Elbow Grease {macaroni and cheese}

Oh, hey. I’m back for my monthly blog post. I’ve gotten really bad about this, haven’t I? You’re probably not even there anymore, come to think of it. I think I can hear the echo as I type. I don’t blame you. I would have walked away too. What do I expect? I’ve abandoned you all like pit bull puppies in our zip code. Like new year’s resolutions in March. Point being – if you’re still out there, checking in occasionally to see what’s cooking, thanks for sticking with me.

You see, I like to think that I have an excuse. I have two, actually. The first is that I’ve been really uninspired by food this winter but I can tell things are changing. As spring begins to creep into our weather forecast occasionally, I start getting really excited about cooking lighter meals, eating more veggies and fruits and the annual promise that before I know it, I’ll be up to my elbows in peaches again. I can’t wait to eat a peach. But for the past few months, I’ve really just been tired of eating the same old heavy food and haven’t been inspired to share any of it with you.

And I have this other excuse, too. It’s probably even more legitimate if you ask me. I’ve been busy gestating. That’s right, I’m spending much of my free time these days growing a human, or as most normal people say, I’m pregnant. And, while I’ve been really lucky in the whole morning sickness department, food still hasn’t been as appealing to me as it once was. I couldn’t bring myself to want to cook or eat very much and I certainly haven’t been in the mood to photograph dinner and then talk about it. In fact, there was a time a couple months ago when I actually became a terrible cook. Comically bad. I tried to share some things with you but they were awful and so I pulled back. No one wants to eat overcooked citrus-poached salmon. How did that ever sound good?

But, as the spring has blossomed a bit, so has my appetite. Who am I kidding? My appetite is most certainly outpacing the arrival of spring. As my belly is outpacing the seams of my pants. Now that I’m closing in on 19 weeks with this whole baby business, I feel like it’s time to start thinking about things to share with you all.

Today, it’s my favorite recipe for macaroni and cheese – the perfect dead-of-winter meal side that also becomes a terrific accompaniment for hot dogs and burgers and anything grilled when the spring rolls around. Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate transition side. This particular recipe is straight-up jacked from Tyler Florence. I’m literally and figuratively biting his food here.

Shall we proceed? I halved the recipe for our small household (and had plenty of leftovers). This will feed at least 8 people.

  • 1 lb. box of elbow macaroni
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar (I use Cheddar and Monterey Jack)
  • 1 cup cubed Cheddar (ditto)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper

This recipe is mostly very easy but you do have to make a roux as the base for your cheese sauce. That requires you also making an interesting milk concoction to serve as the base of the roux. I have used skim milk in the past. It works ok but you may have to bump up the flour and butter just a tad to thicken it a bit more. If you’re feeling really naughty, use whole milk. I’ll drink what you don’t use. I worship whole milk.

First things first. Let’s preheat the oven to 350°F and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. You can go ahead and cook your macaroni and set it aside until you’re ready for it so your stove isn’t overly crowded. Just add a little bit of butter to the warm elbows so they don’t stick together. And while you’re at it, grab a large casserole dish or Pyrex and butter it up so it’s ready when the time comes.

Let’s proceed. In a small saucepan, add the milk, onion, bay leaf, nutmeg, thyme and dry mustard. Heat gently over medium-low heat (taking care not to burn the milk) until all the flavors begin to meld and the milk begins to warm up. This will take about 10 minutes.

DSC_0645Once that’s heated through, you can pull it off the stove for a few minutes to let it all come together. Before you’re ready to use it, pour it through a sieve so you get rid of all of the onion bits, thyme and the bay leaf.

Before we go any further, let’s prep the cheese so it’s ready to go. I used sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack but you can use whatever you want. I like that sharp Cheddar has a big punch of flavor and MJ is super melty. Just nail the quantities and use what you’re feeling.

DSC_0682Now it’s time to roux. In a fairly large saucepan over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter along with two tablespoons of flour. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

DSC_0693Add the milk in slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumpiness. In order to ensure that the mixture thickens up, you need to bring the milk up to the boil. There shouldn’t be a reason to turn up the heat on the stove though. Cook the milk with the butter and flour for about 5 minutes or until things get thick. Like so.

DSC_0706I love roux(ses). They’re what makes macaroni and cheese creamy and gravy thick and delicious. Right, Billy? Add half of the shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack (or whatever cheese excited you) and Parmesan to the roux and stir until you have a creamy cheese sauce. Add the elbows.

DSC_0711Remove the pot from the heat and stir in your cubed cheeses.

DSC_0716We are so close. Pour that beautiful bounty into your greased casserole and top with the remaining Cheddar/Jack and Parmesan you’ve got waiting in the wings.

DSC_0729Time to bake. Pop that in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until it’s all deliciously bubbly and golden. It will be those things.

DSC_0745We had this with the bbq chicken from the last post and some fresh green beans. It was like a Southern meat and three in my kitchen. Or two. Meat and two.

DSC_0766I also ate it hot and cold over the next two days. Likely for breakfast or dessert. There’s no sense in my meals anymore except most of them involve cheese.

Enjoy! And thanks again for sticking around.