Let’s talk about food: Mac and cheese

I didn’t know until this year that Thanksgiving is my teenager’s favorite holiday. I thought it was Christmas. Generally, on Thanksgiving, we do what passes for dressing up in our family, and we go out somewhere to eat. His favorite is a buffet, where we all eat too much. 

It’s easy, and there are no dishes.

He doesn’t remember when he was very young and my mom would cook — her version of the Thanksgiving meal being the requisite turkey, Grandpa Brubaker’s oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry salad. The usual vegetable was broccoli with cheese sauce. 

Going way back, Grandma Brubaker was famous for her noodles — beef and noodles were part of holiday meals. The freezer was always filled with beef raised on the farm. We’ve lost those traditions, oyster dressing and beef and noodles.

This year there will be no dressing up and going out. With restaurants offering take-out only, we haven’t made a plan yet. I’ve never attempted preparing a Thanksgiving meal on my own. Overwhelmed by a whole chicken, a whole turkey is more than I am comfortable with.

While I may yet end up ordering one of the fabulous take-out options I’ve seen locally, I want to be sure to have macaroni and cheese, which is one of my teenager’s favorite foods. He mentioned it specifically when he learned his favorite holiday restaurant won’t include a Thanksgiving buffet this year.

Coincidentally, Marc Ashmun, one with whom I talk about food, sent an email telling me about the depth white wine adds to cheese sauce. He, too, was considering mac and cheese, playing with the idea of smoked cheese in it, he wrote.

I’m not so adventurous with my guys, so I consulted Ree Drummond at thepioneerwoman.com. The Pioneer Woman popped up on my social media some years ago, and she’s my go-to for basic, home-style comfort food.

Of course she has a recipe for mac and cheese, which I followed — mostly. She uses seasoned salt. Seasoned salt can contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), so I avoided it. 

I made a rue with ghee (clarified butter) and flour. The Pioneer Woman insists on whole milk, but I went with 2 percent, and it was fine. I went through the additional, somewhat difficult and very messy process of tempering an egg to add to the sauce. She uses a lot of salt, which I did too, but not enough. My teenager still reached for the salt and pepper. 

Two heaping spoonfuls of ground mustard, and I used all of the optional spices — cayenne pepper, paprika and thyme.

Even when we lived in Wisconsin, we bought Tillamook cheese. I shredded both Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar and made a perfect cheese sauce, which I added to the elbow noodles. I took the extra step of toasting breadcrumbs and putting them on top, then broiling the dish in the oven before serving.

It was good, teenager approved. I put most of it in the freezer to thaw for our holiday meal next week. My mom will come over. We’ll all be thankful to be together.


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