January 28, 2009

101 ways to do Mac and cheese

Rich and creamy mac & cheese
Mac and Cheese- it would have to be one of the most talked about meals between kids on either sides of the world.  Alex was asked today by his dad what he thought would be his first meal at school. To this he said 'noodles.....NO wait, mac & cheese' and he just so happens to be right. I have a feeling he won't be getting the mac and cheese he is use to, though I can live in hope!
 What is it about Mac&cheese that sends kids to grin like monkeys when told it is the evening meal? Is is the creamy texture, the intense flavor of cheeses or the fact that it is comfort food?

 I was never brought up on mac&cheese, in fact I can't remember having it until we moved to the States over 6 years ago. Just like so many other parents all over the Western world, I have made my fair share of mac&cheese and will continue to do so seeing as it is so versatile, delicious and FAST! I have different stages of mac&cheese I make for us as a family.

1. Quick as you can- This is our favorite for the weekend lunch when we have been out all morning and are starving by the time we get home. 
While the water is boiling I grate 1 part aged cheddar cheese and 1 part parmesan. While the pasta is cooking, I chop up any herbs lying around like parsley and have it on the ready with the cheeses. Once the pasta is cooked I strain the water, add a dollop of butter to the cooked pasta along with a splash of cold milk then pour in the cheeses and herb. Give it all a good stir, check for seasoning then serve and watch it disappear.

2. Rich and creamy- This is one of my favorites. I will also add extra sauce to this and turn it into a mac and cheese bake if I need to make dinner a day ahead. 
While the water is coming to a boil, make a basic white sauce (you can find these in just about any cook book), I use regular milk no cream. I cook some fine diced onion and garlic in with the butter then continue to follow the recipe. Once the white sauce is made, remove it from the heat. When the water is boiling cook the pasta and chop up the veggies that you will add to the water 5 minutes before you strain the pasta. (Veggies I usually add are corn, carrot, beans, peas, grated zucchini and roasted squash. The squash and zucchini get added to the white sauce NOT the pasta water).
Now with the white sauce add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a good handful of grated cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, asaigo, tasty cheddar etc) a mixture or one kind, what ever you have available. Stir the sauce well to combine- while the sauce is warm add an egg yolk for the richness and a good source of iron. You can leave it as is and add your sauce to the strained pasta noodles or add a can of tuna/salmon to the dish and really turn it up a bit.

When I turn it into a bake I sometimes add a little extra cold milk to the dish, depending on how wet the mix is. I then butter a oven proof dish, pour in my mix, sprinkle the top with bread crumbs, extra cheese and pop it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes (if pasta is still warm) or 40 minutes if you are putting it in cold from the fridge.

3. Naughty but nice- With a name like that you know I go to town with the cream in this one! We don't often have it but when we do I go all the way and chop up bacon as well. Once the bacon has cooked I add crushed garlic (the kids don't mind if I only put in one clove) and cracked pepper, followed with a very good pour of thickened cream. Bring it to the boil then reduce heat until your sauce thickens a little. Remove from the heat, add your grated cheese and fold through pasta. Again I will toss beans or peas into the pasta water with this one, the color looks great and you need to have a bit of vegetable if it is a main meal. Once I have served the kids I tear up fresh basil leaves for Nic and I and sometimes chop up cherry tomatoes to fold through. A really yummy meal where nothing is ever left on the plate!

Although I have only stated three ways to cook mac and cheese, there are 100's of different flavour combinations you can use to change it around. So the next time Jake or Sienna ask for mac and cheese, why not show them another way to eat it.

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