What’s the first thing you crave when you’ve had a rotten day?
…For me, it’s a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the canned version – the kind that has a tomato-based sauce more akin to ketchup than marinara. These days, I look to the more grown-up stuff, with a little REAL parmesan shaved over the top, but the concept is the same. It always makes me feel better… then oftentimes a little bit worse.
Stay with me here – I’ll explain.
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Turns out, I’m not alone in craving a version of something I grew up enjoying. A study highlighted by Psychology Today explains how “comfort foods” impact our brains by likening favorite dishes to artifacts. When we are feeling depressed or have the blues, our brains respond by searching our memory banks for experiences that made us happy.
Eating is Multisensory
Eating engages our taste buds, obviously, but it also invites our eyes and noses to the party. When we think back to meals that made us joyful, we are not just thinking about the taste of Grandma’s meatloaf – we’re also thinking about the scenario surrounding enjoying it. Family gatherings, picnics, parties – these are often the types of memories we summon when we enjoy a dish that we have classified for ourselves as “comforting”.
But too often, those “comforting” dishes are not exactly the best nutritional choices. If they were, we would be eating them every day. Because so many comfort foods are associated with childhood, they usually don’t fall into the “clean” category. As I said – mine came from a can. Sugar, fats and unhealthy processed carbs run rampant in our favorite foods, and eating them tends to leave us feeling only temporarily satisfied. Moments later, we’re wishing we hadn’t indulged. Bad mood turns worse. It’s a vicious cycle.
Eat Real Food: Not Food in a Box!
There are very few adults who don’t connect this quick and easy meal with being a kid, and most of us aren’t thinking back to a big pot of scratch-made Mac that mom slaved over for hours. We’re thinking about stuff that came in a box. The cheese was a powder. When you break it down to its components, it’s almost appalling how much we loved it.
But, we did. A lot.
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However, there are ways to take so many of those comfort foods we all love so well and “clean” them up – make them nutritional, without losing the connection that made us love them to begin with. Because Mac N Cheese is so high on the list of “gimmes” when we’re down in the dumps, let’s start there.
Better Cheddar Mac N Cheese Recipe
- 1 pack of brown rice macaroni
- 1 ½ cups REAL cheddar cheese divided, shredded
- 1 tablespoon goat cheese
- ¼ cup organic white northern beans drained and rinsed
- 1 cup organic antibiotic-free milk or rice milk, divided
- 3 stems rosemary
- 2 slices multi-grain bread toasted until very crispy
- 1 T olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Cook your brown rice pasta according to package instructions. It’s a little different from regular pasta, so make sure you pay attention. This should take you about 20 minutes, then pour into a colander to drain and set aside.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine white beans and ½ cup of milk in a blender and blend until very smooth. This is going to be the unlikely base of your Mac N Cheese. Add your goat cheese and blend again.
- In a sauce pan, melt 1 cup of cheddar cheese in your remaining ½ cup of milk. You’ll need to stir frequently. When the mixture is as combined as you can make it (and it may still have some separation but don’t worry about it), pour it into the blender with your other ingredients.
- Blend until smooth once again. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as you see fit. Do you taste the beans? I didn’t think so.
- Pour brown rice noodles and sauce into a dutch oven or deep casserole dish together and mix to make sure every noodle is coated.
- Toast your bread to your desired consistency and break up into crumbs with your hands. You’ll want to do this into a separate bowl. Chop up your rosemary needles very finely. You won’t want large pieces of rosemary in this crumb topping. Add to breadcrumbs. Add your remaining cheddar cheese, shredded, into this mixture. Add olive oil and toss with a spoon to make sure all of the mixture gets coated with oil.
- Sprinkle topping over your cheese and noodle mixture and bake for roughly 20 minutes until topping is golden and cheese is melted.
- Serve directly in the pot.
The important of the brown rice pasta is its relevance on the glycemic index. The body processes the carbohydrates from brown rice much slower than processed white or even wheat flour, which means that you’ll get sustained energy and avoid blood sugar spikes that always seem to accompany a carb-heavy dish. You can find it at any grocery store on the pasta aisle. It's also gluten-free which is important for people who are allergic or intolerant to gluten.
The component of Mac N Cheese that contains the most saturated fat is the béchamel that eventually becomes cheese sauce. It normally contains at least one full stick of butter and at least a couple of tablespoons of white, processed flour. We are going to bypass both of those things entirely with this recipe in a very unusual way.
This recipe not only trims out much of the saturated fat of normal Mac, it alters the chemical impact your food will have on your body.
When we call food “sustenance”, we mean that our food will give us sustaining energy. Normal Mac N Cheese is the antithesis of that idea, but this recipe turns Mac into a fuel formula that will carry you and your little ones through work and play without a crash and burn.
Comforting, isn’t it?