Wednesday, October 15

"This Mac n' Cheese Tastes Like Doritos." (A Healthier Recipe for Mac n' Cheese)

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When I was growing up, my mother cooked everything from scratch, including macaroni n' cheese, which, coincidentally, was the one dish that my brothers and I didn't like. Despite her most valiant efforts, we would always complain, "It's not as good as the one in the box." Blasphemy, pure and simple.

To this day, I blame Kraft. Perhaps it was the kid-appealing, artificial orange color of the cheese. Or maybe it was a secret ingredient in that magical powder in the unmarked white envelope. Whatever it was, it was one of few prepared meals we ever ate (and preferred to homemade).

Well, just like my mom, I decided to make mac n' cheese. I made it from scratch and didn't tell Jeff what was in it. After a couple of bites, he said, "Wow! This is good! It may sound weird, but this mac n' cheese tastes like Doritos!" (Hah! I thought. The fajita spice worked.) Considering he finished his plate, then stood at the stove eating the mac n' cheese right out of the casserole dish, it's safe to say he liked it.

I really liked the way this Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese turned out because the cheesy topping got all bubbly and crunchy, while the pasta underneath remained comfortingly soft and creamy. I'm also pleased that the melted cheese isn't a plastic-y, neon orange (sorry, Kraft), but a soft, natural, golden orange.

orange cauliflower

This healthier mac n' cheese recipe loses most of the fat and cholesterol of traditional mac 'n cheese but holds onto the creaminess and flavor that make it an American favorite. Plus, it's an easy way to get your kids to eat their cauliflower. According to Wiki, orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of vitamin A as white varieties, so it may even help give them bionic vision.

If you really want to get your kids to eat their cauliflower, then add 1 tablespoon fajita or Mexican spices to the sauce and call it "Doritos Mac n' Cheese." I swear, the spices make it taste just like Doritos. Now, what kid wouldn't love that? Come to think of it, what adult wouldn't love that?

mac n cheese 0327

Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

1 head orange cauliflower (white can be substituted)
1/2 pound small pasta such as gemelli, elbows, or shells
2 tablespoons Smart Balance butter substitute
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups skim milk, plus 1/2 cup for pureeing cauliflower
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup for sprinkling on top
a generous amount salt and several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fajita or Mexican spices, optional
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Smart Balance butter substitute

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Trim cauliflower and break into small florets. Boil until tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain. Place in a blender or processor with 1/2 cup milk and puree until thick and smooth. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to directions until al dente.

For the sauce, melt 2 tablespoons Smart Balance in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk briskly. Gradually add 2 cups milk, whisking continuously, until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes, or until thick and bubbly. Add the pureed cauliflower, 1 cup cheddar cheese, and a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat. Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and toss until well coated. Pour into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar evenly over the top.

For the buttered breadcrumbs, melt 1 tablespoon Smart Balance butter substitute in a small skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toss until coated with butter. Sprinkle even over the top of the cheddar. Or, if you prefer, set crumbs aside, and use as a garnish just before serving.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown on top and the cheese sauce is bubbling around the edges.

You might also like these comfort foods:

Mediterranean Jacket Potatoes

Butternut Squash Risotto with Rosemary, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese


Penne with Italian-American "Gravy," Meatballs, and Sausage

More healthy mac 'n cheese recipes:

Macaroni and Cheese with Vegetables at My Diverse Kitchen
Macaroni and Cheese with Peas and Roasted Corn at Coffee et Vanilla
The Best Vegan Baked Mac 'n Cheese at Karina's Kitchen

I'm sending my Orange Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese to two lovely ladies, Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, who are co-hosting World Food Day, an event that highlights foods from your country.

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Deborah Dowd said...

This looks awesome Susan! I can't wait to try this!

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

What a lovely twist on the original...I love that orange cauliflower! And great tip to add Mexican spices!

Ivy said...

This is a delicious contribution to our conga line of international dishes Susan!!! Thank you so much for wanting to join our event!!!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Finally a cauliflower recipe that has some hope of tricking my taste buds into liking cauliflower! This one I've got to try.

vb said...

Susan, I LOVE healthy versions of old favorites. This is great!

Manggy said...

Oh, yum!!! Been too long since I had mac and cheese. I am sure the whole family will love this-- and I very unsecretly love cauliflower, so I'm sure to be sneaking over-the-stove tastes too. Orange cauli isn't always available, though.
I think I have to look up what's in Fajita spice-- maybe because we don't get it here or maybe I already have the components lying around here :)

Deeba PAB said...

