Mac & Cheese Two Ways

Mac & Cheese Two WaysDinner Dilemma
When I am stressed, I look towards comfort and comfort foods—carbs mainly. That could be potatoes, bread, or even pasta with cheese, But, carb-filled comfort food is what I crave. The problem is that it isn’t really good for you. Most of the really good stuff is fairly non-healthy so it makes it pretty hard to be good to your body while soothing the soul.

This past week has been a series of late meetings, double bookings, surprise practices, and the always well-timed Back to School Night. Finding the time for a legit dinner has been hard. Sure, there’s always Door Dash or picking something up on the way home. But I can’t do that two nights in a row without getting cranky. I need to have a “real” meal.

My other dilemma is that the weather has been cool enough that I want the kinds of things I would normally be making in November like stews and heartier fare. How to create the comfort of slow-cooked food and be able to make it in the spare minutes between meetings, practice, and Algebra I? Most of my favorites like this Shepherd’s Pie will take an hour or more to make. Except for pasta. Pasta is quick. But, I can’t have that night after night. I’m high maintenance that way.

Yes, I could always throw some steaks on the grill. But to be honest, with summer ending I’m getting kind of tired of the grilled stuff. I’m ready to roast.

I don’t think anything is really going to make me happy…except for the whining. Sometimes letting your inner 3-year-old out to play can be cathartic (if not annoying to those around you). It can also be exhausting which is why tonight, we’re going with mac and cheese and a salad because I just can’t adult anymore today…

If I am really lucky, I will convince my daughter to make it after soccer.

Mac & Cheese Two Ways
Adapted from Ree Drummond and the Food Network
Yields 6 servings

This recipe is delicious two ways, either as baked macaroni, or a creamy, stovetop macaroni. Your choice, depending upon how your day is going. (It takes an extra 20 to 25 minutes to bake, and it is definitely worth it on a good day!)

And, to make basic Mac & Cheese a bit more fun, you can consider frying up some bacon and caramelizing a white onion for toppers. Just get them started before you put the water on to boil, and things should all come together at the right time. You can place them in separate bowls on the table along with some chopped chives or other herbs, and people can top their Mac & Cheese as they wish. 

4 cups dried macaroni
1 whole egg
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups whole milk
2 heaping teaspoons dry mustard (more if desired)
1 pound sharp Cheddar, grated (plus more for Baked Mac & Cheese)
sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Optional toppings
Caramelized onions
Chopped Bacon
Chives and or other fresh herbs, chopped

For baked Mac & Cheese, preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Make the noodles
Place a large pot filled with water on the stove and bring to a boil. Follow the instructions on the macaroni package and the macaroni until still slightly firm. Drain and set aside.

Make the sauce
Beat the egg in a small bowl.

In a the large pot, you cooked the noodles in, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour. Whisk them together over medium-low heat. Cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly to be certain that it doesn’t get lumpy or burn. Slowly pour in the milk while continuing to whisk to incorporate. Add the mustard and whisk until smooth. Cook until very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.

Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs. Whisk together until fully incorporated and smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth.

Add in the cheese and stir to melt. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt and the pepper. Add any additional spices if desired. Taste the sauce and add more salt and seasoned salt as needed.

Assemble the Mac & Cheese
Pour in the drained, cooked macaroni and stir to combine. For stovetop Mac & Cheese, serve immediately while it’s still very creamy.

For Baked Mac & Cheese
Or you can pour the Mac & Cheese into a buttered baking dish, top with extra cheese and bake until bubbly and golden on top (about 20 to 25 minutes).

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