Homemade macaroni and cheese often showed up on my desperate dinner table as the main entree when my kids were little. It was easy to boil some noodles, make a quickie cheese sauce, and call it dinner. I'd sometimes add ham, pepperoni, and even meatballs to the mac and cheese when I wanted to get fancy. The kids loved it because it tasted so good. I loved it because it was so easy.
It's been years since macaroni and cheese has graced my dinner table as an entree. And frankly, even if the kids were home now, they'd be a little bored with the dish, as their palates have matured so much. But the kid in me misses mac and cheese.
So as I was missing my favorite kid-friendly pasta dish, I started thinking about how adaptable macaroni and cheese really is. You can add just about anything to it. Suddenly, plain macaroni and cheese was pumped up in flavor by the unlimited options right in my own fridge. I settled on a combination of tomatoes, onions, baby portobellos, and bacon. There's nothing plain about that! Cheddar-jack cheese is just simple enough to handle the extra flavor and melts together in a lovely sauce. I ran it through the oven to add a bit of texture to the noodles, but the baking part is completely optional.
It was like an old food memory, but freshened up for today. Enjoy!
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Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 1/2 cups dry macaroni
1 cup baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
4 thick slices hickory smoked bacon, cooked crispy and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup skim milk
1 cup shredded cheddar-jack cheese, plus more for topping, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, if baking (see Note).
Cook the macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, lightly saute the mushrooms and onions over medium heat just until mushrooms release their water. Add the tomatoes and bacon and toss together. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and form a paste. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly, until the milk and flour mixture is well-blended. Continue stirring until slightly thickened (about the texture of warm pudding). Add the cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat.
Combine drained pasta, cheese sauce, and vegetables in a casserole dish. Top with additional cheese, if desired. Bake 10 minutes for firm noodles. Serve immediately.
Note: Baking is optional.
Yield: 4 servings
Approximate values per serving: 360 calories, 19 g fat (9 g saturated), 55 mg cholesterol, 19 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 662 mg sodium.