Stealthy Mac & Cheese: Comfort Food with a Secret

Delectable Mac & Cheese

Delectable Mac & Cheese

There are some foods, some dishes that are just WORTH IT. Worth the effort, worth the calories, worth the guilt the next day. Most of us here at Atlantis Hydroponics try to be pretty mindful of the food we put into our bodies. Lots of big green salads, whole grains, and organic fruits are consumed in our offices every day. Sometimes, though, you just get that comfort food itch, and it won’t go away until it’s been scratched.

Sometimes, you just gotta splurge.

The king of comfort foods has to be macaroni and cheese. It’s warm, it’s gooey, it’s cheesy, it’s everything you could ever want to fill the belly and soothe the soul, which is what comfort food is all about. Many people tend to shy away from making macaroni and cheese from scratch at home because the recipes seem too complicated or time consuming, which is why much of America grows up thinking the cheesy treat only comes from a blue box. Well, all of that is about to change. This Stealthy Mac & Cheese is a truly simple recipe that packs a gooey punch and won’t make you regret a single delicious bite.

This recipe is adapted from one by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli of Food Network fame. The original recipe is a great basic framework that can be adapted to your needs and preferences. For example, I almost always change up the cheeses based on what I have in my kitchen or what I’m in the mood for. I have listed suggestions for the types of cheese to use, but feel free to get creative and use what you like.

Cheese, cheese, cheese

Cheese, cheese, glorious cheese.

I also tried to lighten the recipe up a bit, since the original calls for a quart of heavy cream(!). You can get a perfectly creamy, decadent sauce without using all of that. Use any combination of cream, half & half, and milk, as long as you keep the amount the same. This recipe isn’t fat free, by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some ways to make it feel a little lighter and a little healthier while remaining completely indulgent.

Which brings us to its stealthiness. This mac and cheese has vegetables in it! Well, vegetable. The addition of macaroni-sized florets of cauliflower brings a surprising lightness and satisfying texture to the dish. Cauliflower is a pretty incredible superfood, too. It is low in fat and carbohydrates, but high in dietary fiber and vitamin C; it even contains compounds that may protect against cancer! All of that and it’s absolutely delicious, especially when coated with a delectable cheese sauce. Of course you can make this dish without the cauliflower, but I think sneaking some into macaroni and cheese is a brilliantly devious way to get picky eaters to eat some vegetables.

Stealthy Mac & Cheese
Serves 6-8

10 cups water
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni (whole-wheat or regular)
1 cup organic cauliflower, chopped into very small florets
1 quart organic local half & half (or 1 pint half & half and 1 pint milk, or part milk and part heavy cream, it’s up to you)
2-3 cloves homegrown or local organic garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with the back of a knife
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 to 3 1/2 cups grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese (or Gruyere, or Monterey Jack, or Swiss, or whatever you like)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (or Asiago, or Romano…)
1/2 cup grated Havarti cheese (or Gouda, or Jack, or bleu, you get it)
Freshly ground black pepper
White pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring the water to a rolling boil. Add a good bit of salt. When you taste the water, it should be quite salty, like sea water. Add the macaroni, stirring to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. After the macaroni cooks for about 5 minutes, add the chopped cauliflower and continue cooking until both are almost al dente, about 3 to 5 more minutes. (You can also choose to steam the cauliflower over the boiling water to preserve some of the cancer-fighting compounds).

Before you drain the macaroni and cauliflower, ladle out approximately 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour the pasta/cauliflower into a strainer over the sink and drain well.

Return the pot to the stove and add the half & half/milk/cream mixture, garlic cloves, and reserved cooking liquid. Bring to a simmer, then add Dijon mustard and stir well. Little by little, add all but ½ cup of the cheeses, stirring constantly until the cheese has melted and integrated with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and simmer again until smooth. Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and white and cayenne peppers to taste. Stir well to blend and taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the garlic cloves.

Gently, add the macaroni and cauliflower to the cheese sauce and stir to blend until all is well coated. Let the mixture rest on the stove with the heat on low 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Transfer the mixture to a 13” x 9” baking dish and top with bread crumbs and the remaining cheese. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Sneaky Mac & Cheese completes a delicious, nutritious meal.

Stealthy Mac & Cheese completes a delicious, nutritious meal.

Secrets of a Hardy Winter Edible Garden

A Raised Bed Winter Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A Raised Bed Winter Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A farmer’s work is never done, and just because there is a chill in the air does not necessarily mean your farming fun has come to an end. There are several planting options for a late autumn, winter, or early spring garden. Most of the plants recommended below germinate when the soil temperature is between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your soil temperature is below that, consider starting your seeds indoors in a germination chamber.

The following cold hardy vegetables make for a great-looking (and great-tasting) garden, like the Edible Garden pictured at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. From the cabbage family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae) you can try: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower. Root vegetables, a staple of the winter garden, allow for such choices as: beets, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, and parsnips. No winter garden would be complete without colorful, eye-catching leafy greens like: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens.

The only real secret to having a successful winter garden is knowing what to plant and when to plant it, so bundle up and get growing!

An assortment of cabbage, broccoli, and kale at the ABG

An assortment of cabbage, broccoli, and kale at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Broccoli and Parsley at the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Winter Garden

Broccoli and parsley in the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden

Colorful Cabbage at the ABG

Colorful cabbage at the Atlanta Botanical Garden