The first thing I'm dealing with is cooking in a new kitchen. I'm back to cooking on a gas stove, except that this gas stove seems to not have a low setting (so long magical medium-high heat). Even when I have it on low it's still way hotter than what I'm used to (I had a gas stove when I lived in the fan that I liked). Really it just takes some getting used to, and after a few burnt eggs I think I've generally got it down.
So yesterday Ty and I were discussing dinner plans, which we knew would revolve around some type of meat since our freezer is now stocked with Ty's haul from a sale a Omaha Steaks the other day ($350 of meat for $120 - I've never seen him so proud). We landed on pork and he mentioned he'd love to have some homemade macaroni & cheese, which sounded delicious to me - so decision made: grilled pork & macaroni & cheese. Since I'm trying to cook healthy I went on FoodNetwork.com and searched Ellie Krieger's recipes for a healthy mac & cheese. I found her recipe for Macaroni & 4 cheeses that is low in fat but also sneaks in a veggie serving (winter squash). It was also the recipe with these least steps involved and you know I love that :)
Since it's just the two of us I halved the recipe (luckily the math was pretty easy, I hate fractions). It calls for frozen pureed winter squash, which I knew was going to be the ingredient that would cause me the biggest headache as it doesn't sound like something your everyday grocery store would keep on hand. I went to Kroger since they typically have a better variety of random stuff than some of the other stores around - but there was no frozen pureed winter squash to be found. I hadn't thought to Google and find an alternate ingredient and I also knew I couldn't just leave it out since it was pretty central to the sauce. I went to the canned vegetable isle to see what I could find there, briefly considered pureed pumpkin then decided to check out the organic food section and ta-da! Pureed winter squash....baby food. Organic foodies feed their kids the craziest things. I'm kicking myself right now for not taking a picture of this in case you don't believe me, but I didn't even hesitate to grab that little jar of baby food with the intent to use it in my gourmet, healthy, homemade mac & cheese.
The entire ride home I was giggling to myself thinking about how I was going to get away with putting baby food in this dish without Ty knowing. He didn't know there was going to be squash in it at all, much less squash intended for tiny humans who didn't have teeth yet. The first challenge would be to get the jar out of the grocery bag without him seeing it, luckily he was heating up the grill when I walked in so I had 4 seconds to grab the jar and shove it in the cabinet behind the grits before he came in to help me unload the rest of the groceries.
The second challenge was to get the squash into the sauce and dispose of the jar. I got the pasta into boiling water and followed the instructions by then combining the milk and squash in another dish over low heat. Usually when Ty is grilling he hangs out on the porch with the grill pretty much the entire time, but of course the one time I'm trying to so something sneaky he found 65 reasons to keep coming inside. I was successful in getting the squash into the pan, disposing of the jar and mixing it into the milk so it pretty much just looked like cheese sauce. So when he walked into the kitchen 5 seconds later, I'm grinning like a fool because I think this is SO funny. And then I spot the baby food jar sitting front and center on the counter. Shit. I somehow was able to grab is discreetly and hold it in my fist while I pretended to keep stirring the sauce. Mission accomplished, back out to the grill he went.
So I continued with the recipe, adding the shredded cheeses and ricotta to the pot and then mixing up the parmesan/bread crumb topping. Since the baby food jar was only 4 ozs. and the recipe (halved) called for 10 ozs. I used a little more cheese and a splash more milk to make the sauce. I added the seasonings, substituting chili powder for cayenne pepper and regular mustard for powdered mustard. I was very surprised at how good it was! The squash added a little sweetness that went really well with the mustard/chili powder/salt mixture.
Once the noodles where done, I mixed them with the sauce in a baking dish and topped them with the bread crumb topping and some extra shredded cheese and popped it in the oven. When Ty's pork was about done, I turned on the broiler to get the top a little brown. You gotta watch that broiler, it looks like nothing is happening and then BOOM, it's burnt. I didn't actually burn it this time, but it was about 3 seconds away.
Ty was so impressed with how delicious my mac & cheese looked and I couldn't stop smiling knowing he was about to eat baby food, and like it.
We started eating and he loved it! I have a hard time keeping secrets like this so after I'd asked him like 7 times if he liked it and he fully agreed that he did, I dropped the squash bomb. At first he was like "Squash?? I don't like squash..." and was like "well obviously you do, you're on your second helping." Once the shock wore off, he agreed it was a really good way to sneak in a little extra veggies.
The Verdict: Will definitely make this again!! I think it needed a little more sauce, next time I'll try to use closer to the right about of squash (2 cans of baby food!) since I know we like it now.
Note: As I write this, Ty is aware that there was squash in his mac & cheese last night but is not aware that it was baby food. I thought that little tid-bit was better shared when he reads this post :)