Monday, March 12, 2012

Copycat Cheese

Hi there friends!  I hope you are having a fantastic start to your week.  I'm still mourning the loss of an hour yesterday, but am happy that this means spring is a tiny bit closer.  The birds have been chirping non-stop and I love it.  Today, my agenda includes lots of grading and the finale of The Bachelor... even though we all know who is going to win, or be "winning" shall I say.

Today's recipe is for shells and cheese.. but not just any shells and cheese...Panera style shells and cheese :)  Now, I must say that I loved Panera's shells & cheese before going gluten-free...but not the calorie and fat info.  Recently, I'd seen a pin for Panera's actual recipe from their website and considering the fact that I'm obsessed with macaroni and cheese, I decided to try it!

So, being the super sleuth that I am, I checked out the ingredients on Panera's website first to see how they compared and was horrified.... basically, once I left out all the chemicals listed, what was left was: pasta shells, skim milk, american cheese spread, soybean oil, cream, cheddar cheese, cheese sauce, butter, dry cream, bleached flour and a bunch of other random thickeners I don't feel like typing.  

I wanted to make a Panera copy cat, but wasn't sure that I entirely trusted their recipe - first of all, the ingredients from their website weren't even close to what they listed in their recipe.  The proportion of flour to butter for the roux seemed WAY off and so did the entire tablespoon of dijon mustard.  I modified things using the same proportions that I do for my normal macaroni and cheese and figured I would get a great result... and I did!  It definitely wasn't as creamy as Panera's macaroni and cheese - I didn't bake it like I normally do and I also didn't use full fat cheeses or cream.  I was definitely impressed, using grueye instead of american cheese added a more sophisticated taste. 

Of course, I have my favorite brands of certain products so that's what I used.  I rarely use butter in recipes and often use Smart Balance Light w/Flax instead - it's one of the few brands of margarine that doesn't contain "hidden" trans fat - it's also gluten-free and vegan.  I love the taste too and no they aren't paying me to say this, but yes, I do recommend it to all of my nutrition clients so now I've given you free dietitian advice today.  I used Cabot 50% cheese, but only because I've never seen any other brands of lower fat white cheddar at my store.  I've also heard that Cabot is ridiculously amazing....and it was!

Now, my next goal is to make a mexican inspired macaroni and cheese with jalepenos similar to the one my friends rave about at Nada...or maybe truffle macaroni & cheese...but those are other posts for another day :)

White Cheddar Shells & Cheese, Adapted from Panera Bread


1 - 8oz box + 1 cup quinoa pasta shells
3 tbsp butter or trans-fat free margarine
1/4 cup brown rice flour
8 oz low-fat white cheddar cheese 
1/3 cup shredded gruyere
1/2 tbsp dry mustard 
1/4 tsp hot sauce

1. Bring your water to a boil and throw in your pasta.  Follow the box directions - mine too about 8 minutes
2.  The trickiest part, making the roux.  Melt your butter/margarine in a saucepan over medium low heat, then sprinkle the brown rice flour on top.  Fold the brown rice flour in with a spatula.  Allow the mixture to cook for ~2 minutes.
3.  Pour your skim milk into the flour mixture.  Continue to stir, occasionally scraping the bottom with your spatula.  Turn your heat up to medium high,  your mixture should begin to thicken and your mixture should begin to start to bubble.  Remember, to keep scraping the bottom of the saucepan with your spatula so it doesn't burn.
4.  Turn the heat down to low, add the mustard powder and hot sauce. 
5. Fold in shells to cheese mixture.  Top with a little extra gruyere.

What's your favorite kind of macaroni and cheese? Are you more of a traditionalist or are you more adventurous?