The request for Mac and Cheese is a daily one at my house. When I ask my kids what they want for breakfast, lunch, or dinner I can pretty much predict the answer every time 'Mac and Cheese!' I just don't understand the obsession - I could probably go the rest of my life without eating Mac and Cheese and not miss it. It is one of those kid foods like goldfish crackers, or cheese pizza that they think is the best thing that happened in the food world, but the rest of us really know the truth. Because they love Mac and Cheese so much, and I love them so much, I am always trying to come up with different variations and healthier versions of it.
My kids may not have developed a love for quinoa yet, but I certainly have. The nutritional value is far superior to that of macaroni and so I thought it would be a great variation of the traditional cheesy dish. Here is another great quinoa recipe and some of the reasons we love it nutritionally. I always add veggies to my mac and cheese - and if you have been following me for any length of time you know that roasting veggies is sort of an obsession of mine. And then this recipe was born.
Start by roasting your veggies. I used a combination of fresh and frozen because that is what I had on hand. Carrots, red bell pepper, kale, broccoli, and green peas. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes until they are cooked through and nice and golden.
Meanwhile, you will make your sauce. I used olive oil to make this cheese sauce instead of the traditional butter - wanted to cut down on the total amount of saturated fat since there is cheese in this :) In a pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Once the oil is heated, add 1 minced clove of garlic and stir until the garlic browns - this won't take long! Then add 3 Tbsp of flour and stir to combine. Slowly pour in your milk and continuously stir until it becomes smooth and creamy. Bring to a low boil and stir until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and then add your cheese. I used a combination of extra sharp cheddar and colby jack. You could really use any cheese you like - Gouda would be delicious. This is where all the flavor of this dish comes in and so season to your heart's desire. Salt and pepper to taste. I thought with the roasted veggies a little smoky flavor would be good and so I added smoked paprika. This would probably be a little much for the kiddies, but a little hot sauce would also be good. Anyway - play around with it, but for a traditional taste just stick with salt and pepper.
Next combine your cooked quinoa, and roasted veggies in a bowl.
Pour your sauce over everything and stir to combine.
At this point you could serve it up and eat it as is. But if you want to take it a step further....... Spoon the mixture into a baking dish, or individual ramekins. Sprinkle with panko or breadcrumbs (unless you are doing gluten free - then skip the sprinkling) Place in your oven on broil or 500 degrees and bake it for 2-4 minutes until the top gets nice and brown and crispy.