Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

When it comes to macaroni and cheese, I usually gravitate towards the baked variety. Don’t get me wrong, a box of Kraft or Annie’s is pretty much always in our pantry for those desperate nights… but when I REALLY want mac and cheese, this is what I’m talking about. Ben and I can make our way through a pan of that stuff in just a few days… it’s crazy good. And now that #BabyVolde is eating more and more of my regular cooking, heaven help us. When I made that mac and cheese a few weeks ago, he gobbled it up.

Sunday dinner… baked mac & cheese with roasted broccoli. All of us loved it (especially #BabyVolde)! 🧀

A post shared by Sarah K. // The Pajama Chef (@thepajamachef) on

While that mac and cheese will always always always be my favorite, sometimes I want mac and cheese… but with a little less cheese and a little more nutrition. Yeahhh… especially since I have a pretty non-picky-baby eater right now and I want to keep it that way. So that’s when I bring in Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese. You still have your cheese and pasta… but with a little extra protein (helllllllooooo lentils) and some extra veggie power. I won’t say the lentils and veggies aren’t noticeable, but they do make this dish a bit heartier and a little healthier. I can’t wait to make it again soon–it’s absolutely delicious!

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

One last thing before I go… I did make this recipe into a baked mac and cheese cause that’s my favorite. #crispynoodlesforlife But if that’s not your thing, or you’re in a time crunch, you can omit the panko topping and the baking step, no problemo! Enjoy!

one year ago: Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Bars
two years ago: Butternut Squash and Mushroom Tart
three years ago: Oatmeal Fudge Bars
four years ago: Neely’s Lemon Pasta Salad
five years ago: Pineapple-Apricot Teriyaki Chicken
six years ago: Sweet and Tangy Pork Chops with Pineapple over Coconut Toasted Rice

Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 45 minutes
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slightly adapted from The Lean Green Bean

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dry pasta
  • 3/4 cup lentils
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cups mixed vegetables, diced – can be fresh or frozen, or a combination
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted – or 3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a large baking dish – 9×13 inches or similar and set aside.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Prepare lentils according to package directions.

While pasta and lentils are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds until fragrant, then stir in mixed vegetables and spinach. Saute for 5-10 minutes until softened – less for frozen vegetables and more for fresh. Sprinkle with flour, paprika, and cayenne, then stir to coat. Add milk and cheese, stirring until well combined.

Carefully fold in pasta and lentils, then transfer mixture into greased baking dish.

In a small bowl, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the microwave. Toss with panko, then sprinkle panko mixture over the macaroni mixture.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbly. Enjoy!

Note: If baked pasta isn’t your thing or you’re in a time crunch, just omit the panko and baking steps. It’ll be just fine without it. 🙂

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Mixed Vegetables Mornay

Thanksgiving week continues with one of my favorite side dishes of all times… Mixed Vegetables Mornay! I know vegetables aren’t on most list of crave-worthy, holiday-table-worthy comfort foods, but after you try these Mixed Vegetables Mornay, I bet they will be on yours! At first glance, frozen mixed vegetables aren’t that exciting. But when you taste this fabulously cheesy, buttery mornay sauce, you’ll know why they should be–and why this dish tops my list of veggie comfort.

Mixed Vegetables Mornay | thepajamachef.com

In my family, this side dish is the equivalent of the quintessential holiday green bean casserole. I like to think it’s a little bit better than that though–a little healthier, a little more flavorful, and a lot more awesome. I love green beans and mushrooms, but out of a can? No thanks. I like to opt for this dish instead. And it’s cheesy, so what more can you ask for? 🙂

Mixed Vegetables Mornay | thepajamachef.com

Mixed Vegetables Mornay is super simple to put together, so don’t be afraid of the fancy-sounding sauce. It’s basically a Béchamel sauce with Parmesan cheese. If you can make a roux, you can make mornay sauce. And when you do, try really hard to save some for the vegetables. Fresh mornay sauce is great, but it’s excellent when it bubbles up around all the veggies….and paired with some toasted and buttered bread crumbs? Oh my goodness. I could eat these veggies for BREAKFAST they are so tasty! Be sure to come back tomorrow for another dose of Thanksgiving week, and if you missed my Pumpkin Cloverleaf Rolls from yesterday, check them out too! 🙂

Thanksgiving Meal | thepajamachef.com

two years ago: Crockpot Saucy Italian Chicken
three years ago: Lime-Soy Chicken

Mixed Vegetables Mornay
click to print

Ingredients:

  • 32 ounces frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • up to 2 cups skim milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch nutmeg
  • pinch thyme
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted [or olive oil]

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10 inch casserole dish and set aside.

