Healthy Mac & Cheese, Peas

In this slightly Latinized version of mac and cheese, Mi Cocina used low-fat milk to cut down on calories and fat, replaced some of the cheese with non-fat cheddar, used whole wheat pasta to boost fiber and added some veggies.

And to give it more of that creamy texture, we used reduced fat cream cheese. For this winter-like weather we’re experiencing this Spring, it’s the perfect excuse to continue indulging in some comfort food.

• 1 box whole wheat elbow macaroni
• Nonstick cooking spray
• 1 tbls butter
• 2 garlic cloves
• 3 cups – 1% milk
• 1 cup light cream cheese
• 2 cups fat free cheddar cheese, shredded
• 1 cup monterey jack or pepper jack cheese, shredded
• 2 teaspoons chili powder
• ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
• 4 oz. jar chopped pimiento
• ½ to 1 cup peas (optional)
• ¼ cup panko crumbs
• ¼ cup parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon corn starch (use as thickening agent if needed)

1. While prepping, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook according to package directions, drain.
3. In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add milk and cream cheese, mixing constantly.
5. As the milk mixture is heating up but before boiling point, whisk in shredded cheeses until melted. Add cornstarch and water mixture, if needed.
6. Add chili powder and salt. Mix well.
7. In the same pot where macaroni was prepared, toss macaroni with the cheese sauce. Mix in chopped pimiento and peas, if desired.
8. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
9. Sprinkle panko crumbs and finish with Parmesan cheese.
10. Bake until Parmesan is melted and macaroni is hot throughout, about 10 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water to the cornstarch. It needs to be mixed completely before adding to boiling liquid. Once added, cook long enough until the liquid has thickened.

Elizabeth Carrion, a Dominican, co-founded Mi Cocina, a New Jersey-based catering service that also offers cooking classes, with her sister, Ana Martinez.