I don’t know how long mac and cheese has been a kid staple, but I do know it it’s been a long time since it’s actually one of the first things I remember learning to “cook” back when I was a kid. I usually only feed it to my boys once a week, but they would probably eat it everyday if I let them, so it seemed like an obvious place to try to make a less processed improvement. And I’m happy to report that on attempt #2, I had an actual success that all 3 boys like.
So here it is… I made a relatively simple cheese sauce by melting 1/2 cup butter, then adding 1/2 cup flour. Cooking for a couple minutes to cook out the flour flavor and then whisking in about 3 cups of milk (sorry, I forgot to precisely measure – so it might have been a little more milk. If it ends up too thick, add more milk). Once this thickened, I added 8 oz of shredded sharp cheddar, a little bit of onion powder, salt to taste (I discovered you want to actually make this a little saltier than you would like since the salt is mellowed out quite a bit once you add it to the starchy macaroni), 1.5 cups of steamed cauliflower florets pureed down to a babyfood like mush, and pepper. Once it was all melty and yummy, you add about a cup of sauce to a cooked 13 oz box of pasta of your choice.
Of course, since very few of us actually think we’re feeding macaroni and cheese to our kids for the nutrition, and in reality it’s all about the convenience, here is the best part of this recipe. The left over sauce can be put into 3 ziplock bags and frozen. Next time I want to give them macaroni and cheese, I just cook the pasta like I would with with blue boxes of mac and cheese. Then while the noodles are draining in the collander, I leave the burner on, take out the little bag of cheese sauce, cut it open and plop my cheesecicle into the hot pan with a splash of milk. Stir this until it’s mostly melted, add the pasta back in (adding more milk if it gets too thick) and voila. Mac and cheese that takes not much longer than the boxed stuff, but is vastly better for my kids.
This was my basic sauce for attempt one and two. The reason I needed an attempt number 2 comes down to my 4 year old. After the first try my oldest and youngest were eating multiple helpings, but the 4 year old… well he had his issues, mainly around color and pepper. I used fresh cracked black pepper to season the sauce for attempt #1, and he ended up with a bite with a bit of the pepper and pretty much freaked out. Spitting, rubbing his tongue, being very dramatic. You’d think he just got a bit of habenero. So for the 3 remaining bags of sauce, he wouldn’t eat it because he was afraid of the pepper. If he even saw a small bit of black, he’d freak again and not eat it. He also had an issue with the fact that it wasn’t yellow.
To fix these things for attempt #2, I used ground white pepper (most of the flavor, none of the telltale black spots) and added about 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (for a little bit of color). The result is that all 3 boys will gladly eat this. And there will usually be enough for me to also eat lunch, and we may still have leftovers.