Light Weeknight Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Here is a recipe for a lightened up macaroni and cheese that is packed with flavor. Feel virtuous even when pairing it with a glass of wine! Plus, with some shortcuts it comes together quickly making it perfect weeknight fare.

This dish is inspired by a recipe from the cookbook, “Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites”. The trick is to substitute the calorie laden béchamel sauce with a thick and creamy alternative. That magical element is quark, a versatile dairy product that is thick like Greek style yogurt.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Use a food processor to minimize prep and save time. Then, bake the macaroni and cheese in ramekins. Not only does this mean brief oven time, it also offers portion control.

Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Whole wheat pasta

Makes 4-6 Servings

  • 1/2 pound shell pasta or macaroni (I use whole wheat), cooked until al dente
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated onion
  • 1 1/2 cups Low Fat Quark
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350˚. Use a mister to spray 4-6 eight ounce ramekins with a light coating of oil to prevent sticking. Time saver: use the grating attachment on a food processor to make quick work of prepping the Gruyere cheese and onion. Combine the grated Gruyere and onion in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Swap out the grating attachment in the food processor for the standard blade. In the food processor bowl, add the Quark, milk, mustard, nutmeg, and salt. Pulse until ingredients are combined. Pour contents into the mixing bowl containing the Gruyere cheese and grated onion. Add the cooked macaroni. Stir to combine ingredients.

Transfer the macaroni and cheese mixture to individual ramekins. Top each with Panko bread crumbs. Spritz each with a bit of oil from the mister.

Macaroni in ramekins

Put the filled ramekins in the oven. I recommend setting them all on a baking sheet just in case there are any drips. It also makes it easier to get them in and out of the oven. Bake for ten minutes or until bread crumbs are browned.

Note that these serving sizes are rather minimal. For a healthy and filling dinner, we typically combine it with another dish such as Easy Curried Sweet Potato Soup.

Wine Pairing for Macaroni and Cheese

Both the Gruyere cheese and the Dijon mustard make this dish a nice match for a Chardonnay. If you prefer a more fruity wine, reach for unoaked Chardonnay. In our house, however, we favor Chardonnay with a little creaminess. So, we usually look for one fermented in neutral oak.

When we are feeling fancy, I top the dish with splash of truffle oil and have the hubby break out some bubbly. Now, doesn’t that sound like a better way to get through the week? Tag me over on Twitter and let me know what you think!

Flavorful Sparkling Wine and Popcorn Pairings

Sparkling wine and popcorn? YES! Admit it, you’ve had carbonated beverages with salty treats before. This just ups your game! Here are some fab combos. It all begins with basic popcorn.

truffle salt and herb blend

Blanc de Blanc Champagne with Truffled Popcorn

This classy combo is perfect for kicking off the weekend on a Friday night or closing out the year on New Year’s Eve. After all, blanc de blanc Champagne is a classic! A brut or extra brut version that is crisp and dry (in other words, not sweet) is a refreshing contrast to the saltiness of the popcorn.

To make the popcorn, substitute truffle salt for regular salt. Beware – not all truffle salt is created equal! The one we use in our house contains 10% real truffle. That’s 2% more than most others. It’s also actual black summer truffle, not truffle “flavor”. For extra flavor, add a splash of truffle oil to the butter. A shaving of orange zest created a version the hubby will not stop talking about.

Sparkling Grüner Veltliner with Ranch Popcorn

This sparkling wine and popcorn pairing is a fun combo for board game night, or your game day viewing party. If you haven’t tried sparkling Grüner Veltliner yet, here’s the perfect excuse to seek it out! An impressive bottling comes from Syncline Wine Cellars in Washington State. Note:  this is not a paid endorsement, I just really like their wine!

In this take on seasoned popcorn, simply substitute ranch seasoning for salt. World Spice Merchants in Pike Place Market makes a fantastic herbaceous blend that’s quite different than packaged ranch dressings found in grocery stores. I also like to substitute some or all of the butter with good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Sparkling Rosé or Sparkling Syrah with Smoky Popcorn

The next time you’re binge watching Netfilx, serve up this sparkling wine and popcorn pairing! Crémant is a terrific alternative to Champagne, as it’s made using the same method but comes from different regions in France. As such, it is likely to also be crafted with grapes beyond the traditional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier. For example, a Crémant de Loire I recently purchased features a blend of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Gourmet salts are widely available in grocery stores and specialty shops these days. Even the hubby was able to track down an alder smoked salt to tuck into my Christmas stocking. It’s a tasty alternative to regular salt on popcorn. Just remember, a little goes a long way!

sparkling wine

Cava with Garlic Popcorn

Cava is another sparkling wine made in the Champagne method offering great value. Coming from Spain, the grapes traditionally used are Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.

