"No, it's cool, I don't need any Gladware. I just put the leftovers in my pockets."
Fair warning: So You Think You Can Dance? is on hiatus this week, and that combined with missing the Uncle Jerry Comes To Hollywood episode of "Rob and Big" has sapped what joy I have in my body, completely. So I'm kind of half-assing it, but wanted to put this recipe up, because I talk about it enough to make myself sick, and also because it was time to get something savory in your face.
When my family takes a trip to the lake, one of the things I look forward to most is the night I cook, with my mom. We usually choose "Enchilada Night", because every other night is "Grill Night", where cultural and culinary standards are thrown out the window, and my family of Nordic Vikings make hulking pans of flour tortilla wrapped chicken and ground beef enchiladas, only the chicken ones aren't even really food, I think, just sodium and guar gum. They're made with sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, green onions, olives, cheddar cheese, poached chicken and flour tortillas. The chicken, and maybe the flour tortillas, are what allow them to be classified as Enchiladas. I like to call them Casserole Burritos.
But so, after we make up pans of South Dakota's finest, and shove them into the oven you're not even sure is on because the house is so warm, and you're so warm, and everyone else is out on the porch drinking or lying on the couches, trying to get a fuzzy Colbert Report on, we round up anyone else who is game and run down for a pre-dinner swim. They're the best -- the light and water are both golden, the lake is calm and you can hear the slight breeze as it ushers in evening, just enough of a chill to make the water warmer than the air and goosebumps prickle up the back of your arms. And all that heat you picked up in the kitchen, the steam and sweat, the strange aroma of "meat" that clings to you, the greasy film from spattering oil, it is gone in an instant.
Yesterday, after I made a cake that ended up looking like I had been recruited as a plastic surgeon after two weeks as Dairy Queen Cashier, I made baked macaroni and cheese to bring to a BBQ at my Dad's. It was nearing 100 outside, by the minute, and I felt gross and the thin veneer of powdered sugar, the steam from boiling water that clung to my face, fingers sticky from picking over berries, still wearing my pajamas at two in the afternoon, the only thing that could fix all of that was a tepid shower. And it did. Later I changed into a pair of my favorite jeans, a blousy white kimono top and a vintage headscarf, big black sunglasses and worn out flats with stepped-on heels. We carried the food over, ate on the porch, and talked until the neighbors' illegal fireworks shushed us.
This macaroni and cheese is the one I've talked about before, one that comes close to what my Grandma would serve every holiday or family dinner. It is pretty non offensive, and it is yellow, and has nothing to do with gruyere or breadcrumbs. You can pump up the seasonings to taste -- I usually do. It's a dryer macaroni and cheese, the kind I'm used to eating in homes and restaurants in the neighborhood my Dad grew up in, so if you like a creamy, slippery sauced version, it might not fit the bill.
I need the dance, mother. I need the dance.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
1 16 oz box of Barilla Elbows
2 Tbs Butter
2 Tbs AP flour
2 cups whole milk, room temp
2 3/4 cups shredded Cheddar, divided (I suggest using Tillamook)
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2-3 teaspoons Frank's Red Hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Coleman's Mustard Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
Bring a large pot of salted water (I add a generous pinch, though some say that it should taste like seawater) to a rolling boil, and add the pasta. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until done to your liking -- I like a softer noodle for this dish, and only this dish, but nowhere near mushy, and further along than "al dente".
Drain the pasta well, and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter a large, ceramic, glass or Pyrex baking dish.
Over medium heat, melt the butter until liquid and foamy. Sprinkle with the flour, and stir with a whisk or wooden spoon until a loose, golden paste forms and bubbles. You want to do this for at least thirty to sixty seconds, until a slightly nutty aroma arrives, meaning you've "cooked" the flour. However, don't let it get too dark, or burn. You want it on the lighter side of tan.
Pour in the milk, and if you aren't already using one, switch to a whisk. Whisk out any lumps until the roux has incorporated with the milk completely. Now add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, Franks Red Hot and nutmeg, whisking until combined. Continue to stir gently over low heat until the sauce comes together, thickens, and coats the back of a spoon and doesn't bleed back together when you run a finger through it, around three or four minutes, depending on your stove. Remove from heat, and cool for thirty to forty seconds.
Now, add the Monterey Jack -- I learned this trick from Cooks Illustrated, and was enamored the first time I tried it -- the softer cheese keeps the sauce from "breaking" when baked, meaning that you have a smoother, creamier texture without being obscene about it. Not too much though, or you'll be kind of grossed out. Whisk until the Jack has completely melted into the sauce, and begin adding 2 cups of the Cheddar. Whisk until completely combined and smooth.
Return drained noodles to their empty, dry cooking pot (breaking up any clumps with your fingertips) and pour the sauce over them. Stirring gently with a wooden spoon, fold the two together, making sure the pasta is evenly coated.
Pour into your prepared vessel of choice, top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown along the edges. Remove and let stand for 2-3 minutes, and serve.