I know we are all supposed to be dieting and starting the New Year just right with resolutions on health and harmony. But this week, my social media has been filled with people saying they are sick, feeling poorly or just plain depressed.
Add a little rain and a train of bad news from the stock market to government shutdowns and it’s no wonder that people are in need of a little comfort. In the name of all that is good in a kitchen, let’s cut each other a bit of slack and indulge in a little comfort food.
Start out, for example, with the classic American comfort food—macaroni and cheese.
Even if you grew up in a “blue box” family, I bet you can recall your first homemade macaroni and cheese with gooey melting cheddar, a bit of crumb on top and noodles cooked just right. I bet your heart was warmed as well as your tummy.
Now, think about how much a plate like that might mean to your loved ones in the depths of this rainy, dismal winter. Macaroni and cheese is easy to make easy on the wallet and easy to share.
Call your family and friends back to the dinner table with a warm plate of homemade macaroni and cheese. They will be the better for it.
The best macaroni and cheese doesn’t have to take long to make.
Make the sauce as you wait for the pasta water to boil and the pasta to cook. Make a simple white sauce with butter, flour, onions and milk. Add spices, shredded cheddar (or other sharp cheese if you want to change things up) and grated Parmesan cheeses.
This will give you a basis for the best homemade mac and cheese possible. Now you can add other things your friends and family love, like ham or cooked chicken, crispy cooked bacon or sautéed mushrooms. Mix the pasta and the sauce together, then top with your favorite topping crumbs—or maybe just some of those crispy onion straws.
Now you are ready to relax, let the oven finish the work and enjoy. I usually bake my macaroni and cheese in the same skillet I used to make the sauce—it saves time and insures every drop of gooey goodness melts into the macaroni.
Here’s my basic recipe:
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons minced onion (or add 2 tbs. minced dehydrated onions to the sauce once it is made)
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of white pepper—(you can use black, if you don’t mind the color.)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese or other cheese of your choice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 to 5 cups cooked elbow macaroni, or short pasta shapes, drained well.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. butter, softened
Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet and add the onions. Cook the onions until they are soft and then stir in the flour. Cook until its golden brown. Gradually add the cream and milk, whisking to incorporate. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and comes close to a boil. Stir in the salt, pepper and paprika. Add the cheeses and stir gently until they melt into the sauce. Add any other treats you like—ham, cooked bacon, sautéed mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes all make interesting additions. Stir the pasta into the sauce. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and dot with the softened butter. Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes, or until hot and golden on top.