Monday, April 14, 2008

Mission: Light Macaroni and Cheese

I’m sitting on our futon watching Diary of a Mad Black Woman because I’m not only a gigantic sucker for Tyler Perry melodramas (you GO Madea), but I’m also too dang full to move. Our friends F and H were just here with their giggly, grabby nine-month-old, and we feasted together for the first time since the little guy started teething. (Which? Looks like it hurts. I’m kind of glad I don’t remember it.) The vittles, which were plentiful, included biscuits, Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Carrots, and my lightened version of Alton Brown’s Stove Top Mac-and-Cheese.

Now, I know mac and cheese is NOT exactly health chow. But I love it more than any other food, including sushi, M&Ms, and even sweet potatoes, for which I would gladly give up my first-born. (“My beautiful child? The joy of my life? For a barbecued yam? … Deal.”) In fact, my passion for the dish is surpassed only by my adoration for Alton, so I was highly, HIGHLY hesitant to mess with the man’s recipe. But 37 grams of fat per serving seemed excessive, especially for H, who’s trying to drop some baby weight now that her boobs are finally returning to semi-normal. (a.k.a. Leaving the Land of the Nursing.)

This was my third shot at lightening this dish, and this time around, I think I got it. At least, it’s the best lower-fat mac and cheese I’ve ever had, and it stands up pretty well to full-fat versions. A few notes on the process:

1) To cut the caloric load, I reduced the butter by half, used egg whites instead of whole eggs, subbed in fat-free for whole evaporated milk, and grated six ounces of reduced fat cheddar cheese instead of eight ounces of full-fat. If my calculations are correct, these steps slashed about one-third of the calories, and 58% of the fat off Alton’s recipe. If my calculations are incorrect … hey! Look over there! A shiny thing! (*runs away*)

2) At first, I tried this with pre-shredded cheese. No good. It made the sauce floury and bland. The next batch contained cheddar grated from a block of Cracker Barrel ten minutes before it was added to the sauce mixture. This was MUCH better-tasting and made for a smoother consistency as well. Aces.

3) I paid a ridiculous amount for the cheese because I A) wanted a better-quality frommage, and B) was so eager to try the dish that I didn’t bother to wait for a sale. Thusly, I have broken the Rules of Frugality, and am available for flogging on Wednesday nights after Idol.

4) If I had to make one change at all, I’d add a little more salt. A half-teaspoon might be too much, but a quarter couldn’t hurt.

And that's it. If anybody out there has another stellar, inexpensive recipe for light mac and cheese, I’d LOVE to see (and try!). I entreaty you to please, please pass it on in the comment section - because the search for a good mac and cheese is the noblest search of all.

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese
3 main servings or 6 side servings
Adapted from Alton Brown.

8 oz elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 egg whites
½ cup fat free evaporated milk
A few dashes cayenne pepper (a little hot sauce will also work.)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
½ tablespoon dijon mustard
6 ounces reduced fat block sharp cheddar, grated by hand (Cracker Barrel 2% rules here.)

1) Boil elbows in salted water until al dente. Drain. Turn heat to low and add pasta back to pot. Add butter and melt, stirring constantly to coat macaroni.

2) In a small bowl, combine eggs, milk, cayenne, salt, pepper, and mustard with a whisk. Pour into pasta. Stir. Add cheese. Stir until sauce is creamy and cheese is totally incorporated, about 3 or 4 minutes. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Main: 570 calories, 20.1 g fat, $1.50
Side: 285 calories, 10.5 g fat, $0.75

8 oz elbow macaroni: 811 calories,4.1 g fat, $0.50
2 tablespoons unsalted butter: 204 calories, 23 g fat, $0.11
2 egg whites: 34 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.30
½ cup fat free evaporated milk: 113 calories, 0 g fat, $0.25
¼ - ½ teaspoon hot sauce: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
¾ teaspoon kosher salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
Fresh black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
½ tablespoon dijon mustard: 7 calories, 0 g fat, $0.09
6 ounces reduced fat block sharp cheddar: 540 calories, 36 g fat, $3.22
TOTAL: 1709 calories, 63.2 g fat, $4.51
PER SERVING MAIN (TOTAL/3): 570 calories, 20.1 g fat, $1.50
PER SERVING SIDE (TOTAL/6): 285 calories, 10.5 g fat, $0.75


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