Follow by Email

Monday, February 27, 2012

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

Food blogging, like many things, is so much more fun with friends! Caitlin and I continued our weekend tradition of going for a long run and then cooking and baking to keep our minds off of the fact that our legs hurt like crazy. I couldn't resist photo-documenting our culinary adventure for The Reluctant Home Cook. We decided to make Ellie Krieger's slimmed-down Macaroni and Four Cheeses. The base of the silky sauce is lowfat milk and frozen winter squash (no butter and flour necessary!). We added just enough cheese to give the sauce additional body and flavor without adding too many calories and saturated fat. Smoked chipotle power and crushed red pepper flakes added more layers of flavor and just the right amount of heat. Sure, we're not going to fool anyone that this is real-deal mac and cheese, but the squash sauce has an interesting souffle-like quality to it that won't sit like a brick in your stomach after dinner! So dig in and get your guilt-free mac 'n cheese fix with some extra veggies to boot.

First, just boil up a box of some elbow macaroni pasta. We used Barilla Plus for extra protein. Drain the cooked pasta and place in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

The only annoying thing about this recipe is defrosting the frozen squash in the milk - it took us forever! At one point, I got a little too aggressive in breaking up chunks of frozen squash, and then orange milk splattered over the stove. Caitlin kindly took over stirring for me. I think it would help if you fully defrost the squash before adding it to the milk. You could also roast up some butternut squash, puree it, and then add it to the milk. I think this would be delicious!

Once you get the milk and squash incorporated and heated until almost simmering, you can add three cheeses (all except the parmesan for the topping) and the spices.

Then, pour that cheesy mixture over the cooked macaroni and stir in it.

Sprinkle the parmesan and Panko mixture over the top of the macaroni. Bake it for about 20 minutes and then, if you have time, stick it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown it up. We were so hungry that I skipped this step (i.e. I totally forgot to do this).

And this is what happens when four hungry people dig in and enjoy! Thanks to Omar and Caitlin for coming over for a wonderful evening of food and friends.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses
Adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave
Serves 8


  • Cooking spray
  • One 16 ounce box elbow macaroni
  • Two 10 ounce packages frozen pureed winter squash, defrosted
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 1/3 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (we used reduced fat)
  • 2/3 cup granted Monterey Jack 
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to the prepared baking dish. 

Meanwhile, place the defrosted squash and milk in a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Once it is incorporated, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Jack cheese, ricotta, salt, mustard, and pepper. Pour this mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine.

Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake until the cheeses are bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

Per serving (2 cups): 390 calories, 11 grams total fat, 56 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, excellent source of calcium, folate and manganese, good source of fiber and iron.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Apples and Peanut Butter Crisp

Peanut butter is pretty much its own food group in our household. I love eating it with bananas and apples for breakfast to keep mid-morning hangry-ness (not a typo - hungry + angry) at bay. This recipe is very simple and versatile - I've eaten it for dessert and also mixed it with some plain greek yogurt for breakfast. The chopped peanuts add a nice crunch which is unusual for a crisp. I would definitely serve this with a scoop of some low-fat ice cream. The lack of butter keeps the apples pretty dry, so the ice cream really improves the texture.

Just slice up a mixture of green and red apples and layer in a square baking dish.

Mix in the flour and brown sugar.

Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. The mix up your topping - oats, brown sugar, flour, peanut butter and chopped peanuts. You'll have to work a bit to get the peanut butter incorporated, but it comes together in a few minutes.

Spread the topping over the baked apples, and just slip it in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.

You probably have everything you need to make this simple family-friendly crisp in your pantry now, so go get busy baking.

Apples and Peanut Butter Crisp
From Better Homes and Gardens, The Ultimate Low-Calorie Book
Serves 8

  • 6 medium red and / or green apples, cored and thinly sliced (I left the peels on for extra fiber and texture)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped peanuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place apple slices in a 2-quart square baking dish; set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons flour and the 1 tablespoon brown sugar until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over apple slices in dish; toss to coat.

Bake, covered for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the rolled oats, the 2 tablespoons flour, and the 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Using a fork, stir in peanut butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in peanuts. Uncover apple mixture; sprinkle with oat mixture.

Bake, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes more or until apples are tender and topping is golden. Serve warm with vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Nutrition facts per serving: 174 calories, 6 g total fat, 51 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Green Beans & Pork Hunan-Style

Let's just say that I have been a very reluctant home cook the past week and a half. We took a quick trip down to Florida, and then Nick left me all by my lonesome for a few days while he rubbed elbows with the stars at the Superbowl. Most of my dinner prep consisted of calling Bangkok 54, searching through the freezer for a Trader Joe's meal-in-a-bag, and yeah, I even pulled out some frozen chicken nuggets one night. Please don't judge - I made my own low-fat honey mustard dipping sauce for the nuggets.

I did redeem myself by making this tasty little stir fry that's loaded with everybody's favorite - green beans! This recipe keeps them so crisp and delicious, that you will find yourself picking them out of the leftovers. I really love all the layers of flavor in this stir fry, and the ginger works so well with the pork (be sure to get a good quality chop). I recommend being more aggressive than usual with the red pepper flakes since there's a lot of sweetness going on in the sauce with the sugar and apple juice. Make a bit extra and eat it for lunch the next day - this recipe makes great left-overs!

Word to the wise - prep all ingredients before you start to cook. The recipe moves so fast, you won't have time to do any additional chopping! I try not to over-do it with salt, but I definitely think it's important to season the pork with salt and pepper before you cut it into strips. The added seasoning will help bring out the other flavors.

Mix together the ingredients for the sauce - make sure that you get the cornstarch dissolved.

And then you are ready to stir fry! My kitchen smelled amazing when the ginger started to saute.

Finish it off with some green onion for a pop of flavor and dig in. So much more rewarding than Chinese take-out!

Green Beans & Pork Hunan-Style
Adapted from Healthy Cooking for Two (or just you) by Frances Price, RD
Serves 2

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans
  • 6 oz. lean boneless pork chops
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or apple juice
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Snap the stem-ends from the beans and then snap the beans into 2" lengths. Immerse them in lukewarm water and then drain in a colander.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the chops into pieces about the size and shape of the green beans.

In a two-cup measure, combine the dry sherry or apple juice, broth, cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce and pepper flakes. Stir until the cornstarch has dissolved.

Place a heavy, 10" non-stick skillet over medium-high heat for two to three minutes. Add the oil, then the pork and the ginger. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add the beans and garlic, cook and stir for 1 minute.

Stir in the broth mixture. Cook and stir for 1 minute longer, or until the sauce is thickened and translucent. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook the mixture for two to three minutes, or until the beans are crisp-tender. Stir in the green onions and serve over brown rice or quinoa.

Per serving: 363 calories, 10.4 grams total fat, 1.7 grams saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 411 mg sodium, 24.1 grams protein, 31.2 grams carbohydrates.