Happy All Saints Day! Celebrate with my pals Mac & Cheese.
In my house, November first is a day of atonement. After coping with four days of rapidly escalating, sugar-induced psychosis, my family expects something from me by way of recompense. Rightly so. And after mainlining Mars bars for a week, I must admit that it’s time to get back on the straight and narrow. Body chemistry is a mysterious thing, however, and it doesn’t always pay to swing too far too fast. In other words, avoid shocking your system with huge amounts of raw vegetables and mung beans and take a day or so to EASE back to more abstemious, healthier habits. It’s all about managing the transition, folks, and for that I rely on the old faithful – not the geyser, but macaroni and cheese.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of it all, let me offer a few crucial tips:
- Undercook the macaroni before baking or it will be too soft and mushy when you take it out of the oven. So for example, if the box calls for 10 minutes of boiling, only do 6 to 7 minutes. The mac should be less than al dente when you drain it.
- No orange cheddar cheese. Ever. For anything. The color comes from dye, and no cheese should ever be that color. Here’s the explanation if you’re interested.
- Extra sharp cheddar only. Anything less is bland, bland, bland. If you have little kids, get them used to food they can taste early and save yourself a mass of suffering and the horror of making two versions of every meal.
- Mix your cheeses. Be bold for lord’s sake. Now I love extra sharp cheddar and it is absolutely essential for delicious mac and cheese. But if you mix it with Gruyere, it is infinitely better. Say two parts cheddar to one part Gruyere. If you find the flavor overwhelming, mix sharp cheddar with Gruyere, but never, and I mean never, use American cheese or Velveeta, no matter what your Aunt Marge says or how much your kids cry.
- Stewed tomatoes or ratatouille are a must as sides. Green salad if you feel ambitious, or if you’ve had the kids’ Halloween candy for breakfast and lunch and need to feel better about yourself.
Now, there are two schools of thought on mac and cheese. Classic Mac and Cheese uses cheese sauce. It is creamy and delicious and can reasonably be expected to meet all expectations at all times. You’ve probably made it this way before. Just be sure to fully cook the roux and the white sauce before you add the cheese to avoid any flour-y taste.
The second approach, and the one I generally use, is far less labor intensive. I call it Grammie Sue’s custard method. It’s firmer than classic mac and cheese, easier to make and creates less mess, which is extremely important since donning the hair shirt means you do the cooking AND cleaning up, at least for a while.
Here’s what you do:
Easy Mac and Cheese
- Boil 8 ounces (2 cups of elbows) of macaroni, but not until completely cooked. Drain and set aside.
- Grate 8 ounces (2 cups) of cheese.
- Beat until blended: 3 eggs with 1 1/3 C of milk (at least 2%) or cream and a pinch of paprika.
- Layer macaroni in a buttered casserole dish (use butter not spray oil for this) and sprinkle each layer with grated cheese – 2 or three layers at most. End with cheese.
- Pour custard mixture over macaroni and cheese.
- Top with a mix of buttered bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese and a good grind of pepper.
- Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour. Let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes or so to set up before serving.