This post had been a long time coming. Of all the photos of A’s meals I’ve shared on my Instagram account, these mac & cheese bites never fail to garner a recipe request. And if you follow me there long enough, first off, “Hello, stranger!”, and second, you may have noticed by now the different variations and times I’ve posted them.
You see, most times, cooking or baking for my 19-month-old is a breeze. But since I don’t eat half of the things I bring to her table, I’ll have to fall back on the mister’s feedback when it’s pertaining to cheese, which, as aforementioned, possibly constitutes to half her meals. And as much as lil A readily eats anything she can hold in one hand without any “Come here, and eat!” disruptions to her playtime, I’d prefer tweaking and reworking a toddler-friendly (read: possibly bland) recipe till it is suited for an adult’s (in this case, the self-proclaimed cheese monster of a mister) palate.
The first time I baked these little hand-held gooey cheesy pasta ‘muffins’, the recipe called for a simple stovetop mac & cheese, with an egg as a binder. While it held together perfectly, there was much left to desire in terms of flavour. Looking towards another recipe, no eggs were involved this time, and the muffin cups didn’t crumble. However, the breadcrumb topping and the insides turned out too dry, and again, whilst A enjoyed them, mister found them pretty bland.
Working with the two recipes in mind, I opted for garlic and homemade vegetable stock for flavour, and couldn’t resist throwing in vegetables and salmon to make them a wholesome meal / snack on their own. In fact, these mac & cheese bites are the perfect vehicle for anything you have in the pantry; broccoli and sweet bell peppers would be great here, and you can even add pumpkin puree for some natural sweetness, or simply leave out the meat for a vegan-friendly variation. The only caveat here is that you will have to check on the timing according to your oven, and how much you fill the cups; they may not fully firm up when the timer goes off, so you’ll have to try scoop up from the sides with a spoon to check if they hold together.
Salmon Mac & Cheese Veggie Bites
(inspired by Baby & Toddler On The Go, by Kim Laidlaw;
and Weelicious : One Family One Meal, by Catherine McCord;
makes six pieces)
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup homemade vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup cooked organic baby spinach, chopped
1/4 cup julienned or diced carrot
1 cup shredded salmon, or shredded cooked chicken
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Grease a muffin pan with olive oil, butter, or spray with canola cooking spray.
Bring water in a saucepan to a boil, and cook the pasta till al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Drain, and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add in the garlic and stir, taking care not to burn the garlic.
Whisk in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly until thick.
Pour in the milk slowly, whisking to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until thickened.
Add in the salt, oregano, pepper, spinach, carrot and salmon, until the salmon is cooked.
Remove from heat.
Add the cheese and stir until melted. Mix in the cooked pasta, and stir to combine.
Place about 1/4 cup of the pasta mixture into each muffin cup.
Bake for about 25 -30 minutes, or until the surface looks golden brown, and the edges have set. Leave to cool completely in the muffin cups before serving.