How the Adventures of Ramona P Got Me Blogging About Mac and Cheese
It started way back, about 15 years ago when I met a young educator named Ramona P. Amongst our teacher friends she is better known as just P. This girl has stories. Fascinating tidbits of her life that would make for a great book. A book I keep saying I will write one day.
P is partly the reason I decided to add yet another venture into my life, blogging. She has anointed herself as the "Queen" of frozen prepared foods and I can verify without a shadow of a doubt her proclamation hits the spot. Pis all about convenience and keeping life uncomplicated. When I dug a little deeper into her food psyche, I found her intentions for a grocery store trip starts with buying fresh foods but eventually she becomes overwhelmed and heads straight for the prepared foods section.
On Christmas Eve, P asked if I could make her some ugly sweater cookies for a family gathering she was hosting this year. She decided to hold Christmas Dinner at her house to limit the amount of travel she would have to do with two small children. (Find more food pics and the ugly sweater cookies on my Instagram page)
Well, not to be caddy, but the girl spent 8 hours on Christmas Eve driving around picking up already prepared foods from her favorite places to serve for dinner on Christmas Day. Not to say there is anything wrong with take-out and from what she tells me, the turkey from Wegmans is good.
However, doesnt this contradict her reasoning for having Christmas dinner at her house in the first place?? Oh, P.
She is the reason Internet food delivery services like Blue Apron exist. I remember having a conversation with her years ago about joining Nutrisystem, not for the weight loss but for the food delivery.
This story from Christmas has me determined to convince P that she can have the convenience of a good meal, reduce travel time and save money. Maybe even shift her feelings about cooking and help her become more comfortable in the kitchen.
When I told her about the blog, her first and actually always her response to anything I come to her with is, "Anything for you Bell." She calls me "Bell" because thats what teachers do. They call each other by their last names. Good Times.
Of course, I had a plan on how I wanted this post to be laid out. As we all know, sometimes the best laid plans can become epic fails. But hey, I'm flexible.
I invited P down for a video interview, cocktails, photo shoot and most importantly a home cooked meal. I think the photos you see in this post were the only useable photos and I just laugh at the video we recorded. Maybe one day I will show the video on a bloopers post.
During our video interview, I made us an Apple Cider Martini and we chatted about food. The martini was delicious. The video interview was deliciously disasterous.
Based on the interview, a recording that could only be seen on a bloopers post, I discovered her favorite meal to order in a restaurant is macaroni and cheese. She loves how this dish is so versatile and fancies how everyone claims to have the best. She tried to copy her mother's mac and cheese, wasn't happy with the results and chose not to make it again.
Guess what we made? Surprise, mac and cheese. I gave her step by step instructions for my mac and cheese. We discussed ways she could make it her own and how she could take this one box of elbow macaroni to make three meals for under ten dollars.
Our first day of shooting only took 2 1/2 hours. We drank, we cooked, we ate, we listened to music and had great conversation. I sent Ramona P home with a meal and told her she had to subscribe to my blog. Of course her response, "Anything for you Bell."
THE BELL HOUSE MAC & CHEESE:
Active Prep Time: about 20 Minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 30-1 hr 15 (Cook from fresh or frozen.)
Total cost: less than $10 (Hit up those sales and coupons for more savings.)
1 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons minced onion or 1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
12 ounces of extra sharp cheddar
4 ounces of Monterey Jack cheese
8 ounces of Velveeta, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated chicken bouillon
2 1/2 teaspoons of ground mustard
16 ounces of elbow macaroni
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook elbow pasta until al dente, the noodles are firm to the bite. I use Barilla Pasta and they give you a range of 7-8 minutes for elbow macaroni. I aim for 7 minutes of boiling time. This is one of the only pasta dishes I suggest rinsing the pasta. I believe starchy macaroni seizes up the cheese and creates a less creamy product.
ADVANCED PREPARATION TIP: You can store the cooked pasta in the refrigerator for up to three days. Just remember to bake the completed mac and cheese at this point or freeze. You can also shred your cheese a few days in advance, if you haven't already reached for the pre-shredded kind.
In large sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and sauté onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and continue to cook until the flour mixture turns a peanut butter color, about 5-8 minutes. Don't forget to continually whisk. That stuff can burn!!
Whisk in the whole milk and continue to cook until the milk mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add handfuls of cheese to the milk mixture. Melt each handful before adding another.
Stir in salt, pepper, chicken bouillon and ground mustard.
Add the macaroni to the cheese mixture and slide those noodles into a 9 x 13 inch pan or divide the mixture amongst the two 8 x 8 inch pans.
You can do one of the following:
Top the mac and cheese with some additional shredded cheddar. Bake a tray for about 30 minutes or until nice and bubbly.
You could also let the mixture cool and refrigerate the unbaked macaroni and cheese overnight. Don't forget to top with some more shredded cheddar. Bake for 45-hour or until nice and bubbly.
You can bake 1-8 x 8 inch pan and freeze the other one. Wrap the freezer bound unbaked mac and cheese with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Make sure you LABEL that mac and cheese with the date. You can store this for up to 2 weeks. Bake from the freezer, minus the plastic wrap, for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Use skim, 1% or 2% milk if you are feeling guilty about eating mac and cheese. Please use cheese the way cheese was intended, not fat free or reduced fat.
Mix in some cream with your whole milk if you wanna go balls to the wall bad to the bone. (Maybe go for a long walk after this one though.)
Craving spicy? Use 1 tsp cayenne pepper or instead of monterary jack use pepper jack cheese.
EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER WITH BACON. Have a mac and cheese bar and use bacon as one of your toppings.
Other good toppings:
Panko Bread Crumbs make a crunchy topping. Mix about 2 cups of Panko with 3 tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle on top of mac and cheese during the last 15 minutes of baking. Bake until golden brown. If you divide the portion size of your mac and cheese, divide the Panko and butter mixture too.)
Top with sliced Scallions or Jalapeños. Both of these are helpful in cutting down on the richness of mac and cheese.
Hot Sauce, my son likes Franks Red Hot.
Mix in a 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes before baking. I would be amiss if I didn't mention this for my Mother-in-Law. It is how she likes her mac and cheese.
Pulled Pork. Yes, I said pulled pork. Pile that hog right on top of that mac and cheese and then thank yourself for doing so.
Mix in some broccoli, in case you didn't get your fiber for the day. Add frozen or lightly steamed before baking.
I covered bacon, pulled pork, so how about ham? Mix in some ham before baking. Maybe use swiss instead of Monterey Jack.
Be creative! It's Macaroni and Cheese!