Wait, I’m confused. Real mac and cheese is not healthy, you say? I don’t quite understand. Maybe you think that all that butter, flour, milk, and cheese, mixed with more flour and egg pasta is high in calories. Right? Or maybe it’s all those carbs? Oh I get it, it’s a lot of dairy, and dairy you’ve been told makes you fat. It’s a simple recipe with a few real ingredients, though, so how can it be any less healthy than, say, low-fat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or a McDonald’s crispy chicken sandwich?
Oh, I’m starting to understand now. I think you and I may have different definitions of the word healthy. You see, I don’t associate this sacred term with the phrases “low-calorie”, “fat free” or “low carb”. You say Splenda is healthy, I say raw organic sugar or unprocessed honey. You say Smart Balance, I would challenge you to the idea that real butter is far healthier than any of those “buttery spreads”. Diet soda? Sure, it’s got zero calories but just imagine all the chemicals they use to make that stuff! Yikes.
Now let’s get something straight. When I talk about eating healthy on this blog, it has nothing to do with counting calories, losing weight, using low-fat or non-fat ingredients, or any of the above. To me, it’s all about the enjoyment of eating fresh, wholesome food, and nutritious food, plain and simple. To me it’s unprocessed ingredients that create the most delicious dishes, and we can all agree here that yummy food makes us happy. And sure, sometimes these ingredients are high in calories or carbs, but boy do they taste good, and guess what? They’re unprocessed. Making it easier for your body to digest and allowing your body to get the nutrients it needs to maintain an active lifestyle. Rejoice!
Now I want to talk to you about something called balance. A balanced diet is very important to me, and I think that it should be for you too. For instance, if I gorge my face on Christmas dinner, I will then take some time to get lots of veggies and salads in the day or so following. A #4 specialty bagel from Fuel for breakfast usually means I’m on my way out to rip around the mountain, and by the time I’m done my body will be craving some of that veggie lovin’ around dinner time. And if my little Aussie roommate of the past two months Sharna wants to eat homemade mac n cheese for her last dinner before she leaves Snowmass for good, by god I will make it for her and we will eat it and it will be awesome! Just make a yummy salad to go along with it. That, to me my friend, is balance, and that is eating healthy. Because by my definition, you can’t technically eat healthy if you’re not enjoying it.
So without further ado, this is my recipe for my lovely Grammie Pat’s Homestyle Mac ‘N Cheese (Remix)
- Bay Leaf
- Real Cheddar Cheese, not the processed crap
- Macaroni Noodles
- Sea salt and black pepper
The first step to this recipe involves making a traditional Bechamel Sauce. There are many ways to make this sauce, but mine comes straight out of the Joy of Cooking, a gift from my totally rad sister Kyle. It is important to note that some sauces and baking recipes do require the use of exact ingredients and measurements for success. I wasn’t sure in the case of Bechamel sauce for the desired consistency so here I will give exact measurements from my guide just in case.
In a saucepan, add one bay leaf and one thick slice of onion pricked with two whole cloves to two cups of milk and heat on medium heat until simmering (I added half a jalapeno, seeds removed and sliced into stalks to give it a bit of heat). Meanwhile in a separate saucepan, heat four tablespoons of real butter and when melted, add four tablespoons of flour and stir until well mixed. When the milk is heated, remove all solid ingredients and slowly add milk to butter mixture, stirring constantly until thick. Add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg and cracked black pepper.
At this time you may preheat the oven to 325 degrees (this is what my Aunt Jane, who gave me this recipe, tells me is called a traditional “slow oven”). Meanwhile, you will want to have some salted water boiling because this is when you should boil the pasta. There are no exact measurements in this step, as the pasta/cheese/sauce ratio is really up to your liking (although you will want to make sure to have enough Bechamel sauce to cover your pasta thoroughly). Speaking of the sauce, during the boiling time is when you add a huge handful of freshly grated cheddar cheese to your Bechamel sauce and mix in. I also minced up the other half of the jalapeno (seeds removed) and stirred it into the sauce as well for a bit more heat.
Leave about half to a quarter of the grated cheese to the side to put on top of the pasta dish in order to form a crust. When the pasta is cooked al dente (very slightly undercooked so that there’s still a bite to it), strain it and stir it into the sauce. Place in a casserole dish (preferably clear Pyrex glass) and set aside.
For topping, melt a tablespoon of butter and add a generous amount of breadcrumbs (okay, I didn’t make these from scratch, sue me). Saute on low until golden brown and crunchy, then remove from heat. Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheddar cheese over the top and then add the breadcrumbs. Place the in the slow oven and cook for over an hour, until the top is looking golden brown and the macaroni mixture is nicely bubbling.
Now go stuff your face.