The Dude Diet: Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage
Happy New Year, dudes! I sincerely apologize for leaving you in the lurch lo these many months, but it’s been a rough season for The Dude Diet. I’ve mentioned before that Logan views the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s as a hall pass to get down and extremely dirty on the food front, and this year he really took advantage. Sadly, any and all attempts to rein him in were met with dirty looks and a dissertation on the joy and freedom of “vacation eating.”
As you can imagine, the abundance of baked goods, pigs in a blanket, and white Russians available between November and January didn’t do the dude’s wonderland body any favors. However, Logan decided not to grow his full holiday beard this year, so at least he wasn’t collecting crumbs of evidence in his facial hair, which has been his signature in years past. Thank God for small miracles.
Adding insult to recent Dude Diet injury, Logan paid a visit to the holistic doctor in Vail over the holidays to “cure his snoring,” which resulted in some serious diet-related confusion. After a full work-up, the doc advised Logan to avoid sugar and white flour at all costs, which mercifully corroborates what I have been trying to teach all of you since 2011. Unfortunately, in explaining the dangers of refined carbohydrates the doctor must have innocently said something along the lines of, “Eating fried food and red meat is better than eating refined sugar.”
Big mistake. HUGE.
Oblivious to the havoc he had just wreaked on The Dude Diet, the good doctor treated Logan for a couple food allergies and sent him on his merry way. Upon returning home, the dude jumped on the bed and giddily exclaimed, “Guess what?! The doctor told me to eat more fried food and red meat!!!” He looked like he might cry or stroke out from the sheer excitement of it all. Naturally, I was confused by this statement and asked him to elaborate.
The dude happily spouted a lot of nonsense about how fried food and meat were healthy and then handed me some print-outs that the doctor had given him as “proof.” As I expected, said articles were actually about the high glycemic index of refined carbohydrates and said nothing about fried food or red meat. I tried to explain to Logan that the doctor had merely been emphasizing the evils of sugar by comparing them to fried food and red meat, which are both obviously unhealthy when consumed in large quantities, but it was too late. He was already sprinting down the hall to tell his parents the good news, screaming, “Daddy’s getting onion rings for lunch! Doctor’s orders!”
Sure, I could have fought Logan harder on the vacation eating and the whole “fried food and meat” fiasco, but you know what they say, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours. If they don’t they never were.” And sure enough, when he could barely zip his raincoat last week, the dude sucked in his gut, swallowed his pride, and came crawling back to The Dude Diet. He’s been exercising, eating some salads, and working his way back below a deuce. I couldn’t be prouder.
In the hopes of keeping Logan on the straight and narrow in the coming months, I decided to tackle yet another food that poses a permanent threat to the success of The Dude Diet. Today, dudes, I would like to discuss the perils of Mac and Cheese.
The dude loves mac and cheese with an inappropriate passion. I frequently ask Logan what he wants for dinner, what I should make for this blog, or what he’s thinking about, and the answer to all three questions is almost always, “Mac and Cheese,” or if he’s feeling especially creative, “Mac and Cheese. With hot dogs!” When I really think about it, mac and cheese is probably higher on the dude’s list of food fetishes than burritos, cheesesteaks, barbecue and burgers, so I probably should have addressed this issue sooner. Apologies.
For those of you who may never witness it, watching Logan eat mac and cheese is a truly unique experience. Upon presentation of the dish, he feels compelled to say something like, “Ohhhh yeah, dude. You know I like that. Come to Daddy!” (Shockingly, this makes some servers very uncomfortable.) He will then proceed to douse the pasta with a bottle of hot sauce, do some rough mixing, and shovel mass quantities into his mouth at warp speed. The dude inevitably burns his tongue on the first giant bite, at which point he will make sounds reminiscent of a dying animal (or, in particularly shameful cases, spit some of it out), but he usually recovers quickly enough and continues taking cheesy goodness to the face like it’s his last meal.
The most remarkable thing about Logan’s mac and cheese consumption is that there’s very little actual chewing involved, which often leads to the unpleasant choking feeling that comes from inhaling whole pasta. This requires several pronounced swallows and at least half a beer to clear the blockage. About five minutes after completing his mac and cheese ritual, the dude will complain of a stomachache and/or request to lie down. If there is not a couch nearby, he will be forced to settle for a Hail Mary trio of deep breathing, Zantac, and unbuttoning his pants. It’s simultaneously endearing and sad.
