Stealth Veggie Recipes: Mac'N'Cheese

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Once upon a time I had a little girl who ate Indian food with me. Lentil and minestrone soups. Raw sweet potatoes. Beans. She asked to have broccoli for dinner. She asked to have peas.

I have no idea what happened to that child.

Nowadays I’ve got a Mac’n’cheese and hot dog and chicken finger kid. She eats bread with ketchup, and tortilla chips with ketchup. Last night I even saw her taste yogurt with ketchup (yuck!).

It’s not all bad – I mean, she does like and eat plain yogurt. And raw carrots and all kinds of raw fruits. And you should see her dive into a plate of calamari. And she drinks milk, which is more than I can say that I did when I was little. She’s still a far cry from my peanut butter and jelly sandwich days. And it’s an old family story that for a long time a certain family member would eat nothing but tomato soup. Still, these days I find myself thinking of my mother naming a casserole after me because I hated it (I like it now). I find myself thinking of my father saying, “One day when you’re grown up I’m going to come to your house for dinner, and no matter what you put in front of me, I’m going to say ‘yuck!'” (He has never actually done this.)

All of which is to say that – sigh – I’m really feeling my position as a parent these days.

Maybe the problem is that I really do try to put food on the table that my daughter will like, and in so doing, I’m depriving her of the opportunity to try new things, to develop new tastes, to …

I mean, I’m a Mom. Doesn’t that by definition mean that I must be doing something wrong?

Maybe. But it also means that these days I’m getting super creative with meals.

Enter the neutral-flavored veggies. Stealth veggies, I call them. Rutabaga. Cauliflower. Celery. The veggies that you can sneak into other foods, and which once there, just kind of vanish, leaving behind, depending on which veggies you choose, some traces of Thiamin, B6, Calcium, Magnesium, and phosphorous; Vitamins C, A, and K, Folate, Calcium and Manganese …

Now that’s a mother’s dream.

I’ve been making my own mac’n’cheese for some time now. I love mac’n’cheese, but not just any old kind. I like a grown-up mac’n’cheese, with goat cheese and feta with the cheddar; with garlic and cayenne pepper; and this is the mac’n’cheese to which my daughter has grown accustomed. Because I happened to have rutabagas on hand recently, fresh from the garden, it occurred to me one day that I could thicken my cheese sauce with them, and give the dish a little nutritional boost. So I did, and it turned out great. I’ve since used celery, potatoes, and cauliflower all to great success. Last week I even added mashed sweet potatoes left over from Christmas dinner, and no one was the wiser.

Sweet potato as stealth veggie – who knew?

If you, too, feel the need for stealth veggies in your life, here’s my mac’n’cheese recipe. It can be varied, depending on what you have on hand. It’s not a huge serving of veggies per bite, but hey, it’s something, right? And I’m a firm believer in the maxim that every little bit counts.

Stealth Veggie Mac’n’Cheese

8 ounces dried macaroni noodles
1 small rutabaga, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon mashed potatoes
1 heaping tablespoon sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 generous cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Garlic powder, cayenne pepper and salt to taste

INSTRUCTIONS: Boil macaroni. Drain and set aside.

Boil the rutabaga and celery until soft and drain well. In blender, combine rutabaga, celery, potatoes, flour and milk and liquefy.

In a pan over low heat, melt butter. Add contents of blender and begin to heat. It’s very important that this heat slowly. Add cheeses and spices. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally until cheese is thoroughly melted. Add macaroni and mix together.

You can serve this immediately, or turn it into a buttered casserole dish to brown. If you decide to brown it, do so immediately. If you let it sit too long before baking, the macaroni soaks up the sauce and your baked dish can end up being too dry.

I did this dish with a variety of different vegetables, but it’s really a matter of technique, rather than ingredients. I made it a few nights ago with half a head of cauliflower and it was wonderful. I was rewarded with a mother’s fondest wish: a clean dinner plate.

Stay tuned next time when I answer the question: How much broccoli can you hide in a meatball before someone notices and sounds the alarm?