Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mac and Cheese: A Recipe For a Cold and Rainy Spring Day; Artificial Food Dye Need Not Apply When You Make It From Scratch!

Yesterday, there was an alarming news story linking food dye and hyperactivity in young children. I'm not surprised about the existence of the dye but a lot of the foods they're in are marketed to and staples of a child's diet and warrants a second look if your tyke is a bit of a handful.
Aye mateys, there's food dye in the 'crunch!!'

Food dyes are in Mac and Cheese, Jell-o, Minute Maid Lemonade and many cereals (think Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Cap'n Crunch!). For many years the FDA believed that the dyes or artificial food coloring would not worsen behavior problems like hyperactivity in some children but as of yesterday, they're taking a second look. If the FDA changes their position we may start to see warning labels on boxes of food products that contain artificial food coloring.

I had an untested recipe for Mac and Cheese and thought that since winter was gone I'd save it until after the summer. I think of Mac and Cheese being the ultimate comfort food especially in cold temps, but we have unseasonably cold weather and the fact that the boxed version of the macaroni dish was in the news, I dug out my recipe to make a 'dye-free' casserole.

The recipe follows. It's easy to make, not particularly low in calories, but I used fat free milk at least and skim versions of the two cheeses. Everything helps! I added a toasted bread crumb topping to mine because I remember my mother making it that way. If not eating right away, add a bit of milk when reheating to counter the dryness of the casserole after it sits for a while.

Homemade Mac & Cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for baking dish
3 cups milk
4-5 grape tomatoes diced
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 cup bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 cup of light olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2-quart casserole dish.
  • Warm milk and tomato paste in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese; set cheese sauce aside. Whisk until smooth.
  • Bring salted water to a boil. Cook until pasta is al dente. Drain well then stir macaroni into reserved cheese sauce. 
  • Toast bread crumbs in fry pan with olive oil until slightly browned.
  • Pour mixture into prepared dish. Top with toasted bread crumbs and dot with butter. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.

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