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Return of the Mac

macncheese2I’ve never really bought into the theory that as soon as the first day of the year arrives we should all jump on the healthy eating band wagon. There will be plenty of time for virtuous soups and crunchy stir fries in the coming weeks but right now as far as I’m concerned just having to go back to work is a good enough reason for some comforting eating. In my house the ‘go to’ dish for days like this is without doubt macaroni┬ácheese.

As early as 1937 Kraft developed the first dry packaged macaroni and cheese product and branded it “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner’ soon to be forever shortened to ‘Mac n Cheese’. The original recipe has changed little since then and comprises of a powdered cheese sauce sachet to be reconstituted with water or milk, butter or margarine. Despite it’s eye watering list of artificial flavourings, colourings, trans fats and associated e-numbers packaged mac n cheese remains like catnip for many American kids.

A million miles away from the packet version a home made mac n cheese is a thing of true beauty. The trick is using a really good cheese like Keens cheddar which is strong and sharp tasting and taking the time to infuse the milk for the sauce. These two things make the difference between junk food and comfort food. A word of warning though, this is comfort eating at it’s most soporific and has enough carbs to send you into a post supper slumber moments after the last forkful has passed your lips.

You can add all kinds of extras like chunks of cooked ham or crispy pancetta but in the spirit of never gilding the lily I make and eat mine plain. You could also make a nod towards creating a balanced meal by serving a nice crisp salad along side but to be honest what’s the point? Save your greens for another day and indulge in some serious cold weather comfort eating.

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Macaroni Cheese – serves 6

750 ml milk

50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

50g plain flour

1/2 Onion studded with a couple of cloves and a bay leaf

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

400g Strong cheddar such as Keen’s or Montgomery

Salt and ground black pepper

300g macaroni

50g Finely grated Parmesan

4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the packet suggest. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Place the milk in a saucepan with the onion and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into into a jug or bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse. Rinse out the pan and place on a medium heat. Melt the butter and stir in the flour and mustard powder. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly. Then, gradually add the milk a bit at a time whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. Don’t worry if it does look a bit lumpy just whisk a bit faster and the lumps will soon disperse. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add the cheese and stir to melt. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Grease your baking dish with butter. Stir the pasta into the sauce, then pour it into the dish. Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top, and bake for 30 minutes, until a lovely golden brown colour and bubbling at the edges. When the time is up remove from the oven and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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2 Responses

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