Baked Mac & Cheese

I found myself browsing for some fun fall recipes. I stumbled upon mac & cheese and decided I couldn't go too long without making it! It was delicious. I found it very similar to Sara Foster's mac & cheese that Patrick made a month or so ago. I'm sure this one is a bit healthier! This one also seemed a bit easier in prep but Patrick and I both prepped this one together which gave this one an "easy advantage". The eatingwell website recipe is hyperlinked in the title below. Be sure to check it out; there were lots of good user comments on the recipe.

Baked Mac & Cheese
4 servings | Active Time: 25 minutes Total Time: 55 minutes

*I'll include my notes along the way in blue!

3 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp paprika
1 16-oz or 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed > I used 10-oz
1 small-medium piece (~12-oz) of pre-cooked ham, diced in small pieces > This is my own addition to the recipe!
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided > I used skim milk
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese > I used the Mexican variety cheese pack; a few of the website comments mention using other cheese for more flavor so this is what I picked!
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 oz (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne > I used penne

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
Cheese sauce before pasta was added.
2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil, and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture. *Next time I would double the breadcrumbs mixture; there just wasn't enough! Also if you go to the grocery store immediately before making this you will obviously need to defrost your spinach in the microwave.
3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. *This took much longer than I thought it would; but be careful not to burn your milk!* Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach and ham on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. *One website comment suggested mixing the cheese sauce, pasta, and spinach/ham together. I preferred the layers but Patrick would've liked everything mixed together!

Patrick placing the spinach and ham.

Ready for the second layer of pasta.

Now with the pasta and breadcrumbs... to the oven!

5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Bubbly & golden! Let's eat!
Per serving: 576 calories; 22 g fat (11g sat, 2 g mono); 69 mg cholesterol; 63 g carbohydrates; 37 g protein; 9 g fiber; 917 mg sodium; 403 mg potassium.

Vitamin A (290% daily value), Calcium (70% dv), Folate (37% dv), Iron (15% dv).

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