The Lenten season is upon us, which can pose mealtime challenges for those of us who observe meatless Fridays.

I’m not sure why, but I find myself agonizing over those Friday dinner menus. My family doesn’t consume meat every day during the rest of the year. And my youngest daughter is a pescatarian – she maintains a vegetarian diet but also eats seafood. Until she went off to college, I’d been preparing carnivorous-free meals for her for the better part of the last decade.

Aside from fish, my go-to meatless staple is macaroni and cheese. My recipe is a lighter version (as light as one can get when preparing a dish loaded with cheese and pasta!) and remains one of my family’s favorites.

I’ve tinkered with the recipe, swapping out various cheeses to change up the flavor profile. For mac and cheese with a kick, I’ve used hot pepper cheese. For a slightly sweet and nutty flavor, I’ll use gruyere. Just about any cheese will work. To ensure a smooth sauce, grate or finely shred cheese and bring it to room temperature before adding to the sauce. Heat only until the cheese has melted: Overheating can make the sauce lumpy.

I’ve also added in crabmeat and served as a main dish alongside a leafy green salad. That’s about as guilt-free as mac and cheese gets!

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

1/3 cup flour

2 2/3 cups low-fat milk

¾ cup shredded Swiss cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded cheddar

3 ounces Light Velveeta (or other light processed cheese) cubed

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup crushed crackers (Ritz or melba), about 12 crackers

1 tablespoon low-calorie margarine, softened

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add pasta. Cook 5 minutes (al dente) and drain well.

Place flour in large saucepan. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Place over medium heat and cook until thickened, about 8 minutes, whisking constantly. Add cheeses, and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly until incorporated. Remove from heat and add macaroni and salt.

Spoon macaroni mixture into prepared dish. Combine crushed crackers with margarine, and sprinkle over top of macaroni and cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and crust is brown.

Cheers to cereal

Tomorrow is National Cereal Day.

In tribute, I offer a few fun facts about that most-beloved of breakfast fare, which, I suppose, could be consumed for brinner on Lenten Fridays ...

- The first cereal – dense bran nuggets – was created by Dr. James Caleb Jackson in the late 1800s. They were so hard that they had to be soaked overnight before consuming.

- John Kellogg is credited with creating granola. He and his brother, Will, came up with a process that allowed wheat to flake, and corn flakes were born.

- Ranger Joe Popped Wheat Honnie became the first cereal to be sweetened with sugar in 1939.

- 49 percent of Americans eat cereal for breakfast.

- 2.7 billion boxes of cereal are sold annually – enough to wrap around the earth 13 times.

- Cap’n Crunch’s full name is Horatio Magellan Crunch, who was born on Crunch Island in the Sea of Milk. In 2013, it was discovered that his uniform contained three rather than the requisite four captain stripes, which instead gave him the rank of commander. He defended his rank on Twitter: “Of course I’m a Cap’n! It’s the Crunch – not the clothes – that make a man.”

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