Naughty & Nice Mac & Cheese

Posted on Feb 2, 2012

All the cheese of cheese, all the fiber of cauliflower.

Download PDF It’s been a heck of a week!

As you know, I redesigned and launched My Tiny Kitchen last Monday. What you may not know is that I also started teaching a new scene study class last Monday. Launching two big new endeavors on the same day was, in retrospect, not the swiftest move, but I lived. All this while doing my duty chairing the Nominating Committees for the Actor’s Equity elections, auditioning, and preparing for four days of Equity Health & Pension trustee meetings this week.

Just one of these is PLENTY when I

Needless to say, my cooking this week was accompanied with a little vino!

But if a little wine relaxes me, cooking centers me. After a long or stressful day when most people reach for the take-out menus, I change into something comfortable and set to chopping the hell out of an onion. Sometimes I don’t even decide what I’m making until I finish this Zen-like task–I mean, doesn’t almost everything start with a chopped onion anyway? I can pretty much go anywhere from that starting point. When I look up from my cutting board, wiping the pieces of onion from my knife, ideas are buzzing about my slightly liquored brain. The radio gets turned on to NPR, and before long I’ve got a pot of something on the stove, and I’m renewed. And hungry. And maybe a little lit–truthfully, I’m a lightweight, and remember, I’ve been drinking on an empty stomach!

Speaking of cooking, I’ve been making mac & cheese all week trying to perfect this recipe. Orville is pretty sick of it by now, so it’s a good thing this stuff freezes really well – line your individual ramekins with plastic wrap, fill with the cooled mac & cheese and top with the crumbs. Cover and freeze. Once frozen, you can put the individually wrapped parcels in a zip-top freezer bag and store until you need some cheesy goodness. Just unwrap, pop it in the ramekin, and bake at 350º until golden and delicious (about 20 minutes-ish for an individual sized serving.)

So, I promised you Mac & Cheese with a healthy kick in the pants and here it is, my Naughty & Nice Mac & Cheese. Is this health food? NO. But, I cut out the butter, use skim milk and add a healthy dollop of nutritious and fiber-rich cauliflower, so it’s a heck of a lot better for you than most traditional recipes. Make my Cauliflower “Crack” for a snack on movie night and save a little, then make this cheesy treat the next day!

Naughty & Nice Mac & Cheese

Prep Time: 15 mins | Cook Time: 15 mins | Servings: 4 serving | Difficulty: Medium


8 oz of some sort of curly pasta, preferably with ridges
1 ¼ cup roughly chopped Cauliflower “Crack”
1 ¾ skim milk, divided
1 ½ tsp cornstarch
1 cup shredded gruyere (or diced Velveeta, if you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line – no judgements, people! But use a little less salt with the big V.)
1 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp spicy brown mustard, like Gulden’s
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp Freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg (fresh is best)
¼ tsp ground chipotle pepper (you can omit this if you like, but it’s not a spicy dish by any means)
For the topping:
1 ½ cups Panko or fresh bread crumbs
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp smoked paprika


First, do the topping:
In your food processor, pulse 3 slices [or so-you’re looking for about 1 ½ cups of crumbs] until you have breadcrumbs-2 to 3 one-second pulses. Add the salt and smoked paprika through the feed tube and pulse once to mix. Add the olive oil through the feed tube while pulsing. OR, you can just mix these ingredients with the panko breadcrumbs in a bowl. SO much easier, right? Set this aside.

In the food processor, puree about 1 ¼ cup roasted Cauliflower “Crack” with ¼ cup skim milk.

Boil the pasta until al dente and drain. Do not rinse. put the pasta back in the pan and bring it to the stove. Preheat your oven to 400º F.

In a separate saucepan, whisk 1 ½ cup skim milk with 1 ½ tsp cornstarch. Over medium-low heat, heat this mixture until it just begins to bubble and thicken. Add ½ tsp kosher salt, the black pepper, nutmeg, the ground chipotle pepper and the mustard. Add the cheeses and stir until they are melted. Stir in the cauliflower puree. Stir in half the pasta to incorporate, then stir in the rest. You should be working with a cookie dough consistency by now. Taste for seasonings and add a final sprinkle of salt if you like.

Transfer into individual baking dishes for just the servings you need right now, reserving the rest in the fridge to bake fresh later. Or you can bake it all in one casserole dish if you’ve got a crowd. But the fun of your own individual crunchy cheesy serving is well worth having those dishes in your collection.

Top with some of the breadcrumb mixture (reserve enough for those ‘bake later’ servings in a zip-top bag in the fridge.)

Bake at 400º on a baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, until the topping is golden. The lack of butter and milk fat means this won’t be so bubbly and crusty as you may be used to seeing in regular mac & cheese recipes. But trust me, the melted cheesy goodness is still there! Let cool for 5 minutes before serving (especially to children-scoop out smaller children’s portions onto their plate so it cools nicely for them. They’ll still love that it was baked just for them!)

Optional toppings: crispy crumbled bacon, a little crispy bacon, or some crispy applewood smoked bacon pieces.

David says:

I don't see in your recipe the amount of pasta to cook. Did I miss it? I looked several times….Thanks, the rest of it looks great!