Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – April 25, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese recipe originally published by Food Network Magazine – April 2012.

I make a mean macaroni and cheese.  Unfortunately, my mac and cheese has about a pound of cheese, milk and bacon in it.  I swear I could gain 30 pounds and/or have a heart attack just looking at it. 

When my husband got serious about fitness, we had to say a sad goodbye to our beloved mac and cheese recipe.  I tried once to make it hoping we could eat a spoonful here and a spoonful there keeping our daily diet in check.  Yet, every time I’d open the refrigerator door, the cheesy-deliciousness would be staring at me.  Then I thought I could cut the recipe in half, but what was the purpose of that?  Nope, I wasn’t going to take the chance of overindulging.

I’ve tried a couple of lightened versions.  They were tasty, but I always wanted something more.  Then I came upon this recipe in my latest issue and I decided to give it a try.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese

Notice how creamy and cheesy it looks?  And yes, it tastes as rich as it looks without all of the fat.

© Food Network
Food Network used fusilli but they specified you could use any spiral noodle (I used Cellentani), so my dish looks slightly different.  Also, the recipe gives you several options for fresh herbs.  I created a blend, but they clearly used all of one herb.

I think my dish was comparable, but you can decide which one looks tastier.

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

MessEH – The great news is that you reuse the pasta pot to make the sauce, so the amount of equipment needed and dirty dishes generated isn’t very high.  The sauce is thicker instead of plentiful, so there wasn’t a big mess when moving the cheesy pasta to the dish for broiling.  If you decide to do an herb blend, you may get a little closer to a SIGH rating though. 

Start-to-Finish Time: MUCH LESS THAN AN HOUR – And about half of that time is cook or inactive time.  You’ll have plenty of time to make a salad or start cleaning up dishes before the dish is done.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – I decided to go with a 3-herb blend and I still didn’t have too many issues.  I guess it is because you don’t have to have it finely chopped or minced.

Ease of Recipe: THE BASICS – The only reason you couldn’t COOK IT IN MY SLEEP is because you have to make a roux for the cheese sauce.  For a beginning chef, you’re going to have to pay attention and have all ingredients ready… but even then it isn’t all that difficult.

OverallSORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – It was creamy and rich… and we fought over the last amount in the refrigerator.  I kept pushing it to the back of the fridge and somehow he kept finding it.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  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!

Servings: 4 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

We ate this with a salad and probably stretched it to about 5 servings.  You can also use this as a side dish and possibly stretch it to 6 or 7.

The timing was pretty close, even with bringing water to a boil.  Here’s how my timing worked out:
  • Prep: 13 minutes
  • Hands-on Time: 14 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 42 minutes
Remember to start the water to boil BEFORE prepping your ingredients.  If you don’t, you’ll have to add 15 to 20 minutes to the time you need.

Nutritional Information:
  • Calories 545
  • Fat 18 g (Saturated 10 g)
  • Cholesterol 49 mg
  • Sodium 639 mg
  • Carbohydrate 71 g
  • Fiber 3 g
  • Protein 26 g
Not bad considering the fat and cholesterol of my other macaroni and cheese dish is DOUBLE.

I decided to check their numbers against my nutritional database:
  • Calories 514.3
  • Total Fat 16.4 g
  • Saturated Fat 8.6 g
  • Cholesterol 45.0 mg
  • Sodium 368.8 mg
  • Potassium 95.9 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 72.5 g
  • Dietary Fiber 3.3 g
  • Sugars 6.5 g
  • Protein 25.8 g
What I computed was almost right on target, but even slightly healthier.  When I made the recipe, I didn’t have any skim milk, so I substituted my 1% into the recipe and re-ran the numbers.  It didn’t affect the nutritional information to even re-print it here.

This recipe is also chock full of:
  • Calcium – keeps the bones and teeth strong, helps muscles and blood vessels contract and expand, to secrete hormones and enzymes and to send messages through the nervous system
  • Folate – helps tissues grow and cells work.
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1) – helps the body's cells convert carbohydrates into energy. It is also essential for the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system.
Changes denoted by red text

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese - ingredients
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus some for pasta water and more to taste

12 ounces Cellentani pasta

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1/2 cup 1% milk
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
2/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2/3 cup shredded low-fat Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and some to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Fit Wash
Cooking Spray

Ingredient Notes:
Kosher Salt
  • I’m not sure why they didn’t give the precise amount the recipe needs.  Yes, there are variables – the pasta water is salted by the pasta directions and you will salt to your taste – but you’ll definitely need a specific amount for the recipe.
  • Obviously Kosher salt was developed for the preparation of kosher meats, but many prefer to use it in cooking than regular table salt.  It’s got larger grains than table salt, so if you’re going to use table salt, cut the measurement in half or you will over season the dish.
Cellentani – The original recipe called for fusilli or any other corkscrew pasta.  I couldn’t find fusilli, but found this pasta which can also be called cavatappi.

