A dish best served warm. Macaroni and cheese is a wonderful snack, meal, or appetizer made of macaroni, cheese, and sometimes milk. Nearly any type of cheese may be used, though the most popular are Velveta cheese and Cheddar.

Not only can macaroni noodles be used, but other varieties of pasta that can be used with cheese can, too.

Handcrafted Midwinter Dairy Dairy Dairy Macaroni and Cheese

Bah! There was macaroni and cheese long before Kraft. This recipe will take a little more effort than the off-the-shelf Cheeto-dust method, but it's still simple and non-nutritious.

You will want:

  • A very hot surface and an oven. I think wood stoves are best, but that's probably superstition.
  • A dutch oven, or any other sort of cast-iron pot thick enough to distribute heat and safe to put in an oven (so no plastic handles). (You'll be wanting some pot-holders and a trivet when it's hot.)
  • A colander (not just to strain the macaroni, but to store some of it in for a moment — you could just use a second pot to cook it).
  • Enough elbow macaroni to fill the pot about three-quarters full when cooked.
  • A lump of cheddar cheese (I prefer mild) at least equal in volume to your fist, and a cheese-grater.
  • Enough milk (I prefer whole) to fill the pot one-fifth full — maybe a little more.
  • Pepper, salt, &c.

Heat the oven until it seems pretty hot. Self-respecting wood stoves don't have working thermometers (except lousy expansion-spring ones), but it's pretty hard to get wrong — you know, hot enough to cook the cheese but not hot enough to burn the cheese before cooking the inside.

Grate the cheese well; don't just dice it. Cook the macaroni al dente, strain it in the colander, and pour two fifths of it back into the pot. Add the milk (stirring it in a little so it gets inside the elbows) and two fifths of the cheese (perhaps stirring it in, but letting most of it rest on the surface). Cover that gummy stew with the remainder of the macaroni, and spread on the last of the cheese (no mixing this time). Sprinkle it with lots of pepper, salt, &c. Stick that on a rack in the oven, and take it out when the top cheese is a horrible, greasy, crunchy scab.

You should have at least three layers: the salty, peppery, &cy top; the extra-cheesy mildly-salty middle; and the angelically creamy bottom. When properly cooked, a hint of scalded (not burnt) milk lurks in the bottommost elbows, but most has evaporated to suffuse the whole mass with lactose magic. The middle is mostly pure noodle-matter, but imbued with the olfactory likeness of cheese and that lightness imparted only by steam. The crust is not half so subtle: it is an organic moon-face of molten cheese and hot salty pepper, a crisp-but-stringy half-living malicious vittle. All mixed up in a bucket, I suppose this savory layer-cake might somewhat recall Kraft's blaze orange floury noodle-slurry, but the resemblance might as well be coincidental. The charm of real macaroni and cheese over Kraft Dinner or ordinary noodles-with-cheddar is its heterogeneity: each part of the dish has its own flavor, texture, and temperature; it harmonizes rather than blends with itself.

My mom did most of the family's cooking. When she was out at dinnertime, Dad would make either rice or this with some Pogues or Crash Test Dummies cassettes up pretty loud. We three kids would sit around making slightly more sarcastic comments than usual, putting our feet on the table, and waging guerilla rubber band war. We'd read for a couple hours — rising only to flip the tape — before doing the dishes, and when Mom came in from the cold we'd act all innocent in the smell of hot pepper and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese is not only a food, but is also a color. It is one of those odd ball colors Crayola created as a marketing scheme. Macaroni and Cheese is really an orangish color. It can be found in the Crayola box of 128 crayons, and I'm told it is one of the kiddie crayons that Chili's gives to kids to keep them occupied, with the picture on the back of the kiddie's menu. But I don't know if this is the case at all of the restraunts in the Chili's chain.

An interesting conversation piece I've had a habit of using in the past is that when asked what your favorite color is, answer "Macaroni and Cheese, because it tastes best." I've had smiles or giggles nearly across the board.

