Crafty macaroni and cheese

Crafty macaroni and cheese.

Sometimes you just want to eat the food you grew up with, the kind of stuff that hearkens back to a time when cheese was powdered and that was okay. Remember when Parmesan cheese came in its own plastic shaker and was shelf-stable? I think it was made of nylon.

I have always loved macaroni and cheese, and for most of my life macaroni and cheese was something that came in a box. It never would have occurred to me to make it from scratch until a few years ago. When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first “apartment” (translation: dank basement suite with limited natural light and a permanent damp smell), I was broke all the time and would maximize my calorie intake in the days before payday by cooking up a box of macaroni and cheese (remember when it cost less than a dollar?) and eating the whole thing super fast, then laying face-down on the couch, uncomfortable, to digest for the rest of the evening as though I were a snake that had just swallowed an antelope.

It was an attractive time.

It felt horrible, but it was oddly comforting. When I was a kid, even though we always had Costco cases of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard, it was a total treat, especially if you got it for dinner which almost never happened. I loved macaroni. And in my formative years, macaroni and cheese was always, ALWAYS orange.

Orange sauce.

When you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, it is mostly not orange, even when you use orange cheese. And while grown-up, from-scratch homemade white mac-and-cheese is extremely delicious, it is more like comfort food to me when it’s orange. But macaroni out of a box is the opposite of comfort food these days; when I eat it now, I feel … gross. But you know what’s orange? Carrots are! Also they are healthy, so you can pretend that’s why you’re using them.

Veggies.

This is a very simple dish, and I make it quite saucy so that I can add stuff if I feel like it – adding a 28 oz. can of hominy (drained and rinsed!) makes this kind of amazing – or so that I can plan ahead and have leftovers that reheat well. Add whatever you want – even chopped up hot dogs, if that’s what you like. I won’t judge. (How could I?)

Big pot of cheesy noodles.

Macaroni and cheese

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded aged white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Salt

Over high heat, bring carrots, onion and garlic to a boil in about two cups of water with a bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until carrots are soft, 15 to 2o minutes. Remove bay leaf, pour contents of pot into a blender, and blend. Set aside.

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Add mustard, whisking again, then add the carrot mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper and simmer – whisking occasionally – until thickened, four to six minutes. Add cheese, stirring to melt. Add cream, if you feel like it – not mandatory, but it gives the sauce a richer, silkier taste. Add any additions – such as hominy, cooked sausage, roasted veggies, or whatever. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add cooked macaroni, stir well to coat, and serve.

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