For years now, I’ve seasoned my popcorn with garlic powder and salt. It might sound simplistic, but packs a lot of flavor.

Update! Some great comments were received on Instagram resulting in some additional noteworthy pairings:

Via Nick Berube, Wine Comm Guy:   I prefer a little heat on my popcorn like chili powder. Might work well with an off dry sparkling.

Per Rick of the blog Strong Coffee to Red Wine:   Ah popcorn with parmesan cheese and Lambrusco.

From Nancy (yes, another Nancy!) of the blog Pull That Cork:  I love California olive oil and salt on my popcorn paired with about any bubbly!

As the guys from the podcast We Like Drinking say, “You’re going to need more popcorn.”

There you have it, a basic snack just got more interesting. Go pop up the corn, unpop the cork, and share your favorite popcorn and sparkling wine combo on social media!

Additional posts on wine and food pairing:

Easy Curried Sweet Potato Soup Recipe

This sweet potato soup is not only full of flavor, it’s a healthy meal. After all, around the big food holidays isn’t it wise to cook light to balance out the indulgences? Yet, a flavorful soup like this for dinner helps us feel that we’re enjoying something rich and elegant. Serve this dish with a glass of one of the wines suggested below and nobody feels deprived.

Another bonus is that soup is quick and easy to put together. In fact, this sweet potato soup recipe can incorporate leftover roast sweet potatoes and carrots you may have from the Thanksgiving feast or other fall dinners. Soup recipes, generally, can be tweaked to use up whatever you have on hand. For example, if you have a leek but no onion, no problem. Do you have parsnips but no carrots? No worries! Go ahead and substitute with what’s in your pantry. Normally, I’d add a chopped up stalk of celery to the pot. However, I didn’t have any on hand when whipping up this batch. This sweet potato soup, regardless, is still big on flavor.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 apple, peeled and diced
1 cup white wine such a Riesling
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Next, add the onion, ginger, and curry powder and sauté for three minutes. Then, put the sweet potatoes, carrots, apple, and white wine into the pot along with one cup of the stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft and can easily be pierced with a knife, about 10-15 minutes (this depends in part on how small the veggies were cut). Blitz the mixture with an immersion blender, or transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until the mixture is smooth. Add the additional stock either all or in part, until the soup reaches desired consistency.

Makes 4 small portions or in our house, 2 dinner portions plus a small bowl for lunch the next day.

Tip! Add a can of coconut milk to or a splash of cream for a richer version of this soup.

Wine Pairing for Curried Sweet Potato Soup

The old school philosophy says that pairing wine with soup is tricky business because of all the diverse flavors in the concoction. Well, that doesn’t scare me off! With the spices in this Curried Sweet Potato Soup I turn to aromatic white wines. Due to the natural sweetness in the veggies and the apple, my preference is for an off dry wine. That’s a wine with a teensy bit of residual sugar.

Riesling
Often, I’ll use Riesling in this preparation and pour the same to accompany the dish.

Siegerrebe
That’s right – Siegerrebe! Pronounced see-gar-rah-bay, this cross of the Madeleine Angevine grape and the Gewurztraminer grape grows well in the Puget Sound AVA. Wonderful bottlings are produced by Lozpez Island Vineyards and Bainbridge Vineyards.

Gewurtztraminer
The curry and ginger spice in the soup can be complemented by a nice spicy Gewurtztraminer.

Viognier
A rich and aromatic Viognier would not only complement the spices in this soup, but the lush texture as well.

Super Grains Tabbouleh Salad and Wine Pairing

Most books about wine and food pairing lament about how difficult it is to pair wine with salad. Does that mean if you like salad you should avoid drinking wine with it? Absolutely not! Back when I was studying wine and food pairing at Northwest Wine Academy, pairing savant/ chef instructor Lenny Rede revealed a salad that can pair with red or white wine – Tabbouleh.

