Macaroni & cheese is probably one of the ultimate comfort foods. I know it is for me. There is nothing better on a cool & damp day than a big bowl of macaroni & cheese. I believe it to be the ultimate comfort food so much so that I have already shared this recipe, about 4 years ago, not long after I started this blog. It may actually have been the first recipe I shared since my family has loved it for years (I am not even sure where the recipe came from anymore though… I think it may be from a leaflet a food company put out). But here I am, once again writing about macaroni & cheese…. I guess it has that kind of pull over me. This time though, I suppose we could call it Macaroni & Cheese 2.0. My children, as most kids, also love macaroni & cheese. Little S loves any kind of pasta really… & she loves cheese, so pasta & cheese, it’s a winning combination for us!
This isn’t just my standard recipe for macaroni & cheese rehashed though. It’s for macaroni & cheese with hidden cauliflower & squash, a macaroni & cheese that Little S loves. In fact, I even made it with quinoa noodles & still, she gobbled it up. It would seem that with her as long as I start with something she likes I can hide pretty much anything in it.
When sitting down to write this it became apparent to me that I watch FAR TOO MUCH Bubble Guppies. If you’re unfamiliar with Bubble Guppies, you likely don’t have young children… if you did, you would know. My girls have loved Bubble Guppies since they were about six months old. It’s almost an obsession, really, but if they are fussy I can put on Bubble Guppies & all will be good. Bubble Guppies is a show about 6 fish children – Molly, Gil, Deema, Goby, Oona & Nonny – and their teacher Mister Grouper & all of the adventures they have at school. They learn about everything under the sea (my pun) & sing & dance along the way. In every episode at lunch time there is a lunch pun/joke when the kids open their lunch boxes. Often it is Nonny who comes out with the lunch joke, but not always. I will admit many of the jokes make me groan but I still remember them! While thinking of Marconi & Cheese, Nonny’s lunch puns kept popping into my head… mac-a-pony & cheese, truck-a-roni & cheese, track-a-roni & cheese, macaroni & trees, kanga-roni & cheese… I could go on but I won’t. Clearly I watch this show way too much.
But I digress, this post isn’t about Bubble Guppies, although I probably know enough about them that I could write about them. So, back to macaroni & cheese. Once again, the idea to add veggie puree came from Deceptively Delicious but I wasn’t sure about the recipe. I knew the recipe my family has used for years was good & there was no reason why I couldn’t just add the veggies to that. Deceptively Delicious suggests adding cauliflower or squash puree to the cheese sauce, I added both! The trick to hiding veggies is not adding too much thus making them “detectable!” But I was pretty sure that I could add both squash & cauliflower to this cheese sauce & my girls would be none the wiser… I was right!
This time when I made the mac & cheese for the girls I decided to up the health factor even more besides just adding veggies. I also used Quinoa noodles.
My girls eat these noodles plain all the time & love them so I figured why not add them to the cheesy goodness! I cook my noodles while also making the sauce (I’m always multi-tasking these days) & this recipe can come together fairly quickly. If using quinoa noodles for the first time, know that they cook faster than regular pasta. I find these noodles are usually done in about 7 minutes but be sure not to overcook them because they just turn to mush. I also find the quinoa noodles don’t bulk up as much as regular noodles so you may actually want to cook a little more than what the recipe suggests. If you don’t, you may find yourself with too much cheese sauce (though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like it really cheesy).
While your noodles are cooking, you’ll want to start the cheese sauce. If you don’t have shredded cheese on hand, shred some first. Lately, I’ve been buying shredded cheese a lot, despite the extra expense, just because it’s faster & easier with two little girls running around. I like to have everything ready & close at hand before starting the cheese sauce as it needs to be constantly stirred. So, add the butter to the pan & let’s get this show on the road. Once melted, stir in the flour & seasonings & blend well. Add the milk, stirring constantly until thickened. The higher you have the heat, the faster it will thicken but you have to watch it closely so as not to burn your milk & ruin your sauce. Once thickened, add cheese, cauliflower puree & squash puree.
The cauliflower disappears right away & the squash simply gives your cheese sauce a nice orange colour. I had both cauliflower & squash puree in the freezer this time, which meant I didn’t have to spend the extra time making purees first (I was able to pull the mac & cheese together in just a little more than half an hour). Freezing the puree in quarter to half cup portions in Ziploc bags means that it only takes a few minutes to defrost in a sink full of water.
Once you have added your puree, the cheese sauce is finished & you are one step closer to delicious homemade mac & cheese. Mix the sauce with the noodles & pour into a greased baking dish. Mix up the bread crumb & Parmesan topping & spread over noodles.
At this point you can put this dish right into the oven to heat if it’s close to dinnertime. Or, you can cover it & put in the fridge until you are ready to bake it. I often do all of my meal prep in the mornings while my girls are napping, so at this point it’s usually off to the fridge for my mac & cheese. When you’re ready, bake for around half an hour until the top is golden & it’s heated through. Serve & enjoy!
Now, my mac & cheese is probably not as healthy as the recipe in Deceptively Delicious even if I did make it with quinoa noodles & two purees instead of just one. My recipe has the crumb topping as well which the other does not. But I can guarantee that mine tastes good, real good. As I previously mentioned, even my picky Miss S gobbles this up, just like she did before I started adding veggie purees! For this, I am thankful. As she becomes increasingly picky I fear this might be the only thing I’ll be able to get her to eat. And if that’s the case, then I will likely always have Nonny’s lunch puns about macaroni & cheese in my head! I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!
Macaroni & Cheese 2.0
2 cups macaroni (or other pasta – this time quinoa)
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
Nutmeg & pepper to taste
2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup squash puree
1/2 cup cauliflower puree
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare macaroni as package directs & drain. In large saucepan melt butter, add flour & seasonings & blend well over low heat. Add milk & cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Add cheddar cheese, squash and/or cauliflower puree & stir until smooth. Remove from heat, add sauce to macaroni (or vice versa) & stir well. Pour into well greased baking dish. Top with mixture of bread crumbs, buter & Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until top is golden & heated through.