For better or worse, it seems that most dudes share Logan’s dangerous obsession with mac and cheese. Hell, most Americans do. And trust me, I get it. Mac and cheese is awesome. But you know what’s not awesome? Fat. And that is what you will be if you continue to eat mac and cheese with reckless abandon. For some inexplicable reason, many of you seem to be blissfully unaware of this comfort food’s terrifying nutrition facts. I have heard several dudes make the hilarious argument that mac and cheese is healthy, or at the very least, “not that bad” because “cheese and milk have lots of calcium,” and “it’s vegetarian!” Dear Lord. Here come the knowledge bombs…
There are approximately 350 calories and 19 grams of fat in a single cup of mac and cheese. This is bad, but what’s worse is the fact that most servings of mac and cheese involve at least two cups of the stuff. That’s 700 calories right there, which doesn’t even include the barbecue, hot dogs, beer and other gut bombs that you are inevitably consuming alongside it.
I have outlined the horrors of refined carbohydrates before, but just to reiterate, white pasta is not your friend. It’s tough to digest, it has almost zero nutritional value, and it will send your insulin levels through the roof. Higher levels of insulin in your bloodstream prompt your body to turn the carbohydrates from the pasta into fat and then store that fat in your beer belly and moobs. Coating pasta with more white flour, butter, cream, and cheese? The saturated fat and sodium in the sauce alone is enough to turn you into a modern day Val Kilmer. Please, no.
Am I telling you that you should never eat mac and cheese again? Don’t be dense, dudes, you know I don’t support taking such unrealistic and Draconian measures when it comes to your diet. All I’m asking is that you relegate standard mac and cheese to the special occasion/No-calorie Sunday category, and indulge your weekday cravings more responsibly in the form of Dude Diet Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage…
This mac and cheese is a Dude Diet revelation. I can honestly say that it’s the creamiest tasting mac and cheese that I’ve ever made, and the combination of cheddar, ricotta and Parmesan will most likely blow your mind. The crispy, slightly smoky breadcrumb topping is the perfect textural contrast to the creamy cheesiness of the pasta, and chicken sausage adds extra flavor and heartiness to round out the meal. Each bite is like a million tiny angel kisses on your tongue.
How on earth is this delicious miracle Dude Diet approved? I know what you’re thinking, dudes, and you are right. I am a wizard. But lucky for you, I am willing to share the magical secrets of my healthy mac and cheese. First, I swapped in quinoa elbows for regular pasta, which eliminated a lot of the aforementioned refined carbohydrates. However, quinoa elbows can be hard to come by, so if you can’t find them, you can always use whole grain elbows, which are less processed and higher in fiber than their white counterparts.
The pasta exchange is great, but the really transformational ingredient in this recipe is cauliflower. Instead of making a béchamel with flour, butter and heavy cream, I used cauliflower puree with a little bit of skim milk to thicken the cheese sauce. In addition to significantly cutting fat and calories, cauliflower adds fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and disease-fighting nutrients to your cheesy meal. And for those of you pretending to gag at your computer over the thought of cauliflower in your mac and cheese, chillax. Unless you have a surprisingly sophisticated palate, you most likely won’t even be able to taste it. Cross my heart.
When I casually dropped the bomb yesterday that I was making a special mac and cheese for dinner, Logan responded with an enthusiastic, “FUCK YEAH, YOU ARE!” which was quickly followed by, “Don’t even tell me what kind it is! I’m so pumped, I can’t even take it. I dropped my chicken!” I was pleased with Logan’s level of anticipatory excitement, as I like to fluff him a little before Dude Diet meals if you know what I’m saying.
I am thrilled to inform you that Dude Diet Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage was given rave reviews. After covering it in the requisite layer of Sriracha (which is optional for all of you), the dude crushed his entire bowl in three minutes flat, grinning from ear to ear, MMMM-HHHMM-ing his little heart out, and commenting repeatedly on how creamy it was. In fact, he even said, “You’ve got to be kidding! I swear your mac and cheese gets better every time you make it!” Straight from the horse’s mouth, folks.
For obvious reasons, I did not inform Logan of the healthy nature of this mac and cheese until after he had already cleaned his bowl and showered me with compliments. When I broke the news that this was Dude Diet mac and cheese, he turned a little bit gray, looked at me accusatorily, and said, “Oh God, what did you do to it?” When I told him about the cauliflower and gluten-free pasta situation, I could tell that he felt slightly duped, but his only response was, “Well then, can I have seconds? OOOOH wait, you should turn this into mac and cheese balls and deep fry them! You know I’m supposed to eat more fried foods.” No comment.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage: (Serves 2 starving dudes or 4 normal people)
½ head cauliflower, florets removed
2 cups water
2 cups skim milk, divided
8 ounces gluten-free elbows (or regular macaroni)
2 pre-cooked chicken sausages, sliced
1¾ cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup part-skim ricotta
½-¾ teaspoons kosher salt (This is more of a guideline. I’m a salt lover, but season as you see fit. Don’t get too crazy, dudes. Remember that salt makes you bloat…)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
For the topping:
3 tablespoons whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
1½ tablespoons grated Parmesan
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
Preparing your Dude Diet Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage:
*Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees
-Start by cooking the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower florets, 2 cups water, and 1 cup milk in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower is very tender.
