Last night, while brainstorming my post for today, I realized it was already Thursday evening and my weekly workout tally was embarrassingly small for the week. For the last several years I have been in a pretty consistent routine of working out, in some form, at least 3 times a week. Now, my reasoning behind working out is a bit backward. You see, I love to eat. I mean, love it, love it. And I was one of those people who did not gain a ‘cute’ amount of baby weight during my pregnancies. I was one of those people, who at 5 months pregnant, had blown up so much that people could not hide their shock at how much longer I had to go. After my daughter was born I decided I needed to take some serious action to get this extra weight under control. So, with the help of Weight Watchers and lots of exercise, I was luckily able to get back down to my original weight. Now I continue to work out, not because of my love for a good sweat, but for the reason I got into trouble in the first place. My love of all things food. Carbs specifically. And cheese. Now I try to work out relatively regularly and keep my portion sizes under control. Usually during the course of working out I am mentally calculating just how large of a bowl of ice cream I am earning by running or doing a Jillian Michael’s video. So, while I am no doctor, I figured one night of doing Ab Ripper X wasn’t going to cut it for the entire week.
So upstairs I went to dig out some exercise clothes, put on my shoes (that boast neon pink laces that never fail to cheer me up in the face of yet another workout) and drag myself back down stairs to the basement which acts as my own personal gym. Some people love the working out in an actual gym. One with rows and rows of shiny treadmills, ellipticals and weight benches. The reason(s) I avoid such a place are the people that are then on these shiny treadmills, ellpticals and weight benches. Now I’m sure the people at the gym are all lovely – I happen to know several of them. Nice people who are there to mind their own business and get their workout just like everyone else. I avoid these places, and these people, for their own sake. You see, when I work out (particularly if I am running), I sing. Loudly. And I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but I am a bad singer. There is a reason that I was always behind the scenes in my high school musicals. If I put my mind to it (in church mainly) I can carry a tune. However, it is not uncommon for me to trip, fall, and drop that tune like a hot potato. I have a great disturbing story of how I drove my 2 year old to tears with my kicky rendition of Ace of Base’s ‘The Sign’. I would blame it on the song choice, but I would just be kidding myself.
Well, when I work out, I take it to a new level of awful. I will crank up the music in my headphones as loud as it will go because I cannot stand the sound of myself panting or of my feet hitting the ground. It is maddening and if I hear it I want to stop immediately and go eat some ice cream. As an added bonus of the loud music I can also tune myself out. Which is fantastic. For me, at least. Not for my husband who is sitting upstairs and trying to enjoy his Ludlums. In the middle of Fun.’s ‘We are Young’, he will often come down, peek around the stairs, and with a grave expression shake his head. I feign ignorance and claim that singing is necessary for my well being. When I don’t sing on the treadmill I tend to develop awful side cramps. Side cramps so bad that I have to stop running and suck air for a bit before continuing. For some reason when I sing, I feel great. No cramps. Anything to make the tedious task of running go by faster and less painfully, I will embrace with vigor. So until I can learn to breath properly while running without singing, or take some intensive voice lessons (which really would just be a waste of money), I will exercise in private. Trust me. You don’t want me at your gym. It’d get ugly in a hurry.
Now all this talk about working out brings me to the actual food (aka fun part) of this post. This mac & cheese recipe is different than any I have ever come across before. A recipe of my Grandma LeBlanc’s, it features tomatoes and my own addition of cinnamon and nutmeg. These spices add a subtle warmth to the dish that wraps itself around your insides like a big hug.
You can bake it in a large 9×13 (for about an hour) or in individual ramekins like I did. I am a sucker for cute little serving dishes. It also helps with the aforementioned portion control. Either way, it’s cheesy, gooey and the ultimate in comfort food.
Spray 10 ramekins with cooking spray, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Drain the diced tomatoes and reserve the juice. Add water to the juice (if needed) to achieve 1 cup of liquid.
In a small sauce pan, melt butter. Whisk flour into the butter and continue to whisk until the mixture is a nutty brown, but not burnt.
Pour in reserved tomato juice and whisk to dissolve flour. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste.
This dish is about layers. Using one half of all of the ingredients (noodles, cheese, diced tomatoes, sauce and bread crumbs), divide them evenly and layer them into the ramekins in the following order: Noodles, cheese, tomatoes, tomato sauce, breadcrumbs.
Repeat this layering, with the reserved ingredients, in all the dishes.
Gently pour 2 Tbs of milk into the side of each dish, taking care not to pour over the top of the bread crumbs.
Place baking sheet with ramekins in oven and bake until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes.