Living with a man who who’s grown to love eating things like eggplant bacon, strawberry avocado smoothies, and pear soy-chorizo hash is both a blessing and a curse. The nice part is that I suggest these things for dinner and he’s totally enthused. On the contrary if I go “ya know, I really want some kind of creamy cheeseburger pasta thing” he might seriously wrinkle his nose and look at me like I have three heads. Scratch that. He did wrinkle his nose and look at me like I had three heads. I, in turn, wondered if I needed to check on his man parts because what boy wouldn’t want boy would choose kale over cheeseburger macaroni?

Ok, ok. It’s not that he’d necessarily choose kale, I think he’s just come to expect it. And never in a million years would he expect me to make something involving cheese, pasta and meat – all in one dish, like “normal” people would eat. But y’all should know by now that I don’t make anything in the “normal” way and that I already a cleaned-up version in mind.

This recipe is a spin-off of the Philly Cheesesteak Dip I made for the Superbowl feature in January’s Clean Eating Magazine (did you see the spread?!). The day I tested the recipe out on friends, I sent the leftovers home with one of them, suggesting that she toss it with pasta for a filling lunch for her toddler. It would have all the elements of a creamy mac ‘n cheese, with the addition of filling protein and veggies. And ever since, I kicked myself a little for not trying it that way myself.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this “health food” and it’s not something I would eat every day, I will point out that it’s got a lot more going for it than one might expect from a recipe involving steak ‘n cheese. The creamy base for the sauce comes from an unexpected – but undetectable, I promise – ingredient: silken tofu. If you’ve never worked with this before, you’re in for a treat. The most mild-tasting of all tofu, it blends to a creamy consistency perfect for soups, puddings, sauces and more. Bonus: the added protein makes the dish even more filling. By bulking up the veggie mixture with lots of meaty mushrooms, I’m able to keep the ground beef to a minimum (but because of the juicy vegetables and seasonings, 93% lean works perfectly well here.) Finally, you have the choice of whatever clean eatin’, whole grain pasta fits your fancy – I love Ancient Harvest, which is made from quinoa and corn. I’m also certain that the dish could be made entirely dairy-free with a good quality vegan shredded cheese that melts well, such as Daiya (seriously, I love the stuff so much that I often choose it over regular cheddar.)

What’s more? The dude loves it just as much as he loves his kale, and it comes together in 30 minutes or less. Win-win for this (soon-to-be) mama.

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Philly Cheesesteak Pasta

Yield: 4 servings

A cleaned up version of beef and pasta in a rich and creamy sauce - just as rich and filling as you'd expect with full-fat ingredients. Easily made gluten-free and dairy-free too.

Ingredients:

8oz (dry) whole grain pasta, gluten-free if needed
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
1 8oz package sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1 tablespoon water
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb 93% lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
12oz package firm silken tofu (look for the unrefrigerated kind in a box, such as Mori Nu)
1/3 cup reduced sodium chicken broth or low-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
6oz reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese or non-dairy shredded cheese, such as Daiya

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions, peppers and mushrooms in 1tbsp water for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables are softened and liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and beef. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to break up the meat, for about 5 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and stir in Worcestershire. Turn off heat.

In a blender or food processor, blend the silken tofu, broth or milk, and mustard powder until smooth. Add the cheese and process again until nearly smooth.

Turn the skillet heat back on to medium, and pour in the tofu mixture. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until cheese is melted and mixture is hot.

Drain pasta and add to the skillet, stirring until heated through.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories 497.6
Total Fat 16.7 g
Saturated Fat 6.4 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.5 g
Cholesterol 62.9 mg
Sodium 719.8 mg
Potassium 416.5 mg
Total Carbohydrate 56.0 g
Dietary Fiber 1.5 g
Sugars 2.8 g
Protein 35.0 g

Cara Lyons, www.carascravings.com; adapted from Philly Cheesesteak Dip in Clean Eating Magazine January 2013, also by Cara Lyons.