Let's see, first there was Thanksgiving with turkey, dressing and all of the trimmings, including pies.
Then came my wife's book club cookie exchange, the Tribune Chronicle's Christmas party, all sorts of holiday ales to sample, a Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes and another spread on Christmas day. Oh, and did I mention my daughter works for a cupcake shop and regularly brings home her work (along with a gargantuan cookie tray)?
Suffice to say, I'm in need of a resolution.
Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese is a slightly healthier take on that old comfort food.
I'm sure I'm not alone. The most popular New Year's resolution is some combination of lose weight / eat better / exercise more / get healthier. And the proliferation of diet books and fitness programs indicates everyone has an idea of what works.
Considering my track record, I'm tempted to just quote Neil Young: ''Take my advice. Don't listen to me.'' But even with really big type, that wouldn't fill the food page.
When it comes to dieting, some preach abstinence, cutting out all sweets or carbs or fatty foods. That attitude never works for me, at least not in the long term.
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups skim milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup (about two ounces) shredded smoked Gouda
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
5 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
12 oz. box of whole wheat elbow macaroni cooked
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly add milk, salt and pepper, stirring constantly with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil and cook until thick (about 2-3 minutes). Add cheese and stir until melted.
Add spinach and macaroni to cheese mixture, stirring until well blended. Spoon mixture into a 3 quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 4-6 main course servings.
A more reasonable solution is to find healthier alternatives that still will satisfy a craving.
One of the most beloved comfort foods is macaroni and cheese. Many, many Fridays I'll walk over to the Saratoga Restaurant and pick up mac and cheese to go for lunch (at about $5.50 with a salad and a roll, it's one of the best bargains around).
And while many chefs seem to be finding ways to make this fat-and-carb-filled favorite even more decadent (bacon, multiple cheeses), this recipe takes the opposite route.
Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese isn't as creamy as some connoisseurs may demand and no one will mistake it for the stuff that comes in the blue box (that's a good thing), but it preserves many of the qualities that make it so popular.
The original recipe appeared in Cooking Light magazine. I tweaked a couple things, making it a bit easier (using panko crumbs instead of dragging out a food processor to make my own crumbs from a slice of whole wheat bread) and increasing the fiber content by using whole wheat pasta. That doesn't lower the calories, but it adds about 4 grams of fiber per serving (about double the original version) and doesn't significantly alter the overall flavor of the entree.
The sauce is made with skim milk and less than 4 ounces of cheese, which means only about 25 percent of the calories come from fat. I also used a bit more pasta than originally called for, which cuts the fat per serving even more.
However, it still has a rich flavor by using cheeses with a more intense bite than the cheddars, Colbys or Velveetas in more traditional versions. The original recipe says the Gouda can be swapped out for any cheese that melts well, but I think the dish would miss the smokiness the Gouda imparts.
It still tastes like an indulgence, while all that spinach adds vitamins and antioxidants to the dish.
It comes together easily and would pair well with a salad for a vegetarian dinner.