My younger son suffered through strep throat nine times before he was 18 months old, endured pneumonia twice before he finished pre-school, had his tonsils and adenoids removed at age two, and started weekly allergy shots before he was five.
He felt miserable pretty much all the time and, consequently, did not want to eat much. Truth be told, the only thing he wanted was milk. Eventually, I learned to limit his milk consumption so that he would eat something…anything. But still, he pushed away practically everything, even perennial kid favorites like pizza and mac and cheese. Eggs and potatoes triggered a very sensitive gag reflex and, once he tasted candy, any hope of ingesting real food seemed officially over. We now laugh at the memories of him stomping his feet and literally screaming for candy.
Today, Christian turns 13, and I marvel at how far he has come. The little boy that was chronically fighting a virus or allergy now swims and runs cross country and actually had one year of perfect attendance at school. On the food front, this once enormously picky eater now eats salad and seafood. He can cook a mean egg sandwich and created the craziest (albeit delicious) version of nachos involving corn flakes. He’s a testament to the fact that even the pickiest of eaters can make giant leaps on the food front.
Although his tastes are pretty broad these days, if I ask him what his top choice for dinner would be, nine times out of ten, crispy top macaroni and cheese would be his request. Because there are some food restrictions in our family, I have perfected the following gluten-free version of my original recipe. For the record, no one can tell the difference between the modified version and the original.
I thank my lucky stars that this thoughtful, loving, endlessly energetic boy came into our lives 13 years ago. And if you are the parent or a grandparent of a picky eater, Christian will be the first to tell you that there is hope. Don’t give up.
- 8 ounces corn and quinoa blend elbow pasta (a brand I often use is Ancient Harvest; the corn and quinoa blend is the key to replicating the regular noodle)
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 tablespoon corn starch or arrowroot powder
- ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 level teaspoon Dijon mustard (resist the urge to use a heaping spoonful…a little goes a long way)
- 2 cups milk (I often use nonfat but 2% or whole will add a little more richness.)
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 cup gluten-free panko, dried breadcrumbs or crushed Rice Chex cereal (from about 3 cups whole; see notes)
- ½ cup (2 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese (see notes)
Preheat the oven to 350℉.
First, make the topping by tossing the crushed Chex with the melted butter in a medium bowl. Then mix in the cheese. Set aside.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. (Tip: Most mac and cheese recipes recommend slightly undercooking the pasta at this point. With gluten-free noodles, however, I find the final outcome is better if the noodles are cooked just to the point where you’d want to eat them immediately.) Drain well.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large saucepan and blend in the cornstarch or arrowroot, salt and pepper. (I like to use a pan that is large enough to stir in the pasta for one less cheesy pot to wash!) Cook until the mixture is bubbly, and then gradually add the milk, stirring while adding. Stir in the Dijon.
Over medium heat, cook and stir until the sauce boils, and then simmer for one minute, stirring constantly.
Reduce the heat to low, add the cheese, and stir until just melted. Remove pan from the heat.
Add the pasta to the cheese mixture and toss lightly to thoroughly coat. Pour into a 9-inch square baking dish (see notes), and then sprinkle with the topping.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the topping is lightly golden.
•This recipe may be baked in any 2-quart casserole. I like the 9-inch square pan because it provides a good ratio of crispy surface area to gooey inside. If you use a 9-inch round casserole, which will yield slightly less surface area, you may want to use about 3/4 of the topping recipe.
•Crushed Rice Chex is my go-to substitute for panko and breadcrumbs when cooking gluten-free. In fact, I like the taste and texture enough to use them even when cooking for those who eat gluten. I crush a large quantity and store in an airtight container to have on hand as needed. A zipper-top bag (or the sturdy cereal bag in which they come) and a rolling pin make quick work of this－as does a food processor. Take care to crush them evenly yet not to the point of sand.
As evidenced by about four photos from various nights, I’ve been meaning to share this adapted version of my Classic Mac and Cheese recipe for a long time. It’s a perfect example how most family favorite recipes can be altered to suit changing dietary restrictions or preferences with no sacrifice in taste whatsoever. In this particular recipe, traditional wheat pasta is swapped with our favorite gluten-free pasta, and the flour is replaced with a smaller but equally effective amount of cornstarch (or arrowroot powder for a corn-free option). As a general rule, when all-purpose flour is required for thickening a soup, stew, or casserole, simply substitute one-third the amount of either cornstarch or arrowroot.
One of my favorite pictures from a much earlier birthday…and our birthday donuts or muffins tradition. Birthdays always start out better when you stick candles in your breakfast and sing; )
And here is a more recent photo–muddy but happy after a cross country race in the rain.
You might also enjoy…
Carrot Cake with Almond Flour — it’s gluten-free but everyone loves this practically healthy dessert
Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Skillet — a satisfying, streamlined version of a classic recipe
Pat’s Seared Sesame Chicken — takes minutes with basic pantry ingredients
Hershey’s Cocoa Cake — a winning recipe and the gluten-free version is every bit as good as the original