Macaroni & cheese: a comfort food
I suggested macaroni and cheese when husband Stephen and I were planning an easy Wednesday evening dinner with his sister and niece. I suggested it for two reasons: 1) that it’s easy and good and would be warming following a seven-hour ride from New Hampshire, and 2) I wanted to make sure that I had some on hand on Thanksgiving for five-year-old grandson Ryan, who doesn’t always find food that he wants to eat on most tables.
It’s old habit to have a supply of macaroni and cheese in the fridge for a fussy eater.
When my son Zac was a child, besides making it from scratch, I used to purchase cases of Annie’s boxed macaroni and cheese. It was inexpensive (five for $5 at Pete’s and Peck’s this week!), fast, relatively healthy, and easy to doctor up. (I’d always added two chopped hard-boiled eggs, a little bit of shredded cheese—like Colby, cheddar, or jack—and a dash of Worchester sauce for taste. I figured it upped the amount of protein and calcium.)
It was offered as an alternative to whatever meal we were having, with the stipulation that Zac had to try a bite of what I had otherwise made, especially if I pronounced it as “there is nothing in there that you won’t like.” I never wanted mealtimes to be a battleground—and I’m pleased to announce Zac eats stuff now (like smoked eel sushi) that I won’t touch.
And while boxed macaroni and cheese is great to have on hand, or even to make several boxes at once for a crowd, homemade mac and cheese is always a winner. And it’s pretty simple to make.
Mac and cheese
For the macaroni:
I boil up a pound of pasta—some sort of variety of elbow macaroni—until just tender. (I generally subtract 2 minutes from the cooking time. I drain it, rinse it in cold water and put it back in the pot with cold water, let cool completely, and drain again. I set aside for later use.) (Barilla pastas are on sale for $1 at Pete’s and Pecks this week.)
For the sauce:
4 Tbsp. butter (1/2 stick) (Cabot, lb. $3.99, $.50 per recipe)
4 Tbsp. white flour $.04
1 can evaporated milk (store brand, $.99)
1 can water
2 cups vegetable broth (see recipe below)
½ box of Velvetta, cubed ($5.19/box on sale/$2.60 per recipe)
8 oz. cheese (Munster, Colby, cheddar, or jack), shredded ($2.50)
(This sauce could easily be used for some really nice nachos. Flavor to your taste!)
TOTAL COST: $6.63
COST PER SERVING: $.82-$1.11
Melt butter in saucepan, and when melted add flour and stir into a smooth paste. Add milk, water and broth, and cook until thickened. Add cheese and stir until melted.
Put the cooked macaroni into an oven-proof bowl and pour cheese sauce over. It will be very soupy, but the macaroni will absorb more liquid as it heats. Bake for approximately 45 minutes in a 350° oven or until heated through.
I’m experimenting with doing the final cooking in a crockpot. I’ve done it twice now, and both times it has come out incredibly creamy. The first time I thought of it as a last resort, as there was no room in the oven. As the outcome was amazing, I tried it a second time. The result was again good. (Heat on high for 30 minutes, then turn to low and serve when you’re ready.)
Variations: Add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 Tbsp. minced chipotle in Adobo sauce, 1 Tbsp. cilantro or parsley, in any and all combinations.
Vegetable stock: Place vegetable scraps in a small to medium saucepan. Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes. (I use onion skins, celery tops, pepper tops, garlic skins, etc. To have them on hand, I put them in a plastic bag and throw them in the freezer.) If you don’t save your veggie scraps, you can cut up one stalk of celery, quarter a small onion, and throw in a carrot, cut in chunks. After simmering a bit, the water will turn light brown, and you can strain the broth through a wire strainer; discard scraps. This broth freezes well and can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week or so. I store mine in either a glass jar or a lidded plastic container.
I’m sure you have great mac and cheese memories and recipes. Join the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/trrsimplefare/.