Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pepper Jack Mac

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – February 22, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published in Simple & Delicious, December/January 2011.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese is one of my favorite dishes.  Of course on the health-scale it is probably one of the worst to eat, so I don’t make it very often.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I have this ridiculously delicious recipe that uses like a pound of cheese, and a whole stick of butter and like a ½ pound of bacon.  To. Die. For.  Mmmmmm… num num num… <wiping drool off chin> So where was I?

Oh yeah, how I can’t really it that often since it is not exactly good for the waistline or my cholesterol.

This recipe appealed to me because it had some vegetables included in it and I saw a lot of opportunity to help reduce the calories, fat and cholesterol.  Oh yeah, it has bacon in it too.  I also liked it because it was a dish for two.  It’s just me and the husband here, so many times I’ll make a dish and we’ll have to eat it for a week.  I usually l get sick of it after the second helping.

My final result:
© You Want Me to Cook?
Pepper Jack Mac
It looked delicious.  I will admit that I was slightly terrified about how it was going to turn out.  Wheat pasta, while healthy, absorbs sauces very well.  That isn’t a bad thing, but in mac ‘n’ cheese, the ooey-gooey non-absorbed sauce is part of its charm.  As I spooned it out on the plate, I knew I need not worry about the texture or cheese sauce absorbing too much.

Picture posted with recipe:
©Simple & Delicious
You know, I followed the recipe closely, so I was really surprised when mine looked “cheesier”.  I swear I didn’t add more cheese.  I wanted to, but I kept saying over and over, “a moment on my lips is forever on my hips.”  Then I’d slap myself for repeating stupid mantras.  I think THAT was what did the trick.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessEH – Yes, you have a pasta pot and two cutting boards/knives to clean, but really it wasn’t that bad.  It isn’t like you have to SCRUB anything extra.  It just looks like a lot when you pull everything out to get started.  If you use a large enough pan/pot, you won’t have any issues spilling things on the counter.  Of course, you are cooking bacon, but I found that with the tall sides of my pot, there was significantly less splatter, although still some.

Start-to-Finish Time: AROUND 30 MINUTES – Now, this includes boiling water, but if you start the water before preparing the ingredients and completing the recipe, you should still be able to complete it in around 30 minutes.  Maybe 40, but that is if you’re using a lot of water.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – I saved myself some precious time by using pre-sliced mushrooms.  I love to eat ‘em… hate slicing ‘em.  The rest is coarsely chopped bacon and onion.  Even a butterfingers like me can do that without losing a finger.

Ease of Recipe: THE BASICS – I was all set to give this a COOK IN MY SLEEP, but then I remembered that you have to make flour and milk based sauce.  Not difficult, but it does take attention and being prepared.

OverallSORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – My husband and I both love macaroni and cheese so when I tasted it, I knew it would be a fight to the leftovers.  I thought about lying about the taste, but I knew it wouldn’t deter him from trying it.  Maybe I could hide it in the back of the refrigerator.  No, he searches it regularly for my goodies.  Seriously, he does.  Then I thought I should just eat it all.  Sounded like a great plan and as I started eating it directly from the pot, something came over me.  I believe it is called SHAME.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Calorie Count.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Prep/Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 2

Nutritional Information (1¼ cup)
  • Calories 423
  • Total Fat 23g (Saturated Fat 12g)
  • Cholesterol 65mg
  • Sodium 707mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 36g
  • Fiber 2g
  • Protein 20g
It isn’t very often that recipes get it close to the mark on timing.  Sure, it still took me slightly longer, but if you take away the prep work, the cook time is right on target.  Again, it gives me a little insight on how recipes are written and what they fail to include in their recipes.  Here is how my timing went:
  • Prep Ingredients: 8 minutes (took it that long for the water to boil as well)
  • Cooking Time: 24 minutes
We stretched out the servings by eating a half portion with a large salad.  You could probably do an even smaller serving as a side to a sandwich.  The serving side is definitely enough for a meal, though. 

In my attempt to make my dish healthier, I made the following substitutions:
  • Whole wheat macaroni in place of regular (reduces carbohydrates which reduces sugars)
  • Reduced sodium bacon in place of regular bacon (reduces sodium)
  • Fat-free Reduced-sodium chicken broth in place of regular (reduces calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium)
  • Skim milk in place of 2% milk (reduces calories, fat, cholesterol)
After computing the original recipe’s nutritional information and my altered recipe’s nutritional information through Calorie Count, the changes were as follows:
  • 11% reduction of calories
  • 15% reduction of Total Fat (including slight decrease of saturated fat)
  • 17% reduction of Cholesterol
  • 35% reduction of Sodium
  • NO CHANGE Carbohydrate
Obviously, the big winner here is going to be my blood pressure since the sodium level dropped significantly.  My biggest shock was the change in carbohydrates – none.  Although some of the changes were smaller, there was definitely an improvement.

