20 December 2012

Confetti Mac and Cheese

Guess what I finally have for you!!!!

Oh you already read the title huh?  Well... Crap.  The teasing has come to and end!  Much like my broccoli and cheese soup, I recipe tested my face off with this recipe so that I could give you a few variations on the recipe and also provide foodie perfection in the process.  My recipes are like my children.  And by that, I mean always in time out and not allowed to come out and play until their homework is done.  I guess it's a good thing I don't have actual kiddos yet, I need to up my fun factor first =)

Anywho!  Enough joking around [Never!!!]
I come bearing gifts in the form of the from-scratch version of my Shortcut Confetti Mac.
You may now do a celebratory lap around the room.

Confetti Macaroni and Cheese

This post is a teensy bit on the long side, but it's merely because I have tons of photos and lots to say!  The recipe itself is quick, easy, and will only require you to clean one pot.  Oh yes, just one!  Cleaning multiple pots and pans by hand is the bane of my existence and I have no less than a zillion scratch marks on my steel sink to prove just how angry it makes me.  Hi my name is Jenn, and I throw my pots.  Don't tell Paul.

Confetti Mac and Cheese
Confetti Mac and Cheese
ingredients

1/2 cup gouda cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated [plus extra for topping!]
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated

12 oz evaporated milk [or 1.5 cups of milk, half + half, etc... - plus extra - see below]
1/2-1 cup milk [separate from milk above]
2 cups of mini shells pasta [pasta size indicates cook style + time - see note below <3]
1 heaping cup of cooked/leftover veggies [or more!]
1/4 tsp garlic powder [plus extra to taste]
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp salt [plus more to taste]
a little sprinkle of [optional] mustard powder
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Play around with the cheeses you keep on hand!  You want at least half the cheese to be creamy and melt easily like gouda or american cheese and then rely on hard, flavorful cheeses to punch up the taste of the sauce.  I chose plain gouda for its superb melting abilities and overall yum-factor.  The sharp cheddar and parmesan cheese in this recipe are flavor powerhouses and play a key role in the taste of this dish.  If you don't have parmesan cheese on hand you can try pecorino romano or use extra cheddar.  If you only have gouda and cheddar on hand -- that'll work too!  As for substituting the sharp cheddar? ummm.... I'll be hiding under the bed trying to console it.  You just hurt its feelings.

note: The amount of milk and cheese needed may increase with noodle/macaroni size. If you're using larger shells/noodles, par-boiling the pasta in water before adding to the milk will help them cook faster and more thoroughly.  Even the medium shells might need to be partially boiled in water for a few minutes because they seem to soak up milk differently than the mini shells I used.  I'll try to re-test with larger shells and different pasta as time goes by to provide instructions for any substitutions you might need to make!  Just let me know if there's something you need me to test!  Because the recipe was written using mini shells, less time was needed to cook the pasta.  I'm always an email or tweet away if a random question pops up - don't hesitate to ask! :)

why use freshly grated cheese?  they have more flavor, better flavor, and zero sketchy additives

the veggies:
any combination you can dream up!
peas, carrots, broccoli spinach, kale, squash, onion, etc... if you like it -- add it!

Confetti Mac and Cheese

The tip to cook the noodles in milk came from Heavenly Homemaker and is an absolutely brilliant way to thicken milk into a sauce naturally without using a butter/flour roux or any sketchtastic ingredients like Velveeta.  Not to knock Velveeta or anything, but I'm not sure I want to eat something that could survive a nuclear apocalypse.  Lightly simmering the noodles in the milk will utilize the pasta's natural starches and result in a thick, creamy sauce that will rival Velveeta.  It's a little effort for a huge payoff!

Enough of my rambling, let's make some freaking mac and cheese!  It's uber easy and pretty darn quick too.

get cooking!
Cook or re-heat your veggies and grate your cheeses.  This is a fabulous opportunity to raid the fridge and freezer for leftovers.  Peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, squash, and anything else you have on hand will work marvelously!  You can steam, roast, saute, or even microwave the veggies - whichever you prefer!

I was fabulously prepared this time and have loooots of process shots.  Though flooding this post with five million bajillion photos seems daunting so... let's college it!

tips for creamy, cheesy mac and cheese - cook your pasta in the milk!

Turn your stovetop to medium-low heat [at a 4 on a numbered dial] and add your pasta and 1.5 cup milk in a medium-sized pot and season with 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of garlic powder and a crank or two of black pepper.  Stir often to prevent the noodles from sticking and the milk from burning.   Depending on the size of your noodles, you may need to add an extra 1/2 cup of milk to help them cook.

