Extra Sharp Baked Mac and Cheese


There’s a stark contrast between Easter last year and Easter this year. Last year I was on a leave of absence from work. I hated my job. I was physically ill but no one knew what was wrong. On Easter weekend I had a friend in town in SoCal and we cooked up a bunch of Italian Easter dishes. My cousin and her boyfriend were there. I think my friend Amber stopped by for a hot second too. I had a different friend set then. My 95-year-old grandma was alive. I had just started seeing a therapist and he annoyed the shit out of me. He ended up being the best therapist I ever had. I was slightly thinner than I am now. (Not saying much, I have untreated hypothyroidism–now I know what’s wrong with me.) There was no coronavirus and all the extra things that have come along with the coronavirus. It was a different time.

Now I’m back in Portland staying with Sis. I’ve been here a month as of today. All the days blend into one. It feels like Groundhog Day. Every day. I barely leave Sis’s house but to get coffee, go for a walk or get groceries. My 98-year-old grandma died. I didn’t get to see her before she died. I didn’t get to attend her funeral. I’m working from home full time. Working from home during coronavirus is not as fun as working from home in the absence of coronavirus. I can’t go on Twitter without feeling like I’m going to have an aneurism at the collective stupidity of those who cannot see beyond their own selfish interests. Seriously I never even went on Twitter until coronavirus. Then I got sucked into it during the Presidential press conferences. And though I watched the news most nights of the week before coronavirus, I now watch it most hours of the day.

A lot of people have died. Too many people have died. There’s a lot of helplessness associated with our daily lives. I think every social interaction is a possibility to spread coronavirus. It doesn’t stop me from leaving the house or ordering in but I still think anything foreign that comes inside the house could cause coronavirus. I get angry when I see people out and about without masks on. I wear a mask in public. Not because I’m afraid I’ll get coronavirus. I actually assume I’ve already had it even though I’ve not been sick. I wear a damn mask so that in case I’m a carrier, I don’t infect others.

I see a lot of stupidity and selfishness in the world, not just on Twitter. It’s like I have this lens that focuses in on the stupidity, the hatred, the partisan-ism, the racism, the unfairness. It is all I see. I just read a fictional book set in the 90s about a government conspiracy. Ironically, it rang true of what we are going through today, in this country, with this pandemic. Reading that book didn’t help.

My neighbor texted me the other day just to ask how I’m doing. He works in law enforcement and told me he’s seeing so much good in the world. Why am I not seeing this? I watch the news and see people dying and our country tattered, broken and selfish. I go on Twitter and see people cursing each other out. Then I start cursing people out. (I’ve never been one to curse people out unless highly provoked, not even in a social media setting where you can bravely hide in the shadows and say whatever you feel like. Now I feel highly provoked immediately.) I go on the neighborhood app and everyone is b*$%@ing about everything under the sun. Where is the good? What is my neighbor seeing that I’m not?

I feel perplexed about shopping on Amazon. I pay $130 a year for a prime membership and 2-day shipping. Stuff now takes 3 weeks to ship. I can’t cancel because I’ll lose the things I’ve bought on Amazon over the years. That’s not even the perplexing part, just first world problems. It’s socially irresponsible to buy from Amazon or any store, apparently. I just read this in an article the other day. The reason being is that those warehouse workers who get paid shit for wages and go to work because they can’t work from home or more at risk to get coronavirus. So now add to it that I feel guilty online shopping. Like I’m killing people by clicking away. Online shopping is one of the only highlights in my life these days. Oh and I don’t hate my job anymore. End rant.

Cooking is one of the only other things in life that doesn’t completely complex me these days. Though grocery shopping whether online or in the store has become completely cumbersome and I’ve not been able to find everything on my list since coronavirus panic set in.

For Easter this year, Sis and I decided to do something simple. We had our hearts set on getting cinnamon rolls from our local neighborhood coffee shop this morning. They start selling them at 10 am. We got there at 10:05 and they were sold out. Food items being sold out is happening a lot now these days. We’re on a roll with that.

Luckily for Easter dinner we were in complete control. I was planning on making mac and cheese. And unless you eff up the recipe, you can’t go wrong with homemade mac and cheese. This recipe was especially delicious because I used mainly sharp cheese. Gruyere and sharp provolone were the heavy hitters and the other two were mild in flavor, mozzarella and Colby jack. The noodles were creamy and delicious held together by stringy melted cheese. We found these fancy Conchiglie noodles a few weeks ago and realized they are perfect for mac and cheese. The sauce fills the inside caverns of the noodle and squirts out when you bite in. Absolutely perfect.

This recipe is gently adapted from The Chunky Chef’s recipe for Creamy Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese.

ingredients.

  • 1 lb. dried pasta, your favorite shape (extra fancy conchiglie is Sis and my favorite shape for mac and cheese right now)
  • ½ c. butter
  • ½ c. all purpose flour
  • 4 c. whole milk or cream
  • 6 to 8 c. grated sharp/strong cheese (I used a combo of gruyere, sharp provolone, mozzarella and a little bit of Colby jack with most of the cheese mixture made of sharp cheeses)
  • ½ T. salt, or more to taste
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. Spanish-style paprika

directions.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 3 qt baking dish (9×13″).  Set aside.
  2. Grate cheeses and toss together to mix, then divide into three piles.  You will use about half of the cheese for the sauce and half for assembling.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  When boiling, add dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add black pepper and paprika. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often.  Slowly pour in milk/cream, while whisking constantly, until smooth.
  5. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking very often, until it starts to thickened. Immediately remove from heat. Stir in the cheese reserved for the sauce in three batches until sauce is completely smooth. This will take a bit. Taste and then add salt if necessary. (I didn’t have to add any.)
  6. In a large mixing bowl, combine drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully.  Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Top with 1/2 of the remaining grated cheeses, then top that with the remaining pasta mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until cheesy sauce is bubbly around the edges and the top is starting to turn lightly golden brown.

Recipe rating: 

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