This is about macaroni and cheese. Eventually.
I’m remembering a hot day in early September. Dinner was take-out from a barbecue place. I had made refrigerator pickles for the first time recently, so I got out a jar and placed it in the middle of the table. Pickles go with lots of different foods, not just burgers.
Last born was joining us for the meal and eyed the jar dubiously. “That looks like a science project,” she said. No, I said, those are fresh pickles made with Kirby cucumbers from a local farmer. It was my first foray into vegetable preservation; I even bought a pickle press.
Last born considered the dilly contents studded with mustard seeds, slices of Fresno chile pepper, and red onion. Then she clarified. “Actually, that looks more like a jar of stuff you’d see on a CSI show, like something you’d find in a coroner’s office.”
… Let us pause for a moment to honor the patience of food-loving cooks who dine with perpetually picky eaters.
And breathe …
Breathe some more …
Would you like one, I said brightly, stabbing a slim pickle maybe just a little violently and holding it aloft. She accepted the offering and bit down delicately. I’ve seen the expression that followed before, when our shepherd-mix dog tasted pineapple for the first and last time. Kita let the fruit spear roll right off her tongue and onto the floor without once closing her mouth. I suspected my last born was thinking of doing the same with the pickle, but she can’t get away with it like Kita can.
So now is a good time to post the macaroni and cheese recipe that everybody likes. It’s adapted from Naomi’s Home Companion, by Naomi Judd (© 1997 by Naomi Judd, Inc.). I’ve served this with burgers and sloppy joes, double-tripled the recipe to feed 24 at a time, and always gotten compliments. What I don’t do, however, is keep any leftovers. Microwaved day-old mac ‘n cheese is pasty, awful stuff.
Macaroni and Cheese
8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup Wondra flour (a quick-mixing all-purpose flour that usually comes in a canister)
2 cups whole milk
6 ounces Velveeta processed cheese product, cut into cubes, plus some extra for topping
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Empty cooked pasta into a colander and drain thoroughly. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a small pot on the stove or in a microwave-safe container, just until steaming hot. (Don’t let it boil.) Melt the butter over low heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Whisk in the Wondra flour to make a paste. Slowly pour in the hot milk while whisking simultaneously, increasing heat to medium. Break up any lumps of flour with the whisk, and keep stirring and whisking until the sauce is smooth and thickened, and you’re sure your arm will fall off. Season with a little salt. Congratulations! You’ve just made a béchamel sauce, one of the mother sauces in French cuisine. Now let’s de-Frenchify it with some Velveeta!
Drop the cubes of Velveeta into the sauce, and stir until all is melty and unctuous. Taste; add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the cooked macaroni and mix thoroughly.
Spray a shallow, 2-quart baking dish with non-stick spray; scrape in the macaroni and sauce. Bake at 350°F. until bubbly and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Add extra Velveeta to top during the last 5 minutes of baking. (Velveeta is very hard to shred. Either slice thinly or cut into small pieces for the topping.)
Let stand 10 minutes to firm up a little before serving.