Once you get close to the 5-8 minute mark begin to stir constantly.  Time will fly so stand over it and do a little mac and cheese dance if you have to.  In about 10-15 minutes or so the noodles will be fully cooked [taste test to ensure noodles are perfect] and the milk will have thickened into a creamy sauce.  The second it gets THICK, add anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 cup of milk and turn heat to the lowest setting.

First add your gouda and stir.  Then the cheddar and parm cheeses, followed by your veggies.  Use the little bit of milk you have left over to adjust the sauce to your desired thickness and even add a little extra cheese to taste!  I added a pinch of mustard powder [optional!] for a color/flavor boost as well as an extra pinch of garlic powder.  Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.  Basically let your taste buds be your guide =)  If anything it's an excuse to shove a few spoonfuls in you mouth while you get the plates ready.

Stir in your steamed/cooked veggies after adding your cheeses and garnish with a sprinkle of parsley if desired.  You can also top it with red pepper flakes for a pretty garnish that delivers a little kick of heat!  I've even known people to break out the sriracha or hot sauce with their mac and cheese.  Optional but highly addictive!

The veggie love doesn't stop there -- you can whip up confetti mac short-cut style with a box of all-natural macaroni and cheese [I love Annies brand] or even one of the all-natural or even vegan varieties that health food stores and larger grocery stores carry.  Anything goes as long as you pile on those veggies! =)

Confetti Mac and Cheese


Feeling fancy? I highly suggest pouring the pot-o-confetti-mac into a baking dish, topping it with cheddar, gouda, and crumbled buttery whole grain cracker crumbs and baking it casserole-style til it's hot and bubbly.  I may or may not be eating it like this while I type.  To say I'm obsessed with it is putting it lightly.  It's AMAZING!

so... how was it?
Easy, cheesy, goodness!  To turn this pot-o-comfort food into a balanced meal, pair a serving of confetti mac with a leafy green salad [bonus points for the extra veggies!] and there's no reason for you to feel anything but happy.  Bulking up a standard 1-cup serving of macaroni with cheese with a pile of veggies not only gives you a larger pile of delicousness on your plate but also packs in an extra dose of vitamins and antioxidants   Guilt is for the birds.  This dish is quick, easy, and contains only natural, whole ingredients.


Still hungry?
Panera Copycat Broccoli Cheese SoupCreamy Tomato Soup with Baked Mozzarella BallsQuick and Easy Macaroni SaladConfetti Pasta SaladVegetarian Loaded Baked Potato SoupTortellini Pasta Salad
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64 comments:

  1. This is so pretty! Beautiful photos too :) xx

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  2. Well well well, looks like he finally delivered the right cheese ;) Looks amazing and can't wait to try this myself!!

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  3. I love mac and cheese. And I love adding veggies to make it a little "healthier" (lower calorie? no. but extra nutrients? yes! haha!). But I agree that it makes it even BETTER when you bake it with some bread crumbs on top. Yummmm.

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  4. This sounds so easy and delicious! I will definitely be making this soon! The pictures are making my mouth water!

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  5. Oh my yum!! I'd love to try to make a dairy-free version of this...or at least one that my stomach would tolerate! :)

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  6. Come up with a dairy-free version for me please! ;) I love to make mac & cheese by tossing in some frozen veggies while the noodles cook. But it's from a box because that generally doesn't make me feel sick but I still get my mac & cheese comfort fix.

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    1. Have you tried lactaid tablets? I take them with cheesy dishes to help it digest!

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  7. Oh my does this look cheesy-yummy! Can you come cook for me?

    I nominated you for the Liebster award on my blog. Maybe you'll find the time to do it? I'd be so curious to read your answers :).

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    1. ahhhh thank you!!!! and if you move here I'll totally cook for you =)

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  8. Ahhh Jenn this looks so pretty! I don't like peas but I think I could cope with them if it made my pasta look this good! You can't beat macaroni cheese :)

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  9. OH MY GOODNESS! This looks DIVINE. I will certainly be bookmarking this page (maybe printing it out?) and making it quite soon!

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    1. I loved it: Both your preparation style and Confetti Mac and Cheese. Yummy.. Mommy!