Super Grains

During that revelatory class when the salad was served and the red wine was poured I initially thought, “Seriously, red wine with Tabbouleh Salad? You’ve got to be kidding! There’s lemon juice in that and all that parsley. That’s got to be meant solely for a wine like pinot gris or sauvignon blanc.” Boy was I wrong.

The inherent earthiness of the grains pairs well with an earthy red wine. Here, I’ve swapped out the traditional bulghur for a Super Grains mix based on quinoa, and it still works nicely. The lemon juice that I assumed would be meant for white wine is less sharp than vinegar. Radiating freshness, that lemon juice ends up brightening the wine rather than overwhelming it.

I often enjoy this savory Tabbouleh Salad for lunch. Or, I make it a little more substantial and add some Feta cheese for dinner. This recipe is based on the version from the classic, Moosewood Cookbook.

Five Grain Tabbouleh Salad Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup uncooked Super Grains or Quinoa (I use Whole Foods 365 brand – this is not a paid ad, just personal preference)

1 t minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup chopped green onions, whites and greens
2-3 tomatoes diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 can chickpeas (15 ounces)

Prepare the grains according to package directions. When cooked, spread the cooked grains out on a baking pan in a thin layer to let them cool for about 15 minutes (optional).

In a bowl combine the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and cumin. Mix the ingredients to combine, then stir in the cooled grains. Add the chopped veggies and refrigerate the Tabbouleh Salad until ready to serve.

Wine Pairing for Tabbouleh

Wine and Salad
Tabbouleh has both fresh and earthy characteristics making it a wonderful pairing for white wine in warmer days, or red wine in the fall.

In our house we enjoy this Tabbouleh Salad with an array of white wines that echo the lemon in the dressing. Everything from Grenache Blanc to Pinot Gris pleases us. Alternatively, look for a white wine that highlights the herbaceous parsley notes such as Gruner Veltliner or Sauvingnon Blanc.

For a red wine, I’m especially fond of Tempranillo with this salad. Sangiovese is a great alternative.

What’s your favorite pairing for Tabbouleh Salad? Head on over to Twitter or Instagram and le’ts talk about wine!

Lentil Salad Recipe and Wine Pairing

This is the lentil salad recipe to prepare for people who think they don’t like lentils! Not only that, the dish lends itself to either a casual evening or dinner party fare.

I first prepared this when some friends were coming to dinner and I wanted each course to complement the Pinot Noirs we’d be pouring that night. Lentils have a bit of an earthy quality which make them a wonderful pairing for Pinot. Although our friends aren’t typically fans of this legume they were willing to give my preparation a try. To their surprise and delight, they enjoyed this lentil salad. They’ve even requested it at following dinners!

The thing is, people often experience overcooked lentils in a state of mush and consider them dry. To avoid that, this lentil salad recipe calls for French lentils also known as Puy lentils or green lentils. The cooking time is shorter than for other preparations in order to ensure they stay firm. By dressing the lentils while still warm, they absorb some of it. The result is a flavorful salad that is neither mushy nor dry.

Lentil Salad Ingredients

1 cup French Lentils
2 cups water

1-2 carrots peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 green onions

Dressing Ingredients
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove minced garlic (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Prepare the lentils by combining the lentils and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover pan. Simmer lentils about 15 minutes until tender but not too soft. Strain and put into large bowl.

Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk together or toss them in a jar and shake it up.

Pour the dressing over the lentils and add carrots, bell pepper, and green onions. Toss to combine.

When presenting this at a dinner party, I make extra dressing and toss it with some spinach. On a serving platter, the spinach gets plated up making a nice bed for the rest of the salad. The lentil mixture can then be mounded on top of the spinach. This looks lovely when delivered to the table. By serving it family style, guests are able to take as much or as little as they choose.

Makes approximately 2 main dish servings or 4 salad course servings.

plated lentil salad

Lentil Salad Wine Pairing

As mentioned previously, Pinot Noir is a great dinner partner for this lentil salad.

Are you thinking you’d rather pour a white wine? No problem! The Dijon mustard in the dressing creates a nice complement to Chardonnay. Or top the lentil salad with some goat cheese and pour a Sauvignon Blanc.