Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

kraft_macaroni__cheese_2011I grew up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The blue box with the skinny little noodles that Mom combined with a 1/4 cup of “Oleo” as she called margarine (she NEVER used butter) and 1/4 cup of low-fat milk was a crowd pleaser to my sister, brother and I.  Later she would splurge on the more expensive box of “Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese” with it’s tiny can of cheese sauce in it, but, to my taste, you still can’t beat the skinny blue box.

Thankfully, as I grew so too did my palate.  I rarely pass up a macaroni and cheese on any menu and have developed a couple of favorite styles:  Lobster macaroni and cheese, if it has large claw chunks (and not just minced remnants), is my favorite, followed by a good white cheddar shells and cheese prepared with a hint of truffle oil and just a few exotic mushrooms.

spicyspiralmacncheeseWhen I’m cooking Macaroni and Cheese, I like it to have enough flavor, that if I served nothing else beside it, except maybe a tossed green salad, it could stand alone as a “Meatless Monday” main dish.  You won’t need a fire extinguisher nearby for this spirited macaroni and cheese, but you certainly won’t fall asleep while you’re eating it either.

Lisa’s Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

  • 1 – 16oz Box Cellentani Pasta (I use Barilla)
  • 8 TBLS Butter / Divided
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 3 1/4 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 3/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp White Pepper
  • 3 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Pepper Sauce (I prefer Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 1/2 Cups + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • 2 + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2/3 Cup Panko

Before you start, I have a couple of tips.

  1. If you can’t find shredded Pepper Jack or Sharp Cheddar you can always use the packaged slices and tear them up.  Generally the 8 ounce package should equal about 1 1/2 Cups.  Use your own judgement.  I usually err on the side of too much cheese in that type of situation and gauge it based upon the thickness of my sauce.  You can always thin (God Forbid) a bit with milk if you think it’s too thick.
  2. You can use any macaroni type noodle you prefer (elbow, shell, spiral) but I prefer the Cellentani because it combines the features of a slightly larger elbow with a spiral and then throws in some textured grooves so you get as much of the sauce grabbing to it as possible in each bite.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Prepare 2 – 13 x 9 Pyrex baking dishes (I use the deepest ones I have), or 1 deep dish throw away baking pan, by buttering the sides and bottoms – then set aside while you prepare the ingredients.
  • In a large stock pot, boil your pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and pour into largest mixing bowl you have.  Set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan over medium heat melt 4 TBLS butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook about a minute while constantly whisking then begin stirring in the milk about a 1/2 cup at a time until it’s well combined.
  • Stir in the spices and 1/4 Cup of the hot sauce.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cheeses (not the cheese reserved for the top) until melted and smooth.
  • In a small pan melt the remaining 4 TBLS butter and stir in the bread crumbs.
  • Combine the remaining cheeses together.
  • Pour the sauce over the macaroni and, using a large rubber spatula, stir until all of the pasta is well coated.
  • Divide the pasta between the 2 prepared pans
  • Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining cheese mixture over the top of each and put the pans, uncovered into the oven.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and beginning to brown on top.
  • Slide the baking dishes out of the oven and set the oven temperature to broil
  •  Divide the panko mixture between the two pans and return to the oven
  • Watch the pans carefully and remove from the oven as soon as your crumbs begin browning.

Make sure you’ve got a bottle of hot sauce out for anyone who wants to spice it up even more!  Serve your macaroni and cheese with a salad as a dinner on it’s own, alongside burgers, steaks, or inside a great steak/brisket/tri-tip sandwich!

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

 

Just Like My Mom Used to Make

macaroniandcheesI’ve been feeling very under the weather for nearly a week and haven’t felt much like eating, let alone cooking.