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  10. Epic fail. 2 cups of pasta cooked in 1.5 cups of milk resulted in hard little kernels of pasta after 15 minutes. I ended up adding another 1-2 cups of milk, little by little. Finally added 2 more cups of water just to get the pasta cooked, stirred constantly FOR AN HOUR and was left with a starchy mess that was so sweet with the flavor of milk that you can barely taste the cheese.
    Did you forget to mention to par-boil the pasta in water first, or something? By the time the noodles were cooked thoroughly, my poor veggies had shriveled.
    The idea has potential, but the recipe as written is a disaster. It might work if the noodles were precooked in water, at least partially. But 1.5 cups of liquid to 2 cups uncooked pasta at low-medium heat does not work. Be forewarned.
    dcransdell@yahoo.com

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    1. Yowza! Maybe the recipe only works with mini pasta shells? I know not everyone has those on hand so I assumed it would work with any style noodle... which is why I suggested to use whatever noodles were on hand. I tested it three times with mini shells and it worked perfectly as long as the heat was on the lower side and the noodles were not heavily boiled [heavily boiling noodles in milk will burn them] What noodles did you use? I will re-test with different varieties to get the ratios perfet for different size noodles - I'm terribly sorry that didn't work. I attemted to make it easy on everyone without making a trip to the store necessarry and that might have been in error.

      What level of heat did you use and what noodles? Did you boil the veggies in with the noodles [that would have sucked up the milk and could have posed the issue as well, as I didn't do that in the recipe] I'd love to get to the bottom of this for ya - just let me know! <3

      Thanks for your help! I test all my recipes with a former scientist's level of obsession [sometimes making them five times before posting] so I am a little distraght that it didn't transfer over properly. Thank ou so much for your help! I'll send you an email in case you don't see this right away. xo

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    2. I used Barilla mini wheel pasta with minimal issue...I did need to add more milk but I had no problem cooking the pasta. I looked on low the entire time (I used a lid when not stirring) and added the pre-cooked veggies last (after cheese). I def agree that you can't cook the veggies w/pasta. Some pasta brands (like Ronzoni) tend to be very starchy, IMO, which is why I prefer Barilla.
      I used broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, carrots, corn & peas. To up the "yum factor" I sprinkled some cooked bacon, cheese & breadcrumbs on top & baked at 350 for about 15 minutes. The twins (15 months), my son (7 years) and hubby ate it up!

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    3. Hey Dana, Thanks! Great to know that some brands of pasta are startchier than others! I buy store brands or whichever is on sale but I'll have to give Barilla a shot!

      And the bacon? My husband will probably be at your doorstep with a bowl shortly =)

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    4. I appreciate your having taken the time to post this recipe, but I have to second the "Anonymous'" post above that ended in an epic fail.

      I used "medium" shells (store brand) that were just slightly larger than the "mini" shells suggested. I used the suggested amount of evaporated milk, and when the prescribed cook time for the noodles was up, they were still hard as rocks. I kept adding milk, and kept stirring (for a looong time) and finally ended up with semi-firm-yet-oddly-mushy shells, and WAY too much sauce (it was like a think cheese soup.) I ended up throwing it all away because nobody wanted to eat it! :(

      Also, some suggestions: unless I missed it, let people know to use a medium-sized pan, as I started with one that was way too large and quickly realized it would cause me problems. Also, you never say when to put in the veggies. Thanks!

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    5. Thanks for the feedback! I had indicated in the post that larger shells would probably need to be par-boiled in water before cooking in the milk but your experienced is making me think its a necessity and not just a possibility. I'll try to remake the recipe with larger shells to see if I can get a write up for the subsitution/variation from the mini shells I used. I'm so sorry that it didn't work with the bigger shells and that it went to waste =( I also added a note in about the pan size - thank you so much for pointing that out! Again, terribly sorry it didn't work with medium shells!

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  11. Just found your blog. I cannot wait to try some of your recipes :)

    xo

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  12. I made this last night. Used grated zucchini that was on it's last legs instead of peas and carrots. I also added bacon bits.

    I had the same issue as anonymous - 1.5c milk was not enough. I was using small shells and I ended up adding more milk before the noodles were cooked - not sure how much. I also added some more when I added the cheese - it was a bit "dry".

    I did accidently let the milk boil at one point so maybe that was part of the problem.

    I'd make this again in a second. It was delicious!

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    1. Thanks Jo!!! Though the recipe suggested to add extra milk along the way but I just tweaked it so that it's repeated a few times in the recipe now. Hopefully that helps! The milk boiling over could have easily resulted in lost milk/moisture for the noodles and, if it makes you feel better, I flat out burned an entire pot when I first started testing ;) It's a classy mistake to make. So so glad you loved it! And thanks for your comment!

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  13. This one is super simple but I am hoping my kids like it since they are a fan of Mac and Cheese. We'll see!

