One of my mother's best Sunday dinners came from cans and boxes - it was better for all of us that way, as there were clear instructions, times and temperatures given, and very little room for improvisation allowed. She'd make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, dump a can of stewed tomatoes into it, and boil a few hot dogs. Voila! Dinner!
Quite frankly, I learned how to cook because I have a strong survival instinct and refined tastebuds. Thankfully, I was only subjected to my mother's "cooking" two weekends every month, since I lived with the General and my stepmother. Not-quite-feigning an interest in all things culinary, I pored over my mother's cookbooks and gently took those reins out of her hands. Sometimes, I'll still find myself cooking dinner if I'm invited over to her house. She's a piss-poor cook, but she's quite clever, huh?
Anyhow, I make my macaroni and cheese from scratch, since it just tastes so much better that way and isn't loaded with mono-whatever and hydrolyzed-whatsit. It's also quite speedy, if you can plan it.
Tip #1: when you're cooking pasta, cook the whole pound whether you need it or not. Once cooked, put whatever you're not using into a gallon sized ziploc bag, add a glug of olive or canola oil, shake it about to coat the pasta, and throw it in the freezer. When you need cooked pasta to add to hot sauce sometime, you take the bag out of the freezer, empty the frozen brick of pasta into the colander and run hot water over it.
It thaws in a flash!
Tip #2: when you're making cheese sauce, do as I did and make a monster batch. Freeze the leftover sauce. You can thaw it in the microwave, dump it on the pasta, stir, then bake. You've got homemade Mac & Cheese in under 30 minutes, which includes the baking time.
Tip #3: when you go to Costco or whatever huge warehouse store you may frequent, and you see the packages of ham steaks, don't think "Jeez Louise! Who the hell is going to eat that
freakin' much ham?!" Instead, throw one into your cart. You've got 3 ham steaks in there - that's 3 mac & cheeses, or 2 mac & cheeses and one ham & cabbage soup, or breakfast for a family of 9 minus the eggs and homefries. Just buy them. They're lovely.
Ok, tips done, time for some fun! Ingredients - Half & half (not necessary, but nice!), milk, cheese, flour, salt, Colman's dry mustard. Note the number of open bags of cheese I have. It would seem that instead of looking for an open bag, a certain spouse instead just finds any old bag of cheese and rips it open. So, if you have one of these spouses, you may find yourself in a similar situation. This is a great way to use up all of those bags. I'm all about space consolidation.
So, first, melt you some butter. Plop a whole stick of the stuff into your saucepan.
Let it melt all the way, then dump in 8 tablespoons of flour, one teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of Colman's dry mustard. Whisk the bejesus out of this, because you don't want it to burn!
Then, add 4 cups of the white stuff. I used one cup half & half and 3 cups of milk. You can do it however you like, though. Go wild. Once again, stir it like crazy, otherwise you're either going to have lumps or you're going to burn it. Neither scenario is desirable. So stir. You'll be stirring until this comes to a near boil and gets quite thick. I recommend using a whisk, since it eliminates the lumps better than a wooden spoon.
Now, take it off the heat and dump in as much cheese as you think it can handle. I thought my bechamel could handle about 6 cups of cheese. I was right.
Once again, sing it with me, you've got to STIR this shit until it's smooth and velvety, because lumpy cheese sauce is nasty. Once it looks like this:
then you've got something.
So you reconstitute your pasta that you'd made sometime last week, easy peasy. If you're a vegetarian, you can add the cheese sauce and continue living your virtuous meat-free life. If you're an unrepentant carnivore like me and cannot imagine a meal that doesn't feature some slain animal carcass, then continue on to the next bit.
Ham! You remember that ham steak? Cube it, then throw it into your casserole with the pasta, cover the whole mess with about a third of that cheese sauce, give it a stir, sprinkle it with more cheese, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil, and bung it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
This was before Miss Peanut and the WCM went back for seconds. There's enough left for Miss Peanut to have a meal of it tomorrow. The WCM accompanied his Mac & Cheese with my homemade Stewed Tomatoes. I'm going to save that recipe for tomorrow. Lord knows, I've little else to report on!
Labels: frustrated home ec teacher, peevish