Milk, 1% – The original recipe called for skim milk, but I had a gallon of 1%  milk and didn’t feel like buying another gallon of skim.  1% has only slightly higher fat and cholesterol, and it didn’t affect the nutritional information as shown above.

Ground Pepper – Again, I’m not sure why they didn’t give the precise amount the recipe needs.  Especially since the only variable is when you pepper to taste.

Parsley / Basil / Chives – The original recipe said that you could use a quarter-cup of parsley, basil and/or chives.  Looking at their picture, you can tell they went with all basil.  I had all of the herbs on hand, so decided to make a blend.

Fit Wash – Although you can use water to wash the herbs thoroughly, I like using this citrus based wash to get it extra clean.  Peace of mind is what I need.

Cooking Spray – I didn’t want my cheese to stick to the baking dish (as Food Network’s picture clearly shows) so I used cooking spray to lightly grease the dish before putting in the macaroni and sauce.

Equipment Needed:

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese - equipment
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Pasta pot
Wooden Spoon
Glass Measuring Cup
Large Spoon
2-Quart baking dish
(2) Small Bowls
(2) Spoons – mixing

Equipment Notes:
Glass Measuring Cup – Using a glass measuring cup is the easiest way to get the precise amount of pasta water out of the pot without having to pour it.  Just make sure it isn’t cold when dipping it into the water.

Small Bowls – Even though the original recipe doesn’t specify it, I mix the flour and mustard before adding them to the roux.  Not only does it blend better, but you can get it prepared prior to adding it, making sure you have the correct cooking time and don’t burn the flour.

Ordinarily, I have to prep all of the ingredients prior to starting cooking.  However, this recipe requires you to bring a pot of water to boil, so follow the directions to know when to prep the ingredients.

(1)   Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, using the amount of salt specified on the pasta package.
It took 10 minutes to get the water to boil during which time I prepped the ingredients – see step #2.
(2)  Prep the rest of the ingredients.

(3)  Once the salted water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook as the label directs.
The cook time for the pasta I selected was 11 minutes.
(4)  Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking water in a glass measuring cup, then drain the pasta.

(5)  Add the butter to the empty pot and melt over medium-high heat. Preheat the broiler.
You want to get your broiler nice and hot and the cheese sauce doesn’t take very long to make, so I opted to turn on the broiler at this point instead of after the sauce is completed.
(6)  While the butter is melting, mix the all-purpose flour and mustard powder in a small bowl and measure out the milk.
It is really important that you have all the ingredients to the roux ready to go.  The cook time is VERY short and it is easy to burn the flour mixture before adding the milk.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese - roux
(7)  Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 1 minute.
The original recipe said it should take about 2 minutes, but my shallot was starting to brown at the one minute mark.
(8)  Add the flour and mustard powder and cook, stirring, until the flour begins to toast, about 30 seconds.
Again, the recipe said it should take twice as long (1 minute) but it was brown and thick at the 30 second mark.
(9)  Whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking water; cook, whisking, until thick, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium.

(10)  Whisk in the sour cream, mozzarella, Swiss cheese and 1 tablespoon parmesan; continue whisking until melted, about 1 minute.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese - pasta and sauce
(11)  Stir in the pasta, salt and pepper; transfer to a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lightened-Up Mac and Cheese - assembled
(12)  Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons parmesan, the herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the pasta.

(13)  Broil until golden and bubbly, about 4 minutes.
Even with the significantly lengthy preheat time of my broiler; it took me double the time the recipe specified.  Of course, two weeks later, my oven died on me, so make sure you start watching your dish around the two minute mark.
This was a fantastic version of macaroni and cheese.  It wasn’t swimming in cheese sauce, but with the blend of flavorful cheeses with the mustard and herbs… it simply didn’t need it.  This is one of those recipes that I’ll try to keep the ingredients on hand so that I can throw it together in a hurry if needed.

If I were going to change anything:
  • I read some of the comments on Food Network's website for this recipe.  One commenter suggested Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream to cut the fat even further.  I think that’s a GREAT idea!
  • The same commenter said they also cook their portions in individual meatloaf pans for smaller servings.  I may try that so that I can freeze extra portions and take them out as needed.
  • I’ll look for wheat noodles to bump up the fiber count.
Trust me, if you’re watching your diet, this is a must try.  Until next time… Happy cooking!!!


  1. Oh are my kids going to love this! We all love Mac and Cheese, and sometimes some of the concoctions we come up with are just great! Of course, it may not be so great for fat loss, but when something tastes as good as this looks, you've gotta splurge sometime, eh?

    1. Actually, it is half the fat and cholesterol of my regular ooey-gooey recipe, so if you need a little comfort food, you won't save on calories, but you'll certainly save on fat. It makes it a little easier on the mind knowing it isn't too bad. :)

      Thanks for ready and commenting!