Despite loving eating healthy in the New Year, I still have the need to whip up filling entrees for my hard working family. Green smoothies start our day but by the time dinner arrives, especially with cold weather afoot, a comfort food meal is always appreciated.
A favorite dish in our household is Macaroni and Cheese. Ironically I did not start making it from scratch until we were gluten-free and could not believe what a completely different recipe it becomes when mixed from scratch. It’s not much more work but worth any effort. It also offers a chance for changing up the flavors to suit one’s mood.
I think my favorite flavors have to be in Southwestern or Mexican food. I love spicy, attention-grabbing flavors and anything with cheese is a win in my book. However when trying to eat on the straight and narrow a heaping plate of luscious Mac and Cheese isn’t necessarily the ticket to slim eating. Instead of compromising terribly on the dish I made some swaps to lighten the fat load a bit and made it in individual servings. Using mini cocottes or ramekins for this rustic comfort food becomes more of an occasion along with limiting portion sizes. Of course you can make it the traditional way in a baking dish or casserole as well.
There is no more tempting dish than a creamy Macaroni and Cheese in my book. This version adds in the spice of Mexican food and makes it mini to aid both in portion size as well as for fun. Using non-fat milk takes out some of the fat with no cost to the rich creamy texture. Mexican-spiced chicken and/or turkey sausage adds more flavor and also slims down the fat content. Served with a side salad and you have a perfect comforting meal.
- 1 12-ounce package elbow pasta (I use Tinkyada Brown Rice Elbow pasta which is gluten free)
- 1 ½ teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- ½ cup Yellow Onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons (gluten-free or regular) Flour
- 2 cups Non-Fat milk (higher fat percentage milk may be substituted)
- 1/2 cup Colby cheese, finely grated
- ½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, finely grated (Pepper Jack may be used)
- ½ cup Medium Cheddar cheese, finely grated
- 6 ounces Mexican-flavored pre-cooked Turkey and/or Chicken Sausages*, chopped (makes approximately 1 ¼ cups)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cooking container. Recipe makes 8 mini cocottes, 8-10 ramekins, and 12 muffin tins (though I found keeping the mac and cheese intact from the muffin tins difficult) or use a large casserole to hold up to 12 cups.
- Boil water and prepare pasta to package instructions.
- While pasta is cooking, melt 1 ½ teaspoons butter in a medium skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent; about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt the 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the flour, as well as salt and pepper. When it is well combined, slowly pour in the milk whisking the whole time to avoid burning the mixture. Continue to whisk until the mixture begins to thicken noticeably (5-10 minutes).
- Add the Colby, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses to the flour/milk mixture and stir constantly until cheese has melted.
- When pasta is cooked, rinse, drain well and return to the cooking pot. Pour in the cheese sauce, cooked onions, and chopped sausage; stir well to fully combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste if needed. Spoon into cooking container(s). If cooking in personal size containers cook 30 minutes and 40 minutes if in a casserole dish or until the macaroni develops a nice, brown crust on the top.
- Remove from oven to cool slightly and serve.
*I used Applegate Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Chicken and Turkey sausage which uses red and jalapeno peppers as well as being organic and gluten-free. For those throwing caloric caution to the wind, 1 cup of cooked and drained chorizo sausage may be swapped out as well.