Cook vegetables with 1/2 cup water for 5 minutes in the microwave until crisp-tender. Drain well, reserving cooking liquid for mornay sauce. Place vegetables in prepared dish with 1 tablespoon butter and 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, stirring to combine.

Meanwhile, prepare mornay sauce. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute. Fill measuring cup with cooking liquid and top off with enough milk to equal 2 cups. Then sloooowly add milk, stirring constantly. Cook until thick [about 3 minutes] then stir in garlic powder, nutmeg, thyme, and parmesan cheese. Simmer for 5 minutes, then pour over seasoned vegetables. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle with melted butter or oil.

Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy!

Time: 50 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings.

10 Minute Lunch #6: Italian Chicken & Veggie Couscous Bowls

Eeeek! It’s been a long time since I’ve shared a 10 Minute Lunch, eh? Whoops. I’ve been eating a lot of leftovers for lunch on days I work from home, or have been snacking my way through the day, which is not a good idea because then I’m hungry for dinner at 3 pm. Ahem. #seniorcitizeninthemaking

Italian Chicken & Veggie Couscous Bowl | The Pajama Chef

But not anymore! I’m bound and determined to let this month be the month I get my lunch act together and actually eat a real meal for lunch everyday–not just on days that I’m on campus at work. Starting with this little number! 🙂 It’s totally simple, flavorful, and fast–perfect for the days that you have to deal with crazy computer drama with no time to cook. As I said yesterday, my MacBook has been acting up–not charging, randomly shutting off, resetting the date, etc.  So now it’s back at the shop for the second time in a week, and thanks to my dramatic Facebook post, I had not one, but three offers of a loaner laptop until mine can be fixed or replaced. I have some generous friends, what can I say? 🙂

But laptop woes [and lunch breaks spent writing blog posts] aside, these couscous bowls are incredible! Quinoa is so popular and rice is so common that couscous [at least in my house] becomes the forgotten grain. You can bet I won’t forget it anymore! It is super fast to prepare and is so light and filling. Once you mix up the couscous, veggies, and chicken, just add a fresh Italian dressing to your bowl for instant flavor–minus the work of measuring and dicing herbs. Perfect! I can totally see so many variations–instead of chicken, beans! Instead of frozen veggies, a chopped tomato! Instead of Italian dressing, Caesar! I could keep going, but I gotta get back to w-o-r-k. What would you add? Enjoy!

Italian Chicken & Veggie Couscous Bowls
click to print

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 mini sweet peppers, finely diced [or ~ 1 cup diced bell peppers]
  • ~ 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
  • ~ 1 cup frozen vegetables
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • garlic powder [could substitute 1 clove minced garlic]
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • large handful arugula, chopped [other light salad greens like spinach would also work]
  • Italian dressing–we are obsessed with this recipe from Macaroni and Cheesecake

Directions:

In a small pot, bring water and butter to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in couscous, and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the chicken and vegetables.

Heat olive oil in a small saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Add peppers, chicken, and frozen vegetables, then season with pepper and garlic to taste. Saute for a minute, then cover and let cook for 2-3 minutes to heat everything up.

Next, add green onions to the chicken and vegetable mixture.

To serve, divide the couscous between two bowls, then top each with half of the chicken and vegetable mixture. Stir in green onions and arugula, then top with a drizzle of Italian dressing to taste. Enjoy!

Time: 10 minutes.

Yield: 2 delicious lunches!

Notes: To take this lunch to go, I’d recommend keeping the green onions and arugula separate and stirring them in immediately before eating and after heating it up. The dressing would be fine mixed in already, though!

