Let's just take a deep breath, shall we?!! Certainly we've gone through more hectic stressful days than the ones we've had lately,but it feels like we're mired in an endless cycle of days that are so chock full of activities that late at night you can't believe that something that happened early in the morning was actually on the same day as the one where you're still doing laundry at 11:00pm! And I know we're not the only ones. So many people that I've talked to lately are experiencing the same sort of overload. Is this some sort of strange June phenomenon in which after months of waiting, the weather has finally turned warm enough to make you actually long for outdoor time--taking walks, lounging at the beach, having picnics but some cruel twist of scheduling fate makes you too busy to do any of those things?!! If ever there was a time for comfort food, now is it, so thank goodness for Marian Burros' book, Cooking for Comfort, today's Famous Fridays focus and her wonderful recipe for classic baked macaroni and cheese, the ultimate comfort food. It's time to show ourselves a little lovin' around here!!
Do you know about Marian Burros? She's the co-author of the legendary Elegant but Easy Cookbook (one of the kitchen bibles of the '60's and my mom's absolute favorite) as well as no less than 10 other cookbooks. She's also a food columnist for the NY Times and an amazing self-taught cook. Cooking for Comfort was born out of a post-911 reaction in which Burros noticed that people were trading their salads and broiled fish for dishes from their childhood that made them feel safe and nurtured, like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cream of tomato soup, chocolate pudding and rice pudding. The book is full of all of these and more traditional "mom" food-- simple, homey recipes that are easy to make and easier to love, like this classic recipe for baked macaroni and cheese.
For years, I've been making The Pioneer Woman's baked mac and cheese recipe and it's great, but I think this will be my go-to recipe from now on. This version comes together more quickly and since it's made with low-fat milk and less butter, it's less heavy and rich but still plenty creamy and satisfying with a lovely crunchy top. All the home judges agreed!
Hopefully the insanity will end soon and we can have a somewhat calm summer, but my advice until then, is to pick up a copy of Cooking for Comfort and start whipping up those memorable dishes that somehow have the power to magically whisk away the stress (pun intended!) Have a great weekend and I'll be back next week with some terrific summertime treats!
"Cooking or Comfort's" Baked Macaroni and Cheese-Famous Fridays
Makes 6-8 servings as a side dish
Prep Time: 20 minutes; Bake Time: 30 minutes
1 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 cups 1% milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
12 ounces extra-sharp white Cheddar, freshly grated and divided (don't use pre-shredded cheese here--it won't melt quite the same way)
Salt and white pepper to taste
A few shakes of hot sauce
1 pound macaroni or other curly pasta
2-4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes, until the onion is softened, but not browned. Stir in the flour and remove from the heat. Slowly add the milk and use a whisk to incorporate it fully. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard and 10 ounces of the cheddar as well as the salt and pepper to taste and a few shakes of the hot sauce. Taste and season with more salt, pepper or hot sauce as needed.
2. While the onions are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente.
3. Adjust the oven rack so that the lower one is in the bottom third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
4. Drain the pasta and stir it into the prepared cheese sauce, until the pasta is well coated. Pour the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and Parmesan evenly over the top.
5. Bake the dish for 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling all over and the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.
6. You can make the casserole up to one day ahead and leave it unbaked but covered in the refrigerator. Just bring it to room temperature before you want to cook it and bake at 400ºF for 30 minutes.
Note: Recipe adapted from Cooking for Comfort by Marian Burros. I tinkered around with things here. First off, I doubled the amount of pasta in the original recipe to feed more people--if you really like a more cheesy, creamy sauce, cut the pasta in half. Also I used more Parmesan and cut the 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg that gets added to the cheese sauce.