Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Don't Miss the Frito Pie

It's back to school time.

I miss the sense of excitement that came with returning to school. Yes, I was one of those kids. I loved the fresh box of sharpened colored pencils, the stiff binding on my new composition notebooks, the bright construction paper letters on the walls of the classroom. The sense of ownership when you were assigned to your desk. I miss the rush of curiosity about our new teacher--she's nice; she's cranky; she has a really big purse and Jack's older brother's best friend says that she keeps mice in it.

Lunch was not so fun. An elementary school cafeteria is a little shop of horrors, food-wise. Remember what you ate in third grade?

I do. Oh yes, I do.

Square hamburgers sitting in steaming, gristly water. Grey meatloaf. A bizarre dish called "Frito pie," composed of a handful of Fritos topped with a scoop of canned chili and melted yellow cheese. Nothing good happened to anyone on Frito pie day.

Other days were better. Pizza day was huge; we waited all month for it. My school offered a surprisingly crisp and varied salad bar and it was around this time that I developed an appreciation for salad as a meal.

I still have a weakness for macaroni and cheese, which also was offered regularly.

Now that I am grown, I prefer a lower fat, more nutritious form of the good old mac 'n cheese. Ellie Krieger has a terrific recipe that I make frequently. Because it includes pureed butternut squash, you can satisfy your inner child's hankering for an old favorite while respecting your adult figure's need for something healthy.

Isn't it fun to learn something new?

Ellie Krieger's Macaroni and Four Cheeses
available in Ellie Krieger's The Foods You Crave and here

Cooking spray
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash (I use frozen butternut squash)
2 cups 1 percent lowfat milk
4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it is defrosted. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally, until almost smooth. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish.

Here is where I depart from Ellie's recipe a bit. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the macaroni and cheese, then grate a bit of Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

Serves: 6-10 adults


Foodycat said...

That sounds delicious - love the idea of adding pumpkin. But I don't think frito pie sounds so bad...

muddywaters said...

I'm with foodycat. I like the occasional (once a year) Frito Pie.

However, I'm not a fan of school cafeterias. On my post about cafeterias, I was nice because some of my students read my blog, and I didn't want to offend any of the nice ladies in the cafeteria.

I wish schools served healthier food. When I was in school, they served something called a potato boat: It consisted of a slice of bologna, topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes, which then was topped with a slice of American Cheese. Even as a first grader I was thinking, "WTF!" I still can't comprehend why anyone would serve this.

Aggie said...

I really like this version of your mac and cheese! I like all the add ins you don't normally find in it, I'm going to try this out soon!

Sarah said...

Foodycat and Muddywaters: Glad to hear that Frito pie has some advocates, although I will never find the desire to eat it again! Muddywaters, I enjoyed your school cafeteria post. Your diplomacy is both admirable and wise--I've always said, never tick off the person who serves your food or cuts your hair. Potato boat sounds horrifying!

Aggie--the credit is all Ellie's! This really is a tasty recipe and makes for some good leftovers as well. Enjoy!

Q said...

I will keep this one in my cookbook for years to come - YUM!! Serves lots and lots of people and tastes absolutely delicious - guilt free mac & cheese - does it get any better?!