Beat those winter blues with the ultimate comfort food: ultra creamy Hidden Cauliflower Mac and Cheese! This "healthier" version of homemade mac and cheese is packed with hidden bite-sized cauliflower pieces to give you a satisfying serving of veggies, proteins, and vitamins. Hidden Cauliflower Mac and Cheese takes only 20 minutes and is a great way to sneak some veggies into a favorite kid's classic! Made with evaporated milk, cream cheese, and whole milk for the creamiest homemade mac and cheese you'll ever have.
I cannot tell you how many times I've made mac and cheese since my children were born.
I never had homemade mac and cheese as a kid. We were an out-of-the-box Kraft mac and cheese family, so making mac and cheese from scratch was entirely new to me when my daughter was born. While I credit most of my cooking ability to watching and helping my own mother and grandmother make from scratch recipes throughout my childhood, for some reason mac and cheese wasn't in their recipe rotation.
I guess you can say I've picked up a natural ability to simply know how to cook from them. But homemade mac and cheese was something I had to learn, and fail at, before perfecting the most amazing, flavorful creamy mac and cheese sauce you'll ever have!
hiding veggies in mac and cheese
Now I did not originally start off making hidden cauliflower mac and cheese. First, my goal was to make a simple homemade creamy mac and cheese sauce that my toddler going through a pasta-only stage would eat and love. Once I had that down, I tried to make my homemade mac and cheese more well-rounded by sneaking in grated carrots and green beans (this worked great, by the way, and she ate a ton of carrots and green beans for about 6 months!).
After those 6 months of carrot-eating bliss, she started noticing the "orange stuff" in her mac and cheese. And as every kid probably decides at some point, she suddenly no longer liked vegetables, especially carrots. Okay then. On to a new plan: hidden cauliflower mac and cheese.
Hiding cauliflower in my mac and cheese works great! You can cook it down soft enough that it's texture is barely recognizable as a vegetable. It may even fall apart or mush up when cooked long enough so you're "I hate vegetable" eating children won't even notice. We love them so much don't we? But gosh, they need to eat their dang veggies!
ingredients in hidden cauliflower mac and cheese
To give hidden cauliflower mac and cheese an ultra creamy thick sauce, I use:
- evaporated milk
- cream cheese, and
- whole milk
The best mac and cheese always starts with a roux made of butter and four. I add paprika to season my roux. Not only does the paprika give cauliflower mac and cheese a stronger taste, but it gives it an even more fabulous yellow-orange hue.
To give hidden cauliflower mac and cheese it's irresistible cheesy flavor, I use a combination of shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese and white cheddar cheese. You should really not use bagged shredded cheddar, as it does not melt as nicely as a fresh block of cheese. I also shred mine finely so that it melts quicker.
And you'll need fresh cauliflower cut into bite-sized pieces and short pasta. You can never fall short with the classic elbows for mac and cheese. We love making this with bow ties and wagon wheels, too. The kids always think those are fun to eat!
how to make hidden cauliflower mac and cheese
Making mac and cheese from scratch takes about 20 minutes and is quite easy. Follow these steps:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (cover so it boils quickly).
- While the water boils, melt the butter over medium heat in a large shallow pan until it's foamy.
- Add the flour and paprika and whisk constantly until a paste forms, about 1 minute.
- Add the whole milk, evaporated milk, and cream cheese. Whisk frequently, breaking up the cream cheese with a wooden spoon. Bring to a low bubble. This takes about 5-6 minutes. If the cream cheese is still a little crumbly, that's okay. It will continue to melt during the next step. Your pasta water should be boiling by the end of this step. Add it and the cauliflower to the boiling water and cook 8-10 minutes. Drain.
- Add the cheese 1 cup at a time to the milk mixture, whisking constantly until it's melted and smooth, about 3 minutes total.
- Season with salt and let boil for 2 more minutes while whisking constantly.
- Add sauce to the pasta and cauliflower and serve.
Hidden Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- ½ head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
- 4 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 2 cups white cheddar cheese, finely shredded
- 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
- 1 teaspoon salt
- pepper, to taste
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni and cauliflower for 8-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a large shallow pan until foamy.
- Add the paprika and flour and whisk until a paste forms, about 1 minute.
- Add the whole milk, evaporated milk, and cream cheese. Whisk frequently, breaking up cream cheese with a wooden spoon. Cook until it bubbles, about 6 minutes.
- Add the cheese 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly, until smooth, about 3 minutes total.
- Season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes while whisking.
- Add sauce to cooked pasta and cauliflower. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 5 days (or the freezer for 6 months)
hidden cauliflower mac and cheese variations
You can always turn this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe into something a little different to suit your family's tastes.
To the sauce, you can make these easy changes:
- add a little bit of pepper with the salt
- use all white cheddar cheese
- use all extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
Instead of using cauliflower, you can add these veggies to the boiling pasta water:
- grated or diced carrots
- cut green beans
- small chopped broccoli pieces
And to the whole meal itself, you can season with salt and pepper at the end as much as you'd like. Another option is to mix the pasta and sauce in a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and extra cheese, and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, for a crispy baked hidden cauliflower mac and cheese!
You can also use mini muffin tins to bake it for bite sized hidden cauliflower mac and cheese cups. This would be so fun for the kids to eat or a great idea for parties or sleepover nights.
serving and storing
Serve hidden cauliflower mac and cheese immediately or warmed in the microwave. You'll notice that the sauce will appear to "crumble" or lose its creaminess after a little while of sitting. Don't worry! As soon as you warm it up the creaminess will come back.
You can store it in the fridge for about 5 days. This recipe freezes wonderfully. Sometimes I make a ton and freeze extras in the deep freezer for around 6 months.
If you've made it and loved it, let me know what you think! And don't forget to follow me on Pinterest!