O boy Susan...what a greatway to hide the cawliflower & in something as delicious as this. I'm with you on plasticy Kraft...too much fat & artificial flavour. My kids DETEST cawliflower & with winter round the corner, we have the market flooded with them at, hold your breath, Rs 10 a kilo (a dollar is about Rs 50 now, so say like a quarter for a kilo).Am waiting with baited breath for more hidden treasures like this...xoxoxo Deeba

Rachel said...

Very sneaky :)

Johanna GGG said...

wow I have never seen an orange cauliflower - I think cauliflower is perfect in mac and cheese because as a child there was nothing I loved better than cauliflower gratin with lots of white sauce and chesse! I do quite like the neon orange of the kraft stuff in a nostalgic way but why do good colours have to taste like plastic!

Susan @ SGCC said...

I have to laugh. My family begs for the boxed stuff. They love cauliflower, though, so they would probably go for this. I think it looks and sounds terrific!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That's a combination I've always loved! Your Mac & Cheese looks scrumptious to boot!



Sharon said...

What adult wouldn't love this? :) Makes me want to have a second dinner!

Suzana said...

Susan, thank you! My hubby is a pain with it comes to eat cauliflower - this sounds PERFECT.

Anonymous said...

I feel kind of dumb here, but I can't find how we get the cauliflower into the dish. It doesn't seem to be mentioned again after we puree and set it aside. Or am I just not seeing it?

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Today is World Food Day Susan. Come on over and let's DANCE!!!!!

Judy said...

Great idea for adding veggies to 'regular' food. And you're right, who wouldn't love Dorito flavoured mac and cheese?

Anonymous said...

Are we serving the cauliflower on the side? Do we mix it in with the cheese sauce? I love mac 'n' cheese AND cauliflower, but I must have missed something?

NĂºria said...

Do orange cauliflower exist? or were you playing with photoshop? Amazing colour!!!! How beautiful! Also the dish looks like one of those that need a good siesta after :D

Lori Lynn said...

Great recipe. Love that orange cauliflower AND your pretty wavy green baking dish Susan!

Michelle said...

Doritos Mac n Cheese? Now that's some good marketing! If I had kids I'd have to be so creative. But since it's just me and my hubby trying to eat vegan, this recipe did pretty well for us

cindy said...

your story on preferring box mac n' cheese over homemade made me smile. we were picky eaters as kids (me and my sibs) and we didn't like mom's version either. (she used all sharp cheddar) but when i was an adult, i went to texas with my hubby and found real mac n' cheese again. i found a recipe that my family loves too. interesting to put the golden cauliflower in it...very sneaky! (my family won't eat cauliflower unless i did that too!)

Sharon said...

I too am at a loss for when to add the califlower. I would assume we add it to the cheese mixture before the noodles, but if you could clarify that would be great.

Kara said...

Wow, I thought you were kidding with the cauliflower addition, but this looks amazing. Now if I can just figure out where to find orange cauliflower so we can take advantage of that extra Vitamin A!

Deborah said...

I've never even seen an orange cauliflower. Sounds so different, but delicious!

Peter M said...

Ya know what? As an ethnic kid growing up in then WASP Toronto, we always heard what the other kids were eating (Kraft Dinner) and we wanted it too. Add targeted marketing to kids and you have a hynotized generation of kids.

You sneaking in orange cauliflowe is a brilliant way to make this dish more healthy....salute!

Anonymous said...

I hate the only kids around who don't like mac-n-cheese - no matter how it's prepared. However, I will try this one out because it just looks plain good. I'll call it Dorito Pasta & they'll love it.

xoxox Amy

p.s. It feels good seeing the hubby eat straight from the dish, doesn't it! Kudos to you.

Unknown said...

I'm also wondering when we put in the cauliflower! Could you spell it out for us, please? I guess I could just throw it in with everything else before adding the breadcrumbs, but I don't know if that's "right" - I'm an oldest child so I like to play by the rules :)

Anonymous said...

This sounds great, Susan! I love the idea of using pureed cauliflower in the sauce!

Karen said...

I didn't even know the 'made' orange cauliflower! LOL I was looking for a good mac & cheese recipe to use when son comes to visit... looks like this is the one!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Um, am I an adult? Anyway, I know I'll enjoy this one! I've never enjoyed the boxed, really never. The spice and the cauliflower is brilliant Susan! Many thanks.

