Munchies Monday: On Becoming a Jedi Food Master
The best thing you can do if you aren’t a very good cook but would like to become a BETTER one is to pick a couple of recipes for things you like and practice the hell out of them. Eventually you may become the kind of person who tweaks recipes or invents your own, who tries a new dish at every holiday celebration and is always on the hunt for the next best thing. But in order to get to that point you have to take the time to conquer your fear of the kitchen, and that involves working a few simple dishes TO DEATH.
When I first began teaching myself how to cook (from books and stuff, God help me) I was determined to master the art of homemade macaroni and cheese. I started out carefully measuring each ingredient ahead of time so everything would be ready to go when I needed it. I had a few miniature panic attacks but (thankfully) never managed to ruin an entire dish. (It helps to pick fairly idiot-proof recipes.) With some practice, I became so familiar with the recipe, I was able to whip the dish together without much brain cell participation at all.
Ten years later, I hate to confess that I’m pretty much sick of mac and cheese now. (A recognized hazard of eating the same thing about five hundred times.) But I still make it whenever a friend and family member specifically asks for it. That’s how you know you’ve made it as a Jedi Food Master – when everyone loves YOUR ______insert name of yummy food here______.
So the next few weeks of Munchies Monday posts (if I can remember to post regularly…) will be some of my tried-and-true killer recipes. Starting with…
Emily’s Famous Mac and Cheese
(Which is actually just a very-slightly-tweaked version of Betty Crocker’s famous mac and cheese, but I like to pretend that it’s MINE ALL MINE.)
- 8 oz. of dried elbow macaroni
- 2 TB butter
- 1/4 cup finely shredded or diced onion
- 2 TB flour
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cilantro
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- salt and pepper (to your taste)
- 2 cups milk (you CAN make this dish with skim milk but it’s not nearly as good. I recommend at least 2% if you feel you MUST go low-fat)
- 2 cups (about 8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (again, non-fat options really aren’t worth your time)
- 1/2 cup (about 1 oz.) shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
(I know this looks like a big scary long list of to-dos, but that’s just because I tried to give you the most detailed, easiest directions possible. Don’t be scared. Take a deep breath. After today, you’ll never want to go back to that nasty blue box of powdered cheesy wannabe mac. You will be A JEDI FOOD MASTER.)
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. While the water is heating up, go ahead and shred your cheese, measure out your milk, and combine the flour with the spices, salt and pepper in a small bowl. If you’re going to bake your mac and cheese, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in another small bowl.
- When the water’s about to bowl, start melting the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s completely melted, add the onions and saute for a minute or so until they’re soft and translucent.
- By this time, the water should be at a full boil. Add the pasta and set your timer as directed by the macaroni manufacturer.
- Add the flour and spices to the butter and cook for two minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble. I repeat: STIRRING CONSTANTLY. This is why I told you to get everything ready ahead of time because if you walk away from the cooking flour you could end up with a burnt mess.
- When your flour/butter mixture is rich and bubbly, slowly add the milk, again, STIRRING CONSTANTLY. As you add the milk, it will steam and bubble and your flour mixture will turn to glue. KEEP STIRRING, keep adding milk sloooooowly. You want to incorporate all the flour into the milk so you don’t have any crunchy flour boogers on the bottom of your pan.
- Once you’ve added all the milk, raise the heat to high and KEEP STIRRING until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. When it’s been boiling steadily for about a minute, remove your saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
- By this point, your pasta SHOULD be done boiling. But that’s assuming everything went as planned – don’t be upset if your timing is off! If you’re still working on the sauce, have someone else drain the pasta and pour it back into the warm pot or (if you plan to bake it) into an ovenproof casserole dish.
- Pour the cheesey sauce over the pasta and mix it up. Get a fork out and eat a little bit right now. Don’t worry, no one needs to know.
- If you want crunchy baked mac and cheese, sprinkle the bread crumbs and Parmesan over the top of the pasta and pop it into a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes – until the top is just barely browned and you see the sauce bubbling around the edges.
- Serve & enjoy!