Sweet and Sour Chicken {Repost}

So, I used to post once a month on a blog called Today’s Housewife. Last fall, the group decided together to stop posting due the busyness of life and families and such. Though sad, I enjoyed being part of the group. As of early January, the blog was officially taken down. But I don’t want to lose my recipes, so periodically I will be reposting them on here. Enjoy!

~

this post is originally from October 13, 2011


Sweet and Sour Chicken | The Pajama Chef

Chinese is Ben’s favorite ethnic food, so I’m constantly on the look out for ways I can surprise him with some special dinners at home. First it was Healthy Fried Rice, next it was Sweet and Sour Chicken. Before I tried any of these recipes, I expected them to be really difficult. But you know what? Making Chinese food at home really isn’t that hard. It’s actually pretty simple; all it takes is a bit of effort.

Sweet and Sour Chicken | The Pajama Chef

In almost no active preparation time at all, you can have restaurant-quality Sweet and Sour Chicken on your table for everyone to enjoy. We loved how sweet and tangy this dish was, as well as the freshness and healthiness factors. Because nothing beats the impressiveness of homemade!

Sweet and Sour Chicken [from Mrs. Schwartz’s Kitchen]
click to print

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks or tidbits
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • brown rice, for serving
  • stir fry vegetables, for serving
  • sesame seeds, for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.

Put cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Crack eggs into another shallow bowl, and beat slightly with a fork. Season chicken with salt and pepper then dip in cornstarch and egg.

Working in two batches, brown the chicken, tossing every so often so that all sides crisp. Remove chicken to a large baking dish and arrange in a single layer, using a paper towel to degrease if necessary.

In a medium bowl, stir the sugar, pineapple, ketchup, vinegars, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper together until sugar dissolves and sauce is fully mixed. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Then pour half of the sauce over the chicken and toss to fully coat.

Bake the chicken for 60 minutes, turning every 15 minutes. [This would be a good time to start your brown rice, if you haven’t already.]

Meanwhile, pour remaining sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn heat to low and simmer to reduce, about 20 minutes.

Serve chicken over rice and vegetables and top with additional sauce and sesame seeds.

Yield: 5-6 servings.

Time: 90 minutes [30 minutes active].

 

Asian Peanut Veggie Dip

I’m one of those weird people who loves to eat their veggies. Every Sunday, without fail, I chop up a week’s worth of vegetables, crudites if you will, for lunch and snacking. Anything goes–carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers… just whatever looked good at the grocery store. Except celery. I’m not a big celery snacker–that’s Ben’s territory. 🙂 Mostly, I eat these veggies plain and it really doesn’t bother me. I love the taste of veggies. [See, I’m weird!] Carrots and peppers are my fave! But I know that everyone isn’t as weird as me, and sometimes people need incentive to eat their veggies. Is this incentive enough?

Asian Peanut Veggie Dip | The Pajama Chef

Though I don’t usually need much incentive to eat my veggies, I can polish off even more when I have a bowl full of this awesome dip on hand! It’s super simple to make, and has just the right amount of sweetness and spice to make me happy. The Asian dressing [I used bottled but you can make your own] is gingery and garlicky  which pairs perfectly with sweet honey, creamy peanut butter, and just a bit of crushed red pepper for spice. You guys, this is SO good! When I first made it for a church event, I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but it turned out to be insanely popular. I’m kind of sad it took me so long to blog about it, actually. But I guess it’s a good thing… now that I’m reminded of it, I can make it again for this week’s lunches.

Asian Peanut Veggie Dip | The Pajama Chef

This is a dip you could totally eat by the spoonful, but why not pile it up on some veggies and enjoy it that way? It is totally yum-o! I’ll take it with some red peppers, please. What about you? What’s your favorite veggie? Enjoy!

Asian Peanut Veggie Dip

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 5 minutes
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adapted from Kraft

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing [like this version from Kraft or this version from Marzetti–I’ve had both and they taste similar… or make your own here or here]
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter [I’ve used natural and regular… both work, but it’s a little thinner with natural]
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • crushed red pepper

Directions:

Add dressing, peanut butter, and honey to a small bowl. Whisk well and then add crushed red pepper to taste. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 week.