Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mac 'n' Cheese

I live with a little escape artist. He spends his mornings trying on shoes, no matter the size or the style (Sister's boots, Daddy's Size 13 loafers), he knows that footwear is needed to meet his objective: To get outside. He gazes longingly at the front door, and woe be the evil parent that needs to go to work without Asher. But it's February, and this Mommy isn't spending all day outs in the elemnts. Oh eventually- after the coffee's been drunk, the paper perused, a half hearted stab at the laundry mountain has been made, and after the little outdoorsman butters up Mommy with some snuggles- we get on our rain gear and go out to play. But no matter how much rain, or how many jaunts around our park, our usually placid Asher always protests the return indoors with angry rants - "Ball! Ball!" (Ours is a ball-strewn cauldesac, and Asher knows the location and coordinates of every stray tennis and nerf ball)

We're a family ready for spring. Summer quick meals are easy, chicken or salmon on the barbie, corn on the cob and a salad. Done. But February it is, and February demands comfort food. Soup and casseroles. Mashed potatoes and spaghetti.

The ultimate speedy comfort food is Mac 'n' Cheese. To be honest, it's not my first choice. I find the cheesey pasta on the bland side and I always itch to doctor it up with some smoked chipolte or maybe a head of roasted garlic. But my husband is a m and c purist, and mac 'n' cheese demands respect. And my children have been converted.The speed at which those bowls are thrust back at me for second helpings brings warmth to my heart.

And there is a silver lining, this is an easy prep meal. While you could just make the sauce and toss it with the noodles and still have a delicious final product, my mother-in-law Donna always bakes it in the oven with a good layer of shredded cheese. And since this is Mike's meal, I make it how his Mamma does.The end result is a delicious custardy interior with a crusty cheese topping. If you're a true Campbell (I'm not) you would eat this fried up for breakfast the next morning.

Mac 'n' Cheese

3 cups or so dried macaroni cooked el dente as per package directions.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
3 1/2 cups cheese, divided (can use more or less cheese depending on taste).

Sauce (these directions sound more time and labor intensive than this actually is. This is a white sauce with cheese.):

Over medium heat melt 1/4 cup butter.

Whisk in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Stir for a few seconds until the roux starts turning brown.

Slowly add 3 cups milk. Keep stirring until mixture thickens. Don't leave that milk unattended, if you stop stirring for a second something will stick. That's your kid dunking things into the toilet? Has to wait. Your occasionaly angelic 3-year-old daughter is trying to pull her brother's hair out? Block that out. They'll thank you in half an hour (or just add it to the therapist rant in 30 years).

Add 1 1/2 cup shredded or cubed cheese . Keep stirring. Stir until cheese is melted and mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. And maybe a dash of dijon if no one is looking.

Mix the sauce with cooked noodles in a large casserole dish (I use a 9 by 13 pyrex).

Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded cheese over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so.

Serve with a side of ketchup.

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