-Bring a separate pot of water to a boil for your macaroni. When boiling, add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes before straining. It should be slightly undercooked and still firm. The macaroni is going to cook more in the oven, so please don’t cook it all the way, capiche? (NOTE: Quinoa elbows cook very quickly, so read the directions on the package for cooking time!)
-While the cauliflower and pasta are cooking, sauté the sliced chicken sausage in a non-stick pan for 5-6 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
-When the cauliflower has finished cooking, strain it and discard the cooking liquid.
-Transfer the cauliflower to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return the cauliflower puree to the pot over medium-low heat.
-Whisk 1 cup milk into the puree then slowly add 1¼ cups of the shredded cheddar, the Parmesan, and the ricotta. Season the sauce with kosher salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
-Stir the macaroni and chicken sausage into your badass cheese sauce.
-Pour the mac and cheese into a skillet or baking dish. I used miniature skillets because they’re cute and good portion control, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
-In a small bowl, combine the Panko, Parmesan and smoked paprika.
-Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of shredded cheddar over your mac and cheese and top with an even layer of the Panko mixture.
-Transfer your mac and cheese to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling slightly. Dig in, dudes. Try to contain your emotions…
- ½ head cauliflower florets removed
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups skim milk divided
- 2½ cups gluten-free elbows or regular macaroni, uncooked
- 2 pre-cooked chicken sausages sliced
- 1¾ cups shredded sharp cheddar
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- ¼ cup part-skim ricotta
- ½-¾ teaspoons kosher salt This is more of a guideline. I’m a salt lover, but season as you see fit. Don’t get too crazy, dudes. Remember that salt makes you bloat…
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- For the topping:
- 3 tablespoons whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
- 1½ tablespoons grated Parmesan
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Start by cooking the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower florets, 2 cups water, and 1 cup milk in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes until the cauliflower is very tender.
- Bring a separate pot of water to a boil for your macaroni. When boiling, add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes before straining. It should be slightly undercooked and still firm. The macaroni is going to cook more in the oven, so please don’t cook it all the way, capiche? (NOTE: Quinoa elbows cook very quickly, so read the directions on the package for cooking time!)
- While the cauliflower and pasta are cooking, sauté the sliced chicken sausage in a non-stick pan for 5-6 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
- When the cauliflower has finished cooking, strain it and discard the cooking liquid. Transfer the cauliflower to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return the cauliflower puree to the pot over medium-low heat. Whisk 1 cup milk into the puree then slowly add 1¼ cups of the shredded cheddar, the Parmesan, and the ricotta. Season the sauce with kosher salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
- Stir the macaroni and chicken sausage into your badass cheese sauce.
- Pour the mac and cheese into a skillet or baking dish. I used miniature skillets because they’re cute and good portion control, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
- In a small bowl, combine the Panko, Parmesan and smoked paprika. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of shredded cheddar over your mac and cheese and top with an even layer of the Panko mixture.
- Transfer your mac and cheese to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling slightly. Serve immediately.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Food Network’s Comfort Food Feast this week. For more awesome mac and cheese recipes check out the amazing blogs below. (No, they are not all Dude Diet approved, but there’s always No-Calorie Sunday…)
Feed Me Phoebe: Jalapeno-Scallion Mac n Cheese
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Triple Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake
Dishing With Divya: Baked Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese
Weelicious: Green Mac and Cheese
The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese
Taste With The Eyes: Macaroni and Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Gravy
Red or Green: Mac & Cheese with Tuna and Green Chiles
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Mac & Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower and Leeks
Virtually Homemade: Ham and Cheese Mac and Cheese Bites
Domesticate Me: Skinny Mac with Cauliflower Cheese Sauce and Chicken Sausage
The Sensitive Epicure: Cauliflower ‘n Cheese (Gluten-Free)
Devour: Mix-Ins for Macaroni and Cheese
From My Corner of Saratoga: Queso Mac and Cheese
FN Dish: 10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese
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