Monday, March 3, 2014

Lenten Meal Plan Linkup, Week #1

I'm excited to be joining forces with Beth Anne of Beth Anne's Best and Sarah O. of Two O's Plus More to host a Lenten Meal linkup this year. For those who observe Lent by eating meatless meals on Fridays (and on Ash Wednesday, too, this week), it can feel like a real chore to come up with new ideas of what to eat each week. My own family tends to get into the beans and rice groove on Fridays during Lent, but we eat meatless meals frequently, anyway, and it's nice to have access to recipes we haven't tried yet.

Each week, I'll share a recipe on Monday that has been tested in my own kitchen. Beth Anne will also have a linkup on her blog so you can find new recipes and share your own.

This week, we're making a family favorite: macaroni and cheese in the crock pot. Or slow cooker. (Do you call it a crock pot or a slow cooker?)

Pasta recipes for the crock pot can get kind of mushy and squishy by the time they are finished cooking. I like this recipe (adapted from America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution) a lot because the texture is just about perfect. The kids like it because there aren't any crusty parts on top from baking in the oven. (I like the crusty parts, myself...but I'm willing to sacrifice crusty goodness for the joy of using the crock pot. There is nothing like putting things in when I have time and having dinner come out at the right time without having to cook during that ever-challenging 5-6 pm time, when all children in this household morph into really clingy beings who really really really need me right now).


The whole Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook is really wonderful, but this recipe is especially lovely because it only takes 2 hours to make.

What you'll need:

Aluminum foil
Cooking spray
2 cans of evaporated milk (12 oz each)
2 cans of condensed cheddar cheese soup (11 oz each)
2 1/2 cups of water, plus extra hot water as needed
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
4 cups shredded cheese (we like a blend of sharp cheddar and whatever else we have on hand, either Monterey Jack or a Colby-Jack blend)
1 pound elbow macaroni, uncooked

What you'll do:

Line the sides of the crock pot with aluminum foil all the way around and spray it with a light coat of cooking spray. (This keeps it from sticking and helps a lot with the cleanup.)

In a large pot, bring evaporated milk, cheddar cheese soup, water, a little salt (we use about 1/2 teaspoon), and dry mustard to a simmer. A little at time, stir in the shredded cheese until it is totally melted.

Stir in the pasta.

When the pasta is coated in the cheese mixture, pour it all into the crock pot. Cover and cook about 2 hours on high (or until the pasta is tender).

You can add hot water as needed before serving to adjust the thickness of the sauce. We have never needed to do this- the sauce is creamy and thick, just the way we like it. Add salt and pepper to taste when serving.

The America's Test Kitchen recipe adds a bit of cayenne pepper and suggests toasting bread crumbs for topping. Honestly, the bread crumbs are nice...but making them involves using our food processor. Most nights, that feels like one extra thing to clean up, so we skip the crumbs.

I like to serve the macaroni and cheese with some simple vegetables with ranch or hummus for dipping, or with broccoli or a fruit salad. It's hearty enough for a meal, and the five of us always have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Check over at Beth Anne's for more great meatless ideas for this week. I'll have another recipe for you next Monday.

Also, come by tomorrow for a roundup of helpful Lent ideas (in case you're like me and don't have your plans all figured out yet).

One more thing- please check out our photo-a-day Lent-stagram linkup #HolyLens. Each week, we'll have daily photo prompts based on the lectionary readings for the day. We'd love for you to share your photos with the community on Instagram, Twitter or your favorite social media outlet.

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