Larue: Try meatless mac and cheese for Ash Wednesday meal

Valentine’s Day poses an unusual situation this year, for it is a day filled with indulgences, such as chocolates, elegant dinners and other special treats. However, it falls on Ash Wednesday this time, a day many of us fast.


One way to share a light meal with our loved ones is to prepare a small, meatless dinner. Fish or pasta dishes often come to mind.

I’ve been researching pressure cookers and recipes for a quick meal. Friends and family I have spoken to about pressure cookers have been making quick work of dinner with juicy chicken, dried beans, fajitas, even cheese cake, all made in their pressure cookers. Another item I hear comes out beautifully in the pressure cooker is boiled eggs. Apparently, the biggest benefit is that the shells slip right off.

The only experience I previously had with pressure cookers was my mom and grandmother telling us kids to stand back. They sounded scary to me, listening to that little bobber whistling and sputtering around. To release the pressure seemed daunting and dangerous. I’m so glad they knew what they were doing!

So I was in the market for the new-fangled digital style pressure cooker but had not seen many reviews. The Instant Pot brand was sold out everywhere I looked before Christmas, but I wanted to get some to give as gifts within the family.

I decided on the Crock-Pot Express Crock Multi-Cooker which not only functions as a slow-cooker but also a pressure cooker. The 6-quart appliance is great for a couple, or for small families.

If you plan to use one for a larger family, there are brands that make larger sizes. My sister-in-law has an 8-quart pressure cooker made by Elite. They all seem very similar. One difference I see is some have a non-stick pot, while others do not.

Some have different functions, but most has a sear/sauté which is great for browning and sautéing before you set the slow cooker or pressure cooker.

There are also pressure cookers that are simply called “express” cookers. Some have glass lids available, as well, when you are using a setting that does not require pressure.

The main common factor is that all pressure cookers require liquid to cook. The new, digital styles are designed to signal you with an error code if there is not enough liquid.

I’ve been playing around a bit and have found that many of the one-pot pasta dishes work well in the pressure cooker. These are the recipes that allow for placing dry pasta in the water along with tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs for the sauce. So why not mac and cheese?

After my digital pressure cooker preheated, it literally took 4 minutes to produce perfect, al dente pasta. I used a ratio of 4 cups liquid to 1 pound pasta. I then did a quick release of the pressure, removed the lid when it was safe to, and stirred in the cheese and milk. It was creamy, and made a wonderful meatless dinner.

Enjoy food made fresh!

Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese

1 pound box dry elbow pasta

4 cups water

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

5-ounce can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Follow manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the pressure cooker. Add pasta, water and butter to the pot. Place the lid on the cooker and turn it to the locked position. Turn the bobber to the closed “no-steam” position. Set the cooker to manual, or pasta, or steam, depending on how the brand you have is labeled. Set timer to 4 minutes.

Once the pot has preheated, the timer will count down and you will hear a signal when it is finished.

Using a spoon, move the bobber to the “steam” position to do a quick-release of the steam (do not directly touch the bobber with your bare hands when steam is built up). When the steam is depleted, you will be able to release the lid by turning it to the unlock position.

Stir in cheddar, milk, salt, black pepper, dry mustard and nutmeg. Continue stirring until smooth and creamy.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.