Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a recipe for the most comforting of all foods

Mac and cheese is one of those things that every one has specific preferences for. That's what makes it a "comfort food". Most moms or cooks have a special secret that gives theirs a unique taste. Mine is most definitely a mirror of my mother's recipe. She has made this so many times, she could probably do it in her sleep. As a young adult coming home from college for the weekend, she would always welcome us with this. To this day, she'll make it for my kids if we are visiting. And it's amusing to me that although I know she must have made this homemade version when I was in grade school, what I remember eating and craving most is the mac and cheese out of the blue box. You know what I mean. Don't pretend you have no idea...

Linda's Mac & cheese
serves 8-10
  1. Melt 8 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Lightly saute one finely diced large shallot or 1/4 cup finely diced red onion until softened. Add one tablespoon dijon mustard, three or four grates of nutmeg, two teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, and one small pinch cayenne pepper (just a little bit will give you a background flavor without noticing the heat outright-add more if you want a kick). Stir until incorporated until fragrant.
  2. To this mixture, add 1/2 cup flour. Whisk together over medium heat until flour begins to brown lightly, about two minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium low, and add 4 cups whole milk. Continue whisking until the mixture begins to thicken. This might take 3-4 minutes depending how high your heat is.
  4. Remove from the heat and add 4 cups shredded white sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Shred your own cheese, folks. That pre-shredded stuff is okay for a kid's quesadilla, but don't make real food with it. It's coated with starch, and that's not yummy. *If you're low on cheddar or aren't in the mood, feel free to substitute cheeses. Gruyere, Monterey Jack, grated pecorino romano, colby, or a combination of some. It's all good.
  5. Meanwhile, boil enough water for one pound pasta. Pick your favorite shape. Some people have to have elbows. Others don't mind mixing it up with cavatappi or gemelli. Whatever floats your boat.
  6. Salt water when it comes to a boil. (Did you know that pasta water should be as salty as sea water? For one pound of pasta, this means adding 2 tablespoons kosher salt to 6 quarts water.) Boil one pound pasta to al dente. Drain, but do not rinse.
  7. Combine cheese sauce with pasta.
You can most certainly eat this as is for the creamiest version or you can...

Combine one sleeve Ritz crackers pounded into crumbs with another cup shredded sharp cheddar. Put sauced pasta into a buttered baking dish. Top with Ritz mixture. Drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter. Bake at 350degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. **One other note, this freezes very well. Split this in half, put each in a baking dish, put topping on both halves, bake only the one you intend to eat tonight. Label and freeze the other. Can be baked directly from the freezer.

But, Cari, I can do you one better than that. I've been wanting to share a composite blog dedicated to Mac and Cheese called 30 Days 30 Ways, and you gave me a perfect excuse. It's an ongoing challenge where 30 bloggers are each given a chance to post a recipe for their favorite version. Check out the listing on the side for the previous recipes. All of them sound interesting. Some even sound worth trying. Do you have a spare month? And low cholesterol?


Cari Ekbom said...

Yum-O! Can't wait to make this! LOVE your blog...hope my girls continue with theier "show" for Micah so I can keep reading! :) Miss your sweet family!


Lilies of the Field said...


Jason and Heather Fader said...

Hi Allison - Thanks for posting this- I just made it. In Kenya. I must say that this is the best mac and cheese I have ever tasted. Even with modifications for some of the ingredients that we don't have here (nutmeg, sharp cheddar). Anna had thought that her macaroni and cheese days were over when we moved to Africa. She literally danced with joy over your mac and cheese. : )

Shannon said...

Will have to try this one. Preferably on a day when I can shop and bake in the same day so Mark doesn't eat all of the cheese...

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