Changes denoted by red text

1 cup uncooked whole wheat elbow macaroni
3 reduced sodium bacon strips, chopped
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1½ teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons skim milk
¾ cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
Dash salt and pepper

Ingredient Notes:
Whole Wheat Elbow Macaroni
  • According to Weight Watchers wheat pasta is “loaded in vitamins and minerals and has two to three times as much fiber as refined-wheat (regular) pasta."  Some food for thought if you’re debating whether or not it is worth switching to whole wheat pasta.
  • Many an Italian has told me that wheat pasta is blasphemy.  Personally?  I can’t tell the difference.  However, the original recipe does call for traditional pasta, so feel free to use it in the event (a) you can’t find wheat macaroni or (b) you can’t bring yourself to eat the wheat.
  • In all honesty, you can use any small tubular pasta if you can’t find macaroni.
Reduced Sodium Bacon – I used 3 strips because the reduced sodium bacon was very thin.  It added some calories but cut the sodium almost in half.

Onion – I used white and to get ¼ cup, I chopped approximately ½ of a small-medium onion.

Mushrooms – I used a white mushroom and bought pre-sliced to save myself some time.  Actually it saved me A LOT of time.

Fat-Free Reduced-Sodium Chicken Broth – almost all of the chicken broth I’ve found that is reduced-sodium is usually also no-fat.  One of the healthiest options I’ve found, so far, is Swanson’s Certified Organic chicken broth which has significantly lower sodium than its counterparts.

Skim Milk – skim milk is what we drink when we need it.  Usually we drink soy milk, but when we want or need “regular” milk, we go for skim.  Needless to say, I’m not going to buy whole milk for a recipe or two; therefore, I used the skim milk I had on hand.  Besides, skim milk has zero fat, a very small amount of cholesterol and a third-less calories.  Even 1% has half the fat and cholesterol in it. 

Italian Seasoningyou can create your own Italian seasoning by using ¼ teaspoon basil, ¼ teaspoon oregano and a pinch of parsley.

Equipment Needed:
Raw meat cutting board
Cutting board
(2) Sharp knives
Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon
Extra large saucepan/Small skillet
Paper towels
Slotted spoon
Large spoon

Equipment Notes:
Raw Meat Cutting Board / Cutting Board – to avoid contamination, make sure you use two separate cutting boards to prepare your vegetables and raw meat.  Remember, it is not advised to use a wooden cutting board to cut up raw meat.  The wood can absorb the raw meat juices and contaminate it.

Sharp Knives – Just as with the cutting boards, I chose to use two separate knives.  Of course, you can get away with one knife, but do not use the same knife to cut the raw meat and then vegetables unless it has been properly washed first.

Extra large saucepan/small skillet – I’m not quite sure how all of this can fit into a small skillet, but I included it since that is what the recipe called for.  I had to use an extra large sauce pan that was also deep.  Everything fit in there nicely and I was able to stir the macaroni and sauce without throwing it all over my cabinets or stove.  Granted, I’m a total dork and spill stuff all the time, but I pulled out my “small skillet” and laughed when I thought about putting all that food in there.

Ordinarily, I recommend preparing all of the ingredients before cooking.  However, I changed things up for this recipe

(1)  Start the pasta water boiling and prep the rest of the ingredients.

(2)  Cook macaroni according to package directions.

(3)  Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon; drain, reserving ¾ teaspoon drippings.

(4)  In the same skillet, sauté onion and mushrooms in drippings and butter until tender, approximately 3-4 minutes.

Before moving to the next step, make sure your broth and milk are ready.  I actually mixed them together in a large glass measuring cup to be easily poured.  Why should you do this, you ask?  It is because flour burns quickly in the butter.  If you have to measure the milk and broth, you’ll end up with burnt flour and have to start over.

(5)  Stir in flour until blended; gradually stir in broth and milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 5 minutes or until thickened.

The recipe stated the sauce would thicken in 1-2 minutes, but since we’re using skim, it takes a little longer.

(6)  Stir in the cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook and stir over medium heat until cheese is melted.

(7)  Drain macaroni; stir macaroni and bacon into sauce mixture.

The mac ‘n’ cheese had a bite to it.  It had A REAL bite, but not so bad that it kept me from eating it.  I have to say that it was a delicious alternative to regular mac ‘n’ cheese.  Don’t like too much heat?  For the ¾ cup shredded pepper Jack cheese, substitute in:
  • ¼ Colby-jack + ½ pepper jack cheese, or
  • ½ Colby-jack + ¼ pepper jack cheese (for even less heat)
One of Taste of Home’s field editors had an excellent additional step for the recipe.  The website writes, “This spicy dish is a fast favorite with Sarah Gilbert of Beaverton, Oregon.  If she tops it with Parmesan bread crumbs & bakes uncovered in a casserole dish at 375 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.”

Sounds good, no?

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