Quick ‘n Easy Weeknight Dinner: Baked Mac and Cheese

Delicious baked Macaroni and Cheese, colorful sautéed zucchini and summer squash and sweet, rich chocolate peanut butter crescent rolls…this quick and easy menu makes creating a delicious meal on a busy weeknight a breeze!

Growing up, both my parents worked. So there were always a few standard menus that were quick, easy and affordable. Tuna Noodle Casserole, American Chop Suey, Shepherds Pie, Mac and Cheese. Because my Mom was a nurse and sometimes worked 2nd shift, I did a lot of the cooking. So these recipes became second nature to me.

Baked Mac and Cheese has been my go to for a quick weeknight meal for years. I’ve refined my recipe quite a bit over the years, and now I can whip up this meal in about 45 minutes (including prep and bake time). This time I added some sautéed zucchini and summer squash, some Peanut Butter Chocolate Crescent rolls and some fresh sliced cucumber and we were ready to sit down at the table in just under an hour, with very little stress.

One of the side effects of making any recipe over and over again for years is that the ingredients become, shall we say, fluid. But there are some constants. My white sauce is always the same. I always add a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes. That’s right. Tomatoes. BEWARE WHITE CHEDDAR MAC AND CHEESE PURISTS…MY MAC AND CHEESE HAS TOMATOES!! I love tomatoes, and I think that adding the tomatoes to this recipe makes the sauce a little sweeter and richer. If tomatoes aren’t you’re thing, just replace with 3/4 cup of milk.

I typically use extra sharp cheddar for this Mac and cheese. However, sometimes I end up with lots of different little ends and bits of cheese in the fridge. In that case, I’ll toss a bunch of different kinds of cheese in just to mix things up a bit.

I also always put some extra shredded cheese on the top before baking to get a crunchy cheese top. We love the crunchy cheese top! Usually this is cheddar, but sometimes its shredded Mexican blend, which we also love.

Don’t be afraid to use whatever pasta is in your pantry. My grocery store often has a 10 for $10 sale on pasta, so we always have several boxes on hand. Most often I use elbow macaroni, but don’t be afraid to use penne, rotini, cavatappi…I’ve even used farfalle on occasion.

Here is another tip. I have this great set of Cuisinart Stainless Steel cookware that includes a 5.5 qt. deep sauté pan. If I am not feeling like using a separate casserole dish, I will make the cheese sauce in this sauté pan, and then add the macaroni right to that and pop it in the oven. It’s great…and one less dish to clean.

Baked Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 16-oz box Elbow Macaroni, cooked according to package directions
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • 1 14.5-oz. can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 8 oz. Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded or chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese for topping
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Add onions and cook until soft.
  2. Add flour and stir. Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  3. Add milk to pan and whisk until smooth.
  4. Stir in tomatoes
  5. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until bubbly and slightly thickened.
  6. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Sauce should be think. If it is too thick, add some more milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Mix cheese sauce and cooked macaroni in a large casserole dish or oven safe pan. Sprinkle with extra shredded cheese.
  8. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

So to round out this meal, I looked in my refrigerator to see what else I had. I found some beautiful fresh squash that I got from a friend’s garden, and a can of Pillsbury crescent rolls. Voila!

There is nothing I like more in the summer (or any time really) than sautéed or roasted squash. This is another one of those “let’s see what vegetables we have and put them all together in a pan” situations. l do that a lot. My daughter Taylor is a vegetarian, so I always like to have veggie choices with lots of color and variety whenever I can.

Speaking of my vegetarian daughter, this meal serves another purpose. It’s a meal that I can cook that everyone in my house will enjoy, without having to make veg and omni versions (although I am really good at that now). Taylor became a vegetarian in the 5th grade after reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition” by Michael Pollan. The learning curve for changing my cooking to accommodate the nutritional needs of a growing vegetarian child while at the same time accommodating the tastes of the rest of the omnivores in my family was pretty steep. Meals like this were a saving grace in that first year.

Anyway, back to the rest of this meal menu.

Sauteed Zucchini and Summer Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 medium Summer Squash, sliced into rounds and quartered
  • 1 medium Zucchini Squash, sliced into rounds and quartered
  • 1/2 small onion, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1/2 cup Grape Tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan. Add onion and cook until soft.
  2. Add zucchini, summer squash. Cook for 3 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and garlic. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, until the squash is crisp-tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crescent Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 8 oz. container Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • 2 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into 8 triangles.
  2. Spread peanut butter equally onto triangles.
  3. Sprinkle chocolate chips onto the large end of each triangle.
  4. Roll dough starting from large end.
  5. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and curve to form a crescent.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 11-13 minutes, or until golden brown.

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