Monday, April 11, 2011

A Cure for the Blues

A goal our family has had over the past years, has been trying to cut out most processed food  and stick with real, whole, fresh, food. This has been fairly successful, although we still have a few old favorites hanging around. The husband loves his Mt. Dew and Cheetos, after all.

Through this process, I have become an ardent label reader. It's tricky business, trying to keep track of what is in those boxes and packages that line the grocery aisle shelves.  Soooo, I've been preaching the gospel of label-reading to my off-spring, because, you know - if there's anything they love and cherish, it is a sermon from mom.  Full of deep wisdom and all that.  "Look at these ingredients, kids! Do you really want to put something takes 23 letters to spell into your body?" In spite of the dramatic sighs and eye rolling, the kids have gotten on the label-reading bandwagon You'd think this is good, right? And it is - usually.  But  of all the things one could choose to read the labels on, my kids had to go and read the labels on Kraft Mac and Cheese.  Childhood classic here.  Dearly loved by kids for it's brilliant orange color and "yummy" taste.  Dearly loved by mom, because when all else fails, there's sure to be a blue box of mac and cheese tucked into the pantry.   Quick and easy, 15 minutes later - lunch is on the table.  Except not any more.  Because of things like powdered cheese and sodium tripolyphosphate, my kids refuse to touch it.  Sigh.  So we have adapted Martha Stewart's version of mac and cheese. To my relief, this takes a couple minutes longer then the out-of-the-box kind, but not by much.  It is so easy to throw together, that my 10 year old daughter makes it on a regular basis. Best of all, the blue box is gone from this house.  We have been cured.

Adapted Martha Stewart’s  Mac-and-Cheese
For the record - this makes a much larger portion then the boxed kind.  The great thing about this is, if you make it one day for lunch, you can reheat and eat for several more days.  Not interested in a mac and cheese-a-thon?  This recipe is easily halved. I like to serve this with a green vegetable and maybe a salad, to round out all the dairy.  Or turn it into a main dish by adding diced ham and peas.  Or crumbled bacon.  The possibilities are endless.

Martha's original version calls for pricey cheese like sharp, white, english cheddar, cave-aged Gruyere and fresh Pecarino Romano.  While those are truly delicious  cheeses that make a wonderful dish, regular extra sharp cheddar and swiss work fine.  I have made this with many combinations of cheese and not been disappointed.  Whatever is hanging around your fridge will be great.

1 pound elbow macaroni
6 tablespoons butter
5 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry mustard or a good squirt of prepared mustard
3 cups  grated  extra sharp cheddar cheese ( have extra 1 1/2 cup for optional finish)
1 1/2 cups  grated Gruyère or swiss, or more cheddar or whatever cheese you have( extra 1/2 cup optional)

Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Add macaroni, stir well to keep from sticking, bring to reboil.  Cook for 1-2 minute less then package directions

While the macaroni is cooking, make your cheese sauce. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Or, easier, put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Melt the  6 tablespoons of butter in large saucepan or skillet. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove the pan from the heat. There. You just made a simple white sauce - or bechamel.  Easy!  Now, stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère(or whatever cheese you are using).  Stir until cheese is melted.  Taste the yumminess you just made.  Set aside.

Drain cooked macaroni.  Stir into sauce.   It will look like way too much sauce at this point.  Stir together well.  Let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

OPTIONAL FINISH : If you would like to fancy this up a bit, pour the mixture into a buttered 9x13 dish. Sprinkle 2 cups of cheese over all.  Take 6 slices of white bread, crusts removed and tear or cut them into little bits.  Toss with 2 tablespoons of melted butter and spread over top. Bake at 375 or until golden brown. This freezes beautifully.


  1. Sounds yummy. It's 4:15 a.m. but I'm about to get up and try this. ;-)

  2. How much pasta do you use? :)

  3. Sounds like an excellent substitute to the fake junk. :) Thanks!