My Version of Comfort Food — Quick Macaroni and Cheese Feeds the Soul

What is it about macaroni and cheese that makes us so happy? It’s the ultimate comfort food that we all seem to love, but why? Is it all that flavor and soft, gooey goodness? Is it that it’s easy on the eye, the simplest of foods, or that it satisfies us in a way that no other meal does?

I’ve found that serving it at a holiday meal generates all kinds of positive comments. It’s always the first dish to get gobbled up. After years of having this one not eat ham and that one not eat lamb, it’s become the go-to dish for the whole family. It doesn’t matter what I serve any more, because all folks really care about is the macaroni and cheese.

But it’s also often a dish that fussy, fidgety eaters will indulge in even as they reject that shrimp dish I slaved over in the hot kitchen. It entices us, beckons us, seduces us. It is a sensual food, tongue-pleasing and self-indulgent. Macaroni and cheese offers no resistance to our teeth. It doesn’t fight back or leave us struggling to chew. It goes down smooth. It slides into our tummies like a big, warm, fuzzy hug.

The reason I love it most? I can make it in my sleep. I’ve got it down to a science of sorts. I picked up a few tricks on cooking shows. Bobby Flay taught me to heat my milk for my Béchamel sauce. Mary Ann Esposito taught me to boil my pasta water, take it off the heat, and stir in the macaroni — no need to worry about boil-overs, because the pasta cooks on its own. I don’t even bother with following a recipe anymore. I just throw everything together.

So, what do I do with the time I don’t waste fussing on dinner? I work longer. On nice days, I get outside, whether it’s a walk around the block or a hike up a mountain. This weekend, I made my mac and cheese before I took the little pocket pooch for his second official hike. Adopted last year, Dino had little experience for long walks, so I had to condition him. We started last year with twenty-minute walks in the woods, so he could work his way up to the real deal.

I’ve worked over the last few months to get him used to hopping over logs, tree roots, and the like, even as I increased the length of our walks. My last pocket pooch was a natural in the woods. She adored scrambling up the mountain. A nervous, high-strung little Yorkie, Sweetie had a tough time in the real world, but felt right at home in the middle of the woods. People used to marvel at the fact that she made it to the summit on her own power.

Will Dino be as agile and adept? It’s hard to say at this point. He’s certainly off to a good start. We hiked the base of the mountain for about an hour, and he thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. On the way home, he napped in his car seat. I was only sorry that I don’t know the doggie equivalent of mac and cheese, because I would have whipped him up a dish of it.

Here’s my recipe for 4 servings:

8 ounces of your favorite pasta (I like macaroni or ziti, to absorb all that lovely cheese sauce) cooked al dente

1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 flour
2 cups hot milk
8 ounces shredded cheddar
1/4 cup good grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

Nuke the two cups of milk in the microwave while you cook the butter/margarine and flour over medium heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Pour in the hot milk and whisk to break up any clumps. When the sauce is thick and smooth, add the cheddar, Parmesan, mustard, nutmeg, Adobo, garlic powder, and onion powder, stirring until the cheeses are melted. Pour over the cooked macaroni.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you like a crumb topping, melt 1/4 cup of butter or margarine in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds, and stir in about one cup of seasoned bread crumbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until heated through. If you’re in a rush, you can nuke it for 5-6 minutes, and then finish baking it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. As Julia Child would say, “Bon appétit!”

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