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Comfort Food in a Storm

So I'm waiting for a wallop from Sandy, the Frankenstorm. 

Maybe you are too?

The city has pretty much shut down.  This was Second Ave at about 10:30 this morning.  A total ghost town.

But that's ok, I didn't really need to go out and stock up -- my pantry is perpetually prepared for a disaster. 

Now, the garbage is emptied.  The dishwasher's run. I made ice cubes. My cell is charged. I have plenty of water and a flashlight and candles. I took a shower.  I scrubbed the tub.

While I might be prepared, I don't exactly feel... comforted.  There's only one thing that will do.

Mac & cheese.

Ordinarily, I'm a HUGE fan of Kraft Deluxe -- it's quick and creamy and hits the spot.  But I've always wanted a homemade homerun -- a go-to recipe to add to my repertoire.

I found a pretty classic one, which I followed today.  It was just good -- not great.  Here's how I will make it better next time:


TIME: About 30 mins prep, 20 minutes on the cooktop, less than 5 mins in the oven

SERVES: 8-12 people (or 1 very hungry hurricane homebody)

For the bechamel:
  • 1 quart container of whole milk (don't skimp on the fat here -- you need it)
  • 1 whole stick of salted butter 
  • Half a cup of all-purpose flour
For the pasta:
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 box of elbow macaroni (about 1 lb)
  • An 8 or 10oz brick of sharp cheddar, freshly shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup of a grated hard Italian cheese, like Parmesan, Asiago or Pecorino Romano
  • Dijon mustard to taste (I added this because the original recipe needed a little zing)
  • French's French Fried Onions (optional topping, also added by me)
  1. Boil a pot of salted water, then add the macaroni.  If you don't like elbow, use another kind.  I am not the boss of you!  Al dente or mushy -- your choice. Drain the pasta, then set it aside.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees if you plan to bake this in a casserole dish at the end.  (If not, find the biggest spoon you have and get it ready to scoop straight from the pot to your pie-hole.  No shame in that game.)
  3. Grab a saucepan and heat your milk over medium heat until it simmers.  Warm milk gets that gross skin on top, so don't let it sit.
  4. If you don't have a dishwasher, buy one now.  I'll wait... 
  5. You need a THIRD pot -- preferably large and cast-iron.  In this, melt the stick of butter over medium heat, then add the flour.  Swish that around with a whisk for a few minutes until it turns a light brown and seems cooked, or until your arm gets tired.
  6. Slowly add the warm milk to the flour and butter and whisk that around until the lumps dissolve into a creamy white sauce that coats the back of a spoon (or use your whisk if you don't want another thing to wash).  This is your bechamel.
  7. Mix in the grated cheese, then add the cheddar cheese a handful/cup at a time.  It should melt nicely because it's freshly grated.  Don't cheat here and buy pre-shredded!  Your sauce will slowly start to turn a pretty yellow.
  8. Now's the time to taste this bad boy.  Add salt, pepper, mustard, or whatever you like until its well-seasoned.
  9. Dump the drained pasta into the sauce and stir it all around until every piece is coated in cheesy goodness.  Taste it again but this time use a different spoon.  Nobody wants your mouth all over their macaroni.
  10. You could just eat it at this point and it would be great.  But don't.
  11. The recipe I read called for putting it in a casserole, topping with panko breadcrumbs and baking it for 25 minutes.  The problem?  It made it dry.  Instead, put it in a casserole, and top it with French's French Fried Onions, and pop it in the oven for just a few minutes to crisp.  Keep an eye out because they can burn quickly, but this will keep it creamy inside with a crunchy top.
  12. Now... eat it!

It is possible that your macaroni could get lonely.  If that happens, I highly suggest you make this other dish, which I made a few weeks ago.  Just invite some people over -- it is impossible to eat 2 pork loins by yourself.  Trust me.


TIME: 6 hours to cook, 30 minutes to shred

SERVES: 8-12 people

  • 2 pork loins (or a big pork shoulder)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cans of Dr. Pepper (not diet)
  • 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
  1. Grab a crockpot or slow cooker and set it for 6 hours/high if you're making the loin.  Set it for 8 hours/low if you're making the shoulder because that meat is tougher.  If you don't have a crockpot, I guess try a cast iron pot.  But really, get a crockpot -- they are cheap and easy to use.
  2. Line the bottom of the pot with chunks of the onion.  Keep them big so you can fish them out at the end.
  3. Place the pork on top of the onions, then fill with Dr. Pepper until it covers the meat.
  4. Put the lid on, and fire it up.  Resist the temptation to open the lid during the first 2 hours of cooking.  Apparently that's when all the heat gets trapped inside, which I learned the hard way...
  5. Do stuff.  Live your life.  The meat will be fine. 
  6. At the 6 or 8 hour mark, stick a fork in the meat and try to pull it out.  If it comes out whole, stick it back in.  It's not ready. 
  7. Once the meat is falling apart, scoop it all out onto a cutting board and use 2 forks to pull/shred the meat.  It will be hot so try not to touch it with your hands.  Discard any fat or anything that looks yucky.  The plain meat should be slightly sweet, if you taste it.  Which you should.
  8. Dump the soda and onions, they were just for flavor.  Or dare somebody to drink it. 
  9. Put the shredded pork back in the crockpot and add your favorite BBQ sauce.  I used Corky's, a famous spot in Memphis, and a tasty gift that the Tennessee Kids' State Dinner winner gave me. 
  10. Let everything heat back up. Taste it to make sure it's saucy, salty, sweet, or spicy enough.  If not, add whatever it's missing.
  11. Stick it in a bun, a bowl, or a burrito, and eat!

So, there you have it.  Comfort food in a storm.  Hurry, while your oven still works!

Are YOU cooking today?  Does anyone have any Halloween candy left?  And who thinks Sandy is a silly name for a storm? 

Discuss... and stay safe out there!

tags: food, recipes


Chris said...

Of coarse you would clean in a hurricane. Be safe kid!

Jessica said...

How much do you love Bloomberg's updates? That sign language lady is amazing!!!

We made brownies but wish we had a giant bowl of Mac'n'Cheese and Pulled Pork :)

Meg :o) said...

I made wine. Errrr. I drank wine. Alot of it.......................