With Sanci in town, Hawkins spent most of the weekend with her. Sunday night, he was free. With the weather being topsy-turvy, and a run of bad luck, I decided to cook something familiar and reassuring, macaroni and cheese.
I promised Hawkins I would take something familiar and show how it could be made to taste like a million dollars. With that boast, I had to work a little harder than the usual blue box of “KD.”
Hawkins smiled and said, “Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.” That was exactly my plan for the evening.
I did have a request from my good friend Sara for this recipe. I hope she finds it to her liking. She told me mac-and-cheese had to be her favorite food, so consider this a gift, Sara. Try it and let me know.
I started off the sauce by making a rather thick roux. Melt six tablespoons of butter in the skillet on medium heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, combine a half-cup of flour into it. We don’t need to brown it like gumbo roux, just a very light roux for us. Stir it with a fork or a whisk until smooth and just beginning to sizzle, and then remove it from the fire.
The best thing about mac-and-cheese is that cooks have a chance to use almost any cheese they happen to have in their refrigerators. Hawkins’ cupboard was not bare with some Colby-jack and Parmesan. I augmented it with some sharp cheddar and Swiss. Grate whatever cheeses you prefer. Truthfully, blends work well, or you can opt for one or two of your favorites. The important thing to remember is that you start with a pound of cheese.
Take the roux and put it into the top pot of a double boiler. As the water in the boiler heats, add two cups of skim milk to the roux and blend it well. The cheese should be either grated or cut into small squares to facilitate melting. If you put blocks in, you’ll be watching it melt all night long. The main thing is to again use a pound of cheese. With the boiler heating up, stir the cheese sauce constantly to keep it from sticking. I seasoned it with a half-teaspoon of black pepper, a little salt, a quarter-teaspoon of paprika and a tablespoon of parsley. Continue stirring until the cheese sauce is smooth and well blended. Add two tablespoons of sherry, just for a surprise, and cook another five minutes with the boiler on low heat.
There’s the cheese. Boil a full, one-pound box of elbow pasta, spirals or whatever sort of noodles you like with your cheese. Hawkins and I went with the traditional macaroni elbow pasta. Cook it according to the package directions and set it aside to drain.
Once drained, take the pasta and place it in a large casserole pan- nine-by-13 should be plenty, though I used the pan Dean and George gave us for Christmas. It was perfect. With the pasta in place, combine it with the cheese sauce, mixing it throughout the noodles.
That’s a good start, but I went for broke on the toppings. Flatten the pasta and sauce in the pan, and take another cup of cheese (again one kind or a blend) and spread it across the top. For zing and color, I gave the top layer of cheese a gentle dusting with paprika. Finally, crush a cup of butter-crackers- I used whole wheat. I found myself wishing Michelle Beucler was still in the county so I could employ her daughter Panda to crush the crackers. Panda excelled in that area.
But I digress. With the crackers crushed, mix them with two tablespoons of melted butter as a crunchy topping for the casserole. I baked it for about 15 minutes in the oven set for 350 degrees. Set the oven to broil and leave the pan in for two more minutes, for a beautifully browned treat.
With so much cheese, I couldn’t even imagine what to serve this with. I made the macaroni our entrée for the evening, though I bet it would have been nice with ham, chili, fried fish or meatloaf. Hawkins and I sat down to watch In Treatment as we stuffed our faces with plenty of comfort food. Despite a crummy weekend, and the revelation that this week I will be moving from my “early-thirties” to “mid-thirties,” the mac-and-cheese fulfilled its role admirably. Full of contentment, cheese and entertainment, a good time was had by all. Good eating.