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  14. I've made this twice, and I tweaked it a bit this second time around. I used asiago cheese the first time, as a substitute for parmesan. The second time, I only used gouda and sharp chedder. In my opinion, the asiago flavor completely wiped out the flavor of the other two cheeses during the first round, so I decided to omit the third cheese the second time.

    Also, when it says stir constantly, it really means stir non-stop; at least for me. It came out much better when I didn't stop stirring at all this second time, and I did this for closer to 20 minutes. The shells weren't quite done at 15 minutes of constant stirring.

    I also had to keep adjusting the milk. It was getting too thick, so I just kept it close by and added more when I needed to in order to adjust the consistency. I used a lot more milk than the recipe called for, but it came out much better this second time.

    Make sure you prep everything else before you start the pasta too. I was rushing around too much the first time. Not a good idea.

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    1. Thanks Jillian! Good to know about the asiago -- I haven't tried using that one yet but everyone kept telling me it was a good sub -- makes sense that it would be uber strong -- that cheese packs a punch!

      I'm with ya on the pre-prep too girly. If I don't have my ingredients ready I slip and slide all over the kitchen trying to keep up! It's quite a sight ;)

      Thanks for the milk notes! Which noodles did you use for yours? I'm trying to get a good milk measurement down for different pastas b/c it seems to vary noodle to noodle quite a bit [brand and size/shape I think!]

      So glad you enjoyed the end result! xo

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  15. Holy comfort food, batman! I think I will make this for dinner tonight. Only I don't allow white flour in my house. Think it will make a different if I use whole wheat shells? Given the problems people are reporting with cooking the pasta in milk over low heat for such a long time, I am wondering if I am better off just making it the normal way w/a roux & adding veggies.

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    1. I think the time and milk adjustment for noodle variation is what is throwing everyone. It's not a recipe that works the exact same way as printed when substitutions are made so, everyone panics a bit if there is extra milk needed or an extra 5 minutes of stirring that they didn't account for.

      You can certainly use a roux and then add veggies to amp up the nutrients or test it out with whole wheat shells and just par-boil the shells first and/or expect to use a little extra milk. I plan on trying the recipe out with quinoa noodles next since they're super starchy and may work as well. Let me know what you end up doing! xo

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  16. Where does the evaporated milk come in?

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    1. Hey Tamara! It's the milk option you can use to cook your noodles in. The amount used will vary on the size and amount of noodles. I used one can and then used fresh milk for my additional milk as it began to thicken and require more :) hope that helps! Xoxo

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  17. Hey Jenn
    Thanks for the inspiration, I made this last night and it was super tasty :) I had to remove the whole cheese aspect though as I can't do dairy, so I substituted it for some chicken soup- worked like a dream!
    http://lalangostaymi.blogspot.com.es/2013/02/confetti-mac.html

    Ibbs
    x x

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  18. How many servings does this recipe make? I want to make it for a group of 10 people.

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    1. Depending on the age/hunger level of your guests, it yields about 2-4 servings total. The typical suggested servings of mini shell pasta is about 1/2 cup dry measure per person, but if its the main course adults may prefer more than that. I try to bulk up the plate by serving a green salad with veggies alongside it. It can be increased easily to feed a crowd [the glory of mac and cheese] and tastes glorious made on the stovetop and then baked with a little extra milk/cheese in the oven or toaster oven. Feel free to email me at PEASandCRAYONS [at] gmail [dot] com and I can help you work out measurements if needed! xoxo

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  19. this looks amazing! How many servings does this make? Is this meal enough for a family of 4, or should I double it?

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    1. Hi Jeryn! If its for adults or is the main course for everyone with minimal sides/salads I'd say double it. My husband and I scarfed the entire thing in a sitting one time, haha =)

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  20. THANK YOU for posting this recipe! I made it for my future in-laws when I made dinner for them for the first time (no pressure, right???) and they raved about it, and took home leftovers. Thanks to you, I scored major points! : )

    I did use smoked gouda for more flavor and it was amazing. I also added a lot more milk than the recipe called for, but as long as you monitor it and add milk as needed, it will turn out wonderfully.
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!

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    1. Thanks Jessica! So glad everyone loved it!!!! I always get SUPER nervous cooking for friends and especially my in-laws -- glad things went well for ya! <3

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  21. Sketchtastic. Best word ever. Lol.

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  22. The food looks great, too. Can't wait to try it! I'm gonna add some bacon. (turkey bacon, that is.)

