Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An easy, cheesy weeknight meal

Today was pretty typical. A busy day at work, followed by the gym, followed by coming home and realizing that I've run out of leftovers and the fridge and pantry look pretty bare. Rather than resort to my 'I-have-no-food' bowl of oatmeal for dinner - which is fine for once in a while, but definitely a bummer when that's what I had for breakfast too - I paused for a minute to think about what else I could put in that bowl. 

Surveying my options, I silently thanked God for making me Italian - because one thing an Italian girl always has in the pantry is pasta! Seeing that whole wheat rotini in the back of the cabinet saved me...this time. Armed with pasta, I glanced in the fridge hoping to find something, anything that I could use to round out my meal. Then, I hit the jackpot. 

In the back of my middle shelf, there it was - a half-block of cheddar cheese. I knew immediately what I had to do. Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting down not to a bowl of oatmeal, but a delicious and comforting bowl of...

I also found a half of a cooked chicken breast in the fridge, thus the white chunks!

Easy Weeknight Mac and Cheese for One, for Two
(that is, one person, two generous-sized meals)

2 cups whole wheat pasta (preferably in a shape that will catch and hold the sauce)
1 T butter
1 t olive oil
1 heaping T flour
a pinch of nutmeg
1/8 t pepper
1/2 t salt
1 t dijon mustard
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup 2% milk cheddar cheese
2 T boursin or other soft cheese

Fill a small saucepan with hot water and place over high heat with the lid on. Once it boils, add a generous pinch of salt and add your pasta. Cook according to package directions, which should be about exactly as much time as you need to make the sauce. In a separate non-stick saucepan, add the butter and oil over medium heat and melt completely. Add the flour, and whisk immediately to combine and prevent from sticking. Cook the flour and butter together for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly. When it's a nice blond color, add the pepper, nutmeg, salt and mustard. Still whisking, add the milk to the pan and combine until the butter-flour mixture (aka roux) is fully dissolved. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and, stirring occasionally, let the white sauce (aka bechamel, ooo getting fancy now!) just come to a boil. As soon as it boils, kill the heat. This part is very important, and was the source of all my mac-and-cheese-related failures in the past - high heat will ruin the texture of the cheese and make it grainy, so make sure the heat is off before you begin to add the cheese. Also, constant stirring as you add the cheese will help it cool down as well as turn out nice and smooth. Add the boursin/soft cheese first, whisking to combine, then add the cheddar cheese in a few batches until incorporated. Make sure to taste - depending on your specific cheese, you may need more salt. At this point, your pasta should be drained and waiting for you to dump it into the cheese sauce (aka mornay, even more fancy!). Et voila!

Note: You may think the mustard and/or nutmeg are weird additions to this recipe. I may have been made fun of more than once in my life for 'putting nutmeg in everything' - but I promise that both these ingredients are essential! The mustard helps play up the cheesiness and give it a deeper flavor, as well as provides just a touch of acidity - and the nutmeg adds a tiny underlying warmth that complements the cheese nicely.


  1. Ummm... YUM!

    I'm such a sucker for mac and cheese, and believe it or not, I've never ever in my life made it myself. I don't know why! I've read a lot of recipes with some sort of mustard product in them, I'm sure it gives the pasta a nice tanginess. You just might inspire me to try this!