Monday, April 14, 2008

Mission: Light Macaroni and Cheese

I’m sitting on our futon watching Diary of a Mad Black Woman because I’m not only a gigantic sucker for Tyler Perry melodramas (you GO Madea), but I’m also too dang full to move. Our friends F and H were just here with their giggly, grabby nine-month-old, and we feasted together for the first time since the little guy started teething. (Which? Looks like it hurts. I’m kind of glad I don’t remember it.) The vittles, which were plentiful, included biscuits, Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Carrots, and my lightened version of Alton Brown’s Stove Top Mac-and-Cheese.

Now, I know mac and cheese is NOT exactly health chow. But I love it more than any other food, including sushi, M&Ms, and even sweet potatoes, for which I would gladly give up my first-born. (“My beautiful child? The joy of my life? For a barbecued yam? … Deal.”) In fact, my passion for the dish is surpassed only by my adoration for Alton, so I was highly, HIGHLY hesitant to mess with the man’s recipe. But 37 grams of fat per serving seemed excessive, especially for H, who’s trying to drop some baby weight now that her boobs are finally returning to semi-normal. (a.k.a. Leaving the Land of the Nursing.)

This was my third shot at lightening this dish, and this time around, I think I got it. At least, it’s the best lower-fat mac and cheese I’ve ever had, and it stands up pretty well to full-fat versions. A few notes on the process:

1) To cut the caloric load, I reduced the butter by half, used egg whites instead of whole eggs, subbed in fat-free for whole evaporated milk, and grated six ounces of reduced fat cheddar cheese instead of eight ounces of full-fat. If my calculations are correct, these steps slashed about one-third of the calories, and 58% of the fat off Alton’s recipe. If my calculations are incorrect … hey! Look over there! A shiny thing! (*runs away*)

2) At first, I tried this with pre-shredded cheese. No good. It made the sauce floury and bland. The next batch contained cheddar grated from a block of Cracker Barrel ten minutes before it was added to the sauce mixture. This was MUCH better-tasting and made for a smoother consistency as well. Aces.

3) I paid a ridiculous amount for the cheese because I A) wanted a better-quality frommage, and B) was so eager to try the dish that I didn’t bother to wait for a sale. Thusly, I have broken the Rules of Frugality, and am available for flogging on Wednesday nights after Idol.

4) If I had to make one change at all, I’d add a little more salt. A half-teaspoon might be too much, but a quarter couldn’t hurt.

And that's it. If anybody out there has another stellar, inexpensive recipe for light mac and cheese, I’d LOVE to see (and try!). I entreaty you to please, please pass it on in the comment section - because the search for a good mac and cheese is the noblest search of all.

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese
3 main servings or 6 side servings
Adapted from Alton Brown.

8 oz elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 egg whites
½ cup fat free evaporated milk
A few dashes cayenne pepper (a little hot sauce will also work.)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
½ tablespoon dijon mustard
6 ounces reduced fat block sharp cheddar, grated by hand (Cracker Barrel 2% rules here.)

1) Boil elbows in salted water until al dente. Drain. Turn heat to low and add pasta back to pot. Add butter and melt, stirring constantly to coat macaroni.

2) In a small bowl, combine eggs, milk, cayenne, salt, pepper, and mustard with a whisk. Pour into pasta. Stir. Add cheese. Stir until sauce is creamy and cheese is totally incorporated, about 3 or 4 minutes. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Main: 570 calories, 20.1 g fat, $1.50
Side: 285 calories, 10.5 g fat, $0.75

8 oz elbow macaroni: 811 calories,4.1 g fat, $0.50
2 tablespoons unsalted butter: 204 calories, 23 g fat, $0.11
2 egg whites: 34 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.30
½ cup fat free evaporated milk: 113 calories, 0 g fat, $0.25
¼ - ½ teaspoon hot sauce: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
¾ teaspoon kosher salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
Fresh black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
½ tablespoon dijon mustard: 7 calories, 0 g fat, $0.09
6 ounces reduced fat block sharp cheddar: 540 calories, 36 g fat, $3.22
TOTAL: 1709 calories, 63.2 g fat, $4.51
PER SERVING MAIN (TOTAL/3): 570 calories, 20.1 g fat, $1.50
PER SERVING SIDE (TOTAL/6): 285 calories, 10.5 g fat, $0.75

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Amphritrite said...