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  23. Thanks for this recipe. I would never have thought to cook the pasta in the milk to make the sauce. This is the creamiest, richest mac and cheese I have ever made without first making a roux. This will be my go to from now on. I made it with the cheeses you recommended and lots and lots of peas and carrots. I had no problem with the pasta cooking over the low heat setting as recommended and I didn't have to stand and stir it constantly either. I used whole grain macaroni noodles and it was AWESOME!!! This was a huge hit with everyone who tried it. Since my husband is a bacon lover I added some bacon just to his plate and he loved it.
    Thank you so much for providing a really great and easy alternative to traditional mac and cheese :-)

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    1. Lots of peas and carrots? You know the way to my heart! Haha thanks Tiffany!!!! Your comment made my day =)

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  24. It came out perfect for me! I used half&half with Publix's mini shells. No problems at all. I added lots of broccoli, peas and carrots. My hubby and all three kids(9,6,16 mos)devoured it. The cheeses are perfect but just for fun, I may do a different combo next time : )- Whit

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  25. I just made this with standard elbow noodles, and it is SO DELICIOUS! I did have to use a considerable amount of extra milk, but I was prepared since you mentioned that may happen. I roasted my peas, carrots & corn in coconut oil first, and it is so tasty!

    I'm pregnant with a macaroni & cheese obsession, so this is like my Kryptonite. I keep having to pry the spoon out of my hand so that I will stop dipping into the leftovers!

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  26. I've made this a few times and each time something else goes wrong, but tonight's was probably the worst one. It came out really thick, grainy, and the noodles were extremel tough. I followed your recipe exactly each time... I don't know what I'm doing wrong! What would you recommend?

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  27. Eek! Hey Emily!! What type of noodles and dairy options are you using? From experience I've noticed that low fat dairy gets über gritty/grainy in cooking and it's especially noticeable in sauces. Are you using noodles that are larger than the mini ones? If so I suggest par-boiling them by partially cooking the noodles by boiling them in water for a few minutes first and then following the rest of the steps. Unfortunately a cheese sauce based recipe like this one is ridiculously sensitive and temperamental to tweaks and revisions so I tried to mention that in the post to help avoid mishaps. So when you followed it the last time, do you remember what dairy and noodles you used? That can make a huge difference in the outcome. I'll try to troubleshoot with ya the best I can! Email me anytime! Xoxo

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  28. This turned out dry, gummy, and one big lump. I used mini wheels, 2% milk and the exact amount of cheese you posted. Husband and I dumped it all down the drain and now very hungry.

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  29. Gah! So sorry! I wrote multiple notes in the recipe about pasta size having a big hand in the output to avoid that result - anything bigger than the tiny shells needs to be parboiled first; I'm guessing the wheels might be a bit larger/thicker of a pasta :( Most of my recipes can be made with any combination if ingredients and still turn out great but this one relies on specifics thanks to the starchy nature of the pasta. Again, I'm terribly sorry the wheels didn't work!

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  30. Just made this and it was delicious!! I have never made homemade mac and cheese before and it is a keeper! I used quinoa shells and it turned out great. Thank you!!

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  31. Thanks Janelle! So glad it worked with quinoa shells too! LOVE those!!

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  32. LOL! Thanks Beth! This one got me through the latter half of my pregnancy too! It's total comfort food!

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  33. Thanks so much Tiffany! =) I'm glad to hear it works with whole grain noodles too! Awesome! <3

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  34. Thanks for the feedback! I had indicated in the post that larger shells would probably need to be par-boiled in water before cooking in the milk but your experienced is making me think its a necessity and not just a possibility. I'll try to remake the recipe with larger shells to see if I can get a write up for the subsitution/variation from the mini shells I used. I'm so sorry that it didn't work with the bigger shells and that it went to waste =( I also added a note in about the pan size - thank you so much for pointing that out! Again, terribly sorry it didn't work with medium shells!

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  35. Thanks Whit! So happy it was a hit! Anytime I can get kiddos to toss back their veggies I consider it a win =)

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  36. Thanks Jessica! So glad everyone loved it!!!! I always get SUPER nervous cooking for friends and especially my in-laws -- glad it went well and that leftovers were thieved for another day! Haha <3

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  37. I tried this tonight...looked really good. I used the small shells and had to fill in with elbow macaroni to have enough. I used Gruyere cheese, Colby jack, Parmesan and even a little mixture of pizza cheese...whatever I had left over. At first it was kinda pungent so I added more milk and topped it with cheddar and popped it in the oven for about 20 min. Came out good this time. It took the pasta a long time to get done, so next time, I'll parboil it first. I used the frozen Mexican mixture of veggies with Broccoli, corn, cauliflower, and peppers. I thought it was good and it was the concept I was interested in because it was mac and cheese with a twist!

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