Growing up in the land of all things dairy in Wisconsin and home of the Cheesehead (for the record, I do not own one), I am inherently skeptical of anything that is reduced-fat when it comes to dairy products for desserts or comfort food dishes like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes. If I am going to indulge, I am going to do it right. Part of the reason for my vehemence for not using reduced-fat ingredients in desserts or hearty food is that I don’t want to sacrifice the taste to spare myself the extra calories. I definitely inherited this from my dad who refused to sacrifice taste for less calories. In fact, he would usually draw an amused look from waiters at restaurants when he would order an enormous breakfast and then order water for a drink saying, “You have to cut back somewhere.”
But these days, I am often looking for ways to eat healthier. After my son went to bed last night, I was paging through Cooking Light Magazine and came across a great article on using reduced-fat versus full-fat dairy in cooking. Since the link isn’t online for this article, the tips they gave are below. Picking and choosing when to use reduced-fat versus full-fat ingredients is the key.
Thanks to this article, I will no longer be fearful of having the cream cheese frosting of my favorite carrot cake recipe taste like it is “reduced-fat.” Or, having my Timeless Tart filling not taste like the real thing.
In fact, this article made me think about my mother-in-law’s sinful (but not really sinful when it comes to calories) macaroni and cheese. When you take the first bite, you will swear it must have about 5,000 calories in each bite because it is so delicious. However, she has a secret ingredient that cuts the calories and lends to the creaminess: to create the creaminess of the sauce that the noodles are usually soaked in, she uses evaporated milk in place of heavy cream and cheese which are usually the base of the white sauce for homemade macaroni and cheese. This makes it easier for you to use full-fat cheese as a topping for the dish (since you are saving the calories with the filling) instead of reduced-fat cheese which will get rubbery when heated. We had a half-used bag of shredded cheddar and monterey jack cheese so I used that as a topping for my macaroni and cheese. You could easily make this a bit more sophisticated with more "luxurious" cheeses like goat cheese, gouda or a good, aged parmesan.
For parents, this is a wonderful dish to make for yourself that your children will also come to love. My 10 1/2 month old son LOVED this dish. It is also incredibly economical. I can remember making a four cheese mac and cheese a while ago that became incredibly expensive due to the exotic cheeses in the dish. It was delicious but not practical to make on a regular basis. And, it was incredibly time consuming but not this macaroni and cheese. It takes slightly longer than making it out of a box but it is worth the extra minutes when you take that first gooey bite of macaroni and cheese out of the oven!
Indulgent food that still tastes good but with less calories is TRULY indulgent!
Here are Cooking Light Magazine’s helpful hints on this topic from the June 2010 issue:
Use reduced-fat …
*In recipes where cheese is just one component. In this case, let it melt into the sauce, soup or casserole instead of using it as a topping as reduced-fat cheese becomes rubbery when heated.
Use full-fat …
*In recipes where you only need a small amount such as for a topping on a dish.
Use reduced-fat …
*When other ingredients will provide flavors or textures that round out the dish. Consider using flour or egg to thicken a sauce instead.
Use full-fat …
*To give recipes body and richness. Use a splash of whole milk to soups or sauces to give the dish a luxurious taste.
*Good news! The full-fat and reduced-fat cream cheese products are interchangeable and behave identically.
The above tips are excerpted from Cooking Light Magazine, June 2010 Issue
And, here is the delicious recipe for macaroni and cheese from my mother-in-law, JoAnn:
JoAnn’s Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4 if used as a side dish
*2 tablespoons unsalted butter
*1 tablespoon flour
*1 cup elbow noodles
*1 cup evaporated milk
*Cheese of your choice to top the macaroni and cheese
*Salt and Pepper to taste
*Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
*Boil noodles until tender, drain and place in casserole dish.
*In a small sauce pan, melt butter and then stir in the flour and finally the evaporated milk to form the white sauce for the dish. Take care not to let the butter and flour mixture overcook or burn.
*Pour the sauce over the noodles and top with cheese.
*Bake in the oven at 375 degrees until bubbling and top is golden brown.
Recipe courtesy of JoAnn Turrentine