Ah, the wonders of Stouffer’s Microwavable Macaroni and Cheese.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this cheddary, oozy, black box of noodles was my comfort food. It is right up there with Bagel Bites and Choco Taco’s in my little black book of favorite foods. Did I mention I was a junk food junkie?
In my younger days of watching Saved by the Bell after school and wearing boxer shorts as shorts (nice trend, America), a fluorescent orange bowl of Stouffer’s sunshine was the cure all for anything gloomy.
Got the sniffles? Stouffer’s. Stressful day in home-room? Stouffer’s. Craving the taste of melted plastic with your elbow pasta? Stouffer’s. Stouffer’s. Stouffer’s.
The answer was always Stouffer’s.
I know, it isn’t healthy. It isn’t even real food. And the taste I lovingly remember was probably a good dose of salt mixed with BPA. Two things I can’t and shouldn’t have. But even to this day, I still crave the taste of silky cream sauce with a toothy bite of noodles.
As with my other food longings, though, I tried to recreate the memories using pureed butternut squash,a masterful roux or two, and even low sodium “cheddar” that I ordered online.
And I came close; but no Stouffer’s.
So I gave in.
I know. You’re thinking, what? Give in? You never give in! Tell me it isn’t true.
But I gave in and I said, Stouffer’s, take your Mac n’ Cheese. Because I finally realized that the only way I was going to win this low sodium challenge was to ditch the obvious and take a new tactic. Forget trying to use cheese. Forget attempting to match salty taste. Forget the whole kit and kanoodle.
And that’s how we got here:
An equally orange, “milky” concoction with a secret sauce and the surprise addition of bright green peas. Without the high sodium content or salt. Or the melted plastic.
That’s how my favorite comfort food got a sexy new makeover. And now, when I think of runny noses, hectic afternoons, and cravings for hearty and heartwarming food, I think less of my old friend (Stouffer’s) and more of my new discovery (Mac N’ Peas).
BAKED MACARONI + PEAS
serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side
adjusted from the Sodium Girl’s Low-Sodium Cookbook to be diabetic-friendly
- 3 cups wheat pasta shells or macaroni noodles
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 1 medium head cauliflower, stem removed and broken into florets
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups 0% FAGE Greek Yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup water (or milk or coconut milk depending on health needs)
- 2 teaspoons mace
- 2 teaspoons salt-free garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- A few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
- Sprinkle of smoked paprika and/or chili powder (optional)
Preheat oven to 375dg F.
Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until slightly al dente, about 6 minutes or according to the package directions.
Remove the pot from heat. And using a slotted spoon, remove the noodles from the pot, reserving the water. Then, run the noodles under cold water to stop the cooking process and put the noodles aside in a separate large bowl.
Next, bring the same pot of water to a boil again. Dunk the peas in the pot for 1 to 3 minutes and immediately remove them, running them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. Add them to the bowl of noodles.
Pour out the water in the pot until you have just a few inches left. Place a metal steamer in the pot and place your cauliflower florets on top. Cover the pot with a lid and steam the cauliflower over medium heat until soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the cauliflower and place half of it in a blender with 1/2 cup of warm water. Puree until smooth and set aside in a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower.
Now it’s time to make the roux, the secret weapon of all good mac n’ cheese recipes. Dry out your trusty pot and place it back on the stove over medium-low heat. Add the butter and once melted, slowly whisk in the flour. Keep whisking until all the flour is added and the mixture starts to bubble a bit, 3 to 5 minutes. When the roux turns the color of caramel, add the FAGE mixture and continue whisking until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower puree, mace, garlic powder, and white pepper. Whisk until everything is combined and the sauce is smooth, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and add it to the noodle and pea mixture.
Finally, pour the mace and peas into an ovenproof 3 1/2-quart casserole dish. Grate the nutmeg on top and sprinkle with paprika and chili powder, if using. Bake int he oven for 30 minutes and just before you pull it out, turn the broiler to high and crisp that top layer of noodles, 2 to 3 minutes.