For those who lack a dutch oven or cast-iron pot, here is how you make good old Mac&Cheese with flavor with basic cooking equipment. This is the recipe that my mother has been using for the past few years:


Ingredients:

= =

Melt butter in saucepan at medium heat to start, add flour and let cook 2 minutes. At the same time, bring a pot of water to boil to cook the elbow macaroni. Usually 5-7 minutes cook time on elbows. Slowly add milk to saucepan. Add mustard, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper to taste. Stir the sauce to keep things fairly homogeneous, the elbows probably need stirring too.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees now. Add the 8 ounces of cheese to the saucepan, diced is fine, increase the heat. If the elbows are done, drain water however you like. Once the cheese is all melted, add the macaroni elbows to saucepan. Pour concoction into an appropriately sized glass baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and place the dish into the preheated oven. Cook for 25 minutes. 12 minutes in, begin cooking your choice of green vegetable. Spinach and broccoli go well with the dish and disassociate you from George Bush Sr.. Makes ~ 4 servings. Finally, enjoy.

Nota Bene:

The mustard, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce are not necessary but give this rather typically bland Midwestern dish much needed flavor. The hot sauce doesn't burn the mouth but you can taste it easily, making the dish great, especially for serving company. Double the recipe for a large group. Halve the recipe for an intimate dinner. If you are in college and need not to eat bad food, this will be great for you.

Also, under no circumstances should you use margarine, it is yucky and contains all wrong kinds of transfats.

Macaroni Cheese In Ten Minutes

Utensils:

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Boil water in large saucepan, add salt and pour in pasta. Use one wooden spoon to stir the pasta. Let the pasta boil for ten minutes, or however long it says on the packet to boil for until cooked 'al dente', stirring occasionally if required.
  2. While pasta is boiling, add milk to cheese and leek soup mix in medium saucepan. Put onto high heat, and stir continuously. Within about 5 minutes, the mixture will turn a pink colour, this is normal.
  3. Bring mixture to boil, remove from heat and stir in grated cheeses. The sauce will thicken. Set aside to cool. Strain pasta after it is cooked. It is usually best if you mix the pasta into the sauce, but if you want to pour sauce over the pasta, that's fine too. In any case, decorate with herbs and serve.

If you want to cook the pasta and sauce separately, that usually means a longer wait until meal time, but it makes things less rushed. Also, if you pour your sauce over your pasta, use a lot, otherwise the pasta tastes very bland indeed. I also find that using chopped ham or bacon and corn makes for a nutritious and delicious meal. Not necessarily in that order.


Taken from Annette Sym's Symply Too Good To Be True 2 and given a couple of little twists and shakes.

Macaroni Cheese: culinary colossus or symbol of palate atrophy?



'You mean you've never had Mac'n'Cheese before?'
'Of course I've eaten macaroni cheese; it's just that it isn't such a bastion of British cookery as it would appear to be here.'
'Well, that's about to change. We're going to introduce you to American Mac'n'Cheese.'

fuzzy and blue and The Debutante, standing in the wertoon's kitchen



To the foreign eye it would appear that macaroni cheese forms a staple addition to the mealtime repertoire of most American parents. It's the sort of meal that can be produced with varying degrees of effort and economy, and rarely will it result in a turned-up nose, a sneer of derision, or a whine of: 'I don't want that!' Throw together a salad to serve alongside and you have a meal containing all the necessary food groups and should satisfy just about everyone. What's not to like? Granted, there is the issue of fat content, but quite frankly, if your children are half as active as I was — either on a bike, on a horse, or halfway up a tree — it's almost an irrelevancy.

I have to admit that I'm struggling to name a British equivalent to macaroni cheese. Perhaps it might be fish fingers, mash, and beans, but if you have any better suggestions, answers on a postcard, please.

Of course in today's time-poor society where it appears that we are suffering from a de-skilling epidemic evidenced by ready-to-toast baked beans on toast, shake-and-make pancakes, and fresh soup from cartons (tinned soup, although remaining an abomination, is a different beast), even macaroni cheese has been reduced to something that can be produced from a box. Kraft appears to have led the charge for sometime, but Annie's organic version is now gaining ground (a February 2007 straw poll suggests that as many as three in eight people have switched from Kraft to Annie's), and most supermarkets have their own version. But I'd not experienced any of these and fuzzy and blue decided that this had to change.

