Monday, October 24, 2011

Gluten Free Mac 'n Cheese, Velveeta Style

Second in the line up of my quest to make GF versions of some of my childhood favorites is mac 'n cheese. My mom used to make this casserole on occasion when my sister and I were growing up and we loved it. Since that time, I've learned to default to "real" food - real cheese, real butter, organic milk, vegetarian fed cage free eggs, hormone and antibiotic free meats, etc. which means that products like Velveeta have remained on the grocer shelf rather than finding their way into my cart. Therefore, it's been more than a decade since I've purchased the big block of cheese product. 

Please don't mistake my opening comments to mean that I have gone for a decade or more without macaroni and cheese. That's simply not true. My hubby loves the little blue box and so, consequently, does my toddler. I keep a box in the pantry for the occasional Saturday lunch when I'm short on time or options. In addition, and more inline with my culinary interests, a few times a year I make macaroni and cheese from scratch using good quality cheeses that melt into a sea of cheesy goodness. I've even made "grown up" versions of this dish by combining a variety of "gourmet" cheeses to create a more sophisticated result. All have their place and all are good for their intended purpose. It's this last disclaimer - for their intended purpose - that brought me back to my childhood mac 'n cheese. I noticed recently that Velveeta now comes in a 2% version. When I buy pre-shredded cheese (for convenience) I almost always go for the 2% option, so this new version of the classic caught my eye and left me to wonder if maybe there was a place in my repertoire for this childhood version as well.

One Sunday evening, we arrived home from a weekend in Chicago visiting my hubby's side of the family. It was already 6:00 p.m. and the fridge was bare. I needed something filling to feed my family for dinner and I needed it super fast. My tummy had been bothering me for a few days, so I also needed something comforting and didn't want to take the chance of accidentally ingesting either gluten or MSG, so the old joke of "making reservations" for dinner was out. 

Enter Velveeta mac 'n cheese. A quick call to my mom confirmed what I suspected - that this was a quick recipe. So, list in hand, I was off to the grocery store. In an hour I had a casserole cooling and was ready to dish up the gooey cheesy goodness along side some crisp tender veggies.

After probably 20 years, I have to say that this dish was better than I remembered. Since reviving this casserole, I've come to wonder if being a foodie sometimes gets in one's way. As for nutrition, even with the 2% cheese, it's still a high calorie indulgence, so I would never claim that this is a dish that should be on the weekly rotation at anyone's house. I also would not argue that it's as high in nutritional value as many other options. However, I do think that it's a viable option for those occasions when you need some comfort food or are feeling nostalgic. If you truly feel guilty, serve some steamed broccoli on the side and enjoy!

GF Velveeta Mac 'n Cheese
  • 1 8 oz box Quinoa elbow macaroni - cooked in boiling salted water until al dente
  • 2/3 to 3/4 of a 16 oz box 2% Velveeta, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 cup milk - I used 2%
  • 1 tsp dijon style mustard
  • 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1-2 dashes tabasco sauce
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8x8 or 9x9 casserole dish and set aside. 

Cook macaroni according to the directions on the box until al dente - this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Do not over cook and do not rely on package directions for doneness, they are always off. Drain macaroni and pour it into the casserole dish. 

While the macaroni cooks, in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup combine milk, mustard, nutmeg and tabasco, whisking to ensure the ingredients are well mixed. 

Pour the milk mixture over the macaroni. Top the macaroni milk mixture with half of the cheese cubes, taking care to ensure even distribution. Using a large spoon, work the cubes into the macaroni milk mixture so that the casserole is the same depth across the top. Top the macaroni, milk and cheese with the other half of the Velveeta cubes allowing them to remain on top. Dot the top with the butter between chunks of cheese.

Place the baking dish in the oven and allow to bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir the casserole to ensure the macaroni doesn't dry out and the cheese melts evenly. Allow the dish to continue to cook for 10 minutes, stir again. After another 5 minutes, remove the dish from the oven. You will notice that the sauce is still quite runny, this will resolve during the rest period. Allow the dish to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes on the stove top before serving.

Serve along side a green veggie and offer something nutritious for dessert. Broccoli is a natural complement to this dish. Likewise, fresh apple slices are a nice addition and a healthy dessert that pair well with the cheesy goodness.


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