When the kids were little, we did our best to feed them wholesome foods made from scratch. But we weren’t rigid about it either. We made one tough rule when we recognized what a Happy Meal could do to your kid’s metabolism.
I used to juggle time at work to be able to take Michael, when he was about 10 years old, to tae kwon do after school. He would beg me on the way home for a snack. There was a 20 minute drive ahead. The McDonald’s drive-thru was two blocks away, so we’d pick up a Happy Meal. Since it didn’t spoil his appetite, I didn’t think there was any harm. However, after about two months of that routine — with two-three Happy Meals a week — I saw a little paunch growing around his belly. I figured out a way to bring Michael a healthy, filling snack for after tae kwon do. And I told Mark I was concerned how fast that change came on.
We decided that the kids could no longer have fast food. To make it up to them, we would make hamburgers and fries once a week.
It was a production, but that’s also when we always had venison in the freezer. We had a bread machine, so that gave me a leg up to make hamburger buns every weekend. On hamburger-and-fries day, we’d cut about 3 pounds of potatoes into sticks and soak them in cold water so they would come out extra crispy. Mark would fire up the grill for the burgers and the turkey frier for the fries, no matter how cold it was outside. I’d run a large paper grocery bag in the microwave for a minute to sterilize it … that’s how we drained all those fries.
It was a great meal and the kids didn’t seem to miss out on fast food.
That routine gave me hope that we could quit mac-and-cheese from a box. I worked hard one Saturday to prepare it from scratch. Oh, how they complained. It didn’t taste right. It was the wrong color. It felt funny in your mouth. I was sorry I made so much, but, of course, the dogs weren’t.
For Thanksgiving this year, I decided to make macaroni and cheese. It had been more than 10 years since my last attempt. I was nervous. I knew Sam wouldn’t like it. He hated mac-and-cheese when it came out of a box. He says cheddar cheese is too “dactyl.”
(Paige and I think he’s invented his own word that mixes meter — a la waltz, long-short-short — with “tactile,” which does not bode well for cheddar cheese’s reputation.)
I knew Aunt Regina would like the mac-and-cheese I made. I knew I would like it. I knew Gus would like it.
I was bold. I made 8 servings. Michael took one bite and said “well, this won’t last the day.”
I had big plans to make leftover hot turkey sandwiches, panini-style, with green apple, bacon and bits of that mac-and-cheese. That didn’t happen. Yes, internet people, this is the one.
Mac and Cheese
1 pound macaroni
2 cups bread crumbs
6 tablespoons of butter, divided
3 tablespoons of flour
1 cup cream
2 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar grated
4 ounces parmesan, grated
4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×12 casserole dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the macaroni al dente. Drain and return to pot to help it stay warm. Melt 3 T. of the butter and pour over the bread crumbs in a bowl. Grab a handful of the Parmesean and mix together with the breadcrumbs. Set aside. Melt the other 3 T. of butter in a sauce pan, stir in the flour and make a brown roux. Meanwhile, have the milk and cream heating in another pan (but don’t let it get hot enough to get a skin on it.) Slowly add the milk, cream and mustard to the roux and cook until nicely thickened. Stir in all the cheeses, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles and gently fold to incorporate. Pour into the casserole and dust the breadcrumbs over the top. Cook for 20-25 minutes until bubbling throughout and brown on top.