Well, it was about to change until we hit the Co-op and a reading of the ingredients list sported by Kraft's contribution to this great culinary tradition left me hyperventilating mid-aisle. There was nothing included in the contents that even remotely resembled cheese. By the time that I had hit the two variations of yellow food colouring I had been rendered pretty-much speechless. fuzzy and blue took the executive decision that we'd settle for Annie's and her own version: Kraft simply could not be inflicted upon me. At least the ingredients list of Annie's Macaroni Cheese did in fact resemble discernible products, even if the thought of desiccated cheese sauce leaves me shuddering.

Macaroni cheese is not exactly a summer dish: it's far too warming and filling. However, our determination to conduct a taste-test over-rode the fact that temperatures were hitting in excess of 100 degrees Farenheit (which is 37 degrees Celsius for anyone not in the USA) that day. We just sat down to eat at 10 pm. fuzzy and blue was in charge of preparation. Her version took longer to cook, but it had the advantage of not having to stand at the hob and stir. It required mixing all of the ingredients (1/2 lb macaroni, 1 lb strong cheddar, 1 pint whole milk, 1 cup cottage cheese, pinch cayenne pepper, 1 heaped teaspoon grain mustard) in a bowl, pouring into a buttered oven dish, and baking at 350 degrees Farenheit (180 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes. The most demanding aspect of the entire process was grating the cheese. You could of course delegate this task to your significant other, a small child mildly proficient with a grater, a readily available house elf, or, heaven forfend, pre-grated cheese. Ultimately, this recipe is not that hard. Neither was following the directions on the box of Annie's, but standing at the hob and stirring was less appealing.

But what of the results?

We started with Annie's version. My initial reaction was one of surprise that it wasn't overly salty, which is a perennial curse of ready-prepared food. The sauce had been enriched by the addition of some butter, but was marred by an unpleasant powdery or grainy texture that lingered on the tongue. After the first three mouthfuls my surprise at the lack of saltiness gave way to complete indifference: each mouthful tasted of nothing much at all. By the fifth or sixth mouthful I'd given up. The blandness was underwhelming to a point of being overwhelming. There was nothing exciting about it, no depth of flavour, nothing that challenged my palate. It was just a rather uninspiring source of energy for my body. Now I can understand how this might taste akin to manna from heaven when you're camping, or hill-walking, or hauling more than your bodyweight across the arctic tundra on a sled, but on an average day I'm sure that any of us could manage better. You don't need to be a Michelin-starred chef to produce macaroni cheese that excites the palate, that has a complexity of flavour and a slight variation in texture, that is satisfying in its richness. In short, if you follow fuzzy and blue's recipe you'll have a dish that you will want to continue eating because each mouthful gives you something to think about and something to enjoy. The mustard and the cayenne complement the cheese like horses go with carriages, whilst the cottage cheese helps to make a creamy sauce that won't sit like a ball of lead in the bottom of your stomach. Furthermore, the method of cooking ensures that the pasta isn't a soggy mass or the sauce is diluted by residual water. Okay, the homemade version takes longer to deliver to the table, but the majority of that time is passed by it actually cooking in the oven. There is nothing that requires your presence: you could take a shower, help with homework, maybe even hang out in the catbox.

The question is then: why are millions of boxes of almost-but-not-quite-ready-to-eat macaroni cheese sold each year, when an easily prepared homemade version tastes so much better? Well, I think it's down to perception. I had wanted to say that it was down to economy, to marketing, to convenience, but I'm not sure that they are factors on which the prevalence of pre-prepared foods can be pinned in their entirety. Moreover, it is perceived that semi-ready-made macaroni cheese is quicker, cheaper, and easier to produce than its homemade equivalent. And the marketing would have us think that it is just as good as anything that you can make yourself. Needless to say, I think those perceptions are wrong.

Oh sure, it takes fifteen minutes from ripping open the box to dolloping food on plates if you opt for the Kraft or Annie's option and it'll take nearer an hour if you make it yourself. However, that's not an hour of preparation; preparation is how long it takes you to grate 1lb of cheese, mix together the ingredients, pour into a dish, and throw in the oven. The cooking time is yours to do with as you please. If you're so pressed for time that supper needs to be on the table within twenty minutes, spaghetti carbonara takes about one and half minutes longer to make than your spaghetti takes to cook. I won't argue that at $0.89 a box of Kraft is cheaper than fuzzy and blue's alternative, and I spent enough years as a cash-strapped student to know that every penny is important, but how many people will that box feed? For how long will it sustain you? Make a homemade version and there'll be enough to feed six people and keep them satisfied until next meal time. As for the glow of satisfaction you'll experience having made it yourself: no comparison.

