Grown Up Macaroni and Cheese

This month’s Recipe Redux theme is “First Cooking Recollections.” I’m excited to share a little of my cooking background with you, especially now that I’m getting geared up to teach some basic cooking skills classes to my patients at work! I believe that kids are more likely to become interested and proficient in cooking healthy, delicious meals if they get started at a young age.

I’ve been cooking since I was four or five years old. Back then, my dad would pay me $5 to make him dinner. Dinner, in this case, was a couple of slices of Wonder bread topped with ketchup, shredded cheese, and pepperoni microwaved until hot and soggy for 60 seconds! I was so proud of myself.

When I was a little older, I learned to scramble eggs and cook quesadillas in a pan. When I was 12 or so, I started writing down my grandmother’s Polish recipes and learning some more sophisticated cooking techniques. She showed me how to tenderize chicken, chop vegetables without cutting my fingers off, and knead pierogi dough.

You’d think that by high school I must have been whipping up gourmet foods. In reality, I was too busy with school and IM-ing my friends to be bothered by cooking complex meals. I usually baked boxed cake mixes and enhanced cans of Spaghetti-O’s with cheese and tuna. To be honest, some of my favorite meals these days are the ones that take the least time and effort to prepare!

As a dietitian, I don’t feel great about eating a box of mac & cheese for dinner, but I can justify it if I add some protein and greens! My favorite combos lately have been sharp cheddar mac + broccoli + cherry tomatoes + chicken breast and the recipe I’m sharing with you today.

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Grown Up Mac & Cheese

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A healthier take on a childhood classic.

Ingredients

  • 1 box mac & cheese, such as Aunt Annie’s Aged Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
  • 3 tablespoons low fat milk
  • 1 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed
  • 4 oz cooked shredded chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce

Directions

  1. Prepare boxed macaroni and cheese according to package directions. Keep the macaroni with cheese sauce in the saucepan.
  2. Stir in the spinach, chicken, and marinara sauce.
  3. Heat and stir until all ingredients are hot and well combined.

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This week I’m teaching the kids some knife skills. We’re starting easy by cutting bananas, avocados, and zucchini using nylon chef’s knives. If you want to get your kids into cooking, here’s a great blog post with tips.  I love the idea of using a lettuce knife and Play Doh to start! This handbook from Cooking Matters gives some great insight for starting a hands on cooking program in your area! If you’re at a point where you’re still learning, Williams & Sonoma offers reasonably priced cooking classes for kids and adults. Recent topics covered were spiralizer recipes, Fall baking, barista basics, and Labor Day BBQ. Colby and I are taking a knife skills class these this weekend! I’ve heard is worth well over the $10 we’re paying to attend :)

The Recipe ReDux is the first and only recipe challenge founded by registered dietitians. The group is focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you. 

Check out the link below to see how some of my fellow RDs and healthy foodies got their start in the kitchen!

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Creamy Chicken Pasta

I had to make this recipe a second time to share with you. I didn’t take any pictures or write anything down the first time around because I had no idea it would be this good! This pasta sauce is perfect over zucchini noodles or short pasta.

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Ingredients:
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbs cream cheese
1 cup shredded chicken (rotisserie)
Several slices diced salami (optional)
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Freshly shredded parmesan
(2 zucchini, spiralized or 2 cups cooked pasta)

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add sliced onions. Sauté for a couple of minutes before adding mushrooms and garlic.

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2. When the vegetables begin to soften, push them to the side of the frying pan. Melt butter in the pan and add the flour. Mix together to form the roux.

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3. Add chicken broth and white wine. Stir all the vegetables into the sauce and simmer to thicken.

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4. Add cream cheese, chicken, salami, seasonings, and parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and melt.

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5. Serve the sauce over spiralized zucchini or freshly cooked pasta.

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I think you’ll love this dish! The flavors work together elegantly to create a creamy pasta sauce that you’ll be glad you stayed home for! It beats most restaurant pasta sauces I’ve tried. Let me know what you think of it.

Garlic butter pasta sauce with tomatoes and mushrooms

I hope you all had a great 4th of July! Colby and I enjoyed fireworks from our balcony and snacked on mojito ice pops (recipe to come!)

As promised, here is another pasta sauce variation that’s a bit lighter than the cream sauce I posted earlier this week.

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Ingredients:
1 c cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 container cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c fresh basil leaves
1 tbs butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chicken sausage link, sliced
White wine
Chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes, and sausage. Sauté until the mushrooms are beginning to soften and sausage is getting golden.

2. Add a splash of white wine and chicken broth when the skillet starts to look a little dry. Continue to cook to reduce the liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add fresh basil and serve your favorite cooked pasta tossed in this sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if you’d like.

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This colorful pasta sauce has great, fresh flavor. It’s perfect for a summer meal alongside a leafy green salad.

Creamy mushroom pasta

Las Vegas farmer’s markets have a limited selection of fresh foods this time of year. You may have seen my purple cauliflower post recently, and I got some really good strawberries there too. Another great find at the farmer’s market was fresh porcini mushroom pasta. It was made the morning I bought it using ground up dried porcinis and semolina. So good!

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Fresh pasta only takes about 2-3 minutes to cook. I tossed mine with two different mushroom sauce variations- a creamy one and a lighter garlicky one. Here’s how to make the cream sauce.

Ingredients:
1/2 container cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 chicken sausage link, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs olive oil
Splash of white wine
1 tsp thyme
2 tbs half & half
2 tbs milk
Salt & pepper

1. Sauté the onion and diced chicken sausage in olive oil. Once the onion is translucent, add garlic, mushrooms, and a splash of white wine.

2. Once the mushrooms begin to soften, add the milk, half & half, and thyme.

3. Simmer the sauce until it thickens, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Toss the pasta sauce with your favorite cooked pasta and top with shredded parmesan.

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The fresh pasta was amazing with homemade sauce! Much better tasting than jarred Alfredo sauces and cream of mushroom soup based sauces. Stay tuned for the garlic butter sauce recipe!

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