Security Blanket

Sometimes something terrible happens and, even when everything resolves itself miraculously well, you can see cracks forming in an edifice you had previously held to be unshakable, unchangeable, permanent. Whether you have any warning or not, this kind of occurrence has the power to shake even the most staunchly positive Pollyanna of us all to the core.

When these things happen, as they have of late, what do I do? First, I keep a stiff upper lip. Second, I have a private and generally very dramatic meltdown. Third, I pull it together and cleave to something comfortable, reliable, something that is always the same as it always was and something that will, for all eternity, remain comforting, reliable, warm.

Obviously, I'm a stress eater. After all, what besides food (provided you have a reliable ingredients and a good relationship with the particular stove and oven at your disposal) is so reliable and comforting? When under normal stress, things like cake, Cheez-its, chocolate, and cream cheese do me just fine. On the other hand, when things get really out of hand, I need something a little more serious to prop me up. Most recently I turned to Mac and Cheese.

If you're running off to the cupboard to zap some Easy Mac, HALT. Go no further! A far superior Mac and Cheese awaits you. And if, like me, you find yourself soothed by procedure, routine, and production, then this, friends, is the Mac and Cheese for you. There is no microwave involved. No vaguely-cheesy orange powder. No tablespoon of butter and half cup of milk. This is a much more involved Mac and Cheese but let me assure you: as with so many things, what you get out of this Mac and Cheese is directly proportional to what you put into it. If you're lucky, it may even give you back more than you bargained for.

Luckily, my recipe-source (and inadvertent source of this month's stress) had recovered fully enough to dictate this recipe and help cook it by the time I was up to needing some emotional sustenance. I can't take credit for this recipe. As ever, all credit to my mom.

Reliable Comfort Food
  • 1 box macaroni noodles (I used Barilla Elbows)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • nutmeg to taste (ca. 1/2 t)
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1/2 lb White American Cheese
  • 1/2 lb Monterey Jack Cheese
  • 1/2 lb Cheddar Cheese (medium sharp)
  1. Pre-heat oven to about 400.
  2. Cook pasta in generously salted water for approximately 3/4 of the suggested time. Drain and set aside.
  3. Shred American, Monterey Jack, and Cheddar Cheeses on the largest holes on a box grater. Set aside
  4. Make a roux: Melt the stick of butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add milk and cook over medium-low heat until sauce bubbles, thickens, and just begins to brown. Add dry mustard and nutmeg.
  5. Add cheese and stir until melted and smooth.
  6. Add pasta to cheese sauce and stir until well coated.
  7. Pour pasta and sauce into a (large) oven-safe dish- in my case this was a 9"x13" stoneware baking dish AND a 9"x9" brownie dish.
  8. Bake at 400 until it begins to brown on top. If you're lucky, your oven will brown it more or less evenly. If you're me, your oven will beautifully brown one side and leave the other more or less raw. It tastes fine either way.
We all ate this as a "side dish" to accompany a sesame-ginger marinated pork tenderloin, alongside some delicious lima beans, (see image above) but we all knew that the Mac was the main attraction. It's okay to exercise a little denial when it comes to this dish. We all know that you just want to eat carbs saturated with cheesy fat. And sometimes there's just nothing at all wrong with that.In other news, look what my orchid has been doing! He's (I'm firmly of the opinion that anything named after testicles should be called he, though perhaps orchids could be the drag queens of the plant world - hence my deep and abiding love of them) certainly been up to the task of brightening up the house the last couple weeks! I like how that last little bloom is cocking its head at the camera and being so coy to open up. What a tight little ball of joy.


Liz said...

That last sentence is brilliant. *snicker*

I admire your strength, Em. It was so good to talk to you today.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the testicle part comes from the genus name "Orchis", which is a genus in the larger plant family Orchidaceae (which is the largest family of plants on Earth, btw). The name was given in reference to underground tubers, and this genus of plants actually looks nothing like what is commonly referred to as an orchid.

What you have there is an orchid of the Phalaenopsis genus, which means "moth-like", hence the reference to moth orchids.

*Orchid Grower*

booksandcoffee said...

Oh, I want to try that recipe! What is White American Cheese like, so I can find a substitute?

And: Is that the orchid you brought back from Smith this spring? Wow!

EEJ said...

Liz: Thanks! So SO good to talk to you too. Can't wait to see you soon.

Anonymous: Thanks for the info about orchids! I'm very much a beginner in the orchid world, but so very intrigued by it. I always thought the testicle connection was just because they're so sexy... ;-)

W: On the subject of American cheese: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_cheese
Substitute suggestions: I'd recommend colby if you can find it or a really good MILD provolone. Or just more cheddar. The idea is to not use a stinky cheese (I know how you love those) or one with toooo strong a flavor. Maybe fontina or un-smoked gouda would be a good sub?

Liz said...

R.E. The use of American cheese in this recipe. I have a recipe for mac & cheese, from a test-kitchen type of cookbook called "The Perfect Recipe." The author says that after extensive tests, they found that using American cheese (or other highly processed cheese) yields a creamier, smoother mac & cheese, because the protein bonds have been broken down by the processing, so they are smoother when they melt. So it's the use of some processed cheese in your mix that is key.