Lisa Turner said...

An interesting twist on a classic and such a tempting photo Susan! I've never seen orange cauliflower, but would love to try some.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I never ate MacNCheese. It never appealed to me. I should make it for my sons because they love it.

Pip said...

I've never seen pasta cooked like this in Italy, but I really should give it a try! :P

Rita said...

My husband also claims to like the mac'n cheese from the blue box...Childhood memories I assume. But I refuse to buy it, hahaha... I never had that because in Brazil there wasn't such a thing.

Anonymous said...

That fajita spice is genius! Doritos... fantastic! I'm such a sucker for improvements on kid-foods.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

deborah-I'm so glad to hear it!

peterg-The spices add a nice kick!

ivy-I'm so happy I was able to submit one in time. :)

lydia-This should do it. ;)

vb-Me too. :)

manggy-Fajita is usually a blend of cayenne pepper, cumin, dried oregano, garlic, and onion. You can find recipes for it online.

deeba-I'm so happy you like it. Maybe your kids won't taste the cauliflower. ;)

rachel. ;)

johanna-It is like cauliflower gratin, but with pasta, so it's better! :)

susan-Your family loves cauliflower? How did you manage that? ;)

rosa-Yay! Thanks.

sharon-I know. :)

suzana-He won't even know it's in there. :)

beth- You're not dumb at all. I just added it. Thanks for letting me know. :)

val-OK! :)


anonymous-I just added it.

nuria-They exist! Purple ones do too. I get way too excited when I find them! :)

lori lynn-Many thanks, my dear.

michelle-It is just me and my hubby too, but a girl's gotta have some fun. :)

cinderelly-Try it. They won't even know it's in there, but they'll reap the nutritional benefits.

sharon-I just added it.

kara-Maybe Whole Foods?

deborah-Aren't they pretty?

peterm-Seriously. Thanks!

amy-Anything with "Doritos" in the name has to work. ;)

shelley-I just added it. Thanks!

nicole-I'm so glad.

karen-I hope you like it.

tanna-You're so welcome!

lisa-It's just more colorful. Thanks!

helene-I hope they like it.

pip-You could start a whole new trend. ;)

rita-Don't even start! Homemade is better. :)

robin-Me too. Thanks a bunch!

Anonymous said...

I've seen orange cauliflower in ther stores, but never knew why in the world I would eat it. Noooooooooow I know! Thanks for enlightening me!

K Allrich said...

I've yet to encounter an orange cauliflower- but now I'll be on the look-out. What a fabulous non-dairy and vegan possibility. And so darn creative! You rock, Susan.

Darius T. Williams said...

Oh yea - this is a good way to get the kiddies right here! I love it!


Heather said...

yum! that looks delicious! i love macaroni and cheese... this recipe looks like it could take on the blue box any day, any time. the cauliflower is lovely :) i've never seen that before!

Debbie said...

What a great take on the usual mac and cheese!! It looks wonderful..

Cara said...

what a great idea! I love cauliflower. definitely looking forward to trying this.

Stacey Snacks said...

mac and cheese is my weakness.
I never make it, in fear of eating the whole pan.
I wish I had seen this recipe a few nts ago....I had a whole head of cauliflower and didn't know what to do with it! I love it!

I posted your 212 cookie post today on my blog, referring that I needed to lose some weight! I don't know if you are helping!

RecipeGirl said...

What a great way to sneak in that cauliflower. My son would never eat it on its own. Did you get that at a Farmer's Mkt. or Whole Foods or where (the caul.)? Cool color.

I think crumbled doritos on top would be a novel idea!

Anonymous said...

Genius! I love the idea of cauliflower in the cheese sauce. I make my mac 'n chz almost exactly the same way (well, w/out the fajita seasoning- that might be tasty) and I can't eat pasta without crunchy breadcrumbs on top. I love to season mine with all kinds of dried herbs and other flavors.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Doritos mac & cheese? My kids (and hubbie) would be all over that. I've never been able to get them to eat cauliflower yet, so maybe this would be the agent of change.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this new take on Mac&Cheese. The last time I made healthy M&C, I went with a Martha Stewart recipe that used butternut squash. These days, M&C is such a staple at our house, I usually buy the big boxes of Annie's at CostCo. Thanks to your suggestion, I will bring this staple back to the oven!

Cakelaw said...

