Light Mac-and-Cheese

Who doesn’t love Macaroni and Cheese?  We do, and a couple of our friends do as well.  So, by special request, we are posting our favorite mac-n-cheese recipe.  We found this recipe for a light version in Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Best Light Recipe.”  It’s really good and more healthy than other recipes.  According to Cook’s Illustrated, this version has 290 less calories than classic mac-and-cheese and 30 less grams of fat.  The secrets are low-fat ingredients and using cornstarch to thicken the cheese rather than a buttery (and high-in-fat) roux.  We have professed our love for Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks before, and likely will again.  The best thing about them is that the folks at the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchens do all the work for you — testing all the different ingredients and variations to come up with the best possible recipe.  We highly recommend all their books, including their Light Recipe book.


The ingredients:  pasta, reduced-fat evaporated milk, 2% milk, dry mustard, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, cornstarch and light cheddar cheese.


Although this is “mac-and-cheese,” we actually prefer to use small shells instead of elbow macaroni because the shells hold more of the cheesy sauce.  We use wheat pasta because it’s better for us, and we can’t really tell a difference between white and wheat.  The recipe calls for about 2 cups of pasta, but you may want to use a little more, depending on how cheesy you like it.  We wouldn’t use less than 2 cups though — if you do that, you might as well save some time and just eat the block of cheese.


Cook the pasta according to the package directions.   If you are using wheat pasta, you may want to cook it just a little bit longer. 


While the pasta cooks, grate the cheddar cheese.  Because you are using cheese with 2% milk, it’s best to use sharp cheddar (instead of mild or regular) because it has a little bit more flavor.  We try to keep a block of 2% sharp cheddar in our fridge at all times — for this and other recipes that call for cheddar cheese.


Drain the pasta and set it aside.


In the saucepan where you cooked the pasta, add the evaporated milk, 1/2 cup of 2% milk, dry mustard, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper and about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, then stir all the ingredients together.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.


While the sauce simmers, whisk together 2 teaspoons of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of milk.


Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the sauce.  Continue to simmer the sauce, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens.  The recipe calls for whisking “constantly,” and they aren’t kidding.  If you don’t keep whisking, then the sauce will clump and burn.  And your mac-n-cheese will suck.


Not to worry, you won’t have to whisk constantly for very long — it only takes 2-5 minutes for the sauce to thicken.  You can tell it’s getting thick if it sticks to the whisk. 


Looks like just the right thickness — time to add the cheddar.


Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheddar cheese.


Whisk in all the cheddar cheese until the sauce is smooth.


Then add the pasta and let it sit for 2-5 minutes before serving.


We served ours with grilled ham steak and green beans.  Yum!  One of the reasons we love this recipe is that the leftover mac-and-cheese heats up nicely in the oven as an extra side dish later in the week.  Sometimes we sprinkle a little panko on top of the leftover mac-and-cheese when we re-heat it, to add a bit of crunch.

Light Mac-and-Cheese


  • 2-3 cups pasta (macaroni or small shells)
  • 12 oz. can reduced-fat evaporated milk
  • ¾ cup 2% milk (divided)
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • pinch granulated garlic (garlic powder would also work)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 8 oz. package 2% sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  While the pasta cooks, grate the cheddar cheese.  Drain the cooked pasta and set aside.

In the empty saucepan used to boil the pasta, add the evaporated milk, ½ cup of the 2% milk, dry mustard, granulated garlic (or garlic powder), cayenne, ½ teaspoon of salt and mix together.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Whisk together the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup of milk, then whisk the cornstarch mixture into the simmering sauce.  Whisk constantly while the sauce simmers and thickens, for about 2-5 minutes.

Take the sauce off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheddar cheese until melted and smooth.  Stir in the pasta and let the mac-and-cheese sit, covered, for 2-5 minutes before serving.

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