January 20, 2000

If you ask children to name three favorite foods, it is a pretty safe bet that macaroni and cheese will be among them. The warm, creamy, comforting appeal of macaroni and cheese has made in an American classic — it is a one dish meal that almost everyone loves and almost anyone can prepare.

This once humble budget-stretcher is gaining new fame as a fashionable addition to trend-setting restaurant menus. By varying the pasta shapes, cheese varieties, and adding other ingredients, macaroni and cheese can become an interesting addition to your family menu, as well.

Macaroni and Cheese Florentine
(Makes 12 servings)
2 cup uncooked pasta shells
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
Black pepper to taste
2 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, divided
1 (10-0z.) pkg. Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 tablespoons chives

1. Prepare pasta according to package directions and drain well.

2. Combine cottage cheese and mustard in a food processor, cover and process until smooth. Place in large bowl. Stir in sour cream and black pepper. Add prepared pasta to cottage cheese mixture.

3. Blend 1 1/2 cups reduced -fat cheese, spinach, and chives into the pasta mixture.

4. Family style: Pour into a 9×13-inch baking dish* (sprayed with butter-flavored cooking spray). Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Individual servings: Spoon mixture into small or medium ramekins and top with cheese. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

5. For color, sprinkle with paprika, if desired.

In this quick recipe, chili and pasta are served warm over shredded lettuce for an easy and tasty main dish salad. Children and adults alike will enjoy this Texas style meal. Serve it with plenty of corn chips or warm tortilla chips, sour cream, and homemade salsa!

(Makes 4 servings)
1/2 cup uncooked dried pasta
1 (15-ounce) can vegetarian or turkey chili with beans
1 (11-ounce) can whole kernel corn with red and green peppers, drained
4 cups shredded Romaine lettuce
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup sliced green onions
Sour Cream and Corn Chips

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well. In same pan combine cooked pasta, chili and corn. Cook over medium heat until heated thoroughly. To serve, place 1 cup lettuce on each salad plate; top with 1 cup chili mixture, 1 tablespoon cheese and 1 tablespoon green onion on each. Garnish with sour cream and corn chips. (Makes 4 servings) (Nutrition (1 serving): Calories 230; Protein 11 g; Carbohydrate 38 g; Fat 4 g; Cholesterol 5 mg; Sodium 610 mg)

Many vegetables have a short storage time and ideally should be used within two or three days of purchase. Root vegetables are the exception and can be stored for several weeks in a cool, dark, airy place.

A reader, Andy, emailed an interesting question to me. He asked, “Once celery wilts, can you revitalize it and can you still cook with wilted celery?”

As long as the celery has some firmness, you can use it in stocks and in the bottom of pans when roasting meat or poultry, although the flavor won’t be as intense.

To revitalize wilted celery sticks, place them in a bowl of ice water for an hour or two. Add fresh lemon juice to improve flavor.

Speaking of celery sticks, my mother always kept a jar of celery sticks in the refrigerator. She would clean the celery, cut sticks the length of the jar (pint or quart), stand the celery sticks in the jar, fill it with water, cover it, and put it in the refrigerator. Great snacks! Carrot sticks work as well.

Janet sent a delightful tip — she suggests using a vegetable peeler to remove the tough strings from celery ribs. Separate the ribs, wash and trim each rib, and lightly stroke a vegetable peeler down the length of each rib. Great idea, Janet!

For an attractive and easy garnish on your winter salads, Dorothy suggests peeling a carrot, running a fork or citrus zester down the length of the carrot (to make grooves), and then thinly slicing the carrot — making pretty little flower shapes. Nice tip, Dorothy!

Bunny sent the Chef Detective recipes that call for dry pudding mix as an ingredient. They are easy and very good. Thanks for sharing, Bunny.

Caramel Apple Salad
1 can crushed pineapple
2 chopped apples
1 cup mini-marshmallows
8-oz. Cool Whip
1 pkg. instant Butterscotch pudding
1 cup lightly salted peanuts
In a large bowl, combine pineapple, marshmallows, Cool Whip (stir before adding), and pudding mix. Stir well. Add apples, and just before serving add peanuts; stir well.

Pudding Cookies
1 cup margarine
1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. Instant vanilla pudding
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon soda
Chocolate chips, M&M’s, Melt-Away Mints, or nuts
Cream together margarine, vinegar, sugar, and vanilla. Add dry pudding and eggs; mix well. Add flour, soda, and mix well. Add chips or nuts, if desired. Bake in 375° oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

We have received several requests for recipes, including: A Chocolate Whipped Cream Cake; low sodium herb and spice mixes; a Raspberry Festival Pie; sandwiches for children; and “… a good all around recipe for meat balls.”

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