More than anything, though, I find it disturbing that we are prepared to accept such bland, uninspiring, unfulfilling food as acceptable fare at our tables, and that we'll feed it to our children. Somewhere along the line we became tolerant of sacrificing flavour and complexity at the altar of the idol of convenience and economy. It's not even that we're not teaching our children to enjoy a diversity of flavour, that cookery can be fun and rewarding, that satisfaction doesn't have to come from something supported by a multi-million pound or dollar advertising promotion; it's that we're actively promoting the atrophy of their palates by not encouraging them to try new things, that we're not providing them with the skills to actually care for themselves by setting an example, that we're not teaching them that sometimes money isn't everything: there really can be something better.

So, macaroni cheese: a culinary colossus or a symbol of palate atrophy? As far as I can tell it's open to interpretation. You could build a nation on it, if you wanted to. It is one of those dishes where you can introduce children to the kitchen, where they can become involved in food production, and experiment to accommodate what they do and do not like. Or you could teach them that food is synthetic and what we put into our bodies isn't actually of any consequence for us or for our environment. I know the path I'm walking.




Something for dessert:

Macaroni and cheese is a staple for starving college students - at less than a dollar per box, these cheesy noodles are a cheap way to get a meal in.  However, after a while, the taste can get more and more plain.  Here are a few ways to spice up that classic box of Mac n' Cheese.

-Add extra cheese - real cheese, not the cheese packets.  Keep a brick of cheap cheddar, mozzarella, or evenVelveeta in the fridge, and toss a few slices into the pot.  It makes it stickier and more cheesy.
-Toss a (drained) can of tuna into the pot once the noodles are good n' cheesy.  Stir well.  It might seem to be a bit too casserole-y, but it's a cheap and easy way to put some variety into it, and it's not bad to boot.
-Chop up a couple of hotdogs and toss them in, as well.  (Thanks for reminding me, Tem42!)
-Put some green beans in there.  Again, it seems to resemble a casserole, but it's pretty tasty and it's a good way to stick those veggies in there without having to taste them too much. (Tem42 recommends peas instead of beans.)
-Chili powder (or any other spicy spice, such as cayenne or strong paprika or cumin) will really kick up the flavor - but be careful not to use too much, or it'll overshadow the delicate flavor of the cheese.
-Similarly, experiment with just about everything in the cheap spice aisle at the local supermarket.  Oregano, basil, garlic powder, even lemon pepper will do.  It's all based on your personal taste.  The one thing I wouldn't recommend is blending in too many different spices at once - one should be enough, and three is pushing it.
-Replace the milk in the recipe with yogurt.  It makes it much creamier, and gives it different hints of flavor (depending on the yogurt).  I've actually dumped some fruit-flavored yogurt in there, and while it wasn't award-winning, it wasn't terrible.
-Combine with a slightly drained can of spaghetti-o's or other canned pasta.  Just make sure not to put too much of the juice in, otherwise it'll turn out very soggy.
-If you see a deal on some cheap noodles (bowtie and shell noodles work well), you can easily substitute those in the recipe.  It doesn't taste much different, but the textures are different, and if you combine this with any of the above methods, your taste buds will trick you into thinking it's actually quite different.  :D

Filoraene recommends:  "I usually make macaroni and cheese at home when I want a simple dish. I make it from macaroni, grated cheese, a small can of tomato puree (go for 6 cents here), half a choppen onion if I'm feeling adventurous, little pieces of bacon (about 70 cents a package). Add garlic, ground peppers or basil for taste.  The tomato makes it very healthy, the bacon makes it tasty."  I'll definitely try this one next time.  :)

Remember that these are all based on personal taste, so if it really sounds like you'd rather not try it, try something else new and differentHave fun!

(Edited 11-28-08 with some new suggestions!  Thanks guys!)

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