Mac & Cheese. Plain and Simple.

When I moved Boston as a naive 17 year old freshman in college, I thought there was no turning back…to the west coast.  I thought I would be a big east coast city girl for life.  I loved the bustle and hum of the city.  I loved the convenience of public transportation.  I loved the multitude of great restaurants (that I could only “afford” when my parents were in town because they bought my dinner).  I loved the people and close-knit proximity.  I loved that there was always something going on.  I loved the Boston Red Sox and their quest to “Reverse the Curse”.

Fast forward six years…  
I was then living in New York City.  (Hooray!  Fulfilling my east coast girl dreams!)  However, by this time I was approaching the tender age of 24, my mind began to change about my fit on the eastern seaboard.  I missed quiet streets, I missed being able to drive, I still loved the restaurants that I could now afford, I missed privacy and space from my neighbors, I missed getting lost in the mountains or the woods or even in a good book.  
I still loved the Red Sox, still do today, and thank God the curse is finally reversed.
As a result of this philosophysing, I knew I needed to go back home to my roots.  After a short hiatus in northern California, I soon made it home to Alaska.  I was both nervous and exhilarated.  Would I make true friends that fit my quirky personality?  Would I be happy?  Would I be happy teaching again?  Would I survive living so far away?
The answer to all of those questions is yes.

I was blessed to be able to teach at an incredibly diverse school full of amazing students and an equally amazing staff.  The kids loved us and we loved them.  I stayed there for three years before moving on to a different opportunity, but have been blessed to stay close with many of the woman from that school.  Today, we meet monthly for “book club”, where we are lucky if we talk about the book for more than a minute before moving on to wine and other important things.  I love these women and am so thankful to have had them first as colleagues and now as friends.  Our jobs are so hard, but when supported by strong, intelligent, trustworthy, and loving people, we can truly can change lives.

Did this mac and cheese change lives?  Probably not, but it sure was tasty.  I made it when I hosted our book club a couple weeks ago.  We (re)read Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express, for our October book.  I wanted good old comfort food without any bells and whistles.  I imagine the Queen of Crime was a meat and potatoes kind of girl, but I certainly am not, so this mac and cheese was my compromise.  It hits all the right notes for mac and cheese–creamy, cheesy, nutty, awesome.  I also love this recipe because it was nearly effortless.

So, my friends, if you are having a gathering of friends and loved ones and want a heartwarming dish to go along with, this is a go-to.  And let’s be serious, mac and cheese is awesome, even if it is plain and simple.

Mac & Cheese.  Plain & Simple.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s recipe.

  • 1 box of dried macaroni noodles
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk (Or….if you want to be healthy, which I do not suggest with mac & cheese, you can use nonfat.  Alternatively, if you really want to go big, you can use whole milk.)
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic
  • 1 cup of high quality sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup of Monterey jack
  • 1/4 cup of fontina
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt  
  • 1/2 teaspoon or more of fresh cracked pepper
  • a dash of paprika
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While waiting, grate your cheeses.
  2. Cook the macaroni until very firm–do not over cook!  The noodles should be more than al dente…like just barely past crunchy.  Strain through a colander and set aside.
  3. Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In the pot you used to cook the macaroni, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour.  Whisk constantly over medium-low heat.  Do not let the flour burn! 
  5. Pour in the milk and mustard and stir.  Cook for 5 minutes until thickened.
  6. When smooth, turn the heat to low.
  7. Take a large spoonful of the sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg while whisking constantly.  (You don’t want scrambled eggs.)  Whisk until smooth.
  8. Pour the egg mixture in the pot with the rest of the sauce and continue whisking constantly until everything is smooth.
  9. Add the cheeses and stir until everything is melted and smooth.
  10. Add the salt, pepper, paprika and any other spices.  Taste and adjust.
  11. Pour in the noodles and stir.
  12. Serve immediately if you want your mac and cheese to be very creamy.  Or, pour everything into a buttered baking dish, top with some more shredded cheddar cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees until it starts bubbling and the cheese is golden on top.
  13. ENJOY!

(Note:  I chose to bake our mac and cheese as indicated above.  However, next time I will serve it straight from the pot because it seemed to lose a little too much creaminess for my liking.  Regardless, it was still delicious.)

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