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I have a patient who grew up in poverty. Despite now having wealth he finds fresh vegetables unappetizing. He explains he grew up on canned beans and such. For him what comes out of a tin is what ‘tastes right”. I think of him whenever I make mac & cheese out of the blue box. It is hot, quick, and comforting – like my men.  It tastes like ‘real mac & cheese’ to me because that’s what I grew up with.  I have a more sophisticated palate now and I have made many types of ‘adult’ or ‘gourmet’ M&C.  These are marvelous but there it is.  At the end of the day when I am tired it is terribly tedious to prepare fancy forms when the cheap stuff takes no time and tastes great.

M&C from the blue box is easy to coif; I can use whatever it is at hand. Throwing into the acid-yellow gunge some slightly-off vegetables is an excellent means of assuaging guilt I am eating bad – and it seems thrifty to do given the slightly suspect produce would otherwise go in the rubbish.

“What’s for dinner?” is sometimes asked in the house. Whenever I draw a blank or feel a need to rush – or I’m just being plain laziness – the response is “Tuna Hemingway”.** This is a ‘recipe’ made by Urs Truly consisting of making blue-box M&C, throwing in a tin of tuna fish, and whatever is on the shelf at eye level. I don’t think I’ve ever made it the same way twice.

Despite the unique and delectable pleasure that arises from eating M&C* it always comes with a heaping serving of guilt. I should not be eating this stuff. M&C doesn’t have any fiber or vitamins and it certainly has a bad glycemic index. Half the ingredients on the blue box version look to be out of a chemistry laboratory.  Blech. M&C is like a lot of pleasures they are inimical for one’s health but oh! the ecstasy!  What’s not to love?  Carbs and cheese and I: the ultimate three-way that never loses its glamor.

Lest I leave Spo-fans thinking I am basically white-trash, here is one of my favorite recipes for the stuff. There is no fluorescent-orange color to this one. I make this version for parties and supper invite. Not once has it fallen flat.  After all who doesn’t adore M&C?

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (2 cups ) raw penne pasta, cooked and drained
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3/4 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 generous cup (5 ounces) shredded good quality, extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 5 ounces cream cheese, crumbled
  • 2/3 cup (3 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon each hot red pepper flakes
  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Generous 1/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 saltines, coarsely crumbled

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish, and add cooked pasta.
  2. In a blender or food processor combine egg, milk, and garlic, and process 3 seconds. Add onion, cheeses, peppers, salt, and paprika, and blend 10 seconds. Turn into dish, folding into macaroni. Casserole could be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 24 hours at this point.
  3. To bake, bring casserole close to room temperature. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat crackers with butter and spread over top of casserole. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick yet creamy. If top is not golden, slip under broiler for a minute. Remove from oven, let stand about 5 minutes, and serve.

 

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*Joke: two women are talking in the ladies’ loo. One asks the other “What do you like better: sex or mac and cheese?”  The other responds: “Is it Kraft?”

**Sometimes it is ‘Tuna Hemingway’ because I want some dammit.

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