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Published November 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Mac and cheese: An old favorite gets a new twist

Every year at this time, I get such a craving for homemade macaroni and cheese. I pull out my old “Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book” that my mom and dad gave me when I was in high school. I turn to page 140, well worn with sticky spots and a little tear. That’s where my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe lurks.

By: Sue Doeden, Bemidji Pioneer

Every year at this time, I get such a craving for homemade macaroni and cheese. I pull out my old “Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book” that my mom and dad gave me when I was in high school. I turn to page 140, well worn with sticky spots and a little tear. That’s where my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe lurks. It’s creamy and rich, full of fat and calories, but oh, so warm and comforting on a cold, damp evening. I make it just once every year when the weather turns cool.

But this week, I discovered a new way to make macaroni and cheese. I was paging through Robin Asbell’s hot-off-the-press cookbook, “New Vegetarian.” I’m not a vegetarian, but I do try to eat meatless as often as I can. As I perused the book, I placed sticky tabs on recipes I knew I wanted to try – African Garbanzo, Peanut and Kale Soup; Greek Vegetable Feta Pie; Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Samosas. I flipped the pages and each recipe sounded better than the last. And then, there it was. Mac and Cheese with Hidden Veggies.

This is not your typical Mac and Cheese. This one has a bit of a twist. The sauce is made with steamed carrots and cauliflower that are pureed with buttermilk and cheeses. No butter. No flour. Other than cooked macaroni and some cheese, this new way to make one of my favorite comfort foods held little resemblance to my old standby. Although I always have delicious results with recipes I make from Robin Asbell’s first book, “The New Whole Grains Cook Book,” I was having a hard time believing her mac and cheese would be a dish I’d want to make again.

This dish does not take long to prepare. Once mixed up, it bakes in half an hour or less. And it’s made with healthful ingredients. Asbell says “hiding the veggies” is one way to put extra vegetables into a familiar dish and still make something really tasty. The carrots offer a bit of sweetness that balances nicely with the mild, nutty flavor of the cauliflower. I was amazed at the golden color of the velvety sauce that was just the right consistency to generously glaze a pile of cooked macaroni.

The end result is remarkable. Mac and cheese that is hot and creamy. It did the trick for me. It satisfied my craving for my old macaroni and cheese. I guess I won’t need my old “Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book” this year.

So, if you are a member of the large group of people who have decided to eat meatless once or twice a week, you’ll find more than 75 fresh, contemporary recipes for pasta, tagines, curries, soups and stews, and desserts in “New Vegetarian,” by Robin Asbell. And if you love your meat every day, you’ll find that Mac and Cheese with Hidden Veggies is a nice go-along with meatloaf. Asbell’s recipes will tempt you to prepare satisfying meatless meals every now and then.

“New Vegetarian,” Asbell’s second cookbook, is available in all major bookstores and can be ordered online.

To learn more about the author, go to www.robinasbell.com.

Mac and Cheese with Hidden Veggies
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) chopped cauliflower
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 1/2 cups (or 6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons blue cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups macaroni
1 cup frozen peas or edamame
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Put a pot of water on to boil for the macaroni. Steam the cauliflower and carrots until very soft, about 10 minutes. Puree the hot vegetables in a blender, then gradually add the buttermilk, pureeing until smooth. Add 2 cups of the cheddar cheese, the blue cheese, Parmesan and salt, and puree until smooth.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Add the peas at the last minute, just to thaw in the boiling water. Drain and shake thoroughly to dry. Put the pasta and peas back in the pot and stir in the sauce. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar with the breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the pasta and sauce in a 2-quart casserole, top with the crumb mixture, and bake until bubbly and crusty, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot. Makes about 8 cups. Serves 6.

Taken from “New Vegetarian” by Robin Asbell, published by Chronicle Books 2010.

Tips from the cook

--I couldn’t resist baking Mac and Cheese with Hidden Veggies in single-serving sized baking dishes. In these smaller dishes, it took only 20 minutes of baking time for the edges to start bubbling and the top to get crusty.

--I discovered leftovers heat nicely in a glass bowl in the microwave set at a low power.

--I use a steamer basket insert in my 2-quart sauce pot to steam the vegetables.

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