Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mac and Cheese

So, how often do you eat Kraft Dinner? I've never really been a big fan, frankly, but I have to admit that I kind of like the Three Cheese variety. In fact, it's the only one I'll buy if I have the option, but not all stores carry it. My family prefers it, too, so you should give it a try, but only to prove to yourself that there is a hierarchy of macaroni and cheese, and that the Three Cheese variety is better than the original.

This one is better still. It's my recipe, and though you have to be standing over the stove the entire time, it still only takes 15 minutes to make. Max. My daughter always requests it when I'm asking for dinner suggestions, and if I want her to clarify whether she wants Kraft or homemade, she never lets me down. Oh, it's nice to be adored. Well, at least my food is adored.

What makes homemade macaroni and cheese better? For one, it's made with real pasta, not the soft flour-type product that comes with a packet. That's not really, pasta, you know, it's just shaped like it. Also, it's creamier, cheesier, and smoother. And delicious. Delicious. Also, it's easy to make. I start with an easy white sauce, add cayenne and nutmeg for a little nuttiness (the cayenne doesn't make it spicy, though you could add enough to make it that way), and sharp Cheddar. The "sharp" part is very important, or you won't get a cheesy enough flavor. And I often end up with more sauce than I need, since I never measure, which is very handy for chilling, mixing with salsa, and dipping.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. good small pasta (I like Barilla brand, and rotini, small shells, or small penne)
3 T. unsalted butter
4 T. (1/4 c.) flour
2 - 2 1/2 cups milk (2% is great for this)
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
pinch cayenne
Kosher salt
10 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

In a large saucepan, bring water to boil and prepare pasta according to directions, being cautious to stop at the "al dente" stage. Drain the pasta and set aside in a serving bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it starts to smell a little roasted. It may even start to brown just a touch (don't go too far on this). This will give the sauce a rich, buttery flavor. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for about a minute, to cook the raw flour taste away.

Whisk in about 1 1/2 c. milk to start. As it's heating, stir in the nutmeg, cayenne (up to 1/8 t. if you like a bit of kick), and 1 t. salt. When the sauce begins to near the boiling point, you'll notice it's getting much thicker. Add milk gradually, watching the thickness of the sauce, and keep it at a pretty medium consistency. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Once the sauce has just started to boil, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.

Lightly salt the pasta, then add enough sauce to thoroughly coat the pasta but not leave it swimming. Taste again for salt and season as necessary. Serve and enjoy!

(Goes great with sliced Fuji apples.)

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