Sunday, March 04, 2007

Home Made Mac & Cheese

Let's talk about macaroni and cheese. It's a North American staple, kids love it, college students live on it, you can get it on sale for 30 cents a box. To bad it's not food. At least, I don't consider anything that is neon orange and made from white flour real food. In the past few years some alternatives have graced the shelves of supermarkets, notably the Annie's home grown and Annie's organic brands. In my opinion these are definitely better, they have no preservatives or additives and the ingredients seem to be of better quality. The price however is a lot higher.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You can make your own mac and cheese in about the same amount of time as it takes to make the kind that comes in a box, and it tastes better.

Here's how.

In a medium sized saucepan bring water to a boil and add some salt. For exact proportions read the instructions on the package of whole wheat macaroni noodles you are about to add to the boiling water.

While the noodles are cooking shred some cheese with a grater. (If you want it to be even more convenient purchase cheese that is already shredded, or do a large amount yourself after getting home from the store for use at times such as these.) You will probably want at least half a cup. When the noodles are sufficiently cooked drain the water reserving about 2 tbsps of the salted water for the sauce. (You do this by not quite pouring all of it out when you drain it.) In the sauce pan combine the noodles, reserved water, cheese, 1 tbsp butter at least, and a splash or two of milk. Do this immediately while the noodles are still hot. Stir vigorously until all of the cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and creamy and serve immediately.

Some of the things I've learned over the years when doing this include: Whole wheat noodles have a stronger flavor and texture so it works best to use a stronger flavored cheese such as sharp cheddar, aged white cheddar, parmesan, and goat cheese(which doesn't need to be shredded). I highly recomend the Trader Joe's Quatro Formaggio blend of shredded cheese, it makes mac and cheese taste almost sophisticated, especially when paired with their olive and sundried tomato bruschetta. Also, if you don't mind dirtying more than one pot you can make a proper white sauce in the time it takes noodles to cook. It's basically exactly the same thing with flour added and more milk instead of water but some people prefer it.

Melt butter in a pan, with a whisk or fork stir in a few spoonfuls of flour until smooth. While still stirring slowly add milk/cream, a pinch of salt and finally stir in cheese. Pour over cooked noodles and serve. You can saute crushed garlic and ground pepper in the butter first for a tasty flavor addition and add whatever spices you want. This is the base of most cream soups, and most creamy pasta sauces. Don't you feel smart now? Especially since you know how much fat is in it now?

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