Monday, February 22, 2010

Mac from Scratch

I never did go out and buy that box of Kraft Mac and Cheese that I've been dreaming about because when I found the dregs of a bag of macaroni in my cupboard, I was perfectly content to make my own from scratch.

Incidentally, I just re-watched Food, Inc. last week, and I'm always struck by the brilliance of Micheal Pollan, who luckily, is given ample screen time in the documentary.  Pollan's been vocal about all the reasons Americans don't eat healthier, but rather than just lament the problem, he also gives reasonable, easy solutions.  I just finished reading Pollan's Food Rules: an eater's manifesto.  This slim pocket volume is a series of adages that are quippy, easy to remember, and incredible wise, which if followed, would improve the average American's diet by leaps and bounds.  Pollan divides these 64 rules into three categories: What should I eat? (Eat Food); What kind of food should I eat? (Mostly plants.); and How should I eat? (Not too much.)

These rules are easy to apply and remember, but for my mac and cheese musings, I just want to focus on the first category.  Eat food.  Sounds obvious, right? But so much of what is on supermarket shelves is what Pollan has described as "edible, food-like substances."  You can tell you have an edible food-like substance on your hands if you follow the rules.  For instance, rule 2 states, "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  Would Nanna believe that Easy Mac is something you can eat after only adding water and nuking it in the microwave?  Or, consider Rule 3: "Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry."  I don't know about you, but I don't keep my kitchen stocked with phosphate, lactic acid, or yellow 5 and yellow 6, all of which are ingredients in Kraft Mac and Cheese.  And finally, if you're still in doubt about the food in question, refer to Rule 7: "Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce." My guess is an average third grader would have problems with sodium tripolyphosphate, also found in commercial mac and cheese.

So, now that I know Kraft Mac and Cheese is an edible, food-like substance, the alternative is to make my own, from scratch.  One of the most common excuses people make for not eating better is that it's too time consuming and too complicated.  But I was able to whip up this from dish in about 15 minutes, and it took ten minutes just to cook the pasta--the same amount of time that it would have taken to cook macaroni from the box.  While this still isn't health food by any means, I do feel better about eating it, because I know exactly what's in it.

Scratch Mac

1 cup elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter (preferably organic and from grass-fed cows)
2 T. flour
1 cup milk (preferably organic and from grass-fed cows)1 cup grated cheddar cheese (preferably organic and from grass-fed cows)
salt and pepper to taste

I cooked the pasta in a large pot of bowling water.  While it cooked, I grated the cheddar cheese.  When the macaroni was finished cooking, I drained it in a colander.  Then, I melted the butter in the empty pot, and added the flour--forming a thick paste.  I cooked it for a minute or two, over medium heat, stirring constantly, and then slowly whisked the milk in.  Once the milk was incorporated, I cooked it until it thickened nicely, another couple of minutes.  Then I dumped in the cheese, stirred it in until melted and added the drained pasta.  A quick shake of salt and pepper and that's it.  Easy!

(I also was inspired by the rosemary plant sitting on my kitchen table, and decided to add about a 1/2 t. of fresh, minced rosemary to the mac and cheese.  It was delicious, but completely optional.)

The First Cadbury Egg

Of all the seasonal candies, I think I love Cadbury's the best.  Perhaps this is genetic because my mom and sister share my fanaticism.  In fact, every year there's a sort of race to see who can procure the first Cadbury egg of the season.  My sister, Holly beat me last year, but this year, on February 6th, I managed to score the first Creme Egg.  Of course I text messaged Holly immediately, but she claimed she needed visual evidence.  So here it is.  (Last year, she sent me a photo of herself glee fully clutching the candy.) 

Although Halloween is nice and all, it's ordinary. The same Snickers and Reese's is just scaled down into a "fun-size."  As far as candy goes, I like to put my faith in the Easter bunny.  There is nothing quite so extravagant as an Easter basket loaded with candy.  A basket of nothing but candy versions of eggs would satisfy my cravings--jelly beans, malted milk balls, Cadbury Mini-Eggs, and Cadbury Creme Eggs.
Of all of these, though, Creme Eggs are the most alluring because of their textural contrast.  The milk chocolate shell is smooth and rich but still thick enough to actually handle a good, solid bite.  The fondant center is gooey without being runny but still luxuriously silky.  It is a bit cloyingly sweet, but that's the whole point, I think, and it punctuates the depth of the chocolate.  The only caveat I have about Creme Eggs is that you really do have to get them while they're fresh.  Because they're only delicately wrapped in a thin layer of foil, if the integrity of the candy shell is in any way compromised, the fondant will dry out and will be hard, chewy and nearly chalk-like.  So, I suppose when it comes down to it, that's why my mom, sister, and I are so desperate to get our hands on them. 

What's your favorite seasonal candy?

Friday, February 5, 2010


There comes a point each winter when uncontrollably, and quite unapologetically, I crave carbohydrates.  Last night I had a very seductive dream involving me and a bowl of Kraft mac and cheese.  Somehow, this makes me seem weak-willed, as if I'm some addict strung out on mashed potatoes.  Perhaps this guilt comes from the Atkin's diet craze.  After nearly a decade, American culinary consciousness is still recovering from that time in history when a large percentage of the population pounded down steaks and bacon while shunning all breads and pastas.  About this time, humorist Dave Barry, wrote a column about carbohydrates, entitled "Carbohydrates Pose Major Threat to Mankind."   Barry describes carbs as if they were a highly illicit drug and coins the term 'drates, conveying the idea that we, do indeed need street slang for complex carbohydrates.  My household ever since has called any form of starchy food a 'drate.  I've even gone so far as to say, "I really need some 'drate-y 'drates" with the edgy desperation of a junkie.

So, before I run to the store for some boxed macaroni and cheese, I wanted to share with you the link to my latest essay published in Connotation Press, which is about another glorious form of 'drate, the homemade noodle.  Handmaking noodles at home is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. In fact, I might whip up a side of noodles to eat with my mac and cheese.  A 'drate junkie knows no limits.