As we all can probably agree, aside from ice cream, hot tea, and warm chocolate chip cookies (made by someone else of course – I’m sick!), nothing makes a person feel better faster than comfort food like Mom used to make.  Now if my Mom were only here to make it for me…

Some of my favorite comfort foods are:

  • Macaroni and Cheese – My Mom wasn’t particularly talented in the kitchen, but she could make a mean box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  Once they came out with the “Kraft Deluxe” with the (then) tiny cans of premade cheese sauce in them, she didn’t even have to add the milk and butter.  Her idea of perfection!  I shared her love of the Kraft Deluxe until about 5 years ago when the sauce (now in a foil pouch) got a little thinner and tasted less “cheesy.”  When I don’t take the time to make my own homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch, I have gone back to stocking the cupboard with the old school, original Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box with the powdered cheese.
  • Tuna Sandwich on White Bread – My Grandpa Bob set the standard for tuna preparation in our family.  He would buy tuna in oil (likely a lot of the reason he had quadruple bypass surgery in his 50’s), drain it and mix it together with meticulously chopped onions, a ton of mayonnaise (which has never been my favorite, in fact I rarely use it), and he’d pile it on plain white bread (something most people, myself included, rarely eat anymore), slice it in half, and make as many as would fit in his tan and red plaid “picnic” bag with a plastic sandwich box and thermos of “adult” refreshments.  If he was making sandwiches for us kids to eat on the beach at Lake Gregory in Crestline he would leave the onions out and there would be a thermos of lemonade for us to drink.
  • Grilled Cheese on Sourdough and Tomato Soup:  Down and dirty made with 2 pieces of heavily buttered (none of that icky margarine spread for this girl!) thick cut sourdough bread and at least 3 pieces of Kraft Singles American Cheese (no other brand makes it into my shopping cart).  Fried until brown and crispy and served along side a bowl of Campbell’s Tomato Soup made with milk (never water) and with a pat of butter floating on top.  Add a bowl of buttered popcorn to this and I’m pretty darn good.
  • Mashed Potatoes – Reminder, my Mom didn’t cook much from scratch, so it should be no big surprise that I grew up on Hungry Jack potatoes from the box if we were eating mashed potatoes at home.  My grandma, however, made the creamy, buttery mashed russet potatoes I dream about when I am too sick to keep much down and just want to feel better.  Nothing beats a few peeled, boiled potatoes mashed (with chunks – I love the chunks)  with a ton of butter and milk.  I prefer to make them like my Grandma Skip did, but I use half & half or even whipping cream if I have it on hand.

While these are my quick-fix, “Go-To” comfort foods, if my Mom was still here she’d tell me to make some of my favorite of all: Her, “Guaranteed to make me feel better, tuna noodle casserole.”

When I mention how much I love tuna noodle casserole to most people, their faces screw up and usually I get a negative reaction. Their Moms’ versions of tuna noodle casserole must have had some icky ingredients like cornflakes, ritz crackers, bread crumbs and even peas.  They may think it’s gross, but my Mom’s stripped down, no-frills version is the best I’ve ever eaten.

tunanoodlecasseroleMy Mom’s, Guaranteed to Make Me Feel Better, Tuna Noodle Casserole

Boil, noodles according to package instructions, and drain in a colander.  I prefer American Beauty noodles because they seem to stand up to the sauce without going limp if any remains to re-heat the next day.  Also, because their tuna is guaranteed Dolphin safe, wild caught, gluten free and readily available, I prefer Chicken of the Sea Chunk Light Tuna.

Open and drain the tuna in a colander.  Empty the Cream of Celery soup into a large saucepan.  Fill the empty soup can first with milk then with mayonnaise, adding both to the pan with the soup.  Add the drained tuna, salt and pepper to taste, and stir over low heat until hot but not boiling.

Empty the noodles into a large mixing bowl or the same pan you cooked them in and pour the hot sauce over the noodles, making sure to use a rubber spatula to get all of the sauce out of the pan.  Use the same spatula to combine the noodles and sauce until well mixed.  You can serve it immediately, but I find that if you let it cool slightly the sauce thickens up.

My husband thinks I am gross, but, if there is any casserole left in the refrigerator the next day, I have been known to eat it cold.  It’s like a tuna sandwich on noodles if you think about it, which qualifies twice on my list of comfort foods. 🙂

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood