Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mac and Cheese - Breakin' It Down

I'm here, I'm here. No, the holiday's didn't suck me into a vortex of blabbering idiocy. They were actually quite relaxing. I hung out, continued knitting Christmas gifts (finished my last one 2 nights ago) and watched obscene amounts of hockey and football. I kept the cooking simple. Probably the most difficult thing I did was try to make pizza with my pizza stone and a pizza with waaaay toooo much cheese on it (think 14 year old boy with a serious cheese addiction). Aside from taking days to scrap the burn cheese and crust bits off my pizza stone, I pretty much took it easy in the kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed my freezer. After the big meals Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day,.... well lets just say it was time to relax! Now I have to think about restocking the freezer a bit.

This brings me to last night's meal. I made Mac and Cheese. A true perennial favorite. It freezes so beautifully that I only make it once a year and end up with enough in the freezer to keep us happily in this fav comfort food until spring. And you can do so much with it. What do I mean, you ask?! Well lets start with the pasta, you don't have to use macaroni. You can use any similarly sized pasta. Bowties, fusilli, wagon wheels. Okay, I used macaroni but it was only because I actually had whole wheat macaroni in the house which is quite rare. I like the whole wheat but if you or your family is picky, try using half whole wheat and half regular. It's a great fiber boost.

Next lets move on to the cheese. I used gouda in mine because that is what I had on hand. Everyone has had mac and cheese with cheddar but why not try some Jarlsberg, or emmenthal or gruyere. Just think of a cheese that will melt well. I would stay away from any of the blue cheeses unless you want to do a sprinkling of them tossed in. They can be strong and rich for the main cheese of the dish. Mix and match. I've seem recipes for smoked gouda and gruyere. Or fontina and parmesan. Just remember to go lightly on the cheeses. You can always add more but once you make your cheese sauce too rich, it's hard to un-rich it.

Now lets talk about other additives. I like to add veggies to make my mac and cheese a complete meal. Last night I added arugula and butternut squash. The squash was from a package of frozen so I just tossed it in with the macaroni and then mixed it all with the sauce. The arugula was fresh so I wilted it down in the sauce before adding in the macaroni and squash. The flavour had a nice gourmet flare. But you can add any veggies. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, brussel sprouts (cut up), tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, any greens like kale or swiss chard. Use frozen when you can, it then bakes nicely with the sauce and you don't have to take the extra time to cook the veggies first. You are only limited by your own imagination. Or your kids tastes. The great thing about making mac and cheese is that you can keep the kids version fairly basic, dish theirs out, then kick it up for the adults. I might make a plain cheddar sauce for the kid and add only broccoli and cauliflower to his macaroni. Mix some of that sauce with the macaroni mix and put it in a baking dish. Then I might add another cheese to the sauce and some more adventurous veggies for us adults. Wheeee!

I have a secret ingredient I add to my mac and cheese. Ketchup! Yup, just a tablespoon or 2 and it really adds another dimension to the mac and cheese. Try it, I'm not kidding.

When freezing your mac and cheese keep one thing in mind. It is easier to defrost a serving or two instead of a big casserole. And you aren't committed to eating up a big casserole of mac and cheese within the next 5 days. I use small casserole dishes and aluminium pans to freeze one or two serving sizes. And when the kid is here, I can just grab a single serving of his kid-friendly version when Dad and I are eating something more gourmet. So easy.

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