Nothing says “comfort food” like a big dish of homemade macaroni and cheese.
It’s also a universal kid-pleaser. Mac and cheese can lean toward the not-so-healthy side, though…especially if you buy the prepared kind in a box. This fun recipe (which is from Mark Bittman of the New York Times) for Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese gets its smooth, creamy texture from pureed cauliflower instead of from a roux made of butter, flour and milk. Adding a whole head of steamed cauliflower to the ingredients also gives you a great dose of nutrients that are ordinarily absent in mac and cheese. The great thing is, it really tastes more creamy-cheesy than cauliflower-y, and even the child with the most, um, discerning palette (see how I avoided saying “Picky?”) in our family agreed that there was a “pleasant hint” of cauliflower, but nothing that would give away the fact that the vegetable side dish for this dinner was “hidden” in the sauce.
A word about hiding vegetables
I’m not a big advocate of sneaking things into food as a means of getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables. I think that as soon as you have to “hide” the taste and texture of healthy food in a less-healthy treat, you’re losing an important battle in the fight to keep your kids on track with real food, because it sends (or supports) the message that these healthy foods are “yucky” all by themselves.
On the other hand, there are a lot of great recipes out there (and I’m seeing more every day!) that incorporate vegetables or fruit to add texture as well as nutrients to a food. I’m all for trying these out, and involving my kids in the whole process…from picking out the head of cauliflower, to dicing and steaming it, to serving the dinner at the kitchen table. I’m not saying that hiding vegetables doesn’t sometimes have its place, but I think in the long run keeping them out in the open is the best way to go.
For this recipe, you’ll need to puree a head of cauliflower.
Cut it into chunks, then cook it until it’s tender in some lightly salted water…remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon, so you can re-use the water to cook the noodles. Go ahead and toss the noodles into the water as soon as the cauliflower is out, you’ll only be cooking them for a little while and it won’t take long to get the sauce made!
While the noodles cook, puree the cauliflower in a food processor (you can work in batches if you need to). Add some grated organic, grass-fed cheese, chicken or vegetable stock (here’s how to make your own chicken stock) and season it with sea salt, parsley flakes and a touch of Dijon mustard. The hot cauliflower will melt the cheese right away, creating a deliciously creamy sauce. I loved the taste of the sauce so much, I think I’ll be making it to serve over eggs, other vegetables, or a baked potato some day soon.
Once your sauce is ready, just drain the noodles and mix them up with the sauce in a large baking dish (you’ll want to undercook the noodles…mine were al-dente when I mixed them with the sauce, and they ended up a little mushy after the mac and cheese had baked). I mixed a little extra grated cheese in, and sprinkled some on top for good measure, but that’s optional. The original recipe calls for bread crumbs but we left them out, since we’ve got a couple of people with gluten intolerance at our house.
After a little time in the oven, the mac and cheese is ready to go. So tasty! Food is so much better when you cook outside-the-box.
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for greasing the pan (where to buy)
- 1½ cups organic chicken or vegetable stock (here’s how to make chicken stock)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 head organic cauliflower, washed and chopped
- 8 ounces short organic pasta of your choice (macaroni, ziti, gluten free, etc.)
- ½ cup grated organic, grass fed cheese, (I like sharp cheddar)
- ½ cup grated organic hard white cheese (I used Asiago)
- 1 Tablespoon organic Dijon mustard (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon chopped dried organic parsley
- ½ clove organic garlic, pressed
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup grated cheese for the top (optional)
- ½ cup bread crumbs for the top (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot, bring water and a little salt to a boil. While the water heats, heat the chicken or vegetable stock and the bay leaves on medium high until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, then turn off the heat and allow it to steep.
- Add the chopped cauliflower to the boiling water, and cook for 20-25 minutes. When the cauliflower is very tender, spoon it out with a slotted spoon and allow it to drain well. Add the pasta to the cooking water, and cook for about 5 minutes…the pasta won’t be done, but that’s ok. It will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the noodles and return them to the pot.
- To make the sauce, puree the cauliflower in a food processor (work in batches if you need to). Add the cheeses to the hot cauliflower puree. Remove the bay leaves and add enough stock to form a creamy (but not watery) sauce, then add the coconut oil, mustard, garlic, parsley, sea salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.
- Stir the sauce into the noodles, then transfer the mac and cheese into a greased 9×9 baking pan.
- Sprinkle grated cheese and/or bread crumbs on top, if using. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pasta is bubbling and the topping (if you’re making it with topping) begins to brown.
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Where do you stand on the sneaking veggies vs. keeping them out in the open debate?