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Mac and Cheese

Comfort Food 103

The Scenario:

Unless you are lactose intolerant, and most likely, even if you are, at some point in your life you probably sat down and tucked into some mac and cheese. It is the most homely of home cooked meals, the food most likely to bring back happy memories of childhood and fill your gut with that sticky warm sensation of peace and goodwill.

Which is why it gets frustrating to see so many people buying ready-made crap, adding water and then acting surprised that it doesn’t come out delicious. Let’s be honest, it isn’t the most complex meal in all of creation, would taking five minutes out of your day to make mac and cheese into a proper meal really be too much of an imposition? Don’t you want people to tuck into a bowl of mac and cheese at your house that tastes so good that they need to immediately phone their mother and tell her what a bad cook she is?

What You Need:

A big old pot for pasta

A big spoon

A chopping board and a sharp knife

A flat bottomed skillet

A strainer

A casserole dish

A stovetop

An oven

Ingredients to Feed 4 Hungry but Nostalgic Adults:

8 ounces of dried pasta, preferably macaroni or one of the other short tubular ones

A medium red onion

2 ½ cups of milk

A fuck-ton of cheese: ideally about 5 ounces of strong cheddar and 5 ounces of gruyere, with a couple of ounces of parmesan for good measure, all shredded or grated as finely as possible

¼ cup of white flour

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

Ground black pepper

A teaspoon of brown sugar

½ a teaspoon of paprika

½ a teaspoon of garlic powder

Optional extras:

Some people, and I am not naming names, aren’t happy to just have mac and cheese, some people have to add in a host of other ingredients to make an already delectable, but simple meal, into a big festival of food. As it stands, this recipe makes a hearty meal and a suitable side-dish to go with the vast majority of American dishes, but if you want to step it up into something bigger then you can fry up some bacon and sausages, dice them up, and mix them into the pasta at the same time you are adding the onion. I have known people to add fresh chopped tomatoes at that stage too, although I wouldn’t recommend it myself as it can go horribly wrong just as often as it goes horribly right, and when you are cooking a nostalgic meal, one surprise too many might be the difference between happy contented people patting their stomachs and a dark scowl that persists until the net morning.

How To Do It:

1. Pop your skillet on the stovetop and give it a medium heat.

2. Add in a tablespoon of butter and let it melt while you frantically chop your red onion.

3. Toss in your onion and start to brown it off, add in the sugar and a good long grind of black pepper after a couple of minutes, then drop the heat after the sugar has melted. Keep the onions on a low heat for about half an hour while you sort out other things.

4. With the onions cooked and caramelised, set them aside and give the skillet a quick clean.

5. You know how to make pasta by now, surely. Big pot full of water, bring it to the boil at full heat, toss in the pasta, leave it alone while it cooks. That can pretty much take care of itself.

6. Preheat your oven to 375F or Gas Mark 5.

7. Get your skillet back on a medium heat and drop in the rest of your butter.

8. Once the butter has melted, slowly sprinkle in your flour, stirring it constantly. This will form what us fancy chef types call a roux, which is a kind of golden paste that is the basis for a whole load of sauces.

9. Add your paprika, garlic powder, a good grind of black pepper and about ¾s of that metric fuckton of cheese to the pan and stir like you have never stirred before.

10. Once the cheese is good and molten, slowly add the milk, stirring all the way. Pro Tip: Let the milk warm up to room temperature while you are doing everything else so that it doesn’t chill everything back to a solid mess again at this stage, either way; just keep stirring.

11. You better not have let that pasta get overcooked while you were messing around with sauces. It should have been drained off the moment that it was ready and set to one side, still in the big pot.

12. Drop the caramelised onions and any other optional extras into the sauce and give it a stir through, then pour your sauce into the big pot and mix it thoroughly through all the pasta.

13. Transfer your almost finished pasta into the casserole dish and top it off with all of the remaining cheese.

14. Bang it in the oven for about 20 minutes, until all the cheese on top has gone golden and crunchy, then portion out the finest of all mac and cheeses to your waiting fans.

Mac and cheese is a super versatile meal that you can freeze or refrigerate after it has cooled to room temperature. If you have very little self-respect or a serious cheese addiction, you can cook this meal up on a Monday and portion it out as a side dish or another main course, over the rest of the week.

G D Penman writes books. He lives in Scotland with his partner and children, some of whom are human. In those few precious moments that he isn’t parenting or writing he likes to watch cartoons, play video games, read more books than are entirely feasible and continues on his quest to eat the flesh of every living species. He has worked in just about every job you can have in a restaurant and now he is here to yell at you for using a microwave when there is a perfectly good oven right there.

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