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Great Cookbooks for Families: Comfort Foods Made Healthy

By Katy Killilea

Eating Well Comfort FoodsIt’s comfort food season, with spa cuisine season nipping at its heels. Hunkering down with cheesey, noodle-y, stew-y pap feels so right, yet we’ll soon be shedding our Snuggies, sweaters, and down jackets and getting a look at what’s been accumulating under those layers.  If you want to make cozy family meals that are a little less likely to pad you in an extra layer of insulation, or if you have cholesterol, blood pressure, or other health ideas to pursue, you’ll want to take a look at Eating Well’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy.

EW mac-cheeseEating Well magazine strikes the right balance between gearing your cooking toward health while using 100% yummy, real food.  Never will you see fat free cheese or sugar free Cool Whip called for in an Eating Well recipe. In Comfort Foods Made Healthy, you’ll find 175 recipes for homey dishes that have been given makeovers. After the makeover, each recipe is lower in calories and fat and higher in nutrients.  Good moves when you’re feeding a growing family, sure. But not many healthy cookbooks bother to tackle bacon-wrapped scallops, creamy hamburger-noodle casserole, onion rings, and chocolate pudding. (My childhood favorites circa 1979.)

To its credit, the book also includes modern comfort foods like peanut noodles and Kung Pao tofu.  So even if you’re not ready for the time capsule back to the late 1970’s, the book strikes the right note.  Whatever the decade, macaroni and cheese is a good place to start–here’s the Eating Well Comfort Foods Made Healthy version, exactly as you’ll find it in the book:


TO MAKE AHEAD: Prepare through Step 4. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, if necessary, then bake for 35 to 45 minutes.

Elbow macaroni in a cheesy sauce can be a true comfort on a gloomy day, but you might not feel so great about all the fat and cholesterol most recipes dish up. In our healthy update we take advantage of the superior flavor of extra-sharp Cheddar, but combine it with creamy low-fat cottage cheese to balance things out. Spinach tucked into the middle of this casserole is great with the cheesy pasta and may help get picky eaters to down their vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber.

3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450*F. Coat an 8-inchsquare (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
3. Heat 11/2 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. 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 on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

PER SERVING: 576 calories; 22 g fat (11 g sat, 2 g mono); 69 mg cholesterol; 63 g
carbohydrate; 37 g protein; 9 g fiber; 917 mg sodium; 403 mg potassium.
NUTRITION BONUS: Vitamin A (290% daily value), Calcium (70% dv), Folate
(37% dv), Iron (15% dv).

The details:
Comfort Foods Made Healthy
By Jessie Price and the editors of Eating Well
2008 WW Norton $22.45

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