I made a reference to macaroni and cheese earlier this week. It’s a cheater topic, like sex and pizza, because even a gluten free, lactose intolerant, detoxing, paleo, Atkins, South Beach, if-it-has-a-face-I-won’t-eat-it vegan with a pinched sciatic nerve likes all three of those things. Yes, they do. If someone is going to fall off the wagon, it will be for one of those things: diarrhea, blazing back pain and muffin tops be damned. Your thighs are supposed to meet in the middle, ladies. Unless you’re a cowboy.
So I decided to make it for real. I Googled ‘best macaroni and cheese’ because that is what Google is for. Martha Stewart popped up. I don’t hold against her the fact she did jail time; I imagine she showed everybody how to make omelettes with a lighter, a Snickers bar and a pair of flip flops. That woman is crafty.
The recipe got all these rave comments, and I read them all. I was not reading to assert that Martha is a goddess; I was determining if buried in these comments, amidst the people who pretend to know what a roux is, there are harbingers of doom. I needed to know if there were landmines in these recipes. I’m no Princess Diana, though I do look darling in khaki.
I discovered how people do recipes on the internet: people read and declare that this recipe is so good my family made me a crown, someone else will say I made this and it’s a disaster, and most of them will say “I made this recipe, but I used Velveeta for 8 year old Vermont cheddar, Ritz crackers for homemade breadcrumbs, Parkay for unsalted butter, root beer for condensed milk and since garlic and onions make Mike gassy, I left those out. This recipe is terrible.” There are also a lot of people who put bacon in things. All things. I’m sure there are people who would put bacon in a Poptart.
I read the recipe. I learned the hard way that you have to read all the way to the end. Do I need to tell you how many times at 6pm I’ve hit “marinate for 24 hours”. That is a thing. WTF? I went shopping and No Frills didn’t have one of the cheeses Martha preferred, but thankfully she admitted you could use another cheese I couldn’t pronounce instead. I learned this standing hunched over my phone at 5pm on a Friday in No Frills. I eventually spent over 20 bucks JUST ON CHEESE. AT NO FRILLS. I was in the expensive little section where the cheeses are all different prices, and you know in your heart they smell like socks that have been in work boots for 12 hours. With feet.
At home I told the kids it would be ready by 7. I started at 5:30. Martha, you lying slut. First, I realized that many of these cooking steps all seem to need to happen at the same time. WTF? I also realized that Martha says things like, “use a small saucepan” and “use a medium saucepan” and “use a large skillet” and I’m all jeesuzchrist, woman, get your shit together. I don’t use this many dishes making Christmas dinner. I also spend half the time on my computer Googling my conversion amounts and staring at measuring cups that I usually use to water plants.
Oh, did I mention that I’m doing this from a recipe on my computer? It’s in the kitchen, but I have to keep running back and forth and refreshing. Maggie the Cat sits on the mouse the entire time, wondering when she can get to the cheese. THE VERY EXPENSIVE CHEESE.
It rapidly became apparent I needed a battle plan, not a recipe. The recipe rolls out like everything happens in the time it takes to write it. Let me assure you, this is a lie. Shredding nearly a pound of cheese takes 30 minutes, not including hitting the cat who keeps sneaking up on the counter or the kids who come in saying “you finally bought good cheese” or the fact you haven’t worked out in 3 months and your arm gets all rubbery.
You know what melts really fast? Butter melts really fast. And that part where it says to “whisk until it bubbles and thickens” takes forfrickingever. I got through a whole Judge Judy and into Three Men, or whatever, because my choice was watching a former Prime Minister’s really irritating son or Charlie Sheen. We have basic cable because we only watch Netflix, so choice is limited on my little TV in the kitchen. I don’t mind Jeopardy, but I draw the line at Wheel of Fortune; have you seen how stupid some people are? They get L_WN FURNITUR_ and yell out “cookies and milk”.
I also had to use my favourite big non-stick pan (sorry, “skillet”) that I’ve had forever. I only had a metal whisk, but I threw caution to the wind because at this time of year, Canadian Tire puts these things on for 20 bucks. When they say “regular price, $60” and you know it’s a lie, but you tell yourself it’s a great deal and buy it. Come to think of it, I need all new pans (sorry, “skillets”) but I’ve also been known to cook a hotdog on two nails connected to a battery.
Ari wandered down when all the work was done because he’s a man, and picked up the spoon to stir. “Holy crap, this is a heart attack in a pan” he said. I said “no, it’s a skillet”. After stirring in a pile of cheese as big as my head, I had to add ¼ tsps of things, which to me is dumb; ¼ tsp is like a speck in this huge blob of mung. Ol’ Martha said to grate some nutmeg, but I just had a little bag of it because I don’t know what a nutmeg looks like in its original state, and when I first saw ginger I was horrified because it looked like my father’s toes.
But I followed along because how can you question a woman who could make a festive wreath out of a bike tire, some pine cones and 7 unmatched socks? I put the specks of things in. I swirled the whole mess together, and dumped it into my biggest casserole dish. I’d already ascertained that it was big enough; Martha said use a 3 quart one, so I found out that was 12 cups, and put 12 cups of water in my biggest casserole and it fit. Ari and his girlfriend came in while I was doing this, and Ari held up his hand and said “don’t ask”.
I’m just happy I have casserole dishes. They were wedding gifts, and by far the most useful thing that came out of time of my life, if you don’t count the lesson of learning to recognize sooner rather than later that you’ve run out of road and you’re standing there pedaling your legs fiercely and then you drop. Like the Roadrunner cartoons.
It was nearly 8:30 when it was ready. 15 minutes in front of the cheese display, 2 and a half hours of prep time, half an hour to cook. I used 3 glass measuring cups, a couple little tsp things, 3 other measuring scoop things, a bowl, 3 pots, a huge pan (sorry, “skillet”), a thousand wooden spoons and cutting boards, a grater, a colander (what Ari calls a hole bowl) and two glasses wine. So sue me.
With great ceremony we sat down to eat. Pammy had steamed some veggies to help push all that cheese along everyone’s lower intestines. The girls made heavenly faces, and I admit, this is some serious macaroni and cheese, Martha. Ari took a bite and asked why there was so much pepper in it, then said “this would be great with bacon in it.” My mom used to make macaroni and cheese every Christmas so any little kid picky eaters could have it. The adults used to eat it all, so she kept making more every year, and her version wasn’t even that great. Sorry, Mom, but remember what I said: sex, pizza and macaroni and cheese.
Here’s a link to the recipe. There’s a bunch of gobbledly gook at the beginning that I didn’t read, because telling me Thomas Jefferson invented macaroni and cheese doesn’t mean I have any fewer pots to go wash. I mean “skillets”.