni according to the package, until firm but slightly tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and transfer to large bowl or back into pot

3) Combine squash and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until squash defrosts. Stir in cheddar. find it is easier to combine the cheese in with a whisk, to make sure it melts and doesn't clump somewhere at the bottom. Cook until mix is almost simmering, stirring occasionally.

4) Remove from heat and add ricotta and spices. Combine with macaroni, stirring well to coat. Transfer to pan.

5) Combine bread crumbs and parm, and sprinkle on the top. Spray top with olive oil spray.

6) Bake for 20 minutes, broil for 3 to brown crumbs

You'll notice that my mac and cheese isn't exactly uniformly brown -- that's because I forgot to spray the crumbs after I sprinkled them on! Because of this, my crumbs tended to flake off of the noodles, so don't forget to spray!

2 tsps of mustard powder and 1/4 tsp of cayenne may seem like a lot, but I originally made this recipe with half as much, and it was on the bland side, so trust me. You might even want to put more in, honestly.

I really liked this recipe. Don't get me wrong, you will never mistake this for traditional mac and cheese -- the consistency and feel are right, but it isn't quite cheesy enough. I only used pre-shredded cheddar, which isn't very sharp, I have a feeling it wasn't sharp enough. So, next time I will not be lazy. I'll get a nice block of the sharpest cheddar I can find, and grate it myself. You can also taste squash, although that really shouldn't be an impediment. I fed it to my fiance, Charlie, who hates squash and pumpkin with a passion, and he liked it. But this is why I recommend using one package of squash instead of the 2 I originally used. 2 overwhelms the cheese too much.

All in all, however, I would call this a successful experiment. I liked the texture, liked the taste (although I think I'll like it more with sharper cheese and more spices), and it was easy to put together. All in all, a great meal for the health conscious!

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