Thursday, May 21, 2015

Honey, I'm Home!

Can I sneak back into your reading space without you having noticed that I've been gone? Part of me hopes not, that you've been wondering where I went, checking back in now and then to see what's new at Blue Plate Sundays.

I've been stuck under some rocks, really.

But I'm back, and as a peace offering, I'm bringing you the recipe for my almost-famous macaroni and cheese, the one I promised you in my last post. I'm also going to leave you with the name of a good book, the first of many I hope to share with you this summer.

It's best to be first in line since there's never any left!

This macaroni and cheese dish is a riff on my father's version. You might remember him as an old Navy cook, who once tried to hide left over baked beans in spaghetti sauce. I have always hated baked beans, but I loved his original spaghetti sauce. My sister still makes that sauce, right down to the last Howard detail. When I was little, I refused to eat his homemade mac and cheese, asking instead for the powdery orange Kraft version, just as my kids did when I'd put my casserole on the table. Hey, Dad, it all comes back around, you know?

Now, my children ask for the revved up Howard mac and cheese. After their early rejections, I gave up and stuck to the Kraft route. But one day, I made the scratch version for a party, thinking something dripping with gooey cheese and sticky enough might attract the younger set. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, me wanting the comfort of those old Howard dishes? The kids loved it, but they had to fight for their spoonsful. The adults lined up in front of that dish, scooping mounds of creamy cheese pasta onto their plates. Did they all reject their fathers' mac and cheese, but wish they hadn't?

You may not, in fact, need to read this recipe because since Howard's Revved Up Mac and Cheese made its reappearance, I've written it down, emailed it, and texted it so many times that everyone in the world surely must have a copy.

Just in case you were buried under some rocks when the recipe hit the world, here it is again. Keep it mind now that it's all about the cheese. Don't skimp, even though you won't believe that you should add as much as my recipe instructs. Oh, and don't make this dish when you are starting a cleanse!
Howard's Revved Up Mac and Cheese

1- pound elbow, cooked al dente in well-salted water (I really love the extra bend and curve of the cavatappi pasta)
1- box of Velveeta cheese, cubed
4- 8-oz portions of different shredded cheeses (for example: cheddar, Colby Jack, mozzarella, fontina--but you can choose any of your favorites)
Grated parmesan/Romano cheese for sprinkling
4 cups of white sauce (I have a secret method...I'll share it with you.)

Coat a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Put half of the cooked macaroni into the pan, and cover with 1/2 of the cheese. Salt and pepper. Sprinkle a light layer of the grated parmesan/Romano cheese across the surface. Top with the remaining pasta and cheese, salt and pepper, and grated parmesan/Romano cheese. Pour the white sauce over the top (do this SLOWLY, using a knife to make room for the sauce to slide down into the pasta and cheese mixture). Cover with foil and back for 30 minutes at 375. Remove the foil, and bake for another 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Some people have been known to fight for the crusty edges, so be prepared.

And now, the white sauce. Although I spent many hours watching Julia Child whisk flour, butter, and milk into the smoothest of concoctions on her Garland burners, I have struggled for years to make a smooth b├ęchamel sauce. One day, in a real hurry, I decided to try making it in the microwave, and I've never gone back to the classic stove top method.

To make four cups of Jill's secret b├ęchamel:
In a large Pyrex/microwave-safe bowl, combine 4 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons flour. Cook for 1 minute. Stir, and add 4 cups of milk. Cook for another 2 minutes, and then stir. Repeat. At this time, the sauce should be getting thicker. It's judgment time! If the sauce is thickened so it coats the back of a spoon and stays there, the sauce is just about done. The sauce should not be THICK, but thickened. Now the magic can happen. Whip the sauce with a hand whisk until smooth. If you need to add a little extra milk because the sauce is too thick, you can whisk that in now, too. But you must believe in the sauce. Just ask my son, who didn't believe the first time he made Howard's Revved Up Mac and Cheese, adding too much milk at the last minute because he thought the sauce wouldn't be creamy enough. Four cups of sauce will do it, folks.

While you are waiting for the cheese to melt into the sauce, dig into a good book.

I've just finished The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier. Packer battered my heart with this book, as her tale of the California Blair family investigates the unintentional loss of self in marriage and parenthood. Navigating these beautiful sacrifices will be a little easier when paired with Howard's Revved Up Mac and Cheese.  A little gooey cheese pasta on your plate will make you feel better, right Dad?