This month for Better Good Things, Evin and I decided to better up (that’s a phrase now… I’m totally making it a thing) mac and cheese. Apparently her kids are addicted to the orange stuff from the box, and even though baby Bird can’t eat much of the boxed stuff (Because soy. And because NO.) besides a few types of Annie’s, she was introduced to a version she could eat while she was staying with grandparents and was apparently on a major mac and cheese jag during her trip. So much so that when she came home she asked for it at every meal. Every single one.
Now, I shouldn’t pretend that N has never had boxed mac because she most definitely has indulged. On oh-so-overwhelming toddler days I have on occasion broken out the Annie’s mac and tried to make myself feel better by lacing it with non-gmo corn, peas, and diced carrots. She is partial to the one with the oozy, Velveeta-esque cheese that really freaks me out. I get it… the texture is smooth and creamy… but cheese that oozes out of a pouch? That shouldn’t happen.
But did I mention that I totally understand her love for the oozy cheese? After all, I secretly binge eat queso in the closet. Not often…. but sometimes.
I had almost decided that soy free pseudo-cheese could be our private, dirty little mother-daughter secret until my mom told me she had heard rumblings that you could make your own “processed cheese product” that was actually made with real ingredients. After much poking around and experimenting, I settled on a recipe I’m quite pleased with based on the one developed by Cristina at An Organic Wife. She is an awesome, real-food guru so I urge you to check out her purist version at the link.
I’ve used this “real-veeta,” as I’ve come to call it, in a less cheesy mac and cheese packed with veggies that doesn’t lose any of it’s cheese depth or flavor. It also bares that beloved day-glow orangyness… NATURALLY.
You may look at the turmeric and nutritional yeast and think “Hmmm… those a weird for mac. My kids won’t eat it. I’m skipping those!” Be forewarned, that will dramatically change the color, depth, and flavor- and your kiddos will call your bluff.
The kale and turkey bacon on top are the icing on the cake and add a satisfying crunch and bite.
Trust me on the orangey goodness. The flavor, texture, and color are there. Your kiddo wont be the wiser of the fast one you just pulled!
(following An Organic Wife‘s proportions)
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2/3 cup monterrey jack cheese, shredded
- 1/3 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1 package gelatin (2 tsp)
- 2 tbs water
- 1 1/2 tbs nutritional yeast
- 2/3 cup organic whole milk
Directions: In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water and allow it to bloom for five minutes.
Add shredded cheese to a powerful blender or food processor (I used my Vitamix) and sprinkle in nutritional yeast. Line a mini loaf pan with parchment or plastic wrap.
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a boil, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. Remove milk from heat once it reaches a boil and whisk in gelatin mixture until smooth. Pour immediately into blender and process until smooth. Pour cheese mixture into mini loaf pan.
Refrigerate for at least three hours.
Made-Over Mac and Cheese
- 1 block of homemade real-veeta, cubed
- 1/2 a head of orange cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 5 oz bag of frozen, cubed butternut squash (defrosted)
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 2/3 cup monterrey jack/cheddar cheese mix, shredded
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 3 tbs nutritional yeast
- 1/2 a bunch of curly leaf kale
- 1 tbs butter
- 1tbs olive oil
- 1/2 a bunch of kale
- turkey bacon, cooked and diced
- 2 cups pasta
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare the kale to bake. Rinse and dry very well. Cut leaves from stem and tear into small pieces. Toss kale pieces with with olive oil, 1 tbs nutritional yeast, and a generous pinch of salt and spread into a single layer across a baking sheet.
Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake the kale for 15 minutes. Toss kale, rotate, and return to oven for 12 more minutes. Check the kale for dehydrated crispness before removing from the oven. Return from oven for one to two minutes if needed, watching carefully, to ensure they are crisp but not browned. Gently remove to a bowl to cool completely.
Raise over temperature to 375 degrees F.
In a small pan, saute the butternut squash in the butter to slightly caramelize the surface.
In a steamer basket, steam cauliflower florets for 5-7 minutes until soft but not mushy. Add both the cauliflower and butternut squash to a blender or food processor. Add salt to taste (about 1 tsp was good for us), 2 tbs nutritional yeast, and the milk and puree.
Bring a pot of water to boil.
Pour puree into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add cubed real-veeta and 1/3 cup shredded cheese stirring to melt.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook to al dente according to the instructions. Drain pasta and add immediately to the cheese sauce, removing from heat.
Pour pasta and sauce into a 3 quart baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until top is golden and bubbly.
Remove from oven and serve warm, topped with bacon and crispy kale chips.
Hankering for even more mac? Check out Evin’s take right here. She gussies her mama version up with Sriracha… oh the goodness!