Whenever we have visitors in I try to plan meals that are a) simple, because I don’t want to be in the kitchen the whole time, and b) inexpensive, because food here is already pricey enough. I find I resort to pasta based meals at least twice a week just because pasta is cheap, and well, easy. Hee hee hee.
One of our favorites, and something I usually whip up for lunch, is homemade mac and cheese. I worked at it for a while, taking ideas from a few different sources and now feel like I’ve got the perfect combo. Funnily enough, the icing on the cake inspiration came when we were dining with Haitian friends, and eating mac and cheese that their Haitian cook had made. i realized that Chris and I had each taken several helpings and figured out what the draw was.
Whenever I make this there is nothing left, unless I’ve done that thing where I intentionally make more for leftovers. When we have guests in this is one thing that they tend to rave about, which always makes me smile because it’s such a basic meal. I actually made this two weeks ago and Olivia had three helpings. I also like it because it really doesn’t use a ton of cheese, but it has great flavor. If you want to get all healthy you can serve it with salad or some kind of cut veggies.
LESLIE’S EMPTY POT MAC AND CHEESE
Serves 4 adults and a very hungry toddler.
This is one of those recipes where I use “about” a lot…
2-3 c. noodles, your choice (noodles with holes hold more sauce…)
2-3 tbsp. butter or margarine
2-3 tbsp. flour
2-3 c. milk (maybe more if you want it really saucy)
3-6 cloves of crushed garlic (yes, I’m serious)
1 c. grated cheddar (we like sharp – more flavor)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese (we only have the stuff in the shaker and it works great)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil enough water for your desired noodle amount. I always like to throw about a teaspoon of salt in the water. It sounds like a lot, but it gives your noodles a much better flavor. When water reaches a full boil throw in your noodles and give them a stir. Let them cook while you start on the cheese sauce.
2. In a smaller sauce pan melt the butter or margarine on med-low heat. You don’t want to fry it. When it’s all melted and bubbling add your flour and whisk to make a nice roux. A roux is the paste that’s made with melted butter and flour and the whole process used to scare me until I realized that it’s not hard and hard to really screw up – the key is making sure your pot isn’t too hot. Once you have a nice roux/paste, just whisk it around the pot for a minute or so.
3. Next, you want to start adding your milk, but only a little at a time. Start with about a quarter of a cup and whisk. It’ll make a less dense paste. And again. Even more of a less dense paste. Keep doing that until you get a liquid mixture. You’ll probably still have a bunch of milk left. Now you can dump it all in. Whisk it all together and let it heat up. You may want to turn the heat down a little so you don’t scorch your milk.
4. This is the secret ingredient that will have your peeps licking the pot – the GARLIC. So simple, but it makes all the difference. And the key is to not skimp on it. Whatever your good common sense tells you is enough, add one more clove. Seriously. You won’t be sorry. I usually use at least 5 cloves. You want to add the garlic as your milk is warming up. The flavors will blend together nicely as the milk simmers.
5. Once your milk starts to bubble around the edges (you might need to adjust your heat) you can start adding your cheese. Don’t worry if the sauce hasn’t started thickening yet, the cheese helps this. Throw your cheddar in, and add more if you want, it’s really a personal taste thing. Mix it in until the cheddar is melted. Now it’s time for the parmesan. Same thing, add more if you want. Mix that in until it’s well blended and starting to melt down. You should have a thickening pot of cheesy garlicky goodness. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once your sauce has reached a good consistency (not super thick, but not runny) you can turn the pot off and just let it sit. It’ll still thicken a bit more as it rests.
6. Once your noodles are done drain them and put them back in the pot. Pour the cheese sauce over top and mix well. You want to really coat all your noodles. Then, let the pot sit for about 5 minutes. This will bring things down to the temp where you don’t have to blow on every bite, and will also help thicken things up a bit. Another alternative is to put it all in a dutch oven and put a cracker crumb or grated cheddar topping on it and bake for about 10-15 minutes. If you bake it, I would make more sauce because some of the liquid will get absorbed into the noodles and we all know the best kind of mac and cheese is the gooey kind.