I saw this post and went "Hmm, that sounds good."

And then I made it. YUMMY is all I can say.

I really adore this site.

Erica said...

I've also found a great way to make mac and cheese low fat is to sub in some cottage cheese. If you use 1/2 cheddar and 1/2 low-fat or 2% cottage cheese it tastes almost as cheesy. And the cottage cheese actually becomes very creamy.

west 8th street said...

Just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and am thoroughly enjoying it. Especially once I discovered you are a huge Alton Brown fan (who isn't?). I'm going to give this recipe a try tonight -- thanks for posting!

Scott said...

It's so wrong, but every time we try a "scratch" macaroni and cheese recipe, I find myself wishing I'd gone with the box of Kraft...

This one looks good, though. I'll have to give it a try.

Kris said...

Amprhitrite - sweet! I'm so glad it worked out for you!

Erica - awesome. I'll have to try that. There's a Mexican place around the corner that uses cottage cheese on their nachos, and it's abnormally good.

Scott and West 8th - lemme know how it goes!

Kristen said...

Have you tried Cook's light version? I'm fairly sure I saw that they have one...I haven't tried it myself, as mac n cheese is usually from a(Trader Joe's) box kind of meal meal for when hubby and I are going out and leaving the kids!

kristen said...

Hey there-
Whenever I made mac and cheese, I depend heavily on a roux to make it taste richer than it is. It helps a great deal with any weird clumps of cheese, and you can just toss it with hot pasta and the cheese, then stick it under the broiler for a browned top. An uber-simple roux is this: melt 2 T butter in a microwave-safe dish, then stir in 2 T flour with a fork. When it is lump-free, add 1 c milk (1% works just fine, or you can use something less skim), and heat until just bubbling around the edges. Whisk thoroughly to dissolve the flour mixture in the milk, and you'll see it start to thicken. Alternatively, melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and whisk constantly until you can smell the nuttiness of the flour. Add the milk, which you've heated to just under boiling in the microwave or on a separate burner, and whisk until the mixture thickens. Season with freshly ground black pepper, salt, and nutmeg. Toss with the hot pasta and sprinkle with cheese, or add the cheese to the roux, stir to combine, and toss with pasta.

Kevin said... and cheese. So good. I have tried a few lower fat versions of mac and cheese. I am sure to try the one you posted. My favourite of the ones that I tried is from a show called Eat, Shrink and be Merry (
Try it out it is pretty good.

Chocoholic said...

Wanted to comment on this after reading about someone's attempt to make this, do you always buy pre-shredded cheese? It seems like that would be more expensive, by weight, for the cheese. I can usually find good quality cheddar cheese as a block for less than $2 for 8 oz. at the store. Another option to lower the fat may be to get low fat cheese. Cabot brand has a pretty decent lower fat sharp cheddar. Lots of flavor and less fat.

Kris said...

Choco, I almost never buy pre-shredded cheese. I dig the blocks since they're generally way cheaper and taste better. I prefer Cracker Barrel over Cabot, but I definitely hear what you're saying.

Tina said...

Yum! I can't wait to try this!

darfawnda said...

Yummy! I have tried several recipes now for home made mac-and-cheese and have to say that this one is my favorite! We ate it for dinner last night and had leftovers for lunch today. I steamed some broccoli and mixed it right in with the noodles. I probably used a few too many noodles as it seemed a little less cheesy than I would usually want for a main dish mac, but otherwise, this is a spot on dinner!!!

Pamela said...

I found this recipe via google, and I made it tonight--huge hit! It was so easy, and I really love that it's basically a one pot meal. I increased the amount slightly so that I could get a total of four servings, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. The result was a tasty and filling mac and cheese that I will absolutely make again. Thank you so much for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

Delish! 5/5 stars! I was looking for a lighter mac and cheese without going too far and this definitely fits the bill. I made the recipe exactly as you wrote (including the scarey amount of salt) and the ONLY thing I would change is backing off on the mustard. I'd do a scant tsp of it next time... and there will definitely be a next time! Easy too! Thanks!