I learn something new every day - I had never heard of an orange cauliflower before. A healthy mac'n'cheese sounds like a great idea for a quick lunch etc - must try this.

Unknown said...

I like the sound of adding cauliflower to mac and cheese!

Anonymous said...

I can't help but stare at that picture of the cauliflower.
So that's how you get Dorito flavor in things :)

David Hall said...

Hi Susan

One of my very favourite childhood foods I have to say, full fat or not! That orange cauli looks stunning.


Aparna Balasubramanian said...

I never knew cauliflower could be orange too.
And a great way to make mac 'n cheese. As you know, we love veggies in ours.:)
As for kids liking the stuff that comes out of a box better, I think its a phase. As we grow older we start appreciating the real thing.

Nicole said...

Ohhhhh... looks yummy. I wonder if I could convince the kids of this one?

Cannelle Et Vanille said...

this is my kind of comfort food!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I just love all your healthy tricks! And you never sacrafice the taste!! I would be happy to be comforted with this dish!

LyB said...

This adult would love it, that's for sure! I love homemade mac and cheese, nothing is more comforting.

Anonymous said...

Just made the mac n cheese--used an orange cauliflower, and it was FABULOUS!! Hadn't had mac n cheese in years.

I used my Vitamix to puree the cauliflower which was a breeze & I didn't need to cool it down.

It was difficult to whisk out all the lumps, so I dumped that in the Vitamix separately & then continued that part of the process.

My cauliflower may have been too large, because there was a lot of sauce. More macaroni or less sauce would have been preferable.

Used fajita seasoning & salt & paper. This is definitely a recipe to make again!!!

Also used the Barilla Plus elbows for a healthier pasta.

Thanks, The Healthy Librarian

ames said...

My brother and I used to always request Mac 'n Cheese "the box kind" too! I have no idea what we were thinking, especially since my mom used to make the homemade using smoky Gouda.

Can't wait to try this out with the cauliflower, sounds fabulous!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

louise-My pleasure!

karina-Aw, shucks. Thanks. :)


heather-Take on the blue box? Yeah!

debbie-Thank you!

cara-Hope you enjoy it.

stacey-Now you'll know for next time. And thanks for the link. It's almost that time of year again!

lori-I actually got it at Henry's.

kate-I love the crunch too. I have to have some texture.

lynn-I think it will work!

gudrun-Oh, I'm so happy to hear that.

cakelaw-Isn't that great about blogging?



david-I hear ya.

aparna-I know you do. :)

nicole-I think so!


marie-That is just the best compliment to receive. Thank you!

lyb-I think a lot of people would agree with you.

thl-Wow! I'm so happy to hear you already tried it and liked it. Thanks for letting me know. I made the recipe 2x before posting it and didn't have extra sauce. Maybe it was the cauliflower? Not sure. I'll take note next time I make it though.

ames-Mmm... smoky gouda sounds even better to me.

Jeanne said...

Oh look at theat beautiful cauliflower! Never seen one that colour... I was never really a fan of mac 'n' cheese growing up, but I did love the (admittedly sinfully caolrific) one I made recently. Love the sound of this one - kind of like cauliflower cheese with some noodles thrown in :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

I just tried this recipe, and oh my gosh, it is delicious. Other than using plain old white cauliflower, I followed the recipe exactly and it came out perfect. Everyone in my family loved it, including my anti-veggie husband. It's funny how little you taste the cauliflower...

Thanks for sharing. I'm keeping this recipe in my collection!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

melissa-I'm so pleased to hear it! Thanks for taking the time to let me know. And now you have a cauliflower go-to dish in your arsenal for the anti-veg hubs. ;) Cheers!

Jenny said...

Hi Susan,

I usually follow recipes step by step, but I find I often play around a bit with the recipes on FoodBlogga! For this one, I used white cauliflower and also some butternut squash. I must have messed up the proportions because it then needed more cheese. So when I warmed up my plate in the microwave, I added some slices of extra sharp cheddar and also some peas and I was back on track! Really delicious, plus an easy way to get some veggies into the mix! Thanks!

S said...

Can you taste the cauliflower in it?

Susan from Food Blogga said...

sammi-No, not really, which for most people is a good thing! ;)

S said...

Oh, good! Maybe I'll try making it one day then. I don't like cauliflower but I've been wondering about it being in mac and cheese. I don't like a lot of vegetables so I try and get them in different ways.

Amanda said...

This is in my oven right now! Can't wait for dinner!