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26 February, 2011

Mac in springtime

Posted in : Fixins, Recipes on by : Lauri

Macaaroni PrimaveraMacaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, and is worth doing well.  I prefer the homemade, large-elbow type with a bechamel base and a baked crumb topping.  However, the ubiquitous boxes may have their place for fast function, when chosen well and deliciously souped-up. With alternative brands suchas Annie’s becoming more readily available, we’re no longer limited to the dubious choice between freezer burn or chemical enhancement when there isn’t time for homemade.

I probably do this once every couple of months, usually on cold days when I don’t want to think very hard about my food.  Albertson’s and its sister stores carry a line called Wild Harvest Organic which includes a wide array of products, including a decent White Cheddar Mac & Cheese package.  I rarely make this the same way twice, and never according to package directions — it’s just too easy to make it better and healthier.  Here’s today’s version:

Macaroni Primavera

  1. Boil noodles until fairly tender. You should be able to push a noodle against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon and cut it in half quite easily.
  2. Drain noodles in a colander, shaking off excess water, and dump them back into the saucepan.  Reduce stove heat to med-low (about a 4), and return pan to burner.
  3. Add 1T margarine alternative such as Smart Balance or Earth Balance spread: these have no trans fats and melt well in light cooking such as this.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon brown or dijon mustard for tanginess.
  5. Empty packet of cheese sauce into the saucepan.  Stir a bit.
  6. Stir in about 1/4 c milk: there should be enough liquid so the mixture seems a bit too wet, but without puddling in the bottom of the pan.  This moisture will help in the next step, and will reduce down (evaporate) as you cook, to make a nice, thick sauce.
  7. Add 1/2 c frozen peas and 1/2 c shredded carrots: they’re fine from a pre-shredded bag, as I used here, or shred 1 medium-sized carrot into the pan with a hand grater. Mix thoroughly.  Cook for 5 more minutes over med-low heat, stirring occasionally.
  8. When the peas are cooked, the dish is done.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, chopped chives or a spinach leaf.  This is enough for two people, or two meals:  it’s probably too heavy for most people to eat in one sitting.  Add a salad, and you’ve got a very fast, satisfying meal.

The Stats

Prep/cooking time: Ten minutes or so

Calories: About 350 (1/2 recipe)

Cost: Less than $3.50 (total recipe)

Cleanup: One pan, one colander, one serving spoon, two forks, two plates

*Calories calculated with the help of CalorieKing.com‘s simply awesome food database.

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